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In late February, Jeff Todd asked MLBTR readers which team would sign free agent closer Rafael Soriano, and a bit more than a quarter of you thought he would end up with the Blue Jays. Almost three months later, the Scott Boras client remains a free agent, so now seems like a good time to revisit the question.
Near the beginning of the season, the Twins and Tigers each reportedly showed at least some interest, although perhaps not much. The Reds then ruled themselves out as candidates to sign Soriano. Later, the Mariners reportedly had at least some contact with Soriano. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman also suggested that the Indians, Dodgers and Pirates might also be possibilities, although those seemed speculative. It seems unlikely that the Dodgers would pursue Soriano now given how good their bullpen has been, and the Pirates don’t seem particularly likely given their strong interest in ground-ball pitchers. The Marlins were the next team to be connected to Soriano, although early last week it emerged that they had lost interest. By late last week, he’d been connected to the Cubs.
More speculatively, the Padres are a potential contender with a struggling bullpen, although they’re set at closer and could prefer the talent they have on hand. The Red Sox are in a somewhat similar boat, although calling them a “potential contender” might strike some of their fans as off base, even though they aren’t yet out of contention. The Diamondbacks are near .500 and recently bumped Addison Reed from their closer role. The Rangers also have an unsettled closer situation and are on the fringes of the AL Wild Card race at this early point in the season, although Shawn Tolleson got two saves this week and has pitched well all year, suggesting he might fit well at closer. The Rockies have a poorly performing bullpen and might be convinced to sign Soriano if he were cheap enough, but are far enough out of contention that the upside of such a move would be limited.
The number of fits is unclear, then, and much could depend upon Soriano’s cost. There’s also the issue of his likely performance — the Marlins reportedly backed away because they felt Soriano wasn’t an upgrade. That might sound wrong for a pitcher who’s had 107 saves total over the past three seasons, but Soriano is 35 and posted a 6.48 ERA in the second half last season.
So who will ultimately sign Soriano?
It’s not often we see a baseball move that is truly out of the ordinary, but the Marlins gave us one yesterday. While moving Dan Jennings from the GM role to that of manager is not without precedent, it is nonetheless quite unusual, and his lack of significant professional experience as a professional coach or player certainly sets it further apart.
We heard plenty of opinions on the subject yesterday, many of them focused on the jarring nature of the decision, others very nearly questioning the sanity and/or professionalism of owner Jeffrey Loria.
Needless to say, on balance, the reaction has been strongly negative. A variety of factors have been cited as setting Jennings up for failure, in spite of his good personal reputation around the game.
As I noted in the above-linked post, however, the hiring of Jennings is, if nothing else, rather interesting. The Marlins front office will, in a very real sense, be a part of the team (as distinguished from the organization) on a day-to-day basis, sharing in the ups and downs along with the players. Far from a suit in a private suite, the former GM (who’ll still have a heavy role in player personnel) will be in uniform, in the dugout, on the road, staring down the microphones of the press. Of course, he’ll also be a constant reminder that ballplayers — most of them, anyway — are constantly playing for their jobs.
Loria has struck gold with mid-season managerial changes before. For a team that hoped for much better than its 16-23 start to the season, might this be a worthwhile experiment? Let’s see what the MLBTR readers think:
Cole Hamels‘ name has been on the trade market for the better part of a year, but despite reported interest from teams such as the Red Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Padres and others, the 31-year-old ace remains in Phillies pinstripes to open the 2015 season. The expectation is that Hamels will once again frequent the rumor circuit this summer, and many of the aforementioned clubs figure to be mentioned as suitors. Struggles in the Red Sox’ rotation and injuries to the Dodgers should place them among the most oft-mentioned suitors, but with an 18-8 start under their belt, the Astros merit consideration as a potential landing spot.
