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While the Indians fell shy of the playoffs, the team still managed to win 85 games despite a pair of key rotation losses in the form of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. As GM of a budget-conscious club, Chris Antonetti will have a limited amount of flexibility as he looks to close the five-game gap that separated his team from the AL Central crown.
- Jason Kipnis, 2B: $49.5MM through 2019 (including buyout on 2020 option)
- Nick Swisher, 1B/OF: $30MM through 2016, plus vesting option
- Michael Bourn, OF: $27.5MM through 2016, plus vesting option
- Michael Brantley, OF: $20MM through 2017 (including buyout on 2018 option)
- Carlos Santana, 1B/C: $15.45MM through 2016 (including buyout on 2017 option)
- David Murphy, OF: $6.5MM through 2015 (including buyout on 2016 option)
- Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF: $2.6MM through 2015 (including buyout on 2016 option)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Marc Rzepczynski, LHP (4.132): $1.9MM projected salary
- Josh Tomlin, RHP (4.033): $1.7MM
- Carlos Carrasco, RHP (3.147): $1.4MM
- Chris Gimenez, C (3.097): $700K
- Bryan Shaw, RHP (3.081): $1.5MM
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (3.027): $2.2MM
- Non-tender candidate: Gimenez
- Mike Aviles, 2B/SS/3B: $3.5MM club option with a $250K buyout
From a non-player standpoint, there figures to be little change within the Indians organization. Former GM Mark Shapiro, now the team president, will again entrust GM Chris Antonetti with structuring a contending club despite limited payroll flexibility. Manager Terry Francona and the coaching staff all seem likely to return as well.
The payroll figures to again be Cleveland’s biggest obstacle, as long-term commitments to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn went south this season. Each player battled injuries and struggled at the plate, making their respective $15MM and $13.5MM salaries look questionable on a team otherwise loaded with many bargains. Also worth noting were the sub-par contributions of David Murphy in his first year with the Indians; his $6.5MM salary in 2015 a year after hitting just .262/.319/.385 and checking in below replacement level further clouds the outfield picture.
With $55MM already committed to the next year’s payroll and possibly another $10MM or so in arb salaries (plus the league-minimum players to fill out the roster), the Tribe could be looking at about $70MM in commitments before making a single decision.
Cleveland finished last in all of Major League Baseball with about 1.437MM fans drawn this season, so it seems unlikely that the team’s payroll will rise significantly from the $80-84MM range that has been set in 2013-14. That will leave Antonetti with somewhere between $10-15MM to augment a roster of affordable contracts.
The Indians can trot out a rotation fronted by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber and followed by breakout 27-year-old Carlos Carrasco. Beyond that pairing, the team can look for another step forward from former top prospect Trevor Bauer and a better overall effort from the hard-throwing Danny Salazar. Josh Tomlin, Zach McAllister and T.J. House represent options in the fifth slot, and House was particularly impressive in 2014, posting a 3.35 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 102 innings. Starting pitching, therefore, doesn’t need to be a major focus for Cleveland this winter, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see some veteran arms added on minor league deals just for depth purposes.
Cleveland’s affordable talent isn’t confined to the pitching staff, however. Standout catcher Yan Gomes will earn just $1MM next season in the first year of a six-year, $23MM contract extension. Carlos Santana and his relatively modest $6MM salary will man first base, with Jason Kipnis and his $4MM salary handling the keystone. Jose Ramirez‘s excellent glove will likely open the season at shortstop, with top prospect Francisco Lindor perhaps pushing for a call-up midseason. And of course, MVP candidate Michael Brantley will be looking to replicate his breakout in left field while earning $5MM.
Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Cody Allen looks like a formidable ninth-inning weapon, and he’s yet to reach arbitration. He can be joined in the late innings by Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Crockett — each of whom posted a sub-3.00 ERA in at least 30 innings of work. Nick Hagadone joins Crockett and Rzepczynski as a left-handed option. Perhaps best of all, none from this group projects to earn more than $1MM, save for Rzepczynski.
Those cost-controlled players are critical for the Indians. While the Swisher and Bourn commitments don’t prevent them from adding another sizable salary or multiple lower to mid-range salaries in 2015, those large contracts do throw a wrench into their offseason approach. Cleveland already has $51MM committed to the 2016 roster — a season in which Kluber and Allen will become arbitration eligible for the first time. Each figures to see a significant hike in salary should his current success continue. Carrasco will be eligible for the second time that year, and if he can come close to replicating this season’s second-half breakout — something Cleveland desperately needs in order to contend — his arbitration raise will also be very steep. Shaw, Rzepcznski, Chisenhall and others will be due further raises heading into 2016.
Essentially, the Indians are looking at the same guaranteed contract structure they face in 2015, but with an arb class that is potentially twice as costly. So, while they may have $10-15MM to comfortably add to the 2015 payroll, they can’t afford to make long-term commitments beyond the upcoming season without either increasing that payroll significantly or moving some salary. For example, a name like Chase Headley looks appealing as an alternative to Lonnie Chisenhall, who hit just .225/.295/.318 after June 30 and is a very poor defender, but Headley would likely send the 2016 payroll well beyond $85MM (assuming Tim Dierkes’ four-year, $48MM contract projection is correct or close to it).
The team’s financial situation makes one-year commitments the most likely for a significant addition, but the free agent market lacks an obvious one-year candidate at third, which is a position of need. The other logical place to upgrade would be in right field or possibly at DH. In those areas, Colby Rasmus could prove an upgrade over Murphy, with Swisher sliding into a primary DH role. The Indians could also buy low on a name like Corey Hart of Kendrys Morales on a one-year deal to serve as the DH, with the hope that Swisher and/or Murphy rebounds enough to handle right field full-time. It wouldn’t take much, after all, to upgrade on the .188/.254/.311 batting line posted by Cleveland DHs in 2014.
Another option for the Indians would be to pursue an upgrade on the trade market. Juan Uribe and Casey McGehee are two short-term options that could make some sense if their respective teams are interested in making a long-term upgrade at the hot corner. There are a number of right fielders that would fit the bill as well, including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton (though the Indians were on his initial no-trade list), Shane Victorino and Gerardo Parra. Cleveland showed interest in Victorino as a free agent two years ago and could have interest again, particularly if Boston is willing to eat some of his salary.
Of course, pursuit of a name like Heyward would present the question of whether or not Cleveland wants to compromise some of its long-term outlook for an improved chance at immediate contention. The Indians do have a strong group of minor league outfielders headlined by Clint Frazier and also including Tyler Naquin, James Ramsey and Bradley Zimmer — each a first-round pick within the past three years. Some fans would likely make the case that a team with long-term payroll constraints should be resistant to trading controllable/league-minimum talent for a one-year upgrade, but being within striking distance of a postseason berth is an oft-fleeting position. The team could consider this its best shot at a division title with the Royals potentially losing James Shields and the Tigers potentially losing Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez, so the argument in favor of a win-now move could certainly be made.
Perhaps the most appealing approach for the front office will simply to be to add a bullpen piece and search for minor upgrades and platoon partners for some of the 2014 regulars that struggled. While they won’t play for top-of-the-market names like David Robertson and Andrew Miller, a number of second-tier options such as Pat Neshek, Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo or Joba Chamberlain would add a veteran presence and deepen the relief corps.
Going that route and experiencing success would also likely require at least one of their faded stars to rebound, which isn’t out of the question. Swisher is just one season removed from totaling 2.3 fWAR and 3.8 rWAR, so a rebound isn’t out of the question. Bourn, too, was somewhat productive in 2013, though to a lesser extent.
The Indians could try to dump one or both players, though that’s no easy feat to accomplish. Still, should the Indians eat the majority of one of their 2015 salaries in order to save $8-10MM in 2016, a long-term commitment for a new addition would certainly be easier to structure.
In the end, barring an unexpected payroll boost for the 2016 season, the team’s 2015 maneuverability is limited. The team will have to determine whether it’s worth compromising its enviable reservoir of outfield prospects in order to make a short-term upgrade, or if the better option is to make minor upgrades where possible and bank on a resurgence among a group of underperforming veterans. For all the ink I’ve dedicated to Bourn and Swisher, the most sorely needed rebound may be one from Kipnis, who slumped to a .240/.310/.330 line after posting elite numbers in 2013.
Though he’s not technically a lock to hit the open market due to a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), Adam LaRoche is a near certainty to be a free agent due to the rarity of such options being picked up by both sides of the agreement. The soon-to-be 35-year-old first baseman should represent one of the few steady power bats on the free agent market.
Power is on the decline league-wide, but LaRoche remains a steady source of home runs from the left side of the dish. He’s averaged 26 homers per season over the past three years (the same number he totaled in 2014), and excluding a 2011 season that was ruined by injuries (more on that below), he’s averaged 25 homers per season dating back to 2005. He’s cleared the 30-homer plateau twice — most recently in 2012 when he went deep 33 times.
Early in his career, LaRoche walked at a decent clip, but he’s taken that ability to new heights since joining the Nationals in 2011. His walk rate in a Nats uniform has been a hefty 12.3 percent, and this past season it ballooned to 14 percent — far and away the best mark he’s posted in a full season.
