- Less than a month ago, the Mets were reportedly among several teams with interest in free agent first baseman Carlos Santana. Now the idea of the Mets landing Santana looks “very unlikely,” a source told Carig. The pessimism toward signing Santana stems from the presence of young first baseman Dominic Smith and an unwillingness on the team’s part to make a major financial commitment at the position. With Santana a strong bet to sign one of the most valuable contracts in this offseason’s class of free agents, the Mets are nearly certain to target a cheap stopgap like Adam Lind instead, per Carig, though he adds that they remain interested in a reunion with potential first base option Jay Bruce. Unlike Santana, Bruce is primarily an outfielder, and the Mets value his versatility enough to make a signing possible.
- Elsewhere around the infield, Carig writes that it’s “unlikely” the Mets will sign free agent second baseman Neil Walker, whom they traded to the Brewers over the summer. They haven’t shown any interest in utilityman Howie Kendrick, meanwhile, but re-signing longtime Met Jose Reyes remains on the table. Reyes turned in a respectable age-34 season in 2017, and he made it known toward the end of the year that he’d like to finish his career with the Mets.
- New York reportedly made an offer to reliever Bryan Shaw around Thanksgiving, but there’s still no indication as to whether he’s interested in joining the club, Carig reports. The belief around the majors is that Shaw has received multiple three-year proposals in the $24MM range (it’s unclear if any of those came from the Mets), one rival executive informed Carig. Shaw, 30, may be holding out for a fourth year, and the Mets would balk at that, according to Carig.
In a series of analytical pieces, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times checks in on the Rays’ offseason in advance of the Winter Meetings. He explains that the club seems to have been slowed, in particular, by the as-yet-unresolved Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani situations. Topkin also analyzes the team’s options for dealing a starter, explaining that the team’s history suggests it’s quite likely that at least one arm will be on the move. He pegs Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi as the likeliest candidates to be dealt. He goes on to discuss the potential for a deal involving third baseman Evan Longoria, who’ll attain full no-trade rights early in the 2018 season, though it’s important to note that there is no clear indication as of yet that he’s on the block.
Here are a few more notes on a slow-moving market for players that has only just begun to show signs of thawing:
- The Angels are still keeping an eye on the market for corner infielders, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets, even as they continue to direct their immediate attention to Otani. Landing the Japanese star would presumably impact the organization’s plans regarding adding hitters, since he’d occupy some at-bats and perhaps force Albert Pujols to spend more time at first base — thus reducing the need for another corner option, particularly with C.J. Cron having been tendered a contract. Still, Carlos Santana remains an option, per the report. It’s worth noting, too, that Pujols is said to be trimming up and leaving the team with some optimism of a bounceback, Jeff Fletcher of the Southern California News Group tweets.
- As the Cubs look to bolster their late-inning mix after non-tendering Hector Rondon, they have made contact with Brandon Kintzler’s representatives, according to Morosi (via Twitter). The veteran groundball specialist might conceivably add a new element to the Chicago pen, though Morosi cautions talks have not advanced very far at this point. Kintzler has drawn fairly wide interest after a strong campaign with the Twins and Nationals, over which he turned in 71 1/3 innings of 3.03 ERA pitching.
- Right-hander Neftali Feliz is hoping to show he’s healthy and throwing well in a bid to earn a bounceback opportunity, per a report from Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (Twitter link). The 29-year-old, who caught on with the Royals after being cut loose by the Brewers in the middle of the 2017 season, went in for a checkup from Dr. James Andrews but was reportedly cleared of any arm issues. He’s also set to hold an audition for an unnamed team today. Despite his rough results in his 46 innings in the most recent campaign — a 5.48 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 — Feliz showed a typically strong 96.5 mph fastball and 11.6% swinging-strike rate that matches his career average.
Brewers infield prospect Javier Betancourt was shot in the arm in the wake of an argument on Friday in his native Venezuela, according to reporter Andriw Sanchez Ruiz (hat tip to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Betancourt is headed to Milwaukee to recover and surgery may be required, though Brewers GM David Stearns told Haudricourt (Twitter link) that the club is still considering treatment options. “Javier’s injuries are not life threatening and he is resting comfortably,” Stearns said. MLB security is currently investigating the incident. Betancourt, 22, joined the Brewers from the Tigers in November 2015 as part of the return in the Francisco Rodriguez trade. The infielder has hit .265/.311/.357 over 2231 career plate appearances in the minors, with the last two seasons coming at Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate. All of us at MLBTR wish Betancourt the best in a full recovery.
