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Author Archives: Charlie Wilmoth
In 2013, Travis Wood was a bright spot on a miserable Cubs team, posting a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings. That led to a $3.9MM payout in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2014. A year later, he’s coming off a 5.03 ERA season, and he could be a non-tender candidate. So what changed?
Actually, not much. Or, at least, not much Wood could have controlled. In 2013, Wood’s xFIP was 4.50. In 2014, it was 4.51. By far the most important cause of his two-run jump in ERA was a 72-point increase in his batting average on balls in play, from .248 to .320. Wood walked batters at a significantly higher rate (4.0 BB/9 vs. 3.0) in 2014, but he struck out more of them, too, and slightly increased his ground ball percentage, although he remained a fly ball pitcher. His command was worse, but not so much so that it represented a fundamental change. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two seasons was Wood’s cut fastball, which was lost a mile an hour in velocity and was far less effective in 2014. In general, though, the best way to explain the difference between the two seasons is that Wood wasn’t nearly as good as his 2013 ERA, nor as bad as his ERA last year.
Wood’s team has changed as well. Even if Wood hadn’t had a strong-looking 2013 season, he would have had utility on the 2014 Cubs, which looked poised to unload veteran starters like Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and (if he had pitched well) Edwin Jackson. Having an innings eater like Wood makes sense when facing that kind of upheaval, and if Wood had somehow repeated his 2013 performance, he would have had trade value himself.
2015 is different. Jake Arrieta emerged during the 2014 season as a top young starter, and Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada had unexpectedly strong seasons as well. The Cubs are likely to continue to give chances to Jacob Turner, and Jackson is also still under contract. There’s also Eric Jokisch, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily as potential rotation candidates. And then, of course, the Cubs are expected to be major players for free agent pitching and could perhaps add two hurlers this offseason. Despite the wide variance in Wood’s ERAs, he’s essentially a back-end lefty who can soak up innings. That makes him useful, but perhaps not for the 2015 Cubs, who will have plenty of options who are either better or who have more upside.
Then, of course, there’s Wood’s salary. The Frontline client’s strong 2013 numbers set a relatively high baseline for his salaries during his arbitration years, and he’s projected to make $5.5MM in 2015. Many teams would likely see $5.5MM as more than Wood is worth, so it’s doubtful he has much trade value. Teams like the Braves, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers, Twins or White Sox could have interest in Wood, but perhaps not so much that they’re willing to give up $5.5MM and trade talent to get him, particularly not so early in the offseason.
One factor working against Wood is that the free agent market for pitching is rather strong, particularly in comparison with the rest of the market. The non-tender deadline is December 2, and plenty of higher-upside arms will surely remain on the free agent market then. The most likely outcome, therefore, might be that the Cubs non-tender Wood, and he signs elsewhere later in the offseason.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The idea of the Padres as contenders for one of the offseason’s top free agents is somewhat odd. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the Padres were listening to trade offers for young pitchers Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, not a strong sign that the team was considering spending big in the free agent market. They have been connected to Yasmany Tomas, although Tomas is only 24 and might be seen as more of a future-oriented signing than Sandoval would be. (It was later reported that the Padres were not likely to sign Tomas.)
The Padres currently have Yangervis Solarte, who’s coming off a productive season, slotted at third base, although the versatile Solarte could be moved to a different position if the Padres were to sign Sandoval. The team traded longtime third baseman Chase Headley to the Yankees in July.
Which of this offseason’s free agents are most likely to justify their contracts? It’s hard to say, given that we most big-name free agents haven’t even agreed to terms yet, but Doug Miller polled MLB.com’s writers to compile a list of top free agents, and they think Jon Lester‘s next contract is most likely to turn out to be a good one. Miller notes that contracts for pitchers often go south, but points out that Lester is healthy, left-handed and relatively young, and has been a consistently strong performer. Perhaps the most outside-the-box choice is Andrew Miller at No. 3, the idea being that Miller’s lack of closer status will limit him on the market, perhaps to three years and under $30MM. Here are the latest notes from the American League:
- Scott Boras told Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio he has not heard anything from the Tigers indicating they are not interested in re-signing Max Scherzer. MLB.com’s Jason Beck has a partial transcript of the interview, including Boras saying he is not worried about the lack of teams linked to Scherzer while implying clubs may sign his client and then open a spot in their rotation by trading another of their starters calling this “a two-step process.”
