Mariners overextend on Nelson Cruz.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Mariners needed at least one more significant bat to complement Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the heart of their lineup, and Nelson Cruz might be able to be that bat for 2015. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, the team signed him to be that bat in 2016, 2017 and 2018, by which point he'll be 37 years old and there's a good chance he won't be worth the roster spot, let alone the $14.25 million (based on the deal's average annual value) he'll be owed or the 2015 first-round pick (No. 19 overall at the time of the signing) they forfeited to sign him.
The problem for Seattle isn't really the money, but the years. Cruz turned 34 on July 1 and is the type of player who tends to age poorly -- slow, unathletic, living off power rather than bat speed or defense. He's a mediocre defender who'll probably end up a DH, and because he's just a fastball hitter, if he loses any bat speed -- again, kind of what happens when you get older -- he'll struggle to post a .300 OBP. He actually struggled to do that as it was in the second half of 2014, posting a .304 OBP (ignoring IBB) after his huge but completely out-of-character first half. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS forecasts agree, projecting a .320 OBP for 2015 and just 5.8 WAR total over the next three seasons in a neutral park, before considering that Cruz, a right-handed pull power hitter, is going to a park that depresses right-handed power.
[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano, Kyle Seager
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Cruz could end up hitting between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
But Seattle certainly had a need. The Mariners would have done just as well to let their pitchers hit in 2014, getting a putrescent .190/.266/.301 line from their so-called designated hitters, which helped mask the stench of the .241/.284/.383 "production" they got out of left field. Cruz is a real upgrade right away even if he's half the player he was in 2014, and that's a realistic projection for him. It's the long-term aspect of the deal that should bother Seattle fans -- there's almost no chance for a four-year deal for a bat-only 34-year-old whose bat isn't even elite to work out well. You're hoping you recoup most of the value in the first year with a playoff berth, because you know by Year 4 you'll probably wonder if he should be a DFA candidate.
The signing fills one of those two holes for the Mariners, but leaves them with several more to address; they received little to no production last year from center field or first base and only adequate (if that) production from shortstop or right field. They don't have to fill all of those spots to be competitive in 2015, and can hope for a bounce-back season from Austin Jackson or a healthier season from Logan Morrison, but right now they're a couple of bats short of the teams they're chasing. Trading a pitching prospect for a year of Justin Upton might seem a little desperate, but that's the kind of player they need to acquire and they have enough starting pitching depth to use one of those players as bait.
The signing removes one of the few everyday bats left on the market in advance of next week's winter meetings in San Diego; of the hitters left out there, none is a real impact bat for teams looking for power, which will only increase trade interest in players such as Upton, Matt Kemp (if he's even available) or Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick. There's a glut of pitching out there, according to execs I've talked to, but the paucity of hitters is keeping the prices high for the few still available, and may have led to this ridiculous inflation in Cruz's market. It makes the Yasmany Tomas contract look even better now, given what he's expected to be in MLB, and should help the Rockies move Carlos Gonzalez and the three years, $53 million remaining if they choose to do so.
Josh Donaldson a surprising haul for Jays.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Toronto Blue Jays won the offseason two years ago with their huge deals with the Miami Marlins and New York Mets; those were mostly aimed at remaking their rotation. So far this winter, their moves have focused on overhauling the lineup, and while wins in November don't always mean wins the next October, a deal that nets them Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects is a damn good start for Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos. He's added one of the best players in baseball for a package of prospects that doesn't quite add up.
[+] EnlargeJosh Donaldson
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Josh Donaldson, pointing northeast, presumably.
Donaldson turns 29 next month, is just entering his first year of arbitration and will have four such seasons because he's a "Super Two" player this winter. He's second among position players in wins above replacement (WAR) over the past two seasons, a contributor with his bat, his eye, his power, his glove and his arm. My No. 76-ranked prospect heading into the 2008 season, Donaldson was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of Auburn, for which he caught and played the infield corners. He came to the Oakland A's as a "sleeper" in the Rich Harden trade. The A's kept trying to make him a catcher (understandably) until 2012, but soon after they settled him at third base, that compact swing and lower-body power came back.
Over the past two seasons, his only full years in the majors, Donaldson ranks sixth in the majors in unintentional walks and 18th in homers, the latter particularly impressive since he played half his games in a home run graveyard. He's been the second-best third baseman in baseball over that span, behind only Adrian Beltre, and even a five-WAR season from him -- worse than the Steamer projections for him for 2013 -- would be a 3-4 win upgrade for Toronto. I'd rather give up what Toronto gave up and pay Donaldson his arbitration salaries for four years than sign Pablo Sandoval for nine figures over five.
What I don't quite get is the A's portion of this, even if you take fairly optimistic views of all four players they acquired. Is this really enough for four years of control of one of the best players in baseball? Lawrie is still only 24 years old and has energy and athleticism to spare, but he gets hurt way too often and has become a severe ground ball hitter thanks to a swing that has his hands moving down at the ball from his load. He's an above-average defender at third; he might make you think he's elite because of his highlight-reel plays, but scouts and advanced metrics (UZR/dRS) agree he's not. What he does do well, however, is put the ball in play, a skill GMs seem to be telling us this winter they're valuing more highly than ever (tip your cap in the direction of Kansas City as you read that). There's power in the body if the A's can overhaul his swing, but that's a significant undertaking with any player -- and Lawrie will have to be healthy to make it matter. I still think his upside is that of a 4-5 win player, but I believe the probability of him getting there is half of what it used to be.
Franklin Barreto is a little fella, 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds or so, with a good feel to hit and plus speed but lacking strength to have even average power. He's a shortstop now, erratic but agile enough to become average to slightly above average, given time and a lot of patience. He has even odds or so that he will end up at second base because he can't develop the consistency he'll need to make 700 plays per year at short. I believe the bat will play somewhere, as his swing is very short and direct and he's shown excellent ability to barrel up the ball so far. He'll play all of 2015 at age 19 and should be able to go to the full-season Midwest League.
Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman are both back-end-starter types, working with fringy stuff and no real out pitch but above-average command and control. Graveman sits at or just below average velocity as a starter but threw 90-94 mph in relief at the end of the year for the Jays, getting on top of the ball well to generate downhill plane. Nolin, a left-hander, sits mostly 90-92 mph with a decent changeup, working by changing speeds and throwing strikes, but is a below-average athlete with a stiff delivery. Graveman has a little more upside with better velocity and a new cutter, while Nolin has size and the left-handedness. The big reveal here is that Oakland loves this type of player, having had success with guys like this in the past -- Tom Milone, who pitched well at home for the A's but much worse away from their pitcher-friendly park and took advantage of their strong defense everywhere, stands out as the best example. Graveman and Nolin might have more value to Oakland than to most other suitors, but that doesn't alter the absolute balance of the deal.
I can understand what the Jays are doing -- they traded three prospects who are either far away or low upside, plus the one major leaguer they'll directly replace in the deal, to acquire one of the best players in baseball, on top of signing one of the best catchers in baseball as a free agent. They still need to add a starting pitcher, but they have several young arms who they can mix and match in the last two spots in the rotation.
I can't quite fathom what the A's are doing, at least not yet; they signed Billy Butler, which seemed more like a win-now move, but dealing Donaldson makes the team worse in 2015 and doesn't save them much money in the short term because he's eligible for arbitration for only the first time. They don't have a viable shortstop for this year and could use an upgrade at second, which would imply they're thinking 2016 and beyond -- but in that case, why sign Butler for three years?
If Beane isn't playing for this year, he might have to look at trading Jeff Samardzija and/or Scott Kazmir now, as both players are free agents after 2015. I don't doubt their ability to get more out of the out-of-favor players they acquire, but it'll be hard for the return on Donaldson here to match all the value they gave up.
Tomas definitely an upgrade for D-backs.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Arizona Diamondbacks' signing of Yasmany Tomas to a reported six-year, $68 million deal was a surprise only in terms of dollar amount, as earlier reports had him asking for $80-plus million -- who could blame him? -- which seemed like it might push clubs that aren't in the top tier in revenue out of the picture. They get a guy who's probably an every-day player for reasonable money and someone who addresses one of the biggest weaknesses that sank their 2014 club.
The Diamondbacks' outfield, on paper, was looking like one of the worst units in the game, with a no-defense/no-OBP right fielder in Mark Trumbo, a similar player with less power in left field in David Peralta and a great defender but mediocre bat in center in A.J. Pollock (he was tremendous in half a season in 2014, but it was based off a fluky batting average on balls in play). That's not a contending trio unless you're running a few All-Stars out there on the dirt, so assuming Tomas is at least an average regular, this is a clear upgrade in one of the corner outfield sports for Arizona, and it frees them up to do some things with their crop of extra outfielder/bench types. At just more than $11 million per year, Tomas is being paid a little below everyday-player money, which I'd consider a reflection of the risk associated with any player coming from a non-major foreign league to MLB rather than any real doubt about his ability to play every day.
When I saw Tomas in the summer of 2013, he was overweight and looked like a designated hitter, but when in playing shape, he's capable of handling either outfield corner (more likely left field than right, but Arizona doesn't have an entrenched option at either position anyway). He's a below-average runner with a stiff body, but he has power that should play at any position -- with a short path to the ball, quiet approach and good hip rotation, driving off his back leg for power that should amount to 25 to 30 homers per year. He'll play at age 24 in 2015, old enough that he'll be expected to make the big league club out of spring training, although it would help everyone if he went to, say, Puerto Rico to get some at-bats before the winter season ends.
Tomas also fills a critical need for the Diamondbacks, who hit just 118 homers last year, third fewest in the NL despite playing in a relatively homer-friendly ballpark. With little power likely from any position but first base and wherever Trumbo plays, and not much OBP from anywhere but first, they needed some kind of offensive infusion, which Tomas provides in terms of power, if not ability to get on base. (I do think he'll be better than the team's .302 OBP in 2014, though.)
