Buy-low free agent options.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As free agency opens to every team, focus will center on stars such as Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury, and rightfully so. The possibility of them leaving the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees is exciting to think about, especially if your favorite team needs help up the middle.
But there are players hanging out in the weeds who can be just as influential, and will be signed early in the process. Many focused on Boston's signing of Shane Victorino last year, but the Sox also signed David Ross, Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara, and all before Christmas. The Pirates signed Russell Martin, whom the Yankees didn't even consider re-signing, before December. And the Rays snapped up James Loney, who went from having the worst season of his career in 2012 to the best season of his career in 2013, in December's first week.
Bargains will abound this winter as well, and these five players have a chance to be five great buy-low candidates.
Carlos Ruiz, C
After a breakout campaign in 2012 in which he posted a .325/.394/.540, things fell apart for Ruiz in 2013. He started the season late after his suspension for banned stimulants, and his batting line fell to .268/.320/.368. His walk rate also fell off, and his power completely disappeared.
On the plus side, many of his ratios were positive. He kept his strikeouts in line, and his swinging strike rate was as low as ever (4.6 percent). He also chased fewer balls out of the zone than he had previously. In addition, Ruiz had a history of hitting well even before 2012. From 2009-2011, the Panama native hit .281/.376/.417, which is 105 points higher in OPS than he had in 2013.
In other words, Ruiz -- who has always been solid, if not stellar, defensively -- doesn't need to hit like he did in 2012 to be a big asset for someone behind the plate. He turns 35 in January, but he wasn't given a qualifying offer, which means he could be a bargain on a short-term deal.
Chris Young, CF
An All-Star in 2010, Young's performance has trended steadily downhill since, to the point that he wasn't even a full-time starter with the Oakland A's this past season. At this point, we're probably past the point that Young is someone who you want starting 150 times a season, but he still does a lot of things well.
He still has a very healthy walk percentage, is a good baserunner and has good range in the outfield, with the ability to roam all three outfield spots (though his arm is a little weak for right field). He also still hits lefties well. Over the past three years, his 122 wRC+ against southpaws ranks 26th out of 69 qualified outfielders.
He was down from most of these levels in 2013, particularly against lefties, against whom he posted just a 99 wRC+, and he is an increasing liability against right-handeders. But he will be just 30 next season, and given that he still excels in certain facets of the game, could be a valuable fourth outfielder with the potential for more.
Chris Capuano, LHP
It's hard to find pitchers who rack up a lot of strikeouts, particularly those who throw with their left hand. As such, Capuano provides a valuable skill. His strikeout percentage was down a little this past season, but his velocity didn't decline, and his swinging strike rates were within the limits he had established in the previous two seasons.
In fact, his whiff/swing rates were up for his changeup and slider. In addition, over the past three seasons, he has been one of the more efficient pitchers among those who will hit free agency this winter. Capuano has had his share of injuries, but he has still racked up 490 innings pitched over the past three seasons while posting a strikeout/walk ratio of 3.14. For context, that's better than Tim Lincecum (2.39), who just got a $35 million deal.
Manny Parra, LHP
Parra has always had the pure stuff needed to dominate, but command issues have plagued him. In three years as a starter, he posted a 5.21 ERA and walked 215 batters in 428 innings. His strikeouts were there, but the walks led to an insanely high WHIP (1.659) that is simply untenable for a starting pitcher.
He vanished from the majors in 2011 before rebranding himself exclusively as a reliever in 2012. And from a rate perspective, things weren't much better. His WHIP was still higher than 1.6, and his walk rate was the highest of his career to date.
Last year, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, something clicked. Not only was he able to limit his walks, but his strikeouts went through the roof. In addition, he was able to post a 3.43 K/BB against right-handed batters (he had never been better than 1.82 before 2013). And with a strikeout rate of 30 percent against lefties the past two seasons, Parra could end up being a pretty valuable weapon late in games.
Chad Gaudin, RHP
When choosing a free-agent starter from the group of non-elites, you're generally left with two options: dependable innings eater or potential lightning in a bottle. Gaudin would definitely be in the latter category.
He hasn't thrown 100 innings in a season since 2009, which was also the last season before 2013 that he was utilized as a starting pitcher. There may be something to that -- he has had injuries to his foot, hip, elbow and shoulder, and he even ended last year on the disabled list with carpal tunnel syndrome. But he also flashed some pretty good stuff when he did pitch last season.
He allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his 12 starts last season, and he struck out 60 batters in 66 1/3 innings. For the season, his 21.7 percent strikeout rate ranked 36th out of the 153 pitchers who tossed 90 or more innings. The track record is extremely thin, and he has rarely been durable, but he may have rediscovered himself last season, and it probably won't cost much to see if he can be duplicate the success in 2014.
'Victims' of the qualifying offer.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are always unexpected consequences with each labor agreement, and the most notable shift under the current deal is the draft-pick compensation drag: So many teams have become fully invested in drafting and developing that they shy away from some of the free agents who cost a team a high draft pick.
Kyle Lohse got caught in the draft-pick vise last year, and so did Michael Bourn and Rafael Soriano. For some free agents, getting a qualifying offer from their current teams, along with the reality of the draft-pick compensation, is similar to an NFL player getting a franchise tag because it undercuts the player's ability to have a free market.
Thirteen players got qualifying offers Monday, and the potential draft-pick drag won't hurt some of them because they are elite free agents, the best of the best -- Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann.
Some free agents may be impacted somewhat because some teams are philosophically opposed to giving up draft picks and won't consider the likes of Shin-Soo Choo, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, but those players are expected to make out just fine. (A couple of executives estimated Monday that Choo will wind up with a five-year deal in the range of $15 million per year). Carlos Beltran may have his market limited in a more significant way by his age and his defense. Some evaluators say that his range has diminished dramatically in recent seasons -- his UZR/150 ranking was the second-worst among all MLB outfielders in 2013 -- so the offers to him may mostly come from American League teams who could use him at DH.
Hiroki Kuroda, who got a qualifying offer from the Yankees, is expected to re-sign with them or return to Japan, so it won't be a big issue for him either way.
The most interesting case of the players given qualifying offers might be that of Nelson Cruz. He is 33 years old and he served a 50-game PED suspension in 2013, two factors that could chase away some teams, beyond the draft pick compensation now tied to him. But remember that at a time when offense is diminishing and right-handed power hitters are scarce, Cruz is one of the better right-handed home run hitters in the game, having hit 27 homers in 109 games this year after hitting 33, 22, 29 and 24 homers in the previous four seasons. He is well-liked and regarded as a good teammate.
Will some teams desperate for power, for offense -- the Phillies, for example -- step out and give him a strong multiyear offer? The Phillies have a protected first-round pick (top 10), which means they would have to surrender only a second-round pick for signing Cruz or anyone else who received a qualifying offer.
Cruz is expected to decline the qualifying offer, writes Jeff Wilson.
Curtis Granderson clubbed 84 homers in 2011 and 2012, more than Miguel Cabrera, so it figures that some other teams will take a shot at him, partly because of his reputation as being one of baseball's best citizens. Granderson, an Illinois native, would be a great fit for the Cubs or White Sox, two teams that have their first-round picks protected.
But there are a handful of players who may have their free agency completely undercut by the tender offers this year, in the way that Lohse was crushed last winter:
• Stephen Drew: He played spectacular defense in the postseason and rival evaluators say they don't think that Xander Bogaerts, as great as he looks, can be a solution at shortstop on a full-time basis. If the Red Sox can keep Drew for one more year, he'll buy them some time. As one executive said about the qualifying offer, "[For a big-market team] there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal."
There is speculation that the Mets could give up a draft pick to sign Drew, but the Mets' planning likely is geared to 2015 rather than 2014 because of the injury to starter Matt Harvey. They are not expected to pursue Drew.
• Mike Napoli: Teams shied away from Napoli last winter because of his hip trouble, and Napoli had a good season, transitioning well to first base. It may be that Napoli wants to stay with the Red Sox, anyway, given his experience in 2013.
• Kendrys Morales: He is 30 years old, and after missing most of two seasons because of a horrific ankle injury, he came back to hit 22 homers in 2012 and 23 in 2013, almost exclusively as a DH. It's possible that, like Cruz, he will benefit from the desperation need for power-hitting in the sport, but a lot of teams will run in the other direction because they prefer positional flexibility or don't want to give up a draft pick.
