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It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games. The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902. Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?
Here’s some news from around baseball…
- “If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully. Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
- If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold. The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
- On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
- Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year). Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
- The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.
The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..
- If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays. When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
- Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house. The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option. However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
- The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal. The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him. For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego. Here’s more from today’s column..
- A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
- If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties. The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
- Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding. No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
- First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base. However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield. He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
- While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB. Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing. There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.
With J.J. Hardy off the market, teams looking for a pure shortstop suddenly lack an obvious potential solution. Sure, Hanley Ramirez still hits like an All-Star corner outfielder, but he also accumulated the second-most negative defensive value of any shortstop in 2014 (per Fangraphs) and has put his 20’s in his rearview. Any club signing him will have to expect a move to third at some point over the life of his deal, if not from the get-go.
Teams that simply want a new field marshal up the middle will have three primary options to choose from, each of whom brings somewhat different strengths, downsides, and expected contract terms.
As we sit here today, the Indian-turned-National Asdrubal Cabrera has yet to turn 29 years old. He has never quite met his promise, but has put up several well-above-average years both at the plate and in overall value. Defensive metrics have never been fans of the glove, but Cabrera is pretty solid at the plate and is a good bet to deliver 15 homers and 10 steals. And while he’s had his share of bumps and bruises, Cabrera has not missed any significant stretches since a forearm fracture back in 2010. But Cabrera was shifted to second after his mid-season trade to the Nationals, and some think that’s where he should stay.
Stephen Drew, most recently of the Yankees, is the oldest of the bunch, and he is coming off of a disastrous, qualifying offer-shortened 2014 season. Drew was worth over one win below replacement, thanks to an abysmal .162/.237/.299 slash over 300 plate appearances. But he has otherwise been pretty good when healthy, and had a good enough 2013 that he spurned the one-year, $14MM QO in hopes of finding a longer deal on the open market. And there’s an argument to be made that Drew is the best defender of this group. Given his depressed value, he could be a popular buy-low candidate.
The Athletics’ Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, is just one year removed from posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. But that was his first season of full-time action, and his age-30 follow-up year was not nearly so sterling (.249/.321/.355, 6 home runs). He did see improved defensive marks, but UZR is much more favorably inclined to his work up the middle than is Defensive Runs Saved, which saw him as a -10 defender. But if you believe he can stay at short, in some ways, Lowrie could end up being the safest bet of this bunch while also delivering a bit of power upside.
Let’s go ahead and take a poll. It will not ask you to pick the best player, or the one who’ll get the largest contract. Rather, it asks for which player — given their likely expected contract situation — is likely to provide the best value. For instance, given his age and durability, Cabrera is the best bet of this bunch for a lengthy deal — but that could make him the most expensive to acquire. And a rebound from Drew could make him an incredible bargain.
Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.” Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).
As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…
- With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
- Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season. Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
- Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever. This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
- First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.” Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
- MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
- The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.
Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…
- The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
- Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
- The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015. Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach. Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
- Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).
The Yankees wouldn’t have been willing to offer J.J. Hardy more than two guaranteed years in free agency, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports. The Bronx Bombers had “mild interest” in Hardy had he reached the open market but their recent underwhelming returns on veteran free agents left the team hesitant about a longer-term deal. Hardy received three years and a vesting option for a fourth in his extension with the Orioles. Madden predicts the Yankees will look to sign Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year pillow contract as both players look to rebuild their value.
Here’s some more from the 27-time World Series champs…
- David Robertson could be the first player to accept a qualifying offer, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post feels the closer will remain with the Yankees for at least the 2015 season. The team figures to issue the $15.3MM, one-year qualifying offer to Robertson as the attached draft pick compensation could hurt his free agent market and make him easier to sign to a long-term deal. From Robertson’s perspective, accepting the QO would ensure he gets at least one big payday in an uncertain free agent closer market and he’d still be in position to land another big deal in an extension with the Yankees or perhaps even another qualifying offer next winter. MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently examined Robertson in a free agent profile and predicted he could receive a four-year, $52MM deal this offseason.