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
The Tomas signing could lead to a trade of Diamondbacks slugger Mark Trumbo.
The Diamondbacks could still upgrade in the other outfield corner if the new regime is willing to give up on the Trumbo experiment and views Peralta as a complementary piece rather than an every-day outfielder. But their biggest need remains starting pitching, with no one to fill the gap until their top starter prospects -- Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair -- begin to contribute in the majors. Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson are the only somewhat sure things in the rotation, and Hellickson might not be that sure a thing anyway. Using the outfield excess to add a back-end starter would help, but it's even more critical Arizona uses whatever free cash it has left to shore up the rotation.
Lots of teams were interested in Tomas at a lower price, including the Padres and Phillies, both of whom seem likely to spend the money they allocated to him on another player. The Padres seem to be going all-in for 2015, trying to beef up the middle of the lineup -- perhaps they'll deal one of their catchers to get some thump in the middle of the order -- while the Phillies … well, I don't know what they were doing, as Tomas' best production is likely to be the next three years, when the Phillies are probably going to be fighting for fourth place. Signing him wouldn't have been a bad move for them, not at this AAV (average annual value) but just a move that didn't do enough to get the roster moving in the right direction -- younger (yes) and cheaper (not really), with more guys who either get on base or add value on defense. The Padres do have some other options on the trade market and seem like a good fit for one of the Red Sox's various extra bats.
Yankees currently a last-place team.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Friday, the Josh Donaldson trade woke us from our tryptophan-induced slumber. But more than putting the Blue Jays in prime position to have a great 2015 season, it raised an interesting question: Are the Yankees suddenly the worst team in the American League East? It sounds odd to hear that question, but if you take stock of the AL East right now, it's a fair one.
There is obviously a lot of offseason yet to unfold. As mentioned in Buster Olney's column Sunday, only one free-agent pitcher has signed. So it's obviously too early for such bold proclamations that the Yankees will definitively be the worst team in the division. But as we stand here today, the Yankees look like they are certainly in a dead heat for it, if not pulling up the rear.
Name, Team PA WAR
Josh Donaldson, TOR 630 5.5
Evan Longoria, TB 630 5.4
Jose Bautista, TOR 637 5.2
Manny Machado , BAL 595 5.1
Dustin Pedroia , BOS 595 4.4
Russell Martin, TOR 553 3.9
Edwin Encarnacion, TOR 644 3.8
Adam Jones, BAL 665 3.6
Pablo Sandoval, BOS 560 3.6
Jacoby Ellsbury , NYY 595 3.5
Ben Zobrist, TB 560 3.5
Hanley Ramirez, BOS 525 3.5
Brian McCann, NYY 588 3.4
Steve Pearce, BAL 595 3.2
Brett Gardner , NYY 630 3
J.J. Hardy, BAL 630 2.9
Matt Wieters , BAL 489 2.9
Mike Napoli, BOS 560 2.7
Yoenis Cespedes, BOS 490 2.7
Jose Reyes, TOR 595 2.7
Kevin Kiermaier, TB 560 2.6
Mookie Betts, BOS 399 2.6
Chris Davis , BAL 595 2.4
Wil Myers, TB 595 2.4
David Ortiz , BOS 595 2.4
Martin Prado, NYY 630 2.3
Ryan Hanigan, TB 416 2.1
Shane Victorino, BOS 420 2.1
Christian Vazquez, BOS 384 2
Matt Joyce, TB 525 1.9
James Loney, TB 616 1.9
The FanGraphs depth charts, which combine both playing time and performance projections, have the 2015 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) totals for the division as follows:
Red Sox: 40.1
Blue Jays: 37.4
At this stage, playing-time projections are not going to be as airtight as they will come March, when the bottoms of rosters fill out and we see what injuries each team has entering the season. But it at least gives us a pretty good picture. And the picture isn't exactly encouraging for Yankees fans.
When the Yankees have been at their best in the past two decades, it was because they had a few pillars to rely on. And while Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury are good players, they fall short of "pillar" status, both in feel and statistically. At this moment, Ellsbury is projected to be the 10th-best position player in the division, as the table to the right shows. That is tops for the Bombers. In fact, only four Yankees position players rank in the top 30 players in the division.
New York will be relying on bounce-back seasons from three of the players who appear just underneath this top 30: Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez. No one really knows what to expect from A-Rod. Can he play all season? Do the Yankees even want him to play all season? Will he play at all? Did his year in exile do his body good, or will his swing be so rusty that it won't matter at all? He's really one big unknown.
Beltran also is hard to peg. If his elbow injury truly hampered him all season, he might get back to mashing next season. Last season was Beltran's worst at the plate in a decade, so that's a supportable argument. Beltran was 37 last season, though, and now that his trademark good defense and baserunning seem to have gone by the wayside, he is nearly a replacement player unless he gets back to mashing.
While there is some hope that Beltran can get his groove back, such hope has all but evaporated for Teixeira. Tex hasn't played more than 123 games in any of the past three seasons, and heading into next year at 35, the 2015 campaign probably won't be much different. And after posting a 141 wRC+ from 2005 to 2009, he has posted a more mortal 117 wRC+. Teixeira can still be an above-average hitter and fielder, but his baserunning and playing-time issues leave him as a decidedly below-average player overall. At least he and the Yankees will always have 2009.
Name, Team IP WAR
Marcus Stroman, TOR 188 3.2
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY 188 3.2
Alex Cobb, TB 188 2.9
Clay Buchholz , BOS 188 2.3
CC Sabathia, NYY 188 2.3
Michael Pineda, NYY 162 1.9
Drew Hutchison, TOR 166 1.8
Chris Archer, TB 179 1.8
Koji Uehara, BOS 65 1.7
Mark Buehrle, TOR 191 1.5
R.A. Dickey, TOR 188 1.5
Joe Kelly, BOS 188 1.5
Jake McGee, TB 65 1.5
Drew Smyly, TB 122 1.5
Wei-Yin Chen, BAL 169 1.5
Looking at the division's pitchers, the picture is a little more enthusiastic. But there are, of course, a few caveats here. One, as mentioned above, the pitching landscape is going to change. There's little chance that the Red Sox roll into 2015 with their starting rotation as currently constituted. Second, the three Yankees who find themselves in the top 15 here are all injury risks moving forward. All pitchers are, technically, but the trio at the top of the Yankees' rotation all battled injuries last season. Will Masahiro Tanaka have more elbow trouble? Will CC Sabathia have more knee trouble? Will Michael Pineda have more shoulder trouble? If they do, the drop-off could be significant.
The Red Sox and Rays collapsed in 2014, and between them and the Orioles' surprising run, plus Derek Jeter's retirement, the Yankees' performance as a club wasn't as big a story as it might have been otherwise. But next year, the team is out of longtime players in their final seasons to fete, and the Blue Jays and Red Sox spent November splashing the pot and raising the stakes. The Orioles and Rays have been relatively quiet thus far, as have the Yankees.
If there isn't some noise from the Bronx soon, though, it's possible the Yankees might not only be looking at a third straight year of October tee times, but also a last-place finish for the first time since 1990.
Potential winter meetings trades.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As we are just a week away from the Major League Baseball winter meetings in San Diego, we are reminded of how much fun trading can be -- particularly when clubs get together to make three-way blockbusters.
It was just five years ago at the winter meetings in Indianapolis when the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees came together in one of baseball’s biggest three-way deals.
In that three-way transaction, the Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks and Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. The Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. The Yankees sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers, and Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. The Tigers came away with one of baseball’s best pitchers in Scherzer, who would win a Cy Young Award, and center fielder Jackson -- who would later be used to land another former Cy Young Award winner in David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Could there be another three-way deal that occurs at this year’s winter meetings? It’s very possible. Here are three potential trades that would make sense:
Seattle Mariners | Los Angeles Dodgers | Milwaukee Brewers
Dodgers acquire: James Paxton from Seattle; Jean Segura from Milwaukee
The Dodgers have a lot of outfield depth and are looking to build with younger players as they seek a World Series title in the near future. Not an easy formula to make transactions. Matt Kemp has five years and $107 million remaining on his contract, and although I think it would be a mistake to trade him, the fact is that the Dodgers are listening to offers. The Mariners could offer them one of the best young left-handed starters in the game in Paxton to put in their rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. If they could pick up Segura in a three-way deal with the Brewers, they would have their stopgap shortstop until top prospect Corey Seager is ready for the majors (or is moved to third base). Segura, 24, had a down year, but should return close to his 2013 form, when he hit .294 with 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases. The Dodgers would still have Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier in their outfield.
Mariners acquire: Ryan Braun from Milwaukee
If the Mariners want to win the AL West next year, they have to acquire a big right-handed hitter to hit between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in their lineup, and Braun would be the perfect fit. GM Jack Zduriencik’s claim to fame when he was with the Brewers was his drafting of Braun, and he’d love to get reunited with him in Seattle. The Mariners have Chris Taylor -- who could take over shortstop for Brad Miller, who would go to Milwaukee in this potential deal -- and would still have a strong starting rotation with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, even if they traded Paxton. Of course, they would have to probably sign a midlevel free agent like Brandon McCarthy or Kyle Kendrick after a trade like this.
Brewers acquire: Matt Kemp from Los Angeles; Miller from Seattle
The Brewers had to be concerned with Braun’s loss of power during the past couple of years. Granted, it’s probably because of the numbness in his right thumb that they now think has completely healed. However, after watching Kemp the last two months of the season, there is no doubt that he would be an upgrade over Braun, and while they may lose some in the swap of shortstops, it would be worth it to have less risk with Kemp than Braun. In addition, the deal would send a wake-up call and be a clubhouse chemistry change to a team that collapsed in September.
