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The last man standing on Tim Dierkes’s Top Fifty Free Agent list is reliever Rafael Soriano. I predicted that he would land two years and $12MM before the offseason started, though I noted that there was a downside scenario where he could earn less. (Check that link for a full write-up of Soriano’s free agent case.)
With pitchers and catchers already reporting around the game, it is even more difficult now to peg the contract — all the more so with a report that some scouts felt his stuff went downhill late last year. The similarly-situated Rodriguez just got $13MM over two years, so there’s still some money to be spent. But that came from the Brewers, perhaps the last team that was intent on making an investment in the back of the bullpen.
We haven’t heard much on Soriano’s market all offseason, and even more recent reports have focused on him as a possible backup option to Rodriguez. While there are strong arguments against all the teams listed below, they seem at least the most hypothetically plausible.
Blue Jays – The front office has heavily downplayed the possibility of a big league deal with a reliever, but the closer role remains open and the club has at least considered going after Soriano.
Dodgers – Kenley Jansen is out for a while and the overall relief corps is not that exciting, but the team just signed Dustin McGowan and preliminary reports of possible interest in Soriano have been contested.
Marlins – They are said not to be likely suitors, but did reportedly make a multi-year offer to K-Rod so obviously have some free cash that could be put into the pen.
Orioles – Zach Britton is left-handed and only has half a year of success in the ninth; Dan Duquette has shown a predilection for jumping on late-market deals.
Rangers – After burning through an unbelievable number of arms last year, Texas is leaning on a relatively recent TJ patient in Neftali Feliz — to say nothing of the less-established arms in camp.
Rockies – With John Axford already joining the fold on a minor league deal as a supplement to LaTroy Hawkins, it doesn’t seem likely, but Colorado could look to make a minor splash if the price is right.
Tigers – Detroit may make eminent sense or none at all, depending on one’s perspective; I find it unlikely but not unimaginable after the signing of Joba Chamberlain.
Other – There are other major league teams, as you may know, and all are free to sign Soriano. With plenty of earnings already in his pocket, might Soriano wait for an injury need to open the door to a more significant role?
We may as well take a poll while we’re at it. Which of the above seems most plausible to you?
You all know the basic Yoan Moncada story by now. He is a young, switch-hitting infielder (or, possibly center fielder) who has tons of tools and arguably rates amongst the top dozen or so prospect-level players. (Or, he will once he qualifies for such lists.) Now eligible to sign, a decision is expected in relatively short order.
Of course, in addition to whatever bonus Moncada receives, the team that signs him will be required to pony up a 100% tax on whatever amount it pays him over its international bonus pool allocation. With many teams having already spent to or past their total pool dollars, it is in effect a doubling of the bonus. And it must be paid up front, rather than spread over time.
In spite of the financial nuances, Moncada’s total signing value will offer fascinating insight into what kind of value that level of prospect really has in today’s game.
(That question — and how it relates to the excess value in the contract of a certain veteran pitcher on a longer-term deal — was something that Steve Adams and I discussed in the most recent MLBTR podcast. For what it’s worth, the podcast also featured Andrew Miller, whose services over the last several months of the year were valued highly enough that the Orioles gave up a well-regarded young arm to secure them.)
Of course, the signing will also represent a huge financial commitment for a player who figures to be a ways off from reaching the big leagues. By my count, a dozen teams have been connected to Moncada in some manner publicly. Two of those — the Cubs and Rangers — would be ineligible to sign him unless he waits until after July 2 of this year.
Now is your chance to help pool the wisdom of MLBTR readers before a deal is done. Which of the following teams (or sets of teams) is likeliest to land Moncada?
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes rated three starters at the top of this year’s free agent class, as did many other observers: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields. There was never much debate as to which of that trio was “best” or would earn the most money, but plenty of ink was spilled on the question of which would deliver the best value.
Those three are now all signed to deals that fall largely within the range of expectations, but which come with considerations impacting their respective value. And, of course, we now know which teams those hurlers will pitch for, allowing consideration of fit.
