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It is always somewhat bittersweet for the baseball season to end, but rarely does it do so in such excellent fashion as last night’s Game 7. So as we tip our caps to the Giants (and, of course, the Royals), we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that today is the start of the offseason.
Offseason spending, of course, does not guarantee anything. This last season proves that yet again. In an update I provided in mid-March, after most of the major outlays were in the books, the top three teams by total free agent commitments were the Yankees, Mariners, and Rangers. Though most postseason teams threw around some fairly significant dollars, led by the Dodgers with $105MM, half of them — including the newly-crowned champs — promised away less than $50MM.
Nevertheless, free agency (in addition, of course to the trade market) offers the chance not only to grab in-prime stars but also to plug holes, make upgrades, and find value in unexpected places. Will the Yankees follow their reported course of more limited spending this time around? Will the Dodgers trim payroll or make a splash? Do the Red Sox or White Sox fill up their largely open future balance sheets? Or is there a surprise team sitting on a hidden war chest?
That remains to be seen. For now, however, you can predict: which MLB team will commit the most total dollars (overall contract guarantees) through free agency? (Team order randomized.)
As we begin to digest Joe Maddon’s departure from the Rays, interest will begin to focus on what’s next for the now-former manager. We at MLBTR have diligently collected quite a volume of information and reactions to Maddon’s decision. If you’re lacking any detail from yesterday’s surprise announcement, you’ll probably find it there.
We know that Maddon reportedly seeks a five-year, $25MM contract. And as we learned earlier tonight, the move may have been mutually beneficial for Maddon and the Rays. Maddon would have been a lame duck manager with his contract set to expire after the season and little hope for an extension. Now the Rays can get a head start on finding their next manager.
The Twins are the only club with a current opening at manager, and they appear to have narrowed the search to their three finalists. Minnesota GM Terry Ryan will reportedly do his due diligence, but it’s worth noting they have never paid a manager an annual rate above $2MM.
The Cubs are a much rumored destination due to supposed similarities between Maddon and Cubs president Theo Epstein. However, second year manager Rick Renteria led the club to 73 wins while overseeing a few breakout performances. He also handled a potentially fractious bullpen with aplomb. Low expectations helped Renteria form a good impression, but Chicago already appears to be in excellent hands.
Other managers on the hot seat like Ryne Sandberg, Terry Collins, and Fredi Gonzalez have all received votes of confidence since Maddon hit the open market. While that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it would be a bold move to fire a manager who was considered secure (for now) as of just a few days ago. Another NL East club that might make sense – the Nationals – just reached the playoffs in Matt Williams first season with the club.
Of course, the question as posed does not exclude a mid-season job offer for Maddon, so let’s make that a separate option.
In his recent free agent profile of Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained that a variety of strategic moves could have significant bearing on both where he ends up and what kind of contract he might play under in 2015 and, potentially, beyond. As Tim explains, the veteran still holds plenty of appeal both in Milwaukee and the rest of the league, especially for clubs that prefer a shorter-term obligation from a consistently productive player. And the way things shake out with Ramirez could have widespread implications for player movement elsewhere.
So, let’s look at the decision tree that will have such an important role in determining Ramirez’s future. First, there is a $14MM mutual option ($4MM buyout) to consider. If Milwaukee decides it’s just too much money and pays the buyout, Ramirez would enter the market free and clear. If the club exercises its end, Ramirez could either take that payday or release that bird in hand and try the market.
In the latter scenario, the Brewers could still make him a qualifying offer, which would present another binary decision for Ramirez. Declining the QO, of course, would saddle him with draft compensation in free agency. If he goes that route, a new destination is possible, though, as we’ve seen in recent years, some players that test the market after declining a qualifying offer return to their prior teams.
Oh, and there’s one more possibility: Ramirez and the Brewers could essentially bypass this series of decisions entirely by agreeing to a multi-year extension at the outset (or at any point along the way).
This kind of situation is more or less what we live for here at MLBTR. Tim has already gone on record with his expectations, and it’s time that our readers did the same. (I won’t ask you to try to decide what Ramirez would do if he reaches free agency.)
With the regular season coming to a close, we can see with MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker that there were dozens of waiver claims made this season. While many of the players involved in these transactions didn’t crack a big league roster or didn’t stick following their claim, a handful provided legitimate value to their new clubs. Let’s take a look at some of the better pulls…
- Sam Fuld (Claimed by Twins from A’s on April 20): Fuld was acquired by the Twins simply because they needed depth in center field, but he provided quite a bit more than depth. Fuld batted a very solid .274/.370/.354 in 195 PA with the Twins and provided value both on the bases and in the outfield. He was traded back to Oakland on July 31, netting the Twins Tommy Milone. The 27-year-old Milone has struggled so far in Minnesota, but the team gained four years of control of a potential back-end starter in the deal.
