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With the Winter Meetings behind us, it’s likely most of this offseason has already happened, and it’s been a barn burner, with a number of surprising signings and huge trades, and big bursts of activity from the Red Sox, White Sox, Dodgers and Padres in particular.
With that in mind, here’s one view of how the divisional picture has changed, with a look at where each of MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents have signed (or agreed to terms) by division. Although 33 of our top 50 free agents are off the market, this is just a snapshot at this point in time. In particular, the No. 1 and No. 3 free agents (Max Scherzer and James Shields) remain unsigned and will have a dramatic effect on divisional spending once they do come to terms.
4. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox ($88MM)
5. Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox ($95MM)
8. Russell Martin, Blue Jays ($82MM)
16. Chase Headley, Yankees ($52MM)
17. Andrew Miller, Yankees ($36MM)
18. Justin Masterson, Red Sox ($9.5MM)
TOTAL = $362.5MM
The historically deep-pocketed AL East has so far lived up to its reputation, thanks largely to the Red Sox. Boston continued a team makeover that began at last season’s trade deadline by spending more on top-50 free agents this winter than three entire divisions, while also adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Anthony Varvaro and Ryan Hanigan in trades. The Blue Jays, too, have been very active, adding not only Martin, but also Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders via the trade market. The Yankees haven’t had a splashy offseason by their standards, although they retained Headley and signed Miller to help compensate for the loss of David Robertson. The Orioles have been quiet so far but are ultimately likely to add an outfielder, while the cost-cutting Rays’ biggest signing has been Ernesto Frieri, who will make a base salary of just $800K.
6. Victor Martinez, Tigers ($68MM)
7. Melky Cabrera, White Sox ($42MM)
11. Ervin Santana, Twins ($55MM)
13. David Robertson, White Sox ($46MM)
25. Adam LaRoche, White Sox ($25MM)
30. Alex Rios, Royals ($11MM)
31. Edinson Volquez, Royals ($20MM)
33. Torii Hunter, Twins ($10.5MM)
TOTAL = $277.5MM
The Tigers are in win-now mode, the Royals are trying to take advantage of their World Series run, and the White Sox hope to quickly build a foundation around Jose Abreu and Chris Sale, so it’s been a busy offseason in the AL Central. Chicago not only added Cabrera, Robertson and LaRoche, but also signed non-top-50 pitcher Zach Duke to a significant contract and traded for Jeff Samardzija. The Royals (who have also added Kendrys Morales and Kris Medlen, along with Rios and Volquez) and Twins have also been active, and the Tigers could still make a splash by re-signing Scherzer. Even the Indians, who have otherwise had a relatively quiet winter, added Brandon Moss. In any case, the top two spending divisions this offseason have been in the American League, which is nothing new.
TOTAL = $236.5MM
The Cubs also traded for Miguel Montero, while the Cardinals added Jason Heyward. The Reds and Brewers haven’t spent much (although the Brewers’ trade for Adam Lind isn’t reflected here), and the Reds have dealt Mat Latos in preparation for the potential departures of a number of key pitchers following the 2015 season. But the Pirates (despite losing Martin) have spent heavily for a small-payroll team, with their deal to re-sign Liriano more than doubling their previous largest-ever free-agent contract. (It was Martin’s two-year, $17MM deal, in case you were wondering.) And, of course, the Cubs, after five straight seasons of 87 or more losses, finally appear set to contend with the addition of an ace to complement their young hitting.
10. Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks ($68.5MM)
14. Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers ($48MM)
26. Jake Peavy, Giants ($24MM)
35. Sergio Romo, Giants ($15MM)
46. Brandon Morrow, Padres ($2.5MM)
48. Brett Anderson, Dodgers ($10MM)
TOTAL = $168MM
The total above doesn’t reflect the level of activity in the NL West this offseason — the Padres and Dodgers have dominated this month’s headlines with trades (including one with one another), and the Giants could still add Shields. The Padres (who were also serious bidders for top free agents before heading to the trade market) have already acquired Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, and a potential trade of Cole Hamels to San Diego could be their most earth-shaking move yet. They also appear likely to add No. 49 free agent Josh Johnson. On the other side of the scale, the Diamondbacks have traded away Montero, Miley and Didi Gregorius.