So, all said, which signing was the wisest? Here are the affirmative arguments for each:
Max Scherzer, Nationals (seven years, $210MM): There is little question that Scherzer was the best player available, and he upgrades an already-excellent Nats’ rotation while also effectively building out the team’s depth at the position — now and in the future. And here’s the key point that has flown under the radar: when the deal’s whopping $210MM price tag is reduced to net present value, it is less than 10% more costly than the Lester contract.
Jon Lester, Cubs (six years, $155MM plus option): Raise your hand if you predicted this signing? Actually, wait, raise your hand if you didn’t. Lester makes a perfect fit for the Cubs in so many ways. He is a workhorse, clubhouse rock who is coming off his best season as a professional. Lester can be expected to front the rotation now and provide a stabilizing force over the life of his deal, which gives the team control over a seventh year without guaranteeing it.
James Shields, Padres (four years, $75MM plus option): Not only did San Diego manage to get Shields for four years, instead of five, it did so while promising far less than the nine-figure deal that many thought possible or even probable. Shields may be the oldest of this group, but he is not promised any money past his age-36 season, same as the rest. He has been outstanding and durable, and there’s an argument to be made that the Friars got the steal of the offseason.
Dayan Viciedo has not lived up to the potential he demonstrated when the White Sox originally signed him, but he is a major league player, writes Paul Swydan of FanGraphs. The White Sox requested unconditional release waivers for Viciedo last Wednesday – a week after he was designated for assignment. With his time in Chicago likely coming to a close, Swydan examined possible landing spots for the soon-to-be 26-year-old slugger.
Viciedo’s shortcomings are readily apparent. He’s viewed as a defensive liability by advanced metrics, making him a better fit for a designated or pinch hitter role. Unfortunately, he has never exceeded league average production on offense per wRC+. Pure hitters are expected to surpass league average by a healthy margin.
Despite flaws, Viciedo is relatively young and has blasted over 20 home runs twice. He also has notable platoon splits, with a career .291/.331/.507 line in 487 plate appearances against southpaw pitchers. A team that can hide Viciedo from the field and right-handed pitchers could find some real value. Swydan also highlights Viciedo’s clutch score, which ranks 16th in baseball over the last three seasons.
As we learned earlier today, the Reds are probably out on Viciedo. Considering their paucity of power on the bench, it’s a little surprising to consider them completely out of the picture. Players like Skip Schumaker and Thomas Neal could upgraded in Swydan’s opinion.
Based on their bench depth, the Giants might be the best fit for Viciedo. Andrew Susac is probably the best hitter among the non-starters, but the Giants won’t want to burn their backup catcher often. With Joaquin Arias projected as the primary designated hitter for interleague games, the defending World Champions could use a cheap upgrade.
The Phillies and Braves are in the midst of rebuilding, so they have opportunities available for Viciedo. Both the Tigers and Yankees intend to compete in 2015, but they may need an infusion of right-handed power. In the case of Detroit, the knee injury to Victor Martinez could open the door for Viciedo. Swydan sees New York as a fit if they want another layer of depth behind Alex Rodriguez.
For what it’s worth, I think the Phillies make the most sense. They can try Viciedo at first base in a platoon with Ryan Howard. The club also has Darin Ruf, who is expected to fill that exact role, but there is plenty of roster flexibility to give two players an opportunity. Where do you think Viciedo will land?
Oftentimes we pose poll questions that require evaluation, quite frequently with imperfect information. This evening, I thought it would be interesting to ask MLBTR’s readers to provide their collective wisdom on an even more open-ended question.
As scarcely needs to be mentioned, the Nationals have reportedly agreed to terms with this year’s best free agent, Max Scherzer. It turns out that Washington already had one of (if not the) best one-through-five rotations in baseball, and that Scherzer adds to the top of that group while bumping Tanner Roark to the pen/depth category. Given those circumstances, and persistent rumors throughout the offseason indicating that the Nats could deal from their core (especially that part of it set to hit free agency after the year), it remains an open question whether more moves are to come.
