AL Central Links: Masterson, Ryan, LaRoche

Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…

  • The White Sox and Tigers have expressed interest in Justin Masterson, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, meaning that all five AL Central clubs have at least checked in on the free agent righty.  Outside of this division, Masterson’s long list of suitors also includes the Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Marlins.
  • The Indians touched base with Masterson early in the offseason but “haven’t shown a lot of interest” since, Hoynes writes.
  • In an interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter links here), Twins GM Terry Ryan said his team “could use a right handed bat in the outfield. We’re rather young here especially in the outfield.”  Of course, the Twins have been connected to a right-handed hitting veteran in Torii Hunter, who recently said that he’d had numerous conversations with Ryan.  Minnesota is one of at least 10 teams who have shown interest in Hunter’s services this offseason.  Earlier today on MLBTR, Jeff Todd outlined Hunter’s free agent profile.
  • On the Twins‘ search for pitching, Ryan said that he’s looking for both left- and right-handed starters, noting that his club doesn’t have many proven innings-eaters in the rotation.  Relatively few free agent pitchers have come off the board this winter, though Ryan said “it may be a slow moving market and then one of those big time pitchers goes and all heck breaks loose.”
  • Adam LaRoche wasn’t keen to fully transition to a full-time DH role, yet he told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes) during his introductory White Sox press conference that he’s happy to cede most of the first base duties to Jose Abreu.  “They’ve got a kid [Abreu] that’s obviously going to be around and be really good for a long time,” LaRoche said.  “It’s not fair to make him a full-time DH this early in his career, especially when he can handle first base and handle the glove over there….I’ll do it however it plays out.  If they need me to play first more than we’re talking about, great, I’ll be there. If I end up DHing more, that’s fine.”  Robin Ventura said that he plans to give LaRoche two starts per week at first base, a time-share that will hopefully keep both he and Abreu fresh for the entire season.

Scherzer, Lester, Shields And Career Pitch Counts

Agent Scott Boras has the prize of free agency in Max Scherzer, and Boras has taken to touting his client’s “pitching odometer.”  Boras explained to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, “[Scherzer] really has the [arm] of a 25 or 26 year old. This is like signing a 25 or 26-year-old pitcher.”

Perhaps reflecting what is found in Scherzer’s binder, Heyman cited the following stats:

“Did you know Scherzer, 30, has thrown 20,954 pitches, to 26,321 for Jon Lester and 29,461 for James Shields, the other top two free-agent pitchers in a top-heavy market containing three aces?”

Scherzer has thrown 8,507 fewer pitches than Shields and 5,367 fewer than Jon Lester. This difference may seem relevant, but in the end it will not matter. Instead, the focus should be on the trio’s birth date.

Context For Number Of Pitches Thrown

When looking at the total number of pitches, the zeros get in the way. For each game started, an ace will throw about 100 pitches. Most aces will start 30+ times a season, so each healthy ace-level pitcher can expect to throw at least 3,000 pitches in a season. The number could grow even higher with longer starts, more regular season starts and postseason games. Just using 3,000 pitches for a season and looking at each pitcher’s age, Boras’ difference can be explained by prorating the pitches thrown back to their age-29 season (Scherzer’s age at the end of last season).

Pitches prorated back to age-29 season
Scherzer: 20,954
Lester: 23,321
Shields: 17,461

The number of pitches thrown really just comes down to age. Scherzer’s arm had less mileage on it than Lester’s arm at the same age, but more than Shields. The difference of 8,500 pitches may seem like a ton, but for pitchers four years apart in age, the number is completely reasonable.

Pitches Thrown And Likelihood Of Next-Season DL Stint

Now, is there a magic number of pitches when a pitcher’s arm just quits being healthy? Is 25,000 pitches the point? 30,000? My study finds that no magic number exists. Actually, the opposite is true.

I looked at the career pitches thrown by pitchers from 2001 to 2012, then put the pitchers into 3,000-pitch groups and to find their chances of a DL stint next season. Here are the DL percentages for pitchers as they put more mileage on their arms.  (Note: 39% of all established pitchers will go on the DL at some point the next season.  (n) refers to the number of pitcher-seasons in the sample.)

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-8999 (674): 36%, 24
9000-11999 (470): 39%, 26
12000-14999 (324): 40%, 29
15000-17999 (225): 45%, 33
18000-20999 (179): 37%, 29
21000-23999 (111): 42%, 26
24000-26999 (99): 39%, 24
27000-29999 (88): 39%, 27
30000-32999 (71): 45%, 38
33000-35999 (47): 34%, 27
36000-38999 (28): 50%, 21
39000-41999 (26): 38%, 27
> 42000(79): 37%, 23

There are some increases and decreases, but generally the DL rate hovers around the expected 39%.

Here are the numbers grouped into 9,000-pitch blocks.

