Author Archives: Zach Links

Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays

There’s a new man in charge but the mantra remains the same: do more with less.  The Rays will trot out the lowest payroll in the AL East once again and after a sub-.500 season Matt Silverman is charged with the task of getting them back to the playoffs.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Apparently, the Rays’ shakeup will extend beyond the front office.  Earlier today we learned that Joe Maddon has decided to opt out of his contract with the Rays.  The 60-year-old was quick to tell the world that he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay after Andrew Friedman left to join the Dodgers, but upon learning that his contract contained a two-week opt-out window in the event that Friedman left the organization, he had a change of heart.  Maddon is said to be seeking a five-year deal worth around $5MM annually, so it’s not surprising that Tampa shied away from that level of commitment.  The Rays now have to add finding a skipper to their to-do list in the coming weeks and months.

After years of working in the Rays baseball ops department, Silverman is well-prepared for his new role.  He’ll be joined by the recently promoted Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, both of whom have been named vice presidents of baseball operations.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The Rays set a new franchise high with their $80MM+ payroll last season, but we shouldn’t expect to see that again.  Overall spending is “clearly going to be lower,” owner Stuart Sternberg said in September.  While Silverman doesn’t have to worry about carving out room for an arbitration raise for David Price or paying Heath Bell‘s salary, it looks like he’ll be restricted in free agency given the long list of arbitration eligible players listed above.

With everyone under contract or team control, it would appear that the Rays more or less have their core in place for 2015.  Still, they might try to be proactive about improving their offensive production with an emphasis on fixing their recent power outage.  In 2014, the Rays hit a total of 117 home runs – their second-lowest total in franchise history – and they probably want to avoid a repeat.

When considering the club’s desire to rediscover the long ball and limited payroll, Matt Joyce appears to be a likely trade candidate.  In fact, the 30-year-old even acknowledged at the end of the season that he could be changing addresses this winter.  Joyce is projected to earn $4.9MM through arbitration and that $1.2MM pay bump doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Rays given Joyce’s declining power.  The corner outfielder slashed .254/.349/.383 in 2014, a notable drop off from his All-Star campaign in 2011 where he posted a batting line of .277/.347/.478.  If the Rays can unload Joyce’s salary for something useful in return, they might be able to carve out enough space to go after a difference-maker in free agency or trade for one.  Inexpensive power options from around the league include Chris CarterBrandon MossEvan Gattis, Dayan Viciedo, and Pedro Alvarez, though their asking prices and availability will vary.   Yoenis Cespedes also fits the bill as a power bat, but he’s slated to earn $10.5MM in his walk year.

Alternatively, they could simply pocket that cash as a part of their plan to trim payroll and stick with what they have in-house.  If Wil Myers rebounds as many expect him to, the trio of him, Kevin Kiermaier, and Desmond Jennings should be pretty productive.  Trading Joyce seems even less painful when you also consider a supporting cast of Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus, part-time help from Ben Zobrist, and prospect Mikie Mahtook waiting in the wings.

The Rays could also tighten up their payroll by trading Zobrist and his $7.5MM salary.  Of course, Silverman would want a massive return if he considered such a move and that asking price could be well beyond what another club would give up.  The 33-year-old second baseman turned in 5.7 WAR last season, a rating that put him in the top 15 in the majors, and the Rays know how valuable he is.  Still, his salary is nothing to sneeze at for the small market Rays and he’ll be a free agent after the coming season.  On top of that, the free agent second base market is paper thin with options like Stephen Drew and Asdrubal Cabrera, if they’re not signed to play shortstop, at the top of the heap.  Moving Zobrist would allow the Rays to meet their budgetary goals while also replenishing their once strong farm system.  Entering this year, Baseball America (No. 20), Keith Law (No. 23), and Baseball Prospectus (No. 26) all put the Rays’ minor league talent near the bottom of the league.  The Rays surely have an attachment to Zobrist on a personal and professional level, but as a club committed to player development, they have to get their farm system back on the right track in short order.

One has to imagine that the Rays would like to get out from under Jose Molina‘s $2.75MM contract for 2015 and find a better backup to catcher Ryan Hanigan.  Despite his experience behind the dish and solid pitch framing, his .178/.232/.188 makes him a less-than-desirable fill-in for the oft-injured Hanigan.  If there’s a trade to be had here, it will probably require the Rays to pick up most of the money owed to Molina.  Catcher Curt Casali doesn’t seem ready for the big show just yet, so if they move on from Molina, they’ll have to land a replacement.

