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Author Archives: Mark Polishuk
SungWoo Lee, the diehard Royals fan from South Korea whose visit to Kansas City earlier this summer made headlines around the sports world, is on his way back to watch his favorite team compete in the World Series. The Royals have gone 40-20 in the regular season and playoffs since Lee first arrived in the United States on August 5. Lee’s very first game at Kauffman Stadium was a matchup between the Royals and (talk about karma) the Giants on August 9, which was won by K.C. as part of a three-game sweep.
As Kansas City prepares for its first World Series game since 1985, let’s take a look around the AL Central…
- The Twins have yet to schedule a private workout for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets, and there have been “no serious talks, just brief ones” between the club and Tomas’ representatives.
- Emilio Bonifacio, Luke Gregerson, Brandon McCarthy, Andrew Miller and Colby Rasmus are five free agents who could be fits for the Tigers‘ bullpen, center field and No. 5 starter needs this offseason, Mlive.com’s James Schmehl opines.
- The Indians and Royals top Baseball America’s list of teams who had the best 2014 draft, based on how the prospects selected in June have thus far performed in their young pro careers. A number of AL Central prospects appear in the follow-up lists based on player performance, with Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan‘s name appearing multiple times — no surprise there, given that Finnegan has already reached the majors and has thrown some key bullpen innings for K.C. during the postseason.
Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes has switched agencies and is now being represented by Roc Nation Sports. The agency welcomed its newest client via the Roc Nation Twitter feed. CAA’s Brodie Van Wagenen will be handling the baseball side of Cespedes’ representation, WEEI.com’s Alex Speier tweets, similar to other Roc Nation clients like Robinson Cano and Rusney Castillo.
Roc Nation was linked to Cespedes as far back as July 2013, when the agency was rumored to be courting the outfielder. While the agency founded by Jay Z isn’t even two years old, it already represents a number of major names from the sports world, including Cano, Castillo and C.C. Sabathia. Under the Roc Nation banner, Cano and Castillo both notably signed contracts that were above industry expectations.
Cespedes only has one year remaining on the four-year, $36MM deal he originally signed with the A’s prior to the 2012 season. He has reportedly not given much consideration to signing an extension with the Red Sox, which has led to speculation that the Sox could look to trade him this winter. Whether he stays in Boston or not, Cespedes is clearly looking ahead to a big payday on his next contract.
For agency info on over 1,700 players, check out MLBTR’s oft-updated agency database. Agents: if you’ve got a 40-man roster player or top prospect whose representation is not correctly noted, we welcome corrections at email@example.com.
Lance Lynn and the Cardinals have both said they’re open to discussing a contract extension for the righty this winter, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Lynn will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and he’s built a strong case for himself by posting a 2.74 ERA in 2014 and averaging 194 IP, 8.7 K/9 and a 2.64 K/BB rate over his first three full seasons in the St. Louis rotation. As Goold notes, Lynn could be the latest in a series of core Cardinals players who the club has extended before hitting their arb years or free agency.
Here’s some more from the 19-time National League champs…
- Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt tells Goold that the organization plans to increase payroll and is “forecasting fairly significant increases in the next three to five years.” The spending increase was planned to coincide with several younger players (Lynn, Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, etc.) reaching arbitration eligibility within that same time span. Additional money could also be spent to bring new talent into the team via trades or free agency, as DeWitt said “we would have the capacity for an additional core player or players depending on their quality, their compensation, and our need.” The Cardinals’ payroll has ranged from roughly $109MM to $116MM over the last four seasons, and Goold speculates that number could jump to around $130MM in the next few years.
- GM John Mozeliak made it clear that the team is very happy with Mike Matheny, and Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch considers it “ludicrous” for critics to suggest a change at manager despite some questionable tactical decisions from Matheny during the NLCS.
- Mozeliak also said that Oscar Taveras isn’t going to be traded, and that the star prospect’s underwhelming first season “is not the end of the world. If anything, it’s a blessing in disguise” since now Taveras knows what is needed to perform at the Major League level. On the other hand, Miklasz writes that Matheny “isn’t a fan” of Taveras and wonders if the Cardinals might be tempted to explore trades for the outfielder this winter.
- Also from Miklasz, he feels relief depth, upgrades at the backup catcher and backup middle infielder spots and a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Adams are all logical winter goals for the Cardinals.
