Santana, Arroyo huge FA risks.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Until Saturday, the free-agent signings had not been as high profile. That changed when Jhonny Peralta and Brian McCann agreed to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees, respectively, becoming the first two players in the top 20 of Keith Law's top 50 free agents to sign this offseason.
After the Thanksgiving break, the pace should only quicken as we approach the winter meetings. Not every player will be a boon for his new team though, and there are two high-profile free agents to be wary of more than most, right-handers Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo.
Santana has often been a pitcher of extremes, and the past two years have exemplified that perfectly. In 2012, he was at his very worst. Of the 662 pitchers to toss at least one inning in 2012, not a single pitcher had a worse WAR than Santana's minus-1.0 mark.
As a result, the Angels literally gave him away -- they sent him and cash to the Kansas City Royals for a 26-year-old reliever who had repeated Triple-A. Not exactly a marquee return. But after a seemingly dominant 2013 campaign, Santana will be looking for a marquee package from teams courting the soon-to-be 31-year-old Dominican.
This year-to-year inconsistency is not exactly a new trend for Santana. While he has been pretty durable throughout his career -- at least 130 innings pitched in each year since 2005, and at least 200 innings in three of the past four seasons -- he has not always been good. Santana has never posted consecutive seasons with 2.0 WAR or greater, and he has posted sub-4.00 ERAs in consecutive seasons only once -- 2010 and 2011.
A lot of the argument for Santana depends on how you parse the years of his career. Looking at ERA-, he has been a better-than-average player in two of the past three years, and three of the past four years, but then five years ago he also had a stinker. In the end, even when you isolate his best period of performance -- the 2010-2013 period -- you end up with essentially the same guy.
2005-09: 846 1/3 IP, 103 ERA-, 99 FIP-
2010-13: 840 1/3 IP, 98 ERA-, 111 FIP-
In fact, based on FIP-, you could argue that he has been worse in recent years. Part of the problem is that despite a better-than-average fastball, Santana has never been a strikeout pitcher. He has struck out 20 percent or more of the batters he has faced in only one of his nine seasons, and his strikeout rate has been league average or worse in each of the past five seasons. This leaves him very dependent on external factors.
Law noted his career-high strand rate in his starting pitchers buyer's guide, and that could be a big deal moving forward. Last season, Santana stranded nearly 77 percent of runners who reached base against him, which was more than 4 percent above his career average. One thing teams will have to weigh is how much credit Santana's high strand rate should be assigned to the defense behind him.
Last year, the Royals had one of the best defensive units in baseball, particularly their outfield defenders. There's a decent chance that they made Santana look better than he actually was.
Pitchers with the biggest negative gap between their ERA and FIP in 2013.
Name ERA FIP E-F
1. Travis Wood 3.11 3.89 -0.78
2. H. Iwakuma 2.66 3.44 -0.78
3. Jeremy Guthrie 4.04 4.79 -0.75
4. Kyle Lohse 3.35 4.08 -0.73
5. A.J. Griffin 3.83 4.55 -0.72
6. Chris Tillman 3.71 4.42 -0.72
7. Bronson Arroyo 3.79 4.49 -0.70
8. Ervin Santana 3.24 3.93 -0.69
9. Mike Leake 3.37 4.04 -0.67
10. M. Gonzalez 3.78 4.45 -0.67
One warning sign is to look at players who had a very divergent ERA and FIP, and Santana was among those with the widest gaps -- only seven pitchers had a bigger gap last season (see table). Santana's 3.93 FIP paints him as more of a league-average pitcher. That's not necessarily the worst news in the world -- league-average pitchers do have a lot of value, particularly if they're durable enough to take the ball every fifth day. But Santana isn't looking to be paid like a league-average pitcher -- he's looking to be paid like a star.
And in looking at the 31 pitchers in the "top" 10 in difference between ERA and FIP from 2010-2012, we find that 29 of them posted a worse ERA in their next campaign. That's not necessarily iron-clad proof that Santana will post a worse ERA next year, but it isn't what you would call good news either.
