We heard earlier today that the Royals have no intentions of making a run at extending ace hurler James Shields. That would seem to confirm what has long been expected: namely, barring a surprising change of circumstances, Shields will hit the market next year looking to sell his services for age-33 and beyond.
As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star noted earlier today, Shields and his camp have rejected rumors that he is seeking to land a deal in the realm of Zack Greinke's six-year, $147MM pact. (Note that Greinke did not require draft compensation to sign, as Shields almost certainly will unless he too is dealt mid-season.)
But, as McCullough notes, Shields compares well to Greinke -- indeed, he compares well to just about anyone not named Clayton Kershaw -- in terms of recent production. He has pitched at least 200 innings (and often quite a bit more) for each of the last seven seasons, and has logged ERA totals of between 2.82 and 3.52 over the last three. Shields has been among the 20 or so most valuable pitchers since he cracked the league, and has looked more like a top-ten guy more recently.
So, can Shields earn Greinke money? Though his numbers make that contract look like a solid comp, another major factor speaks firmly against it: namely, age. At the time Greinke inked with the Dodgers, he was just over 29 years old, and threw at that age for the entire season in the first year of his deal. Shields will be four years older when he faces the open market for the first time.
This series of observations led MLBTR's Tim Dierkes to suggest that, perhaps, it would be worthwhile to look at the historical results of top-level, slightly older hurlers. The results of that research, and my discussions on the topic with both Tim and fellow MLBTR writer Steve Adams, make up what you'll read below.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that slightly older pitchers have not readily landed huge contracts. That makes sense, for at least two major reasons. First is simply the factor of selection bias. Most really good pitchers accrue service time early in their careers and thus hit the open market slightly earlier than will Shields, who did not crack the bigs until age 24 and then gave up two years of free agency in an early-career extension. Likewise, as age increases, the likelihood of significant injury goes up, further attriting the possibly worthy arms. The second reason is even easier: older pitchers have less near-peak years left to sell.
Let's take a look at all pitchers to have signed deals with at least a $60MM guarantee at a $15MM or greater average annual value -- after having turned 31 years of age. (The last column represents the player's age at Opening Day of the first season of their deal).
Among these potential comps, we can reject several out of hand. First, Brown and Lowe were both significantly older and signed deals in quite a different market. (Frankly, I only kept them on the chart to show how remarkable their contracts were.) Wainwright signed an under-market extension, while Halladay was also probably on a different performance/perception level and signed his own deal under somewhat odd circumstances.
That leaves us with four potential free agent comps, all of whom are near in age to where Shields will be when he hits the market. All signed five-year deals in early-to-mid-March of their free agent year. (If Shields signs before his birthday on December 20th, he'd be just shy of 33 years of age, making him slightly older than the other four were.)
How does Shields stack up to that quartet? Let's look at both three-year averages and walk-year performances to get an idea, and look at the salary numbers through the lens of inflation (present dollar value estimated via US Inflation Calculator). I have used ERA and fWAR not to suggest that those are the proper means by which to value pitchers, but to represent two sides of the overall picture: the former captures pure results, while the latter incorporates FIP as its baseline and thereby captures some of the underlying talent and rate-based results that teams surely examine closely when signing deals of this magnitude.
Needless to say, Lee paced the grouping -- at least in the eyes of advanced metrics and in dollars achieved. He still fell well short of Greinke's guarantee, though of course he inked his deal a few years back and reportedly could have signed for seven years and $148MM.
As for Shields, his current three-year and last-year ERA both stand at 3.15. He has been worth 12.9 fWAR over the last three seasons, and earned 4.5 wins in 2013. Assuming he hits the market with approximately the same profile -- i.e., he logs another 200+ innings of pitching in the low-to-mid-3.00 ERA range and has underlying metrics to support a 4-5 fWAR season -- where might he land?
The answer, probably, is not in the realm of Greinke's contract (or the commensurate offer that Lee could have signed). Even accepting that baseball inflation has outpaced that of the general economy -- or, at least, understanding that MLB salary levels are subject to wide variation due to the league's comparatively tiny player market, small sample of transactions, and range of non-market-based influences -- the Wilson-Lackey-Burnett line of arms equate at most to a five-year, $100MM present-day value.
Importantly, Dierkes noted, those three were clearly the best available arms in their free agent years. While it is still conceivable that Shields will ultimately be the most attractive starter available when the market opens, odds are he will slot in behind Max Scherzer and possibly Jon Lester. (Of course, if Scherzer repeats his 2013 season, he might be on another plane altogether.) And if Justin Masterson hits the market, he might be more appealing to some clubs because of his significantly younger age. Regardless, unless each of those arms is extended off the market or takes a large value hit, Shields will not be the sole target for clubs looking to add an impact starter.
