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In Andrew Zimbalist’s 2006 book In The Best Interests Of Baseball?, he wrote:
“[Commissioner Bud] Selig had a pet phrase that makes considerable sense: the fans of each team need to have ’faith and hope’ that their team has a chance to win at the beginning of each season. Without this faith and hope, fans will eventually lose interest, and the game will suffer.”
After reading that recently, I was inspired to create an annual Faith And Hope Report here at MLB Trade Rumors, so we can put a number on how many teams are competitive and track it over time. I’ll be combining FanGraphs’ projected playoff odds with my own common sense, and there is some subjectivity involved on the borderline teams. I’ll elaborate on those later in this post.
Teams that enter the 2019 season with faith and hope: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Indians, Twins, Astros, Athletics, Angels, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Braves, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, Diamondbacks
Teams that enter 2019 without faith and hope: Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Rangers, Mariners, Marlins, Giants
Conclusion: 70% of MLB teams have faith and hope of contending in 2019.
- The Blue Jays carry a 76 win projection and a 3.9% chance of reaching the playoffs. If a team has a high-70s win projection, we look at its offseason to determine its interest in winning. The Jays’ offseason was clearly that of a club that is not pushing to win in 2019.
- It feels like the White Sox tried to pull out of their rebuild in the 2018-19 offseason, but their pursuit of Manny Machado and other big names fell short. Looking at the veterans they did acquire, plus a 72 win projection and 1.1% chance of making the playoffs, and the Sox deserve to be lumped in with the Tigers and Royals in baseball’s least competitive division.
- The Rangers’ preseason projections are about the same as the White Sox. Texas spent a fair bit of money stocking their rotation with post-Tommy John pitchers, most notably Lance Lynn. But so many things would have to go right for this team to sniff the playoffs that we have to classify them as a team without faith and hope this year.
- The Mariners have already snagged a couple of wins in Tokyo, pushing their projection to 76 and playoff odds to 3.6%. GM Jerry Dipoto authored a complicated offseason that involved shipping off Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, and James Pazos. In some cases, Dipoto acquired big leaguers in return, and he also signed Yusei Kikuchi, but it’s clear the Mariners are prepared to take a step back in 2019 even if they have not committed to a multiyear rebuild.
- The Reds have a 79 win projection, but the relative parity of the NL Central means they have a 15.7% shot at the playoffs. Plus, the Reds were clearly in go-for-it mode during the winter, bringing in Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood to lead a retooled rotation. They also added Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. An extension from the Reds will prevent Gray from reaching free agency after the winter, but all the other key acquisitions will be eligible. Give the Reds credit: they’re trying.
- The Pirates aren’t much better than a team like the Mariners, but the Bucs carry an 11.4% shot at the playoffs given their division. The club had an extremely low-key offseason, missing an opportunity to more clearly position themselves as contenders. The team did little to earn the designation of a team trying to win, but it’s still true that their fans have faith and hope entering the 2019 campaign.
- The Diamondbacks are a lot like the Pirates: they have a 77 win projection and a 9.7% chance at the playoffs. The team made bargain acquisitions and shipped off longtime star Paul Goldschmidt. Still, the D’Backs focused on Major League players in return for Goldy, who was in the final year of his contract. They are the most borderline of the borderline cases, but there’s enough chance of a long shot playoff run to put them in the “faith and hope” category.
- I can’t say the same for the Giants, who finished second in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes and own a 73 win projection and 3.5% chance at the playoffs. Like many of the teams listed here, I wouldn’t call the Giants a rebuilding team at present. However, their biggest offseason move was re-signing Derek Holland, their outfield may be the game’s worst, and it’s a club without a real chance of contending. Contrast that with the Padres, who might only be 4-5 wins better than the Giants but added a superstar player in Manny Machado and will conceivably look to add this summer rather than subtract.