Arroyo a major risk
Another free agent we find with a similar profile is Bronson Arroyo. Like Santana, Arroyo is a durable pitcher -- even more so, as he has tossed at least 178 innings in each of the past 10 seasons (he topped 200 innings in eight of them). Like Santana, Arroyo has struck out 20 percent percent or more of the batters he has faced only once in his career, and he also has had a below-average strikeout percentage in each of the past five seasons.
He is essentially then the poor man's Santana -- when Arroyo keeps his home run rate under control, he's a decent pitcher. When he doesn't, he's a complete disaster. And Arroyo has been even more volatile than Santana -- in each of the past four seasons, the soon-to-be 37-year-old has had at least a 40-point shift in his FIP.
It is difficult for pitchers who don't consistently get strikeouts to be consistently good pitchers, and that is because they are always at the mercy of their defense and the vagaries of batted balls. Santana and Arroyo aren't necessarily bad pitchers, but they come with a lot of risk. And if you are paying them with the expectation that they will repeat their ERA from 2013, you are in for a rude awakening.
Peralta helps Cardinals in short term.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Shortstop was a necrotic wound for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013; for all the success they had this year, they never upgraded on Pete Kozma, a fringy defender whose .217/.275/.273 line was the worst of any regular position player in the majors last season.
Now they've committed to Jhonny Peralta, who isn't any worse defensively at short than Kozma but offers far more upside with the bat, a great move in the short run, although he's not the kind of player I'd want to commit to for four years.
Peralta made more headlines in 2013 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, culminating in a 50-game suspension, even though he had a very strong two-thirds of a season at the plate while once again handling shortstop better than you'd guess based on a quick scouting look. Peralta destroys left-handed pitching (.352/.404/.560 line in 2013 ), which will help balance out St. Louis' lineup, which will likely start four left-handed hitters in 2014, and is capable enough against right-handers that he doesn't need to be platooned, although the occasional day off against hard-throwing righties isn't the worst idea.
He's not patient at the plate, but somewhat makes up for it with 15-plus homers in his better years and 30 doubles in most of them, numbers that are adequate at third but top-of-the-line at short. (Only two regular shortstops hit those arbitrary thresholds in 2013, with 16 such seasons in total in the last five years.) He doesn't look the part at short, but advanced defensive metrics like UZR and DRS have him consistently average or better there, making the plays he's supposed to make without showing great range outside of his zone.
If there's a flaw here in the Cardinals' thinking for 2014, it's only that their pitchers had the second-highest ground ball rate in the majors last year, yet they won't have a plus defender anywhere in their infield next season.
The market seemed to make it clear that Peralta was getting four years, even though such a deal covers his age 32 through 35 seasons, during which he will very likely have to move off shortstop -- and that's before any consideration of his suspension. He's a volatile player on the field, with OBPs of .316 or worse in three of the last five seasons, but with All-Star-caliber offensive performance in the other two, posting wRC+ figures of 122 and 123 in those seasons. (wRC+ is a park-adjusted measure of total offensive performance, regardless of position, in which 100 is average.)
His BABIPs in that period have ranged from .275 to .374, and his contact rate in 2013 was actually the worst of his career. Buying into a big platform year, or half-year in Peralta's case, is fine if you're only basing a two-year investment on it; the deal the Cardinals gave him assumes his next four years at the plate will be better than his last four, even though age isn't on his side.
Replacement level at shortstop is so low right now that even a down season at the plate from Peralta would make him an average everyday player. MLB shortstops hit an aggregate .255/.308/.373 in 2013, which is pretty close to the worst season of Peralta's nine-year career as a starter; I'll gladly take the odds of him topping that and ending up no worse than a 2.5-WAR player as long as he stays at short.
The average annual value of this deal, $13 million, is fair money for an everyday shortstop, especially given the shortage of players who can actually handle the position, but if he has to move to third or to the outfield, he'll start to look overpaid -- and I don't think he spends all four years of this deal, or even more than two of them, playing short.