Yesterday, when looking at some items from around the AL West, I briefly explored the idea of a Hamels-to-Houston move when discussing the idea of the Astros making an early move to fortify their rotation. As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle pointed out, both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have the Astros’ playoff odds listed at greater than 50 percent with their 18 wins already banked and the second-place Angels trailing by seven games. While an elite bullpen (2.13 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 2.87 xFIP) and an offense that has collectively batted .247/.324/.446 (good for a fourth-ranked wRC+ of 113) have paired with a decisively above-average defense, the team’s rotation has has been less impressive.
Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have continued their 2014 breakouts and stepped into the No. 1 and 2 slots atop the rotation, but the collective contributions of Scott Feldman, Roberto Hernandez, Sam Deduno, Asher Wojciechowski and Brad Peacock have yielded just a 5.05 ERA. Feldman’s track record of solid innings and contract will keep him locked into a rotation spot, barring injury, but aside from him, there’s little certainty in the team’s remaining rotation options.
Deduno’s solid 2013 effort was bookended by a pair of replacement-level showings. Hernandez was reasonably effective with the Phillies last season, but he hasn’t been a reliable rotation arm since he was still known as Fausto Carmona. Wojciechowski and Peacock are both prospects that have proven little at the Major League level, and neither Dan Straily or Brett Oberholtzer (rehabbing from a blister issue) has ever handled a full big league workload.
While we can make the case that the team has enough arms to patch its way through the season with this mix, the rotation appears to be the clearest spot for an upgrade. Indeed, GM Jeff Luhnow has acknowledged as much, saying yesterday that the rotation is the team’s only “obvious” area to make an addition. He also hinted that the club may ultimately look to add at the top of the rotation rather than just settling for a back-of-the-rotation option. As Luhnow put it, “there are scenarios where we would continue to invest in this team as the year goes on in order to maximize our chances of not just getting to the playoffs, but being better in the playoffs.”
There’s certainly an argument to be made that a less expensive veteran such as Kyle Lohse would be a better target for the Astros, but Houston showed little interest in giving up talent for one-year rentals this winter when it acquired a long-term piece in Evan Gattis. They, in fact, traded a rental by moving the final year of Dexter Fowler‘s contract for Luis Valbuena and Straily (and replacing him cheaply via free agency with another rental, Colby Rasmus). Perhaps if the price is right, that would end up being the preferred route, but with an Astros team that is seemingly on the brink of what it hopes will be a sustainable run of contending seasons, there may be some additional value placed on adding Hamels at a below-market rate as opposed to spending heavily in free agency this winter on the likes of David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, etc.
The Astros aren’t known as big spenders, but they invested $62MM in Major League free agents this offseason — the 13th-largest sum of any team — and they can’t be criticized for not trying to spend more. Houston reportedly made the largest offer for Andrew Miller and aggressively pursued David Robertson, only to see each sign elsewhere. They also appeared set to add Ryan Vogelsong late in the offseason before questions regarding his physical resulted in a decrease in their offer.
Nonetheless, the $96MM in guaranteed money remaining on Hamels’ contract (not including an option that could invest and bring the guarantee to $124MM) is certainly a level of spending that we haven’t seen the Astros approach since escaping the tail end of what was a disastrous $100MM contract issued to Carlos Lee by the previous front office/ownership group. However, if the sum is daunting for owner Jim Crane, the Phillies have expressed a willingness to include money to facilitate a trade. And, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explained on Opening Day, the Astros have the second-lightest swath of long-term commitments among all MLB clubs, with only the A’s having a clearer payroll in the years to come. Houston, then, is arguably better-equipped to add a hefty contract like the Hamels pact than the Red Sox or Dodgers, both of whom would acquire Hamels with the added cost of serious luxury tax implications.
