- The pitching coach carousel seems to be a particular area to watch in the coaching ranks this offseason, with Jim Hickey among the notable names on the market. Per MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, via Twitter, the former Rays pitching coach held a chat with the Cubs today. He has also already engaged with the Giants and Cardinals, she notes.
The indispensable Matt Eddy of Baseball America provides an overview of a vast number of players electing free agency following the 2017 season in his latest Minor Transactions roundup. Eddy largely focuses on players with big league service time (significant service time, in some cases) that were outrighted off the roster that are now hitting the open market for the first time. (Players with three-plus years of service that are not on the 40-man roster at season’s end can elect free agency, as can any player that has been outrighted on multiple occasions in his career.)
While the vast majority of these players seem likely to sign minor league pacts this winter — they did, after all, go unclaimed by 29 other teams on waivers — a number of them are still intriguing with recent success in their past and/or multiple years of arbitration eligibility remaining. Eddy’s rundown also contains a number of re-signed minor leaguers and released minor leaguers without big league experience as well as Arizona Fall League assignments on a per-team basis, so it’s well worth a full look.
We’ve updated our list of 2017-18 MLB free agents accordingly, and here are some of the new names now checking in on the list…
Depth options in the rotation
Collmenter is just two seasons removed from being the D-backs Opening Day starter but hasn’t had much success of late. Hutchison had solid Triple-A numbers and once looked like a long-term rotation piece in Toronto before Tommy John surgery. He can be controlled for another three seasons in arbitration. Locke was injured for most of an ugly first (and likely only) season in Miami, and Kendrick made just two starts for the Red Sox.
Wojciechowski (6.50 ERA in 62 1/3 innings with the Reds), Bolsinger (6.31 ERA in 41 1/3 innings with the Jays), Bergman (5.00 ERA in 54 innings with the Mariners) and Holmberg (4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings with the White Sox) all soaked up innings for injury-plagued pitching staffs. Bolsinger has had the most MLB experience of the bunch.
Van Slyke has long been a solid bat against left-handed pitching but appeared in just 29 games with the Dodgers and didn’t hit well with their Triple-A affiliate or with the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. (He was included in the Tony Cingrani trade to balance out the financial side of the deal.) Moore, also a right-handed bat, showed power but struggled to get on base.
Once one of the Phillies’ top prospects, Asche hit well in Triple-A Charlotte but flopped in a brief stint with the ChiSox. Gillaspie was unable to replicate his 2016 rebound with the Giants, while Decker showed some on-base skills in the Majors and minors but didn’t hit much overall. (He can play center but hasn’t graded well there in the Majors.)
Each of the four can play all over the diamond, but none provided offensive value in 2017. Tejada has the most big league experience but hasn’t received much playing time since 2015 (and hasn’t performed well when he has gotten opportunities). Gosselin has a solid defensive reputation but a light bat through 551 MLB PAs. Coleman hit four homers in 71 PAs in his MLB debut this year but logged a .268 OBP. d’Arnaud saw his fair share of 2016 action with the Braves but has never produced much at the plate.
Siegrist and Edgin are intriguing names for clubs in need of left-handed bullpen help. Both have recent success on their track records, though Edgin wasn’t as sharp in 2017 as he was prior to 2015 Tommy John surgery. Siegrist’s control eroded in 2017 as he missed time due to a back/spinal injury and tendinitis in his left forearm, but he was one of the Cardinals’ top setup options in both 2015 and 2016. Both lefties are controllable through 2019.
Maness drew headlines for returning from a torn UCL in roughly seven months thanks to an experimental new “primary repair” procedure, but while he stayed healthy in 2017, the results weren’t great in the Majors and especially not in Triple-A (6.13 ERA in 47 innings). Quackenbush was excellent as a rookie in 2014 and solid in 2015-16 before imploding in 2017 (7.86 ERA in 26 1/3 innings). He was better but not great in Triple-A (3.90 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9). Maness could be controlled through 2019, while Quackenbush would have three more years of control.
- The Giants are interested in hiring Jim Hickey as their next pitching coach, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports (on Twitter). The position opened up Saturday when San Francisco shifted longtime pitching coach Dave Righetti to its front office. Like Righetti, the well-regarded Hickey brings vast experience working with hurlers, having served as the Rays’ pitching coach from 2006-17.
