Quick Hits: Ramirez, Hitting Coaches, Hudson, Zito

Two-time NPB MVP Alex Ramirez has retired, Jun Hongo of the Wall Street Journal Japan reports. The 40-year-old Ramirez played briefly for the Indians and Pirates between 1998 and 2000, but it wasn’t until he headed to Yakult for the 2001 season that his career really got going. He hit 29 homers that year and quickly emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in Japan, hitting 40 or more home runs three times in his career. Ramirez finished his NPB career in 2013 with 380 homers for Yakult, Yomiuri and Yokohama, then played and coached last season with the independent Gunma Diamond Pegasus club. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis has left the team to become the new hitting coach of the Red Sox, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com tweets. Davis hit 350 home runs in a 19-year career with the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees, then worked in the Dodgers and Red Sox systems before signing on with the Athletics prior to the 2012 season. In his previous stint with the Red Sox, Davis served as the hitting coach at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox will begin interviewing candidates for their assistant hitting coach position this week, Bradford and Alex Speier report.
  • With Davis out, the Athletics are now looking for a hitting coach, and one candidate is Angels assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The Angels could also promote Hansen to replace Don Baylor, who missed much of last season with a freak leg injury. Hansen, known as a pinch-hitter throughout much of his career, played 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Cubs, Padres and Mariners. The Athletics could also consider Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan, Slusser tweets.
  • If the A’s do have interest in Magadan, the won’t be the only ones. Davis had previously been a top candidate for the open Yankees hitting coach job, and the Yankees could now turn to Magadan, who interviewed Wednesday, George A. King III and John DeMarzo of the New York Post report. The former infielder played 16 seasons with the Mets, Marlins, Mariners, Astros, Cubs, Athletics and Padres.
  • Barry Zito‘s seven-year contract with the Giants didn’t turn out so well, but he did help them land Tim Hudson, Ryan Hood of MLB.com writes. When both pitchers were free agents last winter, Hudson called his former Athletics teammate to see what he thought of playing in San Francisco. “I said it’s a first-rate organization, from the top down,” says Zito, who assured Hudson that Giants fans had changed since the two pitchers had played together in Oakland. “Giants fans had a little more of a rep of just coming out for baseball games and not really having a die-hard presence and creating an intimidating atmosphere. It was very light. I told him 2010 changed everything.” Hudson posted a 3.57 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 189 1/3 innings for the Giants this season. Zito, meanwhile, says he determined in August 2013 that he would “take some time away from the game and focus on family.” He did not pitch this season.

MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:


Full Story | Comments | Categories: MLBTR Originals

NL Notes: Posey, Cabrera, Phillies, Braves, Grandal

With Derek Jeter‘s retirement and the Giants playing in their third World Series in five years, Buster Posey should be the next face of baseball. That’s the theme of separate articles by ESPN’s Jayson Stark and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Starks believes Posey is comparable to Jeter in making his team a perennial World Series contender with an understated, but intently competitive manner, the flowing awards and accolades, and his ability to move merchandise. Sherman theorizes Posey hasn’t already assumed Jeter’s mantle because of the position he plays, the market in which he plays, and a lack of a seminal playoff moment.

Here’s more news and notes from the National League:

  • It will be tough for other teams to copy “the Giants Way” because the Giants themselves can’t explain their success, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s a tough question to answer,” General Manager Brian Sabean said. “Things develop over time.” Time has been on the Giants’ side, notes Shaikin, as Sabean is the longest-tenured GM in baseball and his top lieutenants (Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans, who told Shaikin he has never been interviewed for a GM opening) have been with the organization for two decades.
  • Earlier today, MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted Nationals infielder Asdrubal Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM contract in free agency. CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman posits Cabrera’s best days are possibly behind him, so the Nationals’ interest will be based on whether there are better options available either via free agency or on the trade market.
  • The Phillies should have at least $20MM in payroll space this offseason which should be enough for a major signing or a few mid-level signings, provided they are committed to winning in 2015, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. A.J. Burnett declining his $12.75 option and dealing Antonio Bastardo and/or Domonic Brown could increase that amount, Seidman adds.
  • Braves President John Schuerholz indicated to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (on Twitter) the club’s first choice to be their full-time GM is John Hart; however, he will not force the timeline.
  • The first home run of the Dominican Winter League was hit by the PadresYasmani Grandal. Now a full season away from his 50-game suspension for an elevated testosterone level and knee surgery and possessing excellent plate discipline (13.1% walk rate in 2014), Grandal can become a breakout offensive force for the Padres in 2015, opines the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin.
  • The Dodgers are in good hands with Andrew Friedman aboard, writes Peter Gammons for Gammons Daily.


