Click here to read a transcript of this week’s chat with MLBTR’s Steve Adams.
Talk of revenue losses throughout the sport has been prominent since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but commissioner Rob Manfred put some more concrete numbers on the concept this week. In an interview with Barry M. Bloom for Sportico, Manfred claimed that the league’s 30 teams have amassed a collective $8.3 billion in debt and will post anywhere from $2.8 to $3.0 billion in combined operational losses.
Manfred’s comments come at a time when many clubs throughout the league have made sweeping layoffs to both business-side and baseball operations employees. The Athletic’s Alex Coffey reported last week that the A’s, for instance, are preparing to lay off upwards of 150 employees who were furloughed throughout much of the 2020 season. They’re far from the only club making such broad-ranging cuts, although Oakland certainly figures to be on the more extreme end of the spectrum.
Evan Drellich of The Athletic wrote yesterday that a league official claimed Major League Baseball’s EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — showed a loss of $2.7 billion but also noted that with the league’s books closed, such numbers can’t be independently verified. A league official claimed to Drellich, perhaps more dubiously, that even under normal conditions the league would have expected $10 billion in revenue against $10.2 billion of expenses — a rather eye-opening and frankly questionable assertion when considering last year’s widely reported $10.7 billion of revenue for MLB.
In that sense, the claims put forth by Manfred and the unnamed league official(s) who spoke to Drellich on the condition of anonymity call back to the ugly standoff between MLB and the MLBPA during return-to-play negotiations, wherein the players repeatedly called for ownership to open its books and provide quantitative evidence of the extent of the damage they were facing. Detractors will surely question the veracity of the league’s figures, which Drellich notes do not account for “ancillary” revenue streams like stakes in regional sports networks.
Regardless, there’s no doubting that revenue losses felt by clubs in the absence of fans is enormous. The job cuts throughout the sport are but one way for ownership to soften the blow, but the most direct means of correcting course for owners is expected to be via club payroll. For months we’ve heard expectations of a bloated group of non-tendered players and a tepid market for free agents. To that end, Bloom notes that some club executives have already signaled that they won’t be able to commit salary to players this winter.
Some clubs will surely still spend money. The purported $2.8 to $3 billion in operating losses isn’t necessarily divided evenly among the league’s 30 clubs, and tolerance for loss varies from owner to owner (or ownership group to ownership group). Still, on a macro level it’s wise to anticipate large-scale reductions in team payrolls.
Most concerning for players, remaining club employees and the health of the sport is the potential for additional revenue losses in 2021. While the obvious hope is that fans will be back in the park for a full 162-game slate next season, that’s wholly dependent on the status of the coronavirus and the associated public health guidelines in place. To this point there’s no clear timeline on when a vaccine will be produced, approved, scaled and distributed such that clubs could expect business as usual. And while Manfred has previously taken an optimistic tone on that front, he struck a different chord in speaking with Bloom this week.
“[I]t’s going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don’t have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can’t play and how we can play,” Manfred told Bloom. “…It’s absolutely certain, I know, that we’re going to have to have conversations with the MLBPA about what 2021 is going to look like. It’s difficult to foresee a situation right now where everything’s just normal.”
The Reds announced Monday that right-hander Joel Kuhnel has cleared waivers been assigned outright to Triple-A Louisville. Between Kuhnel’s outright and the Mets’ claim of Robel Garcia, the Reds have opened a pair of spots on the 40-man roster.
Kuhnel, 25, has pitched 12 2/3 innings with Cincinnati over the past two seasons, working to a combined 4.97 ERA with a 12-to-5 K/BB ratio and a 47.4 percent ground-ball rate in that limited sample. He averaged better than 96 mph on his heater in 2019 with a swinging-strike of 14.5 percent, though both those marks were down in 2020 — albeit in a minuscule sample of three innings (95.4 mph; 3.5 percent).
Kuhnel, an 11th-round pick by the Reds in 2016, obviously didn’t pitch much in a game setting this year thanks to the absence of a minor league season. His last extended minor league work came in 2019, when he notched a tidy 2.18 ERA with a 50-to-16 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 frames between Double-A and Triple-A.