Moreover, as I recently noted in discussing extensions, teams have evinced an increasing willingness to value age. That attention to the aging curve probably also implies a corresponding unwillingness to roll the dice on continued production on its downside. Still-excellent pitchers Hiroki Kuroda (age 39) and A.J. Burnett (age 37) just signed one-year deals that will pay them $16MM. Can Shields really beat that AAV on a five-year pact that would buy out his age 33-37 campaigns, especially if there are alternative arms on the market? As Adams noted, Shields' slightly more advanced age means that a fifth year would push his guarantee into somewhat uncharted territory as compared with his most direct comps. It is worth wondering whether clubs would be willing to guarantee another year at such an elevated rate.
In the aggregate, it looks as though Shields could reasonably expect to top out at five years, with a $20MM AAV a seeming longshot at that term. On a four-year deal, Shields might land in the $75MM to $80MM range, perhaps with a vesting/club option of some kind attached on the end. But barring a massive jolt to the market that leaves Shields as the unquestioned prize with multiple suitors, it is somewhat difficult to imagine him reaching the $100MM threshold -- if he is able to get a guaranteed fifth year at all.
One possible twist would be the inclusion of an opt-out clause. As Dierkes notes on Twitter, Lee actually had one offer that included an opt-out before he signed on with the Phillies. In his excellent piece on the use of opt-out clauses, Dierkes wrote that such provisions may not be that onerous to the team since, if exercised, the club is able to re-assess whether to take on further obligations (and, I would note, can do so with the advantage of insider knowledge on that pitcher). If clubs are unwilling to guarantee as much cash as Shields hopes for, he could potentially press instead for a deal that includes an opt-out, allowing him to re-enter the market if he carries his production into his mid-30's. And at that point, perhaps the Lowe contract would take on increasing relevance.
We already know that the 2013-14 free agent market has featured incredible spending levels, but what does that mean for how teams value a win (above replacement)? Dave Cameron of Fangraphs breaks down the cost of a projected win for each player that signed a major league deal. The results show that teams have spent at levels that, depending upon what discount rate and precise methodology is employed, value an expected win at between $5MM and $7MM. In a follow-up piece, Cameron observes that, at least for players who are expected to be regular contributors, the spending shows a non-linear escalation of the price of a win (i.e., teams are paying a premium to lock up high-WAR players). Then again, says Cameron, one team -- the Yankees -- bid on all and signed most of the top (3+-win) players who were on the market, which could have skewed the results. Be sure to read both pieces for all the details on this fascinating topic.
Here are more notes from around the league:
- The Yankees' rash of spending may have pushed him to the periphery of the team's roster, but Ichiro Suzuki is not changing his approach, writes Dave D'Alessandro of the Newark Star-Ledger. "Whatever my role is here -- whether I'm a starter or not -- my preparation never changes," said Ichiro. "Every day I'm going to do the exact same thing regardless of what my role will be. ... If I was the type of player who changes the way I prepare myself, I wouldn't be the player I have been."
- Outfielder Andy Dirks of the Tigers will undergo back surgery and is expected to be out of action for three months, reports the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). Dirks had been expected to be the left-handed-hitting side of a left field platoon with Rajai Davis. GM Dave Dombrowski indicated that the club hopes to rely on its internal options -- including Davis, the switch-hitting Steve Lombardozzi, and left-handed swinging Don Kelly -- to fill the void, James Schmehl of MLive.com reports. "We think we have some good candidates," said Dombrowski, "but we'll just have to wait and see. I don't want to proclaim that to be 100 percent, but we do have some people that we feel have the chance to play a bigger role for us."
- After coming over as the key piece in the Mark Trumbo deal, 22-year-old lefty Tyler Skaggs is a key to a high-priced Angels club, writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. "He's very important to our season, very important to our future," said GM Jerry Dipoto. "Tyler, being that he's the youngest and least-experienced of our starters, it's an important spring for him to take that next step and establish himself at the major league level."
9:18pm: The proposal made by Masterson to the Indians is believed to fall in the range of $40MM to $60MM over three to four years, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. Masterson is waiting to hear back from the Indians at present. The parties will plan to cut off negotiations on March 31st, but are willing to push into the season if talks are fruitful.
Needless to say, a deal in that range would represent a significant savings over the Bailey extension. Masterson is one year older than Bailey, but arguably has the better track record with four full campaigns under his belt.
6:21pm: Though he is looking ahead to a promising free agent market, Indians starter Justin Masterson is willing to consider a lesser deal (at least in terms of years) to stay in Cleveland, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. He could be willing to stay at the negotiating table even if the team would only guarantee three years, suggests Heyman.
