Offseason Outlook Rumors
The Indians will add starting pitching and consider trading some established arbitration eligible stars.
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Rafael Perez, RP: $2MM (fourth time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Shin-Soo Choo, OF: $7.9MM (third time eligible)
- Chris Perez, RP: $7.2MM (third time eligible)
- Joe Smith, RP: $2.7MM (third time eligible)
- Kevin Slowey, SP: $2.8MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Justin Masterson, SP: $5.7MM (second time eligible)
- Jack Hannahan, 3B: $1.5MM (second time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Tony Sipp, RP: $1MM (first time eligible)
- Lou Marson, C: $800K (first-time eligible)
- Brent Lillibridge, UT: $700K (first time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Travis Hafner, DH: $13MM club option with a $2.75MM buyout
- Roberto Hernandez, SP: $6MM club option
- Ubaldo Jimenez, SP: $5.75MM club option with a $1MM buyout
The Indians fired their manager following a trying season that saw the team lose 53 of 77 second half games. They had to let Manny Acta go after such a dismal finish, and hiring Terry Francona seems like a positive development for a franchise that hasn't finished above .500 since losing to Francona's Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS. It’s not enough. The Indians must also add starting pitching depth and improve on a below-average offense in the offseason ahead.
Indians starters were ineffective in 2012. The group ranked near the bottom of the league in innings (27th in MLB, 913 2/3), strikeout rate (29th, 6.1 K/9), walk rate (28th, 3.5 BB/9), ERA (28th, 5.25) and wins above replacement (28th, 4.6 fWAR). They were historically bad in many departments, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian detailed this month.
The Indians have spent with characteristic small-market restraint in the first two offseasons under general manager Chris Antonetti. It might now be time for the Indians to rely more extensively on the free agent market. Next year's payroll includes just $11MM in guaranteed contracts at this point, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. This should lead to some payroll flexibility, even after accounting for the team's large class of arbitration eligible players.
Though Justin Masterson has succeeded before and Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber showed promise this past season, the Indians need help. Internal options like Carlos Carrasco, David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez will get opportunities at some point, but relying on them to carry the team through a six-month schedule would be excessively risky.
Shaun Marcum, Joe Blanton, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Brandon McCarthy and Chris Young are some of the mid-rotation free agents Antonetti could pursue. If the Indians look to the trade market for starting pitching, they could consider targeting pitchers such as Jason Vargas, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Jon Niese. Whether it's through trades or free agent signings Antonetti must obtain starting pitching.
Antonetti faces a pair of option decisions on starters who have struggled in recent years. Ubaldo Jimenez can be retained for $5.75MM or the club could decline the option following a disappointing season and a half in Cleveland. Declining the option makes sense given Jimenez's diminishing velocity and poor peripheral stats. It seems unlikely that the Indians will exercise Roberto Hernandez's $6MM option given his poor performance. His late-season ankle injury doesn’t help his case, nor do the recent revelations regarding his age and identity.
The Indians' struggles weren't confined to the rotation. They out-scored just one American League team in a season that yielded minimal production from traditionally offensive positions. Cleveland left fielders ranked last in MLB at their position with a .598 OPS. The team's first basemen (28th, .675), third basemen (24th, .677) and designated hitters (11th in AL, .702) weren't much better.
Assuming the Indians give third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall time to succeed they'll be looking at designated hitters, first basemen and left fielders this coming offseason. Spending on powerful free agents at these offense-first positions gets expensive. The Indians might find solutions to some of their offensive issues in this way, but they must also be able to find bats affordably. Players break out every year, so the Indians would do well to find this year's Brandon Moss or this year's Ryan Ludwick. Easier said than done, I know. Tyler Moore and Lucas Duda are examples of the powerful, controllable players that might intrigue Indians executives this winter.
The Indians will decline Travis Hafner's option, opening up the designated hitter spot for a newcomer. Francona would gain flexibility if his bosses don't acquire a positionless DH, so there's no need to spend on an aging slugger for the sake of tradition. It doesn't sound as though longtime Indians star Grady Sizemore will have a role on next year's team either.
Chris Perez tested the patience of Indians ownership this summer, publicly criticizing the team for its modest spending. As irksome as his words must have been, the comments themselves wouldn’t justify a trade. But when you consider Perez’s upcoming arbitration raise and the value he’d have as a trade candidate, the argument in favor of a deal becomes convincing. Better to obtain something of value for the outspoken 27-year-old while it's still possible to do so.
Perez isn’t the only trade candidate in town. It seems unlikely that the Indians will find common ground with Shin-Soo Choo on an extension, especially now that the Scott Boras client is just one year away from free agency. The Indians have discussed the possibility multiple times without making an offer Choo felt inclined to accept. Antonetti will consider trade offers for the arbitration eligible outfielder this offseason, and if the GM can get a controllable player who projects as an MLB regular he should make the trade instead of waiting and taking the risk that Choo’s trade value will diminish. The Mariners, Mets, Yankees and Giants are among the teams that could have interest in the right fielder.
Masterson’s name could surface in trade rumors this winter, as it did a few months ago. Yet the Indians might prefer to keep the right-hander in place and see if he can return to form under Francona, who managed him in Boston. Teams might also call on Asdrubal Cabrera given the scarcity of available shortstops, but dealing the 26-year-old infielder would create as many questions as it would resolve. Expect Cabrera to stay put -- at least until the Indians' top shortstop prospects are ready for the MLB level.
Perez, Choo and Masterson lead a large class of arbitration eligible players. The Indians could non-tender a number of players, including Rafael Perez, Kevin Slowey and Brent Lillibridge. Jack Hannahan is a borderline case who could also be cut loose. The group doesn't include any extension candidates other than Choo, who doesn't seem inclined to sign. The Indians could also attempt to lock pre-arbitration eligible second baseman Jason Kipnis up given his strong showing in 2012.
In the next few months, Antonetti must address needs in the rotation and on offense while working with a small payroll. And though the Indians aren't in total re-build mode, they're multiple pieces away from winning anything. That's one tough offseason assignment.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Dodgers will seek pitching in their first offseason under new ownership.
- Matt Kemp, OF: $150MM through 2019
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: $127MM through 2018
- Carl Crawford, OF: $102.5MM through 2017
- Andre Ethier, OF: $85MM through 2017
- Josh Beckett, SP: $34MM through 2014
- Hanley Ramirez, SS: $31.5MM through 2014
- Yasiel Puig, OF: $28MM through 2018
- Chad Billingsley, SP: $26MM through 2014
- Ted Lilly, SP: $13.5MM through 2013
- Clayton Kershaw, SP: $11MM through 2013
- Aaron Harang, SP: $9MM through 2013
- Juan Uribe, IF: $8MM through 2013
- Chris Capuano, SP: $7MM through 2013
- Mark Ellis, 2B: $6.25MM through 2013
- Matt Guerrier, RP: $4.75MM through 2013
- Jerry Hairston Jr., UT: $3.75MM through 2013
- Nick Punto, UT: $1.5MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- A.J. Ellis, C: $1.7MM (first time eligible)
- Juan Rivera, OF: $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Todd Coffey, RP: $2.5MM club option with a $300K buyout
- Matt Treanor, C: $950K club option with a $150K buyout
It's not uncommon for incoming ownership groups to gain control of a team and promise to spend. It is uncommon for owners to deliver on these promises with the speed and boldness that Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson did. Guggenheim Baseball Management has been baseball's most aggressive ownership group since officially purchasing the Dodgers this spring, and it's not particularly close. If the trend of aggressive spending continues in the coming offseason, expect the Dodgers to shift their focus from position players to the starting rotation.
