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- Denard Span Possibly Out For Season
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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?
The Dodgers have had an incredibly busy offseason under new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi. Indeed, as MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker shows, the new Los Angeles regime has racked up about thirty deals of some kind or another.
Many of those, of course, were not major moves. But the Dodgers have obviously not been shy about making significant transactions to add and remove veterans from their roster — a topic that I discussed at length with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times for today’s MLBTR Podcast. (Keep an eye out for that to post later today.)
Sticking to the most impactful deals, I thought it would be interesting to get a sense of how the MLBTR readership views the work of the new LA leadership. (We’ll treat the interconnected Kendrick and Gordon deals as one for purposes of this poll.)
Olivera figures in the mix at second or third, but with so many other options there — and given the risk that he brings — was this a wise allocation of resources?
Anderson has always been productive when healthy, but can he stay on the hill?
Can McCarthy continue his success from late last year and avoid his own injury woes?
Rollins is still a solid performer despite his age, but will he hit a wall at age 36?
Acquire second baseman Howie Kendrick from Angels for starter Andrew Heaney after acquiring Heaney, infielder/outfielder Enrique Hernandez, reliever Chris Hatcher, and catcher Austin Barnes from Marlins in exchange for middle infielder Dee Gordon, pitcher Dan Haren, infielder Miguel Rojas, and a player to be named
Giving up Gordon while adding Kendrick upgraded the team in the near term but sacrificed control, and the team passed on a chance to plug a young arm into the back of a rotation that arguably lacks depth.
As Hernandez discusses on today’s podcast, this move has the biggest chance for blowback potential from the fan base; was it a shrewd business move or will the organization regret parting with a prominent star?
(Click here for results.)
We recently took the temperature of the MLBTR readership on the free agent market’s most recent and biggest remaining prize: Cuban infielder Hector Olivera. The results? A virtual tie between the Braves (24.48%), Padres (23.35%), and Dodgers (21.76%), with no other club cracking ten percent of the vote.
I thought it might be interesting to conduct a follow-up survey to ask a closely related question: how much will Olivera ultimately be guaranteed? We’ve seen a wide range of estimates and reported offers — just check the Hector Olivera tag to find an abundance of news items — but there still seems to be a fair bit of variance in expectations. Reports indicate that clubs are interested in deals of four to six years in duration.
So, which of the following figures is Olivera most likely to land closest to in total guaranteed money? (I.e., if you choose $40MM, you believe he is most likely to sign for more than $35MM but less than $45MM.)
It’s been a whirlwind week on the Hector Olivera front, as the 29-year-old Cuban infielder switched agents earlier this week and is said to be weighing offers of four to six years in length, with the ultimate price tag expected to land around $50MM as recently as last night. Per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez — who discussed Olivera and other Cuban players with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast last month — Olivera has received strong interest from the Dodgers, Braves, A’s, Marlins, Padres and Giants. To this point, the Braves have made an offer and are reportedly interested in the $30-40MM range, while the Padres are said to be considering an offer worth upwards of $50MM. Olivera has already conducted physicals for the Braves, Dodgers and Padres, and possibly other clubs as well. Let’s take a quick look at how he’d fit on each of the reportedly interested clubs…
- Dodgers — The Dodgers have Howie Kendrick and Juan Uribe at second and third base, respectively, which are Olivera’s two best positions. Uribe is a free agent next winter and could shift into a super utility role, as he has plenty of experience at shortstop and second base in the Majors as well. However, much of his value has come from his suddenly excellent work at third base over the past two seasons, and the Dodgers may have to use Alex Guerrero in a super utility role due to his contract, which allows him to refuse an assignment to the Minors.
- Braves — Olivera could step directly into Atlanta’s lineup at second base, as he’d be an upgrade with the bat over likely starter Alberto Callaspo and potential utility player Jace Peterson. Braves fans will point out that Jose Peraza is believed to be the long-term answer at second, but he’s at least a year away, and Olivera could always unseat Chris Johnson at third base; Johnson posted just a .292 OBP with little power last year and is not well-regarded defensively.
- Athletics — The A’s will likely use Ben Zobrist at second and Brett Lawrie at third this year, though Zobrist could be used in the outfield, presumably left field, if Olivera were signed. Zobrist is only controlled through this season, so Olivera makes sense as a long-term option for the A’s at second base.
- Marlins — The Marlins’ infield situation is crowded, and there’s no spot opening up for the next two years, barring a trade. Still, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reported last night that Miami is comfortable in the $50MM range with Olivera and believes he could handle all four infield spots. Per Frisaro, the Fish would like to rest Mike Morse one or two days per week and also would like to spell Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop from time to time.
- Padres — Olivera would likely start over one of Jedd Gyorko or Will Middlebrooks at second or third base. It’s possible that Middlebrooks could eventually wind up playing first base, depending on how well Yonder Alonso hits this season. The two could at least platoon, one would imagine, allowing Gyorko and Olivera to handle second and third (each player can handle both positions).
- Giants — Joe Panik looks to be their second baseman this season, but much of Panik’s 2014 success was driven by a .343 BABIP that may be too high to repeat, and he doesn’t offer much in terms of power or speed. Even if the Giants feel Panik is the long-term answer at second, they could shift him to a bench role this year and slide Olivera over to third next year after Casey McGehee becomes a free agent.
It’s possible that another club will enter the mix unexpectedly, as Olivera’s agency shift has reportedly expanded the level of interest. (His previous agents had been touting a $70MM goal.) However, at this point, these appear to be the six top landing spots, which seems like plenty of fuel to conduct a poll.