Here’s the latest analysis on what’s going on in major league baseball this hot stove season.
MLB is pushing the new Red Sox GM to trade ace lefty David Price to the Angels, only they don’t have the prospects to make it happen. No way the Red Sox deal him to the Yankees. The only teams left with the prospects & payroll flexibility are in the NL– namely the Dodgers & Padres. One of these two teams will end up with David Price, if he’s dealt, which could happen this winter.
David Price is owed $32M/year for the final three seasons of his 7-year deal. The Red Sox need to get under the Luxury Tax threshold of $208M by dealing one of their high-payroll stars. Price is the pitcher everyone covets, and thus the easiest asset to deal. This is where having payroll flexibility and a good farm system pays off for contenders.
The Astros are also interested & able, but the Red Sox view them the same as the Yankees, a team in their league who is ahead of them. You can’t help them get better. Thus, David Price needs to be traded to the NL.
The Nationals just resigned ace RHP Stephen Strasburg, so they are done on starters. The Braves need a true ace to move beyond the Divisional round of the post-season, but do they have they the prospects & ownership approval for such a payroll increase? LHP Cole Hamels is probably not enough.
The Chicago Cubs maxed themselves on payroll with RHP Hu Darvish, and busted. The Milwaukee Brewers don’t have the budget for David Price. Neither have the prospects. The Cardinals are similar to the Giants: old, expensive & mediocre, so no one who is great & wants to win goes there.
In the NL West, the rebuilding Diamondbacks just dealt their ace Zack Greinke to the Astros last July, and aren’t in the market, even though they have the prospects. They may yet deal their best lefty starter Robbie Ray this winter. The Rockies are bloated with payroll, and still too many needs, with few prospects. Besides, pitchers never want to go there. I don’t know if David Price has a no-trade clause.
So it comes down to the Dodgers, who are looking for another ace to keep them ahead of the rest of the NL West; and the Padres who are looking to crash their party by establishing themselves as contenders in 2020. If AJ Preller & the Padres land David Price, they will have done that.
Remember that Dave Dombrowski was fired as Red Sox GM last summer. He was the one who made the Craig Kimbrel deal with Preller, for what turned out to be CF Manny Margot, and three other prospects who washed out, in what was hyped as a steal for the Padres at the time. Kimbrel gave the Red Sox everything he had, until his arm went dead in late 2018. Craig Kimbrel helped them win the World Series that year, which deserves respect & gratitude from every Red Sox fan. It was a fair trade in the end.
The other Dombrowski-Preller deal was the now infamous Drew Pomeranz-Anderson Espinoza deal. Many in the Red Sox Nation howled that Dombrowski had been “ripped off again by the Padres” when this deal was announced in summer 2016. A MLB/ESPN media lynch mob was formed to sanction AJ Preller, for “undisclosed anti-inflammatories” in Drew Pomeranz’s medical history with the Padres, as retribution.
AJ Preller even offered to rescind the deal, and take Drew Pomeranz back, but Dave Dombrowski refused, while the east coast media went into overdrive. This is why AJ Preller was suspended by MLB for a month in 2016. RHP prospect Anderson Espinoza never made it out of the minors, and is currently recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox won that trade too, yet many within the organization still complain.
The fact is, you can’t do business with liars & haters. That’s the Padres perspective. The final irony here is the Padres signing Drew Pomeranz to a 4-year $34M deal this winter, to be an ace set-up man. The only thing that makes David Price to the Padres a possibility now, was the removal of Dave Dombrowski as GM. There are still many in the Red Sox organization who harbor hate for the Padres, for making them look bad in how they have abused their clout with MLB.
The lowest point in the Padres-Red Sox relationship was the “Shohei Ohtani Affair” in which the Boston Red Sox used ESPN/MLB hatchet-man Buster Olney to openly tamper, in order to stop AJ Preller from getting Shohei Ohtani in free agency when he was posted from Japan. That’s how the most coveted Japanese two-way player ever ended up as an Los Angeles Angel.
These are the undercurrents of what’s going on in the David Price trade market. Ace lefties are rare birds, and it’s a better value to get them for 3 years, versus paying for 7-9 years in free agency. It cost teams about the same in average annual value, while limiting the long-term payroll commitment & risk. The Dodgers & Padres are all over this, you can be sure.
