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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 637

post #19081 of 73003
Chicago's quest for talented, young position players has been impressive.

Garcia, Abreu, Eaton and now Davidson all within four months.

And Viciedo is only 24. Probably not really, but.
post #19082 of 73003
Thread Starter 
Zona needed a new closer that bad?

Chicago does well in Addison Reed deal.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Chicago White Sox get to accomplish several things at once with the trade of reliever Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for third baseman Matt Davidson -- they fill a chronic hole at third, which also happens to be a position of scarcity across the minors right now, with a player who gives them six years of control, and in turn they convert their closer into something valuable before he himself gets expensive through the arbitration process.

Davidson has ranked in my top 100 prospects in each of the last three years, all between 86th (2011) and 75th (2013), and will likely appear there one more time before graduating from the list in 2014. He's a polished hitter for his age, turning 23 in March, with sound plate discipline and a smooth right-handed swing with good hip rotation for at least average power. He doesn't boast great bat speed, and his legs are on the heavy side, so it's taken a lot of work (much of it with former Arizona coach Matt Williams) to get Davidson to the point where he's playable at third, but I think he'll end up right around average there on defense. That plus mid-.300 OBPs and 20 or so homers a year will make for a very good regular at a position where the White Sox haven't had that in ages.

The Diamondbacks continue to trade away assets based not on their market values but on their own internal opinions of what those players are. Just because you don't think Justin Upton is a superstar, or Tyler Skaggs is a future mid-rotation starter, or Matt Davidson could become a regular doesn't mean that the other 29 teams share your view. The best front offices trade players for the most they can get on the market, not for what they believe is a fair return.

Addison Reed is a good reliever, a Proven Closer" who misses a lot of bats thanks to a fastball that went from solid-average when he worked as a starter to 95-99 mph when he moved to short relief and could air it out on every pitch. He's fastball-heavy and almost entirely works as a fastball/slider guy, giving up a lot of fly balls (bad in Chicago, worse in Arizona), and worth under 2 WAR even in a season where he worked an un-closer like 71 innings. That's less than you'll get from even a slightly below-average regular at third base (a reasonable, if slightly pessimistic, forecast for Davidson), and doesn't consider the part about Reed getting massively overpaid after 2014, when he'll likely take more than 100 career saves into the arbitration process and let Jerome Holtzman's Folly continue to do its damage to the sport.

Davidson was a surplus part for Arizona after the acquisiton of Mark Trumbo, whom the Snakes will try in left field, pushing Martin Prado to third and Davidson off the team. The White Sox can replace Reed as they have plenty of power arms -- Nate Jones would be one potential candidate, as would Daniel Webb, but they could also convert a starter like Andre Rienzo or Felipe Paulino to the bullpen, or even try to recreate Reed in the minors by moving someone like Chris Beck (who gets ground balls but can't miss bats as a starter) or Scott Snodgress (similar story, but left-handed) to short relief.

They have options, starting with Jones, but more importantly, GM Rick Hahn seems to recognize that the closer role itself might be overrated, and that you'd rather have a 150-game starter at third than a 70-inning closer in the ninth.

Quick thoughts on two Pittsburgh moves.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Pittsburgh Pirates made a pair of smaller moves on Wednesday, one great, one ... a little less so.

Signing Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension that buys out two of his free agent years at a small discount to market makes a ton of sense for a team that ordinarily can't play in the deep end of the free agent pitching pool. Morton had his best season to date in 2013, coming back from Tommy John surgery to throw more strikes than ever while still getting ground balls, leading the league with a ground ball rate of 62.9 percent (min. 100 IP).

He's probably a $10-12 million per year starter in free agency if healthy, but given his injury history I don't blame him for taking the security.

Signing Edinson Volquez, who posted a 5.71 ERA in 2013, led the National League in runs allowed, finished third in the NL in walks allowed, and didn't garner any Rookie of the Year votes, to a major-league contract for $5 million isn't such a great use of the savings.

Mike Trout and the $400 million question.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
During the winter meetings last week, general managers rotated through the ESPN workroom to answer thematic questions. Their responses are used going into and coming out of commercials during "Baseball Tonight," and one of the questions posed was: Who is the best player in the game?

I was unable to eavesdrop on all the answers given to Jennifer Chafitz, the producer in charge of that project, but the GMs I did hear stepped around that question -- maybe out of respect for their own players, and maybe to honor the general MLB rule that you shouldn't speak about another team's player.

If you gave the GMs truth serum, their answer would be unanimous, or almost unanimous, because the vast majority of executives view Mike Trout as the best player in the game -- and not by a small margin.

He is 22 years old as he wakes up today, at the outset of his career, and over the past two seasons, he has reached base 564 times. How does that stack up? Zachary Jones of ESPN Research dug this out for me:

Most times on base 2012-2013
Mike Trout: 564
Miguel Cabrera: 562
Shin-Soo Choo: 556
Prince Fielder: 542
Andrew McCutchen: 541
Joey Votto: 541

And here is how Trout stacks up in a few other key stats over the past two seasons.

Runs: First (238)
Extra-base hits: Sixth (140)
Stolen bases: Second (82)
WAR: First (20.1)

As you'll note, the stats mentioned above are all counting stats, and Trout's standing is all the more impressive when you consider that he didn't get called up until four weeks into the 2012 season. In terms of WAR, the No. 2 player is Robinson Cano, a full 4 WAR (16.1) behind Trout.

And in the divisional era (since 1969), just two players have had a higher two-year WAR than Trout.

Barry Bonds: 23.7 (2001-02)
Barry Bonds: 21.0 (2002-03)
Joe Morgan: 20.6 (1975-76)

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Trout is fast approaching that time when he will be in position to wreck the Angels in arbitration, setting new records, given that his case argument will be: He is doing stuff that no player in the history of baseball has ever done before.

The Angels have three distinct paths to take with Trout:

1. They could trade him -- but let's dismiss that, because owner Arte Moreno is a smart guy and can draw upon the 1919 Red Sox's decision to swap Babe Ruth as an example of what not to do with an all-time great talent.

2. They go year to year with him on his contract decision, protecting themselves against the possibility that he gets hurt or regresses -- but also risking the very real chance that his arbitration cases will net $15 million to $30 million or more before he reaches free agency and sets up the craziest bidding war in the history of free agency. (For the record, he will be eligible for arbitation for the first time next winter.)

3. They could sign him to a long-term deal.

If the Angels go this route, of course, they can assume that signing him will cost a lot more than the $180 million that Moreno spent to buy the team a decade ago.

I asked a long-time agent who does not represent Trout what he might ask for in a negotiation for a multiyear deal, and he paused for a few moments, like someone savoring a good piece of steak.

"Why not do something that's never been done before?" he asked rhetorically.

What do you mean?

"Twelve years, $400 million."

No player has ever signed a contract guaranteeing $300 million. If what the agent suggests actually happened, Trout would simply skip over the hundreds-of-millions figure that starts with a "3" and just go right to the "4."

It seems insane. But it also seems possible, given that all of the usual negotiating rules for agents don't apply to Trout.

Sometimes, a team will give a young player a long-term deal gambling that they will continue to develop into a high-level player. This is what happened when the Rays signed Evan Longoria and what the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki.

But Trout alters that equation because he already is the best player in the game. He already is doing things that no other player has ever done. He has been in the big leagues only two years and 70 days, and has yet to accrue enough service time to qualify for arbitration -- but once he does that, he's in line to be paid over the top of any scale.

