For the last couple of weeks, we have been attempting an experiment: five human-curated team Facebook pages. Under the direction of JP Hadley, Jack Stockless, Stephanie Nevill, Chris Jervis, and Tanner Puckett, our Facebook pages for the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Braves, and Cardinals have become engaging, informative, fun, and up-to-date. Instead of the previous automated posting of MLBTR content, these pages have team news of all kinds, polls, infographics, interesting links, discussion, and of course hot stove rumors. These pages have everything a fan could want. If you follow any of these five teams, please give our new Facebook pages a Like today!
Most MLB teams are a few games shy of the halfway point in the regular season. We last checked in on the projected 2017-18 free agent class on May 18th, and since then plenty has changed. Below, the projected free agents are ranked based on their current earning power. To view the full list of players eligible for free agency after the season, click here.
1. Yu Darvish. Darvish is in the midst of a fine, healthy season. Post-Tommy John surgery, he’s logged 34 starts with a 3.26 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 207 1/3 innings. While the 30-year-old righty may not be one of the ten best starters in MLB right now, he’ll likely be paid like it this winter. He has a shot at topping the six-year, $155MM contract Jon Lester signed with the Cubs in December 2014. According to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan on June 19th, Darvish is “very likely to end the season in a Rangers uniform.” While Texas is firmly in the AL Wild Card mix at present, Passan suggested that the Rangers would keep Darvish even if they fall out of contention by the trade deadline, to maximize their chances of re-signing their ace.
2. J.D. Martinez. Martinez, 30 in August, has established himself as the best hitter in this free agent class. Despite missing the first month and a half of the season, Martinez has a good shot at finishing with 30+ home runs for the second time in his career. For a team looking to add a right-handed middle of the order masher this winter, a six-year offer is possible. Consider Chris Davis and Shin-Soo Choo, who managed to land seven-year contracts in free agency. Martinez’s Tigers are currently long shots for the playoffs this year, and the club stands to net only a fourth-round pick if he rejects a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere this winter. So Martinez is a strong candidate to be traded a month from now, unless the Tigers surge.
3. Johnny Cueto. Cueto vs. Arrieta is an interesting argument. Born 20 days apart in 1986, both righties are having disappointing, home run-prone seasons. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams suggests, Cueto has the edge given his excellence in 2016 and an ability to go deeper into games this season. With the Giants completely out of contention, Cueto could be one of the best available starting pitchers on the trade market this summer. However, the pitcher’s opt-out clause adds downside risk for an acquiring team. Cueto is simply a rental if he opts out, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports says he’s “planning” to do, but the pitcher would still reserve the right to stick with his remaining four years and $84MM in the event of an injury or further downturn in performance. The Giants could reduce their asking price on Cueto to accommodate this risk, or better yet, allow a negotiating window to see if the pitcher would provide his potential new team more certainty about his future.
4. Jake Arrieta. Arrieta’s supporting stats suggest he’s better than his current 4.67 ERA, but his days as one of baseball’s best starters may be behind him. In five of his 16 starts, Arrieta has failed to make it out of the fifth inning. I’m currently projecting a five-year deal, though we haven’t seen that happen recently with a free agent pitcher entering his age-32 season, outside of Zack Greinke’s outrageous six-year pact. Agent Scott Boras put out his Arrieta talking points to reporters about a month ago, but if they aren’t convincing to you and I, they probably won’t work on MLB GMs either.
5. Eric Hosmer. How low was Hoz on April 24th? An 0-for-4 against Miguel Gonzalez and the White Sox had dropped his season line to .192/.253/.247 through 79 plate appearances. This was following a very bleak second half in 2016. But since April 24th, Hosmer has been on fire, hitting .344/.402/.540 in 234 PAs. For the season as a whole, he’s back at “Good Hosmer” levels – a high-average hitter with some pop. At the moment, I’m projecting a solid five-year deal for Hosmer. He doesn’t turn 28 until October, broadening his appeal. However, there are two other first basemen who could threaten Hosmer’s market: Yonder Alonso and Logan Morrison. Both have come from out of nowhere to post monster first halves and could offer the allure of better production than Hosmer at a lower price in free agency. Interest in Hosmer could be further crowded out by Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, and Mitch Moreland.
6. Justin Upton. Though they go about it in different ways, Upton has been a similar value hitter to Hosmer over the last several years. While neither player is regarded as a great fielder, it’s a little harder to find a left fielder than a first baseman. Upton, however, is two years older than Hosmer and faces a decision on his opt-out clause. If Upton can top four years and $88MM in free agency, it might not be by a ton. Upton may make the safer choice to stick with his Tigers deal. On May 25th, Jon Heyman wrote that the possibility of Upton opting out seems “beyond remote,” with a rival GM in agreement. If the Tigers are to consider trading Upton, they’ll be faced with the same issue the Giants have with Cueto.