Notably, Cleveland is reportedly interested in an extension of only three or four years. According to Heyman, the club has indicated to Masterson that it is not going to come near the six-year, $105MM guarantee given Homer Bailey by the Reds. (Of course, that deal includes Bailey's last arbitration year, making it really more of a five-year, $95MM extension.)
Agent Randy Rowley recently provided the Indians with a figure that he and his client would be comfortable with. Though the number is not known, the team reportedly feels somewhat optimistic about the possibility of reaching agreement. Indeed, Rowley told Heyman that his side is "trying to be sensitive to something that makes sense," though they "can't be ... a sellout." The soon-to-be-29-year-old Masterson has strong reasons for preferring to play in Cleveland, says his agent, and is comfortable with the idea of having a chance at free agency in his early thirties. Nevertheless, Rowley cautions, "the burden's on them" (i.e., the Indians) with free agency only "nine months away."
Also of note is the fact that, according to Heyman, the Indians have made clear to Masterson that his market value will likely take some hit due to the impact of a prospective qualifying offer. Rowley said he did not fear that possibility. "If you're one or two at your position among free agents, or even three," he said, "it won't have that much impact. I would wager a bet every team will need pitching." Of course, even if the potential value of a lost draft pick does not represent a huge portion of Masterson's expected open-market value at present, he carries the risk that its relative importance (and relative deterrent effect) will increase if he suffers injury or performance decline.
The Royals are not engaged in extension negotiations with top starter James Shields and have no plans to do so at present, reports ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (Twitter links). Meanwhile, Shields himself is not interested in holding talks during the season.
In the aggregate, then, it appears quite likely that Shields will reach free agency when his deal expires after the 2014 season. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star opines, Shields could cost the Royals more to lock up now than he might ultimately achieve on the open market. Though his current deal proved quite favorable to his employers, he has earned nearly $40MM in his career and is not under financial pressure to settle for less this time around. And Shields is nearly certain to come with draft pick compensation attached; while the effect on his market figures to be small relative to his overall value, that could change with a down year. While the team is not ruling out an eventual re-signing, says McCullough, it appears that any such attempt would come after the current season.
Entering his age-32 campaign, Shields has continued to be a top-level workhorse since joining the Royals last year. Though Kansas City paid a dear price to bring him in -- shipping out top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in the deal -- the club appears content to let him reach the open market. Part of that fact relates to Shields' cost, of course. KC may also prefer both to see how Shields ages and how its own young arms mature.
2:21pm: Sherman has the incentive breakdown and other details (Twitter links). Santana would be owed a $100K termination payment if he is released before March 25th. The incentives (per games started) are as follows: $250K (5 starts); $350K (10); $500K (15); $750K (20); $150K (21 and 22); $200K (23 and 24); and $400K (25).
12:12pm: The Orioles have signed left-hander Johan Santana to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, the team announced. Santana, a client of the Legacy Agency, reportedly has a $3MM base salary if he makes the roster and also can earn $5.05MM of "very makeable" incentives based on games started and days on the roster. Santana's deal is also said to contain a May 30 opt-out.
Santana, who turns 35 in 10 days, did not pitch in 2013 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder for the second time in three years. Santana's last work came in 2012, when he was excellent through the season's first half. That strong stretch was highlighted by the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, when Santana shut down a strong Cardinals lineup. However, Santana also walked five in the game and needed a whopping 134 pitches to complete the no-no -- 26 more than he'd thrown in any other start of the year. Santana posted an 8.27 ERA over his next 49 innings before being shut down for the season.
The Orioles were one of seven teams to watch Santana's most recent throwing session, during which he topped out at just 81 mph. However, Santana still isn't close to being 100 percent, and that workout came very early on in his timetable to begin building up arm strength. MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli tweeted yesterday that the Orioles view Santana as a potential left-handed reliever, but the incentives suggest that the Orioles will at least try to give the former ace the opportunity to make some starts once he is healthy.
One of the best Rule 5 Draft selections in history, Santana broke out with the Twins in 2002, posting a 2.99 ERA in 108 innings. Over the next five seasons in Minnesota, Santana posted a 2.92 ERA and won a pair of AL Cy Young Awards before being traded to the Mets for a package of prospects highlighted by Carlos Gomez and former No. 3 overall draft pick Phil Humber. Santana signed a six-year, $137.5MM extension with the Mets and was solid when on the field but looks poor in hindsight due to his injury troubles.
Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com first tweeted that the two sides were nearing a deal and later added that it appeared to be done. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted the base salary and was the first to confirm the deal was finalized (Twitter link). MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo tweeted the incentives total, Kubatko added details (on Twitter) and Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted the opt-out date. Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio tweeted yesterday that Santana was in Orioles camp and wondered if something might be cooking between the two sides.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- Indians first baseman David Cooper has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the club announced on Twitter. He'll be back in camp as a non-roster invitee. Cleveland designated him for assignment to make room for Justin Sellers on the 40-man roster.
- The Royals have inked catcher Jesus Flores to a minor league deal that doesn't include a Spring Training invite, according to the team's transactions page. Flores, 29, hasn't appeared in a big league game since 2012 with the Nationals but spent parts of five seasons with Washington's Major League team. In 1014 career plate appearances in the Majors, the Venezuelan backstop is a .241/.289/.375 hitter.
- The Rays have signed right-hander Sergio Perez to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The signing marks a homecoming for the 29-year-old, who was born in Tampa and played college ball at the University of Tampa. The Astros selected Perez in the second round of the 2006 draft, and he's climbed as high as Triple-A in the minor leagues, posting a career 4.74 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. He began the 2013 campaign with the Athletics and wound up spending the bulk of the season pitching for the Mexican League's Pericos de Puebla.
Click here to read a transcript of this week's live chat, hosted by MLBTR's Steve Adams.
1:33pm: Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets that Gonzalez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the roster and has $750K worth of incentives in his deal as well.
7:31am: The Nationals announced that they have signed lefty Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training (Twitter link). Gonzalez is represented by the MVP Sports Group.
Usually one to hold lefties in check, the 35-year-old Gonzalez struggled in that regard last season, surrendering a .274/.336/.443 batting line to opposing lefties en route to a 4.68 ERA in 50 innings with the Brewers. However, his career mark of .219/.287/.346 is a significant improvement from last year's split, and he's just one season removed from posting a 3.03 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 2012 -- a season he spent with the Nationals.
New Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler offered up some surprisingly candid remarks surrounding his old team, the Rangers, in an interview with Robert Sanchez of ESPN the Magazine. Kinsler touched on the fact that he wasn't happy to be asked to move off second base, didn't approve of how Michael Young was treated by the organization and ultimately called general manager Jon Daniels a "sleazeball." Kinsler, who told Sanchez he hoped the Rangers go 0-162 in 2014, tells the Detroit Free Press (All Twitter links) that he's not pleased with the way the story turned out: "I’m not happy about it. The story was written for drama and taken a little out of context. But it is what it is." Asked about the 0-162 comment, Kinsler told the Free Press: "It’s a matter of telling a joke, to be honest with you." The three-time All-Star said he's not planning to reach out to Daniels about the "sleazeball" comment, but stressed that it, too, was taken out of context.
Here's a bit more on Kinsler and some other AL West-related news items...
- Kinsler's former teammates Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre aren't bothered by the comments and don't have any ill will toward Kinsler, writes Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Beltre told Fraley, "It doesn't bother me. He's still my friend." Andrus had a similar take, stating, "He's my buddy. ... He's still my friend. I don't take anything from that." Manager Ron Washington told Fraley he's not affected by Kinsler's opinions.
- MLB.com's Doug Miller looks back on what seemed to be a win-win trade in January 2012, noting that neither the Mariners nor Yankees have gotten much value out of the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade. Miller spoke with both players and their respective managers about the chances that each has to make an impact with their clubs this season.
- Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez tells Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post that he doesn't have hard feelings toward the Marlins for trading him and doesn't feel that the team gave up on him. "They thought that trade was in the best interest, decided to give me up, it’s worked out for me." Dominguez says that "everyone" knew his glove was ahead of his bat at the time of the deal, but he's starting to get his confidence back at the plate. The 24-year-old slashed .241/.286/.403 with 21 homers for the Astros last season.
- Bob Dutton of Tacoma News Tribune writes that Mariners top prospect is scheduled to begin playing catch on Thursday and is on a three-week program to build up arm strength. Barring setbacks, he could be able to join Seattle's rotation in mid-April.
It's only been a couple of months since Ted Lilly decided that his pitching days were over and announced his retirement, but he didn't stay out of the game for long. The Cubs announced today, via press release, that Lilly will join their front office as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Per the release, Lilly will work with young players in Spring Training, visit the team's minor league affiliates over the course of the regular season, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft and also perform professional scouting assignments.
Lilly spent parts of four seasons with the Cubs from 2007-10, posting a 3.70 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 705 2/3 innings. At the time of his retirement, Lilly called his years with the Cubs the best of his career, noting how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to experience the postseason with a winning team in a "great city."