The Giants announced that they’ve designated right-hander Merandy Gonzalez for assignment. His spot on the 40-man roster will go to catcher Tom Murphy, whose previously reported waiver claim has now been formally announced by the team. San Francisco claimed Gonzalez off waivers from the Marlins back at the beginning of March.
Gonzalez, 23, made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 2018 having been previously acquired in the trade that sent AJ Ramos from Miami to the Mets. In his first 22 innings of MLB work, Gonzalez struggled to the tune of a 5.73 ERA as he allowed 31 hits with a 19-to-8 K/BB ratio. That debut came on the heels of a pedestrian season in Double-A, where he logged a 4.32 ERA over the life of 14 starts (73 innings) with unsightly averages of 5.8 strikeouts and 4.1 walks per nine innings pitched.
Gonzalez, who averaged 93.7 mph on his fastball in last season’s debut, made one scoreless appearance with a strikeout with the Giants before being optioned to Triple-A. The Giants will now have a week to trade him or try to pass him throughout outright waivers themselves, as the Marlins failed to do earlier in the month. If he does clear waivers this time around, he’d remain with the organization as a depth piece in the upper minors.
The Phillies have re-signed veteran utilityman Andrew Romine to a minor league pact, tweets Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. He’s in Major League camp today and will head to minor league camp tomorrow before opening the season in the minors (presumably with Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate in Lehigh Valley).
Philadelphia released Romine late last week, but this new arrangement allows them to keep him without paying him the $100K retention bonus he’d have been due as an Article XX(B) Free Agent (essentially — a player with six-plus years of MLB service who finished the previous season on a Major League roster but took a minor league pact in the offseason). That may sound harsh, though it’s a rather common practice in this type of instance.
Romine, 33, doesn’t bring much to the table offensively, but few in the league can match his defensive versatility. He’s played every position on the field at the MLB level and has at least 200 big league innings at each of first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner outfield (left and right combined) and in center field. Romine appeared in 17 games with the Phils earlier this spring and hit .270/.325/.378 through 40 plate appearances. He’s a career .235/.291/.301 hitter in 1323 Major League plate appearances and has a .721 OPS in more than 3000 career trips to the plate in Triple-A.
1:03pm: MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that Duda’s deal with the Royals carries a $1.25MM base salary and another $250K available via incentives.
12:44pm: The Royals announced Monday that they’ve selected the contract of veteran first baseman Lucas Duda and requested unconditional release waivers on outfielder Brian Goodwin. Duda will make the Kansas City Opening Day roster, while the out-of-options Goodwin, who’d previously been viewed as a strong candidate to log ample time in right field this coming season, will become a free agent if and when he clears release waivers in 48 hours.
Duda, 33, spent most of the spring with the division-rival Twins but opted out of his minor league pact with Minnesota last week when it became clear that he wouldn’t make the club as a bench bat. He’ll now open his second consecutive season with the Royals, who signed Duda to a one-year, $3.5MM contract in the 2017-18 offseason. Duda spent the first five months of last season with the Royals and hit .242/.310/.413 before being acquired by the Braves in exchange for cash on Aug. 29. Thus far in Spring Training, he’s posted a .250/.386/.417 slash through 44 PAs between Minnesota and Kansas City.
The Royals haven’t commented on what role Duda will play with the club, but the presence of a younger player with a similar skill set, Ryan O’Hearn, makes it seem likely that Duda will start the season as either a bench bat, joining Cam Gallagher, Terrance Gore and Chris Owings, or as a part-time designated hitter.
Spring Training was a disaster for the 28-year-old Goodwin, whom the Royals acquired in a trade with the Nationals last July. Goodwin appeared in 17 games for the Royals and took 49 plate appearances but slashed .166/.188/.256 with 13 strikeouts against four walks. His .266/.317/.415 output in 101 plate appearances with Kansas City last season gave the Royals a bit of cause for intrigue, but they’ll now entrust right field to a combination of Soler, Owings and Gore early in the season. It’s possible that they’ll try to bring Goodwin back on a minor league contract, though he’ll also have the opportunity to field interest from other clubs once his waiver period expires.