7. Mike Moustakas. With 20 home runs this season, Moustakas is already threatening his career high of 22. A 40-homer season isn’t entirely out of the question, given his production to date, and Moose can hold down the hot corner acceptably. He doesn’t turn 29 until September, and with a strong second half, a five-year deal could be in play. Older players such as Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann were all able to land five years in free agency.
8. Lorenzo Cain. Cain’s bat has bounced back so far this year, and the Royals’ speedy center fielder makes his first appearance in our top ten. Cain turns 32 next April, which may put a five-year deal out of reach. Still, he looks like the best available center fielder this winter. Like all of the Royals on this list, Cain could be traded in late July if the team falls out of contention.
9. Masahiro Tanaka. While Tanaka once seemed a lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his Yankees contract, his rough start to the season has brought that into question. Tanaka, who turns 29 in November, sports a 5.56 ERA and has allowed a whopping 21 home runs in 90 2/3 innings. That’s good for the fourth-worst home run rate among all qualified starters. Tanaka’s performance has been extremely erratic this year. He doesn’t look like a $22MM pitcher in free agency, but with a strong second half, a four or five-year deal could be back on the table.
10. Michael Pineda. Prior to this year, Pineda’s home run problems could be mostly chalked up to Yankee Stadium. But this year, in his six road starts, Pineda has somehow seen 30% of fly-balls allowed leave the yard. The 28-year-old remains as maddening as ever, as three clunkers in June have pushed his ERA up to 4.12. Pineda is still young and talented enough to score a four-year deal in free agency, as he’s the type of pitcher teams can dream on.
A pair of dominant relievers just missed the top ten. Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been excellent and will likely be vying for four-year deals in excess of $60MM this winter. The aforementioned Alonso and Morrison have reinvented themselves and could threaten the top ten before the season is out. And despite a DL stint for a strained quad, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart still leads all projected free agents with 2.8 wins above replacement this year.
Jonathan Lucroy was arguably the best-hitting catcher in baseball last year, but his bat has gone ice cold in 2017. Lucroy turned 31 this month, and his performance has put a four-year deal in jeopardy.
To introduce the new Arcade Mode Fantasy Baseball contests, DraftKings is inviting MLBTR readers to a free fantasy baseball contest with prizes!
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Picking a lineup is simple. Here is a sample lineup from last week:
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This is a sponsored post from DraftKings.
Are you an avid Facebook user and a diehard fan of the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs, or Braves? Then MLBTR might have a job for you.
For many years, MLBTR has run a Facebook page for each of the 30 MLB teams. For example, here’s our Yankees page. From inception, these pages have been entirely automated, and thus, nothing special. We can do better. That’s why we’re launching an experiment in which actual human fans will curate our five most popular team Facebook pages.
You may notice that for these five teams, the names have been changed. For example, the Facebook page is now New York Yankees News & Rumors. We feel that MLBTR has the rumors, hot stove, and transaction information pretty well-covered for each club, and the team Facebook pages will continue to link to MLBTR for that. But there’s ample team-related news that would be of interest to fans, but would not fit on MLBTradeRumors.com. In this experiment, our curators will be posting news on those topics as well. For example, each game will have a game thread, postgame post, and links to highlight videos, for the purpose of discussion with fellow fans. Other types of news, like a lineup change, breakout performance by a top prospect, schedule and promotional information, interviews with current and former players, and All-Star voting updates will also be covered on these team Facebook pages. This will also be a space for the curator to share links to opinion and analysis articles from high-quality outlets. If you’re interested in applying to be one of our five curators for this experiment, read on…
- The Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs, and Braves are the teams in our initial experiment, simply because their MLBTR Facebook pages are our most popular. If the experiment is a success, we’ll add more teams. So, we’re looking for superfans of these five teams only right now. Please mention which team you support in the subject line of your email application.
- The pay for this is a flat $50 per month.
- This position requires prompt posting of MLBTR articles related to your team, as well as a minimum of five additional posts per day (whether an image, video, link, gif, meme, discussion thread, or poll). We also hope you’ll engage with your fellow fans in the comment section on the Facebook posts.
- These pages will be more laid-back than MLBTR itself, so humor is encouraged. Still, the pages will remain family friendly.
- You’ll need to know your way around Facebook, to ensure you are posting in the proper format. The position will require usage of our Trade Rumors app for notifications. We’re seeking strong writers, to ensure proper spelling and grammar. And of course, the gig requires deep knowledge of your team and a good understanding of hot stove concepts.
- If you’re interested in managing and curating MLBTR’s Facebook page for the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs, or Braves, please email firstname.lastname@example.org explaining your qualifications and why you’re the right person for the job.