It’s tough to gauge what the Rays’ new regime will want to do this offseason, but the starting rotation appears to be set with the likes of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi.  In the summertime, Matt Moore will join that group upon completing recovery from Tommy John surgery.  In the interim, the Rays could plug Hellickson into the back of the rotation or call upon Alex Colome or Nate Karns.  Hellickson, who made just 13 starts last season (4.52 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9), could be seen by some as a trade candidate, but he probably won’t yield a great return at this time.  If Hellickson can rebound and look a little more like the pitcher we saw in 2011-12, then he’ll make a deal much more worthwhile for the Rays.  If the Rays choose to deal from their pitching surplus this winter it might make more sense to dangle Triple-A Durham notables like Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery.

The Rays’ bullpen is currently slated to feature Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Kirby Yates, and Jeff Beliveau as well as right-hander Michael Kohn, who was signed to a major league deal just last week.  Joel Peralta, who has a reasonable $2.5MM club option, will probably be back as well.  Peralta’s 4.41 ERA looks pretty ugly, but his 3.11 xFIP is far more forgiving.  And, while Balfour’s 2014 campaign was pretty bad, Boxberger and McGee project to be solid late-inning options.  The Rays could beef up their ‘pen with some of the low cost veteran arms that will be waiting around after the New Year and it’s conceivable that they could find a trade partner for Balfour, though it may require them to eat some of his salary.

The Rays’ flexibility is limited in more ways than one but they have shown year after year that they are unwilling to let their limitations hold them back.


NL Notes: Posey, Cabrera, Phillies, Braves, Grandal

With Derek Jeter‘s retirement and the Giants playing in their third World Series in five years, Buster Posey should be the next face of baseball. That’s the theme of separate articles by ESPN’s Jayson Stark and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Starks believes Posey is comparable to Jeter in making his team a perennial World Series contender with an understated, but intently competitive manner, the flowing awards and accolades, and his ability to move merchandise. Sherman theorizes Posey hasn’t already assumed Jeter’s mantle because of the position he plays, the market in which he plays, and a lack of a seminal playoff moment.

Here’s more news and notes from the National League:

  • It will be tough for other teams to copy “the Giants Way” because the Giants themselves can’t explain their success, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s a tough question to answer,” General Manager Brian Sabean said. “Things develop over time.” Time has been on the Giants’ side, notes Shaikin, as Sabean is the longest-tenured GM in baseball and his top lieutenants (Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans, who told Shaikin he has never been interviewed for a GM opening) have been with the organization for two decades.
  • Earlier today, MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted Nationals infielder Asdrubal Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM contract in free agency. CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman posits Cabrera’s best days are possibly behind him, so the Nationals’ interest will be based on whether there are better options available either via free agency or on the trade market.
  • The Phillies should have at least $20MM in payroll space this offseason which should be enough for a major signing or a few mid-level signings, provided they are committed to winning in 2015, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. A.J. Burnett declining his $12.75 option and dealing Antonio Bastardo and/or Domonic Brown could increase that amount, Seidman adds.
  • Braves President John Schuerholz indicated to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (on Twitter) the club’s first choice to be their full-time GM is John Hart; however, he will not force the timeline.
  • The first home run of the Dominican Winter League was hit by the PadresYasmani Grandal. Now a full season away from his 50-game suspension for an elevated testosterone level and knee surgery and possessing excellent plate discipline (13.1% walk rate in 2014), Grandal can become a breakout offensive force for the Padres in 2015, opines the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin.
  • The Dodgers are in good hands with Andrew Friedman aboard, writes Peter Gammons for Gammons Daily.

AL East Notes: Cruz, Rays, Vazquez

Ten years ago today, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS in what has become known as “the bloody sock” game. A retrospective by MLB.com’s Ian Browne chronicles Schilling’s performance with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle and the ingenuity of the Red Sox’s medical team suturing Schilling’s ankle tendon to his skin. Before making the decision to perform the procedure on Schilling, Dr. Bill Morgan first tried it on a cadaver to see if it worked. It did and Schilling and the Red Sox went on to make baseball history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after facing a 3-0 deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.