The Giants have claimed catcher Tom Murphy off waivers from the Rockies, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports (via Twitter). Colorado reportedly placed the 27-year-old Murphy, who is out of minor league options, on waivers over the weekend.
The move to acquire Murphy comes just one day after San Francisco acquired another out-of-options catcher, Erik Kratz, in a trade with the Brewers. That now gives the organization three catchers to carry on the 25-man roster to start the season, as Murphy and Kratz will join Buster Posey on the Opening Day roster. As Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area recently wrote, skipper Bruce Bochy did acknowledge that the organization had considered carrying three catchers to begin the year, although at the time, the thinking was that said statement applied to young catcher Aramis Garcia. With Murphy now in the organization, Garcia seems ticketed for Triple-A to open the season.
In placing Murphy on waivers, the Rockies seemingly prioritized catcher defense over Murphy, who arguably has greater offensive potential than in-house options Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta. (The decision was surely also influenced in part by the $4.8MM still owed to Iannetta.) Murphy showed some of that promise early in his limited MLB experience, hitting .266/.341/.608 through his first 88 MLB plate appearances in 2015-16. Since that time, he’s logged an additional 122 PAs and mustered only a .188/.221/.325 batting line, although that paltry sample of data doesn’t reveal much.
Murphy, a former Top 100 prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, maintained a potent bat in Triple-A last season when he posted a .901 OPS in 264 PAs that is a near-mirror image of his composite .902 OPS from parts of four seasons at the top minor league level. Murphy has been about average at catching base thieves throughout his Major League and minor league tenure, and Baseball Prospectus has valued his pitch-framing and pitch-blocking skills similarly.
The Blue Jays announced that they’ve re-signed right-hander John Axford to a minor league contract. He had been in camp with the Jays for much of Spring Training but was cut loose from that deal when he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right elbow. Because he’ll be sidelined for at least a month, Axford and the Jays re-worked the terms of the minor league contract. In doing so, Toronto also avoided paying Axford a $100K retention bonus that would’ve been otherwise required to keep him in the minors while he rehabbed.
It still remains quite possible, if not likely, that the Canadian-born Axford will reemerge as a bullpen option for the Blue Jays at some point once he’s had sufficient time to mend his ailing elbow. Prior to the injury, he was viewed as a strong candidate to break camp with the Jays for what would be the second straight season. Last year, Axford appeared in 45 games for the Blue Jays last season, pitching to a 4.41 ERA with a 50-to-20 K/BB ratio in 51 innings before being traded to the Dodgers prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Axford’s time with the Dodgers proved forgettable. He was tagged for six runs in his first appearance with the L.A. organization, and while his next four outings were sharp (one run in three innings with four strikeouts and no walks), he didn’t have time for his numbers with the Dodgers to recover before being struck in the leg by a comeback liner that left him with a fractured fibula and sidelined him for more than a month.
The injury to Axford is hardly the only health issue that cropped up in the Blue Jays’ bullpen mix late in Spring Training. Bud Norris was slowed late in camp when he had trouble getting loose prior to one of his outings, while Ryan Tepera will begin the season on the injured list due to inflammation in his right elbow. There’s no clear timeline at present for when Axford will be ready to get back on the mound, and he’ll certainly need a Triple-A tuneup before the organization considers selecting his contract to the Major League roster.
This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
The Blue Jays added some veteran stopgaps to their roster, while saying goodbye to some of the best-known members of their 2015-16 playoff teams.