What’s going on this hot stove season is remarkable, which is why I’m commenting so extensively. It’s clear that teams are trending more towards being open & honest about their off-season plans. Unsurprisingly, honesty makes it easier for teams to accurately judge the market and make deals, whether it’s trades, free agency, or Rule 5 Draft selections. The 26-man roster creates new possibilities for all 30 teams.
As explained earlier, the good teams with strong farm systems are now making their moves at the Winter Meetings, because they are now clear of Rule 5 Draft considerations. The Nationals re-upped with Stephen Strasburg, and then the Yankee inked Gerrit Cole to a new record-breaking MLB 9/$324M deal a day later.
When each team better understands the other’s interests & position, then teams can reach a comfort level in dealing with each other. Conversely, when one is a arrogant, with more money than brains, then one doesn’t think about the other side when dealing SS Fernando Tatis, Jr for a cooked RHP James Shields. Or RHP Chris Paddack for closer Fernando Rodney.
In the past, many teams took a Red Auerbach (deceptive misdirection) approach to their off-season plans, which doesn’t work in a competitive & balanced league like MLB. That only insults the intelligence of the people you need to do business with in today’s world.
The Padres have been open about their intentions, and have followed through on them. They said they were going to trade players they felt had under-performed; and 2B Luis Urias, LHP Eric Lauer, RF Hunter Renfroe, and a few prospects are now gone.
The players they received in return are better, but more expensive & for shorter team control. Preller is winning deals, but he’s not ripping anyone off. Most of these deals look win-win to me, with teams lining up different needs. Preller is dealing from strength, which is his supply of young controllable MLB talent & interesting prospects.
Unloading OF/1B Wil Myers will be his final order of business before Spring Training. Wil Myers has gone from franchise player to clubhouse problem, and needs a change of scenery. The organization is frustrated with his lack of growth & make-up. He has tantalizing hot streaks, where you see the potential come through, then he falls into a funk for two months or gets hurt.
A rebuilding team may target Wil Myers as a buy-low candidate. The Padres will eat salary (3/$61M remaining) to move him. If they can’t deal him, he’ll likely be a utility player. That has value to the Padres, but is very expensive for their needs. That’s their situation, and AJ Preller hasn’t locked himself into anything. That’s how you fix a mistake, without making the bigger situation worse. Hard work, due diligence & patience.
Wil Myers turned 29 on December 10, and hit .239/.321/.418 in 155 games in 2019. His manager Andy Green was fired near season’s end, in a move meant to shake up the organization. It was the performance of Wil Myers and a few others that cost Andy Green his job. Andy Green was an excellent manager in his nearly 4 seasons with the Padres.
Green was put in impossible situations every year, with a weak roster & no depth. He held the Padres together in 2016, and again in 2017, when Preller traded everything he could to rebuild the system. It paid off for the organization, so it seems unfair that Andy Green isn’t a part of what is already a much better Padres roster. Andy Green certainly deserves another shot in MLB as a manager, with a roster that can win or an organization that requires patience.
Jayce Tingler is the new San Diego Padres skipper, following an established trend of young manager hires, which AJ Preller started when he hired Andy Green, after Bud Black was fired in mid-2015. Tingler is bilingual in Spanish, which is another trend you see in new MLB dugout skippers.
As mentioned, the organizations that are masking their intentions, are being left behind. I see the NY Mets as an example of this. They’ve spent so much time waffling back-and-forth on trading RHP Noah Syndergaard, finally stating after the World Series that he’s “off the market,” that they clearly had no “Plan B.” The Mets get a compensation pick from the Philadelphia Phillies for signing free agent RHP Zack Wheeler.
The Mets took forever to hire Carlos Beltran as their new manager, whom everyone loves, but he can only do so much with this roster. They aren’t making big splashes like they did last winter, after it blew up in their face. But they don’t seem to be hunting for mid-level free agent upgrades, or looking to make any serious trades either. They’re hoping for rebound years & better health from what they have.
