MLBTR Originals Rumors

Players Win Six Of 14 Arbitration Hearings

The Mariners’ defeat of reliever Tom Wilhelmsen today ended this offseason’s arbitration season. This year, 14 players went to arbitration hearings, with the players winning six times and teams winning eight. Via MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker, here are the results.

Player Team Player Amt. Team Amt. Player won?
Pedro Alvarez Pirates $5.750MM $5.250MM Yes
Jerry Blevins Nationals $2.400MM $2.200MM Yes
Alejandro De Aza Orioles $5.650MM $5.000MM No
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays $5.750MM $4.300MM No
Mat Latos Marlins $10.400MM $9.400MM No
Mike Minor Braves $5.600MM $5.100MM Yes
Jarrod Parker Athletics $1.700MM $0.850MM No
David Phelps Marlins $1.875MM $1.400MM No
Wilin Rosario Rockies $3.300MM $2.800MM No
Mark Trumbo Diamondbacks $6.900MM $5.300MM Yes
Danny Valencia Blue Jays $1.675MM $1.250MM Yes
Neil Walker Pirates $9.000MM $8.000MM No
Tom Wilhelmsen Mariners $2.200MM $1.400MM No
Vance Worley Pirates $2.450MM $2.000MM Yes

A few notes:

  • Via MLBTR’s 2014 Arbitration Tracker, only three players (Andrew Cashner, Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin) had hearings last year, so 14 hearings this year marks a dramatic spike. No players had hearings in the 2012-2013 offseason, and seven players did in 2011-2012. The number of hearings this offseason was the most since 2001, although not everyone is convinced this is the start of a trend, according to the Associated Press. ”Just as I didn’t think [2012-2013] was the start of a trend when we had no hearings, I do not think any conclusions can be drawn at this point from the increased number of hearings this year,” says MLB chief legal officer Don Halem.
  • The Pirates alone took three players to arbitration, as many as all teams combined in the previous two offseasons.
  • Teams will pay the 14 players who went to arbitration $57.925MM next season, saving a total of about $1.5MM versus the midpoints between those 14 players’ proposed figures and those of their teams.
  • There appears to be no obvious pattern in which players won and which lost (which isn’t necessarily surprising, since the terms of each arbitration hearing are set ahead of time by the teams and agents who determine the figures, and not by the arbitrators). As CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman notes (via Twitter), better established players (like Josh Donaldson, Neil Walker and Mat Latos) mostly lost their hearings, while players coming off mediocre or poor seasons, like Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo and Mike Minor, won theirs.
  • In terms of overall dollar value, Donaldson might be the player most affected by the result of his hearing, which he lost. There was a fairly large gap (over $1.4MM) between his proposed figure and that of the Blue Jays. Donaldson is also a Super Two player in the midst of his first year of arbitration eligibility, and his salary for 2015 could impact his salary in the next three seasons after that.

Potential Landing Spots For Chris Young

One Chris Young has found a home this offseason, as the former D-Backs, A’s and Mets outfielder re-signed with the Yankees early in the winter. The other Chris Young, despite having enjoyed the better results of the two in 2014, remains available on the free agent market. The 6’10” right-hander soaked up 165 innings in the Mariners’ rotation last season, working to a 3.65 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. That’s solid production, and based on runs allowed (RA9-WAR), Young was worth 2.4 wins above replacement.

And yet, the towering righty remains unsigned, perhaps in part due to the fact that sabermetric estimators suggest that his success was exceptionally fortunate. Young’s 5.02 FIP, 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA paint an ugly picture, to be sure, but there are reasons to think that he can still provide value in a team’s rotation.

Firstly, we can’t ignore the fact that Young’s career ERA (3.77) is significantly better than his career FIP (4.38), xFIP (4.82) or SIERA (4.63). Being an extreme fly-ball pitcher is likely a turn-off for teams in small parks, but because he allows so many fly balls (58.7 percent in 2014; 54.8 percent for his career), Young has proven capable of sustaining a BABIP that is considerably lower than the league average (fly balls in play fall for hits at a much lower rate than line drives and ground balls). Extreme fly-ball arms like Young have proven to be able to outperform those figures because a larger percentage of balls in play against them are converted into outs. Repeating a 3.65 ERA may not be likely, but it stands to reason that Young could demonstrate at least somewhat useful run prevention skills at the back of a rotation.

