So what's next, Marlins management?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Miami Marlins just agreed to terms with their star slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, for 13 years and $325 million, but that doesn't mean they're done spending money.
They're looking at contract extensions for their top young players, another top-of-rotation type starting pitcher and more offensive punch from some of their infield positions. Here's my quick breakdown of what's next for the Marlins:
The Marlins would like to sign Jose Fernandez to a long-term contract next, but based on initial negotiations with his agent Scott Boras, it's highly unlikely something gets done anytime soon. That's better for the club anyway since they don't know how well he'll bounce back from Tommy John surgery. But it's a different story for outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, both of whom would be interested in signing long-term at the right price.
[+] EnlargeChristian Yelich
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Christian Yelich could be next up to get his contract extended.
Yelich, 22, just won his first Gold Glove award for his stellar play in left field and made great progress at the plate, as shown by his .284/.362/.402 slash line, with 30 doubles, six triples, 94 runs and 21 steals. Hechavarria, 25, would probably be celebrating a Gold Glove award as well if it weren't for the amazing defensive play of the Braves' Andrelton Simmons. Hechavarria had a solid year offensively as well and continues to improve with the bat. The Marlins would be smart to sign both players before they take their games to another level.
Center fielder Marcell Ozuna is another possibility to be signed to a long-term deal, though waiting another year in his case might be the right move so he can better define the type of offensive player he's going to be long term.
The Marlins under president of baseball operations Mike Hill and GM Dan Jennings are moving away from their predecessor Larry Beinfest's philosophy of not signing young players to long-term contracts. Rather than going through the arbitration process and then trading away their young talent before they become free agents, the team is moving to lock them up now. This method is a much better avenue to take in building a winner, and it's only a matter of time until Yelich and Hechavarria join Stanton with long-term commitments, perhaps even before spring training.
Signing or trading for a top-of-rotation starter
The Marlins are committed to adding another top starting pitcher and are said to be already involved in negotiations with free-agent pitcher James Shields , who just helped lead the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years. It's doubtful the Marlins will make a play on Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, instead saving those dollars for Fernandez. However, they could surprise and make a run at Cole Hamels of the Phillies, considering he still has four years left on his contract, and the Marlins' farm system is deep enough for them to make a competitive offer. Other trade possibilities for the Marlins to improve their starting pitching include: Mat Latos and Mike Leake of the Reds, Jeff Samardzija of the Athletics and Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner of the Padres.
Improving infield offensive production
The Marlins have one of the best young outfields in baseball with Stanton, Ozuna and Yelich, but they have some work to do on their infield to get the team playoff-ready. They lack true power on the corners, where first baseman Garrett Jones hit just 15 home runs and had just 53 RBIs in 547 plate appearances in 2014 and third baseman Casey McGehee hit just four homers in 691 plate appearances (though he did play well enough to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year award). It's unlikely they replace both, but McGehee could always move to first base if they were to land a third baseman. The Marlins also could use an upgrade at second base over Donovan Solano and Enrique Hernandez.
[+] EnlargeAdam LaRoche
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
Free agent lefty slugger Adam LaRoche could be a perfect fit in Miami.
There are several possibilities, beginning with free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has been a top-three defender in the NL at first base over the past three seasons while averaging 26 home runs and 85 RBIs. A two- or three-year deal in the $12 million annual-salary range probably would get it done and give the Marlins more power and protection for Stanton. This would also allow McGehee to stay at third base, and the Marlins could then use Jones to back up first base and the corner outfield positions and give them a much-needed bat off the bench.
The Marlins could look to improve second base with free agent Jed Lowrie, who probably needs to move off shortstop anyway. The switch hitter would give the Marlins a more balanced lineup, as well as more power from the second base position. They also could work a trade with the Rays for Ben Zobrist, the Mariners for Chris Taylor or maybe even the Mets for Daniel Murphy. The Marlins have a strong farm system loaded with arms, which they can deal to improve, and they'll be a fascinating team to watch the rest of the offseason.
Stanton is now signed, sealed and delivered, but that doesn't make the team any better for 2015; he was already slated to be there. Now it's time to improve the team to play meaningful baseball come next October, and the organization seems ready to do it.
Four potential trades for Cole Hamels.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Phillies' rebuilding program really won't commence until they deal their most valuable asset, left-handed starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who is also the most valuable player on the trade market right now.
The Phillies probably will have to wait until free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester have found new homes before they find the right trade partner, but that won't stop Phillies GM Ruben Amaro from laying the groundwork between now and then. Hamels, 30, is one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball and is coming off another sensational year (6.6 WAR, 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 1.15 WHIP in 30 starts). His contract is also club-friendly, with four years remaining at a fair market value of $22.5 million per season.
One of the problems the Phillies have to deal with, however, is Hamels has 20 teams on his no-trade list, which leaves just nine teams. He might be willing to waive it for certain clubs, especially if they agree to pick up his option year or if he is given some type of assignment bonus, but the Phillies also have a limited market of teams that both can afford to take on Hamels' contract and have the top prospects to send back in this magnitude of a deal.
Although there are other possibilities, the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox are probably the four teams that match up the best with the Phillies. Here are some trade ideas for each:
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are determined to add a top-of-rotation starter either this offseason or next, and they have three to pick from this time around in Scherzer, Lester and Hamels. They'll probably try to sign Scherzer or Lester first, since they don't have to give up any prospects to get them, and their first-round pick is protected if they sign one of them. If they are unable to, however, they likely continue their pursuit of Hamels.
The Phillies, like the rest of baseball, rank the Cubs' farm system among the best in the game, so finding some combination shouldn't be difficult. GM Ruben Amaro has told GMs he's looking for three top prospects in return. In all likelihood, he'll eventually have to lower his sights, but no one came blame him for starting the trade negotiations with that type of asking price.
Here is a quick guess as to how the negotiations with the Cubs could play out:
The Phillies ask for three of these prospects: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards.
The Cubs quickly decline, perhaps with an audible chuckle, and inform the Phillies that Bryant, Soler, Baez and Russell are not going anywhere, but they will talk about those other good prospects. The Cubs counter with Edwards and Albert Almora for Hamels.
The Phillies then insist on at least one of Bryant, Soler, Baez and Russell and get turned down again. In time, the Phillies ask for a solid third prospect, but not one of the untouchables.
The deal that could happen: C.J. Edwards, Billy McKinney and Albert Almora for Hamels.
The Philllies get a solid starting-pitching prospect and two long-term solutions for their outfield. The Cubs get their top-of-rotation starter and are able to keep most of their high-ceiling prospects.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals really don't need starting pitching, but a chance to get another ace to go with Adam Wainwright, John Lackey and Michael Wacha would be too tempting for Cards GM John Mozeiliak to pass up, especially with four years of control of Hamels.
The Phillies should ask for two of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzalez and outfielder Randal Grichuk.
The Phillies would get two young starters to put in their rotation now and an outfielder with power who should develop nicely at Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals' response would probably be they couldn't give up two good young pitchers in a Hamels deal. Cardinals possible counter: Marco Gonzalez, Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly.
The Phillies' response could be that if Miller is not in the deal, the Cardinals aren't getting Hamels.
A deal that could happen: Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly for Hamels.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers understand Zack Greinke could opt out of his contract after the 2015 season, and if that were to happen, they wouldn't have a top-of-rotation starter to replace him in their farm system. Plus, an opportunity to get another ace of Hamels' caliber would only enhance their chances of a championship over the next few years, and the franchise with the most expensive front office and player roster should be all-in to get Hamels.
The Phillies should ask for Joc Pederson or Corey Seager, along with Julio Urias and Alex Guerrero.
The Dodgers will quickly say no; both Pederson and Seager are part of their long-term plans and aren't going anywhere. But they also recognize they must give up something significant to make a deal for Hamels, so they'll agree to give up two of their top pitching prospects in Urias and Chris Anderson.
The Phillies might then insist on Alex Guerrero and Zach Lee and note that both Anderson and Lee are coming off disappointing seasons.
A deal that could happen: Julio Urias, Chris Anderson, Alex Guerrero and Zach Lee for Hamels.
4. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are desperate to rebuild their starting rotation, and if they're unable to land Lester or James Shields, they most assuredly will pursue Hamels. The Red Sox have a strong farm system and match up well with the Phillies.
The Phillies should ask for Yoenis Cespedes, Deven Marrero and Anthony Ranaudo.
This would be a strong package for the Phillies, especially if they can extend Cespedes at the time of the trade. Cespedes brings great power and a young middle-of-the-order bat, which the Phillies desperately need. His power would play great in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park. Marrero is a special defensive shortstop who hit .291/.371/.433 at Double-A Portland in 68 games before his promotion to Triple-A last year. With the Phillies also having middle-infield prospect J.P. Crawford coming through their system, Marrero would solidify their middle infield for years to come and offer a nice long-term replacement for Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Ranaudo is arguably the Red Sox's best starting pitching prospect, and he would fit in nicely in the Phillies' rotation, considering he's ready now.
The Red Sox might counter with Ranaudo and Marrero for Hamels. Their intention would be to keep Cespedes out of the deal, as he's an important bat for the team. Plus, they can argue the Phillies are already getting their best pitching and middle-infield prospect.
But the Phillies will insist on another top pitching prospect if Cespedes is out of the deal, and they'll start by asking for left-handed pitcher Henry Owens. After getting turned down, they could accept Matt Barnes as the third player in the deal.
A deal that could happen: Anthony Ranaudo, Deven Marrero and Matt Barnes for Hamels.
Top 10 players most likely to be traded.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Get ready for a busy MLB offseason. Here is a ranking of the 10 players who I think are the most likely to be traded, from the most likely (No. 1) to the least likely (No. 10) among the group.
1. Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' rebuilding program doesn't officially begin until they deal their biggest trade asset in Hamels, who is also the player (among those available) with the most trade value in baseball right now.
Hamels, 30, is coming off his fifth consecutive year of 200 innings pitched and his lowest ERA (2.46) in his career. He has four years and $90 million remaining on his contract, with a team or vesting option at either $20 million or $24 million. The challenge for the Phillies with regard to dealing him is two-fold: Hamels has a 20-team no-trade list, and only a few of those remaining nine teams have enough in their farm system to satisfy the Phillies with three top prospects. However, once free agents Max Scherzer and Jon Lester find new homes, the interested teams that lose out will certainly be considering Hamels. The teams below stand out as having enough in their farm system to make a deal with the Phillies work.
Possible destinations: Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox
2. Evan Gattis, C (LF/DH), Atlanta Braves
Braves GM John Hart has denied he's shopping Gattis, but that doesn't mean teams haven't been calling about him. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are free agents after the 2015 season, and the Braves could end up dealing one of them instead of Gattis this winter. But let's be realistic: If the Braves are going to contend the next two years before their new ballpark opens in 2017, they need both Upton and Heyward in their lineup, along with first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Gattis, 28, is a good power bat, but he's a below-average defender at catcher, first base and left field, and is much better suited serving as a DH for an American League team. The fact that he isn't even arbitration-eligible also enhances his trade value. Teams that lose out on Billy Butler and Michael Morse will definitely be pursuing Gattis. The Royals and Mariners are probably the best fits; they both need right-handed power in the worst way.
Possible destinations: Mariners, Rays, Royals, Blue Jays, White Sox, A's
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Boston Red Sox
There have been reports out of Boston that the Red Sox coaching staff was down on Cespedes' work ethic and ability to adjust, reports that have since been denied by GM Ben Cherington.
Cespedes, 29, is a free agent after the 2015 season, and as of today the Red Sox haven't even made an offer to RocNation and/or CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen to extend his contract. That, combined with Cherington's admission that he'll listen on Cespedes, speaks volumes.
The Red Sox desperately need to rebuild their starting rotation, and although they're likely to sign either Lester, Scherzer or James Shields, they'll also have to trade for one if they want to contend again in 2015. Cespedes, along with a prospect package, would certainly allow them to talk trade for pitchers such as Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija or Yovani Gallardo.
The Red Sox are loaded with a plethora of outfielders, so if they can get the right starter, my best guess is that Cespedes will change uniforms this offseason.
Possible destinations: Cardinals, Mariners, Reds, White Sox, Royals, Blue Jays, Giants
4. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers
The Rangers are beginning to realize that Andrus' offense and defense might have topped out, and if they truly feel it has, they no doubt would love to dump his $15 million per year salary, which extends through at least the 2022 season. The Rangers have Jurickson Profar to take over the position for the minimum, and then they could reallocate their dollars for a top-of-a-rotation starter such as Scherzer, Lester or Shields.
The Yankees are looking for a replacement for Derek Jeter, and the Mets need a long-term upgrade. When it comes down to it, it's probably the Yankees or he stays put. If the Rangers pay some of Andrus' salary and don't ask for much in return, a deal could get done to put Andrus, still just 26, in pinstripes by the winter meetings.
Possible destinations: Yankees, Mets
5. Mike Leake, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Four of the Reds' five-man starting pitcher rotation (as of now) will be free agents following the 2015 season. However, they also want to win in 2015 (and beyond) before their window closes. Therefore, I don't see them trading Cueto, their ace. They could try to trade Latos, but because of his recent elbow procedure, I doubt any team would trade for him without seeing him pitch in March. And Alfredo Simon doesn't have much trade value after a dismal second half.
That leaves Leake as the most likely Reds starter to be dealt. Leake, 27, is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. He has won double-digit games with ERAs in the 3s in three of the past four seasons despite pitching half his games at hitter-favorable Great American Ball Park. Leake does not have overpowering stuff, but he has excellent command and late life on his pitches. The Reds reportedly are looking to upgrade left field, and if they fall short in their bidding for free agents Michael Morse and Norichika Aoki, a Leake deal for a left fielder could happen.
Possible destinations: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Angels, Mariners, Rangers, Braves, Diamondbacks
6. Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox know that Ramirez's trade value will never be higher than it is right now with both New York teams and Oakland looking for long-term solutions at shortstop.
Ramirez is a free agent after the 2015 season, and Chicago is not expected to re-sign him with top prospect Tim Anderson expected to be ready to take over shortstop sometime in 2016. The Sox should be willing to deal Ramirez and then sign a one- or two-year stopgap option such as Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera. Ramirez certainly could bring back a legitimate young right-handed starter, third baseman or catcher, all of which the White Sox desperately need.
Possible destinations: Yankees, Mets, Athletics and Reds
7. Michael Saunders, RF, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have already given up on first baseman Justin Smoak, and Saunders is next.
Saunders, 27, has never lived up to his tools, and he also hasn't been able to stay on the field for 140-plus games in a season, not even in his 19-homer, 21-steal 2012 campaign. The Mariners have been looking for corner outfield help this offseason, and it's only a matter of time before Saunders finds a new home and a new hitting coach.
Possible destinations: Cardinals, Rays, Blue Jays, Twins, Padres, Cubs, Rockies
8. Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Zobrist, 33, is one of the most versatile everyday players in baseball, capable of playing every position outside of catcher and pitcher. He's also extremely affordable, with a $7.5 million dollar salary. However, he's also a free agent after the 2015 season, and he'll never have more trade value than he has right now. The Rays will not be signing him to a long-term contract, considering he turns 34 in May. Therefore, rookie GM Matt Silverman has very little choice but to deal him now while he still has value.
Possible destinations: Braves, Mariners, Giants, Reds, Marlins, Angels, White Sox
9. Andre Ethier, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers' new front office is committed to solving the team's logjam of outfielders and is prepared to deal one of Ethier, Matt Kemp or Carl Crawford. Kemp clearly will be the most sought after of the three because he's finally healthy and showed in August and September that he's capable of producing at an elite level. The Dodgers would much rather deal either Crawford or Ethier, however, and they won't be picky about which one they trade. Rather, they'll be more concerned with how much money they save and/or the return they can muster.
The Dodgers' long-term outfield probably will be Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson. Finding a home for either Crawford or Ethier, given all the complications, won't be easy, but that's one of the reasons they've put together the most expensive baseball operations front office in the history of baseball.
Possible destinations: Yankees, Blue Jays, Royals, White Sox, Mariners
10. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
Hellickson, 27, is healthy once again, and he has his nasty sinker back. He also is second-year arbitration-eligible, which prices him out of the Rays' budget.
There are several teams that will go through the medicals and try to trade for him, and he could end up being the first trade of Silverman's career.
Possible destinations: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, Braves, White Sox, Twins
Teams that won't miss the playoffs in 2015.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets fell short of the playoffs this season. In fact, the Mets fell well short.
But I predict all three of these teams will make the playoffs in 2015.
Granted, these early predictions are based on the assumption that all three organizations will add the necessary two to three pieces they need this offseason, because all three are that close to playing October baseball, just as the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were at this time a year ago, when I predicted all three would make the playoffs (which they did).
