- Less than a month ago, the Mets were reportedly among several teams with interest in free agent first baseman Carlos Santana. Now the idea of the Mets landing Santana looks “very unlikely,” a source told Carig. The pessimism toward signing Santana stems from the presence of young first baseman Dominic Smith and an unwillingness on the team’s part to make a major financial commitment at the position. With Santana a strong bet to sign one of the most valuable contracts in this offseason’s class of free agents, the Mets are nearly certain to target a cheap stopgap like Adam Lind instead, per Carig, though he adds that they remain interested in a reunion with potential first base option Jay Bruce. Unlike Santana, Bruce is primarily an outfielder, and the Mets value his versatility enough to make a signing possible.
- Elsewhere around the infield, Carig writes that it’s “unlikely” the Mets will sign free agent second baseman Neil Walker, whom they traded to the Brewers over the summer. They haven’t shown any interest in utilityman Howie Kendrick, meanwhile, but re-signing longtime Met Jose Reyes remains on the table. Reyes turned in a respectable age-34 season in 2017, and he made it known toward the end of the year that he’d like to finish his career with the Mets.
- New York reportedly made an offer to reliever Bryan Shaw around Thanksgiving, but there’s still no indication as to whether he’s interested in joining the club, Carig reports. The belief around the majors is that Shaw has received multiple three-year proposals in the $24MM range (it’s unclear if any of those came from the Mets), one rival executive informed Carig. Shaw, 30, may be holding out for a fourth year, and the Mets would balk at that, according to Carig.
It’s possible that Shohei Ohtani could make his decision on where to sign “by early next week,” according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). That gives us an idea of a potential timeline, though there’s still plenty of wiggle room.
Here’s more from Heyman on a variety of subjects:
- The Orioles have been receiving calls on third baseman Manny Machado, writes Heyman. While the O’s aren’t shopping Machado and don’t wish to move him, Heyman notes that Baltimore is also willing to at least entertain offers on any of its players, even Machado. Presumably, it’d take a staggeringly high offer to convince the O’s to part with Machado even in spite of the fact that he’s just a year removed from free agency. The Orioles have reportedly been pursuing upgrades in their rotation all winter as they seek to bolster their club for one more run with Machado, closer Zach Britton and center fielder Adam Jones at the forefront of their roster. Heyman notes that the O’s are also having internal discussions about whether to try for a Machado extension, though doing so would likely require a precedent-setting deal for the 25-year-old superstar, as Machado currently projects to hit free agency at the abnormally young age of 26.
- Sticking with the Orioles, Heyman says in his weekly notes post that the Rockies (previously reported) and Cardinals are among the teams that have shown some interest in Britton. It seems reasonable to suspect that Britton is more readily available than is Machado, given that Baltimore went well down the line on a possible deadline deal for the lefty. But that doesn’t mean the team will simply accept the top bid; in all likelihood, prying him loose will mean meeting the O’s asking price.
- Some around the game believe the Cardinals could at least consider trading outfielder Dexter Fowler, Heyman adds. St. Louis would only do so, he suggests, if they were able to move most of the salary. That seems mostly reasonable to expect, given that Fowler posted a sturdy .264/.363/.488 slash with a career-high 18 long balls in his first season with the Cards. As for whether a trade is likely, that seems dubious. Fowler has a no-trade clause and sounds like he is settling in nicely in St. Louis. And president of baseball operations John Mozeliak kicked off the offseason by telling Fowler he wasn’t planning on trading him.
- There’s more indication that the Padres are fairly serious about going after Eric Hosmer, says Heyman. He also reported yesterday that first baseman Wil Myers would be amenable to moving to the outfield to make way for Hosmer to play at first. Of course, whether the Pads are really willing to hand out a big enough contract to get a deal done remains to be seen.
- At shortstop, the Padres have taken a look at Phillies veteran Freddy Galvis, says Heyman. The team is also weighing free agent Alcides Escobar. Either would seemingly make sense as a stop-gap option for the rebuilding club.
- The Angels are looking harder at second basemen and first basemen than they are at the hot corner, says Heyman. It seems, then, that the club feels fairly content with Luis Valbuena taking the bulk of the time at third, though perhaps that could change depending upon what opportunities arise over the winter — and whether or not the team lands Ohtani. At second, the Halos have at last “looked at” Neil Walker, who’s said to be asking for three or four years.
- The Mets have taken looks at free agent first basemen Mitch Moreland and Adam Lind, relays Heyman. With 22-year-old Dominic Smith in place, Heyman suggests the Mets may opt for a short-term first base option with outfield experience. Both Moreland and Lind check those boxes, though Heyman notes that the Mets are unlikely to sign the former.
- Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is slated to serve as a reserve yet again next season, but he’d like to remain with the club, per Heyman. Ellsbury’s full no-trade clause and the nearly $70MM left on his contract (including a $5MM buyout in 2021) figure to make dealing the 34-year-old a rather tall order for the Yanks.
Many expect the Cubs to trade from their position player depth to fill a spot in the rotation, but ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers cautions that such a trade may not be as likely as one would think. President Theo Epstein did acknowledge after the season that the team may have to consider dealing from the big league roster to add a pitcher, and names like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora have all been listed as speculative possibilities. However, Rogers points out how crucial that depth has been in dealing with injuries and suggests that depleting said depth could simply create further troubles. Free agency is a better fit, Rogers opines, suggesting the oft-speculated match between Alex Cobb and the Cubs as a starting point. Also of note, Rogers notes that an informal poll of rival execs at this month’s GM Meetings suggested that Baez and Russell are “neck and neck” in trade value.
Some other notes from around the Senior Circuit…
- Nationals top prospect Victor Robles is expected to begin the 2018 season in Triple-A, reports Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. The Nats are as bullish as ever on the highly touted 20-year-old, but they’d prefer that he receive everyday at-bats rather than play in a more limited role to open the year. As it stands, Washington figures to head into the season with Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper as its starting outfield and Brian Goodwin on hand as a reserve. Robles already made his MLB debut in 2017, so it stands to reason that in the event of an injury, he’d be under consideration for a promotion and a regular role. And, with Harper potentially departing as a free agent following the 2018 campaign, a long-term spot could be opening for Robles in advance of his age-22 season (2019).
- Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post runs down a number of potential targets for the Rockies in free agency, noting that the bullpen, catcher and first base are among the team’s needs. Saunders believes re-signing Jonathan Lucroy to be the club’s top priority, noting that manger Bud Black “loves” how Lucroy worked with the team’s young pitchers. Re-signing Greg Holland is also on the team’s wishlist, but Saunders suggests that if the bidding reaches Mark Melancon territory (four years, $62MM) then the Rockies won’t be a player for his services.
- With the Mets exploring the possibility of bringing in a free-agent first baseman, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (on Twitter) that Adam Lind is one potential name the team will consider. The interest in Lind suggests that the Mets are casting a fairly wide net, as they’ve also been linked to a higher-profile target in Carlos Santana. Speculating a bit, it also could suggest that the team isn’t giving up on Dominic Smith after a disappointing MLB debut in 2017. Signing Santana or any other higher-profile free agent would block Smith for years to come and likely turn him into a trade piece; bringing in a shorter-term stopgap like Lind, though, could give the Mets a strong platoon partner option to complement their right-handed infield bats early in the season in order to let Smith develop further. Lind slashed a robust .303/.364/.534 in 269 plate appearances against righties last season but could potentially be had on a one-year deal due to his age (34), longstanding platoon issues and a flooded market for platoon first basemen.
- While the Reds’ rotation has plenty of uncertainty heading into the 2018 season, GM Dick Williams tells David Laurila of Fangraphs that he’s nonetheless optimistic about the team’s collection of young arms. As Williams explains, injuries forced the Reds to promote numerous prospects from Double-A while skipping the Triple-A level entirely. Still, some of those arms made adjustments on the fly as the season wore on, and the experience gained was valuable in their overall development. Williams points to strong finishes from Luis Castillo, Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle as encouraging factors heading into the offseason. And, of course, the Reds will hope for better health from the likes of Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Homer Bailey, which could further help to bolster the rotation results. Laurila also chats with Twins GM Thad Levine about managerial qualifications and Rangers skipper Jeff Banister about player development.
Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter are still seeking additional investors for their ownership group even after being formally approved as the new owners of the Marlins, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Sherman/Jeter group is still looking to add about $250MM from outside investors, though Heyman notes that the league is “quite comfortable” with the new ownership group’s current financial state. Interestingly, Heyman has obtained some slides from a “teaser” email sent to potential investors in which the Marlins outline a number of “strategic priorities” for improving revenue. Among the new means of revenue to be explored are a new television contract, selling the naming rights to the stadium, new sponsorship/advertising opportunities and an increased focus on utilizing Marlins Park to host non-baseball events (e.g. concerts).
