- The Red Sox are reportedly wary of giving J.D. Martinez more than five guaranteed years, which is a justifiable stance given how often longer-term contracts have backfired on teams (including the Sox themselves). WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, however, presents the counterpoint, noting that an elite hitter like Martinez is a safer investment for a six- or seven-year deal since clubs like the Red Sox can eventually move him to a DH role. Boston has a clear need for a middle-of-the-order bat now, which Bradford feels Martinez can certainly fill in the short term given that the slugger (despite some recent injuries) has shown no signs of slowing down at the plate. MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list predicted that Martinez would indeed land a contract beyond the five-year threshold, pegging him for six years and $150MM.
- Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said the Sox “are not looking to move” Blake Swihart, despite trade interest from other teams. The last two seasons were essentially a writeoff for Swihart, due to defensive issues behind the plate and ankle injuries that limited him to just 91 minor league games and 25 MLB games in 2016-17. Still, the Sox haven’t given up on the former top prospect, with Dombrowski noting that Swihart’s positional versatility has helped add to his value for the team. While Dombrowski noted that “you could never say you would not move him or anyone else,” Swihart is “still part of our plans….Sometimes you get stuck with players who are out of options. In this case, because of his flexibility, I think we’ve got a little better chance of getting through it.”
- Unlike Pillar and Cain, free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez is not a defensive asset. As such, the Red Sox will mostly use Martinez as a designated hitter if they sign him, Cafardo relays. With three better defensive outfielders in the fold in Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, deploying the big-hitting Martinez at DH would be logical. There are a couple potential complications, however, with Martinez reportedly preferring to remain an outfielder and the presence of DH Hanley Ramirez in Boston. The Sox may attempt to trade Ramirez if they add Martinez, though it could be difficult to find a taker; after all, Ramirez is expensive ($22MM in 2018 and, if he reaches 497 plate appearances this year and then passes a physical, another $22MM in 2019), aging (34) and coming off a poor season.
Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post wonders if the Nationals will end up paying up for a Scott Boras client, as they often do late in the offseason. In recent winters, owner Ted Lerner approved deals for players like Rafael Soriano, Max Scherzer and Matt Wieters after the calendar flipped to the new year, and there’s certainly a possibility it could happen again. Janes lists reliever Greg Holland, outfielder J.D. Martinez and starter Jake Arrieta as Boras clients who make sense for the club’s roster as it’s currently constructed. The Nationals have a history of doing business with Boras late in the year, or as Janes puts it, “When big-name Boras clients linger into the new year, the Nationals linger, too, as potential suitors, regardless of whether they have an obvious need.”
Elsewhere along the East Coast…
- Unlike the Nats, the Red Sox rarely make late splashes in the free agent market. Jen McCaffrey of masslive.com posits that this year might be different. Boston is still in need of an upgrade to their offense, and J.D. Martinez remains on the market. Though the only significant late-winter deals the club made in the past decade were one-year pacts with Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox are probably facing pressure from their fan base to improve an offense that finished dead last in the American League with 168 home runs and third to last with a 92 wRC+. Other big hitters still on the market include the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, though neither seem like particularly good fits for Boston.
- Though new Marlins second baseman Starlin Castro is generating some trade interest, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com believes he’s likely to stay put. Gary Denbo, the Marlins’ VP of player development and scouting, says that Castro “has the ability to hit for average, and for a second baseman, he does provide power for that position.” Denbo also says he hopes that the second baseman can be a steady defender in the middle of the field. Since coming to Miami in the blockbuster Giancarlo Stanton trade, speculation has swirled around Castro as a potential trade candidate. I recently noted that the 27-year-old perhaps has some surplus value in his contract, which has two years and $22MM in guarantees remaining. His .300/.338/.454 battling line with the Yankees last year is solid, but his defense up the middle detracts a bit from his value.