The Mariners, Indians and Mets have more in common than you might realize. First of all, they all have the starting rotations in place to win next year without having to make a single move this winter. Second, they all need more offense in the middle of their lineups and have the trade weapons and/or cash to make these necessary acquisitions. Third, they all have enough in their farm systems to withstand in-season injuries or to trade to fill their needs.
So let's examine what went wrong for these three teams this year and why they should eclipse their 2014 performances in 2015:
The Mariners made huge strides in 2014, finishing with a record of 87-75, only one game out of the second wild-card spot and just two games behind the eventual AL pennant winner Royals.
The Mariners' pitching staff led the American League in ERA and opponents' batting average-against while also finishing in the top five in WHIP, saves and strikeouts. Defensively, they made the least amount of errors in the league and were a top-5 defensive team overall. Felix Hernandez had another Cy Young Award-caliber season (15-6 record, 2.14 ERA, 0.92 WHIP). Hisashi Iwakuma was brilliant again, with 15 wins and a 3.52 ERA, while Chris Young became one of the most undervalued free agents from last year's class, adding 12 wins and a 3.65 ERA.
Meanwhile, Robinson Cano lived up to his free-agent contract in his first year with the Mariners (.836 OPS), and Kyle Seager proved once again he's one of the best overall third basemen in the league, belting out 25 home runs and driving in 96 runs while playing stellar defense.
Why they fell short: The Mariners' offense is what prevented them from playing October baseball: The M's tied for 11th in the AL in runs scored and were dead last in OPS despite the strong seasons from Cano and Seager. The Mariners got little offensive production from first base and designated hitter, so they finally cut ties with first baseman Justin Smoak -- the Blue Jays subsequently claimed him off waivers last month -- and also said goodbye to the disappointing Kendrys Morales. The Mariners' outfield was solid defensively, but the unit also wasn't productive offensively, both in terms of getting in base and driving in runs. In fact, the Mariners didn't have a single outfielder hit 15 home runs or drive in 70 runs.
Why they'll succeed in 2015: GM Jack Zduriencik has the support from ownership to spend money this offseason to improve the team's offense and add a starting pitcher. He has a strong farm system from which to deal, so he's not limited to the free-agent market. That said, the Mariners are expected to pursue some of the top free-agent bats this offseason, including Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche, Billy Butler, Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera.
Also, the Mariners expect Mike Zunino to continue to develop offensively for them behind the plate and are hoping pitcher Taijuan Walker will be healthy and ready to live up to his top-of-rotation potential, which would give them an even stronger rotation next season. They are just three moves -- two bats and one arm -- away from having playoff baseball in Seattle for the first time since Lou Piniella was their manager in 2001 (the year they won 116 games).
The Indians completed a two-year contract extension with their manager, Terry Francona, earlier this week, a deal that also gives the club two option years in 2019 and 2020. The Indians are 177-147 under Francona during the past two seasons, and keeping the elite manager for the long term was an important move by the front office and gives the organization the stability and continuity it takes to win championships. Francona probably did a better job this year than he did the prior year because of all the adversity he had to deal with from injuries, disappointing performances, mid-season trades, etc.
But there were also a lot of positives from this year's team, including Michael Brantley's breakout season (.327/.385/.506 with 20 homers, 97 RBIs and 23 stolen bases) and Yan Gomes developing into an everyday catcher, belting 21 home runs with 74 RBIs and playing above-average defense. Jose Ramirez also established himself as the everyday shortstop, upgrading the team's overall defense. Lonnie Chisenhall also proved he was ready to be an everyday player at third base, finishing with a .770 OPS.
Why they fell short: The Indians didn't get the expected performance from many of their key veteran players. Jason Kipnis was their biggest disappointment, hitting .240 with just six home runs, while Nick Swisher dealt with injuries and was limited to 97 games, a .208 average and eight home runs, and Michael Bourn played in just 106 games due to hamstring injuries, posting a lowly .314 OBP with only 10 stolen bases. Former stars Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson were dealt at the trade deadline after they also had down seasons.
Why they'll succeed in 2015: The Indians have all five starting pitchers returning, and all are under control for at least three more years. Their rotation was the second-youngest in baseball last year, and yet was the best in the majors in the second half of the season while posting the second-best FIP for the year (behind only the Nationals). Oh, and their pitching staff as a whole set the MLB strikeout record. Corey Kluber developed into an ace last year, while Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer seem to have figured things out.
The Indians will start the year with Ramirez at shortstop, but don't be surprised if prospect Francisco Lindor makes his debut in mid-June and quickly becomes a Rookie of the Year candidate. The Indians need comeback years by Kipnis, Swisher and Bourn, and if they can sign or trade for a bat or two and add bullpen depth, they'll be a real threat for one of the AL wild-card berths again in 2015.
New York Mets
The Mets are just a shortstop, left fielder and veteran bullpen arm away from playing postseason baseball next fall. This year saw the Mets win five more games than they had the prior year, and although they fell just two games under .500, there were several positive developments. Juan Lagares proved he was their long-term answer in center field, quickly becoming the best defensive center fielder in the National League while holding his own at the plate. Lucas Duda was finally given the chance to be the everyday first baseman and responded with 30 homers and 92 RBIs, while catcher Travis d'Arnaud showed flashes of his power potential and Jacob deGrom blossomed into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Why they fell short: The injury to Matt Harvey was the biggest reason, but sub-par seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson surely didn't help. The Mets also got very little production from shortstop and left field. Ruben Tejada hit just .237 with five home runs, while Chris Young was such a free-agent bust that the Mets released him mid-season.
Why they'll succeed in 2015: Harvey reportedly has recovered from Tommy John surgery, and all indications are he'll be back to 100 percent by Opening Day, giving the Mets their ace and true No. 1 starter. Harvey will be anchoring a deep and strong rotation ready to compete for a divisional title or at the very least a wild-card berth. He will be followed in the rotation by deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon and Jonathon Niese, in some order. The Mets hired former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, which should at the very least help Granderson for next season. Wright will be healthy once again and is due for a banner season.
The Mets need to add a left field bat, and whether it's Melky Cabrera in free agency or Yoenis Cespedes via trade (for a starting pitcher), it's a must if they're going to win. They need to improve shortstop as well, and free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie could be possibilities. All three would be definite upgrades, although none of them are perfect solutions. The Mets also need a veteran reliever, and there are plenty of good options on the free-agent market, such as Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek and Andrew Miller.
Why Stanton is worth $300 million.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While Giancarlo Stanton was edged out by Clayton Kershaw in the National League MVP voting last week, Stanton is all set to take the crown for the MVC (Most Valuable Contract) award. OK, so no trophy is given out for that one, but with Stanton reportedly agreeing on a contract that will pay him $325 million for the next 13 years, he might be able to buy all the trophies he wants. While he wouldn't earn as much on an annual basis as Kershaw or Miguel Cabrera, the $325 million total doesn't just top baseball, but all sports, going back to the first Neanderthal man who bragged about the distance from which he could hit a mammoth with a rock.
The bigger question: Is Stanton really worth that? While we'll know how the potential deal will have turned out in, oh, about 2027, that's a long time to wait to sate our curiosity. By 2027, after all, we may be enslaved by superintelligent computers forcing us to toil in their silicon mines, leaving us little time to answer this question.
That ($325 million) is a lot of money, as you already have concluded, and it would be paid out by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has paid a smaller sum total on the Marlins' payroll over the past five seasons. When an owner such as Loria, who squeezes every penny until Abe Lincoln screams, shells out this much dough, it might not be completely crazy.
First place to start is to run a long-term projection for Stanton. Predicting the future is difficult even one year in advance, so when we're talking more than a decade, there's a lot of room for error. Still, projections give us a realistic path, without too many of the unrealistically optimistic outlooks we see for performance that's 10 years away. Here's how things look for Stanton for the next 13 years, according to ZiPS projections:
Year AB BA OBP SLG HR WAR
2015 529 .274 .373 .552 37 5.4
2016 524 .271 .374 .553 37 5.4
2017 525 .267 .372 .549 37 5.3
2018 522 .262 .371 .538 36 5.0
2019 518 .263 .372 .535 35 4.9
2020 513 .263 .372 .524 33 4.7
2021 503 .258 .367 .509 31 4.1
2022 492 .256 .360 .494 28 3.5
2023 476 .254 .356 .471 24 2.9
2024 459 .253 .350 .458 22 2.3
2025 438 .251 .341 .443 19 1.6
2026 408 .248 .330 .412 15 0.7
2027 339 .242 .320 .386 11 -0.1
The story the projection system sees for Stanton over the next decade is hardly an unusual one. A feared slugger in a low-offense era playing well for the rest of his 20s and then entering a long, slow decline as his batting average and defense begin to drop off after 30. Assuming each win above replacement costs $6 million in the free-agent market this offseason, and with 5 percent yearly overall salary growth, plus taking into account that Stanton would have been arbitration-eligible the first two seasons, ZiPS values a 13-year contract for Stanton at $316 million on the open market, not too much below that $325 million figure.
[+] EnlargeGiancarlo Stanton
AP Photo/Morry Gash
Stanton had played in all 145 games before his season was ended by a Mike Fiers pitch to the face.
What makes this a reasonable contract -- more akin to the first big Alex Rodriguez contract rather than the far riskier contracts of Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, A-Rod's second deal and now Miguel Cabrera's extension -- is age. While age can be overrated in the short term, it's a very big deal when we're talking long-term contracts. The end of Stanton's contract isn't likely to be pleasant, but the Marlins get a lot of years before Stanton hits his mid-30s. In essence, the team is actually paying for future performance rather than past performance, as a lot of these megadeals do. Make Stanton three years older, replacing his ages 25-27 seasons with ages 38-40 seasons, and that valuation drops all the way to $203 million, a drop of more than a third of the value. Another two years added to Stanton's age drops it again, to $146 million.
Stanton's deal has yet to be finalized, but there are two more hiccups that haven't been set in stone: a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause. These aren't likely as big a deal for the Marlins as one might believe. Players with no-trade clauses are regularly traded, and if four years from now the Marlins are holding another fire sale, Stanton would likely be open to moving to a different team rather than spending another several years being the main attraction of a last-place team. And by the time his play has likely declined enough that the Marlins would like to move his contract, he'd probably be at the point where he's a 10/5 guy (10 years in the majors, five with current team), and those guys have automatic no-trade coverage anyway.
The opt-out works similarly. In most long-term contracts, the production the team actually wants is in the front of the deal and the part that's more generous to the player is in the back end. If Stanton opts out, it will mean that he would have been good enough to believe he can extract more money in his next deal, which would indicate that the Marlins got a really good deal over the first X years of his contract. Assuming an opt-out after five years, with Stanton entering his age-30 season, even if he's playing better than projected, he's a much less valuable player in the long term than he is today. The Yankees didn't suffer from Rodriguez or CC Sabathia having opt-out clauses; they suffered because they actually extended both players as a result.
The Marlins seem prepared to spend a lot, but they also get a lot, the best years of one of the most feared power hitters in baseball. A lot of big contracts end in tears, but this one might be one of those welcomed exceptions.
The offseason dominoes begin to fall ...Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In one day, Major League Baseball served as the backdrop to a major trade, the second-biggest contract ever doled out by a team from Canada and the finalization of the largest contract in the history of North American professional sports.
Because of those deals, dominoes are falling all over the place.
A domino tumbles on … Giancarlo Stanton. He is well-liked and regarded within the sport as a really good person, which is certainly part of the reason the Marlins decided to invest in him. MLB is lucky to have Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout as the best of its best.
But while having the largest contract in history guarantees Stanton the accumulated wealth of a small nation, the sheer size of the deal will carry with it additional pressures no person could ever be truly prepared for.
Largest contracts in major North American sports
Source: ESPN Stats and Info
League Player Terms
MLB Giancarlo Stanton 13 years, $325M
NBA Kobe Bryant 7 years, $136M*
NFL Calvin Johnson 8 years, $132M*
NHL Alexander Ovechkin 13 years, $124M**Would not rank in top 30 in MLB history
As Darren Rovell tweeted on Monday, Stanton will now make about $68,000 a day for the next 13 years, an income that will separate him from the fans who will pay to see the outsized slugger with the outsized contract for years to come. When he goes through the inevitable slumps that happen to every player, the response will sometimes have a layer of venom he has not experienced before. Because of the contract, there will be an expectation for him to get five hits in every four at-bats, to hit 600-foot homers nightly. Some fans will be like the folks who would go to a Vegas show wanting to hear Sinatra do his best-ever version of "My Way," in a way he had never done it before.
It will be impossible for Stanton to live up to the contract, and the sooner he embraces that reality, the easier it will be for him to function. Maybe he should have a conversation with Kershaw, who learned in October that no matter how well he performs over months and years, it's all about "what has he done lately." Kershaw's record-setting deal has shifted him into a different context for a lot of fans, and the same will be true for Stanton. There's no telling how the enormity of the contract will weigh on him.
A domino tumbles on … the Marlins. Based on conversations I've had with folks in the industry, I'd say about 98 percent think the Marlins are nuts for doing this deal -- although they do understand the rationale. The Marlins are desperate to keep a coveted player, and they have gone above and beyond to make a deal happen, bypassing caution related to Stanton being hit in the face in September, and agreeing to this deal before seeing him bat in the spring. They gave him a no-trade clause, an opt-out clause and, of course, a record-setting deal.
Given the structure of the deal, all of the risk is assumed by the Marlins. If Stanton outperforms the contract, then he can walk away after five years; if he underperforms, the Marlins are left holding the bill.
"This is going to be a bad deal, like all those [big] contracts turn out to be bad deals," said one rival executive. "But you can't blame them for trying."
Somewhere, in some front office, there is probably already a pool in which evaluators are guessing when the Marlins will look to deal Stanton, in the same way they dumped Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle less than a year after signing them.
For now, however, the Marlins are looking to contend. Jeffrey Loria says he did this deal for himself and a lot of others. This could repair Loria's image, writes Greg Cote.
On the other hand, if Stanton is eventually traded, it'll be remembered as another Marlins version of Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown. Loria is much more competitive than he is given credit for, and he's also incredibly impatient and impetuous in the eyes of folks who have worked for him in the past. Anything is possible.
A domino tumbles on … the Nationals. Bryce Harper has two years and 159 days of service time, meaning that he could be eligible for free agency following the 2018 season … and now Stanton and the Marlins have created a target for Harper and his agent to shoot for in upcoming negotiations. Good luck with that, Washington Nationals.
A domino tumbles on … the Blue Jays' pitching staff. The perception of some evaluators is that Toronto's Dioner Navarro has lost his catching skills, but in comes Russell Martin, who is perceived to be one of the best pitch-framers, one of the best leaders. Blue Jays pitchers should benefit.
This is a good signing for the Blue Jays, writes Richard Griffin.
[+] EnlargeRussell Martin
Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports
Many pundits figured catcher Russell Martin was headed to the Cubs.
A domino tumbles on … the Cubs. The greatest industry surprise about Martin's deal with Toronto wasn't that the Blue Jays decided to give a five-year deal to a 31-year-old catcher, but rather that the Cubs weren't the team to land Martin, who was an absolutely perfect fit for them.
But the bidding went beyond the Cubs' comfort level, given the ugly history of catchers as they hit age 33-34, and so now Theo Epstein is left to look at alternatives. If he wants a veteran, you do wonder if he will consider Arizona catcher Miguel Montero. The Diamondbacks are looking to dump his salary -- he is owed $40 million over the next three seasons -- and if there's some sort of a buy-down, or swap of bad contract for bad contract (for Edwin Jackson perhaps?), maybe he would be a fit. As written in the catcher rankings here Sunday, some of Montero's defensive metrics improved significantly last season, and he has been a good offensive player.
Whether it's Montero or somebody else, the Cubs must now try to find someone in what is a very thin market for catchers.
Martin's decision to sign with a team other than the Cubs is a reminder of the challenges ahead for this team, writes Rick Morrissey. Just because the Cubs can outspend other teams doesn't mean they should, writes Paul Sullivan.
A domino tumbles on … Francisco Cervelli, who might've been a backup in Pittsburgh if Martin had re-signed, but he's now in position to the Pirates' primary catcher. This is a great opportunity for him at age 27.
A domino tumbles on … the Cardinals' front office, which now must face the same puzzling question that the Braves struggled with: Who exactly is Jason Heyward, and how much is he worth?
[+] EnlargeJason Heyward
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Jason Heyward won his second Gold Glove award in 2014.
He is a dominant, shut-down outfielder and a great baserunner. But Heyward, 25, has been inconsistent at the plate, with a swing that evaluators view as complicated. He clubbed 27 homers in 2012, but that has declined to 14 in 2013 and 11 last season, with his slugging percentage at a career-low .384. Scouts express concern about his ongoing effort to cope with inside fastballs and his struggles against left-handers; he had a .252 on-base percentage versus lefties last season, with two homers in 159 plate appearances.
