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There are now three free agents remaining who are tied to draft-pick compensation. For two of them — defense-first infielder Stephen Drew and defensively-limited slugger Kendrys Morales — the situation appears simple. Their limitations prevent them from being the kind of premier players who drive their own market. And, at present, their skillsets do not have the multiple suitors (i.e., teams with both need for and motivation to spend on that player) necessary to create a small bidding war.
But that is not the situation of Ervin Santana, a starting pitcher who could, in theory, upgrade any rotation in baseball. (Indeed, he's been tied to a laundry list of clubs.) He has posted 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA in three of the last four years. At age 31, Santana is not particularly young, but neither is he particularly old.
As the spring goes on, potential demand is likely only to rise as the inevitable arm injuries continue to occur. Santana is the only impact hurler left on the open market. Meanwhile, the most attractive trade targets increasingly seem likely to stay home for the time being.
In other words, Santana's market is still wide open; after all, the Brewers were a surprising, late-March landing spot for Kyle Lohse last year. In that respect, it is hardly shocking to hear that Santana has not dropped his demand, which reportedly stands in the range of four years and $50MM (the comp du jour for good-but-imperfect starters).
Though there is plenty of time for Santana to find a taker for his price tag, of course, he could ultimately reach a point at which waiting for a buyer means missing regular-season action. Agent Bean Stringfellow said recently that his team had discussed the possibility of waiting to sign until after the June amateur draft to shed the drag of compensation. "Ervin Santana is a front-line starting pitcher. He will be compensated as such," said Stringfellow. "Whatever it takes to make that happen, we will make it happen, simple as that." If it comes down to it, though, would Santana take what he can get, as did Lohse? Or would he really be willing to test the uncharted waters of a qualifying offer holdout?
So, the poll covers two questions: First, what kind of deal will Santana ultimately get? And second, when will he get it?
Click here for the results.
Love it or hate it, there's no denying that the qualifying offer has disrupted baseball's free agent economy. With less than a month to go before Opening Day, three capable players - Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana - are still on the market, potential suitors remaining hesitant to give up a draft pick and its associated bonus pool money. Some players, like Ubaldo Jimenez, have still commanded sizeable deals. Others, however, haven't fared so well. Few would have expected Nelson Cruz to settle for a one-year, $8MM guarantee at the offseason's outset, for example.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow argued in a recent interview with MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo that turning down this offseason's $14.1MM qualifying offer, which links players with draft pick compensation, is rejecting "what a lot of people would consider pretty generous, life-changing money." The current system is, in any case, "an improvement over what was there before," Luhnow said. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the qualifying offer is suppressing the salaries of some players at a time when Major League Baseball has never been more profitable. The system can also frustrate fans. Adding Drew, Morales or Santana would improve many clubs' chances for a 2014 postseason berth, and some find it hard to digest that the value of a draft pick can outweigh that of a player who can impact a team now.
The qualifying offer system will remain in place through at least December 2016, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. At that point, MLB owners and players will reconvene to try to hammer out a new deal, and the qualifying offer is sure to emerge as a topic of discussion. At that time, should the system be scrapped?
Earlier today, Justin Masterson told reporters that he believes that "somehow, some way" he'll be in Cleveland for a few more years after this one. That statement can serve as a beacon of optimism for Masterson/Indians fans, but there have been plenty of instances of a player going on record to say he thinks he will/wants to/hopes to stay with a team, only to sign elsewhere in the future.
Masterson isn't likely to give the Indians a hefty discount with just seven to eight months sitting between him and free agency, and the price for extending players has seemed to trend upward recently. Masterson is one year older than fellow right-hander Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105MM extension with a comparable amount of service time. The similarities don't stop there, either. As that comparison shows, fWAR assigns Masterson the higher value due to his higher innings total, but in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP, the two have accumulate very, very similar results over the past three seasons. Masterson relies more on ground-balls, while Bailey's leaned more heavily on superior command and a few more whiffs.
Regardless, Bailey signed away five free agent seasons for roughly $95MM. That figure, as noted by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an updated piece on Masterson's comments, simply isn't going to be on the table from the Indians.