Correspondingly, LaRoche’s strikeout rate dipped to 18.4 percent — the second-lowest total of his career and the best mark he’s posted since 2005 when he whiffed just 17.3 percent of the time. His 14 percent walk rate this year is almost double the 7.8 percent mark he posted in ’05, however, so it seems fair to say that LaRoche has matured as a hitter. LaRoche chased out-of-zone pitches at just a 25 percent clip this year, which is well below the league average of 31.3 percent. It’s not surprising, then, to see that he averaged 4.04 pitches per plate appearances, which ranked 30th among qualified hitters and tied him with Chase Headley for tops among free agent hitters (Victor Martinez was a close second at 4.03).
LaRoche has a good defensive reputation, and he hasn’t had a negative mark in Defensive Runs Saved since 2009. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him slightly below average over the past two seasons. Scouts around the league will have their own opinions, of course, but it seems unlikely that any would place his defense as a significant negative.
I did a midseason assessment of LaRoche’s free agent stock back in June and noted that while he’s typically shown a platoon split, he had held his own against southpaws with a low average but a .381 on-base percentage. That trend regressed significantly, as LaRoche finished the season with just a .204/.284/.336 line against southpaws. He drew 15 walks in 155 plate appearances against same–handed pitching, but he also whiffed at a 27.7 percent clip against lefties, compared to just 15 percent against righties. There may be some teams that simply don’t want to give LaRoche everyday at-bats given the increased struggles he’s shown against lefties over the past two seasons. (He hit .198/.254/.313 against lefties last year.)
As I referenced previously LaRoche has been durable but he does come with a history of some shoulder issues. He missed about a month of his rookie season due to a separated AC joint in his left shoulder, and he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in that same shoulder in 2011. I’d imagine that he and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Sports will simply point to the fact that LaRoche hit 33 homers the following season and has averaged 149 games over the following three campaigns as proof that it needn’t be a concern, but it may be something that teams want to look at more closely before agreeing to a multi-year deal. He missed a couple of weeks this season with a strained quad, as well, but that appears to be an isolated incident.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 35-year-old first baseman doesn’t exactly have a gleaming baserunning reputation. Fangraphs pegged him at 5.5 runs below average on the basepaths this season. Among free agents, that figure was sandwiched between the marks posted by Billy Butler and Michael Morse, which should give an indication of what to expect from LaRoche’s running. Additionally, age will be a consideration, as this next contract will carry LaRoche into his late 30s.
In his free time, LaRoche is an avid bow hunter and outdoorsman. LaRoche is one of several famous baseball names featured on the Outdoor Channel’s show Buck Commander (along with Chipper Jones and Ryan Langerhans, among others). He’s also a devout Christian and teamed with Denard Span and Ian Desmond to host Faith Day following one of the team’s games at Nationals Park this season, as Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post wrote back in August.
LaRoche was diagnosed with ADD in high school and has dealt with the disorder throughout his career. He’s been taking Ritalin to combat the issue since 2006, which has at times caused him to struggle to maintain his weight, according to this 2013 piece from Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.
Baseball runs in the LaRoche family veins, as his father, Dave, was a two-time All-Star and enjoyed a 14-year Major League career. Adam’s brother, Andy LaRoche, also played in the Majors. The two were teammates with the Pirates in 2008-09. Adam is married with two children, per his bio on the Buck Commander web site.
Milchin can make a very legitimate case for LaRoche as the best first baseman on the free agent market. Morse is younger but comes with durability concerns, Cuddyer has those same durability concerns (and may wish to play an outfield corner), and Corey Hart had a disastrous season. Butler and Martinez are better suited to serve as designated hitters than full-time first basemen, and the same can be said for Kendrys Morales.
LaRoche’s preference is to finish his career in D.C., but that seems unlikely. Ryan Zimmerman‘s chronic shoulder woes have created a persistent throwing problem that will require shifting him to first base or the outfield (an outfield that is currently occupied by Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth). It’s possible the team could deal Span, move Harper to center and put Zimmerman in left, freeing first base for LaRoche’s return. But the more likely outcome seems to me to be that LaRoche will walk, Zimmerman will slide over to first and the Nats will pursue a second baseman or third baseman, with Anthony Rendon occupying the other spot.
Looking around the league, there are a few teams with clear needs at first base. The Brewers’ Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds platoon was a flop, and there’s no clear-cut in-house alternative. LaRoche could receive some interest from his former club, the Pirates, as they look to improve upon Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez. The Marlins are known to be looking for a bat and could upgrade over Garrett Jones. The Mariners could make some sense, but Logan Morrison did have a strong finish, and their lineup already leans left pretty heavily. I can see the Padres showing interest as well, and I’ll list the Blue Jays as a dark-horse candidate with the caveat that they’d first have to trade Adam Lind to a more cost-conscious club (e.g. the Pirates).
The other thing to consider with LaRoche is whether or not he will receive a qualifying offer. Like nearly any veteran player coming off a strong season, LaRoche will want the security of a multi-year deal. However, he also has stated a strong preference to remain with the Nats, and his return could present somewhat of a defensive logjam for the team. Because of their roster construction and his desire to stay, I can see the Nats being a bit hesitant to risk a QO. My expectation is that they’ll buy out his mutual option, but there are scenarios in which he could end up with a QO.
LaRoche struggled to find a suitable deal in his last go-around with free agency despite the fact that he was fresh off a 33-homer season. Part of that, of course, was due to the draft pick attached to his name. He also had steeper competition, with Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher representing younger options coming off very strong seasons.
This time around, LaRoche could be free of draft pick compensation and is arguably the best first baseman on the market. I think something like his previous two-year, $24MM contract with a mutual option is the floor for LaRoche this winter. There’s some case to be made for a three-year deal, which I would imagine to be the target for LaRoche’s camp, but that case would be much stronger had his numbers not dipped in 2013. My prediction is that LaRoche will land in that Napoli range and sign a two-year, $30MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Yankees will have to make additions while sorting through several high-priced injury question marks on their roster as they try to rebound from consecutive years outside the postseason.
- Masahiro Tanaka, SP: $133MM through 2020 (Tanaka can opt out after 2017)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: $126.8MM through 2020 ($21MM club option for 2021, $5MM buyout)
- Brian McCann, C: $68MM through 2018 ($15MM club option for 2019, can vest to become player option)
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B: $61MM through 2017
- C.C. Sabathia, SP: $48MM through 2016 ($25MM vesting option for 2017, $5MM buyout otherwise)
- Brett Gardner, OF: $48MM through 2018 ($12.5MM club option for 2019, $2MM buyout)
- Mark Teixeira, 1B: $45MM through 2016
- Carlos Beltran, OF: $30MM through 2016
- Martin Prado, IF: $22MM through 2016
- Brendan Ryan, SS: $2MM through 2015 ($2MM club option for 2016, become $1MM player option if declined)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Shawn Kelley, RP (5.128): $2.5MM projected salary
- Francisco Cervelli, C (4.146): $1.1MM
- Esmil Rogers, RP (4.087): $1.9MM
- Ivan Nova, SP (4.024): $3.3MM
- Michael Pineda, SP (3.099): $2.1MM
- David Huff, RP (3.062): $700K
- David Phelps, SP/RP (2.156): $1.3MM
- Andrew Bailey, RP: club option for 2015, dollar value unknown
- Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Scott Sizemore, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young
The emotion of the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera retirement tours over the last two seasons may have softened the blow of missing the playoffs for Yankees fans. Now that the last of the “Core Four” has retired, eyes are focused on the present and what the Steinbrenner family, the newly-extended Brian Cashman and a revamped baseball operations department will do to get this team back into contention.
When the Bombers missed the playoffs last year, they responded by spending over $500MM on new contracts for free agents and re-signed talent. It doesn’t seem like the Yankees are prepared for another spending spree, in part because two of last year’s big signings (Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran) underperformed. Combine those setbacks with a huge swath of injuries that sidelined almost the entire Yankees rotation, and it’s somewhat surprising that the club managed to win even 83 games.
The biggest issue facing the Yankees is that many of their highest-paid players can’t be counted on to stay healthy or play up to their usual standard in 2015. C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and has already suffered a decline in performance in recent years. Mark Teixeira managed to play in 123 games last year but his wrist problems will always require a backup option. McCann and Beltran could’ve just had off-years, or they could possibly be on the decline as well.
And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, returning from his year-long suspension as a complete mystery in terms of what he’ll be able to contribute. The plan for A-Rod seems to be a rotation between DH, third base and possibly first base, to spell Teixeira. Until the Yankees know if Rodriguez can handle regular time at third, however, it will somewhat hamstring their other winter plans. They have an interest in bringing back Chase Headley, though obviously Headley will want to play every day, and limiting Rodriguez to a 1B/DH role will cut down on the DH at-bats that might be needed for another aging players like Beltran or McCann.