The Braves are in an unfavorable position headed into the offseason. John Coppolella has already resigned due to a breach of MLB’s rules regarding the international players market, leaving a dark cloud hovering over the organization and rumors swirling as to whether or not John Hart will remain with the organization. Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes about some of the inconveniences the organization faces due to this uncertainty. Because the Braves don’t know who will be “steering the ship”, as Bowman puts it, the club cannot yet decide on its direction for the upcoming winter. Decisions such as R.A. Dickey’s contract option and potential trades to clear a spot for top prospect Ronald Acuna are floating in baseball operations limbo. In the meantime, director of player personnel Perry Minasian and assistant general manager Adam Fisher have scrambled to learn as much as they can about the club’s assets and needs, having been with the organization for just one month. The club will hope for answers on Hart’s future in Atlanta sooner rather than later in order to gain clarity on the club’s direction for the offseason.
More news from around the National League…
- The Cubs have dismissed longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Robert Murray of FanRag sports later confirmed the news. Bosio had been the club’s pitching coach since 2012, including earning a World Series ring with the club just last season after guiding the Cubs pitching staff to a 3.15 team ERA. Murray names Jim Hickey as a potential candidate to fill Bosio’s role.
- Earlier today, Nightengale also tweeted that the Giants dismissed pitching coach Dave Righetti, shifting him to a role in the front office. Murray was able to confirm the reassignment of Righetti through his own sources. Righetti had been the pitching coach in San Francisco for 17 years, making him the longest-tenured pitching coach in major league baseball before his reassignment, as well as the longest-tenured pitching coach in all of Giants history. Murray notes that the club’s 4.50 ERA in 2017 can’t all be blamed on Righetti; ace Madison Bumgarner missed a large portion of the season due to a shoulder injury sustained in a dirt bike accident. According to a later tweet by Jon Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Righetti will serve as a special assistant to GM Bobby Evans. Shea also adds that bullpen coach Mark Gardner will also be shifted to a special assignment role in the front office, while assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take on a special assistant role in baseball operations.
The Nationals sparked some backlash today with the surprising decision not to retain manager Dusty Baker. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was particularly incensed, slamming the organization not only for the substance of the move, but also for leaving Baker dangling in the wind for the past week-and-a-half. Baker tells Nightengale that he’s “surprised and disappointed” after leading the team to two-straight NL East titles but also failing to advance past the NLDS. It’s worth keeping some perspective here: after all, Baker is a highly-compensated professional and this is a results-oriented business. But the move does seem somewhat confusing from the outside and certainly fits the ever-growing record of questionable interactions between ownership and managers in D.C. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post also examined the risk the club is taking with the switch.
More from the National League:
- Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley has received a stem-cell injection in his troublesome right elbow, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweets. The hope is that the treatment, combined with a full offseason of rest, will allow Kelley to return at full health next year. He is not expected to require any surgery at this time. Kelley, who is slated to earn another $5.5MM in the final season of his contract, somehow allowed a dozen home runs in just 26 innings in 2017 while also maintaining a 13.5% swinging-strike rate. Given his history of quality relief work, perhaps there’s still hope that he can contribute once again in 2018.
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tackled a host of interesting Cardinals questions in his latest chat, some highlights of which are available here. Of particular note, he says it’s no secret that righty Lance Lynn is going to seek a big contract — something on the order of Jordan Zimmermann’s $110MM guarantee — in free agency. While St. Louis has interest in retaining Lynn, there doesn’t seem to be much chance of it entering that stratosphere to do so. (Whether any other teams will do so seems questionable, too.)
- Meanwhile, the Cardinals have lost bench coach David Bell to the Giants, where he’ll serve as the VP of player development. That could kick off some other changes for these two organizations, both of which are looking to bounce back from postseason misses in 2017 (and a much more serious collapse in the case of San Francisco). Bell had worked in the St. Louis dugout since 2014. The twelve-year MLB veteran spent time with both organizations during his playing career.
- Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis is drawing interest, as has previously been suggested. He is among several names in contention for the same gig with the Padres, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, San Diego will also need to find a new infield coach after deciding to part ways with Ramon Vazquez. Davis is also sitting down with the Giants, Andrew Baggarly of the Bay Area News Group reports. Thus far, San Francisco hasn’t made clear its plans for the coaching staff for the coming season, but Baggarly discusses some of the considerations at play.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
A disastrous 2017 season could have the Giants looking for some big moves this winter to try and spur a quick return to contention.
