Author Archives: Zach Links

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Rangers, Piscotty, Cabrera

On this date in 2011, Rays skipper Joe Maddon won the American League Manager of the Year Award for the second time after leading Tampa Bay to a 91-71 record.   For years, Maddon helped the Rays defy the odds, and now he’ll try to help the Cubs snap the Curse of the Billy Goat.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

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


Cafardo On Lester, Hamels, Iwakuma, Sandoval

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if the Dodgers‘ outfield surplus could net them a solution to their shortstop situation.  Los Angeles isn’t expected to re-sign Hanley Ramirez and with underwhelming options on the open market, it stands to reason that the Dodgers could explore trading from their strongest area to find a replacement.  Earlier this week, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman acknowledged that “the best course of action” would probably be to trade one of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Carl Crawford.  More from today’s column..

  • While Jon Lester is reportedly receiving “legitimate interest” from six interested clubs, some are skeptical about his market.  “Really? Six teams are going to be six years at $150 million for Jon Lester?” said one NL executive. “Sounds like agent enhancement of his client to me.”
  • The Red Sox have already shot down a couple of proposals from the Phillies involving Cole Hamels.  Cafardo expects the Phillies to reopen talks with Boston.
  • The Mariners have fielded inquiries from a few teams on Hisashi Iwakuma and the Red Sox have had at least internal conversations about the 33-year-old right-hander. The Mariners, meanwhile, would want an impact hitter like Yoenis Cespedes in return.
  • It’s expected that the Red Sox would want to offer Pablo Sandoval a contract with bonuses that would reward him for staying within a certain range.  A Giants official told Cafardo that Sanoval lost almost 30 pounds in the offseason only to gain 20 of them back during the season.  The CBA forbids teams from taking money away from players for gaining weight, but they can incentivize staying trim.
  • Mark Mulder continues to work toward a comeback but he indicated to Cafardo that he’s not 100% sure it will happen.  Mulder was making a run at it last offseason when during one of his workouts he tore his Achilles.  Afterwards, the hurler returned to ESPN as an analyst.
  • Rival scouts have worked hard to cut through the hype in their evaluations of the Red Sox‘s pitching prospects.  The biggest debate concerns Henry Owens and how his 92-mile-per-hour fastball and slow curve would play in the big leagues.  Meanwhile, some believe that left-hander Brian Johnson might be the best pitcher in Boston’s system.
  • Cafardo reported last week that the Tigers are listening to trade proposals on Alex Avila and mentioned the Braves and Red Sox as possible suitors for his left-handed bat. Today, Cafardo added the Cardinals as a team that could see him as a solid backup option.

Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Dodgers

Before the offseason even got underway, the Dodgers managed to make an impact signing that sent shockwaves through the baseball world. With a record-setting five-year, $35MM deal, Los Angeles convinced former Rays architect Andrew Friedman to head west and discover what it’s like to work with a seemingly limitless budget.  With years of success in Tampa Bay on a consistently league-dwelling payroll, it’ll be fascinating to watch what Friedman can do with a Brinks truck at his disposal.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Free Agents

Other Payroll Notes

  • Will receive a $3.9MM payment from the Red Sox in 2015 as a condition of their blockbuster trade.
  • Billingsley will receive a $3MM buyout after the Dodgers declined his $14MM option for 2015.

When it was learned that Friedman would be joining the Dodgers, there was immediate speculation that longtime Rays skipper Joe Maddon could follow.  When Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, the rumor mill started churning once again with many wondering if the Dodgers could fire Don Mattingly to replace him with the two-time American League manager of the year.  However, the Dodgers were quick to release a statement making it clear that Donnie Baseball would be back in the dugout for 2015.  Maddon, meanwhile, signed on with the Cubs.

Joining Friedman in the front office will be former A’s exec Farhan Zaidi and former Padres GM Josh Byrnes.  Zaidi will serve as the club’s GM while Byrnes has been named the senior vice president of baseball operations.  There are now a number of fresh faces in the Dodgers’ front office that have supplanted mainstays Ned Colletti (who remains in an advisory capacity), Logan White, and De Jon Watson, and the roster could see some similar turnover.

Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers discussed an extension earlier in the year and the shortstop made it known that he wanted to be a “Dodger for life” and ink a long-term deal.  Those talks were tabled in August as Ramirez was sidelined with an oblique injury and the two sides agreed to pick things up after the season.  Now, it would appear that they’re more focused on replacing his .283/.369/.448 batting line than re-signing him to a new multiyear deal.

Ramirez rejected the Dodgers’ QO, so they’ll receive draft pick compensation if he goes elsewhere.  Despite Ramirez’s injury history and his subpar defense at shortstop (-15.6 UZR/150 in 2014), he still figures to be amongst the most hotly-pursued free agents of the winter, especially given a willingness to play a position other than shortstop.  Even if Ramirez’s future is at third base or in the American League where he can be a part-time DH, he will draw lots of attention.  Recently, I profiled Ramirez and looked at his potential market this winter.

If Ramirez leaves, the Dodgers could look into a temporary solution at shortstop that would allow them to build a bridge to Corey Seager down the line, possibly in 2016.  There are options on the open market, but not particularly glamorous ones: Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie stand as the best available shortstops beyond Ramirez.  Looking in-house, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena is a defensive wizard and could be plugged in as the starter with help from Miguel Rojas, but that will require the Dodgers to make a significant offensive upgrade elsewhere.

