Jon Lester Rumors

Stark’s Latest: Zimmermann, Scherzer, Tigers

Only three free agents make Jayson Stark’s list of the top 10 players to watch during the Winter Meetings, reflecting the feeling from several baseball executives that the trade front could be much busier than the free agency front in the coming days.  Jon Lester is the key domino in the process, as in the words of one NL executive, “he sets the free-agent market and kick-starts the trade market. Depending on when he signs, he could create the greatest Winter Meetings in decades or the most boring.”  Here’s some more from ESPN’s Stark…

  • “The most widespread front-office conspiracy theory” sees the Nationals trading Jordan Zimmermann and then signing Max Scherzer.  This scenario is “so obvious it makes me question if it’s real,” one GM said.  Clearly a lot of factors would have to fall into place for the Nats to pull this off, though they’re known to be listening to offers for Zimmermann, who will be a free agent after the 2015 season.  Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, is known for waiting until deep into the offseason to find a preferred deal for his clients, which could give Washington more time to line up a Zimmermann trade.
  • Beyond Zimmermann, the Nationals are also listening to offers for Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Tyler Clippard.  All of these players can hit free agency after 2015, making Washington the “team with the potential to make the biggest deal of the offseason. And maybe not just one,” Stark writes.
  • The Tigers are “listening intently” to offers for David Price and Rick Porcello, though they’ll only deal one of the two, and Detroit would only move Price if they can re-sign Scherzer.  “The Tigers have made it clear they aren’t subtracting any starting pitchers unless they have a replacement lined up,” Stark writes.  I’d note that the newly-acquired Shane Greene could be such a potential replacement for Porcello, who Stark says is the more likely to be traded than Price.
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has told teams interested in Cole Hamels to make an offer if they wish, but the Phils are waiting to see where the big free agent arms go before they seriously start exploring a Hamels trade.  Several teams have said the Phillies’ asking price for Hamels is far too high, and one rival official tells Stark that the pitching market is too deep for the Phillies to expect both top prospects and Hamels’ entire contract to be absorbed in a deal.
  • Jeff Samardzija is likelier to be dealt before Hamels, one executive predicts, since the Athletics are more aggressively shopping their right-hander.  We’ve already heard that the White Sox, to name one team, have discussed a Samardzija trade with the A’s.  One exec warns that the A’s could have trouble finding their desired return for Samardzija, since “it’s just hard to give up a lot of value for a one-year pitcher.”
  • The Red Sox are open to trading any position player except for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rusney Castillo and Christian Vazquez, Stark writes.  It also goes without saying that David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia won’t be dealt, not to mention the newly-signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Dodgers Notes: Kemp, Lester, Martin

Here’s the latest from Chavez Ravine…

  • The Dodgers were allegedly planning to have a fairly quiet offseason, though given their involvement in several high-profile rumors, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wonders if the club has changed its tune after seeing their rivals in San Francisco win yet another World Series.  The Dodgers have spent so much time exploring a Matt Kemp trade, for instance, that some feel their efforts have gone beyond due diligence and they’re seriously thinking of moving the outfielder.
  • Andrew Friedman doesn’t mind “noise” about his team’s intentions, and Heyman suggests that the lack of certainty about the Dodgers’ winter plans could be of some use to the team.  For instance, one rival executive thinks the Dodgers’ reported interest in Jon Lester could be a ploy to drive the left-hander’s price up and potentially keep him away from the Giants.  Another rival exec says Lester “really isn’t an L.A. guy” and wouldn’t be prone to sign with a team only due to the money.
  • A source tells Heyman that the Dodgers offered Russell Martin a four-year, $74MM contract.  Though it fell short of the five-year, $82MM deal that Martin received from Toronto, Los Angeles’ offer is the second-largest bid known to have been made for the catcher, topping the Cubs’ reported $70MM offer.
  • Trading Kemp doesn’t make sense for a Dodgers team that’s trying to win now, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times argues.  Another club isn’t likely to surrender an elite prospect for a player with Kemp’s contract and injury history, so Dilbeck feels the Dodgers are better off keeping their valuable power bat.

