Victor Martinez Rumors

The Most Improved Free Agents

Behind the scenes at MLBTR, we’re busy discussing and polishing our Top 50 Free Agents list for the 2015 offseason. While we’ll wait until the appropriate time to officially release the list, it’s not too soon to talk about a few of the players who have done the best to improve their free agent stock. In general, I’m looking at players who weren’t even on the radar when Steve Adams kicked off our 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings series on April 15. Today, we’ll take a look at a pure hitter, a starting pitcher, and an elite reliever.

1. Victor Martinez. I’m sure Martinez’s appearance on this list is of no surprise. When we compiled our initial power rankings post, 25 players were named. Martinez was not one of them. The 35-year-old designated hitter is limited in defensive versatility, but his bat is clearly elite. He is enjoying a fantastic offensive season with a .335/.404/.566 line and 31 home runs. All are career bests. He’s even stolen three bases (also a career best). The exceptional performance comes with a 10.5% walk rate and 6.6% strikeout rate, making him one of just two players with more walks than strikeouts (Jose Bautista is the other).

Martinez, who earned $12MM this season, will receive a qualifying offer, according to Buster Olney of ESPN. It’s difficult to handicap how the slugger will perform on the free agent market. The only recent comparable player is David Ortiz, although the short contracts he signed with the Red Sox do not appear to be directly applicable to Martinez’s situation.

The Tigers will have some leverage in retaining Martinez, where he can continue to hit with Miguel Cabrera. The White Sox are also said to be interested, per Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com. Chicago appears to be an ideal fit with its extremely hitter friendly stadium (Detroit’s Comerica Park is a neutral stadium), and he would make a good tandem with Jose Abreu. We seem to have the basic ingredients for a bidding war, and other teams will likely enter the fray.

2. Brandon McCarthy. What a fascinating season it’s been for McCarthy. His fastball gained two mph over previous seasons, and he’s posted the highest ground ball rate of his career at 52.7%. While his 3.93 ERA is merely decent, advanced ERA estimators like xFIP (2.90) and SIERA (3.03) expect better things to come. He’s also buffed his strikeout rate to 7.72 K/9 while maintaining an elite walk rate of 1.53 BB/9.

McCarthy was easy to overlook entering the season. His command and control profile made him a steady but uninspired rotation option. His first 18 starts came with the Diamondbacks, where he flashed excellent peripherals with an unseemly 5.01 ERA. He was dealt to the Yankees prior to the July trade deadline. In 13 starts, he’s pitched to a 2.54 ERA that is supported by his peripherals. Many pundits (including this one) worried about the influence of Yankee Stadium on the homer prone starter, but his HR/FB ratio has regressed to league average in New York.

Prior to this season, he never managed more than 170 and two-thirds major league innings in a single season. That came in 2011. He’s frequently dealt with injuries including recurring “stress reactions” in his pitching shoulder. His most recent shoulder injury occurred in 2012. This season, he’s managed a career high 194 and two-thirds innings with a chance to eclipse the 200 inning threshold.

A sabermetrically inclined front office – especially one with a large ballpark – could justifiably view McCarthy as the fourth best free agent starter, after the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields. McCarthy’s history of shoulder problems will likely temper enthusiasm for a large contract offer. That might serve to increase demand by making him an affordable, second-tier option. McCarthy, who is entering his age 31 season, could top the four-year, $49 million contract signed by Ricky Nolasco last offseason. However, a smart club would include language to mitigate risk from future shoulder flare-ups.

3. Andrew Miller. If Miller was on anybody’s radar entering the season, it was as a moderately interesting LOOGY. By halving his walk rate and proving he’s no platoon pitcher, Miller will enter the offseason as an untested but possibly elite closing option. Due to his inexperience recording saves, clubs may still look at him as a setup reliever.

Split between the Red Sox and Orioles, the 30-year-old southpaw has posted a 1.93 ERA in 60 and two-thirds innings. His 14.84 K/9 is impressive, especially in light of his 2.37 BB/9. He’s allowed just 32 hits on the season and is one of three relievers to cross the 100 strikeout threshold – four others appear poised to do so by the end of the season.