Minor Moves: Pedro Ciriaco

Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:


AL East Notes: Cruz, Rays, Vazquez

Ten years ago today, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS in what has become known as “the bloody sock” game. A retrospective by MLB.com’s Ian Browne chronicles Schilling’s performance with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle and the ingenuity of the Red Sox’s medical team suturing Schilling’s ankle tendon to his skin. Before making the decision to perform the procedure on Schilling, Dr. Bill Morgan first tried it on a cadaver to see if it worked. It did and Schilling and the Red Sox went on to make baseball history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after facing a 3-0 deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.

Flash forward a decade and here’s the latest from the AL East:

  • The Orioles need to take advantage of Nelson Cruz‘s warm feelings for the organization while they last and make their best offer to him early, opines the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. The Orioles, Schmuck adds, would like that offer to be a two-year deal with an option worth a guaranteed $30MM.
  • Cruz is one of the top ten moves GM Dan Duquette made over the past two years to make the Orioles the AL East champions, writes CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff.
  • Despite Andrew Friedman’s departure, the decisions and evaluations that went into constructing the 2014 Rays will be the same decisions and evaluations that go into retooling the team for 2015, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. The operations department will remain the same, but with Matt Silverman at the helm and top assistants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander sharing the mantle of VP of baseball ops.
  • The Rays are expected to make a series of transactions over the next few weeks to clear 40-man roster space and protect several rising prospects, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Catcher Justin O’Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and left-hander Adam Liberatore are among those who will be shielded from the Rule 5 draft.
  • Defense and leadership are the calling cards the Red Sox hope will make catcher Christian Vazquez their long-term solution behind the plate, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. The Red Sox feel his offense will develop as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez compares Vazquez to the CardinalsYadier Molina and a NL talent evaluator likens the 24-year-old to the PhilliesCarlos Ruiz.

Cafardo On Moore, Cespedes, Markakis, Giants

If the Royals win the World Series it would be difficult to imagine GM Dayton Moore leaving for the Braves‘ vacancy.  However, those who know Moore well say that he felt comfortable in Atlanta, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes.  On top of that, the Braves would offer Moore a bigger budget to work with.  More from today’s column..

  • Word is spreading that the Red Sox could make Yoenis Cespedes available.  The slugger will make $10.2MM in the final year of his deal and his desire not to play right field or work on his defense could spell the end of his time in Boston.  A Cespedes deal would allow the Sox to make room for Mookie Betts or add a left-handed hitter.
  • The Giants are a team to watch when Nick Markakis hits the open market as expected.  Even though they’re enjoying Travis Ishikawa‘s work, they are unlikely to commit to him as an everyday left fielder.  The Mets could also be in the mix.
  • One agent believes Jake Peavy has turned his next contract from a one-year, $7MM deal into a three-year, $36MM deal based on his second half with the Giants.  Cafardo notes that the Giants won’t re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and with little help coming from Triple-A, they’ll likely have to bite on a Peavy deal.
  • There have been preliminary talks between the Red Sox and Koji Uehara about staying in Boston,but the sides aren’t close to a deal.

Free Agent Profile: Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera might not be the player that some envisioned he would be four years ago, but he still holds a ton of value as he gets ready to explore the open market.  Save for Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera arguably stands as the winter’s most attractive free agent shortstop option.

Strengths/Pros

At just 28 years old (29 in November), Cabrera has youth on his side, especially when surveying the rest of the available talent pool.  Cabrera also boasts four consecutive years of mostly good health with an average of 144 games per season over that span.  Of course, that 2011 season was more than just the start of Cabrera’s good fortune in the health department, it was his true coming out party.  That season, Cabrera slashed .273/.332/.460 for the Tribe, earning his first All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger trophy.MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies

In 2012, Cabrera earned a second All-Star nomination thanks in part to another strong showing at the plate (.270/.338/.423).  The following two years didn’t bring the same kind of accolades and praise, but Cabrera continued to produce.  Cabrera’s breakout year was his best to date, but the last three years have shown that he can deliver ~15 homers (he had 16, 14, and 14 the last three years) with some speed on the basepaths.

