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A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:
- MLB Trade Rumors Podcast featured host Jeff Todd discussing the Red Sox’s signing of Yoan Moncada and the rest of the Cuban market with MLB.com national reporter Jesse Sanchez. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk then joined Jeff to review this past offseason’s free agent signings with a focus on the White Sox and Pirates. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
- Steve Adams spoke with Giants Assistant GM Bobby Evans, Braves Assistant GM John Coppolella, and Angels Assistant GM Matt Klentak about a club’s “responsibility” in the arbitration process.
- Tim Dierkes listed the position of MLBTR’s top 2016 free agents on in-season extension talks.
- Jeff named eight potential destinations for Rafael Soriano. More than a quarter of MLBTR readers see the Blue Jays signing the right-handed reliever.
- Jeff was the first to report Wily Mo Pena agreed to a one-year contract with NPB’s Rakuten Eagles.
- Steve hosted this week’s live chat.
- Zach Links assembled the best of the baseball blogosphere for you in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
The last man standing on Tim Dierkes’s Top Fifty Free Agent list is reliever Rafael Soriano. I predicted that he would land two years and $12MM before the offseason started, though I noted that there was a downside scenario where he could earn less. (Check that link for a full write-up of Soriano’s free agent case.)
With pitchers and catchers already reporting around the game, it is even more difficult now to peg the contract — all the more so with a report that some scouts felt his stuff went downhill late last year. The similarly-situated Rodriguez just got $13MM over two years, so there’s still some money to be spent. But that came from the Brewers, perhaps the last team that was intent on making an investment in the back of the bullpen.
We haven’t heard much on Soriano’s market all offseason, and even more recent reports have focused on him as a possible backup option to Rodriguez. While there are strong arguments against all the teams listed below, they seem at least the most hypothetically plausible.
Blue Jays – The front office has heavily downplayed the possibility of a big league deal with a reliever, but the closer role remains open and the club has at least considered going after Soriano.
Dodgers – Kenley Jansen is out for a while and the overall relief corps is not that exciting, but the team just signed Dustin McGowan and preliminary reports of possible interest in Soriano have been contested.
Marlins – They are said not to be likely suitors, but did reportedly make a multi-year offer to K-Rod so obviously have some free cash that could be put into the pen.
Orioles – Zach Britton is left-handed and only has half a year of success in the ninth; Dan Duquette has shown a predilection for jumping on late-market deals.
Rangers – After burning through an unbelievable number of arms last year, Texas is leaning on a relatively recent TJ patient in Neftali Feliz — to say nothing of the less-established arms in camp.
Rockies – With John Axford already joining the fold on a minor league deal as a supplement to LaTroy Hawkins, it doesn’t seem likely, but Colorado could look to make a minor splash if the price is right.
Tigers – Detroit may make eminent sense or none at all, depending on one’s perspective; I find it unlikely but not unimaginable after the signing of Joba Chamberlain.
Other – There are other major league teams, as you may know, and all are free to sign Soriano. With plenty of earnings already in his pocket, might Soriano wait for an injury need to open the door to a more significant role?
We may as well take a poll while we’re at it. Which of the above seems most plausible to you?
This offseason saw more arbitration hearings than any in recent history, with 14 players going to trial to determine their 2015 salaries. Many of the hearings were over relatively small amounts of money, a few hundred thousand dollars, prompting frustration from fans who view the process as a cheap means of cost-savings. However, executives who spoke to MLBTR used a different word — “responsibility” — to describe the process. Not financial responsibility in regards to their own payroll, but rather, responsibility to the rest of the league.
“At some point, there’s a sense of fairness to the fact that this deal not only reflects on this player and this club, but that this deal also reflects on other similar players and similar clubs,” Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans told MLBTR. “So you have somewhat of a responsibility within the market to be reasonable on both sides so you’re maintaining the correct market for a player and not creating an unfair low market or an unfair high market.”
As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz has explained throughout his Arbitration Breakdown series, arbitration salaries are largely determined based on statistically similar players with similar service time to a player that is currently eligible. “You don’t want to go out there and make a deal that wouldn’t be fair on either side for the players that are not involved in the deal,” said Evans. In a strange way, the result of this sense of responsibility is a sense of collaboration among entities that spend every other waking moment trying to gain an edge over each other.
