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We have previously set out the 2015 payroll starting points for every club. Now, we’ll turn to future obligations. Obviously, teams that intend to add long-term contracts will need to keep a close eye on these figures.
I took a look at this same information last year at roughly the same time (see here and here). As I explained then, discounting future obligations is unquestionably necessary for a true picture, but is also a practical impossibility (for this exercise) given its complexity and broad range of variables. The basic premise is simple, of course: the further away an obligation, the more the discount rate compounds, and the less that obligation is valued in terms of present dollars. (That assumes, of course, that we will continue to experience an inflationary environment; otherwise, the opposite would be true.)
The future obligations chart and table that follow (all figures in $MMs) were compiled using the Cot’s Contracts database. That information reflects prorated signing bonuses, as is done for luxury tax calculations, so in that respect it may overstate (by a small amount) the actual budgeting situation for some teams. (Note also that the Tigers’ reported signing of Victor Martinez is not included; if that deal is consummated, it would add $17MM per season to Detroit’s tab over 2016-18.)
And in table form:
So, how have things changed since we last checked in about a year ago? Obviously there have been some significant commitments added and subtracted, and existing contracts are one year closer to completion.
The following table shows how each team’s future balance sheet has changed on a year-by-year basis since last year (re-ordered highest to lowest):
And finally, this table documents how each team’s total forward-looking commitments have changed from our last snapshot in November of 2013 (looking at 2015 and beyond) to the one taken this morning (looking at 2016 and beyond). In other words, the number you see in the column at the right shows you how much more or less in total future obligations a particular team is carrying now than they were at this time last year.
Russell Martin‘s last venture into the free agent market resulted in a two-year, $17MM contract with the Pirates — though Pittsburgh reportedly also offered a three-year, $21MM pact — that proved to be one of the best signings in recent history. Martin’s free agent stock has soared, and he now has a case to more than triple the total commitment on his last contract.
Martin is coming off of arguably the strongest season of his career, having batted .290/.402/.430 with 11 home runs. His on-base percentage is the result of an excellent walk rate, 12.8 percent, that he has sustained throughout his entire career as a Major Leaguer (11.6 percent). Martin exhausts opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the fact that among players with 450+ plate appearances this season, Martin ranked ninth in pitches per PA at 4.21.
Martin’s .402 OBP would look solid next to any player, but it’s particularly impressive for a catcher. And even in 2013 when he batted .226/.327/.377, his park-adjusted numbers were better than the typical catcher. Martin has spent the past two seasons playing in PNC Park, which among baseball’s worst parks for right-handed hitters, perhaps deflating his rate stats. Yet he posted a park-adjusted OPS+ of 100 (league average) and 136 (36 percent above average) in 2013 and 2014, respectively. His wRC+ marks, also park-adjusted and on the same 100-point scale, were 102 and 140. For context, the league-average catcher has posted a 92 wRC+ over the past two seasons.
Catcher defense has become better quantified in recent seasons, and Martin’s among the best defensive backstops in baseball. He threw out 39 percent of potential base-stealers in 2014 and 40 percent in 2013, and his career average is 32 percent. This past season, the average MLB catcher caught 28 percent of runners. Pitch framing has also become an oft-cited component of a catcher’s worth (though it isn’t included in WAR), and Martin was among the league leaders in that category. StatCorner.com’s Matthew Carruth rated him 11.7 runs above average in framing, while Baseball Prospectus estimates that Martin netted his pitchers and extra 155 strikes despite not playing a full season.
In addition to his work both at and behind the plate, Martin is somewhat surprisingly fleet of foot for a catcher. That’s not to say he’s a burner, but he’s graded out as an average baserunner for his career and has dipped to only slightly below average on the bases in recent seasons (Fangraphs pegged him 1.1 runs below average in 2014). He’s also highly durable, having been on the DL just twice in his career (he did also undergo offseason knee surgery in 2011).
Though the “strength” portion of Martin’s profile is rather robust, he’s not a player without his faults. Martin probably won’t repeat his sensational offensive numbers next year, or any other year for that matter. That .290 average was supported by a career-high .336 BABIP, and that BABIP should regress toward his career mark of .289 next year. Martin showed double-digit homer pop again in 2014, but his .140 isolated power mark (slugging minus average) was his lowest since 2010.
Martin turns 32 in February, so this next contract is going to offer little in terms of prime-age seasons. The team that signs him will likely be paying for his decline phase — and more so than with a typical free agent hitter. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently looked at the aging curve for catchers in the post-PED era and found that there isn’t a significant WAR drop-off from catchers’ age 32-35 seasons, and Martin is of course a fantastic athlete who keeps himself in incredible shape. While those factors may help his cause a bit, there’s no way around the fact that teams are going to have reservations about committing long-term to someone who plays the most physically demanding position on the field as he enters his mid-30s.
The Pirates made the easy call to extend a qualifying offer to Martin, who of course rejected, so he will require a team to forfeit its top unprotected pick in order to sign him.
Martin keeps himself in outstanding shape and began undergoing Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) to help mend a balky hamstring, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in September. Also from Brink, Martin regularly does pilates and implemented a strict weightlifting routine this season to keep his strength up through the entire year. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes, Martin can often be found kicking a soccer ball around with teammates before games. Crasnick calls him a “born supe-jock,” noting that Martin enjoys playing ice hockey and doing yoga, and also entertains his teammates by walking on his hands with ease.
Per the Pirates media guide, the Canadian-born Martin spent three years living in France from ages 8-10. His middle name, Coltrane, is a nod to famed jazz musician John Coltrane, which is no surprise considering the fact that Martin’s father is an accomplished saxophonist. In 2009, Martin announced that he would donate $600K to the One Drop foundation, which seeks to combat poverty by providing access to clean water around the world.
Martin excels at most facets of the game when compared to other catchers, but he’s even more impressive when stacked up against a weak crop of free agents this year. Simply put, he’s the prize of the catching market, and it’s not close. Geovany Soto, Nick Hundley, A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck and J.P. Arencibia are among the other options. The latter three were designated for assignment in 2014, while Hundley’s $5MM option was declined and Soto has hit .219/.291/.381 over the past three seasons. A team in need of a surefire starter behind the plate has two options: sign Martin or trade for a catcher.
And while the trade market may seem a good alternative, there aren’t many readily available regulars. The trade market for catchers is weak enough that Hank Conger, who has never served as a full-time option, got a respectable return for the Angels. The other options on the market are names like Jason Castro, Miguel Montero and Yasmani Grandal. Grandal and Castro are coming off down seasons at the plate, and Montero is owed $40MM over the next three seasons. Backup type options such as Rene Rivera and Carlos Corporan could also be had (though Rivera, coming off a surprisingly excellent season in San Diego, may be seen as more than that).