Cabrera also offers more than just shortstop experience, he also has 1773 2/3 innings of career experience at second base.  He mainly plied his craft at shortstop from 2010-2014, but he returned to second this season upon joining the Nationals, so some of the rust from the change should be gone.  His ability to play either middle infield position should help increase his market and will also provide his next team with a bit of flexibility.  This also isn’t a strong second base market on the whole, so his versatility is a positive.

Weaknesses/Cons

Defensively, Cabrera leaves much to be desired.  For his career, Cabrera has a -10.6 UZR/150 rating at shortstop, putting him well below your average defender.  His most recent campaigns haven’t helped either as he posted -16.8 and -10.5 marks in each of the last two seasons.  His body of work at second base is better, according to UZR/150, but still far from great.  He has a lifetime -2.5 UZR/150 at second and turned in a -5.3 rating in 432 innings for the Nats.  Looking for a second opinion?  Defensive runs saved has Cabrera as a -10 defender at second base in 2014 and -7 at shortstop.  The career total is more favorable for second base (2), but even less so at shortstop (-22).

At the plate, it’s impossible to overlook the drop off that Cabrera has experienced over the last two seasons.  In the All-Star years, he slashed a combined .272/.335/.443 with a 118 OPS+, well above the league average.  In the last two seasons, he has produced a .241/.303/.394 batting line with a slightly below-average OPS+ of 96.  Cabrera’s 2014 walk (7.7%) and strikeout percentages (17.1%) are in line with his career averages, which is to say they’re alright, but not great.

Personal

Cabrera and his wife, Lismar, have two children and this winter they’ll welcome another member of the Cabrera clan into the world.

Of course, Cabrera spent his entire big league career in Cleveland before the midseason trade that sent him to the nation’s capital.  While he didn’t stomp his feet over being dealt to the Nationals, he was upset to leave what had become a second home for him, telling reporters it was “like [he] grew up” in Cleveland.  That feeling was reciprocated in the front office.

It’s another tough day for a number of us personally because of how much Asdrubal meant to our team and our organization,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said, according to The Associated Press. ”He’s a guy who has impacted two postseasons for us. We’ll obviously miss Asdrubal a great deal.”

In his downtime, Cabrera enjoys being on his farm in Florida where he tends to his horses every morning.  Back in Venezuela, he’s a fan of taking his boat out on the water with family and friends.

Market

Even though he prefers the shortstop position and his second half in Washington didn’t produce his finest work, Cabrera has said that he would welcome a return to the Nationals.

It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said, according to MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko.

That desire to win could, theoretically, lead to a discount for the incumbent Nats.  Recently, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider expertly summed up the Nationals’ dilemma at second base.  If they want to prioritize offense at the position, then Cabrera is the better choice to make than giving the defensively strong Danny Espinosa an opportunity to take back the job.  Our own Jeff Todd suggests that a platoon between Cabrera and Espinosa, who can hit against lefties and serve as a strong defensive replacement, would make sense.  The Nats can also use that duo to fill the void if Ian Desmond leaves in free agency next winter.  However, it’s not a given that the Nats will be willing to get in the ballpark of what other clubs will offer Cabrera.

If the two sides can’t get on the same page for a reunion, there should be plenty of interest from teams in need of middle infield help.  The competition at second base is thin, though Cuban defectors Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera have added some depth there.  At shortstop, Cabrera will have to vie with Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie.  As noted in Jeff’s recent poll asking the MLBTR commentariat to choose the best option from the trio, Ramirez could be seen more as a third base option than shortstop and the year’s best potential option, J.J. Hardy, is already spoken for.

Teams like the Padres, Reds, and Mets could be interested in signing an impact shortstop, though none of them look the part of a Las Vegas championship favorite for 2015.  The A’s and the Blue Jays could both be in the market for a second baseman.  The Yankees, meanwhile, are on the lookout for a shortstop and, depending on how things play out, could have a need at second as well.  Martin Prado is currently penciled in to fill that role, but if he’s needed elsewhere, the Bombers could look into someone like Cabrera for second.

Expected Contract

The dearth of quality free agent middle infielders is something of a double-edged sword for Cabrera.  On one hand, he has less competition.  On the other, as evidenced by the lack of intriguing available options, a lot of teams are already set, particularly at second base.  There are also a few teams with surpluses in that area like the Rangers, Cubs, and Diamondbacks, which could draw attention away from the free agent market.

