Kansas City Royals Rumors
We heard earlier today that the Royals have no intentions of making a run at extending ace hurler James Shields. That would seem to confirm what has long been expected: namely, barring a surprising change of circumstances, Shields will hit the market next year looking to sell his services for age-33 and beyond.
As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star noted earlier today, Shields and his camp have rejected rumors that he is seeking to land a deal in the realm of Zack Greinke's six-year, $147MM pact. (Note that Greinke did not require draft compensation to sign, as Shields almost certainly will unless he too is dealt mid-season.)
But, as McCullough notes, Shields compares well to Greinke -- indeed, he compares well to just about anyone not named Clayton Kershaw -- in terms of recent production. He has pitched at least 200 innings (and often quite a bit more) for each of the last seven seasons, and has logged ERA totals of between 2.82 and 3.52 over the last three. Shields has been among the 20 or so most valuable pitchers since he cracked the league, and has looked more like a top-ten guy more recently.
So, can Shields earn Greinke money? Though his numbers make that contract look like a solid comp, another major factor speaks firmly against it: namely, age. At the time Greinke inked with the Dodgers, he was just over 29 years old, and threw at that age for the entire season in the first year of his deal. Shields will be four years older when he faces the open market for the first time.
This series of observations led MLBTR's Tim Dierkes to suggest that, perhaps, it would be worthwhile to look at the historical results of top-level, slightly older hurlers. The results of that research, and my discussions on the topic with both Tim and fellow MLBTR writer Steve Adams, make up what you'll read below.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that slightly older pitchers have not readily landed huge contracts. That makes sense, for at least two major reasons. First is simply the factor of selection bias. Most really good pitchers accrue service time early in their careers and thus hit the open market slightly earlier than will Shields, who did not crack the bigs until age 24 and then gave up two years of free agency in an early-career extension. Likewise, as age increases, the likelihood of significant injury goes up, further attriting the possibly worthy arms. The second reason is even easier: older pitchers have less near-peak years left to sell.
Let's take a look at all pitchers to have signed deals with at least a $60MM guarantee at a $15MM or greater average annual value -- after having turned 31 years of age. (The last column represents the player's age at Opening Day of the first season of their deal).
Among these potential comps, we can reject several out of hand. First, Brown and Lowe were both significantly older and signed deals in quite a different market. (Frankly, I only kept them on the chart to show how remarkable their contracts were.) Wainwright signed an under-market extension, while Halladay was also probably on a different performance/perception level and signed his own deal under somewhat odd circumstances.
That leaves us with four potential free agent comps, all of whom are near in age to where Shields will be when he hits the market. All signed five-year deals in early-to-mid-March of their free agent year. (If Shields signs before his birthday on December 20th, he'd be just shy of 33 years of age, making him slightly older than the other four were.)
How does Shields stack up to that quartet? Let's look at both three-year averages and walk-year performances to get an idea, and look at the salary numbers through the lens of inflation (present dollar value estimated via US Inflation Calculator). I have used ERA and fWAR not to suggest that those are the proper means by which to value pitchers, but to represent two sides of the overall picture: the former captures pure results, while the latter incorporates FIP as its baseline and thereby captures some of the underlying talent and rate-based results that teams surely examine closely when signing deals of this magnitude.
Needless to say, Lee paced the grouping -- at least in the eyes of advanced metrics and in dollars achieved. He still fell well short of Greinke's guarantee, though of course he inked his deal a few years back and reportedly could have signed for seven years and $148MM.
As for Shields, his current three-year and last-year ERA both stand at 3.15. He has been worth 12.9 fWAR over the last three seasons, and earned 4.5 wins in 2013. Assuming he hits the market with approximately the same profile -- i.e., he logs another 200+ innings of pitching in the low-to-mid-3.00 ERA range and has underlying metrics to support a 4-5 fWAR season -- where might he land?
The answer, probably, is not in the realm of Greinke's contract (or the commensurate offer that Lee could have signed). Even accepting that baseball inflation has outpaced that of the general economy -- or, at least, understanding that MLB salary levels are subject to wide variation due to the league's comparatively tiny player market, small sample of transactions, and range of non-market-based influences -- the Wilson-Lackey-Burnett line of arms equate at most to a five-year, $100MM present-day value.
Importantly, Dierkes noted, those three were clearly the best available arms in their free agent years. While it is still conceivable that Shields will ultimately be the most attractive starter available when the market opens, odds are he will slot in behind Max Scherzer and possibly Jon Lester. (Of course, if Scherzer repeats his 2013 season, he might be on another plane altogether.) And if Justin Masterson hits the market, he might be more appealing to some clubs because of his significantly younger age. Regardless, unless each of those arms is extended off the market or takes a large value hit, Shields will not be the sole target for clubs looking to add an impact starter.