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-14999 (1468): 38%, 26
15000-23999 (515): 42%, 30
24000-32999 (258): 41%, 29
33000-41999 (101): 40%, 25
>42000 (79): 37%, 23

It may not seem intuitive that pitchers will have a smaller DL chance as they throw more, but they do. At 24,000 pitches, a pitcher has been productive and healthy enough to be in the league around eight seasons.  Besides just the number of DL stints, the time spent on the disabled list is just as important. The pitchers could go on the DL and stay there because of a major injury. If high-pitch pitchers were staying on the DL longer, the average number of days would be seen going up.  Instead, they decline.

Pitches Thrown And Expected Future Innings Pitched

The three pitchers in question — Scherzer, Lester, and Shields — are each looking for a multi-year deal. How many innings can teams expect out of these pitchers in the future? Looking at the pitches a pitcher has thrown in his MLB career from 2001 to 2009, here are the innings thrown in the next five seasons.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-8999: (468): 302
9000-11999: (364): 324
12000-14999: (249): 354
15000-17999: (176): 398
18000-20999: (129): 426
21000-23999 (86): 427
24000-26999 (81): 446
27000-29999 (68): 372
30000-32999 (45): 430
33000-35999 (32): 381
36000-38999 (17): 557
39000-41999 (18): 508
> 42000 (68): 476

And now the same data grouped into a few large groups.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-14999 (1081): 322
14000-23999 (391): 414
24000-32999 (194): 416
33000-41999 (67): 460
> 42000 (68): 750

Just because a pitcher has a ton of mileage on his arm doesn’t mean he is about to break down. He could continue to throw for years to come. The more pitches a pitcher has thrown, the better the chances he continues to throw. The three pitchers in question have passed the threshold of being healthy and good.

2015 DL Chances For Scherzer, Lester, Shields

Every pitcher (including these three) will eventually break down, we just don’t know when. An injury risk can be assigned to every pitcher. I have used a DL chance formula to determine the chance a pitcher will end up on the DL with accurate results. Using the formula, here their DL chances for 2015.

Name: Scherzer, Lester, Shields
Age: 29, 30, 33
GS (’12 to ’14): 98, 98, 101
DL Stints (’12 to ’14): 0, 0, 0
DL Chance: 34%, 35%, 38%

These three pitchers each have health (no recent DL stints) and a history of being able to make about 33 starts per season on their side. The only difference among them is age, which makes Scherzer the least likely to end up on the DL.

Boras continues to mention Scherzer’s pitching odometer as an advantage over Lester and Shields. However, the number of pitches thrown is not indicative of future injury. A high number shows the pitcher can hold up to the grind of being able to successfully throw for full seasons. The main issue between the three pitchers is age. Scherzer is four years younger than Shields. Scherzer’s body may still be able to hold up a bit better than the other pair, but they are still some of the healthiest pitchers in the league. The debate about the trio’s durability should begin and end with age.


Free Agent Profile: Torii Hunter

At 39 years of age, Torii Hunter is no longer the player he once was. But his reliable bat and clubhouse presence are sure to lead to plenty of interest.

Pros/Strengths

As he has throughout his career, Hunter hit in 2014. His 111 OPS+ (.286/.319/.446) marked the ninth consecutive season in which he has been at least 10% above league average in overall batting production (per that metric). Since becoming a regular in 2001, Hunter has only once (barely) dropped below the mean.

MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles-Workouts

Neither is there any particular reason to think that a cliff is nearing. Hunter’s walk rate has been down sharply in the last two seasons — around 4% after posting numbers that were as much as twice that rate in the not-so-distant past — but he has also driven down his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.2%. And the contact is still good: Hunter posted a personal second-best 21.3% line drive rate last year and put the ball on the ground right at his career average. Bat speed and reflexes do not appear to be a problem; pitchers threw Hunter fastballs 57.6% of the time last year, the lowest percentage of his career.

That remarkable consistency is equaled by Hunter’s durability. Since the start of the 2007 campaign, Hunter has seen just one DL stint (for five weeks owing to a groin strain back in 2009). He has had his share of rest in recent years, averaging 142 games played over the last three seasons, but has made at least 584 trips to the plate in each of those.

It might reasonably be expected that teams will look beyond the numbers in determining their interest level in Hunter. He has 18 MLB seasons under his belt, and is widely characterized as a desirable clubhouse leader.

Cons/Negatives

Defensively, Hunter had already regressed from a solid center fielder to a solid right fielder. But over the last two years, defensive metrics have soured considerably on his work in right. Defensive Runs Saved, which judged Hunter a +15 contributor in 2012, has moving to -10 and then -18 since. Ultimate Zone Rating noted a less pronounced fade in 2013, but concurred with DRS on Hunter’s overall value last year. The issue, per UZR’s assessment, is clear: while Hunter’s arm and error propensity are approximately average, his range has disappeared.

At the plate, one could quibble and note that Hunter’s output last year was at the bottom range of his career range. While it would be a stretch to say that portends a precipitous decline – after all, he was still produced within the bounds of his career norms and did so on a career-average BABIP – that fact does, perhaps, dampen the notion that he might return to his 2012 levels (.313/.365/.451, albeit on a .389 BABIP).