The shortstop market
Peralta would have been a great fit for the Yankees at third base, since there are no free agents of merit at that position other than Juan Uribe, and the clubs that could have used him at short, like the Mets or Dodgers (sliding Hanley Ramirez to third), could look to Stephen Drew or to teams with shortstops to spare, like Arizona.
Drew's problem at the moment is that there aren't many teams with big budgets looking for help at short; the Mets, as one reader of mine quipped, are expressing interest in lots of players they won't sign, and Drew may be out of their price range. One team I wouldn't necessarily count out on Drew, or any shortstop, is Washington, as I've heard they may make Ian Desmond available in trade, which would leave only Danny Espinosa as an in-house alternative.
McCann deal just the first move for Yanks.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A general manager ran through the list of possible targets for his team the other day, and he glossed over the name of a prominent free agent. Not interested, he indicated, because “you’d have to give up the [draft] pick.”
He expressed the continuing sentiment of a lot of baseball executives, that draft picks and the draft dollars attached to them have value that cannot be surrendered lightly. This is why the Red Sox targeted a bunch of free agents who weren't attached to draft picks last winter, and probably part of the reason Jason Vargas has a four-year deal -- he wasn't attached to a draft pick -- and why some teams are shying away from Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who are tied to compensation.
But that dynamic changes dramatically once a team decides to surrender its first-round pick, as the Yankees will in signing Brian McCann. Now the Yankees are set up for the double-dip, or more, among the elite free agents tied to compensation, such as Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Santana and others.
“It’s like buying the buffet instead of ordering off the menu,” one executive said earlier this month. “You might as well go back for seconds and thirds.”
While the Red Sox, Rangers and other teams competing against the Yankees for the elite free agents will continue to weigh their desire to keep their top pick, this is no longer an obstacle for the Yankees. If they sign Shin-Soo Choo, or Drew, or Kendrys Morales, they will lose picks after the first round, which have far less value. (And the Yankees have set themselves up to get draft-pick compensation if Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson or Hiroki Kuroda sign elsewhere.)
We saw this last winter with the Cleveland Indians. The Indians had a protected first-round pick, No. 5 overall, because of their 2012 record. When they signed Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal, they gave up a competitive balance selection at No. 69 overall. As the winter played out, Michael Bourn became obtainable to them, partly because he was tied to draft compensation and his market value dipped. The Indians signed the center fielder to a four-year, $48 million, and only had to give up their second-round pick for Bourn.
Last winter, the Yankees avoided the free agents tied to pick compensation to protect their draft. But now the Yankees are in a similar position as the Indians were last winter. If the market shrinks for Drew, Morales, Santana et al, as it did for Kyle Lohse, New York will be in position to more freely pursue the player -- and against far fewer bidders, because a lot of teams simply won’t give up their top picks.
A safe bet: Now that the Yankees have given up their first-round pick, they will be going back to the buffet for seconds, and maybe for more.
This was the first big move of the winter for the Yankees, as John Harper writes. This is a deal about today, not tomorrow, as Joel Sherman writes.
The Yankees are keenly aware of what’s at stake for them in 2014, after their failure to make the playoffs in 2013. Attendance was down, their TV ratings were down significantly and they need a quick rebound. I wrote here the other day that the Yankees really want Robinson Cano back, but they’re not going to wait for him; they've got to get better.
That has started with McCann, and could continue in the days ahead.
As of today, this is what the framework of the Yankees’ lineup looks like:
1B Mark Teixeira
SS Derek Jeter/Brendan Ryan
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Brett Gardner
RF Ichiro Suzuki/Vernon Wells
From ESPN Stats & Information, the highest average annual value among catches to sign contracts:
Joe Mauer: $23M (2011-18)
Buster Posey: $18.6M (2013-21)
Brian McCann: $17M* (2014-18)
Yadier Molina: $15M (2013-17)
Jorge Posada: $13.1M (2008-11)
Mike Piazza: $13M (1999-05)
*Largest ever issued to catcher in free agency
Yankees catchers, in MLB rankings last season:
OPS: .587 (26th)
Slug pct: .298 (29th)
HR: 8 (30th)
RBI: 43 (30th)
McCann: .796 OPS, 20 HR last season
• With McCann off the board, the Rangers still have a lot of options to choose from. The Rockies wanted McCann, but missed out.
