Time for this week’s MLBTR Mailbag! Thanks for all the questions, and sorry if we couldn’t get to yours. (It was great to see many first-time submissions this week; we always enjoy hearing a little bit about your motivations to write in!) Remember that you can also chat with Steve Adams and myself on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, respectively, and tune in to MLBTR’s weekly podcast every Thursday.
On to the questions …
Will Jay Bruce be traded before the season starts? — Jason R.
Well, the Orioles now look to be out of the market after adding Pedro Alvarez, and barring a revival of talks with the Blue Jays that option may be gone. I don’t see the Angels taking on enough salary to make that a viable landing spot, and the same holds for the Indians. The White Sox might have made sense, but now they’ve got Austin Jackson.
Looking around the league, I’m not sure I see an immediate match. An injury could always change things, of course, but as it stands it looks like the Reds will need to hope that Bruce has a strong first half and see how the summer trade market develops.
The Royals have three AAA outfielders on their 40-man roster, who all delivered great offensive numbers last year: Brett Eibner, Reymond Fuentes and Jose Martinez. But nobody is talking about them as a potential RF for the Royals. Do they have any flaws? Or what is the problem? — Holger B.
Writing in from Germany is a sure way to get your question answered! Thanks for reading all the way over in Europe.
In a way, I have to disagree with the premise of the question, because I think that people following the club closely are well aware that these guys are in the mix with Jarrod Dyson going down. All are on the 40-man, which means the team has something invested and believes they have at least some near-term and/or potential future value to the organization. And let’s be honest: the competition should be wide open at this point. Travis Snider is the most established choice to platoon with Paulo Orlando, who played a big role last year, but neither is a surefire option.
Do Eibner, Fuentes, and Martinez have flaws? Well, sure. Any player does, and none of them even cracked the top 15 of Baseball America’s recently-released organizational prospect rankings — though Eibner and Martinez landed on the back half of the list. Both of those players hit from the right side and had impressive seasons last year at Triple-A, so they could presumably push Orlando for his role or challenge for a final bench spot. Fuentes, meanwhile, will be squared up against Snider. He’s a speedy player who swings from the left side, making him a closer match to Dyson’s skillset.
Beyond that, you’d need to ask a prospect hound or team beat writer for more info. I think what’s most interesting here is that Kansas City could open the year with some of the names noted above in significant spots. While that seems sub-optimal from my perspective, I’ve learned not to question the Dayton Moore-Ned Yost magic. And if nothing else there are plenty of possibilities; second base still seems to me a bigger overall organizational question mark.
Now that most of the top 50 FAs have signed who do you feel is the best value for their respective team? — Jake
Okay, I think I’m ready to go on record here. Your question touches upon both value from a market perspective and organizational fit, so I’ll address it in that way. Thus, even if I were to believe that Ian Desmond represents a bargain at $8MM — which I do — I don’t think I’d choose him since he is obviously a bit of an experiment in the outfield.
Among MLBTR’s top fifty free agents — all of whom have now signed except for David Freese and Justin Morneau — I’m going to pick …. well, I’m going to pick the city of Chicago. Getting Austin Jackson and Mat Latos for just $8MM in total, without sacrificing a draft pick, looks like a coup for the White Sox. The organization needed to add a lot of pieces, and managed to do it at a minimal cost through these signings and a couple of trades. Sure, there’s plenty of risk, but both look like outstanding values as younger players with plenty at stake. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ additions of Dexter Fowler and John Lackey are two other deals I quite liked, and I’m also fairly bullish on the more significant investments that the team made in Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. Honorable mention: Matt Wieters to the Orioles, by way of qualifying offer acceptance.
I think we will, but not necessarily due to Cole and deGrom in particular. All of the rules governing player salaries, from the league minimum to the qualifying offer, function primarily to shift around the overall chunk of the game’s money that is allocated to players, and it’s been clear for some time now that the players in the pre-arb service classes are increasingly underpaid. The divide is all the more glaring given the huge contributions that young stars (and plenty of other quality players) have made not long after cracking the majors. It’s time for a bump, if not also some other modifications to the ways in which pre-arb salaries are arrived at.
There’s little question that the Atlanta front office will listen to any interest in basically any of its players — they dealt Craig Kimbrel the day before the season started last year, after all — and I don’t doubt that this kind of scenario was contemplated when Aybar was added in the Andrelton Simmons deal. In the grand scheme of things, trading Aybar would hardly warrant outrage from the Braves fanbase with Kimbrel, Simmons, and so many others already gone. And it isn’t hard to see a plausible match from the Cardinals’ side, since Jedd Gyorko has no track record at short, the team is obviously set up to compete right now, and the NL Central may be out of reach with a slow start.
That being said, I wouldn’t expect a deal to come easy. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs suggested Aybar as a replacement, but rightly noted that the Braves probably aren’t as motivated to part with him right now as one might expect. The organization wants to begin moving in the right direction, and relying on options like Daniel Castro, Chase d’Arnaud, and Reid Brignac to open the year at short is probably not the best way to put a winning product on the field. And they’d obviously face the same barren open market situation as the Cards if they went looking for an alternative.
I’m not going to guess at precisely what St. Louis would need to offer up to get the Braves to bite, but I’m willing to bet that it won’t be terribly palatable. Atlanta would probably find it less painful to deal Aybar at the deadline, assuming the club isn’t firmly in contention, and would likely be looking for some legitimate upside in return to do a deal now. Steve Adams just ran down a whole host of possible options for the Cards to consider, and it looks to me as if one or more of the other names on his list will ultimately shake loose at a much lower price tag. If Peralta’s outlook for a return is fairly positive, the need might only be for a temporary stopgap, so the guess here is that St. Louis waits for someone else to become available. (And if all else fails, surely the Yankees would part with Pete Kozma?)
The A’s roster seems a little too full. Is there a trade coming? — Isaac G.
Predicting the Oakland front office is a fool’s errand, but I’d be surprised if it felt the need to shed any depth. That’s not to say that you won’t see players depart, possibly by way of minor trades, especially if there aren’t any significant injuries. But that’s more likely to be driven by roster constraints — guys who are out of options, minor league free agents with opt-outs, etc. — than by any decision to cash in assets. It’s rare enough to see significant springtime deals as it is, and Oakland will surely prefer to maintain flexibility entering the year.