Here are some notes from around baseball…
- The Rangers signed Doug Fister earlier today but aren’t done looking for pitching, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports (Twitter link) that the club is still showing interest in Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. Given the uncertainty in the Texas rotation and Fister’s own inconsistent performance in recent years, it isn’t surprising that the Rangers are looking to further augment their staff with a pitcher who could be more comfortably slotted near the front of the rotation. Texas has cast a wide net in search of pitching help — beyond Cobb and Lynn, the team has also been linked to Jake Arrieta and Tyler Chatwood, plus the Rangers are expected to be one of the top suitors for Shohei Otani.
- The Padres have some degree of interest in Eric Hosmer since he is younger than other free agent first base options, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. For instance, Lin hasn’t heard of anything serious about the Padres pursuing Carlos Santana, the second-best first baseman on the open market. Hosmer is just 28, and thus if signed to a long-term deal, would likely still be a contributor once the Padres are ready to contend. A player like Santana, who turns 32 in April, could already be declining by the time San Diego is done rebuilding, which could be at least two seasons from now. Of course, the Padres also already have Wil Myers at first base, and a Hosmer signing is probably the only scenario that would see the team ask Myers to move to a corner outfield spot.
THURSDAY: Officially, all nine players have rejected their qualifying offers and become free agents, the MLBPA has announced (h/t Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, on Twitter).
MONDAY: All nine of the free agents that received a one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offer will reject that offer in favor of free agency, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports writes. Each of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Carlos Santana will turn down that one-year opportunity in search of a multi-year pact in free agency.
In doing so, that group of nine will also subject themselves to draft-pick compensation and position their former clubs to recoup some value in next year’s amateur draft should they sign elsewhere. Last offseason’s new collective bargaining agreement altered the specifics of that compensation, tying the draft picks received and surrendered largely to the luxury tax threshold, revenue sharing and the size of the contract signed by the free agent in question.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained which draft picks each of the six teams that issued a qualifying offer would receive, should their free agents sign elsewhere, as well as which picks all 30 teams would be required to surrender if they are to sign a qualified free agent. Prior to that, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk provided a more comprehensive and in-depth overview of the new QO system, for those that are unfamiliar or would like a refresher on the finer details.
It’s been reported for quite some time that Kansas City will make a strong effort to retain Hosmer. Heyman added over the weekend that the Royals will also push to keep Moustakas but feel that Cain is almost certain to land elsewhere on the open market. The Rockies are known to have interest in re-upping with Holland on a multi-year deal, and Heyman notes within today’s column that the Rays “understand [Cobb] is out of their reach financially” and will sign elsewhere. He also adds that Davis seems to be likelier than Arrieta to return to Chicago.
It’s unlikely that there will be any formal announcements just yet. Among the changes to the QO system under the 2017-21 CBA was that QO recipients would have 10 days, rather than seven, to determine whether to accept or reject the offer. The deadline to issue QOs was last Monday, so the recipients still technically have until this coming Thursday to formally declare their intention. But, barring a last-minute freak injury it seems that each of the nine will go the widely expected route and enter free agency in search of the most substantial contracts in their respective careers.
The Mets are weighing an earnest pursuit of Japanese star Shohei Ohtani if and when he is posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, David Lennon and Marc Carig of Newsday report. While the Mets are limited in what they can offer at present, the team could potentially trade for additional pool money. The greater allure than the signing bonus they can offer, though, comes with the endorsement opportunities available to Ohtani by signing with one of the two teams in the nation’s largest market, Carig and Lennon posit. The Mets also have a strong relationship with Ohtani’s agency, CAA, and they could offer Ohtani opportunities to bat not only on the days he’s pitching but occasionally in the outfield. Lennon notes that the Mets should still be considered a long shot, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that another large-market club could be in the mix for his services.