- Buster Posey, C: $85.6MM through 2021 ($22MM club option for 2022 with $3MM buyout)
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $84MM through 2021 ($22MM club option for 2022 with $5MM buyout — Cueto can opt out of contract and receive buyout within three days after conclusion of 2017 World Series)
- Brandon Belt, 1B: $64MM through 2021
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $60MM through 2021
- Jeff Samardzija, SP: $54MM through 2020
- Mark Melancon, RP: $38MM through 2020 (can opt out of deal after 2018 season)
- Hunter Pence, OF: $18.5MM through 2018
- Denard Span, OF: $9MM through 2018 ($12MM mutual option for 2019 with $4MM buyout)
- Matt Moore, SP: $9MM through 2018 ($10MM club option for 2019 with $750K buyout)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Will Smith (4.155) – $2.5MM
- Cory Gearrin (4.136) – $1.6MM
- Sam Dyson (3.142) – $4.6MM
- Joe Panik (3.100) – $3.5MM
- Tim Federowicz (3.022) – $1.3MM
- Hunter Strickland (2.163) – $1.7MM
- Non-tender candidates: Federowicz
- Matt Cain, SP: $21MM club option for 2018, $7.5MM buyout (option will be bought out, with Cain heading into retirement)
- Madison Bumgarner, SP: $12MM club option for 2018 ($1.5MM buyout)
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B: Minimum salary club options for 2018 and 2019 if Sandoval is still on MLB roster at season’s end (the Red Sox will pay the prorated remainder of $41MM owed through 2019)
After investing heavily in free agent signings and lucrative extensions for homegrown players over the last two offseasons, the Giants watched in dismay as virtually all of those core pieces underachieved in 2017. It all added up to a shocking 64-98 record, the worst performance by a San Francisco team since the 1985 squad lost 100 games.
While it isn’t likely that another Murphy’s Law type of season will happen again, there are enough questions surrounding the club’s veteran core that standing pat isn’t an option. The Giants can be pretty confident that they’ll get more than 111 innings from Madison Bumgarner, though they can hardly be sure that all of Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon and Brandon Belt will be healthy, or that Brandon Crawford and Matt Moore will both return to form.
Some changes are clearly necessary to upgrade a team that finished near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, including last in homers and OPS and second-to-last in runs and on-base percentage. San Francisco was also one of the league’s worst defensive teams, and recent comments from GM Bobby Evans indicate that the front office is looking to re-establish itself as a pitching-and-defense team first, without selling out that core identity in a pursuit of power hitters.
The outfield is the clearest area of concern, as left field was a revolving door all season and Denard Span and Hunter Pence combined for just 1.9 fWAR as the regulars in center and right field. Defensive metrics haven’t been kind to Span’s center field glovework for years, while Pence’s work in right field has traditionally received above-average UZR/150 grades but below-average marks in terms of Defensive Runs Saved. Since neither player has a strong throwing arm, the Giants are in a tough spot of having two high-priced outfielders best suited for a move to left field.
A free agent like Lorenzo Cain would be a great fit for the Giants’ needs, as the long-time Royal brings a major defensive upgrade to center field and some right-handed balance to the lineup. Even if a big name like Cain is brought in to handle center field, however, simply going with Span and Pence in the corners may not be a recipe for success. The outfield mix could be shaken up entirely with a big trade or two.
As of late August, the Giants were the team with the most interest in Giancarlo Stanton, who is a logical trade candidate for a Marlins team that seems poised for another payroll cut. Stanton has clearly stated that he doesn’t want to be part of another Marlins rebuild, so his no-trade clause probably wouldn’t be an issue, especially since the California native is reportedly open to a move back to the west coast. It also stands to reason that the Giants would ask Miami about Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, with Yelich perhaps being the best fit since he can play center field (even if the defensive metrics weren’t enamored with his glovework in 2017).
All three outfielders would come with big asking prices, and given the Giants’ thin farm system, other teams are better equipped to sway the Marlins with a package of prospects. Stanton may cost the least in terms of players and prospects if a suitor is willing to absorb a significant chunk of the ten years and $295MM remaining on the slugger’s contract (provided Stanton doesn’t opt out after the 2020 season).