This is, of course, a hard-to-peg effort that is highly dependent upon other actors around the league, but I thought it would be interesting to see where our readership’s predilections lie. Assuming a market return is available in any of the below scenarios, which is the best from the Nats’ perspective? Here are the likeliest options for another significant move by GM Mike Rizzo, so far as come to my mind:
1) Trade Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister: This basic scenario has been prominently contemplated for quite some time. The idea here would be that these two righties have made clear they will not sign extensions that the team feels comfortable with, so the long-term and short-term presence of one of them replaced by another arm (Scherzer). D.C. can market the pair and take the offer that provides the best value for one or the other. But with one year to go, would it be possible to find a deal that provides enough of a return to justify the loss of a quality arm in advance of a season of expected competition?
2) Trade Stephen Strasburg: If you thought that the idea of dealing Zimmermann would create controversy, wait until everyone starts re-living the 2012 shutdown after a trade of one of the franchise’s two most prominent players. With two years of very reasonably-priced control, and nearly-unmatched upside (even if he has never quite put it all together), Strasburg would undoubtedly bring the biggest return. But is there enough to be gained to move on from the player who brought excitement back to D.C. baseball? And is the organization ready to look towards a 2016 that does not include any of its three best arms from a year ago?
3) Trade Tanner Roark: I’m not entirely sure why this scenario has not been discussed, but to this point Roark has been masterful and is fairly young and very cheap. If controllable, established arms are so sought after, might Rizzo entice another team to give up a similar-situated position player or a haul of prospects? Then again, perhaps Roark constitutes useful depth, this year and into the future, to say nothing of an immediate replacement for Tyler Clippard in the bullpen.
4) Trade Ian Desmond: Many suggested that the Nationals were interested in trading away Desmond and installing Yunel Escobar at short after acquiring him. Of course, unless such a scenario brought back a new, starting-caliber middle infielder in return, it would not seem to make much sense. But can such a package be found? And, if so, might it make sense to ship out one the organization’s longest-tenured player and most reliable clubhouse presence?
5) Stand pat: Yes, this is an option, and a rather appealing one in my view. With Scherzer’s money comfortably deferred, and Clippard gone to clear extra space, the Opening Day payroll is not too scary to look at. Having six quality starters is something of a luxury, but then again Roark does slot in nicely in the relief corps and would be available (along with Blake Treinen and others) for the inevitable spot duty. If things break right and the club is overflowing with arms come the trade deadline, a deal can always be struck to fill in any other needs that have arisen. In the meantime, they can add another pen arm if the price is right or otherwise head to camp with what they have.
Those are the options. What say you? Responses randomized below.
Earlier today we learned Marlins starter Dan Haren has requested a trade to a West coast club. Haren, who was acquired from the Dodgers earlier in the offseason, reportedly prefers to pitch “out West” with a team that trains in Arizona. That leaves nine of the ten West clubs as a possible destination (sorry Astros). Let’s talk through the options.
- Marlins: It’s not certain Haren would retire rather than pitch for the Marlins, so there is still a chance the two parties can reach an understanding. If Haren is hoping to sign another free agent contract next offseason, Marlins Stadium and the NL East is a fantastic home. One thing I assume about the trade – knowing Haren may decline to play for them, the Marlins were probably more interested in acquiring the $10MM sent to cover his contract than Haren himself. As such, they may be unwilling to include the full amount in a deal sending him elsewhere.
- Dodgers: This is an odd option. Actually that might be understating it. The Dodgers just finished trading Haren away, but they’re still sending Miami $10MM to cover his contract. Given that the righty prefers a southern California club, perhaps Los Angeles would consider a reunion. Then again, perhaps not. The Dodgers have plenty of rotation depth for the fifth spot in the rotation, so it’s unlikely they’ll check in unless somebody is injured.
- Angels: GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters in December that the club would not trade for Haren. Dipoto isn’t usually considered the type of GM who would blatantly obfuscate, so it’s likely that the club is legitimately uninterested. Of course, plans can change, and it’s been nearly a month since that report.