- Hector Noesi (Claimed by White Sox from Rangers on April 25): Few expected Noesi to hold down a rotation spot in Chicago for the whole season, but he’s done just that. The 27-year-old, who was a castoff from the Mariners after struggling to a 6.13 ERA in parts of three seasons, made just three appearances with the Rangers before being DFAed there also. In Chicago, he’s turned in a 4.39 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 37.7 percent ground-ball rate in 160 innings. He may not be an elite arm or even a long-term piece, but he’s provided some stability and soaked up innings, and there’s value to that for any club. Noesi is controlled through 2017 if the Sox are so inclined.
- Moises Sierra (Claimed by White Sox from Blue Jays on May 3): Chicago’s outfield depth took a hit with the injury to Avisail Garcia, and Sierra has helped fill some of the void in a part-time role. He hasn’t been an elite bat, but he’s provided above-average offense with a .280/.316/.423 and also played solid defense in right field. He’s yet to reach arbitration eligibility, and he remains under control through 2019, so he could serve as a bench piece in future seasons.
- Esmil Rogers (Claimed by Yankees from Blue Jays on July 31): Rogers’ struggles in Toronto were long bemoaned by Blue Jays fans, particularly because he was acquired in a deal that sent Yan Gomes to the Indians. The Yankees claimed him with little fanfare, but he’s given them five solid innings in a spot start and 19 2/3 innings of solid relief. The end result is a 3.28 ERA and a strong 22-to-8 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 frames for the Yankees. While he might not be a long-term piece (he’s a non-tender candidate after earning $1.85MM this year), he did provide a positive contribution to a Yankee pitching staff that was still hoping to make a run at the time of his acquisition.
- Jordan Schafer (Claimed by Twins from Braves on Aug. 3): Once a top Braves prospect, Schafer’s second tenure with the club that drafted him didn’t go all that well, but the Twins again claimed him in need of outfield depth. Schafer has faredwell in Minnesota, slashing .285/.345/.362 with 15 steals in 20 attempts. He can be controlled through 2016 if the Twins wish to retain him as a fourth outfielder, which seems likely, as he earned a modest $1.09MM in 2014.
- Matt Thornton (Claimed by Nationals from Yankees on Aug. 5): Thornton pitched well in the Bronx after signing a two-year, $7MM deal with the Yankees, but his salary made him expendable to the Bombers, who let him go to the Nats on this waiver claim. The veteran lefty has rattled off 11 1/3 scoreless innings over 18 appearances with the Nats and is controlled through next season at $3.5MM.
- Jerome Williams (Claimed by the Phillies from the Rangers on Aug. 10): Williams struggled mightily with both Texas clubs after finding success as a swingman with the Angels from 2011-13, but he rediscovered himself in Philadelphia. He’s given the Phillies eight starts and 51 1/3 innings of 2.45 ERA ball with 6.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 45.7 percent ground-ball rate. With the Phillies toiling at the bottom of the NL East and Williams set to hit free agency at season’s end, the overall benefit may seem trivial, but he’s provided stable innings for the Phils and rebuilt some of the stock that his struggles in Houston and Arlington tarnished.
- John Axford (Claimed by Pirates from Indians on Aug. 14): Axford’s bid to reestablish himself with the Indians fell short, as he quickly lost the closer’s gig and walked 30 batters in 43 2/3 innings with Cleveland. The Bucs claimed him in hopes of lowering that walk rate, and they’ve succeeded. Axford has given the playoff-bound Bucs 10 2/3 innings of a 1.69 ERA in relief, and perhaps more importantly, he’s turned in a tidy 12-to-4 K/BB ratio in that time. He appears to have manager Clint Hurdle’s trust, as he’s worked the seventh inning three times, the eighth inning six times and the ninth inning three times in his 12 appearances as a Pirate. They’ll have the option to retain him via arbitration this offseason, though a raise on his $4.5MM salary may be too steep.
While these waiver claims vary in nature — some provide a long-term bench piece while others have provided short-term boosts — each has been of some benefit to their current club. That brings me to the question…
It’s an exceptionally quiet night on the transaction front, so let’s turn our attention to a poll. Tomorrow is Yasmani Tomas day with the Cuban slugger scheduled to workout at the Giants Dominican complex in front of about two dozen clubs. Even though tomorrow is a landmark date in Tomas’ move toward the majors, it is really just the beginning of the process. Like with fellow countryman Rusney Castillo, I assume Tomas will conduct private workouts with the most interested teams in the next few weeks. It’s also worth noting that Tomas has not yet been declared a free agent by major league baseball.