It may be that Morales' best money would come from the Mariners, perhaps with that one-year qualifying offer.
The Pirates didn't make a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett, but that doesn't mean he won't be back, writes Jenn Menendez.
The Red Sox made offers to three players, but not to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
As expected, the Yankees made qualifying offers to three different players. The Yankees must find the right amount to keep Cano, writes Joel Sherman.
• Speaking of the Yankees, I think we may have gotten some insight into the Yankees' mindset going into the latest round of the Cano negotiations from the Derek Jeter talks last weekend.
Jeter held a player option for $9.5 million, and his agent, Casey Close, presumably informed the Yankees that they intended to opt out of the contract, and asked for more money in a new deal.
If the Yankees had taken a hard-line business approach, they could have simply told Jeter: No, because you played in 17 games this year and hit .190, and because we have no idea what you might contribute in 2014, when you turn 40. If you want to test those numbers on the open market, feel free, and we're here when you want to talk again.
But the Yankees relented and gave him more money, and you'd have to assume that Close was able to exercise the one piece of leverage available to him: After the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in 2013, a year in which Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired and TV ratings dropped, the last thing they want is another tough negotiation with the future Hall of Famer.
The Yankees -- perhaps feeling the pressure from a rough 2013 -- capitulated.
The same sort of dynamic could be in play with the Cano talks, which broke off last spring with the Yankees offering something in the range of $160 million to $165 million and Cano asking for $300 million. My guess: The Yankees will wind up settling on an eight-year deal in the $200 million range.
Around the league
• Tigers GM David Dombrowski had heard from a lot of folks about the intelligence of Brad Ausmus, so the GM didn't go into his conversations with Ausmus wondering about his answers about strategic moves.
Dombrowski explained on Monday that he was curious about how someone as bright as Ausmus would communicate -- the words he used, and whether his intelligence might be something of a barrier.
"He presented himself in a down-to-earth fashion," Dombrowski said, recalling how he has been around other smart people who struggle to communicate with others. "[Ausmus] was very clear and well-spoken."
A wise person once said to me that the smartest people are those who don't need to show you they are smart. I covered Ausmus in his first years in the big leagues, when he played for the Padres in 1993 and 1994, and this is the way he's always been. It was a strength for him as a catcher in dealing with pitchers, and it will continue to be a strength for him as a manager.
• There is a lot of head-scratching in the sport about why the Cubs or Mariners waited so long to interview Ausmus, and didn't rush to hire him.
"You have a Hall of Fame-caliber general manager in Dombrowski, who had no previous ties to Ausmus at all, and his team was in the playoffs for a lot of October," said one evaluator, "and he saw enough in him to move fast. Why didn't somebody else? It doesn't make sense. There aren't a lot of great manager candidates right now."
Ausmus wanted to interview for the Cubs' job as soon as it came open, more than a month ago, but he wasn't brought into the process until recently.
The Mariners have narrowed their search. Chip Hale is said to have a good shot to get this job, and he'd be a good fit.
• The Diamondbacks continue to be a natural fit for trade talks about Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija (which stalled before the July 31 deadline) and Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz. Arizona has surplus in the middle infield and in center field, and other teams say they are willing to discuss D-backs lefty Tyler Skaggs -- but not right-hander Archie Bradley.
The Rays will be weighing offers for David Price this winter, and they have extensively scouted the Diamondbacks' farm system. But if Arizona (or just about any team) pursued a deal for Price, they'd want to be able to sign him to a long-term contract -- and that may simply be too expensive, given that Price will command a deal in the range of $150 million to $175 million.
• Heard this prediction from two rival officials Monday: Brian McCann will sign with the Red Sox. "They need catching help now," said one official, "and he could do that for a couple of years and then move to DH after David Ortiz finishes."
And I wrote here last week how David Ross would be excellent recruiter, as a longtime friend of McCann.
• There are multiple teams interested in Tim Hudson, for three reasons:
A. He demonstrated last year that he can still be an effective pitcher, posting a 3.97 ERA in 21 starts before he got hurt.
B. He won't be that expensive, given that he is 38 years old; his next deal will almost certainly be for one or two years.
C. He is regarded as a tremendous person and teammate, someone who can help lead a staff.
The Braves have made an offer to Tim Hudson.