Young has also shown a dominance over right-handed hitters throughout his career, and particularly in 2014. Same-handed hitters have mustered a paltry .218/.287/.381 batting line against Young in his big league career, and he held them to an even feebler .199/.260/.372 line last year. On the flipside of that is that he struggles against left-handed hitters, of course, but a team with a spacious outfield that naturally suppresses lefty power could use its home environment to maximize Young’s strengths while shielding against his weaknesses.

The cost on Young shouldn’t be prohibitive; I’d imagine that if he is able to secure an MLB deal, the base salary would fall shy of the respective $5MM and $6.5MM guarantees of Aaron Harang and Kyle Kendrick. And, there’s also the possibility that given the late stage of the offseason and the number of teams with their rotations filled, Young will have to settle for a minor league deal. Any non-guaranteed deal would figure to have a relatively substantial base salary in the event that Young made the team. (John Axford, for example has a $2.65MM base on his minor league deal in Colorado.)

Given all of these elements, let’s examine a few spots that make sense for the Reynolds Sports Management client to end up…

  • Angels: The Halos have addressed their pitching depth this winter by adding prospects Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano in separate trades, but the rotation still doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 5 starter. It’s also not a given that Garrett Richards will be ready for Opening Day, so adding a veteran like Young makes some degree of sense. Angel Stadium ranked 25th in left-handed home run factor in 2014 (per Baseball Prospectus) and routinely ranks in the bottom third of the league.
  • Tigers: Detroit’s rotation depth has taken a hit in recent years due to several trades, and they have little in the way of certainty beyond their projected starting five (David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon). Even Greene and Simon have some uncertainty about them, as Greene has little MLB experience, and Simon wilted in the second half of what could be an outlier season. Comerica Park ranked 23rd in left-handed HR factor last year, though it has played as more of a middle-of-the-road park for lefties in other seasons.
  • Braves: Atlanta hasn’t been shy about adding veterans to slot into the bullpen or the rotation, having added the likes of Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Matt Capps and Todd Coffey on minor league deals recently. Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller are locks, but the fifth spot is up for grabs.
  • Astros: Houston recently added Roberto Hernandez to a minor league deal with the idea that he could compete for a spot in their rotation, and Young could be brought in to compete in a similar manner. Righty Brad Peacock may not be ready to open the season, and Houston did part with Michael Foltynewicz in the Evan Gattis trade (though the team also added rotation candidate Dan Straily in the Dexter Fowler deal with the Cubs).
  • Rays: Matt Moore won’t pitch until this summer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, leaving Nate Karns and Alex Colome as the likely candidates to compete for the fifth spot behind Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. The AL East and its hitter-friendly parks may not be an ideal setting for Young, but Tropicana Field is more favorable to pitchers than rival parks such as Yankees Stadium and Rogers Centre.

Few teams possess the type of pitching depth that would allow them to completely rule out adding a depth candidate to compete for a role at the back of the rotation. One could make a compelling case for Young fitting with any number of teams not listed here, and it’s also possible that a Spring Training injury could create a need for an arm like his. At 36 years of age and with a limited MLB track record in recent years, Young isn’t a big-ticket item, but 165 innings of 3.65 ERA in 2014 should at the very least net him the opportunity to try to prove that he can recreate the feat.

