It’s been a quiet day on the rumor mill, but thankfully we’ve got some interesting questions to get to in today’s MLBTR Mailbag!
After the loss of John Lackey and Jason Heyward, the Cardinals’ 2 best players in 2015, adding Mike Leake was our only upgrade. We have very little power or speed. With the improvements of the other teams in the NL do you think the Cardinals will make the playoffs?
I’d have liked to see the Cardinals do more with their rotation, as losing Lance Lynn for the season was a significant blow, and Jaime Garcia’s arm is a perennial question mark. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have both had injury issues in the past as well. All that said, though, to call Leake the team’s only upgrade feels incorrect. The Cardinals added an intriguing bullpen arm in Seung-hwan Oh and improved their catching depth with Brayan Pena as well. Beyond that, there’s enormous room for internal growth; the Cardinals will have full seasons of Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in 2016, and they’ll also see the return of Adam Wainwright (who scarcely pitched in 2015 due to an Achilles injury) and Jordan Walden to fortify the pitching staff. There’s also a chance that Brandon Moss, now further removed from the microfracture hip surgery he had following the 2014 season, will return to his more productive ways from 2012-14.
The Cardinals had baseball’s second-best run differential in a season without Wainwright last year, and while it’s fair to expect some regression in Grichuk and Piscotty, it’s a huge overreaction to imply that they’re any sort of long shot to make the playoffs. If anything, losses in the Pittsburgh rotation and the continued tear-down of the Brewers and Reds have softened the division. It’s a difficult division with two very good teams joining them at the top (Pittsburgh and Chicago), but the Cardinals should be in the mix for a postseason spot.
The Braves are rumored to have an agreement in place with Kevin Maitan. Do tampering rules count towards international signings? — Mike B.
The concept of tampering generally is invoked with regard to players that are currently under contract with another organization. Maitan isn’t even yet eligible to sign. Generally, though, this sort of thing happens every season with every team. A huge number of the July 2 signings you’ll see have been in place for months, which is why there’s such a landslide of reports on international prospect signings on the day the signing period opens. You can argue that the system needs fixing, and you won’t get a disagreement here, but that situation is no way unique to the Braves.
Two of the best veterans, Juan Uribe and Justin Morneau, are still on the market. These are guys who can either start or provide a productive bat and clubhouse presence off the bench. Why has there been so little news about them and where do you see them landing? — Will M.
There’s been a bit of talk about Uribe recently, as he’s been connected most heavily to the Indians (as a starter at third) but also as a versatile reserve for the Giants and Yankees. Cleveland is the best fit for him, from my vantage point, although there’s a reasonable case to be made that the Astros and Padres could use him just as much as any of those clubs. The Indians seem like the most plausible landing spot for him at this point, just based on the combination of interest and need.
Morneau’s market has been decidedly more quiet, but he still seems like a candidate to land a one-year deal somewhere in Spring Training. It’s possible that at this point, his reps at Relativity are waiting to see if any team incurs a first base/DH injury in Spring Training, as that could open a spot for him. If not, the Astros have the most glaring need at first base of any contending club from where I sit. It’s true that there are some young names on the horizon like A.J. Reed and Tyler White, but Morneau would be a reasonable stopgap to start the season at first base and eventually slide into more of a part-time role. That Evan Gattis recently had core muscle surgery only makes the fit more logical, as any lingering issues from that would prove problematic for Houston.
The Orioles farm system is probably second worst in baseball behind the Angels. In 2014 they forfeited or traded their top 3 picks. How much are they forsaking their long term success if they forfeit 2 top 30 picks for Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler? — Derek R.
Jeff Todd and I actually covered this on the MLBTR Podcast last week. It’s true that the Orioles would be compounding the problem of a largely barren farm system by forfeiting their top two picks in this year’s draft. However, Baltimore’s offseason maneuvering — beginning with Matt Wieters’ acceptance of the qualifying offer and continuing through re-signing Darren O’Day and Chris Davis, plus adding Hyeon-soo Kim on a fairly high-upside deal — gives a sense that they’re still firmly in “go for it” mode. If the thought is to add Gallardo on a three-year deal and possibly Fowler on a two-year deal (or acquire two years of control over Jay Bruce from Cincinnati), it seems fair to say that they could consider 2016 and 2017 both seasons in that “go for it” window. I think it’s interesting to note that if the Orioles don’t contend in 2016 and struggle again in 2017, their list of trade chips for an accelerated rebuild would be impressive (whether that comes in mid-2017 or following the 2017 season). Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton are all controlled through 2018, and any of that trio would, at least at present, seem to represent a player that could fetch a haul were the final year or year-and-a-half of his services placed on the trade market. Baltimore would also be able to potentially listen on the final year of a theoretical Gallardo contract, two years of Jonathan Schoop and as many as three years of Kevin Gausman in that scenario.
All of that, of course, is highly hypothetical, but the point is that the O’s presently have enough high-value, controllable assets that it’s easy to see them successfully pulling off a Braves-esque rebuild in the 2017-18 offseason if things don’t go their way over the next two seasons.
Is the MASN deal ever going to be settled? — Marla A.
This falls within Jeff’s wheelhouse, so I asked him to take a crack at answering your question … and you can blame him for any errors or omissions!
To begin with, those who aren’t familiar with this matter should read about the key decision (to date) right here. As I explained there, the court didn’t actually decide how much the Nats will get from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and when they’ll get it; rather, it said that the prior arbitration decision had to be set aside because of a conflict of interest in the Nationals’ choice of representation.
In addition to throwing the matter back open to dispute, that decision also allowed the Orioles (who control MASN) to fight over the forum for a re-hearing and to continue to run the clock on the Nats. That gives Baltimore leverage, as D.C. struggles with stalled and uncertain cash flow.
Now, the ultimate rights fee issue will certainly be settled in some manner, and there’s some hope that will occur sooner rather than later. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently expressed some confidence that there’s an end in sight, saying:“I think in reasonably short order, there will be a resolution of MASN, either by the litigation being done or some other mechanism.”
Of course, let’s remember that we’re talking legal timelines here, and they can be lengthy. It appears that the case is currently sitting in an appellate court, as MASN has appealed the trial court’s decision not to order arbitration before a neutral arbitral forum. If a settlement can’t be worked out at some point, then the case will continue to work its way through the system.
Ultimately, some new arbitration will be initiated, and at that point it should proceed fairly swiftly, with the Nats’ money spigot being turned back on without much delay after a decision is reached. Notice, though, that I say “should”; there’s always the possibility of yet more legal wrangling thereafter, though this particular case is rather unusual in that the underlying arbitration decision was actually thrown out (a relative rarity).
On a relevant — and somewhat ridiculous — note, it’s important to bear in mind that the next rights fee period in the deal (2017-2021) is already fast approaching. Clearly, that needs to be dealt with as well, perhaps with some new initiative to look for a more permanent solution.