“It’s the one time of the year — at least in the baseball operations realm — where the clubs are working together,” said an AL exec who preferred not to be named. “Usually we’re competing on the field … we’re competing for player talent in free agency. We’re competing to get the better end of a trade. There’s 30 of us and we’re all trying to win the World Series. But, I feel like there’s a collective responsibility that we all feel to each other in salary arbitration to not try to allow that market to escalate too far.”
It may be puzzling to see a team head to trial over sums as seemingly negligible as $200K (Jerry Blevins) or $450K (Vance Worley), but when it comes to the arbitration process, “There is no such thing as trivial amounts of money,” Braves assistant GM John Coppolella said to MLBTR. “Whatever you negotiate is not only behalf of your club and ownership, but also other teams throughout the league.”
Perhaps of greater concern to fans than the financial implications is the potential to damage the relationship with a player. Arbitration hearings aren’t a friendly process; the player and his representatives are in the room with representatives from the team as the two sides argue back and forth over a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Last year, then-Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano expressed surprise to hear the team use statements he’d made to the media against him in a hearing that he eventually lost. Pestano said at the time that he “definitely” thought it would affect his views going forward, and while he didn’t express any ill will toward the team, it may be telling that he was traded to the Angels roughly six months after his hearing.
“If you look at the history of players who have gone to arbitration hearings, for whatever reason, very few remain with the same team for the long term,” said Coppolella. “I don’t think the hearings are contentious per se, but the process isn’t exactly friendly and heartwarming.” The Braves did have a hearing with Mike Minor this offseason, from which Minor emerged victorious, but Minor told reporters after the fact that it was “just business” and he didn’t have any grudges against the team.
The player’s acceptance of the situation may come down to how the team approaches their side of the hearing. As one former NL GM told MLBTR’s Zach Links, “It was always very important that in any arbitration case … I wanted to see us be straight factually, bottom line. Never ever do anything to diminish the ability or the skills of the player. … What arbitration is all about is reaching a comparative level. … The meeting isn’t the easiest path, but you don’t want to damage any relationships.”
Ultimately, the impact on the player likely varies from case to case, however. As Evans explained, “Some players might just be very curious about the process and therefore not be the least bit offended. … Some players may be inconvenienced by it and irritated that the club wasn’t making an offer to their liking. … It really depends on the spirit of the negotiation.” The aforementioned AL exec had a similar notion: “Some players and some teams are going to be more emotional and more stubborn than others. … Sometimes you know who those players are. You’ll say ‘This guy is not the right guy to take to a hearing. He’s a little soft. This could stick with him for awhile.’ Other players are much more corporate and can handle it.”
I asked Evans if that makes it more difficult to negotiate with players with whom the team does not have a longstanding relationship. For instance, San Francisco acquired third baseman Casey McGehee from the Marlins this offseason and immediately had to begin negotiating a contract in an effort to avoid arbitration. Evans felt that history was secondary to how the two sides handled the negotiation, adding that he was happy to have avoided a hearing.
Another similar case to McGehee is that of the Angels and outfielder Matt Joyce. Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak went a bit more in depth when discussing the pros and cons of negotiating with a player just acquired in an offseason trade. “I think sometimes it’s easier to go to a hearing with a player you’ve never met,” said Klentak (although he was glad to have avoided one with Joyce). He continued that while teams try to be objective in these proceedings, it’s difficult to completely eliminate the bond that has formed when seeing a player develop, triumph and rise through a system to the point where he’s eligible for arbitration. That element is removed when negotiating with new players.
“I still haven’t met Matt Joyce. I’ve negotiated his contract with his agent, we’ve traded for him, but I’ve never personally met him. … I’d really have hated for the first time I met this guy to be wearing a suit, sitting across a table, arguing over a million dollars. But, that is easier when you don’t know the person.”
Arbitration can be contentious, and for onlookers it’s easy to question the motives of a team or of a player when seemingly small gaps are bridged through a potentially inflammatory process like a hearing. But those small gaps compound over time, and the overriding theme when speaking with executives is that the responsibility of managing a market shared by all sometimes makes these hearings a necessary evil.
A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:
- MLB Trade Rumors Podcast featured host Jeff Todd discussing the latest news and notes with guests Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet and MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast drops every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
- Tim unveiled the first installment of MLBTR’s 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Tim’s top three are Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and David Price.