The Yankees will have to make additions while sorting through several high-priced injury question marks on their roster as they try to rebound from consecutive years outside the postseason.
- Masahiro Tanaka, SP: $133MM through 2020 (Tanaka can opt out after 2017)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: $126.8MM through 2020 ($21MM club option for 2021, $5MM buyout)
- Brian McCann, C: $68MM through 2018 ($15MM club option for 2019, can vest to become player option)
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B: $61MM through 2017
- C.C. Sabathia, SP: $48MM through 2016 ($25MM vesting option for 2017, $5MM buyout otherwise)
- Brett Gardner, OF: $48MM through 2018 ($12.5MM club option for 2019, $2MM buyout)
- Mark Teixeira, 1B: $45MM through 2016
- Carlos Beltran, OF: $30MM through 2016
- Martin Prado, IF: $22MM through 2016
- Brendan Ryan, SS: $2MM through 2015 ($2MM club option for 2016, become $1MM player option if declined)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Shawn Kelley, RP (5.128): $2.5MM projected salary
- Francisco Cervelli, C (4.146): $1.1MM
- Esmil Rogers, RP (4.087): $1.9MM
- Ivan Nova, SP (4.024): $3.3MM
- Michael Pineda, SP (3.099): $2.1MM
- David Huff, RP (3.062): $700K
- David Phelps, SP/RP (2.156): $1.3MM
- Andrew Bailey, RP: club option for 2015, dollar value unknown
- Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Scott Sizemore, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young
The emotion of the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera retirement tours over the last two seasons may have softened the blow of missing the playoffs for Yankees fans. Now that the last of the “Core Four” has retired, eyes are focused on the present and what the Steinbrenner family, the newly-extended Brian Cashman and a revamped baseball operations department will do to get this team back into contention.
When the Bombers missed the playoffs last year, they responded by spending over $500MM on new contracts for free agents and re-signed talent. It doesn’t seem like the Yankees are prepared for another spending spree, in part because two of last year’s big signings (Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran) underperformed. Combine those setbacks with a huge swath of injuries that sidelined almost the entire Yankees rotation, and it’s somewhat surprising that the club managed to win even 83 games.
The biggest issue facing the Yankees is that many of their highest-paid players can’t be counted on to stay healthy or play up to their usual standard in 2015. C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and has already suffered a decline in performance in recent years. Mark Teixeira managed to play in 123 games last year but his wrist problems will always require a backup option. McCann and Beltran could’ve just had off-years, or they could possibly be on the decline as well.
And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, returning from his year-long suspension as a complete mystery in terms of what he’ll be able to contribute. The plan for A-Rod seems to be a rotation between DH, third base and possibly first base, to spell Teixeira. Until the Yankees know if Rodriguez can handle regular time at third, however, it will somewhat hamstring their other winter plans. They have an interest in bringing back Chase Headley, though obviously Headley will want to play every day, and limiting Rodriguez to a 1B/DH role will cut down on the DH at-bats that might be needed for another aging players like Beltran or McCann.
One possible solution would be to pencil Martin Prado in as the third baseman and to acquire a stopgap option to play second or give prospect Rob Refsnyder a shot at the job. If Rodriguez’s body can hold up under regular playing time at the hot corner, then Prado can then primarily play second base, with the occasional game at 3B to spell A-Rod. Prado’s versatility is a nice tool for the Yankees to have, and since he posted an .877 OPS in 137 PA after joining the club at the trade deadline, his bat may have awoken after a rough first half with the Diamondbacks.
With Rodriguez likely looking at a healthy share of DH at-bats, Beltran will have to see much more time in right field than the 32 games he played at the position last season. Beltran’s elbow injury both kept him out of RF and likely played a big role in his struggles at the plate, so if he’s healthy, he could be back to his usual productive self. For depth’s sake, however, the Yankees will definitely look to add a backup outfielder who could regular playing time or at least would be Beltran’s late-inning defensive replacement. Someone like Gerardo Parra (who the Brewers could non-tender or look to trade this winter) would be a nice fit in this role.
Replacing Jeter is impossible from a big-picture standpoint, though replacing Jeter’s 2014 on-field production (-0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+) at shortstop shouldn’t be hard. There will inevitably be a big media spotlight on whichever player becomes Jeter’s successor at short, and the Yankees have a couple of options: they can pursue a young shortstop as a true long-term heir apparent, or they could look for an established veteran (who might be more used to the pressure) to play the position for a few seasons until a younger option can be groomed or acquired.
