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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?
The Padres have been busy over the last couple weeks, with more moves likely to come. Recently hired GM A.J. Preller has pivoted from the organization’s slow rebuilding process to add established major league stars. Preller reportedly recognized a rotation capable of competing now, and he decided to add win-now position players to complement that strength.
The Padres have made eight moves this month, trading a number of prospects and young major leaguers in the process. The headliners are the additions of outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers in separate trades. The club also added catcher Derek Norris in a swap with the A’s, third baseman Will Middlebrooks in a trade with the Red Sox, and signed three free agents – Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, and Clint Barmes.
More trades are likely to be on the horizon. The club currently has an overwhelming volume of outfield depth. In addition to Kemp, Upton, and Myers, the Padres also have Seth Smith, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Abraham Almonte, and Rymer Liriano. Almonte and Liriano have options, but the Friars likely need to deal two of the remaining four. First baseman Yonder Alonso could also be a trade candidate if the club is comfortable with somebody like Quentin or Smith manning first.
The moves were clearly made with an eye on the postseason. The lineup is now a safe bet to improve upon it’s league worst 535 runs scored. Of course, adding a few stout bats doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. Last season, the Atlanta Braves received strong offensive performances from Upton, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward. They finished second to last in runs scored with 573. Excluding Evan Gattis when healthy, the supporting cast failed the Atlanta lineup. The same could easily happen in San Diego, where Middlebrooks, Norris, Alonso, Barmes, and Jedd Gyorko appear to be the everyday cast. There are reasons to be concerned about the offensive ceiling of all five players.
The Padres also pulled from their pitching depth to swing the trades. Jesse Hahn, Joe Wieland, and Burch Smith were dealt as part of the mayhem. Internal depth plus the additions of Johnson and Morrow could help to offset the losses, of which Hahn is the most noteworthy. Of course, Johnson and Morrow are major injury risks – both pitchers are frequent guests of the disabled list.
Despite trading a large quantity of prospects, the Padres managed to hang onto their best, namely catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Matt Wisler, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe. Assuming the club doesn’t have more big moves up their sleeve, this month’s activity doesn’t necessarily cripple the minor league pipeline.
And that brings us to tonight’s poll question. Has Preller accomplished enough for the Padres to reach the postseason? Remember, San Diego probably has to best at least one of the Dodgers and Giants.
This is an admittedly un-scientific undertaking, but then that’s not really the point. Several teams have made a series of moves that, in the aggregate, have led at least some observers to label them as being “all-in” on near-term contention. In many cases, this offseason truly started at last year’s trade deadline.
We could quabble endlessly on the list — plenty of teams have made several impactful deals and/or significant free agent commitments, and some will surely undertake more such actions before camp opens — but here’s mine, based on each team’s cumulative moves to take on future salary obligations and/or give up talented youngsters to obtain anticipated near-term production:
Blue Jays: Some of the offseason’s first big salvos were fired from Toronto. The team was a somewhat surprising victor in the Russell Martin sweepstakes, dealt for one of the game’s best players in Josh Donaldson, traded for a talented outfielder in Michael Saunders, and made a series of other moves — all while holding onto its best young arms.
Cubs: They signed Jon Lester. You could probably end there, but the team also took on the contract of Miguel Montero and inked Jason Hammel. “All-in” may be a bit presumptive at this point — the team has not given up any young talent, for example, and still has plenty of untapped future payroll capacity — but over $200MM in new future commitments for a team coming off of a 73-89 season says quite a bit.
Marlins: It all started with the massive Giancarlo Stanton extension — if not last summer’s Jarred Cosart deal — and continued with trades for Dee Gordon (along with, potentially Dan Haren) and Mat Latos. Miami parted with some well-regarded pitching prospects to add established players to its talented and youthful big league core.
Red Sox: The word “asset” probably best characterizes the focus of GM Ben Cherington’s recent work, as he has traded away veterans like Lester, John Lackey, and Yoenis Cespedes as well as younger players such as Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. The team has, in turn, added the since-dealt Cespedes, as well as Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley, while agreeing to bring back Koji Uehara.
Tigers: Detroit paid big bucks to re-sign Victor Martinez after trading for David Price and Joakim Soria at last year’s trade deadline. The club has gone on to add Cespedes as well as Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. Referring to the Tigers as “all-in” is now cliche, but the term still fits; if the Miguel Cabrera extension was not enough to convince you, then the latest round of transactions should.
White Sox: While much of the attention heading into the winter was on the North Side of Chicago, their neighbors to the south have been even more active. When GM Rick Hahn added Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche via free agency, it was clear that the organization was at least interested in putting some pieces in place to bolster its younger roster. But he followed that up by dealing for one year of Jeff Samardzija and drawing David Robertson and Melky Cabrera off of the open market.
So, all said, which of these aggressive teams has been most successful to date in positioning itself for the near term while steering clear of an ugly future — or, better yet, setting up for a good one?
Before last night, the White Sox had already made noise this offseason, signing Adam LaRoche to complement Jose Abreu at first base and DH and Zach Duke to provide a strong lefty for their bullpen. On Monday, though, they took their offseason to a new level, agreeing to terms with former Yankees closer David Robertson on a four-year, $46MM deal and agreeing to acquire Athletics starter Jeff Samardzija, reportedly for infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt and a third player.
Add in pitcher Carlos Rodon, who has moved through the minor leagues as quickly as anticipated after the White Sox drafted him third overall last season, and it appears GM Rick Hahn has swiftly turned the White Sox from a franchise with weak big-league talent and an even weaker farm system into something far more interesting. But is it enough?
