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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 996

post #29851 of 73564
Originally Posted by ooIRON MANoo View Post


If the stars that are playing today can't change it, what makes you think Buxton can?

I don't know.

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aka 651


Vikings | Timberwolves | Mariners | Twins | Huskies


aka 651

post #29852 of 73564
Originally Posted by PacificNorseWst View Post

Byron Buxton about to change all that.

I hope.
Hopefully no freak injuries for him this year.
post #29853 of 73564
Stanton with no trade clause and can opt out after 6 years. eek.gif
post #29854 of 73564

Stanton like my daddy....


curt schilling hating on giancarlo's deal.. 



Let that boy shine

Size 9
Size 9
post #29855 of 73564
Originally Posted by Lightweight Champion View Post

13 years? What's the point? He'll be damn near 40 when it's over and probably useless.

true.. but he 25 now.. 

Size 9
Size 9
post #29856 of 73564
He's prolly going to opt out after 6 years laugh.gif
post #29857 of 73564
o/u amount of times they try to trade him before the contract expires? i'm putting it at 2.
post #29858 of 73564
If Stanton is productive, there's no question he opts out of that contract, just like A-Rod did.
post #29859 of 73564
Thats just an insane amount of money for a team that has a small fanbase.
Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Illini, Fire, Mexico, Man City, Real Madrid
Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Illini, Fire, Mexico, Man City, Real Madrid
post #29860 of 73564
Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

o/u amount of times they try to trade him before the contract expires? i'm putting it at 2.
Wouldn't eem trade deGrom for Stanton straight up. That's bae.
post #29861 of 73564
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

o/u amount of times they try to trade him before the contract expires? i'm putting it at 2.
Wouldn't eem trade deGrom for Stanton straight up. That's bae.
Me either. It isn't worth it honestly.
post #29862 of 73564
Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

Me either. It isn't worth it honestly.

You're joking right? If we'd trade Stanton for deGrom straight up I'd beat my wife Ray Rice my wife
post #29863 of 73564
Originally Posted by h3at23 View Post

You're joking right? If we'd trade Stanton for deGrom straight up I'd beat my wife Ray Rice my wife

Bro, come on haha
post #29864 of 73564
A guy making 30 million a year isn't going to make the Mets a better ball club with deGrom out of the picture.
post #29865 of 73564
Lester meeting with the Braves.
post #29866 of 73564
Suprised how 13 years is far fetched, even after a couple of years after the Reds gave Joey Votto what is basically a 12 year contract.

These deals are always a disaster for the team signing.

First A-Rod deal worked out, but he opted out so it wasn't complete, second one has been a nightmare.
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Instagram: backyardlobo
post #29867 of 73564
Thread Starter 
Been on vacation so you'll get a big update today with a bunch of ****. Sorry for any double posts.
post #29868 of 73564
Originally Posted by ooIRON MANoo View Post

Suprised how 13 years is far fetched, even after a couple of years after the Reds gave Joey Votto what is basically a 12 year contract.

These deals are always a disaster for the team signing.

First A-Rod deal worked out, but he opted out so it wasn't complete, second one has been a nightmare.
and you could argue how much PEDs assisted him.
post #29869 of 73564
post #29870 of 73564
Thread Starter 
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:

Contract extensions

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:

Seattle Mariners

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).

Cleveland Indians

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:

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.

Offseason, indeed.

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.

AL East

• The Red Sox should make a move on Pablo Sandoval, writes Nick Cafardo.

• Cal Ripken talked about J.J. Hardy's defense.

AL Central

• The Royals are looking at Torii Hunter as an everyday player, as part of their outfield and DH mix.

AL West

• Evan Grant examines the Rangers' thinking behind a possible Elvis Andrus trade.

NL East

• 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.

NL West

• 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.

NL West

• The Padres' catchers could be in demand this winter.

NL Central

• Bernie Miklasz looks at Jason Heyward as a trade candidate.

NL East

• A Giancarlo Stanton deal would give Marlins fans reason to believe.

AL West

• New Texas manager Jeff Banister sees good things ahead for the Rangers.

AL Central

• Missed this last week: Aaron Hicks was released from his winter ball team.

AL East

• 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.

AL East

• 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.

AL Central

• 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.

AL West

• The ghost of Tom Hicks follows the Rangers.

NL Central

• A Cardinals prospect is ready to take his shot, writes Derrick Goold.

• Maddon reached out to Rick Renteria, but hasn’t heard back.

NL West

• 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.

NL East

• 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.

NL Central

• 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:

2B Wong
LF Holliday
3B Carpenter
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
CF Jon Jay
RF _____

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.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks may name a director of analytics soon.

• A Rockies pitching prospect is good to go.

AL East

• The Yankees are a mystery even to themselves.

• The Jays’ new second baseman is oozing with talent.

AL Central

• 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.

AL West

• 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.

NL East

• 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.

NL Central

• 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.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks could be competitive in 2015, says Tony La Russa.

• The Rockies want to play meaningful games in September.

AL East

• 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.

AL Central

• The White Sox are exploring the relief market.

AL West

• 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.

NL East

• 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.

NL Central

• 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.

NL West

• Troy Tulowitzki's rehab is progressing well, says Jeff Bridich.

• Daniel Hudson faces some uncertainty.

• The Dodgers have a crowded outfield.

AL Central

• 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.

AL West

• 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.

Michael Cuddyer
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
SS Castro
3B Wright
1B Duda
LF Cuddyer
RF Granderson
CF Lagares
C d'Arnaud

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.

Alexei Ramirez
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.

NL West

• Jeremy Hellickson is on the radar of the Diamondbacks.

• The Rockies are looking to upgrade their rotation.

NL Central

• 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.

NL East

• 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.

AL West

• 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).

AL Central

• 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.

AL East

• 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, 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.

La Stella
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.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Could Tigers and Scherzer reunite?
November, 18, 2014
NOV 18
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, 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
NOV 18
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
NOV 18
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?'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
NOV 18
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'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
NOV 18
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 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."'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
NOV 18
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.'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 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
NOV 17
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
NOV 17
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
NOV 17
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
NOV 17
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
NOV 17
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.'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
NOV 16
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
NOV 16
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
NOV 16
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
NOV 16
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.
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More starting pitching isn't what the Dodgers' need, but if it means they're not improving far be it for me to protest.
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With that backloaded contract Miami is definitely going to try and trade him within the first 3 years. They'll treat him like they did Jose Reyes.
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Waiting to see how much Amaro extracts for the Phils on Hamels. Not a matter of if, but when and how much.
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Stanton will earn just $6.5MM in 2015, $9MM in 2016 and $14.5MM in 2017 before earning $77MM total over the following three seasons. In other words, should he opt out of his deal, he’ll have received $107MM over six years (an AAV of $17.83MM) and be walking away from seven years and $218MM (an AAV of $31.14MM).

If he opts out of the deal, it is a steal for the Marlins. 6 years, $107 mil?

And that is a lot of money to walk away from at the age of 31, but who knows where he will be at that point in his career and what other teams would throw at him.
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Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

Waiting to see how much Amaro extracts for the Phils on Hamels. Not a matter of if, but when and how much.

You're more optimistic than me. Amaro supposedly wants any team that trades for Hamels to give up their top 3 prospects. Supposedly he proposed 2 deals to the Red Sox and they rejected both.


Now there's talk of problems in the front office. On one side you have the team president David Montgomery who was away dealing with cancer but now says he's healthy and wants to come back immediately. He's optimistic about next season and against rebuilding because he thinks they can add pieces to the current team to make them a contender and rebuilding will cause attendance to drop (CBP was already empty last season). On the other side you have interim president Pat Gillick who is all for rebuilding and trading away current players for prospects. Baseball people like and want Gillick in charge, but Montgomery is part owner of the team, and the team's primary owner Bill Giles is friends with Montgomery and prefers having him in charge.

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there's no one you can add to that phillies team and make them a contender. they need to be blown up.
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Dodgers don't need Hamels that much, so don't see them giving up Urias to get him.

Can never have enough arms. A solid SS and a big league catcher should be the focus at the moment. Two things that have been sorely missing the past two years.
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
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Thread Starter 
La Stella Trade Provides Clues to Valuation of Bonus Slots.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Sunday — while much of America watched football, and at least one American (the author, in this case) shopped for boxed wines at a local discount grocer — the Atlanta Braves traded Tommy La Stella to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and the right to spend about $800 thousand more internationally (without penalty) between now and July 2nd.

At face value, and perhaps even below face value, the motivations for the trade are somewhat obscure — insofar, that is, as Chicago very famously has a surplus of promising young infielders while Atlanta, now more than ever, lacks a reliable option at second base. That said, it’s probably wise to proceed with any further consideration of this deal under the assumption that all the actors in it are behaving rationally, as Chicago and Atlanta — in particular with the elevation of John Coppolella’s influence in the latter’s front office — have smart and well-informed decision-makers.

In terms of incentives for making such a trade the Cubs have the most glaringly obvious one. Because they far exceeded their international spending limit in 2013-14, they’re forbidden during the present international signing period from offering more than a $250 thousand bonus to any one prospect. Despite that, however, they were still assessed bonus slots — one for $2.3 million, one for $458 thousand, one for $309 thousand, and so on — like all the other 29 major-league teams. These slots, logic would appear to dictate, have value to the Cubs only as a tradeable asset. Otherwise, they would merely disappear come July 2 of this next year.

So, the Cubs’ impetus for trading their bonus slots is strong. Whatever value could be extracted from them would, in some sense, be surplus value. The surplus value, in this case, takes the form of infielder Tommy La Stella. As a rookie last year, La Stella played in 93 games, 86 of them in a starting capacity at second base for Atlanta. In 360 plate appearances, he recorded an 84 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR, exhibiting — as one would have expected based on his minor-league resume — an advanced approach, limited power, and fringe-average second-base defense.

Steamer projects La Stella to perform better in 2015, calling for a 97 wRC+ and a 1.4 WAR per every 600 plate appearances from La Stella. That’s a nice addition. And because he lacks any sort of carrying tool, he’s more valuable than traditional scouting evaluations would indicate. That said, he’s also unlikely ever to develop into an indispensable starter on a championship-level club — which the Cubs might very well be in the near future. So, despite the fact that he joins a team with a nominally crowded infield — one that includes Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, and Luis Valbuena — there remains no urgency for the Cubs to move anyone via trade to make room for La Stella.

The Cubs have already indicated their comfort with the status quo by converting Arismendy Alcantara to center field. Jed Hoyer spoke to their so-called surplus in further depth with reporters on Sunday, saying “How [all the current infielders] fit may not be clear but that was the case with Chris Coghlan last year and he worked his way into the lineup.” Except for the fact that he’s unable to play shortstop, La Stella has the opportunity to fill a bench role — probably including outfield, at some point — more than competently.

The implications of the trade for Atlanta are slightly more complex, it would seem. For, while the Cubs’ biggest problem might be finding playing time for La Stella, Atlanta now has one fewer second baseman than it used to, and they didn’t have any impact options there to begin with.

As noted above, La Stella made 86 starts at second base last year, with Uggla coming in second place on the club by that measure (with 33) and Phil Gosselin third (17). While Gosselin made the majority of starts down the stretch, that was also during an interval when Atlanta had clearly excused themselves from the the postseason race, when the club’s focus might have been less on winning ball games and more on examing what the organization featured in terms of talent.

La Stella was an improvement over Uggla insofar as he wasn’t actively losing games for the club. And even if he’s projected to improve upon his 2014 figures, he remains unlikely to produce markedly above-average numbers. If the Braves front office is hoping for that, La Stella isn’t the answer.

The answer probably isn’t in the system, either — at least not for the 2015 iteration of the Braves. Here are the four players currently on Atlanta’s 40-man roster who are also capable of playing second base — plus also Jose Peraza, who’s been mentioned by name as another candidate:
Jose Peraza 600 .268 .297 .347 80 -13.9 6.6 1.2
Tyler Pastornicky 600 .258 .306 .351 85 -10.0 -0.4 0.8
Phil Gosselin 600 .260 .300 .350 82 -12.1 1.7 0.8
Ramiro Pena 600 .241 .297 .335 78 -15.5 0.3 0.3
Elmer Reyes 600 .236 .265 .329 65 -23.7 6.6 0.1
Entering just his age-21 season, Peraza already owns the most encouraging projection among this group*. Given that he’s recorded only 200 plate appearances at Double-A or higher, however — and probably requires further time to develop — it’s likely that he’ll spend much of 2015 in the minors. So, unless one of the other four listed takes a significant step forward over the next three months, it’s almost certain that Atlanta will have to address their second-base situation — for 2015, at least — by way of free agency.

*Note, however, that Peraza receives a generic shortstop’s positional adjustment here for his defensive projection, even though he (a) made the majority of starts in 2014 at second base and (b) is likely to play that position as a major leaguer, too. Which is to say: the figure here might be a shade optimistic, even if one assumes that Peraza is a plus defender at second base.

And this is where we can learn something about the extent to which Atlanta values the $832 thousand in international bonus slots they’ve acquired from Chicago. For, if we assume that Atlanta must turn to free agency with a view towards addressing their second-base hole, then we can estimate — in a general way, at least — how much Atlanta values those international picks and/or the flexibility that a larger cap allows them.