If New York chooses the veteran route, there are free agent shortstops like Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie available. Hanley Ramirez is the top free agent shortstop on the market, though if the Yankees are indeed hesitant about giving big money to players over 30 years old, then a player with Ramirez’s injury history and defensive limitations wouldn’t be a good fit. Stephen Drew could be re-signed at a relative discount price, though it’s hard to see the Yankees handing Drew the starting job coming off his poor 2014 season. It’s possible the Yankees’ top choice to replace Jeter may already be off the board, as J.J. Hardy signed an extension with the Orioles rather than test free agency.
If the Yankees went for a younger option at short, they could talk trade with the Diamondbacks or Cubs, each of which have a surplus of young shortstops. Chicago’s surplus, of course, is of a higher pedigree since it involves former All-Star Starlin Castro and blue chip prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote in his recent Cubs offseason outlook piece, however, the timing may not be right for the Cubs to trade their middle infield depth. Plus, even if Chicago was willing to deal, the Yankees may not have the prospect depth to meet the enormous asking price the Cubs would demand for any of those players. Swinging a deal for one of Arizona’s slightly lesser-regarded young shortstops (Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings) could be a more palatable option.
The Yankees acquired Prado using one piece of their catching surplus in prospect Peter O’Brien, and the club still has John Ryan Murphy, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine all battling for the backup job behind McCann. Any two of these players could be expendable with top prospect Gary Sanchez on the farm, though Sanchez has yet to play beyond the Double-A level and is at least a season away from getting serious consideration from a big league job.
The biggest trade chip the Yankees have, of course, is their financial might. Headley, Prado and Brandon McCarthy were all acquired for a fairly negligible prospect return at midseason since New York was simply able to take those contracts off the Padres’ and Diamondbacks’ hands. Rather than surrender draft picks to sign qualifying offer free agents or deal away what little farm depth they have, the Yankees could pursue more trades with rivals looking to create payroll space.
If the Yankees did want to make a splash in free agency, however, Jon Lester could be an attractive target since (due to the fact that he was traded at midseason) he can be signed without any draft pick compensation. The Yankees have a particular admiration for Lester, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and the southpaw would bring both quality and much-needed durability to New York’s rotation. Max Scherzer could also draw interest from the Yankees this winter as another front-of-the-rotation upgrade, not to mention James Shields, who is expected to be available at a lower price than those other two aces.
While adding a top starter could technically give the Yankees a rotation surplus if everyone is healthy, that’s a giant “if” given how many injury-plagued starters are in the rotation. C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and even if he’s 100 percent health-wise, the lefty has still been on the decline for the last two seasons. Ivan Nova will be out until May at the earliest as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Michael Pineda looked dominant when he was on the mound, yet had another injury setback when he missed three months with a bad shoulder.
The most tenuous injury situation involves Masahiro Tanaka, who took MLB by storm in his rookie season before a slight UCL tear caused him to miss 10 weeks. Tanaka returned to make two starts in late September and reported he was pain-free, so for now, it appears the righty may have dodged the Tommy John bullet. Any recurrence of the injury, however, could lead to surgery for Tanaka and at least a year on the DL. Tanaka is yet another high-paid superstar the Yankees don’t know if they can count on in 2015, and his uncertain health status is the club’s strongest argument for making a play for the likes of Scherzer, Lester or Shields.
Shane Greene‘s strong rookie season earned him a spot in the 2015 rotation, so presuming that leaves New York with a tentative starting quartet of Tanaka, Greene, Pineda and Sabathia. If the Yankees don’t land that ace-level pitcher, they could turn to familiar faces in McCarthy (who is open to a return) or Hiroki Kuroda, who is again weighing retirement or a return to Japan.
Kuroda faced the same choice last offseason and rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer before re-signing with the Yankees on a one-year, $16MM deal. It stands to reason that Kuroda will receive another QO this winter — if the Yankees were comfortable in issuing him a qualifying offer last year before knowing if he’d return to MLB, they’d probably feel similarly comfortable this year. Kuroda still posted solid numbers and 199 IP at age 39 last season, and he’ll draw enough interest from teams that I’d suspect he’ll reject this offseason’s $15.3MM qualifying offer to look for another slightly-richer one-year pact. It’s fair to assume the Yankees have the inside track on Kuroda’s services if he does return, though the Dodgers and Angels are also looking for starting pitching and can offer Kuroda a job closer to his home in southern California.