Free Agent Notes: Top Pitchers, Rios, Royals, Everth, Astros

With the Winter Meetings nearly upon us, ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke to nine baseball executives regarding the “Big Three” starting pitchers on this year’s free agent market — Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields — and asked when and where they will sign. While answers as to when Scherzer will sign varied, there was a much tighter window on Lester, with all nine believing he will sign between Dec. 8 and Dec. 13. The execs polled by Stark feel that Shields’ market is tied so closely to Lester that he will sign within two weeks of Lester and perhaps even as soon as next week’s Winter Meetings. Many identified Shields as a fallback for teams that miss on Lester. Execs picked Lester to sign with the usual suspects at this point: the Red Sox, Cubs, Giants or Dodgers. Interestingly, Scherzer’s landing spot was predicted to be the Yankees, Nationals, Cubs or Tigers, by the five who were willing to wager a guess on that outcome.

A few more notes pertaining to free agency…

  • The MarinersRoyals, and Indians have all checked in on Alex Rios, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Rios, who joined the Boras Corporation earlier this offseason, has had a fairly quiet market to this point, though one would expect interest to pick up now that Nelson Cruz, Torii Hunter and Yasmany Tomas are off the market.
  • The Royals are looking for a right fielder and a starting pitcher but likely only have the available funds to make a “significant” investment in one of the two areas, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. The Royals may have to bargain shop for the other, he notes. Kansas City has invested a modest amount of its available funds to the bullpen in the past week, re-signing righties Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar. However, it’s at least worth noting that Hochevar’s contract reportedly contains performance incentives tied to starting (though it also contains relief incentives).
  • Though the Mets are in need of a shortstop, ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes that recently non-tendered Padres speedster Everth Cabrera is not a consideration. Though he’s talented and has twice led the NL in stolen bases, Cabrera has a good deal of off-field issues on his record, including a 50-game PED suspension and more recent legal issues, as he’s been charged with resisting arrest after being stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. (Cabrera plead not guilty to those charges today, per the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jeff Sanders.)
  • Lefty reliever Craig Breslow is drawing significant interest, but his timetable to sign is currently dependent on the rest of the relief market, tweets WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Breslow is coming off a down season but has a strong track record. Interest in Breslow and other relievers could intensify now that Andrew Miller is off the board, I would think.
  • Though the Astros missed out on Miller even after offering him more money than the Yankees did, they’re still on the hunt for relievers, tweets Heyman. Houston remains interested in David Robertson, Sergio Romo and others.


Jon Lester Rumors: Friday

The Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers are believed to be the top four suitors for Jon Lester, who reportedly isn’t expected to make a decision prior to the beginning of next week’s Winter Meetings. We’ll keep track of today’s Lester rumors here…

  • Ryan Dempster, who joined the Cubs‘ front office today, has been in contact with Lester and talked up how great it is to pitch with the Cubs, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers. A source familiar with the Lester negotiations told Rogers that reports indicating a $130-140MM offer from the Cubs are actually low. Lester is expected to top $150MM, Rogers writes, and if a team “blows past” that number by adding a seventh year or bidding $160-170MM, Chicago is likely to bow out of the race.

Jon Lester Rumors: Thursday

Here’s the latest on Jon Lester, whose market appears to be heating up dramatically after the Dodgers joined the sweepstakes yesterday:

  • The Dodgers could blow the Red Sox out of the water if they wanted to, writes Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com. With their financial resources, it’s hard to outbid L.A. for a player they really want. That said, the Dodgers reportedly hired their All-Star executive team to help trim costs. Of course, a Lester signing could also serve as protection for when Zack Greinke exercises his opt out clause following the season.
  • Barring any additional mystery teams, the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants appear to be the final bidders for Lester. While the Giants tend to be viewed as an also-ran, don’t count them out, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has met with Lester, and the club has the necessary money after missing out on Pablo Sandoval. All four clubs have a lot to offer.
  • Lester is unlikely to sign prior to the Winter Meetings, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. With four clubs vying for his services, it makes sense to take time making a decision.