Texas Rangers | New York Mets | Atlanta Braves
Rangers acquire: Justin Upton from Atlanta
[+] EnlargeJustin Upton
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports
Justin Upton would be a perfect fit for the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers desperately need another big right-handed bat to put in the middle of the lineup behind Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder, and Upton would be the perfect fit. The Rangers could then move Shin-Soo Choo back to right field, where he at least gets some better jumps and angles. The Rangers and Braves really don’t match up well on a deal, but get the Mets involved and the three teams could help each other. The Rangers' depth in the middle infield with Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor make this deal possible.
Mets acquire: Elvis Andrus and $10 million from Texas
Andrus is one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball, and has above-average range to both sides. His positive attitude and energy would fit in perfectly in the Mets' clubhouse, and his defense would really help with run prevention for one of the best young rotations in baseball. The Mets would become pretty special defensively with him at shortstop and Golden Glove winner Juan Lagares in center field. Of course, the Mets would have to absorb close to $15 million per year through 2022 and/or have the risk of him opting out after the 2018 and 2019 seasons. However, if the Rangers agree to chip in $2 million a year for the next five years of the contract, the price would probably become close to acceptable for the defense and character they’d be getting back in the deal.
Braves acquire: Noah Syndergaard from New York; Michael Choice from Texas
The Braves are building for the opening of their new stadium in 2017, and a deal like this -- with the future in mind more than the present -- would make sense. They’ve already dealt Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and this deal would follow in those footsteps. As was the case with Heyward, the Braves control Upton for only one more season, and it doesn’t appear likely they’ll be able to extend him. Therefore, they’d be trading one year of Upton for six control years of Syndergaard. Syndergaard, 22, is considered a top-of-the-rotation type of starter, and would give the Braves a solid young staff, as he would be joining Julio Teheran, Miller, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. The Braves could ask the Rangers to throw Choice into the deal with hopes that his hitting and power tools will eventually surface at the major league level. The deal would leave the Braves scrambling for outfielders, but at least give them two years to figure that out before the new stadium opens. Remember, the Braves have always been about their starting rotation, and it’s time they put the focus back where it belongs.
Philadelphia Phillies | Cincinnati Reds | Boston Red Sox
Red Sox acquire: Cole Hamels from Philadelphia
The Red Sox are determined to get an ace, and if they can’t convince Jon Lester to return to Boston, then they’ll do what they can to land Hamels from the Phillies. The Red Sox would love to use Yoenis Cespedes or their outfield depth to get Hamels, but the Phillies would much prefer to load up on younger players. This is where the three-way deal comes in handy. Hamels has four years at $22.5 million per year remaining on his contract -- because of that, the Red Sox probably would be willing to part with Cespedes and two of their top pitching prospects in Henry Owens and Matt Barnes.
Reds acquire: Yoenis Cespedes from Boston
The All Star Game is in Cincinnati this year, and the Reds have four starting pitchers in their free-agent walk years. The formula is there for the Reds to make a run, and they desperately need a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder to lengthen their lineup and provide the much-needed offense the pitching staff deserves. GM Walt Jocketty has two years remaining on his contract, and the club is in a win-now mode. Therefore, a deal of pitching prospect Michael Lorenzen and outfielder Phil Ervin to the Phillies that would land Cespedes from Boston would make sense, at least for the short term. Cespedes should be able to hit 30-32 home runs at Great American Ball Park, and if Joey Votto and Jay Bruce bounce back, it would give the Reds a lethal lineup to go with their special defense and solid pitching.
Phillies acquire: Henry Owens, Matt Barnes from Boston; Michael Lorenzen and Phil Ervin from Cincinnati
If the Phillies are going to trade Hamels, they need to get overpaid with young starting pitching, and this three-way deal would accomplish that. The Phillies would get three top starting pitching prospects, all of whom should be ready to contribute by September. Moreover, all three could develop into double-digit winners. Ervin is still a few years away, but if he hits, he could develop into a top-of-the-order type. All in all, a pretty strong prospect package for Hamels.
Top targets, fallback options for all teams.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A look at the top target(s) and fallback options for every MLB team:
Baltimore Orioles' top targets: Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis
The Orioles are focused on just keeping their own players and have a four-year offer on the table for Markakis and a three-year offer out there for Cruz. Now it's just a matter of seeing how the market unfolds and whether the two hitters will accept the deals, or whether any adjustments need to made.
Fallback options: Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter
Boston Red Sox's top target: Jon Lester
The Red Sox solve their lineup issues with the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez; now they turn their attention to their starting rotation, where they are committed to acquiring at least two pitchers.
Fallback options: Cole Hamels, James Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija
New York Yankees' top target: Max Scherzer
The Yankees are telling everyone their focus is on signing Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy and not a top free agent such as Scherzer, but that's hard to believe, especially with the Red Sox agreeing to terms with both Hanley and Sandoval and being in pursuit of Lester and/or Hamels. Like the last few years, the Yankees won't set the market early; rather they'll try to crush it late.
Fallback options: Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy
Tampa Bay Rays' top target: a manager
The Rays have narrowed their search down to three options: Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez and Don Wakamatsu. They hope to choose one prior to the winter meetings. Most of their player targets are midlevel talents who are not arbitration-eligible or are in the minor leagues.
Fallback options: Um, going with a "manager by committee?"
Toronto Blue Jays' top target: Melky Cabrera
The Blue Jays have already signed catcher Russell Martin to a five-year contract and are now focused on left field and the bullpen. They'd like to bring back Cabrera and have remained engaged with his representatives since the season ended. If they lose out on him, they'll work hard on signing or trading for an equivalent player.
Fallback options: Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford
Chicago White Sox's top targets: Melky Cabrera and James Shields
The White Sox have been active this offseason, signing 1B/DH Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke, and they're not done. They've been talking with Melky's representatives and would love to have him in left field if his price comes down. They also are looking for a right-handed starter and a veteran bullpen arm.
Fallback options: Ervin Santana, Pat Neshek, Sergio Romo
Cleveland Indians' top target: Brandon McCarthy
The Indians would love to add a veteran back-of-the-rotation type starter who can provide important innings as they continue to develop one of the best young rotations in baseball. They'd also like to add a middle-of-the-order bat and, more important, improve their bullpen. Headley is also on their radar.
Fallback options: Justin Masterson, Jason Hammel, Kyle Kendrick, Ryan Vogelsong
Detroit Tigers' top target: Max Scherzer
Despite all the denials, the Tigers still have Scherzer at the top of their free-agent target list and are not expected to pursue any other high-priced free agents until they find out if he'll return. They say they're not pursuing bullpen help, but that's hard to believe after the problems they had last season.
Fallback options: Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Andrew Miller
Kansas City Royals' top target: James Shields
The Royals are focusing on a starting pitcher and a right-handed-hitting right fielder or designated hitter. Following the unfortunate injury to top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, the Royals feel like they must either re-sign Shields or get another veteran starter to replace him.
Fallback options: Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana
Minnesota Twins' top target: Brandon McCarthy
The Twins' focus every second of every day is how they can improve their starting rotation both short- and long-term and doing so within their budget. Their long-term focus is on developing a farm system that's brimming with talent, but to be competitive, they need to keep adding veteran arms until the prospects are ready.
Fallback options: Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammel, Kyle Kendrick, Justin Masterson
Houston Astros' top target: David Robertson
The Astros are committed to their long-term plan, but at the same time they want to make another big jump in the win-loss column, and to accomplish that, they'll have to significantly improve their bullpen. They are engaged with the top relievers in the market and are being aggressive in their chase of Robertson.
Fallback options: Sergio Romo, Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek
Los Angeles Angels' top target: Yasmani Grandal
The Angels would love to be able to get one of the Padres' good young catchers, either Grandal or Austin Hedges, though it's unlikely the two teams match up, especially after the teams' deal in July involving Huston Street and others. Either way, the Angels are in search of a backup catcher.
Fallback options: David Ross, Nick Hundley, Gerald Laird, Geovany Soto
Oakland Athletics' top target: Didi Gregorius
The A's are desperate for a short- and/or long-term solution at shortstop, and they'd prefer an inexpensive solution and an above-average defender such as Gregorius. However, the Diamondbacks don't seem inclined to move him, so Oakland might have to settle for a veteran shortstop on a "pillow" type of contract (one that's comfortable but short-term).
Fallback options: Asdrubal Cabrera, Brad Miller, Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, Everth Cabrera, Chris Taylor and Jurickson Profar
Seattle Mariners' top target: Nelson Cruz
The Mariners need a right-handed middle-of-the-lineup bat to hit between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. They have inquired about several trade options, including Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Yoenis Cespedes but don't like the price tag. They'd prefer to sign a free agent (such as Cruz) so they can hold on to all their pitching options and top prospects.
Fallback options: Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Kemp, Mark Trumbo, Marlon Byrd, Michael Morse, Dayan Viciedo, Chris Davis, Torii Hunter, Alex Rios
Texas Rangers' top target: Justin Upton
The Rangers are looking for a corner outfielder, starting pitcher and catcher. They'd prefer to get a left fielder and move Shin-Soo Choo to right field. They're willing to talk about their middle-infield depth and top prospects for the right bat.
Fallback options: Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Saunders
Atlanta Braves' top target: Yasmani Tomas
The Braves have been heavily involved in the bidding process for Tomas, with the hope of signing the Cuban defector to replace Jason Heyward in their outfield. If they do land him, the plan would be to move Justin Upton to right field and trade Evan Gattis to an American League club.
Fallback option: Playing Gattis in left field
Miami Marlins' top target: James Shields
The Marlins are looking for a top-of-the-rotation starter who can fill in for Jose Fernandez until he returns from Tommy John surgery later in the summer and then form a solid duo with the young righty thereafter. The Marlins also would like a corner infielder who is capable of hitting 20-25 home runs after coming up short on their bid for Adam LaRoche.