Dellin Betances‘ phenomenal success as the Yankees’ setup man has led to speculation that he could take over as closer in 2015 and New York could afford to let David Robertson leave in free agency. The Yankees are one of the few teams who can afford to issue a qualifying offer to a closer, and while it’s possible the QO could scare off some teams who don’t want to give up a first-round pick to sign a one-inning pitcher, MLBTR’s Steve Adams argued that Robertson’s status as the best closer available will still land him a significant deal, possibly in the range of four years and $52MM. A lockdown bullpen has been such an important part of recent Yankees history that I can see the Bombers re-signing Robertson and re-teaming he and Betances to create a lot of seven-inning games.
With or without Robertson, expect the Yankees to pursue a veteran lefty reliever to fill the hole left by Matt Thornton, who was let go on waivers last summer. Andrew Miller stands out as the best left-handed option (and one of the best relievers in general) available in free agency, and he could serve as Betances’ setup man. The Yankees could take a page from the Royals’ book by signing Miller AND re-signing Robertson, sandwiching them around Betances to create a terrifying late-game relief trio.
David Huff, David Phelps, Shawn Kelley and Esmil Rogers are all eligible for arbitration this winter and since all pitched well in 2014 (at least peripheral-wise in Kelley and Rogers’ cases), expect all four to be tendered contracts and brought back into the bullpen mix. The Yankees could also exercise their inexpensive team option on Andrew Bailey for 2015, though since hasn’t pitched at all since undergoing shoulder surgery in July 2013, Bailey is just a lottery ticket at this point.
The rumor mill inevitably connects the Yankees to virtually every top free agent during the offseason, both because agents like to raise their clients’ asking prices by claiming the league’s big spenders are interested and because the Yankees usually do cast a wide net. Throwing more money at free agents might leave the club with even more albatross contracts, however, and even the Yankees have a spending limit. It’s more likely the Yankees will look to fill their roster holes through trades rather than free agency, though expect them to explore all options lest the playoff drought extend to three years.
Here are the latest minor league transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post. All moves reported by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy unless cited otherwise.
- Jesus Guzman elected free agency rather than accept a Triple-A assignment from the Astros, Union Radio’s Pascual Artiles reports (Twitter link). Houston outrighted Guzman off its 40-man roster earlier this month. Guzman was acquired from the Padres last December and hit .188/.272/.248 in 184 plate appearances in 2014.
- Second baseman Tony Abreu has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Giants organization. Abreu has been with the Giants for the last two seasons, appearing in three games with the team in 2014 and 53 in 2013. Abreu has 615 PA to his name since debuting in the majors in 2007, posting a career .254/.283/.373 line for the Giants, Royals, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
- Second baseman Cord Phelps has elected free agency. Phelps played for the Orioles in 2014, appearing in three Major League games and hitting .259/.361/.388 over 403 PA at Triple-A Norfolk.
- The Dodgers re-signed left-hander Robert Carson. The southpaw posted a 5.74 ERA over 62 2/3 IP in the minors with the Angels and Dodgers in 2014, getting released by L.A.’s red team in May and signing with L.A.’s blue team a week later. Carson threw 33 innings for the Mets in 2012-13, posting a 6.82 ERA in his brief time in the Show.
- Left-hander Pedro Hernandez has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Rockies. Hernandez posted a 6.42 ERA in 88 1/3 IP for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2014, and made one start for the Rockies in July. The southpaw has a career 7.33 ERA over 66 1/3 IP with the Rockies, Twins and White Sox since 2012.
- The Rockies released and then re-signed right-hander Simon Castro, according to the club’s official transactions page. He first signed with Colorado in April but didn’t pitch at all in 2014 due to injury. Castro was ranked as the game’s 58th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season while in the Padres farm system, and was dealt to the White Sox as part of the Carlos Quentin trade package in the 2011-12 offseason. His Major League experience consists of 6 2/3 IP with Chicago in 2013.
