- The Astros have agreements in place with a couple of their draft picks from this week’s abbreviated MLB draft. Fourth-round selection Zach Daniels has an agreement in place, though the terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. The Astros also came to terms with shortstop Shay Whitcomb from UC San Diego, who was the 160th and final pick of this draft (Mark Berman of KRIV Fox 26 had the report). Though Whitcomb was the final player chosen, the slot value of that pick is still $324.1K, a significant bump from what those undrafted players can command. Players who went undrafted can sign with any team of their choosing, but only for a maximum payout of $20K.
Former Astros bench coach and Red Sox manager Alex Cora was among those who bore the brunt of the punishment Major League Baseball handed down over Houston’s sign-stealing scandal from its 2017 World Series-winning campaign. Although they were just over a year removed from winning their own title under Cora in 2018, his first season as their skipper, the Red Sox parted with Cora back in January. MLB then suspended Cora through the 2020 postseason this past April.
Shortly after the league banned Cora, he issued a statement taking “full responsibility” for his role in the Astros’ misdeeds. Cora remains contrite for his actions as a Houston assistant, per Marly Rivera of ESPN.com, but he’s unhappy that he and former Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran have gotten so much blame in comparison to many other members of the organization.
Rivera’s piece is worth reading in full for all of Cora’s quotes, but he said, in part: “Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros’ organization singling me out, particularly [former general manager] Jeff Luhnow, as if I were the sole mastermind. The commissioner’s report sort of explained, in its own way, what happened. But the [Astros players] have spoken up and refuted any allegations that I was solely responsible.”
Cora added that “it was not a two-man show. We all did it.” However, he admitted that the ban the league handed him was deserved and he has to pay for his mistakes.
It now remains to be seen whether some of the key members of the scandal will return to the majors. Luhnow and ex-Astros manager A.J. Hinch received one-year suspensions in January. Beltran, now retired from playing, became the Mets’ manager in November, but the team ousted him around the time the league booted Luhnow and Hinch. Cora, though, could be helping his cause with the remorse he has shown throughout this process. He’s also just 44 years and someone with an excellent track record as a manager. And for what it’s worth, Cora told Rivera he “absolutely” wants to get back in the game at some point. For now, though, he’s focusing on his family.
With the MLB draft scheduled for next week, let’s take a look at each American League team’s most successful draft class in recent memory. Using Baseball Reference’s draft tracker, we can sum the combined career bWAR of each player selected by each team in a given year. It’s a simple shorthand, not a perfect measure, but it’ll give some insight into which teams have really hit in certain years.
First, a quick note on the methodology. For simplicity, we’re limiting this search to the 2006-2015 classes. A player’s value is only included if he signed with the club, although he needn’t have actually played for his drafting team in the majors. (So, the 2008 Yankees don’t get credit for drafting but failing to sign Gerrit Cole, while the 2007 Red Sox do get credit for drafting and signing Anthony Rizzo, even though he was traded before ever playing an MLB game for Boston). Of course, a player drafted in 2006 has had more time to rack up value than one drafted in 2015, so we’ll note in each team’s capsule if a more recent class is on the verge of taking over from an older class. On to the results…
- Angels: 2009 (109.3 bWAR) – Go figure. Picking one of the greatest players of all time is a heck of a way to kick off a draft class. But this 2009 class wasn’t just about Mike Trout, even if he’s accounted for about two-thirds of its cumulative value. That year, the Angels also selected Patrick Corbin, Randal Grichuk, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Former MLBTR contributor Chuck Wassterstrom took a behind-the-scenes look at this class a few years ago.
- Astros: 2009 (53.2 bWAR) – Not a single one of the Astros’ top five rounders in 2009 reached the majors. The late rounds, though, were a smashing success with J.D. Martinez (20th), Dallas Keuchel (7th) and Kiké Hernández (6th) accounting for the class’ value. Of course, Martinez did his damage elsewhere after the Astros released him.