Fallback options: David Price, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Rick Porcello
New York Mets' top target: Starlin Castro
The Mets would love to be able to pry Castro away from the Cubs; for that matter, they'd like any of Chicago's young shortstops, including Javier Baez or Addison Russell. That said, to this point, the Cubs have said they'd prefer to keep those three and address their pitching needs with a checkbook rather than a trade.
Fallback options: Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor
Philadelphia Phillies' top target: Top prospects
The Phillies have accepted the reality that they need a complete rebuild and are now prepared to listen on all players, including their ace, Cole Hamels. That said, they have no intention of giving players away and are going to make deals only if they can get legitimate building blocks in return.
Fallback options: Good prospects, midlevel prospects, maybe even fringe prospects.
Washington Nationals' top target: Max Scherzer
The Nationals' preference is to extend Jordan Zimmermann's contract, but if they can't get that done, they'll have to be open to dealing him for a strong prospect package and then reallocate those dollars toward a long-term deal with Scherzer.
Fallback options: None
Chicago Cubs' top target: Jon Lester
The Cubs want a top-of-the-rotation starter but don't have to get one this offseason. They could always wait until next year, when both David Price and Jordan Zimmermann are expected to be on the market. However, that won't stop the Cubs from doing everything they can this offseason to either sign or trade for one, with Lester as their first choice.
Fallback options: Cole Hamels, David Price, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto
Cincinnati Reds' top target: Norichika Aoki
The Reds have interest in Aoki, as one of their priorities is to upgrade left field while they wait for top prospect Jesse Winker to develop in the minor leagues. Aoki would give them a solid No. 2 hitter to bat behind Billy Hamilton, and his solid on-base percentage and unique style of hitting will only help the speedy Hamilton on the basepaths.
Fallback options: Michael Morse, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd
Milwaukee Brewers' top target: Sergio Romo
The Brewers have done much of their heavy lifting already this offseason, dealing Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays in exchange for first baseman Adam Lind and exercising the option of third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The Brewers still need back-of-the-bullpen help, though, and a right-handed-hitting first baseman to platoon with Lind.
Fallback options: Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, Pat Neshek, Andrew Miller
Pittsburgh Pirates' top target: Francisco Liriano
The Pirates were not able to persuade Russell Martin to stay, so now they are focusing on getting Liriano to return. If he departs, the Pirates will look at the next group of midlevel starters.
Fallback options: Brandon McCarthy, Edinson Volquez, Kyle Kendrick, Jason Hammel, Justin Masterson
St. Louis Cardinals' top target: Jon Lester
The Cardinals have remained engaged with Lester, who would be the ideal acquisition for them. A rotation of Adam Wainwright, Lester, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha would make the Cards the National League favorites, especially following the acquisition of Jason Heyward. They also could use a righty-hitting first baseman who could spell Matt Adams against tough lefties.
Fallback options: Max Scherzer, Mark Reynolds
Arizona Diamondbacks' top target: Kenta Maeda
Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart seems to be in love with this potential Japanese import; now it's just a matter of whether Maeda's club, the Hiroshima Carp, will make him available through the posting system this winter. Arizona is also interested in outfielder Yasmani Tomas and is engaged in the bidding process.
Fallback options: James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana
Colorado Rockies' top targets: Starting pitching and more starting pitching
The Rockies are interested in every quality starting pitcher available on the free-agent market or through trade outside of the top-tier (i.e., expensive) class. They'd be willing to trade their outfield depth and from their farm system and will even listen to offers involving Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
Fallback options: Every starting pitcher outside of the top-tier options
Los Angeles Dodgers' top target: Alexei Ramirez
The Dodgers' biggest need is at shortstop, though they also need to upgrade their bullpen and the back end of their starting rotation. They've reached out to the White Sox regarding Ramirez but are unwilling to trade Joc Pederson or Corey Seager to get him. They'd love to trade Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier for Ramirez, but the White Sox aren't biting.
Fallback options: Move Gordon to shortstop and play Erisbel Arruebarruena at second base or consider free agents Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew as a short-term stopgap
San Diego Padres' top target: Yasmani Tomas
The Padres are doing everything they can to improve their lineup, including the highest bid for third baseman Pablo Sandoval. They are all-in on Tomas and are now just waiting for his decision. In the meantime, they'll pursue every bat available on the trade and free-agent market.
Fallback options: Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes
San Francisco Giants' top target: Jon Lester
After losing Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants' brass quickly arranged a meeting with Lester, which will take place next week. This is not a long shot, folks; they would love to start the year with a rotation that included Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Lester. Their fallback option will be a bat for third base and/or left field.
Fallback options: Yasmani Tomas, Chase Headley, Michael Morse, Torii Hunter, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz
Lester deal will set other wheels in motion.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Andrew Miller has a free-agent market all to himself, in a sense, as the only elite left-handed power reliever, and in the hours ahead he will choose his next team independent of anything else that happens with other players. There are a small handful of starting pitchers looking for one-year deals to rebuild value, like Brett Anderson. Theoretically, they could sign without being affected by other dominoes.
Olney Buster Olney ranks the top 10 players at every position, with input from MLB GMs and talent evaluators:
• Posey leads the top 10 catchers
• Goldschmidt tops top 10 first basemen
• Cano tops top 10 second basemen
• Simmons tops the list at shortstop
• Donaldson No. 1 among third basemen
• Brantley atop list of left fielders
• Trout the pick among top 10 center fielders
• Stanton leads top 10 right fielders
But many other pitchers -- including those who could be traded, like Oakland’s Jeff Samardzija -- may have to wait for Jon Lester to set the price. Almost everything in the pitching market seems to be on hold until Lester makes his choice among offers from the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants (and perhaps others). Once that happens, the price ceiling will be established. “Then everything else will fall in line after that,” said one agent.
Lester and Max Scherzer are regarded as the two best free-agent pitchers, but some club evaluators fully expect Scherzer’s contract talks to carry over for weeks, as agent Scott Boras works to make a big deal happen -- something significantly more than the six-year, $144 million deal that the Tigers offered to Scherzer in the spring. Boras’ negotiations often play out way past the winter meetings, and there is so little current buzz around Scherzer that some evaluators and agents theorize that one of two scenarios is developing with the former Cy Young Award winner:
1. He could be out on a limb, some evaluators believe, with his expected price undercut by the extraordinarily high volume of available pitching. “It’s not the best time to be looking for a big deal,” said one GM, noting the many pitching alternatives that can be found for less money.
2. He will be the target of a big, bold surprise strike by some team flush with cash, much in the way that the Washington Nationals jumped on Jayson Werth for $126 million in December 2010. Scherzer might be one among many options, but he is the best right-hander available right now with few strings attached, because he’s a free agent. (A team would have to surrender a top draft pick to sign him.) Sure, you can land Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann, but any interested team would have to trade a major package of prospects in return.
So Lester is viewed as the bottleneck of the moment, and once he goes, an array of trades and signings will follow:
• The market for James Shields will gain clarity.
• The Red Sox will know how much other starting pitching they need to acquire.
• The Cubs will know whether they have a rotation centerpiece, someone to build around -- or whether they’ll have to go after somebody else, like David Price or Zimmermann.
• The rest of the Giants’ offseason plans -- built around the retention of Pablo Sandoval until last week -- can be established.
• Free agents like Francisco Liriano can properly slot in behind Lester in the pecking order. If Lester gets a deal for something in the range of $135-150 million, a contract of more than three years for Liriano could be viewed in a different context. After Liriano and Shields sign, then Edinson Volquez, Brandon McCarthy and Jason Hammel and others will have a better idea of what’s available, and who might need pitching.
[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports
The trade market for Jeff Samardzija may heat up after Jon Lester signs a deal.
• The market price could be set for the many star pitchers currently available in trades, from Samardzija to Zimmermann to Doug Fister to Rick Porcello -- and chances are that some of them will be approached about signing an extension immediately.
For example: Boston has talked with Oakland about Samardzija, but might not be interested in trading players to the Athletics unless it is reasonably assured that it will be able to work out a long-term deal with the pitcher.
These are the kinds of conversations that sometimes take place with or without permission from a team looking to make a trade, and given the amount of money involved this offseason, one agent says, “You’d be crazy not to listen.”
Samardzija’s journey is instructive in determining what the market might bear: Before the Cubs traded Samardzija to Oakland, the team repeatedly approached the right-hander about a long-term extension. But Homer Bailey's six-year, $105 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds last spring altered the financial landscape for pitchers; Samardzija turned down the Cubs’ overtures and was swapped to the Athletics.
According to the site MLB Trade Rumors, Samardzija’s arbitration award is projected at $9.5 million, Fister’s at $11.4 million. Zimmermann is set to make a negotiated salary of $16.5 million next season, Cueto at $10 million.
So if the Red Sox or the White Sox want to talk about trade-and-sign for Samardzija, or Cueto, then the cost of an extension likely will be somewhere above Bailey’s deal of $105 million, and into the range of $115-125 million for a five-year deal.
Price is also eligible for free agency next fall, but he is in a different financial category than the others, an agent noted, because he made $14 million in arbitration last winter and will get something in the range of $20 million this winter. If the Tigers entertained trade offers for Price, the cost of an extension would probably be higher than Samardzija's, but lower than Lester’s deal, because Price is still a year from free agency.
“But there aren’t a lot of deals like that out there,” said an agent. “Not every team is going to spend that kind of money.”
None of the other talk will really start, however, until Lester makes his decision.
Elsewhere in the pitching market
The Red Sox continue to pursue Lester, but are also looking at Hamels and Cueto, writes Michael Silverman.