About 24% of the MLB regular season is in the books. The Astros, Yankees, and Nationals currently reign supreme. Familiar names Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Chris Sale top the WAR leaderboards. Though we’re only in mid-May, there’s a subset of players who can’t help but look ahead: those eligible for free agency after the season. Here, we attempt to rank the projected free agents based on their earning power. For the full list of 2017-18 MLB free agents, click here.
1. Yu Darvish. Nine starts into his season, Darvish is not quite in vintage form. His 2.76 ERA ranks 11th in the American League, though strikeouts are down and walks are up. The key stat might be his 58 2/3 innings pitched, good for a second-place tie in the league. Darvish’s second career 200-inning campaign would quiet concerns after his 22-month Tommy John layoff, possibly leading to the largest contract of the winter. In the short term, the question is whether Darvish will be traded this summer. The Rangers have climbed into the Wild Card discussion with an eight-game winning streak, though they’re already eight games behind the Astros for the division lead.
2. Johnny Cueto. In the early going of 2017, Cueto has posted his worst ground-ball rate since his 2008 rookie season. He’s allowing home runs twice as often as last year and also has an abnormally low strand rate, leading to a 4.50 ERA. I think his numbers will be fine in the end, and he’ll opt out of his remaining four years and $84MM. The Giants may attempt to extend Cueto prior to that point, or they could wind up trading him this summer. The slow-starting club already faces an uphill battle to reach the playoffs.
3. Jake Arrieta. As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs put it in the headline of his article this week, “Jake Arrieta Has Not Been Good.” The surface statistical reasons bear some similarity to Cueto: ground-balls are down, home runs are up, and he’s been stranding fewer runners on the bases. 5.44 ERA notwithstanding, Arrieta is still a quality pitcher in his present form. He may settle in as a sub-4.00 ERA number three-type starter, which would only be disappointing compared to the dizzying heights of his 2015 Cy Young season. Darvish, Cueto, and Arrieta should all by vying for five-year deals, and may shuffle spots in these rankings all year long.
4. Jonathan Lucroy. Since we last checked in, Lucroy’s bat has come alive with a .328/.380/.469 line in 71 plate appearances. Talking to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Lucroy did not attribute his April struggles to his impending free agency, as you’d expect him to say. On the defensive side, Samuel Hale of WFAA wrote an article contending that Lucroy “used to be an elite framer, but that time has passed.” Lucroy’s pitch framing numbers will be worth monitoring as we try to assess whether he will receive the largest contract for a catcher in free agent history.
5. J.D. Martinez. After suffering a foot injury on March 18th, Martinez made his 2017 Tigers debut last Friday. He’s clubbed five homers in six games since then, so I’d say his foot is fine. Martinez, 30 in August, may establish himself as the top free agent bat and move higher in these rankings.
6. Eric Hosmer. Don’t count Hosmer out yet. The Royals’ much-maligned first baseman is hitting .347/.411/.484 in 107 plate appearances since we last checked in. The 27-year-old has apparently been laying off inside pitches in recent weeks, to much success. The Royals are in last place in the AL Central and are unlikely to make the playoffs, which could prompt a summer sell-off of impending free agents like Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jason Vargas, and Alcides Escobar.
7. Justin Upton. Upton has posted a fine season so far, with a .248/.368/.504 line in 144 plate appearances. Interestingly, he’s drawn a walk in 15.3% of plate appearances, though he’s never reached 12% in a full season and bottomed out at 8% last year. Upton’s newfound selectivity and move toward becoming a Three True Outcomes hitter has been a net positive. If he posts another 30 home run season but draws 90 walks instead of 50-60, Upton may be compelled to opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM on his Tigers contract.
8. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has always been on shakier ground than the Big Three of this free agent class, given his health history, lower strikeout rate, and home run tendencies. More than a fifth of the flyballs Tanaka has allowed this year have left the yard. Those 10 home runs allowed in 45 innings have helped his ERA balloon to 5.80. His last outing was particularly ugly, with four long balls leading to a second-inning exit on Derek Jeter Day. There’s talk of a mechanical issue, and maybe this is nothing more than a blip on the radar. With a rough year, Tanaka could have a tricky decision on his opt-out clause, since he has three years and $67MM remaining on his Yankees contract.
9. Michael Pineda. Tanaka’s rotation-mate has a home run problem as well, with a full quarter of Pineda’s fly-balls going for home runs. Nonetheless, he’s posted a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio accompanied by a solid 3.42 ERA through eight starts. Despite the 10 home runs allowed, Pineda has been able to avoid disaster starts. Has the 28-year-old actually “figured it out” and harnessed his considerable stuff? Jake Devin of Pinstripe Alley asked that question earlier this week, and found the results to be inconclusive.