Elsewhere in the NL East…
- While former Braves president of baseball ops John Hart, current CEO Terry McGuirk and current president John Schuerholz all escaped league-issued punishment in the team’s international free-agent/amateur draft scandal, the entire scenario tarnishes their legacies within the game and within the Braves organization, writes Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required and recommended). That trio’s lack of oversight allowed the guilty parties within the organization to “run wild,” Rosenthal notes, and the uncertainty surrounding the involvement of Braves’ higher-ups will linger. Peter Gammons rhetorically asked, “So who in Braves’ ownership ok’d all the cash to Coppolella?” following the investigation’s completion (Twitter link). That is just one of the many questions surrounding the incident that remains unanswered — a reality that flies in the face of comments made by McGuirk last month when telling Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I don’t think there will be any questions (unanswered) when we are able to discuss it.”
- In his latest Nationals Inbox piece, MLB.com’s Jamal Collier writes that he doesn’t foresee a reunion between the Nats and first baseman Adam Lind this offseason. Washington’s decision to turn down their half of a $5MM mutual option suggests that they’re not willing to pay him at a rate he may very well be able to find elsewhere on the open market. The Nats will likely utilize Brian Goodwin as a fourth outfielder in 2018, Collier notes, but Lind’s absence will make finding a backup first baseman/corner bat off the bench a priority this winter.
- The Phillies have named 28-year-old Pedro Guerrero, a former Dodgers minor league infielder, as their new assistant hitting coach, per a club announcement. As Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, that suggests that Rick Kranitz, who was the team’s assistant pitching coach in 2017, will be named the team’s new pitching coach for the 2018 season. The Phillies have previously announced that Kranitz would be on the staff next year but haven’t revealed his role with the team. However, they’re only allowed to add two more coaches before reaching the maximum allotment and still need a pitching coach, first base coach and bench coach. As for Guerrero, he’s an outside-the-box hire, to be sure. But, Guerrero has already spent two seasons as a minor league bench coach in the Dodgers organization and has some familiarity with newly minted skipper Gabe Kapler from the pair’s time together in Los Angeles.
The Nationals have announced that the mutual option between the team and first baseman Adam Lind has been declined. It was the team’s election to send Lind back to the open market after a single season in D.C., per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post (via Twitter).
Entering the winter, team and player had to decide whether to continue their relationship at a $5MM rate for 2018. Because Washington chose to go in another direction, Lind will take home a $500K buyout on his way out the door.
Washington got everything it could have hoped for out of Lind, who earned only a $1MM salary in 2017 (plus $800K in achieved incentives). The 34-year-old mashed to the tune of a .303/.362/.513 batting line with 14 home runs over 301 plate appearances — the vast majority of them coming against right-handed pitching.
It seemed reasonable to think that Lind could be welcomed back in D.C. Though Ryan Zimmerman had a bounceback season of his own, Lind holds plenty of appeal as a reserve first baseman, bench bat, and occasional fill-in in the corner outfield. Still, the Nats already have a lot of payroll committed, leaving questions as to just how much room the team has to spend. And there are quite a few marginal defenders with power bats once again slated to hit the open market, so perhaps the club feels it can find better value elsewhere (or, perhaps, even in a new deal with Lind).
Last offseason featured a particularly deep free agent first base crop. Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce and Eric Thames ultimately earned a combined $146MM in guarantees. The 2018 offseason is set to feature yet another deep collection of first base talent, with eight free agents at the position who provided at least 0.8 fWAR to their 2017 teams (note: this list assumes that Adam Lind’s $5MM mutual option will not be exercised). Below is a list of these players sorted by 2017 fWAR, with their respective 2018 season ages indicated in parentheses.
- Eric Hosmer (28) – 4.1
- Logan Morrison (30) – 3.3
- Carlos Santana (32) – 3.0
- Yonder Alonso (31) – 2.4
- Lucas Duda (31) – 1.1
- Adam Lind (34) – 0.9
- Mitch Moreland (32) – 0.9
- Mark Reynolds (34) – 0.8
But while WAR is a great measure of a player’s overall value, it doesn’t necessarily paint a picture of his unique individual skill set. Each of these first basemen have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, so I’ve decided to take a close look at exactly what these players offer to prospective teams. All stats are from the 2017 season.
Isolated Power (ISO):
- Duda – .279
- Morrison – .270
- Alonso – .235
- Reynolds – .219
- Lind – .210
- Moreland – .197
- Santana – .196
- Hosmer – .179
Extra Base Hits Per Plate Appearance (Multiplied by 100):
- Duda – 11.81
- Morrison – 10.14
- Moreland – 9.72
- Alonso – 9.60
- Santana – 9.45
- Lind – 9.30
- Reynolds – 8.94
- Hosmer – 8.49
Duda and Morrison are the clear leading candidates in the power department, with Hosmer showing a weakness in that department relative to the competition. It’s worth noting that Alonso’s power numbers are propped up by a monster first half; he cooled off significantly after a midseason trade to the Mariners. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Reynolds played half his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field last season. A move to any other ballpark could negatively impact his power numbers. Though Santana had a down year in the power department, his larger body of work suggests he might hit for more extra bases in 2018.