Ultimately, while he enjoys playing shortstop more, his best bet at winning and cashing in could come as a second baseman.  The Nationals should at least have some interest in working out a new deal, even though they didn’t get a redux of Cabrera’s best work.  The Yankees, if they shift Prado, can be expected to show interest as well.  Because of his age and his ability to play both middle infield positions, I predict that Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM deal.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Orioles, Hernandez, Royals, Giants

Blue Jays star outfielder Jose Bautista was born on this date in 1980.  The 34-year-old has made five consecutive All-Star appearances for Toronto and slashed .286/.403/.524 in 2014.  He’ll look to extend that All-Star streak to six consecutive seasons and help the Blue Jays get back to the playoffs in 2015.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


AL Notes: Young, Indians

As we wait for the playoffs to return on Tuesday, here’s the latest from the AL.

  • Mariners starter Chris Young would like to return to Seattle next season, writes Greg John of MLB.com. The 35-year-old had his best season since 2007, throwing 165 innings with a 3.65 ERA, 5.89 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, and a league low 22.3% ground ball rate. The towering fly ball specialist – he’s 6’10” – is often cited as exceptionally deceptive despite an 85 mph fastball. Advanced ERA estimators expected an ERA over 5.00. His unusual size and approach could make him a special case who can reliably outperform his FIP and SIERA. Young faded down the stretch, but it was his healthiest season in seven years. He earned $1.25MM in 2014 and could be in line for a modest raise.
  • The Indians need help in right field, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. While the free agent class isn’t bad, it’s top heavy. Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis are beyond the Indians means. Unfortunately, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn will tie up $8.5MM at the position. Murphy could rebound – he had a decent season before injuring his oblique in August. Raburn was a complete loss this season and may not have a role next season. The Indians previously had interest in Norichika Aoki before he signed with Milwaukee. Hoynes also mentions Michael Cuddyer as a possible buy-low candidate.

Quick Hits: Front Office Moves

A number of teams have made staff moves today. Here’s the latest.

  • The Padres have announced several changes to their player development staff, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Randy Smith, formerly VP of player development, is now the senior adviser for baseball operations and will focus on scouting. Three others were let go from their posts. GM A.J. Preller will focus on hiring a new farm director. Per Preller, “I think it’s a matter of maybe a little different look, a chance to get some other voices in the organization.”
  • Scout Mike Russell has left the Tigers to serve as a special assistant to Diamondbacks senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Russell worked with Watson under GM Dave Dombrowski while with the Marlins in the mid-1990’s.
  • Beck also learned that the Tigers are expected to replace Russell with former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. Most recently, Littlefield has worked as a scout with the Cubs. Littlefield was with Dombrowski in Miami from 1999 through 2001.
  • The Blue Jays have hired Nationals scout Paul Tinnell, tweets Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. Tinnell, a former scouting director with the Pirates, is credited with the signings of Michael Burgess and Steve Lombardozzi per Baseball Reference.
  • The Padres have hired former Blue Jays scout Rob St. Julien, according to another tweet from Elliott. Evan Crawford, Danny Farquhar, and Aaron Loup are among his notable signees.
  • The Nationals may target former Reds executive Bob Miller to fill the shoes of erstwhile assistant GM Bryan Minnitti, writes Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Minnitti resigned last week. Miller’s specializes in budgetary matters, specifically arbitration and other contractual considerations. This makes him a good candidate to fill in for Minnitti.
  • Speaking of Minnitti, he has emerged as a front runner for the Diamondbacks assistant GM role, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Minnitti has also been linked to the Dodgers front office, so the Diamondbacks may be looking to outpace their division rivals. MLBTR profiled Minnitti as a possible GM candidate back in 2011.
  • The Astros have hired Dave Hudgens as their hitting coach, reports Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. Hudgens served for four seasons as the Mets hitting coach before he was dismissed this past May. The Mets have also re-assigned their most recent hitting coach, Lamar Johnson, to the minors. Dave Magadan and Kevin Long are candidates for the role.

AL East Notes: Orioles, Yankees, Rays

The Orioles may have been swept in the ALCS, but the club believes their 96 win season (plus three playoff victories) put their division rivals on notice, writes Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Despite the excellent season, four key players contributed less than expected, which may give the team additional upside next season.

