The Indians underperformed in the season’s first half but rode a strong second half onto the fringes of the American League Wild Card race late in the year. Cleveland finished with a bizarre record of 81-80, as a rained-out contest with the Tigers was never made up with both teams eliminated from postseason play. Newly promoted president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff will look to improve upon that win total in the upcoming offseason.
- Jason Kipnis, 2B: $45.5MM through 2019 (including buyout of 2020 option)
- Corey Kluber, RHP: $36.5MM through 2019 (including buyout of 2020 option)
- Yan Gomes, C: $20.95MM through 2019 (including buyout of 2020 option)
- Carlos Carrasco, RHP: $19.6625MM through 2018 (including buyout of 2019 option)
- Chris Johnson, 3B/1B: $17.5MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 option)
- Michael Brantley: $15MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 option)
- Carlos Santana, 1B/DH: $9.45MM through 2016 (including buyout of 2017 option)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR)
- Josh Tomlin (4.151) – $3.1MM
- Bryan Shaw (4.081) – $2.8MM
- Lonnie Chisenhall (3.158) – $3.0MM
- Zach McAllister (3.077) – $1.0MM
- Cody Allen (3.076) – $3.5MM
- Nick Hagadone (3.056) – $600K
- Jeff Manship (2.130) – $700K
- Non-tender candidate: Hagadone
- Ryan Raburn, OF: $3MM club option with a $100K buyout
With a little more than $41MM committed to the 2016 payroll plus another $15MM or so in arbitration raises looming, plus 10 spots at or near the league minimum, Cleveland’s payroll presently projects to about $61MM. That’d be about $26MM south of their Opening Day mark from 2015, and while it’s not clear if they’ll be willing to spend back up to that level — the team did, after all, eat $10MM in the trade that sent Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta — there appears to be a fair amount of room to make additions. Significant additions, however, may not be as necessary as one would think when glancing at the team’s record.
On paper, the 2015 Indians look like a club that should’ve contended for a playoff spot more credibly than they actually did. The team finished eighth in the Majors with a collective 3.68 ERA on the strength of an impressive, team-controlled rotation and a bullpen filled with quality arms. On the offensive side of the spectrum, Cleveland’s hitters combined to hit .256/.325/.401, which translates to a wRC+ of 99. (That is to say, essentially, their hitters’ collective production was one percent below the league average.)
Given those figures and he fact that the team’s pending free agents are more role players than everyday contributors, there’s reason to believe that Antonetti, Chernoff and the rest of the front office don’t need a drastic overhaul to experience better results on the field next year. A rebound from Yan Gomes and a full season of the incredible Francisco Lindor (my personal pick for AL Rookie of the Year) will go a long ways toward improving the club’s record. That said, there are still some very clear areas of need.
First and foremost is the team’s lack of production at third base. Indians third basemen combined to slash just .228/.273/.356. While players like Giovanny Urshela and Jose Ramirez graded out well defensively, neither provided much in the way of offense. Lonnie Chisenhall, long hoped to be the future at third base, now looks like more of an answer in right field due to the strong defensive contributions he turned in following the change. Chris Johnson has a good deal of experience at the hot corner but has a questionable glove and significant platoon issues, making it a stretch to use him as an everyday option there.
The free agent market offers little in terms of certainty at third base, but Cleveland could make a run at David Freese to fill the need. A slightly above-average bat and slightly below-average glove, he’s not an exciting option but could solidify the position. His age — he’ll play next season at 33 — figures to keep his price down, to some extent. Daniel Murphy could be another option, even though the longtime Mets infielder has spent far more time at second base than third base in his career.
Turning to the trade market, Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar and Luis Valbuena represent potential short-term fixes. Each is signed through 2016. Trevor Plouffe‘s name figures to come up as a potential trade candidate given the emergence of Miguel Sano, though it’s worth wondering if the Twins would be averse to an intra-division swap. The two sides have lined up on a pair of trades in the past six years, but those were minor deals involving Jim Thome and Carl Pavano in the late stages of each veteran’s career, whereas Plouffe is in the midst of his prime. A higher-ceiling medium-term trade candidate would be Todd Frazier, but the cost of a cross-state swap with the Reds would be significantly higher than the cost to acquire any of the previously mentioned names. While I personally feel the Reds should be open to dealing Frazier to accelerate their rebuild, there’s been no indication that such a scenario is something to which Cincinnati is open. Displaced Phillies third baseman Cody Asche could be an even longer-term option, though he’d be a buy-low pickup after a fairly unproductive 2015 season. If those struggled continued, Cleveland would be right back where it started.
