- Brian Roberts To Retire
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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.
Though he’s spent much of his career in the shadow of perhaps the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, Yankees right-hander David Robertson stepped onto the ninth-inning stage this season and excelled. The strong effort continued a four-year run of dominance that has positioned the former 17th-round pick quite well as he hits free agency for the first time.
In today’s game, strikeouts are king for pitchers, and Robertson excels in that department. Though he’s not overpowering — he’s averaged 92 mph on his heater in his career — Robertson racks up strikeouts at a prolific rate in part because he releases the ball closer to home plate than most pitchers, causing his fastball to appear quicker (a trait which SI.com’s Tom Verducci examined in a 2011 article). He averaged 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings this season and has punched out 12.0 per nine in his carer, including 12.3 per nine over the past four seasons.
Those four seasons are where Robertson truly began to establish himself as one of the game’s elite relievers. From 2011-14, Robertson owns a 2.20 ERA with a 354-to-95 K/BB ratio in 258 innings of work. His 46.7 percent ground-ball rate in that time has been slightly above-average, and he’s shaken the command problems that he showed early in his career. He walked nearly five batters per nine innings from 2008-11, but since that time he’s averaged just 2.8 BB/9.
A look at the rest of the closer market reveals quite a few older options, but Robertson will turn 30 next April, giving a signing team control of some prime-aged seasons. The next-youngest competition is Sergio Romo (32), who is coming off a down season in which he lost his hold on the ninth inning. In fact, a large number of Robertson’s competitors on the open market lost their jobs this year, but he can point to the fact that his grip remained iron-clad on the ninth inning this season.
Robertson has thrived in a big-market setting and in a hitter-friendly ballpark/division, so there’s little reason to worry about inserting him into any setting. While his time spent behind Rivera could be seen by some as a means of pointing out his lack of experience as a true closer, the argument can also be made that there’s no one better to have served as a tutor/mentor for Robertson throughout the first six seasons of his career.
Were Robertson on a different team, a qualifying offer of $15MM+ might not even be a consideration. Few clubs are comfortable paying relievers so extravagantly in this market, but the Yankees can certainly afford to. ESPN’s Buster Olney has written (subscription required) that it’s a virtual lock for Robertson to receive a QO, and as such, a signing team will have to forfeit its top unprotected pick in order to secure Robertson’s services. It’s nearly certain that no other reliever will come with this distinction.
Some may be surprised to learn that Robertson comes with somewhat of a platoon split — particularly because that split is of the reverse variety. While Robertson has completely flummoxed left-handed batters throughout his career and particularly in the past four seasons (.173/.254/.236), right-handed hitters have batted .230/.305/.373 against him dating back to 2011. Granted, that’s still not a particularly impressive batting line, but it’s closer to league-average production than one might think based on his otherwise elite stats.
Robertson dealt with what appears to have been a mild groin injury earlier this season. He required a trip to the disabled list — just the second of his career — though he only required the minimum 15-day stay and appeared healthy following that episode.
Laid back and reserved in nature, Robertson enjoys hunting and fishing in his free time. He also takes a great amount of pride in doing charity work for the community — a trait that is evident in looking at his High Socks for Hope charity. Robertson, an Alabama native, founded the nonprofit organization with his wife, Erin, after tornadoes ravaged his hometown Tuscaloosa area back in 2011. The charity seeks to benefit those whose lives have been impacted by tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Since founding the charity, Robertson has pledged to donate $100 for each strikeout he records, and he also pledged $200 for every save that he recorded in 2014. He’s been recognized with awards from Habitat for Humanity and has also been nominated for the Branch Rickey Award for community service in each of the past four seasons.
We’ve seen in the past that it typically behooves relievers to sign early in the offseason rather than to wait for the market to develop. The best hope for Robertson is for a team to make an aggressive push early in the offseason after deciding that he’s “their guy” and making a strong offer. This method worked for Joe Nathan and Joaquin Benoit with the Tigers, and we saw Jonathan Papelbon take a similar route when he signed in Philadelphia. On rare occasion, relievers that wait (i.e. Rafael Soriano) have been paid handsomely, but typically the market is strongest early on.
Not many teams are forking over major dollars to relief pitchers these days, but some clubs might be willing to make an exception for a pitcher that has been worth 8 fWAR and 9.3 rWAR dating back to 2011. The Yankees, who will likely make a QO, will of course be involved. However, they have a ready-made replacement candidate in the form of Dellin Betances and do have other areas that need attention.