Flash forward a decade and here’s the latest from the AL East:

  • The Orioles need to take advantage of Nelson Cruz‘s warm feelings for the organization while they last and make their best offer to him early, opines the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. The Orioles, Schmuck adds, would like that offer to be a two-year deal with an option worth a guaranteed $30MM.
  • Cruz is one of the top ten moves GM Dan Duquette made over the past two years to make the Orioles the AL East champions, writes CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff.
  • Despite Andrew Friedman’s departure, the decisions and evaluations that went into constructing the 2014 Rays will be the same decisions and evaluations that go into retooling the team for 2015, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. The operations department will remain the same, but with Matt Silverman at the helm and top assistants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander sharing the mantle of VP of baseball ops.
  • The Rays are expected to make a series of transactions over the next few weeks to clear 40-man roster space and protect several rising prospects, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Catcher Justin O’Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and left-hander Adam Liberatore are among those who will be shielded from the Rule 5 draft.
  • Defense and leadership are the calling cards the Red Sox hope will make catcher Christian Vazquez their long-term solution behind the plate, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. The Red Sox feel his offense will develop as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez compares Vazquez to the CardinalsYadier Molina and a NL talent evaluator likens the 24-year-old to the PhilliesCarlos Ruiz.


Cafardo On Moore, Cespedes, Markakis, Giants

If the Royals win the World Series it would be difficult to imagine GM Dayton Moore leaving for the Braves‘ vacancy.  However, those who know Moore well say that he felt comfortable in Atlanta, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes.  On top of that, the Braves would offer Moore a bigger budget to work with.  More from today’s column..

  • Word is spreading that the Red Sox could make Yoenis Cespedes available.  The slugger will make $10.2MM in the final year of his deal and his desire not to play right field or work on his defense could spell the end of his time in Boston.  A Cespedes deal would allow the Sox to make room for Mookie Betts or add a left-handed hitter.
  • The Giants are a team to watch when Nick Markakis hits the open market as expected.  Even though they’re enjoying Travis Ishikawa‘s work, they are unlikely to commit to him as an everyday left fielder.  The Mets could also be in the mix.
  • One agent believes Jake Peavy has turned his next contract from a one-year, $7MM deal into a three-year, $36MM deal based on his second half with the Giants.  Cafardo notes that the Giants won’t re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and with little help coming from Triple-A, they’ll likely have to bite on a Peavy deal.
  • There have been preliminary talks between the Red Sox and Koji Uehara about staying in Boston,but the sides aren’t close to a deal.

Free Agent Profile: Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera might not be the player that some envisioned he would be four years ago, but he still holds a ton of value as he gets ready to explore the open market.  Save for Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera arguably stands as the winter’s most attractive free agent shortstop option.

Strengths/Pros

At just 28 years old (29 in November), Cabrera has youth on his side, especially when surveying the rest of the available talent pool.  Cabrera also boasts four consecutive years of mostly good health with an average of 144 games per season over that span.  Of course, that 2011 season was more than just the start of Cabrera’s good fortune in the health department, it was his true coming out party.  That season, Cabrera slashed .273/.332/.460 for the Tribe, earning his first All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger trophy.MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies

In 2012, Cabrera earned a second All-Star nomination thanks in part to another strong showing at the plate (.270/.338/.423).  The following two years didn’t bring the same kind of accolades and praise, but Cabrera continued to produce.  Cabrera’s breakout year was his best to date, but the last three years have shown that he can deliver ~15 homers (he had 16, 14, and 14 the last three years) with some speed on the basepaths.

Cabrera also offers more than just shortstop experience, he also has 1773 2/3 innings of career experience at second base.  He mainly plied his craft at shortstop from 2010-2014, but he returned to second this season upon joining the Nationals, so some of the rust from the change should be gone.  His ability to play either middle infield position should help increase his market and will also provide his next team with a bit of flexibility.  This also isn’t a strong second base market on the whole, so his versatility is a positive.

Weaknesses/Cons

Defensively, Cabrera leaves much to be desired.  For his career, Cabrera has a -10.6 UZR/150 rating at shortstop, putting him well below your average defender.  His most recent campaigns haven’t helped either as he posted -16.8 and -10.5 marks in each of the last two seasons.  His body of work at second base is better, according to UZR/150, but still far from great.  He has a lifetime -2.5 UZR/150 at second and turned in a -5.3 rating in 432 innings for the Nats.  Looking for a second opinion?  Defensive runs saved has Cabrera as a -10 defender at second base in 2014 and -7 at shortstop.  The career total is more favorable for second base (2), but even less so at shortstop (-22).