• As Jerry Crasnick writes, St. Louis is close to working out a deal with Jhonny Peralta to be their shortstop. The World Series ended three-and-a-half weeks ago, and with a couple of quick moves, the Cardinals have quickly knocked the top items off their to-do list:
1. Assuming they finish the Peralta deal, they will land the shortstop they badly need. Peralta doesn't have a lot of range, but he will make the routine plays he should make and is among the best offensive players at the position.
2. They've improved their defense in three spots, in all likelihood, with the trade for Peter Bourjos and the expected shift of Matt Carpenter to third base and addition of Kolten Wong at second.
They've managed to do all of this without dealing from their stable of starting pitching, or young outfield prospect Oscar Taveras. They've managed to do this without affecting their year-to-year payroll structure, because Peralta would effectively slide into the salary slot left behind by Carlos Beltran.
And, yet again, the Cardinals will get an extra draft pick, because of the comp pick netted from Beltran.
I saw a great comparison on Twitter this morning: The Cardinals are the San Antonio Spurs of baseball, as a model of consistency and culture, and the decisions made by general manager John Mozeliak are at the root of all that.
The Cardinals have an established tradition of stuff good hitters into the No. 2 spot in their lineup. They could use Peralta there, or shift Matt Carpenter into that spot. This is what the St. Louis lineup could look like in 2014, depending on what they do with Wong.
3B Matt Carpenter
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
CF Peter Bourjos
For David Freese, there was difficulty to live up to expectations after Game 6, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• After seeing the parameters of the Peralta contract, the Tigers might have reason to ask themselves whether they should've given him a qualifying offer -- to set themselves up for a possible draft pick. The same question is being asked within the industry about the Angels and Jason Vargas, after the left-hander signed a four-year, $32 million deal. At worst, the Angels would've had the left-hander back on a one-year, $14.1 million contract, at a time when they’re desperate for starting pitching, or, if he had left, they would've gotten a draft pick in return.
• About the reported meetings between the Mets and Robinson Cano’s reps, and the Tigers and Cano’s reps: It costs nothing to meet. And a lot of GMs will tell you that they take these sorts of meetings just in case something completely unexpected develops.
Nick Cafardo thinks that Cano is not being marketed well.
• The Angels are signing a reliever to big bucks -- Joe Smith is reportedly getting $15 million over three years -- and this is something of a trend, as Justin Havens notes:
Notable relief pitchers acquired by the Angels since 2009:
Dec. 5, 2012: Sean Burnett -- 2 years, $8M
Nov. 28, 2012: Ryan Madson -- 1 year, $3.5M
Dec. 10, 2010: Scott Downs -- 3 years, $15M
Dec. 2, 2010: Hisanori Takahashi -- 2 years, $8M
Dec. 23, 2009: Fernando Rodney -- 2 years, $11M
• Eduardo Encina writes about a possible shift of Jim Johnson to the Baltimore rotation, with Tommy Hunter in the wings as a candidate to close.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Royals signed six minor league pitchers.
2. Colby Lewis signed a minor league deal with the Rangers.
Ryne Sandberg has taken the road less traveled.
The Braves stayed in the McCann conversation.
The Padres have more rotation depth.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is a safety net for the Red Sox in their dealings with Jacoby Ellsbury.
Jays fans are waiting for Alex Anthopoulos to make his first move, writes Brendan Kennedy.
Jose Molina provides a comfortable fit for the Rays, writes Marc Topkin.
Ian Kinsler says Detroit is the perfect place for him.
Paul Hoynes addresses the future of Lonnie Chisenhall. From his piece:
I believe the Indians will give Chisenhall a shot at the starting job in 2014 but I don't think they're living in a dream world.