The Braves' front office has watched and wondered: Will he get better? Is he a good-but-not-great player worth a decent-sized contract, or will he become an offensive monster as he continues to learn and be worthy of a $100 million-plus deal?
Heyward is eligible for free agency after 2015, and the Braves have punted that quandary into the Cardinals' hands.
St. Louis bridged a gap with their Heyward trade, writes Derrick Goold. This deal is about the short term, GM John Mozeliak said.
By the way: This deal was struck quickly Monday, without the two teams conducting physical exams of the players.
A domino tumbles on … Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who will now have the responsibility of aligning what looks to be a stacked St. Louis lineup. Heyward takes walks and can run, and therefore could hit in any of the top three spots in the order, leaving Matheny with a plethora of options. This would be my early choice (after changing my mind about 15 times in the past 15 hours):
Buster's St. Louis lineup
1. Jason Heyward, RF
2. Matt Carpenter, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Matt Adams, 1B
5. Jhonny Peralta, SS
6. Kolten Wong, 2B
7. Yadier Molina, C
8. Jon Jay, CF
You might think about hitting Carpenter third and Wong second, but that would mean lining up three straight lefties.
A domino tumbles on … Justin Upton. What will the Braves do with Upton? They're trying to rebuild their pitching and are seemingly more focused on turning the team into a contender for 2017 -- when they are scheduled to move into their new ballpark -- rather than 2015. So it would make sense for them to look to move Upton, who, like Heyward, will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
His four-team no-trade list consists of the Indians, Brewers, Cubs and Blue Jays. Two years ago, Upton used the power of that no-trade clause to reject a deal to the Mariners, who are no longer on the list and have a surplus of young pitching to deal. The Mariners and Reds might be the most natural fits for a possible Upton trade, though.
It may be that the Braves have an entirely new starting outfield in 2015 if they move both Upton brothers this winter.
A domino tumbles on … Evan Gattis, who could be starting in left field for the Braves next season, John Hart acknowledged Monday.
A domino tumbles on … Freddie Freeman. Heyward has been traded. Justin Upton might be the next to go. And there would be absolutely no reason for opposing pitchers to throw strikes to the Atlanta first baseman, who already saw a climb in walks, from 66 in 2013 to 90 last season. He might approach 120 walks next season.
Mark Bradley understands why the Braves made the trade, but hates it overall. Hart took a huge risk, writes Jeff Schultz.
A domino tumbles on … the crowd that bleats that the Stanton deal signals the impending demise of baseball. Similar things have been said after every big deal since, oh, 1976. Does anybody think Loria is agreeing to this deal because he's being nice? Or might it be because he is a businessman who knows the bottom line and, like other owners, has lots of money to spend?
Some of the contracts being paid out in baseball dwarf those in the NFL and the NBA, so clearly there is money being made; the money has to come from someplace. National TV ratings for the All-Star Game don't tell the whole story.
A domino tumbles on … Melky Cabrera. The signing of Martin means that the Blue Jays probably won't be investing any major deal in Cabrera, who is a free agent looking for a big payday. Martin is expected to bat second for the Blue Jays, helping to make up for the departure of Cabrera from the top of the lineup.
The Blue Jays surrender a draft pick in signing Martin, but they get one back if and when Cabrera signs elsewhere.
A domino tumbles on … the Giants, who are still working to re-sign Pablo Sandoval. He already was looking to get paid big money, and a contract such as Stanton's will only increase expectations that there are gold mines to be found. Sandoval is looking for respect, says Sandoval's brother, as he and Pablo arrived in Boston. Those words might not bode well for the Giants, because they seem to indicate Sandoval's camp is looking for the largest offer possible and could be equating dollars with respect.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Blue Jays hired Brook Jacoby.
2. The Tigers picked up the option on Alex Avila's deal.
3. Within this piece, there is word that Bill Mueller has joined the Cardinals.
4. The Twins are interested in Justin Masterson.
5. The Dodgers picked up a minor leaguer.
6. The D-backs hired a leader for their analytics department.
• The Red Sox should make a move on Pablo Sandoval, writes Nick Cafardo.
• Cal Ripken talked about J.J. Hardy's defense.
• The Royals are looking at Torii Hunter as an everyday player, as part of their outfield and DH mix.
• Evan Grant examines the Rangers' thinking behind a possible Elvis Andrus trade.
• Joel Sherman thinks the Stanton deal makes sense.
• Kevin Long is making his adjustments as he moves to Citi Field, writes Matt Ehalt
• Roster decisions loom for the Mariners.
• Farhan Zaidi will have a lot more money to spend.
• Here is a rundown of the Dodgers' prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
• The Padres called about Sandoval.
• Jose Canseco may sell his finger on eBay.
• A Mo'ne Davis memoir is in the works.
And today will be better than yesterday.
The top 10 first basemen in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In the second installment of our rankings of the best players at each position -- we ranked the catchers Sunday -- we rank the top 10 first basemen Monday, with the selections following input and observations of MLB evaluators.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
If this ranking were built on offensive ability alone and Miguel Cabrera hadn't been taken down by ankle trouble this past season, the two-time AL MVP would be in the top spot. But players here are rated on overall play, and Goldschmidt is the best overall first baseman. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2013, and in 2014 he was on his way to another likely top-five finish until an Ernesto Frieri fastball broke his hand.
As it was, Goldschmidt clubbed 59 extra-base hits in 109 games, with 75 runs. He is regarded as an excellent defender -- he won an NL Gold Glove award in 2014 -- and he has even stolen 24 bases over the past two seasons.
Look, WAR as a statistic is an imperfect fit for first basemen. But it does at least attempt to measure all elements of play, and despite missing about one-third of the season, Goldschmidt finished near the top of his peers, at 4.4. (The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo led at 5.6.) Over the past two seasons, Goldschmidt's WAR is 11.1.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
The details of Cabrera's offseason surgery confirmed what we already knew: The guy is as physically tough as any other MLB player. We had the Tigers on a "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast in April, and you could see that Cabrera was dealing with some ankle discomfort then. Through the summer, it only worsened. But he kept playing and still finished with a .313 batting average, 25 homers and 52 doubles. In the surgery, he had bone spurs removed and had a couple of screws inserted to repair a stress fracture.
Because Cabrera must stay off his feet for weeks to come, his status (conditioning, the possibility of a setback) will hover over the Tigers as they prepare for spring training. But Cabrera has shown that he deserves the benefit of the doubt even if he's not 100 percent, given his preternatural ability to hit.
Cabrera will turn 32 in April and will carry these career numbers into the regular season: 390 homers, 2,186 hits, 1,369 RBIs. If he plays 150 games next season, he likely will pass Johnny Bench, Joe Medwick, Robin Yount and Charlie Gehringer, among others, in career RBIs as he continues to establish himself as one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Cabrera's shift from third base to first base unsurprisingly put him in a more comfortable spot on this list; he was right in the middle of the pack among first basemen in defensive runs saved.
3. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
As Cabrera battled his physical troubles in the second half of the 2014 season, some staffers of rival teams began to form a thought that might've been viewed as sacrilegious when the season began: Abreu was a tougher challenge to pitch to than Cabrera. But Abreu earned that distinction throughout a rookie season in which he demonstrated an incredible ability to adjust pitch to pitch, to set up opposing pitchers and catchers, to anticipate what was coming next. Abreu had 73 extra-base hits in his first 145 games in the big leagues despite struggling -- and he acknowledged this -- with his first year of the daily rigors of traveling and playing in the major leagues. Rival staffers believe that Abreu has the aptitude to build on the knowledge that he accumulated this past summer and only get better, and that he'll continue to establish himself as a leader in the White Sox's clubhouse.
4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
As he mentioned in a conversation early in the 2014 season, everything Rizzo does at the plate stems from his handling of the fastball. In his first days in the big leagues, in 2011, rival scouts thought he was overwhelmed by fastballs -- even average fastballs -- and he had one homer in 153 plate appearances, batting .141 with 46 strikeouts.
But Rizzo, 25, has made adjustments to the fastball. In the process he's justified the faith of Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who has twice acquired Rizzo partly because of what he saw as excellent aptitude. Last season, Rizzo fully blossomed, mashing 32 homers among 61 extra-base hits, drawing 73 walks and posting a .286/.386/.913 slash line. The Cubs have him under control for seven more years under the terms of his contract.
5. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Although a number of veterans have seen a decline in their production in recent seasons, Gonzalez has been steady: .807 OPS in 2012, .803 in 2013, .817 in 2014. He had a combined 230 hits and walks in 2012, 218 in 2013 and 219 in 2014. He also had 68 extra-base hits last season, his highest total since 2011, and won a Gold Glove award, leading all first basemen in defensive runs saved. For all of that, he finished seventh in the NL MVP voting.
6. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Rival scouts still believe that Freeman needs to adapt to what opposing pitchers are trying to do against him, because in 2014 -- when his production took a step back -- they often seemed to take advantage of his aggressiveness. His OPS declined by 50 points, his strikeouts climbed to 145 and his homers declined to 18.
Freeman just turned 25, so there should be improvement in the seasons to come. Some of the statistical data on first basemen defensively can be murky, but with that said, Freeman's metrics last season were awful: He scored a minus-7 in defensive runs saved.
7. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Votto would've been much higher on this list had he been healthy in 2014. However, Votto was limited to 62 games, and in those games, he batted .255 with just six homers and a .409 slugging percentage, the worst of his career.
At the end of the regular season, Reds manager Bryan Price said he is confident that Votto can come all the way back in 2015, but it has been a while now since he has hit for significant power. That said, he reached base 316 times in 2013, and he's a decent defender as well.
8. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The future Hall of Famer had a nice comeback season, mashing 28 homers among 66 extra-base hits and scoring 89 runs. He does not move as well as he used to, and he is not as good defensively as he was with the Cardinals.
That said, in the summer in which he turned 34, Pujols had 295 total bases, and only 10 players in the majors had more.
9. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox
The converted catcher is the ugly duckling of this group because he wasn't a regular at this position before 2013 and because he has hit .259 and .248, respectively, the past two seasons. But he does a lot of things very well.
Ken Woolums of ESPN Stats & Info recently laid out some statistical evidence in favor of Napoli: "I think a strong case can be made for him here. Even with all the time he has missed, he's tied for the lead in defensive WAR and has 17 defensive runs saved over the past two seasons (third behind Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo). He also has the second-highest walk rate (14 percent) among qualified first basemen in that span. He doesn't sacrifice much power in attaining that walk rate, either; he's 11th among qualified first basemen in isolated slugging over the past two years."
10. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Hosmer just won his second Gold Glove award and is arguably the best-throwing player at his position, with unique athleticism among his peers. Hosmer's ranking in this spot is based on the assumption that moving forward, he'll be more like the player he was in September and October than he was in the first half of 2014, when he hit just .268 with six homers. The industry has been waiting for a true breakout from Hosmer, and maybe that started in the postseason, when he batted .351 (and a .983 OPS) with six extra-base hits in 57 at-bats, plus nine walks.
The toughest guy to omit was the Rockies' Justin Morneau, the NL batting champion last season and a good defender. I wrestled with the question of whether he should be on this list ahead of Napoli or Hosmer.
And two more honorable mentions: Adam LaRoche, who crushed right-handed pitching in 2014, with an .891 OPS; and Matt Adams, Cardinals, who looks like he's just starting to figure out how to maximize his power.
Around the league
• The Cubs traded for Tommy La Stella, who becomes a safety net in case second baseman Javier Baez's offensive struggles continue. The Braves added a much-needed reliever in Arodys Vizcaino, and they are working on landing a second baseman in another deal.
David O'Brien writes that this is another sign the Braves are targeting 2017 and beyond.
We'll also see if the Braves are among the teams that bid for recent Cuban defector Yoan Moncada.
• On the day David Price was traded to the Detroit Tigers, the Rays drew criticism for what was considered a relatively light return. In a three-way deal, Tampa Bay received pitcher Drew Smyly and infielders Nick Franklin and Willy Adames.
Smyly's performance in the final two months for the Rays (1.70 ERA in seven starts) already altered the view of the trade, and the early discussions in the offseason provide even fuller context for the quandary that then-Rays GM Andrew Friedman faced in late July: If the Rays had waited until the offseason to deal Price, not only would they have had to discount the left-hander at the conclusion of his fifth season of control, they would've been trying to drum up interest in a market flush with accomplished arms.
Besides free agents Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields and Francisco Liriano, the looming addition of others on the market -- either via trade or free agency -- serves to drag down the asking price of any team.
The Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and because he'll be eligible for free agency next fall -- along with teammate Doug Fister -- rival evaluators think that Washington would listen to offers for him. Johnny Cueto just finished second in the NL Cy Young voting, but with the right-hander likely headed to free agency next fall, other teams are waiting to see whether the Reds will trade him, Mat Latos, Mike Leake or Alfredo Simon. Jeff Samardzija will reach free agency after another year, and rival executives wonder whether Oakland might trade him this offseason.
The climate for a Price trade certainly would've regressed significantly this offseason. As events have played out, it has become more evident that not only did Friedman make the trade at the right time, he also did well in what he got back, considering market conditions, getting a package of players that you probably couldn't get anything close to in a trade of Zimmermann, Cueto, et al.
In case you were wondering, Franklin, who will turn 24 in March, had a .210/.288/.578 slash line in the minors after the trade, while the 19-year-old Adames had an .810 OPS in 27 games in the Midwest League, where a lot of players were older than he.
• Some teams have roster gluts, writes Joel Sherman.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Brewers added a prospect, as Tom Haudricourt writes.
2. A pitcher signed a minor league deal with the Athletics.
• The Padres' catchers could be in demand this winter.
• Bernie Miklasz looks at Jason Heyward as a trade candidate.
• A Giancarlo Stanton deal would give Marlins fans reason to believe.
• New Texas manager Jeff Banister sees good things ahead for the Rangers.
• Missed this last week: Aaron Hicks was released from his winter ball team.
• Evan Longoria watched the birth of his son via phone.
• Harmon Killebrew could be immortalized.
• Don Hooton's fight against steroids will go on without Alex Rodriguez, and he wouldn't take A-Rod's money, as Wayne Coffey writes.
• Vanderbilt won its opener.
And today will be better than yesterday.
The top 10 catchers in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In those handful of moments when the New York Yankees talked about an austerity drive a couple of years ago, when Hal Steinbrenner spoke of getting under the salary cap, they decided to let Russell Martin walk away as a free agent -- and he was snapped up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In December 2013, as the Yankees pared down a roster flush with catching, they decided to trade Chris Stewart, and the Pirates grabbed him to be Martin’s backup.
Last week, as Pittsburgh looked to build a safety net in case Martin walks away as a free agent, the Pirates turned to the Yankees again, swapping veteran reliever Justin Wilson for Francisco Cervelli.
It’s not a coincidence that there has been a Yankees-Pirates catching pipeline in place, because both teams apparently place the same high priority on pitch-framing, a skill that Martin, Stewart and Cervelli all possess, and a skill that is being increasingly valued by teams as they look for the smallest (and largest) advantages. The days when teams are content with slapping shin guards and a mask on a slugger and living with defensive deficiencies are just about over.
With that as the context for how catchers are evaluated in 2014, here’s the first in a series of rankings of the top 10 players at each position, based on their overall skills on both offense and defense. The rankings are crafted with input from some general managers and other evaluators in the sport.
The top 10 catchers:
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
For every evaluator who prefers Posey, there’s another who would rather take Yadier Molina. Some prefer Molina’s defense, his ability to shut down a running game; others like Posey, because he has been the most consistently excellent hitter when compared to others at this position. He has a career OPS of .861, a neighborhood that Molina has achieved in only one season: 2012, when he had an .874 OPS.
Molina, a future Hall of Famer, is universally regarded as the better defensive player. But Posey’s defense is good, and his pitchers say it's improving in how he calls games and how he handles situations. Madison Bumgarner spoke during the postseason about how Posey’s calm demeanor really translates, but added that if he needed to be jarred emotionally, Posey has an ability to do that, too, to get under his skin and get his attention in the way that an older brother speaks to a younger brother.
It’s hard to argue with the results. Posey has been the Giants’ catcher for five seasons, and they’ve won the World Series three times. In the midst of San Francisco’s championship run last month, one San Francisco staffer mused about the constant clamor for Posey to be moved to another position to augment his offensive numbers, a shift the Giants are not considering now.
“What an advantage to have a player like that as your catcher,” the staffer said.
Sure, we’ve noticed.