- Years are also at issue for J.D. Martinez, Heyman explains. Red Sox president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski is not interested in offering more than five years, but Heyman suggests that agent Scott Boras could yet try to make his case at the ownership level. The “word is there are other five-year offers,” Heyman adds, though it remains hard to imagine which other reportedly interested club would be able to compete financially with the Sox for Martinez.
Here are Friday’s minor moves from around the game…
- The Rangers have inked a minor-league pact with right-hander Brandon Cumpton, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning news (Twitter link). Arm troubles have limited the 29-year-old of late, but he did return to professional action in 2017 after a two-year hiatus. Over 37 1/3 innings, Cumpton pitched to a 3.86 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.
- As Cumpton leaves the Pirates organization, two other right-handers are on their way in, according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. Tyler Jones and Bo Schultz have each joined the Bucs on minor-league arrangements, per the report. The former will be looking to crack the majors for the first time. He has often produced quality strikeout rates in the upper minors but only managed a 4.38 ERA in 63 2/3 innings at Triple-A last year with the Yankees organization. As for Schultz, the former Blue Jays reliever will be looking to return from Tommy John surgery. Schultz turned in a useful 2015 season but faltered in the ensuing season — he worked to a 5.51 ERA in his 16 1/3 MLB innings — before going under the knife.
- Righty William Cuevas will join the Red Sox organization on a minor-league pact, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The 27-year-old has spent the bulk of his career in the Boston organization but played elsewhere in 2017. He worked to a 4.85 ERA in 104 Triple-A frames in 2017, with 7.0 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Cuevas has twice cracked the majors, but only briefly.
- Yet another right-handed hurler, Preston Guilmet, is heading to the Cardinals on a minors deal, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets. He’ll get a spring invite and can earn at a $600K rate in the majors. The 30-year-old Guilmet has seen parts of three seasons in the majors but only has 23 career innings at the game’s highest level. He has put up some interesting results of late, though, posting a 2.77 ERA with 10.8 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9 in 68 1/3 Triple-A frames in 2016 before heading to Japan and running a 3.62 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in his 54 2/3 innings for the Yakult Swallows (over four starts and 28 relief appearances).
- The Tigers have agreed to a minor league deal with former Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (on Twitter). Kozma, 30 in April, split the 2017 season between the Rangers and Yankees organizations and logged 51 plate appearances in the Majors, though he batted just .111/.200/.178 in that small sample. Long considered an excellent defender with a light bat, Kozma is a career .215/.282/.285 hitter in parts of six MLB seasons but also comes with a career +11 Defensive Runs Saved mark and +9 Ultimate Zone Rating in 1450 innings at shortstop.
- The Braves announced yesterday that right-handed reliever Luke Jackson cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Gwinnett. Once a well-regarded prospect in the Rangers system, the now-26-year-old Jackson posted an ERA north of 6.00 and walked 16 batters in 24 1/3 innings with Gwinnett last season. He actually performed better in the Majors, logging a 4.62 ERA in 50 1/3 frames, albeit with pedestrian averages of 5.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with a 45.2 percent grounder rate. Jackson does have a history of missing bats in the upper minors and did average 94.7 mph on his heater last year while running up a 10.2 percent swinging-strike rate, so there’s some hope that he could yet figure things out.
That payday slots in just below the $1.2MM that MLBTR had projected Wright to earn. The knuckler seems to be the odds-on favorite to earn the fifth starter’s role for the Red Sox, barring a surprise outside acquisition.
First, though, he’ll have to show he’s healthy and back in form. Wright’s 2017 season was cut short by knee issues that ultimately required surgery. He ended up taking the ball only five times on the year.
Quite different concerns arose earlier in the offseason when Wright was arrested following a domestic dispute (though there’s no indication it ever became physical). While the league is still investigating the incident, the legal matter has been “retired.”