The Dodgers’ best internal option offensively could be turning to Alex Guerrero at shortstop.  Guerrero was signed to a four-year, $28MM deal in October of last year to play second base before something funny happened along the way: Dee Gordon emerged as a highly-productive second baseman for the Dodgers, earning his first All-Star nod in 2014.  So, putting Guerrero on the opposite side of the bag from Gordon would be a no-brainer move if Ramirez leaves, right?  Not exactly.  Guerrero has previous experience at shortstop, but the Dodgers focused on getting him up to speed at second base last season, where he apparently wasn’t blowing observers away defensively.   In theory, Gordon would be a very attractive trade candidate in an offseason where there isn’t much available on the free agent market at second base, and that would clear a path for Guerrero to play what might be his best position.  Still, that would require a significant package for Gordon and a whole lot of faith from the Dodgers’ front office in Guerrero’s abilities.  On the plus side, Guerrero is said to have recovered well from the incident with Miguel Olivo which cost him part of his ear.

The Dodgers’ outfield glut has been a topic of discussion for a long time now and they still have quite the logjam.  Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson are all in the fold and it stands to reason that they would want to trade at least one of those players for help in another area.  Ideally, the Dodgers would probably look to move Ethier and/or Crawford, allowing them to focus on a starting outfield of Kemp, Pederson, and Puig with Scott Van Slyke in support.  Friedman, in fact, confirmed that a trade of at least one outfielder seems likely this offseason.

Ethier is owed an eye-popping $56MM after this season and that number could increase even further thanks to an attainable $17.5MM vesting option for 2018 that is tied to plate appearances in the preceding year.  Trading Ethier, who once carried so much promise, would require the Dodgers to eat a significant portion of his salary.  The 32-year-old (33 in April) slashed just .249/.322/.370 in 2014 with a very pedestrian 0.7 WAR.

Moving Crawford, 33, could be even tougher.  Crawford gave the Dodgers a .300/.339/.429 slash line in 2014, an improvement over last season, but it’s a far cry from the work that Friedman got to witness up close for years in Tampa Bay.  He also played in just 105 games and that won’t help ease his perception as an injury-prone player.  Just like with Ethier, trading the four-time All-Star will mean picking up a good chunk of the check.  That won’t necessarily be a problem for the cash-flush Dodgers, but finding a fit could still be tricky.

The Blue Jays could have vacancies to fill in left and center field if they lose both Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera to free agency.  The Rangers, meanwhile, have a corner outfield vacancy after declining Alex Rios‘ $13.5MM club option.  If the Dodgers pick up a very significant share of the check, teams like the Reds or White Sox could have interest.  Ethier and Crawford have their flaws, but if the Dodgers can throw in enough cash, they could have appeal to clubs who are looking at a flat free agent outfield market.  From a pure talent perspective, the Dodgers would certainly like to trade those two before Kemp, but he is the most expensive of the trio and has drawn significant trade interest in the past.

While the Dodgers have a surplus in the outfield, it appears that they have a good amount of work to do in the bullpen.  Kenley Jansen (2.76 ERA, 1.93 xFIP, 13.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 2014) was stellar, but the bridge to him was anything but.  On paper, a ‘pen featuring the likes of Brian WilsonChris Perez, and Brandon League (who admittedly did improve from a rough 2013) looked serviceable, but the Dodgers actually wound up with one of the worst bullpens in the majors in 2014.  Injuries to Chris Withrow and others didn’t help matters. They’ll have J.P. Howell back in the mix, to serve as a reliable arm, but the Dodgers will make some changes this winter.

This year’s free agent reliever market features plenty of notable veteran names that will see big paydays, but that has never been Friedman’s style for building a bullpen in the past.  And, after all, there’s already a great deal of money committed to the bullpen for 2015 with Wilson, League, Howell, and Jansen combining for roughly $30MM in salary.  I would expect Friedman to scour the market for value options while keeping an eye out for quality relievers via trade, but then again, maybe he wants to take his new Ferrari convertible out for a spin after years of driving a sensible four-door sedan.  If he wants to spend big, David Robertson and Andrew Miller would both look pretty nice in Dodger blue.  Meanwhile, guys like Pat Neshek, Joba Chamberlain, and Jason Frasor would be a bit more sensible.

The Dodgers rotation will feature Clayton Kershaw, Zack GreinkeHyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren but the fifth spot is a bit unclear at this point.  Prospect Zach Lee might be a candidate to fill the role, but his 5.38 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in Triple-A last season says that he’ll need some more seasoning before making his debut.

The free agent market is littered with older middle-of-the-rotation types, but Friedman’s newly-found deep pockets should lead him in a different direction.  Someone like Justin Masterson, who will turn 30 in March, could make sense for the Dodgers.  He’s one year removed from his best season ever (3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9), the advanced metrics say that he was better than the core stats would have you believe in 2014, and he is hopeful that he’ll be back to 100% health after an offseason of rest and rehabilitation.  Want to go even younger?  Japanese standout Kenta Maeda will be 27 in April and while the bidding for him should be fierce, it’s not out of the realm that the Guggenheim group could green light that signing.  Recently, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com heard that the Dodgers were unlikely to go after any starter that would cost them a draft pick, which would rule out QO pitchers like Max Scherzer and James Shields.  On the trade market, names like Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and maybe Cole Hamels could make some sense for L.A. if they’re willing to part with prospects like Seager, Pederson or Julio Urias.

One more area to keep an eye on for the Dodgers is at catcher, where Ellis may have fallen out of favor as the team’s starter after hitting .191/.323/.254 last season.  The Dodgers have already been connected to old friend Russell Martin — the clear prize of the free agent market.  The price tag there is climbing by the day, but he’d make a great pitching staff even better and give some more offense behind the plate.  If he’s too expensive or not keen on returning to his old stomping grounds, the Dodgers could look to the trade market where Jason Castro and Miguel Montero are said to be available.