At a time that the Yankees won't stop talking about the luxury tax, the Red Sox are shedding payroll and the Cubs are re-tooling, the Dodgers are baseball's biggest spenders. They have committed $194MM to next year's team, tops in MLB. Even if you sliced the Dodgers' 2013 commitments in half, their future payroll commitments would rank in the top five.
Like the majority of teams with such extensive payroll commitments, the Dodgers are set at most positions. The timeline for Carl Crawford's return from Tommy John surgery remains unclear, but he's expected to return early in the season, so significant outfield reinforcements seem unnecessary. Shane Victorino doesn't fit in the Dodgers' outfield, since he'll get offers to start elsewhere.
Though the Dodgers also have plenty of infielders, GM Ned Colletti could pursue upgrades at third base or shortstop. It sounds like the club will stick with Hanley Ramirez at short while using Luis Cruz at third base. Cruz posted a .297/.322/.431 batting line in half a season after signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers last winter, but history and batting average on balls in play suggest he'll regress on offense. Alternatively, light-hitting shortstop Dee Gordon could play the more defensively demanding position and the Dodgers could have Ramirez play third. It doesn't sound as though the team has high expectations for Juan Uribe, who remains unproductive two thirds of the way through a three-year, $21MM contract.
In some ways Alex Rodriguez seems like a possible trade target for the Dodgers. The Yankees don't believe in Rodriguez's ability to produce at the plate right now -- if they did then he would be in the New York lineup. Though Rodriguez has many doubters, the 37-year-old was an above-average offensive player in 2012. Plus, it's no secret the Dodgers have been willing to take on high-salaried players. I still don’t think it’d be a wise move for the Dodgers to commit significant resources -- say more than $30MM -- to acquire Rodriguez, who's owed at least $114MM through 2017. There are too many health and performance-related questions surrounding the former first overall pick to justify an intense pursuit. Based on last summer’s reports the Dodgers don’t seem interested.
Colletti will have interest in adding a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw. Free agent right-hander Zack Greinke could be a target, and though he'd cost more than $100MM he'd be a worthwhile addition for the Dodgers. They have the resources, the need and, thanks to a midseason trade by their American League counterparts, evidence that Greinke can handle the pressure associated with the Los Angeles market.
However, Walter has hinted that the Dodgers don't intend to spend big on pitching, telling Dylan Hernandez that "pitchers break." Perhaps high-priced starters like Greinke and Jake Peavy are off-limits for now. If the Dodgers look to reduce costs, they could pursue trade candidates such as Josh Johnson and James Shields or free agents such as Dan Haren and Hiroki Kuroda. They have a built-in advantage when it comes to Kuroda, who appeared to enjoy pitching in Los Angeles for the first four years of his MLB career. Joe Blanton, one of Colletti's many late-season additions, figures to sign elsewhere when he hits free agency.
One of Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly figures to be traded, according to Hernandez. The Dodgers won’t have trouble generating interest in their veteran starting pitching with teams like the Twins, Royals, Blue Jays, Angels, Cubs and Brewers seeking rotation help. None of these starters would have particularly high trade value, although Capuano and Harang are both coming off of solid seasons. Chad Billingsley might require reconstructive elbow surgery and doesn’t appear to be a trade candidate.
The Dodgers appear to have some interest in right-hander Shohei Otani, a hard-throwing 18-year-old free agent. Though baseball's collective bargaining agreement will prevent Dodgers ownership from spending as aggressively as they otherwise might, they should still pursue top international prospects.
It's only been eight months since Kershaw signed an extension with the Dodgers, yet it's already time to consider a new deal. An extension would cover the left-hander's one remaining season of arbitration eligibility and a number of free agent seasons. The Dodgers would have to pay top dollar for Kershaw, who's coming off of consecutive Cy Young caliber years. He might cost more than $150MM this time, but it'd still be worth it for a large-market team to lock up one of the game's top pitchers through his prime. Not surprisingly, Kershaw would consider a new deal.
With Kershaw's 2013 salary already determined, the Dodgers have an exceptionally small arbitration class (it looks like Ronald Belisario will fall just short of super two status). Only A.J. Ellis projects as an arb eligible player and he'd probably earn less than $2MM on a one-year deal.
The Dodgers have three club options for 2013 and they can all safely be declined. Juan Rivera no longer looks like a $4MM player; Todd Coffey will miss the beginning of the 2013 season with Tommy John surgery; 36-year-old Matt Treanor struggled at the plate all year, especially down the stretch.
A number of Dodgers relievers are on track to hit free agency this coming offseason, and while prospects such as Chris Reed and Chris Withrow could contribute out of the bullpen by 2013, Colletti might prefer to open the season with more depth. Brandon League has said he’d like to return to Los Angeles, and Randy Choate also seems like a possible fit given his success as a lefty specialist. Though it’s often difficult to endorse multiyear deals for relievers, I don’t think the Dodgers should shy away from their preferred free agent arms. They aim to contend and they need relief help. Spending on relievers won’t prevent them from addressing other needs, so why not?
It’d be hard for the Dodgers to keep adding stars at the rate they were making deals this past summer. In all likelihood they’ve already completed much of their shopping. This winter will probably be about supplementing the pitching staff and answering questions on the left side of the infield. Still, if we’ve learned anything about the Los Angeles ownership group it’s that they aren’t afraid to spend and surprise.
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The Brewers' offense is as good as it gets, so they're expected to seek pitching this coming offseason.
- Ryan Braun, OF: $135.5MM through 2020
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B: $30MM through 2014
- Rickie Weeks, 2B: $23MM through 2014
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $19.5MM through 2014
- Jonathan Lucroy, C: $10.5MM through 2016
- Corey Hart, 1B: $10.33MM through 2013
- Norichika Aoki, OF: $1.5MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Carlos Gomez, OF: $3.4MM (fourth time eligible)
- Kameron Loe, RP: $2.6MM (third time eligible)
- Jose Veras, RP: $2.6MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Manny Parra, RP: $1.6MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Nyjer Morgan, OF: $2.6MM (second time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- John Axford, RP: $5.1MM (first time eligible)
- Chris Narveson, SP: $800K (first time eligible)
- Marco Estrada, SP: $1.6MM (first time eligible)
- Travis Ishikawa, 1B: $900K (first time eligible, non-tender candidate)
The Brewers had a number of promising starting pitchers emerge over the course of the 2012 season, but that’s not going to stop general manager Doug Melvin from pursuing rotation help this coming offseason. Pairing Milwaukee’s high-powered offense with a deeper rotation could have the Brewers contending all season long in 2013.
Brewers fans are no doubt hoping for an improved bullpen next year. Any team can look back at a string of blown games and say ‘what if,’ but the Brewers’ stretch of losses in late July seemed especially debilitating. Though Brewers relievers were one of five groups to average more than one strikeout per inning, they ranked last in MLB with a 4.66 ERA, 29th in MLB in walk rate (4.1 BB/9) and 26th in home runs allowed (56).