There's really no reason for Trout's agent, Craig Landis, to allow the Angels to buy out one or two of the free-agent seasons given that Trout might be making $15 million or more by the 2015 season, through arbitration. Trout really is in position to go one of two routes:

1. He could go through his arbitration year to year, setting records, and then become a free agent at age 26. If healthy -- and the chance of injury is his primary risk -- he may well wreck Alex Rodriguez's record for a contract of $275 million.

2. He could ask the Angels for the type of record-setting, $400 million-ish deal to sign now. In other words, something that has never been done before.

He is in a position with an absurd amount of leverage, in position to make an absurd amount of money. He figures to become the first player in history to sign a deal for more than $30 million annually.

The Angels have to keep that in mind as they plan out their future, and prepare budgets that are already becoming cramped under the confines of the $189 million luxury tax threshold, because of the forthcoming obligations to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, this is what they already have on the books going into seasons beyond 2014:

2015: $117 million
2016: $112 million
2017: $58.4 million

All of that before they pay Trout -- who is seemingly destined to become the highest-paid player ever -- a single dime.

Everything that the Angels do should be informed by the reality that Trout will be making $30-plus million a year in the not-too-distant future. They need to start carving out that room ASAP. Yes, Matt Garza would make a lot of sense for them in 2014, to augment a rotation that should already be improved by the addition of Hector Santiago and (perhaps) Tyler Skaggs.

But if signing Garza requires a long-term, big-money deal, the Angels might be better suited taking somebody else on a shorter, cheaper deal, like a Bronson Arroyo.

One executive mused last year that the best thing about working for the Angels would be knowing that you could watch Trout every day in his career. There will be a day soon that Moreno and the Angels will be paying handsomely for that privilege.

Around the league

• John Axford is on the verge of signing with the Cleveland Indians; it appears he will be their closer, writes Paul Hoynes.

With Axford coming off the board for Cleveland, Grant Balfour could land with the Orioles, Joaquin Benoit with the Padres and Fernando Rodney with Seattle in this closers' game of musical chairs.

• Mark Ellis signed with the Cardinals, seemingly a great piece of depth for them, someone who will fit perfectly into their culture. Ellis could complement Kolten Wong at second base, or challenge him for the full-time job, writes Derrick Goold.

• The Yankees have no intention of trading Brett Gardner, says team president Randy Levine.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. David Ortiz doesn't want to wait for an extension.

2. The Cubs have targeted Jonathan Sanchez, writes Mark Gonzales.

AL East

• The Yankees' second base options are dwindling daily.

• Jacoby Ellsbury is not likely to be a Bronx bust this year, writes John Tomase.

• Will Middlebrooks needs more plate discipline, writes Brian MacPherson.

AL Central

• Robin Ventura is recharged.

AL West

• The Rangers have not been wild shoppers, writes Jeff Wilson.

NL East

• The Marlins realize that trading Logan Morrison is a big gamble.

NL Central

• Chris Stewart is happy to be with the Pirates.

• Charlie Morton explains his multiyear deal with the Pirates.

NL West

• Carlos Gonzalez is excited about shifting to center field, writes Patrick Saunders.

Many teams capable of a big move.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Mariners have spent about $250 million this offseason, and the Yankees more than $300 million. Most of the best free agents have come off the board, and as general managers rushed out of the building with the dolphin on the top to catch flights out of Florida on Thursday, a lot of the winter work was done.

But some teams still have room for a big move before the offseason is over:

1. Texas Rangers: GM Jon Daniels says he does not expect any more major moves for the Rangers this winter. But Texas remains in an excellent position in its negotiations with Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, because it appears the Rangers are one of the last teams -- maybe the last team -- prepared to spend big money on an outfielder. The Rangers don’t want to spend $140 million on Choo and they don’t want to give a third year to Cruz, so Daniels can use Choo and Cruz against each other in grinding to get the deal he wants.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers locked up Juan Uribe to a two-year, $15 million deal, re-signed Brian Wilson, and could still work out something with J.P. Howell. These are all modest deals for a team with a $217 million payroll, and an ownership group with raging championship aspirations. It would surprise no one if they worked out an extension with Hanley Ramirez.

But the Dodgers continue to be seen as the favorite by rival executives to be the team that makes the deal with the Rays for David Price. They have the range of prospects needed to make a Price trade, they have the money to keep him, and their ownership has a willingness to be bold.
[+] Enlarge
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Xander Bogaerts is another player who gives Boston flexibility.
3. Boston Red Sox: GM Ben Cherington is in an excellent spot because he can do nothing if he chooses. Now that Jacoby Ellsbury has departed, he’s got center field options in Jackie Bradley Jr. or, if necessary, Shane Victorino. If circumstances don’t force Stephen Drew back to the Red Sox -- and it’s possible that he’ll return -- Cherington has Xander Bogaerts. Boston has made moves this winter to put itself in position to defend its championship, but at the same time, has maintained the payroll and roster flexibility that has been a trademark since the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.

What that means is that if any opportunity evolves in the weeks ahead because of declining prices -- for Choo, Cruz, Masahiro Tanaka, whoever -- the Red Sox can choose to participate, or not. And the reality is that the Red Sox's championship buys time for Cherington to continue to be patient. The Red Sox need to factor in possible performance regression as they assess 2014, writes Brian MacPherson.

4. New York Yankees: They lost out on Omar Infante, and they’ll need another solution at second base, although it’s hard to see them making a big strike for an infielder. If they get aggressive now, it’ll probably be for pitching, and more specifically for Tanaka.

5. Seattle Mariners: The signing of Robinson Cano will only truly reignite the franchise if the Mariners make the follow-up moves necessary to build a winning team. The worst-case scenario for Seattle at this point would be if the Mariners floundered at the outset of 2014 in what should be a very competitive AL West; if that happens, fans will stay away, again, and Cano will be only an expensive bauble for a losing team.

Cano is a great player, but the Mariners need a few more good players for him to truly make a difference. They need another power hitter (and Cano has been lobbying on Cruz’s behalf), a closer and a starting pitcher.

6. Detroit Tigers: They say they’re done, Tony Paul writes. But we’ve been down this road before. Agent Scott Boras represents Shin-Soo Choo, and in the past, Boras has had a good working relationship with Detroit owner Mike Illitch and placed such players as Magglio Ordonez and Prince Fielder with Detroit. Choo would be an excellent fit in left field for the Tigers, which leaves a lot of rival officials wondering whether Boras will again work something out with the Tigers in January.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks: They’re going to get a starting pitcher, a guy who could be at least a No. 2 or No. 3 in their rotation. GM Kevin Towers is a deal-maker, and ownership is pushing. Will this mean a trade for Jeff Samardzija? A signing of Tanaka, or Matt Garza? We’ll see. But they’ll get somebody.


• James Loney is a good fit for the Rays, writes Marc Topkin. I think Tampa Bay sees higher value in Loney’s defensive abilities than other teams did, which might explain why the Rays stepped up higher than the Brewers, Pirates and other teams in the bidding.

The defensive metrics used to assess first basemen are more than imprecise, but Tampa Bay loved Loney’s aggressiveness, his willingness to make plays and throw -- which is not always the case with first basemen.

• San Jose’s lawsuit is advancing. Delay could be the name of the game.

• Gavin Floyd is closing in on a one-year deal. He’s talking with the Braves.

• The Royals look like a solid team with the signing of Infante. Consider their projected lineup:

RF Norichika Aoki
2B Omar Infante
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvy Perez
CF Lorenzo Cain
3B Mike Moustakas
SS Alcides Escobar

It would be very interesting to see what the Royals’ response would be if the market doesn’t develop for Ervin Santana, who is tied to draft-pick compensation, and Santana comes back to K.C. looking for a deal. The same could be true for the Indians and Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Royals’ positive offseason continues, writes Sam Mellinger.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Phillies continue to be extremely motivated to move Jonathan Papelbon, which is a really tall task in light of his contract. Papelbon is owed $13 million for 2014 and $13 million for 2015, and he has a very makeable vesting option for 2016: If he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014 and 2015, he’ll get $13 million in 2016.