With a whole lot of money and an executive at the helm who knows how to stretch a dollar, the possibilities for the Dodgers are endless this winter.  Whatever path they take, they’ll return an elite rotation that should keep them firmly in the mix in next year’s NL West.



Free Agent Profile: Hanley Ramirez

The Manny Ramirez era in Los Angeles is long over, but Hanleywood has given the Dodgers plenty of lasting memories in recent years.   Hanley Ramirez is now hitting the free agent market and whether he winds up back with the Dodgers or with someone else, he’s all but certain to get paid big bucks.

Strengths/Pros  

Offensively, Ramirez rates as one of the highest-impact free agents available.  Last season, Ramirez slashed .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers in 128 games for the Dodgers.  His career track record is even stronger with a batting line of .300/.373/.500.  There aren’t many shortstops who offer the kind of pop that Ramirez can, either.  He has yet to hit less than ten homers in a campaign and that low point comes from a partial season of play (2011).  Over the last nine years, Ramirez has averaged 21 homers per season.

Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez has never played in a particularly homer-friendly environment, but he still boasts strong career numbers.  With the Dodgers, Ramirez posted a .299/.368/.506 line in his two-and-a-half seasons, numbers that are eerily similar to his career slash line.  When stacking his 2014 wRC+ against this winter’s other free agents (I modified the free agent leaderboard constructed by Steve Adams to exclude players with options that were exercised, like Ben Zobrist and Denard Span), he rates third among qualified hitters with a 135 rating. That puts him ahead of guys like Melky Cabrera and just a hair behind the big bat of Nelson Cruz.

Ramirez turned in a 3.4 WAR this past season and a particularly strong 5.0 WAR in 2013.  He was a massive offensive weapon for the Dodgers in 2013 with a wOBA of .446.  His closer-to-mortal .362 wOBA in 2014 is still quite strong, also good for No. 3 on the aforementioned free agent leaderboard.  For his career, he has offered better-than-average strikeout and walk rates (16.6% and 9.6%) and his walk rate of 10.9% this past season was actually a step up from his total body of work.  Both UBR and BsR scored him as an above-average baserunner this past season and are fond his career body of work on the bases.

A three-time All-Star, he shines especially bright when compared to the rest of the crop at the shortstop position.  After Ramirez, the next best options are Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera.  While all three are starter material, Ramirez clearly is of a different caliber and figures to out-earn all of them significantly in terms of average annual value and contract length.

Of course, Ramirez’s future might not be at shortstop.  He also has 98 games of experience at third base to his credit, the bulk of which came in 2012 with the Marlins.  The top of the third base market is healthier than at short, with options like Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley, but Ramirez offers the most offensive potential of the three.  A team could sign Ramirez to play shortstop, for now, and shift him over to third base down the line depending on the needs and opportunities that come up.

Weaknesses/Cons  

Ramirez’s health has been an issue for years now.  He’s phenomenal when he’s on the field, but it’s hard to count on getting a full season out of him given his track record.  We first saw the injury bug strike in 2011 where he played in just 92 games, and in 2013, Ramirez took the field in just 86 games, his lowest output since becoming a full-time player.

Ramirez first started having shoulder trouble in 2010 and it only got worse in 2011 when he injured himself trying to make a diving catch in August of that year, causing him to miss the remainder of the season.  In 2013, he tore a ligament in his thumb and missed a month after undergoing surgery.  When he got back on the field, his hamstring cost him significant time.  This past season, Ramirez was held back by several injuries, including a strained oblique.

While there are tons of great things to say about Ramirez’s bat, his fielding is not at all on the same level.  Ramirez’s -15.6 UZR/150 rating from this past season is atrocious and his -8.8 career mark is pretty ugly as well.  Defensive runs saved tells the same story – he cost the Dodgers nine runs in 2014 and has a -77 tally for his career.

I mentioned the possibility of a shift from shortstop to third base as a positive in the previous section, but here’s the other (and, maybe, more realistic take): a club signing Ramirez to a multi-year pact will likely have to put him at third base at some point to try and cover up his defensive shortcomings.  When you look at his history of poor defense and injuries and consider that he’s on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll be 31 by Opening Day), there’s little reason to believe it’ll get better.

Ramirez will most definitely turn down the Dodgers’ qualifying offer, meaning that any other club signing him will forfeit its top unprotected pick.

Personal  

Ramirez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and attended Adbentista High School.  Ramirez is married with three children – two sons and a daughter.  In the summer of 2013, his youngest son showed everyone that he has a gorgeous swing, just like his father (Vine link).

Market  

The Dodgers and Ramirez were discussing an extension in the early part of the season, but the two sides agreed to table talks when they could not bridge a sizable gap.  A return is not out of the question, but rival evaluators told ESPN.com’s Buster Olney in September that they were sensing that the Dodgers would offer Ramirez the QO with the expectation that he would decline, sign elsewhere, and net them draft compensation.   Of course, the new regime in L.A. headed by Andrew Friedman might feel differently.

More recently, Ramirez has reportedly told teams that he’s willing to play a position other than shortstop, which should make clubs with third base needs and possibly corner outfield needs more open to adding him.  However, some clubs might have reservations about signing him and simply dropping him into the outfield.  After all, he’s never played a single game there in his pro career.

The Yankees might be the most obvious fit for Ramirez, but reports this week indicated that they weren’t likely to pursue many of the big-name free agents on the market.  Of course, as Steve pointed out in the linked piece, that report mentioned many top free agents by name, but Ramirez’s name was absent.  If the Yankees are willing to pay market price for Ramirez, they can slot him in at shortstop in the short-term and transition him over to third or a corner outfield spot later on in the contract.

