The White Sox and Cubs continue to monitor the market for free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler, writes Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com/CBS Chicago. Both clubs are checking in on Fowler’s market on a daily basis, Levine adds. Levine spoke to one executive from another team that called the Cubs the likeliest landing spot for Fowler, though based on the anonymous quote, that appears to be purely speculative as opposed to any form of definitive knowledge. The report notes that Fowler could settle for a one- or two-year deal (possibly with a player option, in keeping with the offseason’s opt-out trend), although that, too, appears to be fairly speculative in nature. While Levine and the unnamed exec feel that Fowler should have accepted the qualifying offer, it’s easy to make such claims with the benefit of hindsight, and I’d contest that no such claims can be made until the parameters of Fowler’s eventual deal are known. Even if Fowler comes in at a number lesser than the value of the qualifying offer, the upside in testing the market (tens of millions of dollars) significantly outweighed a possible difference of a few million dollars, in my eyes.
- The White Sox seem to have allowed the outfield market to pass by without striking, Jim Margalus of SB Nation opines. He wonders whether the Adam LaRoche contract may be a larger obstacle than had been presumed. Of course, it is fair to note that Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, and a variety of platoon players remain available — to say nothing of the possibility of a trade — so there’s time yet for GM Rick Hahn to pursue upgrades.
The White Sox have officially brought back free-agent righty Matt Albers, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (links to Twitter). Per the report, the SSG Baseball client will earn $2MM in 2016. The deal also includes a $3MM club option with a $250K buyout.
Albers, 32, has dealt with injuries at times in recent years — most notably, a lengthy struggle with shoulder issues that cost him most of 2014. And a freak broken finger also landed him on the DL last year.
But the most recent work on his record is quite impressive. He threw 37 1/3 innings of 1.21 ERA pitching last year for Chicago, with only 6.8 K/9 but a strong 2.2 BB/9 and 58.6% groundball rate to back his efforts. Truth be told, Albers has put up outstanding run-prevention numbers dating back to the start of the 2012 campaign. He’s posted a sterling 2.32 ERA over his 170 2/3 frames since that time.
While metrics don’t quite support that level of production, SIERA has viewed him as a mid-3.00 ERA performer or better for quite some time. Though his velocity dipped rather sharply last year, Albers tells MLB.com’s Scott Merkin that changes to his change-up helped him to end the year with 22 1/3 scoreless innings despite the lack of his typical ~93 mph heat.
Certainly, Chicago can make out on this signing even if Albers takes a fairly significant step back in terms of results. He’ll join a seemingly well-stocked pen that will be needed to ease the burden on a rotation that has some question marks at the back end.
Lynn Henning of the Detroit News breaks down the series of events that led to the Tigers’ signing of Justin Upton to a six-year, $132.75MM contract today. As Henning notes, owner Mike Ilitch went into the club’s annual offseason holiday break with some reservations about the concept of a Cameron Maybin/Tyler Collins platoon in left field. By the time Tigers’ brass returned to their offices, Ilitch was committed to signing one of Upton, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon to upgrade in left field. Tigers scouts and analysts went to work on making as informed a decision as possible, and GM Al Avila consulted with assistant Alan Trammel and Tigers broadcaster Kirk Gibson about their personal experiences with Upton from the trio’s days together in Arizona. Henning notes that Detroit also considered Chris Davis, as Jon Heyman reported, but ultimately concerns over his ability to handle left field at Comerica Park eliminated him from the fold. Upton’s age and superior on-base percentage appear to have been focal points in the decision, though Henning notes that Cespedes was under serious consideration until last week. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the same yesterday, noting that Detroit negotiated with both Upton and Cespedes simultaneously before deciding on Upton.
Here’s more from the AL Central…
- Upton’s agent, Larry Reynolds, said at today’s press conference that they offered the Tigers a pair of scenario’s: a longer-term deal without an opt-out clause and the six-year deal with a two-year opt-out that Upton ultimately signed (links to Twitter via MLB.com’s Jason Beck). Reynolds adds that Upton didn’t sign with Detroit to be a Tiger for only two years, stating, “Justin’s been on enough teams.” Of course, if Upton enjoys two healthy and productive seasons in Detroit in 2016-17, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t again test the open market in advance of his age-30 season.
- The Tigers might not yet be done adding pieces, Beck tweets. At today’s press conference, Avila told reporters, “I’d still like to have more depth in pitching. We’re adequate right now.” An addition to the rotation seems unlikely, at least on a Major League deal, though the team could reasonably pursue some depth on a minor league deal or look to add one more piece to the bullpen mix.
