The Padres reached a ten-year, $300MM deal with Manny Machado today, and MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes fielded many questions on that topic and others. Click here to read the transcript.
Click here to read a transcript of today’s chat with MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes.
POP QUIZ: Name the player who belongs to this 2019 projection:
AB R HR RBI SB Avg
550 85 25 75 5 .260
Is it Rafael Devers? Could it be Matt Chapman, or maybe Stephen Piscotty? How about Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie? Actually, there are 49 players who could reasonably post this stat line. However, they are currently being drafted anywhere from Round 3 to Round 32!
Mining the gaps between the projections and draft behavior is the secret to a fantasy baseball title. Here’s how to uncover dozens of profit opportunities for Draft Day 2019!
This is a sponsored post from Ron Shandler.
Click here to read the transcript of today’s chat with MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about two weeks. Along with the relaxed vibes of baseball’s preseason comes long-term contract discussions for young players. One standout from the 2018 season who could look to make a deal is Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland.
Freeland, 26 in May, was drafted eighth overall by the Rockies in 2014. He reached the Majors in 2017, posting a solid rookie campaign with a 4.10 ERA in 156 innings. That earned him a seventh place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Freeland’s peripheral stats were unimpressive, but you can’t argue with results – especially for a pitcher who calls Coors Field home.
Then, in 2018, Freeland took his game to the next level. He posted a 2.85 ERA in 202 1/3 innings, ranking fifth among qualified NL starters. That was good for a fourth place Cy Young finish. Again, Freeland’s strikeout, walk, and groundball rates were nothing to write home about, but he was able to succeed by avoiding the middle of the plate and generating soft contact, as explained by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs. Sullivan cautiously drew a Tom Glavine comp, and wrote, “It’s not the most comfortable skillset to bank on, but, honestly, after looking at Freeland with a microscope, I have become a believer in his ability to move the ball around.”
I imagine the Rockies believe in Freeland more than anyone than perhaps his mom – they drafted and developed him, and they just watched him pitch perhaps the best season in franchise history. So it would make sense for Rockies Executive Vice President & General Manager Jeff Bridich to look to broker a deal. Bridich became the Rockies’ senior director of baseball operations in 2006, so he’s had a hand in approximately 20 multiyear extensions the franchise has done since then. Bridich likely intersected with Freeland’s agency, MSM Sports, on Jamey Carroll’s 2007 deal. MSM has also done extensions for Josh Harrison and Brandon Webb over the years.
So let’s talk numbers. Freeland has exactly 2.000 years of Major League service, so credit the Rockies for not manipulating his service time back when he cracked the team’s rotation out of Spring Training in 2017. There is a very clear template for contract extensions for starting pitchers with 2+ years of Major League service who fell short of Super Two eligibility. The framework of a five-year, $30MM deal originated with Jon Lester’s contract with the Red Sox in March 2009. Yovani Gallardo signed a similar deal with the Brewers a year later, and then they became commonplace for the next couple of years. However, the trend has died off, with only Corey Kluber’s April 2015 deal existing as a somewhat recent example.
Kluber’s contract does not fit the mold – at $38.5MM, it was the largest of the bunch. That’s with good reason, as Kluber’s career and platform year numbers dwarfed the others, and he was coming off a Cy Young award. He mostly seems relevant here as a clear ceiling for Freeland. Aside from the many comparable 2+ pitchers like Lester, Trevor Cahill, and Clay Buchholz, we can also throw a couple of 1+ pitchers into the mix in Julio Teheran and Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner received a $35MM deal in April 2012 with just one year and 127 days of service time under his belt, scoring a contract bigger than those in the 2+ class. Teheran’s deal in February 2014 is also worth mentioning, as he simply didn’t have the stats of those who came before him (like innings and wins) yet landed a $32.4MM guarantee. That’s just $100K less than Chris Sale, who signed a year earlier with superior stats across the board. Teheran’s deal was thought to be a new benchmark at the time, but I think it raised expectations for young pitchers and their agents, mostly preventing subsequent extensions.
Freeland compares favorably to guys like Cahill and Buchholz, who signed very similar $30MM deals that bought out one year of free agency and included club options on two more. Plus, those contracts are eight years old. It’s possible Aaron Nola and Luis Severino can raise the bar for what successful starting pitchers (who nonetheless lack a Cy Young award) can earn their first time through arbitration if they win their hearings in February. Plus, a good case can be made that Freeland should beat Bumgarner’s $35MM contract, as Freeland had the better platform year and pitches at Coors Field.
In my opinion, a fair deal for Freeland would be for five years and $35-37MM. It would cover his final pre-arbitration season (2019), all three arbitration years, and one year of free agency, taking the deal through 2023. One perk MSM Sports could fight for would be one club option instead of two. Of the ten comparable deals I looked at, seven of them included two club options. And two of the deals that only had one were the initial contracts in this mold, for Lester and Gallardo. Beginning with Buchholz’s deal in April 2011, every pitcher accepted two club options with the exception of Teheran. The Rockies will likely label Teheran an outlier, but we haven’t seen the Lester Contract type deal in the last five years. A contract for Freeland would re-establish a precedent in case 2+ pitchers like Jose Berrios, Mike Clevinger, German Marquez, Blake Snell, Jameson Taillon, and Trevor Williams seek financial security.