We’ll assume, for the moment, that finding a player comparable to La Stella on the open market would cost about $9 million (i.e. 1.5 wins at roughly $6 million a win). Instead of just keeping La Stella, however, the Braves have created a situation where they’re now probably compelled to pay full market value for whatever wins they’ll get out of second base. Whoever that next second baseman is, the Braves will be compensating him not for his full projected win value, but his full projected win value minus the total La Stella would have provided. So a two-win player — likely to be paid $12 million in free agency — would actually be receiving, from Atlanta’ perspective, $12 million for half a win; a three-win player, $18 million for 1.5 wins; a four-win player, $24 million for 2.5 wins; and so on.

In this hypothetical scenario, what this means is that Atlanta values a combination of Arodys Vizcaino and those international bonus slots at something like $9 million. That established, by estimating the value of Vizcaino, we can isolate the likely value of those bonus slots to the Braves. How much do we think? He features promising stuff, but has an injury history and also struggled both with Triple-A and major-league hitters in 2014. Maybe $2 million for a Vizcaino-type? Maybe $1 million? Maybe not even that much?

This is all quite speculative, of course. But even if we think a team would pay $2 million for a year of Arodys Vizcaino, that still leaves about a $7 million surplus — i.e. the price tag on the $832 thousand in bonus slots now available to Braves care of the Cubs. That’s a factor of about 9x — about three times what Dave Cameron has used in off-the-cuff estimates previously.

Of course, those figures are founded on the assumption that Atlanta’s and Steamer’s evaluations of La Stella are identical. It’s very possible they’re not. As noted above, La Stella features little in the way of traditional tools. Kiley McDaniel’s assessment of La Stella features only one grade of 50 or above. The rest are 40s; the Future Value grade, also a 40. That’s about a one-win, bench-type player — and probably not one for whom an exact dollars-to-wins calculation is appropriate. Nick Punto, for example — still projected for 2015 to produce about 1.0 WAR in 600 plate appearances — received $3 million last offseason to fill exactly that kind of infield bench role for Oakland. Performing our speculative arithmetic while valuing La Stella as a $3 million asset instead of a $9 million one — and assuming, meanwhile, that Vizcaino is worth the league minimum — results in a $2.5 million valuation of that $832 thousand in international bonus slots. That’s a factor of about 3x — or the rough figure Cameron has generally used to translate bonus money to open-market dollars.

Regardless of the precise valuation, that money will be appreciated by the club’s overhauled international scouting department. And it appears as though the cost was worth the benefit of that flexibility in this case for Atlanta.

Why Isn’t Jason Heyward a Center Fielder?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
“If he was such a good outfielder, why doesn’t he play center field?” This is a common refrain echoing around the hallways of UZR Incorporated, a not-entirely baseless question that generally pertains to highly rated corner outfielders. If they’re such defensive dynamos, why not put them in the most important outfield position?

Those in the know recognize that their high advanced stat scores are relative to their peers, so a collection of bad outfielders can help prop up a good corner OF glove. But the question still demands an answer, an answer I think it deserves in the case of Jason Heyward – what’s stopping the Cardinals from playing him in center field every day?

In the past, the biggest reasons to keep Heyward in his right field corner related to his teammates. Michael Bourn was in place in for 2011 and 2012 and then the B.J. Upton signing kept Heyward mostly away from center field. The 6’5 Heyward did manage to find some reps in center in 2013, mind you. And when he was there, he did this:

Heyward played in the middle of the outfield for a few weeks at the end of July and then spent more time there at the end of the season and into the playoffs, as Heyward patrolled center field during Atlanta’s four game division series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sunk costs being what they are, Heyward didn’t see his name on the lineup with an “8” beside it once in the 2014 season. But with a new team, might he get the chance to spread his wings in center?

A sneaking suspicion won’t leave me alone when it comes to the reasons Heyward hasn’t got his shot in center field – his height. Keith Law mentioned Heyward “outgrowing” the position in high school and conventional wisdom supports the claim. Only two other players standing 77 inches high or taller qualified for the batting title while playing every day in center field: Von Hayes and Alex Rios. Both players came up as right fielders but, after trades created opportunties, both lanky men got their shot in center.

Hayes was also 25 when he was moved to the Philadelphia Phillies in a huge trade. Hayes was the Phils regular center fielder for three years before he moved to the infield (he was usurped by Milt Thompson, acquired in a deal from the Braves.)

Rios was blocked in center by Vernon Wells during his time in Toronto. After the White Sox claimed him on waivers, he prowled center for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011. Like Heyward, Rios was known as a terrific defensive right fielder with a cannon arm.

Considering the best player in baseball is also a center fielder who has more physically in common with J.J. Watt than A.J. Pollock, there is no reason to think Heyward’s tall frame can’t stand up to the rigors of everyday center field. The days of assigning players positions based on their body types are in the past, aren’t they?

By moving Heyward to center field every day (rather than just the platoon situation Mike Axisa suggests here), the Cardinals would be freed up to move either Peter Bourjos or Jon Jay. Jay is an unusual player, a high average hitter with no power and generally neutral splits; he also plays a nice center field in his own right. Bourjos’ defensive value splits opinions on his ultimate role, as some believe he can fetch a decent return in trade. Randal Grichuk is an interesting player, one the Cardinals do not want to give up on quite yet.

With just one year of Heyward’s services at their disposal, moving Jay might not be an immediate option. But he represents a league-average starting center fielder, one who sprays line drives around the field in a distinctly Cardinalsy fashion. But the drop off, as projected by Steamer, between Jay and the twosome that would replace him (Grichuk/Bourjos) is quite steep.

Jon Jay 551 7 .278 .345 .379 .322 106
Randal Grichuk 222 7 .241 .282 .401 .300 91
Peter Bourjos 248 5 .236 .296 .364 .294 87
Bourjos’ defensive reputation suggests that, given a full season of playing time, his glove makes him nearly Jay’s overall equal at the everyday center fielder (2.2 WAR for Jay versus 2.1 WAR for Bourjos), though the Cardinals might not withstand the offensive drop-off on a team predicated upon contact and long rallies. Throwing the position over to Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty involves a great deal of risk for a deal clearly built to win now.

Heyward’s superlative defense gives the Cardinals flexibility more than anything else. The flexibility to make a move with one of their cost-controlled outfielders or the flexibility to seek further upgrades in the outfield.

The knock on Heyward is he doesn’t hit like a corner outfielder, which is to say he doesn’t hit like many expect him to hit. While a breakout at the plate appears possible, his current offensive line might suit him better in the middle of the diamond, where his defense can truly shine.

The makeup of the Cardinals roster doesn’t necessarily give the Cardinals much reason to experiment with Heyward in center, though he could probably handle the position just fine. In 2013, the team won 90 games with a far, far worse defensive player taking the majority of CF reps. If the Cardinals are really going for it in 2015, they can certainly pursue moves to upgrade other positions with their glut of center fielders, knowing Heyward is back there. At the very least, it’s something to consider. If Piscotty or Grichuk force the issue, it’s a nice luxury to room for a great defender to allow more offense into the mix.

Estimating Jason Heyward’s Next Contract.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In yesterday’s write-up of the Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller trade, I wrote this:

Because of how quickly he got to the big leagues, Heyward is in line to hit free agency after his age-25 season, and he’s going to have roughly +25 career WAR when he reaches the open market. Barring a disastrous 2015 season, he’s going to get paid, and you can be certain that his agents will be pointing to the 13 year, $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton has agreed to as the new precedent. Sure, Heyward isn’t going to get 13/$325M, given the massive differences in power, but it seems likely that he’ll demand a deal that starts at 10 years and goes north of $200 million.

Robinson Cano got $240 million as a similarly valuable player entering his age-31 season; Heyward might not have Cano’s offensive track record, but he’s going to be selling his prime years, and the deal won’t extend into the period of his career where you’d expect him to essentially be worthless. If the Cardinals want to lock up Heyward before he gets to free agency, it’s probably going to take something like the contract they refused to give Albert Pujols. Maybe they might be able get him to take a slight pre-free agent discount and get him for 9/$200M or something in that range, but let’s dispel the notion that the Cardinals are going to be able to sign Heyward for anything other than a mountain of cash.

Which generated a lot of responses like this.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 9.59.51 AM

Since I basically just made the claim without any evidence to support it, I figure it’s on me to actually back up my assertion. So, let’s go through and see if we can estimate what Jason Heyward’s market price would be as a free agent next winter.

The primary assertion against that kind of valuation is that teams simply don’t pay for defense the same way they do for offense, and that assertion it’s true. There’s absolutely a premium paid for power hitting in free agency, and Heyward doesn’t have the kind of skillset that other $200 million players have had. If we want to estimate what a good bat/great glove corner outfielder is going to get, we need to look beyond what guys like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Robinson Cano signed for. We need to look at how the market has paid this kind of player before.

Thankfully, Heyward’s skillset isn’t really all that unique. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a pretty decent number of players who achieved their value through similar methods. For instance, here are Heyward’s career numbers in a table with the the performances of four other similar outfielders, up to the point at which they reached free agency.

Name PA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR OFF/600 DEF/600 WAR/600
Jason Heyward 2,819 117 14 70 46 21 15 10 4.6
Carl Crawford 3,784 116 48 120 37 29 19 6 4.5
Carlos Beltran 3,911 112 41 100 56 29 15 9 4.4
Ichiro Suzuki 5,180 117 39 149 54 37 17 6 4.3
Jacoby Ellsbury 3,839 109 44 83 50 27 13 8 4.3
There are some differences, certainly, but overall, they all established themselves as something like +4.5 WAR/600 PA players in their pre-free agent careers, and they all did it with positive contributions from their bat, their feet, and their gloves. If you prefer to look at the more narrow window of a player’s final three years before free agency, Heyward’s 2012-2014 numbers still measure up remarkably well with this group, especially Crawford’s final three years in Tampa.

Name PA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR OFF/600 DEF/600 WAR/600
Jason Heyward 1740 116 10 43 43 15 15 15 5.1
Carl Crawford 1817 118 22 60 33 16 20 11 5.2
Since it’s the closest match, let’s deal with the Crawford comparison for now, and we’ll circle back to the others in a minute. Crawford hit the market after his age-28 season and signed a seven year deal for $142 million, which is in line with what several people in the comments suggested they think Heyward should sign for. Only $142 million in 2010 is not the same thing as $142 million in 2014. If we think Crawford is a good stand-in for Heyward’s market value, then we have to bring Crawford’s value into present day dollars. Actually, we have to bring them into 2015 dollars, since that’s when Heyward is hitting free agency, so Heyward will hit the open market with five years of inflation between his deal and Crawford’s contract with Boston.

Rather than turn this into another post about the different ways of calculating the market price of a win, let’s just take the simple route and look at the total spending differences in MLB payrolls during that time. Crawford’s deal began in 2011, when the total of all 30 MLB payrolls was $2.78 billion. Last year, MLB was at $3.45 billion, and they’re already at $3.1 billion for 2015 without including any of the free agent contracts. 2015 league payrolls are going to end up around $3.7 billion or so, most likely, so the league will have seen roughly 37 percent more money going to players since Crawford’s deal was signed.

If you simply scale Crawford’s annual salary to match current spending levels, his $20 million AAV becomes $25 million to keep pace with inflation. If we assume that he’d be able to command the same contract length, Crawford’s inflation-adjusted price becomes 7/$175M. And Crawford was selling his 29-35 seasons; Heyward is going to be three year’s younger than Crawford was when he hit the open market, and very likely will have little interest in a seven year deal. If we’re going to use Crawford as an example of Heyward’s market value, then we essentially have to admit that Crawford is evidence that Heyward is likely to land a deal in excess of $200 million as a free agent, even if he just takes the same inflation-adjusted AAV and adds an extra year.

But, of course, a lot of people hated the Crawford contract at the time, and it’s just one deal. So, let’s look at the others.

Carlos Beltran got $17M per year when total league payroll was $2.18 billion. If we translate that into a $3.7 billion spending economy, Beltran’s $17M per year turns into $28.8 million per year; Beltran also got seven years, starting with his age-28 season.

Ichiro Suzuki got $18M per year when league payroll was $2.69 billion. In a $3.7 billion economy, that turns into $24.8M per year. Ichiro only got five years, but the contract began when he was 34, and his three most recent seasons averaged about +4 WAR per 600 PA, about a win less than Heyward’s three most recent seasons. Ichiro was a decade older and well into his decline phase, and he still got the equivalent of $25 million per year.

Ellsbury’s the easiest one of all, given that he just signed last year, so we don’t have to inflate his salary all that much. Adjusting upwards slightly, his $22M per season becomes about $23M per year. Ellsbury got seven years starting with his age-30 season.

Four very similar players to Heyward, skills and value wise. The inflation-adjusted salaries put them squarely in the $23 to $28 million per year range. Even if you don’t think Heyward is as good as these guys, you could essentially perform the same exercise with Vernon Wells or Torii Hunter, and you’ll get the same results, essentially. $18-$20 million per year, even four or five years ago, is $25+ million per year in today’s dollars.