There’s been no shortage of early interest in Martin, though the four teams that appear to have been the most aggressive are the Pirates, Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays. The Pirates have long said they would love to retain Martin, and both owner Bob Nutting and GM Neal Huntington have said they’re willing to stretch payroll to make it happen.
Martin met with the Cubs, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Pirates this week at the GM Meetings, according to reports, and it’d be surprising if agent Matt Colleran didn’t at least explore talks with several more clubs. Those four teams appear to be the front-runners at this stage, however. If other teams are brought into the mix, I’d think that the Rockies, Astros, A’s, Rangers, Tigers and White Sox could be fits for Martin, though it’s unclear that all of those teams could actually afford him.
When it comes to the free agent market, Martin is the lone starting catcher in a sea of backups and reclamation projects coming off injuries, poor performances or both. Despite his age and lack of pop when compared to Brian McCann, I’d be surprised if Colleran isn’t citing McCann’s five-year, $85MM contract from last winter as a talking point.
I feel that four years is the absolute floor for Martin, given his interest, and it’s hard to see him taking an annual value that’s much lower than McCann’s $17MM if he has to sacrifice a full year. Ultimately, I think there will be several teams involved and willing to go four years, but the team that pushes to a fifth year will be the one to land him. That fifth year will require him to take a hit on his annual value, and I think anything in the $70-75MM range is plausible, so I’m splitting the difference and projecting a five-year, $72.5MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Before the offseason even got underway, the Dodgers managed to make an impact signing that sent shockwaves through the baseball world. With a record-setting five-year, $35MM deal, Los Angeles convinced former Rays architect Andrew Friedman to head west and discover what it’s like to work with a seemingly limitless budget. With years of success in Tampa Bay on a consistently league-dwelling payroll, it’ll be fascinating to watch what Friedman can do with a Brinks truck at his disposal.
- Clayton Kershaw, SP: $193MM through 2020
- Zack Greinke, SP: $94MM through 2018
- Matt Kemp, OF: $85.5MM through 2019
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: $85MM through 2018
- Carl Crawford, OF: $62.25MM through 2017
- Andre Ethier, OF: $56MM through 2017
- Hyun-jin Ryu SP: $25MM through 2018
- Yasiel Puig, OF: $24MM through 2018
- Erisbel Arruebarrena, SS: $16M through 2018
- Alex Guerrero, 2B: $14MM through 2017
- Dan Haren, SP: $10MM through 2015
- Brian Wilson, RP: $9.5MM through 2015
- Brandon League, RP: $7.5MM through 2015
- Juan Uribe, 3B: $6.5MM through 2015
- J.P. Howell, RP: $4.25MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- A.J. Ellis, C (4.151): $3.8MM
- Kenley Jansen, RP (4.073): $8.2MM
- Darwin Barney, 2B (4.053): $2.5MM
- Justin Turner, IF (4.045): $2.2MM
- Drew Butera, C (4.018): $900K
- Scott Elbert, RP (3.086): $800K
- Dee Gordon, 2B (2.154): $2.5MM
- Hanley Ramirez, Chad Billingsley, Kevin Correia, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, Paul Maholm
Other Payroll Notes
- Will receive a $3.9MM payment from the Red Sox in 2015 as a condition of their blockbuster trade.
- Billingsley will receive a $3MM buyout after the Dodgers declined his $14MM option for 2015.
When it was learned that Friedman would be joining the Dodgers, there was immediate speculation that longtime Rays skipper Joe Maddon could follow. When Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, the rumor mill started churning once again with many wondering if the Dodgers could fire Don Mattingly to replace him with the two-time American League manager of the year. However, the Dodgers were quick to release a statement making it clear that Donnie Baseball would be back in the dugout for 2015. Maddon, meanwhile, signed on with the Cubs.
Joining Friedman in the front office will be former A’s exec Farhan Zaidi and former Padres GM Josh Byrnes. Zaidi will serve as the club’s GM while Byrnes has been named the senior vice president of baseball operations. There are now a number of fresh faces in the Dodgers’ front office that have supplanted mainstays Ned Colletti (who remains in an advisory capacity), Logan White, and De Jon Watson, and the roster could see some similar turnover.
Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers discussed an extension earlier in the year and the shortstop made it known that he wanted to be a “Dodger for life” and ink a long-term deal. Those talks were tabled in August as Ramirez was sidelined with an oblique injury and the two sides agreed to pick things up after the season. Now, it would appear that they’re more focused on replacing his .283/.369/.448 batting line than re-signing him to a new multiyear deal.
Ramirez rejected the Dodgers’ QO, so they’ll receive draft pick compensation if he goes elsewhere. Despite Ramirez’s injury history and his subpar defense at shortstop (-15.6 UZR/150 in 2014), he still figures to be amongst the most hotly-pursued free agents of the winter, especially given a willingness to play a position other than shortstop. Even if Ramirez’s future is at third base or in the American League where he can be a part-time DH, he will draw lots of attention. Recently, I profiled Ramirez and looked at his potential market this winter.
If Ramirez leaves, the Dodgers could look into a temporary solution at shortstop that would allow them to build a bridge to Corey Seager down the line, possibly in 2016. There are options on the open market, but not particularly glamorous ones: Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie stand as the best available shortstops beyond Ramirez. Looking in-house, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena is a defensive wizard and could be plugged in as the starter with help from Miguel Rojas, but that will require the Dodgers to make a significant offensive upgrade elsewhere.
The Dodgers’ best internal option offensively could be turning to Alex Guerrero at shortstop. Guerrero was signed to a four-year, $28MM deal in October of last year to play second base before something funny happened along the way: Dee Gordon emerged as a highly-productive second baseman for the Dodgers, earning his first All-Star nod in 2014. So, putting Guerrero on the opposite side of the bag from Gordon would be a no-brainer move if Ramirez leaves, right? Not exactly. Guerrero has previous experience at shortstop, but the Dodgers focused on getting him up to speed at second base last season, where he apparently wasn’t blowing observers away defensively. In theory, Gordon would be a very attractive trade candidate in an offseason where there isn’t much available on the free agent market at second base, and that would clear a path for Guerrero to play what might be his best position. Still, that would require a significant package for Gordon and a whole lot of faith from the Dodgers’ front office in Guerrero’s abilities. On the plus side, Guerrero is said to have recovered well from the incident with Miguel Olivo which cost him part of his ear.