The number of big trades in the NL West this offseason surely reflects the fact that all its teams except the World Series-winning Giants have new front offices (although the Rockies have been quiet even with a new GM in place). Despite the hype surrounding the Padres and Dodgers, though, and the addition of Yasmany Tomas, the division that lost more games (421) than any other in 2014 might have lost talent overall, given the departures of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
TOTAL = $142MM
The Athletics, who have dealt Donaldson, Samardzija, Moss and Derek Norris while losing Lester, Lowrie and Gregerson to free agency, are clearly retooling, and the Rangers haven’t done much after their disastrous 2014 season, perhaps hoping they’ll improve next season merely by having someone stay healthy. The Angels traded Howie Kendrick and are in luxury-tax purgatory, while the Mariners lost out on Melky Cabrera and have had a quiet offseason aside from the Cruz signing and a couple relatively small trades. That leaves the Astros, who have signed three top-50 free agents to bolster their middle infield and bullpen as they slowly rebuild after six straight losing seasons.
TOTAL = $81MM
Here’s baseball’s quietest division, at least on the free agent market. The Marlins, who have acquired Latos, Dee Gordon and perhaps Dan Haren in addition to Morse, appear to be the only team in the division adding talent at the big-league level. The Nationals have few obvious needs and won the NL East by 17 games in 2014 — for perspective, the difference between first and last place in the NL Central was also 17 games. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the Nats haven’t been overly active, aside from their widely praised haul in the three-way Myers trade. With a major headache on the horizon as Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard and Denard Span all become eligible for free agency after the season, they won’t have the luxury of inactivity next winter. The Braves (who have traded Heyward and Upton while also losing Santana) and Phillies (who dealt Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers) appear headed for periods of hibernation, while the Mets agreed to terms with Cuddyer early in the offseason but otherwise haven’t yet done much to add to a 79-win 2014 team.
9:00pm: Sources within the Padres organization indicate that the team does have interest in Hamels, but plans to keep Myers and play him in center field, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. He’ll be joined by Justin Upton in left field and Matt Kemp in right.
4:40pm: The Padres have had discussions about trading for Cole Hamels, a San Diego native, with newly acquired Wil Myers part of the package, reports Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. The Padres only finalized the trade for Myers on Friday.
With the trade last week of Jimmy Rollins and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. admitting the franchise would be better off without Ryan Howard, the Phillies find themselves torn in regards to Hamels, who is due $96MM through 2018 with a 2019 club option worth $20MM ($6MM buyout). Philadelphia could continue its rebuild by maximizing value through trading Hamels (reportedly for two or three premium prospects, per Lawrence) or build the next contending team around the left-hander.
“We can keep him and it would be great for us and if we feel he can move us forward by moving him, that’s something we can explore as well,” Amaro said. “We don’t have any rush to move him or mandate to move him. Hopefully, he’s one of those guys that will be in a Phillies uniform for a long time, but we have to explore all of our opportunities. We’re not doing our organization any justice if we don’t explore every opportunity to get better.”
The Padres are not on Hamels’ no-trade list and would be a match for the Phillies based on San Diego’s surplus of outfielders and Philadelphia’s lack of such throughout its system. Lawrence also noted a possibly insignificant but curious development: the Padres have Matt Kemp and Justin Upton jerseys in stock and for sale at the Petco Park team store, but jerseys for Myers are not available.
Justin Upton will not negotiate a contact extension once Spring Training starts, his agent tells MLB Network Radio (audio link). Larry Reynolds says he will “never say no to anything” and “will take it as it comes” when asked by hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette whether Upton is open to an extension with the Padres or is intent on hitting free agency.
Reynolds also acknowledged the Braves never approached him about a long-term contract for Upton, who will earn $14.5MM in 2015, and wasn’t surprised by the trade, especially after Jason Heyward was dealt to the Cardinals. The Padres acquired Upton in a six-player swap with the Braves Friday and may be comfortable with the idea of him being a one-year rental knowing draft pick compensation is possible with a qualifying offer.
SATURDAY 10:20pm: The Phillies or Nationals may be frontrunners, a source tells Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. Philadelphia has scouted Kang, and they traded incumbent shortstop Jimmy Rollins last week. Of course, we will update you when we hear more substantive news.
9:26am: The team that posted the winning bid isn’t yet known, but it isn’t the Mets, ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin writes. It also isn’t the Padres, tweets CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, or the Dodgers, tweets the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez. The Orioles aren’t the team, either, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun tweets, and it’s not the Blue Jays, according to Jays broadcaster Mike Wilner (on Twitter), or the Yankees or Braves, via ESPN’s Jim Bowden (Twitter links). It also was not the Giants, tweets the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea. Add the A’s to the list of clubs who did not win the bidding, says John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (via Twitter). Meanwhile, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com is “led to believe” the Twins did not win (also Twitter). The Rays are also out, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Barring any surprises, it appears that 11 teams have been eliminated as potential landing spots for Kang.
FRIDAY 11:59pm: In an English-language article, Yonhap reports (h/t to Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net, on Twitter) that the club has in fact announced the acceptance of the bid. The article indicates that even Nexen is not sure which MLB club subitted the winning offer.