Strikeout Rate (K%):
- Santana – 14.1%
- Hosmer – 15.5%
- Lind – 15.6%
- Moreland – 20.8%
- Alonso – 22.6%
- Morrison – 24.8%
- Duda – 27.5%
- Reynolds – 29.5%
Walk Rate (BB%):
- Morrison – 13.5%
- Santana – 13.2%
- Alonso – 13.1%
- Duda – 12.2%
- Reynolds – 11.6%
- Moreland – 9.9%
- Hosmer – 9.8%
- Lind – 9.3%
Chase Rate on Pitches Outside the Strike Zone (O-Swing %):
- Santana – 21.4%
- Reynolds – 26.1%
- Duda – 26.8%
- Morrison – 27.7%
- Alonso – 27.7%
- Hosmer – 30.0%
- Moreland – 30.2%
- Lind – 32.6%
Santana is by far and away the leading candidate in the plate discipline department, ranking first or second in all three of the above categories. Reynolds and Moreland could probably be considered to have the worst plate discipline of the group, though it’s interesting that nobody outside of Santana appears to distinguish themselves as extremely good or extremely bad relative to the rest of the crop.
Contact Rate (Contact %):
- Lind – 83.7%
- Santana – 82.1%
- Hosmer – 80.2%
- Moreland – 75.7%
- Alonso – 75.6%
- Duda – 74.9%
- Morrison – 73.7%
- Reynolds – 67.6%
Contact rate is really the only stat necessary to measure this skill, and Lind, Santana and Hosmer use it to set themselves apart. Reynolds, on the other hand, is an outlier on the opposite end; it seems he’d probably be more valuable to teams like the Athletics or Rays that rely heavily on the home run ball rather than stringing together consecutive walks and hits.
Quality of Contact
Barrels Per Plate Appearance (Multiplied by 100):
- Moreland – 8.2
- Morrison- 7.8
- Duda – 7.1
- Alonso – 6.3
- Lind – 6.3
- Santana – 5.4
- Hosmer – 5.2
- Reynolds – 4.9
Hard Contact Rate (Hard%):
- Duda – 42.1%
- Lind – 39.4%
- Moreland – 38.9%
- Morrison – 37.4%
- Alonso – 36.0%
- Reynolds – 34.5%
- Santana – 33.0%
- Hosmer – 29.5%
Average Exit Velocity, MPH (AEV):
- Lind – 90.6
- Duda – 90.3
- Hosmer – 89.6
- Alonso – 89.2
- Moreland – 89.1
- Morrison – 88.6
- Santana – 88.3
- Reynolds – 87.1
Lind, Duda and Moreland would appear to have a leg up on their competition as far as quality of contact. Santana and Reynolds, meanwhile, rank near the bottom in all three categories. It’s fascinating to observe that, although Hosmer ranks poorly in hard contact rate and barrels per plate appearance, his average exit velocity reflects a valuable skill that led to the best batting average of the group this past season (.318).
wRC+ vs. Left-Handed Pitching:
- Morrison – 109
- Santana – 106
- Hosmer – 99
- Reynolds – 87
- Moreland – 85
- Lind – 81
- Alonso – 80
- Duda – 72
Pull Rate (Pull%):
- Hosmer – 31.3%
- Lind – 35.4%
- Moreland – 37.2%
- Alonso – 40.8%
- Reynolds – 44.0%
- Duda – 46.2%
- Morrison – 46.5%
- Santana – 51.2%
Each of this year’s free agent first basemen is a better hitter against right-handed pitching, even the right-handed Reynolds and switch-hitting Santana. The purpose of looking at their wRC+ vs. left-handed pitching is to expose the weaknesses of Lind, Alonso and Duda, all of whom may not be seen as everyday players. In addition, players without the ability to spray the ball about the field are more vulnerable to defensive shifts, limiting their offensive value. Duda is a clear loser in terms of offensive versatility, while Hosmer is a clear winner in that regard. It would seem as though Reynolds and Moreland are neither helped nor hurt by a look into these statistics.
