Time for another MLBTR Mailbag! As always, thanks for the questions — if yours wasn’t answered this time, join in one of our weekly chats (Tuesday and Thursday, 2pm Central) for another shot.
On to the questions and answers …
We all know who the big free agents are this off-season and there has been much speculation on where the wind up. But, who do you think will be the 4 or 5 biggest names traded this off-season? Yasiel Puig appears to be the top candidate, but is he? Who else might join him? — Troy K.
I wouldn’t call Puig the “top trade candidate” of the offseason, but he’s a high-profile talent whose name does figure to be kicked around the rumor mill this winter. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him moved, but the Dodgers won’t sell low on him despite a down season.
A good place to start if you’re trying to find big-name offseason trade candidates is to parse the list of players that will be free agents following the 2016 season. Teams that control these players will almost certainly be far more willing to entertain offers due to the limited control they have left. The most intriguing name there is Stephen Strasburg, whose name has been mentioned previously as a possible offseason trade piece. That’s not to say it’s likely, but clubs looking to make a win-now splash will at least call GM Mike Rizzo. Neil Walker, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce all strike me as possibilities as well, though the latter two have club options to control them beyond 2016.
Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel will be discussed, as will Jonathan Lucroy, Adam Lind and perhaps even Todd Frazier, who has two years of club control remaining. Aroldis Chapman might be the likeliest elite name to change hands this offseason, as he has just one year of club control remaining, and the Reds don’t figure to contend in 2016.
If (when) the Orioles don’t bring Davis back would they consider (be in the running) for some like Heyward or Alex Gordon? — Dave S.
Jason Heyward’s probably going to cost as much or more than Davis, so he’s not a likelier consideration. Gordon probably comes cheaper due to his age, but it’d still require a franchise-record contract for Baltimore, probably in excess of $100MM. That seems pretty unlikely.
What do you think the O’s would have to give up to get Pedro Alvarez? — David K.
Not much, really, Alvarez is a non-tender candidate, so if the Orioles want to take on his arb salary and send a second-tier prospect or a pair of low-level lottery ticket minor leaguers to the Pirates, they’d probably have some interest. Alvarez has huge power, but he’s a very poor defender that doesn’t hit lefties and is going to cost a projected $8.1MM.
Do you think the Dodgers will try to bring back Kendrick or decide to go with young guys like Hernandez and/or Peraza? — Jeff D.
They’ll have interest, yeah. At one point during the season, there was talk that the Dodgers loved Kendrick enough to consider him an extension candidate. It’s a little difficult to imagine the Dodgers as the top bidder — that sentence felt strange to type — since they have other infield options in Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Jose Peraza and Enrique Hernandez that could fill in.
The only way Kendrick makes sense on a long-term deal, though — barring trades of any of the aforementioned infielders — is if Turner plays third in 2016 with Seager at shortstop and Kendrick at second base. Then, when Turner leaves as a free agent following the 2016 campaign, Seager moves to third with Peraza taking over at shortstop.
Given the needs they have throughout the rest of the roster, I don’t know that Kendrick should be a primary focus. Starting pitching and attempting to move an outfielder (specifically Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier) seem like bigger needs.
J.P. Howell’s 2016 club option has now vested to a player option. Do you expect Howell to exercise his option and stay with Dodgers, or elect free agency for a longer contract? — Jesse P.
Howell’s excellence has kind of flown under the radar, but he’s coming off a three-year window with a 1.97 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a huge 58.3 percent ground-ball rate. Howell’s going to be 33 next year and was roughed up by right-handed hitters in 2015, but some of his platoon struggles were BABIP-related (.368), and his overall track record seems worthy of more than a one-year deal. I think he can opt out and find two years or maybe even work out a two-year deal with L.A. that cuts his annual salary but boosts his guarantee. After all, Andrew Friedman traded for Howell in 2006 as a 29-year-old GM and had him in the organization until 2012, when Howell hit the open market at season’s end. He knows Howell well and, presumably, would like to keep him around.
With salaries coming off of the books (Rios, Holland, Guthrie) will the Royals be able to sign both Gordon and Zobrist? — Kit M.
Those salaries are coming off the books (along with those of Gordon and Zobrist, at least for now), but even with those subtractions, the Royals have some significant increases in next year’s payroll. Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar will combine to earn $3.25MM more in 2016 than they did in 2015, and significant arbitration raises are in store for Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and Jarrod Dyson. Before factoring in for league-minimum players to fill out the roster, Kansas City should have about $90.5MM on the books ($91.6MM if they tender a contract to Drew Butera).
Payroll could conceivably rise, with another World Series appearance providing a revenue boost, but Gordon is going to command an annual salary in the $20MM range, if not a bit higher. Signing him alone would put Kansas City above their Opening Day payroll from 2015, unless they shed salary elsewhere.
As for Zobrist, he’s shaping up as one of the most in-demand free agents of the offseason. His age places a cap on his earning potential, unlike some of the younger free agents on this year’s market (e.g. Jason Heyward), which could keep more teams in the bidding picture. On the one hand, that makes a return plausible for Kansas City; on the other, it’s not the Royals’ style to outbid the rest of the market in a competition like that.
Last winter, they diversified the risk of their offseason spending by giving one- and two-year deals to multiple free agents. That’s a more realistic expectation than re-signing Zobrist. Gordon could be the exception due to his status as a franchise icon, but there will be other clubs willing to pay him more than Kansas City can stomach.