One possible solution would be to pencil Martin Prado in as the third baseman and to acquire a stopgap option to play second or give prospect Rob Refsnyder a shot at the job. If Rodriguez’s body can hold up under regular playing time at the hot corner, then Prado can then primarily play second base, with the occasional game at 3B to spell A-Rod. Prado’s versatility is a nice tool for the Yankees to have, and since he posted an .877 OPS in 137 PA after joining the club at the trade deadline, his bat may have awoken after a rough first half with the Diamondbacks.
With Rodriguez likely looking at a healthy share of DH at-bats, Beltran will have to see much more time in right field than the 32 games he played at the position last season. Beltran’s elbow injury both kept him out of RF and likely played a big role in his struggles at the plate, so if he’s healthy, he could be back to his usual productive self. For depth’s sake, however, the Yankees will definitely look to add a backup outfielder who could regular playing time or at least would be Beltran’s late-inning defensive replacement. Someone like Gerardo Parra (who the Brewers could non-tender or look to trade this winter) would be a nice fit in this role.
Replacing Jeter is impossible from a big-picture standpoint, though replacing Jeter’s 2014 on-field production (-0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+) at shortstop shouldn’t be hard. There will inevitably be a big media spotlight on whichever player becomes Jeter’s successor at short, and the Yankees have a couple of options: they can pursue a young shortstop as a true long-term heir apparent, or they could look for an established veteran (who might be more used to the pressure) to play the position for a few seasons until a younger option can be groomed or acquired.
If New York chooses the veteran route, there are free agent shortstops like Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie available. Hanley Ramirez is the top free agent shortstop on the market, though if the Yankees are indeed hesitant about giving big money to players over 30 years old, then a player with Ramirez’s injury history and defensive limitations wouldn’t be a good fit. Stephen Drew could be re-signed at a relative discount price, though it’s hard to see the Yankees handing Drew the starting job coming off his poor 2014 season. It’s possible the Yankees’ top choice to replace Jeter may already be off the board, as J.J. Hardy signed an extension with the Orioles rather than test free agency.
If the Yankees went for a younger option at short, they could talk trade with the Diamondbacks or Cubs, each of which have a surplus of young shortstops. Chicago’s surplus, of course, is of a higher pedigree since it involves former All-Star Starlin Castro and blue chip prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote in his recent Cubs offseason outlook piece, however, the timing may not be right for the Cubs to trade their middle infield depth. Plus, even if Chicago was willing to deal, the Yankees may not have the prospect depth to meet the enormous asking price the Cubs would demand for any of those players. Swinging a deal for one of Arizona’s slightly lesser-regarded young shortstops (Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings) could be a more palatable option.
The Yankees acquired Prado using one piece of their catching surplus in prospect Peter O’Brien, and the club still has John Ryan Murphy, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine all battling for the backup job behind McCann. Any two of these players could be expendable with top prospect Gary Sanchez on the farm, though Sanchez has yet to play beyond the Double-A level and is at least a season away from getting serious consideration from a big league job.
The biggest trade chip the Yankees have, of course, is their financial might. Headley, Prado and Brandon McCarthy were all acquired for a fairly negligible prospect return at midseason since New York was simply able to take those contracts off the Padres’ and Diamondbacks’ hands. Rather than surrender draft picks to sign qualifying offer free agents or deal away what little farm depth they have, the Yankees could pursue more trades with rivals looking to create payroll space.
If the Yankees did want to make a splash in free agency, however, Jon Lester could be an attractive target since (due to the fact that he was traded at midseason) he can be signed without any draft pick compensation. The Yankees have a particular admiration for Lester, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and the southpaw would bring both quality and much-needed durability to New York’s rotation. Max Scherzer could also draw interest from the Yankees this winter as another front-of-the-rotation upgrade, not to mention James Shields, who is expected to be available at a lower price than those other two aces.
While adding a top starter could technically give the Yankees a rotation surplus if everyone is healthy, that’s a giant “if” given how many injury-plagued starters are in the rotation. C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and even if he’s 100 percent health-wise, the lefty has still been on the decline for the last two seasons. Ivan Nova will be out until May at the earliest as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Michael Pineda looked dominant when he was on the mound, yet had another injury setback when he missed three months with a bad shoulder.
The most tenuous injury situation involves Masahiro Tanaka, who took MLB by storm in his rookie season before a slight UCL tear caused him to miss 10 weeks. Tanaka returned to make two starts in late September and reported he was pain-free, so for now, it appears the righty may have dodged the Tommy John bullet. Any recurrence of the injury, however, could lead to surgery for Tanaka and at least a year on the DL. Tanaka is yet another high-paid superstar the Yankees don’t know if they can count on in 2015, and his uncertain health status is the club’s strongest argument for making a play for the likes of Scherzer, Lester or Shields.
Shane Greene‘s strong rookie season earned him a spot in the 2015 rotation, so presuming that leaves New York with a tentative starting quartet of Tanaka, Greene, Pineda and Sabathia. If the Yankees don’t land that ace-level pitcher, they could turn to familiar faces in McCarthy (who is open to a return) or Hiroki Kuroda, who is again weighing retirement or a return to Japan.
Kuroda faced the same choice last offseason and rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer before re-signing with the Yankees on a one-year, $16MM deal. It stands to reason that Kuroda will receive another QO this winter — if the Yankees were comfortable in issuing him a qualifying offer last year before knowing if he’d return to MLB, they’d probably feel similarly comfortable this year. Kuroda still posted solid numbers and 199 IP at age 39 last season, and he’ll draw enough interest from teams that I’d suspect he’ll reject this offseason’s $15.3MM qualifying offer to look for another slightly-richer one-year pact. It’s fair to assume the Yankees have the inside track on Kuroda’s services if he does return, though the Dodgers and Angels are also looking for starting pitching and can offer Kuroda a job closer to his home in southern California.
Dellin Betances‘ phenomenal success as the Yankees’ setup man has led to speculation that he could take over as closer in 2015 and New York could afford to let David Robertson leave in free agency. The Yankees are one of the few teams who can afford to issue a qualifying offer to a closer, and while it’s possible the QO could scare off some teams who don’t want to give up a first-round pick to sign a one-inning pitcher, MLBTR’s Steve Adams argued that Robertson’s status as the best closer available will still land him a significant deal, possibly in the range of four years and $52MM. A lockdown bullpen has been such an important part of recent Yankees history that I can see the Bombers re-signing Robertson and re-teaming he and Betances to create a lot of seven-inning games.
With or without Robertson, expect the Yankees to pursue a veteran lefty reliever to fill the hole left by Matt Thornton, who was let go on waivers last summer. Andrew Miller stands out as the best left-handed option (and one of the best relievers in general) available in free agency, and he could serve as Betances’ setup man. The Yankees could take a page from the Royals’ book by signing Miller AND re-signing Robertson, sandwiching them around Betances to create a terrifying late-game relief trio.
David Huff, David Phelps, Shawn Kelley and Esmil Rogers are all eligible for arbitration this winter and since all pitched well in 2014 (at least peripheral-wise in Kelley and Rogers’ cases), expect all four to be tendered contracts and brought back into the bullpen mix. The Yankees could also exercise their inexpensive team option on Andrew Bailey for 2015, though since hasn’t pitched at all since undergoing shoulder surgery in July 2013, Bailey is just a lottery ticket at this point.
The rumor mill inevitably connects the Yankees to virtually every top free agent during the offseason, both because agents like to raise their clients’ asking prices by claiming the league’s big spenders are interested and because the Yankees usually do cast a wide net. Throwing more money at free agents might leave the club with even more albatross contracts, however, and even the Yankees have a spending limit. It’s more likely the Yankees will look to fill their roster holes through trades rather than free agency, though expect them to explore all options lest the playoff drought extend to three years.
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 Diamondbacks with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and which options will be exercised and which will be declined with Steve Adams. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday afternoon and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
- In the wake of the Dodgers hiring Andrew Friedman away from the Rays, Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg told Zach Links he does not plan on changing his no-contract policy for the upper levels of the franchise’s front office. “That’s our policy, for better or for worse. There are positives with it and negatives with it,” Sternberg said. “I put my reputation in their hands and they in mine as well and we have a real level of trust. When it comes to the contract that’s what it’s really all about and it was never really a consideration with Andrew.”
- MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Free Agent Tracker is now available with the start of free agency just a World Series away. It can be found in the Tools drop down menu at the top of the page or in the sidebar under MLBTR Features.
- Speaking of free agents, there were six installments of MLBTR’s Free Agent Profile series this week.
- Tim Dierkes imagines a four-year deal for Ervin Santana worth $56MM.
- Jeff projects two years and $22MM for Michael Morse.
- Same terms for Michael Cuddyer, according to Zach.
- Zach predicts a three-year pact earning $27MM for Asdrubal Cabrera.
- Steve expects Melky Cabrera will sign a five-year, $66.25MM contract while Nick Markakis will collect $48MM over four years.
- MLBTR previewed the Offseason Outlook for the Brewers (by Charlie Wilmoth), Reds (also by Charlie), Blue Jays (by Mark Polishuk), Padres (by Zach), Mets and Braves (both by Jeff).