No recent left-handed reliever has entered free agency coming off of such a strong season, which puts Miller in uncharted waters. Jeremy Affeldt, who signed a three-year, $18MM contract with the Giants following the 2012 season is a distant comparable. Joaquin Benoit is probably the best example among recent right-handed pitchers. He signed a two-year, $15.5MM contract with an option after emerging as the Tigers closer. However, he was also entering his age 36 season, so he was considerably older than Miller. Per the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, no non-closing reliever has signed a contract with over a $20MM guarantee. Miller has a chance to be the first. Prior to the 2007 season, Justin Speier signed a four-year, $18MM contract that could serve as a barometer of sorts once inflation is included.


Olney On Qualifying Offer Candidates

In his latest Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney runs down a list of pending free agents that are candidates to receive qualifying offers. Olney spoke with several executives from around the league and is of the mind that James Shields, Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera, Russell Martin, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, Victor Martinez, Ervin Santana, David Robertson and Hanley Ramirez will receive qualifying offers, which should fall between $15MM and $15.5MM.

Here are a few more notes from Olney’s piece…

  • The Giants intend to give Sandoval a QO with the assumption that he will reject the offer and test the open market. San Francisco appears willing to offer him just three years, says Olney, and even going to four years might be too much of a stretch. Such a commitment seems much too light to land Sandoval, who, at 28 years old, will be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
  • It looks like the Dodgers and Ramirez could be moving in separate directions, as rival evaluators anticipate the team will extend a qualifying offer with the expectation that Ramirez signs elsewhere.
  • The value of Martin on a one-year deal, even north of $15MM, makes a QO for the Pirates “an easy call,” one rival GM said to Olney. Some may wonder whether or not Francisco Liriano is a QO candidate, but executives polled by Olney feel that his injury history and lack of innings present too much risk for the Bucs to extend such an offer. I’m inclined to agree; while Martin is a lock to turn down the QO, Liriano would have more hesitancy, and a $15MM salary would represent nearly 21 percent of the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll from 2014.
  • Some evaluators think that Cruz will again find himself with a more limited market than he expects due to his age, 2013 PED suspension and the fact that his OBP and defense are less impressive than his power totals.
  • Many rival executives feel there’s simply no way that the Tigers will let Martinez get away. Olney’s right in noting that a QO is “an easy call” for V-Mart, who currently sports a hefty .333/.401/.567 with a career-high 31 homers.
  • Olney also feels that a QO for Robertson is an easy call. While he notes that teams don’t pay $15MM for closers anymore, one evaluator said to him: “…with any other team, we wouldn’t be talking about this. But it’s the Yankees, and they can do it.” On a somewhat related note, Olney adds that Koji Uehara‘s late-season swoon may be a blessing of sorts for the Red Sox, who can now approach him with an offer much lower than a QO would have been. I noted in yesterday’s MLBTR chat that I’d be more hesitant to give Robertson a QO, but the Yankees could certainly afford to run the risk.

Quick Hits: Stanton, Davis, Yankees, Peavy

Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton is already home from the hospital and is not expected to require major surgery, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Preliminary testing has not shown concussion symptoms, though Stanton will be closely monitored going forward. Needless to say, it is great to hear that things are looking up so soon after his frightening injury.

Here are a few more stray notes from around the game:

  • Underlying the suspension of Orioles slugger Chris Davis is the fact that Adderall addiction is a significant problem, especially among athletes, writes ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. Davis has already tested positive for a stimulant and knew that he would receive additional testing, yet still was caught. Of course, as Stark does note, it is not known whether Davis himself has such a problem. It is worth bearing in mind, also, that Davis has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD in the past, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Rosenthal says that it remains unclear why Davis no longer sought to obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption as he had at some points in the past.
  • If the Yankees decide to make significant free agent additions this year, the player to target is Victor Martinez, opines Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sherman acknowledges that the DH slot may be an attractive place to stash one of the team’s current veterans, but argues that Martinez is a rare offensive force who has demonstrated his ability to thrive against virtually all types of pitchers and pitches.
  • Giants righty Jake Peavy has continued to adapt and modify his repertoire as he has aged, as Eno Sarris of Fangraphs explores. The veteran hurler will hit free agency for the first time in his career at age 33. (He has already signed three separate contract extensions and been traded three times.) It is well worth your time to check out Peavy’s thoughts and grips, as well as relevant statistics on his pitch mix.


