Spring Training is here, but with a few high-profile players still available via free agency and rosters far from settled, the stove is still hot here at MLBTR. Here’s today’s mailbag.
Why hasn’t anyone organized a sign and trade for one of the qualifying offer players? The original team could sign them and trade them for a prospect, saving the acquiring team a draft pick and the former team a prospect. I know they can’t be traded without the player’s consent, but the player would obviously have negotiated the contract with the new team. Or even a team like the Braves signing a QO player (forfeiting their second-rounder) and getting a prospect back. — James M.
It’s too blatantly a means of circumventing the qualifying offer process as stipulated within the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I realize that it’s possible that the Mets will end up trading Alejandro De Aza this spring, but it’s pretty clear to see that New York didn’t think it had a real chance of re-signing Cespedes when De Aza was signed. That they were able to land him a month later after Cespedes’ market didn’t develop the way that his camp hoped, De Aza was relegated to a fifth outfielder, more or less. That’s sub-optimal for team and player, and I think the Commissioner’s Office would be able to see that in approving the trade. Something like the Braves signing Ian Desmond and trading him 24 hours later wouldn’t get that benefit of the doubt.
What are the thoughts on the Blake Snell extension rumors? He hasn’t even made an MLB start. — Zachary H.
The Rays have every incentive to lock Snell up as early as possible if they believe that he’s on a path to becoming a mid-rotation starter or better. Snell is one of the game’s 20 or so best prospects, and by going year to year through the arbitration process with the Rays, he could earn something in the vicinity of $20-25MM over the life of the six years (well, seven, realistically, as the Rays will almost assuredly keep him in the minors for three weeks at the beginning of the season to extend control by one year, barring an extension) that he’s guaranteed to be with the team. There’s huge financial incentive to take a slight risk — previous contracts of this ilk have cost $10-15MM total — in order to lock in most or all of a player’s arbitration years well in advance in exchange for discounted club options on his free-agent seasons. Not only does it potentially give them an above-average starter at a fraction of his market cost (assuming the options come with a relatively modest salary), it gives Tampa Bay a huge trade chip down the line if the team sees fit. If the Rays are confident in their projections of Snell, there’s little reason not to try for some kind of long-term deal. Realistically, this probably goes on with top prospects quite a bit more than we hear about.
From Snell’s perspective, it’s a huge risk; if he has any degree of success, that type of contract will be among the most team-friendly in the game. On the other hand, if he has an injury (as lefty Cory Luebke did when he twice had Tommy John surgery after signing a four-year, $12MM deal after one full season in the Majors) or simply struggles in his initial Major League trials (a la Jon Singleton, who also signed long-term prior to his MLB debut), then he comes out quite a bit ahead of where he’d have otherwise been. It’s always a balance of the human factors that drive the player to seek his first fortune and the business reasons for betting on himself.
Now that the A’s have their #4 power hitter in Khris Davis, will they finally be viewed as legit team that can make the playoffs? — Ross K.
With all due respect to Davis and the A’s, adding another 25- to 30-homer bat doesn’t really change a huge amount for me in terms of their projections. I’m still concerned with Oakland’s patchwork options at the infield corners and Billy Butler at DH. And, in the rotation, there’s virtually no certainty beyond Sonny Gray. I’m a fan of Jesse Hahn’s ability, but he’s shown clear durability issues, and beyond him the A’s will rely on Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, Rich Hill, Aaron Brooks and still-injured starters Jarrod Parker and Henderson Alvarez to round out the rotation. Sean Manaea could eventually help in 2016, but they have a lot that needs to go right. I think the AL is deep enough and talented enough (Oakland included) that any of the 15 teams could be a playoff team if you squint, but adding Davis — a left-field only bat with a shaky glove that’s being asked to cover a huge, expansive space — doesn’t put them over the top in any sort of way for me.
Were the Pirates right to keep closer Mark Melancon, or should they have dealt him to save money and to fill a starting pitching need? — Nick C.
If Pittsburgh could’ve flipped Melancon for a starting pitcher as they did with the comparably priced Neil Walker, that would have been my preferred route. That said, there’s no direct evidence such a possibility was available to the Pirates, and it’s hard to know what Melancon’s market might have been. Two other top closers in Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles returned impressive trade packages this winter, but Melancon’s market might have been complicated somewhat by the presence of Kimbrel, Giles, Aroldis Chapman and others potentially available. And as MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth has noted elsewhere, the current mini-trend of building super-bullpens (as Boston has done with Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Carson Smith and the the Yankees have done with Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances) seems based in large part on acquiring pitchers who rack up strikeouts. That’s not Melancon — as great as he was last season, his strikeout rate fell to 7.3 K/9, and his average fastball velocity dipped as well, although he remained excellent at inducing ground balls and limiting walks. I’m sure there are 29 other teams that would love to have Melancon in their bullpen, but it’s unclear how many might have been willing to pay the kind of price the Pirates would have wanted.
Are we undervaluing the addition of Andrelton Simmons for the Angels? It’s a major acquisition that seemingly flew under the radar because the majority of the value is tied to defense. He’s likely a three- to four-win improvement at shortstop with the glove alone. Isn’t it difficult to quantify how much his defense really helps the team? — Jacob S.
I don’t think anyone undervalued the improvement that came with adding Simmons at the time of the deal. The buzz surrounding him has somewhat cooled now, though, due to the Angels’ still-glaring question marks at second base and in left field. Had the Halos added another legitimate infielder or added a left field bat following the acquisition of Simmons, there’d probably be quite a bit more hype surrounding the additions made by Billy Eppler and his staff this offseason. I don’t know that I agree with Simmons being a four-win improvement over Erick Aybar, but I do feel that he’s a notable upgrade, and even though they parted with Sean Newcomb to get him, the trade has significant long-term value for the Angels. All that said, the reason it’s drawing less attention now is that the Angels kicked their winter off with a bang but followed with virtually no moves of consequence. Right or wrong, that’s going to cause the move to be overshadowed.
To me the Reds make a good fit for Austin Jackson. Would a one-year deal in the range of $5MM plus an option do it? Jackson would give the Reds depth, flexibility, decent leadoff insurance, and with a good season, a trade target for a prospect. Your thoughts? — Brian F.
I don’t know that Jackson is signing for as little as $5MM — Juan Uribe just got about that much despite being eight years older — and adding the option wouldn’t be something that Jackson or agent Scott Boras would want if they do settle on a one-year deal. If it’s a one-year deal, it’ll be one signed with an eye toward retrying on next year’s weak market.
As for the Reds’ end of the equation, while there’s sense to it, they haven’t really shown the desire to add veterans on big league deals, especially not ones that will potentially take time away from younger players. The Reds still need to get Billy Hamilton regular playing time with the hope that he can develop some semblance of OBP skills, and they want to get long looks at players like Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and, eventually, Jesse Winker. The presence of Jay Bruce will stand in the way of those players getting at-bats somewhat as it is, and adding Jackson to the mix will only add another roadblock. On paper, I agree that there’s some sense to your scenario for the Reds, but it doesn’t seem realistic in the end.