As far as prospects are concerned, there’s no question that the Astros’ farm system has deteriorated a bit following the trade for Gattis and the promotion of George Springer (among others). However, ESPN’s Keith Law still ranked them third, even after the Gattis swap, and Basebal America ranked them a less-impressive 14th late in Spring Training. Carlos Correa is among the game’s very best prospects, and while he’d surely top GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s wishlist when discussing Hamels deals, I’d imagine the Astros consider him untouchable. Moving on from Correa, however, the Astros have a host of Top 100 prospects, with Mark Appel likely considered the second-best among their ranks. Appel ranked between 30th and 35th on the Top 100 lists of BA, Law, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, while Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel ranked him 18th entering the season. A deep farm system beyond that top two reveals the likes of Vincent Velasquez, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader and Brett Phillips, among others. And while parting with a significant portion of that talent would come as an unequivocal blow to their organizational depth, the Astros are positioned to add more high-impact talent in this year’s draft, with two of the top five picks and four of the top 46.
I’ll be the first to admit that this is a somewhat reactionary response to a 25-game sample, but with 18 wins accounted for, the Astros could play sub-.500 baseball (68-69) over the rest of the season and still finish with 86 wins. Another five months of ~.500 ball will have them firmly in the mix for a playoff spot. At that point, an early or midseason swap of Hamels for the group of occupants that would’ve otherwise provided innings from the fifth slot in the rotation could prove an upgrade of two or three wins.
Hamels, of course, hasn’t looked himself to open the season, but his 91.5 mph average fastball velocity is in line with his 2012-13 levels, and a fluky homer-to-flyball ratio has plagued him thus far. Overall, his bottom-line results through six starts aren’t entirely dissimilar from the first six outings of his 2014 campaign. Perhaps the one area for concern with Hamels is his increased walk rate, but with a rebound in his control, Hamels still appears plenty capable of providing a significant jolt to any big league rotation.
With my perhaps unnecessarily long-winded preamble aside, let’s open it up to public debate…
It’s not often that we see significant trades this early in the season, but special circumstances led to the deal that sent Josh Hamilton from the Angels back to the Rangers. Timing is not the only reason that the trade was unique; Hamilton’s sacrifice of guaranteed money is a rarity, too.
While reports are still emerging on the complicated arrangement, it appears that Los Angeles will save about $20MM over the next three years, while Texas will enjoy Hamilton’s services for only $6MM or so during that stretch. (For his part, Hamilton can now opt out of the last year of the deal, thus conveying some value to him, along with state income tax savings, in exchange for giving up some of his promised payout.)
So, let’s take a quick poll: how would you assess the trade?
The Tigers learned today that closer Joe Nathan will be lost for the year to Tommy John surgery. While the 40-year-old was coming off a rough season, he opened the year installed in the 9th and was obviously an important part of the club’s plans. His hefty salary doesn’t make things any easier, although that cost was inked into the books long ago.
Of course, GM Dave Dombrowski had already added a player with closing experience and stuff at last year’s trade deadline. Joakim Soria will handle save situations going forward, and that gives some comfort. But his ascension reduces the quality and depth of the earlier innings. Simply using Soria to get the final out hardly addresses the fact that it will now be more difficult to get to the spot where he’ll be called upon.
Detroit’s bullpen was already a concern entering the year (as it has been in the past). As MLBTR’s Steve Adams discussed in reviewing the Tigers’ offseason, the club did little more than replace Phil Coke with Tom Gorzelanny. To be sure, young righty Bruce Rondon is expected to bring a big arm when he finally returns from Tommy John surgery. But he is still working cautiously back after an earlier setback.
The results have hardly been disastrous thus far, with the Tigers hovering around the middle of the league in terms of reliever ERA. But xFIP and SIERA paint much less promising pictures of the club’s collective relief effort thus far. And, for what it’s worth, projection systems don’t expect many above-average run prevention efforts to emerge from the Detroit pen.
Given the entirety of the situation, there are several ways the team could react. It does have a nice rotation and can put up a lot of runs, after all, so perhaps there’s little reason to act hastily. On the other hand, the Tigers are firmly in win-now mode and could face a drawn out division battle, so every victory matters.
And there are some prominent players with late-inning experience who could be had. Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies is among the most available players in the game, and may not cost much in prospects if Detroit will assume a good piece of his salary. Even more conveniently, experienced righty Rafael Soriano is still a free agent. It is obviously rare to have a clear option like that still sitting on the open market in late April, making him an obvious possibility.