The Mariners and Giants could enter the mix as well, with San Francisco looking at him as a third base or left field option.  The Tigers might make sense from a need standpoint, but they have so many large contracts on the books looking forward that adding a significant deal for Ramirez might be tough.  A reunion with the Red Sox might be possible since he is willing to play third, and they’ve reportedly already reached out to him.  The White Sox have money to spend, few significant long-term contracts on the books and lack a clear long-term option at third base.  The A’s are in need of a shortstop and with a lefty-heavy offense, Ramirez’s big right-handed bat would be a welcome addition, though it’s hard to see his salary fitting into the budget.  The Mets also probably won’t spend the money necessary to sign Ramirez, but the need is there.

Expected Contract

Ramirez was reportedly asking for over $130MM in the spring give up a chance at testing the open market, presumably on a five- or six-year pact.  Given the lucrative deals signed by Jacoby Ellsbury ($153MM) and Shin-Soo Choo ($130MM) last winter, an AAV of $20MM or more seems feasible for Ramirez, who offers major offensive production at a premium position.

Even when considering Ramirez’s spotty health record and weak glove, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he doesn’t comes away as the highest paid positional player of the winter.  Last winter, Ellsbury got a $153MM, seven-year pact, despite his own checkered injury history.  I think Ramirez will approach that AAV with one less year, netting a six-year, $132MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Profile: Nelson Cruz

Last winter, Nelson Cruz turned down a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers only to find that the market wasn’t anywhere close to what he had hoped.  The Orioles wound up inking him to a one-year, $8MM deal which proved to be a brilliant signing.  This time around, he shouldn’t have any trouble landing a multi-year deal.

Strengths/Pros  

In 2014, Cruz turned in a .271/.333/.525 slash line with 40 homers on the way to his third career All-Star selection.  Cruz’s 40 dingers weren’t just a career-high, it was the highest home run total of anyone in the majors in 2014.  Cruz’s .525 slugging percentage was good for eighth in the majors, putting him above the likes of Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz.  In a season where the Orioles got just 26 games out of Matt Wieters and lost Manny Machado for half the year, Cruz stepped up in a major way and helped propel them to first place in the American League East. nelson cruz (vertical)

The advanced metrics were also very fond of Cruz’s 2014 performance.  His 137 wRC+ put him in the upper echelon of sluggers.  Meanwhile, Cruz’s .288 BABIP was actually a bit lower than his career average and his strikeout rate dipped, so there’s reason to believe he could bump his batting average a bit going forward.  Cruz ranked seventh in MLB and first among this offseason’s free agent with a .254 ISO in 2014.

His 2014 may have been a pleasant surprise, but it didn’t come out of the blue.  Cruz has a solid track record of quality offensive performance, dating back to his breakout 2009 season with the Rangers.  In those six years, Cruz owns a .271/.332/.514 batting line with about 29 homers per season and an OPS+ of 123, showing that he was still well above average even when factoring in the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Cruz has proven to be an elite hitter against left-handers with a career .314/.407/.569 while his .258/.310/.513 slash line against righties is nothing to sneeze at either.

Teams will also find his October body of work attractive, and with good reason.  With his two home runs in the ALDS, Cruz leapfrogged some legendary names to climb up the all-time postseason home run ladder.  With homers 15 and 16 against the Tigers, Cruz tied Carlos Beltran for ninth all-time.  As Mark Saxon of ESPN.com noted, that vaulted him ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, and, yes, Babe Ruth.  Cruz got there in just 37 career postseason games, less than all of the other players listed.

Weaknesses/Cons  

Unsurprisingly, the Orioles made a qualifying offer to Cruz, meaning that there will be draft pick compensation attached to signing him.  In his last trip through free agency, the QO hurt his market (though his asking price was probably more to blame), leading to his discounted deal with Baltimore.  Of course, the circumstances were different.  For starters, Cruz was reportedly seeking as much as $75MM at the outset of free agency, unrealistic numbers that led to him settling in January.  His value was also hurt by the tarnish of the Biogenesis scandal and the resulting 50-game suspension he served in 2013.

For all of his positives at the plate, there isn’t much that can be said for his agility or base running at this stage of his career.  In 2014, Cruz put up a career-worst BsR of -3.3, putting him somewhere between “below average” and “poor” on the basepaths.

While Cruz graded well in a small sample this year (he had a UZR/150 of 3.8 with 3 defensive runs saved), he’s certainly not valued for his glove.  He spent more of his time in the DH role, which he might be better suited for going forward.  A team signing Cruz will be getting him for his mid-to-late 30s (he’ll start next year at 34 and turn 35 on July 1) and his agility in the field doesn’t figure to improve from here, to say the least.

Cruz’s WAR of 3.9 from this past season was his highest in years, a showing that was only bested by his 2010 season with the Rangers.  In his last three seasons, his value has been teetering on that of a good player, but not necessarily a great one (although his suspension in 2013 did deflate that number).

On the whole, his age figures to dampen his value.  While teams are usually looking to pay for prime years at the top of the market, Cruz’s remaining years could be a drop off from what we’ve seen over the last few.

Personal  

As Steve Adams noted in his profile of Cruz last winter, he’s an accomplished two-sport athlete who played for the Dominican Republic Junior National Team in his younger days.  His father also played professional baseball in the DR, so that sort of thing runs in the family.  Cruz and his wife have two children.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette had great things to say about Cruz as a locker room presence earlier this month.  “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” said Duquette, according to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun.  Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun wrote that Cruz created a comfort zone for the club’s younger latino players, like second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Adam Jones spoke glowingly about Cruz’s impact on the team.