Moreover, as I recently noted in discussing extensions, teams have evinced an increasing willingness to value age. That attention to the aging curve probably also implies a corresponding unwillingness to roll the dice on continued production on its downside. Still-excellent pitchers Hiroki Kuroda (age 39) and A.J. Burnett (age 37) just signed one-year deals that will pay them $16MM. Can Shields really beat that AAV on a five-year pact that would buy out his age 33-37 campaigns, especially if there are alternative arms on the market? As Adams noted, Shields' slightly more advanced age means that a fifth year would push his guarantee into somewhat uncharted territory as compared with his most direct comps. It is worth wondering whether clubs would be willing to guarantee another year at such an elevated rate.
In the aggregate, it looks as though Shields could reasonably expect to top out at five years, with a $20MM AAV a seeming longshot at that term. On a four-year deal, Shields might land in the $75MM to $80MM range, perhaps with a vesting/club option of some kind attached on the end. But barring a massive jolt to the market that leaves Shields as the unquestioned prize with multiple suitors, it is somewhat difficult to imagine him reaching the $100MM threshold -- if he is able to get a guaranteed fifth year at all.
One possible twist would be the inclusion of an opt-out clause. As Dierkes notes on Twitter, Lee actually had one offer that included an opt-out before he signed on with the Phillies. In his excellent piece on the use of opt-out clauses, Dierkes wrote that such provisions may not be that onerous to the team since, if exercised, the club is able to re-assess whether to take on further obligations (and, I would note, can do so with the advantage of insider knowledge on that pitcher). If clubs are unwilling to guarantee as much cash as Shields hopes for, he could potentially press instead for a deal that includes an opt-out, allowing him to re-enter the market if he carries his production into his mid-30's. And at that point, perhaps the Lowe contract would take on increasing relevance.
The Royals are not engaged in extension negotiations with top starter James Shields and have no plans to do so at present, reports ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (Twitter links). Meanwhile, Shields himself is not interested in holding talks during the season.
In the aggregate, then, it appears quite likely that Shields will reach free agency when his deal expires after the 2014 season. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star opines, Shields could cost the Royals more to lock up now than he might ultimately achieve on the open market. Though his current deal proved quite favorable to his employers, he has earned nearly $40MM in his career and is not under financial pressure to settle for less this time around. And Shields is nearly certain to come with draft pick compensation attached; while the effect on his market figures to be small relative to his overall value, that could change with a down year. While the team is not ruling out an eventual re-signing, says McCullough, it appears that any such attempt would come after the current season.
Entering his age-32 campaign, Shields has continued to be a top-level workhorse since joining the Royals last year. Though Kansas City paid a dear price to bring him in -- shipping out top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in the deal -- the club appears content to let him reach the open market. Part of that fact relates to Shields' cost, of course. KC may also prefer both to see how Shields ages and how its own young arms mature.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- Indians first baseman David Cooper has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the club announced on Twitter. He'll be back in camp as a non-roster invitee. Cleveland designated him for assignment to make room for Justin Sellers on the 40-man roster.
- The Royals have inked catcher Jesus Flores to a minor league deal that doesn't include a Spring Training invite, according to the team's transactions page. Flores, 29, hasn't appeared in a big league game since 2012 with the Nationals but spent parts of five seasons with Washington's Major League team. In 1014 career plate appearances in the Majors, the Venezuelan backstop is a .241/.289/.375 hitter.
- The Rays have signed right-hander Sergio Perez to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The signing marks a homecoming for the 29-year-old, who was born in Tampa and played college ball at the University of Tampa. The Astros selected Perez in the second round of the 2006 draft, and he's climbed as high as Triple-A in the minor leagues, posting a career 4.74 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. He began the 2013 campaign with the Athletics and wound up spending the bulk of the season pitching for the Mexican League's Pericos de Puebla.
A number of notable clubs entered Spring Training looking for clear answers at second base, and other teams could face looming questions at the position. Here's a roundup of items about the keystone...
- Multiple talent evaluators tell ESPN's Jim Bowden that Alexander Guerrero needs a lot of time at Triple-A in order to both learn second base and simply to regain his form after not playing last season. In the Insider-only piece, Bowden looks at internal and external second base answers the Dodgers could explore to solidify themselves at the position.
- Early word on Guerrero hasn't been too positive, as one evaluator tells ESPN's Buster Olney (another Insider-only piece) that the Dodgers "could get him through outright waivers right now if they need a roster spot." Olney speculates that the Nationals could generate some interest in Danny Espinosa given the number of teams (including the Dodgers and Yankees) looking for second base help, though Washington wouldn't want to accept a sell-low offer for Espinosa given his poor 2013 season.