Masterson currently faces a decision: he's experienced his ups and downs in recent seasons (2010 and 2012 were not pretty), but he's a talented pitcher in the midst of his prime who is months away from being one of the best pitchers on the free agent market alongside James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester (Lester, of course, is widely expected to sign an extension this spring). Another strong season would give Masterson three years of an ERA well under 4.00 with 193-plus innings and one of the league's best ground-ball rates. However, his comments today also hinted that he'd like to stay in Cleveland, and an extension would eliminate the risk of a poor season or injury sapping his potential earnings.
It would be beneficial to the Indians' long-term outlook to keep Masterson around and pair him with the likes of Danny Salazar for years to come, but the team could also look to fill the void internally (or with cheaper free agent/trade options) and recoup a draft pick via qualifying offer next offseason in letting Masterson walk.
It is not often that things line up quite so cleanly as this, but after a roller-coaster offseason, three of the market's top starters all landed quite similar overall guarantees. It would be too much, perhaps, to argue that the market valued them identically; after all, each signed at different points in an always-changing market, agreed to various terms that impact the overall value of their contracts, and had differing situations with regard to qualifying offers. Nevertheless, it seems fair to suggest that Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez were each valued in rough proportion to one another.
Yet each pitcher brings a very different set of risks and benefits to their new deals. (Player name links are to MLBTR's Free Agent profile series; deal links are to reported signing, which includes contract details.)
Ricky Nolasco (age 31; received four years, $49MM from Twins) — Nolasco is durable and solid, having made at least 31 starts in each of the last three regular seasons while consistently maintaining a walk rate hovering just above 2.0 BB/9. While his overall results have been less than stellar, Nolasco has tended to post much better ratings by advanced metrics than ERA, and finally saw the results to match last year. Has he been unlucky, or does he just give up a lot of solid contact? Either way, Minnesota has put its money into a pitcher who has about as good a record of durability as could be hoped.
RISK: disconnect between advanced metrics and results
Matt Garza (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Brewers) — Garza has been consistently above-average … when healthy. Striking out batters consistenly in the range of about eight per nine, and holding down walks to less than three per nine since maturing as a pitcher, Garza's results are hard to argue with. (He has not ended a season with an ERA above 4.00 since his rookie year.) But a string of injuries held him to 103 2/3 innings in 2012 and 155 1/3 in 2012. If healthy, there is every reason to believe that Garza will continue to be an excellent (albeit not dominant) starter, but therein lies the rub.
BENEFIT: reliably above-average performance
Ubaldo Jimenez (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Orioles) — Unlike either of the previous two hurlers, Jimenez has at times been amongst the most dominant starters in the game. He has been an unquestioned ace over complete seasons (earlier in his career, with Colorado) and parts of seasons (the second half of last year, with Cleveland). In between, however, Jimenez has posted some genuinely unsightly stat lines. While his 2011 campaign may have taken a downturn due to some bad luck, he was terrible in most respects over the entirety of 2012, as he lost both his control and his ability to register strikeouts. Like Nolasco, Jimenez has been supremely durable. But if his new club can count on at least 180 innings, of what quality will they be? Jimenez showed flashes of both good and bad last year, and it remains to be seen which side defines his tenure in Baltimore. [Note: Orioles also gave up a first-round draft choice to sign Jimenez.]
BENEFIT: durability, upside
So, MLBTR readers: putting aside the particulars of their new teams' situations, which of these three similarly-priced investments do you think was money best spent?
Mike Trout's on-field excellence need not be repeated here, nor compared to that of other players. He is really young, and really good, and is those things combined in a manner unmatched by any other current player. Also, having not yet qualified for arbitration, he is really cheap.
Trout will remain youthful for some time, and every indication is that he'll continue to be outstanding. But he will not continue to play for a league minimum salary for much longer.
Set to hit arbitration next year with potentially unprecedented levels of performance, Trout could well shatter records if he is allowed to go year to year. Then, qualifying for free agency after the 2017 season at just 26 years of age, Trout could become the most sought-after open-market player in baseball history.
On the other hand, injury or decline could change things. And Trout's career earnings are relatively meager as things stand, in spite of his two monster years of performance, leaving him somewhat exposed entering his platform seasons.