Cruz changed agents in early October, joining Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports.

Market  

As mentioned Encina’s piece, Duquette is realistic about his chances of keeping Cruz beyond this season.  “He came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider,” Duquette said.

The Mariners probably regret passing on Cruz last offseason and they could try and make up for that mistake this time.  They’re in need of a quality DH and are expected to chase the likes of Cruz and Victor Martinez.  A reunion with the Rangers could be a possibility, but they previously balked at the idea of a three-year deal and it may not be any more palatable to them now.   Cruz has been linked to the Yankees, though there isn’t a clear fit at this time with Beltran expected to return to right field.  Giving Cruz DH time could be tough as well with Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira likely needing at-bats there.  The Tigers, Royals, and Twins are also among the AL teams with potential interest.  National League teams can and will certainly show interest, but it remains to be seen how far they will go given the concerns about his defense.

Expected Contract

Last season, Curtis Granderson signed a four-year, $60MM deal with the Mets, despite coming off of a season in which he missed 100 games.  Cruz, meanwhile, played 159 games and belted 40 homers in his walk year.  While there are many differences between the two players, including age (Granderson was 32 last winter, Cruz is 34), Cruz’s reps probably believe that they can match the years and top the total value of Granderson’s contract.

Complicating matters, of course, will be the qualifying offer and the same PED suspension that depressed his market value last winter.  As Steve Adams wrote earlier this month about Melky Cabrera, no player with those two factors working against them has ever been able to cash in big in free agency.

Steve projected that Cabrera would land a five-year, $66.25MM and rightly noted that Cabrera is four years younger and has more defensive value.  Still, Cruz has power on his side and that is at a major premium around the game.  His age will preclude him from the same length on the contract but he can still get a very healthy payday for himself on a slightly shorter deal.  I predict that Cruz will ultimately best Granderson’s deal from last winter with a four-year, $70MM deal.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Profile: Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo is one of several big name relievers on the open market this winter.  Despite his hiccups in 2014, he’s expected to find an attractive offer from a club betting on a rebound in 2015.

Strengths/Pros  

In 2013, Romo looked like one of the top closers in the majors.   The right-hander pitched to a 2.54 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 65 appearances (52 to close out the game) and rightfully earned his first career All-Star selection.  In fact, while he found widespread recognition in 2013 as the Giants’ full-time closer, his body of work as a whole deserves a tip of the cap.  Across seven seasons, Romo has proven himself to be a strong late-inning reliever, as evidenced by his career 2.51 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9.  Simply put, he has a track record of being aggressive enough to make hitters whiff while keeping the walks way, way down. Sergio  Romo (vertical)

Aside from strong strikeout numbers and even stronger walk numbers, Romo’s resume shows that he is more durable than a lot of his peers.  Since 2010, Romo has made no less than 64 appearances in a season.  It’s not hard to imagine that continuing in 2015 and beyond since Romo doesn’t throw a tendon-tearing 100 mph fastball.

This past season obviously wasn’t Romo’s best, but there’s reason to believe that he can return to his old form.  Romo’s HR/FB ratio of 13.0% in 2014 was the highest of his career and a regression towards his career average of 8.1% would go a long way towards tamping down his ERA.

Romo’s numbers haven’t been boosted by a home field advantage as his performance has pretty much been the same within the confines of AT&T Park as they have been on the road.  Romo hasn’t shown much of a platoon split either.  He has also been very strong through three postseason runs and has the experience of pitching in three World Series on his resume.

It should also be noted that the 31-year-old (32 by Opening Day) won’t be tied down by a qualifying offer this winter.  And, while the sabermetric community may roll its eyes at the mention of saves, Romo is just one year removed from a 38-save season.

Weaknesses/Cons  

Suffice to say, Romo didn’t have the kind of walk year he was hoping for.  His strikeout and walk numbers were more or less there (9.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9) but his 3.72 ERA left much to be desired and his 3.40 xFIP only granted him so much slack.  Romo’s regular season efforts netted him a -0.3 WAR, the first negative posting of his career.  In general, Romo’s xFIP has been about a half-run higher than his ERA would indicate, though a career mark of 3.02 is hardly a poor number.

Romo’s velocity has dipped a bit over the years, and he can’t afford to lose much more off of his 88 mph average from 2014.  Among free agent right-handed relievers, Romo’s fastball had the slowest average.  In fact, his heater was the fifth-slowest among all qualified relief pitchers in 2014.

Of course, losing the closer’s mantle this summer could hurt Romo’s stock and perception.  He’ll likely be considered as a closing option by some clubs, but some may prefer him in a setup capacity.

Personal  

Romo has two sons and greatly enjoys spending the bulk of his off time with them.  He also has multiple charitable efforts in the state of California and is something of the gym rat.  Romo makes his offseason home in Phoenix, Arizona.

In a lot of ways Sergio patterns his parenting style after his own dad, Frank.  “If I become half the dad my dad is, I’ll be happy,” Romo told ESPN The Magazine’s Tim Keown.

As Keown detailed, Frank pushed Sergio to join the Navy out of high school but relented by giving him two years to pursue his baseball dream.  It’s safe to say that was a good call.  Romo turned into one of the stronger set-up men in MLB and in 2012, he got his chance to close when Brian Wilson suffered an unfortunate elbow injury and Santiago Casilla developed blisters.

I have to admit, I wasn’t ready for what happened [in 2012],” Romo said. “I was afraid of a lot of the attention I got. I leaned on my teammates. I credit them for allowing me to be better than I think I really am. They brought the best out of me, and I didn’t have time to think about myself and my doubts. Many times I would think, ‘Man, how can they have so much faith and I’m sitting here doubting myself?’