Major League Signings
- Freddy Galvis, SS: One year, $5MM (includes $1MM buyout of $5.5MM club option for 2020)
- Matt Shoemaker, SP: One year, $3.5MM
- Clay Buchholz, SP: One year, $3MM
- David Phelps, RP: One year, $2.5MM (plus 2020 club option worth between $1MM-$7MM, based on games pitched)
- Daniel Hudson, RP: One year, $1.5MM
- Total spend: $15.5MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired minor league SS Ronny Brito and minor league RHP Andrew Sopko. from the Dodgers for C Russell Martin and $16.4MM of Martin’s 2019 salary
- Acquired LHP Clayton Richard from the Padres for minor league OF Connor Panas
- Acquired RHP Trent Thornton from the Astros for IF Aledmys Diaz
- Acquired RHP Jason Adam from the Royals for cash considerations
- Acquired $500K in international bonus pool money from the Orioles for outfielder Dwight Smith Jr.
- Claimed RHP Elvis Luciano from the Royals in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Martin, Diaz, Troy Tulowitzki, Marco Estrada, Yangervis Solarte, Tyler Clippard, Jake Petricka, Jose Manuel Fernandez
The rotation was Toronto’s clearest area of need going into the offseason, and as expected, the Blue Jays added some inexpensive veteran arms to bolster a very young crop of starting pitchers. Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard, and (eventually) Clay Buchholz will all take turns in the rotation, backing up the incumbent top two of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
Naturally, there’s a lot of uncertainty baked into that mix given the lengthy injury histories of Shoemaker, Buchholz, Sanchez, and even Stroman and Richard last season. There’s also the looming possibility that any of these pitchers could find themselves on new teams by the trade deadline. As such, Ryan Borucki is expected to receive plenty of starts throughout the course of the year, though Borucki himself will miss some time to begin the season. One of Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Sam Gaviglio, and the newly-acquired Trent Thornton will fill in while Borucki is out and until Buchholz gets game-ready, and these younger arms are likely to get their share of innings before 2019 is out.
Could Toronto’s rotation end up being a quiet strength for the team? It would require a lot of bounceback years, though it isn’t out of the question, especially if Stroman is healthy after an injury-filled 2018 and Sanchez has finally gotten over the finger/blister problems that have plagued him over the last two years. Shoemaker’s last two seasons have been marred by injuries, though when he did pitch last season, his peripheral numbers were much better than his 4.94 ERA over 31 innings for the Angels would indicate. Buchholz delivered an eye-popping 2.01 ERA over 98 1/3 innings of work for Arizona last season before a flexor mass strain in September ended his year.
Beyond the rotation, the Jays made their now-annual additions of relievers who could very well become midseason trade chips. In the tradition of such past names as Joe Smith, Seunghwan Oh, and John Axford, this winter’s crop of bullpen signings included David Phelps, Daniel Hudson, Bud Norris, and temporarily Axford again, though he was released in the wake of elbow problems that will sideline the Canadian right-hander for at least a month. (It wouldn’t be surprising, though, to see the Jays re-sign Axford to a new contract in short order.)
It should be noted that Hudson is the only of this group who is entirely healthy. Norris has been limited in Spring Training, while Phelps won’t be back until midseason due to his recovery from March 2018 Tommy John surgery. This timeline likely means that Phelps may not be dealt at all; his contract contains a flexible club option for 2020, as both the Blue Jays and the right-hander are seemingly approaching this year as something of an extended recovery period.
As with the new starters, the new relievers also have some upside. Norris was the Cardinals’ closer for much of 2018, and Phelps was a strong contributor for the Marlins and Mariners in 2016-17 before undergoing surgery. The combination of Hudson, Norris, Ryan Tepera (if healthy, that is) and closer Ken Giles gives the Jays a pretty solid end-game mix, and a recovered Phelps will only improve that group. Sergio Romo and Adam Warren were a couple of the other bullpen names considered by the Blue Jays this winter.
After Aledmys Diaz was traded to Houston for Thornton, and Troy Tulowitzki was given an outright release, the shortstop position was seemingly cleared for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Instead, however, it now looks like the Jays have an eye towards playing Gurriel all over the diamond since he might not be ready for the defensive challenge of being an everyday shortstop. (Indeed, it looks like Gurriel will begin the year as a second baseman, since Devon Travis is again sidelined with knee problems.)