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
He’s played 11 seasons in the major leagues, and in that time, opposing teams have a total of 317 stolen bases in just 574 attempts. To understand just how great that is, think about this: In those same 11 years, the Boston Red Sox -- who have won three World Series since the start of 2004 -- have allowed 1,344 steals in 1,710 attempts. With Molina at catcher, it’s as if the Cardinals have been playing a completely different game than the other 29 teams, which is why he would be a Hall of Famer even if he never worked another inning behind the plate.
3. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
He finished fourth in the NL MVP voting this year, a reflection of his tremendous defensive work -- some of his pitch-framing skills are detailed here -- and his standing as one of the best-hitting catchers in the sport. He set a record for doubles in 2014.
4. Russell Martin, free agent
He has gotten better and better as his career has progressed, and in 2014 he posted a .402 on-base percentage. The fact that Martin is drawing intense interest from the Cubs and other teams, and could be in line for a four- or five-year deal, tells you how highly regarded he is in the market, even at age 31.
The Dodgers are seemingly the Cubs' greatest competitor in the bidding for Martin.
5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
He just won his second Gold Glove for his defensive work, at age 24, and Kansas City’s recent decision to not pick up the $12 million option for Billy Butler is built on the belief that the Royals have to find a way to keep Perez’s bat in the lineup more often.
6. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
He will likely be on this list for years to come. At age 26, he has a reputation for devoting himself to the craft of catching, and last season, he mashed 25 homers with a .359 on-base percentage.
7. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
Gomes is perhaps the majors’ most underrated catcher, and Indians GM Chris Antonetti deserves a ton of credit for making a deal with the Blue Jays for him. The 27-year-old product of Brazil took over from Carlos Santana in the summer of 2013 because of what he can do defensively, and Gomes is really good offensively as well, having posted an .826 OPS in 2013 and .785 last season.
Gomes scores well in the pitch-framing numbers, and deserves a share of the credit for the staff-wide improvement of the Cleveland hurlers.
8. Brian McCann, New York Yankees
He did not give the Yankees the kind of offense they expected when they signed him. But the team’s staffers loved his work with the pitching staff, which helped to keep New York in contention through a long season.
9. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona has talked to other teams about trading Montero and getting out from the $40 million owed to the catcher for the next three seasons. But maybe the expectations for him to be a middle-of-the-order hitter were outsized, because he does some things well: He has a .342 career on-base percentage, and has thrown well in his career.
Perhaps the addition of Henry Blanco to the coaching staff helped him in 2014, when Montero worked to reinvest himself in his catching, because some of Montero’s pitch-framing metrics were the best in the majors.
10. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
The third pick in the 2012 draft, Zunino batted .199. But he hit for some power (22 homers) and some of the criticism from scouts about him -- a dead body and a lack of athleticism -- drifted away in 2014, when he was among the highest-rated catchers in pitch-framing.
The Mariners thought Zunino would be a good defensive catcher when they drafted him, says GM Jack Zduriencik. “But he was in the ML less [than] one year from his signing day,” Zduriencik noted. “He also missed six weeks in 2013 with a hamate surgery. It's been a quick rise and learning curve, and most of it at the major league level.
“The best part is that this is a tough staff to catch with Felix Hernandez's movement, [Hisashi] Iwakuma's split, the heaviness of [James] Paxton's fastball, and a power pen. He'll continue to grow and develop overall, [and] he should even improve. Think how much more he'll improve when learning and developing the little nuances of the game.
“The next step is offensively, as he needs to be more selective and understand exactly who he is. That’s understandable for such a young player in his first full season. ... A lot to be excited about for this kid’s future. He is also a very strong individual with a ideal frame for this position.”
Honorable mention: Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
He looks to be the next generation’s version of Yadier Molina (and Vazquez is a disciple of the Molinas; on the day he was promoted to the big leagues, Yadier called him with congratulations). The long-term question about Vazquez is how much he will hit -- especially for power -- but his defensive skills are special. In his first 54 games, opposing baserunners were thrown out more than half the time in their stolen-base attempts: 15 of 29 were unsuccessful.
David Ortiz talked to Nick Cafardo about how Vazquez can shut down opposing runners.
“He completely shuts down the running game,” Ortiz said. “When I was playing first base in those games against Pittsburgh, the runners at first would say, ‘Who is this kid, he’s unbelievable.’ I think Vazquez is going to hit, too. Give him some time, and he’s going to figure it out.”
• Evan Gattis of the Atlanta Braves is in his own category. Posey might be the only other catcher with his ability to hit for consistent power, but there is a question of how long Gattis will remain behind the plate. A lot of rival evaluators believe he is better suited as a DH, that his defense isn’t good enough for him to continue as a catcher, and the Braves have talked with other teams about a trade.
But it’s possible that Atlanta could keep him as a left fielder and a backup catcher, given his special bat speed: Gattis has 43 homers in the first 783 plate appearances in his career.
• Note that Matt Wieters would normally be in the top 10, but he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery for the 2015 season, his last before he reaches free agency.
Around the league
• A common refrain among rival evaluators is that they are greatly surprised that the Marlins are not waiting to see Giancarlo Stanton react to pitches again before committing $325 million to the slugger, given the long-established history of players who’ve struggled to recover from the kind of injury that Stanton suffered at the end of the season.
On Sept. 11, Stanton was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball, suffering fractures and dental damage, and he acknowledged to reporters that he was somewhat fortunate; if the ball had hit him a little differently, his injuries could’ve been career-threatening.
Through the years, some hitters who’ve been hit in the face (as well as pitchers who’ve been hit by line drives) have had trouble recovering emotionally from the experience. They might flinch at breaking balls, or react poorly to fastballs inside; for the first couple of years after David Wright was drilled by Matt Cain, for example, advance scouts thought he recovered only gradually in how he reacted to pitches.
Folks who know Stanton say that they think he’s fine, and there will be no residual effects. But given the record-setting level of the Marlins’ investment, rival evaluators say that it would make sense to carry the negotiations into spring training ... just to be sure. Because being hit in the face has proved to be no small matter for some other players.
Stanton was a special guest at the Miami-Florida State game. A deal is not imminent, writes Joe Frisario.
The Marlins should consult with the Rockies about how their Troy Tulowitzki deal has panned out before signing Stanton, writes Patrick Saunders.
• A.J. Burnett walked away from an extra $4.25 million to pitch for the Pirates rather than the Phillies. Sometime during the winter, it might be worthwhile for Ruben Amaro to sit down for dinner with Burnett and ask him why he made this choice, to get an unvarnished opinion about the team and the clubhouse.
For the Pirates, Burnett is a bargain.
• The Diamondbacks traded for Jeremy Hellickson.
Jeremy Hellickson career stats
Year WHIP ERA K/BB Velocity*
2010 1.10 3.47 4.13 91.2
2011 1.15 2.95 1.63 91.0
2012 1.25 3.10 2.10 91.4
2013 1.35 5.17 2.70 90.5
2014 1.45 4.52 2.57 90.2
*Average fastball velocity, in mph.
I find the move surprising, given how much uncertainty there is over so many other parts of the Arizona pitching staff.
Hellickson’s performance has been in steady regression over recent seasons, so it would be hard for the Diamondbacks to necessarily count on him for a season of 200 innings -- a benchmark he’s never reached -- or a 3.80 ERA.
This is what GM Dave Stewart told Nick Piecoro:
"I expect him to return to form and do a great job for us," Stewart said. "We've always, organizationally, had good reports on him. Even through what he went through last year, we had good reports on him. All of our scouts like him. And at the end of the year, one of our major league guys (scouts) saw him, said he looked healthy, arm was working fine (and thought we should) definitely acquire (him)."
In watching a lot of his starts, it was evident that Joe Maddon, his former manager, tended to look to get him out of the game sometime in the midst of his third turn through the opponent’s lineup.
• The Yankees are looking to build a lights-out bullpen.
• There have been reports that the Angels are marketing Howie Kendrick, but other teams say they’ve never gotten the impression that Jerry Dipoto is serious about moving the second baseman.
In fact, the stronger sense is that Dipoto will make only marginal moves this winter, and instead will stick with the team that just won the AL West.
• The Yasmani Tomas decision is near. Some teams like him a lot, other teams see holes.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. I missed this interesting tidbit from the other day: Clint Hurdle will no longer have a bench coach.
2. As expected, the Tigers signed Joel Hanrahan, and they are parting ways with Torii Hunter.
3. The Reds could sign Johnny Cueto.
Absolutely. But a signing of Cueto, along with the money owed to Joey Votto in the years to come, would eat about 30 to 40 percent of the Cincinnati payroll for the foreseeable future ... unless owner Bob Castellini decides he cares less about running a profitable business (which is entirely his prerogative either way, as it is for the Tigers’ Mike Ilitch). Cincinnati's payroll has climbed each season from 2010 ($76.1 million) to 2014 ($114.2 million).
Dings and dents
1. Robinson Cano suffered a broken toe.
• Dan Connolly has some thoughts on the Nick Markakis negotiations. I agree with what he writes here: Eventually, a deal gets done.
• The Red Sox need a shot in the arm, writes Michael Silverman.
• The Red Sox shouldn’t worry about making a splash, writes Steve Buckley.
With teams like the Red Sox, I agree completely. This applies to the Cubs right now: There is no reason for Theo Epstein to think at all about making a big, headline-grabbing move. The Cubs are one of the premium franchises already, and they already have the attention of the baseball world with the talent they have amassed and with the hiring of Maddon.
The only thing that matters now is winning games, and all the moves that they do shouldn’t be about other than helping the team to win games. The last time the Cubs made a big move to grab headlines was the signing of Alfonso Soriano, and that didn’t turn out so well. The Cubs could make a big splash by signing one of the more expensive pitchers right now, but it’s very apparent that if Chicago is patient over the next 13 months, the Cubs are going to wind up getting some really, really good value deals on pitching.
• The Tigers are still looking to bolster their pitching staff, writes George Sipple.
• Here’s more on Corey Kluber's road to the Cy Young Award.
• The ghost of Tom Hicks follows the Rangers.
• A Cardinals prospect is ready to take his shot, writes Derrick Goold.
• Maddon reached out to Rick Renteria, but hasn’t heard back.
• Carlos Frias will finally get his shot, writes Steve Dilbeck.
• The jury is still out on the value of a talent-rich front office, writes Evan Drellich.
• Phillies president David Montgomery is recovering.
• The Feds thought about putting together a case against Alex Rodriguez.
• Dwight Gooden has turned 50, and he’s shocked that he’s still alive.
• Vanderbilt will be playing a bunch of freshmen in the backcourt this season.
And today will be better than yesterday.
More than money could sway Stanton.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There hadn’t been enough time to wipe the blood from Giancarlo Stanton’s face before he was lifted onto a golf cart after a Mike Fiers fastball crumpled his cheek on Sept. 11. But before he was taken away for treatment, Stanton reached out a hand to his father, who happened to be in Milwaukee that night and had made his way to the field. The gesture was seemingly meant to reassure his dad.
But the fact is that at that instant, Stanton didn’t know if he would be OK, and didn’t know if, with that one pitch, his career had been altered forever, in the way that one moment altered everything for other young players. The next time that Stanton spoke with reporters, after spending days with doctors, he acknowledged to them that if the pitch had struck him differently, millimeters in another direction, the injuries he sustained could’ve been career-threatening.
Millimeters in another direction, and the Marlins wouldn’t be willing to offer him a contract for something in the range of $325 million over 12 years, which is one of the options that has been discussed.
Only Stanton knows if his season-ending injury is a factor in how he feels about the Marlins’ varied and staggering proposals, which are designed to keep him with the team as long as possible. Friends have said in recent years that Stanton hasn’t really been interested in a future with the Marlins -- but it would be entirely understandable if Fiers’ pitch altered his perspective. Stanton’s dreams and hopes have survived that terrible accident. Baseball history is filled with others who weren’t as lucky.
One pitch forever altered the career of Tony Conigliaro, who was hit in the face by the Angels’ Jack Hamilton; he was never the same. Dickie Thon was one of the best young players in the National League in 1984, 25 years old, coming off his first All-Star appearance, and with one Mike Torrez pitch, his career changed forever.
[+] EnlargeBryce Florie
Brian Bahr /Allsport
Bryce Florie's career was essentially ended by a line drive that struck him in the face in 2000.
Bobby Valentine was regarded as such a great young player that the Angels asked for him in return for Andy Messersmith, but he mangled his leg in pursuit of a fly ball in 1972 and it wasn’t too long after that that his former manager, Tommy Lasorda, had to tell him he would never be a great player. Bryce Florie was in the midst of what appeared to be a long career as a major league pitcher, but a ball hit through the middle in 2000 changed all of that, as well as his vision.
I had met Bryce in 1992, when he was playing Class A in the Padres’ organization, and happened to be covering the game that effectively ended his career -- it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen on a field.
Twenty-five years before that, when I was 11 years old, I went to Fenway Park to see a doubleheader between the Orioles and Red Sox, with seats behind home plate. Tony Muser lashed a line drive that struck **** Pole in the face. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Pole staggering around the infield; I can still hear his scream of pain. He threw his last major league pitch at age 27.
Serendipity is the common denominator in all of those tragic stories, and even if Stanton doesn’t specifically know the story of Conigliario, or Thon, or Florie, he has had a firsthand reminder of just how fleeting his baseball life is.
Before he stepped in to bat against Fiers, he was baseball’s incredible hulk, the most coveted slugger in the majors, the guy that every other team is frothing for, the guy who everybody wanted to see in the Home Run Derby in Minneapolis -- and he didn’t disappoint, crushing a ball through a cold wind, into the upper deck. But in the time it took for Fiers’ fastball to travel from the mound to the plate, off course, this all changed. As Stanton lay on the ground, nobody was thinking about whether he would be the National League Most Valuable Player; what everybody was wondering was: Is he going to be OK?
Maybe Stanton wondered that, too, or maybe not; only he knows for sure. But 64 days have passed since he suffered those facial fractures, and reached out to his father, and in that time he turned 25, on Nov. 8, and has been told by the Marlins they are willing to give him the most lucrative contract in U.S. professional sports history.
The Marlins have been a punchline for much of their existence, and their ballpark is mostly empty on most days, partly because the team’s payroll is consistently among the two or three lowest in the sport. One aspect of the Stanton contract discussion has been about what kind of team the Marlins can field around the slugger, and if there is some sort of language that can be added to address Stanton’s desire to play on a relevant team.
But the Marlins view Stanton as their Cal Ripken, the beacon of the franchise, and they are willing to pay him more than any player has been paid anywhere.
Giancarlo Stanton has been lucky enough to see baseball from all sides, from the glory of the batter’s box, watching as fans distantly chase his home runs and from the ground, eyes closed, the voices around him trying to comfort while none of them knew if he actually was going to be OK. He’s been the guy on the stretcher reaching out to his father.
Stanton is a California native, and if he held out and went to the Dodgers, he would be baseball’s version of Shaquille O’Neal, outsized even in that market -- a star. If he went to the Cubs, he could own Chicago. He could be a big fish in the biggest pond, instead of remaining in the shallow end of the Miami sports scene.
But with his full perspective, saying no to the fortune of a lifetime might be very, very difficult.
There is no indication of whether Stanton might accept a deal, writes Clark Spencer.
• Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old defector from Cuba, continues to draw interest in Guatemala, Kiley McDaniel writes.
• A Yasmani Tomas deal is imminent.
• Andrew McCutchen finished third in the MVP voting. McCutchen and Clayton Kershaw combined for three votes somewhere after the top three, which is really surprising.
Kershaw returned to "SportsCenter". He added an MVP to his Cy Young Award, Dylan Hernandez writes. Kershaw and Mike Trout are the dueling MVPs, writes Bill Plaschke.
Victor Martinez finished second to Mike Trout in the voting. For one voter, Martinez did not get a Top 10 vote. Three voters left Michael Brantley out of their Top 10.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Phillies signed a lot of minor leaguers.
2. The Orioles continue to negotiate with Nick Markakis.
3. The Indians are kicking tires on Justin Masterson. I’d be shocked if Cleveland fails to add at least one veteran starting pitcher.
4. The Rangers have doled out front office extensions.
5. The Orioles have little-to-no interest in A.J. Burnett, writes Roch Kubatko.
• A busy offseason for the Braves has just begun, writes David O’Brien.
• Prospects are the opiate of front offices, writes David Murphy.
Not sure if I agree with "opiate." Prospects are the oxygen and water of organizations. Front offices cannot consistently have a chance to win without them, either; you must develop a stream of promising young players, knowing that some of them won’t meet expectations. Because along with those who fizzle out, you can get a young Chase Utley, a Ryan Howard, a Cole Hamels. If you don’t have access to young talent, either through your own system or through trades, you don’t have a chance for highly productive, cheap players.
The Yankees of the late ‘90s spent a lot of money on players like David Cone, for sure. But the foundation was Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. The Giants haven’t had a vast core of prospects for years, but along the way they have had Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, etc.