While it is probably too early for any teams to give up completely on their seasons, that doesn’t mean that some clubs wouldn’t consider moving a useful arm at the right price — motivated, in part, by a rough open to the season. The Brewers, in particular, have dug a monumental hole in a very tough division and have some younger arms they could justify promoting. Jonathan Broxton might be had for little more than salary relief.
Most other clubs will probably be hesitant to part with depth, but could always be convinced at the right price — particularly if Detroit is looking mostly for competent veterans to plug into the middle innings. While they are hardly shaping up to be a seller, for instance, the Padres have plenty of depth and an obvious willingness to get creative in making deals. The more likely scenario, of course, would be to keep a close eye on the waiver wire. The Dodgers, after all, have been aggressively adding (and, in some cases, outrighting) other teams’ cast-offs to bolster their depth.
Let’s see what MLBTR readers recommend:
Tapped by many as the preseason favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals have enough depth on both the Major League and minor league level that their window of contention won’t snap shut if they don’t win it all this year. That said, there is certainly a sense that the window may never be quite as open as it is now, given that four of Washington’s top players are scheduled to hit free agency this winter.
Assuming that Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann all post their usual types of seasons in 2015, all will draw a lot of attention on the open market; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranks Desmond and Zimmerman fourth and sixth, respectively, in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Between interest from other teams and the Nats’ already-substantial salary commitments (over $84MM committed to just six players on their 2016 roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), we can safely rule out the possibility of the Nationals bringing all four back. Indeed, some of Washington’s offseason moves seem directed at preparing for a future without some of these players, as I’ll explain momentarily.
The question is, however, will the Nationals bring back any of their free agent quartet? Let’s look at the options…
* Desmond. The shortstop reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107MM extension during the 2013-14 offseason, leading the Nats to explore acquiring a young shortstop at last summer’s trade deadline. Washington got that young shortstop in the form of Trea Turner as part of their three-team deal with the Rays and Padres over the winter, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Desmond and the Nats didn’t engage in significant extension talks, or that Desmond’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Mariners and Mets.
With all this in mind, Desmond’s days in Washington seem numbered, even if the Nationals would be letting perhaps the game’s best offensive shortstop leave.
* Zimmermann. The right-hander’s name was also linked to those talks with Seattle, and Boston also engaged the Nationals about Zimmermann’s services. Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal essentially could make Zimmermann expendable, as Washington doesn’t want to ink another starter to another deal in the $200MM range, especially when they’ll also have Stephen Strasburg‘s free agency to deal with after the 2016 season. (Then again, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post recently speculated that the Nats may let both Zimmermann and Strasburg go due to concerns that their arms won’t hold up given their Tommy John histories.)
* Fister. Much of what I wrote about Zimmermann also applies to Fister, though obviously Fister’s free agent price tag will be significantly lower than Zimmerman’s next contract. The Nationals reportedly haven’t discussed an extension with Fister in about a year, so one would think they’re prepared to move on from the 31-year-old righty. That said,
* Span. The team already got a look at life without Span when the veteran outfielder began the season on the DL recovering from core muscle surgery. Top prospect Michael Taylor filled in as Washington’s center fielder and hit .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances, though his defense left something to be desired. Still, Taylor performed well enough that the Nats likely feel as if they have a solid replacement on hand if Span isn’t brought back.
* None of them. As you may notice, I’ve listed several more “won’t be back” reasons than I have reasons for why the Nationals may re-sign any of the quartet. It’s quite possible Washington simply lets all four players go in order to save future payroll space for Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper‘s future extensions. The Nats would also get a boost to their minor league system, as they’d receive at least three draft picks back as compensation if their players signed elsewhere — Desmond, Zimmermann and Fister are locks to receive qualifying offers, while Span could potentially get one too if he has a big season.