The Dodgers’ outfield glut has been a topic of discussion for a long time now and they still have quite the logjam. Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson are all in the fold and it stands to reason that they would want to trade at least one of those players for help in another area. Ideally, the Dodgers would probably look to move Ethier and/or Crawford, allowing them to focus on a starting outfield of Kemp, Pederson, and Puig with Scott Van Slyke in support. Friedman, in fact, confirmed that a trade of at least one outfielder seems likely this offseason.
Ethier is owed an eye-popping $56MM after this season and that number could increase even further thanks to an attainable $17.5MM vesting option for 2018 that is tied to plate appearances in the preceding year. Trading Ethier, who once carried so much promise, would require the Dodgers to eat a significant portion of his salary. The 32-year-old (33 in April) slashed just .249/.322/.370 in 2014 with a very pedestrian 0.7 WAR.
Moving Crawford, 33, could be even tougher. Crawford gave the Dodgers a .300/.339/.429 slash line in 2014, an improvement over last season, but it’s a far cry from the work that Friedman got to witness up close for years in Tampa Bay. He also played in just 105 games and that won’t help ease his perception as an injury-prone player. Just like with Ethier, trading the four-time All-Star will mean picking up a good chunk of the check. That won’t necessarily be a problem for the cash-flush Dodgers, but finding a fit could still be tricky.
The Blue Jays could have vacancies to fill in left and center field if they lose both Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera to free agency. The Rangers, meanwhile, have a corner outfield vacancy after declining Alex Rios‘ $13.5MM club option. If the Dodgers pick up a very significant share of the check, teams like the Reds or White Sox could have interest. Ethier and Crawford have their flaws, but if the Dodgers can throw in enough cash, they could have appeal to clubs who are looking at a flat free agent outfield market. From a pure talent perspective, the Dodgers would certainly like to trade those two before Kemp, but he is the most expensive of the trio and has drawn significant trade interest in the past.
While the Dodgers have a surplus in the outfield, it appears that they have a good amount of work to do in the bullpen. Kenley Jansen (2.76 ERA, 1.93 xFIP, 13.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 2014) was stellar, but the bridge to him was anything but. On paper, a ‘pen featuring the likes of Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Brandon League (who admittedly did improve from a rough 2013) looked serviceable, but the Dodgers actually wound up with one of the worst bullpens in the majors in 2014. Injuries to Chris Withrow and others didn’t help matters. They’ll have J.P. Howell back in the mix, to serve as a reliable arm, but the Dodgers will make some changes this winter.
This year’s free agent reliever market features plenty of notable veteran names that will see big paydays, but that has never been Friedman’s style for building a bullpen in the past. And, after all, there’s already a great deal of money committed to the bullpen for 2015 with Wilson, League, Howell, and Jansen combining for roughly $30MM in salary. I would expect Friedman to scour the market for value options while keeping an eye out for quality relievers via trade, but then again, maybe he wants to take his new Ferrari convertible out for a spin after years of driving a sensible four-door sedan. If he wants to spend big, David Robertson and Andrew Miller would both look pretty nice in Dodger blue. Meanwhile, guys like Pat Neshek, Joba Chamberlain, and Jason Frasor would be a bit more sensible.
The Dodgers rotation will feature Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren but the fifth spot is a bit unclear at this point. Prospect Zach Lee might be a candidate to fill the role, but his 5.38 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in Triple-A last season says that he’ll need some more seasoning before making his debut.
The free agent market is littered with older middle-of-the-rotation types, but Friedman’s newly-found deep pockets should lead him in a different direction. Someone like Justin Masterson, who will turn 30 in March, could make sense for the Dodgers. He’s one year removed from his best season ever (3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9), the advanced metrics say that he was better than the core stats would have you believe in 2014, and he is hopeful that he’ll be back to 100% health after an offseason of rest and rehabilitation. Want to go even younger? Japanese standout Kenta Maeda will be 27 in April and while the bidding for him should be fierce, it’s not out of the realm that the Guggenheim group could green light that signing. Recently, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com heard that the Dodgers were unlikely to go after any starter that would cost them a draft pick, which would rule out QO pitchers like Max Scherzer and James Shields. On the trade market, names like Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and maybe Cole Hamels could make some sense for L.A. if they’re willing to part with prospects like Seager, Pederson or Julio Urias.
One more area to keep an eye on for the Dodgers is at catcher, where Ellis may have fallen out of favor as the team’s starter after hitting .191/.323/.254 last season. The Dodgers have already been connected to old friend Russell Martin — the clear prize of the free agent market. The price tag there is climbing by the day, but he’d make a great pitching staff even better and give some more offense behind the plate. If he’s too expensive or not keen on returning to his old stomping grounds, the Dodgers could look to the trade market where Jason Castro and Miguel Montero are said to be available.
With a whole lot of money and an executive at the helm who knows how to stretch a dollar, the possibilities for the Dodgers are endless this winter. Whatever path they take, they’ll return an elite rotation that should keep them firmly in the mix in next year’s NL West.
With decisions on options and qualifying offers in the books, let’s take a look at each team’s payroll obligations to see where things stand. I will publish a second post listing every club’s future payroll obligations, which obviously have an important bearing on their ability to take on longer-term obligations.
The payroll chart and table that follow were compiled using the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database and the arbitration projections from MLBTR/Matt Swartz. Of course, teams can still trim from these obligations not just by trading players, but also by non-tendering those who are arb-eligible. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently posted his list of the most likely non-tender possibilities.
The chart provides useful context for each team’s offseason to come (figures are in $MMs). Of course, MLBTR has also produced more qualitative offseason outlooks for each team.
Here is the information in table form (all numbers in $MMs). I have also added a comparison to club’s 2014 Opening Day and franchise record payrolls for reference. (Red=currently exceeding; light green=currently short by $0-20MM; dark green=currently short by > $20MM.)
A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:
- MLB Trade Rumors Podcast featured host Jeff Todd reviewing the week’s notable transactions and discussing the Rockies’ offseason with Nick Groke of The Denver Post and MLBTR’s 2014-15 Top 50 Free Agents list with Tim Dierkes. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will drop every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
- There were six new Free Agent Profile entries this week (ranking on MLBTR’s 2014-15 Top 50 Free Agents list in parenthesis).
- Tim’s prediction for James Shields (#3) is $95MM over five years.
- Zach Links envisions six years, $132MM for Hanley Ramirez (#4), four years, $70MM for Nelson Cruz (#9), and three years, $21MM for Sergio Romo (#35).
- Steve Adams foresees Francisco Liriano (#15) netting a three-year, $40MM deal.
- Charlie Wilmoth anticipates a two-year contract for Nori Aoki (#40) worth $16MM.