• Joe Nathan is the best of the relievers available, so it figures that he'll wind up getting a good two-year deal from some contender. Detroit could be a natural fit -- although the Tigers have other looming payroll issues, with Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer looking for big extensions.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Orioles declined their option on Alexi Casilla.
2. The Red Sox could land Giancarlo Stanton with a bold trade.
3. The Brewers added a utility man.
4. There's a market for a right-handed bat like Paul Konerko's.
5. The Rockies picked up Matt Belisle's option.
6. Ryan Vogelsong became a free agent.
• Matt Williams has plans to rein in Bryce Harper.
• Bronson Arroyo would definitely consider the Mets.
• Bullpen and speed are atop the Tigers' wish list, writes Tony Paul.
• The Royals gave a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana.
• The Indians want to keep Ubaldo Jimenez. I've heard Jimenez would prefer to pitch in another place.
This was interesting...
Cardinals should target Tulowitzki.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While watching the Boston Red Sox celebrate wasn't exactly the way the St. Louis Cardinals hoped the 2013 season would end, the year was still an overall success for the National League champs. And though it would be easy for Cardinals GM John Mozeliak to feel satisfied with his club, complacency is one of the biggest enemies of excellent teams, and one of St. Louis' primary goals this offseason needs to be fixing its hole at shortstop.
St. Louis is one of the model organizations in baseball, but shortstop was a constant issue for the Cardinals and one that they did little to remedy. While it was bad luck that Rafael Furcal needed Tommy John surgery and the missed season, the club didn't do much to put together a good Plan B. The Plan B it went with, in this case, was hoping that former first-round pick Pete Kozma had solved his primary weakness -- hitting the ball.
Kozma played solid defense at short but hit just .217/.275/.273, and no amount of great defense can overcome that. The Cardinals may have successfully made it to Game 6 of the World Series with Kozma playing shortstop, but they made it there despite him, not because of him. Teams that accept weaknesses or being "good enough" are teams that ultimately encounter nasty doses of reality.
The good news is that the Cardinals are not without resources. The team is financially successful, has a deep farm system and has more starting pitchers than it knows what to do with. There are many potential solutions at shortstop, as outlined in the list below, including an ideal scenario that Mozeliak should be trying to make happen.
The grand slam: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki is the best, most realistic shortstop addition available for the Cardinals (i.e., no "Jurassic Park"-esque experiments with Honus Wagner DNA) but, not surprisingly, the toughest one to pull off. Colorado ownership has expressed a desire to hang onto Tulowitzki (and Carlos Gonzalez) and increase payroll, but the Rockies are realistically not looking like a team that's going to be dangerous in 2014 or 2015, and the Cards have the need and the arms to make Colorado reconsider.
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports
Kozma was 0-for-10 in the World Series, and his Game 1 error opened the floodgates for Boston.
Tulo is owed a good chunk of money, but in the current climate, seven years and $130 million (with a club option/buyout for an eighth year) is hardly a scary wad of dough. That makes his contract a fair price on the open market if he averages 3.2 WAR or so a season over the course of his remaining contract. The ZiPS projection system has Tulo averaging 4 WAR per season despite his mean expectation for games played to max out at 129. All told, ZiPS estimates his market value at $161 million, meaning that he's likely to be safely worth his contract.
While the contract means that the Cardinals shouldn't simply throw all of their prospects at the Rockies, it does mean that they'll have to give up at least one of their exciting, non-Michael Wacha young pitchers, such as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez. The latter two make the most sense to trade because a terrific young starter in the bullpen is a waste; when the Tampa Bay Rays have starting pitchers coming up through the ranks, they don't send the excess to the pen -- they wring maximum value from other teams. Tulowitzki is one of those players you can call "maximum value."
One of the difficulties the Cardinals have in terms of improving is that they're already both good and deep at most positions. Shortstop is the position the Cardinals at which they can most easily make a major upgrade, and getting one of the best shortstops in baseball is the most sensible way for St. Louis to keep teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds playing catch-up.
The three-run homer: Jurickson Profar
We've gone down this road before in a slightly different form, but a Cardinals-Rangers match still makes sense for both teams. The Rangers have a logjam in the middle infield, with Elvis Andrus signed until 2022, Ian Kinsler through 2017 and Rougned Odor coming up quickly behind Profar.