Pitches thrown in MLB games
Jeff Samardzija 12,567
Jon Lester 26,321
Max Scherzer 20,944
Johnny Cueto 19,518
Cole Hamels 27,886
David Price 19,336
Doug Fister 15,191
James Shields 29,461
Francisco Liriano 18,972Just a guess, but I think it’s more likely that Boston winds up with Samardzija; the Red Sox have the volume of position players available to satisfy Oakland’s current needs, and Samardzija might be really attractive because he doesn’t have the same mileage as a lot of peers currently available for signing or trade, given his years spent as a reliever (as seen in the chart at right).
• The White Sox are interested in Samardzija, but the price tag may prove to be too high, writes Paul Sullivan.
• A package of players asked for by Oakland might include middle infielder Marcus Semien, a Cal product.
• Oakland is drawing interest in Samardzija from three teams, writes John Hickey.
• The saturation of available pitching is part of the reason why the New York Mets are unlikely to swing a blockbuster trade, writes Joel Sherman.
• Detroit’s top pursuit is for a lefty reliever, writes Anthony Fenech.
MLB's top five designated hitters
There aren’t a lot of full-time designated hitters remaining in the majors, but among those, here is the top five (in keeping with a recent theme in my blog):
1. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
He was arguably the majors’ best pure hitter last season, with an MLB-leading .974 OPS, 65 extra-base hits, 70 walks and 42 strikeouts.
He generated a lot of incredible numbers last season, from the number of bats he broke (his unofficial count by September was four for the year) to his number of intentional walks (28). Here’s a favorite: Martinez had seven plate appearances with the bases loaded last season and reached base six times -- three hits (including a homer) and three walks.
2. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Now 39, Ortiz will enter the 2015 season needing 34 homers to reach 500 for his career, and during the summer, he will likely pass Joe DiMaggio, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Rogers Hornsby, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt and George Brett in career RBIs.
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
Injury limited him to 128 games, but in those, he mustered 34 homers, 27 doubles and two triples, for an OPS of .902.
4. Nelson Cruz, free agent
He is coming off the best season of his career, in which he was the only player in the big leagues to reach 40 homers. The Orioles talked about a three-year deal with Cruz before he hit the market, and rival evaluators think there could be other three-year offers out there for him.
The tipping point in his negotiations could be whether someone offers a fourth year to a player who turned 34 last summer.
5. Adam LaRoche, Chicago White Sox
He got an honorable mention among first basemen earlier this month, but that was before he signed with Chicago and locked himself into a lot of at-bats at DH. LaRoche wrecks right-handed pitching, hitting 21 of his 26 homers and generating an .891 OPS against righties in 2014; he had a .620 mark against lefties.
Around the league
• If Oakland wants to extract more value out of its roster, it could probably draw the interest of some of the big-market teams -- Boston, for example -- by dangling 27-year-old reliever Sean Doolittle. Not only has Doolittle been one of the best bullpen guys in the majors during the past couple of seasons, but Doolittle’s contract also has a lot of value: He is guaranteed to make $9.37 million the next four seasons, with options attached to his contract for 2019 and 2020.
• Torii Hunter says he’s looking at the Orioles, Rangers and Mariners, as well as the Twins.
• Kiley McDaniel writes about what he sees as the key to the Josh Donaldson trade: Prospect Franklin Barreto.
Oakland’s trade of Donaldson is hard to figure out, writes John Shea. It’s the same old Oakland story, retold and retold, writes Tim Kawakami.
• The addition of Josh Donaldson gives the Jays a significant boost, writes Bob Elliott.
• The deal looks like a win-win for Toronto, writes Richard Griffin.
• Big moves might finally pay off for the Jays.
• The Donaldson move was jarring for the division, writes Bill Madden.
• The composition of the Jays’ field doesn’t matter in talking with free agents, says Paul Beeston.
• Shane Victorino says he should be Boston’s starting right fielder.
• Matt Silverman is taking an active approach to building the Rays’ roster.
• Terry Pluto runs through some reasons to feel good about the Indians, and some reasons to feel bad.
• A concussion expert helped the Rangers’ Robinson Chirinos, writes Gerry Fraley.
• The relationship between George Springer and Dexter Fowler could complicate any decision on whether to trade Fowler, writes Evan Drellich.
• The next few days could be career-defining for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, writes John McGrath.
• A Jay Bruce trade is unlikely, writes John Fay.
• Madison Bumgarner could go from pitcher to pitchman, writes John Shea.
• Seth Smith was helped by improved vision, writes Dennis Lin.
• A cricket umpire in Israel passed away after being struck by a ball.
• Vanderbilt beat La Salle in a consolation game.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Top 10 relief pitchers in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On to part 10 of our series ranking the best players at each position in baseball … Here are the top 10 relievers:
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
There is no sign of diminishment in Kimbrel's power stuff; in fact, Kimbrel's average fastball velocity of 97.0 mph last season was the highest of his career. He allowed just two homers in 61 2/3 innings and converted 47 of 51 save attempts.
You'd be way out on a limb to suggest anyone might have the kind of career enjoyed by the two most decorated relievers in history in Mariano Rivera, whose postseason performance puts him on a mountaintop all his own, and Trevor Hoffman. But Kimbrel will be 26 years old when the 2015 season begins and needs only 14 more saves for 200 in his career, and he already is showing a range of pitch repertoire that he can reach for when he begins to lose velocity.
One stat to show Kimbrel's dominance: He has faced 1,127 batters in his career and struck out 476 of them, or 42 percent.
2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
For the first time in his career, Chapman's average fastball velocity was over 100 mph in 2014. On those rare occasions Chapman allows a hit -- he surrendered only 21 in 54 innings last season -- it looks like an accident. Seriously. He faced 202 batters last season and whiffed 106 of them, and he has allowed just one homer since Aug. 16, 2013. (Here it is, by the way.)
3. Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
He didn't allow a home run the entire 2014 season, both regular season and postseason (although Juan Perez came really, really close in the World Series). He had 109 strikeouts in 72 innings last season, whiffing 38 percent of the batters he faced, and when you watched the at-bats against him, Davis was so absolutely precise with everything he threw that it looked like hitters had no chance.
4. Andrew Miller, free agent
He'll pick his next team soon and crush the record for the most lucrative contract ever signed by a setup man, and it's easy to understand the high level of interest in the lefty based on how he pitched last year. Miller surrendered just 33 hits and three homers in 62 1/3 innings, striking out 103 batters, and it didn't matter whether he was facing right-handed hitters (who had a .446 OPS against him) or lefties (.467). Also, opposing hitters batted just .151 against him with runners in scoring position last season.
5. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
Chapman has the best fastball of any reliever, but Betances arguably has the best two-pitch combination: a breaking ball that he spins at 83 mph and a fastball with an average velocity of 96.6 mph. The velocity differential of those two pitches makes it almost impossible for hitters to solve him, and in 90 innings in 2014, he allowed only 46 hits and struck out a staggering 135 batters. The Yankees could sign David Robertson or Andrew Miller and build a dominant bullpen with Betances continuing to work as a setup man. But if he's needed at closer, he certainly has the stuff to do it. With runners in scoring position last season, he held opponents to a .402 OPS.
6. David Robertson, free agent
It says a whole lot for the right-hander that he replaced the greatest closer of all time and the transition was absolutely seamless. He had 39 saves in 44 chances last year, and struck out 96 batters in 64 1/3 innings, allowing just 45 hits. There were moments last season when he struggled with his command, but that might have been more related to a heavy workload than with his pure stuff: His average fastball velocity has held steady in his career.
7. Greg Holland, Royals
The overall dominance of the Kansas City bullpen obscured just how good Holland was, but just think about these numbers from last season: He faced 240 batters and allowed only 37 hits, holding opponents to a .168 batting average. And with runners in scoring position, hitters went just 6-for-39 against him, with one extra-base hit.
8. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
He just seems to get better and better, pitching with more confidence, and while the Dodgers' bullpen as a whole had its problems last season, he held up his end of things. Jansen, a 27-year-old converted catcher with a nasty cut fastball, generated 101 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.
9. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
A big swing-and-miss reliever, Allen held opponents to a .601 OPS last season. He's entrenched as the closer in the Indians' bullpen.
10. Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
The third left-hander in this top 10, Doolittle is here largely thanks to his incredible ability to throw strikes. He allowed just eight walks (with 89 strikeouts) in 61 appearances last season, posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the big leagues. Some rival evaluators have wondered whether the A's will make him available in trade, but he is signed through 2018 for a total $12.5 million, with club options for 2019 and 2020. That contract only enhances his value, so if any team actually wants to trade for Doolittle, they'd have to factor that in.
Honorable mention: Huston Street, Angels; Ken Giles, Phillies; Joe Smith, Angels; Joaquin Benoit, Padres; Koji Uehara, Boston; Jordan Walden, Cardinals
Hot Stove talk
• Jon Lester met with the Giants on Monday as he nears a decision on where his next home will be. Lester walked away from his meeting with Chicago very impressed with the Cubs, and with time remaining for final bids, I'd guess the Cubs are the current favorite. After how the negotiations for Lester played out last spring, I don't think the Red Sox will get a hometown discount; I think Lester will sign with the team that offers the most money.
The Cubs threw a three-pronged pitch at Lester. The Red Sox are waiting on Lester, writes Michael Silverman. The Braves are out of the Lester bidding. The Giants might have to venture beyond their comfort level in pursuing Lester, writes Henry Schulman. Bruce Bochy was part of the Giants' traveling party, writes Alex Pavlovic.
• The Dodgers are in serious talks with left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, as are the Yankees and other teams. Miller is likely to garner a four-year deal, perhaps for $8-9 million annually.
• Before Robinson Cano left the Yankees, he encouraged them to pursue Nelson Cruz, he of the significant bat speed and power. So presumably Cano had a hand in nudging the Mariners to give Cruz a fourth year in their contract offer, which was a difference-maker. The Orioles were comfortable with their three-year offer; given Cruz's age (34) and 2013 PED suspension, four years was too steep for them.