The rest of the Cleveland infield is more or less set, with Lindor manning shortstop and Jason Kipnis returning to reprise his role at second base. Carlos Santana figures to see the bulk of the playing time at first base, though Antonetti and Chernoff could seek help in the first base/DH realm. Cleveland is lacking in right-handed pop, for instance, making someone like Mike Napoli or Steve Pearce a fit, at least on paper. If handedness isn’t an issue, John Jaso is an underrated candidate for clubs in need of some DH production, and Justin Morneau could be lower-cost first base/DH option. Either would require a platoon partner, however.
In the outfield, Michael Brantley will again man left field after emerging as one of baseball premier corner outfielders over the past two seasons. Right field figures to be manned primarily by Chisenhall, whose glove out there was highly impressive to Cleveland. Chisenhall posted unbelievable marks of +11 DRS and +9.3 UZR in just 354 innings in right, and while he’s not likely to maintain those rates and save somewhere in range of 35 to 40 runs next year, he’s probably earned a look in at least a platoon capacity. (As mentioned before, Johnson’s been suggested by the Cleveland media as a probable platoon partner.)
The question, then, is center field. Abraham Almonte impressed in 51 games, hitting .261/.324/.455 with sound defense, but he’s never shown that level of production in the Majors until arriving in Cleveland. Almonte hit .233/.283/.336 in 364 plate appearances between the Mariners and Padres before joining Cleveland. He does bring a career .287/.369/.437 Triple-A batting line (999 PAs) to the table.
Nevertheless, banking on that productivity translating to the Majors in 2016 is a sizable risk for a team that will aim to contend and does have some financial flexibility. Given Almonte’s unproven nature, the Indians could, at minimum, seek out a platoon partner. Though Almonte is a switch-hitter, he struggled against lefties in 2015 and has been far worse against them throughout his career. Rajai Davis would be a nice fit on the free agent market, and Justin Ruggiano could be a lower-cost option as well.
A longer-term fix would be to pursue a trade of a controllable center fielder, and one name in which Cleveland expressed interest this summer is Marcell Ozuna. The Indians’ interest in Ozuna pre-dates their acquisition of Almonte, but Ozuna’s offensive upside is more significant than that of Almonte. The 24-year-old Marlins outfielder batted .269/.317/.455 with 23 homers in 2014 but has fallen out of favor with owner Jeffrey Loria this year. Ozuna was demoted to Triple-A on the heels of a 1-for-36 slump and kept in the minors long enough to prompt accusations of service time manipulation from agent Scott Boras. While some may roll their eyes at such allegations due to the source of said complaint, it’s worth noting that Ozuna will narrowly fall shy of Super Two designation. (The question is not whether a demotion was warranted, but rather whether the length was necessary from a developmental standpoint or boiled down to financial manipulation.) Ozuna hit well in Triple-A but upon returning to the Majors likened the demotion to a jail sentence. Reports since have indicated that Loria has soured on the talented Ozuna, who is controlled through the 2019 season.
Miami would most likely ask young pitching in return for Ozuna, and Cleveland is perhaps better suited than any team in baseball to accommodate that desire. Rotation options for 2016 include Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Cody Anderson and Trevor Bauer. Of all those names, Bauer stands out as someone who could be sent to Miami in an Ozuna trade. The former No. 3 overall pick led the AL with 79 walks this season and finished with an ugly 4.58 ERA, though he was very good through the season’s first few months before his walk rate spiraled out of control. He’s controlled through 2020 and has had more recent success, so his value would seem to be higher than Ozuna’s. As such, other pieces need to be involved (perhaps Cleveland could add prospects and push for Prado to be included in a deal as well). But, an Ozuna-for-Bauer framework would, at its core, represent a swap of two high-ceiling, controllable assets that have struggled in their current setting.
If the team does trade a starter, adding a veteran arm on a one-year deal to provide some depth would seem to be a prudent decision. Anderson was sharp in 2015, but his minuscule strikeout rate and BABIP bring in question the sustainability of that success. Tomlin, too, was impressive, maintaining his increased strikeout rate from 2014, but he hasn’t thrown more than 144 innings in a season since 2011. Gavin Floyd has expressed interest in returning and shouldn’t cost more than a few million dollars. Chris Young could also be a one-year deal candidate, and reclamation projects such as Doug Fister, Mat Latos and Bud Norris could all be looking at such contracts as well.