While Profar wasn't great in his debut, he was just 20 years old, and he still projects to be a star. It would take a player of special value to part with one of the team's stable of young arms, but Profar is worth it.
Double down the line: Jhonny Peralta
Peralta became a whole lot more interesting as a free agent once the Detroit Tigers declined to make a qualifying offer. While Peralta was mixed up in the Biogenesis scandal, it would be a mistake to overrate the difference it would make in his play going forward. After all, Peralta's suspension wasn't for an in-season drug test but from older drug use that was uncovered, meaning that Peralta's been tested for drugs several times since then, as required under MLB's CBA.
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports
Peralta, who would not cost the Cardinals a draft pick, could be a good fit in St. Louis.
He has always gotten an unfair rap for his defense and is more than adequate at short. Plus, he managed to hit .303/.358/.457 in 2013. If the rest of baseball shies away from Peralta, it's a good opportunity for the Cardinals.
The long single: J.J. Hardy
Hardy is due $7.9 million in 2014 and will be a free agent next winter, so any of the big-name prospects are out of the question for what would be a one-season rental. But if the Baltimore Orioles are feeling good about Manny Machado's recovery and think he can handle shortstop, a trade for someone such as Lance Lynn (or a second-tier prospect like Tim Cooney) could benefit both franchises. (It's probably a year too late to get the O's -- or anyone -- excited about David Freese.)
Given the likely demands of the Orioles and Hardy's contract expiring after the season, bringing in the two-time reigning AL Gold Glove shortstop would be a significant upgrade -- but a short-term one -- and the Cardinals would be right back in the same position for 2015.
Infield hit: Stephen Drew
Drew had a lousy postseason and was given a qualifying offer, so he'd cost the Cards a draft pick. That said, he's also a solidly above-average shortstop, both offensively and defensively, and comes with a much smaller price tag than Tulowitzki, both in terms of prospects and dollars.
What makes Drew one of the lesser options is simply the likelihood that he returns to the Red Sox, even with a full-time job not completely assured. Like Hardy, Drew would be a short-term fix, and the Cardinals will still need to emphasize developing a shortstop.
Hit and run: Greg Garcia
Garcia, who was Kolten Wong's double-play partner at the University of Hawaii, is by no means a blue-chip prospect, but the 24-year-old recovered from a rough start at Triple-A Memphis to post a .377 OBP for the season. If the Cardinals go with an in-house solution, why not experiment with a shortstop who has actual experience? He can't be worse than Kozma.
The sac fly: Ryan Jackson
Jackson's .278/.352/.346 line in the Pacific Coast League doesn't exactly cause much in the way of excitement, but he's A-Rod in his prime compared to Kozma's .232/.292/.355 line in Triple-A. Jackson and Garcia split reps at Memphis this season, and while the latter offers a little more offensive upside, Jackson has a better defensive rep.
The weak grounder: Daniel Descalso
Descalso has had periods in which he's been interesting with the bat, but he's probably not good enough to be anything more than a decent backup at short and without the interesting upside that either Garcia or Jackson could have there. Descalso should be a valuable role player, a guy who can fill in anywhere in the infield, with a lefty bat that has some occasional pop. That said, he would be miscast as a full-time shortstop.
The strikeout: Pete Kozma
Kozma's likely to be a little better in 2014 than he was in 2013 -- the ZiPS projection system has him improving to a .220/.276/.304 line, enough to bring him above replacement level by a hair. While the Cardinals can rightfully claim that they couldn't just magically come up with a shortstop replacement in the middle of the World Series, that excuse won't work in the winter.
Don't fear a long-term Cano deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
MLB free agency officially begins on Tuesday, as players will have the right to begin negotiating with all 30 teams and financial figures can start to be officially exchanged. And when it does begin, no free agent will ask for bigger numbers than Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. He is undisputedly the best player on the market this winter, and early reports have suggested that he's looking for a monstrous contract, maybe even aiming to become baseball's first $300 million player.
With any deal for a player of Cano's stature, we're essentially guaranteed a minimum of seven years, and recent trends suggest that elite position players -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder most notably -- have enough leverage to demand eight-, nine- or even 10-year contracts. Joey Votto got a 10-year deal from the Reds when he was two years from free agency, effectively making that a 12-year commitment, and he didn't even have the leverage of other teams bidding up his price. However, those three players all play first base, and their value comes almost entirely from their hitting skills.