Likewise, Hunter’s counting stats are down from his peak. He is no longer a threat to steal twenty bags or to hit 25-30 home runs. On the other hand, the loss of speed is not surprising, and Hunter still grades out well on the bases. And as for power, Hunter’s decline has tracked a more general league trend, and he still put up a .160+ ISO over each of the last two years and has never hit less than 16 long balls in a full season.

Personal

Hunter was born and raised in Arkansas, going straight from Pine Bluff to the Minnesota Twins after he was chosen in the first round of the 1993 draft. He is one of only two players from the first round of that draft still active in the majors, the other being first overall pick Alex Rodriguez.

Hunter makes his offseason home in the Dallas-Forth Worth area with his wife, Katrina. As he told MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the Hunters are already empty-nesters. Several of his sons excel at sports as well, enrolling in colleges on football scholarships, and Hunter says that he enjoys traveling to watch them in action.

Market

While the Tigers are not interested in a reunion at this point, recent reports suggest that as many as ten teams have already shown interest in the Reynolds Sports Management client, including the Royals, Cubs, Giants, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners.

Then, of course, there are the Twins, Hunter’s former club. The veteran says he has had several conversations with Minnesota GM Terry Ryan. He has also indicated that he wants a regular role on a legitimate contender, and it would be difficult to cast the Twins in that light. Either way, having already earned over $160MM during his outstanding career, he seems unlikely to view the highest bid as a trump to personal preference.

The corner outfield market contains several players in the same general market niche as Hunter, though each obviously has their benefits and drawbacks. With Michael Cuddyer going to the Mets, teams looking for veteran production down the lines can also look to Alex Rios and Michael Morse.

It bears noting that Hunter has almost exclusively played right field since he moved off of center. He has spent a mere 119 1/3 frames patrolling left, all before he became a fixture in the Twins’ lineup. With his range being the major question, and his arm still playing at the big league level, it seems likely that he will be targeted primarily by clubs having (or willing to make) an opening on that side. As the list of teams with apparent interest would indicate, Hunter’s most obvious fit is with an American League club that plans to utilize some manner of platoon situation for its designated hitter slot, as he could benefit from a reduced defensive load as he enters his age-39 season.

Expected Contract

Hunter should have several appealing situations to ponder. To some extent, of course, the breadth of interest relates to the fact that he figures to be available on a short-term deal at a palatable rate. For teams looking to lock in a decent level of production at the plate for the short term, while keeping future payroll flexibility, Hunter makes for a highly appealing option.

Multiple years are certainly within reach if Hunter is interested, though he may not be – and may see somewhat reduced interest and lower-AAV offers if he does pursue that route. Cuddyer’s two-year, $21MM deal sets the market at the corner, and carries an even higher implied valuation since it required the Mets to sacrifice the 15th overall pick in the upcoming draft. (Applying a 3x multiplier to the slot value of that pick last year results in a rough $7.5MM valuation of New York’s added cost. As discussed by Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, however, other means of estimation might put the value in the $10MM to $15MM range.)

Ultimately, assuming Hunter picks amongst the clubs pushing the top of his market, I think he will land a deal in the range of two years and $22MM. If he ultimately falls shy of that mark, it could well be because he prefers a one-year deal or takes a discount for one reason or another.



NL Notes: Sandoval, Tomas, Phillies, Marlins

The Giants‘ pre-season efforts to extend Pablo Sandoval were more aggressive than had previously been known, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Before the season, San Francisco offered Sandoval a deal that would have added four years and a vesting option on top of his 2014 arbitration salary, potentially reaching $91.5MM over that six-year span. (That figure includes the option; the report does not indicate the precise guaranteed figure.) While that falls shy of what Sandoval ultimately achieved, of course, it certainly sounds like a competitive offer for the context in which it was made.

More from the National League;

  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says he was “not disappointed” to see Yasmany Tomas land with another club, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports. Amaro did say that the Phils had “dialogue” yesterday with Tomas’s representatives, which would seem to indicate that the team had at least some involvement right down to the wire.
  • Amaro went on to reject the concept that the team was focused on bolstering its lineup. “Who said we were looking for a power bat?” Amaro queried. “We have a long-term plan and the moves we make are based on that. We’re looking for pitching right now.”
  • We’ve heard various reports of late suggesting that the Marlins are interested in adding a left-handed bat. One name to keep an eye on, per a report from Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, is Brandon Moss of the Athletics.

Arbitration Breakdown: Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Steve Cishek

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Four relievers enter their second year of arbitration eligibility this winter, with a chance to collectively make a huge impact on that market. Each will influence each other’s salary as they did last year, and will influence many players that follow in the coming years. Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Steve Cishek each became full-time closers during their second full seasons in 2012, and have dominated hitters since.