- The White Sox remain interested in Yoenis Cespedes, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link), but their stance has not changed since their initially reported interest. Per Nightengale, the ChiSox are still unwilling to exceed a three-year term in their pursuit of Cespedes. A short-term deal for Cespedes still strikes me as an unlikely scenario.
- The Twins’ trade of Aaron Hicks this winter caught Byron Buxton off guard, the top prospect tells MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. The trade was somewhat bittersweet for Buxton, Bollinger writes, as he lost one of his best friends on the team but also received a clear-cut message that the center field job was his for the taking. Buxton says he made some adjustments late in the season, and the numbers bear that out, as Bollinger notes, pointing out his .273/.314/.515 batting line in his final 20 games. Manager Paul Molitor tells Bollinger that the organization’s hope is that Buxton is ready to take the reins in center field and run with it, though as Bollinger writes, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Danny Santana all have some experience in center field should Buxton struggle.
- La Velle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets that Twins scouts believe left-hander Fernando Abad was tipping his pitches last season, which resulted in the veteran’s struggles. The Twins believe they can correct the issue, per Neal, which would give Abad a shot to break camp with the club. Minnesota signed the 30-year-old to a minor league deal earlier this offseason. Abad posted a 4.15 ERA with Oakland last season but had recorded a 2.27 ERA across 95 innings in the two seasons prior.
Last night’s news that the Tigers had landed Justin Upton surprised some, who felt that his market may have dried up. But while pitching was first in the queue this winter, we’ve seen a steady stream of position player signings at or near expectations ever since we hit 2016.
With the agreement set to be announced tomorrow after a physical, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link), here are some reactions to and ramifications of the move:
- Both the Nationals and Astros had expressed interest in Upton, and “may” look instead at top remaining free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. Neither team looks in need of a player at that position, of course, but both are in position to be opportunistic. (Houston has been fairly quiet after a bold trade deadline, while Washington still appears to be about $30MM shy of its 2015 payroll after several moves.)
- The Braves also had conversations with Upton, says Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, but the club was only discussing a six-year deal at a “significantly lower average annual value” than Upton’s new contract provides. GM John Coppolella acknowledged the chats, adding that his club will “remain both opportunistic and disciplined.”
- Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was “absolutely ready” to sign Chris Davis, tweets Jon Heyman, but GM Al Avila talked him out of taking that route. From where I stand, that seems wise; unless Detroit was convinced that Davis could play the corner outfield on a regular basis for at least another year or two, it’s hard to see how he’d fit.
- Once the decision was made to focus on Upton, Avila and skipper Brad Ausmus went to Phoenix and negotiated with Upton over the weekend, Nightengale reports. Per the report, the White Sox, Rangers, and Astros were other key teams in the hunt for Upton.
- A source with knowledge of the Astros’ side of things tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that the interest was never very “serious.” It does not appear that the ’Stros talked about much more than a three-year scenario. (While it isn’t clear what kind of ideas might have been batted around, MLBTR’s Steve Adams has written about the plausibility of an opt-out-driven, high-AAV, multi-year pillow contract concept.)
- Ilitch’s latest big move proves that he’s the “most munificent owner in professional sports,” Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports argues. Certainly, he’s proven willing on plenty of occasions to plunk down the cash needed to arm his ballclub, this time cracking the luxury tax ceiling to add Upton. (They’ve done so previously on at least one occasion.)
- From my perspective, it seems that Detroit got a nice price on a prime-aged free agent. The price comes in well below our expectations here at MLBTR, and even further below what Upton might have commanded with a bigger platform year. It may or may not be reasonable to hope that he has some growth remaining as a player, but even the current package makes for a solid investment given his age. As always, there’s risk. But as major win-now, open-market moves go, it’s hard to do much better.
The deadline for teams to exchange arbitration figures with eligible players is 1pm ET today. Dozens of arb agreements figure to flow in over the next few hours, and we’ll keep track of the smaller arb agreements in this post. All projections referenced are courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz and can be viewed on the full list of 156 players that filed for arbitration this year. Remember also that you can keep track of everyone that has avoided arbitration by checking out MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker.
Onto the agreements…
- Shortstop Zack Cozart is in agreement with the Reds for an undisclosed sum, per a team announcement. He projected at $2.9MM in his second year of eligibility after a promising start to the 2015 season was cut short by a serious knee injury.