That said, it would also be somewhat surprising to see a team with such clear designs on winning a championship soon let four big pieces walk. While Washington has an enviable amount of starting pitching depth, any rotation would suffer in losing two proven arms like Zimmermann or Fister. Desmond, as noted, would leave a big hole at shortstop, and counting on Taylor to replace Span might be putting a lot of pressure on a youngster. Re-signing even two of the four could be a tall order, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Nationals bring back one of the four.
One more wrinkle: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently speculated that the Nats could explore trading Zimmermann or Fister this summer in order to fill any other holes on the roster. Theoretically, this would open the door for Washington to add talent at midseason to bolster their postseason hopes, and then also allow them to possibly sign either traded pitcher in the offseason. As Jon Lester and the Red Sox might tell you, however, it’s very rare to see such a scenario play out with the traded ace immediately return to the club that dealt him away.
Cubs fans have been anxiously awaiting the debut of Kris Bryant since he began obliterating the upper levels of the Minor Leagues in 2014. The No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant batted a Herculean .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Unsurprisingly, he ranked as the game’s top prospect according to Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law, while MLB.com ranked him second and Baseball Prospectus ranked him fifth.
Bryant’s video-game-esque 2014 numbers prompted some, including agent Scott Boras, to advocate for a September call-up of the phenom. Bryant wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the time, though, and he never did receive the September call-up. In fact, even after Bryant hit a ridiculous nine home runs in just 40 Spring Training at-bats, he was reassigned to Minor League camp and began the season in Triple-A.
The Cubs maintain that the reasoning was for Bryant to work on his defense, and even today they’ve told reporters that Bryant would not have been recalled were it not for the fact that both Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt are on the disabled list. While that may be the case, it’s impossible to ignore that as of today, there are 171 days of the regular season remaining, which means Bryant will fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service time. In other words, by stashing Bryant in the Minors for the first 12 days of the season, the team has delayed his free agency by one season. Had Bryant broken camp with the club, he’d have been eligible for free agency following the 2020 season, but he’ll now have to wait until after the 2021 campaign.
Of course, it’s not all bad news for Bryant. He’ll now qualify for Super Two status, meaning that he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, rather than three. By the time Bryant is in his final year of arbitration eligibility (his seventh in the Majors), he could be earning more than $20MM, if he lives up to expectations. He may still take home less in the 2021 season than he would have had it been a free agent season, but he won’t be hurting from a financial standpoint. (It should also be noted that Bryant received a $6.7MM signing bonus out of the draft, so he’s already been compensated quite well without so much as an inning in the Majors.)
Boras and many Cubs fans (and baseball fans in general) have denounced the Cubs’ tactics, stating that a team telling its fanbase that it is doing everything it can to win should bring the 25 best players north to open the season, regardless of service time. Others have noted that the Cubs are far from the first team to manipulate service time in this manner, and that there’s certainly something to be said for trading 10 games of Bryant’s rookie season for a full year of control in his prime. Just yesterday, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes examined 11 top prospects who broke camp with their team, finding that by and large, the year-one benefit of roughly 10 extra games almost never outweighed the long-term negative of losing a full year of team control. (Jason Heyward was perhaps one notable exception, Tim found, as the Braves squeaked into the playoffs by just one game, and Heyward had a stellar rookie season.)
Detractors will say that the Cubs will rue the decision if they miss the postseason by a single game, and they can point to the fact that Chicago third baseman have batted a dismal .148/.233/.259 to begin the season. Supporters will point to the long-term gain of controlling Bryant’s age-29 season and the fact that many other clubs have acted in a similar fashion in the past. All of that said, let’s see where MLBTR readers come down on the issue…
It’s a quiet morning around the game, so let’s conduct a quick poll.
The Red Sox just agreed to rather an unusual contract with starter Rick Porcello, who had been set to hit the open market after this season. Still just 26 years old, the righty has been a steady presence for several years. But while he has shown some signs of breaking out, and did put up a career-best 3.43 ERA while topping 200 innings last season, Porcello has yet to establish himself as more than a solid, middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Nevertheless, Boston bet on Porcello’s ability to deliver value through his late twenties, buying four free agent years for a $82.5MM guarantee. That’s quite a significant average annual value for a pitcher with Porcello’s track record, but is offset by the fact that the team bought his age-27 through age-30 campaigns.