The lack of prospects won’t help the Giants in trade talks with the Marlins or other teams with outfielders for sale, and signing Cain or another expensive outfielder in free agency may also be tricky since the Giants have already made a number of long-term commitments. San Francisco has at least $100MM in payroll on the books through the 2020 season, and that isn’t counting the possibility of an extension with Bumgarner. Between guaranteed deals, projected arbitration payouts and the no-brainer pick-up of Bumgarner’s club option, the Giants have roughly $170MM committed to 16 players next year, putting them in danger of surpassing the $197MM luxury tax threshold.
While the Giants have slightly exceeded the tax limit in each of the past two seasons, they’ll face a larger penalty for repeated overages under the new collective bargaining agreement. Like every other team in the game, the Giants also surely want to be under the tax limit to clear their path for next winter and the star-laden 2018-19 free agent class.
(One big salary could still potentially come off the books if Cueto exercises his opt-out clause after the World Series, though it’s hard to fathom that Cueto would walk away four years and $84MM after a season that saw him limited to 147 1/3 innings due to a minor flexor strain and blister issues.)
An existing contract could be moved as part of a trade, either as partial salary relief for someone like Stanton or simply to dump some money on a team willing to absorb a large contract in exchange for some young talent. Complicating this strategy, of course, is that so many of the highest-paid Giants have either full (Melancon, Pence, Crawford, Buster Posey) or partial (Belt, Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija) no-trade clauses, and the club obviously isn’t going to deal cornerstones like Posey or Bumgarner. The likes of Span or Joe Panik could become viable trade candidates almost by default since they’re two of the few notable Giants that can be freely dealt.
Span’s trade value is questionable, with a $9MM salary due in 2018 and so-so numbers last year. If he was traded and the Giants acquired an established center fielder, they could go with internal options in left field (Jarrett Parker, Austin Slater, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernandez, plus top prospect Chris Shaw). While Slater and Shaw are promising youngsters, it could be a tough call to entrust the position to unproven players, especially since San Francisco got so little out of its left fielders in 2017.
Moving Panik would open a hole at second base, though there is some question as to whether Panik is a long-term answer for the Giants at the keystone (Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News recently examined the idea of Panik as a trade chip). The second baseman is entering arbitration eligibility for the first time and has posted solid numbers when healthy, though Panik’s history of concussions is a big concern, particularly for a Giants club that has already invested in a first baseman with similar health problems.
Speaking of Belt, he hit well when he was able to play in 2017, but his season was cut short in early August after he suffered the fourth documented concussion of his career. There have been rumblings that manager Bruce Bochy would be open to a change at first base, though Belt’s health issues and the $64MM owed to him through 2021 don’t help his trade value. (Plus, as noted earlier, Belt has partial no-trade protection in the form of a ten-team no-trade list.)
Elsewhere around the infield, Crawford is hoping for a rebound after a down season at the plate (which could possibly have been influenced by much more serious off-the-field concerns). Third base is wide open, with Pablo Sandoval on hand as a veteran option and top prospect Christian Arroyo battling to win the job or at least earn a platoon role.
With this much uncertainty, a multi-positional infielder would be a good fit, and old friend Eduardo Nunez seems like a logical target in free agency. Assuming the Giants don’t make the bold move of shopping Arroyo, Nunez’s versatility doesn’t outright block Arroyo at third base, whereas signing a Mike Moustakas would lock up the position over the long term (and, again, further muddy the luxury tax outlook). A player like Nunez would get the bulk of third base time and, if Arroyo did break out, Nunez could be shifted all around the diamond rather than create a logjam at the position.
Todd Frazier would also make sense as a third base signing, as he wouldn’t require too long a deal and he could also shift over to first in the event that Belt again misses time. (Acquiring an outfielder who can play first base would also help in this regard.) Posey will also get his usual share of time at first in order to keep him fresh, though he is firmly ensconced behind the plate for the foreseeable future. Nick Hundley is a free agent, and there is mutual interest in a reunion between the two sides, so he’s probably the favorite for the backup catching job in 2018 unless he gets offered more playing time elsewhere.
Turning to the rotation, San Francisco has one of baseball’s best one-two punches (when healthy) in Bumgarner and Cueto. Samardzija still hasn’t taken the step forward to become a true front-of-the-rotation pitcher, though he has been durable and generally solid in his two years with the team. The Giants already exercised their $9MM club option on Moore for next season, hoping the southpaw can return to his 2016 form after a rough 2017 season.
