MLBTR Mailbag Rumors

MLBTR Mailbag: Phillies, Samardzija, Brewers, Sabathia

As we announced yesterday, we’re rebooting the MLBTR Mailbag series after a seven-year layoff. We’ve already received a large number of questions, and there’s no way to get to all of them, but I’ll tackle a handful in today’s post as well as each Monday from here on out. Remember that you can submit questions for next week’s Mailbag, via email: mlbtrmailbag@gmail.com.

On to the questions…

Does it make sense for the Phillies to sign some top tier free agents like Heyward and/or Greinke? A lot of money is off the books, and the Phillies have some promising prospects coming up within the next year or two. The first year of the deal may be rough for the newly-signed, but after that the Phillies look to be in a good position to compete. Is this a tough sell to the free agents? — David M.

From a financial standpoint, the Phillies would be in excellent shape to take on a long-term commitment. Philadelphia has just $23MM on the books for the 2017 season and no players guaranteed any money beyond that season, save for a $2MM buyout on Matt Harrison’s option. Practically speaking, it doesn’t make much sense for the Phillies to spend aggressively on an aging free agent like Greinke. As you noted, they’re unlikely to compete in at least the first year of a free agent deal and probably the second as well. By the time 2018 rolls around, Greinke would be into what are typically the decline years for a pitcher. A younger free agent like Heyward, on paper at least, could make some sense as they can afford him, and he’ll be in his prime when the Phillies hope to contend again. However, premium free agents typically prefer to sign with winning clubs — or at least clubs that have the possibility of doing so — and the Phillies have been vocal about their current rebuild.

Philadelphia does need to fill out its roster, but I’d imagine that the team’s free agent expenditures will be second- or third-tier free agents designed to soak up innings, as the Twins did with Ricky Nolasco and the Astros did with Scott Feldman in the 2013-14 offseason (obviously, with the hope for better results than Nolasco has delivered). That might mean someone like Ian Kennedy, though as the Cubs experienced with Edwin Jackson, it can be dangerous to give multiple years to a free agent who isn’t expected to play on a contender until the backside of the deal. Alternatively, the Phillies could be open to more buy-low options on shorter contracts, as they did this season with Chad Billingsley (again, with the hope for better results). Doug Fister is one such option, and Billingsley, Brandon Morrow and Brandon Beachy could also fit that mold. The Phillies could also exercise their financial muscle and lack of long-term commitments to “buy” a prospect — absorbing a Nolasco-like contract in its entirety in order to land a nice prospect from the team whose burden they are relieving while adding a serviceable arm in the process.

What kind of contract can we expect Jeff Samardzija to get in the off season? — Victoria R.

Entering the season, I thought Samardzija had a clear shot to blow past $100MM with a repeat of his 2014 campaign, but he’s gone the opposite direction. Samardzija’s strikeout and ground-ball rates have plummeted, and his ERA has spiked to 4.64 — the worst of his career since joining the rotation. FIP, xFIP and SIERA all come in over 4.00 as well.

There are some positives to Samardzija, though. He’s still averaging 94.2 mph on his fastball, his BB/9 rate is south of 2.00 for the second straight season, and some of his struggles can be attributed to the fact that Chicago’s defense ranks 28th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved and Defensive Efficiency as well as 29th in Ultimate Zone Rating. With a better defense behind him — even a league-average defense — Samardzija’s bottom-line numbers would probably be better, though his BABIP-against stands at a reasonable .305, indicating that he may be more a victim of unfortunate sequencing.

Scouts love Samardzija’s arm and competitiveness, and by season’s end, he will very likely have turned in his third straight 200-inning season. As such, I can still see a nice multi-year deal, but barring a huge finish, I’m taking the under on $100MM and on five years as well.  A four-year deal worth $16-20MM annually is possible, and he can improve his earning power with a big showing over his final eight starts. He fired seven one-run innings on Aug. 19 but was shelled for five runs in 5 2/3 innings tonight, so he’s not off to a great start in terms of altering his fate with a strong finish.

Some might suggest that Samardzija will be forced to sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value, but he’s already going into his age-31 season next year, and delaying the prospect of a significant payday until a contract that would begin at age 32 may not hold much appeal. Players typically don’t want to take one-year deals unless they’re forced to by injury, and I don’t expect Samardzija to be any different.

