MLBTR Originals Rumors

MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:

  • Host Jeff Todd welcomed agent Jim Munsey on the latest installment of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast. Topics included Munsey clients Jarrod Saltalamacchia (recently signed to a minor league contract by the Diamondbacks after being released by the Marlins), injured relievers Sean Burnett and Neil Wagner, and the challenges and rewards of running a smaller agency. A new episode of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunesSoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Charlie Wilmoth revisits the flaws in the DFA/waiver system and proposes granting free agency to any player designated for assignment within 60 days of being claimed (like the now-released Alex Hassan).
  • Tim Dierkes was the first to learn right-hander Joe Blanton has rejected numerous offers to play in Asia to remain in the Royals organization and continue his bid to return to the Majors.
  • Steve Adams was the first to report Cuban second baseman/outfielder Yosvani Garcia has been declared a free agent by MLB.
  • MLBTR broke the news first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp opted out of his minor league deal with the Dodgers.
  • Steve asked MLBTR readers whether the Astros should be involved in the Cole Hamels trade market. Nearly 43% of you believe they should make a play for the prized left-hander.
  • Steve learned left-hander Joseph Ortiz cleared waivers and was outrighted by the Cubs to Triple-A.
  • Zach Links put together the best of the baseball blogosphere in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
  • Steve hosted the MLBTR live chat this week.

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Another Look At Flaws In The Waiver System

Yesterday, the Athletics claimed outfielder Alex Hassan from the Rangers, marking the fifth time in the past seven months that Hassan has been claimed. Since November, Hassan has been property of the Red Sox, then the Athletics, then the Orioles, then the Athletics again, then the Rangers, and then the Athletics for a third time.

To outside observers, Hassan’s lengthy recent transaction history is merely a curiosity, but as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote in a lengthy piece that we highlighted earlier today, frequent claims and DFAs can be a significant problem for players, both personally and professionally. MacPherson writes that the MLBPA is likely to address the issue in negotiations for the next CBA, and it’s easy to see why the union is concerned. In recent years, players like Hassan, Adam Rosales, Gonzalez Germen and Alex Castellanos have been designated for assignment several times in short periods. While the waiver loop in which Hassan found himself is a minor problem in the grand scheme, it clearly was not a minor problem to him, and it served little purpose for all the teams that claimed and then designated him.

Some employment uncertainty is a necessary and understandable aspect of playing pro baseball, but players on the fringes of 40-man rosters have a particularly difficult time. Unlike players who are frequently moved back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, players who are frequently designated and claimed often must move from one set of unfamiliar environs to another.

Also, while they’re in DFA limbo, they can’t play. That might not be a big deal for a player who is designated once, but it’s a problem for a player who is repeatedly designated in a short span of time. For example, as I noted in a post on this topic in early 2013, a series of DFAs prevented outfielder Casper Wells from playing in a game in 2013 until late April (April 23, to be exact), even though he was healthy. (Wells got designated for assignment again a week after I wrote that post.) The worst aspect of Wells’ situation was that he was in DFA limbo for a full ten days between when the Mariners designated him March 31 and the Blue Jays claimed him April 10, and another eight between April 14, when the Jays designated him, and April 22, when they finally traded him to the A’s.

One easy fix the MLBPA could consider suggesting, then, is to shorten the maximum DFA limbo period, as an MLBTR reader proposed in the comments to my 2013 piece. The current ten-day wait seems unnecessary and anachronistic. Even waiver periods in fantasy leagues usually only last a day or two. And teams shouldn’t need much time to collect information about a player they’re considering claiming once he’s in DFA limbo, because he’s no longer playing and thus cannot be scouted, except through video.

Unlike Wells, Hassan never had to spend anywhere near the full ten days in limbo. But he still felt behind in his routines, particularly since he bounced around so much since the start of Spring Training. “You’re just behind,” he tells MacPherson. “I’m like, ‘Man, honestly, it’s not my mechanics. It’s not anything like that. I just feel behind.’ The frustrating thing about that is that there’s no real fix for that other than going out and playing and getting the at-bats. … I can’t simulate that.”