Garcia, 27, made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 2019 after after a highly unusual path to The Show. The former Indians farmhand was out of affiliated ball from 2014-18 before the Cubs caught a look at him playing for a professional team in Italy. They brought him in on a minor league pact, and Garcia showed off light-tower power at Triple-A in 2019 — 21 homers in 296 plate appearances — before being called up.
The Cubs gave Garcia 80 plate appearances in 2019, and he responded with a tepid .208 average and .275 on-base percentage, but he still slugged .500 thanks to five homers, two doubles and two triples in that short time. Garcia also punched out in 35 of those 80 plate appearances, so while the raw power he possesses is plain to see, there’s some obvious work to be done on his approach at the plate.
Defensively, Garcia saw time at all four infield positions and both outfield corners during his stint with the Cubs organization, although he was primarily a second baseman and third baseman in the minors. He didn’t appear in the Majors this past season and would seem like a long shot to open next year on the Mets’ roster, if he survives the winter on their 40-man roster. He’s only been optioned in two different seasons, though, so he should have one minor league option remaining next year.
Cordell, 28, joined the Mets as a minor league free agent last offseason and tallied just eight plate appearances in five games with them this year. He was once a well-regarded prospect but has turned in a lackluster .202/.263/.328 batting line through 295 career trips to the plate with the White Sox and Mets. He’s capable of playing all three outfield positions and has a lifetime .266/.323/.451 batting line in Triple-A.
Japanese righty Hirokazu Sawamura has drawn early interest from multiple Major League teams, MLBTR has learned. It’s not yet certain that the 32-year-old reliever will make the jump to the big leagues, but the nine-year veteran has pitched in front of plenty of Major League scouts during his tenure in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He’s an unrestricted free agent this winter, so he won’t be subject to the NPB-MLB posting system.
Sawamura spent the bulk of his NPB career pitching with the Yomiuri Giants but got out to a rough start in 2020 — nine runs on 14 hits and eight walks in 13 2/3 innings — prompting the Giants to trade him to the Chiba Lotte Marines. He’s righted the ship with his new team, allowing just two runs on six hits and seven walks with 19 punchouts in 14 2/3 frames.
Overall, Sawamura has logged 862 innings in his NPB career and worked to a 2.77 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. He began his career as a starter before becoming the Giants’ closer in 2015. He racked up 73 saves over the next two seasons as their primary ninth-inning option before missing the 2017 season due to a shoulder issue. (Bizarrely, it seems the Giants mistreated his initial discomfort with an acupuncture procedure that resulted in a nerve injury; the team’s president and GM both issued apologies to the right-hander.) He’s pitched mostly in a setup capacity since returning in 2018.
This year’s early struggles will surely be a red flag for some big league teams, but Sawamura’s post-trade rebound, his track record and a potentially MLB-caliber arsenal should all work in his favor if he does hope to sign in North America. The right-hander has a fastball that can reach 97 mph, a low-90s splitter that functions as his primary out pitch and a slider.
It’s hard to gauge precisely what type of market Sawamura would find, though demand for affordable bullpen help will be widespread, as is the case each winter. Some recent examples of pure relievers coming over from NPB include the Padres’ two-year, $3.8MM deal with Kazuhisa Makita, the Blue Jays’ one-year, $1MM deal with Rafael Dolis (plus a club option) and the Brewers $1MM deal with Jay Jackson. Dolis and Jackson, of course, were returning after years away from the big leagues.
The Tigers have interviewed Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin for their managerial vacancy, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports (via Twitter). He’s the third member of the Yankees’ staff to be interviewed by the Tigers, joining bench coach Carlos Mendoza and hitting coach Marcus Thames.
Nevin, 49, is no stranger to the Tigers organization. The former big league first baseman spent three of his dozen MLB seasons in a Detroit uniform and, since retiring, has served as the manager of the Tigers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. He’s gone on to manage the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate and serve as a third base coach with the D-backs and Yankees organizations. New York hired him to his current post in the 2017-18 offseason.