Dodgers Pursuing Jon Lester

Jon Lester reportedly met with the Giants earlier this week and has now had in-person meetings with the Cubs, Red Sox, Braves, Giants and Cardinals. He’s hoping to have all of his team visits concluded prior to the beginning of the Winter Meetings on Sunday. As he moves closer to a decision, here are today’s Lester rumors…

  • The Dodgers are preparing to make a major push to add Lester, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford and Alex Speier report. It would appear that Los Angeles is the “mystery team” involved, and that club’s entry could well provide a significant jolt to the market.

Earlier Updates

  • Peter Gammons tweets that while many fans scoff at the notion of “mystery teams,” he’s spoken to three different GMs that feel there’s a serious new entrant into the Lester sweepstakes.
  • Lining up with that report, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark writes that a fourth team has joined the Cubs, Red Sox, and Giants in the final bidding.

Braves Have Not Made Offer To Jon Lester

Jon Lester, the top free agent without a qualifying offer attached to his name, continues to be one of the most talked-about players on the market. He’s been linked to the Cubs, Red Sox, Braves, Giants and Cardinals of late, and things only figure to pick up for Lester as next week’s Winter Meetings approach.

We’ll keep track of Monday’s Lester rumors here in this post…

  • The Braves did not make Lester an offer after their recent meeting, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The team did not believe it would be able to make a competitive offer given the strength of Lester’s market, O’Brien explains. It would appear that Atlanta is not in the running to land the lefty at this point.

Earlier Updates

  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Cubs have offered Lester $138MM over six years, while the Red Sox have expressed a willingness to go up to $130MM following their initial offer in the $110-120MM range. Lester is meeting with the Giants today and is set to talk to two more clubs this week, per Heyman, who adds that it seems like a long shot that Lester will sign anywhere but Boston, Chicago (Cubs), Atlanta or San Francisco. Heyman adds that Lester would probably need to be willing to take a hometown discount to sign with the Braves (which is where he lives in the offseason).
  • The Giants appear to be the last serious team to meet with Lester, tweets Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com. A $25MM AAV remains very possible for him at this point, Levine adds. Heyman also noted in his piece that Lester could top that milestone.
  • The Giants are meeting with Lester today, reports ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (on Twitter). San Francisco’s final offer to Pablo Sandoval was said to be for at least $95MM over five years, so it stands to reason that the $95-100MM they were willing to spend on Sandoval could be in play for Lester. Of course, that figure is expected to be well shy of Lester’s eventual contract, but the Giants undoubtedly have additional funds beyond the sum that was set aside for Sandoval, especially coming off another World Series victory.
  • WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports that Lester’s camp would like all of its visits to interested teams to be completed prior to the Winter Meetings (Twitter link).
  • In a second tweet, Olney speculatively handicaps the Lester market with the following ranking: 1. Cubs; 2. Red Sox; 3. Everyone else.

Quick Hits: A’s, Rockies, Morales, Albers

With the Winter Meetings just a week away, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince names the top ten Hot Stove storylines heading into December. How the top-tier starting pitcher market shakes out heads the list, according to Castrovince, who notes the trade market for the likes of Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jeff Samardzija will heat up once free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer sign. Among Castrovince’s other top headlines this month are whether the Braves trade Justin Upton and how the Red Sox and Dodgers deal with their surplus of outfielders.