I've heard Carlos Santana is already taking grounders at third base and could play some third this winter in the Dominican Republic. I'm not sure if it's to increase his versatility or to give the Indians another option if Chisenhall can't do the job.
It would be nice to see Chisenhall get 500 at bats so the organization can finally make a decision on him. To do that, however, he has to perform well enough to stay in the lineup. Injuries and an inability to hit lefties (.111 last season) have prevented him from doing that.
Last season Chisenhall hit 11 homers in 289 at-bats. It projects to 19 homers in 500 at-bats, but turning projection into reality is the difficult part.
Lloyd McClendon earned a second chance at managing, writes Joe Starkey.
Oakland has a pitching prospect who is rising fast.
Mariners a free agency sleeping giant.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are more than a few rising young executives -- and older executives, for that matter -- who are outside of the Seattle Mariners' organization and looking in, and they are wi****l, wishing they could grab the Mariners’ steering wheel.
First and foremost, they love the city, curled around Puget Sound, surrounded by fir trees and hemlocks; they see it as a great place to live. They love the ballpark, underrated and underappreciated. They see potential in the passion of a fan base that is dormant after more than a decade of struggles.
They see the Mariners as the great sleeping giant in baseball.
They see a possible financial powerhouse, given that the Mariners own their own television network.
They see a team saturated with prospects taken near the top of the draft. Some, like Dustin Ackley, haven’t played as well as expected, but from catcher Mike Zunino to third baseman Kyle Seager to shortstop Nick Franklin to outfielder Abraham Almonte to pitcher Taijuan Walker -- who is among the game’s best prospects -- they see talent.
The Mariners have become a place where veteran players don’t want to go, but rival executives see that changing in a hurry, perhaps because Seattle has enormous growth potential with its payroll -- monstrous growth potential -- or, if you will, potential to become a baseball monster.
Felix Hernandez is signed through 2019. And . . . that’s it. They have no other long-term obligations after 2014. None. They are like a start-up company with loads of cash and talent and no debt.
The Mariners have told other clubs and agents that they intend to sign a No. 2-type starting pitcher this winter. There are possibly four who fit that description: Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. They have indicated they will sign a closer, whether it be Brian Wilson or Fernando Rodney. They want to sign two power hitters, and maybe that’ll turn out to be Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales.
Here’s the thing: If they wanted to, they could aim higher, rival executives say.
“They could be the team that goes after Robinson Cano,” one official said. “It might cost them $30 million [per year] to sign him” -- because the Mariners would have to overpay to land him -- “but they could do that. They could sign Jacoby Ellsbury. They could do both, easily, and make it fit.”
Oh, sure, signing Cano and Ellsbury would take the Mariners’ payroll into the range of $120 million to $140 million two or three years down the road, but given the growth of the sport, a payroll of $120 million is no longer outsized; that’s middle to upper-middle class.
Cano and/or Ellsbury could be greatly overpriced for the Mariners (and perhaps impossible; it may be that Cano would never leave New York to play for Seattle). But that would be the cost of jump-starting this franchise, and I’d rather overpay one or both of them than to pay inflated market prices on second- and third-tier players, because Cano and Ellsbury are elite, and for the Mariners, they would be game-changers. This brings to mind the thought process once explained by longtime Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi: You would rather overpay a great player than give one nickel more than you have to to a player who can’t be great.
Imagine if Seattle opened 2014 with this lineup:
SS Brad Miller
DH Raul Ibanez
1B Justin Smoak
RF Michael Saunders
LF Abraham Almonte
P Felix Hernandez
To repeat: We don’t even know if Cano would seriously think about leaving the Yankees and ditching his building legacy there to play for more money in Seattle. We don’t know if, when push comes to shove, Ellsbury would rather take $100 million to stay in Boston, where he has shared in two championships, than to take $140 million from Seattle.
But the Mariners could try. They could court Cano and Ellsbury together the way the Heat did with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- to make it clear that neither would be alone, and that they could be the start of something great together.