- A’s: 2012 (37.7 bWAR) – The A’s 2012 class produced seven big leaguers, most notably Matt Olson. He leads a group that also included Addison Russell and Max Muncy, who have played most or all of their MLB careers elsewhere.
- Blue Jays: 2009 (39.2 bWAR) – They won’t get credit for selecting James Paxton in supplemental round one here, but Yan Gomes was a nice find in the tenth round, though he would play only briefly in Toronto before being dealt to Cleveland. Outside of Gomes, the Blue Jays found a few nice role players, including Jake Marisnick, Aaron Loup, Ryan Goins, and others.
- Indians: 2011 (38.7 bWAR) – Selecting Francisco Lindor eighth overall in 2011 was a key to Cleveland’s 2016 AL pennant. So too was then-closer Cody Allen, whom they grabbed in the 23rd round. With Lindor mid-prime, the class’ value should just continue to grow.
- Mariners: 2006 (40.2 bWAR) – Doug Fister and Chris Tillman went on to become mid-rotation starters for a time (Fister arguably even a bit more than that), albeit with other clubs. Fifth overall pick Brandon Morrow disappointed as a starter but had a late-career renaissance as a quality reliever before various injuries derailed him.
- Orioles: 2007 (43.2 bWAR) – Although only four players from this class would wind up making the Majors, the combination of Jake Arrieta and Matt Wieters makes the 2007 draft a pretty solid one for the O’s. While Wieters, the fifth overall pick, maybe didn’t turn out to be the franchise cornerstone he was hailed to be, he has nonetheless had a nice career. Arrieta had a slow start in Baltimore, but would of course earn a Cy Young with the Cubs. It’s worth noting that this spot will be taken by the 2010 class before too long, almost entirely on the back of Manny Machado.
- Rangers: 2008 (33.3 bWAR) – Despite garnering only a 25th-round selection, Tanner Roark has turned out to be the most productive player in this class. First-round choice Justin Smoak deserves a mention too, though his career didn’t really take off until he’d been traded out of Texas. The 2011 class, headed by Kyle Hendricks, is not far behind and could claim this title in the near future.
- Rays: 2006 (81.5 bWAR) – Franchise legend Evan Longoria does a lot of the heavy lifting for this class, having amassed 56 total WAR by age 34. Even so, there are some other quality players here: Desmond Jennings and Alex Cobb are the other notables, with Jennings carving out a solid MLB career as a tenth-round pick.
- Red Sox: 2011 (70.2 bWAR) – This is far and away the best Sox draft class in recent memory, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Mookie Betts, one of the finest players in baseball, established himself as Boston’s franchise player after he was selected in the fifth round. Even outside of Betts, this class yielded a few key members of the Red Sox 2018 World Series team, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and relief ace Matt Barnes also coming out of that draft.
- Royals: 2007 (47.1 bWAR) – Speaking of drafting World Series contributors, the Royals in 2007 added both Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland, both of whom turned out to be central in the Royals’ playoff runs in 2014 and 2015. And that’s before mentioning third-rounder Danny Duffy, who’s still with Kansas City and inked a nice extension prior to 2017.
- Tigers: 2007 (20.6 bWAR) – With just 20.6 WAR, the Tigers’ best draft in recent memory doesn’t compare favorably to the rest of the AL, and that partly illuminates the franchise’s current standing in baseball. The notable player from the 2007 class is Rick Porcello, who had some nice years to begin his career with the Tigers and would later win a Cy Young. Maybe they get bonus points for discovering high-schooler D.J. LeMahieu, who wouldn’t sign with the team, in round 41?
- Twins: 2009 (32.4 bWAR) – Between Kyle Gibson and Brian Dozier, the Twins drafted a pair of staples on the Minnesota teams of the mid-2010s. But with both playing elsewhere now, keep an eye on the 2012 draft class, which features a trio of young centerpieces for a new era of Twins baseball: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Taylor Rogers are up-and-comers who could rack up a lot of value as they enter their primes.