Market  

Given his struggles in 2014, it’s hard to say whether the Giants would want to welcome back Romo, particularly if it would require a raise from his current $5.5MM salary.  In early May, the Giants were hoping to lock Romo up for the long term.  Now, that’s far from a given.  In the spring, Romo appeared poised to stand as the top free agent closer this winter.  Since then, Romo has arguably been leapfrogged by David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson, and other available late-inning options.

Even if he’s not in the top-tier of eighth or ninth-inning guys, he’ll still get plenty of interest.  The Yankees, if they lose Robertson, might want to fortify their bullpen with a less expensive option like Romo.  Ditto for the Orioles and Andrew Miller, who Tim Dierkes sees fetching a four-year, $32MM deal.  Recently, our own Steve Adams suggested the Indians as a possible fit for the veteran and teams like the White Sox, Astros, Dodgers, and Red Sox could also get in the mix.  There will be tons of clubs on the lookout for bullpen arms, so agent Barry Meister figures field calls from a number of GMs.

Expected Contract

Romo is one of many notable bullpen arms available this winter and with so many options out there, he may not want to drag his feet in finding a deal.  Waiting until after the New Year could mean settling for something far less lucrative than what he’s hoping for today.  Still, if he’s intent on exploring the open market, he may have to wait for the dominoes to fall.

Romo will have more suitors once the runners-up for Robertson, Miller, and the like start to search out other options.  Then again, maybe it won’t come to that.  After topping the Royals, the afterglow of the Giants’ third World Series title in five years could help to facilitate a reunion early on in the process.

Ultimately, I see Romo signing a three-year, $21MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason Outlook: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers captured the AL Central crown with a 90-72 record in 2014 before the Orioles made quick work of them in the ALDS.  Now, the Tigers will look to retool a bit this offseason and, once again, there will be an emphasis on fixing the bullpen.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

Free Agents

Other Payroll Obligations

Any discussion of the Tigers’ offseason has to start with pending free agent Max Scherzer.  The 2013 Cy Young Award winner says he’d like to return to Detroit, but it’s not that simple.  The two sides were discussing a possible extension in the spring before things stalled and the Tigers took the unusual step of releasing a statement on the matter.

The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that would have placed him among the highest paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected,” the statement read.

The Tigers reportedly offered a six-year, $144MM extension, identical to the deal Cole Hamels signed with the Phillies in 2012.  The Scott Boras client, meanwhile, may have been seeking an eight-year deal.  Now, Scherzer stands as the top available free agent on the open market after another strong season and it’s feasible that he could exceed that average annual value of $24MM on a six-, seven-, or maybe even an eight-year deal with an opt-out clause in the middle.  That’s probably too rich for the Tigers’ blood.

If Scherzer goes, the Tigers will have a hard time pursuing a comparable replacement.   The market offers appealing alternatives like Jon Lester and James Shields, but the Tigers already have about $151MM tied up between guaranteed contracts, arb raises, the $6MM they owe the Rangers for Prince Fielder and the options on Alex Avila and Joakim Soria.  Shields will require four or five years to sign, and Lester could require six or seven, making the fit unlikely.  Even second-tier options like Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano could prove too expensive, barring a significant boost to 2014’s Opening Day payroll of $163MM.

As such, it’s not a given that they’d sign anyone to fill the void left by a likely Scherzer departure.  In-house options like Robbie Ray, Kyle Ryan, Kyle Lobstein, Drew VerHagen, and Buck Farmer could vie for jobs in the starting five.  That’s not apples-for-apples, of course, but the Tigers could get by with a core four David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, with their fingers crossed for a bounce back from Verlander.

In the bullpen, the Tigers have to decide on whether to exercise Joakim Soria‘s $7MM club option or buy him out for $500K.  In 44 1/3 innings last season, Soria turned in a 3.25 ERA (his 2.73 xFIP gives him more credit) with 9.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.  It’s tough to imagine the Tigers not exercising that option.  For starters, the Tigers gave up two of their best prospects in starter Jake Thompson and reliever Corey Knebel to land Soria in July, and that would be a mighty steep price to pay for a ten-week rental.  Soria wasn’t sharp in his 11 innings of regular season work in Detroit (though in his defense, he was also injured), but that doesn’t mean a ton in the grand scope of things and injuries didn’t help matters.  The Tigers would be wise to keep Soria in their historically shaky bullpen, and recent comments from Dombrowski indicate that they’re going to do that.

Beyond that, Tigers might want to do some tinkering with their bullpen and Dombrowski has said that it will be towards the top of their list.  Joba Chamberlain seemed to be paying back the Tigers’ one-year, $2.5MM investment nicely in the first half of the season but he turned in a 4.01 ERA after the All-Star break and might not be asked back.  Coke, another former Yankee, had a very rough start to the year but improved in the second half, which could leave the door open to a return.  Jim Johnson, who came aboard on a minor league deal after his head-scratching 2014 with the A’s, didn’t fare much better in Detroit and will probably wind up elsewhere.  We know that Soria, Nathan, and Al Alburquerque figure to be in the pen, along with left-hander Blaine Hardy and perhaps Ian Krol, though his first year in Detroit was disappointing.  Flamethrower Bruce Rondon will return at some point, though it’s not clear when, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Beyond that grouping, question marks and injury troubles abound, which should lead to yet another close examination of the team’s bullpen.   As Tim Dierkes recently noted, the Tigers drafted Andrew Miller and almost landed him in July before the O’s beat them to the punch, so they could make a run at him this winter.  However, he’d require a significant investment, possibly a four-year deal, so he could prove a tough fit as well.