- The Royals are lacking in middle infield depth behind Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star notes may not have the 25-man roster space for a backup infielder. Since Ned Yost plans to carry 12 pitchers, that leaves only four bench spots for Justin Maxwell, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Valencia and the backup catcher. Christian Colon, Pedro Ciriaco and Johnny Giavotella are currently fighting for a roster spot in camp and the team will have Valencia and Mike Moustakas work out at second in case they need to be emergency options. “It’s not ideal not to have a backup middle infielder on the team,” GM Dayton Moore said. “However, I do anticipate Infante and Escobar in the lineup most days.”
- Marco Scutaro is only beginning to take grounders and has yet to swing a bat, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. The veteran infielder is purposely taking a slow start to Spring Training in order to keep himself healthy and free of hip problems, and Giants GM Brian Sabean admits that the team probably should've shut Scutaro down last year when he was battling multiple nagging injuries. Despite Scutaro's issues, Sabean is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day though he only said "we'll see" when asked if he was comfortable with the team's second base depth.
Veteran right-hander Guillermo Mota has retired, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter link). Mota signed a minor league deal with the Royals in January but, according to McCullough, wanted to spend more time with his family and left the club's Spring Training camp on Friday.
Mota, 40, originally signed with the Mets in 1990 as an infielder and ended up spending 14 Major League seasons on the mound with the Expos, Dodgers (in two different stints), Marlins, Indians, Mets, Brewers and Giants. That last stop in San Francisco earned Mota his first two World Series rings as part of the Giants' 2010 and 2012 championship teams. The righty was also suspended twice for PED violations, serving a 50-game suspension in 2007 and then 100 games in 2012.
Over 856 2/3 Major League relief innings, Mota posted a 3.94 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 and 2.10 K/BB rate and held right-handed batters to just a .683 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, Mota earned just over $18.2MM in his career.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet interviewed Royals GM Dayton Moore about the team's playoff hopes, his offseason moves and the difficulty of making trades. Asked about the tough decision to part with Wil Myers, Moore said the focus in trades has to be on what is acquired rather than what is given up: "If you focus on what you’re losing, you’ll never make a deal. You’ll be paralyzed. You have to focus on what you’re getting in return and that’s what we focused on."
More items pertaining to the Royals and the AL Central...
- ESPN's Jerry Crasnick also looks at the Royals' high expectations, talking about the team's acquisition of Shields and the heavy emphasis placed on defense. Moore makes it clear to the club's scouts that he wants players with the discipline to focus for nine innings and the ability to continue to prioritize defense even in the midst of slumps at the plate. Shields and manager Ned Yost both spoke about this emphasis. Crasnick also discussed the turnaround of some of the team's young hitters with last year's interim hitting coach and Hall of Famer George Brett.
- Phil Hughes tells Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News that he's enjoying his transition to a new team after a "nightmare" season with the Yankees in 2013. Hughes, who has become fast friends with Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, says he enjoys the laid-back atmosphere. Now sporting a beard, Hughes feels that back pain that cost him most of Spring Training last season likely contributed to his struggles. Minnesota, of course, gambled on Hughes' youth and pedigree by signing him to a three-year, $24MM deal this offseason that was far larger than most had expected for the 27-year-old.
- Chris Iott of MLive.com answered reader questions and offered his take on the chances of Max Scherzer inking an extension prior to Opening Day. Iott pegs the chances of a long-term deal for the 2013 Cy Young winner at about 10 percent, noting that he simply can't envision it realistically happening.
- Also of note from Iott is that the Tigers are fully committed to using Drew Smyly as a starter. Iott writes that the club won't be making any last-minute additions of a veteran starter and expect the left-handed Smyly to be in their rotation for a long time.
- Iott also spoke with manager Brad Ausmus about trade acquisition Robbie Ray. Detroit's new skipper told him that Ray, acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade, has a deceptive delivery that allows his fastball to play up a couple of miles per hour. Ausmus anticipates Ray getting a lot of foul balls on fastballs up in the zone, believing that hitters will have a tough time keeping up with the pitch.
- The Tigers announced that non-roster invitee Eduardo Sanchez suffered an olecranon stress fracture of his right elbow and will miss an extended period of time. The former Cardinals setup man inked a minor league deal with Detroit in January and was vying for a spot in their bullpen.
- Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Indians know Trevor Bauer probably isn't ready for the Majors, which is what prompted their late signing of Aaron Harang to serve as depth. Bauer has altered his delivery somewhat and got mixed results in yesterday's game against the Reds.
The three remaining free agents tied to draft-pick compensation -- Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales -- would all considering waiting to sign until after the June amateur draft, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal's piece builds upon a prior report from MLBTR's Tim Dierkes, who noted that those players could be considering the strategy, which would prevent their former clubs -- the Royals, Red Sox, and Mariners -- from picking up an extra draft choice.