Ty Blach and Chris Stratton are the top choices for the fifth starter’s job, and with such inexperienced options in the mix and Moore coming off such a shaky year, the Giants could stand to bolster the back end of their pitching staff. Like every other team in the game, the Giants have an interest in Shohei Otani, though they’ll be limited to offering him a $300K deal (due to exceeding international signing bonus limits in the past) and they don’t have a DH spot to offer the two-way star.
Barring a win in the Otani sweepstakes, the Giants could turn to the free agent market for veterans willing to sign a short-term deal, perhaps to rebuild their value pitching at AT&T Park. Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Tillman, Doug Fister, or Ubaldo Jimenez fit this description, or perhaps Bartolo Colon would like to spend what is probably his final season playing for a potential contender. CC Sabathia is already in the midst of a career renaissance, though the Bay Area native stands out as an intriguing target if he wants to make a homecoming. On the trade front, San Francisco could again look for short-term veteran arms or perhaps go bigger by asking about a controllable young starter (i.e. Julio Teheran, Jake Odorizzi). The latter option, of course, could again by limited by the Giants’ relative lack of available young talent.
The Giants’ bullpen was a problem area last year, thanks in large part to Melancon’s injury-plagued season and Will Smith missing the whole year recovering from Tommy John surgery. The pen will improve simply by dint of those two relievers being back in the mix (Smith is tentatively expected to return in May), joining the right-handed trio of Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland and Sam Dyson atop the bullpen depth chart. I’d expect San Francisco to target at least one more left-handed reliever given Smith’s status. The team could shop on the free-agent market for one southpaw (e.g. Tony Watson, Brian Duensing, Jake McGee) and then turn to internal options (such as Josh Osich, Steven Okert or Blach) for further left-handed depth.
With so much talent on hand and big contracts on the books, the Giants don’t really have any choice but to try and compete in 2018. As the Tigers or the pre-rebuild Phillies could tell you, this can be a dangerous spot for a team, though a teardown would also seem awfully hasty. The Giants’ front office faces a challenge in fixing a roster that they didn’t at all think was broken heading into 2017, and it remains to be seen if the team is just one or two additions away from contending or if a more thorough roster shuffle is coming.
The Athletics have a history of adding veteran starters to eat innings and serve as mentors within otherwise young rotations, and the team will again be looking to add such a pitcher this winter, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle writes in a look at the starting situations on both Bay Area teams. “You have to bring in the right guy in that situation. Not just any veteran or experienced guy can come in and play that role, so we’ll certainly survey the market and be opportunistic,” Oakland GM David Forst said. As for the Giants, they seem pretty set in the rotation, as they’re counting on better health and/or returns to form from Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, with Ty Blach and Chris Stratton competing for the fifth starter’s job.
- Giants president of baseball operations Brian Sabean discusses some of the organization’s young players with Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area on his podcast. It’s an interesting chat for fans that wish to understand how the top brass sees the farm and player development. The veteran executive also touches upon the team’s increasing incorporation of sabermetrics.
- Power and outfield defense are both needs for the Giants this winter, though as team executives told reporters (including Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle and MLB.com’s Jonathan Hawthorne) today, the team won’t sacrifice the latter for the sake of the former. “We don’t want to get too far away from our game,” GM Bobby Evans said. “We’re a pitching and defense team. If we compromise too much in the area of power and give up to much defensively, that can hurt us as much as the benefit of adding the power.” A younger and more athletic outfield seems like a priority, and Schulman feels this might rule out a run at 31-year-old free agent Lorenzo Cain. In my view, Cain’s excellent glove would seem to make a good fit for the Giants, though his defensive metrics did decline (from great to “merely” quite good) in 2017.
- The Giants will look to add at all three outfield positions, as incumbent outfielders Denard Span and Hunter Pence could be in line for position changes. Span, according to manager Bruce Bochy, is “all in” about moving from center to left field. This wouldn’t seem to leave much room for Pence to move from right field, though Schulman suggests that Span and Pence could both share a position. That would be a very expensive solution considering that Span and Pence will combine to earn $30.5MM in 2018, though since both also have notable injury histories, a time-share could help keep both players healthy.