- White Sox: 2010 (55.3 bWAR) – Chris Sale carries the 2010 class for the South Siders, by far the best draftee in an otherwise mediocre string of years for Chicago. That said, 2010 yielded a couple of other role players for the White Sox, with Addison Reed, Jake Petricka, and Tyler Saladino all making nice MLB contributions.
- Yankees: 2006 (69.4 bWAR) – Whereas many teams’ success in a given year is determined by one standout player, the Yankees’ installment on this list displays a surprising breadth of quality players, without a single superstar. Evidently, the 2006 Yankees cornered the market on MLB relievers: Ian Kennedy, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Mark Melancon, and Joba Chamberlain are the five most productive players from the Bombers’ draft that year (granted, Kennedy didn’t transition to the bullpen until last year).
- Astros GM James Click tells Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that this year’s shortened, five-round draft forces teams more than ever to draft the best prospects on their board, rather than worrying about balancing out their minor-league systems. That’s particularly true for Houston, who lost their first and second round picks this season (and next) as punishment for their sign-stealing violations. “Even if you end up drafting four very similar players, you should be able to find playing time for them at some place and at some point,” Click tells McTaggart. Even in a typical season, MLB teams almost always select the player whom they believe to be the best available talent (subject to signability) in the early rounds of the draft. Drafting for need doesn’t make the same impact in baseball, where prospects are often years away from the majors and face high rates of attrition along the way, as it might in sports like football or basketball.
3:14pm: The Astros will also pay their minor leaguers through August, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The Red Sox will do the same, Julian McWilliams and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe write. The Reds will pay theirs through Sept. 7, the end of the scheduled minor league season, per C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic.
2:16pm: As teams throughout the league make sweeping releases at the minor league level, neither the Twins nor the Royals plan on cutting any players, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). The Twins and Royals will also commit to paying all of their minor league player the current $400 weekly stipend through Aug. 31 — the would-be end of the minor league season — while providing full benefits. The Twins are also committing to front-office and baseball ops staff through at least the end of June, Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com tweets.
To this point, no other clubs in the league have made such a commitment. The Marlins, Padres and Mariners all agreed to pay their minor leaguers through season’s end, although none of that bunch is known to be entirely avoiding minor league releases. Seattle, in fact, reportedly cut 50 minor league players this week already. The volume of players being released around the league is jarring — the D-backs cut a reported 64 players — although it should be noted that many of the releases would’ve come at the end of Spring Training under normal circumstances anyhow.
That doesn’t detract from the gesture made by the Twins or Royals, of course. It’s a stark contrast to an organization such as the Athletics, who informed minor league players earlier this week that they’ll no longer be paid after May 31. As MLB.com’s Jim Callis observes (on Twitter), the decision made by the Twins and Royals could quite likely prove beneficial in recruiting undrafted players who are selecting among teams while capped at a $20K signing bonus this summer.
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has come under fire at times since the team hired the former agent after the 2018 season, but BVW has nonetheless had his high points atop their front office. One of his best decisions in New York came in January 2019, when he acquired a player who’s now among the Mets’ most valuable hitters in a trade with the Astros.
Sixteen months ago, Van Wagenen and then-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow worked out a swap that sent infielder/outfielder J.D. Davis and INF Cody Bohanek to the Mets for the trio of second baseman Luis Santana, outfielder Ross Adolph and catcher Scott Manea. Nobody from that quintet looked like a high-end asset at the time, and Davis was the only member of the group with major league experience.
Davis, a third-round pick of the Astros in 2014, hit a miserable .194/.260/.321 in 181 plate appearances in their uniform from ’17-18. However, Davis did have his way with Triple-A pitchers, against whom he slashed .335/.400/.589 with 22 home runs in 450 trips to the plate.
Davis’ success at the highest level of the minors impressed the Mets, who now look as if they acquired a terrific hitter at a low price. Davis got his first extensive look in the majors last season, his age-26 campaign, and ran with it.