A wish isn’t a plan. That’s my favorite Herman Edwards (NFL player/head coach/analyst) saying. The Mets have acquired platoon CF Jake Marsnick from the Astros for two prospects. Neither were on their Top 30 list, but they keep making these deals, and are running out of organizational depth. With all the holes they have on their roster, and no ownership commitment for a significant payroll increase, no MLB team is more caught in “no man’s land” than the New York Mets.
I’ve read more than a few articles on MLB’s site (& elsewhere) which cite an “un-named AL executive” and “un-named NL executive” in their analysis. I take this as Yankees GM Brian Cashman & Padres GM AJ Preller. Those are the two sharks running the MLB talent acquisition market this winter. These two teams made their intentions clear, and have followed through, and that sets the market.
Much of the top talent is now off the board, and that helps the free agent market move along. The lessons to players & agents is: when it’s your turn, don’t dick around. The market will make its best offer, and if you don’t take it, they will move on and leave you behind. Draft pick compensation matters, as free agents Mike Moustakis, Dallas Keuchel & Craig Kimbrel all learned the hard way.
The Rule 5 Draft will happen tomorrow morning, and there will be an update here. The Yankees were one team that needed to add 6-8 prospects to its 40 man roster to avoid them being taken in the Rule 5 Draft. That’s why they waited until the Winter Meetings to sign Gerrit Cole.
Among the Padres prospects left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft were: Esteury Ruiz, Buddy Reed, Trevor Megill, Dauris Valdez and Michael Gettys. None are anything close to MLB ready, and are more like organizational depth, so selecting any one of these players means sacrificing a MLB roster spot for a season, for a long-shot.
With analytics and obsession over young talent, it’s harder to hit on this Rule 5 lottery than in the past. The point is that the San Diego Padres have the best farm system, and the New York Yankees are they deepest organization– and both left very little available.
The final storyline leaving the Winter Meetings is that if you haven’t helped yourself by now, it’s probably too late, as most of the top talent is already gone, as bargains are few in that market. After 3B Anthony Rendon signs, what’s left is second-tier talent– starting with LHP Madison Bumgarner. He’ll be the top QO free agent left, followed by 3B Josh Donaldson who declined Atlanta’s QO. Everyone needs pitching, and Josh Donaldson still puts up numbers, so they’ll both probably sign soon.
It’s OF Marcell Ozuna who may be the one frozen out this winter. The age-29 slugging outfielder declined his qualifying offer from the Cardinals. The Cards still want him back, but at less money. No one else seems to be interested. He’s too similar to Wil Myers, and thus not worth losing the draft pick to every other team outside of St. Louis. Padres GM AJ Preller’s desire to move Wil Myers dramatically affects the market for Marcell Ozuna and all other free agent sluggers.
The hottest markets are starting pitching, relief pitching, and then catching. Organizations now understand catching as a tandem, meaning there needs to be depth at that position. That’s why all the best catchers were quickly signed (or acquired in trade) as free agency opened. More importantly, catching is now understood to be an extension of the pitching staff, so defense really matters. Twenty-six man rosters in 2020 means some teams will go with three catchers.
Teams in need are looking for players that will give them 2+ WAR at a position in free agency. According to MLB’s 2019 metrics among position players: only LF Marcell Ozuna (age 29, 2.6 WAR); CF Brett Gardner (age 36, 3.5 WAR); RF’s Nicholas Castellanos (age 28, 2.8 WAR) & Kole Calhoun (age 32, 2.5 WAR); DH Edwin Encarnación (age 37, 2.5 WAR); 2B Eric Sogard (age 34, 2.6 WAR); and catcher Robinson Chirinos (age 36, 2.3 WAR) meet those qualifications. Note that most of them are old, so none of them will get lucrative long-term deal. Look for the younger players, with better futures to get the better free agent deals.
RHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (age 33, 4.8 WAR), LHP Madison Bumgarner (age 30, 3.2 WAR), and RHP Homer Bailey (age 34, 2.9 WAR) are the only free agent starting pitchers with a 2+ WAR in 2019. Lots of age & mileage on these arms, which is what makes them second-tier. Still, it’s pitching so it should move along, as long as egos don’t get out of control.