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports
Prince Fielder didn't produce in the 2013 playoffs.
Cano is a second baseman, and while he's an amazing hitter relative to other second basemen, his offense wouldn't be as impressive at a less demanding position. A significant part of Cano's value comes from the fact that he can play an up-the-middle position, and teams have historically not paid the same price for defensive value as they have for offensive value. Especially when it comes to signing a player into his late 30s -- Cano just turned 31, so even an eight-year deal would take him through his age-38 season -- teams have historically been skeptical about betting on up-the-middle players sustaining their value, at least relative to the bets they are willing to make on players who derive their value from standing at the plate and hitting the ball really far.
So, how big a contract could Cano command in the open market, and how legitimate are the concerns about up-the-middle players breaking down?
There does seem to be a decent amount of skepticism about how second basemen in particular will hold up toward the end of their careers. Roberto Alomar, for instance, fell apart after his age-33 season, going from an MVP-caliber star to a nearly worthless scrub almost overnight. He was one of the best players ever to man the position but was totally washed up by his 34th birthday. One theory espoused for the unexpected and dramatic declines of second basemen: They take a physical beating from hanging in on the double play, having years of players slide into their legs and knees, and eventually, it just wears them down.
However, the theory is usually based on anecdotal evidence. It's one thing to point to Alomar or Ryne Sandberg, but is there actually evidence that second basemen who hit like Cano are more likely to flame out than players at other positions?
This is a little bit of a tricky question to answer simply because there are so few second basemen who hit like Cano. But, there have been some, and we can look at their careers to see whether we see a pattern of early collapses.
For a fair comparison, here are the top five offensive second basemen over the past 50 years, from ages 28-30, sorted by wRC+:
Joe Morgan: 2,019 plate appearances, 156 wRC+, 26.8 WAR
Rod Carew: 1,994 PA, 152 wRC+, 20.0 WAR
Robinson Cano: 2,059 PA, 142 wRC+, 19.1 WAR
Chase Utley: 2,007 PA, 141 wRC+, 23.4 WAR
Craig Biggio: 1,907 PA, 137 wRC+, 15.3 WAR
For all five, the playing time during those three seasons was pretty similar, ranging from 416 games for Biggio to 480 for Cano. Cano actually has more games played and more plate appearances during his age 28-30 seasons than any of the other four players on the list, so relative to his peers, durability seems not to be an issue.
How did the other four do in the latter stages of their careers, performance-wise, starting with their age-31 seasons? Let's look at the numbers.
Morgan: 5,390 PA, 135 wRC+, 46.7 WAR
Biggio: 6,744 PA, 113 wRC+, 33.6 WAR
Carew: 4,915 PA, 130 wRC+, 28.4 WAR
Utley: 1,858 PA, 121 wRC+, 15.9 WAR
Morgan played until he was 40, and was even better after turning 30 than he was before. His two best seasons came at ages 31 and 32, and even at the end of his career, he was an excellent player. He played second base all the way to the end of his career as well, never moving to an easier position even after 20 years of turning double plays.
Biggio also had the two best years of his career at ages 31 and 32, and he played until he was 41, but he's actually a bit more in the Alomar camp than the Morgan camp, as he was essentially an average player from 34-41. He wasn't a very effective player at the end of his career, and his decline from greatness to mediocrity was swift. He was so good in his early 30s, however, that the overall performance during that span is still excellent.
Carew was a bit of a mix of the two, at least in terms of age-31 excellence, as he also had the best year of his career in that season, but he comes with a bit of a caveat: He moved to first base full time at age 30 and spent the second half of his career playing a much less demanding position. Still, the move to first base didn't keep him from being a fantastic player in his 30s, as he retained almost all of his offensive value and was a very good player through age 36 before tailing off in his last few years.
Finally, we have the incomplete story of Utley. He just finished his age-34 season, and his past four years have been full of injuries. However, Utley's been so good when he has been on the field that he's been at least a plus-3 WAR player in each of his age 31-34 seasons, even while only averaging 108 games per season. We don't know what Utley's next few years will look like, but if he represents the injury-prone downside of taking a beating at second base, that's a pretty great worst-case scenario.