2. The Pirates have officially announced the signings of a couple of players.

3. The Mets announced the Bartolo Colon signing.

4. A source says the Reds have told Bronson Arroyo they could offer him a one-year deal.

5. The Blue Jays signed Tomo Ohka.

6. The Padres are closing in on a deal for Joaquin Benoit. Bill Center wonders whether this will change San Diego’s offseason.

7. Sources say the Giants and Blue Jays have been among the teams to check in with the Rays on Price.

AL Central

• The Twins signed Mike Pelfrey, along with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The Twins’ finished dead last in starters’ ERA in 2013, by far, but it should be better in 2014.

• Vinnie Pestano is prepping for 2014.

• Danny Worth is the odd man out of the Tigers’ infield.

AL West

• The Angels acquired another pitcher.

NL Central

• The Pirates’ decision-makers met with fans.

• The Pirates have earned more trust, writes Joe Starkey.

• The Brewers are looking to fill a hole at first base.

• The Cubs shut down a prospect.

NL West

• Towers expects talks to linger.

• The Rockies need help, but should be improved.

• Bruce Bochy will manage his 20th season in 2014, and is building his case for the Hall of Fame, writes John Shea.

• The Giants worked out a deal with Mike Morse.

AL West

• Evan Drellich writes that it’s unlikely the Astros will sign Shin-Soo Choo.

• David Freese picked Stan The Man’s number, which is pretty cool.

• Here’s why the Rangers paid $12,000 for the rights to Russell Wilson.

• The Mariners unveiled their latest additions.

• Cano’s stardom was years in the making, writes Larry Stone.

Offseason grades thus far: NL.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Saturday, I graded every American League team based on the moves they have made thus far this season, and today we move to the NL.

While the free-agent class wasn't as exciting in years past, we've seen some bold trades that should change the baseball landscape in 2014 and beyond. (Teams are listed in order of their grade, by division.)
National League East
Washington Nationals -- Grade: A
The Nats entered the offseason with four major needs: A manager, starting pitcher, lefty reliever and fourth outfielder. GM Mike Rizzo has fulfilled all of them. First, he signed Matt Williams to replace Davey Johnson at the helm, then he traded three nonelite players for Doug Fister.

At the winter meetings, he snagged lefty Jeremy Blevins from Oakland and signed outfielder Nate McLouth to a two-year deal. The Nationals were a disappointment in 2013, but expect them back in the playoffs next year.

New York Mets -- Grade: B-
After years of sitting out on big-name free agents, the Mets signed two in the span of a week. First, they got Curtis Granderson with a four-year, 60 million deal, then they gave Bartolo Colon $20 million over two years. The former will give them a credible corner outfielder; the latter will lessen the sting of Matt Harvey's absence, and could be a valuable trade chip come July.

As a bonus, these moves will give the fans a little hope that the team is ready to spend to compete again.

Miami Marlins -- Grade: C+
The addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year, $21 million deal was reasonable, as was the trade of Logan Morrison to Seattle for right-handed reliever Carter Capps. Morrison has talent, but the front office decided a change of scenery would be best.

This club is still a year or two away from competing, but they have a lot of promising young players on the way.

Philadelphia Phillies -- Grade: C-
The Phillies are going for it one last time, signing Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal and Carlos Ruiz for three years. Both guys will be on the wrong side of 35 on Opening Day, and there is serious downside.

Make no mistake: If the Phillies are out of the race in July, there will be a fire sale.

Atlanta Braves -- Grade: D
The Braves lost Brian McCann to the Yankees and Tim Hudson to the Giants and haven't done anything to replace either. If they want to win a World Series, I think they need to trade for David Price or Jeff Samardzija, though the latter seems more likely.

They would like to bring back lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty, but that won't change their trajectory very much.

National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals -- Grade: A
First, the Cardinals solved their shortstop problem by signing Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal. Then they traded David Freese for Peter Bourjos, which will enhance their outfield depth while allowing Matt Carpenter to shift over to third and open up second base for Kolten Wong.

This is a balanced roster with all kinds of talent, and GM John Mozeliak did a great job of making all the pieces fit a little bit better this winter.

Cincinnati Reds -- Grade: C-
The Reds are still in discussions with their own free agents, Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, and they have talked about various Brandon Phillips trade scenarios. They did pick up some depth by adding lefty David Holmberg, but for a team that seems so close to being a World Series contender, they haven't done anything to improve significantly.

Milwaukee Brewers -- Grade: D+
They added lefty Will Smith from Kansas City in a trade for Norichika Aoki, and Corey Hart left as a free agent. It's likely they'll trade for Ike Davis to play first base, but none of these moves are going to get them out of the cellar.

Chicago Cubs -- Grade: D
The Cubs need to stop messing around with Jeff Samardzija and either trade him for prospects or sign him to a long-term extension. This team has a ton of position-player prospects who will arrive in the next two years, but they need to figure out who is going to be on the mound.

Pittsburgh Pirates -- Grade: D
They lost Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau via free agency and desperately need another big bat in the middle of the lineup to get back to the playoffs. If they don't add someone, Andrew Lambo and Gaby Sanchez will have to step up, and relying on that is a gamble.

National League West
San Francisco Giants -- Grade: B
They started the offseason by re-signing Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence, then added Tim Hudson on a two-year deal and Michael Morse for one year. The latter two deals aren't sexy, but they give the Giants some depth at a reasonable cost.

Los Angeles Dodgers -- Grade: C+
The Dodgers paid Brian Wilson like a closer to pitch the eighth inning, and he and Kenley Jansen give them one of the best late-game duos in the game. They also re-signed Juan Uribe to a reasonable two-year deal. However, they still have four highly paid outfielders for three spots, so there is still much work to be done.

Colorado Rockies-- Grade: C+
The Rockies have been extremely active. They've made a lot of moves in an effort to improve their rotation and bullpen, trading for Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles, and signing LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan. They also signed Justin Mourneau to give them some lefty power at first base.

Of course, they had to give up Dexter Fowler and Drew Pomeranz to get Lyles and Anderson, so it's unclear how much they improved as a team.

Arizona Diamondbacks -- Grade: C
They wanted another right-handed power bat to pair with Paul Goldschmidt, and they got it in Mark Trumbo, but the cost was severe. Both Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton have promise, and Trumbo will be forced to play out of position in Arizona, which could mitigate his impact.

There is pressure to win now in Arizona, and if they make the playoffs, no one will be unhappy. But there's a decent chance that Skaggs and Eaton will really make them regret this deal in five years.

San Diego Padres-- Grade: C-
I like the decision to roll the dice on Josh Johnson on a one-year, $8 million deal, but trading Luke Gregerson -- one of baseball's best setup men -- for Seth Smith has me scratching my head.

They want to replace Gregerson with someone like Joaquin Benoit, but I think they could have easily added a comparable outfielder to Smith at less than what Benoit will cost.

Offseason grades thus far: AL.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Entering the offseason, the 2013 free agent class was generally regarded as one of the weaker ones in recent memory. Thus, most industry insiders were banking on a healthy trade market to develop and they were right.

In addition to the generous free-agent signings, blockbuster trades dominated the news, re-sculpting several teams in a single move. Here's how each American League team has done this winter, thus far. Mind you, there's still a long way to go, several big-name free agents to sign and blockbuster trades to make. (Teams are listed in order of their grade, by division.)