- Tim was the first to report left-hander Mike Minor won his arbitration hearing against the Braves earning a 2015 salary of $5.6MM.
- Steve Adams listed five possible destinations for free agent right-hander Chris Young.
- Charlie Wilmoth examined the results of the 14 arbitration hearings held this offseason, the most since 2001.
- Steve hosted the weekly live chat.
- Zach Links gathered the best the baseball corner of the web had to offer in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
The Mariners’ defeat of reliever Tom Wilhelmsen today ended this offseason’s arbitration season. This year, 14 players went to arbitration hearings, with the players winning six times and teams winning eight. Via MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker, here are the results.
|Player||Team||Player Amt.||Team Amt.||Player won?|
|Alejandro De Aza||Orioles||$5.650MM||$5.000MM||No|
|Josh Donaldson||Blue Jays||$5.750MM||$4.300MM||No|
|Danny Valencia||Blue Jays||$1.675MM||$1.250MM||Yes|
A few notes:
- Via MLBTR’s 2014 Arbitration Tracker, only three players (Andrew Cashner, Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin) had hearings last year, so 14 hearings this year marks a dramatic spike. No players had hearings in the 2012-2013 offseason, and seven players did in 2011-2012. The number of hearings this offseason was the most since 2001, although not everyone is convinced this is the start of a trend, according to the Associated Press. ”Just as I didn’t think [2012-2013] was the start of a trend when we had no hearings, I do not think any conclusions can be drawn at this point from the increased number of hearings this year,” says MLB chief legal officer Don Halem.
- The Pirates alone took three players to arbitration, as many as all teams combined in the previous two offseasons.
- Teams will pay the 14 players who went to arbitration $57.925MM next season, saving a total of about $1.5MM versus the midpoints between those 14 players’ proposed figures and those of their teams.
- There appears to be no obvious pattern in which players won and which lost (which isn’t necessarily surprising, since the terms of each arbitration hearing are set ahead of time by the teams and agents who determine the figures, and not by the arbitrators). As CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman notes (via Twitter), better established players (like Josh Donaldson, Neil Walker and Mat Latos) mostly lost their hearings, while players coming off mediocre or poor seasons, like Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo and Mike Minor, won theirs.
- In terms of overall dollar value, Donaldson might be the player most affected by the result of his hearing, which he lost. There was a fairly large gap (over $1.4MM) between his proposed figure and that of the Blue Jays. Donaldson is also a Super Two player in the midst of his first year of arbitration eligibility, and his salary for 2015 could impact his salary in the next three seasons after that.
One Chris Young has found a home this offseason, as the former D-Backs, A’s and Mets outfielder re-signed with the Yankees early in the winter. The other Chris Young, despite having enjoyed the better results of the two in 2014, remains available on the free agent market. The 6’10” right-hander soaked up 165 innings in the Mariners’ rotation last season, working to a 3.65 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. That’s solid production, and based on runs allowed (RA9-WAR), Young was worth 2.4 wins above replacement.
And yet, the towering righty remains unsigned, perhaps in part due to the fact that sabermetric estimators suggest that his success was exceptionally fortunate. Young’s 5.02 FIP, 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA paint an ugly picture, to be sure, but there are reasons to think that he can still provide value in a team’s rotation.
Firstly, we can’t ignore the fact that Young’s career ERA (3.77) is significantly better than his career FIP (4.38), xFIP (4.82) or SIERA (4.63). Being an extreme fly-ball pitcher is likely a turn-off for teams in small parks, but because he allows so many fly balls (58.7 percent in 2014; 54.8 percent for his career), Young has proven capable of sustaining a BABIP that is considerably lower than the league average (fly balls in play fall for hits at a much lower rate than line drives and ground balls). Extreme fly-ball arms like Young have proven to be able to outperform those figures because a larger percentage of balls in play against them are converted into outs. Repeating a 3.65 ERA may not be likely, but it stands to reason that Young could demonstrate at least somewhat useful run prevention skills at the back of a rotation.