Across 453 PA, Davis batted a strong .307/.369/.527 (136 wRC+) with 22 home runs in his Mets debut. The righty swinger showed no vulnerability against either same-handed or southpaw pitchers in the process, and his Statcast numbers don’t suggest his success was fluky. On the contrary, Davis finished in the league’s 80th percentile or better in barrels, exit velocity, expected slugging percentage, hard-hit rate, expected weighted on-base average and expected batting average. His xwOBA (.383) outdid an already impressive real-life mark of .373 and ranked 21st in the league, placing him among a slew of big names.
As great as Davis’ offense was last season, defensive woes tamped down his value. He lined up at third and in left field, where he combined for minus-20 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-6.3 Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, thanks to his offensive breakout, the overall package was worth an above-average 2.4 fWAR. That’s especially good for someone who looked like a lottery ticket when the Mets got him, and for someone who made a minimum salary in 2019. Davis won’t be eligible to reach free agency until after 2024, which means he could be an important piece of New York’s offense for several more years (perhaps especially if the NL adds a DH).
Unlike Davis, Bohanek hasn’t shown a ton of potential so far, and the 24-year-old turned in fairly nondescript numbers at the High-A level last season. The Astros don’t seem as if they’ll miss him, but what about their return? Here’s how it has panned out through one season…
- Luis Santana: The Mets’ 19th overall prospect at MLB.com when the trade occurred, Santana’s now the outlet’s 22nd-ranked Astros farmhand. The 20-year-old hit just two homers last season, batting .267/.339/.352 in 186 Low-A attempts and .228/.333/.263 in 66 PA at the Double-A level.
- Ross Adolph: The 23-year-old outfielder combined for a .228/.357/.366 line with seven homers in 460 PA between Single-A and High-A ball last season. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel recently wrote for FanGraphs that he could amount to a role player in MLB.
- Scott Manea: The 24-year-old offered a .235/.347/.387 line with 12 HRs and 389 PA at the High-A level last season. He’s not regarded as a notable prospect.
This looks like anything but a can’t-miss package for the Astros, though it’s still way too early to throw dirt on the careers of anyone they picked up. The Mets, meanwhile, can’t be anything but thrilled with what they’ve gotten from Davis.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Historically, pitching has not been a strength of the Texas Rangers. The franchise has consistently found itself sorely lacking true aces; outside of Nolan Ryan, there aren’t really any iconic pitchers that come to mind when you think of the Rangers. Kenny Rogers, anyone?
That trend held true once again last year, with the Rangers posting an overall 5.09 ERA that ranked seventh-worst in baseball. That said, Lance Lynn and Mike Minor anchored the top of the rotation admirably, each garnering Cy Young consideration and holding the staff intact during the hot Texas summer.
But when the 2020 season boots up, Lynn and Minor will have some help, and starting pitching may indeed be a strength for this year’s iteration of the team. GM Jon Daniels and company made a concerted effort in the winter to acquire starting pitchers—and they did so at relatively little cost, meaning that a bit of short-term ambition likely won’t impeach on the franchise’s future plans.
Corey Kluber is the big-name addition, and the two-time Cy Young winner should do plenty to bolster the Rangers’ staff. Even so, the team didn’t mortgage the future to bring him aboard: Kluber is only guaranteed a contract for this year, with a vesting option that could keep him in Texas through 2021. Coming off a season in which he could pitch in just seven games, he was acquired in exchange for Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Clase, a move that was widely praised at the time and looks even worse for Cleveland in light of Clase’s PED suspension.
But the smaller-scale signings of Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, while not deserving of the same attention as the acquisition of a decade-defining pitcher like Kluber, could together have just as great an impact on the Rangers’ success as Kluber. In the offseason, Lyles signed on with a two-year, $16MM deal, while Gibson earned himself a three-year contract worth $28MM. Together, they’ll make $19MM in 2020, just a hair more than Kluber’s salary.