Fangraphs Baserunning Rating (BsR):
- Hosmer – 1.8
- Santana – 0.8
- Morrison – 0.0
- Lind – [-1.3]
- Moreland – [-2.4]
- Alonso – [-2.5]
- Reynolds – [-2.7]
- Duda – [-3.9]
Statcast Sprint Speed, Feet Per Second:
- Hosmer – 27.5
- Morrison – 26.9
- Santana – 26.7
- Moreland – 26.3
- Lind – 25.9
- Reynolds – 25.9
- Duda – 25.7
- Alonso – 25.3
Hosmer is the best in this category by a notable margin, while Santana provides some positive baserunning value as well. This category also exposes another blatant weakness for Duda. There’s not much else to say about the baserunning value of this group; the above numbers tell a pretty clear story.
Ultimate Zone Rating Runs Per 150 Innings (UZR/150):
- Moreland – 5.8
- Santana – 4.7
- Morrison – 2.0
- Duda – [-0.1]
- Hosmer – [-0.4]
- Reynolds – [-1.5]
- Alonso – [-3.3]
- Lind – [-16.3]
Defensive Runs Saved (DRS):
- Santana – 10
- Moreland – 10
- Morrison – 1
- Duda – [-1]
- Lind – [-2]
- Reynolds – [-4]
- Hosmer – [-7]
- Alonso – [-9]
If we’re to evaluate defense based on 2017 statistics, Santana and Moreland get a huge boost to their value. Duda and Morrison grade out close to average, while the remaining four players would seem to be defensive liabilities. While Hosmer is a former Gold Glove winner, he hasn’t been great over the past couple of seasons, so it’s unlikely he’ll be paid for his past defensive reputation. Perhaps most notably, the defensive rankings absolutely cripple Lind, such to the point that he may be limited to American League suitors.
While it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to rank these players based on their expected earning potential, each of the above skills could factor into their ultimate landing spots. The unique skill sets of each of these free agents will cause their overall value to increase and decrease relative to each team, and it will be well worth tracking where each of these players ends up.
With the offseason looming, it’s easy to focus on the top free agents this winter will have to offer. We at MLBTR reinforce that line of thinking with monthly Free Agent Power Rankings that profile the top names slated to hit the open market and ranking them in terms of earning power.
Settling for a one-year contract isn’t an ideal route for most free agents, but that doesn’t mean that those (relative) bargain pickups can’t bring significant on-field impact to the teams with which they sign. While none of the players on this list received all that much fanfare when signing, they’ve all provided some notable benefit to the teams that made these commitments:
- Kurt Suzuki, $1.5MM, Braves: Suzuki languished in free agency for several months as players like Jason Castro, Matt Wieters and Welington Castillo all generated more attention from teams and fans. However, it might be Suzuki that has provided the most bang for buck on last winter’s catching market. The 33-year-old has had a surprising career year in Atlanta, hitting .266/.344/.507 with 15 homers to date. Some have been quick to suggest that Atlanta’s new homer-happy stadium has benefited Suzuki, and while that may be true to an extent, he’s hit for more power on the road than at home. He’s put himself in position for a possible two-year deal this winter, but if he has to settle for one yet again, it should come at a higher rate.
- Adam Lind, $1.5MM, Nationals: An awful 2016 season and an overcrowded market for corner bats created some questions about whether Lind would have to settle for a minor league contract late last winter. He ultimately secured a guaranteed deal, but it came with just a $1MM base and a $500K buyout of a mutual option. For that meager commitment, he’s given the Nats 267 plate appearances with a .297/.352/.490 slash to go along with 11 homers. Like Suzuki, that might not land him a starting role, but it could land him multiple years as a complementary bench piece.
- Chris Iannetta, $1.5MM, Diamondbacks: Iannetta has not only rediscovered his power stroke in 2017 — he’s made it better than ever. The 34-year-old’s .249 ISO is a career best, and he’s slugged 14 homers. While that’s still four shy of his career-best with the 2008 Rockies, Iannetta’s 14 big flies this year have come in just 272 PAs, whereas he needed 407 to reach 18 back in ’08. He’s also bounced back from a down year in the framing department and been above average in that regard, per Baseball Prospectus.
- Jhoulys Chacin and Clayton Richard, $1.75MM each, Padres: The Friars signed four starters for $3MM or less last winter — Jered Weaver and Trevor Cahill being the others — and have received a combined 345 innings out of this pair. Chacin’s run-prevention (4.06 ERA) and strikeout rate (7.44 K/9) have been better, while Richard has 13 more innings (179 total), superior control (2.6 BB/9) and superior ground-ball tendencies (59.1 percent). Neither is going to be mistaken for much more than a back-of-the-rotation stabilizer, but both have done enough to garner larger commitments on the upcoming open market.