Here's how it works: If a sufficient offer is not forthcoming, these free agents could change their market situation by waiting until after the draft to sign. At that point, a new signing club would no longer need to sacrifice a pick, and their prior club would not stand to earn one.
Interestingly, Rosenthal also suggested a twist on that strategy, noting that a player could avoid a future qualifying offer just by waiting until after Opening Day to sign. If any of the three remaining draft-pick bound players was forced to settle for a one-year deal (like Cruz), he could use that approach to ensure that his new club would not once again saddle him with compensation, while also ensuring a full year's payday (one of the problems with waiting until June to sign). Of course, there is a countervailing consideration: a signing club would lose the possibility of retaining the player through a qualifying offer or instead getting a compensation pick in return, which reduces the player's value to his new club.
In the aggregate, these options constitute a set of increasingly high-stakes maneuvers, each carrying leverage trade-offs between the player and prospective clubs. For instance, as Dierkes has noted, the threat of a former team not gaining a compensation pick could make a re-signing more likely.
I would add that these two possible approaches each make more sense for different situations. A player who is planning to settle for a one-year pillow contract would take significant risk by waiting until June, because any increase in their annual salary would potentially be offset or eclipsed by the fact that they cannot earn all of it (not to mention risks of changes in how the market sees the player and in market demand). But that player would also potentially gain quite a bit by waiting for Opening Day to sign, because he would get to enter the following year's market without compensation attached. The considerations go the other way for a player who still figures to land a multi-year deal, who would have relatively less to lose by skipping a few months of salary and, potentially, more to gain by shedding the burden of draft compensation. But if three years were already on the table, a free agent would gain nothing by waiting until after the start of the season to sign unless they were truly willing to sit all the way through the June draft.
The agents for the trio made clear to Rosenthal that they have thought through the rules, and are leaving all options on the table. Bean Stringfellow, Santana's agent, said that waiting until after the draft is "certainly something we've talked about," and made clear that his client would not follow Nelson Cruz in signing a one-year deal for substantially less than the $14.1MM qualifying offer. "Once you get past the draft," said Stringfellow, "a lot of teams will be in play with the expanded playoffs. You wouldn't have a draft pick attached. ... Ervin Santana is a front-line starting pitcher. He will be compensated as such. Whatever it takes to make that happen, we will make it happen, simple as that."
Scott Boras, who represents Drew and Morales, noted that other clubs also have incentives to wait until after the draft since they do not need to give up a pick to sign the player. He also notes that a signing would mean that those clubs would also potentially avoid the need to sign a future compensation player, and could potentially reap a future pick of their own when the player's deal expires. "A road map for this strategy has been figured out," said Boras. "There is a significant advantage under this system for teams to develop a plan to sign premium free-agent players -- the top 6 to 12 percent -- where they can gain draft currency and also improve their team in the current and long-term."
Here are today's minor moves from around baseball.
- The Tigers have signed righty reliever Kevin Whelan, Baseball America's Matt Eddy tweets. Whelan, 30, pitched last season for the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, posting a 4.97 ERA with 13.0 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9. He briefly appeared in the Majors with the Yankees in 2011.
- The Rangers have re-signed starter Scott Richmond, Eddy tweets. Richmond posted a 5.91 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 20 starts with Triple-A Round Rock last season. He pitched in parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays, the last of those coming in 2012.
- The Royals have signed pitchers Mitch Stetter and Hassan Pena, along with outfielder Devon Torrence, notes Eddy. Stetter last appeared in the big leagues with the Brewers in 2011. Pena, a former Nationals farmhand, pitched in Mexico last year. Torrence is a former NFL cornerback who also once played in the Astros organization.
The Royals claimed Cleto, 24, off waivers from the Cardinals in June. Cleto improved on the 6.92 ERA he had posted on the year in the Cardinals' farm system to that point, turning in a 3.55 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9 in 38 frames with Triple-A Omaha. The Dominican native possesses a huge fastball, as he has averaged 97.1 mph in 20 career innings at the big league level. Cleto was originally signed by the Mets and traded to the Mariners in the J.J. Putz deal before being dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Brendan Ryan.
The Royals announced (on Twitter) that they've claimed infielder/outfielder Jimmy Paredes off waivers from the Orioles. The 25-year-old Paredes was claimed by the Orioles (from the Marlins) just two days ago. Paredes' departure from Baltimore's 40-man roster makes room for right-hander Suk-Min Yoon, though the O's have yet to officially announce his signing.
The switch-hitting Paredes batted .192/.238/.248 with a homer and four steals in 135 plate appearances for the Astros in 2013. He was claimed by the Marlins in November before being designated for assignment upon Jeff Baker's signing in Miami. Though he's yet to experience much success at the Major League level, Paredes is a career .306/.347/.471 hitter in 894 plate apperances at the Triple-A level. He has experience at both outfield corners as well as second base and third base.