Scherzer isn’t the only significant Tigers free agent hitting the open market, of course.  There’s mutual interest in a return between Detroit and designated hitter Victor Martinez, but he’ll have a number of suitors offering significant money.  Martinez turned in a .335/.409/.565 slash line last season and, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote recently, he’ll be seeking out a four-year deal.  The Tigers will surely attach the qualifying offer to him, but the soon-to-be 36-year-old might price himself out of Detroit, especially if he’s married to the idea of a four-year pact.  If Martinez goes, the Tigers could to the trade market with an eye on Adam Lind, though they’d probably want to find a platoon partner to go with him.  It’s also conceivable that Ryan Howard‘s left-handed bat could be a fit for them if the Phillies absorb the vast majority of his remaining salary.

At shortstop, Dombrowski says that the prognosis on Jose Iglesias is positive and he will be expected to take the full-time job if “he returns to the form of the past.”  The Tigers could turn to Eugenio Suarez to fill the gap if Iglesias isn’t 100%, but they also might want to explore adding a depth option on a minor league deal.

The Tigers would love to have a healthy Andy Dirks back in 2015 for his projected salary of $1.63MM, but it’s far from a given that he can stay on the field after missing all of 2014 thanks to back problems.  Utility man Don Kelly (.245/.332/.288 in 95 games) is also arbitration-eligible and likely on the bubble.  As Dombrowski recently indicated, the Tigers could look to put Rajai Davis back in the corner outfield (his natural position) and slot J.D. Martinez on the opposite side and find a center fielder elsewhere.

Colby Rasmus is on the open market and, as recently noted by MLBTR’s Jeff Todd, guys like Dexter Fowler, Drew Stubbs, Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos, and maybe Desmond Jennings could be available via trade.  Jeff recently pointed out a few potential left-handed-hitting trade possibilities that could make sense alongside Davis, such as Matt Joyce or David DeJesus, Alejandro De Aza or David Lough, Shane Victorino, Michael Saunders, and Ben Revere.  This is all speculative, of course, but there should be plenty of full-time or part-time options available on the trade market for Detroit. Speaking of the outfield, Torii Hunter sounds like he wants to continue playing and would like to re-sign with the Tigers, but he’s not sure if he could accept a reduced role.

In the long term, the Tigers have a great deal of guaranteed money locked up in aging players.  Meanwhile, they have shipped out a great deal of young talent including Willy Adames, Drew Smyly, and the aforementioned Thompson and Knebel.  At some point, one has to wonder if the Tigers will be left with an over-the-hill core and an over-harvested farm system.

The Tigers have shown a willingness to spend in the past, but last year’s two major trades — Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler and the Doug Fister swap — seem to indicate that ownership is still conscious of the bottom line.  With only so much wiggle room, the Tigers will have to be creative in addressing their needs and wants this winter.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Free Agent Profile: Edinson Volquez

Last year, the Pirates gave Edinson Volquez a one-year, $5MM deal and he wound up making that look like a smart investment.  This year, we should see more interest in the right-hander, resulting in a more lucrative deal coming his way.

Strengths/Pros  

Volquez did a good job of rebuilding his value in a contract year. The 31-year-old pitched to a 3.04 ERA — his best figure ever, topping even his breakout 2008 campaign.  Volquez also turned in a career-low walk rate of 3.3 BB/9, which was his first sub-4.0 effort.  His 192 2/3 innings of work was his second-best career total, topped only by his 196 innings in the aforementioned 2008 season.  Volquez threw his fastball at 93.1 mph in 2014, right in line with his career average of 93.4 mph and the 93.6 mph at which he was clocked in ’08.  Plenty has changed about Volquez the last six years, but he has aged well in those departments.  "<strong

Throughout his career, Volquez has been able to induce ground balls more often than your average hurler.  His career ground ball percentage of 48.5% is strong and his 50.4% rate in 2014, against a league average of 44.8%, was even better.  As a result, Volquez isn’t terribly home run-prone.  He has a career 0.94 HR/9 rate with a sharper 0.79 HR/9 showing this past season.

Volquez threw his fastball at an average of 93.1 mph this year, right in line with his career average of 93.4. That compares favorably to some of the other free agent starters on his tier, including A.J. Burnett (91.7 mph in 2014), Dan Haren (87.6), Aaron Harang (88.8), and Ryan Vogelsong (90.4)

Weaknesses/Cons  

On the surface, Volquez’s ERA indicates that he enjoyed a career renaissance in Pittsburgh this season, perhaps thanks to the tutelage of well-respected pitching coach Ray Searage and the quality pitch framing of catchers Russell Martin and Chris Stewart.  A deeper look shows that while Searage’s sage advice may have given Volquez a boost, his all-around performance was largely the same as the past few years.

Volquez’s walk rate did drop in 2014, but his 6.5 K/9 was a noticeable step back from his previous career average of 8.4 K/9, all but negating the drop in free passes.  His xFIP of 4.20 shows that his ERA was probably lower than it should have been and also indicates that he was largely the same pitcher we knew before but with better fortune.  In each of the previous three seasons, Volquez has posted xFIPs of 4.08, 4.20, and 4.07 while turning in ERAs of 5.71, 4.14, and 5.71.   The veteran’s .263 BABIP tells a similar story and leads one to believe that the Pirates’ defense helped out quite a bit.  You wouldn’t know it from his ERA, but the advanced stats say that Volquez performed about as well this season as he did in 2013, when he was DFA’d by the Padres near the end of the year.

Personal  

Volquez was born in Barahona, Dominican Republic.  Early in his career, you might recall him being billed as “Edison Volquez”.  As Amy K. Nelson of ESPN.com detailed in a 2008 profile, he later discovered that his birth certificate had his name as “Edinson” and asked the Rangers to update his spelling on all of their material.