This is especially unfortunate for Hassan, since the reason he and players like Wells keep getting designated and claimed is because they’re on the fringes. A series of odd breaks from their routines over the course of a month or two might not sound like an insurmountable obstacle, but for a fringe player, it might make or break his career. Equally problematic, as Hassan points out elsewhere in MacPherson’s article, is the fact that a player in his position must perform well immediately after being claimed, or risk being designated for assignment again.

At its best, the waiver system allows fringe players to find situations for which they’re best suited. A good recent example is that of Stolmy Pimentel, an out-of-options reliever who couldn’t break camp with the Pirates but got claimed by the Rangers, who had greater flexibility in their bullpen than Pittsburgh did. Pimentel has mostly performed well in Texas so far.

At its worst, though, the system is disruptive, and one potential problem is that a team can claim players it has no intention of using on its big-league roster and essentially take a free shot at trying to sneak them through waivers again and use them as minor-league depth. That might have been what the Blue Jays were trying to do with Wells and several other players during that period, and we might be seeing it again with, say, the Dodgers’ recent claims and immediate outrights longtime Reds farmhands Daniel Corcino and Ryan Dennick. The possibility of outrighting Hassan was surely at least part of the reason Hassan got claimed so many times. If it was, the teams who claimed him were behaving rationally, given the rules currently in place. They claimed him and tried to sneak him through waivers; as long as they didn’t mind him occupying a roster spot for a few days or weeks, they didn’t lose anything as a result of having claimed him, and were no worse for wear when their attempts to sneak him through waivers didn’t work.

In my 2013 post, I suggested that a team claiming a player should have keep him on its 40-man roster for 30 days before designating him again. That would have been an improvement over the current system, but upon reflection, it might not have given teams an appropriate amount of flexibility, since injuries can crop up at any time and force teams to change their plans.

An alternate possibility, then, might be to make every player designated for assignment eligible for free agency if he has previously been claimed in a specified time frame — say, the last 60 days. Such a player could also again receive the right to opt for free agency if he’s outrighted as a result of that DFA, even if he’s being outrighted for the first time. That would free the player to sign wherever he liked, as quickly as he liked, and allow him to find the situation and contract that fit him best. It would also disincentivize the practice of claiming a player purely to try to sneak him into the minors.


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MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:


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Early Returns On The Winter’s Minor League Signings

With the month of April in the rearview mirror, we’ve had the chance to see some early results from minor league free agents. Though signed without any financial commitments, many such players have an impact. To take an extreme example, J.D. Martinez signed with the Tigers just before the start of the 2014 season — here’s the story the deal warranted — and has been worth better than four wins above replacement since.

It’s too early to know where it’ll all end up, but let’s have a glance at some of the most impressive performances to date from players who couldn’t find guaranteed money over the winter.

Immediate Impact

These players have put up quality results out of the gates:

John Axford, Rockies – Though he has tossed just five innings after missing time to deal with a frightening episode with his young son, Axford has impressed when available. He’s yet to allow a run while striking out six batters, and still brings mid-90s heat.

Rafael Betancourt, Rockies – The 40-year-old has been nothing short of dominant in his return from Tommy John surgery. Through 9 2/3 innings, he has permitted just two earned runs and five hits while striking out 11 and walking only one batter.

Kelly Johnson, Braves – For a team that needed help at second and third as well as in the run production department, Johnson has brought much-needed pop. He owns a .250/.308/.479 slash and has smacked three long balls in 52 turns at bat.

Ryan Madson, Royals – Madson has fit right in with a dominant Royals pen, striking out better than 10 batters per nine while walking just 2.5 and yielding a 50% ground ball rate. A classic low BABIP/high LOB% combo indicate that some regression is coming, but advanced metrics value his work at a sub-3.00 level.

Justin Maxwell, Giants – Through 57 plate appearances, Maxwell owns a stellar (and non-BABIP-fueled) .255/.333/.510 slash with three home runs. Throw in highly-rated defense from the corner field, and the Hunter Pence fill-in has already racked up nearly a full win above replacement.