Elsewhere in baseball on the final day of November:

  • After A’s GM Billy Beane signed Billy Butler to a $30MM deal and traded third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com isn’t sure what the plan is in Oakland.
  • The best way for the Rockies to become contenders is for Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to be healthy and productive, but it would be daring for GM Jeff Bridich to trade the duo in search of salary relief to address areas of concern, opines MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby.
  • The market for Kendrys Morales has been quiet to date with only the Indians being linked to the free agent DH. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweets, besides Cleveland, the Rangers and Royals are also taking a look at Morales while the Mariners and Blue Jays are possibilities, as well.
  • Left-handed starter Andrew Albers recently became a free agent and has drawn interest from a number of big league clubs, an industry source told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Albers became a free agent when South Korea’s Hanwha Eagles declined the 2015 option on his one-year deal. The Canadian pitched to a 5.84 ERA in 146 1/3 innings, though he did make 27 starts and led his team with 102 strikeouts. BN-S writes Albers appears to be seeking a split contract with incentives.

Hart On Justin Upton, Lester, Gattis

Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart was a guest of Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio’s “The Front Office” and addressed numerous topics. Here are the highlights (all links go to the Twitter accounts of Bowden and Duquette):

  • Hart said the Braves have not made one phone call on Justin Upton and do not plan to do so. Hart added signing Upton to a multi-year contract is “not out of the realm of possibility,” but downplayed its likelihood.
  • Jon Lester is probably the right player at the wrong time for Atlanta, according to Hart, but the bad contracts the Braves have to carry in Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have affected the team’s offseason plan. In that same vein, Hart admitted the Braves will not be in the market for free agents who declined a qualifying offer.
  • Hart told Bowden and Duquette there are no active trade talks involving Evan Gattis and the club is toying with the idea of playing him in left field.

Free Agent Faceoff: Max Scherzer vs. Jon Lester

A look at this year’s market for free agent starting pitching reveals a group that is deep in quality options and also features a pair of prime-aged top-of-the-rotation arms in Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. This duo, represented by Scott Boras and ACES, respectively, is commonly believed to be the cream of the free agent crop, but which will be the better buy?

Few pitchers have been as dominant as Scherzer over the past two seasons. In that time, he’s pitched to a 3.02 ERA with 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 36.5 percent ground-ball rate in 434 2/3 innings. His K/9 rate trails only Yu Darvish among qualified starters, and he grades out well according to ERA estimators FIP (2.79 — sixth) and SIERA (2.94 — eighth). In that two-year stretch, Scherzer leads qualified starters in ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K/9 and opponent batting average (.216), to name a few categories. He’s entering his age-30 season on the heels of a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of top five finishes in the Cy Young voting — including his first Cy Young win in 2013. The 6’3″, 220-pound right-hander has cemented himselves among the game’s elite arms and is looking for a sizable payday, as evidenced by his rejection of a six-year, $144MM contract extension in Spring Training.

Lester is no slouch, however, as he ranks second to Scherzer in ERA (3.10) and FIP (3.19) among qualified free agent starters in that time. His SIERA mark, though a ways behind at 3.49, is still third-best over the past two seasons (Brandon McCarthy sits between them). Beyond that, Lester has been more of a workhorse in his career; he has reached the 200-inning mark in six of the past seven seasons, falling shy only in 2011 when he tossed 191 2/3 frames. Lester certainly keeps the ball on the ground more often than Scherzer, with a career ground-ball rate just under 47 percent and sitting at 43.7 percent over the past two seasons. Lester is also coming off the best platform season of any free agent starter, having pitched to a brilliant 2.46 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate. He’s spent almost all of his career in the hitter-friendly AL East, whereas Scherzer has spent more time in a more favorable pitching environment (Detroit’s Comerica Park). Lester is a year older than Scherzer, however, and he’s thrown about 300 more innings in his big league career. He’s rumored to already have an offer upwards of $120MM from the Red Sox, and another possibly as large as $135MM from the Cubs, so the price tag figures to be substantial here as well.

In our free agent profiles, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted a seven-year contract for Scherzer while I personally went with six years for Lester, but it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see a team guarantee Lester that seventh season. The above paragraphs are a mere snapshot of each pitcher, while the linked profiles offer a more in-depth look at the pair of aces. You can read over those to brush up on each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses before making a vote below if you wish, but let’s get to the question at the root of this post.