- Brian Duensing, $2MM, Cubs: I doubt I was alone in being surprised to see Duensing, 34, land a Major League deal last winter on the heels of a lackluster season in the Orioles organization. Duensing, though, has quietly been outstanding for the Cubs. In 54 2/3 innings, he’s logged a career-high 9.05 K/9 rate with 2.30 BB/9 and a 47 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 2.63 ERA. He’s held lefties in check reasonably well, but the first time in his career he’s also striking out right-handed batters at a lofty rate. In fact, the .211/.276/.317 that righties have posted against him is actually weaker than the .256/.300/.388 slash to which he’s limited left-handed bats.
- Matt Belisle, $2.05MM, Twins: Belisle’s inclusion is arguable; he’s posted a pedestrian 4.36 ERA with 8.55 K/9, 3.69 BB/9 and a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate. Those numbers are largely skewed by a putrid month of May, however. Since June 3, Belisle has a 2.25 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning and improved control and ground-ball tendencies — all while stepping into higher and higher leverage roles. He’s now serving as the Twins’ closer and has a 1.54 ERA with a 29-to-5 K/BB ratio since July 1. He’ll be 38 next season, so the earning power here isn’t sky-high, but he’s probably earned a raise, barring a late collapse.
- Logan Morrison, $2.5MM, Rays: Few players have benefited more from one-year, “pillow” contracts in recent memory than Morrison, who has parlayed his $2.5MM deal into a .248/.355/.529 batting line and a 36-homer season campaign to date. Morrison only just turned 30 years old, so he’ll have age on his side this winter as well. A three- or four-year deal seems plausible for Morrison even with the diminished recent market for corner bats.
- Alex Avila, $2.5MM, Tigers: Avila hasn’t been as excellent with the Cubs as he was with the Tigers, but he’s still among the league leaders in hard contact and exit velocity — both of which have beautifully complemented his always-terrific walk rate (15.9 percent in 2016). With 14 homers under his belt and a batting line that grades out roughly 25 percent better than the league average, per context-neutral metrics like OPS+ (124) and wRC+ (127), Avila could vie for a multi-year deal and/or a starting job this offseason.
- Joe Smith, $3MM, Blue Jays: Smith’s K/9 has nearly doubled, from 6.92 in 2016 to 11.86 in 2017, and he’s posted a dramatically improved 1.82 BB/9 this year as well. Smith has also served up just three homers in 49 1/3 innings of work, and his 3.10 ERA, while solid, is actually representative of some poor fortune in the estimation of fielding-independent metrics (1.97 FIP, 2.35 xFIP, 2.34 SIERA). He’ll be 34 next year but should top that $3MM mark and could net the second multi-year free-agent deal of his career.
- Andrew Cashner, $10MM, Rangers: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently took a more in-depth look at Cashner, noting that his strong 3.19 ERA isn’t backed up by his K/BB numbers. Cashner’s complete lack of missed bats — he has the lowest swinging-strike rate and second-lowest K/9 rate of qualified MLB starters — is going to limit his earning power. But, he’s undeniably been better than he was in 2016, his velocity is comparable to last season and he’s limited hard contact quite well. A multi-year deal is certainly a possibility this offseason.
- Carlos Gomez, $11.5MM, Rangers: Gomez’s production hasn’t reached the star levels it did in 2013-14, but he’s been a better performer at the plate this season. A spike in his OBP (from .298 to .337) is due largely to a massive increase in the number of pitches by which he’s been hit, which is less encouraging than if he’d upped his walk rate considerably. However, Gomez has also shown quite a bit more power in 2017 than he had in recent seasons (.208 ISO in ’17 vs. .153 in ’15-16 combined), and Defensive Runs Saved feels he’s improved in center field as well. Gomez won’t see the massive payday he looked to be on pace for after 2014, but he’s still young enough to notch a multi-year deal this winter.
Notable exceptions: Neither Welington Castillo nor Greg Holland is included on this list, though both have provided good value to their new teams (Castillo in particular). While their contracts are often referred to as one-year deals with a player option, that type of contract is no more a one-year deal than Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184MM deal with a third-year opt-out is a three-year deal. Both players were guaranteed the possibility to be under contract for two years, and those agreements are considered two-year deals for the purposes of this list.
Jerry Blevins has also given the Mets terrific value on his one-year, $6.5MM deal, but the club option attached to that deal is a veritable lock to be exercised, so he’s unlikely to hit the free-agent market again following the season.
Mining the free agent ranks for good value remains an art, with the potential for rather significant rewards. While it’s unusual for a team to find a true gem — think Justin Turner — there is quite a lot of potential for adding impact in part-time roles.