- Tim was the first to report Casey Janssen and Joey Gallo changed representation: Janssen leaving Jim McDowell for ACES and Gallo joining the Wasserman Media Group after being a client of The Legacy Agency.
- MLBTR previewed the Offseason Outlook for the Angels (by Steve), Nationals (by Jeff), Cardinals (by Charlie), and Orioles (by Mark Polishuk).
- MLBTR has made its projected 2015 arbitration salaries available for download in an Excel spreadsheet. The list can also be found in the sidebar under MLBTR Features.
- Brad Johnson asked MLBTR readers where Russell Martin will sign. Nearly 50% of you believe he will be wearing Cubbie blue.
- Steve hosted this week’s live chat.
- Charlie assembled the best of the baseball blogosphere for you in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
Nori Aoki‘s one season with the Royals was the franchise’s best in recent history, and he was one of eight players who formed a suffocating defense that was crucial to the team’s run to the playoffs. Now, though, the CAA client is a free agent, and it’s unclear what the market might hold for a 32-year-old corner outfielder with minimal power.
Aoki’s approach at the plate has resulted in excellent and consistent batting averages and OBPs. He’s batted .288, .286 and .285 in his three seasons in the big leagues, with OBPs of .355, .356 and .349. The 2014 AL league average OBP was .316, so Aoki was way ahead of the pack in that regard, and that was no accident — Aoki walks about as often as he strikes out, with 141 career strikeouts and 144 career walks. He hits both righties and lefties well (he batted .363/.428/.435 against lefties this season, which is noteworthy even though it’s unsustainable) and does not need to be platooned.
Like most Royals, Aoki is above average defensively for his position — he posted a 5.9 UZR in 2014 and is 8.2 runs above average in his three-year big league career. His speed hasn’t translated to great value on the bases, but it’s served him well defensively. Aoki has also been very durable, with a three-week stint on the disabled list with a groin strain in 2014 as the only significant absence since he arrived in the US.
Aoki has been at least a two-win player in two of his three seasons in the league, and if he can maintain his high on-base percentage, his secondary skills are good enough to hit that threshold. He also did not receive a qualifying offer, so the team that signs him won’t have to give up a draft pick.
In 2012, his first season in the US, Aoki hit ten home runs and 51 overall extra-base hits, good power numbers for a table-setter. In the last two years, however, that power has vanished — Aoki had eight homers and 31 extra-base hits in 2013, and just one homer and 29 extra-base hits in 2014.
Aoki’s fly ball percentage has decreased from 27.7% in 2012 to 17.1% in 2014, and the average distance of those fly balls has decreased from about 280 feet in 2012 to 249 feet in 2014, ahead of only Donovan Solano, Elvis Andrus and Emilio Bonifacio on Baseball Heat Maps’ Flyball Leaderboard. Meanwhile, Aoki this year hit ground balls at a 61.9% rate this season, the second highest percentage among qualified hitters throughout MLB, behind Ben Revere and just ahead of an ancient Derek Jeter. In other words, unless there’s something about Aoki that hasn’t been revealed to us, his loss of power doesn’t appear to be a fluke.
A corner outfielder doesn’t need great power to be productive, but Aoki would lose value quickly if any of his other skills were to slip. His lack of power also limits his upside. Aoki’s Isolated Power last year was .075. Of the 13 qualified batters last season with Isolated Power numbers of below .090, only two — Revere and Dee Gordon — produced above average offensive value overall, according to Fangraphs.
Aoki, of course, starred for eight years with the Yakult Swallows in Japan before arriving in the United States. He was born in Hyuga, a small coastal city in Southern Japan, and his parents still reside there. Aoki and his wife, Sachi, have two young children.
Aoki’s interpreter, Kosuke Inaji, has worked with him in both Milwaukee and Kansas City and is “very much an extension of him,” Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star writes. “He’s like our fifth outfielder,” Carlos Gomez said of Inaji when he and Aoki were with the Brewers.
Aoki wins plenty of praise as a teammate. “He had a great personality,” says former manager Ron Roenicke. “He fit in really well with the guys. We had fun with him. But he worked as hard as you could work. You can’t put more effort into the job than he did.”
There aren’t many good position players available this offseason, but there are a fair number of outfielders, including Melky Cabrera, Yasmany Tomas, Colby Rasmus, Nick Markakis, Alex Rios and Torii Hunter. It’s possible Cabrera, in particular, might have to sign before the rest of the market develops. The Royals appear likely to have interest in retaining Aoki, and he could also fit in with the Reds, Twins, Mets, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers, Giants or Tigers. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted this week that the White Sox could be a possibility as well.
Aoki still profiles as a starter, but it’s unclear what his next team might be getting. His on-base ability is valuable, but the disappearance of his power is worrisome.
A legitimate on-base threat is hard to find, and at his age (33 in January), Aoki could remain productive for at least two more years. He also has experience at all three outfield positions and could probably slide into a fourth outfielder role if his offense slips.
For all his drawbacks, Aoki was obviously a bargain throughout his previous contract, which paid him just $4.95MM total for the 2012 through 2014 seasons. This time around, he should be able to find a two-year contract at a significantly higher annual salary. He might end up being able to land a two-year, $16MM deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Manny Ramirez era in Los Angeles is long over, but Hanleywood has given the Dodgers plenty of lasting memories in recent years. Hanley Ramirez is now hitting the free agent market and whether he winds up back with the Dodgers or with someone else, he’s all but certain to get paid big bucks.
Offensively, Ramirez rates as one of the highest-impact free agents available. Last season, Ramirez slashed .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers in 128 games for the Dodgers. His career track record is even stronger with a batting line of .300/.373/.500. There aren’t many shortstops who offer the kind of pop that Ramirez can, either. He has yet to hit less than ten homers in a campaign and that low point comes from a partial season of play (2011). Over the last nine years, Ramirez has averaged 21 homers per season.
Ramirez has never played in a particularly homer-friendly environment, but he still boasts strong career numbers. With the Dodgers, Ramirez posted a .299/.368/.506 line in his two-and-a-half seasons, numbers that are eerily similar to his career slash line. When stacking his 2014 wRC+ against this winter’s other free agents (I modified the free agent leaderboard constructed by Steve Adams to exclude players with options that were exercised, like Ben Zobrist and Denard Span), he rates third among qualified hitters with a 135 rating. That puts him ahead of guys like Melky Cabrera and just a hair behind the big bat of Nelson Cruz.