Young has also shown a dominance over right-handed hitters throughout his career, and particularly in 2014. Same-handed hitters have mustered a paltry .218/.287/.381 batting line against Young in his big league career, and he held them to an even feebler .199/.260/.372 line last year. On the flipside of that is that he struggles against left-handed hitters, of course, but a team with a spacious outfield that naturally suppresses lefty power could use its home environment to maximize Young’s strengths while shielding against his weaknesses.
The cost on Young shouldn’t be prohibitive; I’d imagine that if he is able to secure an MLB deal, the base salary would fall shy of the respective $5MM and $6.5MM guarantees of Aaron Harang and Kyle Kendrick. And, there’s also the possibility that given the late stage of the offseason and the number of teams with their rotations filled, Young will have to settle for a minor league deal. Any non-guaranteed deal would figure to have a relatively substantial base salary in the event that Young made the team. (John Axford, for example has a $2.65MM base on his minor league deal in Colorado.)
Given all of these elements, let’s examine a few spots that make sense for the Reynolds Sports Management client to end up…
- Angels: The Halos have addressed their pitching depth this winter by adding prospects Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano in separate trades, but the rotation still doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 5 starter. It’s also not a given that Garrett Richards will be ready for Opening Day, so adding a veteran like Young makes some degree of sense. Angel Stadium ranked 25th in left-handed home run factor in 2014 (per Baseball Prospectus) and routinely ranks in the bottom third of the league.
- Tigers: Detroit’s rotation depth has taken a hit in recent years due to several trades, and they have little in the way of certainty beyond their projected starting five (David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon). Even Greene and Simon have some uncertainty about them, as Greene has little MLB experience, and Simon wilted in the second half of what could be an outlier season. Comerica Park ranked 23rd in left-handed HR factor last year, though it has played as more of a middle-of-the-road park for lefties in other seasons.
- Braves: Atlanta hasn’t been shy about adding veterans to slot into the bullpen or the rotation, having added the likes of Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Matt Capps and Todd Coffey on minor league deals recently. Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller are locks, but the fifth spot is up for grabs.
- Astros: Houston recently added Roberto Hernandez to a minor league deal with the idea that he could compete for a spot in their rotation, and Young could be brought in to compete in a similar manner. Righty Brad Peacock may not be ready to open the season, and Houston did part with Michael Foltynewicz in the Evan Gattis trade (though the team also added rotation candidate Dan Straily in the Dexter Fowler deal with the Cubs).
- Rays: Matt Moore won’t pitch until this summer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, leaving Nate Karns and Alex Colome as the likely candidates to compete for the fifth spot behind Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. The AL East and its hitter-friendly parks may not be an ideal setting for Young, but Tropicana Field is more favorable to pitchers than rival parks such as Yankees Stadium and Rogers Centre.
Few teams possess the type of pitching depth that would allow them to completely rule out adding a depth candidate to compete for a role at the back of the rotation. One could make a compelling case for Young fitting with any number of teams not listed here, and it’s also possible that a Spring Training injury could create a need for an arm like his. At 36 years of age and with a limited MLB track record in recent years, Young isn’t a big-ticket item, but 165 innings of 3.65 ERA in 2014 should at the very least net him the opportunity to try to prove that he can recreate the feat.
A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:
- Yankees lefty reliever Andrew Miller, one of the prizes of this offseason’s free agent class, joined host Jeff Todd on the latest episode of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast. Jeff and MLBTR’s Steve Adams then discussed the potential for further player movement this winter, including the most likely trade scenarios and the active Cuban market. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
- Tim Dierkes was the first to report Roberto Hernandez‘s minor league contract with the Astros is worth $2.65MM and includes an opt-out five days prior to Opening Day.
- Mark Polishuk examined the willingness of agent Scott Boras to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients.
- Jeff opines Royals GM Dayton Moore has pieced together a fascinating roster, which should be interesting to watch over the course of the 2015 season.
- Prior the Mariners’ signing of Rickie Weeks, Steve named seven possible destinations for the veteran second baseman.
- Mark identified Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro as a trade candidate while Jeff focused on the Red Sox’s glut of outfielders.
- Steve first tweeted David Aardsma‘s velocity hit 92 mph during a recent workout the right-handed reliever held, which was attended by 18 scouts.
- Charlie Wilmoth listed the notable February extensions from the past three offseasons.
- Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields topped MLBTR’s 2014-15 Top Free Agents list. Jeff asked MLBTR readers which signing was the wisest. Nearly 44% of you preferred the Cubs’ pact with Lester.