At the plate, it’s impossible to overlook the drop off that Cabrera has experienced over the last two seasons.  In the All-Star years, he slashed a combined .272/.335/.443 with a 118 OPS+, well above the league average.  In the last two seasons, he has produced a .241/.303/.394 batting line with a slightly below-average OPS+ of 96.  Cabrera’s 2014 walk (7.7%) and strikeout percentages (17.1%) are in line with his career averages, which is to say they’re alright, but not great.

Personal

Cabrera and his wife, Lismar, have two children and this winter they’ll welcome another member of the Cabrera clan into the world.

Of course, Cabrera spent his entire big league career in Cleveland before the midseason trade that sent him to the nation’s capital.  While he didn’t stomp his feet over being dealt to the Nationals, he was upset to leave what had become a second home for him, telling reporters it was “like [he] grew up” in Cleveland.  That feeling was reciprocated in the front office.

It’s another tough day for a number of us personally because of how much Asdrubal meant to our team and our organization,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said, according to The Associated Press. ”He’s a guy who has impacted two postseasons for us. We’ll obviously miss Asdrubal a great deal.”

In his downtime, Cabrera enjoys being on his farm in Florida where he tends to his horses every morning.  Back in Venezuela, he’s a fan of taking his boat out on the water with family and friends.

Market

Even though he prefers the shortstop position and his second half in Washington didn’t produce his finest work, Cabrera has said that he would welcome a return to the Nationals.

It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said, according to MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko.

That desire to win could, theoretically, lead to a discount for the incumbent Nats.  Recently, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider expertly summed up the Nationals’ dilemma at second base.  If they want to prioritize offense at the position, then Cabrera is the better choice to make than giving the defensively strong Danny Espinosa an opportunity to take back the job.  Our own Jeff Todd suggests that a platoon between Cabrera and Espinosa, who can hit against lefties and serve as a strong defensive replacement, would make sense.  The Nats can also use that duo to fill the void if Ian Desmond leaves in free agency next winter.  However, it’s not a given that the Nats will be willing to get in the ballpark of what other clubs will offer Cabrera.

If the two sides can’t get on the same page for a reunion, there should be plenty of interest from teams in need of middle infield help.  The competition at second base is thin, though Cuban defectors Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera have added some depth there.  At shortstop, Cabrera will have to vie with Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie.  As noted in Jeff’s recent poll asking the MLBTR commentariat to choose the best option from the trio, Ramirez could be seen more as a third base option than shortstop and the year’s best potential option, J.J. Hardy, is already spoken for.

Teams like the Padres, Reds, and Mets could be interested in signing an impact shortstop, though none of them look the part of a Las Vegas championship favorite for 2015.  The A’s and the Blue Jays could both be in the market for a second baseman.  The Yankees, meanwhile, are on the lookout for a shortstop and, depending on how things play out, could have a need at second as well.  Martin Prado is currently penciled in to fill that role, but if he’s needed elsewhere, the Bombers could look into someone like Cabrera for second.

Expected Contract

The dearth of quality free agent middle infielders is something of a double-edged sword for Cabrera.  On one hand, he has less competition.  On the other, as evidenced by the lack of intriguing available options, a lot of teams are already set, particularly at second base.  There are also a few teams with surpluses in that area like the Rangers, Cubs, and Diamondbacks, which could draw attention away from the free agent market.

Ultimately, while he enjoys playing shortstop more, his best bet at winning and cashing in could come as a second baseman.  The Nationals should at least have some interest in working out a new deal, even though they didn’t get a redux of Cabrera’s best work.  The Yankees, if they shift Prado, can be expected to show interest as well.  Because of his age and his ability to play both middle infield positions, I predict that Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM deal.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Orioles, Hernandez, Royals, Giants

Blue Jays star outfielder Jose Bautista was born on this date in 1980.  The 34-year-old has made five consecutive All-Star appearances for Toronto and slashed .286/.403/.524 in 2014.  He’ll look to extend that All-Star streak to six consecutive seasons and help the Blue Jays get back to the playoffs in 2015.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


Free Agent Profile: Michael Cuddyer

Despite an injury plagued 2014, Michael Cuddyer figures to be amongst the more heavily pursued free agent position players of the winter.  The 35-year-old (36 by Opening Day) played in just 49 games in 2014, but his offensive numbers are more in less in line with his 2013 output and there’s always a market for effective bats with some pop.  His last trip through free agency netted a three-year, $31.5MM contract and he’s now in position to land yet another lucrative deal.