Becoming a closer so early was a rare feat just a few years ago. Teams used to give three-year or four-year deals worth upwards of $10 million per year for an “established” closer. Players like Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Jonathan Papelbon signed such deals that began between 2008 and 2012, and few of those worked out. As I wrote several years ago, teams were paying far more per WAR for relievers than any other position on the diamond by far. Obviously the measurement of WAR is tricky, but regardless of how it is measured, it was clear that allocating $10 million to a guy to throw 60 innings three years down the line was not working out for many teams.

Fortunately, something happened that gave a number of teams the opportunity to change their ways. An onslaught of talented young pitchers emerged onto the scene with incredible fastballs, and many were given the opportunity to be closers quickly. Craig Kimbrel is actually from the same service class as these four players but he signed a four-year deal last winter. However, that makes five teams who quickly established a young arm in the closing position and had some success with it. Of course, now that these guys have some experience, the price has gone up.

Holland had the best year of the foursome, with a 1.44 ERA and 46 saves. Jansen was no slouch with a 2.12 ERA and 44 saves, Chapman’s ERA was just 2.00 and he had 36 saves, while Cishek had 39 saves but a more pedestrian 3.17 ERA. As a result, the model predicted a $4.62MM raise for Holland, $3.5MM for Jansen, $3.1MM for Cishek, and $3.05MM for Chapman. The model weighs heavily on saves since the market for relievers has done so in recent years, so it has unsurprisingly ranked their raises by saves. Holland’s raise is actually subject to “The Kimbrel Rule,” which states that a player cannot beat the record for his role and service time by more than $1MM, so his projected raise is limited to $4.275MM (topping Francisco Rodriguez’s $3.275MM raise from 2007 by $1MM), which gives him a $8.95MM projected salary.

What makes these guys even more unique is the fact that so few teams have gone year-to-year in arbitration with their closers. Jason Motte, Jonathan Broxton, and Carlos Marmol have each gotten two-year or three-year deals in recent years. Obviously Kimbrel’s four-year deal meets those criteria as well.

In fact, the only closer with 30 saves in his platform season, 45 saves in his pre-platform seasons, and an ERA under 3.50 in the last five years who did get a one-year deal during his second year of arbitration was Jonathan Papelbon. He got a $3.1MM raise from the Red Sox in 2010 after putting together 38 saves and a 1.85 ERA. Before him, Francisco Rodriguez’s 2007 raise of $3.275MM is a possible clue (1.73 ERA and 47 saves), as could be Jose Valverde’s $2.7MM raise in 2008 (2.66 ERA, 47 saves), or Chad Cordero’s $2.05MM raise in 2008 (3.36 ERA, 37 saves). However, those last three cases are very old and are less likely to be considered in an arbitration case.

All four of the closers in question will basically have Jonathan Papelbon’s $3.1MM raise and whatever each other get as a reference. I think that there is a strong possibility that Chapman and Cishek do get right around their projected numbers, which are within $50K of Papelbon’s raise. I could see Chapman’s reputation pushing him a little higher, though. And I’m also inclined to agree with the model that Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland, with similar ERA’s and more saves than Papelbon, plus a few years of salary inflation behind their cases, are likely to top Papelbon’s raise. Jansen’s $3.5MM raise seems about right, and while I think the model’s estimate for Holland of a $4.62MM raise strikes me as unlikely, a Kimbrel rule-adjusted $4.275MM raise sounds reasonable.

If I had to guess, I think that these four guys will follow the model well. However, I think that they will either all collectively make the model look good, or the first guy will make it look bad, and the following three guys to sign will make it look worse as they affect each other’s cases. Without many historical comparables that look anything like this foursome, they will all become comparables for each other. Unless their teams follow the Braves and ink a multi-year deal, I would not be surprised if these four guys affect each other’s 2016 salaries as well.


Poll: Best Early Free Agent Addition

The first portion of the free agent market — the sprint from the November 10 qualifying offer decision date to Thanksgiving — is now in the books. Next up, of course, will be the ramp-up to the upcoming Winter Meetings.

Before we get to round 2, let’s field opinions on round 1. Which early-market addition of a new talent do you believe to be the wisest?

*signing required sacrifice of draft pick

Standard disclaimer: I acknowledge that this poll asks for a prediction and that we won’t really know the answer for some time.

Non-standard disclaimer: because I forgot to include Victor Martinez’s re-signing with Detroit, but do not want to wipe out early votes, this poll will be about players who have found new teams.


Full Story | Comments | Categories: MLBTR Polls

MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Episode 8

MLB player agent Matt Sosnick of Sosnick Cobbe Sports joins host Jeff Todd for the first of a two-part discussion (1:26). This week’s portion includes the latest on Josh Johnson as well as discussion of other Sosnick Cobbe clients such as Josh Willingham, Jay Bruce, Jon Singleton, and Ricky Nolasco. Then, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes joins the show to go in-depth on the latest moves from the Red Sox (20:18).

Don’t forget to fill out our podcast survey for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons. It is appearing a day early in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.