10. Wade Davis. Davis has been utterly dominant to start off his Cubs career, with 17 1/3 scoreless innings and 22 strikeouts against five walks. Davis’ streak actually goes back another seven innings, into last September with the Royals. He’s no stranger to this kind of dominance, having been unscored upon for 31 2/3 innings in 2014 (tied for the 17th-best scoreless streak for a reliever in MLB history). If Davis continues to distance himself from last year’s flexor strain, he could surpass Mark Melancon’s four-year, $62MM contract from last winter.
While Davis moves into the No. 10 spot on the list, his former teammate, Greg Holland, is close behind. Holland has been dominant and needs to finish just 30 games to trigger a $15MM player option. He entered the day with 18 under his belt already. Perhaps Holland’s lengthy Tommy John layoff will make teams reluctant to give him four years, but he’s a few months younger than Davis and is quickly reestablishing himself. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart leads all impending free agents with two wins above replacement already, and he very nearly snagged the final spot on the list. The 31-year-old has a shot at a four-year deal if his stellar play continues. Athletics first baseman Yonder Alonso has also put himself on the radar by changing his approach and crushing 12 home runs in 137 plate appearances. The Rays’ Logan Morrison, also part of the 2017-18 free agent class, is right behind him with 11 bombs.
With an OBP of .291, Mike Moustakas has fallen outside the top 10 for now. He joins honorable mentions such as Lorenzo Cain, Chris Tillman, Lance Lynn, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Santana, Marco Estrada, and Alex Cobb. Though the 34-year-old Jason Vargas is unlikely to obtain top 10 earning power, he warrants mention for his 2.03 ERA, which entered the day ranked third in the American League.
One last name you might be wondering about is Shohei Otani, the 22-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters two-way ace. He’ll have a late start to his season due to a thigh injury. While Otani aims to move from Nippon Professional Baseball to the Majors for the 2018 season, and that would be a huge story on MLBTR, he’s seemingly capped at about $10MM in earning power due to a change in the new CBA.
MLB teams have only played around 9% of their regular season games, but we’ve got our eye on the next free agent class. The players referenced in this post are scheduled (or can elect) to become free agents after the 2017 season. These rankings are subject to change each month, as players drop off due to extensions, injuries, or poor performance, while others see their stock rise.
The first entry in this year’s Free Agent Power Rankings was published on March 14th. The pitchers have only made three or four starts, and the hitters have around 50 plate appearances. Naturally, there hasn’t been a lot of movement at the top of the rankings. We did see one player drop out of the running, as the Cardinals signed catcher Yadier Molina to a three-year, $60MM extension earlier this month. In hindsight, Molina should have snagged an honorable mention last time, but I underestimated his earning power.
That’s the goal here: to rank the upcoming free agents based on earning power. These rankings represent expected contract size, assuming each player reaches the open market and goes to the highest bidder. For the full list of 2017-18 MLB free agents, click here.
1. Jake Arrieta. Arrieta’s first three starts have gone well, as strikeouts are up and walks are down after 18 2/3 frames. There is a potential red flag, however, which was explained by Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs. Arrieta’s velocity appears to be down a few miles per hour in the early going, despite velocity tracking adjustments that have generally boosted readings across the game. After his second start, Arrieta told reporters, “There’s FanGraph articles. I don’t care about that.” As the pitcher put it, “When the 95-to-97 comes back, it’s going to be tough for teams. And it still is.” Arrieta is right in that it’s only April. But if he somehow stays at 91-92 miles per hour all year, his earning power will likely be lower. Back in Spring Training, Arrieta told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, “I don’t think a six- or seven-year deal is out of the question.” We’ll stick with a five-year prediction for now.
2. Yu Darvish. Four starts in, Darvish has succeeded on the back of an unsustainable .230 batting average on balls in play. Strikeouts are down and walks are up in Darvish’s 24 2/3 innings, but it would be unwise to read into it at this point. If Darvish is able to make 30+ starts for the second time in his MLB career, he’ll be paid handsomely. That contract could still come from the Rangers, as GM Jon Daniels told Norm Hitzges on 1310 The Ticket back in March that both sides are open to midseason negotiations.
3. Johnny Cueto. Cueto scuffled in his first start at Arizona, but has gone seven innings in each of his last two outings. He remains on track to opt out of his remaining four years and $84MM after the season, or at least negotiate some kind of extension with the Giants.
4. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has gotten progressively better in each of his four starts this year, culminating in a fine seven-inning start against the White Sox last night. The Yankees’ ace must decide after the season whether to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM left on his contract. With a healthy year, opting out would seem to be a no-brainer. A few weeks ago, Mike Mazzeo and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote, “Sources tell the Daily News that if the Japanese ace opts out of his $155 million contract, the Yankees would have no interest in pursuing a costly, long-term extension with the 28-year-old righty.” They went on to report that the Yankees “are annoyed at Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, for holding the threat of a potential opt-out over their heads.” Yankees top brass rejected this report out of hand, as detailed by George A. King III of the New York Post. President Randy Levine commented to King, “I never heard any of this. We normally don’t move until the event.” Recent history backs this up, with the Yankees allowing Alex Rodriguez to opt out before doing a new deal, and waiting until C.C. Sabathia was on the brink of doing so.
5. Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy, 31 in June, remains the best position player of the 2017-18 free agent class despite a quiet start. After playing in 11 of the Rangers’ 15 games, Lucroy has just one extra-base hit in 44 plate appearances. One new development: on March 27th, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Lucroy and the Rangers tabled extension talks. Shortly after that point, Molina signed his new extension with the Cardinals. With a strong season, Lucroy would be justified in seeking Molina’s $20MM average annual value, over a five-year period.
6. J.D. Martinez. Martinez sprained the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot on March 18th and opened the season on the disabled list. On Tuesday, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said his right fielder is “pretty close” to a minor league rehab assignment, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. At this point, there is no reason to expect the injury to affect Martinez’s earning power in free agency.
7. Justin Upton. The big question is whether Upton will opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM on his contract with the Tigers. We should have a better idea by the time he turns 30 this August. But if he hits 30 home runs and draws 70 walks, he’ll have to at least consider seeking a new five-year deal. Thus far, he’s hitting .250/.372/.472 with a pair of homers over 43 trips to the plate.
8. Eric Hosmer. There is probably confirmation bias in me dropping Hosmer a spot after just 58 plate appearances this year. But Hosmer’s $100MM projection was always on shaky ground, as he’s hitting just .232/.301/.364 in 512 plate appearances since June of last year. As far as extension talks, there was a development in mid-March. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star talked to Royals owner David Glass, who said, “I think it will be difficult. I think Hoz wants to stay here, and I think he’s very loyal to our organization. But at the same time, these guys have agents that want to get the best deal for them. Hoz has (Scott) Boras, and if Boras doesn’t get a really good deal for Hoz, then it affects his relationship with his other clients. They sort of set a standard with each one of their clients. So I think we’ll have a difficult time with Hosmer.” As you might imagine, Boras rejected the notion that he is driving the bus rather than his client. In the shorter term, the Royals might have to consider trading Hosmer three months from now if they fall out of contention in the AL Central. That scenario could work to Hosmer’s benefit, as he’d be ineligible for a qualifying offer after the year if dealt.
9. Mike Moustakas. Hosmer’s teammate across the diamond has received less contract-related fanfare, but could soon pass him in earning power. Moustakas, 28, was profiled by Jeff Todd in our Make Or Break Year series in March. So far, the 28-year-old seems to be making it. He’s hitting .300/.352/.620 with five home runs in 54 plate appearances. Moustakas had a hot start last April as well, hitting seven home runs in a 71 plate appearance span before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. So far Moose seems no worse for the wear, starting 12 of the Royals’ 14 games and making appearances in the other two. Moustakas, also a Boras client, could end up hitting 30 home runs this year with solid defense at the hot corner.
10. Michael Pineda. Yes, it’s been only three starts for Pineda, and his first one was a dud in Tampa Bay. But his second effort, also against the Rays, was a masterpiece ranking among the best of his 103 career starts. Pineda can be maddening, with brilliant strikeout to walk ratios but abnormally high home run per flyball rates and BABIPs. For his Yankees career, the result has continually been an ERA much higher than what a metric like xFIP or SIERA might suggest. Pineda’s final stat line could be more of the same, but with a few corrections he could receive Cy Young votes this year. (He was also profiled here as a “make or break” player.)
Dropping out: Carlos Gonzalez. CarGo could return to the top ten if he can right the ship, but he’s off to a miserable start. Over sixty trips to the plate, he’s hitting just .175/.200/.298 with a single home run and 13 strikeouts to go with a pair of walks. That’s not enough of a sample to panic, but it’s enough for a few younger players to edge ahead of him at the moment.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.