All of that is a long way of saying that the Phillies aren’t going to return to relevance until they reconstruct that stream of prospects, and the player who would command the best package of prospects in return is Hamels -- and if the Phillies keep Hamels, he probably won’t be as effective as a pitcher by the time they are good again.
The question really isn’t: Should the Phillies trade Cole Hamels? It should be: Why would they keep him, given the current state of the organization?
• Terry Collins must now manage amid higher expectations, writes John Harper.
• Trading Justin Wilson is a big blow to the Pittsburgh bullpen, writes Travis Sawchik.
• The Cardinals are considering a move of Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot, Derrick Goold writes.
I wonder if they would hit Carpenter third, with Kolten Wong as the leadoff hitter and Matt Holliday as the No. 2 batter; this way, they could have a lineup that would look like this:
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
CF Jon Jay
Typically, teams like to have a left-handed hitter batting No. 2, to take advantage of the hole on the right side of the infield with a runner at first. But what’s more important than that, it would seem, is to have a dangerous hitter batting behind Holliday. Yes, there is always skepticism about lineup protection, but throughout the summer of 2014, opposing evaluators spoke of how there was no reason to pitch to Holliday, given the more vulnerable hitters batting behind him.
But if Holliday batted second in front of Carpenter, pitchers might not feel as comfortable working passively to the left fielder, knowing how difficult the Carpenter at-bat to come might be.
• Jon Lester would solidify the Cubs’ rotation.
Unless the Cubs love Lester far and away more than other pitchers, it would make no sense for them to pay the current retail price for the left-hander. But it would make more sense for them to push the bidding and then retreat, to force the Red Sox or some other team to pay more -- and make it less likely that Boston or another team goes after one of the other starters who will hit the market in the next 13 months, whether it’s David Price, Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto.
• Kris Bryant covered his shoes with ivy.
• Kyle Schwarber would be excited to learn from Russell Martin.
• Joe Maddon is comfortable with his decision to leave the Rays, writes Marc Topkin.
• The Diamondbacks may name a director of analytics soon.
• A Rockies pitching prospect is good to go.
• The Yankees are a mystery even to themselves.
• The Jays’ new second baseman is oozing with talent.
• Alex Avila and the Tigers are in a unique spot.
• Anthony Gose is a good fit for the Tigers, writes Tom Gage.
• The Royals know that Salvador Perez needs to catch fewer games, writes Andy McCullough.
• Some fatherly advice helped Brantley.
• The White Sox are satisfied with their catching.
• Nothing is cooking for the Astros now. The Astros are going for a closer candidate, tweets Brian McTaggart.
• Mark Appel finished a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
• Andy Pettitte has some advice for Alex Rodriguez.
• There is sad news about Alvin Dark. Here is the New York Times obituary, by **** Goldstein.
• Sally Jenkins writes about what the ‘Lady’ part of the Lady Volunteers nickname really means. Having covered a lot of women’s SEC basketball for most of the ‘80s, I’m surprised that the corporate folks who pushed this question didn’t have a better feel for it.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Kluber rewarded for hard work, big finish.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Accolades for a teammate are always a good thing, but after Corey Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award on Wednesday, the joy that others within the Indians organization experienced ran deep.
Because of the person that Kluber is, and because of his work ethic, others are touched by the award's affirmation. "He is so solid and cares only about the team," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said in an email.
I had written Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash to get their thoughts on Kluber, who is consistent in his stoicism. "In one game, he was coming off the mound and into the dugout after striking out 13 or something," Callaway wrote, "and I was elated on the top step, with my hand up, waiting for a big up-high five. And he, with no excitement at all, put out a low five, so no one could see he was actually having to high-five his overly excited pitching coach.
"And I came down with my hand ever so gingerly, and slapped him a low five, because I didn't know what else to do. Later on, around the other starters, with Kluber standing there, I told that story. Kluber -- in Kluber fashion -- responded with, 'What was I supposed to do?' That shows how good he is at controlling his emotions."
"It's hard to pick out something about his work ethic," Callaway added, "because he absolutely does the same thing every day between starts. He is so consistent."
Cash wrote, "What stands out is his consistency. It's obvious that he rarely shows much emotion on the field, but what's impressive is the way he evolved and took ownership in being the leader of our staff."
I had mentioned to Cash that the stories about Kluber and his demeanor and work ethic reminded me of what I used to hear from the Blue Jays and Phillies about Roy Halladay. "He is very similar to Doc with his work ethic," Cash wrote back (after interviewing for the Rays' managerial job), "and I definitely don't say that lightly because nobody worked like him.
"One [example] would be how much [Kluber] constantly tried to develop his changeup in his throwing program in between starts. I found it very impressive that as good as his season was going, he never wavered in his attempt to get a feel for a pitch that he would only use a handful of times throughout a game."
Kluber thought that Felix Hernandez would win the Cy Young Award, writes Paul Hoynes.
If I had had a ballot, I would've voted for Hernandez, but the notion that Hernandez was robbed or that Kluber is somehow unworthy is ridiculous. It was basically a coin-flip between the two pitchers, and maybe Kluber's incredible sprint to the finish, in the midst of a pennant race, served to be the difference in the minds of some voters. After the All-Star break, Kluber had a 1.73 ERA, best among all pitchers who threw 80 or more innings in the second half, and he had a 1.12 ERA in his last five starts.
He was exceptional in maintaining his stuff throughout starts. In this era, managers will often pull a pitcher after a couple of times through the lineup. But Kluber was so good that Terry Francona didn't really need to think about that:
Corey Kluber in 2014
First time through the lineup: .562 OPS
Second time: .695 OPS
Third time: .582 OPS
Kluber could be a role model, writes Terry Pluto. When the Indians traded Justin Masterson, they knew they had another ace, writes Marla Ridenour.
For Felix Hernandez, this is a disappointment. This decision was a stunner, writes Larry Stone.
Will Phillies trade Hamels?
Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, writes Bob Nightengale. The Red Sox would need to offer plenty to get him, writes Bob Brookover.
[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
The Phillies need to be a little more flexible about what they get in return for Cole Hamels.
The lingering question for folks leaving the MLB GM meetings in Phoenix is whether the Phillies are prepared to add nuance to their trade proposals, to generate more suggestions than just the give-us-all-your-best-prospects-and-you-eat-all-the-salary approach. In the view of many rival evaluators, that sort of tactic doesn't reflect anything close to the reality of a market that will be flush with starting pitching in the next 13 months. The Phillies can get something good for Hamels, unquestionably, but given the salary owed to him and the relative value of prospects, rival evaluators believe that Philadelphia cannot get the young players it needs for Hamels without having some pliability.
The Phillies were in a similar situation with Cliff Lee. They had a chance to trade him late in the summer of 2012, but remained intransigent and stubborn with their give-us-all-your-best-prospects-and-you-eat-all-the-money stance, and now, at the back end of his contract, Lee is hurt and is worthless on the market, while making one of the highest salaries in baseball.
The time to make your best possible deal with Hamels is right now. If the Phillies wait another half-season or a year, they'll risk regression and the chance for injury, and even more available pitching in the market. If the Phillies know they're not going to contend over the next two years -- as Pat Gillick has said, flatly -- then what's the point of keeping Hamels into the last seasons of his contract and not attaining the young trade pieces you can get for him to build upon?
Ryan Lawrence writes about the timing of a Hamels trade.
Around the league
• With Victor Martinez re-signing with Detroit for a predictably enormous contract, the dominoes are now falling in the DH market, and it would behoove the others in line -- Billy Butler, etc. -- to make their best deal as soon as possible. Because very soon, most of the DH jobs will be filled.
• The Royals are looking at Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas.
• The Pirates had been calling around in recent days asking about catching, which probably reflects their own doubts about whether they'll be able to outbid the Cubs and maybe the Dodgers for Russell Martin. They were smart to land Francisco Cervelli as a safety net, yet this was also an excellent trade for the Yankees, who used their catching depth to get an established lefty reliever.
This deal gives the Pirates a quality alternative, says Neal Huntington.
• While trading Anthony Gose to the Tigers, the Blue Jays landed a second base prospect and also cleared the way for Dalton Pompey to start in center field. The Tigers, meanwhile, got a fleet center fielder to effectively replace Austin Jackson defensively.
Pitchers to win NL MVP, award history
1968 Bob Gibson, Cardinals
1963 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers
1956 Don Newcombe, Dodgers
1950 Jim Konstanty*, Phillies
1942 Mort Cooper*, Cardinals
1939 Bucky Walters*, Reds
1936 Carl Hubbell*, Giants
1934 Dizzy Dean*, Cardinals
1933 Carl Hubbell*, Giants
1924 Dazzy Vance*, Dodgers*No Cy Young Award issued until 1956
• Kershaw was a unanimous selection for the NL Cy Young Award, and he was on "SportsCenter" with his posse. I wrote this feature story about his childhood friends.
Thursday we'll find out whether Kershaw will be the first pitcher to win the NL MVP award in more than four decades.
• Mike Trout is the clear favorite to win the AL MVP award Thursday. If Trout wins, he'll be the second player in MLB history to finish second in consecutive seasons and then actually win the award in the third season, joining Mickey Mantle, who was runner-up in 1960 and 1961 and then won in 1962.
Despite producing a lower total than in 2012 or 2013, Trout's 7.9 WAR led all position players:
Most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2014, position players
Mike Trout, Angels: 7.9 WAR
Josh Donaldson, Athletics: 7.4
Adrian Beltre, Rangers: 7.0
Michael Brantley, Indians: 7.0
From ESPN Stats & Info: In many ways, Trout's 2014 season represented the worst of his three full seasons.
Batting average: .287 (season rank: worst)
OBP: .377 (worst)
Stolen bases: 16 (worst)
WAR: 7.9 (worst)
Strikeout rate: 26.1 percent (worst)
• Now is the time to find out how much the Red Sox want Jon Lester, writes Rob Bradford.
The Cubs are all set to speak with Lester next week, which sets up the obvious subplot of the Red Sox ownership potentially bidding against a team run by former Boston GM Theo Epstein. It'll be interesting to see whether that moves John Henry to speak with Lester and if Boston's dallying in the Lester talks winds up costing them -- either the player or many dollars. Remember, the Red Sox offered Lester $70 million last spring, and were willing to push that to just over $100 million during the regular season, but Lester's side deferred the conversation.
Theo Epstein's moment of truth has arrived, writes Paul Sullivan.
• For Pablo Sandoval and the Red Sox, a meeting is the next step, writes Nick Cafardo. Tim Kawakami provides five reasons Sandoval will stay with the Giants.
• The Cubs are inching closer to signing Russell Martin.
• The Marlins are likely to hang on to Giancarlo Stanton, even without him having a long-term deal.
• The Braves could be rebuilding while aiming toward 2017.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Tigers are moving closer to working out a minor league deal with pitcher Joel Hanrahan.
2. As future trade possibilities are being assessed, some rival evaluators believe the Cubs hurt the market value of infielder Javier Baez by calling him to the big leagues for the final weeks of the season; in the eyes of those evaluators, Baez's flaws as a hitter were fully exposed. Baez had 229 plate appearances in 52 games and had 95 strikeouts, batting just .169.
The Cubs believe it was important to promote Baez to help get him acclimated and give him a clear idea of the adjustments he needs to make going forward.
3. The Orioles met with the agent for Nick Markakis.
4. The Twins hired a couple of coaches.
5. Some Padres pitchers made their decisions.
6. The Astros could go all-in for the right player, writes Evan Drellich. Remember, it's still possible that the Astros lose draft picks following the pending case of Jacob Nix.
• Washington GM Mike Rizzo's focus is on bullpen and bench, writes James Wagner.
• The Mets are thinking about trading Jon Niese. Also, the Mets need to get on the same page with Matt Harvey, writes Andy Martino.
• The Cardinals have room to spend, writes Derrick Goold.
• Some injured Reds players are improving, writes C. Trent Rosecrans. A better bullpen is a priority for the Reds.
• The Diamondbacks could be competitive in 2015, says Tony La Russa.
• The Rockies want to play meaningful games in September.
• Yankees GM Brian Cashman says he and manager Joe Girardi are on the same page regarding A-Rod.
• The Orioles are likely not comfortable going beyond a three-year deal with Nelson Cruz.
• The White Sox are exploring the relief market.
• Instead of shipping away Elvis Andrus, the Rangers have a better option, writes Tim Cowlishaw.
If the Rangers work to trade Andrus now, some rival evaluators believe, it is a strong sign they believe Andrus is not going to bounce back and that they want to cut their losses. So I agree with Tim: If the Rangers think Andrus can play better than he did last season, they should hang on to him.
• The Roger Clemens case lingers.
• Managers can no longer use stall tactics with replay, says Joe Torre. There is one way to eliminate this: Remove the managerial challenges, which should never have been part of this from the outset. Otherwise, teams will find other ways to stall.
• Oscar Taveras was legally drunk at the time he and his girlfriend were killed in a one-car, high-speed accident.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Game of DH musical chairs has begun.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you want to take a sample of how saturated the market is with designated hitters, consider a slice of Adam Lind's recent experience for examination.
Last season, the left-handed-hitting Lind was limited to 96 games because of injury, but in that time, he destroyed right-handed pitchers, batting .354 against them, the highest of any major league player with at least 275 plate appearances against righties. He also had a .942 OPS against them, even better than the stellar .924 OPS (and .385 on-base percentage) he posted against righties in 2013. Under the terms of his existing contract, Lind is set to make $7.5 million for 2015, with an $8 million option (or a $500,000 buyout) for 2016.
You get the picture: He's a player with a history of success as a left-handed hitter at a relatively modest cost. Yet the Blue Jays had him out on the market for many days -- many weeks, actually -- without getting any traction, before they finally swapped him to the Milwaukee Brewers for 31-year-old pitcher Marco Estrada.
Lind will play first base for the Brewers, but he is generally viewed as a defensively challenged DH-type player, and there is an ocean of that type of player available. And this at a time when a lot of the AL teams are using the DH position to give some respite to players who no longer can take amphetamines to prop themselves up over the long regular season.
The full-time DH, like an Orlando Cepeda or Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz, has become something of a dinosaur, which is not good for the DH types who will be looking for jobs in the week ahead.
Victor Martinez is the best pure hitter available in the free-agent market, and he's going to get a lot of money, whether it's from the Tigers, White Sox, Mariners or some other team. Sources say that Nelson Cruz has a three-year offer in hand from the Baltimore Orioles, who are comfortable waiting to see if some other team steps up and surpasses that. Yes, Cruz can play the outfield, but he'll turn 35 next season, and the Orioles kept him healthy last season by using him a lot at DH, his future position.
If you don't win the bidding for Martinez or Cruz, or you don't want to pay those prices, there are a ton of alternatives:
Billy Butler: He's a free agent, recently cut free by the Royals, who might consider a reunion at a much lower cost than the $12 million option they rejected. Butler hit .271 last season, with 41 extra-base hits and a .323 on-base percentage in 603 plate appearances.
Ryan Howard: He is being pushed hard in the market by the Phillies. Rival executives perceive the Phillies will do whatever it takes to dump him, up to and including eating the vast majority of his salary.
Kendrys Morales: He batted just .218 in 98 games last season.
Corey Hart: He was used as a DH in 53 of his 68 games for Seattle in 2014, and batted .203 in 255 plate appearances.
Delmon Young: The right-handed hitter batted .302 in 255 plate appearances for Baltimore last summer.
Mike Morse: Part of the reason the Giants converted first baseman Travis Ishikawa to left field for the postseason is that, while they liked Morse's power, they viewed his defense as a major liability. So even though Morse was available to play left field midway through the playoffs, Ishikawa kept getting the starts in left.
Jonny Gomes: He had just four starts at DH last season, but some clubs view his outfield defense negatively. He turns 34 later this month, and he's probably better positioned to get offers from AL teams than NL teams.
Ryan Ludwick: He was limited to 150 games for the Reds over the past two seasons, faring poorly last summer in defensive metrics. At 36, his offers probably won't be plentiful.
Evan Gattis: He caught a lot with the Atlanta Braves last season, but let's face it, the reason why the Braves have been talking with other teams about possible trades is because Gattis is now widely regarded as an AL type of player, a DH who can occasionally step in at catcher.
Gattis is arguably the most attractive DH candidate available other than Victor Martinez, because of his two years of service time and the relatively cheap cost attached to that. He also is one of the best pure power hitters available: In his first 723 at-bats in the majors, Gattis has 43 homers, along with 38 doubles and a triple, and his coverage of inside fastballs, with his tremendous bat speed, is legendary. The Braves are asking for an enormous return for Gattis, rival officials say. There is some concern among rival evaluators about Gattis' hyper-aggressive approach at the plate. He averaged 3.55 pitches per plate appearance last season, which ranks 221st among 252 hitters with at least 325 plate appearances last season, and incredibly, he has exactly as many walks as homers in his career.