Boston will hope that Wright can return to something approach the quality he showed in 2016, when a breakout first half earned him an All-Star bid. In 156 2/3 innings over 24 starts that year, Wright worked to a 3.33 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
The Dodgers approached the Red Sox earlier this offseason about a trade that would’ve sent Yasiel Puig to Boston in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr., reports Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. The Sox, valuing Bradley’s elite glove and extra year of control (three years to Puig’s two), “quickly” declined the offer, and talks between the two sides never went beyond that stage. As Speier points out, however, the scenario is instructive when gauging the Red Sox’ valuation of Bradley, who is coming off a relatively disappointing season at the plate. Puig’s .263/.346/.487 slash and 28 homers dwarfed Bradley’s .245/.323/.402 output and 17 homers, but the Sox (who’ve been searching all offseason for an offensive upgrade), seemingly gave little consideration to the notion. Bradley’s name has been oft-speculated upon in various trade scenarios by fans and pundits alike, but it doesn’t seem as though the Boston brass views him in that light; president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski has said at multiple points this winter that he’s in no rush to deal Bradley, Speier adds.
Over the next few days, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong. Last night, we kicked off the series with Manny Machado’s arbitration breakdown. Full 2018 projected arbitration salaries for every player are also available here at MLBTR.
Mookie Betts brings a rare combination of speed and power to his first year of arbitration eligibility, making his case a tricky one to project. The model places him at $8.2 million, which seems likely to be too high. The model tends to notice that having solid numbers in multiple statistical categories can aggregate up to a larger effect than the sum of its parts, but this can also lead to overly aggressive projections in some cases. With Betts entering arbitration with the rare combination of 78 career home runs and 80 stolen bases thus far in his young career, the arbitration model may exaggerate that combined effect.
The last time a player entered arbitration with both 60 homers and 60 steals in his career was 2010, when Matt Kemp did it. Hanley Ramirez also did in 2009. However, both signed multi-year deals without exchanging arbitration figures, so they may not be relevant comparables when examining Betts. For what it’s worth, they got $4MM and $5.55MM, respectively, in their first years as part of their multi-year deals. However, this is of limited value, especially given how stale these salaries are.
No one in the past five years with 70 career home runs going into arbitration has had more than 32 stolen bases, and no one in the past five years with 70 career stolen bases going into arbitration has had more than 59 home runs. The latter player was Drew Stubbs, but his .213 platform average and .241 career average, along with just 14 of those home runs coming in his platform season, combine to make him a poor comparable. His $2.83MM salary is well short of where Betts will end up.
If we want to look only at platform year stats, when Betts had 24 home runs and 26 stolen bases, Manny Machado seems like a plausible comparable. He had 35 homers and swiped 20 bases when entering arbitration for the first time two years ago, leading to a $5MM salary. However, he only had 10 stolen bases in his career prior to his platform season, so Betts could argue that he should top this. He also has 10 more career home runs than Machado had at the time and a higher career average (.292 versus .281). Of course, his platform year average of .264 is well short of Machado’s .286. I could see the Red Sox pushing down on his Betts’ salary by suggesting Machado as a comparable.
To get anywhere near the $8.2MM projection, Betts’ agents will need to hit on the fact that Betts’ 2016 performance nearly won him an MVP Award. Players with that type of hardware, such as Buster Posey ($8MM in 2013) and Ryan Howard ($10MM in 2008) stand atop the list of highest first year arbitration salaries. Betts did get 9 of 28 first place votes, with the other 19 and the award itself going to Mike Trout. Admittedly, however, I think such an argument would be a tough sell.
In all likelihood, Betts end up closer to Machado’s $5MM, but somewhat extra for the stronger career totals. I would guess the model falls a couple million short in this instance, as Betts ends up with a first-time arbitration salary around $6MM.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. is joining the Red Sox on a minor league deal, per Cotillo (Twitter link). De Jesus, 30, has past experience with the Boston organization, having been a member of it in 2012 and ’14. More recently, he spent last season with the Brewers’ Triple-A club and batted a robust .345/.407/.488 in 466 trips to the plate. He hasn’t been nearly as successful across 545 major league PAs with the Dodgers, Red Sox and Reds, having slashed .242/.303/.327.