Hey gang, with [Khris] Davis’s recent hot steak, coupled with the Brewers calling up [Domingo] Santana, do you see the Brewers dealing Davis to make room for Santana this winter? — Jason M.

I’d imagine that the new Brewers’ general manager, whoever it ends up being, will be open to listening to offers for Davis and much of the roster he inherits. There’s no real need to move Davis, with the possible exception, as you said, of freeing up playing time for Santana. There are a number of ways that both could be worked into the lineup though, as either Davis or Ryan Braun could conceivably put in some work at first base over the spring. Santana also has some experience in center field and has appeared there since coming up with the Brewers, so he could continue to get some seasoning there in 2015. While he’s not a long-term answer in center, Santana could be a stopgap solution for the Brewers as they wait for Brett Phillips’ development to continue. They could use 2016 — a rebuilding season — as a means of measuring whether or not Santana can hit consistently in the Majors and deal with the potential corner outfield logjam down the line if and when Phillips is ready.

What if the Yankees had simply let Sabathia go when he opted out a couple seasons ago? Surely his monster salary could have been better spent on a different pitcher or two. Maybe, and I say maybe, he earned his first few years of salary, but why not let him go when he was obviously in steep decline? — John M.

The Yankees’ decision to tack on one year and $30MM in guarantees (plus a vesting option) to Sabathia’s deal was obviously driven by the fact that the lefty had the right to opt out of the contract he signed in the 2008-09 offseason. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explored in detail last year in a deep look at on opt-out clauses, Sabathia was able to land that provision in his free agent deal because he held so much leverage as an outstanding, youthful starter. Effectively, he bought himself another bit of leverage further down the line, which he and his representatives were able to employ. (Sabathia actually reached a new deal before opting out, it should be noted.)

There’s certainly something to be said for avoiding contracts of that magnitude — especially for pitchers, who are more prone to breaking down than position players. But to suggest that Sabathia was in a steep decline at the time he could have opted out isn’t really accurate. From 2009-11, Sabathia averaged six WAR per season, and his 2011 strikeout and walk rates were his best since 2008. Sabathia declined more steeply and more rapidly than most pitchers do, and that’s harmed the Yankees, but that future wasn’t known by the Yankees following the 2011 season.

It’s easy to apply hindsight and say the Yankees should’ve let Sabathia walk. But there were a lot of reasons to like the deal at the time, too, considering the market context. Sabathia was entering his age-31 season — a pretty typical age for the game’s top free agent pitchers to receive contracts of six or seven years of length. Restructuring his contract was akin to signing a pitcher who would’ve been far and away the market’s most desirable starting pitcher. C.J. Wilson got the largest contract of any starter that offseason, followed by Mark Buehrle, and only Yu Darvish would’ve rivaled Sabathia in terms of ace upside, but how he’d transition to the majors was not yet known. Sabathia was coming off a six-WAR season with the Yankees after pitching 237 innings for a second consecutive season. His open-market position would’ve been similar to that of guys like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester this past winter — both of whom landed huge contracts over seven and six years, respectively.

As Tim noted to me in discussing this matter yesterday, it seemed at the time that New York would have to guarantee two additional seasons to get a deal done and keep Sabathia from electing free agency. While the vesting option ($25MM with a $5MM buyout) could still add to the tab, the deal that was reached represented a solid value for the Yankees given the context when the decision was made.


(Re)Introducing The MLBTR Mailbag

It’s been a good seven years since MLBTR’s Mailbag series ran with regularity, but as we near the end of the 2015 season and gear up for an offseason that features one of the stronger free agent crops in recent memory, we’re once again dusting off the series.

Readers can submit questions on any MLBTR-relevant topic — trades, free agency, extensions, arbitration, etc. — to mlbtrmailbag@gmail.com, and every Monday we will collect a handful of responses and offer our take. While Tim Dierkes and I briefly entertained the notion of answering the most recent questions at the top of that inbox, which included queries on Joe Crede and Akinori Otsuka, among others, we decided it best to start from a clean slate.