MLBTR Originals

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

  • Yankees lefty reliever Andrew Miller, one of the prizes of this offseason’s free agent class, joined host Jeff Todd on the latest episode of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast. Jeff and MLBTR’s Steve Adams then discussed the potential for further player movement this winter, including the most likely trade scenarios and the active Cuban market. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunesSoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Tim Dierkes was the first to report Roberto Hernandez‘s minor league contract with the Astros is worth $2.65MM and includes an opt-out five days prior to Opening Day.
  • Mark Polishuk examined the willingness of agent Scott Boras to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients.
  • Jeff opines Royals GM Dayton Moore has pieced together a fascinating roster, which should be interesting to watch over the course of the 2015 season.
  • Prior the Mariners’ signing of Rickie Weeks, Steve named seven possible destinations for the veteran second baseman.
  • Mark identified Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro as a trade candidate while Jeff focused on the Red Sox’s glut of outfielders.
  • Steve first tweeted David Aardsma‘s velocity hit 92 mph during a recent workout the right-handed reliever held, which was attended by 18 scouts.
  • Charlie Wilmoth listed the notable February extensions from the past three offseasons.
  • Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields topped MLBTR’s 2014-15 Top Free Agents list. Jeff asked MLBTR readers which signing was the wisest. Nearly 44% of you preferred the Cubs’ pact with Lester.
  • Jeff also asked MLBTR readers who will win the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes. More than 30% of you believe the Cuban infielder will be wearing Yankee pinstripes when all is said and done.
  • Steve hosted the MLBTR live chat this week.
  • Zach Links put together the best of the baseball blogosphere in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.

Full Story | Comments | Categories: MLBTR Originals

Trade Candidate: Dioner Navarro

Catcher didn’t seem to be an obvious area of upgrade for the Blue Jays heading into the offseason, yet the team made a big splash by signing Russell Martin to a five-year, $82MM free agent deal.  This immediately turned incumbent Jays catcher Dioner Navarro into a possible trade candidate, and indeed, at least three teams asked about Navarro in the wake of Martin’s signing.  Navarro himself even inquired about being dealt somewhere where he could receive everyday playing time.

This trade speculation was certainly not what Navarro was expecting coming off his solid 2014 campaign.  After signing a two-year, $8MM deal with the Jays in December 2013, the switch-hitting Navarro hit .274/.317/.395 with 12 homers last season, reaching new career highs in plate appearances (520) and games played (139).  Defense, however, was another story, as Navarro ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of pitch-framing and throwing out baserunners.MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays

As he’s scheduled for free agency next winter, Navarro obviously wants a better platform than a backup catcher/part-time DH role to boost his value as he looks ahead to his next trip into the open market.  Keeping Navarro as a backup makes a lot of sense for Toronto despite the presence of another catcher (Josh Thole) on the roster.  If Martin can handle R. A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, then Thole’s role as Dickey’s personal catcher becomes redundant, and Navarro offers far more hitting value than Thole.

On the other hand, the Jays are looking to add relievers despite limited payroll space; moving Navarro and his $5MM 2015 salary seems like a logical way to free up some money for further transactions.  The Jays are reportedly asking for pitching in return in any Navarro trade, so they’re clearly exploring this strategy already.

The Diamondbacks and Tigers are two teams who have been linked to Navarro on the rumor mill this winter, though Detroit’s interest has been limited to internal discussions at this point.  Gerald Laird and Tuffy Gosewisch project as Arizona’s starting catching combo in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s departure, and while the team may think prospect Peter O’Brien is their future at the position, one year of Navarro would both give the D’Backs an upgrade now and still clear the path for O’Brien beyond 2015. The Tigers, meanwhile, look to have Alex Avila and one of Bryan Holaday or James McCann splitting time at catcher.  Avila is a question mark due to his concussion history while Navarro would certainly provide a more proven bat than Holaday or McCann.

Catching depth is thin enough around baseball that a number of teams could also be fits for Navarro’s services.  In my opinion, the White Sox and Pirates stand out as teams whose hopes of contending would be improved behind the plate by Navarro’s presence, though both clubs already have several catchers battling for those jobs.  (In Pittsburgh’s case, admittedly, their focus on catcher defense might keep Navarro off their radar.)  The Rangers could see Navarro as a more proven option than their current selection of Robinson Chirinos, Carlos Corporan, Tomas Telis and Chris Gimenez.  The Rays could platoon Navarro with the defensive specialist Rene Rivera, though the prospect of an inter-division trade and Tampa taking on a $5MM salary for a part-time player made this seem somewhat unlikely.

Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images

Scott Boras & The Waiting Game

Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team.  It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients.  As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”

According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14.  I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.

Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract.  Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December.  In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill.  While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.

Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed.  The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season.  After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat.  Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.

This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints.  While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter.  Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins.  In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.

Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms.  The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.”  Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.”  Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.

Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer.  Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal.  Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.

Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency.  Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.

The Royals’ Quietly Fascinating Offseason

It is difficult these days to associate the Royals with the quiet side of the game. The club just went to the World Series in the most dramatic of fashions, changing the narrative along the way.

And yet, with all the attention-grabbing moves made around the league this winter, Kansas City seems to have been left off the radar once again. Of emblematic significance, perhaps, the two key players exchanged in the franchise’s most notable recent trade — Wil Myers and James Shields — both now play for the Padres.

But Kansas City has been quite active, as it turns out. Only the remade Braves have signed more MLB deals with free agents. After allowing Shields and one-time cornerstone Billy Butler walk as free agents, GM Dayton Moore dropped over $68MM in new guaranteed money on the table through the open market.

Even more interesting is how the team allocated those funds — all to players on one or two year deals:

The overarching theme, obviously, is that Kansas City did not extend its commitments over any significant length of time. In so doing, the team managed not only to keep its (playoff-profit-fattened) 2015 payroll from straying too far out ahead of $100MM, but kept its powder stashed in the future. With $56MM promised for 2016 but only $22MM and then $2MM in the seasons that follow, the Royals have ample flexibility to re-shape their roster and act flexibly as situations warrant. That is especially important, of course, with their significant group of arbitration-eligible players climbing the ladder toward free agency.

So, we know that Moore decided against making a lengthier investment, despite being rumored at times to be pursuing some bigger names. While it may never be known whether he made realistic pursuit of any longer-term free agents, or would have signed them to deals approaching what they did earn, the fact remains that Kansas City will have limited opportunity to regret the guys it did sign.

But what did the club get for its still-significant cash outlay? The signings represent a mix of hole-plugging and upside-chasing boldness that, I suspect, few saw coming.

Let’s start with the less interesting side of the scale. Volquez, Frasor, and Pino are each different versions of the same basic function: filling innings solidly at a fair price. In their own ways, these additions are also just versions of prior years’ signings (Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen) that the team has found useful in recent years. It represents, perhaps, another version of a phenomenon identified by Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan with regard to the Orioles: avoiding the awful.

Next on the scale come Morales and Rios, two veterans coming off of poor years who received fairly substantial, but still-limited, guarantees. Is this Moore acting opportunistically and hoping that these talented players can reach their previously-established ceilings? Or are they simply veterans filling obvious holes created by departing free agents (Butler, Nori Aoki)? Perhaps it is a bit of both.

While the numbers looked to be on the high side for those two bats, their respective deal lengths are obviously critical. Keeping the commitment short, in this case, may have been worth a premium. (Each also contains a mutual option — which are scarcely exercised, generally. They were likely designed mostly to push back money and tweak the risk/reward rather than to present realistic scenarios of being exercised.)

That brings us to the most variable side of the slide: Hochevar and Medlen. The former, a failed starter-turned-ace reliever, cast the mold so ably filled last year by Wade Davis but missed all of 2014 after tearing his UCL. Kansas City did have a chance to watch his recovery before agreeing to a deal, but the $10MM commitment is nevertheless significant for an injured reliever. But if he can return to form, he will supplement and eventually provide a cheaper, cost-certain alternative to one of the team’s much-ballyhooed triumvirate of relievers.

Likewise, Medlen has been an outstanding starter and remains young, but is now on his second replacement UCL and is a total wild card moving forward. That $8.5MM may go completely down the drain, but could also drop a top-end arm in the skipper’s lap for 2016, to go with whichever of the team’s starter prospects have managed to develop and stick by that time.

The biggest question facing the Royals, coming off of a World Series appearance, was and is whether several of the players who took steps forward (especially late) last year can sustain the momentum. For every prognosticator who sees this compilation as a division favorite, there are probably two who view the Royals as a roughly middle-of-the-road team.