And then there’s the age factor. Assuming Heyward’s market value in 12 months is roughly the same as it is now, he’s not settling for a seven year deal. Heyward’s going to be looking for 8-10 years at around that $25 million per year AAV, and that’s assuming he doesn’t have a breakout season. If he does, and he hits for power again, the price might get near $30 million per year, or push to 12 years if teams would rather inflate the contract length rather than the annual salary.

His 2015 performance will go a long way to determining which side of the $200 million coin Heyward falls on. If he struggles with injuries or continues to be a slightly above average hitter, maybe he’ll settle for $175-$200 million, basically just taking the Ellsbury contract and adding a year or two in length. If he hits as he has through his career, I’m guessing $225-$250 million is probably more likely, as he’ll aim for something like the Robinson Cano contract. If he has a breakout year and becomes the hitter that people have been projecting, then $300 million isn’t out of the question. At that point, he’s a a younger version of what Beltran was, but still heading into his prime years, and would easily be the most coveted free agent in years.

This is why the Braves traded him. It’s why I doubt the Cardinals will get him to sign a long-term deal any time soon. They have a history of getting players to take below-market deals to stay in St. Louis, but they’re not going to get Heyward to take $150 million for the peak of his career. He’s bet on himself to this point, and a year from free agency, there’s no reason to sell himself short now. The market doesn’t pay for defense quite the same way it pays for power, but it has paid plenty of similar players enough money that $200 million for Heyward is probably the starting point in negotiations.

Are the Cardinals prepared to go there? I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I don’t think they gave up four years of Shelby Miller with no plan to even try and keep Heyward, and they know he’s looking at a huge contract in a year if they don’t get him signed. The Cardinals have proven they’ll put their money where UZR’s mouth is, and it paid off nicely with their faith in Jhonny Peralta. They’ll probably face a similar reaction if they give Heyward $200+ million to keep him in St. Louis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that turned out to be a similarly good idea.

Diamondbacks Decide to Find Out What Jeremy Hellickson Is.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over his first full season, back in 2011, Jeremy Hellickson ran a mediocre 115 FIP-. It wasn’t a particularly awful mark for a rookie, but that doesn’t suggest the kind of talent you build around. Yet, the same year, Hellickson also posted an ERA- of 76. By the numbers you don’t notice while watching, Hellickson was 15% worse than average. By the numbers you do notice while watching, Hellickson was 24% better than average. The ERA-/FIP- difference of 39 points was, to that point, the biggest full-season difference since 1996. Hellickson became a pitcher of intrigue.

And then he went and doubled down. As a sophomore, a 117 FIP-. As a sophomore, an 80 ERA-. That’s a difference of 37 points, which is basically tied with his first difference of 39 points, and it’s also one of the greatest single-season differences in recent history. One time, you might be comfortable writing off as a fluke. But twice in a row? That’s twice the sample size. Oh, the questions we all asked. Through his first 400-some innings, Hellickson looked like one of the fabled breakers of modern analytics.

Now it’s November 2014 and Hellickson is property of the Diamondbacks. Some things have changed.

For Tampa Bay, Hellickson was a pretty obvious trade candidate. He has two more years of team control, and he’s about to cost something like $4 million. That’s fine, for a good pitcher, but the Rays clearly lacked confidence that Hellickson would be good anymore. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have openly been in the market for rotation help, under new front-office leadership. Next year’s rotation could at some point have Patrick Corbin, Bronson Arroyo, and Archie Bradley, but they won’t be starting in Phoenix in April, so, there are openings. Hellickson isn’t far removed from being interesting, he’s not old, he comes with a potential injury excuse for under-performance, and he’ll cost just that $4 million or so.

Headed to Arizona: Hellickson, just. Headed to Tampa Bay, or, more realistically, certain Tampa Bay affiliates: Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams. Velazquez is 20 and a shortstop. Williams is 19 and an outfielder. A couple months ago, Kiley wrote up the Diamondbacks’ system, and he slotted Velazquez eighth and Williams ninth. The sentences are more important than the rankings. So –

On Velazquez

Velazquez is small at 5’8/175 but the switch-hitter has the most usable power of the three shortstops in this group and has the best feel to hit as well. He has the tools to stick at short, stole a lot of bases but isn’t a huge runner (55 on the 20-80 scale, with excellent instincts) and is still learning the position, with some scouts saying he fits better at second base or in a utility role long-term.

On Williams

Williams was a 2nd rounder out of high school in 2013 with 60 raw power from the left side as a carrying tool and was among the youngest in his draft class, just recently turning 19. He has an average arm but doesn’t project as more than a fringy defender, so the bat has to carry him. Williams beat expectations in Low-A this year but needs to make adjustments to get to his power in games and scouts are concerned advanced breaking stuff will give him trouble at higher levels.

Interesting, both of them. Miles and miles away, both of them. As Dave Stewart put it:

“I didn’t really think about the shortstop situation, because [Velazquez is] so far away,” D-backs general manager Dave Stewart said. “He played low-A ball last year. He’s probably three, four years away, and Williams is probably four, five years away, and I looked at it more that way than the fact that I was trading from a position of strength.”

It’s pretty clear Tampa Bay got some real talent; it’s pretty clear both guys are projects, the odds stacked against them, and one can only wonder what the Rays might’ve been able to get for Hellickson a couple of years ago. Alas, that hypothetical didn’t happen, and reality did happen, the simplified results being displayed in the following handy little table:

Split ERA- FIP- Difference
2010 – 2012 79 115 -36
2013 – 2014 133 113 20
Career 99 114 -15
Also, elbow surgery cost Hellickson more than half of this past season, after he neglected to inform team officials of some ongoing discomfort. That wasn’t a popular move, but, I suppose Hellickson isn’t the first pitcher to have kept an injury to himself. It’s not Tampa Bay’s problem anymore.

For a guy who’s been up and down, Hellickson’s FIP- has remained remarkably consistent. It hasn’t been higher than 117, and it hasn’t been lower than 112. It doesn’t seem like he’s on the verge of a strikeout or a groundballing breakthrough, so it seems like Hellickson’s success will be determined by his ability to beat his own peripherals. It’s something you usually bet against, but Hellickson built himself a strong case as an outlier in his first two full years. So what are we supposed to do with him?

Because we use it so commonly, let’s go back to 2002. We know that some guys naturally beat their peripherals, and some guys naturally under-perform them. Sometimes a guy is Johnny Cueto, and sometimes a guy is Ricky Nolasco. Let’s say that we can start to observe real differences around the 1000-inning mark, or thereabouts. Over the window, 127 pitchers have thrown at least 1000 innings. Here’s how their ERA-/FIP- differences are distributed.

The absolute greatest difference, in terms of ERA- being lower than FIP-: 15 points, belonging to Cueto and Chris Young. Then 12 points, belonging to Jered Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, and Jeremy Guthrie. At the other end, Nolasco (17) and Jeremy Bonderman (13). Coincidentally, it seems like things are pretty normally distributed. Anyway, that would seem to set a ceiling around a 15-point difference. At least, covering the last 13 years.

Hellickson’s a little north of 600 career innings, and his ERA-/FIP- gap is 15 points. That’s a match for our max, which means it would be unreasonable to expect Hellickson to get back to what he was doing in the first half of his big-league career. That would be just too extraordinary. You also have a regression-to-the-mean factor, and a pitched-in-front-of-the-Rays-defense factor. The last four years, the Rays have ranked first, first, fourth, and seventh in BABIP allowed. In Hellickson’s rookie 2011 season, the Rays were first by DRS and second by UZR. The next year, eighth and sixth. As Hellickson got worse results, the Rays also had a worse team defense behind him.

It seems pretty inarguable that Hellickson got at least some help from his defenders. That accounts for some of the ERA-/FIP- difference. In 2011, Hellickson also absolutely allowed weaker contact than average, with pop-ups all over the place, but then, Tony Blengino has identified Tim Hudson as one of the kings of generating weak contact, and his career ERA-/FIP- difference is seven points.

Take Hellickson. His observed career gap is 15 points, in favor of a lower ERA-. You have to add some league-average pitching, to account for regression. You also have to account for the Rays’ defense. Maybe his “true” gap is 10 points. Maybe it’s 7 or 8 points, or 5 points, or 0 points. But his true gap is presumably lower than the observed gap, and then you remember Hellickson’s FIP- consistency. Hellickson needs to beat his peripherals by a good amount to be even a league-average pitcher.

If Hellickson projects for his career-average 114 FIP-, then almost all the outcomes would have him as a fairly mediocre starter. That seems like the most reasonable guess, and while you can see why the Diamondbacks are willing to take a shot on his re-discovering his razor-thin margins, you should always bet against a guy being extreme. Especially if he’s more recently been extreme in the opposite direction. Johnny Cueto’s putting together a pretty exceptional kind of peak, but Jeremy Hellickson most likely isn’t as good as Johnny Cueto.

Weeks ago, David Laurila talked to Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. Hellickson came up a few times, and you can see some hints of frustration in Hickey’s words. He likes Hellickson’s raw talent, but wishes he would stop nibbling, and acknowledges he has to make some adjustments. He didn’t make those adjustments in Tampa Bay, and while mediocre pitchers are an adjustment or two away from improving, mostly they don’t improve. Hellickson, at least, gets a fresh start.

It’s a pure benefit trade for Tampa Bay, because Hellickson was finished there, and they turned him into far younger talent. For Arizona, the hope is that Hellickson can turn in something like an average ERA for just a few million dollars. There’s value there, for one or two years as other arms get healthy or develop, but unless Hellickson is a very rare breed, he’s not going to stabilize anything. Odds are, Arizona won’t miss the prospects they dealt. Odds are, after he’s gone, Arizona won’t miss Jeremy Hellickson.

Giancarlo Stanton, Ball-Striking, And The Future.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After a few days of heightened speculation, word finally came down on Monday that the Miami Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton had come to an agreement on a historic 13-year, $325M deal. Terms have not been fully disclosed, but it seems clear that Stanton will have the ability to opt out of the deal at some point, most likely after the 2019 season. This is massive news on many levels – it’s the largest dollar guarantee to a single player in the history of the sport, and a huge departure in operating procedure on the part of the club.

It furthers the ongoing industry trend toward diminished free agent pools, as teams continue to lock up their best and brightest in advance of the exhaustion of their six years of team control. Today, let’s take a quick and dirty look at the potential outcomes for player and club by examining Stanton’s foremost attribute – his peerless ball-striking ability.
I’ve gone into fairly significant detail regarding Stanton’s offensive game in previous articles; today I’m going to take a slightly different path, by considering the velocity of his batted balls.

We don’t have access to all manner of batted-ball velocity data, but from Home Run Tracker, one finds that Stanton hit the hardest home run (119.9 mph) in all of 2014. He also hit the third-hardest home run. He also hit the 19th-hardest home run of the entire season.

Here’s the top-20 hardest-hit home runs:
Num Hitter Team Date MPH
1 Giancarlo Stanton MIA 5/4/2014 119.9
2 David Ortiz BOS 4/22/2014 119.9
3 Giancarlo Stanton MIA 4/4/2014 118.8
4 Russell Martin PIT 4/9/2014 117.7
5 Hanley Ramirez LAD 6/8/2014 117.6
6 Hunter Pence SF 5/21/2014 116.9
7 C.J. Cron LAA 5/10/2014 116.9
8 Justin Upton ATL 4/10/2014 116.5
9 Oswaldo Arcia MIN 8/3/2014 116.5
10 Ian Desmond WSH 9/16/2014 115.9
11 Jonathan Schoop BAL 4/24/2014 115.8
12 Matt Holliday STL 9/12/2014 115.8
13 Anthony Rizzo CHC 5/3/2014 115.7
14 Nate Freiman OAK 8/17/2014 115.6
15 Edwin Encarnacion TOR 6/1/2014 115.5
16 Wil Myers TB 4/19/2014 115.5
17 Pedro Alvarez PIT 4/4/2014 115.5
18 Jose Bautista TOR 8/30/2014 115.5
19 Giancarlo Stanton MIA 7/18/2014 115.4
20 Alex Gordon KC 5/18/2014 115.2
There aren’t many Stantons on that table. There are a few different classes of player, a portion of them somewhat mediocre overall. There are some young legitimate power hitters, like Anthony Rizzo and Justin Upton. There is the established, somewhat mediocre free-swinging type, like Pedro Alvarez and Ian Desmond (the latter of whom is a good hitter for a shortstop, but not necessarily overall). Finally, there’s the fresh-faced youngsters with raw power, who don’t yet have a semblance of plate discipline, or even a plan, really – this would encompass Oswaldo Arcia and C.J. Cron.

There aren’t many established, fully-formed all-around star hitters in their mid-thirties on this list. David Ortiz, Matt Holliday, and Jose Bautista are the only three I see. A couple of years ago, Bautista’s name would have been all around a list like this. Since then, however, he has made “The Adjustment”. More on that later.

