- “Tanking” has become a popular buzzword due to the number of rebuilding clubs in the National League, but Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron rejects the idea that any of the so-called tanking teams is actually trying to lose as many games as possible. The Brewers have held onto the likes of Lucroy and Will Smith thus far despite favorable contracts that appeal to other clubs, and they haven’t paid down a significant portion of Braun’s deal to move his bat, either — a reasonable expectation for a club gunning for the No. 1 pick. The Reds have prioritized proximity to the Majors over long-term upside in trades of veterans and haven’t made an effort to move their best player, Joey Votto, Cameron writes. The Braves have signed Nick Markakis and targeted MLB-ready help like Shelby Miller, Ender Inciarte and Hector Olivera in trades over the past 15 months, to say nothing of their Nick Markakis signing (and, I might add, the complementary signings of A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and others). The Phillies are the only team that could reasonably fit the definition of “tanking” we see in the NBA, writes Cameron, but the best players in baseball can’t influence a team in the same manner they can in basketball. And, he rhetorically asks, would baseball truly be better off if the Phillies followed the path the Rockies have for the past several years — staunchly refusing to trade veterans (prior to this summer’s Troy Tulowitzki deal) and remaining in a noncompetitive state as opposed to “bottoming out in the hopes of bouncing back to high levels?”
Compared to what they did last season, the Nationals may stand to gain the most from their returning players, writes August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs. We all pay attention to the big moves of the offseason – such as the Mets’ signing of Yoenis Cespedes. It’s easy to forget that player performance is not constant. Using projected WAR, Fagerstrom finds the Nationals could gain about seven wins just from 2015 returnees. In particular, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, and Jayson Werth are projected for rebound campaigns.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- The Phillies are on the hunt for late opportunities, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. GM Matt Klentak said, “every year, it turns out that somebody who we thought was going to sign early and they don’t, they hold out and there’s a deal to be done…if there’s an opportunity out there, we’re going to push forward.” Klentak is comfortable with the team’s current depth, so there’s no guarantee the club with sign or trade for any additional talent before the start of the season.
- Phillies left-handed starter Matt Harrison is still experiencing an ongoing back injury, per Zolecki. Harrison is unlikely to be ready for the start of Spring Training and may not pitch anytime in the near future. The club acquired Harrison as part of the Cole Hamels trade as a means to balance salary. For now, he’s a lottery ticket for the Phillies if he can ever return to health. At some point, the club may decide they value the 40-man roster spot more (this is less of an issue in-season if he’s on the 60-day DL).
- Freddie Freeman thinks the Braves will return to relevance soon, writes David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Freeman is the last man standing from the 2013 roster, marking a surprisingly quick overhaul for John Hart and company. Freeman is excited about the team’s mix of veteran and young talent. The Braves new SunTrust Park is scheduled to open in 2017, and the Braves would surely like to field a contender.
The Rays won an important political battle late last week in the St. Petersburg City Council, as Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Under the deal that the council approved, the ballclub will have the opportunity to explore possible stadium sites in two neighboring counties for the next three years. Team owner Stuart Sternberg suggested that there’s no plan in place for a new location. “We haven’t done it before,” he said. “I don’t know if it takes a week or six months to identify and figure out a site.” But the organization made clear that it is aiming for something more than bare function. “We want to build the first of the next generation of baseball stadiums,” said president Brian Auld.
- In other stadium news, Athletics majority owner John Fisher is said to be more involved than usual as his club considers possibilities for a new park, as Phil Matier and Andy Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle report. While managing partner Lew Wolff has traditionally been the public face of ownership, Fisher is believed to control 80% of the shares.
- Change continues to filter through the Blue Jays organization, which has recently announced two front office hirings. Mike Murov will come over from the Red Sox to serve as the director of baseball operations, in which role (says the team) he’ll “assist in the preparation and analysis of financial, statistical, and contractual information, coordinating contract negotiation and arbitration preparation.” And Toronto also recently added Gil Kim to their organization as well. Formerly the international scouting director for the Rangers, Kim will serve as the Jays’ director of player development.
- The Orioles have given a promotion to the head of their analytics department, Sarah Gelles, as David Laurila of Fangraphs discusses (among other things) in his Sunday notes column. Now the organization’s Director of Analytics and Major League Contracts, Gelles discusses the development of the club’s analytical efforts, which she helped drive as an intern working for now-Phillies GM Matt Klentak.