- Speaking of Scherzer (the top ranked free agent on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list), the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman believes the Red Sox should kick those tires because their rotation is in shambles. Lester is the preferred option, according to Silverman, but a trade for Cole Hamels may wind up being the surest route for the Red Sox to get the caliber of starter they need.
- The Tigers have until Thursday to exercise Alex Avila‘s 2015 option, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. If the Tigers opt for the $200K buyout rather than the $5.4MM option, Morosi notes Avila will remain on their roster because he is still arbitration eligible.
9:59pm: Rosenthal tweets that the Blue Jays could also be seriously involved in the pursuit for Martin. The Tigers worried that the Jays would outbid them for Victor Martinez, Rosenthal writes, seemingly implying that the Jays have the funds needed to land Martin, who looks like he might end up signing a similar contract.
8:43pm: Executives involved in negotiations with free agent catcher Russell Martin believe the Cubs are the leading bidders, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Rosenthal further suggests that the negotiations are heading toward a deal in the range of four years and $64MM, a bit less than the five years and $72.5MM MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently projected for Martin.
The other teams most strongly connected to Martin have been the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Pirates, although the Pirates recently traded for Francisco Cervelli, a possible indication that they feel it’s unlikely they can re-sign their catcher. They extended Martin a qualifying offer, which he declined. The Cubs’ top pick (No. 9 overall) is protected, so they’ll only have to give up their second-round pick if they sign Martin.
A report early in November indicated that the Cubs intended to pursue Martin. The team intends to be a major bidder for top free agents this offseason, and Martin represents a significant offensive upgrade over incumbent Welington Castillo. Also, Martin excels at framing and has gotten excellent marks for his work with pitchers, two good traits for a team aiming to develop young pitching.
Teams have until December 2 at 11:59pm ET to decide which of their arbitration-eligible players they’ll tender contracts. By MLBTR’s reckoning, about 40 of those players are non-tender candidates, including two first basemen, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez, who platooned at the position for the Pirates in 2014.
Davis is projected to make $4.4MM in 2015 after earning $3.5MM last season. Sanchez, meanwhile, is projected to make $2.7MM, a raise from $2.3MM. Those costs wouldn’t be exorbitant for any team, even the low-payroll Pirates, but after another somewhat disappointing season from Davis and an off year for Sanchez, it’s worth asking whether the Pirates’ money might best be spent elsewhere.
Perhaps just as important for Davis is the fact that Pedro Alvarez now appears to be a first baseman. The former No. 2 overall pick struggled with throws from third base in 2014, while utilityman Josh Harrison had an unexpectedly outstanding season and staked a claim on a starting job, which will likely end up being at third. GM Neal Huntington has said that Alvarez will likely get the bulk of the playing time at first base, and he called keeping Davis “probably a challenge.” Alvarez and Davis both bat left-handed, so they can’t share a position. Davis has been working out in the outfield this offseason, but there’s probably no space on the Pirates’ roster there, either, since the Pirates already have a top young lefty outfielder in Gregory Polanco and another reasonably strong one in Travis Snider.
It’s still possible that the Pirates could trade Davis, who could theoretically have a bit of value for a team in need of a lefty first base option. But Davis will be more expensive through arbitration than he was in 2014, when he had a .233/.343/.378 season that qualified as a modest disappointment. The trade that brought Davis to Pittsburgh early in the 2014 season didn’t cost the Pirates much (a minor league reliever in Zack Thornton and a young pitching prospect in Blake Taylor), and it’s unlikely the Bucs could get more than that if they traded Davis now. It’s also obvious that, unless they trade Alvarez, the Pirates don’t have space for Davis on their roster. So there’s little incentive for interested teams to do anything but wait until the deadline for the Pirates to cut him loose.
Sanchez is right-handed and has had a reputation as a strong hitter against lefties, so Alvarez’s move to first base doesn’t impact Sanchez the way it impacts Davis. Given Sanchez’s declining performance, however, the Pirates could decide to allocate resources elsewhere. Sanchez hit .229/.293/.385 last season. He was better against lefties, at .256/.318/.429, but perhaps not so well as to justify the expense and the roster spot, especially given that the NL Central is thin on left-handed pitching. Sanchez is a career .291/.382/.481 hitter against southpaws, but at 31, his 2014 performance might be closer to his expected level going forward.
