As more and more teams fall out of contention, the subject matter of the questions in our inbox ([email protected]) increasingly turns toward the offseason — specifically free agency. That was eminently true this week, thus prompting the free-agency-themed edition of the Mailbag that follows…
(As a quick aside, remember that if we didn’t get to your question, you’re encouraged to join one of three weekly chats — Tuesdays at 2pm CST with myself, Wednesdays at 6:30pm CST with Jason Martinez and Thursdays at 2pm CST with Jeff Todd — to ask questions in a lengthier forum.)
Richard may be the most comparable case to that of Hill’s 2015 September renaissance, but Richard hasn’t been as dominant as Hill was in Boston. While Richard’s 1.15 ERA is eye-catching, he’s averaged 7.5 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings with San Diego, whereas Hill averaged 11.2 K/9 and just 1.2 BB/9 in last year’s run. The nature of Hill’s dominance made it more believable that he could repeat his performance and led to widespread interest on the free agent market. He was dominating hitters, whereas Richard has relied more heavily upon getting favorable results on balls in play. The latter isn’t as sustainable as the former.
All of that said, Richard has been impressive in his return to San Diego. His 67.7 percent ground-ball rate, in particular, will pique the interest of pitching-hungry clubs, and his age gives him a significant one-up on Hill when juxtaposing Richard’s 2016 with Hill’s 2015 campaign. Hill broke out while on the brink of his age-36 season, whereas Richard turned 33 yesterday. (Happy birthday, Clayton!) Given the dearth of starting options, I think it’s possible that a team is willing to sign Richard for something in the vicinity of the Hill contract (one year, $6MM). That certainly has to be the benchmark that Richard and his reps at ISE baseball are aiming to match (and, more likely, to surpass). For what it’s worth, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes took the under on $6MM for Richard when we chatted about it earlier today.
I strongly disagree that Loney is a better option at first base than Duda. Loney has been one of the least productive first basemen in the Majors since taking over for Duda, having turned in the fifth-lowest slugging percentage (.381) and seventh-worst OBP (.304) among the 37 first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances this season. He’s been about 15 percent worse than a league-average hitter, per metrics like OPS+ and wRC+, whereas Duda was 35 percent better than the league-average bat from 2014-15. There’s no comparison between a healthy Duda and Loney, and even half a season of Duda figures to yield more productivity than Loney. The Mets could re-sign Loney to a minor league deal as a safety net due to uncertainty surrounding Duda’s back, but I wouldn’t offer any more than that. And as far as tendering Duda a contract, giving him a bump to $7-8MM in arbitration is still a reasonable risk to take given his 2014-15 numbers.
Between Walker and Cespedes, they’re more likely to be able to work something out with Walker’s camp. Cespedes is the premier free agent on this winter’s open market, and I don’t envision him having the difficulty he had on last winter’s market. He won’t have Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon to compete with this season and is clearly a cut above the next-best corner options, which include Michael Saunders, a much older Jose Bautista, a struggling Josh Reddick and possibly Mark Trumbo (though Trumbo is clearly better suited for first base than the outfield). Cespedes has an easy case for $125MM+ this winter and could end up in the $140-150MM range depending on whether he pursues another opt-out provision. That’s probably too steep for the Mets, given their recent free-agent pursuits.
Walker, meanwhile, looked ticketed to top Chase Headley’s four-year, $52MM deal before news of his back surgery broke. If four years are still on the table, I’d peg him to come in below Headley in light of that surgical procedure, and he might even be looking at three guaranteed years now as a result of the injury. There’s risk due to his back, but that’s a palatable price point considering Walker’s capabilities.
What are the best options for the Giants in free agency? Seeking a big time relief option or a power bat in the outfield? — D. Randa
I’d imagine that the Giants will be in on big-name relief upgrades, including Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, though the asking price on each of those names is going to be sizable (especially the first two). While I see the merit of targeting a left fielder, third base looks like a larger priority for San Francisco. Eduardo Nunez can serve the Giants well as a utility player, but his disappointing performance in San Francisco has left his 2016 numbers looking virtually identical to his 2015 production. I wouldn’t bet on him outperforming those levels in 2017 when he hasn’t demonstrated a prolonged capability to do so at the age of 29.
Justin Turner would be a significant boost to the Giants, and Martin Prado would make a nice fit as well. While Prado offers the same high-contact/low-power profile as Nunez, he has a history of striking out even less, walking more and playing better defense than Nunez. Turner will be 32 next season and Prado will be 33, so there are some age-related concerns, admittedly.
If a left fielder is determined to be the priority, the Giants have both the funds and the need to make an earnest pursuit of Cespedes as well, though they’ll obviously face ample competition on that front. And, there will be more corner outfield options on the trade market than there will be legitimate third base upgrades.
Is Nova about to get “Happed?” Could he get something like 3/24 this winter given the weak market, or will his career-long inconsistencies limit his earning potential? — Michael G.
Three years and $24MM feels light at this point. That’s just tacking one additional year onto what Mike Pelfrey got coming off a disastrous three-year run with the Twins. Phil Hughes got that exact contract with Minnesota three offseasons ago coming off a clunker of a season in his own right. Neither of those pitchers were a part of a market as thin as the 2016-17 market, either.
Nova will pitch next season at age 30, so he has relative youth on his side, and he’s been outstanding ever since the move to Pittsburgh. Some teams will probably view his breakout as a bit more questionable than the J.A. Happ breakout referenced in the your question because it’s due largely to Madduxian control — Nova has walked just two of the 177 batters he’s faced as a Pirate — as opposed to Happ’s sudden uptick in strikeouts. But, the comparison is apt, as MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently examined at length, and I still believe that he can top $30MM on a three-year pact. Furthermore, I’m not fully closing myself off to the possibility of a fourth season. He’s more than three years younger than Happ was when he hit free agency, after all. Reaching four years would mean a concession in terms of average annual value, but the possibility isn’t outlandish.