John Axford, and Francisco Rodriguez struggled at times, though they entered the season as Ron Roenicke's top relievers. Expect a new-look bullpen a few months from now, as Rodriguez's contract has expired and Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Jose Veras could be traded or even non-tendered. Axford, viewed as an extension candidate seven months ago, has to prove himself again following an up-and-down season.
As a small market team with a medium-sized payroll, the Brewers aren't expected to spend big on relievers. Instead, they'll look for values in free agency and trades with the knowledge that they must find bullpen arms somewhere. Perhaps they'll pursue free agents like Jason Grilli or wait until January and February when bargains tend to emerge on the middle relief market. Their level of urgency will depend on their assessment of their own minor leaguers and their willingness to tender contracts to the likes of Parra, Loe and Veras.
The rotation, on the other hand, featured a number of breakout performances this past season. While Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson provided less value than anticipated, the 2012 season included encouraging performances from Marco Estrada (3.64 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 in 138 1/3 innings), Mike Fiers (3.74 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 in 127 2/3 innings), Mark Rogers (3.92 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 in 39 innings) and Wily Peralta (2.48 ERA, 7.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 in 29 innings). With Yovani Gallardo in place atop the rotation and a number of emergent starters ready to contribute, the loss of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum becomes that much easier to withstand.
Marcum, a free agent for the first time in his career, isn't expected to receive a qualifying offer from the Brewers. Extending an offer would set the team up for draft pick compensation in case the right-hander signs elsewhere, but MLBTR's readers say it wouldn’t be a good idea for the Brewers, and it sounds as though Marcum expects to move on.
Melvin has said the Brewers intend to add a veteran starting pitcher, so if the club doesn't retain Marcum, other available starters figure to draw interest from Milwaukee. Free agents Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Dan Haren and Anibal Sanchez could become targets for the Brewers. Greinke, it seems, has priced himself out of Milwaukee after turning down a contract offer worth in excess of $100MM earlier this year.
The Brewers should strive to add multiple arms to the rotation, especially with so many relatively inexperienced pitchers competing for playing time. Injuries can strike at any time, and the Brewers can create depth now that could save them midway through the 2013 season. Now that rotation spots are seemingly available, minor league free agents might find Milwaukee more appealing than in years past.
Nyjer Morgan might be the most prominent player in danger of being non-tendered by the Brewers, but he's definitely not the only one. As mentioned before, relievers Parra, Loe and Veras could be cut given their rising salaries ($1.2MM for Parra, $2.6MM for Loe, $2MM for Veras). Travis Ishikawa, a light-hitting backup first baseman, could also hit free agency early this winter since the Brewers have more affordable depth options at the position in Mat Gamel and Hunter Morris.
Corey Hart has said he'd like to continue playing for the Brewers beyond 2013, when his current contract will expire. Given the challenges of working out a deal midseason, the sides could explore an extension this winter. Recent contracts signed by Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Quentin could be templates for Hart, who signed a similar deal midway through the 2010 season. Though other teams would have interest in acquiring Hart, a trade doesn't seem likely.
The offense that led the National League in runs scored (third in MLB) should return for the 2013 season. Led by established stars such as Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez and relative newcomers such as Jonathan Lucroy and Norichika Aoki, the Brewers are set at most positions. Josh Hamilton would be a welcome addition to any lineup and has connections on the Brewers' coaching staff, but he figures to be too expensive for Milwaukee. Melvin could look for a shortstop depending on his confidence in Jean Segura, the 22-year-old acquired from the Angels in the Greinke trade. If the Brewers do pursue depth at short, they'd presumably add someone on a one-year or minor league deal so as not to block Segura's path.
If the Brewers achieve some attainable goals -- acquire starting pitching, improve the bullpen, consider adding a shortstop -- they'll enter the 2013 season poised to contend again. Not bad for a franchise that lost Prince Fielder and Greinke in consecutive years.
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The Cubs enter the 2012-13 offseason with multiple needs, but their pitching staff requires the most attention at this point.
- Starlin Castro, SS: $60MM through 2019
- Alfonso Soriano, OF: $38MM through 2014
- Jorge Soler, OF: $26MM through 2020
- Carlos Marmol, RP: $9.8MM through 2013
- David DeJesus, OF: $5.75MM through 2013
- Gerardo Concepcion, SP: $4.8MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Matt Garza, SP: $10MM (fourth time eligible)
- Ian Stewart, 3B: $2.3MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Manny Corpas, RP: $1.4MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Chris Volstad, SP: $3MM (second time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Jeff Samardzija, SP: $2.9MM (first time eligible)
- Luis Valbuena, 3B: $900K (first time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- James Russell, RP: $900K(first time eligible)
Sometimes the second offseason under a new front office can be the first 'normal' winter for a team's baseball operations department. A year ago, in the first offseason under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the Cubs had to conduct a managerial search, fill out their front office and create a plan for player development. Now, as the Cubs begin their second winter led by Epstein and Hoyer, team executives can focus on their primary task: turning a 101-loss team into a contender and, eventually, bringing that elusive World Series title to the North Side of Chicago.
The Cubs spent in excess of $100MM on payroll in each of the past five seasons, so we know the resources are there. Yet to this point, they've committed just $42MM to next year's team, not accounting for arbitration eligible players. That should provide lots of flexibility for Cubs executives, but if last offseason provides any indication, they won't spend for the sake of spending. Instead, the Cubs figure to complete short-term free agent contracts and trades.
The Cubs could start by dealing one of their most experienced players. Alfonso Soriano had a good year in 2012, posting .262/.322/.499 batting line and hitting 32 home runs (reaching the 100 RBI-threshold won't hurt his value, either). Though Soriano has made it clear he'd consider waiving his no-trade rights, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said he won't deal the 36-year-old unless the Cubs get something of value in return. It's hard to envision Soriano's trade value rising much from here, so if the Cubs intend to create room for younger players and free up some salary, it's now time to make a move.
The Cubs will also need a contingency plan for center field. Just about half of Brett Jackson's at bats (59 of 120) ended in strikeouts this year, an indication that he won't make enough contact to maintain a respectable on-base average. He has some power, plays a premium position and can draw walks, but his contact skills create legitimate questions about the likelihood that he'll realize the potential that placed him on many top prospect lists earlier in his career.
Between a possible trade for Soriano and the need for a legitimate option behind Jackson, the Cubs could be in the market for outfielders this offseason. They could wait on a deep class of free agent outfielders or contact teams like the Diamondbacks and Twins, who have enviable outfield depth.
If the Cubs retain Luis Valbuena they'll be set at all four infield positions, with Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo occupying the three other spots. The Cubs could look to improve their catching depth following a season in which Chicago catchers placed 28th of the 30 MLB teams in OPS (.616). The free agent market seems relatively strong at catcher this year, and the Cubs could call teams such as the Blue Jays about possible trades.
The Cubs have a mid-sized group of arbitration eligible players that includes a number of non-tender candidates. Chris Volstad figures to be cut loose following a poor season; Ian Stewart's wrist issues place him in uncertain territory; Manny Corpas' chances of returning seem slim. Valbuena, the team's fourth non-tender candidate, has earned praise from his manager, an indication he could start the 2013 season as the Cubs' third baseman. Still, management might prefer to have options other than Valbuena and 23-year-old prospect Josh Vitters.