You can count me among the those who are not necessarily expecting big things from Kansas City in 2015. But all generally average teams are not created equal. Some teams have a much wider band of reasonably expected performance than others. Some carry much greater long-term risk, and/or concentrate their hopes and fears in just a few, key acquisitions.

Moore has both spread his bet over multiple, varying types of players and, in so doing, tightly controlled the temporal reach of the downside. His strategy has also left the team with a roster that is flexible in its ability to add surprising younger players and/or remove disappointing veterans. (The Astros, Braves, D’backsTigers, and Twins all spent similar amounts of money on quite different mixes of contracts.)

Indeed, it is a grouping of players that allows for continued options over the course of the spring: dealing a reliever if a spike in demand creates an opportunity, extending Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain if the price is right, finding a patch or depth piece if there is an injury or an expected regular struggles in camp, etc. And the resulting aggregation ought to allow plenty of creative room in deciding whether to buy, sell, or selectively fiddle at the trade deadline. Regardless, the roster mix should be rather interesting to track over the year to come.

Trade Candidate: Red Sox Outfielders

With the free agent market wrapping up, there remains plenty of intrigue left in the offseason. In addition to extensions, several trade situations still seem worth watching over the spring.

One of those is the glut of outfielders in Boston. Even after dealing Yoenis Cespedes, the Red Sox have an arguably-untenable bunching of players lined up for outfield reps. Spring Training could go a long way toward sorting through the apparent bunching, to be sure, but good health and solid performances could force a deal.

Let’s take a look at the club’s candidates for the roster and/or trade block. (Note: I am not saying that all of these players are realistic trade candidates!) It’s one of the most interesting compilations of outfielders we are likely ever to see heading into spring.

Mookie Betts — He’d be the starting second baseman for many teams, but with the Red Sox he could theoretically slot in anywhere. Betts is an extremely flexible piece with plenty of long-term value, and there is no way he will be dealt in anything other than a blockbuster.

Jackie Bradley Jr. — Something of a forgotten man, Bradley remains a high-floor player with his top-end glove and would surely draw plenty of interest in trade. If he no longer has a firm place in the team’s long-term plans, Bradley would be perhaps the most obvious chip to be used to make a late run at adding another starter. He could still be stashed in Triple-A, of course, though fitting him on the big league roster appears to be difficult at this point.

Rusney Castillo – Boston will be anxious to see how Castillo’s skills transfer in a full big league season after his impressive, but short-lived, debut late last year. He is highly unlikely to be traded.

Allen Craig — On most clubs, Craig would probably spend most of his time at first or DH. But with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli on board, he lands in an awkward spot for the Red Sox. With a terrible 2014 and still-spendy contract weighing down his value, Craig’s spring will likely determine his fate.

Brock Holt — Last year’s emergent hero looks like a solid bet to function as a super-utility player for the club next year, though a sub-par spring could certainly change that. Though he figures in the outfield mix as well, Holt is probably best viewed primarily as a utility infielder and therefore may not really be a part of this roster crunch.

Daniel Nava — Though his production dipped somewhat last year after a strong 2013, Nava still showed a league-average bat and actually posted much-improved defensive metrics. He would figure to draw a good deal of interest: though he is out of options, Nava is owed a reasonable $1.85MM and is controllable for two more years.

Hanley Ramirez — Not even eligible to be dealt at this point, Ramirez is unquestionably going to break camp with the team barring injury. But whether he transitions well to the outfield will have a major role in the team’s plans.

Shane Victorino — His contract looked like a steal after 2013, but a tough 2014 campaign makes the $13MM left to go seem a bit high. A healthy Victorino could force his way into the starting mix, or could make himself attractive in a trade — particularly if a contending club were to suffer an injury during camp.

And that’s all before mentioning Bryce Brentz, another viable outfield candidate who got his first taste of the bigs last year. Even if Boston carries six of the above players on its Opening Day roster — with a view to using Holt, Betts, and even Ramirez as part-time infield options as well — that leaves two players that will need to end up somewhere other than the MLB roster. While Bradley could easily start off in the minors, it would be much more difficult to justify such a move for Betts.