The Dodgers can never be ruled out on big-name free agents, although Kenley Jansen is currently entrenched as their ninth-inning man. The Tigers yet again endured bullpen struggles, but after watching their big-money investment in Joe Nathan go south, would they decide that the best solution is to throw even more money at the ninth inning? The White Sox don’t have a firm solution in the ninth, and they’re set at a number of positions with affordable contracts, but GM Rick Hahn recently downplayed the idea of spending heavily on the ninth inning. The Angels figure to be set with Huston Street and a repeatedly stated desire to stay under baseball’s luxury tax threshold. The Rangers have deep pockets and a weakened bullpen as well. Another logical landing spot could be the Nationals, who are set at many positions around the diamond and already have a strong rotation.
Robertson has been nothing short of dominant, and in spite of the QO that’s likely to be attached to his name, I imagine that the goal for his camp will be to top Papelbon’s four-year, $50MM guarantee.
Given the fact that Robertson is the best player at his position in a free agent market that is thin on bats and features a number of talented but risky starters, a team may view Robertson as more of a sure thing than the rest of the market. A club looking to spend to improve but unwilling to take on the risk of an injury-prone starter or overpay for one of the few reliable bats may instead prefer to allocate its funds to shortening the game via a dynamic bullpen addition. It’s that line of thinking that leads me to believe it is indeed possible for Robertson to top Papelbon’s deal.
Aiming to set a new precedent is bold, but if there’s been a free agent reliever in recent history who can stake a legitimate claim to being able to do so, it’s Robertson. Based on his combination of age, strikeouts, command, ground-balls and success in a major market and hitter-friendly division, I’m predicting a four-year, $52MM contract for Robertson when all is said and done.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
26-year-old Kenta Maeda of Japan’s Hiroshima Carp is expected to become available through the posting system, making him an intriguing potential addition to the upcoming free agent market. Ben Badler of Baseball America has a report on Maeda’s last outing in the Nippon League, writing that he “flash[ed] three average or better pitches with good fastball command.” Though slight in build, Maeda steadily worked in the 90-94 mph range. Ultimately, Badler indicates that, while the righty is not viewed as a top-of-the-rotation arm at the MLB level, he should draw plenty of interest if he is made available.
Here are a few more stray notes from around the game:
- The Yankees may be interested in re-signing mid-season acquisition Chase Headley, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. A move to bring back the third baseman would appear to be a strong indication that Alex Rodriguez is not expected to be an option there, Heyman explains.
- The Tigers thought they were going to acquire then-Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller at the trade deadline after meeting Boston’s asking price, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. But the Sox gave the Orioles one last chance, resulting in Eduardo Rodriguez heading north to a division rival. As Sherman notes, the eleven outs that Miller recorded in the ALDS for the O’s, rather than the Tigers, had an undeniable impact on Baltimore’s three-game sweep.
- Looking ahead to Miller’s free agency, one executive tells Sherman that three years and $21MM is probably just the starting point for the southpaw’s market. The ability to deploy Miller in the way that the Yankees used Dellin Betances in his breakout year — often throwing multiple innings in winnable games — greatly increases his value, says Sherman.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says “there’s nothing that’s really off the table” for the team as it enters the offseason, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Though he said he does not believe “this organization needs a philosophical overhaul as far as how we evaluate players,” Amaro said the team needs to get younger and more athletic while “looking for more long-term solutions” in the player market. Ultimately, the organization could put added emphasis on “speed and contact” given the lack of power bats available.
After signing a two-year, $15.5MM contract prior to the 2013 season, Brandon McCarthy struggled with the Diamondbacks before experiencing a tremendous turnaround following a trade to the Yankees. He’ll hit the open market this season in a strong crop of free agent pitchers as he looks to cash in on his big second half.
McCarthy’s past two seasons don’t look great on the whole, but there were plenty of indicators that his ERA with the D’Backs, particularly this year, was in part due to poor luck. He was racking up strikeouts at the highest rate of his career with an elite ground-ball rate and a 1.6 BB/9 mark prior to his trade — all signs that led the Yankees to acquire him in exchange for Vidal Nuno. The rest of the season was a 180-degree turn for McCarthy, whose 5.01 ERA with Arizona feels like a distant memory after he posted a 2.89 mark with the Yankees.
McCarthy finished this season with a 5.3 K/BB ratio — tops among free agent starters — and a 52.6 percent ground-ball rate, both indicators that future success could be on the horizon. This season also marked the healthiest year of his career, as he made a career-high 32 starts and totaled a career-high 200 innings. His diminished performance in Arizona takes some shine off his recent numbers, but over the past four years McCarthy has a cumulative 3.81 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and a 47.8 percent ground-ball rate. FIP (3.44), xFIP (3.43) and SIERA (3.60) all feel he’s been better than that ERA would indicate.
