Latest On Chase Headley

Much of the chatter surrounding Chase Headley this offseason has been that the Yankees are interested in retaining him, but MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian adds a new team to the fold, reporting that the Indians have shown interest in the third baseman. Bastian’s source wouldn’t specify whether an offer has been made. As Bastian notes, a run at Headley would likely first require Cleveland to move the contract of Nick Swisher, who is owed $30MM through 2016. (Cleveland is reportedly exploring possibilities to do just that.)

Cleveland’s interest in Headley isn’t that surprising. While Lonnie Chisenhall had a huge first half, much of that success was driven by an unsustainable average on balls in play, and he’s never graded out as a strong defender. Cleveland’s -19 Defensive Runs Saved and -18.1 UZR/150 at third base last year ranked 28th and 29th in the Majors, respectively. Headley, meanwhile, received respective marks of +13 and +28 in those fields. Both will be tough to repeat, of course, but while Headley’s career averages are lower, they’re still excellent and would represent a sizable upgrade for manager Terry Francona’s squad.

On a highly related note, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that the Yankees may already be priced out of Headley’s market. Sherman hears that the Yankees began the offseason with the hope that Headley could be had on a two-year deal. While that was unlikely to ever be the case, Headley’s stock rose even higher this week when one team signed both of his primary free agent competitors as the Red Sox landed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees, per Sherman, seem unlikely to go beyond three years, and Headley looks headed for a four-year deal, possibly at an even higher rate than the $48MM predicted by Tim Dierkes in early October.

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince takes a speculative look at Headley’s market at this point, opining that the Yankees, Indians, Giants, White Sox, Blue Jays and even the Padres could all enter the picture (the latter option, he admits, is unlikely but not inconceivable).


Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez

8:05pm: Ramirez’s option will vest if he reaches 1050 plate appearances from 2017-18 and does not finish the 2018 season on the disabled list, reports Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (Twitter link).

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports adds (Twitter links) that Ramirez receives a limited no-trade clause in the deal. He will receive $50K bonuses for each All-Star nod, Silver Slugger award and Gold Glove he earns. He can also receive up to $150K each year based on MVP voting and additional bonuses for postseason awards.

5:29pm: On Nov. 24, 2005, the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins in a blockbuster deal, but nine years and a day later, the team has officially announced that Ramirez will return to Boston on a four-year deal.

Hanley  Ramirez

Ramirez, a client of the Wasserman Media Group’s Adam Katz, will reportedly earn $88MM over those four years, and his contract contains a $22MM vesting option for a fifth year.  The contract calls for a $3MM signing bonus, a $19MM salary in 2015 and a $22MM salary from 2016-18.

Ramirez, who hit .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers for the Dodgers last season and owns a .300/.373/.500 slash line for his career, was cited by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes as the top position player available in free agency, though it was “unclear” as to how Ramirez’s market would develop.  While Ramirez’s impact bat was clearly a huge asset in an offense-thin free agent market, he has a notable injury history and is a below-average defensive shortstop, posting negative Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150 totals in seven of his nine full-time seasons.  In order to help his free agent case, Ramirez said he was open to switching positions, though his signing with the Sox opens up a number of possibilities on that front.

The Red Sox announced Ramirez as a left fielder, which should put to rest any questions about his role with the team. Fellow free agent signee Pablo Sandoval will be penciled in as the everyday third baseman, and the promising Xander Bogaerts will look to improve in his second full season in the league.  Ramirez will join Boston’s very crowded outfield mix of Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Daniel Nava.  Cespedes’ name has been mentioned in trade rumors, so he seems like the most probable candidate to be playing elsewhere in 2015, but the Sox seem very likely to move multiple outfielders this winter.

It’s clear that the Red Sox are looking to amass as many top bats as possible in the increasingly pitching-dominated league.  The Sox have been hesitant about signing free agents to long contracts given how several of their recent major signings (i.e. Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez) provided limited returns.  On paper, Ramirez doesn’t fit the model of the safe signing that Boston would prefer given his age (he’ll be 31 on Opening Day), injury history and defensive issues, though given how little payroll space the Sox have tied up in future commitments, the club had plenty of flexibility.