Per the article, Kang is seeking between $5MM and $6MM per season on a multi-year deal of up to four years in duration.
10:31pm: With the posting fee bids submitted for infielder Jung-ho Kang, the KBO’s Nexen Heroes are expected to accept an approximately $5MM bid for the right to negotiate a contract with the Korean star, as the Yonhap News Agency reports (Twitter link via Jeeho Yoo; Korean-language article, via Sun-Min Kim, on Twitter).
The MLB team with the winning bid has yet to be reported. If that club is unable to work out a deal with Kang, it would be refunded the amount of the posting fee. Otherwise, the team would owe that $5MM on top of whatever contractual terms it reaches with Kang.
Kang, 27, raised eyebrows with a 40 home run/1.198 OPS campaign last year. The star shortstop has been a productive hitter for some time now, but that impressive power display certainly raised his profile. The KBO has turned into a fairly drastic hitter’s league, though Kang’s numbers still look outstanding against league average.
Just how his tools translate to the big leagues remains to be seen, of course, and questions remain whether he can play up the middle at the game’s highest level. Be sure to give a listen to this week’s podcast for great insight on Kang from former MLB and KBO pitcher Ryan Sadowski of Global Sporting Integration.
A number of teams are expected to break the bank on international talent next July, writes Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs.com. Due to international spending restrictions, teams that spend more than 15% above their allotted pool may not ink any international free agents for over $300,000 in the following two signing periods. However, there is growing consensus within the industry that an international draft will be implemented when baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-visited after the 2016 season. If a draft is put in place, teams will have only two years to live with the current arrangement.
McDaniel’s sources have suggested that as many as 10 teams may blow past their limit when the next signing period begins on July 2. The Cubs, Blue Jays, and Phillies will “almost definitely” exceed their respective pools. As McDaniel notes, plans will likely be affected by verbal commitments as we get closer to July. Additionally, the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Angels have greatly exceeded their budgets during the current signing period, meaning they will be penalized during the next two periods.
If there truly are only two more years before a draft is implemented, then teams have an interesting “strategic choice.” At least four clubs – possibly five pending the outcome of the Yoan Moncada bidding – will be handicapped. More will spend heavily next summer, making themselves ineligible for big signings in 2016. If enough teams are aggressive, it could be advantageous to wait until 2016 for a spending spree. McDaniel also points out that the penalized teams are mostly those who usually spend a lot on international talent.
Put it all together, and it’s increasingly clear that clubs are unconcerned about the international bonus pool. While small market clubs may be loathe to pay excessive taxes (100% on overages), those theoretically get passed onto the player via a lower signing bonus. In my opinion, if most of the big spenders are excluded from the marketplace in 2016, then we could see some nontraditional sources of big bonuses.
TODAY: Baldoquin has passed his physical. The deal is done, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com (via Twitter). Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (also Twitter) adds that there is still some paperwork to be filed before the deal is official.
DECEMBER 9: Baldoquin has arrived in the United States, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times). The team hopes to have Baldoquin’s physical completed and the signing finalized by next week.
NOVEMBER 4: The Angels have reached an agreement with 20-year-old Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin on a record-setting $8MM bonus, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The agreement is pending a physical and the $8MM bonus is the most ever for an amateur player under the current international signing rules.
Baldoquin called his agreement a “dream come true” in speaking to Sanchez, going on to state, “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get to this point. I’m ready for the next part of my journey.”
Baldoquin has three seasons of professional experience playing with Las Tunas in Serie Nacional, Sanchez writes, and he also appeared on the Cuban National 16-and-under team when he was eligible. Baldoquin left Cuba in February and has been training in the Dominican Republic. He can play both third base and the outfield, Sanchez adds.
Because Baldoquin was subject to the international signing bonus, the Angels have now clearly shattered their international bonus pool. By adding Baldoquin, the Halos are subjecting themselves to a 100 percent luxury tax on any dollars spent over their $2.383MM bonus pool, and they will also be ineligible to sign any player for more than $300K in either of the next two international signing periods. They can, however, spend as aggressively as they wish for the remainder of this signing period, which runs through mid-June. At this point, because they’ll already have been hit with the max penalties, the only further penalties they will incur will be the 100 percent on any further dollars that are spent on international free agents.
Information on Baldoquin is sparse, but Sanchez lists him at 5’10”, and interested fans can take a look at this 10-minute video compilation from YouTube that shows the right-handed hitter taking batting practice, fielding grounders, throwing across the diamond from third base and turning double plays as a shortstop with the help of a few workout partners.
At just 20 years of age and with only three seasons of experience in Serie Nacional, Baldoquin seems like a clear candidate to begin his Angels career in the minor leagues. The team lacks a current infield opening, although Howie Kendrick and David Freese are controlled only through the following season, while Erick Aybar is controlled through 2016.