- Padres: The final SoCal club has reportedly looked into acquiring additional pitching like Hiroki Kuroda. As a fly ball pitcher, Haren seemingly fits the ballpark. He should come at an affordable financial and prospect cost too. GM A.J. Preller has been everywhere this offseason, so you have to assume he’ll at least check in on Haren. While the Friars have plenty of rotation depth, there’s nothing wrong with pushing Odrisamer Despaigne or Robbie Erlin further down the depth chart. There’s always a place for more starting pitchers.
- Athletics: The remaining western clubs are outside of Haren’s preferred location, so there’s no guarantee he’d treat them any differently than Miami. The A’s seemingly fit given their past history together, excellent outfield defense, and spacious ballpark. The club could use more pitching since they’ll be a little thin while they wait for Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to make mid-season returns from Tommy John surgery. And Haren might fit in the budget depending on how much cash the Marlins cover.
- Giants: Like the A’s, the Giants have the right type of ballpark for Haren. AT&T Field is actually the most pitcher friendly park. The club is pursuing pitching depth and could be in on James Shields. Haren might represent a nice alternative who can serve as an affordable one year bridge to next offseason’s crowd of fantastic free agent hurlers.
- Mariners: Seattle is currently looking at a competition between J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias for the fourth and fifth starter’s job. Adding a pitcher like Haren to the mix makes sense, but it’s hardly necessary. Of all the non-California clubs who could acquire Haren, Seattle strikes me as the most likely. And that still strikes me as a long shot.
- Rangers, Rockies, Others: Not to influence the poll, but I just can’t see another destination as a fit. The Rangers could use another starter, but Haren is a poor fit for the park. The club also appears more focused on 2016 at the moment. If Haren won’t play for Miami, I doubt he’d agree to pitch in hitter happy Denver. All other potential fits are quite distant from his California home.
So, the question is two-fold: Will Haren play in 2015 and where will it be?
With Jon Lester now a Chicago Cub and Max Scherzer patiently waiting out his market, that leaves James Shields as the best available free agent starter who could conceivably sign in the near future. Shields’ market, as you’d expect, was impacted by his two fellow starters, as it was theorized that teams who missed out on either of those two aces (particularly Lester) would turn to Shields as a backup plan. Secondly, while only a limited number of teams could afford Scherzer or Lester, several more teams could conceivably afford the five-year, $95MM deal that MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes projected it would take to land Shields.
Here’s the breakdown of recent Shields-related rumors…
Giants: They were reportedly focused on the righty at the end of the Winter Meetings, with “exit polls” (per Peter Gammons) from those around the Meetings predicting Shields would sign with San Francisco. The Giants have already re-signed Jake Peavy, though a one-two punch of Shields and Madison Bumgarner would do a lot to boost a rotation that contains some question marks given Tim Hudson‘s second-half struggles, Matt Cain‘s health and Tim Lincecum‘s effectiveness.
Red Sox: While Boston has already added Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly in the rotation, Shields would give the Sox a clear-cut ace. But the Red Sox have determined that his tendency to allow flyballs to left-center make him a poor fit for Fenway Park, as Gammons tweets.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy look to be L.A.’s top four, with Brett Anderson in line for the fifth spot if healthy. Since Greinke can opt out of his contract next winter, the Dodgers could see Shields as a long-term rotation answer if Greinke departs. The Winter Meetings rumor mill linked Shields to the Dodgers, though GM Farhan Zaidi recently said the team was only looking for depth starters at this point.
Royals: It has been widely assumed that Kansas City would let Shields go in free agency, though back in October, the team was at least willing to take a fair crack at re-signing him. Since the Royals have since been spending on Edinson Volquez, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales, re-signing Shields would now require a significant payroll increase. All things considered, it seems like the Royals will indeed end up thanking Shields for the memories and collecting a draft pick as compensation for his signing elsewhere.
Other teams have also been connected to Shields this offseason, though given his price tag, the likes of the Diamondbacks or Rangers seem like longshot candidates. The Yankees were reportedly unlikely to pursue Shields, Lester or Scherzer this winter, though you can never really count the Bombers out of a race for a major free agent, especially given the injury issues in the Yankees’ rotation.