- The Diamondbacks announced that they have avoided arbitration with righty Rubby De La Rosa for an undisclosed sum. He was projected at $3.2MM but, per Jack Magruder of Fanragsports.com (on Twitter), will earn only $2.35MM.
- Reliever Fernando Rodriguez settled with the Athletics for $1.05MM — beneath his projected $1.3MM — per the Associated Press.
- Dodgers infielder Justin Turner will earn $5.1MM next season, Jon Heyman reports on Twitter. That’s just a shade under his $5.3MM projection.
- The Braves settled with reliever Arodys Vizcaino for $897,500, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets. He had a $1.1MM projection entering the fall.
- Both Zach Putnam will earn a $975K salary next year after agreeing with the White Sox, per a club announcement. That’s $175K over the projected arb value of the Super Two.
- The Cardinals settled with first baseman Matt Adams for $1.65MM, Heyman tweets. That’s a small bump over his $1.5MM projections. The team is also in agreement with right-hander Seth Maness, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Super Two reliever projected at $1.2MM but will receive $1.4MM, per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch (via Twitter).
- Righty Tom Koehler receives a $3.5MM payday from the Marlins, per Jon Heyman (via Twitter). The team gets a break on the $3.9MM that had been projected. The team also has an agreement with righties David Phelps and Carter Capps, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweets. Heyman adds (via Twitter) that Phelps will earn exactly his projected amount of $2.5MM. Capps was predicted to earn $800K, but his salary is yet to be reported.
- The Diamondbacks agreed to a $4.35MM rate with first-year-eligible starter Shelby Miller, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. He had projected at $4.9MM. Notably, Miller comes in just ahead of fellow 3+ service-class pitcher Harvey (who is covered below). Fellow Arizona hurler Patrick Corbin will earn $2.525MM next year, Passan also tweets.
- The Nationals have agreed with infielder Danny Espinosa for $2.875MM, Jon Heyman tweets. He gets a slight bump over his $2.7MM projection in his second season of arb eligibility.
- Nolan Arenado will receive a $5MM salary from the Rockies in his first season of eligibility, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets. That’s exactly what fellow star young third baseman Manny Machado settled for as well, though Arenado was a Super Two. As Swartz explained recently, those two players’ cases may well have been tied together despite some important distinctions. He also explained why Arenado might not reach his sky-high $6.6MM projection in actuality.
- The Orioles have agreed with starter Miguel Gonzalez for $5.1MM, Eduardo Rodriguez of the Baltimore Sun reports on Twitter. Gonzalez projected for $4.9MM.
- Outfielder Chris Coghlan agreed at $4.8MM with the Cubs, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets. That’s quite a nice increase over his projected $3.9MM. Also agreeing with Chicago was reliever Pedro Strop, who gets $4.4MM, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (via Twitter). He had been projected at $4.7MM.
- Both righty Michael Pineda (for $4.3MM) and infielder/outfielder Dustin Ackley ($3.2MM), according to Passan (via Twitter) and Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Those numbers largely track the projected amounts of $4.6MM and $3.1MM, respectively.
- Danny Duffy will play at $4.225MM next year after reaching terms with the Royals, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). Catcher Drew Butera, meanwhile, will get $1,162,500 from Kansas City. Both represented small bumps over their projected values of $4MM and $1.1MM.
- Marlins closer A.J. Ramos will get $3.4MM in 2016, Heyman reports (Twitter links). Teammate Adeiny Hechavarria, meanwhile, will take down $2.625MM. Both first-year-eligible players went over their projections ($2.8MM and $2.3MM, respectively).
- The Mets will pay $4.325MM to Matt Harvey and $3MM to shortstop Ruben Tejada for 2016, ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin reports (Twitter links). Harvey approaches, but doesn’t quite reach, his $4.7MM projection. Though he’s still recovering from an unfortunate leg injury suffered during the post-season, Tejada will take home a cool half-million more than had been projected.
- Righty Joe Kelly has agreed with the Red Sox at $2.6MM, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. He falls a fair sight shy of the $3.2MM that MLBTR projected. Though he reached ten wins on the year, Kelly scuffled to a 4.82 ERA over his 134 1/3 innings.
- Righty Drew Hutchison agreed with the Blue Jays for $2.2MM, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. He falls short of a $2.6MM projection after a tough 2015 campaign.
- The Tigers have reached terms with shortstop Jose Iglesias for $2.1MM, per another Heyman tweet. The deal also includes some incentives, per the report. That’s a healthy jump up over the $1.5MM projection for the slick-fielding infielder, who did have a strong 2015 season.