- Left-hander Cesar Cabral, most recently of the Yankees organization, has elected to become a free agent, Examiner.com’s Dan Pfeiffer reports (Twitter link). Cabral appeared in four games for the Yankees in 2014, totaling one inning pitched and allowing three earned runs. His Major League resume also includes 3 2/3 IP for New York in 2013. The southpaw has a 4.01 ERA, 2.58 K/BB rate and 420 strikeouts over 422 1/3 career minor league innings.
On the heels of their first winning season since 2010, the Blue Jays are hoping to take the next step and reach the playoffs, though they may need to get creative with their payroll to make room for roster upgrades.
- Jose Reyes, SS: $66MM through 2017 ($22MM club option for 2018)
- Mark Buehrle, LHP: $19MM through 2015
- Jose Bautista, OF: $14MM through 2015 ($14MM club option for 2016)
- R.A. Dickey, RHP: $12MM through 2015 ($12MM club option for 2016)
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: $10MM through 2015 ($10MM club option for 2016)
- Ricky Romero, LHP: $7.5MM through 2015 ($13.1MM club option for 2016)
- Dioner Navarro, C: $5MM through 2015
- Maicer Izturis, IF: $3MM through 2015 ($3MM club option for 2016)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Brett Cecil, RP (4.152): $2.6MM projected salary
- John Mayberry, 1B/OF (4.095): $1.9MM
- Josh Thole, C (4.085): $1.4MM (Thole will be arb-eligible if his option is declined)
- Juan Francisco, 3B/1B (3.147): $2.2MM
- Danny Valencia, 3B (3.118): $1.7MM
- Brett Lawrie, 3B (3.055): $1.8MM
- Non-tender candidates: Francisco
- Brandon Morrow, RHP: $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- Adam Lind, 1B/DH: $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- J.A. Happ, LHP: $6.7MM club option with a $200K buyout
- Sergio Santos, RHP: $6MM club option with a $750K buyout
- Dustin McGowan, RHP: $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Josh Thole, C: club option, unconfirmed value
With the exception of Dioner Navarro‘s modest two-year, $8MM free agent contract last offseason, the Blue Jays have gone almost two full calendar years without a major transaction. Granted, the Jays reshaped their roster with some huge moves over last two months of 2012, but the lack of any significant follow-up has raised controversy in Toronto. Since the Jays led the AL East for over a month and finished only five games out of a wild card spot, fingers were pointed by both fans and some players at GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Rogers Communications ownership group for not making any acquisitions that could’ve put the team over the top.
A weakened Canadian dollar, the hiring of a new Rogers CEO within the last year and Rogers spending $5.2 billion to acquire NHL TV rights over its Sportsnet channels have all been cited as theories for the lack of Blue Jays-related spending. It could also simply be that the club’s $137MM payroll represents the full budget, so Anthopoulos wasn’t authorized to spend any further. Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that Anthopoulos will have more than that $137MM figure to work with, and it’s possible the 2015 payroll could be lower.
Certainly, lots of teams would love to have “just” a $137MM budget, though Anthopoulos doesn’t have much room to maneuver given that $96.2MM is committed to only eight players for 2015. Roughly $11.6MM (as estimated by Matt Swartz for MLBTR) will be paid to their arbitration-eligible players if all are tendered contracts, though Josh Thole‘s contract option can be exercised instead of going through the arb process and Juan Francisco stands out as a non-tender given how little action he saw over the season’s final weeks. That adds up to at least $104MM for 13 players, plus the Jays figure to pick up at least a few of their outstanding team options lest they create more holes on the roster.
Payroll space is of particular concern in regards to Melky Cabrera, whose solid bounce-back season will net him a significant free agent contract. Cabrera wants to stay in Toronto and the Blue Jays want him back, yet it remains to be seen if the two sides can match up on a new deal. The Jays will issue a Cabrera a qualifying offer at the very least, and as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his latest Free Agent Power Rankings, teams could be hesitant to surrender a first-rounder and give an expensive multiyear deal to a player with a below-average glove and a PED suspension on his record.
This being said, Dierkes still ranked Cabrera as the eighth-best player in free agency since quality bats are a rare commodity this offseason. The Jays might be out of luck if they’re hoping the QO limits Cabrera’s market enough that they can re-sign him at a relative bargain. In his free agent profile of Cabrera, MLBTR’s Steve Adams made the point that the outfielder might actually be the safest bet among the top available hitters — Cabrera is younger and has more defensive value than Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz, and he is a proven MLB quantity, unlike Yasmany Tomas.