Earlier this month, MLBTR’s Zach Links projected Ramirez would get a six-year, $132MM deal, so the reported total of his pact with Boston lags behind in both years and dollars.  The qualifying offer and the questions about Ramirez’s defense could have played a role, or it could be that Ramirez was simply willing to take less money to play for the organization that originally signed him as an amateur free agent in 2000.  Ramirez developed into one of the game’s top prospects while in the Sox farm system and he played his first two Major League games with the team in 2005.  He was dealt that November to the Marlins as part of the trade package that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

The Dodgers will earn a compensation pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as a result of the signing, as Ramirez turned down the team’s qualifying offer.  Boston’s 2015 first-round pick is protected, so the Sox have surrendered both their second- and third-round picks in order to bring Sandoval and Ramirez aboard.

Christopher Meola first reported that Ramirez would sign with Boston (Twitter link), and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the terms of the deal. The year-to-year breakdown was first reported by WEEI.com’s Alex Speier (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Red Sox Owner Willing To Exceed Luxury Tax Threshold In 2015

At today’s press conference to announce the signing of Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox owner John Henry told reporters, including WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, that his team is willing to exceed the $189MM luxury tax threshold in 2015. “The way it’€™s structured we can blow through one year,” Henry said. “Again for next year we have tremendous flexibility so we could go could through for one year and not overly effect us.”

Henry added that his previous comments about aversion to long-term contracts were overblown and stated, “You can’t win unless you engage in free agency.”  The Red Sox’ early actions this offseason have exemplified that line of thinking, as the team today announced the signing of Ramirez to a four-year, $88MM contract (with a vesting option for a fifth season) and Pablo Sandoval to a five-year $95MM contract. Additionally, they inked Koji Uehara to a two-year, $18MM pact before he even hit the open market.

Boston’s spending doesn’t seem the least bit likely to stop there, as both Henry expressed that he is hopeful of securing a reunion with Jon Lester, who is a well-known target of GM Ben Cherington. Boston is believed to be looking at to add at least two starting pitchers this season and has also been linked to trade target Cole Hamels and free agent James Shields, among others.

The flexibility to which Henry refers is significant; Mike Napoli ($16MM AAV), Shane Victorino ($13MM AAV), Edward Mujica ($4.75MM AAV) and Yoenis Cespedes ($9MM AAV) are all coming off the books following the upcoming season. As Speier examined in depth yesterday, the Red Sox figure to already be within $7-8MM of the $189MM threshold, and that’s without adding a pair of starters as well as perhaps a backup catcher and another bullpen arm. However, the team will also undoubtedly be offloading some significant salary in trades of its outfield surplus. Cespedes has been heavily rumored as a likely trade candidate, and any of Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava could theoretically be moved as well.



Minor Moves: Roth, Marte, Williams, Asencio

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • Angels director of communications Eric Kay announced today that the team has outrighted catcher Jackson Williams and outfielder Alfredo Marte to Triple-A after the duo cleared waivers. Left-hander Michael Roth, meanwhile, also cleared waivers and elected to test the free agent waters rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A. Roth had success as a starter at Double-A last season and could look to latch on with an organization that is thin on rotation depth or has a clearer path to a role in the big league bullpen. All three players were designated for assignment last Thursday as the Halos set their roster before the Rule 5 Draft.
  • The Padres announced today that outfielder Yeison Asencio has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A El Paso. The 25-year-old was designated for assignment last week despite having posted fairly strong numbers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014.

Red Sox Designate Juan Francisco For Assignment

The Red Sox announced that they have designated corner infielder Juan Francisco for assignment. The move clears roster space for Hanley Ramirez, whose deal has now been officially announced by the team.

Francisco’s tenure with the BoSox was brief, to put it lightly. Boston claimed the lefty slugger off waivers from the Blue Jays not one week ago, but the addition of Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to the roster left little room for Francisco on the roster.

The 27-year-old Francisco possesses serious pop from the left side of the dish, as evidenced by his lifetime .203 isolated power mark (slugging minus average) and the even more impressive .236 figure that he posted with Toronto in 2014. However, for all of thunder Francisco can bring to a lineup, he’s fanned in more than 34 percent of his career plate appearances, he’s regarded as a below-average defender at third and he’s struggled against lefties throughout his career. Francisco’s .248/.310/.476 batting line against righties is impressive, but those totals drop to just .159/.213/.210 against southpaws.

Francisco was projected to earn $2.2MM in arbitration by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. A team with a need at third base or for a left-handed bench bat could show interest in him, but they’d be on the hook for roughly that projected amount in 2015 should they acquire Francisco via waivers or in a trade with the Red Sox.