- Cherington says the Sox have been interested in Hanigan for over a year, so they jumped at the chance to acquire him as a backup and insurance policy for youngster Christian Vazquez. “If you look at all the criteria we look for in a catcher, Ryan checks all the boxes: very good defender and game-caller, well-respected, a tough at-bat, capable of playing a lot — that’s a nice bonus,” Cherington says.
- Cherington admits he sold low on Middlebrooks, who hit just .191/.256/.265 in 234 big-league plate appearances in 2014. “Obviously we’re not trading Will at a particularly high point right now,” says Cherington. “We still believe in him. The last few years haven’t gone well, but the talent is still in there.”
- The Red Sox aren’t currently actively looking for rotation help, Cherington says. Britton notes, though, that given the pitching the Red Sox have already acquired this offseason (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson), it wouldn’t make sense for the Red Sox to declare dissatisfaction with their current rotation, whether or not they were still hunting for starters.
- Cherington says he’ll “keep an eye open” to potential bullpen upgrades.
The Indians have announced that they’ve signed lefty reliever Scott Downs to a minor league deal with a spring training invite. Downs will make $800K plus incentives if he makes the team, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets.
Downs pitched 38 innings last season for the White Sox and Royals, posting a 4.97 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 while suffering through diminished velocity — Downs was never a hard thrower, but his average fastball fell to 86.9 MPH in 2014. Downs had success as recently as the previous year, when he had a 2.49 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 for the Angels and Braves. In his 13-year career, the 38-year-old has also pitched for the Cubs, Expos and Blue Jays.
SATURDAY: The Giants have officially announced the deal.
FRIDAY: The Giants have found their replacement for Pablo Sandoval, at least for the time being. San Francisco has added third baseman Casey McGehee from the Marlins in a trade that sends young righties Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo to the Fish.
Miami was said to be quite high on McGehee after he turned in a nice rebound campaign with the team last year. But the organization jumped on the chance to add Martin Prado in a deal with the Yankees, and wasted no time in moving McGehee to another team with a need at third.
McGehee had a solid return season last year for Miami, after playing one year in Japan. He slashed .287/.355/.357 over 691 plate appearances, though a .335 BABIP certainly helped with his batting average and on-base numbers. Indeed, a drastic fall in his batting average on balls in play in last season’s second half contributed to a much less productive tail end of the season for the National League Comeback Player of the Year. He ultimately checked in at about one or two wins above replacement, depending upon one’s formula of choice.
Of course, San Francisco will not expect McGehee to fully replace the production of Sandoval, who will take the field for the Red Sox next year (and for several years thereafter). McGehee will presumably be expected to hold down the position for 2015 while the team looks for longer-term solutions. And he will do so at a fairly palatable price, as he is projected by MLBTR and Matt Swartz to earn $3.5MM through arbitration this year, his final season of eligibility before reaching free agency.
Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel first reported on Twitter that the deal was close. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted that the deal was done. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (via Twitter) and Rodriguez (likewise) reported the return. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that the deal is “official.”
9:47pm: The Red Sox have announced the one-for-one deal.
9:56am: The Padres and Red Sox are nearing a trade that would send catcher Ryan Hanigan from San Diego to Boston in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, reports Yahoo’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link).
The Padres have yet to so much as make their acquisition of Hanigan official, as the three-team deal that will net him and outfielder Wil Myers hasn’t been announced by the clubs. However, that hasn’t stopped them from shopping around one of their newest acquisitions and figuring out the framework for a deal that seemingly helps both parties involved.
Hanigan, 34, is an excellent defensive catcher coming off a season in which he batted just .218/.318/.324 in his first season with the Rays. He’s owed a total of $8MM over the next two seasons (including the $800K buyout on a $3.75MM club option for 2017) and could pair well behind the plate with Christian Vazquez in Boston.
The 26-year-old Middlebrooks was once one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, but he’s yet to replicate the .288/.325/.509 batting line he put together in his rookie season of 2012. Since that time, Middlebrooks has dealt with injuries and a rapidly rising strikeout rate, both of which have contributed to a paltry .213/.265/.364 batting line from 2013-14.
Despite those struggles, Middlebrooks still has upside, and he fills a need at third base for the Padres, who can now turn to Derek Norris and Tim Federowicz behind the plate in 2015. The Red Sox were unlikely to find significant playing time for Middlebrooks anyhow after signing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez this offseason. While the return of a defensive-minded catcher is certainly less than Sox fans may have hoped for given past hype surrounding Middlebrooks, the swap does improve and deepen Boston’s roster for 2015.
San Diego can control Middlebrooks through the 2018 season, and he won’t be eligible for arbitration until next offseason.