Major League Signings
Trades And Claims
- Claimed OF Rymer Liriano off waivers from Brewers
- Claimed RP Giovanni Soto off waivers from Athletics
- Acquired 2B Yoan Moncada, SP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander Basabe, and RP Victor Diaz from Red Sox for SP Chris Sale
- Acquired SP Lucas Giolito, SP Reynaldo Lopez, and SP Dane Dunning from Nationals for CF Adam Eaton
- Acquired SP Dylan Covey from Athletics in Rule 5 draft
- Acquired cash from Rangers for P James Dykstra
- Claimed OF Willy Garcia off waivers from Pirates
- Acquired 1B Brandon Dulin from Royals for player to be named later or cash
Notable Minor League Signings
- Cory Luebke, Anthony Swarzak, Geovany Soto, Everth Cabrera, Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, Blake Smith, Tyler Matzek, Tyler Ladendorf
- Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Brett Lawrie, J.B. Shuck, Justin Morneau, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Matt Albers, Jacob Turner, Daniel Webb, Anthony Ranaudo, Jason Coats
When I published my White Sox Offseason Outlook on November 5th, the team had not yet tipped its hand as to the offseason direction. GM Rick Hahn had said in August, “By the time we make our first or second transaction, publicly it will be fairly clear as to our direction.” Hahn wasn’t kidding. The White Sox staked a very clear rebuilding position with back-to-back Winter Meetings blockbuster trades. Finally, the team committed to a full teardown.
First, longtime ace starting pitcher Chris Sale was traded to the Red Sox for a bevy of top prospects, led by Moncada and Kopech (pictured at right). In Moncada, the White Sox acquired the type of player who is rarely traded: a potential perennial All-Star, on the cusp of being MLB-ready. The switch-hitting Cuban is penciled in as Chicago’s second baseman of the future. Moncada draws raves from prospect gurus for his power, speed, and arm. Kopech, meanwhile, is a power pitcher who comes with “front of the rotation potential,” according to Baseball America. Basabe, while further from the Majors, also rates as one of the team’s top ten prospects now. The White Sox determined they could not win in the next three years with Sale, and Hahn was able to maximize the return by pitting the Red Sox against the Nationals, Astros, Braves, and others.
Barely 24 hours later at MLB’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Hahn made a deal to send Adam Eaton to the Nationals for three pitching prospects. Baseball America ranks Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez both slightly above Kopech, and has all three in the #25-32 range among all MLB prospects. Like Moncada, Giolito and Lopez have Major League time. While there may be growing pains, the top assets acquired by Hahn are all close to contributing in 2017. Dunning played the Basabe role in this deal, as a third piece who is further from the big leagues. Eaton, 28, is at the top of his game and was the rare veteran player to be dealt with five years of remaining control. With the Eaton trade, Hahn was able to pull off a second deal that drew raves around the industry. The total haul for Sale and Eaton leaned toward pitching, a function of Hahn pursuing the best available young players, regardless of position.
A week later, the White Sox filled their rotation vacancy by signing Derek Holland to a one-year deal. Holland hasn’t had a healthy, valuable season since 2013, but this is the kind of free agent signing we expect to see with a rebuilding club. In the best case scenario, Holland has a nice first half and the White Sox are able to spin him for a useful, controllable piece in July.
Earlier this week, the White Sox locked up shortstop Tim Anderson to a precedent-setting six-year, $25MM deal. The contract sets a new record for a player with less than one year of Major League service. With only 115 days of Major League service under his belt, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Anderson will become. But at age 23, he already looks like a solid two-win contributor. And the team has a fantastic recent track record with these types of extensions, having previously signed Sale, Eaton, Jose Quintana, and Nate Jones.
With the Sale and Eaton trades occurring in rapid succession, it seemed a Jose Quintana deal wasn’t far behind. Quintana’s availability this winter was no secret. While the 28-year-old doesn’t have Sale’s ace reputation, he is a very good starting pitcher on a very team-friendly contract. With a terrible free agent market for starting pitching, it was surprising no team was willing to meet the demands of the White Sox for Quintana. The Pirates and Astros were reportedly quite interested, with the Rangers, Yankees, and Braves also connected. Quintana is undoubtedly a major trade chip for the White Sox in the coming months. In a February call with MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, Hahn said, “Frankly, there just hasn’t been an offer on the table that has made us feel like, ’Boy we better move now or we are going to be kicking ourselves.'” While Hahn noted he’s feeling no economic or timing pressure on his remaining trade chips, the team is taking a calculated risk that offers will improve in future. While a summer Quintana trade currently seems like the most likely scenario, it’s possible a deal could be struck between now and Opening Day.
Rumors were scant regarding first baseman Jose Abreu, outside of a Winter Meetings note that the Rockies were interested. The White Sox may have run into an overcrowded free agent market, which featured more first base/DH-type bats than there were jobs. At the lower end, players such as Brandon Moss, Mike Napoli, and Chris Carter took cheaper-than-expected deals. Abreu, 30, is more appealing than many of those free agents, but not enough to trigger wide reported interest.
In their talks for Adam Eaton, the Nationals reportedly attempted to expand the deal to include reliever David Robertson. Talks continued, but the Nationals and White Sox have reportedly reached a stalemate on the veteran closer. With two years and $25MM remaining on his contract, and control problems in 2016, Robertson is not for everyone. He’s another name to watch this summer. Perhaps the White Sox will end up eating more money than they were willing to in the winter. Todd Frazier, a free agent after 2017, is another veteran player who received little reported interest this winter despite hitting 75 home runs over the past two seasons. The White Sox will be rooting for strong, healthy first halves for many veteran players, which would lead to an active July. Hahn repeatedly said he would have liked to have made four more transactions this winter, and perhaps Quintana, Abreu, Robertson, and Frazier were the four players.