Filling A Need

Others have been plenty useful to their clubs and/or look like they could be moving forward:

Anthony Bass, Rangers – For a pitching-needy club, 18 1/3 innings of long relief with a 3.44 ERA is most welcome. That’s just what Bass has delivered, and advanced metrics say that he has if anything been (very slightly) unlucky.

Blaine Boyer, Twins – Boyer has filled up 12 1/3 innings for an underwhelming Minnesota pen. While his 3.65 ERA and slightly lagging peripherals are nothing to get excited about, he’s been a useful piece for Minnesota.

Roberto Hernandez, Astros – When you go hunting on the MiLB free agent market for a fifth starter, you’re hoping for what Hernandez has delivered in Houston: 3.80 earned over 23 2/3 innings in four starts.

Jason Marquis, Reds – The bottom-line results haven’t been there (5.48 ERA), but Marquis has shown surprising promise at age 36. Though he doesn’t even reach 88 mph with his average fastball, Marquis has retired 24 batters by way of strikeout in 23 frames while walking only seven hitters.

Anthony Swarzak, Indians – Though the 4.09 ERA is less than impressive, Swarzak has shown well and carries sub-3.50 metrics. Victimized by a .429 BABIP, Swarzak has K’ed 9.0 while walking just 2.45 per nine innings.

Joe Thatcher, Astros – The 33-year-old was added on a no-risk deal, but has produced quality results at times in the past. He’s been useful as a LOOGY thus far, allowing two earned to cross the plate but striking out five and walking only one over 4 1/3 innings in eight appearances.

Carlos Villanueva, Cardinals – St. Louis reportedly targeted the swingman early and has received a nice return to date, as Villanueva has allowed just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking three. Of course, advanced metrics are far less impressed, as they can see that the righty has benefited from a .048 BABIP and 100% strand rate.

Worth Watching

Some potentially important pieces have yet to see enough MLB time to make much of an assessment. Here are some names to keep an eye on the rest of the way:

Scott Baker, Dodgers – He’s only seen one start, but gave the rotation-needy Dodgers seven innings while allowing just three earned and striking out six. It’s been a while since he was healthy and effective, but Baker has a fairly long history as a solid rotation piece and could help hold down the fort in LA.

Slade Heathcott, Yankees – A former top-100 prospect who had fallen off the radar, the 24-year-old was non-tendered and re-signed by New York. He’s done nothing but impress since, following up on a hot spring in big league camp with a .329/.386/.443 slash in 89 Triple-A plate appearances.

James Russell, Cubs – A sturdy reliever for Chicago for several years, Russell showed well with the Braves last year but was released after a tough spring — due in part to avoid a big piece of his $2.4MM arbitration salary. Since heading to Iowa, Russell has struck out 11 batters in just 7 2/3 frames and has yet to allow a run or walk.

Ryan Webb, Indians – Cleveland added Webb after he was caught up in an early-season salary dumping move by the Orioles and found himself immediately released by the Dodgers. He’s always been a sturdy reliever, and has shown well in limited action thus far.


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7 Notable Transactions From May 2014

May isn’t typically the most action-packed month of the season for the Hot Stove faithful, but it’s also not completely devoid transactions. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd and Tim Dierkes discussed in yesterday’s episode of the MLBTR Podcast, this May could be even more active than usual due to the early rash of pitching injuries perhaps kickstarting the trade market early. Even if that’s not the case, Jarrod Saltalamacchia should find a new home within a matter of days, the Padres are known to be on the hunt for a shortstop, Rafael Soriano remains a free agent, and, if history is any indication, there will be a handful of other significant moves that impact the long-term outlook of a few organizations/players.