We heard last Sunday that Tomas could command as much as $100MM in a bidding war. While we can assume that every team with some modicum of interest will be represented at the showcase, we’ve seen eight teams directly tied to Tomas. The Yankees and Phillies are popular speculative destinations. Hall of Fame journalist and MLB Network contributor Peter Gammons mentioned five clubs as front runners, including the Phillies, Rangers, Tigers, Padres, and Giants. The Red Sox and Mets have also been tied to Tomas here at MLBTR.
So my question is this: who do you think will sign Tomas? I’ve removed a few teams from the poll below based on payroll or other constraints (i.e. the Rays). If the team you think will sign him is not represented, you should vote for “other.”
Pablo Sandoval is playing out his age-27 season as one of the game’s better third basemen. Barring a last-minute run at an extension, he will enter the open market as one of the most desirable position players available. Though he doesn’t provide as much value at the plate as he did in the earlier part of his career, and is a below-average baserunner, Sandoval has produced consistently at a well-above-average rate with the bat and the glove. (And did I mention that he just turned 28 a little over a month ago?) Of course, he comes with questions of conditioning, though Sandoval reported in good shape this spring and has seemingly carried that positive vibe through the season. He should have a number of suitors awaiting him if he tests the market.
With a seller’s market awaiting him, it is hard to see Sandoval taking any sort of discount to re-up with San Francisco. But the club kept Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum off the market with late-breaking extensions last year, and GM Brian Sabean has recently given expression to the club’s oft-noted penchant for retaining its own players. (Of course, he also noted that difficult decisions will need to be made, and added that payroll will be an issue.) Sandoval is a highly marketable player for a large-market team that lacks an obvious replacement. He has spent his entire career with the Giants, and there are plenty of reasons to think that the Giants will look to make a run at him (whether through an extension or via free agency).
So, the question is simple: will Sandoval be back in San Francisco next year, or will he find a new home?
It’s been a quiet day on the transactional front, so a poll seems in order. Looking ahead at free agency, one of the more interesting situations involves the Orioles’ crop of pending free agents. The club has several key pieces of the lineup set to reach the open market: Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and J.J. Hardy. But the question remains whether some or all will receive qualifying offers.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams took a look at Markakis as a possible free agent back in May, noting that the 30-year-old’s hot start could lead to a significant turnaround in value. While he has not maintained that pace, Markakis has put up a .278/.339/.387 slash that constitutes better-than league-average production. Defensive metrics are not in love with his glove, but credit him with improvements over recent seasons. Also aiding Markakis as he looks ahead to a new deal is the fact that the upcoming free agent market appears rather thin in the corner outfield, especially in younger options. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently suggested, the club could pay him a $2MM buyout on his $17.5MM mutual option but still make him the QO.
Cruz, meanwhile, has done nothing but rake since joining the O’s on a one-year, $8MM pact. That deal cost the club a compensation pick, but looks like a bargain in hindsight. Cruz leads the league with 39 long balls and has slashed a robust .262/.331/.532 triple-slash in 596 plate appearances. But looking forward, he is 34 years old and is a limited defensive player (though he has rated out as an approximately average corner outfielder in limited action this year). On the other hand, even if Baltimore would rather not pay Cruz $15MM next year, might the qualifying offer be worth it? Having missed his chance to cash in on a multi-year deal last year, Cruz could well be motivated to take another crack at a player’s market. And if he does take the offer, that seems an attractive-enough rate for a single season commitment.
Then there is Hardy, who is quite an interesting player in his own right. The shortstop continues to create immense value with the glove while delivering league-average offense. Though his power numbers have taken a big step back this year, Hardy has managed to compensate with a higher batting average and on-base percentage. (Though he has ridden a career-high .332 BABIP, Hardy has also raised his line-drive percentage this year.) All said, the 32-year-old is almost certainly the best shortstop on the upcoming market, if one views Hanley Ramirez as a third baseman at this point. Just look at these current season, three-year, and five-year comparisons to fellow soon-to-be free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Drew. It still seems somewhat hard to imagine that Baltimore will let him reach the open market without restriction, especially given that the long-anticipated move of Manny Machado to shortstop could once again be delayed (and would, in any event, simply open a hole at the hot corner).
So, which players are likely to receive a qualifying offer from the O’s? (Select all that apply.)
Though trades completed after the expiration of the non-waiver period generally lack the marquee appeal of their predecessors, August swaps can have wide-ranging impact — as the blockbuster of 2012 amply illustrates. This year, most of the heavy lifting was done during July, but that doesn’t mean that the more recent set of trades (and straight waiver claims) will go without meaning.
So, MLBTR readers: which of the following dozen players will, in your opinion, be the most impactful addition for their new club? (Players listed in alphabetical order by last name, randomized in poll; links go to the relevant transaction.)
Gordon Beckham, INF, Angels — Beckham has not hit well this year — or, really, for much of his career — but is just 27 and can play around the diamond.