The team would also be best served moving 32-year-old veteran Melky Cabrera, who will serve as the Opening Day left fielder. The Melk Man hit about as well as Wil Myers, Adam Eaton, or Mike Napoli last year, but his below-average defense and $15MM salary seems to have limited interest. One quietly intriguing trade chip this summer will be Nate Jones, a fantastic reliever who is under contract for up to five more seasons. Jones, a 31-year-old with a 97 mile per hour fastball, is far more valuable than Robertson and could be the best reliever traded this summer. The White Sox still have a ton of trading left to do.
Aside from all the trades that have yet to happen, the other question is who is actually going to play for the 2017 White Sox. With a team that is clearly not concerned about winning in 2017, the White Sox have a rare opportunity to use low-pressure playing time to unearth trade chips or future contributors. Unfortunately, the roster is currently loaded with placeholders devoid of upside. For example, the club’s Opening Day outfield could feature Cabrera, Peter Bourjos, and Avisail Garcia. Someone has to stand out there, but hopefully Hahn can identify a few post-hype sleepers to try out in the outfield until long-term fixtures are identified. The White Sox make a great home for players feeling the roster squeeze. The release of Lawrie was a step in the right direction, opening up second base for cheaper options led by Tyler Saladino. The team’s catching position is another area of uncertainty. The club is hoping 25-year-old Omar Narvaez can keep the seat warm until 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins is ready for The Show.
In 2017, the White Sox are set to join teams like the Phillies, Reds, Padres, and Brewers as clubs undertaking rebuilds. It’s the right move for the franchise as Hahn and company look to build a sustainable winner with a deep roster. The Major League product will get worse before it gets better, as the White Sox will continue to clear the decks of veteran players this summer.
What’s your take on the White Sox’ winter? (Link to poll for mobile app users …)
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
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Check out all the published entries in our Offseason in Review series here.
Fresh off their first World Championship since 1908, the Cubs acquired a top-shelf closer and spent modestly in free agency.
Major League Signings
- Jon Jay, CF: one year, $8MM
- Koji Uehara, RP: one year, $6MM
- Brett Anderson, SP: one year, $3.5MM. Includes performance bonuses based on starts.
- Brian Duensing, RP: one year, $2MM
- Total spend: $19.5MM.
Trades And Claims
- Claimed RP Conor Mullee off waivers from Yankees (later non-tendered and re-signed to minor league deal)
- Acquired RP Wade Davis from Royals for OF Jorge Soler
- Acquired P Caleb Smith from Brewers for a player to be named later or cash. Smith had been taken by the Brewers from the Yankees in the Major League Rule 5 draft and remains subject to those rules.
- Claimed RP David Rollins off waivers from Rangers (later outrighted and cleared waivers)
- Claimed RP Dylan Floro off waivers from Rays (later outrighted and cleared waivers)
- Acquired SP Eddie Butler from Rockies for RP James Farris and an international bonus slot
- Acquired SP Alec Mills from Royals for CF Donnie Dewees
Notable Minor League Signings
- Jemile Weeks, Jim Henderson, Munenori Kawasaki, Williams Perez, Andury Acevedo, Gerardo Concepcion, Casey Kelly, Manny Parra, Zac Rosscup, Carlos Corporan, Fernando Rodriguez
- Pedro Strop, RP: Two years, $11.85MM. Replaced one-year, $5.5MM arbitration deal for 2017. Includes $6.25MM club option for 2019 with a $500K buyout.
- Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, Jorge Soler, David Ross, Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Joe Smith, Chris Coghlan, James Farris, Donnie Dewees, Armando Rivero, Spencer Patton
An MLB front office never rests. Before the buzz wore off from the Cubs’ epic World Series parade, Theo Epstein and company met with starting pitcher Jason Hammel regarding his 2017 club option, according to Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. Earlier this month, Hammel explained to reporters, “I love how people were saying it was a choice, because it really wasn’t. It was either basically pitch out of the bullpen or not have a job.” Hammel told the Cubs to cut him loose, and the team set off searching for rotation depth to complement Mike Montgomery.
It appeared the Cubs’ top priority was Tyson Ross, the 29-year-old righty who was non-tendered by the Padres in December. Ross’ lost 2016 culminated in thoracic outlet surgery in mid-October, and the arbitration system would have required the Padres to pay him $7.68MM or more this year. The Cubs ended up finishing second for Ross, who received a $6MM guarantee from the Rangers in mid-January.
