Author Archives: Jeff Todd

Free Agent Profile: Jed Lowrie

Deciding how to frame Jed Lowrie’s entry to the free agent market depends heavily upon one’s perspective: did his failure to match his excellent 2013 campaign constitute a disappointment, or was 2014 another solid year as a regular that cements Lowrie’s status as an everyday player? After all, the CAA client had never made more than 387 plate appearances in a season until last year, yet now steps onto the market as one of the best available shortstops.

Pros/Strengths

Lowrie had a strong 2013 season, posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. And he did it while playing shortstop, making him a well-above-average everyday player. Though Lowrie did not have an extensive history before that, his full-season result seemed to confirm what his earlier numbers had suggested. Over the 2008-2012 campaigns, Lowrie never even made 400 trips to the plate over a single season, but averaged a roughly league-average OPS of .743 while providing solid defense at short, second, and third. He also swatted 16 long balls over just 387 plate appearances in 2012 before succumbing to an ankle injury.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland AthleticsIn a sense, then, 2014 was an affirmation. Injury-free except for a freak bruised finger that cost him 16 games, Lowrie showed that he could be a viable everyday shortstop for a first-division club. Even with a significant power drop-off, Lowrie was worth 1.9 fWAR, though Baseball-Reference had him at one less win in value based on its differing defensive calculations.

And last year’s power outage ultimately looks like an outlier: Lowrie had never before posted an ISO of less than .142 in a season (minimum 300 plate appearances) until his .106 mark last year. Indeed, even with that season in the books, Lowrie owns a lifetime .150 ISO and seems a good bet to return to that level of power production. His 3.2% HR/FB rate, after all, landed at half his career average and seems more likely to go up than down.

A return to form at the plate more generally seems a fair probability. Lowrie suffered a bit from a .281 BABIP, though he has never posted high numbers. His walk rate (9.0%) and strikeout rate (14.0%) compare favorably to his career marks. And he upped his line-drive rate for the fifth-straight season while hitting groundballs at his career rate.

On the defensive side of the equation, Lowrie saw improved marks from defensive metrics. By measure of UZR, in fact, Lowrie was just above average for the position last year. Though Lowrie is not a base stealer, and did not rate well in the department in 2014, he has generally been about average on the paths.

It is worth noting as well that Lowrie brings a switch-hitting presence to the middle of the infield. Interestingly, despite career splits that favored his work against lefties, Lowrie flipped those splits last year, continuing to put up roughly league-average work against right-handed pitching. If he can recapture his former excellence when batting from the right side, particularly in the power department, Lowrie looks like a great add.

While a qualifying offer is at least theoretically possible, it seems highly unlikely that the A’s would be willing to risk $15.3MM in salary space.

Cons/Weaknesses

Of course, the above account ignores some real issues. Lowrie’s first full season of regular action came in his age-29 year, and he simply did not match it last season. For a player known largely for his bat, Lowrie was below-average at the plate.

As for the power numbers, there are reasons to believe that his fall-off was not simply an aberration. After all, Lowrie had put up double-digit home run tallies in just one year as a professional prior to this 2012-13 breakout: a 13-home run campaign in the upper minors back in 2007. And his batted ball distance on fly balls and line drives is down to a career-low 252.5 feet (via Baseball Heat Maps; compare to career marks within this post).

Then, there is the question of defense. While it is true that Lowrie saw improvements by measure of defensive metrics, Defensive Runs Saved still placed him at a troubling -10 mark on the year. As he moves toward his decline phase, it is fair to wonder how much longer he will stick at short.

Likewise, Lowrie moved in the wrong direction last year in terms of baserunning. Never a threat to take a bag, Lowrie nevertheless generally maintained average marks in terms of overall value on the basepaths. But he cost the A’s 3.4 runs last year, by measure of Fangraphs.

While Lowrie has now been healthy for two straight years, we are not far off from a time when he dealt with significant injuries on a regular basis. Nerve damage has accompanied several injuries, including ankle, shoulder, and wrist ailments.

Personal

Lowrie finished his bachelor studies at Stanford after leaving early to begin his professional career, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He also met his future wife during his time in college, and the family welcomed its first child last December.

Between her time working in international politics and his own moves across the country from team to team, the Lowries are familiar with changing residences, so geographical ties may not mean much in his situation. Looking ahead to free agency before the season, Lowrie said it would not change his approach to the game while also acknowledging its importance. “Every player wants to test the free-agent market,” he said. “What you ultimately strive for is to have people come to you and say, ‘We want you to work for us.’ It’s exciting.”

Market

With J.J. Hardy locked up, the middle infield market is filled with question marks. Hanley Ramirez obviously promises the highest upside, but he has his warts and could be viewed by many clubs as a third baseman at this point (or in short order). Asdrubal Cabrera was once seen as a premier talent, but has not been inspiring at the plate or in the field. And Stephen Drew fell off of a cliff in terms of offensive production last year.