Jon Lester Rumors: Tuesday

Yesterday, we took a look at some news and rumors on free agent Jon Lester and the connection of his market to the trade market for Cole Hamels. As things continue to develop for Lester, here’s the latest …

  • Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com hears that the Cubs are very much in on Lester still. The Cubs have been on top of the situation from the beginning, Levine writes, and while his source wouldn’t wager a guess as to where Lester will sign, the source did indicate that an annual salary of $25MM or more.

Earlier Updates

  • The Cubs have made Lester an offer of over $135MM and are willing to go to six years on a deal, according to a report from David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (audio and written version).
  • Kaplan also reports that the Giants‘ interest in Lester is real and significant. The lefty is scheduled for a visit to San Francisco next week, per ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Twitter links).
  • Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters, including Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, that he is “confident that we’re making every attempt internally here and the hope would be to get [Lester] back here.” But things could still take some time to shake out, with Farrell adding that he expects to “get a better read on that in the coming weeks.”

Red Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval

3:30pm: Sandoval will receive limited no-trade protection as well as a variety of annual award incentives, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).

11:29am: Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has officially signed with the Red Sox, kicking off a fascinating offseason for Boston. He’ll earn a guaranteed $95MM over five years, with a club option for a sixth season.

Pablo  Sandoval

Sandoval will receive a $3MM bonus, then earn $17MM annually over 2015-17 before taking home an $18MM salary in both 2018 and 2019. The club option is for $17MM and comes with a $5MM buyout.

Sandoval’s addition immediately addresses Boston’s need for a third baseman in the wake of Will Middlebrooks‘ disappointing 2014 season, and the switch-hitting Sandoval also adds some balance to a predominantly right-handed hitting Red Sox batting order.  While Sandoval never had much trouble hitting at AT&T Park (a career .853 OPS in San Francisco), it stands to reason that the move to hitter-friendly Fenway Park will only help his production.

With Sandoval in the fold and Hanley Ramirez reportedly also close to finalizing a deal, the Red Sox may have landed the two biggest infield bats on the free agency market.  It remains to be seen how the Red Sox will deploy their talent given Xander Bogaerts‘ presence at shortstop, though Sandoval is the obvious choice at third base given that he has posted above-average UZR/150 numbers in three of the last four seasons.

The Red Sox were one of three reported finalists for Sandoval along with the Giants and Padres.  (The Blue Jays and White Sox also showed some interest in Sandoval earlier this winter.)  This interest didn’t result in Sandoval finding his desired six guaranteed years, though if the contract does pay him a $20MM average annual value, it will be the second-highest AAV ever given to a third baseman, topped only by Alex Rodriguez‘s deal with the Yankees. San Francisco assistant GM Bobby Evans tells Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter) that Sandoval informed him he was looking for a “new challenge,” and he apparently found that in Boston.

Sandoval, 28, had spent his entire seven-year Major League career with the Giants, becoming a fan favorite due to his “Kung Fu Panda” persona and his clutch bat.  Sandoval owns a .344/.389/.545 slash line in 167 postseason plate appearances, most notably being named MVP of the 2012 World Series.  Losing Sandoval is a big blow to the Giants, who may be looking to replace his production by signing Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas.  Since Tomas could be deployed as a third baseman, he might end up as a direct replacement for Sandoval should he indeed wind up a Giant.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Giants are interested in Tomas as a left fielder and would likely pursue Chase Headley to fill their third base vacancy if Sandoval went elsewhere.

The Giants offered Sandoval a five-year, $95MM contract and showed some willingness to go to $100MM if necessary, tweets Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com hears the same and adds that there was an understanding that the $95MM wasn’t necessarily a final offer.

San Francisco will now receive a bonus pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as compensation for Sandoval signing elsewhere,  since he rejected the team’s one-year qualifying offer.  Boston’s first round pick (7th overall) is protected, so the Sox will instead give up their second rounder as a result of the signing.

Oscar Prieto Rojas reported direct confirmation of the signing (Twitter links). CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported today that a deal was complete (Twitter link). Jake Wesley tweeted yesterday that Sandoval and the Sox had reached agreement.