- Jeff also asked MLBTR readers who will win the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes. More than 30% of you believe the Cuban infielder will be wearing Yankee pinstripes when all is said and done.
- Steve hosted the MLBTR live chat this week.
Zach Links put together the best of the baseball blogosphere in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
Catcher didn’t seem to be an obvious area of upgrade for the Blue Jays heading into the offseason, yet the team made a big splash by signing Russell Martin to a five-year, $82MM free agent deal. This immediately turned incumbent Jays catcher Dioner Navarro into a possible trade candidate, and indeed, at least three teams asked about Navarro in the wake of Martin’s signing. Navarro himself even inquired about being dealt somewhere where he could receive everyday playing time.
This trade speculation was certainly not what Navarro was expecting coming off his solid 2014 campaign. After signing a two-year, $8MM deal with the Jays in December 2013, the switch-hitting Navarro hit .274/.317/.395 with 12 homers last season, reaching new career highs in plate appearances (520) and games played (139). Defense, however, was another story, as Navarro ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of pitch-framing and throwing out baserunners.
As he’s scheduled for free agency next winter, Navarro obviously wants a better platform than a backup catcher/part-time DH role to boost his value as he looks ahead to his next trip into the open market. Keeping Navarro as a backup makes a lot of sense for Toronto despite the presence of another catcher (Josh Thole) on the roster. If Martin can handle R. A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, then Thole’s role as Dickey’s personal catcher becomes redundant, and Navarro offers far more hitting value than Thole.
On the other hand, the Jays are looking to add relievers despite limited payroll space; moving Navarro and his $5MM 2015 salary seems like a logical way to free up some money for further transactions. The Jays are reportedly asking for pitching in return in any Navarro trade, so they’re clearly exploring this strategy already.
The Diamondbacks and Tigers are two teams who have been linked to Navarro on the rumor mill this winter, though Detroit’s interest has been limited to internal discussions at this point. Gerald Laird and Tuffy Gosewisch project as Arizona’s starting catching combo in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s departure, and while the team may think prospect Peter O’Brien is their future at the position, one year of Navarro would both give the D’Backs an upgrade now and still clear the path for O’Brien beyond 2015. The Tigers, meanwhile, look to have Alex Avila and one of Bryan Holaday or James McCann splitting time at catcher. Avila is a question mark due to his concussion history while Navarro would certainly provide a more proven bat than Holaday or McCann.
Catching depth is thin enough around baseball that a number of teams could also be fits for Navarro’s services. In my opinion, the White Sox and Pirates stand out as teams whose hopes of contending would be improved behind the plate by Navarro’s presence, though both clubs already have several catchers battling for those jobs. (In Pittsburgh’s case, admittedly, their focus on catcher defense might keep Navarro off their radar.) The Rangers could see Navarro as a more proven option than their current selection of Robinson Chirinos, Carlos Corporan, Tomas Telis and Chris Gimenez. The Rays could platoon Navarro with the defensive specialist Rene Rivera, though the prospect of an inter-division trade and Tampa taking on a $5MM salary for a part-time player made this seem somewhat unlikely.
Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images
Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team. It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients. As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”
According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14. I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.
Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract. Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December. In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill. While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.
Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed. The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat. Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.
This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints. While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter. Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins. In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.
Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms. The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.” Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.” Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.
Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer. Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal. Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.
Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency. Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.
It is difficult these days to associate the Royals with the quiet side of the game. The club just went to the World Series in the most dramatic of fashions, changing the narrative along the way.
And yet, with all the attention-grabbing moves made around the league this winter, Kansas City seems to have been left off the radar once again. Of emblematic significance, perhaps, the two key players exchanged in the franchise’s most notable recent trade — Wil Myers and James Shields — both now play for the Padres.
But Kansas City has been quite active, as it turns out. Only the remade Braves have signed more MLB deals with free agents. After allowing Shields and one-time cornerstone Billy Butler walk as free agents, GM Dayton Moore dropped over $68MM in new guaranteed money on the table through the open market.