Left-handed depth in the bullpen will need to be an area of focus, as Nick Hagadone underwent elbow surgery that will cost him six to nine months (making him a possible non-tender). Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto are internal options, but Crockett had a poor 2015 between Triple-A and the Majors, and Soto has averaged more than five walks per nine innings at Triple-A in two seasons. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister will be the primary righties, and Jeff Manship’s surprisingly dominant season has earned him a look in 2016 as well.
An under-the-radar need for Cleveland is to improve its bench. In recent seasons, the since-shed albatross contracts of Swisher and Bourn not only hampered payroll but took a pair of valuable roster spots that left bench options thin. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn seem unlikely to return, so adding some younger, versatile bench pieces would be of benefit. Jose Ramirez and his glove could have the inside track to one bench spot, and Almonte could become a fourth outfielder if a center fielder is acquired. Roberto Perez is one of the game’s better backup catchers, so that position isn’t an area of need.
For all the speculation about the ways in which Cleveland could look to improve, the fact remains that major improvement isn’t needed. A full season of Lindor will be a boon to the team’s playoff hopes, and a rotation fronted by Kluber, Carraso and Salazar should be formidable, as should the returning right-handed arms in the bullpen. Cleveland has a few notable holes, but they have the trade chips necessary to fill in the gaps. And, unlike the past two offseasons, they have some financial firepower to supplement the roster if that’s a more preferable course of action as well.
This week, Jeff runs through the end-of-season news around the game before welcoming MLBTR’s arbitration guru Matt Swartz to the show. Swartz, of course, just released his yearly projections for each arbitration eligible player’s salary. He’ll also be reviving his Arbitration Breakdown series this offseason, in which he examines some of the most unique arb cases and details whether or not those players’ atypical platform seasons will lead to an inaccurate projection from our model.
Among the topics discussed on this episode are the specific arbitration cases of Aroldis Chapman, Trevor Rosenthal, Josh Donaldson and Jake Arrieta. Additionally, Swartz explains why Dontrelle Willis still holds the first-year arbitration record for a starting pitcher ($4.35MM in 2006) and whether or not Dallas Keuchel can set a new first-time record this winter.
Those unfamiliar with MLBTR’s model may first want to check out Swartz’s explanation of the arb process, our model, and, of course, the above-linked projections.
The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.
The Nationals fired manager Matt Williams and his entire coaching staff earlier this week on the heels of a disappointing season, adding them to the list of teams seeking a new skipper. While GM Mike Rizzo’s hunt for a new manager is in its infancy, we know that both Ron Gardenhire and Dusty Baker have already expressed interest in the position. It’s not clear if their interest is reciprocated at this point, but MLBTR will monitor the latest on Washington’s search as it progresses. Here’s the latest…
- Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Phil Nevin is receiving interest from the Nationals, reports the Arizona Republic’s Zach Buchanan (via Twitter). While Rizzo said Monday that the team would lean toward someone with Major League managerial experience, which Nevin lacks, Nevin is an accomplished minor league skipper that’s thought to be a future big league manager. Rizzo, formerly Arizona’s scouting director, was already with the Nats by the time Nevin joined the D-Backs organization in 2014. However, he still has connections in Arizona that could give him plenty of insight into what Nevin would bring to the table.
- Both Bud Black and Rick Renteria could eventually emerge as candidates, writes the Washington Post’s James Wagner. As Wagner points out, Black spoke very briefly about the position in a recent MLB Network Radio appearance on SiriusXM (audio link), calling it a “very attractive” opening. Black was, of course, put on the spot, and his answer could simply be considered diplomatic in nature, but Wagner points out that a core of Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon and others plus a sizable payroll and market will be appealing for a number of candidates. He continues by adding that Renteria wants to get back into the managerial game and has turned away coaching opportunities in hopes of landing the role of manager with an organization.
- The Nationals have offered many of the coaches that were relieved of their duties new roles in the organization, writes the Post’s Chelsea Janes. Any new manager hired will have the opportunity to hire any of those reassigned coaches to his staff, but he’ll also have the opportunity to bring in a completely fresh staff, which is the likelier outcome.
Several players with significant big league service time have elected free agency since the conclusion of the regular season. Per baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with more than three years of Major League service time that have been outrighted off a 40-man roster have the right to elect free agency at season’s end.