Here are the most notable transactions from the month of May in 2014 (with a helping hand from MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker)…

  • Braves sign 3B Chris Johnson to a three-year, $23.5MM extension that includes a $10MM club option for the 2018 season. — The contract was questionable at the time and looked regrettable for the Braves quickly. In hindsight, this move was probably one of several that led to the exit of GM Frank Wren from Atlanta. Johnson would end up hitting just .263/.292/.361 in 2014, and a broken hand suffered last night has sidelined him early in 2015. Johnson was hitting .279/.347/.372 at the time of the injury, though he’s batting just .233/.314/.333 against righties.
  • Red Sox sign SS Stephen Drew to one-year, $14.1MM contract. — Drew sat out all of Spring Training and looked to be waiting for the draft’s conclusion before signing in order to shed the draft pick compensation label he’d picked up after rejecting a qualifying offer, but he signed in May for the pro-rated version of the qualifying offer’s salary. Drew rushed through a brief assignment to Triple-A to try to get up to speed, but he never got his bat going and was ultimately traded to the Yankees, where he also struggled. Drew re-signed a one-year deal with the Yankees to man second base, and while a .179 BABIP is weighing down his average (in part due to a massive increase in fly-balls and a dip in his line-drive rate), he’s showing good power and walking at a 12 percent clip.
  • Tigers sign RHP Joel Hanrahan to one-year, $1MM contract. — Tigers fans spent the entire season hoping that Hanrahan would emerge as a much needed reinforcement for their club’s shaky bullpen, but Hanrahan’s recovery from Tommy John and flexor tendon repair surgery was slow and never completed. He didn’t pitch in 2014 and re-upped with Detroit a Minor League deal this past offseason, but sadly underwent a second Tommy John surgery and was released by the Tigers in Spring Training.
  • Astros sign LHP Tony Sipp to one-year, $700K contract. — The Sipp signing was one of the best and yet most unheralded moves of 2014. Sipp joined Houston with little fanfare, but he wound up firing 50 2/3 excellent innings last year, notching a 3.38 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9. That earned him a boost to $2.4MM in arbitration this winter, and he’s looked to be worth every penny thus far, allowing one run on five hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings in what will be his final season before free agency.
  • Padres sign RHP Odrisamer Despaigne to a $1MM Minor League deal. — Despaigne didn’t land the gaudy type of contract that many of his Cuban countrymen have secured, but he’s been a valuable piece for the Padres. In 117 2/3 innings between 2014-15, the 28-year-old has a 3.29 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 51.8 percent ground-ball rate. Despaigne has served as a starter and reliever in San Diego and could be a nice swingman for the club moving forward. The Friars control him through the 2020 season.
  • Padres tradedNick Hundley to Orioles in exchange for LHP Troy Patton. — The long-term impact on both organizations was minimal, as each player is with a new organization in 2015. However, the trade gave the Orioles another option behind the plate following Matt Wieters‘ Tommy John surgery and gave Hundley an opportunity for more playing time, which likely assisted him landing a two-year, $6.25MM contract from the Rockies this winter.
  • Padres traded 1B/OF Kyle Blanks to A’s in exchange for OF Jake Goebbert and a PTBNL (RHP Ronald Herrera). — Blanks hit the cover off the ball for 21 games with Oakland before a torn muscle in his calf ended his 2014 campaign and led him to sign a Minor League deal with the Rangers this winter. Goebbert struggled through 115 PAs with San Diego and is a depth piece at Triple-A this year, while Herrera has three average to solid-average offerings despite an undersized frame, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel wrote while evaluating the Padres’ prospects. He projects as a possible fifth starter or a reliever.

Those may have been the most noteworthy transactions in terms of financial investment and lasting impact on an organization, but there were several more moves made over the course of the month. A more brief rundown…