Ramirez turned in a 3.4 WAR this past season and a particularly strong 5.0 WAR in 2013. He was a massive offensive weapon for the Dodgers in 2013 with a wOBA of .446. His closer-to-mortal .362 wOBA in 2014 is still quite strong, also good for No. 3 on the aforementioned free agent leaderboard. For his career, he has offered better-than-average strikeout and walk rates (16.6% and 9.6%) and his walk rate of 10.9% this past season was actually a step up from his total body of work. Both UBR and BsR scored him as an above-average baserunner this past season and are fond his career body of work on the bases.
A three-time All-Star, he shines especially bright when compared to the rest of the crop at the shortstop position. After Ramirez, the next best options are Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera. While all three are starter material, Ramirez clearly is of a different caliber and figures to out-earn all of them significantly in terms of average annual value and contract length.
Of course, Ramirez’s future might not be at shortstop. He also has 98 games of experience at third base to his credit, the bulk of which came in 2012 with the Marlins. The top of the third base market is healthier than at short, with options like Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley, but Ramirez offers the most offensive potential of the three. A team could sign Ramirez to play shortstop, for now, and shift him over to third base down the line depending on the needs and opportunities that come up.
Ramirez’s health has been an issue for years now. He’s phenomenal when he’s on the field, but it’s hard to count on getting a full season out of him given his track record. We first saw the injury bug strike in 2011 where he played in just 92 games, and in 2013, Ramirez took the field in just 86 games, his lowest output since becoming a full-time player.
Ramirez first started having shoulder trouble in 2010 and it only got worse in 2011 when he injured himself trying to make a diving catch in August of that year, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. In 2013, he tore a ligament in his thumb and missed a month after undergoing surgery. When he got back on the field, his hamstring cost him significant time. This past season, Ramirez was held back by several injuries, including a strained oblique.
While there are tons of great things to say about Ramirez’s bat, his fielding is not at all on the same level. Ramirez’s -15.6 UZR/150 rating from this past season is atrocious and his -8.8 career mark is pretty ugly as well. Defensive runs saved tells the same story – he cost the Dodgers nine runs in 2014 and has a -77 tally for his career.
I mentioned the possibility of a shift from shortstop to third base as a positive in the previous section, but here’s the other (and, maybe, more realistic take): a club signing Ramirez to a multi-year pact will likely have to put him at third base at some point to try and cover up his defensive shortcomings. When you look at his history of poor defense and injuries and consider that he’s on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll be 31 by Opening Day), there’s little reason to believe it’ll get better.
Ramirez will most definitely turn down the Dodgers’ qualifying offer, meaning that any other club signing him will forfeit its top unprotected pick.
Ramirez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and attended Adbentista High School. Ramirez is married with three children – two sons and a daughter. In the summer of 2013, his youngest son showed everyone that he has a gorgeous swing, just like his father (Vine link).
The Dodgers and Ramirez were discussing an extension in the early part of the season, but the two sides agreed to table talks when they could not bridge a sizable gap. A return is not out of the question, but rival evaluators told ESPN.com’s Buster Olney in September that they were sensing that the Dodgers would offer Ramirez the QO with the expectation that he would decline, sign elsewhere, and net them draft compensation. Of course, the new regime in L.A. headed by Andrew Friedman might feel differently.
More recently, Ramirez has reportedly told teams that he’s willing to play a position other than shortstop, which should make clubs with third base needs and possibly corner outfield needs more open to adding him. However, some clubs might have reservations about signing him and simply dropping him into the outfield. After all, he’s never played a single game there in his pro career.
The Yankees might be the most obvious fit for Ramirez, but reports this week indicated that they weren’t likely to pursue many of the big-name free agents on the market. Of course, as Steve pointed out in the linked piece, that report mentioned many top free agents by name, but Ramirez’s name was absent. If the Yankees are willing to pay market price for Ramirez, they can slot him in at shortstop in the short-term and transition him over to third or a corner outfield spot later on in the contract.
The Mariners and Giants could enter the mix as well, with San Francisco looking at him as a third base or left field option. The Tigers might make sense from a need standpoint, but they have so many large contracts on the books looking forward that adding a significant deal for Ramirez might be tough. A reunion with the Red Sox might be possible since he is willing to play third, and they’ve reportedly already reached out to him. The White Sox have money to spend, few significant long-term contracts on the books and lack a clear long-term option at third base. The A’s are in need of a shortstop and with a lefty-heavy offense, Ramirez’s big right-handed bat would be a welcome addition, though it’s hard to see his salary fitting into the budget. The Mets also probably won’t spend the money necessary to sign Ramirez, but the need is there.
Ramirez was reportedly asking for over $130MM in the spring give up a chance at testing the open market, presumably on a five- or six-year pact. Given the lucrative deals signed by Jacoby Ellsbury ($153MM) and Shin-Soo Choo ($130MM) last winter, an AAV of $20MM or more seems feasible for Ramirez, who offers major offensive production at a premium position.
Even when considering Ramirez’s spotty health record and weak glove, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he doesn’t comes away as the highest paid positional player of the winter. Last winter, Ellsbury got a $153MM, seven-year pact, despite his own checkered injury history. I think Ramirez will approach that AAV with one less year, netting a six-year, $132MM deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Angels overcame season-long questions about their pitching depth to run away with the AL West, but late injuries in their rotation significantly weakened that group, which may have contributed to the team’s ALDS defeat at the hands of the Royals.
- Albert Pujols, 1B: $189MM through 2021
- Mike Trout, OF: $139.5MM through 2020
- Josh Hamilton, OF: $83MM through 2017
- C.J. Wilson, LHP: $38MM through 2016
- Jered Weaver, RHP: $38MM through 2016
- Erick Aybar, SS: $17MM through 2016
- Joe Smith, RHP: $10.5MM through 2016
- Howie Kendrick, 2B: $9.5MM through 2015
- Huston Street, RHP: $7MM through 2015
- Chris Iannetta, C: $5.25MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Gordon Beckham, 2B/3B: (5.123): $5MM projected salary
- David Freese, 3B (5.028): $6.3MM
- Kevin Jepsen, RHP (4.163): $2.6MM
- Fernando Salas, RHP (4.048): $1.4MM
- Vinnie Pestano, RHP (3.053): $1.2MM
- Wade LeBlanc, LHP (3.032): $800K
- Hector Santiago, LHP (3.024): $2.2MM
- Collin Cowgill, OF (2.151): $900K
- Garrett Richards, RHP (2.148): $4MM
- Non-tender candidates: Beckham, LeBlanc
Other Salary Commitments
- Joe Blanton, RHP: $1MM
A year ago, the Angels’ primary goal in the offseason was to acquire controllable, affordable pitching to remain underneath baseball’s $189MM luxury tax threshold. GM Jerry Dipoto addressed that issue by acquiring left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in the three-team Mark Trumbo trade at the 2013 Winter Meetings. Skaggs, however, will miss the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. And, just weeks after Skaggs’ injury, the Angels lost breakout star Garrett Richards to a torn patellar tendon that will cost him six to nine months. That injury leaves open the possibility that he could be out for the beginning of the 2015 season as well.