We already looked at some minor-league signees who have impacted their organizations’ bullpens. Now, let’s check in on some hitters who signed for little but have been rather useful through about two months of action:
- Alexi Amarista, INF, Rockies — The 28-year-old has helped cover for the injured Trevor Story, and he’s doing more than just keeping the team afloat. Through 69 trips to the plate, he’s hitting .338/.348/.515. There’s obviously quite a lot of room for regression baked in — Amarista has drawn just one walk and carries a .412 BABIP — but he’s been a big help for the emerging Rockies team at the meager cost of $1.25MM.
- Daniel Descalso, INF, Diamondbacks — After Colorado let the utilityman go over the winter, Descalso landed only $1.5MM despite a solid 2016 season. That has worked out just fine for Arizona, which has received 92 plate appearances of .218/.337/.410 hitting from the veteran, who is walking at a 13.0% clip and succeeding despite a .250 BABIP.
- Chris Iannetta, C, Diamondbacks — Also earning a meager $1.5MM, Iannetta has helped the DBacks feel better about the decision to allow Welington Castillo to walk. Though the typically patient Iannetta is walking at about half of his career rate, he’s driving the ball like never before. Over eighty plate appearances, Iannetta has smacked six long balls and owns a .288 isolated slugging mark.
- Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Dodgers — Taking home a modest $2.6MM salary, Gutierrez has been quite productive when healthy. While Los Angeles will only ask him to play a limited role, the team will be thrilled if he can keep producing at a .257/.350/.429 rate the rest of the way.
- Austin Jackson, OF, Indians — After settling for a minor-league deal over the winter, Jackson came with low expectations. But he made the Opening Day roster and owns a .273/.327/.523 batting line that points back to his days as one of the game’s more promising young players.
- Adam Lind, 1B, Nationals — Lind languished on the market along with a variety of other sluggers, eventually scoring just $1.5MM to function as a lefty complement to Ryan Zimmerman at first base. While the Nats have received plenty of production from Zimmerman, the team is also enjoying Lind’s robust output off the bench. He owns a .340/.400/.604 slash over sixty plate appearances, with as many walks as strikeouts (10.0% apiece).
- Mark Reynolds, 1B, Rockies — Expected to land on the bench after returning to Colorado on a minors deal, Reynolds was thrown into a more significant role when Ian Desmond opened the year on the DL. He has responded with outstanding production: .313/.388/.555 with 13 home runs in 206 plate appearances.
- Kurt Suzuki, C, Braves — At just $1.5MM, Suzuki has been quite the bargain. He’s outhitting most of the league’s catchers in his 88 plate appearances, with a .257/.379/.457 slash. Interestingly, Suzuki is walking 11.4% of the time — nearly double his typical levels — while also hitting for good power (.200 ISO).
- Chase Utley, INF, Dodgers — The former star took home just $2MM in exchange for his services this year, and seemed ready to take a smaller role on the Dodgers’ bench. After a slow start, though, he has begun to deliver. 125 plate appearances into the season, he’s batting .252/.347/.430 with three dingers and three steals — the type of production not seen since back in 2013, when he was still with the Phillies.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder today, as Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes. Manager Buck Showalter told reporters that the O’s are “encouraged” with Tillman’s recent progress and are planning to see how he reacts to the cortisone shot a few days from now before determining exactly when Tillman can return to the mound. Showalter again stated that Tillman isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day, but Encina notes that the cortisone injection will hopefully allow Tillman to debut for the Orioles at some point in April. Certainly the Orioles will hope for a speedy recovery, as Tillman represents one of the top three arms in their rotation. But for Tillman, personally, there’s quite a bit at stake, as he’s slated to become a free agent at season’s end.
More from the game’s Eastern divisions…
- Veteran utilityman Emilio Bonifacio is making a “strong push” to break camp with the Braves at the end of Spring Training, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bonifacio had a pair of poor seasons in 2015-16 and acknowledged to O’Brien that his conditioning in recent seasons has fallen off. Bonifacio reported to camp in better shape than he has in the past couple of years and has performed well while showing the ability to play all second base, third base and all three outfield positions. The Braves don’t currently have a fourth outfield option that has much in the way of center-field experience, so the versatile Bonifacio could fill a need in that regard.
- While the Nationals aren’t publicly acknowledging the possibility, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes that the team can very likely only carry one of Adam Lind or Clint Robinson on the bench this season. And, with Lind having inked a Major League contract with an option for the 2018 campaign earlier this year, he’s the likelier candidate to claim that vacant bench spot. The 32-year-old Robinson is out of minor league options, so he’d have to clear waivers or break camp with the team if the Nationals hope to retain him.