Cabrera could be the litmus test for how tight a payroll crunch Toronto is facing. Something like Adams’ predicted five-year, $66.25MM contract isn’t an unreasonable sum for a team that has designs on contending and has only one player (Jose Reyes) guaranteed money past the 2015 season. If Cabrera signs elsewhere for such a deal, it’s a sign the Jays will continue to limit spending.
If Cabrera leaves, the Jays will have two outfield spots to fill since center fielder Colby Rasmus seems as good as gone. Rasmus had a disappointing season overall and received only 14 plate appearances in September as the Jays instead used younger players in center field. He seems likely to pursue a one-year deal elsewhere to rebuild his value, leaving the Jays with a combination of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and top prospect Dalton Pompey juggling the center field duties. That trio and John Mayberry could form platoons in left and center, though you’d imagine that would only be the last-ditch plan if a more established everyday outfielder couldn’t be found to handle one of the two spots. Top-tier outfield free agents like Tomas and Cruz will be too expensive, so the Jays could pursue a trade for a left fielder and let the youngsters handle center.
Casey Janssen posted a 1.23 ERA in the first half of the season and a 6.46 ERA in the second half, as he was clearly affected by a severe bout of food poisoning during an All-Star break vacation. That late slump seemed to cinch his departure from the team, and Janssen won’t be the only notable relief arm to leave — Sergio Santos‘ $6MM option will surely be bought out after a rough season and Dustin McGowan‘s $4MM option is a bit pricey for a reliever without a defined role as a closer or setup man. McGowan still put up solid numbers once he became a full-time relief pitcher, however, so it’s possible the team could decline the option and seek a new contract with its longest-tenured player.
Some bullpen improvements are necessary after the Jays’ relief corps posted a collective 4.09 ERA in 2014, the sixth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball. The Blue Jays will look to upgrade the pen by adding setup relievers rather than pricey free agent closers, and then the setup options would either form a closer committee or one would eventually emerge as the ninth-inning preference. Top starting prospect Aaron Sanchez was dominant in a relief role in 2014, though the Jays would prefer to stretch him out as rotation depth rather than use him for significant bullpen innings.
The rotation went from a glaring weakness in 2013 to a relative strength in 2014. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were their usual solid selves, top prospect Marcus Stroman exploded onto the scene with an impressive rookie season, Drew Hutchison recorded 184 strikeouts over 184 2/3 innings in his first year back after Tommy John surgery and J.A. Happ rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013. Since Happ pitched well enough for his $6.7MM option to be exercised, Toronto projects to have the same starting five next year, with young arms like Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin providing depth in the minors or the bullpen. After two injury-shortened seasons, Brandon Morrow‘s $10MM club option is expected to be declined.
Anthopoulos isn’t ruling out the idea of adding another veteran starter in a trade, though I’d be surprised if the likes of Stroman, Hutchison or Sanchez were dealt given how the GM has so often spoken of the importance of young pitching depth. Could Anthopoulos make a lateral move by trading Buehrle? The idea has been broached in the Toronto media as a way to open up salary space, as while Buehrle is the definition of a reliable starter, he might not be worth the $19MM he’s owed in the final year of his contract.
I’m not sure dealing any pitching is a wise move given that the Jays would be lucky to replicate the general good health their rotation enjoyed in 2014. If they do make a move, however, I’d suggest dealing Dickey over Buehrle. The Jays might well have to eat some of that $19MM to make a deal happen and get a good MLB-ready piece back in return for Buehrle, while Dickey has a more palatable contract ($12MM in 2015, $12MM team option for 2016) to trade partners. From Toronto’s perspective, Dickey is also over four years older, hasn’t pitched as well as Buehrle in 2013-14 and is a bit more of a question mark simply by dint of being a knuckleballer.
Some of the same logic in trading Buehrle or Dickey to free up payroll space applies to Reyes, who is owed $66MM through 2017. The larger term and salary makes dealing Reyes a tall order, however, especially considering Reyes’ injury history and his declining defense; he hasn’t posted an above-average UZR/150 since 2008. Reyes reportedly played through injuries for much of the season so the Jays will have to hope that he’ll be healthy and productive for the remainder of his contract.