Jeff Samardzija has emerged as an extension candidate following his breakout season -- an unexpected ascent that represented one of the primary positives of the Cubs' 101-loss season. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has suggested a deal in the four-year, $27MM range could work for both the Cubs and Samardzija, who's under team control through 2015.
Despite Samardzija's production and a solid half-season from Matt Garza, Cubs starters struggled to complete innings (922 2/3, 24th in MLB), limit walks (3.1 BB/9, 23rd in MLB) and prevent runs (4.52 ERA, 23rd in MLB) this past season. Hoyer will be in the market for starting pitching, and could consider trades or free agent signings. The Cubs will presumably look for certainty given the state of their current rotation, so starters like Joe Blanton, Gavin Floyd and Jeremy Guthrie could make sense. Shaun Marcum, Dan Haren and Brandon McCarthy have health and performance-related questions, but they could also be intriguing free agent options for Hoyer to pursue if the players' asking prices are reasonable.
While it's not yet time for the Cubs to spend aggressively on top MLB free agents, they shouldn't hold back on elite international players (though spending restrictions do apply internationally). Prospects such as 18-year-old right-hander Shohei Otani could be worthwhile targets if Cubs scouts are impressed. The Cubs have already begun leveraging their status as a large market team by spending on international players such as Jorge Soler and they must continue adding talent to the organization in this way to the extent that it's possible under the sport's new collective bargaining agreement. The Cuban market could offer impact players as well, though this year's class doesn't appear to be as deep as the one that produced Soler and Yoenis Cespedes.
Garza, a midseason trade candidate this past summer, figures to stay put after missing the end of the 2012 season with an elbow injury. He'd likely have more value if he can prove he's healthy, so the timing isn't ideal for an offseason trade. If Garza's healthy midway through the 2013 season, the Cubs should trade him for the best controllable players they can get.
Cubs relievers performed less effectively than the team's starters this year, walking more than one batter per two innings (4.8 BB/9, 30th in MLB), generating few strikeouts (7.4 K/9, 29th in MLB) and posting a 4.49 ERA (27th in MLB). While it wouldn't make sense for the Cubs to spend aggressively on top free agent relievers such as Rafael Soriano, they must devote resources and attention to their relief corps this offseason. Trade candidates, minor league free agents and non-tendered players should all be on the team's radar. Perhaps the Cubs can even find a taker for Carlos Marmol, who will earn $9.8MM in 2013 after walking nearly one batter per inning this past season.
The Cubs lost 100 games for the first time since 1966 this past season. Even for a franchise that’s grown accustomed to losses that’s a lot of defeats. But they can be closer to contention within a few months if the front office completes a successful offseason by seeking pitching depth and pursuing impact talent whenever possible.
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The Diamondbacks will look to reinforce the left side of their infield and acquire starting pitching depth while weighing trades for their outfielders.
- Miguel Montero, C: $60MM through 2017
- Justin Upton, OF: $38.5MM through 2015
- Trevor Cahill, SP: $25.5MM through 2015
- Chris Young, OF: $11MM through 2013
- Jason Kubel, OF: $8.5MM through 2013
- Aaron Hill, 2B: $5.5MM through 2013
- David Hernandez, RP: $3.25MM
- Trevor Bauer, SP: $2.37MM
- Willie Bloomquist, UT: $1.9MM through 2013
- John McDonald, UT: $1.5MM
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Matt Albers, RP: $1.7MM (third time eligible)
- Wil Nieves, C: $800K (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Brad Ziegler, RP: $2.4MM (second time eligible)
- Brad Bergesen, RP: $1MM (second time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Ian Kennedy, SP: $4.2MM (first time eligible)
- Chris Johnson, 3B: $2.2MM (first time eligible)
- Gerardo Parra, OF: $2.1MM (first time eligible)
- Mike Zagurski, RP: $500K (first time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Cody Ransom, UT: $900K (first time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- J.J. Putz, RP: $6.5MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout
- Matt Lindstrom, RP: $4MM club option with a $200K buyout
- Henry Blanco, C: $1.24MM mutual option
Some general managers prefer to keep their offseason plans private, speaking in abstractions instead of specifics and offering up vague or evasive answers. It’s their prerogative, of course, and a case can be made that controlling information leads to a competitive advantage. At the same time, it’s a whole lot simpler to listen to someone like Kevin Towers outline an offseason plan.
When Towers recently explained his goals to Barry Bloom of MLB.com he didn’t leave much to the imagination. The Diamondbacks will pursue veteran pitching via trades, look for upgrades on the left side of the infield, trade an outfielder and exercise J.J. Putz’s option. As for the team’s payroll, Towers said it could rise as high as $85MM or so.
Longtime Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew leads a relatively unremarkable class of free agent shortstops, but he's "probably not" coming back to Arizona in the words of his former GM. If Towers looks to free agency for solutions on the left side of the infield, players such as Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis could catch his attention. Yet the trade market might offer more variety, especially if Towers looks to acquire a long-term answer. Shortstops such as Elvis Andrus, Yunel Escobar or Jed Lowrie could draw trade interest from Arizona this offseason if Towers decides to bypass the free agent market.
Toward the end of the regular season, the Diamondbacks seemed content to rely on internal options at third base, and they have a fallback plan of using Chris Johnson (vs. RHP) and Cody Ransom (vs. LHP). Staying within the organization at shortstop seems less likely, as Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald aren't viewed as everyday options at the position.
Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, their most prominent organizational strength -- outfield depth -- happens to be a strength of the upcoming free agent market. There will still be demand for Arizona's outfielders, and at least one of Justin Upton, Chris Young, Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra figures to be traded. The presence of Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock means Towers can -- and should -- explore potential trades.
Upton, the 25-year-old right fielder whose name surfaced in trade rumors all summer long, would likely bring the most substantial return. The Rangers, Mariners, Mets are a few of the many teams that could have interest in completing a deal for Upton. The former first overall selection battled thumb injuries this past season, before finishing strong, with six September home runs. Towers knows Upton could play at an MVP level again as soon as next year, but the GM can't justify an exorbitant asking price for a player whose overall performance was good but not great in 2012. It means the Diamondbacks could keep Upton and trade someone else.
Kubel would draw interest coming off of a 30-home run season. So would Young despite a so-so season at the plate. And Parra, the youngest and most affordable of the three with a projected salary in the $2MM range, would appeal to many teams as well. Towers and other top Diamondbacks executives will have to weigh numerous possibilities with so many trade candidates to choose from -- it's a good problem to have.
The Diamondbacks could seek an experienced starting pitcher in a trade for an outfielder. Though they have an assortment of promising young starting pitchers, Towers has said he'd like to acquire a veteran starter this winter. Rival teams will no doubt have interest in the likes of Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Trevor Bauer, but to this point there's been no indication those young starters will be available. While manager Kirk Gibson figures to enter Spring Training with an enviable selection of starting rotation options, such depth can disappear quickly so it'd be imprudent to make moves based on the assumption that the rotation will always seem so deep.
Josh Johnson, a ground ball pitcher with one year remaining on his contract, might appeal to the Diamondbacks, who pursued top-of-the-rotation arms this past summer. His $13.75MM salary could be prohibitive, so a pitcher like Jon Niese might be preferable.