- Right-hander Kyle Kendrick has improbably gone from a long shot to make the Red Sox’ roster to perhaps their best option to serve as the team’s sixth starter, writes Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald. Drellich notes that Boston’s crowded rotation picture, featuring stars like Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello, made it difficult to lure starting depth on minor league deals. Kendrick, though, was drawn to a winning environment in Boston. Additionally, his agent, John Boggs, also represents Sean O’Sullivan, who spoke highly of his own experience with the Sox in a role similar to the one for which Kendrick is competing. Kendrick explains to Drellich that he was plagued by shoulder troubles in recent years and altered his pitch selection at the Rockies’ request upon moving to Coors Field. His hope is that with his more traditional mix of pitches and a healthy shoulder, he can return to the form that allowed him to log a 4.30 ERA in 862 innings with the Phillies from 2009-14.
FEBRUARY 16: The mutual option is valued at $5MM, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Lind can also earn up to $1.125M in incentives, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag adds on Twitter. That includes $150K if he plays in 80 games, $200K each upon reaching 90 and 100 games; $250K for hitting 110 and then 120 appearances; and another $200K if he logs his 130th contest.
FEBRUARY 13: The Nationals have struck a one-year deal with first baseman Adam Lind that includes a mutual option for a second season, the team announced on Wednesday, confirming previous reports.
Lind, a client of ISE Baseball, will reportedly be guaranteed $1.5MM. That comes in the form of a $1MM salary for the 2017 season and a $500K buyout on the 2018 option.
Entering the winter, Washington faced questions regarding the composition of its bench, and the quality of the reserve unit has remained in question as the offseason draws to a close. Lind himself is hardly a sure thing after a down season, though he surely wouldn’t otherwise have been available at such an affordable rate. As Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post notes (on Twitter), the organization’s trio of bench additions — Lind, Stephen Drew, and Chris Heisey (the latter two re-signed) — will cost just a shade more than what would have been owed to the traded-away Danny Espinosa, who no longer had a path to regular at-bats in D.C.
Lind still showed plenty of pop last year with the Mariners, driving twenty home runs in 430 plate appearances and posting a .192 isolated slugging mark. But the 33-year-old slashed just .239/.286/.431 as he swung more often and made less contact than he had in recent years. Lind’s 6.0% walk rate was his lowest since 2011, and his 20.7% strikeout mark was his worst since 2010. There was likely some misfortune in his .259 batting average on balls in play, though Lind also made more soft contact (19.7%) than ever before.
Clearly, the Nats will be hoping for a bounceback, though the club isn’t staking much on the possibility. If things break right, Lind could well represent a bargain. Over the three preceding campaigns, he slashed a robust .291/.364/.478 while contributing 49 long balls over 1,411 plate appearances. Even at his best, there are limitations. Lind is dreadful historically against left-handed pitching, though he has tuned up opposing righties with a lifetime .287/.347/.502 batting line.
That platoon split likely won’t trouble the Nationals, who will surely plan to utilize Lind as a late-inning bench bat and complement to right-handed-hitting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He’ll also function as an emergency plan if Zimmerman’s frequent injury issues arise. It seems that Lind will more or less step into the role that Clint Robinson has occupied over the past two seasons. Robinson struggled quite a bit in 2017, slashing just .235/.305/.332 in part-time play, and seems likely to lose his roster spot at some point (if not when this signing is announced) as he’s out of options.
While Washington likely would have preferred to sign a lefty bat that was also a viable option in the outfield, it seems the organization wasn’t quite willing to spend what was needed to do so. The club reportedly checked in on Brandon Moss before he landed with the Royals, though he signed for $12MM over two years. Lind does have some experience on the grass, but it’s been six full seasons since he roamed left field with the Blue Jays, and he never graded out as a quality defender there. Now 33 years of age, Lind seems like a stretch to spell the right-handed-hitting Jayson Werth in left for any significant amount of time, though he could theoretically draw an occasional start in place of Werth against right-handed pitching or in the event of an injury.
The Nats figure to have alternative alignments available when they elect to rest Zimmerman and/or Werth. Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin will both compete for reserve outfield roles, and either could bump Adam Eaton to left field on occasion. Likewise, the righty hitting Heisey could give Werth some off days. But if the Nats really want to load up on power, left-handed bats, they’ll also at least have the option of fielding Lind in the corner, playing Drew at second, and bumping Daniel Murphy to first in place of Zimmerman.
Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM first reported a deal was close (via Twitter). FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweeted that a deal was in place, pending a physical. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal tweeted the years, while Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported the money and option-year detail (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.