American League East
New York Yankees -- Grade: B+
GM Brian Cashman deserves credit for holding firm in the Robinson Cano negotiations, and the Yankees have done a good job of cushioning the loss of Cano by signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, arguably the next three best position player free agents.

Boston Red Sox -- Grade: B-
Losing Ellsbury to the Yankees surely stings, but GM Ben Cherington was able to bring Mike Napoli back on a reasonable two-year deal, while also replacing the departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia with A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal. Boston has young players ready to contribute and payroll flexibility going forward.

Tampa Bay Rays -- Grade: B-
The Rays haven't done anything major, but they've continued to supplement their roster with solid role players, such as Ryan Hanigan, and manager Joe Maddon knows how to put his players in position to succeed. They also re-signed James Loney to a three-year deal, so they clearly believe his 2013 season was no fluke.

Of course, everyone in baseball is waiting and watching to see what they do with David Price.

Baltimore Orioles-- Grade: D
The Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson in a salary dump and left fielder Nate McLouth left as a free agent. Not only does GM Dan Duquette need to find a will to fill those holes, but also needs to find an elite starter, all with a modest budget.

Toronto Blue Jays -- Grade: D
The Jays signed Dioner Navarro at catcher to improve their offense behind the plate, but he's not exactly a game-changer. Their biggest need is getting a healthy starter who can give them 200 innings and they remain on the clock to get it done.

American League Central
Chicago White Sox-- Grade: B+
GM Rick Hahn is doing a nice job rebuilding this club, first by trading Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia over the summer, and then last week he added Adam Eaton from Arizona in a three-way deal that cost him Hector Santiago. Eaton was my NL rookie of the year pick, but an injury in March derailed his season.

With the signing of Jose Abreu earlier this winter, the White Sox's long-term outlook is looking a lot more appealing as they have a promising group of young position players for the first time in a while.

Detroit Tigers -- Grade: B
As I wrote a few days ago, I think the Tigers were on the wrong end of both the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler deal and the Doug Fister trade. That said, they made their roster more balanced in the process, and put themselves in good position to give Max Scherzer an extension.

Minnesota Twins -- Grade: B-
The Twins' rotation has been so bad the last couple of years that GM Terry Ryan had to take action, signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multi-year deals. Neither will take the Twins to the next level, but they should give them quality innings, which the club desperately needs. Their real window of contention will arrive along with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, two of the game's very best prospects.

Kansas City Royals -- Grade: C+
Coming off of an 86-win season, the Royals rewarded GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost with contract extensions, and while they haven't made any moves as big as last year's James Shields trade, they have made a few transactions.

First, they gave a four-year, $32 million to Jason Vargas, and then traded lefty Will Smith for outfielder Norichika Aoki. Some may say Vargas was an overpay, but that's the going rate for a reliable No. 3 or 4 starter. And then, on Friday night, they filled their hole at second base by signing Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal.

That said, they still have no one who can replace what Ervin Santana gave them last year, and he's as good as gone as a free agent.

Cleveland Indians -- Grade: D+ Relievers Joe Smith and Chris Perez will not be returning, and they still haven't replaced them, though Grant Balfour and John Axford remain on their radar. They would also like to bring back Ubaldo Jimenez, but that's no guarantee.

American League West
Oakland Athletics -- Grade: A
Billy Beane continues to show why he is among the best in the business, making a series of smaller moves -- such as trading for Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson and Johnson -- that will give manager Bob Melvin the kind of deep and dynamic roster he knows how to make work. Johnson will replace free agent Balfour, and the departed Bartolo Colon will be replaced by the newly-signed Scott Kazmir. The A's are in great position to win the AL West for a third straight year.

Los Angeles Angels -- Grade: A-
GM Jerry Dipoto knew he needed to rebuild his rotation, and he was able to add two good young lefties -- Tyler Skaggs and Santiago -- for the price of Mark Trumbo and a pair of low-end prospects. Trumbo has elite power, but prospect C.J. Cron is almost ready and can provide similar production, and the Angels got an influx of arms they desperately needed.

The Halos could also be a player for Matt Garza, and might enter the season having turned their rotation from a weakness into a strength.

Texas Rangers -- Grade: B+
The trade for Fielder was huge, as Texas really needed a middle-of-the-order power bat from the left side. Fielder is still just 29 years old and should thrive in Arlington.

Not only that, but the Tigers threw money into the Fielder deal and the Rangers cleared up their middle infield logjam in the process.

Houston Astros -- Grade: B
Slowly but surely, the Astros are beginning their climb back toward relevance. They added Dexter Fowler in a trade for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, which will instantly make their lineup better.

They also signed Scott Feldman to a three-year deal, and he can be the reliable starter they depserately need. There is a good chance they still finish last in the AL West, but they are going to be a lot more competitive.

Seattle Mariners -- Grade: C+
The $240 million deal for Cano gives the Mariners the kind of buzz they haven't had in ages, but this club still has plenty of holes. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison were intriguing pickups, but now the club must decide what to do with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, as they now have a logjam of DH/1B types.

Furthermore, they have holes in the rotation, bullpen and outfield, and it's quite possible that Cano will be in decline by the time the rest of the roster takes shape.

Who needs Choo the most?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It seems that every year, agent Scott Boras plays the waiting game with one of his more in-demand clients, until one team gets antsy and offers a contract that may be for more than what it had budgeted. This year, that client is Shin-Soo Choo.

There are a few factors that are drawing out the courtship of Choo, of course. With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury being the position-player free agents in the highest demand, it was natural for Choo to have to wait a little bit. There is also the fact that he received a qualifying offer, which means he will cost the team that signs him a draft pick. Lastly, there are his platoon splits.

As Keith Law stated in his top 50 free agents story in November, Choo has a bit of a platoon split. It's not that his batting eye vanishes against lefties -- his 10 percent walk rate and .333 on-base percentage are still healthy against southpaws. But he becomes a slap hitter. In the past three seasons, Choo has slugged just .293 against lefties.

With all of that said, few players are better at getting on base than Choo -- Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are the only two players to reach safely more times than Choo in the past two years -- and he is still a $20 million per year player.

As we look to where he fits, there are obviously a bunch of teams that could use him, but I've honed in on four realistic suitors who "need" him the most. And there they are.

4. Detroit Tigers
It's not that Andy Dirks, Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter aren't good players -- it's just that they're not good enough to put the Tigers in the driver's seat for a pennant run. The Indians and Royals both figure to be strong challengers to Detroit again in 2014, and right now the Tigers' corner outfield options pale by comparison.

Using the projected WAR per position from the depth charts at FanGraphs, we find that the Tigers rank 26th in terms of combined left-field and right-field WAR. Right now the projected margin of error between Detroit and Kansas City is thin. Choo would help the Tigers break away from the pack a little more -- on paper, at least.

3. Texas Rangers
Here some of the players who are currently populating the Rangers' depth chart in the corner outfield and DH spots: Jim Adduci, Engel Beltre, Michael Choice and Chris McGuiness.

Choice might be a decent player someday, but the 2010 first-round pick is unlikely to ever be a star. He tallied just 19 plate appearances in his major league debut last season, and Steamer projects him to hit .276/.341/.431 as a 24-year-old in the majors in 2014. To be certain, that is not awful. But it is also no sure thing. And he will probably turn out to be the best of this particular bunch.

The other three are projected to be three of Texas' four worst position players, and it's not hard to see why. Between them, they have 110 plate appearances at the major league level. And because Adduci will be 29 in 2014, McGuinness will be 26 and Beltre 24, you would have expected that total to be higher. Mitch Moreland is still ostensibly around to collect some first base/DH at-bats, but he is also not someone who should prevent the team from signing Choo.