In other words, the Angels again find themselves in need of young and/or inexpensive rotation options, and Dipoto has struck quickly — quickly enough that I had to rewrite a large portion of this outlook! — in acquiring right-hander Nick Tropeano (and catcher Carlos Perez) from the Astros in exchange for Hank Conger. While it may be early to pencil Tropeano into the Opening Day rotation, he did make four starts for the Astros in 2014, and one would think he’s firmly in the mix.
The Halos have three locks for the Opening Day rotation in Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and 2014 Rookie of the Year candidate Matt Shoemaker (whose emergence is nothing short of a godsend for the club in light of these injuries). Santiago and Tropeano could fill the fourth and fifth spots (if Richards needs to open the year on the DL), but options beyond that are thin. Cory Rasmus could be converted to a starter, but the Angels appear in need of more depth. That could come via minor league deals for veterans or further trades to acquire pitching talent that is ready or nearly ready to be tested in the Majors.
Salary-conscious moves such as that may be the norm for the Angels this winter. Dipoto and his staff will not have the limitless flexibility to which we became accustomed as the team went on a spending spree by adding Wilson, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in recent years. Anaheim already has nearly $140MM in luxury tax commitments to the 10 players on the books for next season (Weaver, Wilson, Pujols, Hamilton, Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Huston Street, Joe Smith and Chris Iannetta), and as recently as late August, owner Arte Moreno was reportedly “adamant” about not crossing the luxury tax barrier. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez recently wrote that they could be just $10MM or so under that threshold with a full roster. As such, don’t expect to see the team springing for Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields.
In fact, any significant free agent addition may be tough to make due to the luxury tax, which is likely a contributing factor behind recent reports that the team is likely to move either Kendrick or David Freese. Kendrick is the more appealing of the two names given his steadier production and the weak class of free agent second basemen compared to third basemen. The Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles and Braves all make varying degrees of sense for Kendrick, who can block trades to the Jays and Marlins. I can see the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays and Nationals expressing interest in Freese, although that of course will depend largely on the landing places for the plentiful third base options presented by the open market (e.g. Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley and Hanley Ramirez).
Of course, the Angels aren’t likely to move either for the sake of shedding salary. They’ll need to receive something of note in return, particularly for Kendrick. That could come either in the form of prospects to create some infield depth — an area in which the team improved with this week’s record signing of Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin — or through a cheaper rotation arm.
A trade of Kendrick or Freese would likely give the Angels some much-needed breathing room and could allow them to pursue a mid-range option for the rotation, if they see fit. I’d think that players such as Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez and Justin Masterson are plausible free agent targets if enough salary is shed by moving an infielder, but Tropeano’s acquisition may simply point to the fact that free agent arms requiring significant salaries aren’t going to happen. An alternative such as Kyle Kendrick, who may only net a low salary one-year deal, could make sense as some early depth, though he may prefer a team with a clearer path to a full season’s worth of work in the rotation.
Turning to the bullpen, there doesn’t appear to be an urgent need for the Angels. Street will reprise his role as closer after posting dominant numbers all season. Smith excelled in his first year on the job, thriving as both a setup man and a part-time closer. Kevin Jepsen turned in a career year, and rookie Mike Morin emphatically announced his arrival to the Anaheim bullpen with a 2.90 ERA and 3.08 FIP. Even with some regression in his homer-to-flyball rate, he has the promise of being a solid bullpen piece. Fernando Salas, too, did his part after coming over from the Cardinals, registering a 3.38 ERA with even better FIP/xFIP marks and averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Vinnie Pestano pitched well after being acquired in August and may have earned a look in 2015.
All of those names, of course, are right-handed relievers. Lefty relief was another area of need for the Halos heading into the offseason, but Dipoto again struck quickly in acquiring Cesar Ramos from the Rays in exchange for prospect Mark Sappington. There could be room for another lefty even after that acquisition, but the need is definitely dampened. A run at Andrew Miller might be feasible if the team is able to drop Kendrick’s salary in a trade that also improves the minor league system, but the club could look at more affordable arms. Re-signing Joe Thatcher or making a run at Neal Cotts or Zach Duke would certainly be more financially feasible. The team is plenty familiar with Cotts after his work in the Rangers’ bullpen from 2013-14, and Duke had a quietly brilliant season out of the Milwaukee bullpen, posting a 2.45 ERA (2.14 FIP, 2.09 xFIP) with 11.4 K/9 against just 2.6 BB/9 in 58 2/3 innings.
While the pitching staff may have some new names in 2015, the lineup will look largely similar. Getting out from underneath the $83MM remaining on Hamilton’s contract would be a welcome reprieve, but that’s not likely, so the team will be left hoping that that the left fielder can rediscover some of the form he showed in his Rangers prime. Center field and right field will be occupied by the game’s best all-around player (Trout) and one of the game’s most underrated outfielders (Calhoun), respectively. Trout was worth nearly eight wins above replacement, and Calhoun was worth roughly four (depending on your preference between Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference), giving manager Mike Scioscia a highly productive duo.
In the infield, Aybar figures to man short, and one or both of Freese or Kendrick will return to the mix as well. In the event of a trade, the team could plug Grant Green in at either spot. While he’s yet to produce at the big league level, the former first-round pick drew strong praise from Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak when he was a guest on MLBTR’s Podcast recently. As an alternative, a run at Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang could give the team an option to push Green. Though Kang flirted with 40 homers in KBO last year, Major League scouts are split on how well that power will translate to the Majors. Uncertainty figures to prevent his price tag from being exorbitant.
Meanwhile, Pujols will share first base and DH duties with the young C.J. Cron, who hit .256/.289/.450 with 11 homers in 253 PA as a rookie. Despite his age, it’s likely that Pujols will spend more time in the field, as defensive metrics were unkind, to say the least, in Cron’s small sample at first base. Even when Baseball America ranked him second among Halos prospects entering the 2014 season, their scouting report noted that he would have to hit, because he’s already a below-average defender at first base.
That defensive limitation is one reason that I do think Cron’s name could also surface in trade talks with other AL clubs. As Pujols ages, the Angels will need to free up more and more DH time for the slugger, and they may not like the idea of committing to a 25-year-old who already appears to be headed for primarily DH duties. Of course, Pujols still logged more than 1,000 innings at first in 2014 (and graded out well, as usual), so the desire to clear DH time likely isn’t urgent yet.