That trade-off is not often seen, as most pitchers look to score the lengthiest contracts they can, and Porcello almost certainly could have found more years. But it also makes sense: the deal’s structure means that the Red Sox will be relieved of obligations into Porcello’s decline phase, while he in turn will have a chance to hit the market at a reasonably young age.
Somewhat notably, James Shields signed with the Padres for four years and $75MM earlier in the offseason. That’s not insignificantly lower than Porcello’s guarantee, but is still in the same ballpark. Shields, of course, has been one of the game’s best and most durable arms for some time. But he also signed that deal to run through his age-36 season.
Had the Red Sox preferred, perhaps they could have signed Shields to approximately the same deal they gave Porcello, which would have had the added benefit of inserting the former into their rotation this year. Obviously, Boston did not believe that to be a wise investment, in part due to their assessment of Shields’ fit at Fenway and his ability to produce as he ages.
So, will the club regret betting on an arguably less-talented, inarguably much younger arm? Was the Porcello extension a wise investment of the club’s resources?
Punctuated by yet another major trade involving the Padres and the Braves, this offseason has been a memorable one. But our future recollections of the moves made will be colored by the months and years to come, as the bottom-line results of the winter’s transactions come to pass.
So, before we’ve all had a chance to benefit from information that was not available to the front offices that were actually making the decisions, let’s see how MLBTR’s readers view things. We are not looking for the team that put itself in the best position to win in 2015, or that made the biggest or most impactful moves. Instead, the question is which club most improved its overall short and long-term outlook by the things it did and didn’t do.
(For what it’s worth, MLBTR’s Steve Adams and I picked our favorites in the most recent MLBTR podcast, though I won’t name names here for fear of skewing the vote.)
The poll question (response order randomized): what team, in your view, had the best offseason?
We have not seen much in the way of free agency-avoiding extensions this spring, through there are a few days left for that to happen (to say nothing of the possibility of mid-season transactions). But there have been a few pre-arb deals already, and it just so happens that young outfielders are the extension targets du jour.
Every extension situation is a little different, but finding comparable contracts plays an important role in both negotiating and evaluating deals. So, with three fairly similar players recently signing on the line for life-changing money, I thought it would be interest to see which of these deals MLBTR readers like best.
Christian Yelich, Marlins (1.069 years service): seven years, $49.57MM + club option. This deal is by far the largest of the three covered here and delivers club control all the way through 2022. Still just 23, Yelich may be expected to continue to progress over the life of the contract. Of course, unlike the other players, Yelich plays the corner outfield (albeit quite well). And though he looks to be a high batting average and OBP type, while contributing double-digit steals, Yelich currently has average power. Is that package worth roughly twice the commitment made to the names below?
Adam Eaton, White Sox (2.030 years service): five years, $23.5MM + two club options. Of the deals covered, this one might have the most contractual upside (bearing in mind that Eaton is one service class ahead of the other two) because it delivers lengthy control and flexibility through two option years. Depending upon how one views the 26-year-old Eaton’s injury risk, defensive capabilities, BABIP sustainability, and baserunning upside, this could be quite a bargain. If not, Chicago should have a solid player at a good price and can move on when the time is right.
Juan Lagares, Mets (1.160 years service): four years, $23MM + one club option***. Lagares, 26, is probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball. While this contract only puts one free agent year in the Mets’ control, it does allow the team to sit back and watch Lagares vacuum up balls that aging veterans Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer can’t reach without worrying about how much he will cost. It’s a nice price if Lagares can maintain his league-average batting line from last year. And if he can tap into some power, which some observers seem to think he looks capable of, then this deal could become a steal.
***Note that the Lagares contract starts in 2016, making for a total current commitment of five years and about $23.5MM.
So, which contract — not necessarily just which player — would you rather have?