McCarthy posted the best peripherals of his career this season in part because his fastball averaged a career-high 92.9 mph. That led to the best swinging-strike rate he’s posted (8.8 percent on the season; 9.4 percent with the Yankees) since working as a reliever for the White Sox in 2006. Hitters have never chased out-of-zone pitches from McCarthy as often as they did in 2014, and they made less contact (82.3%) against him this season than they have since that 2006 campaign. That his greatest success came in on a contending team in a large market in the AL East will carry some weight with interested teams.
At 31 years of age, McCarthy isn’t necessarily a young free agent, but he’s younger than many of the pitchers in the second tier of this year’s market, including Jake Peavy, Ervin Santana and Jason Hammel. He’s also ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after being traded midseason, something that fellow 31-year-old free agent Francisco Liriano cannot say. A combination of relative youth, strong strikeout-to-walk numbers, increased velocity and no qualifying offer are strong points in his favor.
Despite all of the things working in McCarthy’s favor, there’s simply no getting around the fact that he doesn’t have a track record of durability. While one of his most recent injuries — a terrifying head injury suffered in 2012 when struck by a line drive — was clearly a freak accident, McCarthy has had multiple stress fractures in his throwing shoulder in the past. He’s landed on the DL for a shoulder problem five times in his career (including once in 2013), and he also missed nearly the entire 2008 season with a forearm injury. McCarthy has only topped 170 innings twice — in 2011 and in 2014.
McCarthy’s agent, Ryan Ware of LSW Baseball, will also have to explain his client’s sub-par ERA with the D’Backs to interested parties this offseason. For as excellent as he was with the Yankees, McCarthy turned in 224 2/3 innings of 4.75 ERA ball with Arizona prior to his turnaround. Can 90 innings with New York erase concerns over that performance? Ware can point out that there was some poor luck involved, which is true, but McCarthy has a history of posting low strand rates in his career. His overall mark of 71 percent is slightly below average, but he’s turned in four seasons with a strand rate south of 69 percent as a starter — something that does lead to a discrepancy between ERA and FIP. He hasn’t been a strikeout pitcher in previous seasons either, though that may no longer be the case if he can maintain his newfound velocity.
McCarthy is seen as a student of the game and is considered one of the most intelligent minds in baseball. As noted by Eddie Matz of ESPN The Magazine last year, McCarthy home-schooled himself in sabermetric principles and used his findings to reinvent himself as a pitcher in 2009 — adjusting his pitch repertoire and changing his gameplan on the mound.
Matz writes that McCarthy is an avid reader and has an extensive vocabulary that he regularly drops into everyday conversation. He’s very active on Twitter — a trait that has endeared him to many fans — and is said to be known for a dry sense of humor.
It’s not hard to envision half the teams in the league (or more) showing interest in McCarthy. The lack of draft pick forfeiture attached to his name and the fact that he will command lesser money than top arms Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester is undoubtedly attractive.
Contending teams in need of immediate rotation help and non-contending clubs alike will show interest. The Yankees could certainly use McCarthy back, and I wonder if his turnaround in the Bronx gives them a bit of an inside track in landing him this offseason. Other teams that could be in need of arms will include (but certainly aren’t limited to) the Red Sox, Cubs, Twins, Rockies, Giants, Marlins, Phillies, Pirates, Braves and Astros.
McCarthy has said he’d be open to returning to the Yankees, and he also noted that he’d be willing to sign early in the offseason if an offer to his liking came along. Oftentimes, signing early is a good move for free agents — particularly those that are below the top tier of the free agent class.
Though his two-year platform heading into free agency is weaker than his previous two-year platform from an ERA standpoint, McCarthy’s entering free agency without the specter of a career-threatening head injury hanging over him as he did in the 2012-13 offseason. The market for pitching has only grown since that time, and as such, McCarthy should exceed his previous contract with ease.
Given his turnaround, strong peripherals and lack of a qualifying offer, I think a three-year deal is attainable for McCarthy. I’d expect that many teams will be comfortable pushing to three years in order to land him, and it’s possible that the first team that blinks and gives him a fourth year, even if it lowers the average annual value of the deal, will end up signing him. While I’m not ruling out the fourth-year scenario, I’m going to predict that McCarthy ends up on a three-year, $36MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.