  • Connolly identified five key points for the 2015 Orioles, three of which deal with potential transactions. On base percentage has been an issue in the past few seasons. The Orioles bashed the most home runs in the league for the second consecutive season, but they finished just eighth in runs scored. Prioritizing base runners should translate to more RBI opportunities for the power bats. An ace would be a meaningful addition, although Connolly notes that payroll constraints and a history of avoiding large outlays to pitchers may prevent the club from exploring the top end of the market. Depth was a big reason for this season’s division crown, and it will again be an important consideration. Per Connolly, “it’s Duquette’s specialty.”
  • Bill Madden of the New York Daily News looks to the Royals as a template for the new era of baseball. Unfortunately, that could pose problems for the current Yankees roster. The aging club is years from building a young, athletic team in the mold of the Royals. They do have a good start on an elite bullpen if they re-sign closer David Robertson. Madden believes the Yankees should pursue an additional right-handed reliever with elite velocity along with reform at the scouting and player development level.
  • Andrew Friedman’s decision to leave the Rays is a reflection of the state of the franchise, posits Madden in the same piece. Per Madden, Friedman recognized that his stock would “never be higher” and the Rays were headed in the wrong direction. The club has become increasingly reliant on outside additions with just six home grown players on the final roster. One damning statistic – since selecting Tim Beckham first overall in 2008, Tampa Bay hasn’t developed a player from draft to majors. Madden speculates that Rays manager Joe Maddon could be the next name out the door. His contract concludes after the 2015 season.

Texas Notes: Banister, Lewis, Astros Targets

The Rangers overcame the first hurdle of their offseason when they signed manager Jeff Banister earlier this week. Speaking of hurdles (and bad puns), the erstwhile Pirates bench coach is drawing frequent comparisons to recent colleague Clint Hurdle. Shortstop Elvis Andrus sees a similar passion for the game, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Another Rangers insider speaking with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News said, ““(The Rangers) have long had a love crush on Hurdle…and, in Banister, they felt like they were getting the closest thing to him.”

  • We learned earlier today that the Rangers have expressed interest in re-signing right-handed pitcher Colby Lewis. In a separate article for the Dallas Morning News, Fraley writes that the next step for the Rangers is to re-open communications with Lewis’ agent Alan Nero. Said Daniels, “We haven’t been able to spend much time on that. We can get back to that now.”
  • The Astros are thought to raise payroll by as much as $20MM next season and starting pitching could be a target, writes Chris Perry of The Crawfish Boxes. Perry focuses his attention on the shape of the market rather than picking a specific target. The top end of the free agent market – Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields – aren’t good fits, but anyone below the first tier could be in play. My own opinion: innings eaters like Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and Kevin Correia could make sense. Keep in mind, the Astros department of decision sciences identified Collin McHugh prior to the season, so they could have other stealthy names in mind.

Quick Hits: Minor Leaguers, Cardinals, Yankees

A group of former minor leaguers has filed a lawsuit protesting that while they were playing, they received less than minimum wage and did not receive overtime, working for tiny monthly salaries to pursue their dream of making it to the Majors. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star traveled to Clinton, Iowa as part of a long exposé on working conditions in the minor leagues. Class A players, for example, only make about $6,300 for an entire season, earning only per diems for instructional leagues and mandatory spring training. NBA and NHL minor leaguers make many times that amount. The extremely low wages for minor league baseball players might not be a hardship for early-round picks who receive six- or seven-figure bonuses, but they’re especially tough on the many players who sign for only a few thousand dollars. Here are more notes from around the game.

  • A number of Cardinals players were at Busch Stadium Friday to pack their belongings, with some players not knowing whether they’ll return next season, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. 2014 was “up and down,” says Peter Bourjos, who made $1.2MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. “Inconsistent playing time, inconsistent results — that’s how it goes sometimes. If there’s an opportunity out there, I’d like to play every day.” One player who sounds like he’ll certainly be returning is John Lackey, who says he has “every intention” of playing next season even though the Cardinals have an option on him for the league minimum salary. Also, impending free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski says he’d like to continue playing. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals will re-sign him, however, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz at the catcher position.
  • Two years after their last playoff game, the Yankees‘ roster is dramatically different, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog writes. Of the 19 players Yankees who appeared in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, just four — Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — are under contract for 2015.

East Notes: LaRoche, Davis, Cruz

First baseman Adam LaRoche would like to stay with the Nationals, Chase Hughes of Nats Insider writes. “If it was up to me, I’m signing a deal with D.C. that puts me there for the rest of my career,” says LaRoche. The Nationals are expected to pay LaRoche a $2MM buyout rather than picking up their end of a $15MM option, and with Ryan Zimmerman likely to play first base next season, it’s unlikely the Nats will retain LaRoche even for a smaller amount. Nonetheless, LaRoche, coming off a .259/.362/.455 season, will likely attract significant interest on the free agent market. Here are more notes from the East divisions.