White Sox To Pursue Victor Martinez In Free Agency

The White Sox are preparing to make a run at Tigers DH Victor Martinez in free agency, Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com reports on Twitter. Martinez, 35, is playing out the final year of the four-year, $50MM pact he signed to join Detroit before the 2011 season.

Chicago will have an opening for a veteran slugger with both Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko playing on expiring contracts. The pair has split duties at the DH position this year, but the switch-hitting Martinez would presumably occupy the role with just one roster spot. Of course, Dunn also provides something of a cautionary tale. He posted a .731 OPS over four years with the White Sox, which actually fell slightly below league average, making his $56MM deal a devastatingly poor investment given his lack of defensive flexibility.

Martinez, of course, proved a better investment than did Dunn, even though he no longer spends time behind the dish. Over three seasons in Detroit (he missed all of 2012), Martinez has put up a .318/.375/.479 slash with 52 home runs. He’s been even more impressive this year, bumping his line up to .327/.395/.555 and swatting a career-best 26 long balls.

In spite of his age, Martinez’s bat will obviously be enticing to many American League clubs. One major wild card remains whether or not he receives a qualifying offer from the Tigers, which could prove a particularly strong disincentive to teams that are not all-in on the immediate future. In that respect, of course, the White Sox represent an interesting suitor, as a move for Martinez would represent a signal that the team believes its contention window was opened.


Quick Hits: Herrera, O’s, Mariners, Cubs, V-Mart

The Mets have placed Daniel Murphy on the disabled list and will recall Double-A second baseman Dilson Herrera to fill his roster spot. The 20-year-old Herrera was the second player acquired from the Pirates (along with Vic Black) in last year’s Marlon Byrd/John Buck trade. In 274 plate appearances with Binghamton this season, he slashed a healthy .333/.401/.544 with nine homers and nine steals. Herrera’s overall numbers this season are quite strong, and his continued development has led some, including ESPN’s Keith Law, to consider him among the game’s Top 100 prospects.

Here are some more links from around the league…

  • The Orioles have continued to be active on the waiver wire despite the fact that they’ve yet to make an August acquisition, executive vice president Dan Duquette tells Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. The O’s have been on the hunt for a left-handed hitting infielder but have come up empty in their search, Connolly writes.
  • While the Mariners very much want to make the playoffs, team president Kevin Mather tells Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune that the M’s weren’t “going to sell [their] souls for a one-game Wild Card opportunity” by mortgaging the future at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Mather characterizes the acquisitions of Kendrys Morales, Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia as “strategic” but “not crazy.” The team held onto top prospects Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson as well as young lefty James Paxton.
  • Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters, including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, that the team will have the financial wherewithal to add to the payroll in the coming years due to its young core. Epstein said he never looks at one offseason and decides that he has to get something done that year, but he expects to add impact starting pitching from outside the organization in the next 18 to 24 months.
  • Victor Martinez would like to play for “a few more years” but thinks he’ll be out of the league by the age of 40, he tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Morosi spoke to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who offered lofty praise for his DH, calling him the most prepared and focused hitter he has ever encountered. Morosi looks at the weak DH situations that many teams around the league have and wonders if the 35-year-old Martinez can fetch something in the neighborhood of Carlos Beltran‘s three-year, $45MM contract from last offseason.