- Now that Brian Cashman has been extended for three years, the general manager will be able to “create a Yankees team in his own image, with his own vision and his own players, and to finally build his own legacy,” ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews writes. This may seem odd given that Cashman has already been the team’s GM since 1998, though Matthews argues that Cashman has never had to truly build a team since the Yankees always had the “Core Four” backbone in place since the Gene Michael/Bob Watson management era.
- In a conference call with reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch), Cashman said that “I think it’s best to assume that we should have contingencies in place” should Alex Rodriguez no longer be able to handle regular third base duties. “Until we get to see it on a daily basis, I think it’s just hard to assume anything,” Cashman said. Joe Girardi recently spoke with Rodriguez about working out at first base, and A-Rod could provide some valuable depth at the position given Mark Teixeira‘s injury history.
The Yankees have announced a three-year contract extension for general manager Brian Cashman. The new contract runs through the 2017 season.
Cashman, 47, will return to a post which he has held since 1998 in spite of the fact that the Yankees missed the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time in his tenure in 2013-14. That two-year absence also marks the first time in which the Yankees have failed to reach the postseason in consecutive seasons since 1992-93. However, in spite of that fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported in late September that the two sides were working on a new contract.
While it’s perfectly fair to question the team’s decision to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in aging players, the Yankees can point to the fact that the signings of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett (now with the Phillies) led to a 2009 World Series championship. Of course, investments since that time have failed to pay off. The lauded Brian McCann signing of last offseason was a disappointment, and the additions of low-cost veterans Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson and Matt Thornton did not round out the roster as hoped. Jacoby Ellsbury made good on the first year of his seven-year, $153MM pact, and Masahiro Tanaka looked to be worth every penny of the $175MM total investment the Yankees made in order to secure his services prior to suffering a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Midseason additions of Chase Headley, Martin Prado and, in particular, Brandon McCarthy each proved to be wise maneuvers that bolstered the team’s roster, even if the ultimate result did not pan out. Prado, who hit .316/.336/.541 for the Yankees, remains under team control for two more seasons, while McCarthy and Headley are free agents.
Cashman now faces the daunting task of trying to bring the Yankees back to the postseason in the near future despite having more than $168MM in payroll already committed to both the 2015 and 2016 rosters. That number does not include arbitration raises to players such as Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Shawn Kelley, Francisco Cervelli and David Phelps — each of which will further add to payroll and complicate the team’s short-term outlook.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas is officially a free agent, but George A. King III of the New York Post reports that the Yankees aren’t likely to show serious interest in the outfielder. Meanwhile, the Padres hosted their second private workout with Tomas in the Dominican Republic yesterday, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler.
The Yankees, according to King, were in attendance for Tomas’ showcase in the Dominican Republic, but rival clubs expect the Yanks to have a similar reaction to Tomas that they did to countryman Rusney Castillo. King adds that New York “showed very little interest” in Castillo after initially watching him. As King notes, the Yankees are hoping that Carlos Beltran can play right field next year in the event that Alex Rodriguez has to spend a lot of time at the DH position. Additionally, King spoke to one official who offered a lukewarm take on Tomas and his rumored price tag of roughly $100MM: “He is a good player, but for $100 million? I don’t know. He is better than [Castillo], but that doesn’t mean he is worth $100 million.”
As for the Padres, Badler reports that newly minted GM A.J. Preller was at yesterday’s private showcase, and he is also known to have attended Tomas’ initial Dominican showcase for all 30 clubs. That would make three times in a three week span that the GM has seen him. Preller is well-known for his prowess on the international scouting front, as Badler notes, and many of the team’s decision-makers have now seen him multiple times as well. Vice president of scouting operations Don Welke and vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya have both gotten multiple first-hand looks at Tomas.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently authored a free agent profile of Tomas, ultimately wagering that Tomas, who will play next season at the age of 24, would land a contract worth $105MM over a seven-year term. As Badler notes, the Rangers have also had a private workout with Tomas, as have the Phillies. Reports this week indicated that the Twins, too, were trying to arrange a private workout.