Minor league signing Eric Sogard could end up filling the utility infield void, and for the regular shortstop role, the Blue Jays turned to Freddy Galvis. The former Phillies and Padres infielder is the picture of durability (he has played in every game in the last two seasons and averaged 158 games per year since 2015), and he brings more defensive stability up the middle. How much stability is perhaps a question depending on which of Galvis’ strangely divergent defensive metrics you believe, as he went from a +3.2 UZR/150 and minus-5 Defensive Runs Saved in 2017 to minus-3.8 UZR.150 and +7 DRS last season. Even just average glovework, however, represents an upgrade for a Jays team that was one of the league’s worst defensive clubs in 2018.
The Blue Jays moved squarely into rebuild mode last season, and this winter continued to be about setting the table for their future young talent. To that end, the Jays bid adieu to some stalwart veterans — Marco Estrada departed in free agency, Tulowitzki was released, and Russell Martin was dealt to the Dodgers.
The latter two moves were more about roster clearance than financial flexibility, as the Jays are still on the hook for just under $54MM total owed in remaining contract obligations to Martin (through 2019) and Tulowitzki (through 2020). Naturally, the team had little hope of finding a trade partner to eat even more of that figure given that Tulowitzki missed all of 2018, while Martin struggled to just a .194/.338/.325 slash line through 352 plate appearances.
Even accounting for these two big contracts and the $12MM remaining on Kendrys Morales’ contract, the Jays have very little in the way of future salary obligations; Gurriel is the only player owed money beyond the 2020 season. This led to some speculation that Toronto could explore some of the bigger-name players available this winter, and the Jays did indeed raise some eyebrows when they were linked to some major Scott Boras clients (Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Yusei Kikuchi) on the rumor mill. While it seems like the Blue Jays made a legitimate bid for Kikuchi, the other talks were perhaps exploratory at best, and only Harper and Kikuchi would have fit as a true longer-term asset for a Jays club that doesn’t appear ready to contend until 2021.
Until then, the Jays will focus on determining which of their group of highly-touted young players will be part of this next core. 2019 will finally see the debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the Major League stage, as attention can finally turn to Guerrero’s prodigious on-field talents, rather than his status (perhaps shared with Kris Bryant) as the poster child for clubs keeping top prospects in the minors just long enough to gain an extra year of team control. The situation became a moot point in Guerrero’s case, since his recovery from an oblique strain will keep him out until at least mid-April anyway. Still, “oblique” might also be a good description of Jays executives’ increasingly far-flung arguments for why Guerrero wasn’t ticketed for the Opening Day roster, since obviously they couldn’t openly mention service time considerations.
The Jays’ plan is to deploy Brandon Drury at third base until Guerrero arrives, then move Drury to second base, perhaps in a timeshare with Gurriel or (if healthy) Travis. Alternatively, Gurriel could split time between second base, shortstop, and left field, joining Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney in the left field mix. Outfielder Anthony Alford has enjoyed a big Spring Training, and he’ll get a longer look sometime this season if he proves capable of staying healthy and gets some more minor league seasoning.
As with the rotation, the Blue Jays’ position player mix is pretty fluid since at least some of the club’s veterans (Morales, Galvis, Randal Grichuk, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar) are likely to be wearing different uniforms come September. Smoak and Pillar each received a bit of trade buzz over the winter, with Smoak getting some attention from the Rockies and Pillar from the Giants, though no moves involving that group have ultimately been made. (A deal prior to Opening Day is still technically possible.)
Since Toronto faces a steep uphill battle in the AL East, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team start shopping its veterans relatively early, potentially to get the jump on other sellers. Especially now that the August trade period is no more, one wonders if the Jays might be open to trading Smoak, Pillar, and to a somewhat lesser extent Grichuk or Galvis at any time this season, rather than waiting until the July 31 trade deadline.