- The Mariners announced that they reached agreement with lefty Charlie Furbush and righty Evan Scribner. Furbush will receive $1.7MM, while Scribner will get $807.5K, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports.
- Both shortstop Jean Segura and righty Wily Peralta are under contract with the Brewers, per a team announcement. Segura gets $2.6MM after being projected at $3.2MM, per Heyman (Twitter link). Matt Swartz’s system pegged Peralta at $2.8MM, and that’s exactly what he’ll earn, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter).
There are plenty more after the jump:
Here are the day’s lower-value arbitration deals, with all projections coming via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- The Padres and southpaw Drew Pomeranz have avoided arb by agreeing to a one-year, $1.35MM deal, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That’s a near-match with Swartz’s projection of $1.3MM. Acquired in an offseason trade with the A’s, Pomeranz will slot into the San Diego ’pen this season and look to build on last season’s 86 innings of 3.66 ERA, during which he averaged 8.6 K.9 and 3.2 BB/9 to complement a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate.
- Fernando Salas and the Angels are in agreement on a one-year, $2.4MM deal, thereby avoiding a hearing, per Rosenthal. The 30-year-old Salas, who will be a free agent next winter, posted a 4.24 ERA in 63 2/3 innings this past season but had more encouraging peripherals; Salas averaged 10.5 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9 with a 35.1 percent ground-ball rate, prompting FIP (3.15) xFIP (3.23) and SIERA (2.65) to forecast markedly better results.
- Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez and the Phillies have avoided arb with a one-year, $1.4MM agreement, Rosenthal tweets. The soon-to-be 28-year-old posted a strong 3.01 ERA with 6.0 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9 and also recorded a sound 48.8 percent ground-ball rate in 74 1/3 innings of relief across 65 appearances. He’ll again provide some valuable innings for the rebuilding Phillies.
The prolonged availability of Yoenis Cespedes on the free agent market has apparently drawn some bargain hunters. Jon Heyman reports (links to Twitter) that the Mets and Braves both have had at least some level of interest in an communication with the All-Star outfielder. New York is said to be willing to put together a two or three-year deal, per Heyman, while it’s not clear what Atlanta might be inclined to offer. The White Sox have previously been said to have interest that stops at three years. As I noted in the linked post, a big AAV and an early opt-out could be an interesting scenario, though Cespedes is still likely to exhaust all possibilities of a deal more commensurate with his big-time earning power after an MVP-caliber season.
- Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has drawn interest from the Orioles, Cardinals, White Sox, and Angels at times this winter, Heyman notes (Twitter links). (The team has also been contacted by the Nationals and Giants, both of which have since added outfielders.) We’ve heard recently, though, that Los Angeles probably can’t take on that kind of salary and has not spoken recently with Colorado. And Heyman says that the “sticking point” with the O’s has been that team’s unwillingness to part with young righty (and Colorado native) Kevin Gausman.
Few could’ve predicted that Justin Upton’s market would play out so slowly, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in a lengthy examination of Upton’s journey to the open market. Crasnick notes that Upton is somewhat a victim of borderline unreachable expectations, noting that some view him as a disappointment for being a considerably above-average outfielder as opposed to the generational talent that some hoped for when scouts began raving about him at age 14 and when some outlets compared him to Ken Griffey Jr. as a prospect. Crasnick spoke to executives and Upton’s former skipper, Fredi Gonzalez, with many heaping praise on the 28-year-old — Gonzalez in particular. “He’s been one of my favorite players that I’ve managed in my career,” said Gonzalez. “He shows up at the ballpark every day ready to play. He’s respectful. He knows the game. He’s a great teammate and clubhouse guy. … I’m very surprised that he’s still out there. I think there are a lot of teams missing the boat on him. I really do.” Crasnick also spoke to execs about Upton’s defense, examined his perceived attitude problems as a prospect and also spoke to some in the industry about the potential difficulty of watching his brother struggle alongside him with the Braves and the Padres.
A few more notes on the free-agent market…
- While many (myself included) have speculated that Chris Davis is holding up the market, to an extent, for the remaining corner bats, ESPN’s Jayson Stark believes that Yoenis Cespedes is holding up the market more than Davis at this point (Twitter link). Some of the slow-moving market for top bats is unrelated to either player, he adds. From my vantage point, with the Orioles focused on Davis but standing as a logical landing spot for either Upton or Cespedes, the argument could be made that Davis is slowing things down. Jeff Todd and I recently discussed as much on the MLBTR Podcast.