So, both Trout and the Angels face risk, and both sides have incentives to talk about a new deal. Indeed, recent reports indicate that the parties are legitimately interested in making a serious run at reaching an extension at the start of the current year.
That makes this an opportune time to ask MLBTR's readers how they see things. The poll below comes with two questions, broken into two parts, both of which assume an extension scenario during the current offseason (or reasonably early during the 2014 campaign, when any contract is likely to be inked due to luxury tax considerations).
First, it asks you to opine as to the largest deal that the Angels should be willing to agree to with Trout (years and dollars). Second, it asks you to predict what deal Trout will ultimately land.
I have set fairly generous response parameters, designed to avoid patently absurd responses. The number of years must be between 3 and 15, while the amount (in $MMs) must fall between 50 and 500.
Click below to view survey results.
Despite the fact that we're now into February, ten of MLBTR's Top 50 free agents remain free agents, as they've yet to find a contract that meets their desires this offseason. The market includes three of the market's top bats and seven pitchers — six starters and one closer coming off a pair of elite seasons.
Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, Bronson Arroyo, Fernando Rodney, Suk-Min Yoon and Paul Maholm have yet to sign contracts. Of the group, it's interesting to note that three of the seven are Scott Boras clients — Drew, Morales and Yoon — and Boras is no stranger to signing large deals late in the offseason.
There are currently more obvious fits for most of the free agent pitchers than there are the hitters; few teams are in desperate need of a starting shortstop, and the teams that could use additional power in their lineup aren't high on the defensive limitations of Cruz and Morales. Also of note is that five of remaining Top 50 — Santana, Jimenez, Drew, Cruz and Morales — rejected qualifying offers and would therefore require forfeiture a draft pick in order to sign.
Free agent deals can materialize very quickly at this juncture of the offseason, as we saw last week in deals for Top 50 free agents such as Matt Garza and Jason Hammel. Cruz and Rodney have both been connected to the Mariners as of late, while Drew has been connected to both the Mets and Red Sox for much of the offseason. Santana, Jimenez, Arroyo and Burnett have been linked to numerous teams, particularly since Burnett announced that he may pitch for a team other than Pittsburgh in 2014. Yoon held a workout seen by the Giants and Orioles recently and has also been connected to the Twins and Red Sox. Maholm has been linked to the Rangers (following Derek Holland's injury) and Angels in recent weeks. While each has seen his fair share of rumors (some more than others), each is without a job as many teams' pitchers and catchers are preparing to report to Spring Training.
One of the most notable "file and trial" teams in baseball, the Braves have a team policy that they will not negotiate once arbitration figures are submitted. This is of particular note given the fact that three of their best players — Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward — were unable to come to an agreement in advance of the filing deadline. Now, all three are likely headed for hearings.
The gap between Kimbrel and the Braves is the largest, as he submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM. As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pointed out back in November, Kimbrel's arb case is perhaps the most interesting of the offseason as there is truly no precedent for a closer doing what he's done to this point of his career.
Freeman is fresh off his first All-Star nod and a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting. He's looking at a $1.25MM gap between his $5.75MM figure and the Braves' $4.5MM figure. The gap between the Braves and Heyward is a mere $300K ($5.5MM vs. $5.2MM), which one would think is small enough that an agreement can be worked out.
However, GM Frank Wren flatly said, "We're done," following the exchange of arb figures, indicating that he does indeed plan on heading to trials. It's worth noting that the team did avoid arbitration with Jeff Francoeur the night before his scheduled hearing back in 2009, but the team's strict policy has been adopted since that time. With all this said, let's vote on each case. You can keep track of the results by clicking here.
On Friday, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes looked at where free agent shortstop Stephen Drew could help the most, including teams like the Astros, Marlins, Twins, Royals and Yankees. In the comments, a reader added the Athletics as a team that might make sense, with Drew taking over at shortstop at Jed Lowrie moving to second base.
Just because a player might be able to help a given team doesn't mean that team will sign him, however. The Yankees, for example, have said they're not interested in Drew. And teams like the Twins and Pirates, who might otherwise be able to use Drew, appear set to go with internal options (Pedro Florimon and Jordy Mercer, respectively) rather than signing Drew and giving up a draft pick to get him. As a result, the market for Drew doesn't appear to be particularly strong.