Like Davis, Sanchez has little or no trade value. So the Pirates’ best option might be to non-tender him and save money to spend elsewhere. The Bucs could then look for a cheaper Triple-A slugger to platoon with Alvarez (who, like Davis, can certainly use a good platoon partner). They could also employ some more creative arrangement like having Tony Sanchez, who dabbled as a first baseman late last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, break camp as a righty first base option and third catcher. They could also attempt to bring Gaby Sanchez back for less than $2.7MM.
Davis, who is represented by Octagon, should still be able to land a big-league deal somewhere — his 10 homers last season weren’t anything to write home about, but .343 on-base percentages don’t grow on trees, and Davis is still just 27 (28 in March). The Marlins already have a lefty first baseman in Garrett Jones, but they reportedly like Davis and could have interest if he becomes a free agent. The Padres could also be a possibility, although it’s questionable whether they’ll see Davis as an upgrade over incumbent lefty first baseman Yonder Alonso.
Sanchez, who is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, would be a good fit (on a cheap Major League deal or minor league deal with an out clause) for a team looking for a partner for their lefty first baseman. St. Louis, where Matt Adams has a career .197/.227/.326 line against lefties, could be one possibility. A reunion with the Marlins, and with either Davis or Jones (who platooned with Sanchez in Pittsburgh in 2013) could make sense also.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Tigers are a team built to win in the present, but that doesn’t mean their future has to be bleak, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The team’s recent four-year deal for Victor Martinez is one of many Tigers contracts that could turn ugly, and the team already has $75MM on the books in 2018 for Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have any flexibility. Considering the likelihood of modest payroll increases in the coming seasons, they could have a payroll north of $180MM in 2018. That would give them enough leeway to have a shot even with their current commitments and thin farm system. Sullivan suggests that one future-oriented move the Tigers could make would be to sign J.D. Martinez to a long-term deal. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Yankees first baseman Greg Bird has been named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Bird, a fifth-round pick out of high school in 2011, hit .271/.376/.472 in a 2014 season split between Class A+ Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Bird then hit .313/.391/.556 in 26 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions. The 22-year-old Bird isn’t on the same level as the previous winner, Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant, but he could still potentially play his way onto the Yankees roster at some point in 2015.
- Re-signing David Robertson is the Yankees’ highest priority this offseason, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes. The Royals’ success shows how important a good bullpen can be, and how much a good ‘pen can do to help starters who don’t rack up high innings totals. With Robertson, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Jacob Lindgren, Shawn Kelley and new acquisition Justin Wilson, the Yankees could have one of the stronger bullpens in the Majors in 2015, Madden writes. On the flip side, the Yankees would like to re-sign starter Brandon McCarthy, but they think they’ll be able to replace him if another team outbids them.
- A.J. Burnett is a back-end starter at this point, but his new discount contract is still a good one for the Pirates, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. The deal is only for one year, and it’s likely to produce about 1.5 WAR in value, which is a solid rate for an $8.5MM contract. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ homer-suppressing ballpark, defensive shifting and emphasis on pitch framing make Pittsburgh a great destination for pitchers.
- Dave Stewart of the Diamondbacks sees Jeremy Hellickson as “a number two or number three starter,” Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. The prospects the Diamondbacks sent to the Rays, Justin Williams and Andrew Velazquez, both have potential. (Williams hit .351/.403/.437 in 320 plate appearances in rookie ball and at Class A South Bend this season, impressive numbers for an 18-year-old at any level.) But for Stewart, Hellickson’s talent was more important, and he can help the Diamondbacks now. “They could both be All-Stars, but from our standpoint they’re three or four years away from being major league players,” says Stewart. “We have an opportunity to get a good starter to put in our rotation now and go along with our plans for our team with the 2015 season.”
A.J. Burnett will prove to be a bargain for the Pirates, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates have a great record with recent free agents like Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, and Burnett is still a strikeout pitcher. He’ll also be recovered from a hernia issue that dogged him in 2014, and he’ll have a more favorable ballpark and defense than he had in Philadelphia. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Potential offseason extension candidates include NL Central and AL Central players like Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Corey Kluber of the Indians, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Royals, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. It will be awhile before Kluber can really cash in on his AL Cy Young award win, Castrovince notes — he isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018, by which point he’ll be heading into his age-33 season. Extending him now would give the Indians cost certainty through his arbitration seasons. As Castrovince points out, extensions for Harrison, Hosmer and Moustakas don’t appear that likely — the Pirates would probably like to see how Harrison performs in 2015, and Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, who may prefer to see what his players might get in free agency in a few years. Also, neither Hosmer nor Moustakas were nearly as impressive in the regular season as they were in the playoffs.