Reyes, Navarro, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie hold down everyday positions around the rest of the diamond, though Lawrie’s actual position is up in the air. The Jays would prefer to see his excellent third base glove remain on the hot corner, though Lawrie saw some time at his old second spot last season and could be moved semi-permanently if the Jays can acquire an everyday third baseman. Of course, Lawrie isn’t a stable option himself, having spent significant time on the DL in each of the last three seasons.
There aren’t many attractive 2B/3B options within Toronto’s price range in free agency, so a trade might again be the ideal route for an upgrade. I cited the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena as a trade candidate in my Red Sox offseason outlook piece, and Valbuena (coming off a .249/.341/.435 season with 16 homers in 547 PA) might make even more sense for the Jays since he can play both second and third. The Marlins, White Sox and Rockies are all teams with second base depth that could be available in trades, and there’s plenty of room for improvement given that Toronto’s second basemen combined for only 0.5 fWAR in 2014.
Right now, Ryan Goins and Steve Tolleson are the top choices to platoon at second base, while Maicer Izturis will be in the mix. Izturis had a terrible 2013 season and was injured for almost all of 2014, so his three-year, $10MM contract has thus far been a bust for the Jays. Munenori Kawasaki was outrighted off the Jays’ 40-man roster but there’s a good chance the fan favorite infielder will be brought back as a minor league depth option.
A broken foot limited Adam Lind to only 318 PA last year, yet his injury history and inability to hit left-handers don’t offset his value as a righty-smashing bat. Lind posted a .942 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2014, so expect the Jays to exercise his $7.5MM option and use him in his usual role as a primary DH and part-time first baseman. Mayberry or Valencia fit as right-handed hitting complements to Lind at DH, or Reyes could even see some action at DH as an effort to keep him fresh.
Anthopoulos has stressed durability as one of his key musts for any new player, which goes towards a general team-wide goal to cut down on injuries and add bench depth. It’s no coincidence that the Jays’ red-hot stretch in May and early June came when they had almost all of their key performers healthy at the same time. They lacked the depth to withstand multiple injuries, however, and ultimately fell apart around the time when Encarnacion, Lind and Lawrie’s DL stints overlapped.
With promising young talent and and a very good veteran core, there is a lot to like about the 2015 Blue Jays on paper. They could be close to being serious contenders, and yet if the youngsters don’t pan out or the veterans start to decline, the Jays’ window of contention could just as easily start closing given how many key talents are only controlled (via team options) through 2016. The unknown payroll situation and the possibility that team president Paul Beeston could depart also adds to the winter uncertainty. The Jays have been so mysteriously quiet over the last two years that it’s hard to predict exactly how busy they’ll be before Opening Day, though with so many areas that need addressing, the club can’t get away with another offseason on the sidelines.
5:57pm: Hale’s contract also contains a club option for a third season, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link).
9:04am: The Diamondbacks have announced the hiring of Athletics bench coach Chip Hale as their new manager. Contract terms weren’t announced, though CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported (via Twitter) that Hale signed a two-year deal to manage the club. The D’Backs were rumored to be deciding on their new skipper today, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was the first to report that Hale has been hired.
It is something of a homecoming for the 49-year-old Hale, who played college ball at the University of Arizona and began his coaching career in the D’Backs organization, working both as a minor league manager and as a Major League third base coach. He has also worked as the Mets’ third base coach and has spent the last three years in Oakland under Bob Melvin.
Hale has been a contender for several open managerial positions over the last few offseasons, and was reportedly a finalist for the Mets (before they hired Terry Collins) and Mariners (before they hired Lloyd McClendon). Most recently, the Twins sought to interview him during their manager search, though Hale reportedly canceled that interview in order “to see through this chance” at the D’Backs job, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link).
Hale is the first hire for D’Backs GM Dave Stewart and chief baseball officer Tony La Russa as they look to turn around the last-place Snakes and move on from the Kirk Gibson/Kevin Towers era. The club interviewed at least nine men for the manager’s job and had narrowed the field to Hale, former Rockies manager Jim Tracy, Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and two internal choices in assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and triple-A manager Phil Nevin.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games. The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902. Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?
Here’s some news from around baseball…
- “If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully. Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
- If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold. The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
- On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
- Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year). Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
- The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.