Simply put, the Rangers need both offensive punch -- overall FanGraphs projects them to be just the 18th-best team offensively in 2014 -- as well as depth, and Choo would give them both.

2. Cincinnati Reds
There's a good argument to be made that only one team needs Choo more than the Reds do. Cincinnati is counting on Ryan Ludwick to man left field next season, and that probably isn't going to turn out too well for them. Last season, Ludwick injured his shoulder on Opening Day and missed the next 116 games following surgery. When he returned in August, he was only able to muster a meager .240/.283/.326 line across his final 138 regular-season plate appearances.

Now, with the benefit of an offseason to rest, it's possible Ludwick will be just fine in 2014. But it's even more possible that he will be a 35-year-old with a bum shoulder who can't hit the ball with authority and who has always been overrated. Ludwick has never played great defense, so he has to be a very good hitter to be worth much in the grand scheme of things, and he does that sparingly.

Whether you want to look at the past one, three or five seasons, Choo has been a much better player than Ludwick, and Choo is coming off of a year in which he was worth 5.2 WAR to a team that won 90 games.

With the Cardinals and Pirates still big-time threats in the National League Central, Cincy can't afford to take a step back and finish with a middling 85-86 wins. Re-signing Choo is the Reds' best chance of competing with the Cardinals and Pirates. Without him, third place seems quite possible.

1. Baltimore Orioles
While Ludwick is no great shakes, he is at least a single entity that can be counted on to suit up in left field every day. With Nate McLouth headed down the Beltway, the Orioles don't really have a starting left fielder.

It would be tremendous if Nolan Reimold could step up and be that player, but since he is heading into his age-30 season having never accrued more than 411 plate appearances in any one season and just 209 in the past two seasons, the odds on that happening are fairly long. Neither he nor Henry Urrutia is projected to be more than a league average hitter. Steve Pearce is projected to be slightly above average with the bat, but he is also slightly below average with the glove. He also will be 31 in 2014, and has never logged 200 PA in any single season.

The Orioles could piece together the position with these guys, but any combination of them is going to leave them a) at the bottom of the heap and b) no closer to a playoff spot. To make matters worse, those same players plus Danny Valencia are currently slotted in at DH as well.

General manager Dan Duquette's reluctance to hand out big free-agent contracts is admirable, but if he wants to get Baltimore back into the conversation in the American League East, he needs to get Choo.
post #19083 of 73003
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Buster_ESPN Buster Olney
Lots of speculation among executives that the Cubs are poised to try to strike big on Tanaka. We'll see.
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DBacks Land Closer, Further Build White Sox Core.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The easiest part of the three-way Mark Trumbo trade to forget was the White Sox’s part. Given that we all call it the Mark Trumbo trade, of course a lot of interest followed Trumbo to the Diamondbacks. And given that it was the Angels giving Trumbo up, people have wondered about the return. But the White Sox were in there as a necessary component, and they arguably got the best of it, turning Hector Santiago into one-time quality Arizona prospect Adam Eaton. Eaton, now, is considered a potential part of the long-term White Sox core.

Monday, the White Sox and Diamondbacks struck again, and this time there was no third party. Being a team in little present need of a closer, the Sox gave up Addison Reed. Being a team in little present need of an extra third baseman, the DBacks gave up Matt Davidson. The focus for Arizona, again, is getting better right away. And the focus for Chicago, again, is adding another potential part of the long-term White Sox core. While it’s a trade I wouldn’t want to call lopsided, I like it more for Rick Hahn than I do for Kevin Towers.

Towers critics and cynics should be able to have a field day with this. After all, the general manager went after a label. With Trumbo, Towers wanted proven right-handed power. Reed, meanwhile, is a proven closer, with 69 saves the last two seasons. He looks the part an awful lot more than Brad Ziegler does. Davidson’s a talented prospect, blocked at the moment, and this might reek of Arizona focusing more on what he can’t do than on what he can. And just because a guy is blocked doesn’t mean a situation can’t change, and it doesn’t mean the guy has to be sold quickly for a better immediate fit. This’ll be a fairly easy trade to pick apart.

I don’t think it’s that simple, and I do think there’s a case for Arizona. The case relies on Reed’s talent and remaining team control, and on an honest evaluation of Davidson’s most likely future. Arizona might not come away regretting this at all.

Reed’s a week and a half away from 25, and he debuted in early September 2011. What he has in front of him are four years of team control, including one at a near-league-minimum salary. He’s by no means a short-term acquisition; it’s entirely possible he’ll be closing in Arizona through 2017, if not beyond. Though he’ll never be confused for Craig Kimbrel, he’s a lower-tier kind of effective, and though he’s an extreme fly-baller moving to Arizona, he’s also leaving one of baseball’s most dinger-friendly bandboxes. He’s a fine pitching moving to what’s ultimately a similar kind of park.

Over the last two years, Reed has posted an 81 FIP-. Jim Johnson comes in at 80, and the A’s picked up both him and his eight-figure salary. Grant Balfour comes in at 82, and by the time the offseason’s over he might have a new three-year contract. This past season, Reed lowered his rate of contact allowed, and he throws about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. He’s allowed a lot of fly balls, but he hasn’t allowed a lot of home runs. You can understand how Reed’s been able to keep his job.

You can also understand why there might be some nervousness. Right there, one of Reed’s strengths has been keeping fly balls in the yard, and his numbers look a lot less impressive if you look around that. The Diamondbacks were happy to get rid of Heath Bell specifically because too many baseballs flew out, in between the strikes and whiffs. For a closer, even a few extra dingers a season are memorable and significant. There’s also the matter of Reed losing velocity between 2012 and 2013, especially in last season’s final couple months as Reed seemed to wear down. There’s been no diagnosis of anything wrong, but while Reed sat around 95 miles per hour a couple years ago, last August and September he was hovering around 93. He walked eight batters in his last seven games.

Maybe, these are red flags. Alternatively, maybe Reed’s able to keep on racking the saves up. In that case, it’s worth acknowledging that he could be in line for some real money in his arb-eligible years. It’s estimated that Jim Johnson will have gotten more than $17 million over his last two years, and Johnson didn’t really start closing until 2012. Cost-controlled assets are vitally important organization resources, because they make for relative bargains, but within that population of relative bargains, closers tend to be relatively expensive. The outlook is that Reed should be all right, and a year from now he’ll start costing millions of dollars.

So, that might seem a little gloomy. The last two years, there are a ton of similarities between Reed and new teammate David Hernandez. Between 2011-2012 for the Diamondbacks, Hernandez pitched well, allowing fly balls but not allowing home runs. Then the home runs came in 2013, and now Hernandez is down the depth chart. These things can happen fast. But in exchange for Reed, Arizona gave up a project. It was a sensible time for Davidson to be subtracted from the Diamondbacks, and it was a sensible time for him to be added by the White Sox.

Three years in a row, Davidson was a top-100 Baseball America prospect, although he didn’t get higher than 88. Marc Hulet just ranked him third in the Arizona system. He’s 22, he’s powerful, and he’s improved to the point where he looks like he can be a real third baseman for a while.

Davidson is a real prospect, who’s close to the majors, and for that reason he’s a real potential asset. The big issue remains his ability to make contact, and without gains in that department, he’s unlikely to be of all that much use.

In a brief trial in the majors, he made just 64% contact. In Triple-A, he made a below-average 71% contact, and he didn’t do enough other things well to be much more than average overall when you adjust for his park. He did make more contact in Double-A the year before, but he was still below the league mean, and that was at a lower level. Davidson doesn’t miss because he swings too often, or because he’s over-aggressive — he just misses, in the zone and out of it. He’s a fly-ball hitter, and whiffs are a side effect.