Depending on response volume, we’ll run the first edition either later today or next week, and every Monday going forward from that point on.


MLBTR Mailbag: Dickey, Ethier, Price, Kennedy

As usual, I answered about forty questions in Tuesday's chat, and today we'll get to a few unanswered ones from that session.

Who do the Giants go after for left field? – Allen

Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, and Francisco Peguero have manned left field for the Giants this year, posting a .250/.299/.336 line at the position.  In the National League, only the Reds and Marlins have received worse from left field than San Francisco's .634 OPS.  Asked yesterday by Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com if he's satisfied with the production of his left field platoon, GM Brian Sabean replied, "I think so."  He continued, "We went on the side of the defense and the speed and to take our chances. And it wouldn’t be that much of an eyesore statistically from a run production standpoint if we had a bona fide six hitter, which should be [Brandon] Belt, but we’ve been forced to rotate and scramble a little with the bottom three spots. But on balance they’ve done a good job, given the skill set."  

Given the way Sabean steered the question toward Belt, I have to wonder if the first baseman is in as much jeopardy as the left field platoon.  Of course, Belt is actually hitting .297/.343/.516 out of the #6 spot in the order, and he's hitting quite well this month.  To answer the original question, Josh Willingham makes a lot of sense for the Giants if the Twins are willing to deal him.  I imagine the Giants are unlikely to turn back to Melky Cabrera, Nate Schierholtz, or Alfonso Soriano.  Beyond Willingham, Alex Rios and Mike Morse could be a couple names to watch, but the Twins, White Sox, and Mariners are in the range of contention currently.

If the Blue Jays decide to sell any chance the Mets get R.A. Dickey back? – Dan

Having won their last four games, the Jays are currently no further from contention than the Mets, who have dropped six in a row and have the second-to-worst record in the league.  So while the Blue Jays could become trade deadline sellers, it's difficult to picture them selling back to the Mets.  I also think they'd keep Dickey regardless, as he could be a key piece for them in 2014 and '15.  Furthermore, if Dickey's ERA still sits near 5.00 in two months, the Blue Jays would be selling low and perhaps unable to win back either premium prospect sent to New York in the deal, Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard

Is this the year we trade Andre Ethier and who would we target via trade? – Dodgers fan

Ethier, 31, is hitting .267/.355/.385 on the season in 155 plate appearances.  He has over $10MM in remaining salary this year, plus another $70MM for 2014-17.  The contract, signed in June of last year, isn't looking so great at the moment given Ethier's power drought.  Moving Ethier makes sense this summer if the Dodgers drop completely out of contention, with outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson waiting in the wings.  A top 100 prospect seems unlikely, but the Dodgers could focus on moving 60% or more of the contract, depending on how Ethier is playing in two months.  They could also try for a bad contract swap, though I haven't found a good matchup yet.

Does Tampa trade David Price for a legit controllable bat, prospects, or hold on to him this summer? – Grinch 

New information has emerged since this question was asked, as Price left last night's start with a left triceps strain.  We're not even sure yet if a DL trip will be necessary, but given the expected massive asking price on Price, the injury has to give would-be suitors pause as the lefty has also seen his average fastball velocity dip below 94 miles per hour.  The Rays have played well of late, too, so they'd have to take a serious nosedive to consider trading Price with two-plus years of control remaining.  Keep in mind too that an ERA in the 4.00s this year would depress Price's 2014 arbitration salary, making it easier for the Rays to fit him into their payroll.

Could Ian Kennedy be a good change of scenery guy? I can think of a few contenders that may want a solid SP that they can buy low on. – Sean

Kennedy, 28, has a 4.88 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.14 HR/9, and 38.8% groundball rate in 55 1/3 innings for the Diamondbacks this year.  Strikeouts are down and walks are way up, which is concerning.  Earning $4.265MM this year as a first-time arbitration eligible player, Kennedy is at the top of the salary scale for his service class, a pace that might slow a bit with an off-year.  He's under team control through 2015, and since he is represented by the Boras Corporation, there's a good chance he reaches free agency when eligible.  He is a good candidate for a change of scenery, and if there's one GM who might trade his Opening Day starter midseason while contending, it's the Gunslinger.