This list — not to be confused with our full list of 2015-16 free agents (which has been updated to include these names) — represents some of the players that would’ve been arbitration eligible following the season and were regular or fairly regular contributors recently but now find themselves on the open market after being outrighted…
- Dillon Gee: The right-hander opened the season in the Mets’ rotation, and the possibility of trading him loomed large in Spring Training and early in the regular season. Instead, Gee was designated for assignment after eight appearances (seven starts) and a 5.90 ERA this season. Of course, Gee’s FIP and xFIP marks were mostly in line with his career numbers, and he was plagued by factors like a .355 BABIP and a fluky 63 percent strand rate. Gee would eventually clear waivers and be outrighted, due in large part to his $5.3MM salary. His struggles continued, to some extent, in Triple-A, where he logged a 4.58 ERA in 88 1/3 innings, though that performance comes with the caveat that the Pacific Coast League is an incredibly hitter-friendly environment. Gee has less than five years of Major League service, so any team signing him this winter could control him for two seasons. He’s a nice bounceback candidate for a team in need of help at the back of its rotation.
- Dale Thayer: The elder statesman of the players listed here, the 34-year-old Thayer was designated and outrighted earlier this season when the Padres signed Bud Norris. Thayer worked to a reasonable 4.06 ERA in 37 2/3 innings this season, but his 6.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 rates were significant departures from his previous seasons, perhaps a portent for less desirable results. However, Thayer was an effective member of the San Diego ‘pen from 2012-14, notching a 3.02 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 with eight saves — he briefly served as closer whilst Huston Street was injured in 2012 — across 188 innings. Thayer, too, has four-plus years of service and would be controllable for two seasons upon signing.
- Conor Gillaspie: The White Sox’ regular third baseman from 2013 through the first half of 2015, Gillaspie looked the part of at least a serviceable platoon option at the hot corner until a dismal start to the most recent season. Designated for assignment by the Sox then acquired by the Angels, Gillaspie would again be designated in Anaheim and eventually outrighted. He hit just .228/.269/.359 this season between the two clubs, but he managed a solid, if unspectacular .265/.322/.404 line from 2013-14 in Chicago. Those numbers are almost identical to his lifetime .266/.325/.410 line versus right-handed pitching, suggesting that the 28-year-old can help a big league roster in a platoon capacity. At 28 years old, he has three-plus years of service and would be controllable for three seasons.
- Vinnie Pestano: The Angels designated and outrighted the former Cleveland setup ace struggled through 11 2/3 innings in the Majors this year. Pestano, who lost his grip on regular setup work in 2014, posted a 5.40 ERA with 13 strikeouts but eight walks (two intentional) in the Majors this season. However, he was a dominant setup man in Cleveland from 2011-12 and has posted serviceable big league numbers and strong Triple-A marks since. With a lifetime 1.97 ERA, 11.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in his Triple-A career, a reasonable amount of big league success and two years of team control remaining, Pestano could be a nice buy-low candidate for teams seeking low-cost bullpen help
- Hector Noesi: Last season, Noesi stepped into the White Sox rotation and soaked up 166 innings with a 4.39 ERA. The 2015 campaign didn’t go as smoothly, however, as his 6.89 ERA in 32 2/3 innings ultimately served as reason for a DFA and an outright assignment. Noesi will turn 29 in January and has three years of team control remaining for any team that feels it can get him back to the fourth/fifth starter he looked like for much of the 2014 season.
An initially disastrous season for the Red Sox provided some hope for the future as several young players stepped up during a late-season surge. The new Dave Dombrowski/Mike Hazen-led front office will now have to add the final pieces around these emerging young stars to get the Sox back into contention in 2016.
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B: $84MM through 2021
- Rick Porcello, SP: $82MM through 2019
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B: $75MM through 2019 ($17MM club option for 2020)
- Hanley Ramirez, 1B/LF/DH: $66MM through 2018 ($22MM vesting option for 2019)
- Rusney Castillo, OF: $56.5MM through 2020 (Castillo can opt out after 2019 season)
- Allen Craig, 1B/OF: $21MM through 2017 ($13MM club option for 2018)
- David Ortiz, DH: $16MM through 2016 (club/vesting option for 2017 worth at least $10MM)
- Wade Miley, SP: $15.25MM through 2017 ($12MM club option for 2018 that could increase in value to $14MM)
- Koji Uehara, RP: $9MM through 2016
- Ryan Hanigan, C: $4.5MM through 2016 ($3.75MM club option for 2017)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections by MLB Trade Rumors)
- Alexi Ogando (5.114) – $2.4MM projected salary
- Junichi Tazawa (5.086) – $3.3MM
- Anthony Varvaro (3.121) – $700K
- Joe Kelly (3.101) – $3.2MM
- Robbie Ross (3.100) – $1.1MM
- Ryan Cook (3.086) – $1.4MM
- Jean Machi (2.154) – $900K
- Non-tender candidates: Ogando, Cook, Machi, Varvaro
- Clay Buchholz, SP: $13MM club option with $245K buyout
In 2014, rotation struggles and underachieving rookies were major reasons the Red Sox finished last in the AL East. In 2015, rotation struggles and underachieving veterans were major reasons the Red Sox finished last in the AL East. Boston has now suffered through three last-place finishes in four seasons (though the year outside the cellar resulted in the 2013 World Series title), and it seems like the first order of business is to upgrade the starting pitching.