AL Notes: Moss, Mariners, Lester, Headley, Rays, Twins

Brandon Moss could not help but become aware that the Athletics have made some notable additions that have a bearing on his status with the club, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Moss, who avoided the need for micro-fracture surgery on his hip and expects to be ready to go on something close to a normal schedule this spring, says he realizes that the additions of Billy Butler and Ike Davis could set up some other changes. “You never know; the front office likes to mix up,” said Moss. “I’m trying not to let anything surprise me, because I don’t want to be blindsided. Obviously, I love playing in Oakland, but when this happened, I knew it could mean someone else gets moved.”

Here’s more from the American League:

  • In addition to the four players noted yesterday, the Mariners are interested in Evan Gattis of the Braves, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Seattle is determined to come away with one of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Gattis, per the report. The M’s made a competitive offer for Victor Martinez before he re-signed with the Tigers, Heyman adds.
  • Talks between the Red Sox and Jon Lester are not on any kind of timetable, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (Twitter links). Lester is still making the rounds and considering his alternatives, per Bradford.
  • The Yankees are willing to go to three years in a deal for third baseman Chase Headley, Heyman reports. But Headley, unsurprisingly, is out looking for longer, better offers. New York is unlikely to go further than three, Joel Sherman reported yesterday, and it seems that Headley is drawing sufficient interest to get a fourth year guaranteed.
  • The Rays have announced that bench coach Dave Martinez will pursue other opportunities with another organization. Martinez was not listed as a finalist to replace Joe Maddon in the big league dugout, making a separation seem all but inevitable.
  • After a wide search, the Twins have agreed bring on Neil Allen as the team’s pitching coach, along with Eddie Guardado as bullpen coach and Joe Vavra as the bench coach to new skipper Paul Molitor. Allen had been the Rays’ pitching coach at Triple-A Durham.

NL West Notes: Tomas, Padres Backstops, Kemp, Giants

The Giants were the runners up in the pursuit of Yasmany Tomas, who earlier today reportedly agreed to terms with the Diamondbacks, according to a Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). For their $68.5MM, Arizona is getting a player with undeniable upside, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick writes after speaking with three scouting sources.

  • The Padres are receiving a “ton of inquiries” on backstops Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera, and Austin Hedges, according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Each member of that trio has his own particular appeal, along with factors that hold down their trade value.
  • In other Padres news, Rosenthal notes (Twitter links) that he has received additional confirmation that San Diego had engaged with talks on Matt Kemp with the Dodgers. He hastens to add that these discussions were not “that recent” and that nothing is close to getting done, as the Friars continue to turn over a number of rocks in search of upgrades after missing on Pablo Sandoval and Tomas. Los Angeles would presumably have interested in arms and catching were talks to move forward.
  • The Giants will indeed seek to apply the money they hoped to spend on Sandoval or Tomas toward another top-end free agent, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning (before the Tomas signing was reported). As reported yesterday, the club is opening a broad search for a way to bolster its roster, aided by a bloated purse from winning the team’s third World Series in five seasons.

Minor Moves: Pena, Boyer, Gutierrez, Swarzak, Belisario, Kohn

Some minor moves from around the league…

  • Also outrighted today was Ramiro Pena of the Braves, per the MLB.com transactions page. The utility man was designated recently, presumably in large part due to his rising arbitration salary.
  • Righty Blaine Boyer (Padres), Anthony Swarzak (Twins), and Juan Gutierrez (Giants) have elected free agency rather than accepting outright assignments, also via the MLB transactions page.
  • The White Sox have outrighted righty Ronald Belisario, per the MLB.com transactions page. Belisario was designated recently to make room for the claim of reliever Onelki Garcia.
  • Likewise, the Rays have outrighted righty Michael Kohn. It has been an odd start to the offseason for Kohn, who was signed to a MLB deal before being designated within weeks by Tampa.
  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reported a number of new transactions in his weekly Minor League Transactions roundup on Monday. Of particular note is a crop of Phillies signings: catcher Koyie Hill, right-hander Paul Clemens, and infielders Chase d’Arnaud and Cord Phelps. Clemens gives them some pitching depth, as he’s totaled 98 innings with the Astros over the past two seasons, albeit with a 5.51 ERA.
  • Also from Eddy, the Reds have inked outfielder Brennan Boesch to a minor league contract. The 29-year-old Boesch hit .269/.330/.436 in 248 games with the Tigers from 2010-11, but since that time, he’s batted just .237/.277/.376 in 635 plate appearances with the Tigers, Yankees and Angels.
  • The Tigers have announced that outfielder Ezequiel Carrera has elected free agency rather than accepting an assignment to Triple-A after being outrighted (Twitter link). The 27-year-old hit .261/.301/.348 in 73 plate appearances with Detroit this season and is a lifetime .253/.305/.340 hitter in the Majors. Carrera hasn’t hit much in 478 big league PAs, but he brings some speed and solid baserunning to the table and is capable of handling all three outfield spots.