  • The Marlins might have interest in Pirates first baseman Ike Davis, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes. The Marlins already have another former Pirates first baseman, Garrett Jones, under contract for 2015, but Jones is 33 and coming off a second consecutive near-replacement-level season. The Pirates, meanwhile, may want Pedro Alvarez (who suffered from serious throwing issues at third base in 2014) to play first in 2015, which would leave nowhere for Davis, particularly since he and Alvarez are both left-handed. The Bucs could deal or non-tender Davis this offseason.
  • After a terrific season in 2014, Nelson Cruz has a big contract coming his way, but whether the Orioles should be the team to pay it is questionable, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski writes. The O’s plan to extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and they’ll get a draft pick if another team signs him. Also, Cruz is in his mid-30s and is coming off a great season, so it’s possible whichever team signs him won’t get much bang for their buck as Cruz declines over the next few years. Cruz has said he wants to remain in Baltimore, but the Orioles sound skeptical about keeping him.

Offseason Outlook: Milwaukee Brewers

After spending much of the 2014 season in first place and then collapsing down the stretch, the Brewers will try to regroup for 2015, perhaps hoping for the best with a talented but flawed core and a marginal, though improving, farm system.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Brewers unexpectedly got off to a great start in 2014 and continued that hot start into the summer, with a 51-32 record as of June 28. As the first half of the season became the second, however, the 6 1/2-game lead they had held over the Cardinals evaporated, and in the end they missed the playoffs and barely finished above .500.

The Brewers retained manager Ron Roenicke following their collapse, although they dismissed hitting coach Johnny Narron and first base/infield coach Garth Iorg. Despite any lingering frustrations, it appears unlikely they’ll make many huge moves this offseason.

One position they will likely upgrade is first base, where they’ve struggled to find a reliable contributor since Corey Hart‘s last healthy season with the team in 2012. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay platooned at the position in 2014 and, unsurprisingly, neither of them helped much. Reynolds hit 22 home runs in 433 plate appearances, but with his usual very low batting average and a .287 OBP. Both are free agents; Overbay appears likely to retire. Adam LaRoche (whose mutual option the Nationals are likely to decline) looks like the prize of this year’s free agent class, with the injury-prone Michael Cuddyer and the defensively challenged Michael Morse close behind. The Brewers could also lean on rookies Matt Clark and Jason Rogers, who both hit well with Triple-A Nashville, although both are minor league veterans who might not have much to offer at the big-league level.

The Brewers will also need to figure out what to do with Aramis Ramirez. Given his $4MM buyout, Ramirez’ $14MM mutual option is effectively $10MM for the Brewers. They would be wise to exercise their end, given that Ramirez produced a reasonable 2.1 fWAR while hitting .285/.330/.427 last season. Ramirez would not get the buyout if he were to decline his end, so it might make sense for him to accept his end of the option, particularly if he intends to retire after 2015. He could also decline the option and seek a multi-year deal, however. Ramirez said in July that he planned to reach 2,500 games for his career, which would take at least three more seasons, but he also said in September that he was not sure whether he would play 2015. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicts that Ramirez will ultimately re-sign with the Brewers for two years and $26MM.

The middle infield is mostly set with Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura, although Segura took a big step backward after a strong rookie season in 2013. The Brewers will surely decline their $11.5MM option on Rickie Weeks, who didn’t get enough plate appearances for his option to vest. The 2003 No. 2 overall pick doesn’t expect to be back in Milwaukee in 2015. If he isn’t, the Brewers could pursue a cheap right-handed infielder to platoon with Gennett, or have Hector Gomez, who had a good season at Nashville and is out of options, occupy that role.

The Brewers could also continue with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis in the outfield. Gomez continues to produce at an extremely high level and is a bargain at just $17MM total through the next two seasons. Braun, though, struggled in 2014 (hitting .266/.324/.453, not a good figure for a player with little defensive value), and the $117MM he’s owed through 2020 looks like it could become a problem. Perhaps a healthier Braun (he suffered from a thumb injury this season and has already had unusual surgery to freeze a nerve) can rebound in 2015.