Even more interesting is how the team allocated those funds — all to players on one or two year deals:
- Edinson Volquez, SP: two years, $20MM
- Kendrys Morales, DH: two years, $17MM plus mutual option
- Alex Rios, OF: one year, $11MM plus mutual option
- Luke Hochevar, RP: two years, $10MM
- Kris Medlen, SP: two years, $8.5MM
- Jason Frasor, RP: one year, $1.8MM
- Yohan Pino, SP/RP: one year, unknown amount
The overarching theme, obviously, is that Kansas City did not extend its commitments over any significant length of time. In so doing, the team managed not only to keep its (playoff-profit-fattened) 2015 payroll from straying too far out ahead of $100MM, but kept its powder stashed in the future. With $56MM promised for 2016 but only $22MM and then $2MM in the seasons that follow, the Royals have ample flexibility to re-shape their roster and act flexibly as situations warrant. That is especially important, of course, with their significant group of arbitration-eligible players climbing the ladder toward free agency.
So, we know that Moore decided against making a lengthier investment, despite being rumored at times to be pursuing some bigger names. While it may never be known whether he made realistic pursuit of any longer-term free agents, or would have signed them to deals approaching what they did earn, the fact remains that Kansas City will have limited opportunity to regret the guys it did sign.
But what did the club get for its still-significant cash outlay? The signings represent a mix of hole-plugging and upside-chasing boldness that, I suspect, few saw coming.
Let’s start with the less interesting side of the scale. Volquez, Frasor, and Pino are each different versions of the same basic function: filling innings solidly at a fair price. In their own ways, these additions are also just versions of prior years’ signings (Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen) that the team has found useful in recent years. It represents, perhaps, another version of a phenomenon identified by Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan with regard to the Orioles: avoiding the awful.
Next on the scale come Morales and Rios, two veterans coming off of poor years who received fairly substantial, but still-limited, guarantees. Is this Moore acting opportunistically and hoping that these talented players can reach their previously-established ceilings? Or are they simply veterans filling obvious holes created by departing free agents (Butler, Nori Aoki)? Perhaps it is a bit of both.
While the numbers looked to be on the high side for those two bats, their respective deal lengths are obviously critical. Keeping the commitment short, in this case, may have been worth a premium. (Each also contains a mutual option — which are scarcely exercised, generally. They were likely designed mostly to push back money and tweak the risk/reward rather than to present realistic scenarios of being exercised.)
That brings us to the most variable side of the slide: Hochevar and Medlen. The former, a failed starter-turned-ace reliever, cast the mold so ably filled last year by Wade Davis but missed all of 2014 after tearing his UCL. Kansas City did have a chance to watch his recovery before agreeing to a deal, but the $10MM commitment is nevertheless significant for an injured reliever. But if he can return to form, he will supplement and eventually provide a cheaper, cost-certain alternative to one of the team’s much-ballyhooed triumvirate of relievers.
Likewise, Medlen has been an outstanding starter and remains young, but is now on his second replacement UCL and is a total wild card moving forward. That $8.5MM may go completely down the drain, but could also drop a top-end arm in the skipper’s lap for 2016, to go with whichever of the team’s starter prospects have managed to develop and stick by that time.
The biggest question facing the Royals, coming off of a World Series appearance, was and is whether several of the players who took steps forward (especially late) last year can sustain the momentum. For every prognosticator who sees this compilation as a division favorite, there are probably two who view the Royals as a roughly middle-of-the-road team.
You can count me among the those who are not necessarily expecting big things from Kansas City in 2015. But all generally average teams are not created equal. Some teams have a much wider band of reasonably expected performance than others. Some carry much greater long-term risk, and/or concentrate their hopes and fears in just a few, key acquisitions.
Moore has both spread his bet over multiple, varying types of players and, in so doing, tightly controlled the temporal reach of the downside. His strategy has also left the team with a roster that is flexible in its ability to add surprising younger players and/or remove disappointing veterans. (The Astros, Braves, D’backs, Tigers, and Twins all spent similar amounts of money on quite different mixes of contracts.)
Indeed, it is a grouping of players that allows for continued options over the course of the spring: dealing a reliever if a spike in demand creates an opportunity, extending Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain if the price is right, finding a patch or depth piece if there is an injury or an expected regular struggles in camp, etc. And the resulting aggregation ought to allow plenty of creative room in deciding whether to buy, sell, or selectively fiddle at the trade deadline. Regardless, the roster mix should be rather interesting to track over the year to come.