It is not impossible that the team will enter the season with control over all of these names, especially if a DL stint or two intervenes to delay the inevitable, but the backlog makes a trade rather likely. I would look for the club to take a close look at its options early in the spring and maintain an opportunistic outlook in trade talks.

With several of the more likely trade candidates needing to show their health and/or productivity this spring, it could be a drawn-out process with many hypothetically viable trade permutations. Also, with the enticing but low-probability possibility of going after a top-end starter, carrying this deep group will allow GM Ben Cherington to explore all such avenues without fear of exposing a lack of depth.

All said, the Boston outfield situation is one of the most interesting in the game. It should provide plenty for fans to digest and debate over the coming months.

Finding A Home For Rickie Weeks

This time of year, few free agents will require a sizable commitment to add. While James Shields provided a notable exception, the bulk of remaining free agents can be had for relatively modest investments. Last winter, seemingly innocuous deals for Pat Neshek, Justin Turner and Zach Duke proved to be substantial bargains for the teams that issued them. In looking at the remaining free agents on the market, Rickie Weeks stands out as a once-excellent contributor who could still deliver value for a modest price.

The 32-year-old former No. 2 overall selection is hardly what he was in his brilliant 2009-11 peak when he batted .269/.357/.472 in 1431 plate appearances. Weeks showed consistent 20-30 homer power with good on-base skills and anywhere from slightly above-average to somewhat below-average defense, depending on your metric of choice. In his age 26-28 seasons, Weeks looked to be on the verge of cementing himself as one of the game’s elite second basemen.

Fast forward a few years, and we sit on Feb. 9, 2015, as Weeks looks for a job following up on a season in which he primarily deployed as a platoon bat. An overall batting line of .274/.357/.452 looks like a near-mirror image of Weeks’ heyday, but the sample size of plate appearances was less than half what he’d have earned in 2010, and his power against right-handed pitching was nonexistent.

Pair that with Weeks’ .209/.306/.357 line from the 2013 season, and one could easily write him off as a once-promising star that burned out quickly. That may ultimately be how he’s remembered, but there are also reasons to think that Weeks could provide some significant value in the 2015 season.

Weeks hit an impressive .256/.361/.504 line against left-handed pitching (seven homers in 155 PA), and quietly posted a nice overall batting line, although his good fortune on balls in play versus righties suggests that his cumulative .274/.357/.452 line should come down a bit across the board.

Looking back to Weeks’ 2013 season, he struggled with a .268 average on balls in play despite lowering his pop-up rate and hitting line drives and grounders at a rates that are roughly commensurate with his career marks. Weeks’ BABIP on grounders that season was 80 points below his career norm, while his BABIP on liners was about 50 points lower than usual. There’s definite reason to believe that some (though not all) of the downturn in production was an aberration.

Weeks has never been regarded as a great defender, and his glove has taken some significant steps back in recent years. A team would have to consider it a victory if his defense were merely below average as opposed to downright poor, but there are enough teams with questionable second base situations that a bat-first option or a platoon at the position should have some appeal. Weeks could also perhaps be deployed at third and in left field on occasion, one would think, if needed. Here are a few teams that make sense for the longtime Brewer…