Reliever J.J. Putz will return, assuming the Diamondbacks exercise his 2013 option, as expected. Retaining a shutdown reliever for one additional season at a net price of $5MM makes sense for Arizona. As challenging as it can be to predict reliever performances accurately, the right-hander adds lots of value and the Diamondbacks can afford the $6.5MM commitment. Conversely, Matt Lindstrom's option could safely be declined. The hard-throwing right-hander looks more like a $2MM player in this market, so it'd be unnecessarily expensive to exercise his option at $4MM. Instead, free agents like Jeremy Affeldt, Randy Choate and Tim Byrdak could appeal to Towers, who has indicated he's interested in adding left-handed relief.
The Diamondbacks have committed approximately $55MM to next year's payroll, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. This gives them $20-30MM to work with, using Towers' estimate of next year's payroll. About half of that sum would go to the team's arbitration eligible players, assuming Brad Ziegler, Matt Albers, Chris Johnson, Gerardo Parra and Ian Kennedy are tendered contracts. That scenario has Arizona non-tendering Ransom, Wil Nieves, Mike Zagurski and Brad Bergesen instead of retaining them for another year.
Though Kennedy didn't appear to have interest in an extension last offseason, the Diamondbacks could explore the possibility of a new contract with agent Scott Boras this winter. Towers might also ask Aaron Hill about his interest in a contract extension that would cover 2014 and beyond.
There's no ambiguity about Towers' offseason goals. If he hasn't bolstered the left side of his infield and acquired starting pitching depth by Opening Day, the offseason will arguably have been a disappointment. But if the Diamondbacks follow the path they've traced for themselves and their fans, this team should enter the 2013 season with the expectation of contending again.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Padres will look for starting pitching this offseason as they aim to re-establish themselves as an NL West contender.
- Carlos Quentin, OF: $27MM through 2015
- Cameron Maybin, CF: 24.5MM through 2016
- Huston Street, RP: $14MM through 2014
- Cory Luebke, SP: $11.5MM through 2015
- Nick Hundley, C: $7MM through 2014
- Chris Denorfia, OF: $4.25MM through 2014
- Yasmani Grandal, C: $750K through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Chase Headley, 3B: third time eligible
- Tim Stauffer, SP: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Dustin Moseley, SP: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Micah Owings, RP: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Edinson Volquez, SP: third time eligible
- Clayton Richard, SP: second time eligible
- Luke Gregerson, RP: second time eligible
- Will Venable, OF: second time eligible
- John Baker, C: second time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Joe Thatcher, RP: second time eligible
- Kyle Blanks, OF: first time eligible
- Everth Cabrera, SS: first time eligible
With new ownership and a new television contract in place, there's optimism that the Padres can expand payroll in the relatively near future. Though the newly-approved, Ron Fowler-led ownership group has not revealed precisely where payroll will sit, GM Josh Byrnes recently indicated to Barry Bloom that it could increase. Regardless of how much money he has at his disposal, Byrnes is expected to prioritize starting pitching in the team's first offseason under new ownership.
The Padres have $30MM committed to the 2013 payroll, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. San Diego's class of arbitration eligible players looks unusually large again this offseason, so much of the team's remaining flexibility will go toward players in their arb years.
Chase Headley (pictured) will be of particular interest following a season in which he emerged as an elite offensive producer despite Petco Park's pitcher-friendly tendencies. His salary could reach the $7MM range through the arbitration process, so he's not the bargain he once was. He's only going to get more expensive, and could command $50-80MM on an extension.
There are indications the new ownership group will spend to keep Headley, but if they aren't willing to do so, they should consider trading him. It might be difficult for fans to tolerate the move just one year after the Mat Latos trade and two years after the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Yet there's no sense in losing a franchise player for nothing but a draft pick when multiple MLB-ready prospects would be available in trades. The Padres have helped develop one of the game's top farm systems by trading elite MLB players before they become prohibitively expensive. If the team's new ownership group continues operating on one of the league's smallest payrolls, Byrnes will have to consider parting with Headley. At a time that teams such as the Braves, Phillies, White Sox and Diamondbacks could be in the market for third base help, demand for a player of Headley's caliber would be overwhelming. Hopefully for Padres fans, ownership decides to spend at a level that can accommodate an elite player as he approaches free agency. If not, the Padres must re-consider trading Headley.
Though the Padres out-scored just six teams this past season, they now seem set at most positions. They got an early start on the offseason by signing Carlos Quentin to a three-year contract and extending Chris Denorfia, the right-handed hitting platoon partner for Will Venable, on a modest two-year deal. These signings solidify an outfield that includes Venable, Cameron Maybin and Jesus Guzman, who also thrives against left-handed pitching.
The Padres also have enough internal options to pass on a relatively weak class of free agent infielders. Headley, Yonder Alonso, Logan Forsythe and Everth Cabrera have earned places atop the team’s depth chart, and Jedd Gyorko also figures to get the chance to contribute next year. San Diego struggled against right-handed pitching this past year, so if Byrnes can find a way to supplement Forsythe, yet another lefty masher, with a left-handed hitting second base backup he should do so.
The Padres could cut ties with arbitration eligible pitchers Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley and Micah Owings. Stauffer, a valuable contributor from 2009-11, appeared in just one game this past year because of an elbow injury. He'd earn $3MM or so if tendered a contract, so it's hard to argue that a low-budget team should retain him through the arbitration process. Similarly, Moseley appeared in just one game for the Padres in 2012. He underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in April and should also be non-tendered given his current salary of $2.01MM.
John Baker could be deemed expendable now that Nick Hundley and Yasmani Grandal are in place at catcher, so he's a non-tender or trade candidate. Kyle Blanks, the former top prospect who underwent season-ending labrum surgery in April, can expect a contract offer despite his lost season.
As mentioned, the rotation will be an offseason focus for San Diego. Presently it includes few sure things other than Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez. Promising arms such as Andrew Cashner and Casey Kelly could make an impact and Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland could return from injuries midway through the 2013 season. But Byrnes intends to add starters from outside of the organization following a season in which Richard and Volquez were the only pitchers to start more than 15 games.
Fly ball prone free agents such as Carlos Villanueva, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy and Jeremy Guthrie could succeed in Petco Park and they figure to be in the Padres' price range. Former Padres ace Jake Peavy, another free agent who allows his share of fly balls, could appeal to the Padres on a short-term deal, but he has significant leverage as one of the top pitchers available. An the other end of the spectrum, Carl Pavano and Daisuke Matsuzaka could be worth adding for a minimal commitment.
The Padres had a strong finish to the 2012 season, winning 42 of 75 second half games. To improve the chances that this success continues in 2013, Byrnes must obtain starting pitching depth over the winter. Extending Headley would be a reassuring move, though a new deal doesn't have to be reached at this time. Over the course of the first offseason since the sale of the club was completed we're sure to learn a lot about just how aggressive new ownership intends to be.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Royals will pursue pitching in the hopes that a deeper starting staff will result in the club's first winning record in a decade.