  • Astros sign RHP Kyle Farnsworth to one-year $1.2MM contract. — Farnsworth’s time with the Astros was limited to 11 2/3 unsightly innings, as he yielded eight runs on 14 hits and nine walks with just eight strikeouts.
  • Marlins sign LHP Randy Wolf to one-year, $1MM contract. — Wolf appeared in six games for the Fish, including four starts, and posted a 5.26 ERA in 25 2/3 innings. A solid 19-to-6 K/BB ratio and his 4.38 FIP indicate that he might’ve been a bit better than his ERA otherwise suggested.
  • Blue Jays acquired OF Melky Mesa, RHP P.J. Walters from Royals in exchange for cash considerations. — The Jays acquired some organizational depth in this swap, though neither appeared in the Majors.
  • Blue Jays acquire LHP Raul Valdes from Astros in exchange for PTBNL or cash considerations. — Valdes served as a bullpen option at the Triple-A level after Toronto’s relief corps struggled in the early-going last year, though he didn’t appear in the Majors with Toronto.
  • Rangers acquire INF Jason Donald from Royals in exchange for cash considerations. — Similar to Toronto’s trades, this was about adding some depth to an injury-plagued Rangers organization, but Donald never appeared with Texas’ big league club.
  • White Sox claimed OF Moises Sierra from Blue Jays.
  • A’s claimed OF Nick Buss from Dodgers.
  • Angels claimed LHP Brooks Raley from Twins.
  • Blue Jays re-claimed OF Kenny Wilson from Twins.
  • A’s claimed LHP Jeff Francis from Reds.
  • Pirates claimed RHP Josh Wall from Angels.
  • Rangers claimed RHP Phil Irwin from Pirates.

Looking back at May 2013 and May 2012 also reveals significant moves, including extensions for Anthony Rizzo, Adam Jones and Miguel Montero in addition to a pair of Roy Oswalt signings. The month of May should also serve as a more telling example of which clubs will be buyers and which will be sellers as we head toward the followup to last year’s trade deadline, which was arguably the most chaotic in history.


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DFAs By The Numbers

“Designated for assignment”: three words that strike fear in the hearts of players and their agents. The function of the DFA, after all, is to remove a player from the 40-man roster. Often, that means that a big league stint is over, and that another may not be forthcoming for some time. For players currently in the minors on optional assignment, the loss of a 40-man spot adds barriers to a call-up.

Of course, not all DFAs end up badly for the player involved. Upon designating a player, a team has ten days to trade, release, or outright him. In the case of an outright, another club can claim the player on waivers; that scenario, along with a trade, results in another 40-man spot on a new team. Sometimes, that means a better opportunity (though it can also mean a lot of logistical headaches). Unless a trade or claim takes place, however, it’s the minors (sans 40-man spot) or free agency.

MLBTR introduced its DFA Tracker back in August of 2013, and has endeavored to keep tabs on every single DFA since. In addition to tracking whether a trade, release, or outright is pursued, the tracker further reflects the fact that an outrighted player can be claimed, can be assigned to the minors with their original team, or (if they have sufficient service time or have been outrighted before) can elect free agency. (It also covers the rare scenarios of the return of a Rule 5 player and when a player is designated off the 25-man roster and then optioned; we’ll leave those to the side during this exercise.) The primary purpose, of course, is to make it easier to keep an eye on the timing once a DFA hits. But it also serves as a historical record.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers. All said, there have been 558 instances of a player being designated since the tracker went live. But so far as the use of the DFA goes, the Rangers have been the kings, with a whopping 38 40-man removals. At the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals, Mets, Nationals, and Twins only used the DFA six times.

DFAs Since 08-2013

None of that really tells us much, of course. The start and end point are essentially random. And teams can dispose of players through other mechanisms, such as simply going right to an outright or release. But it is at least one indicator of roster management style (as well as recent team needs).

Let’s turn, then, to the results of the DFAs. Tallying things up results in the following distribution:

DFA Results

This, again, is not terribly surprising. Most players who have lost their 40-man roster spots are not appealing enough to be claimed, and so make it through waivers and receive outright assignments in their original organizations. The numbers do show that a significant number of players are able to find new 40-man homes — at least temporarily.

At risk of too much excitement in one post, let’s take one more angle for the time being. MLBTR has just one full year — with all the different months covered — in its still-new database. So, here’s a chart of the number of players designated in every month, along with the number of those players who were ultimately successfully outrighted. The first figure gives an idea of when the mechanism is most heavily used, while the latter gives at least some indication of when a club is more likely to be able to hold onto a player that it tries to pass through waivers.

DFA annual results

 

In the end, there is only so much inferring we can do from a dataset limited both by time and the nature of the thing it measures. Perhaps as the DFA Tracker grows, more will be possible. For now, I’ll end with this factoid: in the period of time immediately following the end of the 2013 regular season and running through the end of the 2014 regular season, fully 338 players — that’s more than 11 per team — lost their roster spots by way of the DFA.