A few more notes out of Queens…
- Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the Mets are indeed interested in Carlos Santana, as FanRag’s Jon Heyman recently suggested, adding that the interest in Santana has a correlation with some executives’ feelings toward prospect Dominic Smith. The former first-round pick made his big league debut late in the 2017 season and didn’t do much to impress, hitting just .198/.262/.395 with a 26.8 percent strikeout rate in 183 plate appearances. Smith is still just 22 years of age, and Puma hardly suggests that the team has completely given up on the young slugger. But, assistant GM John Ricco also suggested to Puma and other reporters that the club could trade from its big league roster if it meant acquiring other big league talent. He also specifically indicated that Wilmer Flores could platoon with Smith, so there’s certainly the possibility that he could yet play a large role for the Mets moving forward.
- Puma notes within that seem piece that Ricco suggested Asdrubal Cabrera currently factors into the plan as a third baseman. The Mets could shift him to second base if a better option at the hot corner arises, though MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets that the Mets are most likely to add a second base option this offseason with Cabrera penciled in at third base. Puma writes that while the Mets are being open-minded when it comes to the infield, they are not likely to pursue either Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas in free agency.
- The Mets are “ramping up” to make a play that has previously been uncharacteristic for them, tweets Carig. New York, it seems, is prepared to add a reliever to their bullpen even at the cost of a three- or four-year contract. Alderson has typically eschewed such commitments, but Carig notes that it’s considered a high priority for the team. The Post’s Joel Sherman points out that new manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland bring some insight into a group of free-agent relievers. Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw and Boone Logan pitched for Callaway in Cleveland (Smith was also drafted by the Mets), while Eiland was the pitching coach for Mike Minor in Kansas City.
- Further adding to the notion that the Mets are poised for an active offseason, Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM tweets that Ricco joined him on the air tonight and “made it clear” that the Mets are going to be players on the free-agent market. Bowden notes that position players seem likelier than pitchers, though, with center field, first base, second base and third base all potential areas for addition. The Mets were already linked to center fielder Lorenzo Cain earlier this evening.
TODAY: The early interest in Santana is robust, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag, who writes that Santana “is thought to be drawing interest from as many as 10 teams.”
Among those reaching out to his representatives, per Heyman, are the Angels as well as two eyebrow-raising NL East clubs: the Mets and Phillies. The New York franchise has had its moments of frustration with Dominic Smith, though it would remain surprising to see him blocked entirely by a player that likely can’t be utilized anywhere other than first base. Mike Puma of the New York Post does tweet, though, that the club could send Smith back to Triple-A and eventually shop him. And the Phillies would appear to be set at first with Rhys Hoskins, though he could in theory be shifted to the corner outfield after experimenting there last year. (Of course, the team has other young players in the outfield and indications are that the preference is not to disturb that mix.)
YESTERDAY: The Red Sox have an obvious hole at first base in their lineup, and they’re set to begin the preliminary stages of filling that vacancy at this week’s GM Meetings. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets that Boston will sit down with Carlos Santana’s agents at Octagon, while Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reports that the Sox have also lined up a meeting with Logan Morrison’s representatives at ISE Baseball.
Boston isn’t alone in eyeing that pair, however. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports that the Angels are considering a run at Morrison as they look to add some left-handed punch to their lineup. Morrison is one of multiple players on Anaheim’s radar, Fletcher notes.
Meanwhile, the Mariners have interest in bringing Santana into the fold, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (on Twitter). There have yet to be any “substantial” discussions between the two sides, Morosi cautions (as one would expect this early in the offseason), but first base is a definite area of need for the Mariners. Seattle saw both Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia hit free agency when the season ended, and while Dan Vogelbach represents an internal option, he’s not considered to be a strong defender.
Santana, 32 in April, is widely considered to be one of the best first basemen available on the free-agent market this offseason. While he wouldn’t necessarily provide the huge power bat that many Sox fans covet — he belted a career-high 34 homers in 2016 but saw that mark fall to a more typical 23 homers in 2017 — Santana is an on-base machine who has also worked himself into one of the premier defensive first basemen in the league.