The same could be said of Stroman, Sanchez, or Giles, who project as Toronto’s top potential trade chips. The Jays were reportedly open to dealing Giles this winter, while Stroman and Sanchez each received attention. Stroman in particular drew significant interest from such teams as the Reds and Padres. Stroman has made it clear he wants to stay in Toronto and was displeased at the lack of contract extension talks as well as the fact that the team wasn’t making a bigger push to contend in 2019.
Since the Jays’ asking price for the two starters was, in the words of Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, found by some suitors to be “uncomfortably high,” it makes more sense for Toronto to keep Stroman and Sanchez for at least the opening portion of the season. This allows the two right-handers to rebuild their value by proving that they’re both recovered from their rough 2018 seasons. If the Blue Jays see Stroman and Sanchez as part of the rebuild process rather than rotation cornerstones of their next contending roster, the team surely wants to maximize its return in potential trades, particularly after receiving relatively little for Martin and Josh Donaldson. With both Stroman and Sanchez controlled through 2020, a healthy version of either pitcher would draw widespread interest.
2019 Season Outlook
Another year in the 73-78 win range seems likely for the rebuilding Jays, as a very tough division schedule will make it hard for even an improved team to gain much traction in the AL Wild Card race. If Guerrero comes close to matching his incredible projected numbers, however, it’ll be an exciting year for Toronto fans.
How would you grade the Blue Jays’ offseason moves? (Link for app users.)
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
8:44am: Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill announced to reporters that Straily has been released by the organization (Twitter link via Joe Frisaro of MLB.com). Mish tweets that Straily is going on release waivers today, meaning he’ll become a free agent if he clears on Wednesday at 1pm ET. Assuming that happens, he’ll receive the aforementioned 45 days’ termination pay and can can sign with any club for any amount of money (on top of that termination pay from Miami).
7:52am: In a fairly surprising move, the Marlins have designated right-hander Dan Straily for assignment, according to Craig Mish of SiriusXM (all Twitter links). The Marlins will now have a week to trade him or release him. Left-hander Caleb Smith has made the Marlins’ Opening Day rotation in what was expected to be Straily’s spot, Mish adds.
Straily, 30, was acquired from the Reds in a January 2017 trade that cost the Marlins right-hander Luis Castillo (along with the since-reacquired righty Austin Brice and minor league outfielder Zeek White). Straily made 33 starts for Miami in his first year with the club and tallied another 23 starts for the Fish in a 2018 season that was slowed a bit by a forearm strain early in the year. In all, he gave the Marlins 304 innings of 4.20 ERA ball with averages of 8.0 strikeouts, 3.3 walks and 1.5 homers allowed per nine innings pitched.
On the heels of that output, Miami and Straily agreed to a $5MM salary earlier this winter, avoiding arbitration in the process. Today’s DFA will save the Marlins about $3.8MM of that $5MM sum, as even if Straily is released, the organization would only owe him 45 days’ termination pay (roughly $1.2MM). Ultimately, those cost savings were surely at the heart of the move. There’s little doubt that Straily is a better option for the Miami pitching staff than fellow veteran Wei-Yin Chen, but Miami will retain Chen and his fully guaranteed $20MM salary and instead part ways with a veteran arm whose salary was only partially guaranteed.
Miami has reportedly been exploring trades for Straily all offseason, including prior to tendering him at that $5MM rate, but without any success. As such, it may be difficult for them to find a partner in the coming days, though perhaps a club with injury issues in its rotation will have some interest — if not via trade then via straight waiver claim. Straily did rank in the 70th percentile of MLB pitchers in terms of fastball spin and in the 80th percentile in terms of curveball spin, so he could hold particular appeal to clubs that emphasize spin rate. If he goes unclaimed, Straily will become a free agent who is eligible to sign with any club for any amount of money while still pocketing the $1.2MM owed to him by Miami.
As for the Marlins, they’ll now trot out a younger rotation consisting of Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Smith, with Chen lined up as the long man in the bullpen. Elieser Hernandez, Jeff Brigham and Jordan Yamamoto are all on the 40-man roster as depth options.