How then, could this massive investment turn out for the Marlins? There are a range of possibilities, and my gut tells me it’s more likely to turn out relatively well. Let’s look at a range of potential outcomes anyway:


- Stanton follows something resembling the classic development path for a player of his age and ability. This player has just turned 25 years old – if the deal goes its full term, at least two-thirds of its length should be composed of peak-level seasons. Stanton is a power-before-hit guy, not hit-before-power, but is about as good as a 25-year-old power-before-hit guy can be. His late-thirties project to be more Mickey Mantle than Hank Aaron, but that’s about as critical as I can be. His strikeout rate is high but improving, and his popup rate is high but acceptable given his prodigious power. His liner rate is slightly below average, but not a problem, and his walk rate is strong. If he can get his unintentional walk rate back to his 2013 level, .400 OBPs might be in his immediate future.

- The national, global and industry economics are strong over the contract period. If times are good, there is labor peace, and attendance remains strong with cable money continuing to exponentially increase, this deal could be a real bargain within a few years.


- Obviously, serious injury can befall any player. Stanton is no more or less prone to such an occurrence relative to other star players. There is one situation that bears watching, however. Let’s call this the “Casper Wells Effect”. In the summer of 2011, when I was employed by the Seattle Mariners, we acquired Wells in the ill-fated – for us – Doug Fister deal with the Tigers. Wells was no star, but he did have legitimate power. He slugged .538 in limited duty in Detroit in 2010, and .442 for the Tigers before the deal in 2011. He was on fire his first couple of weeks in Seattle, batting .326-.415-.652, with 5 HR – all in Safeco, to the big part of the yard – in just 46 at-bats.

Then, on August 17, 2011, Wells was hit in the face by a Brandon Morrow pitch. He batted all of .125-.222-.250 for the rest of 2011, hit .228-.302-.396 in 2012, and then was Mr. Waiver Wire in 2013, hitting .126-.186-.147. From a scouting perspective, you could easily see him bailing just the slightest bit – he was never the same after the pivotal HBP. His confidence, the one thing a hitter can’t lose, was shot.

Now Giancarlo Stanton is a whole different class of cat than Casper Wells, but the fact remains that the Miami Marlins just guaranteed $325M to a guy who hasn’t had an at bat since being hit in the face with a pitch – and the scene last September in Milwaukee was infinitely scarier than when Wells was – relatively – grazed in the nose by Morrow. This clearly will be something to watch next spring.

- The national, global and industry economics deteriorate over the life of the contract. Bubbles eventually burst. The TV money bubble, at least in some markets, is already showing signs of doing so. The stock market is at an all-time high, but what happens when the Fed stops printing money at will, which they are now in fact saying is their intention? There is a whole lot of crazy stuff going on in the world, in case you haven’t noticed. Some of it could make baseball, and in fact all major sports, seem very inconsequential should circumstances intensify. These are all factors way out of Stanton/baseball’s control, but when any corporation has a long-term $325M debt on its books, long-term outside uncertainties at least have a chance of intruding.

- He doesn’t make “The Adjustment”. In my formative years, I had the privilege of watching Mike Schmidt play baseball for the Phillies every day. For most of the 1970′s, Schmidt struck out a lot, but hit a ton of massive, no-doubt homers to the pull side, while all the way playing Gold Glove caliber defense at third base. A few years after Schmidt’s debut, the Braves’ Dale Murphy entered the league, and began doing the same things, except as a center fielder. As the 1980′s opened, they were the two best players in the National League, with Schmidt winning the MVP in 1980-81, and Murphy matching him in 1983-84.

In his early 30′s, Schmidt noticed that his natural strength was ebbing just the slightest bit, and made some changes to his offensive game. He focused a bit more on contact, and on using the entire field. His average home run distance came way down – but his home run frequency did not. He led the league in homers two more times in 1984 and 1986 at ages 34 and 36, as his K total plunged from an NL-leading 148 in 1983 all the way to 84 in 1986. He copped a final MVP Award in 1986 for his efforts.

On the other hand, Murphy never made “The Adjustment”. He had his last great year at age 31 in 1987, drilling 44 homers and putting up a .295-.417-.580 line. He never again slugged above .421 – he went from superstar to below average offensive corner outfielder in record time. Could there have been other factors at play? Sure – a lot of players seemed to get a lot bigger around that time, while Murphy did not – but in any event, he did not make the adjustments necessary for continued excellence once his natural gifts began to decline.

Jose Bautista showed many signs of making “The Adjustment” last season. His popup totals are way down, and his K rate continues to improve. He isn’t hitting the ball as hard or as far, but his “technical merit” scores are clearly improving, at the age of 33. I like his intermediate-term prognosis a lot more than I did a couple of years ago.

Bautista represents a good role model for Stanton, stylistically. The Marlin Masher is nowhere near the point where he needs to make material adjustments at the plate, but that day will come. If he can pull a Bautista once his physical gifts show signs of natural erosion, he can still be an offensive force in the latter stages of his earth-moving deal. Making “The Adjustment” could be the difference between it being a merely good, or great deal from the Marlins’ perspective.

How Giancarlo Stanton Contracts Would Have Gone.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In case you were wondering, yes, you’re already used to this. The biggest contract in the history of North American sports is being handed out by perhaps the most famously cheap organization in the history of North American sports, and with a press conference scheduled, that means we’ve got something official: the Marlins are giving 13 years and $325 million to Giancarlo Stanton. Potentially. It’s complicated. But the contract’s agreed to, which is amazing, and almost as amazing as the fact that many of us have already moved on from the news given it was almost done late last week. This is the day to discuss Russell Martin or Jason Heyward or Shelby Miller. We already processed the Stanton stuff, but it feels like we should make a conscious effort to process a little more. This is a big deal. It’s also a big deal.

Fresh off of the Twitter, we have Buster Olney making a relevant guess:

Unofficial guess on industry opinion on the Stanton $325m deal:98 pct. think the Marlins are crazy. As you would expect w/ a deal that size.

— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 17, 2014

Seems like the industry usually reacts with astonishment, early in offseasons, before going on to make similar decisions later in offseasons. It’s always startling to recognize how much money there is in this game. The Stanton deal, though, is obviously exceptional — this is a new level of commitment. You can’t not stare at the potential maximums. What does 13 years even mean? How many dollars is three hundred twenty-five million dollars? This contract would conceivably end in 2027. By then, current eighth-graders could be getting PhDs in microbiology. It’s crazy to think about the commitment because the future is overwhelming. None of us know what’ll happen tomorrow. 13 years is almost 5,000 tomorrows.

Something we can’t do easily with our own lives is compare ourselves to similar people in the recent past. I can’t develop a profile of my neighbor and analyze a bunch of other people to see what might be going on with my neighbor in four or five years. But we can do this with athletes, at least in terms of their athletic performances. So let’s follow through with this pretty basic concept. How crazy a contract is this, that the Marlins are giving out? We don’t know anything about Stanton’s next 13 years, but what about the next 13 years, for previous Giancarlo Stantons? How did those go?

I decided to set some pretty simple filters. For ages, I examined the window between 22 – 24, capturing Stanton’s last three years. I went back to 1950, set a plate-appearance minimum of 1,500, entered a wRC+ minimum of 140, and entered an ISO minimum of .200. The FanGraphs leaderboards spit out 19 names: Stanton’s, and 18 others. We’re going to play with those 18 others.

We’re going to assume that Stanton follows each individual career path. For example, let’s take Eddie Mathews. If Stanton followed the Mathews path, he’d be worth 7.3 WAR next season. He’d be worth 4.2 WAR in 2022, and 0 WAR in 2027. We’re taking what Mathews did between 25 and 37, and then plugging that in for Stanton.

The remaining step is figuring out value, in terms of money. Here, I’m running parallel calculations. One assumes a starting point of $6 million/WAR, today, and the other assumes $7 million/WAR. Reasonable people disagree on these, which is why I’m showing them both. I’m assuming 5% year-to-year inflation. This, also, is something we can’t know, but over the course of the past decade, payroll has increased an average of 5.4% each season. It actually jumped more than double that between 2013 – 2014, but we should assume that won’t continue.

With all the numbers in place, we can easily calculate the player value over the 13 seasons. So, let’s walk through the Eddie Mathews path, again, in all the detail:

Year Age WAR $/WAR, (A) $/WAR, (B) Value, (A) Value, (B)
2015 25 7.3 6.0 7.0 43.8 51.1
2016 26 5.8 6.3 7.4 36.5 42.6
2017 27 8.3 6.6 7.7 54.9 64.1
2018 28 7.7 6.9 8.1 53.5 62.4
2019 29 7.1 7.3 8.5 51.8 60.4
2020 30 5.7 7.7 8.9 43.6 50.9
2021 31 7.9 8.0 9.4 63.5 74.1
2022 32 4.2 8.4 9.8 35.5 41.4
2023 33 5.2 8.9 10.3 46.1 53.8
2024 34 3.1 9.3 10.9 28.9 33.7
2025 35 1.5 9.8 11.4 14.7 17.1
2026 36 0.3 10.3 12.0 3.1 3.6
2027 37 0.0 10.8 12.6 0.0 0.0
If we start at $6 million/WAR, then the Mathews path would have a value of $476 million. If we start at $7 million/WAR, then the Mathews path would have a value of $555 million. Stanton is being guaranteed $325 million. The opt-out, of course, complicates things some. We don’t know the precise structure of Stanton’s contract, but if Stanton went the way of the Mathews path, he would probably exercise the opt-out after the sixth year. So then we wouldn’t care about the final seven. I don’t know the best way to handle that, so here I’m just going to pretend like the opt-out doesn’t exist, save for occasional mentions, like this one.

So that’s the Eddie Mathews path. How do the numbers come out, for all of the individual paths? That’s what this table is for. For the players who are still active and haven’t yet reached age-37, I filled out the data with Steamer projections and a standard semi-aggressive aging curve.

Name Value, $6M/WAR Value, $7M/WAR
Hank Aaron 776 905
Alex Rodriguez 572 667
Frank Robinson 567 662
Miguel Cabrera 532 621
Mickey Mantle 527 615
Albert Pujols 507 591
Eddie Mathews 476 555
Reggie Jackson 410 478
Frank Thomas 385 450
David Wright 349 407
Will Clark 308 359
Ken Griffey Jr. 305 355
**** Allen 286 334
Jack Clark 280 326
Rocky Colavito 255 298
Boog Powell 216 252
Don Mattingly 197 230
Darryl Strawberry 190 222
The literal worst-case scenario is that Stanton never plays again. Something terrible happens and his career is over. Maybe that terrible thing already happened, on account of Mike Fiers. But, no. You can’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear of the extremely unlikely. Next time you eat a sandwich, you could choke to death. You can’t not eat sandwiches. Next time you go jogging around the neighborhood, you could be killed by a falling fire-escape ladder. You can’t not exercise (or you’ll be killed by something else). There are actual worst-case scenarios and there are realistic worst-case scenarios, and I think the table includes some realistic worst-case scenarios. Strawberry’s career plummeted right off a cliff at 30. Mattingly lost his power as a result of a chronic back injury. Both paths would still be worth 60 – 70% of the Stanton terms.

And there’s the other end. Hank Aaron just never slowed down. Miguel Cabrera is particularly encouraging, if you’re not buying that Alex Rodriguez is also encouraging because of what he put in his body. Frank Robinson, Mathews, Albert Pujols…Mickey Mantle might’ve been too good to serve as a Stanton comp, but it’s not like he’s in here skewing all the numbers.

Based on the values in the first column, the average is $397 million, with a $367-million median. Based on the values in the second column, the average is $463 million, with a $429-million median. The point being, based on these comparisons, Stanton should be worth the money, if the assumptions hold somewhat true. It could be payroll goes up more than 5% on average. Balancing out a certain amount of this is that the opt-out has value for Stanton, and not so much for the team. The likelihood is that Stanton only stays around if he’s declined a fair amount. But based on where we are today, Stanton should offer a ton of value over the next six years, and every long-term contract has an iffy second half. I don’t know exactly how to value an opt-out clause, in terms of money, but nothing about this indicates “crazy” to me. I mean, the terms out of context are crazy — wow, $325 million, that’s an unimaginable amount of money! — but given what Stanton is, given how he should be expected to age, and given how much money there is right now in the sport, this looks a lot better than other, shorter contracts to older players from the recent past. Giancarlo Stanton isn’t even a week and a half removed from his 25th birthday.

The caveat is the obvious caveat: above, we used market rates for wins. Different teams have differing abilities to spend market rates, and while Stanton makes sense on a $150-million ballclub, he makes no sense at all on a $50-million ballclub. This all forces us to wonder how capable the Marlins are of change, under the leadership of Jeffrey Loria. For good reason, a lot of people see that name and their minds are made up. Loria has abused every shred of trust he’s ever had in his vicinity. But if the Marlins were to be genuinely turning over a new leaf, what might that look like? It might look like an unprecedented guarantee for the face of the team. It might look like extension negotiations with other young talent. You can even reflect on the trades from a few years ago that made Stanton upset, and see the good sense in them. Perhaps the Marlins didn’t mess up by tearing the team apart. Perhaps the Marlins messed up by spending to build the wrong kind of team. If you’re somehow willing to trust again, and I don’t blame you if you’re not, this is what it would look like if the Marlins were going to join the rest of Major League Baseball.