The Brewers could retain Gerardo Parra as an outfield backup — it’s hard to pass on an average hitter and elite defender (although defensive metrics weren’t keen on his 2014 performance). Still, Parra is coming off a disappointing season and will get a modest raise on his $4.85MM 2013 salary, making him an expensive backup. Dealing or non-tendering him might be a way for the Brewers to free up salary. Another possibility might be to move Braun to first base and have Parra start in right field.

Behind the plate, of course, there’s Jonathan Lucroy, who is, like Gomez, an elite, prime-age player signed to a bargain contract. Lucroy’s five-year deal is among the most team-friendly in baseball — it guarantees an MVP-caliber player a mere $11MM and gives the Brewers an option on what would have been Lucroy’s first free agent season (2017) for just $5.25MM.

In the rotation, the Brewers have already decided to exercise their $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, and they also have Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse under contract and a reasonable collection of pre-free agency pitchers in Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and promising newcomer Jimmy Nelson. Marco Estrada could be a non-tender candidate after allowing 29 homers in 150 2/3 innings in 2014, although he’ll still be fairly cheap and his other peripherals were reasonable. The Brewers don’t figure to be big players for free agent starting pitching.

Their bullpen will be trickier. Closer Francisco Rodriguez and lefties Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny will all be eligible for free agency. Duke emerged from oblivion to become the Brewers’ best reliever in 2014, posting a 2.45 ERA with a remarkable 11.4 K/9 in 58 2/3 innings, and his production will be difficult to replace if he departs.

The bullpen’s season demonstrated how crucial a good relief corps can be. Rodriguez, Duke, Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith dominated in the early going, leading the Brewers as they jumped to the division lead. During that time, however, those relievers piled up appearances as little-used Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang occupied a bullpen spot that could have gone to someone capable of soaking up innings. Rodriguez couldn’t keep up his early pace, Smith imploded in July, and Thornburg faded in May and eventually ended up on the DL with an elbow injury. The team also lost Jim Henderson to shoulder problems. Finally, they acquired Jonathan Broxton — and his entire $9MM 2015 salary, plus a $2MM buyout — from the Reds in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

In March and April, the Brewers had the fourth-best bullpen ERA in baseball, at 2.45; in the second half, it was more than a run higher, at 3.62. While variance in bullpen performance is normal, and the team did get some good work from second-tier relievers like Gorzelanny and Jeremy Jeffress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Brewers attempt to avoid last season’s struggles by pursuing bullpen depth this winter. Re-signing or replacing Rodriguez at closer could also be a priority.

Despite the trajectory of their 2014 season, the Brewers’ 82-80 record was about what they should have expected, given their talent. The question is what they’ll do from here. Having two excellent and cheap players in Gomez and Lucroy is a strong place for any franchise to start, but the Brewers’ complementary pieces aren’t nearly as valuable, and it’s unclear where their next group of stars will come from. Including Gallardo’s option, the Brewers already have about $70MM on the books for 2015. Retaining Ramirez will add to that total, as will arbitration raises for Parra, Estrada and catcher Martin Maldonado (assuming Parra and Estrada are retained). The Brewers will need to address first base as well, which should leave them without much money to make a big splash this offseason, given that their highest ever Opening Day payroll was their 2014 total of about $103MM. Perhaps their best shot at an attention-grabbing signing would be if they acquired someone like Chase Headley to play third base, and that would only happen if Ramirez left.

An infusion of star talent doesn’t appear imminent from the minors, either. The Brewers’ farm system has improved after a strong 2014 draft, but they don’t currently have anyone in MLB.com’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game, and their best talents (Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, and top 2014 draftees Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison) have little or no experience in the high minors.

The Brewers are therefore in a tight spot. They don’t appear to be as good as the Cardinals or Pirates, and perhaps they soon won’t be as good as the rapidly improving Cubs. But given the state of their farm system, a rebuild would potentially be long and painful. And as the team’s outstanding 2014 first half suggested, the Brewers are still probably good enough to win an NL Central title or a Wild Card if everything breaks right. If Gomez and Lucroy were to maintain their production in 2015, if Braun and possibly Segura were to return to form, and if a couple more players (Davis and Nelson, say) were to break out, it wouldn’t be a shock if the team won 88 games or so and made the playoffs.

Given that possibility, rebuilding can wait. But if the Brewers get off to a poor start in 2015, expect to hear plenty of rumors about their veterans. In particular, Gallardo, Lohse and Broxton, who can all become free agents after 2015, would likely be fair game.