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MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:

  • MLB Trade Rumors Podcast featured host Jeff Todd reviewing the week’s news before turning to a discussion of the Mariners with Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast drops every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Tim Dierkes updated MLBTR’s 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Justin Upton remains number one, but there were changes to seven of the other nine spots.
  • Top Phillies prospect Aaron Nola spoke with Zach Links about his first MLB camp (including receiving words of praise from Alex Rodriguez), his timetable for reaching the Majors, and the organization’s youth movement.
  • With several managers already on the hot seat, Charlie Wilmoth examined the outcome of early-season managerial changes made during the past decade.
  • MLBTR learned right-hander Barry Enright signed to play with the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros.
  • Mark Polishuk asked MLBTR readers whether the Nationals will re-sign any of their pending premier free agents. More than 28% of you believe two or three will re-up with the Nats, but over 26% of you foresee all leaving for greener pastures.
  • Jeff asked MLBTR readers how the Tigers should replace injured closer Joe Nathan. Nearly 38% of you suggest Detroit President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowksi should make a move immediately while another 30% advise he should wait and see how the trade market shakes out.
  • Steve Adams hosted this week’s live chat.
  • Zach assembled the best of the baseball blogosphere for you in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.

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How Might The Tigers Deal With The Loss Of Joe Nathan?

The Tigers learned today that closer Joe Nathan will be lost for the year to Tommy John surgery. While the 40-year-old was coming off a rough season, he opened the year installed in the 9th and was obviously an important part of the club’s plans. His hefty salary doesn’t make things any easier, although that cost was inked into the books long ago.

Of course, GM Dave Dombrowski had already added a player with closing experience and stuff at last year’s trade deadline. Joakim Soria will handle save situations going forward, and that gives some comfort. But his ascension reduces the quality and depth of the earlier innings. Simply using Soria to get the final out hardly addresses the fact that it will now be more difficult to get to the spot where he’ll be called upon.

Detroit’s bullpen was already a concern entering the year (as it has been in the past). As MLBTR’s Steve Adams discussed in reviewing the Tigers’ offseason, the club did little more than replace Phil Coke with Tom Gorzelanny. To be sure, young righty Bruce Rondon is expected to bring a big arm when he finally returns from Tommy John surgery. But he is still working cautiously back after an earlier setback.

The results have hardly been disastrous thus far, with the Tigers hovering around the middle of the league in terms of reliever ERA. But xFIP and SIERA paint much less promising pictures of the club’s collective relief effort thus far. And, for what it’s worth, projection systems don’t expect many above-average run prevention efforts to emerge from the Detroit pen.

Given the entirety of the situation, there are several ways the team could react. It does have a nice rotation and can put up a lot of runs, after all, so perhaps there’s little reason to act hastily. On the other hand, the Tigers are firmly in win-now mode and could face a drawn out division battle, so every victory matters.

And there are some prominent players with late-inning experience who could be had. Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies is among the most available players in the game, and may not cost much in prospects if Detroit will assume a good piece of his salary. Even more conveniently, experienced righty Rafael Soriano is still a free agent. It is obviously rare to have a clear option like that still sitting on the open market in late April, making him an obvious possibility.

While it is probably too early for any teams to give up completely on their seasons, that doesn’t mean that some clubs wouldn’t consider moving a useful arm at the right price — motivated, in part, by a rough open to the season. The Brewers, in particular, have dug a monumental hole in a very tough division and have some younger arms they could justify promoting. Jonathan Broxton might be had for little more than salary relief.

Most other clubs will probably be hesitant to part with depth, but could always be convinced at the right price — particularly if Detroit is looking mostly for competent veterans to plug into the middle innings. While they are hardly shaping up to be a seller, for instance, the Padres have plenty of depth and an obvious willingness to get creative in making deals. The more likely scenario, of course, would be to keep a close eye on the waiver wire. The Dodgers, after all, have been aggressively adding (and, in some cases, outrighting) other teams’ cast-offs to bolster their depth.