Volquez earned the nickname of “Pedrito” or “Little Pedro” in the Dominican Republic for his pitching prowess which reminded many of Pedro Martinez, Nelson wrote.  “He’s in love with Pedro,” said former teammate Francisco Cordero. “He sees Pedro like he’s a god.”

Many counted Volquez out after his tumultuous 2013 season, but the Pirates saw a tremendous opportunity in the veteran starter. Prior to the Pirates’ Wild Card game against the Giants this year, manager Clint Hurdle was quick to praise Volquez for his work ethic, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes.

He’s a visual learner, number one,” Hurdle said. “He’s really good when you can tape him and show him. He would grasp on that way. He spent endless hours on reviewing delivery dynamics from every place he’s been.”

Market  

In late September, Volquez stated his desire to re-sign with the Pirates, crediting Bucs coaches with making him a better pitcher.  At the same time, he made it known that he doesn’t want to sign another one-year deal.

You always want to sign for more than one year,” he said, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Especially now that I’m 31 years old, I’d like to sign with someone for two or three years and stay a little bit longer.”

If Volquez finds a lucrative two- or three-year deal on the open market, it’d be tough to imagine the Pirates matching it given their financial limitations and stated desire to try and retain catcher Russell Martin.

MLBTR’s own Brad Johnson recently speculated that a return to the Rangers could be a possibility for Volquez as they could be in the market for veterans to supplement the back end of their rotation.  Jeff Todd, meanwhile, brought up the Marlins as a possibility since Miami probably won’t spend on the top-shelf pitchers.  I would add the Astros, Rockies, Phillies, and D’Backs as clubs that could see Volquez as an affordable addition who can turn in 180-190 innings of work.

Expected Contract

Volquez is one of several mid-level starters available this winter, but his turnaround this year (whether legitimate, perceived, or a mix of both) could make him a preferred option over some of the alternatives.  Volquez won’t be rated on the same tier as the likes of Hiroki Kuroda and Jason Hammel, but he compares favorably to other available back-end starters like Aaron Harang and Ryan Vogelsong, in part due to his age.  I recently predicted that Harang would net a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason and I expect Volquez to top that without much trouble.

Volquez is gunning for a multi-year deal and I think he’ll be able to find it, even if it’s not in Pittsburgh.  I predict that Volquez will land a two-year, $18MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


NL Notes: Sandoval, Sabean, Martin, Stanton

The World Series continues in San Francisco tonight as the Legend of Panda continues to grow. Here’s the latest on Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the National League:

  • Without an obvious internal replacement at third base, it’s hard to imagine the Giants will let Sandoval leave even if he asks for a deal similar to the one Hunter Pence received, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Pence netted a five-year, $90MM deal from the Giants and they have shown a willingness to pay big dollars in order to keep their most identifiable players.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman also isn’t as quick to dismiss Sandoval returning to San Francisco tweeting money flows more freely when a franchise reaches the World Series.
  • Tyler Kepner of the New York Times profiles Giants GM Brian Sabean, who answers those who label him as espousing an “old school” philosophy. “When they hear ‘old school,’ they don’t understand that ‘old school’ is trying to get any and every edge,” Sabean told Kepner. “We’re all looking for the misfit toys. We’re all looking for the guys we can plug in that were overlooked because sometimes, you know what, that’s what you’re down to because your payroll’s your payroll. There’s not enough players to go around, so you better be creative.
  • The Pirates have a delicate balancing act in weighing whether to re-sign Russell Martin, opines Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates’ dilemma is whether a small-market team should make the financial commitment to retain a signature player and a clubhouse leader or avoid the risk of extending a catcher who might decline significantly over the course of his next contract.
  • Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton provided reporters, including Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown, with an update on his recovery from being hit in the face with a pitch in September. “I feel great,” Stanton said after being honored as the NL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award. “It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be.” Stanton did acknowledge he feels an occasional jab of pain when he chews food and has yet to swing a bat. When he does, will likely wear a face guard.

AL Notes: Rays, Indians, Buehrle, Rangers

In the wake of yesterday’s report Rays ownership has discussed relocating the franchise to Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig paused and then declined to answer whether Tampa Bay is a viable major league market, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Selig did say, however, the team needs a replacement for Tropicana Field. “The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” the commissioner said before Game Four of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.

In other news involving the Rays and the American League:

  • Change is coming to the Rays and the front office and players alike don’t see it as a negative, writes the Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney. “Whoever we bring in here, they’re going to set the scheme and how they want to win games and be a successful organization,” said pitcher Alex Cobb. “When that trickles down to the players, all that is is us playing up to our capabilities, and that doesn’t matter who is in the dugout or the front office.” Mooney notes all coaches are under contract for 2015; but, if the new manager is from outside the organization, there may be changes to the staff.
  • In today’s mailbag, a reader proposed his Indians offseason plan to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer: trade Jason Kipnis and David Murphy for prospects to free up money, then use that money on Victor Martinez. Hoynes doesn’t see the Tribe trading Kipnis so soon after giving him a $50MM+ extension, despite his bad year. The reader’s ambitious plan also calls for Cleveland to have one of their young outfielders form a platoon with Nick Swisher and, given his $15MM salary, Hoynes believes the team wants to see him in the lineup every day.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe identified Mark Buehrle as a trade candidate earlier today and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets the Twins have long been admirers of the Blue Jays hurler. Still, his $19MM salary is too high.
  • If the Jon Daniels-Jeff Banister partnership works in Texas, it will continue a trend in the game of a college educated GM with no professional playing experience working with a baseball lifer as manager, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.