Tigers GM Al Avila made some headlines when he said that he wouldn’t rule out either A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora in his search for recently retired Ron Gardenhire’s replacement, but to this point the Tigers have interviewed a fairly broad array of candidates. Beyond this trio of Yankees staffers, Avila & Co. have spoken with Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly (another former Tiger), Dodgers first base coach George Lombard and Cubs third base coach Will Venable. Among in-house candidates, Detroit has spoken to current interim manager and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.
All of that can be seen in MLBTR’s 2021 Managerial Tracker, which has updates on both the Red Sox and White Sox vacancies as well.
The Mariners on Monday announced their coaching staff for the 2021 season. The unit will remain largely unchanged, although Seattle has appointed Trent Blank as the team’s permanent bullpen coach and director of pitching strategy. He’ll replace Brian DeLunas, whose departure had been previously reported. DeLunas coached remotely in 2020 due to a preexisting kidney issues that place him at high risk with regard to Covid-19. Due to that arrangement, Blank shared bullpen coach duties in 2020 on an acting/interim basis.
Blank is entering his third season with the Mariners organization, having previously been hired as the club’s coordinator of pitching strategy prior to the 2019 campaign. The former Rockies farmhand spent four years with TMI Sports Medicine between his retirement as a player in 2015 and being hired by Seattle.
Manager Scott Servais is set to return to the Mariners for what will be his sixth season, and he’ll have the rest of his 2020 staff back at his side. That includes bench coach Jared Sandberg (heading into his second season in that role), hitting coach Tim Laker (third season), pitching coach Pete Woodworth (second season), first base/infield coach Perry Hill (third season), third base coach Manny Acta (fourth season), assistant hitting coach Jarret DeHart (second season) and field coordinator Carson Vitale (second season).
Heading into the 2020 season, A’s shortstop Marcus Semien appeared poised to become one of the market’s top free agents. Then 29 years of age, Semien was fresh off an MVP-caliber 2019 campaign fueled by a breakout at the plate and continued improvement upon his once-shaky defensive reputation at second base. Semien posted a huge .285/.369/.522 slash with a career-best 33 homers, 10 steals and defense strong enough to make him a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop.
The 2020 season, however, has been another story entirely. In 236 plate appearances, he turned in a .223/.305/.374 batting line with seven homers and four steals. Semien’s 10.6 percent walk rate was the second-best of his career, trailing only last year’s breakout, but he went the wrong direction in virtually every other category. His strikeout rate jumped from 13.7 percent to 21.2 percent — his highest mark since 2017 — while his isolated power dipped from .237 to .152. Semien’s hard-hit rate and average exit velocity both dropped considerably.
In the field, Semien went from +12 Defensive Runs Saved to -5. Outs Above Average wasn’t particularly kind to his 2020 work, either (-4). It’s worth mentioning that Ultimate Zone Rating still pegged him as a plus defender, with his 4.8 UZR/150 nearly matching the prior season’s 5.0. On a more rudimentary level, Semien made seven errors in 451 innings in 2020 compared to just 12 errors in 1435 frames a year ago.
The difficulty of evaluating players’ successes and failures in a wholly unique 2020 season is plain to see. But for both the A’s and for other clubs who may hold interest in Semien, it’s particularly challenging. Anything close to his 2019 output would’ve made him a lock to receive an $18.9MM qualifying offer, but the Oakland org now must wonder whether he’d accept such an offer and whether they’d want him back at that rate. Other clubs will be left to wonder whether the 2019 season was a fluky outlier or whether he was on player on the rise whose 2020 struggles can be attributed to myriad factors associated with this unprecedented season.
Perhaps further complicating matters for the A’s is that they have a second player who looks worth of a qualifying offer: closer Liam Hendriks. Such a notion would’ve sounded laughable as recently as 2018, when Hendriks was put through outright waivers and went unclaimed. However, he’s come back with a vengeance and emerged not only as Oakland’s closer but as the top free-agent reliever on this year’s market and one of the best relievers in the game, period.