He isn’t a player who adds value on the bases, and he isn’t a player who’s going to add a lot of value in the field. Davidson has boosted his own defensive stock, but his career is going to come down to his bat, and he’ll either need to make more contact or do a more consistent job of turning the contact he does make into well-hit fly balls. Given that he walks some, he’s capable of perfectly fine OBPs, but it could end up a question of whether the power offsets the whiffs. Of course, being 22 until the end of next March, it’s not like Davidson is necessarily running out of time.

He didn’t have a place in Arizona, not with Trumbo in the outfield and therefore Martin Prado at third. There was the possibility that Davidson’s stock could go down with another year in Reno. There’s nobody blocking him in Chicago, and right now Davidson looks like the White Sox’s probable Opening Day starting third baseman. He’s a risky sort of prospect, but now he’s in line for an extended opportunity, and at least this year there won’t be much pressure on the White Sox to win, aside from what’s self-inflicted. So the organization can worry less about winning each game, and more about doing what needs to be done to maximize player development.

Davidson could be a long-term piece. He could bust, but a bad team is better off swapping a possible long-term reliever for a possible long-term infielder. In the Eaton trade, the White Sox turned a low-ceiling possible long-term starter into a possible long-term outfielder. In the Avisail Garcia trade, they turned a short-term starter into a possible long-term outfielder. The Sox also paid for Jose Abreu, and Chris Sale is under contract for a long time. There’s a core there that might take shape around the staff ace. There are also a lot of questions, and the core is by no means proven, but it hasn’t taken Hahn long to infuse the upper levels with players who could be around for a while.

At the end of the day, competitive teams need better bullpens, and rebuilding teams need better players. The Diamondbacks upgraded their bullpen. The White Sox upgraded their future. Rick Hahn seems to have done better than Kevin Towers did, and for the second time in a very short while, Hahn has added to Chicago’s potential core at Arizona’s expense.

The Cardinals, Mark Ellis, and Depth.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cardinals have reportedly signed Mark Ellis to a one-year deal. Ellis will turn 37 next season, but played well enough the last couple of years with the Dodgers that he was sure to find a job. The question is whether the Cardinals really needed him given the presence of Kolten Wong. The answer has to do with the Cardinals’ position as a contender and their concern with depth.

Back around 2008, Ellis was something of a sabermetric favorite in a (retrospectively) stereotypical style. Aside from the obvious career year in 2005, Ellis was only an average-ish hitter, but he played good defense at an not-very-glamorous position. There was a fair bit consternation in those cirlces when he opted to give Oakland what appeared to be a very team-friendly deal after the 2008 season instead of testing free agency. Ellis was up and down for the A’s in 2009 and 2010, then was traded to the Rockies during another down season in 2011. When the Dodgers gave him a two-year deal prior to the 2012 season, even many of Ellis’ former saber-fans might have shaken their heads given that age seemed to have taken its toll on his bat to the point that his glove could not longer make up for it.

Ellis answered the doubts with two solid seasons in 2012 and 2013 for the Dodgers. His bat was below average, but good enough for a second baseman who seemed to still have “it” in the field. Some saw his 2013 performance as one of the keys to the Dodgers’ semi-miraculous run to the playoffs. So it was not surprising, particularly given how many teams seemed to be in need of second base help, that he would find a job in 2014, even if he will turn 37 in June. What might be surprising is that it is with St. Louis.

The main question with Ellis is whether his glove can still make up for his bat. Ellis was last an above-average hitter in 2010, and as one would expect given his age, he has declined. Sure, random variation has been a factor — particularly in his dreadful 2011 — but Ellis is in his thirties playing a position at which attrition is brutal. Ellis’ plate discipline as measured by walks and strikeouts is probably about what it has been the last few seasons — a slightly better than average strikeout rate and a below-average walk rate. But his power, never that great, has really dropped off, both in terms of home runs, but also doubles and triples per ball in play. Steamer projects Ellis for an 85 wRC+ in 2014, Oliver for 80. Even if that seems a bit pessimistic, I doubt many think his true talent is much better than the 92 wRC+ he produced for the Dodgers last year.

Now, if Ellis was just an average defender at second, a 92 wRC+ would not really cut it. But, as noted above, Ellis is generally considered to be an above-average defender. How much above average is difficult to say, but even at 90 wRC+, if he is as good in the field as UZR and DRS see him as being the last three years, then he could still be roughly an average player — roughly two wins over a full season.

“A full season” is something of an issue for Ellis. Ellis has been put on the the disabled list in every season since 2008. He has had more than 500 plate appearances just once (2011) since 2008. He has not played in more than 140 games since 2007, and only in more than 130 once since then. He has never been out for a season, and he has played in at least 100 games every year since his rookie campaign, but it is still a bit worrisome, especially given his age.

In the abstract, Ellis seems like he is pretty low risk on whatever one-year deal he would be likely to get. But why the Cardinals? After all, despite trading away David Freese and moving Matt Carpenter to third base, St. Louis’ 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, Kolten Wong, seems like he could step in and take over at second base. Why sign an aging veteran role player to “block” the rookie?

Wong did not exactly light things up in his major league debut in 2013, as he hit just .153/.194/.169 for a -1 (~!) wRC+. Still, it is hard to believe the statistical line is problematic — it was just 62 plate appearances, after all. It is similarly hard to imagine St. Louis being overly concerned about Wong’s, um, exploits in the World Series. Wong may not profile as a future superstar, but he is generally considered to be a promising prospect with a future as a good major league regular.

Obviously, the Cardinals know more about Wong than anyone else. Maybe they simply do not think he is as good as the public prospecting community believes. That would be an easy rationale for the Ellis signing, but there is no independent indication that this is the case, and it would be less interesting, anyway.

Perhaps St. Louis thinks Wong needs more seasoning in the minor leagues, which may be true, but that answer is like the “they don’t like him” answer — not that interesting, although it would be a reason to bring Ellis aboard. Along similar lines though, we might find something of broader significance. It would be one thing if the Cardinals were a rebuilding team with out a credible shot at the playoffs and were signing veterans instead of playing promising young players. But the Cardinals are clearly not in that position. They are built to win now.

In particular, this Cardinals team is at an age where they need to be trying to win now. Yes, they have some exciting young talent, especially on the pitching side, but they are not a young team. Of the projected position players for 2014, every hitter besides Wong and Matt Adams will be at least 27 by the end of March 2014. Oscar Taveras may change that calculus slightly as well, but with Allen Craig and Jon Jay already set for at least some right field duty, it’s unclear how much Taveras will play, if at all. Even if you think hitters still peak at 27 (despite important recent research), it is pretty clear that the Cardinals, despite a continuing influx of talent from the minors, are at a team age at which “winning now” makes sense. They have a good collection of players, but on the offensive side, they are not likely to improve as time passes.

One might argue that the overall age means the team should be willing to get younger, and that makes sense. The Cardinals do have a very good minor-league system that develops players that teams have been and probably will be ready to use. However, not even the best prospects are sure things, and while Wong is good, few see him as a potential superstar. This is not trading Wil Myers and letting Jeff Francoeur handle things in right field, to pick an obvious example.

The point is simply that the Cardinals want more certainty, and thus are avoiding the risk of a hole as best they can within the constraints of their budget. Of course, even if Wong bombs, they might be able to carry second base in 2014 in the same way they did with shortstop in 2013. But why take that extra chance when they do not have to do so? Moreover, bringing Ellis on board on a low-risk one-year deal adds to the depth that has been a feature of the Cardinals’ recent success. If Ellis does get hurt (or age definitively catches up with him), they still have Wong ready to play. If Wong is so good he forces his way onto the lineup Card, it is not as if their commitment to Ellis is so large he would really be in the way. Maybe the two players will end up in a platoon at some point. These are the sorts of options deep teams give themselves.