Lyles has been around forever, it seems, breaking in as a young arm with the Astros and Rockies, but it took until his age-28 season for him to put it all together as a starter. After a slow start with the Pirates earned him a trade to Milwaukee, he put up career-best numbers, striking out 146 batters in 141 innings, an unprecedented rate for Lyles.
How come? The simple version is that Lyles began relying less and less on his sinker, a staple in his repertoire throughout the early stages of his career. His sinker usage dropped to a minuscule 1.7% last year while he threw four-seam fastballs 50.2% of the time, more than he ever had before. The curveball also became a more important weapon in his pitch mix.
That isn’t too unlike the formula that Lance Lynn rode to his career-best 2019 season. Just like Lyles, Lynn’s sinker usage hit a career low last year, replaced almost entirely by four-seam fastballs—largely in the upper part of the strike zone. This isn’t unique to the Rangers—the Astros’ unparalleled pitching brilliance hinges on this philosophy—and it’s a trend that has redefined the way we look at pitching in MLB.
It’s an approach that worked for the Rangers last year, Lynn’s first in Texas, and perhaps Daniels is confident that his staff can use it to produce similar results with Lyles and Gibson this year. Sure enough, the sinker has been Gibson’s most-used pitch through his first five years as a big-leaguer. Sound familiar? Granted, Gibson’s four-seamer hasn’t been a great pitch for him, but throwing fewer sinkers could in turn lead to a jump in his slider usage, a high-spin pitch that may be a hidden gem.
Still, pitching at the MLB level is not as simple as flipping a switch and saying, “sinker bad, four-seam good.” That approach can’t be uniformly applied to every pitcher in baseball with the same results; there’s a reason careers have been forged around the sinker. And yet, the proliferation of the high fastball in MLB lends credence to its value, and the Rangers may have pursued the likes of Gibson and Lyles with that style in mind.
But that’s only half the battle; the burden then falls on the coaching staff and players themselves to accept and implement adjustments. It’s why we still play the games when there’s such a wealth of knowledge out there. So we’ll anxiously await the 2020 season to see whether the on-field results look as good as the ideas that underpin them.
2020 salary terms are set to be hammered out in the coming days. But what about what’s owed to players beyond that point? The near-term economic picture remains questionable at best. That’ll make teams all the more cautious with guaranteed future salaries.
Every organization has some amount of future cash committed to players, all of it done before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. There are several different ways to look at salaries; for instance, for purposes of calculating the luxury tax, the average annual value is the touchstone, with up-front bonuses spread over the life of the deal. For this exercise, we’ll focus on actual cash outlays that still have yet to be paid.
We’ll run through every team, with a big assist from the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database. Next up is the Astros:
Astros Total Future Cash Obligation: $254.79MM
*includes buyouts of club options
*excludes remaining obligation to Zack Greinke retained by Diamondbacks
A variety of MLB teams have already revealed plans for the year for non-player employees. Some have instituted furloughs and/or pay cuts while others have committed to carry employees through the fall. Still other teams are taking things on a month-to-month basis, with several revealing their latest plans in recent days.
At least three teams have decided to continue paying employees in full through at least the end of June. The Cardinals are one such team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. The Twins are also in that camp, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com tweets. And the White Sox are adjusting work hours but not take-home pay, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter).
Elsewhere in the central divisions, there were some cuts. The Cubs are keeping their full slate of employees at full-time capacity, but are instituting some salary reductions, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reported on Twitter. And though the Pirates will not draw down their baseball operations staff, they will reduce pay in that arena while furloughing some business employees, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Out west, the Giants will retain their entire full-time staff but will be trimming pay for those earning over $75K, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Part-timers have been furloughed.
The Astros have committed to maintaining full pay and benefits for full-time employees, but only through June 5th, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Whether some action could occur beyond that point remains to be seen. The Orioles are also still in flux, but the organization appears to be leaning towards keeping staff as usual through June, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter).