Since Friday, we've heard that the Mets, who would represent a potential fit for Drew, are "divided" on how valuable he would be to them. The Mets are the team most consistently connected to Drew, but reports on the intensity of their interest vary, and they could easily simply go with Ruben Tejada and address the shortstop position later if he doesn't work out. There's also the chance that Drew could re-sign with the Red Sox, who could move Xander Bogaerts to third base and Will Middlebrooks to the bench. All sorts of dark-horse teams could sneak in as well, with the stable potentially expanding if teams decide Drew could play second base or third base for them.
Right now, it appears that the Red Sox and Mets are the only significant suitors. If the market is going to widen much beyond those two teams, Scott Boras may have to get creative. So just for fun, we'll include every team in the poll. Regardless of who needs him the most, who do you think will sign Drew?
As baseball fans around the world mark the end of 2013, let's take one more look back before plowing ahead to 2014. As always, all manner of different MLB transactions went down this past year, and each and every one was documented by MLB Trade Rumors. Signings, extensions, trades, and more — every move took place in a different context and was subjected to public scrutiny.
So, now that we have the benefit of looking back at the year as a whole, which single move was the best, considering the particular situation and what we now know? Was it a wise extension, a nifty trade, or a big free agent signing? I browsed through the MLBTR Transaction Tracker and came up with a (highly subjective) list of my favorite moves over the past year. Though the some moves have already begun to bear fruit, while others await a new season, each still has years to go until it can be evaluated in its entirety. Nevertheless, I think it will be interesting to see how MLBTR readers view things.
Here are the nine candidates I chose, along with a brief synopsis of the reasons why they merit consideration. (Needless to say, feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments.)
- White Sox extend LHP Chris Sale for five years, $32.5MM — Chicago locked up a young ace-caliber pitcher for the same type of contract that has been used to secure other good young arms. But Sale may be the best of the bunch, and he signed his deal just before new money and spending patterns may have broken the mold of young starter extensions.
- Brewers extend CF Carlos Gomez for three years, $24MM — Talk about buying low. Milwaukee locked up Gomez for his first three free agent-eligible seasons, right before the center fielder broke out with a stellar 8.4 rWAR campaign. While I won't proffer a guess as to what he'd ultimately have commanded in free agency this offseason, I think it is safe to say it would be multiples of his actual deal.
- Diamondbacks extend 1B Paul Goldschmidt five years, $32MM — This one does not require much explanation. Goldschmidt signed his extension with Arizona after a very promising run in his first season of full-time action. Then, he nearly won an MVP award.
- Red Sox extend 2B Dustin Pedroia for eight years, $110MM — The heart of the Sox has been worth at least three wins above replacement in every season he has seen regular action (and even reached that mark in the 75 games he played in 2010). His $13.75MM average annual value looks quite affordable compared to the $24MM guaranteed on average annually to Robinson Cano for the next decade.
- Nationals acquire RHP Doug Fister for LHP Robbie Ray, IF Steve Lombardozzi, and LHP Ian Krol — Fister has been one of the best ten pitchers in the game over the last three years, by fWAR, and has two seasons of reasonably-priced arbitration eligibility still to come. Yet the Nats were able to bring him in for a good-but-not-great prospect and two players with seemingly limited ceilings.
- Tigers acquire SS Jose Iglesias for OF Avisail Garcia — Even if you think that this was an even-value deal, it must be counted as a win for Detroit. Why? Just look at the haul that Matt Garza brought to serve as a short-term rental. GM Dave Dombrowski not only filled a sudden and unexpected hole during a key part of the season, but managed to adapt to Jhonny Peralta's suspension in a way that arguably enhanced the club's long-term health as well.
- Braves acquire LF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson for UT Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, SS Nick Ahmed, RHP Zeke Spruill, and 1B Brandon Drury — The signature trade of the 2013 offseason was a coup for Atlanta, in ways expected and not. Upton provided a strong season, even if he did not keep up his torrid start over the course of the year. But the real stunner was the huge campaign from Johnson; he was more productive than Prado, the main piece that the Braves gave up.