Per the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, Dombrowski’s history indicates that he is more likely to acquire a big-name starter via trade rather than via free agency. Though the 2015-16 free agent pitching market is deep with top-tier starters and includes one name (David Price) that Dombrowski has already gone out of his way to acquire before, it remains to be seen if Red Sox ownership has changed its stance about not giving expensive long-term contracts to pitchers in their 30s. It was just a year ago, remember, that this stance ultimately led to Jon Lester leaving town.
If the Sox aren’t willing to go beyond five or maybe even four years for an ace, it’s not going to help them land the likes of Price, Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto, all of whom could realistically find six-year deals on the open market. Zack Greinke might be amenable to a five-year deal since he’s about to turn 32, though would Boston then spend over $125MM for a pitcher’s age 32-36 seasons, even an elite pitcher like Greinke?
In the September 23rd edition of the MLBTR Newsletter, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes made the case that one of Carlos Carrasco, Sonny Gray, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg could be dealt this offseason, even though there’s no current evidence that any are being shopped. (Gray’s availability, in particular, has been emphatically denied.) Carrasco stands out as an intriguing option since Boston discussed him in trade talks last summer, though Cleveland was said to be just gauging Carrasco’s value rather than actually trying to deal him. If the Indians have a (sure to be high) price in mind for what it would take to obtain Carrasco, they could explore deals this winter. One would certainly expect Boston to at least check in on Carrasco and any of the aforementioned starters should they be made available, plus any other front-of-the-rotation pitchers whose teams could be open to trades.
Dombrowski and Hazen have lots of options if they want to trade for an ace given the number of quality prospects within the Red Sox system. Boston’s top six prospects are all ranked in MLB.com’s current listing of the top 100 minor leaguers in baseball, not to mention several other recent first-rounders that didn’t make the top-100 cut. It’s also possible the Red Sox could deal one of their current starters in a trade for a top-of-the-rotation arm, since the Sox are in the somewhat curious position of both lacking in top-tier starters while also having a bit of a rotation logjam.
The Sox rotation was unquestionably one of the game’s poorest in the first few months of the 2015 season, yet for the year as a whole, Red Sox starters finished a respectable 13th in starter fWAR (11.9) among all 30 teams. The rotation had a 4.75 ERA in the first half and a 3.99 ERA in the second half, though the peripheral numbers were mostly the same on both sides of the All-Star break. It’s no surprise that the starters’ numbers began to look a lot better once Boston upgraded its defense, so it’s possible the Sox already have something close to a playoff-contender rotation already, especially if Clay Buchholz is healthy. (His $13MM club option is seen as a virtual lock to be exercised.)
The 2016 rotation shapes up as Buchholz, impressive rookie Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, whose $82MM extension kicks in next season. Porcello is one of the arms who performed better in the second half, though it’s highly unlikely other teams will explore trades for him given his rough first half and that big pay bump. That leaves Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Henry Owens competing for two spots, and quite possibly just one spot should Boston indeed acquire an ace. The highly-touted Owens would be a big trade chip, and while Kelly and Miley both had their share of struggles in 2015, Kelly is just entering his arbitration years while Miley is owed a not-exorbitant $15.25MM through 2017. Pairing Kelly or Miley with a couple of blue chip prospects would certainly be enough to get the ball rolling on trade talks. Rich Hill surprisingly exploded back onto the scene in MLB with four impressive late-season starts, so Boston could explore re-signing the veteran to add some more depth.
It’s also possible the Red Sox could use some of their surplus arms in the bullpen, with Kelly in particular having been mentioned by some pundits as perhaps better suited to relief work. Sox relievers ranked 26th in ERA (4.25), 29th in xFIP (4.36) and dead last in both FIP (4.64) and fWAR (-1.5) last season, indicating some vast room for improvement. Koji Uehara will return as closer after putting up more strong numbers in his age-40 season, though it remains to be seen if he’ll still be as effective after suffering a fractured wrist last August.