Let’s see what MLBTR readers recommend:


2016 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings

Most teams are about 9% through their season at this point, and it’s time for our first midseason update of the 2016 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings.  These players project to reach free agency after this season.

As a reminder, these rankings represent the earning power in terms of total contract size, assuming everyone reaches the open market and goes to the highest bidder.  Here’s MLBTR’s full list of 2015-16 free agents.

1.  Justin Upton.  Upton, 27, is off to a fine start for the second place Padres.  Not coincidentally, the Friars are averaging more than 5.3 runs per game in the early going, tops in the National League.  Nothing seems to be cooking on the extension front, and a free agent contract worth $250MM or more could be in play this winter.

2.  David Price.  Price jumps up a spot after allowing just one earned run in his first 22 1/3 innings.  Before that, some low-level extension discussions with the Tigers occurred in late March.  Price is willing to continue talking contract into the season and seems to have a number in mind that could result in a fairly quick deal if the Tigers reach it.  Logically, that number figures to be in the $200MM range.

3.  Johnny Cueto.  Cueto moves up a spot as well after a trio of seven-inning outings.  As he moves further from his 2013 shoulder strain, Cueto moves closer to Price in earning power.  His Reds are hanging in with a .500 record, though a midseason trade at least seems viable.  A deadline deal would make Cueto ineligible for a qualifying offer, though at ace prices the loss of a draft pick is a secondary concern for suitors.

4.  Jason Heyward.  It’s not fair to bump Heyward down two spots because of 53 lousy plate appearances, but I feel that if the season ended today, Price and Cueto would earn bigger contracts.  Batting second in the order for the Cardinals, Heyward is at .192/.208/.327 on the young season.

5.  Ian Desmond.  On the plus side, Desmond has cut his strikeout rate considerably in his first 14 games, an 18% rate that would represent a full-season career best.  On the other hand, Desmond has made eight errors in his first 125 1/3 innings in the field.  Surely that pace will lessen, but he still has a good shot at 30 on the season.  Even with today’s advanced fielding metrics, 30 errors could be hard for a team owner to ignore if Desmond’s price tag exceeds $150MM.

6.  Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann’s early numbers are off after an April 13th Fenway Park drubbing, and his velocity is down a few ticks from April of last year.  Still, every pitcher is allowed the occasional clunker, and Zimmermann has about 29 starts left to go.

7.  Alex Gordon.  Royals manager Ned Yost intends to exercise extra caution with Gordon in at least the season’s first month due to his December wrist surgery.  11 games don’t tell us much, but it will be worth monitoring whether the wrist saps Gordon’s power at all this year.

8.  Yoenis Cespedes.  Cespedes is off to a strong start, and seems capable of piling up a huge RBI total batting fifth or sixth in the Tigers’ potent lineup.  He is ineligible for a qualifying offer and won’t turn 30 until October, and seems a candidate to move several more spots up this list.

9.  Zack Greinke.  Greinke has three quality starts in three tries this year, and not much has changed with his status.  I still expect him to opt out of his remaining three years and $71MM after the season.

10.  Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija’s White Sox debut in Kansas City was a forgettable outing, but he has now turned in consecutive gems.  He and Greinke have each fallen a spot only because of Cespedes’ earning power.

In news that was music to the ears of Samardzija, Greinke, Zimmermann, and others, the Red Sox signed Rick Porcello to a four-year, $82.5MM extension earlier this month.  The contract covers his age 27-30 seasons.  Though part of the calculus is Porcello’s youth and the deal being shortened to four years, if he’s worth $20.625MM per season, that bodes well for next winter’s crop of free agent hurlers.

Cueto leads all 2016 free agents with 0.8 wins above replacement early on, though the Dodgers’ Howie Kendrick and the Yankees’ Chris Young have matched him.  Young’s rate stats this year will be skewed, however, if he continues getting more than 40% of his plate appearances against southpaws.