The contract breakdown comes from Alex Speier of WEEI.com, on Twitter. Heyman reported the final guaranteed figure, in a tweet. Manolo Hernandez Douen was first to report that the deal included a sixth-year option (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Details On Jay Bruce’s No-Trade Clause

We heard recently that the Reds will at least listen to offers on outfielder Jay Bruce. While that still seems to be a long shot, it is worth noting that Bruce has an eight-team no-trade clause that would come into play were he shopped.

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, Bruce can block deals to the Athletics, Blue Jays, D’backs, Marlins, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, and Yankees. That mix of small and large-market teams presumably shields Bruce from destinations he may prefer not to play in while affording him leverage if a big-spending AL East club were to come calling.

Bruce had an off year in 2014, but has been one of the game’s most consistent power threats and is just entering his age-28 season. He is guaranteed $25.5MM over the next two seasons, which includes a buyout for a $13MM club option in 2017.


Lucas Harrell Signs With Korea’s LG Twins

Former big league starter Lucas Harrell has agreed to a $900K deal with the LG Twins of Korea’s KBO, according to Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News. The 29-year-old righty spent last year with the Astros and Diamondbacks organizations.

Harrell emerged in Houston with a big 2012 campaign. He racked up 193 2/3 frames of 3.76 ERA ball that year, striking out 6.5 and walking 3.6 batters per nine while emerging as a popular trade target. But Houston thought it had a durable, solid starter with plenty of control, and did not deal him until it was too late to bring much value.

Harrell took a steep downturn in 2013, throwing to a 5.86 ERA in his 153 2/3 innings while both striking out and walking 5.2 per nine. After a rough start to the year last season, Harrell was shipped to the D’backs for a PTBNL and ultimately ended up with another rather ugly line at Triple-A for Arizona.


Latest On Mariners’ Pursuit Of Righty Outfield Bat

2:57pm: Seattle is interested in Upton but intends to take a look at free agent Nelson Cruz first, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

11:51am: The Mariners, as expected, are pursuing several trade possibilities in their efforts to find a right-handed-hitting corner outfield bat, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Seattle has long been expected to try to fill its outfield void with a righty power bat, and it appears that is where the team is focused.

Seattle’s front office has had talks on players such as Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Yoenis Cespedes of the Red Sox, and Justin Upton of the Braves. Obviously, each of those options would represent a major addition of a premier source of pop, though their contractual situations are notably different. The latter two are playing out their final year of control at fairly reasonable prices, while Kemp is owed $21MM next year and another $86MM over the four seasons that follow.

The Mariners remain one of the more intriguing teams to watch on the trade market, both because of their aggressive stance and stockpile of interesting talent. Seattle has Brad Miller and Chris Taylor potentially available up the middle, though the team may be more inclined to hold if it does not have an attractive upgrade in mind. The club also possesses interesting, MLB-ready arms like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, each of whom would hold broad appeal.


MLBTR Live Chat

Click below to read a transcript of this week’s live chat with MLBTR’s Steve Adams.

Live Blog MLBTR Live Chat 11-25-14
 


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Twins Outright Anthony Swarzak

The Twins have outrighted righty Anthony Swarzak, according to a tweet from Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. With the move, Minnesota has one open 40-man roster spot.

Swarzak, 29, has been a mainstay on the Twins staff for the last four years, primarily working out of the pen and also making spot starts. He threw to a 4.60 ERA last year after posting a strong 2.91 mark the year before, and did so while racking up significant innings totals (96 and 86, respectively). Already not much of a strikeout pitcher, Swarzak saw his K rate drop to 4.9 per nine last year.

Minnesota was set to pay Swarzak somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4MM through arbitration, as projected by MLBTR/Matt Swartz. That led MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes to label Swarzak a non-tender candidate.


Daisuke Matsuzaka Considering Return To NPB

Veteran right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who came to the United States with such fanfare back in 2007, appears to be considering an offer to return to playing in his native Japan, according to a report from the Japan Times. The report indicates that Matsuzaka has “apparently decided” to make his way back to the Nippon Professional Baseball league.

The Fukuoka Softbank Haws are interested in signing Matsuzaka, who is a free agent. Comments from the club’s president, Yoshimitsu Goto, implied that negotiations had taken place and were fairly advanced. “Pitchers who can start are a valuable commodity, so we will do our best to get him,” he said. We hope to get this done in the coming days.”

Matsuzaka, 34, pitched for the Mets each of the last two years after a promising start to his career with the Red Sox fizzled out. He threw 83 1/3 innings in 2014, his largest tally since 2010, and posted a serviceable 3.89 ERA with 8.4 K/9 against 5.4 BB/9. Interestingly, Matsuzaka logged his best SIERA mark (4.39) since his rookie year.