This group of DH candidates is also impacted by some of the other players available in the market, including first baseman Adam LaRoche, who could be signed and nudge some team's first baseman into a DH role, or Andre Ethier, a candidate to be dumped by the Dodgers. Free agent Torii Hunter is a corner outfielder trending toward DH responsibilities, given his recent defensive metrics. The Pirates will eventually choose among Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis, and cast the player they don't pick out into the market, perhaps along with Gaby Sanchez.
So bottom line: There are far fewer DH jobs available than there are DH candidates.
At least five teams already have accounted for a significant portion of their DH at-bats: the Red Sox, with Ortiz; the Yankees, who have more than $60 million invested in aging stars Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez and will need a daily landing spot for at least one of them; the Astros have Chris Carter, who clubbed 37 homers last year while making $510,000 and serving mostly as a DH; the Angels, who likely will prefer to keep the DH spot flexible because of the huge investments in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton; and the Rangers, who have Prince Fielder under contract for the next six seasons.
That leaves just 10 teams with DH playing time available … sort of.
The Orioles will wait on Cruz's situation to play out, and they also have Steve Pearce and Matt Wieters, a DH candidate against lefties, coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Detroit wants Victor Martinez back.
Toronto could use the DH spot to as a way to keep Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and others in the lineup through nagging injuries. Tampa Bay has DH at-bats available, but only within the structure of their payroll; the Rays will pay only minimally for a DH contribution. Minnesota has some flexibility, but Joe Mauer is a future candidate at that spot.
The Royals like Butler depending on the price, but moving forward, they intend to use the DH more and more as a way to rest catcher Salvador Perez. The Royals are expected to meet with Butler's agents, writes Andy McCullough. And Cleveland has Nick Swisher and David Murphy under contract.
Seattle, the White Sox and Oakland are said to be open about adding players who would serve as full-time DHs.
What the DH market really is, at its heart, is a game of musical chairs, with about a dozen players in play for about half a dozen open spots. Some folks are simply not going to find landing spots.
The pool of available designated hitters make it the ultimate buyer's market this winter.
Around the league
• The price of reliever Andrew Miller is perceived to be something in the range of $30 million over three years, with the talks perhaps pushing toward a fourth year.
• The Braves are working to move B.J. Upton, who is owed about $46 million over the next three seasons. They are unlikely to trade Jason Heyward, writes David O'Brien.
• Nationals manager Matt Williams was named NL Manager of the Year, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter won the award in the AL.
[+] EnlargePablo Sandoval
Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire
The Red Sox are reportedly trying hard to sign third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
• The Red Sox are all-in on Pablo Sandoval, writes Gordon Edes. As I wrote the other day about Sandoval, the bidding will come down to whether some team separates itself from the Giants, in the way that the Yankees separated themselves from Boston in the bidding for Jacoby Ellsbury last winter.
But here's the part that doesn't make a lot of sense: If Boston is willing to pay Sandoval more than $100 million to sign him, that means they will have bid more on him than they offered either Ellsbury or Jon Lester, two homegrown players, in the past calendar year.
Over the past four seasons, Sandoval has 65 homers among 179 extra-base hits. Over the past four seasons, Ellsbury has 57 homers among 197 extra-base hits. There was certainly concern over Ellsbury's injury history, but over the past four years, Ellsbury has played in 515 games, and Sandoval, affected by his well-documented issues with conditioning, has played in 523 games.
Sandoval is pricey, writes John Shea. The Red Sox have had constructive talks about Sandoval. GM Ben Cherington downplayed the idea of trading Yoenis Cespedes.
• Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle has elbow trouble.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Orioles are continuing to negotiate with Nick Markakis on a multiyear deal, with one of the unresolved issues being salary deferment.
2. The Angels are talking with longtime coach Dave Anderson about a position.
3. I wrote here Oct. 1 about how the Yankees will not count on Alex Rodriguez for anything when spring training opens. GM Brian Cashman put voice to that Tuesday. Cashman spoke closer to the truth than Joe Girardi, writes Bill Madden.
4. One of the Astros catchers is likely to be traded.
5. The Diamondbacks are mulling a trade of Miguel Montero.
6. The Dodgers haven't committed to tendering a contract to A.J. Ellis.
7. The Padres added a left-handed pitcher.
• The Nationals are looking for a second baseman.
• Ruben Amaro faces hurdles in rebuilding the Phillies, writes Bob Brookover.
• Joining the Mets wasn't about the money, says Michael Cuddyer.
• The Braves' future plans could open the door for the Mets, writes Joel Sherman.
• Giancarlo Stanton's time is coming.
• The Pirates don't need Pedro Alvarez at first base, writes Rob Rossi.
• Walt Jocketty is looking at left field options. The Reds might have to trade pitching for outfield help.
Total speculation: In the name of utilizing assets, you wonder if the Red Sox and Reds might benefit from a swap of Cespedes for Mat Latos, two players eligible for free agency after next season.
• The Cardinals are on shaky ground, writes Joe Strauss.
• The Cubs are the talk of the GM meetings, writes Derrick Goold.
• Troy Tulowitzki's rehab is progressing well, says Jeff Bridich.
• Daniel Hudson faces some uncertainty.
• The Dodgers have a crowded outfield.
• The Tigers could be interested in Melky Cabrera.
• The Indians and Braves talked about pitching.
• The White Sox are weighing the value of Alexei Ramirez.
• Evan Grant writes about the Rangers' pursuit of free-agent pitching. Texas is likely to sell a couple of pitchers.
• Felix Hernandez could win his second Cy Young Award today.
• A website has been designed to help protect pitchers against elbow injuries, writes Tyler Kepner.
• The Rays are near a deal that would allow them to search for a ballpark in the Tampa area.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Will Cole Hamels reject a deal to the AL?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux has long been known as a great source of wisdom, and other pitchers quote him the way that politicians draw on the words of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
I’ve never actually heard Maddux discuss the difference in pitching in the American League versus pitching in the National League, so I can’t tell you whether the words attributed to Maddux are apocryphal or actually reflect his feelings. But through the years, I’ve probably listened to a dozen or so pitchers cite Maddux as a primary source in this vein of thought:
Stay in the National League.
Or: If you can, leave the American League and go to the National League.
Which brings us to Cole Hamels, the Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who may come face to face with that very decision in the days and weeks to come.
Hamels, who turns 31 years old next month, is in the prime of his career, having posted a career-low 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. When the Phillies surrendered in their negotiations with the left-hander and signed him to a $144 million deal in the summer of 2013, their expectation was that Hamels could lead the staff for the foreseeable future.
But since then, the Phillies have collapsed, and executive Pat Gillick declared recently that the team likely won’t contend for at least a couple of more seasons -- and with the niceties aside, this stance allows them to openly shop Hamels and others for the prospects the team can build around. At the general managers’ meetings this week, rival executives expect to learn, for sure, whether the Phillies have gotten more realistic (in the eyes of other teams) and creative in their trade demands, or if GM Ruben Amaro will maintain his deal-killing stance of asking for a small nation of prospects in return for any of his players.
If Gillick and Amaro are pliable, they will find other teams very interested in discussing deals for Hamels -- including the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.
But Hamels has the ability to steer the conversation, through his recently revised no-trade list of 20 teams. This does not include the Cubs, but does include the Red Sox. Hamels cannot block a deal to Chicago, but he can block a deal to Boston.
Hamels could be particularly attractive to the Red Sox because unlike Jon Lester, he’s already under contract for a manageable $90 million over the next four years -- close to what Boston offered Lester last spring. The Red Sox are philosophically opposed to the idea of doling out really long-term contracts for pitchers, and trading for Hamels would be a way for them to thread the needle on the risk.
The Red Sox could sweeten the pot with Hamels by agreeing to pick up a $20 million option for 2019, when Hamels will be 35 years old.
But if Hamels simply prefers to stay in the National League, well, then there’s really nothing the Red Sox or Phillies can do to make a trade happen.
Remember, Hamels already has made about $80 million in his career, and he’s guaranteed to more than double that. So picking up the option for 2019 isn’t going to have as much allure for him as it would for other players, especially if Hamels wants to avoid the additional stress of the toiling in the AL -- where the lineups are deeper because of the DH, where the hitters are more patient.
Gillick once said that Hamels has the best changeup of any left-handed pitcher he’s ever seen, and with that weapon, Hamels would seem to have a chance to age really well. His average fastball velocity last season was actually the best of his career.
But the context would change for him in moving to the American League.
The guess here is he will follow the example of Maddux, and that he will throw all of the pitches in his career while wearing the uniform of a National League team.
Maybe he’ll wear the uniform of the Cubs in the years ahead, because Chicago is one of the nine teams he can be traded to without his permission.
The Phillies are talking with teams in Phoenix, as Jim Salisbury writes.
Around the league
• The industry was generally surprised by the decision of the Colorado Rockies to provide Michael Cuddyer a qualifying offer last week, given his age and the recent injury history. Cuddyer, after all, played in only 49 games in 2014.
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Michael Cuddyer signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets this week.
But maybe the Rockies made this move after reading about the Mets' strong interest in Cuddyer. No matter the reason, Colorado's decision paid off, when the Mets plowed ahead -- even knowing that they would surrender their first-round pick in 2015, at No. 15 overall -- and signed Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million deal.
I wouldn't have done it, because there are major questions about whether Cuddyer can stay on the field, and because a team usually gets only one shot annually at a first-round pick. But you have to understand and respect the thinking of a front office that is tired of waiting and waiting and waiting to take their shot at seriously contending.
The Mets' lineup could look like this:
SS Ruben Tejada
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
1B Lucas Duda
LF Michael Cuddyer
RF Curtis Granderson
C Travis d'Arnaud
CF Juan Lagares
The Mets could keep their young pitching, and run out a rotation like this:
P Matt Harvey
P Jacob deGrom
P Zack Wheeler
P Jon Niese
P Dillon Gee
Depth: Rafael Montero and Bartolo Colon.
The Mets could choose to pursue an experienced shortstop -- such as Starlin Castro, a player who has been discussed in the Mets' front office. There is a willingness to move some of the surplus pitching to get a high-end shortstop, whether the asking price is deGrom or Wheeler (but almost certainly not Harvey).
A discussion with the Cubs makes a lot of sense for both sides, given Chicago's need for pitching and their surplus in position players and given the imminent rise of Addison Russell, the star shortstop prospect who reached Double-A last season and thrived.
Castro signed a team-friendly contract and is owed $43 million over the next five years, including $6 million next season, and after some ups and downs early in his career, he is coming off a good season of 154 hits (including 48 extra-base hits), and a good-if-not-great on-base percentage of .339.
If the Mets landed Castro -- a really big if at this point -- then they could take a lineup into the 2015 season that looks something like this:
2B Dilson Herrera
If the Mets deal for a more expensive shortstop, such as Castro, they could be more willing to talk about a trade of Murphy, who has some value (although probably not as much as casual fans expect, because of his salary, his defensive limitations and the fact he doesn't hit homers). Herrera is viewed within the organization as a rising star; the 20-year-old had a .406 on-base percentage in Double-A last season.
• The Cuddyer move was uncharacteristic, as Adam Rubin writes.
• The Mets acted boldly, writes David Waldstein.
• This is a gamble worth taking for the Mets, writes Joel Sherman.
With Cuddyer leaving and the Rockies netting a draft pick, Jeff Bridich looks great, writes Benjamin Hochman.
• In the first three years of the qualifying offer system, not one of the 34 players has accepted. Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin turned down qualifying offers from the Pirates, who are in position to get two supplemental picks if those players walk away. Nelson Cruz rejected the qualifying offer from the Orioles.
David Robertson’s decision to turn down a qualifying offer might be the most interesting, because he probably won’t be able to get a $15.3 million salary in any forthcoming deal.
“But maybe he can get $30 million over three, or something like that,” one official said.
We’ll see. If the Mets are intent on contending next year, then signing Robertson isn't the craziest idea, considering that they've already surrendered their first-round pick and would lose only their second-round pick if they signed the right-handed closer.
• Melky Cabrera will test the market.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
The White Sox are growing more and more open to trading shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
• Sources indicate the White Sox continue to be very open to the idea of trading 33-year-old shortstop Alexei Ramirez, a deal that would free up $10 million in salary and perhaps net the team some pitching in return. Chicago’s front office loves shortstop Tim Anderson, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, and can envision his promotion sometime in 2015.
White Sox executives do not view this as a rebuilding project.
• The Mets don’t have interest in Alexei Ramirez at this time, and contrary to a published report, sources within the organization say they haven’t had dialogue with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki -- who would represent enormous risk at this point, given the $118 million owed to him and given his recent hip injury.
One evaluator noted that it would be hard for any team to invest in Tulowitzki without seeing him play next year. “We would need a lot more information,” the evaluator said. “We would need to see him on the field, healthy.”
• The continued refrain from rival evaluators who’ve had conversations with the Phillies:
They’re going to move Ryan Howard, one way or another, no matter what it takes.
Reportedly, the Phillies and Royals are talking.
The bottom line is that if the Phillies turn him into a $5 million-to-$8 million a year player for some other team, by eating dollars and not asking for anything significant in return, then his power will look attractive. Remember, Mike Arbuckle -- a senior adviser for the Royals -- knows Howard well from his days with the Phillies.
• The Royals could target Ervin Santana, who rejected the Braves’ qualifying offer.
• Wrote here last week about how great a fit Hanley Ramirez would be for the Seattle Mariners. If the price is right, that is. And it’s worth remembering, as the Mariners are linked to Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz, etc., the Mariners are serial market flirts. They talk with everyone.
Either way, Ramirez’s rejection of the qualifying offer all but makes it official: He’ll never play with the Dodgers again.
• As expected, Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom took the rookie prizes from their respective leagues.
• Jose Abreu’s season could tee up the next prospect from Cuba, Yasmani Tomas.
• It’s semi-official: Jake Peavy is buying a cable car and turning it into a bar.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Major League Baseball has started the formal process of investigating the Cubs for tampering with Joe Maddon. The Cubs welcome the investigation, says Theo Epstein.
2. The Rays are talking with Barry Larkin and Doug Glanville about their managerial opening.
3. Jim Riggleman was promoted to third-base coach.
4. The Padres promoted Mark Conner.
5. The Angels signed Vinnie Pestano, which may or may not be an offseason highlight for them.
• Jeremy Hellickson is on the radar of the Diamondbacks.
• The Rockies are looking to upgrade their rotation.
• The Cardinals might seek a quick fix, writes Derrick Goold. He mentions the possibility of the Cardinals pursuing Andrew Miller, which would be a great fit for a whole lot of reasons -- the fact that he’s left-handed, the makeup of the rest of the St. Louis bullpen, etc.
• Andrew McCutchen discussed his legacy.
• The Reds' search for an outfielder is just beginning.
• The Marlins are unlikely to pursue big-ticket free agents, writes Clark Spencer.
• John Hart should deal Evan Gattis and both Uptons, writes Jeff Schultz.
• The Rangers might have a solution to an annual conundrum, writes Evan Grant.
• The Astros are talking about a win-now approach. Francisco Liriano is on their radar and remember, their first-round pick is protected (assuming they don’t lose it through an administrative grievance, in the murk of a 2014 draft issue that apparently has not been resolved).
• Trading Ian Kinsler could be an option for the Tigers, writes Lynn Henning.
• Is it time for the Indians to make a move?
• Cleveland already has the makings of an excellent pitching staff in 2015. The Indians are looking for pitching.
• Brian Cashman wouldn’t address the topic of Alex Rodriguez.
• Getting a front-line pitcher in a trade won’t be easy for the Red Sox.
• The Blue Jays are taking a lot of meetings. The question is: Is the Toronto interest serious, or do the Blue Jays actually have little money to spend and are just doing due diligence?
• Dan Duquette was named Executive of the Year.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Trade: Cards go all-in, Braves get younger.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Monday's trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves indicates the Cardinals are going all-in for 2015.
Jason Heyward is just a year from free agency, but that one year will be a very valuable one, even if he just maintains the status quo. Getting away from the parade of dubious hitting coaches he worked with in Atlanta may help him unlock the still-untapped reserve of superstar potential in his bat.
Heyward consistently rates among the majors' best defensive outfielders in terms of both advanced defensive metrics and traditional evaluations. A decent center fielder in high school, he outgrew the position but maintains the athleticism and strong reads that allowed him to play there as an amateur. He's a smart, disciplined hitter who gets on base at a good clip and doesn't strike out excessively. He did have some trouble maintaining a consistent swing around some shoulder issues; he often cuts off his load, producing too many ground balls with a shorter swing path.