 


Q&A With Phillies Prospect Aaron Nola

In a draft class that featured several high-quality pitchers at the top, LSU ace Aaron Nola was viewed as one of the very best and universally regarded as the most major league ready of any of them.  Scouts were impressed by Nola’s poise, maturity, and (perhaps most importantly) his pinpoint accuracy and multiple teams in the top ten were connected to the hurler, but the Phillies were the club that pounced at No. 7.  Back in June, Nola spoke with MLBTR as a part of of our Draft Prospect Q&A series.  Recently, we checked in with Nola as he was gearing up for the 2015, a season that could see his big league debut.

Zach Links: When the Phillies drafted you last summer, there was immediately talk of you quickly making a path to the big leagues since you were so polished. Did the Phillies indicate to you last summer that you could be bumped up to the majors rather quickly?

Aaron Nola: They didn’t really say exactly that. They didn’t really say much in terms of that.  For me, the way I look at it is, whenever they want me up, its their call.  Wherever they put me, my focus is going to be where I am and play to to the best of my ability.

Aaron Nola

ZL: Some folks were surprised that the Phillies didn’t have you in major league camp for the entirety of the spring.  Were you expecting to be in big league camp for the whole thing, as opposed to just a bit at the end?

AN: They just told me that they were going to send me to minor league camp and I was okay with that.  I had fun, I had a good time.

I knew a lot of guys there and there’s a good group of guys there and it was pretty cool pitching against the Yankees that one time.  I was around guys in the clubhouse and getting to watch what they do and how they play the game, it was a really good and really educational experience.

ZL:  Alex Rodriguez offered up some really high praise after facing you in spring training, telling reporters (including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News), that you had a “good arm” and “a bright future” that “the Phillies should be very excited” about.  [Nola allowed a single to Rodriguez in their first meeting, but struck him out with a changeup the next time around.]  What was your reaction to that?

AN: I was just thinking that was pretty cool. We all know what he’s done in his career, he’s an unbelievable player and just watching him step in the box and the battle going on, it was surreal.  Growing up we were just watching that guy on TV all the time and I was always hoping that one day I would pitch against him, so that was pretty cool.

ZL: Did you have any jitters when he stepped into the box?

AN: Maybe a little bit. I wasn’t too nervous coming in because it wasn’t the first time I pitched in front of a crowd like that.  We pitched in front of some huge crowds at LSU.  If there were any butterflies, they went away when I stepped on the mound because everything felt normal for me.  I think some minor jitters sometimes are good, in a way.

ZL:  The Phillies landed you at No. 7 but there were a number of teams connected to you, including the Twins at No. 5. Did you see the Phillies as your most likely landing spot on draft week, or did you see anyone else as the frontrunner?

AN: I just kind of told myself at that point that I was focused on my season at LSU and the games we were playing at that time.  At that point, I was blessed and honored to be in that situation, to know that I’d probably be called in the first round wherever I go.  I couldn’t control any of that, and I didn’t know where I’d end up when I was watching on TV.

It was an honor that the Phillies picked me, that day is something that I’ll always cherish and remember.

ZL: How has your daily preparation changed from this time last year to today? What kinds of things do the Phillies have you doing differently?

AN: I’m not doing anything different, really.  What the Phillies have me doing is pretty much what I’ve done before.  The only difference I’m pitching more often.  I’m getting out on the mound more and more and I’m pretty accustomed to that at this point.

ZL: When we spoke last year, there were some scouting reports questioning your 3/4 arm slot. Have the Phillies tinkered with that at all?

AN: No they have not.  It’s the same slot I’ve always done.  I’ve never thrown a pitch another way and always thrown in that arm slot.

ZL: The Phillies were zeroed in on their veterans for a long time and playing for the here and now, but they seem to be focused on building on younger talent now. Are you excited to be part of the youth movement in Philly?

AN: Everyone there, they’re all great guys and I got to know them really well, or at least have good relationships with them.  I’ve been hanging out with them a lot this year and I can tell you that they play the game the right way and work really hard.

I think those guys are great and their stars have been at the top of the game for years.  They have had unbelievable careers and I don’t know what is going to happen but they’re working so hard this spring.  I’m excited to work my way up to that level and play alongside them.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.