- Alex Gordon, LF: $31.5MM through 2015
- Billy Butler, DH: $18MM through 2014
- Alcides Escobar, SS: $9.5MM through 2015
- Jeff Francoeur, RF: $6.75MM through 2013
- Salvador Perez, C: $6.25MM through 2016
- Bruce Chen, SP: $4.5MM through 2013
- Noel Arguelles, LHP: $2.76MM through 2014
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Luke Hochevar, SP: $4.4MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Felipe Paulino, SP: $2.7MM (third time eligible)
- Brayan Pena, C: $1.1MM (third time eligible, non-tender candidate)
- Chris Getz, IF: $1.2MM (second time eligible)
- Blake Wood, RP: $600K (first time eligible)
- Joakim Soria, RP: $8MM club option with a $750K buyout
The Royals haven't had an elite starter since they traded Zack Greinke to Milwaukee two winters ago. This offseason GM Dayton Moore will seek rotation help as Greinke hits free agency for the first time in his career. While the Royals aren't expected to be the high bidder for their former ace, they appear ready to spend on starting pitching.
Unless they obtain rotation help, it'll be hard for the Royals to win more games than they lose. Royals starters completed 890 innings this past season, the third-lowest total in MLB. The team's starters combined for an ERA of 5.01 (26th in MLB) while ranking toward the bottom of the league in strikeout rate (6.5 K/9, 25th in MLB), walk rate (3.2 BB/9, 24th in MLB) and ground ball rate (41.7%, 30th in MLB).
To be fair, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy missed most of the season with injuries and Jonathan Sanchez was far less effective than expected. But injuries limit just about every team, and general managers must create depth beyond the top five names on the pre-season depth chart. This winter the Royals could look to re-sign Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched well in his return to the American League, posting a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts. No one's going to mistake him for a top-of-the-rotation starter, yet there's value in players like Guthrie, as long as the financial commitment remains modest -- say a short-term deal for no more than $7MM annually.
Luke Hochevar pitched himself into possible non-tender territory, posting an ERA of 5.73. No organization likes to give up on a former first overall pick, so Hochevar could be tendered a contract this offseason. He'd earn $4MM-plus if he's offered arbitration.
Regardless of what happens with Guthrie and Hochevar, the Royals have Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, Paulino and Duffy in place for 2013. It'd be encouraging to see the team pursue a top-of-the-rotation option to supplement this group, and owner David Glass has indicated he's willing to spend to improve his team's rotation.
Greinke's name will no doubt surface, since the longtime Royals starter will be available in free agency. Other free agents, such as Kyle Lohse and Anibal Sanchez appear to intrigue Moore at a time that the rotation lacks anything resembling an ace. The free agent market will probably include familiar names such as Dan Haren and Jake Peavy and pitchers like Josh Johnson, Jason Vargas and Justin Masterson could be available in trades. David Price could be a tantalizing trade target, even though the Rays would inevitably ask for an elite young position player -- Wil Myers perhaps? -- in return for the 27-year-old who might be the top left-hander in baseball.
Conversely, the Royals' bullpen was a force in 2012. Not only did Kansas City's relievers pitch more innings than every team except the convention-defying Rockies, the group ranked sixth in ERA (3.17) and led MLB bullpens in wins above replacement (7.3 WAR, according to FanGraphs). This hard-throwing group (93.8 mph average fastball, third in MLB) is generally young and controllable, which means most of these arms will return. Still, every team should pursue relief help over the course of the offseason, since injuries inevitably occur and some players regress. Moore has also traded relievers such as Jonathan Broxton for prospects in the past, so surplus relief wouldn't necessarily be a problem.
Improbably, the Royals' bullpen pitched this well without a single inning from the team's most prominent reliever. Right-hander Joakim Soria missed the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and his status with the team now looks uncertain. Soria's contract includes an $8MM option and while he has said he would like to stay in Kansas City, $8MM would be too much for a small market team with bullpen depth to spend on a recovering reliever. Perhaps the sides can agree to a one-year contract with incentives and a low-base salary.
Though the Royals out-scored just two American League teams in 2012, their offense doesn't need as many changes as the pitching staff. In fact, the team's lineup seems to have breakout potential. Injuries limited Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez this past year, and both could play a full season in 2013. More production can also be expected from 22-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer, who struggled at the plate despite lofty pre-season expectations. Plus, Myers, Baseball America's 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, could break camp with the club as its everyday right fielder (Jeff Francoeur could then be released or become a bench option for Ned Yost to use against lefties).
The pieces are in place at every position except one. Royals second basemen combined for a .256/.289/.359 batting line last year. Five players played the position ten times or more and four of those infielders -- Irving Falu, Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella and Tony Abreu -- remain on the Royals' 40-man roster. Despite the array of internal options, I believe it'd make sense for the Royals to consider pursuing second base help this winter. The free agent market looks thin at second, but Moore could pursue a trade for a player such as Skip Schumaker, who's now being used off of the bench in St. Louis. The versatile Schumaker continues to get on base (.339 OBP this year), though he's a platoon bat who should be shielded from left-handed pitching. Trading for Schumaker would create depth without blocking 2010 first rounder Christian Colon.
The Royals' class of arbitration eligible players looks relatively modest this year, even if the club retains Hochevar. Getz, Blake Wood, and Brayan Pena project to have affordable salaries in 2013, so they're expected to return in supporting roles (Wood missed the 2012 season to undergo Tommy John surgery). Should Moore continue to pursue extensions for his young players, Mike Moustakas could be next in line. The pre-arbitration eligible third baseman hit 20 homers in 2012, his first full season.
The Royals have enough above-average players in place to surprise people in 2013. But major improvements don't happen by accident. One recent example, the Nationals, didn't contend until they made meaningful upgrades to their rotation. It's hard to imagine that Kansas City's path to contention will be much different.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Mets will discuss extensions with their top players this coming offseason, when significant changes are expected up and down the roster.
- Johan Santana, SP: $31MM through 2013
- Jonathon Niese, SP: $24.5MM through 2016
- Jason Bay, OF: $21.125MM through 2013
- Frank Francisco, RP: $6.5MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Mike Pelfrey, SP: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Andres Torres, CF: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Manny Acosta, RP: second time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Fred Lewis, LF: second time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Rob Johnson, C: first time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Daniel Murphy, IF: first time eligible
- Ike Davis, 1B: first time eligible
- Bobby Parnell: first time eligible
- Josh Thole, C: first time eligible
- David Wright, 3B: $16MM club option with a $1MM buyout (pictured)
- R.A. Dickey, SP: $5MM club option with a $300K buyout
The Mets have an assortment of needs heading into the 2012-13 offseason and, according to most reports, they won't be shy about addressing them. While GM Sandy Alderson is expected to turn over a considerable portion of the team's roster this offseason with non-tenders and trades, it doesn't sound as though the Mets plan on spending on the winter's top free agents.
The team could spend big, but if it does David Wright and R.A. Dickey figure to be the beneficiaries. Wright, 29, has considerable leverage coming off of a season that will place him on many an NL MVP ballot. He has said he'd like his next contract to last until he retires, and the Mets haven't ruled the possibility out. Wright appears to be in line for a long-term deal worth $20MM-plus per season.
There are fewer precedents for Dickey's contract negotiations. Not only is he coming off a Cy Young caliber season, he's a knuckleballer who didn't establish himself as an MLB starter until he was 35. It's unclear how long the Mets expect Dickey to keep pitching at this level, but there's no way he'll be earning $5MM per season anymore if the Mets extend him. Dickey's annual salary could triple on a new contract, and some Mets executives seem wary of making a sizable commitment to the knuckleballer, who turns 38 this month.