Developmentally speaking, one can hardly fault the rebuilding Marlins for wanting to give as many of their growing stable of arms an opportunity as possible, though the fact that doing so now means paying a reasonably useful Major League arm to pitch somewhere else is hardly ideal. The truly questionable element of the whole equation will be the decision to tender Straily in the first place a youth movement was always the preferred route for the rotation. Presumably, though, when that decision was due in early December, Miami still had confidence in its ability to find a trade partner.
The Rays have traditionally been pretty aggressive in locking up young players to early-career extensions, as evidenced by their recent deals with Blake Snell and Brandon Lowe. Beyond that duo, Willy Adames and Brent Honeywell told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that they had also been approached about long-term deals.
Adames has been a consensus top-25 prospect in baseball in each of the last two seasons, and he now projects as Tampa’s everyday shortstop after hitting .278/.348/.406 during 323 plate appearances in his 2018 rookie season. Adames didn’t specify when the Rays first brought up an extension, whether it was this offseason, during last season, or perhaps even before Adames made his big league debut altogether.
For speculation purposes, if a long-term deal was explored this past winter, recent extensions for Tim Anderson and Paul DeJong stand out as comparables for Adames. Both shortstops also had less than a year of service time, and each landed six-year pacts with two club option years, with Anderson getting a guaranteed $25MM and DeJong (signed a year later) $26MM in guaranteed money. It’s probably safe to assume Adames would’ve gotten a bit more, both due to his top-prospect status, and since those deals were almost topped in value by the extension Scott Kingery signed with the Phillies before he ever set foot on a Major League field. (This is also basically the deal Lowe signed, except with one fewer club option year.)
While Evan Longoria and Matt Moore each had just a small bit of MLB service time when they inked their extensions with the club, the Rays have never extended a player who has never appeared in the Major Leagues. A Honeywell extension would’ve therefore been a precedent-setting deal for both the team and for the league as a whole, as no pitcher has ever signed an extension before making his debut in the Show. Moore came closest, as he had just 17 days of regular-season service time when he inked his five-year, $14MM extension (with three club option years) back in December 2011.
It’s hard to use a contract that’s over seven years old as a comparable, plus Honeywell’s health situation also adds another unique wrinkle to his case. Honeywell said the Rays discussed the long-term deal after he underwent Tommy John surgery in February 2018. While we can assume that the team’s offer reflected that injury risk, it still represents some courage on Honeywell’s part in betting on himself to recovery from the surgery, rather than getting at least one multi-million dollar payday out of his professional career before even throwing a pitch in the majors.
It’s worth noting that Honeywell received an $800K bonus when drafted, so he has already obtained some financial security. Honeywell was a second-round pick (72nd overall) for the Rays in the 2014 draft, and he has been perhaps even more highly-touted than Adames, with three consecutive years as at least a top-30 prospect in the eyes of Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com and Baseball America. The three publications had Honeywell respectively ranked 11th, 12th, and 14th on their top-100 lists prior to the 2018 season. Honeywell has a 2.88 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and 4.92 K/BB rate over 416 professional innings, and he was expected to make an impact in Tampa’s rotation last season before injury struck.
Most teams, of course, probably at least float the idea of early-career extensions to much of their young talent. The Rays in particular have made a habit of this tactic, given the team’s financial limitations. Tyler Glasnow and Daniel Robertson didn’t want to comment to Topkin whether or not they had been offered long-term deals or not, while Jose Alvarado said he’s be open to discussions with the club (which could hint that the Rays haven’t yet talked to Alvarado).
The front office, for its part, seems to be open for business. GM Erik Neander said that the Rays “would love to keep the one-[extension]-a-day pace here if we could. We’re very high on the group of players that we have here. It’s a group we believe in. And when there are opportunities to find overlap between our players and our organization that increases the chances they can be here for a longer period of time, that’s something that we will continue to explore whenever those opportunities present themselves.”