That’s the crazy thing to think about. It’s definitely crazy to think about making a 13-year commitment to a baseball player, but when they’re really young and really great and really averse to ever throwing pitches, baseball players are actually kind of predictable. A lot of those guys, predictably, go to the Hall of Fame.

Blue Jays Commit to Playoff Race, Sign Russell Martin.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This past year, as a regular for the Pirates, Russell Martin was worth 5.3 WAR, according to our data. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had five-win seasons:


The year before, also with the Pirates, Martin was worth 4.1 WAR. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had four-win seasons:


Looking ahead, over almost 500 trips to the plate, Steamer projects Martin to be worth 3.8 WAR. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had 3.8-win seasons:


It’s a bit of a dreary history. Ernie Whitt was worth 3.6 wins in 1983. Pat Borders was worth 3.5 in 1990. Whitt was worth 3.4 in 1987. And then that’s it for even three-win seasons. The Blue Jays have never employed a star-level catcher. Now they have one in Russell Martin, who they plucked away from the National League for $82 million over five years. It’s not a sure-fire bargain — no long-term contract to an aging catcher can ever look like a bargain — but with the splash, the Blue Jays have moved up in the AL East, committing to a run toward a tournament the franchise hasn’t seen since 1993.

It is interesting to think about what this does to Martin’s NL suitors. The Pirates already acted to acquire insurance in Francisco Cervelli, but Martin seemed like a good bet to land with either the Cubs or the Dodgers. With Chicago, he could’ve represented a substantial improvement; with Los Angeles, he could’ve plugged one of few remaining weaknesses. As such, both those teams will have to consider alternatives like Miguel Montero, and maybe this makes it more likely the Cubs spend big on the starting rotation. But that’s a subject for another day, or for at least another post.

This morning, based on our depth charts and on the Steamer projections, the Blue Jays’ catcher situation was tied for fifth-worst in baseball. Now with Martin, they should be around the fifth-best, and while you know enough about how the error bars work, the Jays move past the Orioles in current projected WAR. They come right in line with the Rays and Red Sox, and while the Red Sox intend to make an impact move or two, the same might not be said of Tampa Bay. Martin greatly solidifies the Jays behind the plate, and he’ll also help to make them look better on the mound.

Based on market rates, for $82 million, the Jays are paying Martin to be worth something on the order of 10 – 11 wins. Historically, for catchers between the ages of 29 – 31, Martin’s been around the 85th percentile. For those catchers over the next five years, through age 36, the 85th percentile has been worth about 10 – 11 wins. It’s simple, but it works. If you prefer something Martin-specific, let’s begin with his 3.8-WAR projection for next season. Dock him six-tenths of a win each year, and in the end he’d have been worth 13 wins. Dock him 0.75 wins each year, and in the end he’d have been worth 11.5 wins. Pitch-framing value isn’t included, here. It appears the Jays have committed to a reasonable contract. No reason to think this is a huge mistake; no reason to think this is a huge awesome deal for the team. It falls within 10% or so of a good idea for both sides, and that’s the most that can be said about that.

What happens now is that the Jays trade or bump Dioner Navarro. They still have Josh Thole also under contract, but nevermind what happens to Navarro now; what matters is the improvement, to Martin. Toronto gave Navarro a small contract and he was fine over the first half of it. But Navarro’s an easy guy to push aside to make room for a star, similar to how the Cubs dumped Rick Renteria as soon as they realized they could get Joe Maddon. Navarro can hit a little, but his overall value is limited, and while he slugged .492 in 2013, that same year 65% of his extra-base hits were homers. His career mark is 34%, and last year he came in at 35%. Navarro isn’t a power hitter, so he’s not going to see another 137 wRC+.

Martin’s unlikely to see another 140 wRC+. Last season was his best season, driven by improvements going up the middle and the other way. Some relevant wRC+ splits:

Split Career 2014
Pull 137 91
Center 100 218
Opposite 91 179
Pittsburgh kills right-handed hitters who try to hit for pull power, so coincidentally or not, Martin last year did his damage elsewhere. Toronto’s ballpark plays very differently, so maybe Martin will get back to trying to drive the ball to left, but we can keep things simple: over his whole career, Martin’s hit 6% better than average, and Steamer projects him to be 9% better than average next year. He has a good eye, and he has decent power. Martin’s a more reliable hitter than Navarro is.

And as a defender, it’s not even close. Martin’s considerably more athletic than Navarro is — this also shows up on the bases — and that’s among the reasons the Jays think Martin shouldn’t age too terribly. Martin’s shown above-average control of the running game, while for Navarro it’s been neither a strength nor a weakness. Martin’s been an above-average pitch-blocker, while Navarro’s been below-average. And then you’re left with the framing stuff. Martin’s long been recognized as a high-quality receiver. Navarro, less so. Navarro rated as one of the worst framers last season. Martin rated as one of the better ones. With help from Baseball Savant, let’s compare called strike zones:

With Martin, you see more of an attack down in the zone, and a lot more called strikes down in and below the zone. Though they were both catching different pitching staffs, the Jays and Pirates pitchers tied in walk rate, and Jays pitchers had a much higher zone rate, which might imply better command. According to Matthew Carruth’s StatCorner data, and also to the Baseball Prospectus data, the difference between Martin and Navarro in terms of framing is worth tens of runs a year. Last year’s gap was about 30 runs. Over the whole of the PITCHf/x era, the gap looks like about 25 runs over an average season.

So the thing we know for sure: the framing metrics love Martin a lot more than they love Navarro. Could be you’re looking at more than a two-win difference. Perhaps more reasonably, it’s a one-win difference or so, between the two backstops. Whatever the case, it’s a difference that isn’t captured by the individual WAR figures available on the player pages, so while Navarro’s functional as a third-tier semi-regular, Martin’s a true difference-maker today, and his receiving shouldn’t age quite like the rest of his skills. Framing seems to not really deteriorate.

At the catcher position, the Jays just upgraded their durability, discipline, power, running, blocking, throwing, and receiving. Though we don’t have numbers for it, the Jays also seem to have upgraded their leadership, and in the overall picture, the Jays significantly upgraded their team and therefore their 2015 playoff prospects. Like most free-agent contracts, this one’ll look worse a few years down the road, but Martin ought to age somewhat gracefully, as he’ll be declining from a hell of a peak.

The Fascinating Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller Swap.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Maybe we should have seen this coming. It was pretty clear that the Braves were going to trade an outfielder this winter, with both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward entering their final season before they became free agents, and the team apparently preferring to employ Evan Gattis as a left fielder rather than as a catcher. The team tried to re-sign Heyward when they spent last year locking up their young core, but found his price prohibitive, so he almost certainly wasn’t staying in Atlanta beyond the 2015 season, and the Braves probably aren’t good enough to be pushing all of their chips in for the upcoming season.

So, trading Heyward now makes a good amount of sense for the Braves, and they made it clear that acquiring starting pitching was their #1 priority this winter. A natural trade partner would have a hole in right field, some rotation depth, and the potential desire and ability to try and sign Heyward to a long-term deal before hit the open market next winter. No team in baseball fit that description as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, so while we didn’t hear any pre-deal rumors of the deal that sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Heyward and Jordan Walden, it feels like we should have anticipated something like this. It’s the kind of move that seemingly makes a lot of sense for both sides.

We’ll start with the Cardinals side of things, since they’re acquiring the best player in this deal. Jason Heyward is a stud, and you don’t even have to buy into defensive metrics to agree with that statement. For 2015, Steamer projects him at +4.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, the 16th highest total of any position player in baseball, and that’s with him grading out as just a slightly above average defender: the +10 fielding projection right field adds up to a +3.5 DEF rating, which includes the positional adjustment for playing a corner spot. In terms of forecast defensive value, Heyward’s projection puts him in roughly a similar group to guys like David Wright, Robinson Cano, Pablo Sandoval, and Josh Reddick.

It’s also a significant step back from what he’s done previously, as his career DEF/600 PA rating is +10. In other words, Steamer is projecting Heyward to take a big step back defensively and still be one of the best players in the game, because the forecast sees a 25 year old with a career 117 wRC+ and positive contact rate trends, so it thinks Heyward is on the verge of a big offensive breakout. From a purely offensive standpoint, Steamer expects Heyward to be as good (or slightly better than) the good Upton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, or Hanley Ramirez. If you combine the offensive level of those players with above average defensive value, well, you’re left with a superstar.

And that’s why the Cardinals have to be pretty thrilled with this move. They’re legitimately getting one of the best young players in baseball, and at the only position where they had a glaring need. Adding Heyward to fill their right field hole will end up being one of the largest improvements any team makes this winter. The question for the Cardinals is how long they’ll get to keep him.

Because of how quickly he got to the big leagues, Heyward is in line to hit free agency after his age-25 season, and he’s going to have roughly +25 career WAR when he reaches the open market. Barring a disastrous 2015 season, he’s going to get paid, and you can be certain that his agents will be pointing to the 13 year, $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton has agreed to as the new precedent. Sure, Heyward isn’t going to get 13/$325M, given the massive differences in power, but it seems likely that he’ll demand a deal that starts at 10 years and goes north of $200 million.

Robinson Cano got $240 million as a similarly valuable player entering his age-31 season; Heyward might not have Cano’s offensive track record, but he’s going to be selling his prime years, and the deal won’t extend into the period of his career where you’d expect him to essentially be worthless. If the Cardinals want to lock up Heyward before he gets to free agency, it’s probably going to take something like the contract they refused to give Albert Pujols. Maybe they might be able get him to take a slight pre-free agent discount and get him for 9/$200M or something in that range, but let’s dispel the notion that the Cardinals are going to be able to sign Heyward for anything other than a mountain of cash.

The team definitely has the means to take on a contract like that. They only have $73 million in committed contracts for next season, and Matt Holliday‘s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season, so they have the flexibility to make Heyward a franchise-player type offer. And they do have a history of acquiring players on the cusp of free agency, only to convince them to stick around instead, but stretching for a single player the way Heyward will require would be something new for this front office.

For now, this has to be viewed as a rental. A rental with a chance to purchase, perhaps, but this isn’t a trade-and-sign deal like we’ve seen with the R.A. Dickey or Martin Prado trades the last few years. The Cardinals are getting a great right fielder, but they’re only guaranteed to get him for one year, and then it’s either a really large long-term commitment or settling for the compensation pick that comes from letting a premium free agent walk away at year’s end. There’s a non-zero chance that the long-term return on this deal for St. Louis will be minimal.

But the short-term upgrade is huge, especially if they flip Peter Bourjos for a starting pitcher to replace Miller, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. Having Heyward/Walden/Pitcher To Be Named instead of Bourjos/Miller/Jenkins could be a three or four win upgrade in 2015, depending on what kind of starter they get in return, and that’s three or four wins in a year in which marginal upgrades are going to be extremely valuable to the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright is probably just about finished as an ace, and is headed for a decline. Yadier Molina won’t be able to hit forever. Holliday isn’t a spring chicken anymore. The Cardinals have plenty of good young talent, but their best players are getting worse, and the Cardinals needed a significant upgrade to put themselves in position to win the NL Central once again. This move does just that.

The long-term cost will essentially boil down to what you believe Shelby Miller is. Is he a top-flight young pitcher, the guy who has produced +6 WAR by runs allowed in 370 big league innings, and just turned 24? or is he a two-pitch tease, overrated by run prevention, heading for a short-term crash when his mediocre peripherals catch up with him? A strong case could be made for both outcomes.

Miller throws a lot of fastballs up in the zone, and as Eno noted through multiple conversations with pitchers this year, high fastballs can produce some terrific results, often inducing a lot of useless contact that isn’t captured in FIP-type metrics. If Miller’s approach to pitching up with a good fastball makes him a guy who can sustain a BABIP in the .270-.280 range, the underwhelming strikeout rates become a lot less problematic. If you’re a Braves fan who wants to be excited about this deal, here’s the first ~400 IP comparison you want to use.

Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110
Matt Cain 437 10% 20% 37% 6% 72% 0.259 83 86 102
Cain was always better at home run prevention than Miller, but the template is similar, and it’s certainly possible that Miller is a (somewhat worse) new version of the Cain skillset. If Miller’s FIP-beating ways prove sustainable to a significant degree, picking up four discounted years of a quality young arm is a very solid return for a single year of Heyward, especially if the Braves don’t see themselves as strong contenders in 2015.

But Cain is notable because most pitchers can’t do what he’s done, and not every young hurler who posts a low BABIP for 400 innings is definitely going to follow in his footsteps. Here’s another, less-rosy comparison for Miller, again with career performance through the equivalent of two full seasons.

Jeremy Hellickson 402 8% 17% 38% 10% 82% 0.244 79 115 110
Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110
A couple of years ago, the arguments for Hellickson were the same as they are for Miller today. Maybe he’s just good at inducing a lot of popups, and because he’s a flyball guy, he’s always going to run lower than average BABIPs, so he’s underrated by metrics that focus only on walks, strikeouts, and home runs or ground balls. Hellickson managed to keep things going through age-25, and then promptly fell apart, pitching poorly and getting injured. The Rays just shipped him to Arizona for two lower level prospects rather than bet on him returning to prior form.