Enter Plan B: 29-year-old southpaw Brett Anderson. The oft-injured lefty had finally returned to the 30-start milestone with the 2015 Dodgers, and accepted that club’s $15.8MM qualifying offer for 2016. Things quickly went sour for him, as Anderson was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his back that required surgery in March. Anderson made his 2016 Dodgers debut on August 14th, but then dealt with a wrist sprain and a blister. Unlike Ross, Anderson is at least MLB-ready at this moment. Whether he makes five or 25 starts for the Cubs this year, the Cubs haven’t risked much. Manager Joe Maddon has indicated Montgomery and Anderson may share the fifth starter job, or the team could occasionally go to a six-man rotation.
Soon after the Anderson signing, the Cubs added two more depth pieces in Eddie Butler and Alec Mills. Both had been designated for assignment by their former teams and have an option remaining, meaning they’ll likely open the season at Triple-A Iowa. Butler remains somewhat intriguing, as outlined by Eno Sarris of FanGraphs.
The bottom line: with a returning rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey, the Cubs did not feel the need to go big for their self-created rotation vacancy. They expressed no reported interest in free agents such as Rich Hill, Ivan Nova, or Charlie Morton, and seemingly were not involved in trade talks for Taijuan Walker, Drew Smyly, Dan Straily, or Jose De Leon. The assumption is that Chris Sale wasn’t a consideration, given the White Sox’ likely reluctance to send their ace across town.
The Cubs also took a measured approach toward center field. Even with the luxury tax threshold in sight, the Cubs could have afforded to re-sign Dexter Fowler at the $82.5MM he ultimately received from the Cardinals. But this is a disciplined front office, one that didn’t seem interested in giving Fowler a three-year deal during his previous free agency. So, gone is the two or three-win player Fowler might be this year, replaced by incumbent Albert Almora and free agent signing Jon Jay (pictured). The Cubs struck quickly to add Jay, a 32-year-old veteran who can hit for average and play an acceptable center field. Jay will serve as a safety net for Almora, who turns 23 in April and was drafted sixth overall by the Cubs in 2012. Baseball America describes Almora as “a potential Gold Glove winner in center.” If he can show a tolerable bat at the bottom of the Cubs’ order, Almora will have the center field job for years. Rather than give Fowler a risky long-term deal, the Cubs elected to accept a short-term downgrade and increased risk with center field for 2017.
You may be sensing a trend toward conservatism in the Cubs’ offseason. Indeed, all four free agents they signed received one-year deals. During the summer, Epstein and company actually did mortgage a piece of the team’s future, sending potential star infielder Gleyber Torres to the Yankees to rent flamethrowing reliever Aroldis Chapman.
Shortly after the Cubs became World Champions, though, prudence set in. Record-shattering five-year deals for Chapman or Kenley Jansen didn’t interest the Cubs, who instead made a Winter Meetings deal to acquire Wade Davis (pictured) from the Royals for Jorge Soler. The deal carries its own kind of risk, just not financial. In Soler, the Cubs traded away four years of control of a 25-year-old with a potential All-Star bat. However, Soler had no role in the Cubs’ crowded outfield, hadn’t impressed much in his 765 plate appearances with the team, and had battled injuries throughout his tenure. His loss has little effect on the 2017 club. Davis, who the Cubs control for just one year, was among the game’s best relievers from 2014-15. However, he missed 52 days in 2016 with elbow problems. The Cubs have said they feel confident about Davis’ health.
The Cubs also added Koji Uehara, who turns 42 in April. Uehara is about as dominant as a reliever can be with an 87-MPH fastball, though he is an extreme flyball pitcher. Like Davis, he’s an obvious health risk. There’s a good chance the Cubs’ bullpen depth will be tested this year, with righties Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., and Justin Grimm expected to have roles. Strop, who has a 2.65 ERA over the last three years with the Cubs, signed a team-friendly extension that added only $6.35MM in guaranteed money.
The Cubs entered the offseason without much left-handed relief depth. After reportedly showing interest in top free agent lefty Brett Cecil in November, the club settled on Brian Duensing as their lone Major League signing for this vacancy. Duensing, 34, spent the first two months of the 2016 season in Triple-A and later missed over two months to elbow surgery. His effectiveness against lefties has come and gone over the last few seasons. The Cubs added more lefty relief depth with Rule 5er Caleb Smith, but he’s barely pitched above Double-A and is a long shot to stick in a Major League bullpen all year. Montgomery may eventually be needed to shore up the Cubs’ left-handed relief, if Anderson is able to handle the fifth starter job.
More analysis after the break …Read more
The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options. That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors. I’ve included players on multiyear deals. This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources when possible, but may be incomplete for a handful of teams. I’ll update the post as confirmed information comes in.