- Steve pitted right-handed starters Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy in the latest Free Agent Faceoff. More than 57% of you would prefer to sign McCarthy.
- Jeff analyzed the trade candidacy of the Braves’ Evan Gattis.
- Steve hosted this week’s chat.
- Zach compiled the latest edition of Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
Asdrubal Cabrera might not be the player that some envisioned he would be four years ago, but he still holds a ton of value as he gets ready to explore the open market. Save for Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera arguably stands as the winter’s most attractive free agent shortstop option.
At just 28 years old (29 in November), Cabrera has youth on his side, especially when surveying the rest of the available talent pool. Cabrera also boasts four consecutive years of mostly good health with an average of 144 games per season over that span. Of course, that 2011 season was more than just the start of Cabrera’s good fortune in the health department, it was his true coming out party. That season, Cabrera slashed .273/.332/.460 for the Tribe, earning his first All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger trophy.
In 2012, Cabrera earned a second All-Star nomination thanks in part to another strong showing at the plate (.270/.338/.423). The following two years didn’t bring the same kind of accolades and praise, but Cabrera continued to produce. Cabrera’s breakout year was his best to date, but the last three years have shown that he can deliver ~15 homers (he had 16, 14, and 14 the last three years) with some speed on the basepaths.
Cabrera also offers more than just shortstop experience, he also has 1773 2/3 innings of career experience at second base. He mainly plied his craft at shortstop from 2010-2014, but he returned to second this season upon joining the Nationals, so some of the rust from the change should be gone. His ability to play either middle infield position should help increase his market and will also provide his next team with a bit of flexibility. This also isn’t a strong second base market on the whole, so his versatility is a positive.
Defensively, Cabrera leaves much to be desired. For his career, Cabrera has a -10.6 UZR/150 rating at shortstop, putting him well below your average defender. His most recent campaigns haven’t helped either as he posted -16.8 and -10.5 marks in each of the last two seasons. His body of work at second base is better, according to UZR/150, but still far from great. He has a lifetime -2.5 UZR/150 at second and turned in a -5.3 rating in 432 innings for the Nats. Looking for a second opinion? Defensive runs saved has Cabrera as a -10 defender at second base in 2014 and -7 at shortstop. The career total is more favorable for second base (2), but even less so at shortstop (-22).
At the plate, it’s impossible to overlook the drop off that Cabrera has experienced over the last two seasons. In the All-Star years, he slashed a combined .272/.335/.443 with a 118 OPS+, well above the league average. In the last two seasons, he has produced a .241/.303/.394 batting line with a slightly below-average OPS+ of 96. Cabrera’s 2014 walk (7.7%) and strikeout percentages (17.1%) are in line with his career averages, which is to say they’re alright, but not great.
Cabrera and his wife, Lismar, have two children and this winter they’ll welcome another member of the Cabrera clan into the world.
Of course, Cabrera spent his entire big league career in Cleveland before the midseason trade that sent him to the nation’s capital. While he didn’t stomp his feet over being dealt to the Nationals, he was upset to leave what had become a second home for him, telling reporters it was “like [he] grew up” in Cleveland. That feeling was reciprocated in the front office.
”It’s another tough day for a number of us personally because of how much Asdrubal meant to our team and our organization,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said, according to The Associated Press. ”He’s a guy who has impacted two postseasons for us. We’ll obviously miss Asdrubal a great deal.”
In his downtime, Cabrera enjoys being on his farm in Florida where he tends to his horses every morning. Back in Venezuela, he’s a fan of taking his boat out on the water with family and friends.
Even though he prefers the shortstop position and his second half in Washington didn’t produce his finest work, Cabrera has said that he would welcome a return to the Nationals.
“It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said, according to MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko.
That desire to win could, theoretically, lead to a discount for the incumbent Nats. Recently, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider expertly summed up the Nationals’ dilemma at second base. If they want to prioritize offense at the position, then Cabrera is the better choice to make than giving the defensively strong Danny Espinosa an opportunity to take back the job. Our own Jeff Todd suggests that a platoon between Cabrera and Espinosa, who can hit against lefties and serve as a strong defensive replacement, would make sense. The Nats can also use that duo to fill the void if Ian Desmond leaves in free agency next winter. However, it’s not a given that the Nats will be willing to get in the ballpark of what other clubs will offer Cabrera.
If the two sides can’t get on the same page for a reunion, there should be plenty of interest from teams in need of middle infield help. The competition at second base is thin, though Cuban defectors Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera have added some depth there. At shortstop, Cabrera will have to vie with Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie. As noted in Jeff’s recent poll asking the MLBTR commentariat to choose the best option from the trio, Ramirez could be seen more as a third base option than shortstop and the year’s best potential option, J.J. Hardy, is already spoken for.
Teams like the Padres, Reds, and Mets could be interested in signing an impact shortstop, though none of them look the part of a Las Vegas championship favorite for 2015. The A’s and the Blue Jays could both be in the market for a second baseman. The Yankees, meanwhile, are on the lookout for a shortstop and, depending on how things play out, could have a need at second as well. Martin Prado is currently penciled in to fill that role, but if he’s needed elsewhere, the Bombers could look into someone like Cabrera for second.
The dearth of quality free agent middle infielders is something of a double-edged sword for Cabrera. On one hand, he has less competition. On the other, as evidenced by the lack of intriguing available options, a lot of teams are already set, particularly at second base. There are also a few teams with surpluses in that area like the Rangers, Cubs, and Diamondbacks, which could draw attention away from the free agent market.
Ultimately, while he enjoys playing shortstop more, his best bet at winning and cashing in could come as a second baseman. The Nationals should at least have some interest in working out a new deal, even though they didn’t get a redux of Cabrera’s best work. The Yankees, if they shift Prado, can be expected to show interest as well. Because of his age and his ability to play both middle infield positions, I predict that Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM deal.
Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.
After spending much of the 2014 season in first place and then collapsing down the stretch, the Brewers will try to regroup for 2015, perhaps hoping for the best with a talented but flawed core and a marginal, though improving, farm system.
- Ryan Braun, OF: $117MM through 2020
- Matt Garza, SP: $37.5MM through 2017
- Carlos Gomez, OF: $17MM through 2016
- Kyle Lohse, SP: $11MM through 2015
- Jonathan Broxton, RP: $11MM through 2015
- Jonathan Lucroy, C: $7.25MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Gerardo Parra, OF (5.145): $6.4MM
- Marco Estrada, P (5.035): $4.7MM
- Brandon Kintzler, RP (3.101): $900K
- Martin Maldonado, C (2.156): $1M
- Non-tender candidates: Estrada, Parra, Kintzler
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B: $14MM mutual option, $4MM buyout
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $13MM club option, $600K buyout
- Rickie Weeks, 2B: $11.5MM club/vesting option
The Brewers unexpectedly got off to a great start in 2014 and continued that hot start into the summer, with a 51-32 record as of June 28. As the first half of the season became the second, however, the 6 1/2-game lead they had held over the Cardinals evaporated, and in the end they missed the playoffs and barely finished above .500.
The Brewers retained manager Ron Roenicke following their collapse, although they dismissed hitting coach Johnny Narron and first base/infield coach Garth Iorg. Despite any lingering frustrations, it appears unlikely they’ll make many huge moves this offseason.
One position they will likely upgrade is first base, where they’ve struggled to find a reliable contributor since Corey Hart‘s last healthy season with the team in 2012. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay platooned at the position in 2014 and, unsurprisingly, neither of them helped much. Reynolds hit 22 home runs in 433 plate appearances, but with his usual very low batting average and a .287 OBP. Both are free agents; Overbay appears likely to retire. Adam LaRoche (whose mutual option the Nationals are likely to decline) looks like the prize of this year’s free agent class, with the injury-prone Michael Cuddyer and the defensively challenged Michael Morse close behind. The Brewers could also lean on rookies Matt Clark and Jason Rogers, who both hit well with Triple-A Nashville, although both are minor league veterans who might not have much to offer at the big-league level.
The Brewers will also need to figure out what to do with Aramis Ramirez. Given his $4MM buyout, Ramirez’ $14MM mutual option is effectively $10MM for the Brewers. They would be wise to exercise their end, given that Ramirez produced a reasonable 2.1 fWAR while hitting .285/.330/.427 last season. Ramirez would not get the buyout if he were to decline his end, so it might make sense for him to accept his end of the option, particularly if he intends to retire after 2015. He could also decline the option and seek a multi-year deal, however. Ramirez said in July that he planned to reach 2,500 games for his career, which would take at least three more seasons, but he also said in September that he was not sure whether he would play 2015. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicts that Ramirez will ultimately re-sign with the Brewers for two years and $26MM.
The middle infield is mostly set with Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura, although Segura took a big step backward after a strong rookie season in 2013. The Brewers will surely decline their $11.5MM option on Rickie Weeks, who didn’t get enough plate appearances for his option to vest. The 2003 No. 2 overall pick doesn’t expect to be back in Milwaukee in 2015. If he isn’t, the Brewers could pursue a cheap right-handed infielder to platoon with Gennett, or have Hector Gomez, who had a good season at Nashville and is out of options, occupy that role.