Of the four second basemen in the past 50 years who were comparable to Cano heading into a similar point in his career, two are in the Hall of Fame, one should be and the active player will have a decent case if he can stick around for a few more years at the level he's been playing recently. It's hard to get a better set of comparables than that.
Maybe signing a contract of eight-plus years for Cano won't turn out to be a good idea, just as it doesn't appear to have been a good idea to give Fielder a nine-year deal or Pujols a 10-year deal. These long contracts come with tons of risk. However, the evidence that great second basemen in particular come with extra risk seems to be lacking. I'd be leery of giving any player on the wrong side of 30 a deal that runs for nearly a decade, but teams shouldn't be less willing to give that kind of deal to Cano just because he plays second base.
Boston being unfair to Torey Lovullo.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Yankees haven't issued uniform No. 6 since Joe Torre left after the 2007 season, because the folks at the top of that organization recognize that there will be a day -- possibly next summer -- when Torre will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Torre was an excellent player, with 2,342 hits, nine All-Star appearances and an MVP Award, but his 12 seasons as manager of the Yankees push his candidacy over the top: He was the on-field leader of baseball's last dynasty, with the Yankees accumulating four championships and five World Series appearances in the span of six years. He was the perfect personality to manage a near-perfect roster, and the success of those teams, in the post-free-agency era that began in 1976, is unparalleled.
Torre is an important part of the Yankees' history, which is why the time will come, after he is celebrated in Cooperstown, that No. 6 will be retired in Torre's honor, with all of the attending pomp and circumstance.
Because it's the right thing to do, no matter the strain that occurred as Torre left the organization. There are personal relationships that were damaged along the way, and most or all will never be repaired because of what was done and said when he departed and because of what is contained within the pages of Torre's book. The split was ugly, unquestionably.
But like two divorced parents who do right by their children, the Yankees and Torre have chosen to set their differences aside when it comes to the treatment of their shared history. Torre has not boycotted Yankee Stadium, nor turned his back on the Yankees' organization; the Yankees never exiled Torre.
When the Yankees honored Mariano Rivera at the end of the season, Torre was part of the ceremony, and introduced in the same way that Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada and others were introduced. There was no hint of bitterness.
Which was the right thing to do. Because they all understand that what they accomplished together belongs to the ages, to fans, and should never be overshadowed by lingering personal feuds and disputes.
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and did not win another for the next 85 years. But finally, in 2004, they won again, with a memorable group of players that Johnny Damon dubbed as the "Idiots." The general manager of that team was Theo Epstein, and three years later, with Epstein serving as GM, they won again. Two championships in four years, transformative success for the Red Sox -- success shared by John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Epstein, Terry Francona, the staff and the players.
Subsequently, there were divorces. There was a book that made a lot of the principals mad -- Francona's Boston memoir, published last spring -- and there is bitterness. Francona is with the Indians now, and Epstein left the Red Sox after the 2011 season to join the Cubs.
Now the Cubs and Epstein are looking for a manager and they have asked for permission to speak with Torey Lovullo, the bench coach for the Red Sox team that won the World Series last week.
Lovullo is 48 years old and has been considered a candidate for numerous major league managerial jobs, but has never gotten his shot. After John Farrell became manager of the Blue Jays in the fall of 2011, Lovullo -- who had managed in the Red Sox farm system -- went to Toronto to be part of Farrell's coaching staff. When Farrell returned to the Boston organization, so did Lovullo.
This point is worth repeating: Lovullo left the Red Sox at the same time that Epstein did, and then came back.
As written by Gordon Wittenmeyer, the Red Sox have denied the Cubs' request to interview Lovullo, and in so doing, they have denied Lovullo this shot at becoming a manager. Their decision, it is said, is because of an agreement made in the midst of Epstein's tumultuous departure that Epstein would not hire anyone from the Red Sox -- an effort by the Red Sox, at that time, to ensure that Epstein would not immediately raid the organization that he helped to shape.
Again: Lovullo left the Red Sox at the same time that Epstein did, to go to Toronto. He went away, and then returned. This is not as cut-and-dried as it would be if Epstein tried to hire a longtime farm director or scouting director, or a young manager-in-waiting. Farrell could be the Boston manager for many years to come. There is no apparent opportunity for Lovullo to be promoted in the foreseeable future.