- Red Sox sign 1B Mike Napoli for one year, $5MM — While the limited guarantee came only after Napoli's original three-year deal fell apart over health concerns, GM Ben Cherington still deserves kudos for holding together the relationship. Even as he limited the club's exposure with a minimal $5MM promise, Cherington got his man into Fenway and held onto the upside. Needless to say, it worked out well for Boston, which was happy to pay Napoli his $8MM in earned incentives (and to lock him up to another seemingly solid deal for the club).
- Yankees sign C Brian McCann for five years, $85MM — No, we don't know how this deal will turn out. And yes, there have been other big-money signings to consider. But, to me at least, this contract stands out amongst recent major free agent signings for its value potential. Not only does McCann take over a spot that had been filled essentially at replacement level, but the limited length of the deal lowers the risk compared to other top-flight players that have signed. And it comes with upside, as the slugging lefty could reach new heights at Yankee Stadium and can take plenty of at-bats at DH to preserve his legs.
So, which move do you think was the best of 2013? (Response order will be randomized.)
2013 is about to become 2014, and free agent slugger Nelson Cruz still hasn't found a home. Today, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said he does not expect Cruz to return to his club. Cruz's reported desire for a $75MM contract could be an impediment for many teams. With that in mind, let's look at Cruz's market.
Mariners. A report two weeks ago indicated the Mariners still had interest in Cruz despite having already acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. In light of a more recent report that the Mariners were approaching their payroll limit, one might think that another defensively-challenged corner player, particularly an expensive one, might be a luxury the Mariners could do without. But the Mariners have seemed unusually interested in such players in recent years.
Orioles. The Orioles have made contact with Cruz's agent, but there have been few indications that negotiations have progressed much. The O's would have to forfeit the No. 17 overall pick in next year's draft to sign Cruz, who declined the Rangers' qualifying offer, and they might not want to. Nonetheless, there's plenty of space for Cruz in Baltimore's lineup.
Rockies. Colorado has had some interest in Cruz, although it does not appear to be serious.
Royals. Kansas City tried to sign Carlos Beltran. They could still look to Cruz as a possible replacement, particularly if they're able to trade Billy Butler. That seems unlikely now, however, with the signing of Omar Infante taking up much of the money they had available.
Those are that teams that have been most closely connected to Cruz in the past month. Cruz would be a tricky fit with many NL teams, due to his defensive limitations, and many of them don't have an obvious spot for Cruz to play anyway. One team, the Pirates, that would make at least superficial sense for Cruz has ruled out signing him. Many remaining AL teams either appear to be mostly done making moves (Indians), don't want to lose the draft pick (Twins), don't generally make huge free-agent splashes (Athletics, Rays) or wouldn't be great fits for Cruz (Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Blue Jays).
Here are a few possibilities that are more speculative:
Tigers. Cruz would be a good fit in Detroit's lineup, which currently has Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis in left field and Victor Martinez as DH. The Tigers just signed Davis and therefore might not be likely to add another outfielder, but Davis would also be helpful in a reserve role. The Tigers' seeming disinterest in re-signing Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended last year for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, might also suggest a lack of interest in Cruz, who was also implicated. That might be a red herring, however, since Jose Iglesias' emergence was certainly a factor in Peralta's departure.
Astros. Houston could use help at the corner spots and DH and was connected to Choo, but they would likely be reluctant to part with a draft pick to sign Cruz, and would probably only be interested if he were a bargain.
Reds. The Reds tried to trade Brandon Phillips for Brett Gardner, and they showed interest in Carlos Beltran, indicating that they aren't completely satisfied with their outfield in the wake of Choo's departure. That they never appeared to be serious players for Choo and that they've tried, unsuccessfully, to clear Phillips' salary might indicate that they won't be able and/or willing to spend on Cruz, however.
Cubs. The Cubs should have money to spend and don't have much outfield talent (at least not currently in the big leagues), but as with the Astros, draft pick forfeiture could be an issue, and it doesn't seem like them to sign an expensive, win-now player like Cruz in the midst of a rebuilding project.