Arizona's rotation has a 3.68 ERA, sixth-best in the league even with Kennedy's 4.88 ERA covering about 22% of their innings.  The readiness of Triple-A pitchers Tyler Skaggs, Randall Delgado, and Zeke Spruill would have to be a factor in considering a midseason trade of Kennedy.  None of them seem ready to fill Kennedy's shoes, as an innings eater who should be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA from here on out if the walks come down.  However, as a reader pointed out in the comments, Daniel Hudson should return from Tommy John surgery in July, which could provide the needed depth to trade Kennedy.


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MLBTR Mailbag: Cardinals, Dodgers, Cano

I answered over forty questions in Tuesday's hourlong chat; here are a few I didn't get to.

What will the Cardinals' trade deadline look like? – Jordon

The clear starting point is the team's bullpen, which lost closer Jason Motte and has been the worst in the league by measure of ERA.  However, if you look at the pen's current composition, the Cards are strong at the back end with Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal, they have a credible lefty matchup guy in Randy Choate, and it'll be interesting to see what Carlos Martinez can do.  Two months from now, when most trades are happening, I'm not convinced anything will need to be done.  It'd be nice to acquire a shortstop, but the market is light on obvious trade candidates.  Perhaps Yunel Escobar of the Rays will be available, but he's playing terribly so far.  One intriguing name to watch is the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, but only if they decide to blow it all up and he's willing to approve the trade.

How deep are the Dodgers' pockets? Any chance they take on some hefty salary for players like Cliff Lee? – Derk McCaw

We don't know the Dodgers' limitations, but I imagine they'll willing to add to their record payroll during the season.  Of course, the team is in last place, having dropped its last seven.  If the team can tread water until Zack Greinke and Hanley Ramirez return in June, GM Ned Colletti could have a month to evaluate whether his team has any shot at contention.  Aside from Lee, big-name targets could include Chase Utley, David Price, Jake Peavy, and Matt Garza.

What does Robinson Cano sign for? – Ryan

Once the 2013 season ends, it will have been almost two years since Scott Boras brokered a nine-year, $214MM deal for Prince Fielder with the Tigers.  Fielder was 28 in the first year of his new deal, while Cano will be 31.  Even though Cano is no longer represented by Boras, and is older than Fielder was, that contract has to be a point of reference and something CAA and Jay-Z will look to exceed, whether with the Yankees or on the open market.

I think if he continues to pitch well, Ervin Santana is a possible qualifying offer.  KC would probably be willing to overpay for one year to buy time for Duffy and Paulino rehab or Ventura and/or Zimmer to develop, right? – Fred

Should Santana's strong work continue, there's a good chance the Royals make a qualifying offer (which will potentially be around $14MM).  They already showed a willingness to pay him $12MM coming off a season in which he posted a 5.16 ERA and allowed 39 home runs.  That would be somewhat separate from an attempt to sign him, however, because I imagine he'd decline the offer in search of a multiyear deal.  That can be risky, as Kyle Lohse showed us, but Santana is younger and the market for pitching seems weaker.

What call-up has the most impact in 2013? - morF tnemmoC

If we're talking only about players called up midseason, my early vote goes to Reds starter Tony Cingrani, who has a 2.63 ERA filling in for Johnny Cueto and might be good enough to push Mike Leake to a bullpen role when Cueto returns.


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MLBTR Mailbag: Stanton, Harvey, Hamilton

I answered over 40 questions in my hourlong chat on Tuesday, but there are always some good ones that fall through the cracks.  In this post I'll tackle a few more, mailbag style.

Castellanos, Crosby, Porcello, and Fields for Stanton. Deal? – Will

Will is proposing a package that the Tigers could offer to the Marlins for three-plus years of young slugger Giancarlo Stanton, as fans often do in our chats.  As well-regarded as Castellanos is (#38 on Keith Law's top 100 prospects list for ESPN, and #21 on Baseball America's list), I don't think he's a big enough headliner for a Stanton trade.  Granted they added value with Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson, but the Royals were able to acquire the game's fourth-best prospect, Wil Myers, for two years of righty James Shields.  As for the rest of the proposal, I think the Marlins would like to have Crosby, but he doesn't seem to be the caliber of pitching prospect needed in a Stanton deal.