Oscar Taveras' death last month left the Cardinals without a clear right fielder for 2015, and this move locks down the position for just $7.8 million, making the team four or five wins better right away. It also gives the team the chance to work with Heyward and see if they can make him the MVP candidate most folks (myself included) expected him to become.
The Cardinals also get two years' worth of right-handed reliever Jordan Walden, who throws a heavy mid-90s fastball and has developed a plus slider. According to pitch f/x data from baseballsavant.com, hitters swung and missed at one of every five sliders Walden threw in 2014 and put just 1.4 percent of them in play for hits. It's an ugly delivery, and he always has had command issues, but I believe the Cardinals have some kind of special fairy dust they sprinkle on relievers to get a little extra something out of them. And even if I just made that up, he'll give them 50 to 60 above-average innings of late-game relief work.
[+] EnlargeShelby Miller
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Atlanta-bound Shelby Miller posted a 2.92 ERA after the All-Star break in 2014.
For their trouble, the Braves get two premium young arms, one ready to step right into their rotation and one who immediately becomes the best pitching prospect in their farm system. Shelby Miller now has two solid, healthy seasons as a major league starter and won't be eligible for arbitration until after 2015.
He seemed to find the perfect formula for his pitch mix in the second half of last season, working in his curveball more and using the four-seamer less; in turn he missed more bats, got more called strikes and cut his walk rate substantially. He's a mid-rotation starter at worst, as long as he stays healthy, and given his delivery and the evolution of his approach, I believe he can end up as a solid No. 2 starter.
Tyrell Jenkins was the No. 74 prospect for me going into the 2012 season, then shoulder injuries robbed him of much of that season and 2013. But he came back healthy this year and was one of the best prospects in the Arizona Fall League. When I saw him there in October, he was 93-96 mph with a good downhill plane, turning the pitch over quite well even at 95 mph, and generating lots of ground balls. His slider was plus at 83-87 mph, with curveball depth, and actually got sharper into his second and third innings. His changeup was fringy, straight at 86-88 mph, and effective because his delivery of the pitch is close to his fastball delivery, but lacking any life or action.
He's as strong as ever, and his shoulder is the healthiest it has been in more than two years. A former three-sport star who had a football scholarship to Baylor, he repeats his delivery very well and has the aggressiveness you'd expect (and want) to see from a former quarterback. He immediately becomes the Braves' top pitching prospect and should be ready to begin 2015 in Double-A.
The trade makes a ton of sense for both teams, although it's an acknowledgment on Atlanta's part of the weaknesses of the current roster and farm system and may not read very well to some of their fans. The Cardinals are -- and should be -- in win-now mode; they needed to upgrade their production on the corners and have some pitching depth to play with. As good a prospect as Jenkins is, he has thrown just 215 innings in the past three regular seasons combined and has never pitched a full, healthy season in pro ball. They can replace Miller in the rotation with one of Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez, assuming Michael Wacha returns healthy to be the fourth starter behind Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and John Lackey, and they have other young arms on the way.
Atlanta was likely to lose Heyward after the season to free agency, and their farm system was left in terrible shape after former general manager Frank Wren's tenure, so this deal helps restock their system with four more years of Miller and potentially six of Jenkins in exchange for one year of Heyward and two of Walden. Atlanta needed to make a trade like this to get younger and extract value from Heyward while they could. The Cardinals didn't have the same urgency, but they strengthened a weak spot on the roster and did so without significantly damaging their future.
Russell Martin will help Jays' young arms.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The market for Russell Martin quickly established itself at the four-year mark for $70 million to $74 million, and the first team to commit to five years seemed likely to get the player. With the Dodgers and Cubs both involved and working with seemingly infinite payrolls, the Jays had to go to five years to have any hope of landing him. They've done that in a deal that pays Martin $82 million.
In practical terms, the Blue Jays gave Martin the Brian McCann deal, without the vesting option and without any accounting for inflation since last winter. McCann projected as a much better offensive player going into last winter, but was nowhere near the the defender Martin is and has less of a chance to remain a full-time catcher through the end of his contract. Five years is a long time for any non-star player, but Martin, who turns 32 in February, wasn't signing for four, and the annual salary here is reasonable.
[+] EnlargeRussell Martin
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Russell Martin was the clear top option among free-agent catchers.
Martin has worked to change his approach since his pull-happy years in the Bronx, in particular eschewing power to use the whole field more and hit for a higher BABIP, while also improving his approach with two strikes. I don't think he's likely to keep his BABIP above .330, but he walks often enough to be an average to above-average offensive catcher, which would make him worth $15 million or so a year even with just solid-average defense.
He's a great athlete who ranks highly in pitch-framing, but also gets very high marks in difficult-to-quantify aspects of catching such as game calling and working with young pitchers. Those facets of the game are particularly important to a Jays franchise that likely will have four very promising young pitchers -- Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison and Daniel Norris -- on their major league roster from 2015 forward, with another wave of talented arms (Jeff Hoffman, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro) on its way. Those aspects are hard to value because they're hard to measure, but the size of this deal doesn't reflect any overpayment on that front -- it looks to me more like a bet on health that Martin, who works hard on conditioning, will be able to maintain or slightly increase his catching workload over what he handled the past few years.
This move will probably have general manager Alex Anthopoulos' phone blowing up with inquiries on Dioner Navarro, who has produced 4.6 WAR total the past two seasons and is under contract for 2015 at just $5 million. Navarro has a good approach at the plate with some pop and gets great marks for his preparation and instincts, especially in game calling, although he graded out poorly in pitch-framing in 2014. Toronto doesn't have to trade him, and could use him as a backup to Martin, who gets some time at DH, but I think the potential for Navarro to start for other clubs makes him more valuable to the Jays as trade bait.
The signing also gives Max Pentecost, one of the Jays' two first-round picks in 2014, more time to develop and get healthy, as he had surgery last month to repair a partially torn labrum in a shoulder. His bat may be ready before his glove, but the Jays could have him work as an understudy to Martin for a year or so, if that's the case.
I'm sure there will be fans thrilled that the Jays signed a Canadian player, but there are no extra points in baseball for winning with players from the team's media market, just for winning, and Martin will help the Jays do that, probably an extra two wins a year over what they got from Navarro just with on-field production. If he's worth as much in working with pitchers, especially young ones, as his reputation implies, he'll be worth even more than that by making the Stromans and Norrises even more valuable while he's there.
The real concern should be where this deal goes if Martin's body breaks down under the strain of catching; at another position, he'll be an expensive role player at age 36 or 37, and the Jays are probably making this investment hoping he'll lead them to the playoffs in the next two years so the end of the contract isn't so burdensome.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and Dodgers are both left looking for an everyday catcher in a free-agent market that doesn't have another one to give. That should increase trade interest in Navarro, Houston's Jason Castro (now that it has acquired Hank Conger and already has Max Stassi), Boston's Christian Vazquez (an elite defensive catcher with good contact skills but no power), or even Arizona's Miguel Montero, although his production the past two years doesn't match the $40 million he's owed through 2017. One of those teams might look for a one-year stopgap like Geovany Soto and then try to go all-in on Matt Wieters when he hits the market next winter.
Hellickson a poor fit for Diamondbacks.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Arizona Diamondbacks desperately need starting pitching, Wade Miley was their only bona-fide major league starter who'll be fully healthy coming into 2014 when the offseason began. Trading for Jeremy Hellickson seems like the right idea poorly executed, as Hellickson is just about to get expensive and isn't a great fit for the team they have on the field.
Hellickson is a strike-thrower, throwing four pitches (two- and four-seamers, curveball, changeup), none of them plus, with good feel for pitching. His arm seemed to work well, but he had minor elbow surgery that cost him more than half of 2014 and wasn't very good after he came back. He also didn't have much deception in the delivery to keep hitters off his fastball, which lacks life and is where he gets hurt the most. He's now moving to one of the worst defensive teams in the majors, and to a hitter's park where his propensity to give up home runs might hurt him more. If he can give Arizona 170-plus innings, which he did for Tampa Bay for three straight years before 2014, he might be worth the $5 million or so he makes this year but probably not the money he'll make the year after, given the hit his superficial stats are likely to take. To get the right return, they'll have to alter his entire pitching plan to be less fastball-centric.
The trade allows the Rays to dump some salary and clear a 40-man spot while adding two second-tier prospects to the system. Andrew Velazquez is of higher probability among the two. A second baseman drafted out of Fordham Prep High School in New York (when Arizona's New England area scout Todd Donovan was the only guy in the area on him) in the seventh round in 2012, Velazquez is a scrappy middle infielder with speed and instincts but whose short swing hasn't produced the high contact rates it should. He's strong for his size but, at just 5-foot-8, isn't going to be a huge power hitter, so he'll have to hit for average to profile as an everyday player.
Outfielder Justin Williams is the lottery ticket, a 19-year-old outfielder who has one above-average tool, grade-70 raw power, although it hasn't shown up in pro ball yet. (He won the home run derbies at both the Perfect Game All-American Classic and the Under Armour Classic in August of 2012.) A bad defensive infielder in high school, Williams will probably settle into left field and is going to have to hit his way to the majors. Despite a max-effort swing that can get very long, he has hit .351/.401/.461 so far in pro ball with maybe two-thirds the strikeout rate I would have forecast for him. Tampa Bay's farm system is down right now, and injecting the D-backs' top-two teenaged position-player prospects will be a big help.
• The Chicago Cubs are already in the penalty box for the current international (July 2) free agency season, so the bonus pool slots they dealt to the Atlanta Braves for Tommy La Stella were an odd sort of currency -- useful to other clubs, but valueless to the Cubs themselves. So they used them to acquire some depth at second base, adding Tommy La Stella, although it's hard to see him finding much of a role given all of the Cubs' other young infielders. La Stella has one potentially above-average tool -- hitting -- with a simple, hard, flat swing that has always produced strong contact rates. He's a below-average to fringe-average defender, a below-average runner, and that no-load swing is going to produce ground balls more than power.
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
New Cubs second baseman Tommy La Stella boasts an above-average hit tool.
Atlanta gets Arodys Vizcaino back for the second time, although now he's an oft-injured relief prospect rather than a kid with top-of-the-rotation potential. They first acquired Vizcaino in the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees, but a few months after he had Tommy John surgery they shipped him to the Cubs in a deadline deal for Paul Maholm. He came back this year and threw 46 innings, just five in the majors, and never pitched on back-to-back days. The real return for Atlanta here is the $832,000 in added international bonus pool money they acquired, while only giving up a player with no real future on their roster. The future at second base is top prospect Jose Peraza, a much better defender and runner than La Stella who projects to get on base at a better clip as well, making this deal a no-brainer for the club.
• Atlanta also traded minor league outfielder Kyle Wren to the Milwaukee Brewers for 20-year-old right-hander Zach Quintana. If Wren's name seems familiar, that's because he was drafted by his father, former GM Frank Wren, or more specifically by Wren's longtime friend Tony Demacio. When Atlanta fired Frank Wren, Kyle filled his Twitter feed with retweets of others criticizing the move, which probably sealed Kyle's fate in the organization. He's a plus runner with good instincts but has grade-30 power and profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Quintana is a sub-6-foot right-hander with mid-90s velocity and horrible performance in pro ball.
I saw him in high school and liked the arm but couldn't see him as a starter due to the lack of downhill plane. The Brewers used him as a swingman in 2014, probably figuring he was just an organizational arm at this point -- and that may be right, in which case trading him for someone with a chance to reach the majors makes sense. Kyle's time in Atlanta was over anyway, and it was best for him and the team to make a move. The real lesson here: Don't draft the GM's son.
• Right-hander A.J. Burnett declined his $12.75 million player option with the Philadelphia Phillies to go pitch for a contender, crossing the big empty space in the middle of Pennsylvania to go to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $4.25 million less on another one-year deal. Burnett was kind of terrible for the Phillies last year, soaking up innings but preventing far fewer runs than he did in his two strong years for the Pirates; his velocity has dipped, so he's not missing as many bats, and he doesn't generate as many ground balls either.
There's real risk here, but ZiPS has him worth about 2 WAR in a neutral environment over 177.2 innings, which would make him a steal for the Bucs. It's also possible that Burnett changed his approach and started pitching away from contact more because he was playing in front of a poor defense after two years in front of a great one -- not only do the Pirates have better fielders than the Phillies, but they are among the best in the game at positioning defenders -- and he'll regain some lost value by returning to Pittsburgh. The Pirates needed two starters to replace the losses of Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, so this fills a critical need without committing them to a long-term deal. The only losers here are the Phillies, who have to be humiliated by a pitcher taking a 33 percent pay cut to play for another club, especially one who has more or less limited his options to clubs in the mid-Atlantic region.
• I posted a brief news story the other day on Yoan Moncada getting clearance from MLB to become a free agent, subject to the CBA's restrictions on international amateurs (the “July 2” group), and when he is cleared by OFAC as well I'll have more to say about him. I spoke to several scouts who attended the workout he held on Wednesday (while I was on vacation) in Guatemala City, and the reaction was positive. All said he ran sub-6.6 times in the 60, surprisingly fleet for a player of his size, and had a good left-handed swing with plus raw power. No one believed he'd stay at shortstop; either second or third base is the likely destination. His right-handed swing isn't as good, and scouts were floored by how physical he already is at 19. Everyone said he's above-average, but ranged from saying he'd be the first overall pick in the June draft to calling him a Day 1 guy who projects as “just” an above-average regular. Even that latter description probably makes him a $20 million guy, and he's going to get a lot more than that once he's completely free to sign.
Thoughts on Cuddyer, V-Mart and more.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Michael Cuddyer was just 48th in my ranking of the top 50 free agents; he's a broken-down 35-year-old (36 in March) outfielder who can no longer play that position and is probably just suited for platoon duty. The Rockies shocked most of the industry by making him a qualifying offer, running the risk of paying him $15.3 million when his production was extremely likely to be worth less than half that. The Mets, undaunted, decided to double-down on this insanity by giving Cuddyer a two-year, $20 million contract and giving up the 15th pick in the 2015 draft, in effect paying Cuddyer about four times any reasonable estimate of his value while totally misunderstanding where their roster is.
Cuddyer's list of problems as a player is lengthy, but the biggest one is that he's no longer an outfielder in anything but name. Between his age, injuries and the fact he was never that good on defense to begin with, he's the worst outfielder to spend any significant time out there in the majors over the past two years. He has become extremely injury-prone, qualifying for the batting title just once in the three years he spent in Colorado -- and producing roughly 4 WAR in total -- and playing in only 49 games last year. He didn't suddenly become a better hitter over those two years, despite the superficial stats and the batting-average title in 2013. He went to Denver, and he's probably going to leave most of that success behind when he heads for Queens. What Cuddyer really is at this point is a platoon first baseman, a partner for Lucas Duda, but not a $10 million player and certainly not worth giving up a mid-first-round draft pick for, let alone doing all of that in one deal.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections have Cuddyer worth just 1.1 WAR in total over the two seasons of the deal, and they actually have him slipping below replacement level in 2017. The Mets are saying they believe that projection is off by a factor of four or more, and I don't think there's any way that the rational side of the Mets' front office could accept that. It was a stupid, rash move, one where a positive return on investment is so improbable that it's hard to fathom a team run by Sandy Alderson making it, especially when they're still at a point when they should be stockpiling prospects, not to mention they've done very well with recent first-round picks under scouting director Tommy Tanous.
It's a rare misstep for a front office that has slowly turned the franchise around while dealing with ownership's penury, but a damaging one nonetheless.
Blue Jays-Tigers trade
The Blue Jays and Tigers made a minor deal this week, Toronto sending outfielder Anthony Gose to Detroit for minor leaguer Devon Travis, a deal I characterized on Twitter as a failed prospect (Gose) for a non-prospect (Travis).
Gose has two plus tools in his running speed and throwing arm, and he has become an above-average defender in center field, but despite the Blue Jays completely overhauling his swing after acquiring him from Houston before the 2011 season, he never has developed any kind of pitch recognition or two-strike approach. He's a useful fourth outfielder at this point, but young enough that you might hold out some hope for his ability to get on base and put the speed to work.
Travis is just a few months younger than Gose and has yet to reach Triple-A; he's a below-average defender at second base, and his bat doesn't profile anywhere else he might play. He has leaky hips and starts his swing from a dead stop with his hands loaded low, making up for it a bit with strength, something that won't work as well against major league pitching.
I'd rather roll the dice on Gose, since the players are the same age and Gose's tools can already give him some value off the bench. But he was about to be pushed out of Toronto anyway by the emergence of Dalton Pompey, who already can do most of what Gose does and has a lot more growth potential on offense.