Dipoto recently commented that most of his offseason additions would be tweaks to the team’s bench and bullpen. Green will occupy a spot if Kendrick and Freese are retained, and Collin Cowgill‘s strong work in 2014 seems likely to have earned him a job as a fourth outfielder next season. Perez, acquired with Tropeano, could become the backup catcher, or the team could pursue a veteran backstop on the free agent market, which bears plenty of options. John Buck, David Ross and Gerald Laird are all available this winter.
The team could have two more spots, and adding some power, particularly from the left side of the dish (should Cron require platooning), would seem prudent. The free agent market offers little, though a low-risk reunion with Kendrys Morales that would push Cron to the bench is somewhat intriguing. Dipoto could again work the trade market, and a couple of names I can envision as bench fits would be the Marlins’ Garrett Jones and the Blue Jays’ Juan Francisco.
The Angels will return the vast majority of a roster that won 98 games in 2014, so stating that there’s a need for any large change seems inaccurate. The team could move an infielder and add some bench pieces, but the early trades struck by Dipoto lessen the need to add more arms. Overall, the look and feel of the 2015 Angels figures to be similar to that of the 2014 Angels, which should position them for another strong season.
Francisco Liriano‘s last venture into the free agent market came on the heels of a down season split between the Twins and White Sox, and resulted in a low-risk two-year deal for the Pirates. After playing an integral role in two straight postseason appearances for Pittsburgh, the lefty will hit the open market in a much stronger position.
There’s little doubting that Liriano has the talent to be one of the most dominant arms in the game. As a 22-year-old rookie in 2006, he looked to be an unhittable force (2.16 ERA, 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9) that would have garnered Cy Young attention had Tommy John surgery not stopped his season at 121 innings. His recovery was longer than most, and while he struggled in 2008-09, he returned to form with a dominant 2010 season worth nearly six fWAR.
Over his past two seasons with the Pirates, Liriano has turned in 323 1/3 innings of 3.20 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and a strong 52.4 percent ground-ball rate. Sabermetric ERA estimators such as FIP and xFIP both peg Liriano’s true talent with Pittsburgh at a 3.26 ERA, so both old-school and new-school lines of thinking paint him as a well above-average pitcher when he’s at his best.
Part of the reason for Liriano’s resurgence with the Bucs is that he’s rediscovered some life on his fastball. The 31-year-old has averaged 92.8 mph on his heater over the past two seasons, whereas in some of his weakest seasons, his velocity sat 90-91 mph. He doesn’t have the 94.7 mph average he did as a rookie, but his average velocity is still tops among free agent lefties.
When Liriano’s velocity is working, he racks up strikeouts at a prolific clip. He’s whiffed 9.2 hitters per nine innings throughout his career (even including his down seasons), and this year’s 9.7 K/9 mark trails only Max Scherzer among free agent starters.
Liriano turned 31 after the season, so he’ll pitch the entire 2015 regular season at that age. That makes him younger than a number of his peers in the second tier of the starting pitching market, including Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy and former teammate Edinson Volquez.
For as good as Liriano can be, there’s no ignoring the inconsistency and injuries that have, to some extent, defined his career to this point. Liriano has finished with an ERA well north of 5.00 in three full seasons, and in two of those seasons he walked five hitters per nine innings. Agent Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency can point to Liriano’s longer-than-usual recovery from Tommy John surgery as the culprit for those marks in 2009 and shoulder inflammation for the 2011 season, but Liriano floundered under two separate pitching coaches in 2012 and was injury-free that year.
Even in his two excellent seasons with the Pirates, Liriano spent significant time on the DL in each campaign. The first was a freak accident — a fracture in his non-throwing arm sustained while falling in his apartment — but the second injury, an oblique strain, did cost him more than a month in 2014.
All told, Liriano has had seven trips to the DL in a nine-year career. As such, he’s topped 180 innings just once — back in his stellar 2010 season. As I noted in my profile of fellow injury-prone starter Brandon McCarthy, teams are likely to show trepidation when it comes to multi-year contracts for pitchers without a track record of durability. No matter how great the upside, the downside of receiving 100-120 innings and having to patch together that rotation spot with a potentially replacement-level arm is concerning.
Control has oft been an issue for Liriano throughout his Major League tenure as well. He averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2014 and has averaged 3.9 for his career. The Pirates made a qualifying offer to Liriano, and while some were surprised by the decision, I expect him to reject in search of multiple years due to his age and recent success. As Santana showed last spring, even if the market collapses, it’s still possible to find a one-year contract at or near the value of the QO late in the offseason.
Liriano is married and has three children with his wife, per the Pirates media guide. They make their home in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. He comes from a good baseball family, as his cousin is Giants setup man/closer Santiago Casilla.
Liriano has a reserved and quiet image but is seen as an excellent teammate by those who have played with him and was asked to take up a leadership role with the Pirates in recent years, particularly following the departure of the veteran A.J. Burnett.
Beyond the top three starters on the market, Liriano is in the mix for the top second-tier starter along with names like McCarthy, Santana and Kenta Maeda. Liriano’s camp can likely build a case that he has the highest ceiling among those arms, and despite the undeniable risk associated with Liriano, it’s an arguable point. Liriano misses more bats than the other three and has had four very strong seasons at the Major League level, even if there was some distance between them.
A large number of teams are going to be in the market for rotation help, and many won’t be able to afford the likes of Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. Liriano could be the top target for some clubs, and it’s possible that one of the teams who inks one of the big three could wish to add Liriano as a second boost to the rotation. The Red Sox are said to be eyeing multiple starters and have been connected to Liriano, and the Cubs, too, are known to be seeking multiple starting pitchers. Both teams will have a protected first-round pick, as will the Astros, D’Backs, Rockies, Rangers and Twins, each of whom has some need in the rotation (it’s unclear if the Twins would have any interest in rekindling that relationship, however). I’ll also add the Mariners, Yankees, Giants, Royals and Dodgers as teams I could see entering the mix, though the M’s of course seem likely to first focus on their offense.
An interesting point raised to me by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes is that Liriano and Russell Martin could make an interesting package this offseason. A team that signed Martin would have less to lose than others in adding Liriano, having already forfeited a pick, and the two have worked well together in the past. The Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers seem like at least plausible fits in that regard.
Simply put, I’m of the strong belief that speculation regarding Liriano accepting a qualifying offer is largely overblown. Liriano will pitch all of next season at 31 years of age and is coming off a pair of strong seasons with flashes of brilliance in his past. There’s no ignoring the risk associated with his arm, but I believe that offers in the $10-15MM range could be waiting at the end of the offseason even if the multi-year deal Liriano’s camp covets ultimately fails to materialize.