Now Lloyd McClendon will have some interesting lineup choices. Here's what it might look like:
Austin Jackson, CF
James Jones, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Kyle Seager, 3B
Nelson Cruz, DH
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Dustin Ackley, LF
Chris Taylor, SS
Players to lead MLB in HR but begin next season with different team, last six instances
Year Player Old team New team
2014 Nelson Cruz Orioles Mariners
2004 Adrian Beltre Dodgers Mariners
2003 Alex Rodriguez Rangers Yankees
1946 Hank Greenberg Tigers Pirates
1935 Jimmie Foxx Athletics Red Sox
1919 Babe Ruth Red Sox Yankees*Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Bob Dutton writes that the Mariners continue to look for a right fielder, and if they land another good hitter, you could make a case for them being the AL West favorites heading into the 2015 season. A year ago, Seattle shied away from Cruz partly because of his 2013 suspension, but now that the Mariners have signed him, giving up their first-round draft pick in doing so, they might as well think about double-dipping and pursue Melky Cabrera, who is coming off a good season with the Blue Jays, or Nick Markakis, who is at a standstill in his negotiations with Baltimore. Keep in mind that Cano is very close with Melky after playing with him on the Yankees.
The Cruz signing could mean the Mariners are on the verge of something big, writes Larry Stone.
• The Padres believe that with a couple of the right moves to add hitting, they could be in position to contend in 2015, and so they continue to work to find creative ways to add offense. They are marketing catcher Yasmani Grandal, and they hired Mark Kotsay on Monday to be their hitting coach.
• Oakland is looking for a shortstop as it dangles pitcher Jeff Samardzija in trade talks, and Boston has an elite defensive shortstop who is major league-ready in Deven Marrero. In fact, the Athletics and Red Sox are a theoretical match on several players, including Brock Holt, who played well at multiple positions after he was called up last season and would fit well in Oakland.
Here's a breakdown of Marrero from MLBfarm.com.
• Executives expect today to be a really busy day of smaller deals and roster-pruning leading up to the deadline for teams to tender contracts. Some of that movement began Monday, but some things have yet to be decided:
1. The Pirates added Sean Rodriguez and designated Gaby Sanchez for assignment.
2. Other teams are waiting to see if Oakland dumps either Brandon Moss or Ike Davis.
3. The Astros have decisions to make with seven players.
4. Cleveland is expected to tender contracts to all of its arbitration-eligible players, writes Paul Hoynes.
5. The Dodgers face a decision on catcher A.J. Ellis, who is eligible for arbitration. The new regime is certainly aware of the strong relationship Ellis has with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and it's hard to imagine Andrew Friedman risking some sort of tension with Kershaw and Greinke over what is relative pennies in the Dodgers' world.
6. The Angels will make decisions on David Freese and Gordon Beckham today.
7. The Rockies must decide what to do with Jhoulys Chacin.
• The Rangers continue to discuss a possible deal with veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, sources say, in hopes that he can help provide some right-handed balance to a lineup that skews to the left. This time they might actually get him, writes Evan Grant.
• There was a lot of oxygen and words spent linking the Phillies with Yasmany Tomas, and it turns out they never made an offer to him. From Matt Gelb's story:
Jay Alou said Monday the Phillies showed constant interest but never submitted a formal contract offer. Alou believed Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had to "clear salary" before making a substantial commitment to Tomas.
"His hands were tied," Alou said.
Amaro declined to characterize his talks with Alou. He would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an offer.
"The only comment I can make about that is we don't really discuss our negotiations," Amaro said. "But it was clear the Diamondbacks valued him higher than we did."
• There has been no progress in the talks between the Orioles and Nick Markakis, writes Dan Connolly.
The Orioles have already lost Cruz and, presumably, Andrew Miller from a team that won the AL East last season.
The O's need to improve in 2015, not just get healthy, writes Peter Schmuck.
• Toronto is constantly linked to some of the high-end free agents, but the perception that the Blue Jays have a lot of money to spend this winter even after signing Russell Martin is likely very far off base. Martin's contract is a clue: His salary is heavily backloaded, meaning Toronto needed to keep his salary low at the outset of the deal to squeeze it into its budget.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Former player Delino DeShields chose to remain in the Reds' organization.
2. The Marlins are talking about long-term deals with their best young players, writes Barry Jackson.
3. The Twins hired Butch Davis.
4. The Brewers signed a left-hander.
• Barry Svrluga has a division preview for the winter meetings.
• Royals manager Ned Yost has first-hand knowledge of two of the three candidates for the Tampa Bay managerial position.
• The Twins are making changes at Target Field.
• Brett Lawrie says he must be himself.
• There is sad news about **** Bresciani, who worked for the Red Sox for many years.
• There was a slight increase in positive drug tests. It has been noted by some players and team officials that we have yet to see a major leaguer suspended because of a positive test for human growth hormone, which some in the game suspect is the favored drug of choice.
• Vanderbilt fired its offensive coordinator.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Top 10 right fielders in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In the latest installment in our series ranking the top 10 players at each position -- and No. 1 third baseman Josh Donaldson was traded Friday night -- we move on to the right fielders.
1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Miami has bet a record-setting deal that Stanton is going to be one of the best players for years to come, and hey, why not? He’s the game’s best power hitter at a time when teams can’t find power hitters, and in 2014, he showed how good he could be at all facets, including defense: The only right fielder with more defensive runs saved was Jason Heyward.
2. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
He ranked second in the big leagues in walks last season, behind Carlos Santana, and only Andrew McCutchen and Victor Martinez posted a higher on-base percentage. Perhaps part of the reason why the Jays are loading up for the immediate future -- with the signing of Russell Martin and the trade for Donaldson -- is that the 34-year-old Bautista is nearing the end of his contract: He’s signed for $14 million for next season, and the Jays hold a $14 million option for 2016.
3. Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants
The other day, Adam Jones moved up the ranking of center fielders because of the reliability factor, and this is a major plus for Pence, as well. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said repeatedly that Pence requires less daily maintenance than any player he has managed, ever; he just shows up every day, with the same energy and the same preparation. Pence has missed a total of 24 games over the past seven seasons, and oh, by the way, he’s been a pretty good player, too -- next season, he’ll hit his 200th career homer and collect his 1,500th hit.
4. Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
Injuries have greatly impacted his career, but last season, Werth missed just 15 games and played well, posting a .849 OPS and an OPS+ of 134; only Bautista, Stanton and Heyward ranked higher in WAR. At the time that Werth signed his seven-year, $126 million deal, there was much shock and outrage within the industry, but in the first four years, he’s quietly provided value for Washington -- and unlike many other long-term deals, this one doesn’t look bad as he enters the final three seasons.
5. Jason Heyward, St. Louis Cardinals
His former teammate Andrelton Simmons and Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado might be the only players who have dented defensive metrics more significantly than Heyward over the past couple of seasons; last year, Heyward led all players in defensive runs saved with 32. Heyward, 25, still seems to be defining himself as a hitter, and some evaluators wonder if he’ll ever be able to consistently combat inside fastballs or hit left-handed pitching. Last season, Heyward had 26 doubles, three triples and 11 homers in 573 at-bats.
6. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some of his teammates believe that once Kemp shifted permanently to right field, he gained some of the stability he craves and responded by playing much better, demonstrating that when healthy, he is dangerous. Kemp, 30, played in 59 games in right field last season and in those, he batted .314 with a .981 OPS and 16 homers. Rival officials have wondered whether Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman will trade Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford or Kemp, who are all owed a lot of money. In order to move Ethier or Crawford, Friedman would either have to eat a lot of cash or accept another team’s bad contract. In the case of Kemp, however, Friedman would have more leverage to get something good in return, because Kemp has shown he’s still capable of being a great player. (The Dodgers would still probably absorb a portion of the $107.5 million owed to Kemp over the next five years, even in a good deal.) If he continues to play great in 2015, whether it be for the Dodgers or some other team, he will climb this list.
7. George Springer, Houston Astros
He seems destined to challenge Mark Reynolds’ single-season record for strikeouts some day, because he gets deep into the ball-strike count and swings really hard; he struck out 114 times in his first 295 at-bats. But right away, he demonstrated that he’s capable of a lot of other great stuff -- such as hitting homers consistently. Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Springer ranked first in the majors in HR/FB ratio, at 27.8 percent, and some evaluators expect him to immediately challenge Miguel Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Mike Trout for the league lead in homers in his first full season in the majors in 2015.
8. Nick Markakis, free agent
He just won his second Gold Glove, and in 2014, he did what he almost always does, producing daily. Markakis had a .342 on-base percentage, and had 177 hits and 62 walks. Markakis is currently in negotiations with the Orioles for his next contract, although it’s not exactly clear if there will be a break in the recent impasse in the discussions.
9. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
His 2014 disaster can be traced directly to knee trouble: Bruce struggled before he had knee surgery, and he worked to come back as quickly as possible to help the struggling Reds -- probably too soon. The result was a mess of a season, a .281 on-base percentage and a .373 slugging percentage. He’s still just 27 years old, and everything he did leading up to last season, on offense and defense, strongly suggests he should get a mulligan for his work last summer. In the last weeks of the 2014 season, Bruce was already talking about what he was going to do to prepare for 2015, and he’s an excellent bounce-back candidate.
10. Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels
He batted in front of Mike Trout in the Angels’ lineup last season and thrived, scoring 90 runs and racking up 51 extra-base hits in 493 at-bats.
Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays: He contributed more than defense last season, accumulating 16 doubles, 8 triples and 10 homers in 108 games for Tampa Bay last season, and generating an OPS+ of 117.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: Last season, he tumbled to 37th in on-base percentage and 17th in slugging percentage among all outfielders last season; he said the other day that his surgically repaired thumb, troublesome throughout 2014, feels much better.
Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia Phillies: He did fine in the Triple Crown numbers in 2014, 25 homers and 85 RBIs, with a .264 average. But he ranked 21st in WAR among right fielders partly because of his defense, which may go a long way toward explaining why no team overwhelmed the Phillies with a trade offer for the 37-year-old.
Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies: Honk if you’ve heard this before for a Colorado player: There’s a wide disparity between his home (.331 batting average, .915 OPS) and road (.241, .617) production.
Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays
Oakland has long since made a habit of flipping veterans in trades, which is why it made sense from the day after the Athletics were eliminated to canvass the market to see what they could get for Josh Donaldson. But when teams asked about Donaldson in October and the first part of this month, they were told unequivocally that he was not available, in keeping with what Athletics official told Susan Slusser anonymously Oct. 1 in regards to the possibility of trading Donaldson: “That would be stupid.”
But Donaldson was going to become too expensive for Oakland very soon, and there was lingering tension between Donaldson and the organization. What really changed the equation for Oakland occurred in recent days -- last Sunday night -- when the Blue Jays agreed to include Brett Lawrie in any proposal. (There are evaluators with other teams wondering why they weren’t apprised of Donaldson’s availability.)
The service time for Lawrie -- three years and 55 days -- is close to that of Donaldson (two years, 158 days), but because Lawrie’s first seasons have been filled with injuries and missed games and because Donaldson has been an MVP candidate, Lawrie will be cheaper next season (by about $3 million or so) and into the future. Lawrie will be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season; Donaldson, a year later.
So Oakland is betting heavily that Lawrie, only 24 years old, has his best days ahead of him, in spite of the growing industry concerns that his hell-bent style of play is destined to keep him in the trainer’s room, and maybe the Athletics’ deal of Donaldson now is an acknowledgement that he has been a hot stock that may have peaked. Donaldson is a converted catcher who didn’t establish himself in the big leagues until 2012, and he turns 29 in early December. Oakland also landed prospects in this deal that could help the Athletics replenish their farm system.
But the Jays know Lawrie better than anyone, and the fact that Toronto was willing to trade a younger, cheaper and more gifted player for a more expensive and much older player at the same position probably would’ve scared off some teams. Not Oakland.
If Lawrie stays healthy and hits, then this deal could look great, and nobody has ever doubted his talent or his effort. But if he remains consistent in his struggles to stay in the lineup, the Oakland production could look a lot more like it was in August and September -- with Donaldson in the lineup -- than in 2012, 2013 and the first four months of 2014.
Remember, Oakland really doesn’t do all-out, Houston-style reconstructions. The Athletics are one of three teams to win at least 74 games in every season since 1997 -- the year that Billy Beane took over as Oakland’s general manager; the Yankees and St. Louis, two teams with significant resources, are the other two.
The square peg in this situation, however, is Oakland’s decision to invest $30 million in right-handed hitting DH Billy Butler. But as one rival executives notes, Butler’s ground ball ratio skewed dramatically in the past couple of seasons. “Maybe they think there’s a fairly easy fix,” he said.
• But there is more work to be done -- John Hickey writes that Oakland is discussing Evan Gattis and Justin Upton in a possible deal -- and maybe when all of Oakland’s winter work is finished, some of the incongruity will be resolved. Or maybe that’s just the nature of the Athletics’ roster, which will always have more than its share of misfit toys.
• The trade of Donaldson almost seems unthinkable, writes Slusser.
• Dave Cameron wonders what the Athletics are doing.
• Oakland fans are not happy.
• For the Jays, it was a huge deal, as Mike Zeisberger writes.
• The Lawrie era in Toronto is over, writes Brendan Kennedy.
The Jays shocked themselves, writes John Lott.
• Lawrie had made clear he wasn’t OK with moving to second base, as Cathal Kelly writes.
Most Wins Above Replacement
Position players past two seasons.
Mike Trout 16.7
Josh Donaldson 15.4
Andrew McCutchen 14.4
Robinson Cano 13.9
• From John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information: According to wins above replacement, only Mike Trout has been more valuable than Josh Donaldson the past two seasons.
• The Blue Jays are still looking for a left fielder, and if Melky Cabrera can’t find a bigger deal elsewhere and drifts back into Toronto’s price range, he might be a possibility. But here’s what Toronto’s lineup could look like:
SS Jose Reyes
C Russell Martin
RF Jose Bautista
3B Josh Donaldson
1B Edwin Encarnacion
DH Andy Dirks
CF Dalton Pompey
LF Kevin Pillar
2B Maicer Izturis/Ryan Goins, until top prospect Devon Travis is deemed ready to go.
The Jays are also looking for bullpen help, by the way.
Around the league
• The Royals have imminent cost issues with their bullpen, and to help with those, they re-signed Jason Frasor on the cheap and swapped Aaron Crow to the Marlins for prospects.
• Pedro Strop became the latest player with an MLB connection involved in a road accident in the Dominican.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Nationals haven’t had extension talks with Doug Fister in a really long time, as James Wagner writes.
2. Tony Campana and his wife announced on Twitter that he is signing with the White Sox.
Dings and dents
1. The Tigers are prepared to play without Alex Avila in 2016, writes Lynn Henning.
• The Mets are waiting to see if the Red Sox will dangle Xander Bogaerts, writes Dan Martin.
• A Rangers prospect is being investigated, writes Gerry Fraley.
• Dave Dombrowski talked about the state of the Detroit's rotation.
• Paul Hoynes wonders if the Indians would be a good trade partner for the Red Sox.
• Jamie Moyer is leaving the Phillies’ broadcast booth.
• Australia is promising scrutiny for cricket, after the death of Phil Hughes.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Will cricket player's death open MLB eyes?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Cricket player Phillip Hughes passed away Thursday after being hit by a ball earlier this week, a tragedy that has overwhelmed folks in his native Australia and elsewhere. The sporting world is in shock.
Dean Jones writes about getting to know Hughes, while Hughes' extended family is encouraging teams to play on.
Hughes' death happened because of a terrible accident, a freak injury where a bouncing ball hit him in the side of the neck, just below the protective headgear he was wearing. That is why members of the Major League Baseball Players Association should discuss Hughes' injury and death when union chief Tony Clark makes his rounds in spring training. Specifically, they should talk about the many incidents that occur each season when a pitcher intentionally aims a fastball at a hitter standing in the batter's box.
Most of the time, retaliation in Major League Baseball occurs without anybody really noticing or knowing for sure what exactly happened. Years ago, when I covered the San Diego Padres, Craig Shipley stole second base in the ninth inning of a game the Padres led 7-1 over the Phillies. In Shipley's first plate appearance the next day, Danny Jackson drilled him below the waist with a pitch. Shipley dropped the bat and ran to first base, and nothing more was said about it until after the game, when reporters quizzed Shipley about the sequence of events.
Shipley mostly slammed the door shut on the conversation, telling reporters that all the players understood what happened and that nobody else needed to know. He even defended Jackson's decision and execution of the pitch, saying in so many words that if the Phillies believed he had violated some kind of a code, then they were obligated to retaliate in some way and had done it the right way.
When Joe Torre was manager of the Yankees, he mentioned often that there was a right way and a wrong way to retaliate. Hitting a batter in the rear end or in the legs was OK, but throwing the ball by someone's head or neck -- that was out of line. You continue to hear that to this day.
Maybe Hughes' death will convince the players to start advancing this conversation. Maybe it's time to evolve to this: Intentionally hitting a batter for any reason is just wrong, and stupid, and dangerous. And if all the players begin to believe this, rather than thinking there is a proper way to retaliate, then progress will be made for all of them.
Because they all know from experience that while the pitchers who reach the majors might be the best in the world, they are far from perfect. They make mistakes. They often aim for the inside corner, but miss the target by feet and the ball goes outside. It's possible that they will aim for the hip and hit the head. After Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza in summer 2000, in one of the most frightening moments in baseball in the past two decades, some teammates privately explained that Clemens' intention was to intimidate Piazza, to throw near his head, not at him, and he was simply off target. Piazza was left lying in the dirt, concussed.
What if Clemens had hit Piazza in the neck, the way the bouncing ball had hit Hughes?
What if in September, Giancarlo Stanton had been hit in a slightly different spot in what appeared to be a wholly accidental beaning? The same could be said of Matt Cain's pitch to David Wright, and so many other incidents.
The game of baseball consists of a pitcher throwing a ball, often as hard as he possibly can, at an area next to which the batter stands. The danger is inherent, and accidental injuries are going to happen; hands and wrists are going to be broken, and batters will be hit in the face. They should all be cognizant of what's possible. Ray Chapman was beaned in 1920 and died within a day. Other players, like Tony Conigliaro, have been maimed for life. Phillip Hughes is being mourned in Australia.
Somewhere along the way, however, it became acceptable practice for pitchers to hit batters on purpose. The hope is that baseball players will realize, through the benefit of perspective gained -- most recently with the injury to Stanton and the death of Hughes -- just how absurd this is.
They are all members of the same union. They are all trying to make a living. They should all realize how ridiculous it would be for any one of them to intentionally cause or contribute to the injury of another.
On Aug. 1, Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star Paul Goldschmidt suffered a broken hand on a pitch thrown by Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Ernesto Frieri, ending his season. The next day, Randall Delgado drilled Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen in the back.
[+] EnlargeAndrew McCutchen
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Andrew McCutchen was drilled in the back by a Randall Delgado pitch on Aug. 2.
Only Delgado knows for sure what his intent on that pitch was, but the circumstances were more than suspicious. Umpires certainly thought he hit McCutchen on purpose, and they ejected him; others on the field assumed it was retaliation. Inexplicably, Delgado was not suspended by Major League Baseball, maybe because of the belief that Delgado retaliated in the right way and didn't hit him in the head.