Strengths/Pros

Over the last three seasons in Colorado (280 games), Cuddyer owns a .307/.362/.525 batting line with 46 homers.  His best work in Colorado came in the sandwich year of 2013 when he was NL batting champion with a .331 average at the plate.  And, while Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, it wasn’t just the home altitude that helped Cuddyer knock 20 homers and post the NL’s fourth-highest slugging percentage (.530) in that season.  The veteran hit eleven homers at Coors and nine dingers on the road in 2013.  Meanwhile, his wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, explained masterfully by Fangraphs here) of 138 was the best showing of his career at the time, putting him well ahead of the league average and 14 percentage points above his previous watermark from Minnesota in 2009.  In a smaller sample, he topped that with a wRC+ of 151 this past season.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego PadresSomewhat surprisingly, Cuddyer consistently posts average or better marks in baserunning value, according to Fangraphs.  Cuddyer has a strong career BsR of 8.3 and his recent marks of 0.0, 1.1, and 1.3 in the last three seasons would indicate that he has been at least an average runner.  At this point in his career, he’s probably not the fastest guy out there, but the numbers would suggest that he’s smart on the basepaths.

Cuddyer offers some versatility as he could be slotted in as a first baseman or an outfielder.  He also won’t have a qualifying offer attached to him and won’t require the forfeiture of draft picks.

Weaknesses/Cons

Cuddyer averaged roughly 150 games per year in his final three seasons with the Twins, which helped lead to his big payday in Colorado.  Unfortunately, he’s averaged ~93 games per season since and saw time in just 49 games in 2014.  In 2012, an oblique injury cost him the majority of August and all of September.  He played 130 games in 2013, but a neck injury shelved him for two weeks in May.  Last season, a painful shoulder fracture and a pair of strained hamstrings led to Cuddyer being mostly out of commission.  Teams are sure to be wary about that as he approached his age-36 season.

Cuddyer has experience at multiple positions but he’s not Gold Glove material at any of them.  For his career, Cuddyer has a -8.0 UZR/150 rating in right field and his -4.4 rating at first base also leaves much to be desired.  Unfortunately, Cuddyer’s shaky defense has watered down his significant offensive contributions, especially in recent years.  In 2013, despite his strong performance at the plate, he registered a rather pedestrian WAR of 2.4.

Personal

Michael and his wife, Claudia, have three children.  When he’s not on the diamond, Cuddyer likes to indulge in his own favorite childhood pastime: magic.  In 2012, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com asked an audience member for his take on Cuddyer’s skills.

He’s blowing guys’ minds here,” Jason Giambi said of Cuddyer. “[The tricks] are as good as any I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I live in Vegas and I get to see a lot of those shows. They’re pretty incredible.

As Cuddyer told Crasnick, he used the tricks as an icebreaker with his teammates when he arrived in Colorado.  Then-GM Dan O’Dowd spoke highly of Cuddyer as a positive figure in the locker room.

Not only is he a good player — and will be for a significantly long period of time — but if you talk to anybody in the game, he innately just ‘gets it.’ He challenges people in his own way to be all about the team,” O’Dowd said.

Market

Cuddyer loves being in Colorado, owner Dick Monfort wants to keep him, and manager Walt Weiss hopes that he’ll return since he “means so much to [the] club, in ways that go beyond the stat sheet.”  Unfortunately, monetary constraints will probably get in the way of a reunion.  Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post recently wrote that it’d be hard to see the Rockies paying even $4-6MM for Cuddyer next season.  You never know for sure how the market will break, but that probably won’t get it done.

The Pirates, Brewers, and Marlins are among the teams that are expected to shop for a first baseman and the Padres could be added to that list if they don’t have confidence in Yonder Alonso‘s abilities.  Meanwhile, the Astros and Mets will be shopping for a corner outfielder and Cuddyer could fit within their budgets.  Cuddyer also holds appeal as a DH so we could see a return to the American League in that role.

Expected Contract

If Cuddyer was coming off of something resembling a full season, his contract outlook would be quite different.  Given his age and health issues, a one or two-year deal seems likely but another three-year deal probably isn’t in the cards.

Still, there will be plenty of teams willing to give Cuddyer a substantial sum of money and it could even rival the average annual value of his three-year, $31.5MM Rockies contract.  I predict Cuddyer will land a two-year, $22MM deal this winter.  If he stays healthy, it may not be his last big payday either.