It'll take considerable resources to lock Wright and Dickey up to long-term contracts, but it doesn't sound as though the Mets intend to spend aggressively beyond those potential contracts. Their payroll will probably sit in the $90MM range again, and with nearly half of that going to two players -- Johan Santana and Jason Bay -- the timing doesn't seem right for major free agent expenditures.
There's a good chance the Mets will create some payroll flexibility by non-tendering some prominent arbitration eligible players. Mike Pelfrey will surely be cut loose following a season in which he earned nearly $6MM on the disabled list. Andres Torres is also expected to hit the free agent market, and Manny Acosta, Fred Lewis and Rob Johnson could follow.
The team's class of arbitration eligible players also includes Ike Davis, whose name has surfaced as a possible trade candidate. According to a number of reports, the Mets will consider trading Davis or Lucas Duda under the right circumstances. Davis placed fifth in the NL with 32 home runs this year and is under long-term control, so the team's asking price would be high.
Still, the Mets have many areas to address this offseason, so it'd be imprudent not to consider trades. The team needs offense, after placing 25th in MLB in runs scored this past season. Clear needs exist behind the plate and in the outfield.
The Mets are expected to pursue potential upgrades at catcher this offseason, when Kelly Shoppach will hit free agency. Though there's typically a shortage of available catchers, the upcoming class of free agents offers some decent options at the position.
The free agent class is also flush with outfielders, but the Mets aren't expected to bid aggressively on the top options available. Instead, they can pursue trades for players such as Denard Span, Justin Upton and Shin-Soo Choo or seek late-winter bargains in free agency. Opposing teams figure to ask Alderson about affordable, young starting pitchers such as Jonathon Niese in trade talks.
If the Mets are uncomfortable offering multiyear deals to free agent outfielders, Scott Hairston may have played his last game with the team. The 32-year-old hit 20 homers this year and continued hitting left-handers (.286/.317/.550 batting line vs. LHP) so he should generate multiyear interest elsewhere. The Mets wouldn't get compensation for Hairston or any of their other free agents, as they aren't valued as $13MM players and won't get the requisite qualifying offers.
The Mets spent a considerable portion of last offseason's budget on Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, and are expected to seek veteran relief help again this offseason. This time, they're expected to let Rauch and Ramon Ramirez leave as free agents while pursuing outside options. Still, improving the bullpen is a must for a team that ranked 29th in MLB in reliever ERA (4.65), 25th in reliever strikeout rate (7.7 K/9) and 27th in reliever walk rate (4.0 BB/9). Upgrades will come from within if players such as Josh Edgin and Robert Carson continue to develop in 2013, and the presence of these young relievers could lessen the pressure on Alderson to find short-term solutions.
The team's rotation seems set, with a promising combination of certainty and upside in place. Though it's generally preferable to add a starter or two on a minor league deal, such pitchers may look at the Mets' projected rotation and pursue opportunities in places with less competition.
The Mets have enough pieces in place that Alderson can focus on problem areas this offseason. But they have too many shortcomings to contend without making changes. Expect a busy offseason in Queens.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
Jack Zduriencik’s search for offense continues this offseason, as the Mariners prepare to move the fences in at Safeco Field.
- Felix Hernandez, SP: $41.9MM through 2014 (pictured)
- Chone Figgins, UT: $8.5MM remaining through 2013
- Franklin Gutierrez, OF: $7.8MM remaining through 2013
- Danny Hultzen, SP: $5.1MM
- Dustin Ackley, $1.5MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players
- Jason Vargas, SP: third time eligible
- Brendan Ryan, SS: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Shawn Kelley, RP: second time eligible
- John Jaso, C: first time eligible
- Michael Saunders, CF: first time eligible depending on super two cutoff
- Josh Kinney, RP: first time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Miguel Olivo, C: $3MM club option
- Hisashi Iwakuma, George Sherrill, Oliver Perez, Kevin Millwood. Munenori Kawasaki has the right to elect free agency for the purposes of going back to Japan but not to explore other opportunities in MLB.
It’s becoming an alarming trend. The Mariners finished the 2012 season having scored fewer runs than any American League team for the third consecutive season. This team needs more offense to approach and surpass the .500 mark.
If the Mariners offense was a single player, he'd be among the worst qualified players in MLB with a .234/.296/.369 batting line. It’s not encouraging that the franchise hasn’t had a player hit more than 20 homers since 2009 (Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez). Pitcher-friendly Safeco Field evidently affects the team’s offensive numbers, so the Mariners decided to move the fences in for the 2013 season. The upcoming changes should make Seattle a more inviting place, especially for right-handed power hitters.
The Mariners enjoyed some breakout performances from position players in 2012. Kyle Seager put together a solid season, establishing himself as the team's everyday third baseman. John Jaso cemented his status as a first-rate righty masher, posting a .276/.394/.456 batting line. And Michael Saunders showed promise, hitting 19 home runs as the team's primary center fielder.
Zduriencik should have some payroll flexibility this offseason. The team has committed $40.5MM to next year’s roster, not including arbitration eligible players, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. For a team that can be expected to spend $80MM-plus on payroll, this should lead to some maneuverability.
There’s room for improvement at a number of positions. Non-tender candidate Brendan Ryan didn't add anything on offense, but that's nothing new. He's a sensational defender at shortstop, so the Mariners will have to weigh the value of his glove against their need for offense and the shortage of viable alternatives at the position.
Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero don’t have Ryan’s defensive skills, but they’ll presumably continue to get opportunities in 2013. If Smoak hadn't hit so well from September on -- he hit five homers and posted an OPS over 1.000 -- his roster spot might be in question. For the time being, a strong finish has helped overshadow another disappointing offensive season from the switch-hitting 25-year-old.
The Mariners could improve their offense substantially by upgrading at designated hitter or in the outfield. Seattle's designated hitters posted a .214/.287/.310 batting line in 2012, production that ranked last in the American League, far below that of the 13th-place Rays. Montero, who occupied the DH spot for about half of Seattle's games this past season, figures to get more opportunities in 2013, so spending on a free agent designated hitter such as David Ortiz doesn't make sense this winter.
Some Mariners fans will dream on the offseason’s top free agent, Josh Hamilton. Though Hamilton would undoubtedly address the team’s most glaring need, it’s unclear whether he’d select Seattle when he’ll have opportunities with teams closer to contention in more hitter-friendly places. Hamilton also bats from the left side, so he wouldn't necessarily benefit from the ballpark modifications as much as others.
While luring free agent hitters to Seattle may not be easy, there’s a way around the issue for Zduriencik. He can trade for impact players. The Diamondbacks will presumably continue to listen to offers for Justin Upton, who didn’t have Seattle on his no-trade list last summer. Upton capped off a disappointing season with a strong month of September, an indication that he's returning to form. There’s upside here, but only if the Mariners are confident the 25-year-old can weather the transition from one of baseball’s best hitters parks to one of its worst. The Diamondbacks, who are now seeking help on the left side of the infield, might ask Seattle about Seager's availability if talks pick up.