As if there's a right way for one man to intentionally throw an object at another player standing defenseless 60 feet away (actually 55 or 56 feet from the spot most pitchers actually release the ball).
Major League Baseball needs to grow up. The players need to grow up in the way that the National Football League has. For years it was standard operating procedure for defensive backs to lower their heads and drive themselves into the head and neck of wide receivers, most of whom were looking in another direction for the ball. After many injuries, ranging from concussions to others more severe, lawsuits were filed and the powers that be realized this sort of play was not a good thing. There have been howls of protests from some players and fans who want the defenseless hits to continue because "that's the way it's always been."
But maybe that kind of thinking in the NFL is changing. In the second quarter of the Lions-Bears game on Thanksgiving Day, Detroit's Golden Tate caught a 4-yard pass, and Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings moved to tackle Tate and dropped his head. The crown of Jennings' helmet hit Tate in the head. Even before the 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness was announced, Jennings appeared to apologize to Tate, who traded collegial slaps with Jennings in response. Jennings seemed to be saying: "Hey, my fault," in acknowledgement of breaking a rule designed to protect all the players.
MLB players need to start thinking this way about retaliation situations. Rather than believe there's a good way and a bad way to retaliate, they need to start thinking there's no good reason for hitting anybody on purpose. If a pitcher is intentionally throwing the ball at another player, there is no acceptable level of risk for injury.
A couple of things must happen in order for this change to occur:
1. The union needs to make a strong collective statement in the name of player safety -- as it has in embracing testing for steroids and the new collision rules designed to protect catchers -- and take a strong stance against pitchers intentionally hitting batters with the baseball.
2. If the players' association does this, then Major League Baseball can ramp up the aggressive discipline of pitchers who are deemed to have thrown at hitters on purpose. In a lot of retaliation situations to this day, many umpires will allow pitchers some latitude. Look, Alex Rodriguez has developed a number of enemies with his actions, but remember when Ryan Dempster threw at him at least three times and eventually drilled him, then was merely warned?
This thinking of there being a right way and wrong way of hitting a batter should stop: If an umpire believes a pitcher threw at a batter with intent, the pitcher should be ejected -- and the suspension should be longer, to reinforce the point.
Greg Baum, a columnist for The Age in Melbourne, Australia, writes here about the emotional hurdles facing all bowlers, who are in cricket what pitchers are in baseball. Read these words from Baum's piece and imagine that he is writing about a pitcher who takes the mound after the death of a major league peer:
So, Australian captain Brad Haddin wins the toss and puts India in to bat on a green pitch at the Gabba next Thursday, and Mitch Johnson is at the top of his run-up, the new ball's lacquer glinting in his hand, looking harder than it ever has before.
Put yourself in Johnson's boots: does he bowl Shikhar Dhawan a bouncer? As dangerously fast bowlers go, Johnson has a delicate temperament, all last summer's blood-curdling bowling and posturing notwithstanding. Does he have the stomach to bowl a bouncer? Is it about stomach anyway?
And if he does bowl one, and Dhawan only barely jerks his head out of its line, does he follow it up with another? And how would the crowd react? Crowds by definition are irrational, but what would be the more irrational response now, to cheer Johnson or to boo him?
MLB players and executives should imagine themselves in a parallel circumstance, which isn't exactly far-fetched, given the similar dynamics of cricket and baseball.
How would Major League Baseball players respond if a batter was killed or maimed inadvertently in a retaliation situation? If that happened -- or if someone in McCutchen's position was permanently injured -- how would they all feel? Think about all the effort and time required for any player to reach the big leagues. Wouldn't it seem completely ridiculous that the most powerful union in the world would effectively sanction any form of retaliation -- through inaction -- that led to a moment like that? Wouldn't club officials feel the same way?
Wouldn't Major League Baseball executives be left to hem and haw in explaining why there's a right way and wrong way of retaliating? Instead of thinking that Hughes' death was just an awful, unlucky accident, shouldn't they be thinking that they're merely fortunate this hasn't happened in a long time in their sport?
In 2014, with all that we know about head injuries and risk, can anyone offer a sane defense for a supposed right way of retaliating?
Around the league
• The Diamondbacks signed Yasmany Tomas. This is the second-largest deal for a defector from Cuba, writes Jeff Sanders.
[+] EnlargeDavid Robertson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
The market really hasn't been set yet for reliever David Robertson.
• Mark Feinsand wonders why the Yankees are taking so long to sign closer David Robertson.
I think they're just waiting for the gap between Robertson's asking price and their own view of his value in the current market -- teams generally aren't willing to go beyond about $10 million and three years -- to get smaller. The Yankees are not going to give Robertson a deal similar to the one signed by Jonathan Papelbon, and Robertson's side needs to canvass the market and take their best offers back to the Yankees.
• The Cardinals can be patient with the pitching market, writes Derrick Goold.
• The delays at Wrigley Field shouldn't surprise anyone.
• Melky Cabrera's preference is to leave the Blue Jays so he doesn't have to play on an artificial surface in his home games.
• Ryan Braun says his troublesome thumb feels better.
• A Rangers prospect remains jailed after a fatal accident.
• On Black Friday, Paul White writes about the free-agent bargains that remain.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Part of the Red Sox ownership group will purchase the Pawtucket Red Sox, writes Nick Cafardo.
2. The Royals acquired an infielder.
3. Justin Masterson is drawing interest from other AL Central teams.
4. The Rays designated Sean Rodriguez for assignment and added Ernesto Frieri.
• Eduardo Encina has some thoughts on the Chris Davis rumors and the Orioles' search for a hitting coach.
• Speaking of the O's, they're thankful for left-handed relievers, writes Roch Kubatko.
• The Yankees are trying to solve their third-base issue, writes Pete Caldera.
• Russell Martin is someone who will change a team's culture, writes Bob Elliott.
• Here are the Mariners' targets, from Bob Dutton.
• Michael Florek writes about the five biggest disappointments of the Rangers' season.
• The Giants are no longer avoiding high-priced free agents, writes John Shea.
• Hanley Ramirez says he grew up as a person with the Dodgers.
• Acquiring offense has been all the rage this winter, writes Joel Sherman.
• Fans 15 and older will be charged for autographs at PirateFest.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Baseball's New Balance Of Power.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 8 The Big Money Issue. Subscribe today!
THE METS, OF all teams, ignited MLB's hot stove in November by inking Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract. Grabbing him was a goodwill gesture to the team's long-suffering fan base and its biggest star, Cuddyer's buddy David Wright. But while Cuddyer's stats look Ruthian compared with those of other Mets outfielders, New York has to surrender its first-round pick (15th overall) in next year's draft. The deal was so strange, in fact, that it raised a couple of interesting questions. How much is a draft pick worth now anyway? And are we witnessing in this Cuddyer signing a dying brand of deal-making?
Let's start at the beginning. Over the past decade, a series of sabermetricians -- including Nate Silver (now at ESPN), Victor Wang and Sky Andrecheck (now working for the Indians) -- have developed a method that's pretty standard for valuing draft picks. For any slot, we can look at how past players chosen at similar positions performed over the first six years of their careers (while under control of the teams choosing them). We can convert their average wins above replacement to a dollar value, then subtract their costs -- their average signing bonuses, rookie pay and pre-arbitration salaries. Then we can take their average net value and apply a discount factor because newly drafted players will be producing wins in the future, and getting a dollar tomorrow isn't as valuable as having one today.
Each of these steps embeds certain assumptions, like how much 1 WAR is worth, so this whole process is inexact. But according to the best estimates by Matthew Murphy at The Hardball Times, the average value of the No. 15 pick in the MLB draft is $8.4 million to $10.9 million. That's our best guess for what the Mets are forgoing to sign Cuddyer.
Now, that average covers a huge range of on-field possibilities, from busts who were drafted 15th but never made it to the bigs all the way to Hall of Fame candidate Chase Utley, picked 15th by the Phillies in 2000. The right way to look at a draft pick, then, is that it gives a team a long yet significant shot to develop a cheap star: From 2000 to 2010, nine of 55, or 16 percent, of draftees from No. 13 to No. 17 developed into All-Stars, including Cole Hamels, Jason Heyward and Chris Sale. And good organizations today realize that they can boost their yield by stockpiling picks, even when that means saying goodbye or no thanks to free agents: Over the past five years, the Rays have led MLB with 17 regular or supplemental first-round picks.
Which brings us to our second question. Big trends are slowing big-name free agency. Organizations are increasingly locking up young stars to long-term deals -- hello, Giancarlo Stanton! -- while dominant seasons by older players grow rarer, perhaps because the game is less saturated by anabolics. So the free agent pool isn't as alluring as it used to be. Meanwhile, clubs are getting better at evaluating prospects, and as major league pay continues to rise, so does the value of having young players under salary control. That means draft picks are more valuable than ever. (Which is a big reason the low-rent Royals made it to the World Series; the team had 13 homegrown players on its Fall Classic roster.) Lastly, MLB has stricter penalties for going "over slot," or beyond its designated price for draft choices. So if you give up your first-round pick, it's not really an option anymore to flash a huge wad of cash to your favorite Scott Boras prospect, hoping he will make big signing-bonus demands and drop to you in the second round.
Only a few teams splurge seriously and serially on free agents anymore: Of the 25 players who signed after turning down qualifying offers as of Nov. 19, nearly half have gone to large-market, win-now franchises in New York, Boston, Los Angeles or Texas. Some guys, like Kyle Lohse in 2012 and Kendrys Morales last year, have had trouble finding any new home at all. Rising costs plus declining benefits equal less demand.
And after we can gauge the Mets' return on investment from Cuddyer -- who hit 43 points better in Denver than on the road as a Rockies player, hasn't played 150 games in a season since 2010 and will turn 36 in March -- I bet the free agent trickle will dry into a drought.