Thanks again for all the great questions this week, and sorry if we couldn’t get to yours.
“Do you think Wei-Yin Chen is a good fit as the Royals’ ace, being as he is a fly ball pitcher that would benefit from the Royals’ large home park and good outfield defense and can regularly pitch until the sixth inning to get to the Royals strong bullpen? If not Chen, who do you think would be realistic free agent targets for the World Champions?” – Jeffrey M.
We’ve heard nothing to suggest and have no real reason to think that the Royals will go after the top three arms still left in free agency. So, if they have any willingness at all to make a long-term pitching investment, it would presumably go towards the second tier of the market. Chen sits just outside the top ten in MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes’s list of the top fifty free agents, sharing general contract expectations with Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, and (if posted) Kenta Maeda.
Tim recently broke down Chen’s free agent case and noted the Royals as one of many possible suitors. In addition to the factors you mention, it’s worth noting that the southpaw is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who reps several other recent Royals signees (Alex Rios, Luke Hochevar, Franklin Morales) as well as several other key players (including Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas).
Money, of course, is the major question. Kansas City could probably fit the 30-year-old on the books, even if he earns something like the five years and $80MM that Tim predicts, but that’d be a major commitment and could tie GM Dayton Moore’s hands in other regards. (More on that below.) Even if he’s got more financial flexibility to work with than he has in the past, Moore’s track record (e.g. Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie) suggests a more modest route is the likelier outcome.
The team does need arms, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained in his offseason outlook for the club, but could aim its sights elsewhere. Quality veterans like Scott Kazmir or Ian Kennedy, both of whom have some upside, will likely be available for more limited commitments. And, of course, there are any number of alternative or additional options on this year’s well-stocked market who will be looking for one or two-year deals.
Well, those two would certainly add some solid rotation options, so sure, they’d solidify the staff. And you could certainly argue that it’s enough — if you believe that Matt Cain and Jake Peavy can contribute full seasons and that some of the young, untested arms are really ready on standby.
But this is a team that’s trying to win the World Series after largely sitting out major spending last year (despite trying). I think that GM Bobby Evans and co. are looking for more impact than just the two pitchers you mention. That could mean adding a top-of-the-market arm and then tacking on Fister to the back of the staff, or pairing Leake with another mid-level starter.
Of course, there is one other scenario that San Francisco fans can dream about: if the team took the (relatively) modest route of signing Leake and Fister for the rotation, it might be freed to post some big bids on a new bat for left field.
“So since Jason Heyward is still only 26 years old, and would still be in his prime when the Phillies theoretical window of contention opens again, along with the fact that the Phillies have minimal commitments going forward and a lot of money to spend, couldn’t they be a good fit?” – Trevor R.
I’ll agree with you this far: the Phillies should be interested in players like Heyward, they can afford them, and they will look for creative ways to acquire them at a good value, even if it doesn’t perfectly line up with some expected timeline contention. (That’s true, in part, because the team doesn’t really have a timeline. That’ll depend upon internal development and outside opportunities.)
That being said, the free agent market is very rarely a place to go to find such value, at least at its upper echelons. As the Phillies’ MLB roster is in worse shape for current contention than just about any team in the league, we can safely assume that the club would have to beat the market — perhaps by a fair margin — even to get Heyward to consider playing there. And one or two of his prime seasons could be frittered away to rebuilding.
All told, I just don’t see that scenario lining up. Now, if for some reason Heyward badly misplays his hand and needs to be bailed out come February, then it’d be fascinating to see if new GM Matt Klentak could swoop in. But I expect the club to be focused on other ways to take advantage of its open payroll space to build up the talent base for the future.
“The Royals have to begin choosing which players they try and lock up. What would a potential Lorenzo Cain extension look like?” – David S.
Cain is already heading into his age-30 season and can be controlled through 2017 via arbitration. So, in two years time, he’ll basically be in Alex Gordon’s position in terms of age. Given that Cain projects at $6.1MM this year, another big raise might put him at a total of $16MM or so in earnings before reaching the market.
The comparison to Gordon isn’t a bad one, actually. They are both somewhat reliant on defensive value and have had similar peaks at around 6 to 7 wins above replacement. Cain plays the premium defensive position but Gordon has shown more with the bat (given that Cain hasn’t yet proven he can sustain his power breakout).
If we assume that KC expects Cain to settle in as a 4-to-5 win type of player, and can eventually land something like Gordon probably will (say, four or five years at $20MM+ annually) as a free agent, then you have the makings of a framework. That’s where negotiations come in, of course. If Cain’s reasonable expectation is to max out at, say, $130MM over the next seven years, then the club can try to whittle that back — in terms of guaranteed dollars and years — to a number that makes sense for the organization while providing sufficient security to Cain.
My guess is the team would need quite a significant discount, in terms of guaranteed money, to find a deal palatable. There are, of course, several other extension candidates on Kansas City’s roster that factor into the equation. And Cain is older than the other players (e.g. Hosmer, Moustakas, Alcides Escobar) who could conceivably be extended. The club may have to prioritize among them — though some may not really be interested — and certainly won’t be able to lock up all of them.
“Is there are market for a trade for Chris Carter or should the Astros just non-tender him?” – Bob G.
I feel like there’s some value there, personally. He projects at $5.6MM, which isn’t nothing, but teams will be paying as much or more to get similar offensive expectations from older players in free agency. Carter is going into his age-29 season after averaging thirty bombs annually with a .218/.312/.459 slash over the past three campaigns.
Those are better stats than the older, more expensive Mark Trumbo has managed in the same time span. Plus, unlike Trumbo, Carter has two more years of arb control still to go. It’s certainly possible that he’ll be non-tender fodder after 2016, but what if he launches 45 home runs? There’s a bit of upside in his future contractual rights.
“Any baseball books you guys recommend I get into during the offseason?” – Tom S.
These are a few of my personal favorites: the classic interviews with true old-timers in Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times; the indelible account of the Brooklyn Dodgers in The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn; Dan Okrent’s detailed look at all aspects of the game in Nine Innings; and Roger Angell’s awesome, wide-ranging Five Seasons.