More often than not, guys who post big gaps between their ERAs and their FIPs regress towards the latter, which is why FIP and xFIP work for most pitchers. It doesn’t mean Miller is definitely not an outlier, but he probably isn’t at outlier to the degree that he’s been so far, and he’s probably more of an okay pitcher than a very good one.

But even four years of an okay young arm is pretty valuable. After all, we’re looking at league average starters making $10-$12 million per year in free agency, and Miller will a little more than the league minimum this year, with three below-market arbitration years to follow. Even if Miller is more of a solid arm than a future ace, the Braves are getting a lot more quantity of value here, and they’re allocating it into the years where they think they might be more able to contend.

And Miller isn’t the only thing they’re getting. Tyrell Jenkins was a first round pick a couple of years ago, and while he’s battled arm problems since, Kiley McDaniel remains somewhat intrigued by his potential. Here’s Kiley’s updated take on Jenkins:

Jenkins missed the first half of 2014 recovering from shoulder surgery on a muscle in his shoulder (not the joint itself), something that had been bothering him for years. He turned 22 in the middle of this season and was understandably a bit rusty in half a season at High-A, but started to find his stride in the Arizona Fall League, where I scouted him a few weeks ago. He sat 92-94 and hit 96 mph, flashing above average fastball life at times, with an above average 80-83 mph hard curveball and a changeup at 81-84 mph that’s average when he keeps it down in the zone.

He’s incredibly athletic and the breaking ball has flashed plus at higher velocites, so there could still be even more in the tank than what I saw. I’d like to get a full, healthy 2015 on the books for Jenkins before i give a projection with some certainty, but he seems to be headed in the right direction now with enough starter traits to project him in a rotation. I’d grade him as a 50 FV/#4 starter now, but I could edit that up a notch by the middle of next season.

The combination of Miller and Jenkins give the Braves two live-arms that they’re buying somewhat low on, and if both end up pitching to their previously-believed potential, this would turn into a huge win for Atlanta. If either of them turn into quality mid-rotation starters, or if you think Miller is already that now, then this probably is a smart enough move for a somewhat-rebuilding team to divest a short-term asset into some future value.

Of course, if Miller is Hellickson 2.0 instead of Cain 2.0, and Jenkins is just another power arm who can’t miss bats, then this could look pretty terrible for the Braves as well. If Steamer is correct about Hewyard’s impending breakout, this could turn out to be a franchise player for a couple of arms with legitimate question marks who might turn out to be nothing at all. This move could be great, okay, or terrible for Atlanta, and it all depends on how the young arms develop, which is maybe the most difficult thing to project.

The fact that there’s no obvious most likely outcome suggests this is a pretty fair move for both sides. I probably prefer this a little bit from St. Louis’ perspective, since I lean more towards assuming Miller’s strikeout regression is a concern, but even I’d still say this is a fair return for a single year of a player looking at a monster paycheck next winter. The Cardinals get better now, and get a chance to make Heyward the new face of their franchise, while the Braves probaby get better for the future.

And that makes this seem like a smart trade for both teams. The Cardinals get the better player and a chance to extend a player the Braves weren’t going to keep, while the Braves get some good young pitching to make a stronger run in 2016. This is a deal that serves the purposes of both sides. It might end up favoring one or the other, but at the time of the deal, it makes sense for both Atlanta and St. Louis.

The Bargains of the 2015 Free Agent Class.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In past years, I’ve often compared shopping in free agency to shopping at Whole Foods, in that everything is just more expensive than it should be. But given that I’m currently writing this post at my local Whole Foods — their oatmeal is actually pretty good, and not too expensive for mornings when work-from-home writers just have to get out of the house — I feel like that would be a hypocritical analogy to make today.

So, Whole Foods, you get a one-day reprieve from being the example of an overpriced market. And to be fair, maybe it isn’t the best analogy anyway, given that Whole Foods does sell mostly high quality stuff, while the free agent market is full of things other teams didn’t really want anymore. Maybe free agency is more like a really expensive Craigslist?

Regardless, you get the point. Free agency is expensive. The winner’s curse often applies, as teams are initially happy with their purchases, but eventually realize that the shiny new thing they just bought isn’t shiny or new. The average age of free agents is going up, and aging curves appear to be getting steeper, and that combination leads to a lot of players selling the last few years of their decline phase, which is not a great time to be investing heavily in an asset.

But, occasionally, the market does undervalue a player. Often it’s health related, but sometimes a bad platform year performance can convince too many buyers that decline has already begun to set in, and teams can buy low on a player poised for a rebound. It does happen, so today, I’m going to try and identify five potential bargains in this class. Of course, I tried this last year too, and came away with Brian McCann, the short Chris Young, Roberto Hernandez, Scott Kazmir, and Omar Infante; a whopping 20% of those guys were worth their contract last year. So, you know, take these opinions with as many grains of salt as you think are necessary.

But let me take another stab at this. Here are five guys I think could prove to be decent buys this winter. For reference, I’m going to list both the expected contracts from our Contract Crowdsourcing project and my own expectations. On to the list.

5. Jason Hammel, Starting Pitcher

Crowd: 3 years, $27 million
Dave: 3 years, $30 million

Teams tend to value consistency, especially in veterans. They like to know what they’re paying for, and a nice long steady track record helps makes it easier to set expectations. Hammel doesn’t offer that, as his xFIP- over the last five years show: 92, 121, 83, 115, 96. And those are core skills that are supposed to be fairly steady. Hammel has vacillated between being pretty good and pretty lousy, which is very likely going to drive his price down.

But if you look at the package as a whole, Hammel looks essentially like a league average starting pitcher, and that’s basically what Steamer has him projected as, putting up +1.9 WAR per 200 iP. Of course, Hammel has never actually thrown 200 innings in a season, so perhaps he’s better projected as about a +1.5 WAR pitcher, and $9 or $10 million per year isn’t exactly a steal for that kind of performance.

But there’s also some pretty limited risk, given the short term he’ll likely command, and Hammel comes with a bit more upside than most of the average-innings-eater types. Like Jason Vargas last year, he won’t be a sexy addition, but he’s the kind of moderate cost acquisition who could provide some real value for a team in the regular season.

4. Francisco Liriano, Starting Pitcher

Crowd: 3 years, $36 million
Dave: 3 years, $39 million

Take everything I just said about Hammel’s inconsistency driving down his price and multiply it by a factor of 10. Liriano has occasionally been completely dominant and completely terrible, and he’s been regularly injured in between. He’s been very good for the Pirates for the last two years, but even in something like the best possible context for him as a pitcher, he still only managed 160 innings per year. If you sign Liriano, you’re hoping for quality, not quantity.

And it’s probably time to stop expecting him to perform at the level of his peripherals now, as he’s nearly 1,200 innings into his career and has an ERA (4.07) significantly higher than either his FIP (3.61) or xFIP (3.56). So, that +2.9 WAR per 200 IP Steamer projection? He’s probably going to underperform that both in innings and runs allowed. A more realistic forecast is around +2 WAR, probably, and that’s assuming he stays healthy, which he very well might not.

But, again, there’s upside here, and the corresponding price won’t be outrageous. There won’t be too many other guys who can perform at this level signing for what Liriano will sign for. $12 or $13 million per year buys you an average player these days, but Liriano gives some hope that he might be able to produce more than his price would infer. Especially if he finally gets around to pitching to his peripherals for once.

3. Russell Martin, Catcher

Crowd: 4 years, $56 million
Dave: 5 years, $75 million

I know: a five year deal for a 32 year old catcher is what passes for a top-three bargain these days? By the end of the deal, Martin probably won’t be a catcher anymore, even if the crowd is right about the length of the deal he ends up taking. This contract is almost certainly going to result in some dead money in the last year or two of the contract, so for it to be a bargain, Martin is going to have to produce significantly more than $15 million per year worth of value up front.

And I think he very well might. For one, his plate discipline isn’t going anywhere, so even if his power goes away, he’s got a decently high offensive floor, as declining down to the level of Ryan Hanigan wouldn’t make Martin useless. And Martin doesn’t even have to hit for that much power to be a very good player; his career ISO is only .141, and that’s been enough to help him post a 106 wRC+. Martin looks like a pretty good bet to be something like a league average hitter for the next few years, and a catcher who can hit at league average levels is pretty valuable.

Especially because we’re not capturing all of his defensive value. Per StatCorner, Martin’s value by framing runs, by season since 2007: +25, +31, +23, +10, +29, +24, +17, +12. Even if we don’t believe that the actual value of these runs is as high as the current estimates — I’m in that camp — and cut these values in half, Martin looks like about a +1 win framer, and this is another skill that has been show to age well. Steamer’s projection for Martin’s 2015 performance has him worth +3.6 WAR per 450 plate appearances, and that’s without any framing value; include it in the calculation, and Martin might just be the best free agent on the market this winter.

Of course, I made a very similar argument about McCann last year, and that didn’t work out so well in year one. But at $15 million per year for four or five years, Martin seems like a very reasonable bet to me, at least, relative to the other bets that free agency offers.

2. Brandon McCarthy, Starting Pitcher

Crowd: 3 years, $36 million
Dave: 3 years, $42 million

The winner of this bidding will likely be the one who puts the most emphasis on his most recent performance, as the 2014 version of McCarthy is quite interesting indeed. After 110 innings of a great xFIP/terrible ERA combination, the Yankees picked up McCarthy for a song and saw him immediately start pitching like his peripherals suggested, giving them 90 spectacular innings in the process. Even after switching from the NL to the AL, he sustained his increase in strikeouts, and even knocked it a few ticks higher, all while still avoiding walks to an extreme degree.

And there are plenty of reasons to think it wasn’t a fluke. His fastball averaged 92.9 last year, up two miles per hour from his 2013 velocity, and his breaking stuff was coming in harder as well. Velocity spikes and performance improvements often go together, and if he can keep throwing 93, McCarthy can likely sustain more of his recent performance than his career numbers would suggest.

The fact that it was just one year in which his ERA was abysmal for the first half of the season, along with his own injury history, will likely keep this deal short term. Even if he pushes up towards $15 million per year, there’s few players on the market who offer this kind of potential performance without carrying a hefty price tag. His long history of shoulder problems certainly aren’t something to just be ignored, but overall, I can’t see too many better options for a team looking for an impact player this winter.

1. Chase Headley, Third Base

Crowd: 4 years, $56 million
Dave: 4 years, $60 million

While analysis based on n of one is never a good idea, Headley’s situation reminds me an awful lot of mid-career Adrian Beltre. Solid player, monster breakout season based on a power spike, followed by a quick regression to career averages, and then hitting free agency coming off a down year in which his primary selling points were hot corner defense and the hope that a more hitter-friendly ballpark might give him a real boost.

Beltre, of course, went on to become a monster once he left Safeco Field, and his current contract with the Rangers — signed after his big bounce back in Boston — is maybe the best large free agent contract signed in the last decade. We can’t project the same kind of improvement from Headley, but there are reasons to think that he’s more than the average bat/good glove combination that his 2014 numbers would suggest, and you don’t have to expect him to repeat his +20 UZR from last year to think that he could be a valuable piece going forward.

As a pull-power hitter who most frequently bats from the left side, Petco Park was maybe the very worst environment for him to come up in. The fence adjustments of 2013 mitigated it’s extreme pitcher nature to some degree, but it’s still a west coast ballpark where the ball doesn’t fly, and for most his career, the right-center gap was cavernous. Like Beltre in Seattle, Headley’s skillset was just an awful fit for his home park.

And yet he still managed to be an above average hitter during his time in San Diego. His career wRC+ is 114, almost the equal of Pablo Sandoval‘s career 122 wRC+, yet perhaps because of the up-and-more-recently-down nature of his offensive performances, the generally accepted view is that he’s a glove-first acquisition. But Headley’s track record is pretty solid, and if he gets to a park that inflates doubles or is generally friendly to left-handed pull hitters, Headley could be a nice offensive piece as well.

I’d probably take the under on Steamer’s +3.9 WAR per 600 PA forecast, but expecting +3 WAR with some hope for a bit of a boost isn’t unreasonable at all. I don’t think it’s completely insane to prefer Headley to Sandoval even without factoring cost in, and it seems quite likely that Headley will be the cheaper of the two. If you’re looking for power, you probably want to look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for overall value this winter, Headley might be the best target out there.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
You might think the rarest pitch in the game is the knuckleball -- only two pitchers regularly throw it right now. But there is a pitch that only Brad Ziegler throws often.

Ziegler throws a changeup -- out of a submarine arm slot. Nobody else throws the same pitch with the same mechanics.

Only six sidearmers threw at least 25 changeups last season, and if you up that number to 100 thrown, only Ziegler and (lefty) Aaron Loup make the list. If you limit the list to just submariners, Ziegler's the only one who throws a changeup regularly.

Turns out, the physics of throwing a ball from that angle could be the reason so few sidearmers boast a solid changepiece.