Of course, “Dice-K” has never quite lived up to his promise after making the move to the majors in the middle of his prime. He had dominated NPB early in his career with the Seibu Lions, but owns a lifetime 4.45 MLB ERA.


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Offseason Outlook: San Francisco Giants

After missing the playoffs in 2013, the Giants added yet another chapter to the “Even Year” saga by capturing their third World Series victory in the past five seasons. They’ll have plenty to address in the offseason, however, with several key free agents coming off the books and a need in the rotation.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Free Agents

The early portion of the Giants’ offseason focused largely on the team’s efforts to retain Pablo Sandoval, but the news came in on Monday that Sandoval will sign a five-year pact with the Red Sox, and he won’t be alone. Also going to Boston is one of the primary free agent alternatives to Sandoval — Hanley Ramirez. That leaves the Giants with limited options to address third base on the free agent market and leaves the team with holes in both its lineup and pitching staff.

The Giants have several spots on the diamond figured out; Buster Posey will share time with Andrew Susac behind the dish and also spend some time at first base along with Brandon Belt. The double-play tandem figures to be composed of standout defender Brandon Crawford and sophomore Joe Panik. They’ll form a defensively sound middle infield, though neither brings an overwhelming amount of offensive upside to the table. A healthy Angel Pagan should man center field in San Francisco, and Hunter Pence, of course, will be in right field.

The Giants will have to address third base and look for a new left fielder with Michael Morse a free agent as well. In Morse and Sandoval, San Francisco lost two of its more potent bats, so there should be a great deal of emphasis on replacing that offense. Rumored options in the wake of Sandoval’s departure include Chase Headley and Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas (who has worked out for the Giants at third base but is probably better suited to play left field). Headley would provide shutdown defense at the hot corner and is a familiar option given his extended tenure with the Padres. Tomas, however, carries more offensive upside, as he’s said to possess 70-grade power and could provide 25-homer pop even in the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park. If the Giants are looking for free agent alternatives in the outfield, a reunion with Melky Cabrera could provide some punch to the lineup, and Colby Rasmus brings some pop to the table with the ability to play center field should Pagan struggle with his health again. Of course, Rasmus is coming off a down season, and the Giants may want more certainty as they look to return to the World Series.

The trade market offers a number of alternatives. The Giants probably don’t have the MLB-ready pitching prospects that the Braves are believed to be seeking for Justin Upton, but they could look to Michael Saunders and Matt Joyce as low-cost upgrades. If they care to set their sights a bit higher, Jay Bruce is said to be attainable, though Cincinnati’s asking price will be significant. The Red Sox, of course, have a bounty of outfielders available and could send anyone from a group of Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava to San Fran.

A trade for a third base replacement may be a bit easier to come by, with names like Luis Valbuena, Will Middlebrooks, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee all potentially available. I speculated at one point that Trevor Plouffe could be a trade candidate as well, and one would think that the rebuilding Twins would indeed be willing to listen as his price increases and Miguel Sano looms.

While left field and third base are now obvious holes to be filled, another area of need for the Giants is in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner’s October heroics aside, the Giants have a lack of stability within the rotation. Former aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are wild cards, to varying extents (Lincecum more so than Cain), as Cain is returning from surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, while Lincecum’s past dominance has evaporated (4.76 ERA from 2012-14). Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are free agents, and Tim Hudson will turn 40 next July.

With that level of uncertainty and the loss of one potential cornerstone already in the books, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Giants were recently connected to Jon Lester. The Giants likely have the financial means to pursue any of the “Big Three” starters, with Max Scherzer and James Shields posing legitimate options. However, the second tier of this year’s free agent class runs deep, and a pitcher-friendly ball park pairs well with a 2014 World Championship when it comes to luring free agents. The Giants could look to any of Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano (the cousin of Santiago Casilla) or perhaps Japanese star Kenta Maeda (assuming he is posted). A reunion with Peavy can’t be ruled out after he pitched exceptionally well for them in the regular season following a July trade.

As is the case with the trade markets for both left fielders and third basemen, many names figure to be kicked around by the Giants’ brass. In Cincinnati, a trio of starters is said to be available — Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon — and the Giants are well equipped to absorb the salary of a bigger fish like Cole Hamels. If the two sides can look past the divisional implications, Ian Kennedy is a good fit as well. Other potentially available names such as Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Scott Kazmir may require San Francisco to part with Major League ready help, as their current clubs are clear contenders, making them a trickier fit.