Offseason Outlook: Kansas City Royals

The 2014 Royals went from playoff hopeful to Wild Card winners to a Cinderella team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. While the Giants ultimately prevailed, the team’s success brought about a baseball renaissance in Kansas City, leading to passionate and raucous crowds at Kaufman Stadium throughout the entire postseason. Now, GM Dayton Moore and his staff must determine how best to position the team for a repeat of that success despite several escalating salaries and the departures of key free agents.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

Other payroll obligations

  • $1MM owed to Bruce Chen for buyout of 2015 option

The Royals opened the 2014 season with a payroll just over $92MM, and they’re already at $52.75MM in 2015 simply by exercising their option on Wade Davis and buying out the option on Billy Butler. That figure doesn’t include arbitration raises for any of the many arb-eligible players, nor does it include pre-arbitration players to round out the roster. Going off Matt Swartz’s projections, arbitration alone figures to boost the Royals up to $81MM in guarantees — a figure that would jump into the mid-$80MMs when factoring in pre-arb salaries.

There isn’t much room between that projection and the Opening Day payroll of 2014, but of course, there will be extra funds to spend thanks to the team’s deep postseason run. Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star wrote recently that the payroll could surpass $100MM for the first time, meaning GM Dayton Moore could have a fairly well-stocked war chest for the offseason. McCullough reported that room for one fairly significant addition does seem to exist.

Perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Royals will be in the starting rotation. Although the team is said to have a strong desire to retain James Shields, odds are that another team will outbid the Royals by a fairly significant margin. That would leave the club with a rotation consisting of Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie. The team does fancy Brandon Finnegan an eventual starter despite his key role in the postseason bullpen, but dropping him right into the fire from day one next season might be ambitious. He threw just 40 innings between the Royals (minors, regular season and postseason) plus another 105 2/3 innings at TCU last year.

The free agent market features a number of second-tier options at starting pitcher, and though the top names among that second tier — Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, Kenta Maeda and old friend Ervin Santana — could command average annual values north of $12MM on multi-year commitments, that seems to be within the Royals’ means. Indeed, McCullough specifically listed Santana as a target for the Royals when writing about the payroll, and there’s said to be mutual interest between the two sides. Of course, if Moore doesn’t want to spend most of his available money in one place, he could look to more affordable arms like Jason Hammel or try to catch lightning in a bottle by signing Brett Anderson or Brandon Morrow in hopes of getting 150+ innings of strong production should either finally remain healthy.

An alternative solution is the trade market. Reports have already indicated that the Royals will at least listen on some names they’d likely be loath to move, including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. However, in my eyes, the clearest area for the team to shed some payroll is by breaking up the core of the “big three” relievers that gained so much notoriety in this year’s postseason. Greg Holland could stage a legitimate argument for being the game’s best closer, but he’s also projected to earn a whopping $9.3MM next season — a mark that represents about 10 percent of Kansas City’s Opening Day payroll from 2014. Combining to pay Holland and Davis $16.3MM seems a luxury that is too much for Kansas City to afford. However, with two years of team control remaining, Holland will be an attractive asset even with his quickly escalating salary and could fetch some strong young talent in a trade. Davis could slot into the closer’s role, with Herrera becoming the primary setup man. Given Davis’ club options for 2016 ($8MM) and 2017 ($10M), the additional saves won’t drive up his price tag through arbitration as they would Holland’s. Moore has stated that he thinks the team can afford both, however, and the Royals are reportedly even looking to add to their bullpen, so that speculation may be far-fetched, but it does carry some logic, in my mind.

Around the infield, the Royals are set at nearly every position. Catcher Salvador Perez is one of the game’s best bargains, Hosmer will look to return to his 2013 offensive production, Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar will form the double-play tandem, and Mike Moustakas will hope to build off a sound postseason in which he flashed legitimate power. It’s worth debating whether or not the team could look to upgrade over Hosmer and Moustakas, each of whom has disappointed to some level (Moustakas in particular, at the plate at least), but both have been looked at as cornerstone pieces in the past and both possess significant upside that makes it difficult for Kansas City to go in another direction. At the very least, a right-handed platoon option that can handle either corner infield spot seems like it would be a wise acquisition.

In the outfield, Alex Gordon may be baseball’s best left fielder, and the team can either choose to lean on Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in center/right or platoon the two and pursue an external right fielder. A reunion with Aoki, to whom they’ve already been connected, can’t be ruled out. The Royals are also reportedly interested in Torii Hunter, and had been listed as a serious suitor for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, though he is reportedly off the market. An additional (and completely speculative) target could be Justin Upton, who’s owed $14.5MM next year before hitting the open market. Moore knows the Atlanta brass well, and Upton would add some legitimate power (at the expense of defensive value). And, he could net the team a draft pick next winter if he signed elsewhere. However, Atlanta would ask for some high-upside names, likely pitchers, and if the Braves want a Major League ready starter, as they got for Jason Heyward, the very mention of the names “Duffy” or “Ventura” would likely end those talks before they began in earnest.