Click here to read a transcript of today’s chat with Tim Dierkes.
Click here to read the transcript from today’s chat with Tim Dierkes.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts went on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score this morning, making an attempt to defend the Cubs’ quiet offseason. (Hat tip to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote an article here).
Ricketts began, “First of all, we have spent money this offseason. We signed Cole Hamels, and we picked up Descalso, and I’m sure Theo’s got a few moves left in him.” We’ll hit pause there to note that to allow for Hamels’ $20MM option to be picked up, the Cubs had to ship Drew Smyly and his $7MM salary to the Rangers. That series of moves suggested that the Cubs felt they had to make a tradeoff to retain Hamels, compromising their rotation depth but saving money. Beyond that, Descalso was inked to a two-year, $5MM deal, after Tommy La Stella and his (eventual) $1.35MM salary was dealt to the Angels. So, the Hamels and Descalso moves added $13.15MM to the Cubs’ payroll.
Ricketts continued, “But frankly, we have one of the largest budgets in all of baseball. We put that to work, we’ve definitely signed a lot of players over the years. We have a team that we like. We have a team that we think is going to go a long way. We have a team that won 95 games last year without a lot of help from some of the guys we picked up last offseason. And all the different things that we fought through last year – the injuries, everyone’s having kind of down years, some of the off-field distractions…we like our club. And we’re among the very top spenders. So, I just think all that stuff’s kind of misguided.”
Ricketts had two refrains in this interview: we are already spending a lot of money on players, and we have a great team already.
Ricketts said that despite having unique stadium and tax expenses that other teams do not have, the Cubs are one of the “top few spenders” in baseball. He suggested the club could never spend at the level of the Yankees or Dodgers, implying the Cubs sit third behind them in payroll. Looking at 2018 end of season luxury tax payrolls from the Associated Press, the Cubs ranked fifth behind the Red Sox, Nationals, Giants, and Dodgers. Why the Cubs cannot spend like the Red Sox is unclear. Perhaps the problem is that the Cubs had for the most part set expectations of heavy offseason spending:
- 2017-18: $216.295MM spent in free agency (Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Smyly, Brian Duensing)
- 2016-17: $19.5MM spent in free agency (Jon Jay, Koji Uehara, Brett Anderson, Duensing) plus the acquisition of Wade Davis ($10MM salary). Fresh off a World Series win, the Cubs were mindful of the competitive balance tax threshold, and of course were able to stay under it without fan backlash. The market was light on premium free agents, and the club traded for Davis rather than engage with Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen.
- 2015-16: $289.95MM spent in free agency (Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler)
- 2014-15: $192.1MM spent in free agency (Jon Lester, Jason Hammel)
So the Cubs signed a $126MM+ player in three of the last four winters. It’s not that they haven’t spent money, it’s just that at this point in their competitive window, they’ve chosen an odd winter to stop spending. The Cubs’ brief playoff appearance this year, Theo Epstein’s “our offense broke” comment the following day, and the once-a-decade availability of free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado led most fans to think the team would be firmly in the mix for a major offensive upgrade, particularly Harper. Instead, Ricketts suggested the team had little room for improvement, saying, “The fact is we look at our lineup, and you look around the horn and who would you switch out?”
Though this was intended as a rhetorical question, it’s one that has many good answers. FanGraphs projects the 2019 Cubs at 87 wins, with the Cardinals coming in at 86 after the addition of Paul Goldschmidt. There’s also the Brewers, who have handily beaten projections over the last few years and won 96 games in 2018. I’ll take the over on FanGraphs’ 79 win projection for Milwaukee, while the Reds and Pirates also land in that 79-80 projection range. All five NL Central teams should be competitive. The Cubs hardly have the division locked down, so who would you switch out?
The Cubs were expected to move on from Addison Russell after his domestic violence suspension came down and further details emerged, but he remains penciled in at shortstop after tallying 2.9 WAR over the last two seasons combined. Their outfield consists of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist – hardly a crew that should block Harper or even Andrew McCutchen. The bullpen has glaring holes, with closer Brandon Morrow starting the season on the DL and the Cubs choosing not to bring Jesse Chavez back. The Cubs are looking at Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Kintzler, and Brian Duensing in the pen, with the expectation being that Epstein will continue to sit out the bidding for top free agents. Craig Kimbrel remains on the market, while Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, and Joakim Soria are off the board.
Though Ricketts has typically participated in a fan Q&A at the annual Cubs Convention, he won’t be doing so at the event this weekend. He laughingly cited having the “lowest-rated panel” as the justification, but the cancellation of the panel coinciding with the club’s quiet offseason is a bad look for the team. Fan frustration has reached a boiling point this winter, and that’s why the owner should be accountable. While Ricketts noted that the panel could be brought back next year if people want it, why not just reverse course this year and field fan questions?
With the Cubs’ core of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez in place for only three more years, Ricketts has decided to sit out the 2018-19 offseason. Ricketts asked fans to withhold judgment on the choice, saying this morning, “We’re going to be great, and I think people people should judge us by what happens during the season, not what happens in December.”