Lefties Robbie Ross and Tommy Layne and righties Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara are all slated to return, while veteran southpaw Craig Breslow could be let go in free agency. Aside from Uehara’s injury-shortened season, though, there were no dominant campaigns in the Sox bullpen. Sub-par bullpens plagued Dombrowski’s tenure in Detroit, and now he’ll have to upgrade another flawed relief corps in his new job.
Around the diamond, the Red Sox are more or less set at every position thanks to a wealth of young players who emerged last season. Beyond stalwarts David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Mookie Betts stepped up as very productive everyday Major Leaguers and could be future superstars. Injuries opened the door for Blake Swihart to make his big league debut a bit earlier than expected and the catcher fared respectably well in his rookie season. Jackie Bradley enjoyed an absolutely torrid month (1.361 OPS in 102 PA from August 6 to September 7) after regaining an everyday outfield job, so if he can find a middle ground between that unsustainable production and his below-replacement numbers in 2014, he can easily keep a starting job thanks to his outstanding glove. Rusney Castillo is still a work in progress at the plate, though the Cuban outfielder also possesses a tremendous glove and should at least see part-time duty, possibly in a platoon with Brock Holt.
While these young players all contributed, however, it was most of Boston’s veteran core that let the club down last season. Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli were both traded, while Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez remain the two biggest scapegoats for the 2015 season. Sandoval has rebounded from poor seasons before (he had a 1.2 fWAR season in 2010 sandwiched in between 5.2 fWAR and 5.3 fWAR, respectively) though that was five years ago and his 2010 campaign wasn’t nearly as rough as his sub-replacement performance in 2015.
Sandoval, at least, has a set position at third base. Ramirez doesn’t even have that luxury, as the Sox removed him from the left field job after one of the worst defensive seasons in recent memory. With Ortiz locked in at DH, Ramirez has been working out at first base in an effort to find a spot to play, though it’s an open question whether he’ll be able to handle the position (and if Ramirez plays first, that blocks 25-year-old Travis Shaw, who delivered a strong rookie season). There is hope that Sandoval and Ramirez could rebound with better fitness, though there have also been whispers that Boston coaches aren’t pleased with Ramirez’s overall effort level.
Could Sandoval or Ramirez be traded this offseason? I’m sure Dombrowski and Hazen will put feelers out, though both players’ stock could hardly be lower. Ramirez’s defense will further limit his market, since it’s hard to imagine an NL club would be comfortable putting him anywhere in the field without the DH spot as a fallback. Unless there’s something to these rumors of enmity between Ramirez and the coaching staff, it’s probably unlikely that Boston would outright release Ramirez or make a salary-eating trade to get him off the roster just yet. The Sox could try him at first base in 2016 and if that still doesn’t work, slide him into the DH role in 2017 if Ortiz retires.
Holt is almost a one-man bench by himself, giving the Sox lots of flexibility as they look for backups. They’ll probably be in the market for at least one bench player to go with Holt, Shaw, Deven Marrero as a utility infielder and the backup catcher. Christian Vazquez should be recovered from Tommy John surgery and veteran Ryan Hanigan is still under contract, so there could be a Spring Training battle to see who will be Swihart’s understudy, or a trade could be in the works. Vazquez himself was a highly-touted prospect before his injury, particularly on defense; if he proves himself as healthy in the spring, he would draw attention from several teams looking for a long-term answer behind the plate.
One of the club’s biggest questions for 2016 was answered when the Red Sox announced that John Farrell would indeed return as manager. Interim skipper Torey Lovullo signed a two-year contract to return to his bench coach role (and forgo any manager offers from other teams this winter), so the Sox have a trusted option in place should Farrell have a setback in his recovery from lymphoma. Another update about Farrell’s health will come later this month, and hopefully Farrell will have a clear path to a return on Opening Day.
Dombrowski faces an interesting challenge in taking over a Red Sox team that clearly has a lot of talent on the Major and minor league levels, yet has greatly underachieved over the last two seasons. Hiring Hazen is an acknowledgement of that player development and (partial) player acquisition success, though getting sustained results on the field has been a challenge in the post-Theo Epstein era. Dombrowski’s history as a front office executive has been filled with creative transactions that worked swimmingly well for his teams, and since he’s armed with both a loaded farm system and a luxury tax-level payroll to play with, the first Red Sox offseason under the new regime could be a busy one.