- Jon Heyman tweets that as the starting pitching market continues to narrow, the Royals, Nationals, Astros and Rockies are the most likely landing spots for right-hander Ian Kennedy. However, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding feels differently, tweeting that if the Rockies make a rotation upgrade, it’s going to come via trade rather than a high-priced free agent like Kennedy. The Royals’ spacious park and elite outfield defense would seem, to me, to be an ideal fit for a fly-ball pitcher like Kennedy, while those same fly-ball tendencies and Kennedy’s previous home run troubles make him a poor fit at Coors Field.
- In his daily Insider-only column (subscription required), ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that there’s a belief around the industry that the White Sox are open to outfield upgrades but don’t want to spend at the levels necessary to land Upton or Cespedes. A second-tier option makes more sense, Olney notes, and while he stops short of speculating on specific names, I’ll add that players such as Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson could be fits for the South Siders. (Gerardo Parra, too, would’ve made sense but agreed to a three-year pact with the Rockies earlier today.)
- While many Cardinals fans would like to see the Redbirds enter the market for Cespedes, Upton or another high-profile outfield bat, GM John Mozeliak told MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch that such a scenario isn’t likely. “I know that some people disagree and want us to do something else, but Matt Adams, having [Brandon] Moss, giving [Randal] Grichuk an opportunity to be the everyday center fielder feels right to us,” said Mozeliak. “If we go out and add an outfielder, where are they going to play? Who is not playing? How does that affect us? What does the short-term view look like compared to the long-term commitment? And honestly, we feel very comfortable with what we have.” Langosch writes that St. Louis has been watching the Upton, Cespedes, Fowler and Davis markets from the periphery but would only jump in if the price got to the point where the club felt the opportunity to add value was too good to pass up. Moss, according to Langosch, will get the chance to cement himself as primary option at first base.
Since the Rockies are lacking in frontline pitching, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post predicts that right-hander Chad Bettis will emerge as the team’s “quasi-ace” in 2016. Youngster Jon Gray is still adapting to the bigs and Jorge De La Rosa’s age and injury history make him a question mark, and if De La Rosa does pitch well, he may end up leaving in a deadline trade. That leaves the 26-year-old Bettis perhaps in the best position to become Colorado’s top starter. The righty posted a 4.23 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 2.33 K/BB rate and 49.3% grounder rate over 115 innings last season, his first extended taste of Major League action. There’s a lot to like about Bettis’ potential, though time will tell if he can consistently produce in the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field. Here’s more from around baseball…
- Major League Baseball will likely announce any discipline for Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig and Jose Reyes before Spring Training camps open and no later than March 1, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links). The three players all face possible suspensions for recent domestic violence incidents, as per the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy instituted by MLB and the MLBPA last August. The league’s rulings will be closely watched as possible precedent-setters under this new policy. As Rosenthal notes, the policy doesn’t set any minimum or maximum penalties, and it also doesn’t state whether a suspended player would still be eligible to play during Spring Training.
- Sixteen-year-old Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros held a showcase for scouts on January 8th and “early returns…have been mixed at best,” ESPN.com’s Eric Longenhagen tweets. Several sources described Armenteros as “unable to play center field” and “too muscular & stiff,” though he did receive a very good grade of between 6-7 (based on the scouting grading scale of 2-8) on his running. Between 150-200 scouts were expected to attend his showcase, and one veteran scout even cited such names as Willie Mays and Bo Jackson to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale last month in terms of comparable power and speed, though the caveat that Armenteros was still quite “young and raw” in his ability. There has been quite a bit of speculation about the phenom known as “Lazarito,” as this was the first time MLB scouts had been able to see him in any sort of baseball activity since the summer of 2014. It isn’t yet known if Lazarito will be cleared to sign with a Major League team during this international signing period or the next (which begins on July 2).
- “Nobody wants to do a small trade. They only want to talk about big trades,” an executive tells ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link). This observation about the current trade market is followed up by Olney in his latest subscription-only column, as he notes that teams are looking to acquire big-name players now since the next two free agent markets are pretty thin on elite talent. As such, Olney lists several big names that executives feel could be major trade targets this summer.
- The White Sox made the single biggest position upgrade of any team this offseason when they dealt for Todd Frazier, MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell writes. Using the Steamer projection system, third base for the White Sox projects to improve by 3.5 WAR from its sub-replacement total in 2015. While Frazier is a fine player, this may be more an indictment of Chicago’s long-time struggles at the hot corner. as Cassavell notes that White Sox third basemen have a cumulative -0.5 WAR over the last five seasons.