Cafardo On Price, Hammel, Pirates, Tigers

Here’s the latest from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo:

  • With David Price of the Rays on the trading block, Cafardo asks Brewers GM Doug Melvin about the process of trading, or trading for, a top starting pitching. Melvin has been on both sides of that process, having traded Zack Greinke and having acquired Greinke and C.C. Sabathia. Melvin says he would have been willing to trade Greinke within the NL Central, but for an extra charge. “I had teams within the division asking for him, and my approach to that is this: I had no problem doing it, but I had to get a little extra if I was going to do it. And that’s what I told them,” he says. Even assuming that’s the Rays’ policy too, though, it isn’t clear there’s a great matchup between them and any other AL East team. The Blue Jays are one possibility, but Cafardo writes that they seem to be more interested on a lower-tier starter like Jason Hammel of the Cubs.
  • A source tells Cafardo, “You could argue that Hammel is the most sought-after player, positional or pitcher, in the trade market right now.”
  • This season, the Pirates are likely to pursue a starting pitcher and a reliever, but not an offensive player.
  • Victor Martinez wants to stay with the Tigers. One potential hitch as he heads toward free agency, though, is that the Tigers will have to figure out how long Miguel Cabrera will be able to play defense until Detroit needs to move him to DH.

AL Central Notes: Iglesias, Tigers, Hicks, Masterson

Any Tigers fans that were holding out hope for a Jose Iglesias return in late 2014 will have to wait until next year, as GM Dave Dombrowski told Tony Paul of the Detroit News today that the team doesn’t expect the defensive wizard back at any point in 2014. Previous reports had indicated that Iglesias was likely to miss “most” of 2014 with stress fractures in his shins, though most were already operating under the assumption that his season was indeed lost. Detroit has a definite need at short, as the players that have manned the position to this point have combined for an MLB-worst .187/.239/.235 batting line while adding negative defensive contributions according to both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved.

Some more links pertaining to the Tigers and their division…

  • James Schmel of MLive.com fielded plenty of interesting questions in his latest Twitter mailbag, including some on Victor Martinez‘s future with the Tigers and the team’s deadline approach. He feels V-Mart will receive a qualifying offer, but the Tigers will be hesitant about a deal of three of more years for their aging DH. He adds that the Tigers likely feel they’re set in the outfield with Andy Dirks on the mend, but it’s not hard to envision them targeting some rotation depth next month.
  • The Twins are continuing to look for a stopgap option in center field so they can option Aaron Hicks to the minors, reports La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One potential option, Sam Fuld, is currently nearing a rehab assignment after sustaining a concussion last month, Neal writes. Hicks recently gave up switch-hitting in favor of what has long been a superior right-handed stroke, but learning to gauge breaking balls from right-handed pitchers as a right-handed hitter at the Major League level is a tall task. Hicks’ .722 OPS as a right-handed hitter in his career dwarfs his .549 mark from the left side.
  • Justin Masterson spoke with WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on the Indians‘ recent trip to Boston about his contract situation. Masterson said he’s following his former teammate Jon Lester‘s lead as the pair approaches free agency, not letting it distract him after failing to reach an extension agreement in Spring Training. “I’m the exact same way. One way or another, something is going to happen. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about it or not.” He added that while he hasn’t tracked the success of other impending free agents, he has kept an eye on Lester’s numbers, but only because the two are friends.

AL Notes: Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox

It would make sense for the Rangers to sign free agent Kendrys Morales, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. With injuries to Prince Fielder and Matt Harrison, the Rangers should be able to recoup enough from their insurance policies that they have money to sign Morales. Also, Grant argues that Morales could end up being worth more to the Rangers than the No. 30 overall draft pick they would lose if they signed him prior to the draft. Even if the Rangers’ season fell apart, they could trade Morales later. And by signing Morales now, the Rangers would avoid having to bid against others once the draft passed. Here are more notes from the American League.