Here’s the latest from around the league:
- With Chris Davis off the board, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post looks at the market for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. While Davidoff runs through five of Cespedes’ top suitors, he ultimately concludes that none of them are a perfect fit to offer Cespedes his asking price. Budget or an unwillingness to spend on a right-handed outfielder are barriers with most of the obvious matches. The Tigers are a reasonable dark horse candidate for Cespedes (or Justin Upton) due to owner Mike Illich’s penchant for surprise blockbusters. With his market seemingly growing stale, I wonder if a team like the Phillies could be baited into a bid. They have the money and wouldn’t have to surrender a draft pick to sign him. Preposterous? Probably.
- The 2016-2017 free agent pool is thin in the outfield, making a one-year deal a viable option for Cespedes and Upton, writes AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. Carlos Gomez and Jose Bautista are the top names available, although either player could be re-signed. After the top pair, the market thins out dramatically. Re-entering the market strikes me as an unnecessary risk for Cespedes and Upton. Both players had strong, healthy platform seasons. Cespedes in particular stands to lose out if he’s impatient. He isn’t tied to a qualifying offer, and it’s hard to imagine him improving upon a 6.7 WAR season.
- Speaking of dark horse buyers, the Rays could jump in the market for a player like Upton, Ian Desmond, Pedro Alvarez, or Steve Pearce, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays are still shopping their starting pitching, but the well-stocked free agent market may prove too tempting. Any free agent addition would require require owner Stuart Sternberg’s approval, but he’s been on board with opportunistic additions in the past. Topkin also lists Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, and David Murphy as possible fits. The club would like to get out from under some of the $8MM owed to James Loney.
- The Rockies have three obvious issues, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. The outfield is crowded by the addition of Gerardo Parra. The club seemingly would like to trade one or more of Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson, presumably to solve their second problem – a lack of pitching depth and talent. The players themselves ask if Saunders if the Rockies will acquire pitching. So far, they’ve sat out the free agent market. The Rays are the most obvious sellers in the trade market. Last but not least, Jose Reyes’ future with the club is completely uncertain. He played poorly after joining the Rockies and currently faces criminal charges and possible jail time in relation to domestic abuse charges. He’s also a suspension candidate under the league’s new domestic violence policy.
The NCAA has voted to allow high school players to use an agent when negotiating with major league teams, writes Teddy Cahill of Baseball America. Previously, the use of an agent could qualify a player as a professional and invalidate his NCAA eligibility or result in a suspension. For now, the rule applies to five major conferences. Other D-I conferences have the option to opt in. As you may expect, high school players must end their relationship with the agent if they opt to attend college. A few more conditions apply.
The previous rule that banned player-agent relationships was most recently in the news in early 2014 when the Phillies accused fifth-round pick Ben Wetzler of using an agent. Wetzler did not sign with the Phillies and was subsequently banned for 20 percent of his senior season. While the new rule will help high school players in a similar situation, it would not have saved Wetzler. Drafted college juniors are still disallowed from using an agent.
- Shortstop Delvin Perez is the best prospect in Puerto Rico and a legitimate option as the top player in the draft, writes Keith Law of ESPN. The 17-year-old headlines a group of several top Puerto Rican prospect. Law cites 70 grade speed on the 20-80 scouting scale to go with a plus arm, hands, and raw power. He should eventually hit for average too, although he currently has trouble with offspeed stuff. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is the most recent 17-year-old top prospect out of Puerto Rico. Perez is a faster player with better defensive ability, but he lacks Correa’s polish. Instead, Law compares him to Byron Buxton and Justin Upton, both of whom were considered raw, elite talents when drafted. For those keeping track at home, the Phillies hold the first overall pick.
- Law also has notes on other notable Puerto Ricans. Of those he profiled, he seems most enamored with Jose Miranda, citing great bat speed, some power, and a need for more polish. He’s currently a shortstop with a chance to stick at the position, but Law sees him as a better fit for second or third base.
- Since 2012, the Astros have the best minor league winning percentage, writes J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. Incidentally, that window corresponds with GM Jeff Luhnow’s tenure. The club does well to reward its minor league affiliates, including rings and big team dinners when they win a championship. First base prospect Tyler White offers an interesting anecdote – he’s won a championship in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A over the last three seasons. The winning culture not only means the club has a talented bunch of minor leaguers, it’s also good for player development.