Why did the Astros pass on Julio Borbon? – Anonymous

The Cubs claimed Borbon off waivers from the Rangers five days ago, with the Astros the one team coming before them in the waiver order.  I think the Astros are committed to giving a full season of at-bats to Chris Carter as the left fielder/designated hitter.  While center fielder Justin Maxwell was not yet injured at the time of the Borbon claim, the Astros had other options in Brandon Barnes and the newly-promoted Robbie Grossman.  Releasing right fielder Rick Ankiel for Borbon seems hasty, plus the team already has a former top prospect in the mix in Fernando Martinez.  They'll also have J.D. Martinez off the DL in a few weeks.  Borbon is 27 years old at this point, and I think his upside is limited.

If you had to pick one to keep for the next five years, who would it be, Matt Harvey or Matt Moore? – Lou

If we're including this season as one of my five years, and money is a factor, Moore will earn $17MM for 2013-17 given the contract he signed in December 2011.  Harvey will be arbitration eligible for the 2016 season, so this five-year window would include his first and second arbitration years.  This is a long-winded way of saying that the money seems about the same even though Moore has a year of service on Harvey.  Ultimately, I would take Harvey.  Although you can't go wrong with either pitcher's stuff, I think Harvey has better control.  And while they're both big strikeout guys, Harvey is likely to be more efficient with his pitches and should go deeper into games.

Is Arte Moreno already regretting the Hamilton signing? And is Pujols going to be a DH for the next 9 years? – Matt E

Josh Hamilton, signed to a five-year, $125MM deal during the offseason, is hitting .225/.281/.350 across his first 89 plate appearances for the Angels.  But you don't have to look any further back than July of last year to find a month from Hamilton in which he posted a sub-.700 OPS.  He followed that up with a .943 OPS in August; he's a streaky hitter.  I don't think Moreno is regretting signing Hamilton — this is not the middle of the pack offense it's been so far.  As for the club's 4.88 ERA, that is more troublesome.  They never did assemble a playoff-caliber pitching staff to go with the offense.

While the term on Hamilton is relatively short, through 2017, the Angels have Pujols under contract through 2021.  He has a $26.5MM average annual value for 2014-21.  Pujols said recently that designated hitter is better for his plantar fasciitis.  While he may be dealing with the foot condition for his entire career, Pujols has proven to be extremely durable, meaning he has weathered many injuries that would have kept other players out longer.  Once his foot pain lessens, I think the 33-year-old has at least two or three more years as a first baseman.

If the Pirates are in contention at the trade deadline again this year, do you expect them to finally make that big splash that they haven't made in the past two seasons? – Nick Cap

In 2011 the Pirates added Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee at the July trade deadline, taking on salary rather than giving up prospects.  They also made under-the-radar pickups of Michael McKenry and Jason Grilli that summer.  Last year, the Bucs added Wandy Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez, and Travis Snider.  GM Neal Huntington was willing to sacrifice a bit more, surrendering Grossman, Brad Lincoln, and a competitive balance pick in the various trades.  This summer, should the Pirates remain in contention, I think they'll again up the ante on what they're willing to give up.  I would not expect them to trade Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, or Alen Hanson.  But I wonder if the team might decide they have the outfield depth to part with Gregory Polanco, assuming a major difference-maker with control beyond this year becomes available.  

Isn't it time for the Phillies to hold a true fire sale?  Won't be pretty, but this group has no prayer in that division. – Logan

At 9-13, the Phillies are fourth in the NL East with over 86% of their season remaining.  We don't have enough data to draw conclusions, and generally even fringe contenders at least wait until July.  Perhaps Domonic Brown's bat will come alive, or the offense will get a boost from Carlos Ruiz.  We know Cole Hamels will be better, and perhaps Roy Halladay can settle in as a solid No. 3.  Maybe Jonathan Pettibone winds up pitching better than John Lannan would have, and Mike Adams' appearance last night was just a blip.  The Phillies' front office assembled a $160MM team.  There's no harm in laying some groundwork if the team eventually wants to sell off contract year guys like Halladay, Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Michael Young, but they've got about three months to let it ride. 


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