Congratulations are in order for the Cubs, who rode yet another dominant Jake Arrieta performance to a 4-0 win over the Pirates to advance to the NLDS, where they’ll face another division-rival — the Cardinals. As Cubs fans celebrate and Bucs fans mourn, here’s a look at some notes on each of the two teams…
- Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took a look at how the Pirates constructed their latest winner, noting the huge amounts of surplus value they got for relatively low-cost acquisitions such as Francisco Cervelli, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Jung Ho Kang, J.A. Happ, Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton. Perhaps most interesting is Sawchik’s description of how Liriano came to re-sign with Pittsburgh. Awakened by a 3:30am phone call from agent Greg Genske, Liriano learned that the Pirates had upped their offer to $39MM over three years. Genske advised his client to wait, as the Royals and Astros had both made three-year offers as well, and both the Cubs and Red Sox were showing interest, too. Liriano, however, declined. “I said, ‘No. Go ahead and take it,'” Liriano recalled. “I told my agent talk to the Pirates as much as you can, because I wanted to be back.”
- In an effort to explain Arrieta’s emergence as one of the National League’s premier arms, Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris examines a notable change in his pitch profile from 2014 to 2015. As Sarris points out, Arrieta has flipped the usage of his two-seamer and four-seamer and now greatly favors the former over the latter. Beyond that, Arrieta’s shown a willingness to throw his two-seamer/sinker in the zone to lefties and righties alike, and he’ll use the pitch to challenge hitters as well as front-door/back-door them for called strikes and weak contact. The result has been one of the game’s most effective pitches and Arrieta’s emergence into the national limelight and NL Cy Young race.
- David Ross hit just .176/.267/.252 for the Cubs this season, but ESPN’s Wayne Drehs spoke to Ross, his teammates and the coaching staff about the value that Ross brings in the clubhouse and the difference he’s made in dealing with rookies, young stars like Anthony Rizzo and veterans like Jon Lester. Every teammate of Ross spoke glowingly about his emphasis on accountability and his relentless quest to make sure that there’s not a day when anyone on the team is giving any less than 100 percent on the field. Manager Joe Maddon called Ross the best clubhouse presence he’s ever seen, and Rizzo tried to characterize the impact of Ross’ leadership. “It’s one of those things … [Ross] doesn’t demand respect — he earns it,” Rizzo explained. “He lets you know in a nice way, and he’ll get on you in a rough way if he needs to. I tell him all the time I just want to go out and prove to him I can bring it everyday.”
Changes in the Mariners’ front office continue, as ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports that senior adviser Ted Simmons won’t be back with the team next year (Twitter link). Simmons, a former general manager of the Pirates, was hired to work underneath Jack Zduriencik back in 2010. He’s just one of several Mariners execs that reportedly won’t be returning in 2016, as news broke yesterday that Duane Shaffer, Pete Vuckovich, Joe McIlvaine and Joe Nigro will not have their contracts renewed.
A few more Mariners notes…
- Though the focus of this column from the New York Post’s Joel Sherman is the Yankees, Sherman indicates within that there’s a strong industry belief that Hisashi Iwakuma will re-sign with the Mariners this offseason. The 35-year-old Iwakuma has spent his entire Major League career with the Mariners, and while there may have been initial questions about whether or not a new GM would be interested in retaining him, Jerry Dipoto has already said that re-signing Iwakuma (with whom he is quite familiar from his days as Angels GM) is a priority for the team.
- Iwakuma is believed to be seeking a three-year contract, reports Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Divish notes that Iwakuma has never made more than $7MM in a season, but on a new deal something in excess of $10MM would be a reasonable target in terms of annual salary. I’d agree with that assessment and think there’s a case for Iwakuma to receive three years despite the fact that he’s only topped 180 innings in one of his four Major League seasons. Divish quotes Dipoto as saying the there’s mutual interest in a return for Iwakuma.
- Divish also notes within that column that sources have indicated a decision on manager Lloyd McClendon may not be reached until next week. Determining whether or not McClendon is the man he wants running the team is near the top of Dipoto’s priority list. McClendon tells Divish that he feels the talks he’s had thus far with Dipoto have been productive, and he takes pride in the effort level put forth by the Mariners under his guidance. “I look in the mirror every night and know that I gave it everything I had every day,” says McClendon. “My players gave me everything they had every day. Some nights it was good enough. Some nights it wasn’t very good. The effort was always there. Obviously we have to shore some things up from a talent standpoint.”