The National League has rather a pronounced divide between its better teams and its anticipated bottom-dwellers, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark writes, and that poses a significant problem. While commissioner Rob Manfred says that the league’s less talented clubs are in a routine phase of the natural winning/rebuilding cycle, some rival executives believe that at least some organizations are looking to strip down their MLB rosters, pursue top draft picks, and aim for a relatively distant competitive timeline. There are a host of interesting quotes, particularly from Manfred, who says that outright tanking efforts would be “self-correcting” in that, “if too many teams try to follow this strategy, the effectiveness of that strategy will be naturally undermined.” The piece is well worth a read.
Here’s the latest out of the N.L.:
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich has been in touch with veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to tell him not to pay any heed to trade rumors, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports. While that’s hardly any guarantee, multiple rival GMs say they have received the impression that Colorado will not move its most recognizable player this winter, Jon Heyman tweets. Nevertheless, the recent signing of Gerardo Parra still seemingly leaves the club with good cause to move an outfielder. If it isn’t CarGo, of course, then the two obvious candidates would be Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson.
- Chances are “slim” that the Cubs will make another major addition before the season, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said today, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on Twitter. We’ve heard plenty of suggestions of ways Chicago could look to add yet more impact after an already-busy offseason, but it certainly doesn’t appear as if the club really needs to do anything to its roster at this point.
- The Reds are still working on various trade scenarios, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via TwitLonger). Jay Bruce seems the most plausible trade piece, Crasnick indicates, but his market is complicated by Colorado’s trio of possible left-handed bats for sale. And he arguably hasn’t performed to the standard of his rather expensive contract in recent years. “Once you start down this road, it is important to continue with the tough decisions and not pull up in the middle of the project,” said GM Dick Williams. “That being said, we cannot force deals so I cannot guarantee we will do more.’’
- New Phillies hurler Mark Appel has a lot to prove, Crasnick writes. But the 24-year-old says he is determined and able to live up to his former billing as a top-end pitching prospect.
The Phillies and right-hander Jeremy Hellickson have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal that will pay the offseason trade acquisition an even $7MM in 2016, reports Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (via Twitter). The Scott Boras client will top his $6.6MM projection (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) by about six percent in his final trip through the arbitration process. Hellickson, 29 in April, is eligible for free agency next winter.
The D-backs acquired Hellickson in a trade with the Rays last offseason with the hope that he could return to the levels that saw him win the AL Rookie of the Year Award back in 2011 at the age of 24. However, while Hellickson remained healthier than he was in 2014, his overall results weren’t what the D-backs had envisioned. The right-hander posted a 4.62 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate in his lone season with Arizona.
Philadelphia will, like the D-backs last offseason, take on Hellickson hoping that he can return to form but knowing that even if that scenario doesn’t play out, he’ll eat some innings for a young and inexperienced staff that could use some veteran depth. The price tag on Hellickson, financially speaking, might be a bit steeper than simply signing a veteran innings eater on the free-agent market — Philadelphia paid Aaron Harang $5MM last season, for instance — but Hellickson comes with more upside than many veteran innings eaters that might come with a lower cost. If he performs well this year, Hellickson could conceivably emerge as a July trade chip and net a useful piece for the Phillies’ future.
With Hellickson’s agreement reportedly in place, the Phillies have now avoided arbitration with all of their eligible players, as MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows. The Phillies came to terms with Jeanmar Gomez and Freddy Galvis over the past two days as well, while Peter Bourjos settled his case last month.
- Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez and the Phillies have avoided arb with a one-year, $1.4MM agreement, Rosenthal tweets. The soon-to-be 28-year-old posted a strong 3.01 ERA with 6.0 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9 and also recorded a sound 48.8 percent ground-ball rate in 74 1/3 innings of relief across 65 appearances. He’ll again provide some valuable innings for the rebuilding Phillies.
- The Phillies and infielder Freddy Galvis have settled on a $2MM salary for the 2016 season in order to avoid arbitration, reports Jon Heyman (on Twitter). Galvis comes in $100K north of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’s projection of $1.9MM. The 26-year-old played in a career-high 151 games this past season and batted .263/.302/.343 with seven homers and 10 steals in 603 plate appearances. He should see the bulk of time at shortstop in Philadelphia this season, although top prospect J.P. Crawford is projected to be the Phillies’ long-term option there.
- FOX Sports has a series of posts today regarding outfielders. Ken Rosenthal and Dave Cameron take opposing sides on the question whether the Cardinals ought to focus on adding an outfield upgrade. Rosenthal explains that the Phillies probably won’t make a value play for Justin Upton, in large part because their second-round pick is a valuable part of a talent-acquisition strategy. And Jon Morosi says that this year’s winter’s market for outfielders has gone in unexpected directions.