Over the past two seasons, Hendriks has a ridiculous 1.79 ERA, 1.70 FIP and 2.95 xFIP with averages of 13.1 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings pitched. He’s posted a superhuman 17.6 percent swinging-strike rate — including a 19 percent rate in 2020. Meanwhile, he induced chases on pitches out of the strike zone at a whopping 38.1 percent this year (35.1 percent dating back ti ’19). That he was named reliever of the year in the American League came as little surprise.
On many clubs, making a qualifying offer to Hendriks would be a no-brainer. However, the A’s perennially operate with one of the league’s lowest payrolls and are just months removed from having to be publicly pressured into paying their minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend. An $18.9MM salary on a reliever could well be something they’re not prepared to risk. From Hendriks’ vantage point, he’s just north of $12MM in career earnings, so an $18.9MM paycheck would surely be tempting.
At the same time, Hendriks surely took note when a less-dominant reliever, left-hander Will Smith, rejected a qualifying offer last year and still secured a three-year, $40MM deal with the Braves. If his camp believes such a deal is out there, then rejecting would be a better move; even in a worst-case scenario, he’d surely be able to command a sizable one-year deal in free agency — albeit likely not at that $18.9MM level. But if Hendriks believes the downside of rejecting a qualifying offer is, say, a one-year deal at $10MM, he’d be risking the $8.9MM difference for a multi-year deal that guarantees him perhaps $20MM or more beyond the value of the qualifying offer.
All of this, of course, could be a moot point. The A’s might decide that they don’t want to risk a qualifying offer for either player. They’re already on the hook for $16.5MM to Khris Davis, $7.25MM to Stephen Piscotty and $4MM to Jake Diekman next year. They’ll also see both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson receive sizable salary bumps as they enter arbitration for the first time — the headliners in a class which also features Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Mark Canha and Frankie Montas, among others. Projecting arbitration salaries for that bunch is trickier than ever given the shortened season and revenue losses, but they should command more than $20MM.
There are some split camps on how the A’s will proceed on this front. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggested on the former’s podcast last week that they still feel there’s a good chance Semien will receive an offer. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted recently, however, that a qualifying offer for Semien may not be realistic given the heft of that would-be salary.
The A’s were already slated to head into the 2020 season with what would’ve been a record payroll, just north of $100MM, prior to prorating this year’s salaries. Between the guarantees to Davis, Piscotty and Diekman; the arbitration raises to Chapman, Olson, Manaea, Bassitt, Canha and Montas; and the would-be $18.9MM salaries to Semien and Hendriks (should they accept), the A’s would already be close to $90MM. That’s before factoring in pre-arbitration players to round out the roster and any offseason additions they might hope to make.
Frankly, it’s difficult to see this club being willing to take this type of risk, although there’s an argument to be made in favor of both. A one-year deal for Semien would prove to be a nice value, for instance, if he rebounds to something between his 2019 and 2020 levels. And Smith’s contract with the Braves last year certainly lends credence to the idea that Hendriks could reject, which would give the A’s a valuable compensatory draft pick if he departs.
Let’s open this up for MLBTR readers to weigh in on a pair of questions:
Should the A’s make a qualifying offer to Semien and/or Hendriks? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)
Will the A’s make a qualifying offer to Semien and/or Hendriks? (Link to poll for app users)
6:15pm: The Red Sox have also interviewed Marlins bench coach James Rowson, Speier tweets.
5:46pm: The Red Sox have asked the Twins for permission to interview their bench coach, Mike Bell, according to Speier.
3:33pm: Boston has also interviewed Padres associate manager Skip Schumaker, Kevin Acee of the San Diego-Union Tribune tweets.
10:45am: The Red Sox interviewed Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta for their vacant managerial post last week, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reports. It’s the second time in the past year that Urueta has interviewed for the position. He was also a candidate after Alex Cora was let go, although the team opted to instead stick with an internal option in Ron Roenicke, who won’t return as skipper in 2021. Meanwhile, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link) reports that the Sox interviewed Pirates bench coach Don Kelly as well.