- One more note of interest from Divish’s column (which Mariners fans and those interested in their offseason should read in its entirety) is Dipoto’s description of his philosophy on roster construction. “I will be frank: The trade market is always my first alternative,” Dipoto explained. “You draft, scout and develop, you trade, and to me free agents augment the roster you have. In a perfect world, you get to a stage where the foundation is strong enough you use free agency as a pure accent move rather than a foundational builder.” That, of course, doesn’t rule out any sort of significant spending on free agents this winter but does at least hint at something of a departure from the Mariners’ free-spending ways in the past two offseasons, when they signed Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Fernando Rodney.
- In taking a look at MLBTR’s arb projections, the Tacoma News Tribune’s Bob Dutton notes that there could very well be a decision coming at first base. Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison project to earn a combined $13.2MM, which could make for an expensive platoon. While both have experience in the outfield, Dutton points out that Dipoto has expressed a need for a more athletic (i.e. defensively gifted) outfield, and neither Trumbo nor Morrison is a solid outfield defender. He continues, adding that Dipoto has already traded Trumbo once and could conceivably look to do so again, though if Trumbo stays, he’ll probably play every day due to the money he’s earning, which could make Morrison expendable.
With the Yankees’ offseason now underway, Joel Sherman of the New York Post breaks down the team’s needs, specifically mentioning rotation stability and versatility. While he notes that in the George Steinbrenner days, lavish spending to bring in names such as David Price, Ben Zobrist and Yoenis Cespedes might’ve been the expectation, but Hal Steinbrenner has no interest in pushing an already-high payroll toward the $300MM mark. The younger Steinbrenner also doesn’t wish to dole out any further mega-contracts until some of the large, existing contracts come off the books. As such, Sherman writes that we can likely rule out an earnest pursuit of David Price. Signing Price for $30MM annually — and Price may command even more than that — would cost the Yankees $45MM annually in the deal’s early stages due to luxury tax purposes. Sherman suggests that instead, making a strong push to acquire Sonny Gray (listing Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo and Gary Sanchez as possible trade chips) is a better fit for the Yankees. Sherman also feels that trades for Martin Prado and/or Enrique Hernandez as well as a signing of Zobrist would give the Yanks a deep, versatile crop of players to keep aging veterans fresh and match up well against pitchers regardless of handedness.
Some more Yankees items…
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News takes his own shot at getting the Yankees to the next step this offseason. Feinsand lists five things decisions that the Yankees should make, opining that Justin Upton is a fit that should be signed but that the Yankees should steer clear of a substantial commitment to Price.
- Sherman also reports that the Yankees are planning to tender right-hander Ivan Nova a contract for the 2016 season. Nova, projected by MLBTR to earn $4.4MM in arbitration, struggled to a 5.07 ERA in 94 innings in 2015 — his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Despite the fact that he didn’t look like his 2013 self (3.10 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 in 139 innings), Nova’s 93 mph fastball velocity was right in line with his career mark. The team views him as a back-of-the-rotation option, and a $4.4MM price tag on such a commodity would hardly be exorbitant. Nova is a free agent after the 2016 season.
- General manager Brian Cashman told reporters last night that he passed on the opportunity to acquire Zobrist from the Athletics in exchange for second baseman Rob Refsnyder and right-hander Adam Warren, tweets Chad Jennings of the Journal News. Zobrist would eventually be traded to the Royals in exchange for right-hander Aaron Brooks and highly touted pitching prospect Sean Manaea. He went on to hit .284/.364/.453 with seven homers in 264 plate appearances for Kansas City. As the New York Daily News’ Anthony McCarron adds, Cashman said he has no regrets about not making a deal in July. “I’d be piling guys on top of guys that didn’t have a place to play, other than second base,” said Cashman, stating that Zobrist was the only available second base option that interested him.
The Marlins’ managerial search is in full effect after the team formally announced this past weekend that Dan Jennings would not return to the dugout and has been asked to rejoin the front office. To this point, it’s known that Larry Bowa, Manny Acta and Bo Porter are candidates for the Marlins, who are said to prefer someone with previous managerial experience.
Here’s the latest on their search…
- The Marlins have received permission from the Diamondbacks to interview Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. His interview will come tomorrow and be backed by a “strong endorsement” from D-Backs GM Dave Stewart, Nightengale adds. While Nevin lacks Major League managing experience, he’s been a very successful minor league manager and has been oft-regarded as a future big league skipper over the past couple of seasons.
- The current coaching staff will have the opportunity to get some face time with whichever candidate the team elects to hire, president of baseball operations Michael Hill told reporters, including the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer (Twitter link). Spencer adds in a followup tweet, however, that everyone on the coaching staff has also been granted the permission to seek opportunities in other organizations, should they wish to do so.