It’s also possible the ever-popular mystery team could jump into the mix. Looking at another recent MLBTR Poll about Scherzer’s 2015 destination, some of the scenarios Zach Links posits about Scherzer could also apply to Shields. Maybe the Angels or Blue Jays could eschew their spending limits to sign Shields, or perhaps the “Nationals sign Scherzer then trade Jordan Zimmermann” theory could instead see Shields land in Washington, or maybe the Tigers would truly be willing to close the door on the Scherzer era by inking Shields.
This is just my speculation, but I think the Padres could be an under-the-radar contender for Shields given how aggressive they’ve been this offseason. The Padres have shown an interest in Cole Hamels, so if they’re looking to add a top-of-the-rotation starter, signing Shields would give San Diego that ace without having to send Wil Myers and other young talents to the Phillies. If the Padres are willing to cover what Hamels is owed through the 2018 season ($96MM plus an additional $14MM for 2019 if his option vests), then you’d think the Padres would be open to paying Shields the comparable five-year/$95MM figure that Dierkes projected. Incidentally, San Diego is just a few hours’ drive from Shields’ hometown of Santa Clarita, California.
A frantic November and December has left Norichika Aoki, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus as arguably the best available free agent position players. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked the top 50 free agents earlier in the offseason, with Aoki coming in 40th, Cabrera 23rd, and Rasmus 20th. While the trio aren’t perfect substitutes since they fill different roles, that makes the question all the more interesting. Who is best?
Aoki is the elder statesman of the group – he’ll soon turn 33. However, his skill set is easily leveraged, and he’s a good fit as a leadoff hitter. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a free agent profile in November, highlighting Aoki’s strong batting average, on base percentage, and above average defense. Of course, his game comes with flaws including a complete lack of power. Most clubs shy away from corner outfielders who don’t hit for power, and Aoki only managed one home run for the Royals in 2014. It’s worth noting that he did hit 10 and eight home runs in two seasons with the Brewers. Miller Park is home run friendly whereas Kauffman Stadium suppresses home runs. Perhaps Aoki just needs an offensive environment similar to Milwaukee to fully flourish. Wilmoth pegged Aoki for a two-year, $16MM deal, while Aoki is said to be looking for a three-year contract.
Cabrera is different than the others featured here since he’s a middle infielder. Seemingly connected with every club in need of infield help, the shortstop has been discussed mainly as a second or third baseman. Defensive metrics have rated him as consistently below average over the last six seasons, which is why clubs are hesitant to consider the 29-year-old as a shortstop. Since breaking out offensively in 2011, Cabrera has been roughly league average with the bat. Teams could look at him as a possible second hitter, although he doesn’t reach base often enough to make an ideal fit. MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted a three-year, $27MM contract for Cabrera thanks to his perceived versatility, dearth of other utility infielders, and relative youth.
Speaking of youth, Rasmus is entering 2015 as a 28-year-old. His combination of youth and power should make him attractive to clubs in need of an outfielder, although there are a couple red flags. In 2014, the Blue Jays moved Rasmus to the bench down the stretch as they evaluated options for 2015. He strikes out frequently, including a 33% strikeout rate last season. The result is a low average and on base percentage. A .224 ISO over the past two campaigns allowed him to post above average offense. The Blue Jays used Rasmus exclusively as a center fielder where defensive metrics ranged from 15 runs above average in 2013 to 15 runs below average in 2014. A move to a corner outfield position could help level out the defense. The Orioles appear to be the most closely tied to Rasmus presently. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd foresees a one-year, $12MM deal while noting the challenge of predicting Rasmus’ market.
The three offer value in different ways. Aoki is a high floor, low ceiling, leadoff hitter, but he’s also the oldest of the bunch. Cabrera is under 30, features a steady bat, and plays the infield. Rasmus is the youngest, was once a top prospect, and still shows flashes of the talent that led to the prospect hype. Two other free agents remain on Dierkes top 50 list – Stephen Drew (42nd) and Emilio Bonifacio (43rd). So here’s the question:
Every year, there are free agent signings that fall within, and without, of expectations. Some of those are probably the result of strategic decisions — signing early or trying to wait out the market, for example — while others may suggest that public perception of a player’s value does not always match demand or teams’ valuations. And then, of course, there is the nearly impossible-to-gauge element of non-monetary player considerations.