Detroit signs V-Mart
The Tigers also handed out … well, let's call it what it is: They gave what is, in effect, a two-year, $68 million deal to Victor Martinez, with half of the money deferred until 2017 and 2018. He's very good now, and as GM Dave Dombrowski indicated after the deal was announced, there wasn't an easy replacement for his bat on the market this winter.
The Tigers' window of contention is 2015 and maybe 2016, and that's about it; after that, they might be scary bad, given their very thin farm system and the age of the major league roster. So paying Martinez $17 million to be worth half a win above replacement will just be one of a number of bad deals on the books. It's better to think of it as overpaying to have him now, while they still have a legitimate chance to win the World Series. Either way, it should at least make Tigers fans feel better about it.
Pirates-Yankees make minor deal
[+] EnlargeFrancisco Cervelli
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Catcher Francisco Cervelli has been lauded for his ability to call a game.
I didn't think much about the swap of Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson until I saw Brandon McCarthy, one of the most openly analytical players in MLB, praise Cervelli's game-calling skills -- and that's one aspect of catching that is extremely difficult to measure or to scout. (It's even worse at the amateur level, where very few coaches allow catchers or pitchers to call their own games, meaning those kids have to learn almost from zero when they reach pro ball.)
If Cervelli is indeed a top-tier game-caller, he might be an average everyday catcher for the Pirates, and he'd be able to do so for very little money. He was superfluous for the Yankees, who have plenty of backup catcher options (including J.R. Murphy), and could use a power lefty like Wilson, who has stuff but not command, as another project for their bullpen.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Could Tigers and Scherzer reunite?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
Last Friday, the Detroit Tigers completed a $68 million, four-year deal with Victor Martinez that will keep the heart of their lineup intact going forward. Will they end up doing the same for their rotation by bringing back Max Scherzer to the clubhouse as well?
According to Jason Beck of MLB.com, the Detroit Tigers are not yet out of the conversation for their free agent ace: "Both team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski and Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, made statements over the last few days that sound more open to revisiting the situation. While nobody is calling it an outright pursuit, nobody has declared that it can't happen."
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that "nothing has been decided yet, but it seems the New York Yankees may revisit their initial instinct to largely sit this winter out, at least when it comes to baseball's biggest free agents. They still may do that, but if there's one name that seems to intrigue them it's very likely Scherzer, baseball's leader in wins (55) and strikeouts (723) among all pitchers over the past three seasons."
Tags:Detroit Tigers, Max Scherzer
Can Andrus be moved?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
The Texas Rangers are hoping to add some pitching to their roster this winter, and they seem to have a surplus in the middle infield with Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas. Could they be looking to trade?
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes that "big-market teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and both New York clubs need shortstops, and all three plan on contending in 2015. A team that has a quality shortstop to deal could find itself able to fill more than one need off a single trade. Now, the Rangers just must determine if any of their shortstops has enough value to consummate a deal."
However, Grant goes on to suggest that Elvis Andrus -- the likeliest candidate to get moved -- has practically no value on the trade market: "What's most likely to intrigue (a team like the Yankees) is the possibility of getting (Andrus) at the low, low, low price of what is commonly known as a 'salary dump.' That is, if the Rangers are willing to share the cost... then maybe there are more talks to be had. The Rangers made that deal once. And someday they won't owe the Yankees or Alex Rodriguez any more money."
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels talked about Andrus this week: "Yeah, there's going to be speculation, that's the nature of the business and the nature of our side of the business and (the media's) side of the business. Nothing you can really do about that. We are obviously committed to Elvis both figuratively and literally. He's 25, 26 years old, and this guy's best baseball is ahead of him."
Is Daniels being honest here, or is he just trying to inflate his young shortstop's trade value? Only time will tell.
Tags:Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus, Luis Sardinas
Will Cubs continue to chase catchers?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
How quickly things can change during baseball's offseason. On Monday morning, we wrote that things "were looking good" for the Chicago Cubs and their pursuit of free agent Russell Martin. However just a few hours later, the Toronto Blue Jays swooped in and snatched up the catcher. So what do the Cubs do now?
ESPN.com's Buster Olney suggests that if the Cubs want a veteran backstop, Miguel Montero may be the answer: "The Diamondbacks are looking to dump his salary -- he is owed $40 million over the next three seasons -- and if there is some sort of a buy-down, or swap of bad contract-for-bad contract (Edwin Jackson?), maybe he would be a fit... Whether it’s Montero or somebody else, the Cubs must now try to find someone in what is a very thin market for catchers."
However, ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers doesn't think the Cubs need to panic at the catcher position, and should devote their attention elsewhere: "So the bottom line is if Martin's name never came up and the Cubs went to camp with Wellington Castillo as the starter no one would blink an eye. But of course it's the front office’s job to get better. And so now the Cubs have to turn elsewhere -- perhaps in pitcher Jon Lester's direction -- to improve."
That seems to be a sentiment shared by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, who writes that "Martin may still be a productive catcher in 2019 at 36, but if you really believe Kyle Schwarber is your future behind the plate, there's no reason to wait until 2020 to find out. Maybe the Cubs truly believe Schwarber will become a left fielder and they'll have to get another catcher anyway, as many surmise. But they keep insisting Schwarber can catch in the majors, so why risk blocking his path in 2017 or '18?"
Tags:Miguel Montero, Kyle Schwarber, Wellington Castillo
What's next for Marlins?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
Now that the Miami Marlins have agreed to terms with Giancarlo Stanton on a $325 million, 13-year contract, will the team stand pat or will they continue to spend money in order to try and field a competitive team for 2015?
As ESPN.com's Jim Bowden puts it rather succinctly, "Stanton is now signed, sealed and delivered, but that doesn't make the team any better for 2015; he was already slated to be there." However, Bowden believes that the Marlins "are committed to adding another top starting pitcher and are said to be already involved in negotiations with free-agent pitcher James Shields, who just helped lead the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years."
According to the Miami Herald, owner Jeffrey Loria may not be done spending. "We can afford it. We are going to surround (Stanton) with an improved lineup as well. We need another bat in this lineup that can help him out." Could that bat be Pablo Sandoval?
In early October, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald first floated the idea: "If the Marlins can somehow lure Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in free agency, they would be more likely to keep Casey McGehee at third, where he led the league in fielding percentage, and use Sandoval at first than vice versa... Though the Marlins would consider signing a free agent left fielder and moving Christian Yelich to first as a last resort, Yelich said he wants to remain in left. The Marlins' preference is to sign a first baseman who could replace Garrett Jones."
If the Boston Red Sox can't sell the free agent during his visit this week, perhaps the Marlins will jump in?
Tags:Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton, James Shields, Pablo Sandoval
Heyward gone, Upton next?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
On Monday, the Atlanta Braves traded away outfielder Jason Heyward as part of a four player deal that could well indicate the team is about to enter a sort of fire sale mode for 2015.
As Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes, the Braves are "definitely not done" dealing and believes that Justin Upton and Evan Gattis might both be traded at some point this winter."
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said one of the reasons for trading Heyward was the length of his contract: "I certainly recognize what an outstanding player Jason is. We would have loved to retain him, but my sense was Jason was going to be out on the free-agent market next year."
ESPN.com's David Schoenfield notes that "Like Heyward, Justin Upton will be a free agent after the 2015 season, so there's no reason to keep him on the roster unless you sign him to a long-term extension (or if you think you're a playoff contender, but the Heyward trade signifies that the Braves don't view themselves as contenders in 2015)."
Tags:Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis
Blue Jays next moves?
November, 18, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
The Toronto Blue Jays made quite the splash on Monday when news of a five-year, $82 million deal with catcher Russell Martin, pending results of a physical, came out. And even though the price tag was fairly high, the team may not yet be done making moves.
ESPN.com's Keith Law thinks that "this move will probably have general manager Alex Anthopoulos' phone blowing up with inquiries on Dioner Navarro, who has produced 4.6 WAR total the past two seasons and is under contract for 2015 at just $5 million... Toronto doesn't have to trade him, and could use him as a backup to Martin, who gets some time at DH, but I think the potential for Navarro to start for other clubs makes him more valuable to the Jays as trade bait."
Jeff Blair of Sportsnet reports that Toronto are also being "very aggressive" in their pursuit of Andrew Miller, who would presumably end up being the team's closer if he joins the bullpen. Miller is believed to be seeking a four-year contract and has no shortage of suitors, but perhaps the Blue Jays will end up adding on a fifth year to this offer, too, in order to seal the deal.
Buster Olney of ESPN.com points out that the Martin signing probably means the team will no longer be pursuing the return of Melky Cabrera, but even though the Jays will "lose a (draft) pick by signing Martin, (they'll) gain one if Melky signs elsewhere."
Tags:Toronto Blue Jays, Andrew Miller, Dioner Navarro
Will Cubs continue to deal?
November, 17, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
Although the Chicago Cubs did just make a deal for second baseman Tommy La Stella, that should not be seen as a precursor to another move that would allow them to trade away their already strong depth in the middle infield -- that is, if you believe team president Theo Epstein.
"Sometimes you have to acquire guys that can get on-base. It's something we needed," Hoyer said while downplaying the chances of more moves to come.
But, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, "No team has as many well-regarded position prospects as Chicago. Because a few already have climbed into the majors, there is a perception the Cubs will now make an impact in free agency, particularly for starting pitching and catcher Russell Martin, or in the trade market by using the prospects. The rumor of the Cubs trading a shortstop -- Starlin Castro, Addison Russell or Javier Baez -- for a Mets starter such as Zack Wheeler or Jacob deGrom just won't die."
According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, "The Cubs have stated that they expect Baez to be their starting second baseman but have made no secret of their pursuit of impact starting pitching... The Cubs (could) clear more financial space to acquire a starting pitcher by trading Castro, who has five years and $43 million left on his contract."
Tags:Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella
Braves seeking short-term 2B solution?
November, 17, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
The Atlanta Braves acquired relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for second baseman Tommy La Stella on Saturday. While the bullpen help is certainly a positive, the second base situation in Atlanta for 2015 got even cloudier as a result of the trade.
As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, "Jose Peraza is the Braves' second baseman of the future, but the Braves would like him to get a little more minor league seasoning and will look to pick up another proven second baseman to get them through all or part of 2015."
O'Brien adds that while the Braves still have Phil Gosselin as an in-house option, the organization is likely to look for "a veteran second baseman on a one-year deal to handle the transition." Rickie Weeks, Emilio Bonifacio or Asdrubal Cabrera could be candidates to fill such a role for the team.
Tags:Atlanta Braves, Rickie Weeks, Jose Peraza
Are Padres players for Panda?
November, 17, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
All eyes will be on Boston this week as free agent Pablo Sandoval is scheduled to meet with the Red Sox, who are expected to make a "strong bid to sign him." However, another team may be ready to make their case to the third baseman.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, you can count on the San Diego Padres to explore the possibility of keeping Sandoval in the National League West: "The Padres are in need of offense, and their third baseman posted a 28th best .613 OPS. They have been more prominently associated with Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, who can play the outfield or possibly the hot corner. But the Padres have seen Sandoval up close... and it's no surprise they like him."
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports that while the Padres "have been consistently linked" to Tomas and have scouted him several times, he has been told that's it's "not a likely fit." That could be a reason for the team to dedicate what free agent dollars they're willing to shell out for 2015 and beyond in an effort to woo Sandoval.
Tags:San Diego Padres, Pablo Sandoval
Looking good for Cubs and Martin?
November, 17, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
It's beginning to look more and more like the Chicago Cubs and free agent Russell Martin are going to come to terms on a contract that would bring the catcher to Wrigley Field through 2018.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, "Executives involved in bidding for Russell Martin believe the Cubs are clear front-runner." He adds that the eventual deal is expected to be in the four-year, $64 million range.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago wrote at the end of the general manager meetings in Arizona that Cubs president Theo Epstein "sounds like a man ready to bring in a veteran for (2014 first-round pick Kyle) Schwarber to learn from" and he expects contract talks to pick up soon.
Epstein said that "Catchers take a little bit longer to develop in the minor leagues, and when they break in, they break in gradually, and it's important for them to have good mentors. It's important not to look at players you love in the minor leagues and start making big league decisions."
Tags:Russell Martin, Kyle Schwarber
Ethier on way out of LA?
November, 17, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that "Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is definitely trading one of his outfielders" and he believes that Andre Ethier will end up being the one to go.
ESPN.com's Buster Olney agrees with Cafardo and tweets that "some rival evaluators believe that the most likely (Dodgers) outfielder to be traded, by far, is Andre Ethier" though he adds that the team will "weigh their options" on all offers that come in.
Cafardo states that Friedman may be partial to keeping Carl Crawford over Ethier, due to their prior relationship when both were in Tampa Bay. In terms of what teams may end up being on the other end of an Ethier deal, the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are being floated as possibilities.
Tags:Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford
Should Red Sox forget Sandoval?
November, 16, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
The Boston Red Sox have been rumored to be "all-in" on free agent Pablo Sandoval, and as Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston reported earlier this week, "the Red Sox might have to outbid the Giants by a significant margin to wrest Sandoval away, but there is little doubt they will make a strong bid to sign him."
However, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald thinks it is pointless for the Red Sox to pursue a slugger like Sandoval when their real issue is in the rotation: "To be blunt, the current Red Sox rotation is in shambles. To be blunter, unless the Red Sox find a way to install at least two Grade A pitchers at the top of the rotation in 2015, they will find themselves in the same state of purgatory they found themselves in 1997, the year they sent Roger Clemens into the twilight (ha!) of his career."
Silverman thinks that the Red Sox need to get at least two pitchers from the quartet of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields and Cole Hamels in order for the team to have a legitimate shot at winning in 2015.
Steve Buckley, also of the Herald, agrees that signing Sandoval may be a mistake: "Sandoval is a marketing dream whose girth makes you wonder if he'll eventually be a baseball ops nightmare. If the Red Sox feel compelled to make a splash, they should incinerate Lester's birth certificate and re-sign the 30-year-old lefty. Such a signing would be grand news to the folks who want only for the Red Sox to get players who have big names . . . but who can also play. And play in Boston."
Tags:Jon Lester, Pablo Sandoval
Rangers not looking to spend?
November, 16, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
The Texas Rangers could be on the sidelines when it comes to making a big splash on the free agent market this offseason -- at least if you believe general manager Jon Daniels when he says they are "not going to be players" on that front.
As Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes, "Daniels, who has balked at free agency early in past offseasons only to later make a significant splash...seems serious this time, especially in light of the Rangers having only $15 million to spend, barring a trade of a high-priced salaried player. But don't expect a trade to come together as quickly as the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler deal did a year ago this week."
Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas says that the priority for the Rangers is clear-cut: "(Daniels) wants another bat, particularly someone who can play left field since Shin-Soo Choo, one of those highly-priced free agents signed last year, could be moving to right. Daniels is open to Mitch Moreland or Jake Smolinski fighting for the job, but if a trade can be made with say San Diego, where old friend A.J. Preller is now the GM, then so be it."
Wilson agrees that the Padres might be a good trade partner for the Rangers, and also thinks that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves are a good fit for a Rangers team with "a glut of middle infielders and also believe they have quality young major leaguers and depth in the minors for teams looking to rebuild or unload."
Tags:Mitch Moreland, Jon Daniels, Jake Smolinski
Did Larkin impress Rays?
November, 16, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rays finished off their first round of interviews for the managerial position left open by Joe Maddon's departure to the Windy City. The final candidate to talk with the team was Barry Larkin.
In the past, Larkin has removed himself from consideration for open jobs because he "wasn't at the point in his life with his family to do so" however as Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times notes, Larkin's youngest child has now graduated from high school.
Topkin says that with the first round complete, "Rays officials are expected to 'take inventory' and decide this week how many to bring back for more in-depth in-person interviews." If Larkin makes this first cut, one would have to believe any questions of commitment are behind him.
The list of other candidates the Rays have interviewed consists of Dave Martinez, Ron Wotus, Kevin Cash, Doug Glanville, Charlie Montoyo, Manny Acta, Don Wakamatsu, Raul Ibanez, and Craig Counsell.
Tags:Tampa Bay Rays, Barry Larkin
Could Johnson return to Padres?
November, 16, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN Insider
After a season that saw Josh Johnson sitting on the sidelines without taking the mound due to reconstructive surgery on his elbow, there's no surprise that the San Diego Padres did not pick up their team option on the pitcher.
However, that doesn't mean the relationship is over. According to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Josh Johnson is "talking to 5-6 teams. Nothing imminent, but the Padres remain his first choice."
Lin's colleague, Kirk Kenney writes that the Padres "still hold out hope that he can be productive, this time at a fraction of the $8 million they spent when he was lost for the year before throwing a pitch. The team declined his $4 million option, but both sides seem interested in working something out."
Other pitchers being mentioned as possible targets for the Padres include Brett Anderson, Aaron Harang and Justin Masterson.