The Cardinals have a recent history of taking advantage of depth. This is obvious just from looking at 2013. Craig was slated to be the team’s first baseman, and was for most of the season. The problem was that this blocked Matt Adams, a promising who could not really play anywhere else. Still, to the surprise of no one, Craig eventually went down with an injury and Adams filled in quite ably at first base. With Carlos Beltran now gone, Craig moves back to right field and Adams to first base. The trade for Peter Bourjos also illustrates the Cardinals liking for depth. Yes, they gave up their third baseman, but they already had Matt Carpenter available for third base, and Wong was ready for second base if they could not find another one. It also shored up an outfield — with Bourjos slated to start in center, it allows Jay, who is not a horrible player, to slot into a more natural fourth-outfielder spot and to back up Craig “just in case” he has to miss time with injury.

One could look at examples of other recent, successful teams turning depth into an advantage — the current composition of Ellis’ former team in Oakland comes to mind. The Cardinals were hardly a stars and scrubs team before the Ellis signing. The Ellis signing does, however, shore up a potential weak spot at the Cardinals make yet another run for a championship.

A World Where Juan Uribe Is Desirable.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last year, in the electronic pages of FanGraphs+, I wrote this about Juan Uribe: “There’s your run-of-the-mill ‘being terrible at baseball,’ and then there’s the performance art piece put on by Juan Uribe in 2012.” I talked about how the only two players who had a worse wOBA (with at least 450 PA) over 2011-12 were Chone Figgins and Jeff Mathis. I laughed at how Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had buried him down the stretch in 2012, refusing to start him after August 14, though he remained active; I ended, snarkily, by saying “What can be said about Juan Uribe at this point that hasn’t been already been said about other great disasters in world history? At least the Titanic had a band providing entertainment until the very end.”

Mean, perhaps, but then again, it’s difficult to express just how phenomenally atrocious Uribe had been in the first two years of his contract. When the 2013 season began, it seemed something of a minor miracle that Uribe had even survived the winter, a fact seemingly more due to the team’s inability to find an insurance policy for Luis Cruz or a suitable first base backup for Adrian Gonzalez than anything. If Scott Rolen had accepted the team’s offer to come play third base, Uribe maybe doesn’t make the roster. If Cruz hadn’t imploded so spectacularly, Uribe maybe doesn’t see July. Either way, if his career somehow even extended past 2013, it felt all but certain it would be on non-roster invites for the rest of his days.

Over the weekend, the Dodgers reached an agreement with Uribe to come back for two more seasons. They guaranteed him a reported $15 million, and they reportedly had to beat out at least the Marlins and Rays to do so. The world’s a twisted place.
While the Rays were reportedly interested in Uribe as a utility infielder type, the Dodgers — and the Marlins, White Sox, and other clubs rumored to be in the mix — had few other options as far as full-time third base solutions went. (As I joked on Twitter the other day, Justin Sellers was booked for 740 plate appearances on our depth charts simply because we needed to input someone and the position was completely and utterly void.)

Looking at the third base free agent leaderboards, the only two players who even managed a single win above replacement in 2013 were Uribe and former teammate Nick Punto, who is more of a utility guy himself than an everyday player. If not Uribe, then the Dodgers would have been forced into exploring formerly famous people like Michael Young, or Eric Chavez, or Kevin Youkilis, all of whom were rumored to be under consideration (and who still might be options as bench players, possibly). Or possibly-not-available, yet surely expensive, trade targets like Chase Headley. Or giving up a draft pick to sign Stephen Drew and slide Hanley Ramirez over, or gambling on the injury-prone and aging Aramis Ramirez, or… well, you get it.

The Dodgers now need to pray that the Uribe of 2014 and ’15 is a whole lot more like last year’s version than the massive disappointment they had in 2011 and ’12, though it’s interesting to note that he wasn’t quite as different in his “rebound” year as you’d think. After an early-season attempt at becoming more patient, Uribe became more or less the same hitter he always was:

Just by looking at those peripherals, you wouldn’t think that 2010 (with San Francisco) and 2013 were valuable years, while 2011-12 were the baseball equivalents of dumpster fires. But his BABIP tells a different tale — from .324 in 2010, down to .249 and .245 in his first two years in Los Angeles, then back up to .334 in 2013. Often — perhaps too often — we see a player with an unexpected BABIP drop and chalk it up to “bad luck,” or “balls that just aren’t finding holes.” Sometimes that’s true, but it doesn’t really seem applicable in Uribe’s case.

At the danger of falling into “best shape of his life” territory here, Uribe showed up to camp in 2013 noticeably slimmer, apparently having been appropriately humiliated by his earlier failings — no doubt with the idea of a contract year ahead, but also past a previously limiting sports hernia — and able to actually get around on the ball. It’s not that he was more patient, or more willing to lay off bad pitches, not since his K% and BB% were so similar to what they were in his awful 2012. It’s that balls that had previously been weak grounders, at a career-high rate of 48% in 2012, were being hit with some authority, with a line-drive rate topping 20% for the first time in more than four years.

It’s unlikely to expect another season worth five WAR, if only because his usually solid defense was ranked as a somewhat-fluky looking star-level in 2013. But he doesn’t really need to be in order to justify this contract. If we go along with the rough estimate of a win costing between $6 million and $7 million these days, then the Dodgers have paid for roughly more than two wins over the next two seasons. Steamer and Oliver both project somewhat less effective offense along with solid defense, giving him between two and three wins in 2014 alone, but the “R” part of that equation is up for debate here, because the Dodgers arguably didn’t even have a replacement-level Plan B. If he can even manage that, then he’s justified the contract, and perhaps slides into more of a backup role in 2015 as the Dodgers look to improve or welcome top prospect Corey Seager to the bigs.

There’s always the possibility that he completely implodes again, as he has in two of the last three years, but given the limited financial outlay and black hole of alternatives, the Dodgers did what they needed to do… even if less than a year ago, the simple suggestion of it would have seemed unfathomable.

Rays Pay Up for James Loney.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the past three seasons, the modus operandi for the Tampa Bay Rays has been to find a one-year solution at first base in the clearance bin of the offseason market. In 2011, that came in the form of adding Casey Kotchman on a minor league deal and watching him produce a 2.4 win season. In 2012, the team upped the budget and spent $7.25M to bring back Carlos Pena a year after he left via free agency, but Pena struggled through a 0.7 win season. Last season, James Loney was brought in on a $2M deal, and turned a profit with a career-best 2.7 win season.

The first base situation has been as much as a revolving door as the closer role has been with the club. Until Fernando Rodney repeated as the team saves leader last season, the team had had a different pitcher leads the team in saves each year under Maddon. While they have had repeated success with the closer role, the situation at first base has been a bit different. As Joe Maddon often says about these types of situations, the Rays meatloafed the first base situation.

This offseason, the Rays have repeated addressed their desire to bring closure to the situation at first base. The team is well-known for its secrecy and nuanced comments in regards to player acquisitions, but the desire to re-sign Loney became more transparent as the Winter Meetings progressed. Many teams will say that they want to retain their free agents, but the comments from Andrew Friedman, and in particular Joe Maddon, seemed genuine. Both men said they wanted someone who could handle right-handed pitching and valued the defensive aspect of the position. Once the rumor was floated that the Mets asked for Tyler Thornburg for Ike Davis, it became clear the Rays were out of that trade market as they place a high value on their young and controllable starting pitchers.