Surrendering a first-round pick for Liriano is a risk, but there are 10 teams that can sign him for a second-round pick, and it’s not inconceivable that he ends up costing “only” a third-round pick if an aggressive team on the free agent front adds multiple players with QOs looming over their heads.
Players with this type of injury history and inconsistency rarely, if ever, get four-year deals, but we saw a less consistent Ubaldo Jimenez land four years last offseason. Regardless of how that deal looks now, it still serves as a reference point that upside can trump inconsistency. Liriano doesn’t have Jimenez’s durability so the fourth year feels like a reach (although I do feel it’s possible), but I believe he’ll receive some three-year offers. In the end, I’m predicting a three-year, $40MM contract for Liriano.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Last winter, Nelson Cruz turned down a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers only to find that the market wasn’t anywhere close to what he had hoped. The Orioles wound up inking him to a one-year, $8MM deal which proved to be a brilliant signing. This time around, he shouldn’t have any trouble landing a multi-year deal.
In 2014, Cruz turned in a .271/.333/.525 slash line with 40 homers on the way to his third career All-Star selection. Cruz’s 40 dingers weren’t just a career-high, it was the highest home run total of anyone in the majors in 2014. Cruz’s .525 slugging percentage was good for eighth in the majors, putting him above the likes of Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz. In a season where the Orioles got just 26 games out of Matt Wieters and lost Manny Machado for half the year, Cruz stepped up in a major way and helped propel them to first place in the American League East.
The advanced metrics were also very fond of Cruz’s 2014 performance. His 137 wRC+ put him in the upper echelon of sluggers. Meanwhile, Cruz’s .288 BABIP was actually a bit lower than his career average and his strikeout rate dipped, so there’s reason to believe he could bump his batting average a bit going forward. Cruz ranked seventh in MLB and first among this offseason’s free agent with a .254 ISO in 2014.
His 2014 may have been a pleasant surprise, but it didn’t come out of the blue. Cruz has a solid track record of quality offensive performance, dating back to his breakout 2009 season with the Rangers. In those six years, Cruz owns a .271/.332/.514 batting line with about 29 homers per season and an OPS+ of 123, showing that he was still well above average even when factoring in the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Cruz has proven to be an elite hitter against left-handers with a career .314/.407/.569 while his .258/.310/.513 slash line against righties is nothing to sneeze at either.
Teams will also find his October body of work attractive, and with good reason. With his two home runs in the ALDS, Cruz leapfrogged some legendary names to climb up the all-time postseason home run ladder. With homers 15 and 16 against the Tigers, Cruz tied Carlos Beltran for ninth all-time. As Mark Saxon of ESPN.com noted, that vaulted him ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, and, yes, Babe Ruth. Cruz got there in just 37 career postseason games, less than all of the other players listed.
Unsurprisingly, the Orioles made a qualifying offer to Cruz, meaning that there will be draft pick compensation attached to signing him. In his last trip through free agency, the QO hurt his market (though his asking price was probably more to blame), leading to his discounted deal with Baltimore. Of course, the circumstances were different. For starters, Cruz was reportedly seeking as much as $75MM at the outset of free agency, unrealistic numbers that led to him settling in January. His value was also hurt by the tarnish of the Biogenesis scandal and the resulting 50-game suspension he served in 2013.
For all of his positives at the plate, there isn’t much that can be said for his agility or base running at this stage of his career. In 2014, Cruz put up a career-worst BsR of -3.3, putting him somewhere between “below average” and “poor” on the basepaths.
While Cruz graded well in a small sample this year (he had a UZR/150 of 3.8 with 3 defensive runs saved), he’s certainly not valued for his glove. He spent more of his time in the DH role, which he might be better suited for going forward. A team signing Cruz will be getting him for his mid-to-late 30s (he’ll start next year at 34 and turn 35 on July 1) and his agility in the field doesn’t figure to improve from here, to say the least.
Cruz’s WAR of 3.9 from this past season was his highest in years, a showing that was only bested by his 2010 season with the Rangers. In his last three seasons, his value has been teetering on that of a good player, but not necessarily a great one (although his suspension in 2013 did deflate that number).
On the whole, his age figures to dampen his value. While teams are usually looking to pay for prime years at the top of the market, Cruz’s remaining years could be a drop off from what we’ve seen over the last few.
As Steve Adams noted in his profile of Cruz last winter, he’s an accomplished two-sport athlete who played for the Dominican Republic Junior National Team in his younger days. His father also played professional baseball in the DR, so that sort of thing runs in the family. Cruz and his wife have two children.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette had great things to say about Cruz as a locker room presence earlier this month. “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” said Duquette, according to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun. Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun wrote that Cruz created a comfort zone for the club’s younger latino players, like second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Adam Jones spoke glowingly about Cruz’s impact on the team.
Cruz changed agents in early October, joining Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports.
As mentioned Encina’s piece, Duquette is realistic about his chances of keeping Cruz beyond this season. “He came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider,” Duquette said.
The Mariners probably regret passing on Cruz last offseason and they could try and make up for that mistake this time. They’re in need of a quality DH and are expected to chase the likes of Cruz and Victor Martinez. A reunion with the Rangers could be a possibility, but they previously balked at the idea of a three-year deal and it may not be any more palatable to them now. Cruz has been linked to the Yankees, though there isn’t a clear fit at this time with Beltran expected to return to right field. Giving Cruz DH time could be tough as well with Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira likely needing at-bats there. The Tigers, Royals, and Twins are also among the AL teams with potential interest. National League teams can and will certainly show interest, but it remains to be seen how far they will go given the concerns about his defense.
Last season, Curtis Granderson signed a four-year, $60MM deal with the Mets, despite coming off of a season in which he missed 100 games. Cruz, meanwhile, played 159 games and belted 40 homers in his walk year. While there are many differences between the two players, including age (Granderson was 32 last winter, Cruz is 34), Cruz’s reps probably believe that they can match the years and top the total value of Granderson’s contract.
Complicating matters, of course, will be the qualifying offer and the same PED suspension that depressed his market value last winter. As Steve Adams wrote earlier this month about Melky Cabrera, no player with those two factors working against them has ever been able to cash in big in free agency.
Steve projected that Cabrera would land a five-year, $66.25MM and rightly noted that Cabrera is four years younger and has more defensive value. Still, Cruz has power on his side and that is at a major premium around the game. His age will preclude him from the same length on the contract but he can still get a very healthy payday for himself on a slightly shorter deal. I predict that Cruz will ultimately best Granderson’s deal from last winter with a four-year, $70MM deal.
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