Thanks as always for your questions. We’ll never get to them all, but remember to join our weekly chats if yours wasn’t covered here. (Steve Adams at 2pm CST on Tuesday; Jason Martinez at 6pm CST on Wednesday; and myself at 2pm CST on Thursday.)
We’re at the stage of the season where trades are scarce, and while extensions remain a possibility, free agency seems increasingly to be occupying our readers’ transaction-related baseball attention. Here are this week’s
What do you think the odds are that the Phillies can sign a big bat in the off season and speed up the rebuild? Would a high profile player have interest in going to Philly at this stage? – Anonymous
I don’t think the Philly front office will see free agency as an opportunity to speed up the rebuilding process so much as a chance to take advantage of the team’s relative resources. Philadelphia has to finish paying off a few veterans, but has basically completely cleared its ledger for future seasons. And this is the same organization that was not only one of the league’s biggest spenders not long ago, but recently inked a sizable new television deal.
My expectation is that the Phils will be looking at two types of players: First, undervalued, reasonably young players who could be signed to somewhat longer-term deals. Remember when the Twins snatched Phil Hughes for three years and $24MM? Perhaps a similar strike could allow the Phillies to fill a near-term need while delivering some upside. And second, low-cost bounceback candidates — something on the order of what they did in acquiring Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, and David Hernandez last winter.
But look, that’s not who you’re asking about! You want to know if they will challenge for a truly premium free agent. I honestly think they could pull it off if they wanted to, since they’d likely be pursuing multiple such targets and could pitch them all on the same vision. Agents would know the organization has the assets to make it happen. But this just isn’t the right time to do that. There have been positive and negative developments from young talent, as you’d expect, but the existing roster doesn’t look like a 2017 contender unless you put on your rose-colored glasses. And it isn’t as if this market is full of the kind of younger, premium free agents that would allow for a reasonable gamble.
At the end of the day, Matt Klentak and co. aren’t likely to make any decisions now that have any potential to seriously gum up the finances a few years down the line. That means no Yoenis Cespedes, in my view.
Reports suggest that Los Angeles has real interest in pursuing Jansen, Turner, Chase Utley, and Rich Hill (more on Hill here), so there’s every reason to believe that they’ll be targeted to some extent. That being said, as the team’s decision not to match the D-Backs on Zack Greinke shows, there will likely be stopping points in the Dodgers’ efforts to re-sign these players or pursue alternatives.
To me, the interesting aspect of this question relates to the relievers. For one thing, Jansen has a combination of relative youth and premium talent that the other major Dodgers free agents don’t. Comparing him to Chapman, moreover, you’d be hard pressed to identify one or the other as the more appealing investment, particularly when one considers that L.A. already pulled back from a chance to add Chapman over his domestic violence situation. And teams are generally more successful at bringing back their own free agents, though that may be attributable mostly to the fact that they have better information when they decide to pursue them.
Regardless of what happens, Jansen’s situation ought to tell us something about the Dodgers. Since Andrew Friedman took over, the club has signed only one pen arm — Joe Blanton — to a reasonably significant contract (one year, $4MM). But as the halted agreement to add Chapman shows, the Dodgers believe in the value of premier late-inning arms. Jansen has spent his entire career in the organization and is as steadily dominant as you could hope. Perhaps he’ll be the type of reliever that even this Dodgers front office is comfortable with paying absolute top dollar to retain?
Do teams actually target specific prospects when looking to trade players away? Were the Yankees actually looking for Gleyber Torres or Dillon Tate, for example, or did those just end up being the best prospects/packages on the market? It seems more likely to me that trades would be driven from the demand side, even if the club says afterward that they got who they wanted. – Anonymous
When general managers are asked about trade possibilities as the trade deadline begins to approach, you’ll often hear platitudes from prospective buying organizations about looking at all options and considering many different ways to improve. But they’ll also acknowledge that their scouts are trying to pin-point exactly who is playing well and can help fill the biggest needs.
We tend not to hear about this from the sell side, but really it’s a similar process. The major difference is that, except with regard to some upper-level prospects, the point isn’t to fill a need so much as it is to achieve prospect value. That means assessing the talent levels of various young players to facilitate negotiations when the time comes.