The Brewers could also continue with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis in the outfield. Gomez continues to produce at an extremely high level and is a bargain at just $17MM total through the next two seasons. Braun, though, struggled in 2014 (hitting .266/.324/.453, not a good figure for a player with little defensive value), and the $117MM he’s owed through 2020 looks like it could become a problem. Perhaps a healthier Braun (he suffered from a thumb injury this season and has already had unusual surgery to freeze a nerve) can rebound in 2015.
The Brewers could retain Gerardo Parra as an outfield backup — it’s hard to pass on an average hitter and elite defender (although defensive metrics weren’t keen on his 2014 performance). Still, Parra is coming off a disappointing season and will get a modest raise on his $4.85MM 2013 salary, making him an expensive backup. Dealing or non-tendering him might be a way for the Brewers to free up salary. Another possibility might be to move Braun to first base and have Parra start in right field.
Behind the plate, of course, there’s Jonathan Lucroy, who is, like Gomez, an elite, prime-age player signed to a bargain contract. Lucroy’s five-year deal is among the most team-friendly in baseball — it guarantees an MVP-caliber player a mere $11MM and gives the Brewers an option on what would have been Lucroy’s first free agent season (2017) for just $5.25MM.
In the rotation, the Brewers have already decided to exercise their $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, and they also have Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse under contract and a reasonable collection of pre-free agency pitchers in Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and promising newcomer Jimmy Nelson. Marco Estrada could be a non-tender candidate after allowing 29 homers in 150 2/3 innings in 2014, although he’ll still be fairly cheap and his other peripherals were reasonable. The Brewers don’t figure to be big players for free agent starting pitching.
Their bullpen will be trickier. Closer Francisco Rodriguez and lefties Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny will all be eligible for free agency. Duke emerged from oblivion to become the Brewers’ best reliever in 2014, posting a 2.45 ERA with a remarkable 11.4 K/9 in 58 2/3 innings, and his production will be difficult to replace if he departs.
The bullpen’s season demonstrated how crucial a good relief corps can be. Rodriguez, Duke, Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith dominated in the early going, leading the Brewers as they jumped to the division lead. During that time, however, those relievers piled up appearances as little-used Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang occupied a bullpen spot that could have gone to someone capable of soaking up innings. Rodriguez couldn’t keep up his early pace, Smith imploded in July, and Thornburg faded in May and eventually ended up on the DL with an elbow injury. The team also lost Jim Henderson to shoulder problems. Finally, they acquired Jonathan Broxton — and his entire $9MM 2015 salary, plus a $2MM buyout — from the Reds in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
In March and April, the Brewers had the fourth-best bullpen ERA in baseball, at 2.45; in the second half, it was more than a run higher, at 3.62. While variance in bullpen performance is normal, and the team did get some good work from second-tier relievers like Gorzelanny and Jeremy Jeffress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Brewers attempt to avoid last season’s struggles by pursuing bullpen depth this winter. Re-signing or replacing Rodriguez at closer could also be a priority.
Despite the trajectory of their 2014 season, the Brewers’ 82-80 record was about what they should have expected, given their talent. The question is what they’ll do from here. Having two excellent and cheap players in Gomez and Lucroy is a strong place for any franchise to start, but the Brewers’ complementary pieces aren’t nearly as valuable, and it’s unclear where their next group of stars will come from. Including Gallardo’s option, the Brewers already have about $70MM on the books for 2015. Retaining Ramirez will add to that total, as will arbitration raises for Parra, Estrada and catcher Martin Maldonado (assuming Parra and Estrada are retained). The Brewers will need to address first base as well, which should leave them without much money to make a big splash this offseason, given that their highest ever Opening Day payroll was their 2014 total of about $103MM. Perhaps their best shot at an attention-grabbing signing would be if they acquired someone like Chase Headley to play third base, and that would only happen if Ramirez left.
An infusion of star talent doesn’t appear imminent from the minors, either. The Brewers’ farm system has improved after a strong 2014 draft, but they don’t currently have anyone in MLB.com’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game, and their best talents (Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, and top 2014 draftees Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison) have little or no experience in the high minors.
The Brewers are therefore in a tight spot. They don’t appear to be as good as the Cardinals or Pirates, and perhaps they soon won’t be as good as the rapidly improving Cubs. But given the state of their farm system, a rebuild would potentially be long and painful. And as the team’s outstanding 2014 first half suggested, the Brewers are still probably good enough to win an NL Central title or a Wild Card if everything breaks right. If Gomez and Lucroy were to maintain their production in 2015, if Braun and possibly Segura were to return to form, and if a couple more players (Davis and Nelson, say) were to break out, it wouldn’t be a shock if the team won 88 games or so and made the playoffs.
Given that possibility, rebuilding can wait. But if the Brewers get off to a poor start in 2015, expect to hear plenty of rumors about their veterans. In particular, Gallardo, Lohse and Broxton, who can all become free agents after 2015, would likely be fair game.
Last year’s offseason was dedicated in large part to the future, with a series of extensions and key financial moves, but the Braves were well-stocked with talent at the major league level and looked promising to start the 2014 season. After weathering significant pitching injuries early on, however, Atlanta faded badly down the stretch and is now staring at front office changes, a tight budget, difficult decisions, and rising competition in the division.
- Freddie Freeman, 1B: $127MM through 2021
- Andrelton Simmons, SS: $56MM through 2020
- B.J. Upton, OF: $46.35MM through 2017
- Craig Kimbrel, RP: $34MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 option)
- Julio Teheran, SP: $30.6MM through 2019 (including buyout of 2020 option)
- Chris Johnson, 3B: $23.5MM through 2017 (including buyout of 2018 option)
- Justin Upton, OF: $14.5MM through 2015
- Jason Heyward, OF: $8.3MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Kris Medlen, SP (5.137): $5.8MM projected salary
- Jonny Venters, RP (5.000): $1.63MM
- James Russell, RP (5.000): $2.4MM
- Ramiro Pena, UT (4.089): $900K
- Jordan Walden, RP (4.043): $3.0MM
- Brandon Beachy, SP (4.014):$1.45MM
- Mike Minor, SP (3.138): $5.1MM
- David Carpenter, RP (3.016): $1.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: Venters
- Dan Uggla: $13.2MM
Every organization responds differently when it feels that change is needed, and for the Braves, the sense seems to be that a restoration is in order. John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox are still the most powerful figures in the organization, and Frank Wren’s departure will apparently not be met with a broad search for fresh blood in the GM seat. Interim GM John Hart was offered the post full-time, but it still remains unclear whether that is in the cards. Otherwise, the Braves will seemingly look first (and possibly only) at familiar faces such as assistant GM John Coppolella and former assistant GM (and current Royals GM) Dayton Moore. (Recently-resigned Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, Hart’s former AGM with the Indians, has also been mentioned as a possibility, though MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that he does not see O’Dowd as a candidate.) The organization has already set out to get the band back together in the scouting arena, bringing back figures such as Roy Clark and Dave Trembley.
The bottom line: Atlanta’s leadership does not believe that its player intake and development system is producing, and that determination seems to be the chief driver at this point. But with the organization ramping up for a critical new ballpark opening in 2017, what does it all mean for the big league club?
The key issue at the MLB level is, as ever, resource constraints. While Atlanta’s talent level remains high, the team has needs. And while last year’s run of extensions look like good investments overall, the Chris Johnson deal aside, they do not leave a ton of payroll flexibility moving forward. (Of course, the alternative would have been to pay bigger arbitration dollars while possibly losing key pieces to free agency down the line.) Last year’s franchise-record $112MM Opening Day payroll, which resulted in the team’s first losing season since 2008, seems unlikely to be repeated. How much spending capacity will remain? The club already has just under $80MM on the books for 2015, and could dedicate as much as $21MM+ if it tenders arbitration contracts to all of its eligible players.
Non-tenders and trades could free some dollars, but that means difficult choices are fast approaching. Qualifying offers must be made within five days of the end of the World Series, while decisions on arb-eligible players are due December 2nd.
A new GM will surely have a key role in determining the path forward, but given the timeline, the organization may well largely know already what it will do with players in those contractual situations. Indeed, as Hart has indicated, the general strategy appears to be in place. “We don’t need an overhaul,” said Hart. “It’s not a disaster. But there are certainly some things we need to take a look [at].” Acknowledging the “economic challenges” facing the team in building out its roster, Hart added that larger moves are likelier to come via trade than signing.
Regardless of how the decisions are made, a key set of issues involves the rotation, where several important pieces require action. To begin, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, and Gavin Floyd will be free agents, subject to the qualifying offer process. The former seems a good bet to receive a $15.3MM QO, though that is hardly a clear case given the Braves’ financial limitations. It seems unlikely he would accept, since his downside scenario might be another one-year deal at that level of pay, and Atlanta will surely be tempted by the chance of obtaining draft compensation. The likeliest scenario appears to be that he will receive and reject an offer, and find a new club. Harang, meanwhile, could make sense, but barring a late effort at a new deal he’ll have a chance to test the market. And while another attempt at rehabbing Floyd could in theory take place again in Atlanta, he seems unlikely to open the year in any club’s starting five.