Rays Ponder Life Without Andrew Friedman

With Andrew Friedman heading west, the Rays are confident that the newly-promoted Matthew Silverman can continue to work creatively with a limited budget to field a competitive team.  At the same time, it’s clear that Friedman will be sorely missed on both a professional and personal level.  Silverman, still just 38 years old, got the promotion of a lifetime, but he isn’t exactly doing cartwheels down the aisles of Tropicana Field tonight.

It’s a difficult day for me,” the former team president and new president of baseball operations admitted on today’s conference call.  “It’s one filled with sadness as one of my best friends in life has moved away and taken a different job.  That’s the primary emotion, though I’m sure I’ll feel differently a few days or a few weeks from now.

For those of us outside of the Rays and Dodgers organizations, whispers that Friedman could leave for Los Angeles only surfaced late last week when Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times reported that he would be the Dodgers’ top target if Ned Colletti was ousted.  Rays owner Stuart Sternberg indicated that talks started up earlier than that, though he declined to “put a timetable on it.”  The Rays will receive no compensation from the Dodgers for their top exec thanks to Sternberg’s no-contract policy for the upper crust of club officials.  I asked Sternberg if he ever considered altering his policy for Friedman considering the interest he could garner from rival clubs.

That’s our policy, for better or for worse.  There are positives with it and negatives with it,” Sternberg said, emphasizing that most employees within the organization have contracts, just not the top baseball people. “It’s a unique situation with Andrew and Matt and [new team president Brian Auld]…I put my reputation in their hands and they in mine as well and we have a real level of trust.  When it comes to the contract that’s what it’s really all about and it was never really a consideration with Andrew.”

When asked if he fears Friedman taking other Rays employees with him to L.A., Sternberg referred back to the level of trust that they share.  Whether it’s through a handshake or just a tacit understanding, both Sternberg and Silverman expressed confidence that Friedman won’t poach anyone from Tampa Bay.  That extends to manager Joe Maddon who told the owner that he wants to stay on board despite Friedman’s departure.  “I don’t expect anyone to be joining him in L.A.,” Sternberg flatly stated.   Reading between the lines, it appears that the owner doesn’t have poaching protection in writing.  If that’s the case, he doesn’t sound the least bit concerned about it.

Sternberg will miss Friedman, whom he entrusted with the GM role at the age of 28, and Silverman learned that watching your best friend move to a new town doesn’t get any easier when you’re in your late 30s.  Still, the Rays aren’t throwing themselves a pity party.  Sternberg knew that, eventually, a team with deeper pockets would whisk Friedman away.  When the Dodgers came calling, he didn’t think about looking out-of-house for a second.  All along, he knew that he had a highly capable understudy in Silverman who was ready to take the reins.


Offseason Outlook: San Diego Padres

After another season as also-rans in the NL West – their fourth-straight year with a sub-.500 mark – the Padres have installed a new GM in hopes of turning things around in short order.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

Back in June, the Padres relieved Josh Byrnes of his duties amidst reports that his relationship with ownership had deteriorated.  There were candidates aplenty at the outset but Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller emerged from a final four that included Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, and league executive Kim Ng.  The 37-year-old has his work cut out for him in a division that includes the Giants and the big-budget Dodgers, but ownership might be willing to make things easier by loosening the purse strings.

The quickest fix for the Padres’ offense might be spending big on hotly pursued Cuban talent Yasmany Tomas.  The soon-to-be 24-year-old is said to boast tremendous power and is surprisingly agile for his size, as Tim Dierkes recently noted.  Still, there are questions about Tomas.  Over the summer, Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote that Tomas appeared to regress in Cuba and even lost playing time in the latter part of the year.  And, of course, we know very little about Tomas when compared to the rest of this year’s free agent class, but then again, fellow countrymen Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, and Yoenis Cespedes rose from relative obscurity to make colossal impacts at the major league level.  Will the usually cost-conscious Padres splurge to land Tomas?  Based on what we know today, the answer is a definitive maybe.

We have definitely expanded our international focus under A.J.,” Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler said in an email to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego last week. “That said, we will continue to be balanced in looking at all opportunities.”