- GM John Mozeliak says the Cardinals aren’t heavily involved in the market for Asian players right now, Fangraphs’ David Laurila tweets. Mozeliak does add that the Cardinals can’t totally ignore that market, however. The GM’s answer came in response to a question about Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who struck out 179 batters in 155 1/3 innings and threw 101 MPH as a pitcher, as well as hitting .274/.338/.505 as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. Otani is probably many years away from playing in the US, if he ever does, but MLB scouts are keeping an eye on him, for obvious reasons.
The Mariners make sense as a suitor for Nelson Cruz, but their organizational philosophy regarding players who have been suspended for PED could be an issue, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. There are conflicting details regarding whether the Mariners might have a policy in place preventing them from signing PED players and whether Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln refused to approve a deal for Cruz last winter. If they team does have such a policy, however, it could have a significant impact on their offseason, given that both Cruz and Melky Cabrera, who play positions the Mariners could try to upgrade, have PED suspensions in their pasts. A source within the Mariners tells Morosi that the team does not have a policy against PED players, and, further, that the team has spoken to Cruz and his agent this offseason. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano fractured his toe while playing in Japan Saturday and will miss the rest of the Japan series, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. Cano will only be out three to four weeks, however, and should easily be ready for spring training.
- Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart is a big fan of new acquisition Jeremy Hellickson, Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona writes. “He is going to be outstanding here,” says Stewart. “He is going to pitch well. This is one guy I believe is really going to help our rotation.” The Hellickson deal, which sent two prospects to Tampa, became official last night. The Diamondbacks will continue to search for starting pitching, Magruder adds, with Kenta Maeda or Chad Billingsley (a former client of Stewart’s when he was an agent) as possibilities.
- The Rangers‘ recent extensions for GM Jon Daniels and assistant GM Thad Levine help provide continuity and stability throughout the organization, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. “We want to build from within and keep the group together,” says Daniels. “Thad and I are the ones mentioned in the press release, but [ownership] has allowed us to do good things for others.” Daniels adds that Levine is likely to one day be a GM, perhaps in Texas.
MLB has declared Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada a free agent, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com tweets. The US Office of Foreign Assets Control still must unblock Moncada before he is free to sign, however, so it may be awhile before he settles on a team.
The 19-year-old Moncada is widely viewed as an outstanding talent who could get a bonus in the $30MM-40MM range, a huge figure given that, unlike some Cuban players, he is subject to MLB rules governing international bonus pools. Given the taxes for overages on international bonus spending, Moncada would actually cost his new team tens of millions more than his bonus amount.
Moncada held a showcase in Guatemala last week. He left Cuba through legal means last summer.
Red Sox ownership will meet Jon Lester and his agents this week, a likely signal that the Sox are set to make a significant offer, Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston writes. An offer in the $130MM neighborhood ought to be enough to persuade Lester to strongly consider continuing his career in Boston, Edes writes. Six teams reportedly have strong interest in Lester. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Orioles will have to take a large number of players through the arbitration process this offseason, but one they do have a tough decision on is outfielder Alejandro De Aza, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes. Kubatko suggests the O’s should keep De Aza, who batted .293/.341/.537 in 89 plate appearances and also hit well in the postseason after arriving in a trade with the White Sox.
- ESPN analyst Doug Glanville, who hasn’t coached, managed or worked in a front office since he retired as a player, isn’t a standard managerial candidate for the Rays, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. The Rays recently interviewed Glanville and today interviewed Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who join a crowded field of candidates that also includes Manny Acta, Kevin Cash, Craig Counsell, Raul Ibanez, Dave Martinez, Charlie Montoyo, Don Wakamatsu and Ron Wotus. “Maybe I am a dark horse (candidate), I don’t know,” says Glanville. “I approach it like, ‘Why not?’“
- Phillies president David Montgomery expects to return eventually from a medical leave of absence after having jaw bone cancer surgery last spring, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. “The good news is my prognosis is excellent,” says Montgomery. “The chemo and radiation I did was preventative. I’ve basically kind of been dismissed by doctors. I have periodic PET scans … Hopefully I’ll have that 45th season.” Montgomery has been in the organization for 44 seasons. Pat Gillick is serving as the Phillies’ interim president.