Another question for the Royals will be how to replace longtime DH Billy Butler, who signed a three-year, $30MM contract with the A’s last week. Kansas City could look to Mike Morse as a DH or attempt to buy low on Corey Hart or Kendrys Morales if the preference is to avoid spending big on designated hitter (which would explain Butler’s departure). They could also elect to use DH as a spot to give Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas and a potential free agent outfield addition some rest (particularly if K.C. ends up adding an older veteran like Hunter). In the conference call discussing Butler’s departure, Moore told reporters, including MLBTR’s own Zach Links, that he was open to either scenario — a dedicated DH or a rotation to keep multiple regulars fresh.

One final piece for Kansas City could be a bullpen arm. Free agent Jason Frasor pitched well in Kansas City after being acquired from Texas and will leave a void in bridging the gap from starter to closer. A reunion could make sense, as he figures to land a one-year deal at a modest cost and knows the team well. Otherwise, I’d peg Kansas City as a potential landing spot for Pat Neshek, Jason Grilli and other solid arms that won’t come with an exorbitant annual value.

In the end, the Royals should be able to boost payroll above $100MM this offseason, but the large arbitration raises due for their core players will prevent them from spending too freely. Moore and his staff could very well look to the trade market to alleviate some of that pressure. The cost-controlled core that is in place should provide the foundation for another run at an AL Central title, so long as the team is able to replace the value lost by Shields’ seemingly inevitable departure. Significant steps forward from Hosmer or Moustakas may take care of that on their own, but Kansas City would be wise to supplement the roster so that those steps forward would be a bonus rather than a necessity.


Diamondbacks To Sign Yasmany Tomas

The Diamondbacks have reached agreement on a six-year, $68.5MM deal with Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The deal includes an opt-out that can be triggered after four seasons and is pending only a physical, per Sanchez.

Yasmani Tomas

The overall guarantee lands just a hair over the $68MM that the White Sox promised Jose Abreu last year. Given changes in the market in the interim — largely driven, perhaps, by Abreu’s own incredible success — that price tag may feel low at first glance. Indeed, much attention has been given to the idea that Tomas, with his prodigious power and youth, could not only beat the Rusney Castillo contract (seven years, $72.5MM) but also reach nine figures.

Of course, the opt-out will play an important role in assessing this deal’s true value, especially once it is learned how much of the guarantee falls under the contract’s last two years. The 4+2 opt-out structure means that Tomas could reach free agency before his age-28 season. If his bat lives up to the hype, he’ll have another shot at a massive payday at that point. But the client of Jay Alou Jr. will have to prove it on the field first.

As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote in his profile of Tomas, the 70-grade raw power is the right-handed hitter’s calling card. His other tools appear largely to be average or slightly below, and it remains unclear precisely what position Tomas will play and how his defensive ability will shake out. Though considered mobile in relation to his hulking frame, Tomas has drawn some concerns about his body and overall conditioning.

For Arizona, joining Tomas with Mark Trumbo potentially sets up a roster with unmatched right-handed power at the outfield corners. Of course, he may well need to spend some time in the upper minors before ascending to the big league roster, though that is an assessment that can wait for the spring. Arizona can also field David Peralta in a corner spot, and his left-handed bat would provide a nice complement when Tomas does make it to the show.

This move, like the Jeremy Hellickson trade, does not necessarily tell us precisely what else the Diamondbacks might look to accomplish for 2015. While the team’s new leadership structure — chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, GM Dave Stewart, and senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson — has indicated that it intends to field a competitive team next year, that does not mean that every move will be of the win-now variety. Entering his second-to-last year of club control, Trumbo could still be a trade chip, as could catcher Miguel Montero or other veterans such as Cliff Pennington and Cody Ross.

The likeliest course, perhaps, is a continuation of what the team has done thus far. Adding pitching will undoubtedly remain a focus, with Arizona possibly looking to deal from its outfield and middle infield surplus as a means of doing so. Before accounting for Tomas and Hellickson, the team’s 2015 payroll was over $20MM shy of last year’s team-record (assuming that all arb-eligible players are tendered). But now there may not be a ton of room to add current-year spending, given reports that the team is expected to spend somewhat less than last year. Of course, Arizona does have some possible means of moving salary through trade and is carrying fairly minimal future obligations.

Photo courtesy of Alyson Boyer Rode.


Yasmany Tomas Rumors: Wednesday

The Padres and Diamondbacks both found themselves in yesterday’s Yasmany Tomas rumors, as it was reported that the D’Backs have very legitimate interest, while the Padres were said not to have a long-standing offer to Tomas (though not the largest which he has received). We’ll track today’s Tomas rumors in this post…

  • Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart discussed his club’s interest with Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic (Twitter links: 1, 2, 3, 4.) Stewart says that no formal offer has been issued, but that Tomas and his reps know the kind of deal — longer, with a lower AAV — that Arizona is interested in. The club is not sure how competitive it is at this point, or where the other bidders stand, but Stewart suggested he had reason to believe that Tomas is looking for a bigger deal than the Rusney Castillo contract. Also, the D’Backs would be interested in deploying Tomas as an outfielder, not at third.
  • Tomas is in the process of sorting through offers from at least the Braves, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Giants, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. San Diego is not believed to have the top offer on the table at present, adds Sanchez. The Phillies are still interested, though their concerns with the price tag remain.