If those three arms move on, the rotation will have just three clear members: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Mike Minor. (In spite of his struggles, Minor has too much ability and makes too much financial sense not to have a clear shot at a role.) David Hale is perhaps the likeliest younger player to be a promotion candidate, though Cody Martin may also get a shot after two solid runs at Triple-A.
Otherwise, the Braves will have to decide how to proceed with the two players whose season-ending injuries led to Santana’s signing last year: Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Both are working back from their second Tommy John procedures, which generally come with longer rehab periods and a lower incidence of successful recovery. Given their 2014 arbitration salaries ($5.8MM and $1.45MM, respectively), a non-tender of the former must at least be considered, though Medlen’s established performance baseline is probably too good to pass up. The team could look to work out a less financially onerous arrangement, possibly including a future option in the manner of the D’backs’ deal with Daniel Hudson. (Note that Medlen would be set to reach free agency after the year.)
Even if Medlen and Beachy have successful rehabs, an Opening Day return seems highly unlikely given that the pair was operated on in mid-March. The team could look at the free agent market for further depth. A Floyd-like bid for Brett Anderson would deliver upside, but may not suit the team’s needs. The likelier outcome, perhaps, would be to bring back Harang (though that could well require a two-year deal) or someone in his mold to bridge the gap and provide depth. Innings-eaters on the market include names like Ryan Vogelsong, Colby Lewis, and Kyle Kendrick.
All said, targeting a starter via trade could make sense for the Braves, as Hart suggested. The club is not without options for dealing from its big league roster. I recently explored the possibility of dealing backstop Evan Gattis, with youngster Christian Bethancourt taking over the regular role. Moving the pre-arb Gattis, however, would not deliver any immediate cost savings – indeed, finding a new backup (or re-signing Gerald Laird) would probably add payroll. While Gattis is probably not enough of an asset to bring back a starter who is both cost-controlled and an established producer, the Braves might find enough of those attributes to make a deal attractive.
If Atlanta really wants to add an arm with significant current and future value, it will likely need to consider parting with one of its quality corner outfielders. Both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are entering their final year of control, but are young enough that an acquiring team could place significant value on exclusive rights to negotiate an extension. Of course, that pair accounted for a significant piece of the club’s production last year, so the return would have to be substantial. As others have suggested, it could make sense to explore a long-term deal with one or both while also gauging trade interest in a bid to address other areas of need and possibly add a player with more control. Extending one while dealing the other makes some sense, though the ability to pull off that feat will depend upon other actors (the players and prospective trade partners). One interesting possibility noted by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes would be a swap with the Reds involving Heyward and Johnny Cueto; if both clubs cannot find something else to their liking, such a move might better align with their respective needs in 2015.
Of course, unlike the catching situation, there is no obvious corner outfielder ready to step into a regular role. Among the team’s near-MLB prospects, the best of whom are mostly pitchers, Todd Cunningham is a possibility to take over a slot. But while the 25-year-old improved upon his first go at Triple-A, and is said to be a good defender capable of playing center, he managed only a .287/.347/.406 line with 8 home runs and 19 steals last year at Gwinnett. Other possibilities include a trade of a pitching prospect for an affordable, younger outfielder, a dip into a free agent market that includes names like Norichika Aoki and Alex Rios, or a combination of the above in search of a productive platoon.
Then, there is the fact that the team already has questions in center, where a struggling and expensive B.J. Upton looks nearly immovable. Last we heard, the Braves and Cubs intended to revisit the possibility of a bad-contract swap also involving Edwin Jackson. Otherwise, unless someone like Cunningham delivers a big spring, Atlanta could be forced to put Upton back in the lineup and hope for a turnaround.
The infield, at least, is much more settled. First baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons are perhaps the only names sure to be written into the Opening Day lineup card, though the rest of the diamond will almost certainly be filled internally as well. Third baseman Chris Johnson is likely to have a chance to return to his 2013 levels, given that his extension does not even kick in until this year, though he may soon be challenged by prospect Kyle Kubitza. And at second, the Braves will wait out the tail end of the disappointing Dan Uggla contract — since he was released, there is no longer any hope of saving any cash — while fielding second-year player Tommy La Stella. Of course, the much-hyped 20-year-old Jose Peraza could become a factor if he continues to impress, though he has taken only 195 plate appearances at the Double-A level.
The bullpen, likewise, seems destined to continue in much the same form as last year. Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, and James Russell make up a strong back end. And a series of other arms – Anthony Varvaro, Shae Simmons, Chasen Shreve, and Luis Avilan among them – deliver ample depth. Though none of these arms (Kimbrel excepted) will make a large mark on the balance sheet, it is possible to imagine Atlanta dealing from depth to sweeten the pot in a larger trade while potentially freeing up a little bit of extra spending capacity. The team will likely need to try to work something out to keep Jonny Venters; the outstanding 29-year-old lefty is attempting a rare return from a third Tommy John procedure, and his arb price tag looks steep given that he did not even receive his latest UCL replacement until the end of August.
In the end, the Braves continue to be a team with plenty of talent, and it would not be surprising to see a rebound year. But given the financial constraints, the front office’s own seemingly negative take on the talent pipeline, and the looming free agency of Heyward and Upton, Atlanta will need to balance carefully the present with the future. Though dealing away expiring contracts for prospects holds some facial appeal, and the 2017 ballpark opening looms large from a business perspective, Atlanta has not been known to take that tack in the past. Creativity, then, will be the key; but first the front office situation will need to be decided.
Despite an injury plagued 2014, Michael Cuddyer figures to be amongst the more heavily pursued free agent position players of the winter. The 35-year-old (36 by Opening Day) played in just 49 games in 2014, but his offensive numbers are more in less in line with his 2013 output and there’s always a market for effective bats with some pop. His last trip through free agency netted a three-year, $31.5MM contract and he’s now in position to land yet another lucrative deal.
Over the last three seasons in Colorado (280 games), Cuddyer owns a .307/.362/.525 batting line with 46 homers. His best work in Colorado came in the sandwich year of 2013 when he was NL batting champion with a .331 average at the plate. And, while Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, it wasn’t just the home altitude that helped Cuddyer knock 20 homers and post the NL’s fourth-highest slugging percentage (.530) in that season. The veteran hit eleven homers at Coors and nine dingers on the road in 2013. Meanwhile, his wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, explained masterfully by Fangraphs here) of 138 was the best showing of his career at the time, putting him well ahead of the league average and 14 percentage points above his previous watermark from Minnesota in 2009. In a smaller sample, he topped that with a wRC+ of 151 this past season.
Somewhat surprisingly, Cuddyer consistently posts average or better marks in baserunning value, according to Fangraphs. Cuddyer has a strong career BsR of 8.3 and his recent marks of 0.0, 1.1, and 1.3 in the last three seasons would indicate that he has been at least an average runner. At this point in his career, he’s probably not the fastest guy out there, but the numbers would suggest that he’s smart on the basepaths.
Cuddyer offers some versatility as he could be slotted in as a first baseman or an outfielder. He also won’t have a qualifying offer attached to him and won’t require the forfeiture of draft picks.
Cuddyer averaged roughly 150 games per year in his final three seasons with the Twins, which helped lead to his big payday in Colorado. Unfortunately, he’s averaged ~93 games per season since and saw time in just 49 games in 2014. In 2012, an oblique injury cost him the majority of August and all of September. He played 130 games in 2013, but a neck injury shelved him for two weeks in May. Last season, a painful shoulder fracture and a pair of strained hamstrings led to Cuddyer being mostly out of commission. Teams are sure to be wary about that as he approached his age-36 season.
Cuddyer has experience at multiple positions but he’s not Gold Glove material at any of them. For his career, Cuddyer has a -8.0 UZR/150 rating in right field and his -4.4 rating at first base also leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, Cuddyer’s shaky defense has watered down his significant offensive contributions, especially in recent years. In 2013, despite his strong performance at the plate, he registered a rather pedestrian WAR of 2.4.
Michael and his wife, Claudia, have three children. When he’s not on the diamond, Cuddyer likes to indulge in his own favorite childhood pastime: magic. In 2012, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com asked an audience member for his take on Cuddyer’s skills.
“He’s blowing guys’ minds here,” Jason Giambi said of Cuddyer. “[The tricks] are as good as any I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I live in Vegas and I get to see a lot of those shows. They’re pretty incredible.”
As Cuddyer told Crasnick, he used the tricks as an icebreaker with his teammates when he arrived in Colorado. Then-GM Dan O’Dowd spoke highly of Cuddyer as a positive figure in the locker room.
“Not only is he a good player — and will be for a significantly long period of time — but if you talk to anybody in the game, he innately just ‘gets it.’ He challenges people in his own way to be all about the team,” O’Dowd said.
Cuddyer loves being in Colorado, owner Dick Monfort wants to keep him, and manager Walt Weiss hopes that he’ll return since he “means so much to [the] club, in ways that go beyond the stat sheet.” Unfortunately, monetary constraints will probably get in the way of a reunion. Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post recently wrote that it’d be hard to see the Rockies paying even $4-6MM for Cuddyer next season. You never know for sure how the market will break, but that probably won’t get it done.