Urueta, 40 in January, has held his current position in Arizona for three seasons. He’s previously served as Arizona’s minor league field coordinator in addition to managing the Diamondbacks’ Rookie-level affiliate, managing in the Dominican Winter League and managing Team Colombia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The 40-year-old Kelly has fast risen as a popular managerial candidate after retiring as a player following the 2016 season. The longtime Tigers utilityman began working in Detroit’s player development part upon retiring and moved to their scouting staff the next year. He was hired as Houston’s first base coach for the 2018 season and hired as the Pirates’ bench coach under rookie skipper Derek Shelton last offseason.
There’s considerable speculation that Cora could return to Boston after his suspension for his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal has been served. That ban runs through the current postseason. However, the Red Sox have also reportedly interviewed Cubs third base coach Will Venable and, per Heyman, could talk to Dodgers first base coach George Lombard.
Didi Gregorius’ decision last winter to bet on himself with a one-year deal looks to have been a wise one, and he’ll now head back to free agency on the heels of a .284/.339/.488 slash with 10 home runs in a full 60 games with the Phillies. He’s already been linked to the Angels, and Gregorius himself said today in an appearance on WFAN’s Moose & Maggie Show that he’d have interest in returning to the Phillies (audio link).
“If they want me back, sure,” Gregorius said. “…I can’t force or say that I have to do this, or I have to be there. At the end of the day, it’s up to them. I really enjoyed playing with the guys over there. I had a really great time.”
Gregorius’ deal with the Phils reunited him with former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, whom the shortstop praised multiple times throughout the interview. The 30-year-old Gregorius also had nothing but positive things to say when asked about playing alongside Bryce Harper, calling him “awesome” multiple times while discussing the experience.
While Gregorius’ positive comments on his time with the Phillies and his openness to a return are surely of note, his reply when asked about a return to the Yankees is drawing considerable attention in its own right.
“I don’t think they would want me back in New York to be honest right now,” Gregorius said when asked about whether he could envision a return to the Bronx. Asked why, he expressed confidence that Gleyber Torres would rebound from his 2020 struggles and seize the shortstop job.
“I think Gleyber is the future shortstop,” said Gregorius. “It’s just the one year and to my understanding he was hurt for some of it. Once you get hurt, it’s like a step back on everything. If he gets to next year, he’s fully prepared and ready to go, I think everything should work smoothly and he will be fine.”
It was a rather rough season for 23-year-old Torres in 2020, but he’ll surely be given every opportunity to rebound next year, whether at shortstop or second base. Torres turned in a respectable .243/.356/.368 slash through 160 plate appearances, but that was a far cry from 2019’s brilliant .278/.337/.535 line and 38 homers. More glaring, perhaps, were Torres’ defensive issues (-9 DRS, -5 UZR, -4 OAA).
Despite those defensive struggles, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said last week that Torres “is our shortstop moving forward” (link via Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News). Cashman expressed confidence that Torres could improve his glovework but stopped short of declaring that he’d be the shortstop in 2021, instead stating that the organization will “continue to evaluate” its options.
Many Yankees fans have clamored for a reunion with Gregorius, who exceeded expectations in the Bronx as the successor to Derek Jeter at shortstop. However, Gregorius implied that he saw the writing on the wall toward the end of his time in New York and did not speak optimistically about a return tour in the near future.
Of course, Gregorius’ strong season makes him a potential qualifying offer candidate. That could impact his market and would leave him with the choice of returning to join Girardi, Harper and others on a one-year deal worth $18.9MM or hitting the market in search of a multi-year pact. Generally, when a player bets on himself with a one-year pact and delivers high-quality results, it’s expected that he’ll look to cash in on a longer-term deal the following winter. This offseason is anything but typical, though, and the league-wide revenue losses raise the question of whether the Phillies would risk making the offer and whether Gregorius would consider accepting.