Every player that reaches the majors has a hot-stove tale to tell. They’re drafted or signed into the pro ranks to start out. Quite a few are traded or move via free agency even before reaching the bigs. You have to be selected or signed onto a 40-man roster before you can put on a uniform in a MLB contest. And then there’s the inevitable moment when it all goes away … whether through retirement at the end of a lengthy career or, in many cases, a trip into DFA limbo.
All of these stories are etched on the pages of MLBTR. Some are more interesting than others. A few of these transactional career arcs touch upon many major elements of the hot stove league — the front office game that shapes the underlying sport that we watch on TV.
The transactional saga of Zack Greinke, the venerable right-hander whose latest stop is the Houston Astros, is certainly among the most notable in recent memory …
- The Royals took Greinke, an unusually polished high-school hurler, with the sixth overall pick of 2002 draft.
- Greinke quickly emerged as one of the game’s top prospects.
- Baseball America rated Greinke 54th overall ahead of the 2003 season and 14th overall in advance of 2004.
- At just 20 years of age, Greinke turned in in 24 starts of 3.97 ERA ball in his debut season of 2004. But he struggled badly in his sophomore season.
- Greinke battled mental health issues and was ultimately diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder. At the time, his outlook as a professional baseball player was of secondary concern. SI.com’s John Donovan wrote: “Greinke’s tortured story is, on the one end, a sad one, but on this side there is hope that it may yet turn out well.”
- Greinke reemerged in 2007, then turned in a breakout 2008 season.
- The Royals signed Greinke to a four-year, $38MM extension in advance of the 2009 season, adding two years of team control. He won the American League Cy Young Award in the ensuing campaign.
- The Royals decided to entertain trade offers on Greinke, by then regarded as one of the game’s best pitchers, in the 2010-11 offseason. Greinke later indicated his desire to be traded.
- A monumental set of Winter Meetings trade talks ensued. Royals Review has exhaustively documented the contemporaneous rumor mill. Greinke reportedly indicated he would exercise his no-trade rights to block a deal to the Nationals.
- The Brewers eventually acquired Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM from the Royals for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
- Greinke ended his tenure with the Royals with a 3.82 ERA in 1,108 innings over seven seasons.
2012 Trade Deadline Swap
- Greinke continued to perform well in Milwaukee, but the Brewers stumbled.
- In July of 2012, the Angeles acquired Greinke for Jean Segura, Ariel Pena and John Hellweg.
- Greinke ended his tenure with the Brewers with a 3.67 ERA in 294 2/3 innings over two seasons.
2012-13 Free Agency
- Greinke entered the market as the top player available and drew interest from numerous big-market teams.
- During the Winter Meetings, the Dodgers signed Greinke to a six-year, $147MM contract.
- Greinke ended his tenure with the Angels with a 3.53 ERA in 89 1/3 innings over one season.
2015-16 Free Agency
- Greinke opted out of his contract after a 2015 season in which he led the National League with a 1.66 ERA.
- Expectations were that he would re-sign with the Dodgers, but the Diamondbacks suddenly entered the market with a massive offer.
- The Diamondbacks signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5MM contract, setting a new record for average annual value ($34.42MM).
- Greinke ended his tenure with the Dodgers with a 2.30 ERA in 602 2/3 innings over three seasons.
2019 Trade Deadline Swap
- After a rough initial season in Arizona, Greinke continued to produce excellent results even as he entered his mid-thirties.
- In a last-minute agreement consummated just before the trade deadline, the Astros acquired Greinke for Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer, and Joshua Rojas.
- Greinke ended his tenure with the Diamondbacks with a 3.40 ERA in 714 2/3 innings over four seasons.
- Greinke’s contract runs through 2021. The Astros took on $53MM of the remaining salary obligations.
- With the Astros, Greinke has a 3.02 ERA in 62 2/3 innings over one season.