Take Ziegler's slider as an example. Back when he threw overhand, before 2007, he was putting traditional slider spin on the ball from his old arm slot. Thanks to Matt Lentzner at The Hardball Times, we know what that slider spin looks like. From his piece, here are the spins on the ball on pitches leaving from your traditional three-quarter arm slots:

And now here's the spin that those same grips and mechanics would produce out of Ziegler's submarine slot. Very different.

As you can see, the submarine slider has spin that looks more like a three-quarters slot cutter. In late 2013, the pitcher confirmed that this is exactly what his slider looks like. "A true big league slider will have tilt to it. My slider is more flat," Ziegler said. "It's more like a cutter, but it's not as hard."

The average slider has 1.3 inches of vertical movement, or four inches more drop than the average sinker. The average cutter has 5.8 inches of vertical movement, or just about half an inch more drop than the average sinker. Ziegler's slider has 6.1 inches of vertical movement. So his slider does, indeed, look more like a cutter.

Here's the thing, though: His sinker has -6.3 inches of vertical movement. That's a full foot of difference from your average overhand sinker. You know what conventional pitch has that much drop? The curveball. Now check the spin charts again.

That submarine sinker with a six inch drop is a rare pitch -- it has more drop than any other sinker in baseball. It drops like a breaking pitch, and probably because he's putting spin on the ball that looks like a three-quarter slot curve.

Take a look at Ziegler's sinker in action, and given that he throws it 86 mph, it's pretty devastating. Basically a hard slider in terms of velocity and a curve in terms of drop, the sinker comes at you as often as a fastball should.

But there are 31 other pitchers who have a release point lower than five feet, and so there are other sidearm sinkers. Their sinkers feature more drop than your average over-the-top sinker: Darren O'Day. Joe Smith. Justin Masterson. Randy Choate. All are funky, all have sink.

But only six of the 32 with the low release slots throw a changeup. That's about a one in five rate. Among the rest of the major-league pitching population, the rate is over one in two (351/681). And it probably has something to do with that illustration above.

Given that Ziegler said that his grip is a circle change grip, and that nothing else is much different about his changeup -- "The release is still the same -- the mechanics are primarily the same" he said -- we can conjecture what sort of spin he's putting on the ball.

You pronate ('pull down' on the inside the ball for a righty) with the changeup and supinate (pull down on the outside of the ball) with breaking pitches, generally. If you compare the slurve's average movement to that of the straight change, you get nearly opposite movement. So let's flip the slurve's movement picture for the submariner to create a changeup spin for Ziegler. And let's compare it to the most similar looking three-quarter slot pitch.

Mechanics, especially for a submariner, are a tricky thing. But it kind of looks like the spin of a submarine change might look a little like the opposite of the spin on a three-quarters slot cutter. If they produced similar movement, you'd get a flat change with a little fade and no sink.

That's not quite how it works out. The average right-handed changeup drops and fades about two inches more than the average right-handed sinker. Ziegler's changeup fades and drops about three inches less than his sinker. Watching it live, you can see that it moves less than his sinker.

This isn't something that only Ziegler has dealt with. Only one sidearm change -- Ben Rowen's -- actually managed to fade more than its corresponding sinker. And yet almost all of them other than Ziegler's dropped more than their sinkers. So it seems that getting more fade than your sinker is the tough part about the sidearm change.

Ziegler admitted that harnessing the changeup had been tough, but said the pitch was more about the change in speed than movement. What does his change look like? "Hopefully just like my fastball but slower," he said. And the trouble in developing it was just like the trouble with learning the new submarine mechanics overall. After the Athletics asked him (it took "three weeks of talking on the phone" to be convinced), he dedicated himself to the new mechanics. A bit of body soreness later ("everything was aching at first") and he was used to it.

It's cheating to say that Ziegler's submarine change is the rarest pitch in baseball. There are only three true submariners pitching right now. But it also seems like the physics of throwing a changeup from down under make things difficult. Try to mimic pulling down on the inside of the ball from that angle, and you'll see that it is difficult to pull off.

Not to Ziegler, not anymore. "I feel pretty comfortable throwing the change more," he said after all the hard work he put in between 2012 and 2013. With a 19% whiff rate and a 67% groundball rate in 2014, that change is now among the best in the game from any slot.

Alongside his crazy sinker, the pitch helps make Ziegler's a unique arsenal. And fun to watch.

Is Elvis Andrus Still Valuable?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the summer at ESPN and FG+, I wrote a piece that investigated just how terribly the recent trend of long-term extensions for players at least two years away from free agency had gone. While Ryan Howard was the obvious poster boy for “Wow, that was a bad idea,” the future deals given to Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Justin Verlander, Evan Longoria and others all look a little questionable now, either because of unexpected decline/injury in the period between the signing and the actual start date, or because of how much payroll space it’s taking up. Not all have gone badly — Felix Hernandez and Troy Tulowitzki have been worthwhile investments — but many have, and that’s without even knowing what’s going to happen when Miguel Cabrera‘s eight-year extension kicks off in 2016.

Teams can’t exactly always wait until precisely one minute before free agency to give extensions to valuable players, but giving out these deals so far ahead of time is such a hugely risky proposition, because so much can go wrong, both on and off the field. Organizations may be buying the security of knowing that their player can’t walk away in the near future, but they’re trading off the very valuable ability to gain an extra year or two of information on that player, and it’s easy to see that some of these deals never would have been signed if the teams knew at the time what they knew when the original contract would have ended.

It’s with all that in mind that today I’m interested in looking at a youthful and valuable shortstop who is just about to start an eight-year extension he agreed to with his team two seasons ago. Texas’ Elvis Andrus is only 26, but he’s also coming off the two worst wOBA years of his career, years that came after ink hit paper. Is this contract doomed to sink the Rangers? Or is he still a valuable asset?
* * *

This is coming up now because there’s a few big-market teams that need a shortstop this winter — Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, perhaps the Red Sox if they whiff on Pablo Sandoval and slide Xander Bogaerts back over — and with J.J. Hardy already extended in Baltimore, there’s very few acceptable free agent options at the position. No, really: Just go look at our Free Agent Depth Charts. You’ll see a few guys with acceptable-to-great bats who aren’t plus defenders (Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie), and a better fielder who just sat out half the year and had a 44 wRC+ (Stephen Drew).

That being the case, and because the Rangers have both many holes to fill and young infield depth in Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Luis Sardinas, Andrus has been popping up in trade rumors, being connected most notably to the Yankees. This weekend, GM Jon Daniels didn’t shoot down talk of a deal, and listed out exactly what Texas needed to fix, noting that a trade was the most likely scenario:

Jon Daniels said that they will “listen” on Elvis Andrus because of their depth including Luis Sardines, Jurrickson Profar and Odor XM 89

— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) November 16, 2014

Jon Daniels said #Rangers needs are Starting Pitcher, Catcher, LF or DH…more likely solved by trade than FA @MLBNetworkRadio — Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) November 16, 2014

First, let’s remember why the Andrus extension seemed to make sense in the first place — because he was young (2016 is only his age-26 season), because he was an elite fielder, a very good base runner, incredibly durable, and close to a league-average hitter. It’s difficult to find all of that in one package, so while the dollar amount was shocking, the thought behind it wasn’t.

At the time, Dave Cameron wrote here that the deal was a good example of teams learning to value defense more than they had in the past. Daniels said it was “something we didn’t normally do,” because of Andrus’ youth. Before this season, when the Rangers were ranked No. 4 in our shortstop positional power rankings, I noted his down 2013, but pointed out just how hard it was to find a good shortstop, saying “If “eh, he’s not terrible at the plate” sounds like less than high praise, well, he’s still doing enough good things elsewhere to rank No. 4 here. (Related: Just wait until we’re talking about Pedro Florimon or someone below, and then think about how great Andrus looks.)”

So, yes, the deal was certainly defensible at the time, because Andrus had just put up back-to-back four-win seasons and was young enough to think more would come. Here’s the bad news: all of Andrus’ important offensive trends, particularly since.

Since 2010, Andrus’ walk rate has decreased every year, and for a player without much power, that’s a problem. In 2011-12, when he was at least able to show some small amount of pop and get his slugging into the .360-.370 range, that wasn’t such a big deal. In 2013-14, when he’s slugged .332, walked less than ever, and made less contact, it does present a problem. Unsurprisingly, the first year of these five (75 wRC+) look a lot more like the last two (79, 79) than do the middle two of 2011-12 (93, 97).

A roughly league-average offensive shortstop with plus defensive skills is a star, and that’s why his WAR in those big two seasons were 4.4 and 4.4 A below-average offensive shortstop with plus defensive skills is still worthwhile, hence Andrus’ 2.8 WAR in 2013. A below-average offensive shortstop with declining defensive skills, well, that’s a problem, and it’s why WAR saw Andrus at just 1.3 in 2014.

Let’s acknowledge the usual cautions about single-year defensive stats, and note how he ranks in our “Defense” metric, which includes not only a player’s performance, but is adjusted for position.

2010: 8.2
2011: 13.9
2012: 14.7
2013: 10.1
2014; 2.1

A September ESPN report attempted to explain why:

In 2014, he’s played with five different second basemen and had to expand his range in the outfield with left fielder Shin-Soo Choo’s sprained ankle limiting his range. He’s even had to go further to center field because of the early struggles of Leonys Martin.

At the plate, Andrus’ runs scored (67), hits (146), RBIs (34) and OBP (.315) are down. He’s hit into a career-high 20 double plays. He’s been caught stealing an AL-leading 13 times. Andrus has battled through inflammation in his right elbow, something that’s been bothering him since spring training. The discomfort comes and goes, and he really needs rest.

We have spray charts, so let’s investigate that claim of needing to expand his range. At left, we have Andrus’ made plays (in green) and missed (in red) from 2013; at right, the same for 2014:

Maybe it’s not out of the question that there’s something to that. Looking at the ‘made plays,’ it wasn’t so nearly as clustered this year as last (although some of that is likely due to increased shifting by the team). The ‘missed plays’ in 2013 were mainly your typical infield singles and occasional errors; in 2014, he was all over the field trying to get to balls. While his Range Runs had slightly declined from 11.2 to 7.8 to 4.9 in the previous three years, it plummeted to -5.1 in 2014.

Perhaps you think that it’s a flaw in the defensive stats, saying that Andrus was unfairly penalized for the shortcomings of his teammates, and I won’t rule that out completely, but that’s also not it by itself. As the quote above shows, Andrus was dealing with a sore right shoulder all season long, which isn’t ideal for a shortstop; as the quote linked here shows, Andrus reportedly showed up to camp overweight and was “uncomfortable” with it late in the year. Considering that his BsR and his Speed score both declined this year, and he led the AL in times caught stealing, it’s easy to wonder if the 2014 Andrus just wasn’t getting to balls that the 2012 version would have. (He’s reportedly focusing on losing weight this winter.)

Looking ahead to 2015, Steamer likes Andrus for a rebound, projecting an 87 wRC+ and better defense, good for a three-win season. If a winter of rest helps with his arm, and if he’s dedicated to conditioning as he says, perhaps that helps the defense and base running bounce back. I can’t say I’m as optimistic for the bat, however. Andrus’ swing rates really haven’t changed all that much, other than the fact that pitchers are throwing him fewer strikes and he’s not swinging less. The little power he showed two years ago has disappeared, and he doesn’t walk. It’s not great when “but he’s young” is the best hope you have for a hitter.

Still, the biggest issue with the contract is the length, because while $15 million annually for the next six years (and $14 million for two after that) sounds like a ton, it’s really not. It’s barely more than the qualifying offer. It’s paying him like slightly less than a three-win player, and that valuation will only turn in the team’s favor as the cost of a win likely continues to rise over the next few years. Even the length might not be so bad, because Andrus has opt-outs after both 2018 (his age-29 season) and 2019 (30).

If Andrus were a free agent this winter, as he would have been if not for the extension, he’d likely still get something close to that average annual value, just for not as many years. This hasn’t worked out the way Texas hoped it would have, expecting that a young player could maintain or improve with the bat rather than regress. But while the contract makes his trade value minimal unless the Rangers were to pick up an enormous amount of it, it’s not entirely the millstone it might seem to be. After all, it only takes a small rebound for him to once again be an above-average player at a position that’s difficult to fill. The Rangers just might have wished they waited another year to hand out that extension.

Pirates Reunite with A.J. Burnett.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the last few years, the Pirates have developed a bit of a reputation for being exceptional at extracting value from discarded pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Mark Melancon are three of the more recent examples, for instance. However, before any of those three got to Pittsburgh, the Pirates worked their voodoo on A.J. Burnett, taking him off the Yankees hands in the winter of 2011 and extracting two excellent years from him after New York decided to pay him to play for anyone else but them.

Over the 2012-2013 seasons, Burnett threw 393 innings with a 92 ERA-/85 FIP-/82 xFIP-, providing well above average performance and durability, and because the Yankees were financing his costs, the Pirates paid just $13 million for those two seasons. However, the cost-conscious organization declined to make him a qualifying offer last offseason, and despite some mutual desire for another contract between both sides, Burnett ended up taking a two year contract to go pitch for the Phillies.