There’s a lot that’s gone wrong with the Mariners. But there’s one thing that many drooling rival executives love about them: You look at how they’re set up, you look at the talent, you look at the financial structure and the network and the ballpark, and you can dream big.
Around the league
• Meanwhile: 54 days after their final game of the regular season, the Mariners fired their pitching coach, as Geoff Baker writes.
• There are rumors that Cano met with the Tigers on Friday.
Separately: Am told it’s highly, highly unlikely that the Rangers will get in the mix for Cano because he probably could never fit into a workable salary structure for them.
• Folks around baseball loved the Cardinals’ deal for Peter Bourjos, and there was some surprise in the industry that at a time when the Angels are desperate for starting pitching, they swapped their most marketable piece -- Bourjos -- for a third baseman rather than a starter.
Bourjos is an elite defensive center fielder, and by making this move, the Cardinals improve themselves at three spots defensively: center field, second base (where Kolten Wong could be installed) and third base (which presumably is the future for Matt Carpenter). Some evaluators who saw David Freese in the last two months of the 2013 season were taken aback by his lack of range, and wondered if he was playing hurt.
Friends of Freese believe he will benefit greatly from a change of scenery because playing in his hometown -- where the 2011 World Series hero constantly was asked to make appearances -- had become onerous.
• Freese called the trade bittersweet. St. Louis is the big winner in this trade, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• The Freese trade helps to reveal the outfield market, writes Derrick Goold.
You wonder if the Cardinals’ lineup in 2014 could wind up looking like this, knowing how St. Louis typically places a strong hitter in the No. 2 spot:
3B Matt Carpenter
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
From ESPN Stats & Info: The Cardinals are getting an elite defensive center fielder in Bourjos, who is tied for the fifth-most defensive runs saved in the majors since 2010, his first season.
Most Defensive Runs Saved Per 1,000 Innings
*min. 1,500 innings as CF since 2010
Player Team Runs Saved
Carlos Gomez Milwaukee Brewers 18.4
Peter Bourjos St. Louis Cardinals 12.5
Michael Bourn Atlanta Braves 10.8
Chris Young New York Mets 10.5
Austin Jackson Detroit Tigers 10.3
• For Chris Young, the chance to play for the Mets means the chance for at-bats on a one-year deal, which is why this makes sense for him. Young figures to play a lot of left field and right field, and the Mets could have an outstanding defensive outfield.
This was a signal that the Mets will not spend big, writes Jay Schreiber.
• A-Rod’s team is ready to dive into federal court, writes Ken Davidoff.
After watching this week play out, with the arbitration-room drama and the subsequent radio interview with Mike Francesa, I’m more convinced than ever that as soon as A-Rod’s discipline is determined once and for all -- 11 games, 111 games, 211, whatever it turns out to be -- the Yankees will release him, effective upon the end of his suspension.
This is pure speculation, but I think the indignity of the A-Rod circus will compel the Steinbrenner family to move on.
• A-Rod thinks his side crushed it, and that MLB had no evidence.
• Brian McCann is willing to play first base.
• All fans will be screened in 2014.
• Jim Crane sued Drayton McLane.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Red Sox acquired a reliever.
2. The Pirates announced some ticket information.
3. The Royals might be tapped out, writes Bob Dutton.
4. Bill Mueller can’t wait to get back on the field.
• The Braves hired John Hart.
• The Phillies need to sign John Mayberry Jr., writes Ryan Lawrence.
• The Cubs got the go-ahead to take another 10 feet of sidewalk.
• Tom Haudricourt has a review of the Brewers’ 2013 season.
• Kirk Gibson is mad at the Dodgers.
• The time is right for the Padres to get bold.
• David Murphy’s physical has been delayed.
• The Twins are looking at pitchers.
• Prince Fielder is committed to staying in shape, says Thad Levine.
• Ian Kinsler’s relationship with Rangers Nation: Complicated, in the eyes of Gil LeBreton.