The Pirates, Brewers, and Marlins are among the teams that are expected to shop for a first baseman and the Padres could be added to that list if they don’t have confidence in Yonder Alonso‘s abilities. Meanwhile, the Astros and Mets will be shopping for a corner outfielder and Cuddyer could fit within their budgets. Cuddyer also holds appeal as a DH so we could see a return to the American League in that role.
If Cuddyer was coming off of something resembling a full season, his contract outlook would be quite different. Given his age and health issues, a one or two-year deal seems likely but another three-year deal probably isn’t in the cards.
Still, there will be plenty of teams willing to give Cuddyer a substantial sum of money and it could even rival the average annual value of his three-year, $31.5MM Rockies contract. I predict Cuddyer will land a two-year, $22MM deal this winter. If he stays healthy, it may not be his last big payday either.
Michael Morse has provided notice that he is still a force at the plate, but his defensive limitations remain a major factor in his market. He made good on the one-year, $6MM deal he signed with the Giants, but what kind of contract will he achieve in his second successive turn at free agency?
You could probably write this section fairly in just one word: bat. Over 482 plate appearances with the Giants, Morse put up a strong .279/.336/.475 slash with 16 home runs. That line does not quite reach the monster figures he tallied in 2011 with the Nationals — .303/.360/.550 with 31 long balls – but nevertheless indicates that his down season in 2013 can be chalked up in large part to a nagging wrist injury that required offseason surgery.
Notably, the right-handed-hitting Morse is productive against both righties (121 career wRC+) and lefties (121 career wRC+). Though he may never again be a truly elite power hitter, he has bumped his ISO back to just under the .200 level and could well improve on his career-low 15.1% HR/FB rate with a move to a ballpark that better suits his notable pop to the opposite field gap.
In truth, there is not much to dislike about Morse’s bat. Detractors could point to a slightly rising strikeout rate, but there is no spike that is way out of line with his career numbers. And Morse has had plenty of success with the same general mix of Ks and free passes. Likewise, his numbers in 2014 should arguably be downgraded due to the fact that he carried a sizeable .348 BABIP. (Notably, Morse’s rough 2013 season was driven in part by a .254 average on pitches he put in play.) But despite his lack of speed, Morse has put up three seasons of .330-or-better BABIP figures because, well, he hits the ball really hard. With all of his batted ball, pitch recognition, and contact numbers lining up cleanly with his career norms, Morse seems a good bet to continue to produce at a solidly above-average rate with the bat.
All said, Morse would be quite valuable even in a pure DH role, especially since he does not need a left-handed-hitting platoon mate. But that may still sell short his value somewhat. While Morse is widely acknowledged to be a very poor defensive outfielder (more on that below), he has somewhat surprisingly seen relatively little action at first in his career. Over 1,259 2/3 career innings at that spot, he has rated out as a slightly below-average defender. While that may not seem at first glance to be much of a feather in his cap, that decent performance in sporadic playing time provides hope that Morse could be a more reliable option if he were to open the spring with a first baseman’s mitt and use it steadily over a season. And it bears recalling that Morse started out his career as a shortstop, and even saw 450 big league innings there in his rookie season with the Mariners. Though he’ll never be graceful, it seems plausible to think that Morse could take on a full-time job at first.
A hot start, mid-season swoon, and late-year rally is generally not the worst way to hit your walk year. But for Morse, that year all but ended when August flipped to September. Sidelined with a strained oblique, Morse saw just two plate appearances in the season’s final month. And as of this writing, Morse has taken just four trips to the dish during the Giants’ postseason run, though the most recent produced a memorable home run.
That slightly unfortunate, essentially minor injury could probably be forgotten in large part were it not for Morse’s lengthy docket of maladies. The towering slugger has missed significant time over each of the last three seasons – to say nothing of several earlier DL stints – for various aches, pains, and strains. In the aggregate, since that 2011 full-season breakout, Morse has averaged 107 games and 416 plate appearances a year. In particular, acquiring teams that intend to utilize him in the outfield will need to account for the distinct possibility that a full year of production may not result.
Of course, whether to use Morse as a regular outfield option at all is open to question. Among players with at least 1,000 innings in the outfield over the last three years, Morse ranks fifth from the bottom in total negative defensive value by measure of both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. And the eye test tends to support these findings.
Baserunning, likewise, is a clear negative for Morse, who was one of the league’s worst runners this year and probably will be for the rest of his career. He will turn 33 just before the start of the 2015 campaign, though that is still a fair sight younger than several other first base/DH options set to hit the market.
Morse, who was married in 2012, currently lives within walking distance of AT&T Park, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He grew up in Florida, ultimately being drafted by the White Sox out of high school, but also spent time in Jamaica as a child.
Bearing a nom de guerre of “the Beast,” Morse is one of the most colorful players in the game. Whether performing his “Samurai Cobra Snake” routine before entering the box, spinning “Take On Me” before his third plate appearance of a game, or re-enacting a ghost swing before trotting out a grand slam after a review, Morse is undeniably an entertaining presence at the ballpark.
While the Giants signed him as an outfielder, Morse’s time there in a regular capacity probably should and will come to an end. Though National League teams in need of a first baseman could make a slight roll of the dice on Morse’s defense, the most obvious landing spot remains with an American League club. Lacking platoon splits, he would be an attractive option to share time at first with a more platoon-oriented hitter while taking the rest of his hacks from the DH spot.
Clubs like the Rangers, Mariners, and White Sox seem to be possibilities, and the Royals may be in the market for a Billy Butler replacement. Were Victor Martinez to find a new team, it is possible to imagine the Tigers giving Morse a look to share first base and DH duties with Miguel Cabrera. And several N.L. teams – the Padres, Brewers, Marlins, and possibly the Pirates come to mind – could see merit in installing Morse at first. Should consideration be given to using him in the outfield, it is conceivable that the Giants, Reds, and Mets could get involved. Depending on how the Phillies proceed with their situations at first, third, and the corner outfield, Morse could theoretically land there as well.
As for comps, recent contracts given to Marlon Byrd (2/$16MM), Adam LaRoche (2/$25MM plus loss of a draft pick), and perhaps Mike Napoli (2/$32MM plus sacrifice of potential draft compensation) seem the most relevant points of reference. Byrd’s age and near-past disappearance from relevance certainly had a major impact on his market, though he is a more able defender than Morse. And Napoli’s strong work at the plate and in the field, combined with an age, seem to make his number out of reach. As for LaRoche, it is hard to ignore the fact that he was coming off of a 33-home run year and was generally well-regarded as a defensive first baseman (whatever the metrics may say).
Ultimately, even without the qualifying offer penalty, Morse seems likely to land shy of LaRoche’s deal. That is especially so given the fact that he faces relatively steep competition from bat-first players such as LaRoche (now again a likely free agent), Michael Cuddyer, Billy Butler, and (on the high side) Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez.
Morse’s representatives at ACES will probably ask for three years, but there is sufficient market competition that I see a shorter pact as the likelier outcome. Though a qualifying offer is unlikely to weigh down his value, Morse has his limitations as a player. Ultimately, I predict that he will land a two-year, $22MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
On the heels of their first winning season since 2010, the Blue Jays are hoping to take the next step and reach the playoffs, though they may need to get creative with their payroll to make room for roster upgrades.
- Jose Reyes, SS: $66MM through 2017 ($22MM club option for 2018)
- Mark Buehrle, LHP: $19MM through 2015
- Jose Bautista, OF: $14MM through 2015 ($14MM club option for 2016)
- R.A. Dickey, RHP: $12MM through 2015 ($12MM club option for 2016)
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: $10MM through 2015 ($10MM club option for 2016)
- Ricky Romero, LHP: $7.5MM through 2015 ($13.1MM club option for 2016)
- Dioner Navarro, C: $5MM through 2015
- Maicer Izturis, IF: $3MM through 2015 ($3MM club option for 2016)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Brett Cecil, RP (4.152): $2.6MM projected salary
- John Mayberry, 1B/OF (4.095): $1.9MM
- Josh Thole, C (4.085): $1.4MM (Thole will be arb-eligible if his option is declined)
- Juan Francisco, 3B/1B (3.147): $2.2MM
- Danny Valencia, 3B (3.118): $1.7MM
- Brett Lawrie, 3B (3.055): $1.8MM
- Non-tender candidates: Francisco
- Brandon Morrow, RHP: $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- Adam Lind, 1B/DH: $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- J.A. Happ, LHP: $6.7MM club option with a $200K buyout
- Sergio Santos, RHP: $6MM club option with a $750K buyout
- Dustin McGowan, RHP: $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Josh Thole, C: club option, unconfirmed value
With the exception of Dioner Navarro‘s modest two-year, $8MM free agent contract last offseason, the Blue Jays have gone almost two full calendar years without a major transaction. Granted, the Jays reshaped their roster with some huge moves over last two months of 2012, but the lack of any significant follow-up has raised controversy in Toronto. Since the Jays led the AL East for over a month and finished only five games out of a wild card spot, fingers were pointed by both fans and some players at GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Rogers Communications ownership group for not making any acquisitions that could’ve put the team over the top.