The Cardinals’ thrilling 5-4 win over the Giants last night tied the NLCS at a game apiece and also made some postseason history. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, the Cards became the first team to ever hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a playoff game. That final homer, of course, was Kolten Wong‘s walkoff solo shot. Here’s some more from St. Louis…
- Oscar Taveras delivered that seventh-inning homer for the Cards last night, though a few issues have made the top prospect no longer “untouchable” in the organization’s eyes, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 over 248 PA in this rookie season and didn’t see much action down the stretch in September or in the playoffs thus far — he has only five PH at-bats during the postseason. Perhaps of greater concern, Taveras put on 20 pounds last offseason and “his work habits have drawn attention from some veterans,” though Strauss notes that the 22-year-old “is not considered a toxic clubhouse presence.” In my opinion, even if he’s not totally “untouchable,” St. Louis would undoubtedly want a massive return if they considered dealing Taveras and it’s a very long shot that the team would so quickly give up on such an elite prospect.
- Strauss figures the Cardinals are likely to trade an outfielder this offseason, with Matt Holliday locked into the left field spot and Taveras, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty all in the mix for the other two outfield spots.
- The Cardinals’ decision to let Albert Pujols leave as a free agent “could go down as one of the wisest in baseball history,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes. Rather than spend $250MM on Pujols as the Angels did, the Cards instead spread that money around and have reached the NLCS in all three seasons since Pujols’ departure. “When we knew we had to look at the next chapter of this organization, it was really about understanding how we could redeploy those resources,” GM John Mozeliak said. “You never know if you’re going to be able to sustain that high a level, but certainly to get close to that level, or back to it, was something we were able to achieve, first with the signing of Carlos Beltran and then [Jhonny] Peralta.”
- Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete is “a very likely possibility” to become the Athletics‘ new bench coach, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links). Aldrete has a very good relationship with A’s manager Bob Melvin and a move to Oakland would allow Aldrete to live closer to his home in Monterey. The A’s have a vacancy at bench coach since Chip Hale has been hired as the Diamondbacks’ new manager.
- It is generally considered a mistake to fix a roster problem by trading from the Major League roster, yet the Cardinals’ young depth has allowed them to twice make such moves, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Cards dealt Colby Rasmus for bullpen help in 2011 and ended up winning the World Series, while this past July saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey. “I understand the risk profile in doing what we did,” Mozeliak said. “But in both situations….I felt we had to do something different — I felt we had to pull from the club to improve.”
Here’s the latest from Vin Scully’s team…
- The Dodgers aren’t likely to sign any starting pitcher that would cost them a draft pick, a source tells ESPN Los Angeles’ Mark Saxon. This would rule out the likes of Max Scherzer, James Shields or any other free agent arm who will have qualifying offer draft compensation attached to their services. As Saxon notes, the Dodgers’ primary offseason goal is to inject more youth into their roster, as “they’re terrified of becoming” a team loaded with declining veterans, a la the Phillies or Yankees.
- Speaking of qualifying offers, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times looks at whether or not the Dodgers would extend a QO to Hanley Ramirez. The qualifying offer (not to mention his injury history and subpar shortstop defense) could hurt Ramirez’s market, which creates the possibility that he could accept the one-year, $15.3MM offer and stay with a Dodger team that may prefer to move on from Ramirez. “It seems like a no-brainer,” Dilbeck writes, that L.A. would give Ramirez a QO and I agree — despite Ramirez’s issues, he’ll surely find a multiyear deal on the free agent market and thus there is very little threat of him accepting the qualifying offer. Even if he did accept, that would hardly be a major problem for the Dodgers since (as Dilbeck notes), Ramirez could then serve as a one-year bridge until prospect Corey Seager is ready at short.
- Also from Dilbeck, he doesn’t think GM Ned Colletti deserves to be fired for the club’s failure to advance beyond the NLDS. The Dodgers have been generally successful during Colletti’s tenure and blaming him for the many large and problematic contracts on the payroll isn’t fair since upper management signed off on those deals, Dilbeck writes.
- While the Dodgers would like to keep A.J. Ellis , the team could non-tender the catcher and then re-sign him at a lower price tag, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick opines. Ellis made $3.55MM in 2014 and he still has two years of arbitration eligibility left as a Super Two player. Ellis’ arbitration raise will be a modest one, as he hit only .191/.323/.254 in 347 PA last season, though Ellis’ hitting isn’t as valuable to the club as his defense and relationship with the pitching staff. According to Gurnick, it seems likely that the Dodgers will acquire another catcher this offseason to compete with Ellis for the starting job.