So, are those particular players targeted, or is it more the case that the selling organization picks the package it most values? It’s probably highly situation-dependent. But teams with major veteran MLB trade assets, especially, have some ability to aim for certain prospects they want to pursue — so long as they are playing for organizations that will make a worthwhile match. Consider these comments from Brewers GM David Stearns early in July, which suggest that the process requires identifying which rival organizations are most likely to be interested so that their best pieces can be identified: “You try to get a sense of what other clubs are doing, where you might have fits, so you can begin to do additional target work on certain target organizations.”
The Angels need to trade Mike Trout this winter. They have him and will finish 4th or last in their division. They could finish there without him so why not get full value for him while you can? What is a prospective trade that you think would actually get it done? – Jeff D.
Sorry, but I am not going to get baited into trying to piece together a trade for the single most valuable player/contract asset in baseball! And really, I’m not sure that the Angels should be looking to trade away a player who might end up as one of the greatest in history. This is a large-market organization that can find other ways to deal with its many needs.
That being said, I actually think that some who have tried to guess at Trout deal scenarios are failing to recognize his true worth. At any given point in time over the last several years, there were perhaps a handful of players who seemingly approached him in terms of on-field ability and overall contract value. And yet, it is Trout who is always there right at the top of the leaderboards, even as the would-be contenders change season by season. Much like Clayton Kershaw, that is what sets him apart.
Interestingly, only Josh Donaldson comes anywhere near to Trout in terms of fWAR since the start of 2014. Looking back to the true start of Trout’s career in 2012, though, it’s a total landslide — he has been nearly 50% more productive than anybody else in that span. And Trout just turned 25 a month ago, so he still has many prime years left to go. Really, it’s all just astounding — he has already out-WAR’ed all but 211 position players since the game of baseball was invented. He’s a unique player who would require a unique trade package to acquire at this point — you’d have to start with any other team’s best young trade pieces and add loads of talent from there — in the unlikely event that the Halos are even willing to listen.
What are your current salary projections and length of contracts that will be needed for the Blue Jays to re-sign the trio of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Michael Saunders? And which, if any do you think will resign with Toronto? – Matthew H.
I wasn’t going to answer this question at first — you want contract projections for three guys with a month of the season left to go?! — but I think it’s worthwhile to address. In my view, the general market standing of Encarnacion and Bautista is relatively static at this point, while that of Saunders is an utter wild card.
EE has now established himself as one of the truly elite sluggers in the game. There have been a few in-season ups and downs, but he hasn’t strayed very far from the ~.900 OPS level over the last five seasons. At 33 years of age, Encarnacion is younger than Victor Martinez was when he locked down four years and $64MM and is about the same age that Nelson Cruz was when he got $57MM over four seasons. But the Blue Jays star has a far more consistent and impressive track record than either of those power hitters did when they signed. The recent lawsuit against him poses some real questions, but from a purely on-field perspective, I think he will come close to — but perhaps not quite reach — the Hanley Ramirez contract (which was 4/$88MM).
You might think that Bautista is more variable, but in my view the biggest impact of his relatively mediocre, injury-riddled campaign is in the number of years he can expect to command. Heading into his age-36 season, Bautista looks like a classic three-year candidate. He still has impeccable plate discipline, and his drop in power can be explained by the injuries and a bit of bad luck (.242 BABIP). Plus, he has a .200+ ISO, has popped 17 home runs in 408 plate appearances, is producing plenty of hard contact, and comes with a highly-regarded work ethic. I’m not necessarily ready to put a specific price tag on Joey Bats, but I think it’s fair to expect that he’ll come in around the general range of Encarnacion on an annual basis with one less guaranteed season. Things only get really interesting if you start considering opt-out scenarios; he may find that appealing, but would need to sacrifice the total promised money to get it done.
That brings us to Saunders, who has an impressive overall batting line but carries only a .194/.300/.411 slash in his last 150 plate appearances. He has actually hit opposing southpaws quite well, albeit in limited action. One major remaining question is whether he’ll receive a qualifying offer; if one is issued, he’d have to strongly consider it, as it could really hurt his market. Given that uncertainty, and the importance of the final month for a player who has not been healthy enough to post full seasons of late, it’s too soon to offer any real predictions.
(Oh, and this is just my hunch, but I’m betting that all three find new homes this winter.)