A switch-hitter, Santana batted .259/.363/.455 this past season and has never posted an OBP south of .351 in a season. Santana has walked at a 15.2 percent clip in his career against just a 17 percent strikeout rate (13.2 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively, in 2017). Originally a catcher, Santana eventually moved off the position to first base and has built up a quality reputation there. He was a Gold Glove finalist this past season after registering a +10 Defensive Runs Saved mark and a +4.8 Ultimate Zone Rating. The Indians made a qualifying offer to Santana, so he’d cost the Red Sox their second-highest pick in next year’s draft as well as $500K of their international signing pool. The Mariners would have a lighter penalty, only surrendering their third-highest pick.
As for Morrison, he’s a younger option that’ll play most of next season at the age of 30. A longtime top prospect, Morrison’s career never fully took off as hoped in either Miami or in Seattle. However, he rebounded from a slow start with the Rays last year to hit .275/.350/.498 with 14 homers over his final 303 plate appearances before a wrist injury ended his season.
Morrison returned to the Rays as a free agent on a one-year, $2.5MM contract this past offseason and proved to be one of the top bargains in all of baseball. In 601 plate appearances, Morrison posted a .246/.353/.516 line and 38 homers while receiving slightly above-average marks from DRS and UZR himself (+1 from each metric). He doesn’t come with the platoon issues that many left-handed hitters carry, either, as he hammers right-handed opponents and has been a bit above average against lefties over the past two years. Including his strong finish in 2016, Morrison has raked at a .256/.352/.510 pace (130 wRC+) with an 11.8 percent walk rate and a 23.1 percent strikeout rate in 904 plate appearances.
Despite that huge season, the budget-conscious Rays opted not to extend a QO to Morrison. Tampa Bay had already extended a QO to righty Alex Cobb and surely didn’t relish the notion of taking the risk, however small, of two players accepting one-year salaries worth $17.4MM. Morrison now benefits from that decision, though, as he won’t require interested parties to surrender a draft pick or international money upon signing.
Although outgoing Royal Eric Hosmer is a clear bet to take home the largest contract among first basemen this winter, Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs suspects that career Indians first baseman Carlos Santana will outperform Hosmer for at least the next three years. While Hosmer is younger than Santana and had a better 2017 season by fWAR, Sawchik notes that Santana’s primary skill (his batting eye) is a better bet to age well than any other skill that either player brings to the table. Hosmer has also posted negative fWAR totals in two of his major league seasons; something Santana has never done. Worth mentioning: Santana was worth a total of 21.2 fWAR from 2011-2017, while Hosmer was worth a mere 9.9.
Elsewhere across baseball’s central divisions…
- The offseason for Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong will be an interesting one. As CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported from New York on Thursday, DeJong has joined renowned scientist Dr. Lawrence Rocks in a lab study about the effects of heat and weather on baseball flight distance. Early returns in the study seem to indicate that while baseballs are likely to travel shorter distances as temperatures get colder, they are also likely to travel shorter distances if temperatures increase past a certain point. “As you decrease temperature, you get less bounce, like an automobile tire on a very cold day – it’s a little more brittle,” Rocks said. “As you increase temperature, the elastomeres get a little mooshy; you get less bounce.”
- While Cubs GM Jed Hoyer has declined to comment on his team’s pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago suggests a plan of attack for the team in trying to acquire the Japanese ace. While bringing an end to “The Curse” is no longer a selling point (as it may have been to Jon Lester and some others, according to Mooney), Chicago still has plenty to offer as a city. Hoyer will be working hard to put together a more attractive pitch to Ohtani and his agents than the other 29 MLB teams that will be vying for the two-way star’s services.
Six different teams made qualifying offers to free agents this winter. Assuming the nine players turn down the one-year, $17.4MM offer, here’s what each of those teams stands to gain in draft pick compensation.
The Cubs made qualifying offers to right-handers Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. The Cubs were neither a revenue sharing recipient nor a competitive balance tax payor. Therefore, regardless of the size of the contracts Arrieta and Davis sign, the Cubs will receive draft pick compensation after Competitive Balance Round B, which takes place after the second round.
The Cardinals made a qualifying offer to starter Lance Lynn. Like the Cubs, they were neither a revenue sharing recipient nor a competitive balance tax payor. Regardless of the amount Lynn signs for, the Cardinals will receive draft pick compensation after Competitive Balance Round B.
