Thanks as always for your mailbag inquiries. We can’t get to ’em all, but you’re always welcome to try again in any of our three weekly chats: Tuesdays at 2pm CST with Steve Adams, Wednesdays at 6:30pm CST with Jason Martinez and Thursdays at 2pm CST with yours truly.
If his $13MM option gets declined, what is the free agency outlook for Clay Buchholz? – Jon R.
Well, this all begins and ends with the desperately thin starting pitching class available this winter — though that may be a bit overstated as a driving force for salaries. The low supply is probably more a matter of timing, and a reflection of extensions, than it is pure scarcity.
That being said, the low supply could well play a notable role, especially if several teams decide that Buchholz — moreso than, say, Andrew Cashner — is the bounceback candidate worth targeting. Even in a free agent class rich in pitching last year, plenty of guys got paid; there’s little reason to think that the market will fall this winter.
So, what’s the positive case for Buchholz? It’s fairly straightforward, really: the 32-year-old has had productive major league campaigns in the past, and carries a second-half ERA of 3.59 and has limited opponents to a .234/.302/.347 batting line over those 52 2/3 innings. Plus, it’s arguable that he might benefit from moving beyond the constant scrutiny and the saga-like rises and falls he has experienced of late in Boston.
I’m not quite ready to pin a number on Buchholz, but I do think he’ll sign as a starter and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s able to command a multi-year deal if his option isn’t picked up. Of course, he may prefer to rebuild his value on a one-year pact; that’s a risky proposition for any pitcher, especially one at his age, but I’d expect he could secure a single-season contract for something in the ballpark of his option price.
It’s obvious the Giants need to upgrade their bullpen this offseason. With 3 (Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla) all free agents at year end who do you see them targeting in free agency? – Michael C.
In some ways I have to dispute the premise of your question. The Giants’ pen has had some notable lapses, at the back end and at inopportune moments, but overall has been an approximately average unit with a 3.72 ERA. Apart from all those blown saves and a rather low strikeout rate — the San Francisco pen is one of only five with less than eight K/9 — it has been an unremarkable unit.
Now, that’s not to say that there’s nothing to do here. But I make the point because I’m not sure that the Giants are facing much more than a fairly typical number of bullpen openings for a hopefully-contending team.
That may not be as soothing to you as it is to me, but you can also take solace in the fact that most of the Giants’ best relievers this year remain cheap and controllable. And Romo, Lopez, and Casilla combined to earn $19.5MM this year, so there’s a lot of reliever salary coming off the books. All said, there’s a solid-enough base to add onto here, and it ought to be possible for Bobby Evans and co. to pursue a top-tier closer and bolster the remainder of the relief corps this winter.
Brian Dozier is having a career year and most GMs will see that. What would an expected return for him be? How many teams will even be in the market for a defensive deficient 2nd baseman with a little pop in his bat? – Thomas M.
“A little pop”?! Dozier has 42 long balls and a .284 isolated slugging percentage. He’s second in all of baseball in both categories, putting him in the company of lumbering sluggers like David Ortiz, Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, and Nelson Cruz.
Dozier isn’t a premium defender, but UZR and DRS have both generally graded him firmly in the vicinity of average. So, imaging being able to take Encarnacion — look it up their batting lines are quite similar — and plug him in at second base, confident that you’d get sturdy glovework.
Sure, we can expect some regression, but he now has a new ceiling that you can’t ignore. Even with a step back, there’s a ton of value here. That’s all the more true given that Dozier is owed just $15MM over the next two years, which is not only enticingly cheap but also represents a very limited commitment to a player who won’t turn thirty until next May.
We will surely examine this question in greater detail and from many angles as the offseason gets underway, but for now, suffice to say that I see Dozier as a legitimately excellent trade chip. Realistically, he’s a good enough asset that many teams could pursue him even if they do not, strictly speaking, have a “need” at second base.
Mark Melancon is viewed by many as an inferior pitcher to Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, but he is has been just as good in ERA and some other statistics, such as saves. Will he end up getting more money than thought because of this? – Nicolas C.
You can’t look past results and focus only on the peripherals, any more than you can do the opposite. I’m not going to argue that Melancon is better than Chapman or Jansen, but I’m also not going to ignore his 1.82 ERA over 287 frames since the start of 2013 — or the 2.26 FIP in that span which supports the results.
Ultimately, in terms of the comparisons, there is none — but that’s because of an entirely different factor. Jansen turns 29 at the end of this month, with Chapman not far behind him. But Melancon is already more than halfway between his 31st and 32st birthdays.
But your question, really, is a bit different. As I take it, you’re wondering if teams will reach for Melancon because of his gaudy results, even though he doesn’t carry the huge fastball or strikeout rate that we might prefer to see. (Remember, he also doesn’t walk anybody.)
I do think Melancon will be paid handsomely — I agree with MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk that he is a strong candidate for a four-year deal — but that’ll be a reflection more of the ever-evolving valuation of relievers than a return to some knee-jerk day of yore when saves paid. The bottom line is that Melancon remains extremely effective and has been for some time, and he’s going to get rewarded for that. The open market always carries the potential for inflating a given player’s salary, since it is a bidding situation (and one with nebulous organizational valuations and ownership prerogatives in the background), but I don’t see any reason to expect that Melancon will not be valued properly.