A weakened Canadian dollar, the hiring of a new Rogers CEO within the last year and Rogers spending $5.2 billion to acquire NHL TV rights over its Sportsnet channels have all been cited as theories for the lack of Blue Jays-related spending. It could also simply be that the club’s $137MM payroll represents the full budget, so Anthopoulos wasn’t authorized to spend any further. Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that Anthopoulos will have more than that $137MM figure to work with, and it’s possible the 2015 payroll could be lower.
Certainly, lots of teams would love to have “just” a $137MM budget, though Anthopoulos doesn’t have much room to maneuver given that $96.2MM is committed to only eight players for 2015. Roughly $11.6MM (as estimated by Matt Swartz for MLBTR) will be paid to their arbitration-eligible players if all are tendered contracts, though Josh Thole‘s contract option can be exercised instead of going through the arb process and Juan Francisco stands out as a non-tender given how little action he saw over the season’s final weeks. That adds up to at least $104MM for 13 players, plus the Jays figure to pick up at least a few of their outstanding team options lest they create more holes on the roster.
Payroll space is of particular concern in regards to Melky Cabrera, whose solid bounce-back season will net him a significant free agent contract. Cabrera wants to stay in Toronto and the Blue Jays want him back, yet it remains to be seen if the two sides can match up on a new deal. The Jays will issue a Cabrera a qualifying offer at the very least, and as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his latest Free Agent Power Rankings, teams could be hesitant to surrender a first-rounder and give an expensive multiyear deal to a player with a below-average glove and a PED suspension on his record.
This being said, Dierkes still ranked Cabrera as the eighth-best player in free agency since quality bats are a rare commodity this offseason. The Jays might be out of luck if they’re hoping the QO limits Cabrera’s market enough that they can re-sign him at a relative bargain. In his free agent profile of Cabrera, MLBTR’s Steve Adams made the point that the outfielder might actually be the safest bet among the top available hitters — Cabrera is younger and has more defensive value than Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz, and he is a proven MLB quantity, unlike Yasmany Tomas.
Cabrera could be the litmus test for how tight a payroll crunch Toronto is facing. Something like Adams’ predicted five-year, $66.25MM contract isn’t an unreasonable sum for a team that has designs on contending and has only one player (Jose Reyes) guaranteed money past the 2015 season. If Cabrera signs elsewhere for such a deal, it’s a sign the Jays will continue to limit spending.
If Cabrera leaves, the Jays will have two outfield spots to fill since center fielder Colby Rasmus seems as good as gone. Rasmus had a disappointing season overall and received only 14 plate appearances in September as the Jays instead used younger players in center field. He seems likely to pursue a one-year deal elsewhere to rebuild his value, leaving the Jays with a combination of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and top prospect Dalton Pompey juggling the center field duties. That trio and John Mayberry could form platoons in left and center, though you’d imagine that would only be the last-ditch plan if a more established everyday outfielder couldn’t be found to handle one of the two spots. Top-tier outfield free agents like Tomas and Cruz will be too expensive, so the Jays could pursue a trade for a left fielder and let the youngsters handle center.
Casey Janssen posted a 1.23 ERA in the first half of the season and a 6.46 ERA in the second half, as he was clearly affected by a severe bout of food poisoning during an All-Star break vacation. That late slump seemed to cinch his departure from the team, and Janssen won’t be the only notable relief arm to leave — Sergio Santos‘ $6MM option will surely be bought out after a rough season and Dustin McGowan‘s $4MM option is a bit pricey for a reliever without a defined role as a closer or setup man. McGowan still put up solid numbers once he became a full-time relief pitcher, however, so it’s possible the team could decline the option and seek a new contract with its longest-tenured player.
Some bullpen improvements are necessary after the Jays’ relief corps posted a collective 4.09 ERA in 2014, the sixth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball. The Blue Jays will look to upgrade the pen by adding setup relievers rather than pricey free agent closers, and then the setup options would either form a closer committee or one would eventually emerge as the ninth-inning preference. Top starting prospect Aaron Sanchez was dominant in a relief role in 2014, though the Jays would prefer to stretch him out as rotation depth rather than use him for significant bullpen innings.
The rotation went from a glaring weakness in 2013 to a relative strength in 2014. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were their usual solid selves, top prospect Marcus Stroman exploded onto the scene with an impressive rookie season, Drew Hutchison recorded 184 strikeouts over 184 2/3 innings in his first year back after Tommy John surgery and J.A. Happ rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013. Since Happ pitched well enough for his $6.7MM option to be exercised, Toronto projects to have the same starting five next year, with young arms like Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin providing depth in the minors or the bullpen. After two injury-shortened seasons, Brandon Morrow‘s $10MM club option is expected to be declined.
Anthopoulos isn’t ruling out the idea of adding another veteran starter in a trade, though I’d be surprised if the likes of Stroman, Hutchison or Sanchez were dealt given how the GM has so often spoken of the importance of young pitching depth. Could Anthopoulos make a lateral move by trading Buehrle? The idea has been broached in the Toronto media as a way to open up salary space, as while Buehrle is the definition of a reliable starter, he might not be worth the $19MM he’s owed in the final year of his contract.
I’m not sure dealing any pitching is a wise move given that the Jays would be lucky to replicate the general good health their rotation enjoyed in 2014. If they do make a move, however, I’d suggest dealing Dickey over Buehrle. The Jays might well have to eat some of that $19MM to make a deal happen and get a good MLB-ready piece back in return for Buehrle, while Dickey has a more palatable contract ($12MM in 2015, $12MM team option for 2016) to trade partners. From Toronto’s perspective, Dickey is also over four years older, hasn’t pitched as well as Buehrle in 2013-14 and is a bit more of a question mark simply by dint of being a knuckleballer.
Some of the same logic in trading Buehrle or Dickey to free up payroll space applies to Reyes, who is owed $66MM through 2017. The larger term and salary makes dealing Reyes a tall order, however, especially considering Reyes’ injury history and his declining defense; he hasn’t posted an above-average UZR/150 since 2008. Reyes reportedly played through injuries for much of the season so the Jays will have to hope that he’ll be healthy and productive for the remainder of his contract.
Reyes, Navarro, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie hold down everyday positions around the rest of the diamond, though Lawrie’s actual position is up in the air. The Jays would prefer to see his excellent third base glove remain on the hot corner, though Lawrie saw some time at his old second spot last season and could be moved semi-permanently if the Jays can acquire an everyday third baseman. Of course, Lawrie isn’t a stable option himself, having spent significant time on the DL in each of the last three seasons.
There aren’t many attractive 2B/3B options within Toronto’s price range in free agency, so a trade might again be the ideal route for an upgrade. I cited the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena as a trade candidate in my Red Sox offseason outlook piece, and Valbuena (coming off a .249/.341/.435 season with 16 homers in 547 PA) might make even more sense for the Jays since he can play both second and third. The Marlins, White Sox and Rockies are all teams with second base depth that could be available in trades, and there’s plenty of room for improvement given that Toronto’s second basemen combined for only 0.5 fWAR in 2014.
Right now, Ryan Goins and Steve Tolleson are the top choices to platoon at second base, while Maicer Izturis will be in the mix. Izturis had a terrible 2013 season and was injured for almost all of 2014, so his three-year, $10MM contract has thus far been a bust for the Jays. Munenori Kawasaki was outrighted off the Jays’ 40-man roster but there’s a good chance the fan favorite infielder will be brought back as a minor league depth option.
A broken foot limited Adam Lind to only 318 PA last year, yet his injury history and inability to hit left-handers don’t offset his value as a righty-smashing bat. Lind posted a .942 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2014, so expect the Jays to exercise his $7.5MM option and use him in his usual role as a primary DH and part-time first baseman. Mayberry or Valencia fit as right-handed hitting complements to Lind at DH, or Reyes could even see some action at DH as an effort to keep him fresh.
Anthopoulos has stressed durability as one of his key musts for any new player, which goes towards a general team-wide goal to cut down on injuries and add bench depth. It’s no coincidence that the Jays’ red-hot stretch in May and early June came when they had almost all of their key performers healthy at the same time. They lacked the depth to withstand multiple injuries, however, and ultimately fell apart around the time when Encarnacion, Lind and Lawrie’s DL stints overlapped.
With promising young talent and and a very good veteran core, there is a lot to like about the 2015 Blue Jays on paper. They could be close to being serious contenders, and yet if the youngsters don’t pan out or the veterans start to decline, the Jays’ window of contention could just as easily start closing given how many key talents are only controlled (via team options) through 2016. The unknown payroll situation and the possibility that team president Paul Beeston could depart also adds to the winter uncertainty. The Jays have been so mysteriously quiet over the last two years that it’s hard to predict exactly how busy they’ll be before Opening Day, though with so many areas that need addressing, the club can’t get away with another offseason on the sidelines.