At this stage, it appears the Padres will have to vie with the Rangers, Giants, Phillies, Mariners, and, for some reason, the Dodgers, who already have plenty of outfielders.  Despite the competition and an expected price tag that could exceed Rusney Castillo‘s $72.5MM deal with the Red Sox, the Padres have scouted Tomas three times in three weeks, so they’re obviously serious about the young slugger.  Where they might tap out in the bidding process remains to be seen, however.

Tomas would look great in the outfield but how the club approaches him will be largely dependent on what they do with the guys that are already in-house.  Preller might want to move Carlos Quentin, but he’d have to eat most of his $8MM salary to find a home for him thanks to his .177/.284/.315 batting line in 2014 and unfortunate injury history.  Quentin also has a no-trade clause, a condition he demanded upon signing a (then) team-friendly extension, but he was reportedly open to waiving it over the summer.  With two years to go and $16MM guaranteed on his deal, the once-promising Cameron Maybin will also be a tough sell.  Will Venable, who regressed in 2014 and is owed $4.25MM in ’15 doesn’t hold a ton of trade value either.   In a perfect world, the Padres might find two new outfield mates to go along with Seth Smith, but that’s easier said than done.  If the Padres can trot out an outfield of Smith, the defensively-solid Maybin, and another corner outfielder with pop, they’ll probably be high-fiving at Petco.

The Padres would like to shake things up in the infield as well and that could be an easier task.  First baseman Yonder Alonso is due a bump from $980K to an estimated $1.6MM in arbitration.  He may not be worth it when considering his iffy production and health woes, though his capable defending, youth, and former promise would make that a difficult choice.  Ditto for Everth Cabrera (.232/.272/.300 in 90 games last season) who has a history of off-the-field troubles on top of his poor hitting and hamstring injury, though a non-tender seems less likely for him.  Veteran first baseman Michael Cuddyer had his own health issues in 2014, but he could be an upgrade at first if he fits in the budget.  Notable shortstops on the open market include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jung-ho Kang, and Jed Lowrie, but teams like the Cubs and Diamondbacks could have shortstops to spare.  The D’Backs are a particularly interesting match if the divisional rivals can get on the same page as they need pitching, something the Padres have in spades.  Alternatively, the Padres could roll with Alexi Amarista as their starter if they have enough confidence in him.

This season, the Padres finished dead last in runs scored with 535, a full 38 behind the next-to-last Braves, and slashed .226/.292/.342 as a team.  But, as usual, their pitching was solid as they finished top five in both runs allowed and team ERA.  Predictably, the consensus is that Preller will have to deal some of his arms to get the offense up to speed.  After all, we can’t expect that great of a payroll bump when considering that last year’s $90MM invoice was a franchise watermark.

First-time All-Star Tyson Ross was one of a few bright spots for the Padres in 2014 but he could be in play as a trade candidate if the Friars want to land a big bat.  The 27-year-old posted a 2.81 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 and is under club control through 2017, so there would be no shortage of interested clubs, but San Diego would demand a substantial haul in return.  Andrew Cashner, 28, battled injuries but still managed to have a strong showing in ~123 innings and has two years of club control remaining.  Though, by the same token, trading Cashner this winter could be selling low given his recent health troubles.  Ian Kennedy, who pitched to a 3.63 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, is projected to earn $10.3MM in his final trip through arbitration, so the cost-conscious Padres may be willing to move him, even if his return wouldn’t be quite as heavy as that of Ross or Cashner.

San Diego also has an interesting trade chip in reliever Joaquin Benoit.  Benoit was dominant in 2014 but he’s 37 and will earn $8MM in 2015.  That’s a big salary for a team like the Padres, but that wouldn’t be hard to swallow for team with a larger payroll.  On top of that, his $8MM team option for 2016 makes him more than just a one-year rental.  Teams that don’t want to give David Robertson a potentially record-setting deal or gamble on the next tier of available closers will want to take a good look at Benoit.  In the event of a Benoit deal, the Padres can also be expected to look into late-inning options, though they could have a solid closer already in Kevin Quackenbush.

The Padres could package in prospects from their highly-regarded farm system, but teams will be hard pressed to pry away talents like right-hander Matt Wisler, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, or catcher Austin Hedges.

Even though the Padres sound inclined to give Preller a bit more in allowance than Byrnes had, much of San Diego’s offseason shopping is likely to happen on the trade market.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


East Notes: A-Rod, Rays, Nationals, Braves

The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..

  • If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays.  When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
  • Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house.  The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option.  However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
  • The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).