Professional sports teams routinely grant valued employees permission to discuss advancement elsewhere, and for Lovullo, this is not a lateral move -- this could be a chance for his first managerial job in the big leagues.
You would hope that Lovullo is not being caught in the last crossfire of a breakup that is now two years old, like the child who is manipulated in a nasty custody proceeding.
You would hope that the folks at the top of the Red Sox organization have moved on, no matter the nature of Epstein's departure, because the personal feelings should always be secondary to what they all accomplished together.
Because it's the right thing to do. For their own sake and, in this moment, for the sake of Torey Lovullo.
By the way: The Red Sox leadership did a nice thing here, thanking the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis.
Around the league
• The Rangers' signing of Geovany Soto is a safety net for Texas to begin its offseason. Texas isn't perceived by rival evaluators to have much catching in its pipeline, and so as the Rangers begin the offseason, they know that they at least have Soto, who has a good working relationship with their best pitcher, Yu Darvish. They could still add to the position, with someone like Brian McCann, who would join the Rangers as a DH-first catcher. McCann remains a possibility, writes Jeff Wilson.
Scott Lauber has more on Boston's interest in Brian McCann.
• There will be interest in Bartolo Colon, coming off a season in which he went 18-6 and had a 2.65 ERA. But he is 40 years old and has a PED suspension in his history, which means there will be some queasiness about how much he can be counted on -- especially for a small-market club like Oakland.
If the Athletics had given Colon a qualifying offer of $14.1 million, he might've accounted for a staggering 20 percent of their payroll, which was just too much for them, in light of his history. If Colon played for a large-budget team like the Dodgers or Yankees or Phillies, the question of whether to give Colon a qualifying offer would've been a no-brainer. Some club executives believe this is another example of how the rules are stacked in favor of the big-market clubs.
It figures that Colon will land with a big-market team that can feel comfortable giving him a pricey one-year deal -- maybe in the range of $10 million to $11 million -- or perhaps even a two-year deal. It'll be interesting to see if the Yankees consider Colon if Hiroki Kuroda decides to leave.
• This is what has happened with managers in the past three days.
1) On Sunday, Dave Dombrowski -- an executive with a track record that could someday earn him induction into the Hall of Fame -- passed on the chance to hire someone he knows well from his own coaching staff, Lloyd McClendon, and instead hired someone with whom he has no working history, Brad Ausmus.
2) On Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners hired McClendon, at the end of a meandering managerial search.
As Tim Kurkjian says, in so many words, you never know what you're going to see in baseball -- because in this case, you certainly would have assumed that the Mariners would have followed Dombrowski's lead.
McClendon is stepping into a tough spot, writes Jerry Brewer.
• The awards finalists were announced.
• The A's will not play at AT&T Park, writes Mark Purdy.
• Three other factors which will greatly impact Kendrys Morales' ability to get offers that compete with the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer that he got from the Mariners.
1) He's the second best free-agent DH available, behind Carlos Beltran, at a time when there are very few full-time DH positions available.
2) Brian McCann is being looked at as a combination DH-catcher by some AL teams.
3) The Royals have made it clear to the industry that they are ready to deal Billy Butler, a really good hitter who is three years younger than Morales -- and Butler is owed just $20.5 million over the next two seasons.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rockies are interested in some relievers, writes Troy Renck.
2. Grant Balfour is drawing interest, writes Susan Slusser.
3. The Dodgers are signaling a shift in philosophy, writes J.P. Hoornstra.
4. Tim Wallach might be the Dodgers' bench coach next season, writes Ken Gurnick.
5. It's not entirely clear whether Jeff Jones will be retained as pitching coach for the Tigers. You wonder if Brad Ausmus would consider his former teammate, Doug Brocail, who recently left his duties as the pitching coach for the Astros.
6. No qualifying offer for Bronson Arroyo stinks, writes Paul Daugherty.
7. The Orioles hired Jeff Manto.
8. The Cardinals are pondering some moves.
9. The Twins cut ties with Nick Blackburn.
Dings and dents
1. Dustin Pedroia's surgery will be complicated.
• Dan Connolly writes about the Orioles' early plans.
• Chase Headley's contract is a sticking point for the Padres, writes Jeff Sanders.