The Giants already possess a strong bullpen, with veterans Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez all coming back into the fold. Jean Machi enjoyed a solid season in the bullpen, and George Kontos was successful in about a half-season’s worth of innings. And, for all of Hunter Strickland‘s postseason struggles, his 100 mph heater figures to be back in the mix as well. The Giants seem likely to take a look at retaining the popular Sergio Romo but could pursue another outside option to solidify the bunch. I’d think another right-handed arm would be on the wish list, with Lopez and Affeldt slinging from the left side, and some potential free agent targets include Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. The team reportedly plans to use Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but a somewhat more creative option raised by Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron in August was to give the ninth inning to Lincecum. As Cameron noted, Lincecum has had prolonged struggles with men on base throughout his career, and giving him the standard “ninth inning only” closer’s role would allow him to enter with a blank slate every outing, when his numbers have been significantly better. That’d also allow manager Bruce Bochy to use his top relievers in higher-leverage situations with the game on the line in other innings — a strategy that served him well in the playoffs this season.

Another somewhat outside-the-box suggestion for the team (though it’s certainly been suggested before) would be to install Susac as the full-time catcher with Posey becoming a full-time first baseman or third baseman, although that could potentially leave Belt without a position. He could, of course, be appealing to other clubs in trades that could help fill a different need, however. Susac does come with starting catcher upside, and a move from behind the plate could help Posey reach new career-highs in plate appearances (currently just 610) and games played (148). Of course, there would be certain defensive questions raised with a slide to third base, but filling an existing hole with current roster members could allow the team to spend bigger on an impact free agent such as Tomas or Lester.

The Giants have many routes they can take now that the Sandoval saga has come to an end. Though they’re the defending World Champions, they’re getting hit hard by free agency and unquestionably have holes to fill. Still, this is a team with a legitimate ace atop its rotation, some strong relief options in place and a perennial MVP candidate in Posey. The Giants had a $149MM payroll to open the 2014 season which only rose with the acquisition of Peavy, and they’re flush with cash following postseason revenues and a World Series victory. They were reportedly prepared to pay Sandoval in the range of $95MM over the next five seasons, and you can be certain that those dollars will be reallocated to address other roster needs.


White Sox Sign Adam LaRoche

The White Sox have officially signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25MM deal, as first reported on Twitter by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. LaRoche, a client of Relativity Sports’ Mike Milchin, will earn $12MM in 2015 and then $13MM in 2016, per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.

Adam LaRoche

Left-handed power has been a priority for the Sox this offseason, and LaRoche will bring just that to the table, having averaged 26 homers per year over the past three seasons to go along with a solid .256/.346/.458 batting line in that same span. LaRoche will team up with American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu to create a formidable punch in the middle of manager Robin Ventura’s order. He’s regarded as a plus defender at first base, although he may see some more time at designated hitter with Abreu also figuring to log significant innings at first.

LaRoche has spent the past four seasons with the Nationals but will now move to a much more hitter-friendly environment in the form of U.S. Cellular Field, which should only serve to boost his already solid power marks. However, LaRoche does come with a sizable platoon split, having batted just .201/.269/.325 against southpaws over the past two seasons after a more promising line of .268/.319/.506 in his excellent 2012 season, when he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.

The 35-year-old LaRoche reportedly had a two-year, $20MM offer from the Marlins and has also been connected to the Padres, but he’ll instead head to the south side of Chicago where GM Rick Hahn is acting quickly to build a team that has eyes on contention in the near future. (In a free agent profile for LaRoche, I was a bit more bullish, pegging him for $30MM over this same two-year term.) In addition to Abreu, the Sox have a pair of nice young outfielders in Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, and the rotation is fronted by a stellar combination of Chris Sale and Jose QuintanaCarlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, looms as a possible addition to that duo.

LaRoche is the second major free agent signing for Hahn and his lieutenants this week, as the Sox also inked southpaw reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM contract on the heels of a dominant season that can be largely credited to altering his delivery. Chicago still figures to add at least one more relief arm and could entertain trades for shortstop Alexei Ramirez, as has been rumored of late, but Hahn’s aggressiveness signals a clear goal of putting a contending group on the field in 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.