The Royals made qualifying offers to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Royals were a revenue sharing recipient. If any of their three free agents sign for a guarantee of $50MM or more, the Royals get draft pick compensation after the first round. For any of the three that signs for less than $50MM, the Royals get draft pick compensation after Comp Round B. MLBTR projects all three players to sign for well over $50MM, so the Royals should have a very favorable draft pool in 2018, potentially adding three picks in the top 35 or so if all three sign elsewhere.
The Rays made a qualifying offer to right-hander Alex Cobb. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rockies, and Indians. However, Cobb is a borderline free agent when it comes to a $50MM contract, in our estimation. The team will be rooting for him to reach that threshold, as the Rays would then net a compensatory pick after the first round. If Cobb falls shy of that total guarantee, the Rays will receive an extra pick after Comp Round B.
The Rockies made a qualifying offer to closer Greg Holland. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rays, and Indians. Holland, too, is a borderline $50MM free agent, though he certainly figures to aim higher than that in the early stages of free agency. If he reaches $50MM+, the Rox will get a pick after the first round. If not, they’ll receive a pick after Comp Round B.
The Indians made a qualifying offer to first baseman Carlos Santana. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rays, and Rockies. Santana is another borderline $50MM free agent in our estimation, but it’s certainly possible he clears that threshold and nets Cleveland a pick after the first round.
So, the Cubs and Cardinals already know where their draft-pick compensation will land if their qualified free agents sign elsewhere: after Competitive Balance Round B, which currently starts with pick No. 76. The Royals, Rays, Rockies, and Indians will all be rooting for their free agents to sign for at least $50MM, granting them compensation after the first round, which begins with pick No. 31.
Today marked the deadline for players to receive one-year qualifying offers at this year’s rate of $17.4MM. Now that the dust has settled, we know that nine players will weigh those decisions for the next ten days.
That falls on the lower end of the spectrum, matching the prior low from 2012 (the first season that the QO system was in operation). On the high side, twenty players received qualifying offers in 2015. But that was also the first year in which any players accepted the one-year offer, which may itself have had an impact on future teams deciding whether to issue it. Last year, after all, there were only ten recipients. At the end of the day, of course, the actual players and teams involved matter most, and that can vary quite a bit from year to year based on a wide variety of factors.
New rules went into effect this winter, so you’ll want to review those to understand how it’ll work this time around. Those rules likely will continue to dampen the use of the QO on the margins, both through the reduction of draft compensation for issuing teams and by the prohibition on multiple QOs for the same player. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that every free agent class is different — and that every team situation is as well.
Here are this year’s free agents who were extended a qualifying offer by their teams (in alphabetical order):
- Jake Arrieta, SP, Cubs (source)
- Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals (post)
- Alex Cobb, SP, Rays (post)
- Wade Davis, RP, Cubs (source)
- Greg Holland, RP, Rockies (source)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (post)
- Lance Lynn, SP, Cardinals (post)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (post)
- Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians (post)
Several players that were discussed as QO candidates ended up being bypassed — which, generally, is a good thing for their earning power in free agency. Zack Cozart of the Reds (post), Andrew Cashner of the Rangers (post), and Logan Morrison of the Rays (post) were among the closest calls that went against the offer.
TThe Indians will extend a one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offer to first baseman Carlos Santana, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman (on Twitter). Santana will have 10 days to determine whether to accept or reject that $17.4MM contract. If he rejects, any club that signs him this winter will forfeit a draft pick (or picks), while Cleveland will stand to recoup a pick in the 2018 draft should he sign elsewhere. For more details on the specifics of the QO system, check out MLBTR’s previous primer on the newly restructured system.
The 31-year-old switch-hitter batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and career-best work at first base in 2017. While the market for corner bats hasn’t been great in recent years, Santana’s defensive improvements, power and longstanding reputation as one of baseball’s most patient hitters (career 15.2 percent walk rate) should serve him well on the open market even with draft-pick compensation attached to his name.
Eric Hosmer is most commonly projected to top the free-agent market for first basemen given his youth and enormous production in his walk year, but we pegged Santana as the second-best option at the position on our annual Top 50 free agent list, pegging him for a three-year deal in the $45MM range and noting that a fourth year is certainly a possibility. The QO won’t help Santana to maximize his earning capacity, but he’s a more well-rounded player than many of his more one-dimensional peers at first base.