Earlier Updates

  • Tomas is weighing both short- and long-term offers from clubs, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Reports over the past week have indicated that Tomas could be open to taking a shorter term pact. Rosenthal mentions a possible three-year deal (presumably at a higher annual value), which would allow Tomas to secure his first fortune, potentially establish himself as a productive power bat and then hit the open market in the midst of his prime. He also tweets that while the D’Backs are reported to have become more aggressive along with the Braves, Padres and Giants, Tomas’ situation is the type in which we cannot rule out mystery teams.
  • Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune gets the sense that some feel a Tomas signing could boost or sink A.J. Preller’s career as a GM, which is one reason that the Padres might potentially be interested in a shorter-term deal (Twitter links).
  • The Braves have shown an increased interest in Tomas since trading Jason Heyward, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Atlanta sent another group of officials to the Dominican Republic to scout Tomas yesterday. Among those in attendance were assistant GM John Coppolella, top international scout Gordon Blakeley, manager Fredi Gonzalez and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.

Latest On Cole Hamels

In a follow-up to his piece last night analyzing the Phillies’ options with regard to a possible Cole Hamels deal, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark provides a series of interesting notes, all via Twitter. The overall picture that emerges is one in which Philadelphia remains willing and ready to be engaged, and is perhaps more flexible in its thinking than many believe.

  • A team source rejected the prevailing view that Philadelphia is asking potential trade partners for two or three of their best prospects. Instead, the team has been in a stance of asking for offers on their star lefty.
  • At present, however, only one team has actually made an offer. Interestingly, the offeror is a team that has not been mentioned publicly as of yet. Philly felt it was a “good” offer but “not good enough,” per Stark’s source.
  • Ultimately, the Phillies have yet to reach a point in any discussion in which they have made a “formal ask” of a return for Hamels, says Stark. The reason is simply that talks have never progressed far enough to warrant a firm proposal.
  • MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes discussed Hamels’ value on today’s podcast (at about the 27:50 mark), arguing that Hamels would probably take down a bigger contract than Jon Lester were he on the open market. In that view, Dierkes opines, there is plenty of value to be achieved in trading for the Hamels contract, even if it is not a bargain. If Hamels ends up being dealt, it will be fascinating to evaluate how the clubs involved valued his deal.

Shortstop Rumors: Rollins, Tulo, Dodgers, Miller

The Yankees called the Phillies to ask about the availability of Jimmy Rollins, reports ESPN’s Jayson Stark, but the asking price was deemed too high and the Bombers have since moved on (All Twitter links). GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wouldn’t comment to Stark on the Yankees’ interest, but he tells Stark that Rollins is still one of the best shortstops in baseball and would therefore want a lot in return. Amaro adds that Rollins would be “very hard to replace” and is someone the Phillies want on their team. According to Stark, Rollins was never even approached by the team to ask if he would waive his no-trade clause to accept a trade to New York. Throwing even more cold water on the idea of a match, Stark reports (Twitter links) that the Yankees were offering only a “utility player” and that Rollins was not interested in playing in New York.

Here are some more notes pertaining to shortstops from around the league…

  • Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports that while the thought of Troy Tulowitzki heading to the Yankees in a trade has long been considered a long shot, there are “recent, strong indications” that there’s absolutely no chance of such a trade. The Yankees are showing a real reluctance to take on another significant contract, and the six-year, $114 commitment Tulowitzki has remaining has no appeal.
  • Not only that, Martino hears from executives with interested teams that over the past two weeks, the Rockies have given the impression that Tulowitzki is simply unavailable.
  • The Dodgers are in the market for a stopgap to serve as a bridge to top prospect Corey Seager, reports MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. The team feels that while whoever mans shortstop for them in 2015 won’t have the offensive talent of Hanley Ramirez, he will provide a marked defensive difference that offsets some loss of offense. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and several Dodgers decision-makers watched Seager in the Arizona Fall League, and Friedman disagreed with scouts who feel that Seager will have to move to third base. Said Friedman: “I’m convinced that I would not move him off shortstop right now — his hands work really well, and we have a number of guys who think he has a real chance to stick there.”
  • In a video blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney notes that while three big-market teams — the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers — have a need at shortstop, the perception among executives is that there just isn’t much to be had. Executives feel that they could “absolutely” call the Mariners about Brad Miller, says Olney, but he’s been inconsistent at the plate. Stephen Drew hasn’t hit consistently over the past three seasons, either. Rollins has 10-and-5 rights and hasn’t given an inclination that he wants to approve a trade. And free agent Jed Lowrie is viewed by many teams as more of a second baseman than a shortstop.