One of the game’s best defensive third basemen reaches free agency this winter in Chase Headley. Headley’s MVP-caliber 2012 season saw his offense reach lofty heights, but two years later that’s looking like an anomaly.
Headley’s only Gold Glove award came in that magical 2012 season, but he’s got a good chance at another one this year. By measure of Ultimate Zone Rating, Headley was the best defensive third baseman in baseball in 2014. If you prefer Defensive Runs Saved, Headley ranked third. He was a top ten defender in 2012 and ’13 as well, so it’s not just a one-year fluke.
Headley’s defense is a major contributor to his value, leading to roughly four wins above replacement in each of the last two seasons. His WAR ranks tenth among all third basemen for 2013-14, easily ahead of this offseason’s likely top-paid third baseman, Pablo Sandoval. At worst, Headley is Sandoval’s equal, but defense hasn’t caught up with offense in terms of free agent spending.
Headley hit .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs for the Padres in 2012, despite playing half his games in San Diego. 19 of those home runs came in the season’s final two months. He hit .269/.343/.392 prior to that season and .246/.338/.387 since, and it’s not hard to see that one of these is not like the others. However, the switch-hitting Headley remains capable of a solid on-base percentage, posting a .371 OBP and walk rate near 13% in his 224 plate appearances for the Yankees this year. He is, on the whole, still an above average hitter.
Having been traded midseason, Headley is not eligible for a qualifying offer. Fellow free agents Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will certainly require draft pick forfeiture, and perhaps Aramis Ramirez too, but Headley is free of that limitation.
Prior to being traded to the Yankees, Headley hit an abysmal .229/.296/.355 for the Padres in 307 plate appearances. His Padres’ walk rate of 7.2% was well below his career norm.
Upon the trade, Tony Blengino of FanGraphs examined Headley’s batted ball profile, and it wasn’t promising. Headley was in “steady offensive decline,” wrote Blengino, who explained, “his decline in batted-ball production has been solely attributable to diminished fly ball authority.” Did Headley’s 224 plate appearances after the trade represent a reliable return to form? That will be a crucial question for offseason suitors.
Headley’s recent injury history may be perceived as a negative, though it could also be considered an explanation for his offensive struggles in the first half of the season. He received an epidural in June and avoided going on the DL for his back. After the epidural, Headley hit .273/.359/.400 in 312 plate appearances.
Headley was born in Colorado and resides in Tennessee with his family. The Headleys recently welcomed a new baby into the world, their second child. According to the Padres’ 2014 media guide, Headley played varsity baseball and basketball all four years in high school in Colorado, and was also valedictorian. He began college at University of the Pacific in California and later transferred to the University of Tennessee, where his older brother was attending.
According to a profile by MLB.com’s Corey Brock in January 2013, Headley owns a large farm in Western Kentucky and has a passion for bow hunting. A religious man since his freshman year in high school, Headley told Mark E. Darnall and Bruce A. Darnall in 2012, “My goal is to have Jesus be the center of everything.”
Any team without an established, reliable third baseman could consider Headley this offseason. Given the uncertainty that comes with Alex Rodriguez, a return to the Yankees is possible. The Red Sox, Astros, Royals, Brewers, Giants, Blue Jays, and Nationals could also seek help at third base, though some of those clubs might only want a short-term solution.
Headley’s competition on the free agent market will include Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez, and Hanley Ramirez. Whether Aramis Ramirez hits the open market could be a big factor for Headley, as well as whether Hanley Ramirez signs as a third baseman. The trade market could feature Luis Valbuena, Trevor Plouffe, and Pedro Alvarez.
Headley has never had a multiyear deal in his career, and I think he’ll value long-term security this offseason. The question is whether he signs a three or four-year deal. A few potential comparables to consider are Shane Victorino‘s three-year, $39MM deal from two years ago and Jhonny Peralta‘s four-year, $53MM deal from last offseason. I think Headley will sign a four-year, $48MM deal.