So, why Loney on a three-year deal for $21 million?

In terms of average annual value, the contract is right in line with what the crowdsourcing efforts were, as it was projected he would get two years at $15.1M. The third year appears to have become necessary because of the open market competition from clubs such as Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, and continues the trend of inflation taking the form of an additional year rather than a higher annual average value. Additionally, next year’s free agent class looks to be even thinner than the one teams dealt with this season.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the free agent class at first base for next offseason has just six names on it:

Billy Butler (if $12.5M option is bought out, which seems unlikely)
Michael Cuddyer
Corey Hart
Adam LaRoche (if $15M option is bought out)
Adam Lind (if $7.5M option is bought out)
Mike Morse
None display the type of defensive chops Tampa Bay values, and some could have their options exercised. If that were to happen, the available pool of names for first base next season would contain two players that invoked very lukewarm commitments this offseason.

The other aspect of this commitment is financial stability, something Tommy Rancel of TheProcessReport first pointed out. Wiith Loney under control, the Rays have the entire infield, both catchers, and and one outfielder (David DeJesus) under set prices through the next two seasons. That concrete part of their budget will allow them to better plan financially for the next two seasons as they attempt to lock up key players such as Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Wil Myers, and Desmond Jennings to pre-arbitration deals. Those types of deals have been key to the team’s sustainability as a competitive franchise despite its limited budget.

Loney has been a 2-win player two of the previous three seasons. Many will point to his 2013 season as an outlier, but when looking at his full-season wOBA’s, 2012 looks like the outlier.

2008 – .335
2009 – .332
2010 – .316
2011 – .328
2012 – .272
2013 – .339
His 2013 success was fueled by a 30% line drive rate which resulted in the highest BABIP of his full-season career. Another aspect of his game that helped him improve was his ability to handle left-handed pitchers. Loney has historically done poorly against lefties and had just a .270 wOBA against them in 570 PA from 2009 to 2012. Last season, Loney had a .320 wOBA against lefties in 166 plate appearances.

Oliver projects Loney as a 2.1 win player over the life of his new deal. Even with the inflated prices that the new marketplace has created, Oliver does not like Loney to turn a profit on this deal. The inflated BABIP and single-season spike in improvement against lefties are outcomes that are tough to sustain, even with a change of approach. Whereas the Dodgers wanted Loney to hit with more power, the Rays simply want him to to create runs in any way he can. As Maddon put it last season:

“Offensively, if you break him down, the biggest run against him is a lack of homers. So what?” Maddon said. “Whenever you get a guy that drives 90 or 100 runs in and doesn’t hit a ton of homers, that guy’s probably a pretty good hitter. He probably drives in a lot of runs with two outs with line drives and ground balls, and there’s a lot of value there, too.”

If Loney were to be what he has been two of the previous three seasons, the deal works out for Tampa Bay. Carlos Pena was the last player the team made such a commitment to at the position. Pena’s first two years of the deal paid off well as Pena was a 6-win player over the first two years of the deal before his precipitous fall-off in the final year of the deal.

Even with that poor final season, the Rays paid $24M for 6.8 wins out of Pena. Loney is certainly capable of struggling as his career issues against lefties and his high rate of balls in play leave him susceptible to the BABIP gods. It is the team’s hope that Loney continues to help the team excel at run prevention while being an above-average run creator, which he has been four of the past six seasons.
post #19085 of 73003

Yankees sign Brian Roberts

New York Knicks
Twitter - @sofakingbold
IG - @brandsolo_
God of Reps
New York Knicks
Twitter - @sofakingbold
IG - @brandsolo_
God of Reps
post #19086 of 73003
Initial rendering for new ballpark in oakland
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #19087 of 73003
Yankees signing Brian Roberts eyes.gif . I guess on a 1 year deal it's not the end of the world, but he hasn't played a full season in years.
New York Yankees | New York Jets
New York Yankees | New York Jets
post #19088 of 73003
JP Howell re-signs with LAD. 2 for 11.5 million.

Man, relievers getting paid this winter.
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #19089 of 73003
Originally Posted by GotHolesInMySocks View Post

JP Howell re-signs with LAD. 2 for 11.5 million.

Man, relievers getting paid this winter.
Logan and Howell have cashed in, left relievers are in demand. I'm glad Rizzo acquired Blevins through a trade instead of giving out contracts like those.
post #19090 of 73003
Balfour to the O's for 2 years $14 mil? I was expecting him to get more.
post #19091 of 73003
Originally Posted by "bbllplaya23" View Post

Balfour to the O's for 2 years $14 mil? I was expecting him to get more.

Curious how that makes you feel.  I personally, think Balfour is better than Johnson.  And with news of this Orioles signing, Balfour is also cheaper than him. 

post #19092 of 73003
No more Balfour Rage at the Coliseum frown.gif I always thought it was pimp.gif when they played the Metallica Music and fans went nuts
post #19093 of 73003

this the cusing dude? :lol

post #19094 of 73003
Tanaka has informed his team that he wants to play in the majors in 2014.
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #19095 of 73003
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Curious how that makes you feel. I personally, think Balfour is better than Johnson. And with news of this Orioles signing, Balfour is also cheaper than him.

This is a tough one.

Balfour is going to be 36 next year and has a 1.58 ERA in 113 2/3 innings in Oakland, compared to 3.78 ERA in 85 2/3 innings on the road over the past 3 years. I like Balfour and think he is a good pitcher, but he really fell off towards the end of last year and now he has to pitch in Camden Yards. I know Balfour didn't have a lot of blown saves compared to Johnson last year, but he flirts with trouble everytime out.

Having said that, I still thought he would get 2 years, $18-20 million or some one would throw him a third year. Johnson was really up and down last year but I think he can do well here in Oakland, plus he is in a contract year.
post #19096 of 73003
Pitching in Oakland always provides a boost to your performance too, it seems.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #19097 of 73003
Better Baltimore than NYC for Balfour. With his temper and rage issues. He would implode once a week.

LA reporter already leaked Tanaka being posted this Winter. The club is honoring his wish.

An ESPN source believes the Cubs are currently favorites over LAD, NYY, and TEX.

Tanaka's getting at least $80M if not over $100M.
post #19098 of 73003
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Pitching in Oakland always provides a boost to your performance too, it seems.

Yeah this is very true.  Best park to pitch in in all of baseball right now.

post #19099 of 73003
Morse to SF. 1-yr, $6M.
post #19100 of 73003
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

Morse to SF. 1-yr, $6M.

Welcome to last Thursday. ;)

post #19101 of 73003
They really wanted Salazar, Santana and prospects though?



post #19102 of 73003

The Mariners signed Burt Reynolds. Not the actor but Robinson Cano's cousin. Sounds a lot like the JR Smith deal with the Knicks that got his brother a deal.

post #19103 of 73003
Burt probably got some dirt on Cano with a name like that.
post #19104 of 73003
I hope Price goes to Seattle, I hate when players think they're better than a team. He wouldn't even be the best pitcher in that rotation.
post #19105 of 73003

Honestly, he wouldn't even be the 2nd best pitcher in that rotation IMO.

post #19106 of 73003
Originally Posted by PhillyzPhan View Post

The Mariners signed Burt Reynolds. Not the actor but Robinson Cano's cousin. Sounds a lot like the JR Smith deal with the Knicks that got his brother a deal.

turd ferguson
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #19107 of 73003
Talk about Late news laugh.gif
post #19108 of 73003
Freddie: We on the same page. King Felix, Walker, then Price.
post #19109 of 73003
I assume you really meant Kuma though.

Hultzen is another potential gem.
post #19110 of 73003
Hultzen getting surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum damage is a bad look.
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