It didn’t go well for either side. Burnett was bad, his teammates were worse, and so both sides decided to opt-out of the second year of the contract, allowing Burnett to become a free agent again. And now, with the choice of where to pitch once again, Burnett has decided to go back to Pittsburgh, signing on for the 2015 season for $8.5 million. By opting out of his Phillies deal and signing with the Pirates, he ended up leaving $4 million on the table, so this represents a pretty significant pay cut for Burnett, but as a 38 year old who has made over $100 million in his career, happiness clearly came ahead of maximizing dollars earned.

And Burnett should be pretty happy to be back in Pittsburgh, as his success there was likely no mirage. For one, the Pirates have been employed aggressive defensive positioning to try and limit their allowed rates of hits on balls in play, and have combined that with an emphasis on catchers who specialize in expanding the strike zone. Toss in a pitcher friendly ballpark and Pittsburgh is one of the best places for any pitcher in all of baseball. Burnett has chosen a pretty good place to have an affinity towards.

Of course, pitching in Pittsburgh won’t magically turn Burnett back into the guy he was a few years ago. He’s older now, and in baseball, older usually means worse. Steamer projects him for +1.8 WAR in 2014, but Burnett is a guy who has consistently underperformed his FIP, so a runs allowed forecast would put him closer to +1.5 WAR. And sure enough, that’s what Dan Szymborski projected him for when he tweeted out an early ZIPS forecast for Burnett after the news broke. A +1.5 WAR starter is certainly useful, but would make Burnett about half as valuable as he was during his prior stint in Pittsburgh.

They’re getting the same name, but probably not the same performance, and because the Yankees aren’t footing most of the bill this time around, he’s actually going to cost them even more. But there’s nothing wrong with paying more than a hilarious bargain, as long as you’re still paying less than market value, and $8.5 million for roughly a +1.5 WAR pitcher comes out to about $5.7 million per win, a bit less than last year’s average price, and almost certainly less than what the cost will be this year. Worse pitchers are likely going to get more money and more years than Burnett just did; this is the kind of deal you can sign when a player directs his agent to only negotiate with one team.

So this seems like a win for both sides. Burnett gets to pitch where he wants, while the Pirates get a useful back-end starter for a little less than it would have cost them to bid against other teams for something similar. Given his age and declining skills, Burnett has little upside remaining, but a reunion with the Pirates pitcher-friendly environs should allow him to throw a 180 decent innings. And thanks to his sinker/slider repertoire, even in the worst case scenario, he’d probably make a very effective right-handed bullpen piece, so there’s little downside at all to this kind of signing.

The team can’t afford to see him as the guy who pitched like their ace a few years ago, but this contract doesn’t ask him to do that, and I’m sure the Pirates are wise enough to realize he’s more of a #5 starter than a #1 starter at this point. As a depth piece, Burnett can help the Pirates, and the contract makes plenty of sense for both sides. But if they don’t re-sign Francisco Liriano, Burnett’s not the guy to take his place, and this shouldn’t be the last pitching upgrade they make this winter.

The Tigers of the Future Aren’t Totally Screwed.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Detroit Tigers are in an unusual position. There’s nothing unusual about a team trying to win now, but there’s something unusual about the Tigers’ particular sense of urgency. We can acknowledge it has something to do with Mike Ilitch, and his age, and that’s a little weird to talk about, but it’s out there. Ilitch wants to see a winner and people don’t live forever, so this is the current line of thinking: the Tigers will do anything to try to win right away, no matter what it means for the future, because what if there isn’t a tomorrow?

It’s pretty obvious where the Tigers’ priorities are. They just gave four more expensive years to a soon-to-be 36-year-old Victor Martinez, and that contract’s been identified as one that’ll look mighty bad pretty soon. But I think people might’ve gotten too far ahead of themselves in declaring that the future will be a mess, myself included. It’s easy to observe some of the parallels between the Tigers and the Phillies, but the future Tigers aren’t sure to be screwed. There’s a way to survive, such that the window doesn’t have to slam shut.

It’s time to start making assumptions. I’m going to choose to focus on 2018: though that’s only one season, it’s the future season thought to be the ugliest. Already on the Tigers’ books for that year:

$28 million for a 35-year-old Justin Verlander
$30 million for a 35-year-old Miguel Cabrera
$17 million for a 39-year-old Victor Martinez
So that’s $75 million, guaranteed, for three players who’ll be a combined 109 years old. That’s not the whole of it, either. The Tigers are also contributing $6 million a year to the Rangers’ Prince Fielder fund. They’ll probably be on the hook for a $5 million Anibal Sanchez buyout, since it’s doubtful the Tigers will want to pay him $16 million when he’s 34. Now, there’s one more thing: Ian Kinsler will have a $5 million buyout, and a $10 million club option. Let’s assume the Tigers pick that option up, since it’s really only a matter of $5 million and Kinsler should still be a contributor.

Put that together and you’ve got $96 million in combined commitments. And, of course, it projects to be spent inefficiently. Let’s take the 2015 Steamer projections as gospel. Now, across the board, let’s dock each player half a win a season, for aging. We’re left with a projected combined 8.5 WAR for 2018, for Verlander, Cabrera, Martinez, and Kinsler. Cabrera still projects to be good, and Kinsler still projects to be something like average, but you’re looking at more than $10 million per win. This is the Tigers’ future disadvantage.

Yet there’s a difference between no flexibility and limited flexibility. Where is the Tigers’ payroll going to be in 2018? More guesses. On the one hand, it’s said that the Tigers have long been operating at a loss. On the other hand, they’ve routinely increased opening-day payroll by at least 10% season over season. Let’s be conservative and figure the Tigers will increase spending by 2.5% each year. This is a lower rate than the projected league-wide inflation. That would give the 2018 Tigers a $181 million payroll. They’d have a $199 million payroll, if they kept increasing spending by 5% each year instead.

Stick with $181 million for now. Subtract out the $96 million and you’re left with $85 million. That’s an estimate of the Tigers’ remaining space. And remember, it could be about $100 million if the Tigers spend just a little more. Already, we have them projected for 8.5 WAR. Let’s set a target of, say, 35. It’s low, but it’s above .500, putting the Tigers within reach of the wild card. The 2012 Orioles made the playoffs with 29 WAR. The 2013 Indians got in at 37, while the 2012 A’s got in at 38.

So you have $85 million, to spend on roughly 26 – 27 WAR. That’s $85 million down the road, so in present-day money, you have a rough equivalent of the Rays’ 2014 opening-day payroll. With that amount of money, you’re trying to match the WAR of the 2013 Cubs, or the 2012 Mets. The closest 2014 comparison would be the Mets, again. It’s incredibly hard to build a contender with Rays money, but the Tigers wouldn’t have exactly the same task, since they already would have eight or nine wins locked in. They’d need to have other talent, but at least Cabrera should be good, Kinsler should be average, and Martinez should be okay. It’s not the same as starting from nothing.

What’s problematic, of course, is that at the moment, the Tigers don’t have a very good farm system. In order to stay competitive, the future roster is going to need some injections of cheap young talent, and while I don’t blame the Tigers too much for the current state of things, this is often what happens when you’re routinely successful. You’re drafting late, and you’re trading long-term pieces for shorter-term pieces. The Tigers, at the moment, have a bottom-five system. They just the other day traded arguably their top prospect, in Devon Travis.

But they did trade Travis for a young player. In 2018, Anthony Gose will be in his penultimate year of team control, and being defense-first might keep his costs down. Ditto Jose Iglesias, who would be in his last year of team control. Nick Castellanos would be in his penultimate year, like Gose, and he’s very recently been a top prospect. There’s no reason to give up on his development, so he could be vital for the Tigers down the road.

And you can think about a guy like Steven Moya. The odds are against Moya, but as a boom-or-bust type of prospect, the upside’s enormous, and if he develops he’d be cheap when the other guys are old and expensive. There aren’t other prospects like Moya, really, in the Tigers’ system. Moya might lead them all in ceiling.

One thing the Tigers might consider is signing J.D. Martinez to a long-term extension. Though he still has three years of control, and though his breakout spanned just 480 plate appearances, this could represent an opportunity for a future bargain. There’s the risk that Martinez declines again in 2015, but he’s just 27 now, and he might be willing to sign away a free-agent year or two, maybe with some options. Martinez would get his security; the Tigers would get, maybe, a high-quality slugger through his prime.

This is getting into specifics, where, really, 2018 is a ways away. What’s very much clear is that, down the road, the Tigers are going to be limited by all the spending they’ve already done. What’s not at all clear is that the future Tigers will be hopeless. The system right now isn’t poised to be of much help, with mostly low-ceiling position players and mostly low-ceiling starters and relievers, but there are also international avenues for finding youth, and systems and players can improve quickly. You hesitate to think anyone could follow in the footsteps of the Cardinals, but the Cardinals have stayed competitive while their Baseball America organization talent ranking has gone up from 29th in 2010 to 24th to 10th to 1st. The Tigers need to be good about their talent evaluation and their player development, but it’s not set in stone that they’ll be a mess. They’ll have to be efficient, but efficiency is possible, and the Tigers understand what lies ahead.

Dave Dombrowski deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even after the Doug Fister trade. Same guy also made the Prince Fielder trade. I don’t exactly love where the Tigers are headed, but where the Phillies have gotten to is something of a special circumstance, and I’ll trust Dombrowski over Ruben Amaro with the whole of my being.

The Top-Five White Sox Prospects by Projected WAR.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yesterday afternoon, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Chicago White Sox. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Chicago’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the White Sox system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the White Sox system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Trayce Thompson, OF (Profile)
550 .215 .285 .378 84 1.1
As he had in 2013, Thompson spent all of 2014 in the Double-A Southern League. In roughly the same number of plate appearances as 2013, he recorded roughly the same walk and strikeout rates, roughly the same number of home runs, and roughly the same slash line. Despite the similarity between those two seasons — and seeming lack of development — Thompson’s projection for 2015 is about half a win greater than it was for 2014. Reason No. 1: Steamer puts more emphasis on recent performance, and an adequate season in the high minors is more valuable than a slightly better one in the lower levels. And No. 2: Thompson is still ascending towards his peak, so the any age curve adjustment is bound to help him.

4. Micah Johnson, 2B (Profile)
550 .262 .310 .363 87 1.3
Johnson has ascended rapidly through the minors over the last two seasons. After beginning 2013 at Kannapolis in the Class-A South Atlantic League (at which level he about half a year older than average), Johnson recorded the majority of his plate appearance in 2014 at Triple-A (at which level he was nearly four years younger than average). His relative success isn’t a complete surprise, given his contact ability. While that gives him a relatively high floor, his lack of power limits his ceiling. Steamer projects Johnson to hit only seven home runs per 600 plate appearances in 2015.

3. Matt Davidson, 3B (Profile)
550 .218 .290 .382 86 1.6
Considered at points a candidate to move over to first base, Davidson made all but a small handful of his defensive starts at third in 2014. With his offensive struggles, it would appear as though the capacity to remain at the more challenging position — with the larger WAR positional adjustment — is necessary for the former D-backs prospect’s chances of producing wins at the major-league level. Power on contact remains an asset for Davidson, who hit 20 home runs last year in 539 plate appearances; the difficulty appears to be making contact in the first place, after he recorded a 30.4% strikeout rate with Triple-A Charlotte in 2014.

2. Tyler Saladino, SS (Profile)
550 .242 .308 .353 85 1.7
Because he’s recorded strong plate-discipline rates and exhibited the capacity to handle shortstop — and because he hasn’t really shown anything in the way of a carrying tool — Saladino features the sort of profile that typically receives higher marks from projection systems like Steamer than from scouts. With regard to Saladino, the precision of his projection is largely based on his fielding ability. As noted by the author in a needlessly lengthy meditation on defensive projections earlier today, Steamer — where minor leaguers are concerned — Steamer just assesses a generic positional adjustment (with no attempt to estimate defensive runs saved). In the case of Saladino, that adjustment is +6.1 runs — which is to say, the shortstop’s +7.5 run adjustment prorated down to 550 plate appearances. If he’s more of a guy who can merely handle shortstop but is more comfortable at second base, then perhaps 1.3 WAR is a more reasonable projection for 550 PAs.

1. Rangel Ravelo, 1B/3B (Profile)
550 .256 .316 .377 93 1.7
Defensive ability is even more relevant to Ravelo’s projection. Predominantly a third baseman earlier in his professional career, he receives the third-base positional adjustment the projection presented here. Unfortunately, Ravelo’s most recent defensive experience has taken place almost exclusively at first base. The positional adjustments between the two are substantial: +2.5 per season for third; -12.5 for first base. An adequate third baseman is still likely to become an above-average first baseman, so it’s not necessarily the case that Ravelo loses precisely 15 runs of value per season based merely on his move across the diamond. That’s he’s probably a 0.5- to 1.0-win player is more likely, however, than the projected figure listed above.
post #29879 of 73564
Thanks, pro.

Vikings | Timberwolves | Mariners | Twins | Huskies


aka 651


Vikings | Timberwolves | Mariners | Twins | Huskies


aka 651

post #29880 of 73564
i miss reyes on the mets. ironically a good SS is exactly what we need. DO It SANDY!
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