Shin-Soo Choo, another player with ties to the Mariners, also figures to be available in trades (Choo signed with the Mariners in 2000 and was traded away years before Zduriencik joined the organization). He's just one year away from free agency yet he'd be a worthwhile target if the Indians' asking price seems reasonable.
The Felix Hernandez rumors never stop, do they? Zduriencik has maintained that the Mariners ace is staying put, so there’s no reason to expect a trade this offseason. An extension for Hernandez might be in order, as he’s just two years away from free agency.
Among American League teams, only the Rays and Athletics allowed fewer runs than the Mariners in 2012. Most of Seattle's best pitchers are set to return in 2013, when they figure to have a strong pitching staff once again. Plus, top pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker could be ready to contribute within the next year.
The new dimensions will affect Seattle's pitchers, and fly ball-prone starters such as Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan could see their numbers decline. Given this possibility, it'd make sense for Seattle to consider trading Vargas. The return wouldn't necessarily be overwhelming for a pitcher whose salary could surpass $7MM via the arbitration process, but there would be a market for the reliable left-hander.
A year ago the Mariners added pitchers such as Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood and Oliver Perez on low-risk deals to supplement an already strong pitching staff. A similar approach should work again in 2012-13: add a back-end starter or two and sign a number of relievers in the hopes that a couple of the additions become key contributors. Convincing pitchers to sign in Seattle should be doable despite the new dimensions at Safeco Field. There's no need to devote lots of resources toward a shutdown late inning reliever -- Tom Wilhelmsen has that job covered -- or a lefty specialist -- Charlie Furbush has excelled this year -- but it never hurts to be proactive about acquiring relief pitchers given the often unpredictable nature of their performances.
Miguel Olivo's contract includes a $3MM club option for 2013. The 34-year-old provides power against left-handed pitching, but he's a platoon bat with limited defensive value. The team has reason to decline this option and find a backup more affordably. Another veteran player, Chone Figgins, may also be done with the Mariners. The 34-year-old utility player wants out of Seattle and it won't be surprising if the Mariners cut ties with him.
Vargas leads an arbitration class that could diminish in size by the time hearings take place in the new year. Ryan could be non-tendered, and Saunders could miss the super two cutoff. Otherwise the Mariners face a relatively straightforward class without any obvious extension candidates.
The Mariners have improved their record in both of the past two seasons. For the trend to continue, Zduriencik will have to keep supplementing the team's pitching staff and, most importantly, acquire at least one hitter with the goal of having a respectable lineup next season.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Twins' pitching staff needs lots of work heading into the 2012-13 offseason.
- Joe Mauer, C: $138MM through 2018 (pictured)
- Justin Morneau, 1B: $15MM through 2013
- Josh Willingham, OF: $14MM through 2014
- Denard Span, CF: $11.75MM through 2014
- Glen Perkins, CL: $10.3MM through 2015
- Ryan Doumit, C/OF: $7MM through 2014
- Nick Blackburn, SP: $5.5MM through 2013
- Jamey Carroll, IF: $4MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players
- Alexi Casilla, IF: third time eligible, non-tender candidate
- Jared Burton, RP: third time eligible
- Brian Duensing, P: first time eligible
- Alex Burnett, RP: first time eligible
- Drew Butera, C: first time eligible, non-tender candidate
The Twins have the highest ERA among teams that don't call Coors Field home, which makes it relatively simple to anticipate the team's offseason priorities. Unless Terry Ryan acquires pitching depth, the Twins will enter the 2013 season as a likely 90-loss team.
Few teams have as many rotation questions as the Twins, whose starting staff has been largely disappointing with the exception of Rule 5 selection Scott Diamond. Nick Blackburn was removed from the 40-man roster after 19 ugly starts, and Liam Hendriks, P.J. Walters, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Esmerling Vasquez weren't much better, posting ERAs above 5.00. Help isn't necessarily on the way, either. The Twins' top pitching prospects are two to three years away in the estimation of the organization's minor league director, Jim Rantz.
Ryan must explore the trade market for starters, though prices will no doubt be inflated at a time that many teams are looking to improve their rotations. Free agency is an alternative for the Twins, who will need to acquire multiple starters if they hope to make significant improvements in 2013. It seems unlikely that Jake Peavy or Hiroki Kuroda would sign with Minnesota, but Joe Blanton, Brandon McCarthy or Shaun Marcum could be available on relatively short-term contracts.
Any team with as much uncertainty as the Twins would also do well to sign pitchers to minor league deals in the hopes of finding a low-risk success. It's generally easier for teams with open rotation spots to convince intriguing starters to sign minor league deals, and this is an advantage the Twins would do well to maximize.
Though the Twins need pitching, they shouldn't overpay for it. I believe they should decline their club options for Scott Baker and Matt Capps. The cost of the options wouldn't be justified given the questions surrounding the pair of right-handers. Baker missed the entire 2012 season to undergo elbow surgery, so $9.25MM seems excessive. Perhaps the sides can work out an incentive-based deal with a lower guarantee, instead. Capps missed two months with rotator cuff irritation before returning to action last week. Even if he'd been healthy for the entire season, it wouldn't be advisable for the Twins to allocate $6MM -- approximately 6% of their payroll -- to a middle reliever who's effective but certainly not dominant.
There's value in having strong middle relievers, though, and it's an area the Twins should look to fortify this offseason. Ryan signed Jared Burton and Casey Fien to low-risk deals last offseason and if the GM can replicate that kind of success in 2012-13, his team will be one step closer to respectability.
Carl Pavano, who missed the final four months of the season with a shoulder strain, is the team's lone free agent. If the 36-year-old re-signs with the Twins it'd presumably be for a low base salary. Anything more than that would be excessively risky considering his injury and how hittable Pavano was before going on the disabled list.
Now that Drew Butera and Alexi Casilla are arbitration eligible, they're no longer bargains. Both project as backups with the Twins and should be considered non-tender candidates. Otherwise, the Twins' class of arbitration eligible players should be relatively straightforward. It doesn't include exceptionally large salaries or obvious extension candidates in my view.
The Twins could use more offense from their middle infielders. Only the Tigers and Orioles obtained a lower OPS from their second basemen this year. Only the Mariners obtained a lower OPS from their shortstops. Unfortunately for the Twins, this year's class of free agent middle infielders looks thin. If they don't pursue outside help, they can rely on Jamey Carroll, who recovered from a slow start to post a .343 on-base percentage in 2012, and rookie shortstop Pedro Florimon. Perhaps Stephen Drew, Jeff Keppinger and Kelly Johnson will get calls from Ryan this offseason. The Twins could also explore a trade market that might include names such as Yunel Escobar and Mike Aviles.
Denard Span and Josh Willingham reportedly drew trade interest at this summer's trade deadline. If the Twins engage other teams in trade talks over the winter, Span and Willingham figure to draw interest once again. Both are productive players signed to team friendly contracts, so it'll make sense for the Twins to maintain the stance they adopted in July: 'we'd have to be overwhelmed to part with these players.' Still, the Twins are relatively deep in the outfield, and trading an established player such as Span might enable them to add a legitimate starter to the rotation.
For the Twins to have a successful offseason, they must improve their pitching staff. They don't have to sign big-name starters, but they do need to begin the 2013 season with more viable rotation options than they have presently.
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