Viewing the sum of Lowrie’s work over the last two years, when he has served as the A’s regular shortstop, paints an image of a solid option in this year’s market. A generally above-average hitter with power upside and a switch-hitting bat, a serviceable glove, and experience around the infield, Lowrie has plenty of appeal – even if he is far from a sure thing.

Looking around baseball, there are plenty of clubs that might have interest in Lowrie, though some may prefer a shorter commitment. In addition to the Athletics, clubs like the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Tigers, Astros, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Reds, and Dodgers could all conceivably consider employing Lowrie in some kind of capacity.

Expected Contract

Lowrie has earned just over $10MM in his playing career, far from a pittance but also perhaps a low enough number that maxing out a guarantee seems appealing. Given his preferable market placement, I think he will easily find enough interest to score a significant two-year deal and could well reach three.

While MLBTR’s Zach Links predicts that Cabrera will find three years and $27MM as a younger option, Lowrie seems to offer a slightly more appealing overall package at this point. Ultimately, I predict that Lowrie will be able to land a three-year $30MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Episode 4

On the fourth episode of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast, host Jeff Todd opens with the transactional news from the week before being joined by free agent reliever Burke Badenhop (2:53) to discuss how his consistency, durability, and ground-ball production will play on the open market. Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and Bucs Dugout also joins the show (24:39) to discuss the Pirates’ looming offseason decisions. This episode comes to you courtesy of DraftKings.com, which invites you to join its $100K free roll fantasy football contest this weekend.

 

Podcast

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! You can download the episode directly with this link.

You can access the podcast via SoundCloud at this link. The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.


White Sox To Decline Option On Felipe Paulino

The White Sox have informed righty Felipe Paulino that they will not pick up his $4MM option, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Chicago will instead pay him a $250K buyout.

Paulino, 31, had signed a one-year, $1.75MM deal before the 2013 season. At the time, Paulino was coming off of Tommy John surgery and looked to be an easy high-upside risk to take. That gamble did not pay off, however, as Paulino made just four MLB appearances and was roughed up at all levels this year.

 



Cubs Decline Option On Kyuji Fujikawa

The Cubs have declined a $5.5MM club option over righty Kyuji Fujikawa, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Fujikawa will take home a $500K buyout as he hits the open market.

The 34-year-old struggled with injury issues and was never the pitcher the Cubs hoped when they signed him out of Japan. Across the last two years, he owns a 5.04 ERA over just 25 innings. He does have an impressive 11.2 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in that stretch, but he was rather homer prone this year.

While it will be hard to commit much to Fujikawa given his age and recent Tommy John procedure, that strikeout tally is hard to ignore. And he had a long run of durable success in the NPB before the Cubs brought him to the majors.


Angels Exercise Street Option, Decline Burnett Option, Return Moran To Mariners

The Angels have announced a series of transactions (Twitter links). As expected, the team exercised its $7MM option over closer Huston Street while declining a $4.5MM option over reliever Sean Burnett. The Halos also returned Rule 5 lefty Brian Moran to the Mariners after he cleared waivers.

Street, 31, was an easy decision. He excelled before and after coming to Los Angeles via trade, and a big part of his value came in the ability to control him for 2015. Burnett, on the other hand, struggled with significant shoulder problems during his ill-fated time with the Angels.

The 26-year-old Moran, meanwhile, never had much of a chance to stick with the Angels. Though he was expected to compete for a LOOGY role, Moran underwent Tommy John surgery in early April.


Nationals Exercise Denard Span’s Option; Decline LaRoche, Soriano

3:01pm: The team announced the move on Span while also announcing that it has declined its club option on reliever Rafael Soriano and the team end of a mutual option for first baseman Adam LaRoche.

Neither of those moves surprised, either. Soriano struggled in the second half and lost his closer job, and never was really in contention to have his $14MM tab paid. LaRoche, meanwhile, will get a $2MM buyout. While it may have made sense to exercise the $15MM option in other circumstances, Washington is expected to shift Ryan Zimmerman over to first.

2:26pm: The Nationals have exercised center fielder Denard Span‘s $9MM option, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports on Twitter. Span, 30, will now enter his final season of team control before hitting the market after the year.

This news comes as no surprise, as Span put up an outstanding all-around year in his second campaign with the Nats. He led the league with 184 hits and slashed .302/.355/.416 in 668 turns at bat. Span also contributed a career-best 31 stolen bases.

Even with some defensive metrics looking down on his work in center — which, it should be noted, goes against the views of some observers — he was nearly a 4-win player in the view of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs. By measure of Baseball Prospectus’s WARP figure, Span tallied 5.7 wins above replacement.