  • The Rangers’ injuries may have already turned their season into “a lost cause,” Jeff Sullivan writes for Fangraphs’ series at FOX Sports. While it’s easy to overstate the impact of one injury, the Rangers have had so many injuries to so many important players that the impact is clearly significant. Signing Morales would seem to make sense for the Rangers, but they could decide that the injuries have already hurt so much that signing him isn’t worth it right now, particularly given the draft-pick issue.
  • The Tigers will likely try to re-sign Victor Martinez this offseason, and they also could try to re-sign Joba Chamberlain if he continues to contribute, Chris Iott of MLive.com writes. Max Scherzer, of course, is a top free agent and is likely to sign elsewhere.
  • It’s too early in the season for GM Ben Cherington to be able to use the trade market to effectively upgrade a Red Sox squad that has lost ten straight games, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes. Nonetheless, Cherington says, “At some point if production is not there, you have to think about changes.” He continues, “We have to find ways to improve across the board. Some of that is going to happen just naturally with the guys we have here.”

AL Central Notes: V-Mart, Hunter, Zimmer

We’ve already had one batch of AL Central news items earlier today, but here are a few more from around the division…

  • It seems “certain” that the Tigers will extend a qualifying offer to Victor Martinez this winter, MLive.com’s Chris Iott writes as part of a reader mailbag.  Though Martinez turns 36 in December, he’s still swinging a live bat, bringing an .859 OPS over 99 PA into today’s action.  This is just my speculation, but given Martinez’s age and defensive limitations, I wonder if he could actually accept the one-year qualifying offer (which should be worth roughly $15MM) to stay in a familiar situation in Detroit rather than risk facing a Kendrys Morales -esque extended wait in free agency.
  • Torii Hunter did a bit of recruiting to bring Joel Hanrahan to the Tigers, both players tell MLB.com’s Jason Beck.  Hunter and Hanrahan are both represented by agent Larry Reynolds and work out together during the offseason.
  • Kyle Zimmer, the fifth pick of the 2012 draft, skipped Spring Training and will see his first game action this coming week, Jim Callis writes for MLB.com.  While Zimmer is presently healthy, he had a bout of late-season biceps tendinitis and said his arm still didn’t feel when throwing in December.  As such, the Royals are taking it very easy with their star prospect and plan to cap him around 148 innings, though they could call on him for a pennant race.  “If he pitches like we expect him to, we’ll have a fresh Kyle Zimmer in September,” Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo said.  “He’s as important as anybody in the organization for this year and the future, and this just made more sense.”
  • In other prospect-workload news, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony hinted to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Alex Meyer could see roughly a 30-percent increase in his innings from 2013.  I think 30 percent is pretty much the standard,” Antony said. “It’s kind of the guideline you work under. You monitor it….We just want him to stay healthy throughout the year and continue to progress.”  This projects to around 156 IP for Meyer in 2014, and since he’s pitched so well in five Triple-A starts, the big righty could be a late-season callup.  Antony didn’t address that possibility other than to say “The intensity is a lot different (in the minors).”

AL Central Links: Martinez, Yoon, Royals

Here's the latest from around the AL Central…

  • Victor Martinez wants to remain with the Tigers beyond this season, the veteran slugger told reporters (including Tom Gage of the Detroit News), though he realizes the club may have other payroll priorities to be addressed, such as new deals for Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera.  Martinez, who turned 35 last month, is entering the final year of his four-year, $50MM deal with the Tigers.  After missing all of 2012 with a torn ACL, Martinez returned to hit .301/.355/.430 with 14 home runs in 668 PA in 2013.
  • The Indians looked at Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon earlier this offseason but weren't willing to meet Yoon's price, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (Twitter link).  Yoon has reportedly received offers from four MLB teams and he is in talking to two of them.  The Twins have long been linked to Yoon and they continue to "monitor" him, though there haven't been any meetings between the two sides. 
  • The Royals' wealth of upcoming minor league talent is cited by Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan as a counter to the oft-stated belief that the club's only "window of contention" is only open for as long as James Shields is in Kansas City.  Shields is entering his last year under contract and since it is believed the Royals won't be able to afford him, the team has been criticized for acquiring Shields in the deal that sent Wil Myers and others to Tampa Bay.
  • In AL Central news from earlier today, the Twins signed righty Matt Guerrier to a minor league deal and the Royals both acquired outfielder Carlos Peguero from the Mariners for cash and designated southpaw Everett Teaford for assignment.