With that in mind, these are the signings to date that seem most surprising to me, in the sense that they land above or below the generally expected length and/or value:
Billy Butler, three years/$30MM, Athletics – Butler landed an attractive deal from an unexpected place after his old club declined the chance to have him for one year and $12.5MM
Melky Cabrera, three years/$42MM, White Sox – given Cabrera’s relative youth, his excellent overall record of offensive production in recent years, and the mediocre overall pool of free agent corner outfielders, this deal is perhaps lighter than expected
Zach Duke, three years/$15MM, White Sox – nobody saw this coming before the season, and I’m not sure that I saw anyone predict it at the end of the season, but a resurgent Duke took down a nice guarantee over even better term
Nick Markakis, four years/$44MM, Braves – true, MLBTR’s Steve Adams did predict that Markakis would get this deal and then some, but surely there were many skeptics out there
Russell Martin, five years/$82MM, Blue Jays – everyone knew that Martin would have a huge market as the only true starting catcher on the market, but coming in just under Brian McCann‘s guaranteee from last year still rates as a big surprise
Brandon McCarthy, four years/$48MM, Dodgers – sure, we all saw what kind of a pitcher McCarthy could be upon his mid-season trade to the Yankees, but many doubted that such a short sample (even accompanied by rosy projections moving forward) would be enough to deliver McCarthy this level of contract — especially with his injury history
Hanley Ramirez, four years/$88MM, Red Sox – this deal came in way under MLBTR’s expectations; while Ramirez is obviously something of a lightning rod, his superstar-level abilities at the plate cannot be denied
David Robertson, four years/$46MM, White Sox – we at MLBTR felt all along that Robertson was in line for a guarantee on this level, even with a qualifying offer, but many others were not so sure; of course, you could argue that the Andrew Miller contract was even more surprising since he has never even worked as a closer
It’s December 25th and the top available free agent of the winter remains unsigned. In some ways, it’s surprising to see the 30-year-old Max Scherzer still on the market given the widespread interest in him as a talent. On the other hand, agent Scott Boras has never been afraid to patiently wait for the right deal. So, who’s in right now? Well, oddly enough, it might be easier to list the teams that appear or claim to be out.
The incumbent Tigers have had “no conversations” with Scherzer’s camp, according to assistant GM Al Avila. Earlier this month, an industry source told MLB.com’s Jason Beck even though Scott Boras has openly said the Tigers won’t receive a chance to match an opposing team’s final offer for the hurler, Boras will, in fact, give owner Mike Ilitch a chance to match “at least as a professional courtesy.” Keeping Scherzer won’t be cheap, but the Tigers know the value that he brings and David Price is a year away from hitting the open market himself.
The Giants have some major question marks in their rotation beyond top starters Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson and they’d undoubtedly love to add the former Cy Young winner to their starting five. However, Giants GM Brian Sabean says that he hasn’t had discussions with Scherzer and doesn’t plan to. Given their financial constraints and the recent commitments made to retain Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo, SF’s budget just won’t allow for such a deal.
It’s a similar story for the rest of the field. The Cardinals say they are not actively pursuing Scherzer, even though he’s a native of the St. Louis area. Teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, and Red Sox, who are normally not as shy about spending, have also been quick to say they’re not in the mix.
Yesterday, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post sized up the rest of the field and rightly noted that the Blue Jays aren’t likely to splurge on Scherzer after showing a reluctance to spend heavily on a reliever. Davidoff spoke with an AL official who speculated the possibility of the Nationals trading Jordan Zimmermann, a year away from free agency himself, and signing Scherzer – a theory that ESPN’s Jayson Stark was hearing quite a bit from others earlier this month. Another official from a second AL team pegged the Angels as the team to suck it up and pay the luxury tax penalty necessary to sign Scherzer. Davidoff picked Detroit and St. Louis as the most likely landing spots for Scherzer while leaving room at the table for the Cubs, who were thought to be a top contender at the start of the offseason.
Take your best guess – where will this offseason’s best free agent wind up in the New Year?