Even better for Span and the Nats: since coming over from Minnesota, Span has only missed time sporadically while remaining an everyday presence in the lineup. While a slight step back in production may be expected, it is worth noting that Span produced at this level earlier in his career before concussion issues struck.

Span, of course, was acquired from Minnesota prior to the 2013 season in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Though the Twins are only just preparing to see how their end of the deal that will pay out, the Nationals are surely happy that it was such an easy decision to pick up this option.


Kevin Youkilis To Retire

Corner infielder Kevin Youkilis will hang up his spikes after a 14-year professional career, according to a tweet from his representatives at Pro Star Management. The 35-year-old will be remembered most fondly for his time in Boston.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox

With the Red Sox, Youkilis emerged as one of the game’s most consistent on-base threats. His ability to work counts and draw walks was so legendary that it drew him the appellation “the Greek God of Walks,” a name referenced in the famous Moneyball book and film.

Of course, he could do much more than that. Over his six full-time seasons with the Red Sox, Youkilis slashed an outstanding .292/.392/.500 with 121 home runs. With solid defensive marks at third, he was worth 29.5 rWAR and 25.9 fWAR over that stretch, making him one of the very best position players in the game.

That outstanding performance made Youkilis a key figure in the Boston baseball revival. He did not see World Series action in 2004, his rookie year — though he was on the roster — but was a major contributor during the regular and post seasons in 2007. Over 125 career postseason plate appearances, Youkilis slashed a healthy .306/.376/.568 with six long balls.

Youkilis was ultimately dealt from Boston to the White Sox in the summer of 2012 after struggling in the early going. (That led to one of the more memorable mid-game trade acknowledgments; see photo.) He rebounded in Chicago, putting up a strong second half (.236/.346/.425 with 15 home runs in 344 plate appearances) and earning a $12MM free agent contract with the Yankees.

Issues with his back and plantar fasciitis ultimate marred the tail end of Youkilis’s career. He was ineffective when on the field in New York, and did not even make 100 trips to the plate this year after joining Rakuten of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Nevertheless, Youkilis’s excellence at his peak cannot be ignored. He finished third in the AL MVP vote in 2008, and might have won were it not for teammate Dustin Pedroia. He was named to three All-Star teams over his ten MLB seasons.


Phillies Decline Option On Mike Adams

The Phillies have declined their $6MM club option on reliever Mike Adams, the club announced. Of course, the attentive reader would have already realized this fact from looking over this morning’s MLBPA release, which listed Adams among the free agents.

Needless to say, the move is not a surprise. Adams, 36, had an injury-plagued two-year run in Philadelphia and never had much of a chance to live up to his contract. He was effective enough when he was not hurt, and ultimately contributed 43 2/3 innings of 3.50 ERA ball, but the price was too steep to bring him back for 2015.

Adams will surely generate plenty of interest in spite of his shoulder problems. He was rather good early in 2014, ending the year with 10.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 to go along with a 56.3% groundball rate. Though a substantial guarantee would be a surprise, we have seen significant outlays made to injured hurlers (Jesse Crain and Gavin Floyd, for example) in recent years .


Blue Jays Acquire Liam Hendriks From Royals

12:32pm: Catcher Santiago Nessy will be the piece heading to K.C., Toronto announced.

11:51am: The Blue Jays have acquired pitcher Liam Hendriks from the Royals, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Hendriks, who had been designated for assignment by Kansas City, is expected to draw a catcher in return, per Rosenthal.

The 25-year-old righty originally came to the Royals from the Jays last summer (along with catcher Erik Kratz) in exchange for infielder Danny Valencia. Hendriks threw 32 2/3 MLB frames last year for both clubs, compiling a 5.23 ERA. His peripherals were more promising, however, as he struck out 6.3 and walked 1.9 per nine en route to a 3.84 FIP.

Hendriks owns a lifetime 5.92 earned run average in 188 2/3 frames. But he has been much better at the Triple-A level, compiling a 3.19 ERA over nearly 400 innings.


MLBPA Announces 2014-15 Free Agents

The Major League Baseball Player’s Association has announced the official class of free agents for the upcoming offseason. Click here to find the complete list, along with an excellent foreword (featuring an interview with lefty Andrew Miller) that was penned by MLBTR’s own Tim Dierkes.

121 players will hit the open market, according to the MLBPA. Former teams will enjoy a five-day exclusive negotiating window before the newly-minted free agents will be eligible to sign with any club.

Of course, MLBTR will be all over the free agent news and rumors as they unfold over the coming months. Be sure to keep an eye on our list of current free agents, which will be updated as the market moves. And, of course, MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker will keep you up to date on the deals that have been completed. Tim will unroll his top fifty free agent list in the coming days as well, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.