Next year’s AL Central appears to be up for grabs. The Tigers figure to lose Max Scherzer, and they’re getting older; the Royals will almost certainly lose James Shields. The Twins’ recent streak of losing seasons looks likely to continue, leaving the Indians as the only team that appears to have improved, adding Brandon Moss to a roster that finished third last year. An AL Wild Card spot might be a bit more attainable than last season, too, with the Royals and Athletics appearing likely to move backwards, although the Blue Jays, Red Sox and perhaps Mariners could complicate that picture.
The White Sox, however, only won 73 games in 2014, and it remains to be seen if their aggressive offseason is enough to move them past the Tigers, Royals and Indians, all of whom won at least 12 more games than they did. The White Sox’ rotation, led by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Samardzija, now looks like it should be a strength, particularly if Rodon can make an impact. Adding Robertson and Duke to what had been a weak group of relievers should provide a big boost, and young-ish arms like Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb are interesting enough to imagine that the bullpen could be a strength overall.
Offensively, the White Sox will lean heavily on Abreu and LaRoche, with Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez and Conor Gillaspie all expected to play key roles. It remains to be seen what they’ll do at second base now that Semien is reportedly gone, and what they’ll get out of corner outfielders Dayan Viciedo and Avisail Garcia, both of whom struggled in 2014. The White Sox also still aren’t a strong team defensively. One more clever addition — perhaps someone like Nori Aoki to add to their corner outfield talent — might make a big difference.
That possibility aside, though, what do you think? Have the White Sox done enough already this offseason to mold themselves into a contender?
Many analysts believe the Athletics aren’t done making trades after consummating yesterday’s blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays. Oakland traded Josh Donaldson to Toronto for Brett Lawrie and three prospects (MLBTR link). While the value is easy to see for the Blue Jays, the deal also makes sense for the A’s as part of a series of moves, according to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. For at least a week, it’s been thought that the additions of Billy Butler and Ike Davis could signal a trade of Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, or John Jaso. We’ve also heard increasing chatter about Jeff Samardzija, including recent ties to the White Sox.
Moss, 31, fits the sell-high mold of the A’s. After three straight seasons of at least 20 home runs, MLBTR estimates he’ll earn $7.1MM via arbitration. He’s club controlled through 2016. As an aging, increasingly expensive slugger with questionable defense, he seems like the perfect trade candidate. His power numbers saw a downturn in 2014 due to a late season hip injury, although he memorably bashed two home runs in the Wild Card game. There are few comparable deals for left-handed designated hitters with about two-years of club control. One example might be Seth Smith, who the A’s dealt for a season of Luke Gregerson prior to 2014. Moss is probably slightly more valuable than Smith, who cost less but was due to hit free agency after just one season.
Reddick, a left-handed outfielder entering his age 28 season, could make for an intriguing option. Unlike Moss, Reddick rates as a plus defender. In an injury riddled season, he quietly punished right-handed pitching with a .280/.330/.519 line in 288 plate appearances. He’s an obvious platoon candidate, but his defense is good enough to justify an everyday role for a second division club. Reddick is estimated to earn $3.7MM in arbitration and is club controlled through 2016.
Jaso is likely the roster’s sell-low candidate. The erstwhile catcher emerged as a viable designated hitter against right-handed pitching. Unfortunately, clubs may be skittish about using him as a catcher – he ended the season on the disabled list with a concussion. The 31-year-old is thought to earn about $3.3MM in his final season of club control.
Samardzija is perhaps the most high profile of Oakland’s trade targets. The ace is entering his age 30 season coming off the best year of his career. He’s one season away from free agency. The A’s dealt their top prospect and several other notable players to acquire Samardzija and Jason Hammel during the season. Undoubtedly, Oakland would like to add an important piece of the future with any Samardzija trade. Recent rumors link the A’s to White Sox infielders Alexei Ramirez, Marcus Semien, and Tim Anderson. If Samardzija is willing to negotiate an extension as part of a deal (unlikely but not impossible), it could increase his trade value.
Other A’s who could prove expendable include Scott Kazmir, Craig Gentry, Sam Fuld, and Sean Doolittle. Kazmir is under contract for just one more season, although he may work better as a mid-season target. Gentry draws some of the best defensive marks in the league and hits well against left-handed pitching. He’s a useful complementary piece on any roster with a $1.5MM estimated price tag and two years of club control. Fuld also supplies good defense, except his bat isn’t as easily leveraged. He’s set to earn about $1.6MM this offseason via arbitration and can be controlled through 2016. As for Doolittle, the A’s may seem unlikely to trade him after his breakout 2014, but they do have a history of selling their relief aces at peak value.
The first portion of the free agent market — the sprint from the November 10 qualifying offer decision date to Thanksgiving — is now in the books. Next up, of course, will be the ramp-up to the upcoming Winter Meetings.
Before we get to round 2, let’s field opinions on round 1. Which early-market addition of a new talent do you believe to be the wisest?
- A.J. Burnett, Pirates, 1/$8.5MM
- Zach Duke, White Sox, 3/$15MM
- Michael Cuddyer, Mets, 2/$21MM*
- Adam LaRoche, White Sox, 2/$25MM
- Billy Butler, Athletics, 3/$30MM
- Russell Martin, Blue Jays, 5/$82MM*
- Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox, 4/$88MM + vesting/club option*
- Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox, 5/$95MM + club option*
*signing required sacrifice of draft pick
Standard disclaimer: I acknowledge that this poll asks for a prediction and that we won’t really know the answer for some time.
Non-standard disclaimer: because I forgot to include Victor Martinez’s re-signing with Detroit, but do not want to wipe out early votes, this poll will be about players who have found new teams.
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.)