Jonathan Broxton, RP, Brewers — One of the game’s most effective set-up men this year, Broxton will be Milwaukee’s for 2015 as well, at a $9MM price tag.
Kevin Correia, SP, Dodgers — Injury flare-ups created a need for innings, but Los Angeles decided to add at the back of the rotation rather than giving up top youngsters.
Alejandro De Aza, OF, Orioles — Though he has had a down year, De Aza appears to be a solid reserve piece and comes with control for next year (though he is a possible non-tender).
Adam Dunn, DH, Athletics — Dunn can still mash, especially against righties, and his bat will be nice to have handy in a now-likely play-in game.
Roberto Hernandez, SP, Dodgers — See above re Correia.
Kelly Johnson, INF, Orioles — With Manny Machado down for the year and second base still a weakness, Johnson is an obvious fit.
Josh Outman, RP, Yankees — Apparently missing Thornton somewhat, New York added the lefty-killer and will have the chance to control him for 2015.
Geovany Soto, C, Athletics — Catcher didn’t seem likely to become a need for Oakland, but Soto could be a good get to plug a late-arising hole.
Matt Thornton, RP, Nationals — Thornton represented the lefty specialist that Washington wanted, and he has been lights out since being nabbed.
Jacob Turner, SP, Cubs — The only non-contender acquisition on this list came about when the Marlins tired of waiting for the 23-year-old’s promise, and his lack of options required an ill-timed DFA.
Josh Willingham, OF, Royals — After a quiet non-waiver deadline, Kansas City made its move to add the still-productive veteran hitter.
We’ve heard a lot of reports recently on Cuban outfielder/infielder Rusney Castillo, who drew most every team in baseball to a showcase before embarking on a series of individual workouts. It remains to be seen, of course, just how good Castillo will be at the major league level. But scouting reports have ranged from solid to fairly glowing (being compared to Ron Gant, for example, is not faint praise).
Rumor has it that, having shown some big tools in his showcase, Castillo could land as much as $50MM in a six-year deal. On top of his ability, Castillo’s appeal lies in the fact that he is expected to be ready for an MLB roster spot virtually right out of the gate and that teams can acquire prime years without sacrificing draft compensation or young talent. That is hardly unprecedented — just this winter, the same was true of Jose Abreu — but Castillo holds special intrigue since he could have near-immediate impact on a postseason race. (Of course, as Joel Sherman recently noted, quick visa work will be necessary to make that possible.)
For those reasons, there is no shortage of plausible landing spots for Castillo. Looking back through the MLBTR archives, 11 teams have been connected with him in some manner beyond simply attending the showcase. (The Orioles and Twins were also said to have interest, but not at his expected price tag.) Ben Badler provides a breakdown of some of the possible fits here. So, will Castillo sign with one of those clubs, or will a mystery team emerge?
Major League Baseball owners yesterday elected MLB COO Rob Manfred as the successor to Bud Selig and next commissioner of baseball. While Manfred’s vote technically passed unanimously, there was a pronounced split for much of the day. Reportedly, 22 of the 30 teams were in favor of Manfred for much of the day, but it took quite some time for a 23rd team — said by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports to be the Nationals — to give Manfred the final vote he required. At that point, the remaining seven teams altered their vote as “an olive branch for posterity” (to use the words of the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin), knowing that their preferred candidate had no chance to win anyhow.
That preferred candidate was Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, although Werner wasn’t the only other finalist to give a presentation to owners yesterday. Joining Werner and Manfred was MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, though he appeared to be the first of the three to withdraw from consideration.
All three had their merits. Manfred has resided over labor negotiations and can boast 19 years of peace between MLB and the MLBPA, and he also has worked tirelessly to implement the current drug testing system in addition to spearheading last year’s Biogenesis investigation. Werner, whose background was in television before jumping to the baseball world, was believed by his supporters to possess the necessary knowledge to bolster MLB’s television ratings and revitalize interest in baseball among the youth of the United States and Canada. Brosnan’s business acumen was his strongest selling point, though he looked to be a distant third place behind his competitors not long after the announcement of the three finalists. (Of course, all three had their flaws as well, and MLBTR readers can get a brief rundown of each candidate in this piece from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.)
Prior to the announcement of the three finalists, other candidates for the position had included Giants president Larry Baer, Disney chief executive Bob Iger, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman and former Yale University president Richard C. Levin.
Manfred has long been rumored to be the preferred successor of retiring commissioner Bud Selig, and in the end, the seemingly likeliest option wound up getting the nod. Manfred will become just the 10th commissioner of the league and presumably will hold this post for a considerable amount of time. Should baseball fans be happy about the outcome of the election? Let’s find out how the MLBTR universe feels…