  • Angels: The Halos are currently projected to use a combination of Grant Green, Josh Rutledge and Johnny Giavotella at second in 2015. None of those three offer much upside with the bat — though assistant GM Matt Klentak spoke very optimistically about Green when he was a guest on the MLBTR Podcast last fall — nor do any project to be elite (or even above-average) defenders. If the Angels are going with an open competition at second base, adding Weeks to the mix would seem a reasonable course of action.
  • Blue Jays: Toronto’s budgetary constraints are well known, but so is their dearth of usable options at second base. Maicer Izturis may see the bulk of time at the keystone in 2015, but he’s a 34-year-old coming off significant knee surgery and being asked to play half his games on artificial turf. Ryan Goins provides an all-glove alternative, but certainly Weeks could give the Jays an option with considerably greater upside at the plate.
  • Braves: The Braves signed Alberto Callaspo to man second base for the bulk of the season, and they also acquired a near-MLB ready infielder, Jace Peterson, in the Justin Upton trade. Nonetheless, an alternative to Callaspo should he struggle and should Peterson require more minor league development would seem logical for the Braves, even it comes with little certainty in its own right.
  • Giants: Joe Panik is slotted to play second again in 2015, and while the former first-round pick provided plenty of value in a 2014 audition, much of it came as a result of a .343 BABIP. Panik is a solid enough defender, but he offers no power (.063 ISO) and little speed. Weeks presents at the very least a platoon partner for Panik, who posted a sky-high .437 BABIP against lefties that he won’t repeat.
  • Orioles: Jonathan Schoop is an excellent defensive player with plenty of upside at the plate, but he hit a ghastly .209/.244/.354 in 2014. Additional depth at the position certainly wouldn’t hurt the O’s, whose next-best alternatives include the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty and the well-traveled Jimmy Paredes.
  • Padres: The Padres have a questionable infield mix, and while Jedd Gyorko is expected to man second base there, the team could, in theory, use him at third base while deploying Will Middlebrooks and Yonder Alonso in a platoon at first base. It’s not a perfect fit by any means, but the Friars should likely be open to adding more infield depth.
  • Royals: Kansas City shopped Omar Infante at the Winter Meetings and has little infield depth beyond Christian Colon. Bringing in Weeks would give them an alternative should Infante struggle and possibly someone to take some at-bats at third base against left-handed pitching to offset Mike Moustakas‘ platoon woes.

At this stage of the offseason, Weeks seems destined for a one-year deal with a relatively modest base salary, if not a minor league deal. Of the listed clubs, the Angels and Blue Jays make the most sense to me, but given the low level of risk associated with adding Weeks at this point, one could make the case for a number of clubs — even some not listed here.

Notable February Extensions

We’ve already seen three extensions this month, with Wade Miley signing for three years (plus an option) with the Red Sox, Todd Frazier receiving a two-year deal from the Reds and Mike Dunn getting two from the Marlins. That’s no surprise, since contract extensions are common this time of year. Less than two weeks remain before the start of Spring Training, so agents and teams might prefer to discuss deals now, before extension discussions become distractions from preparations for the season. Perhaps just as importantly, the sorts of players who typically receive pre-free agency extensions frequently have arbitration cases pending in February.

Some February extensions, like Frazier’s and Dunn’s, only buy out arbitration seasons and thus don’t impact the player’s free agency timeline. Others, however, have a significant impact on both player and team. Here are some of the key February extensions of the 27 signed between 2012, 2013 and 2014.

  • Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran, Braves, 2014. The Braves spent last February aggressively extending many of their key players, likely with an eye toward the opening of their new ballpark in 2017. Jason Heyward only received a two-year deal to cover his last two seasons of arbitration eligibility, but the Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons and Teheran moves were dramatic ones. Freeman’s eight-year, $135MM deal, in particular, was a gigantic commitment to a player with a good, but not elite, track record. Still, Freeman had another strong season in 2014, and with the escalation of salaries throughout the game, he won’t need to have an Albert Pujols-like peak to justify the $20MM-plus salaries he’ll receive from 2017 through 2021.
  • Homer Bailey, Reds, 2014. Bailey’s $105MM deal raised some eyebrows when it was signed, given his somewhat underwhelming overall track record, but there was a case for it, given his age (27) and 2012 and 2013 performances. Bailey recovered from a poor April to post good overall numbers in 2014, although he missed the last six weeks of the season with a forearm injury.
  • Michael Brantley, Indians, 2014. After a breakout 2014 in which he hit .327/.385/.506, Brantley’s $25MM deal now looks like a steal for Cleveland. Brantley will make just $7.5MM in 2017, the first season in which he would have been eligible for free agency, and the Indians also have an $11MM option on him for 2018, his age-31 season.
  • Brett Gardner, Yankees, 2014. Gardner would have been the top players available on this offseason’s free agent market had he not signed a four-year extension last February. The deal, which begins this year, guarantees Gardner $52MM and allows the Yankees to control his age-31 through age-34 seasons, with an option on another season after that. Gardner more than doubled his previous career high in home runs in 2014 while stealing fewer bases than any season since he was a rookie (excepting his injury-shortened 2012), so it’s possible his next four seasons could look quite different than the four leading up to the extension did.
  • Felix Hernandez, Mariners, 2013. Two years in, Hernandez’s enormous contract (which you might see as seven years and $175MM or five years and $135.5MM of new money, depending on how you want to look at it) has worked brilliantly so far, and it’s served as an obvious precedent for many of the biggest pitcher deals since, like those of Justin Verlander, Masahiro Tanaka and Clayton Kershaw.
  • Yadier Molina, Cardinals, 2012. At the time, Molina’s $75MM deal was the third largest ever for a catcher, but now it looks like a bargain, with Brian McCann and Russell Martin since signing as free agents for greater amounts and Miguel Montero landing a $60MM extension just months after Molina’s. Two years into his deal (which did not begin until the 2013 season), Molina is still an elite catcher due to his defense, although his offense took a step backward in an injury-ravaged 2014 season.
  • Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, 2012. Zimmerman’s defensive and injury issues threaten to make his contract troublesome despite his still-strong offense. With Adam LaRoche out of the picture in Washington, Zimmerman will likely play out the remainder of the five years (or six, if the Nationals exercise his 2020 option) at first base. The yearly salaries of Zimmerman’s deal ($14MM per season through 2018, $18MM for 2019) are reasonable, so if Zimmerman takes well to first, he could end up justifying the deal even though he’s unlikely to return to his 2009 and 2010 peak, when he delivered consecutive seasons of over 6 fWAR.
  • Salvador Perez, Royals, 2012. Perez’s contract was highly unusual because he had just 158 career plate appearances at the time and wasn’t regarded as a likely star. There wasn’t much precedent for it (the only other players who had signed extensions before accumulating a year of service time were Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, both of whom were very highly regarded), and it hasn’t established a precedent for similar deals. The Royals took a minor gamble on an unproven commodity, guaranteeing Perez just $7MM over five years, and almost certainly saved tens of millions in the process. Perez has become a good hitter and an elite defensive catcher, and his deal also gives the Royals extremely cheap options for 2017, 2018 and 2019, the last two of which would have been free-agent years had Perez not agreed to a deal.

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MLBTR Originals

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

  • AL CY Young Award winner Corey Kluber was Jeff Todd’s guest on the latest episode of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast. Also joining Jeff was’s Roch Kubatko to discuss the Orioles’ offseason. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast drops every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunesSoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Steve Adams spoke with agents Josh Kusnick and Rafael Godoy about the intricaces of negotiating minor league contracts. “Minor league deals are a lot of work, Kusnick told Steve. “They’re not always easy to do. Some come together more quickly than others. There have been times in my career where a ball club will call me the minute free agency starts…They’ll make their offer, it’ll make sense, and then it’s done. But there are other situations where it’s dragged on for an entire year.
  • Jeff opines there will be few MLB pacts available to the free agents who are still unsigned.
  • One of those MLB deals will be given to James Shields, but it may not be as lucrative as he hopes. Jeff writes there are few precedents for a free agent landing a nine-figure contract in February.
  • Steve listed the hardest throwing relievers remaining on the free agent market, two of whom (John Axford and Chris Perez) signed within 48 hours of the post being published.
  • Steve pegs another of those relievers, Joba Chamberlain, as being a relatively low-cost, high-upside addition to a contender’s bullpen.
  • Steve names four free agents who can be controlled beyond 2015 because they have less than five years of service time.
  • Charlie Wilmoth revisited the notable transactions from last February.
  • Brad Johnson asked MLBTR readers where Dayan Viciedo will sign. Nearly one-fifth of you see the Tigers adding Viciedo.
  • Steve hosted this week’s chat.
  • Zach Links compiled the latest edition of Baseball Blogs Weigh In.

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