It’s when a Craig Kimbrel type of talent brings unrealistic expectations to the market, that things get messed up. Remember Kimbrel wanted 5/$85M or something crazy like that last year, when he was QO-tagged by the Red Sox, who didn’t want him back. After sitting out until the June Draft, and then signing with the Cubs, he was a disaster.
The Cubs re-upped with him at 3/$43M this winter, which doesn’t sound like a winning move for the Northsiders, but now we at least know what Craig Kimbrel is worth in free agency. The few known relievers who could help contenders were snatched up early, and what’s left is a crapshoot. That’s the second-tier reliever market.
No one in MLB wanted a repeat of last winter (or the winter before), where star players & their agents were holding up the market. It appears teams & free agent players/agents have come to an understanding on how the market is to work. This is the primary reason star players have moved much more quickly this hot stove season. It has been largely fan analysis & player push back on this, which has fueled this step forward.
Final Update: Wed 11 Dec 2019 11:35 PM EST
My timing is uncanny, as just after publishing on Wednesday ~6 PM EST, a flood of lower-tier free agent signings occurred as the Winter Meetings wrapped up in San Diego.
Dodgers have deal with righty reliever Blake Treinen (report): 1/$10M
Mets, Wacha agree to deal (source): MLB Network insider Joel Sherman reports Wacha will receive $3 million guaranteed with $7 million possible in incentives
Roark, Blue Jays agree to deal (source): 2/$24M
Crew has deal with KBO MVP Lindblom (source): 3/$9.125M for an age-32 starting RHP
Analysis: This is bullpen desperation for the Dodgers, and back-of-the-rotation rotation filler for the rest, with age-33 RHP Tanner Roark being the most obvious overpay by the Toronto Blue Jays– who are going nowhere. This is an example of the difference between trying to compete, and giving fans the illusion of trying to compete.
Later in the evening, it was reported by MLB that 3B Anthony Rendon agreed to a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels.
Analysis: The LA Angels needed to make a splash and improve themselves, and this helps. Unfortunately, they still have no pitching past Shohei Ohtani, who is coming off Tommy John surgery and will surely have innings limits. A six-man rotation is their plan, so they need at least two more quality starting pitchers after acquiring RHP Dylan Bundy from the Orioles.
Even better if they get three, because Dylan Bundy stinks. The problem is quality starters don’t exist in free agency anymore, as the Yanks & Nats ate them up. Look for the Halos to throw desperate money at big-name free agent pitchers, after they fail to land David Price. CF Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball, and he is worth the extension; but 1B/DH Albert Pujols is their franchise albatross since Josh Hamilton’s contract expired in 2017. OF Justin Upton ain’t no bargain either.
Final NL Winter Meeting Wrap-up: There have been a few head-scratchers already, none more than the Miami Marlins, who lost 105 games in 2019, acquiring 2B Jonathan Villar on December 2 from the Baltimore Orioles, after he was non-tendered due to his cost in arbitration, which will be ~$10M in 2020. This replaces 2B Starlin Castro who departs as a free agent, after being the lone MLB return in the Giancarlo Stanton salary dump to the Yankees.
Jonathan Villar is set to be a free agent after 2021, so he is an expensive rental which cost the last place Marlins a lefty pitching prospect. It won’t move them out of last place, and Villar can’t be flipped for more value, so I don’t understand what the Marlins are doing here and I’m not alone.
Righty rotation filler Jordan Yamamoto is the best player the Marlins received for MVP LF Christian Yelich to the Brewers. Top prospect in the deal CF Lewis Brinson is a bust. Twenty-four year old CF prospect Monte Harrison is a bust too. It’s also how quickly (& predictably) they busted which is very alarming to Fish fans. A bunch of nothing for Christian Yelich and his long, team friendly contract.
RHP Sandy Alcantra LHP & Zac Gallen are nice rotation pieces, as the Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis deal was by far their best trade of this teardown, their third or fourth firesale in franchise history going all the way back to 1993. Second baseman Dee Gordon was a salary dump to Seattle, and nothing materialized from the fringy prospects they acquired.
Catcher JT Realmuto was the last All-Star Derek Jeter & Mike Hill dealt, and he apparently netted a decent return from the Phillies. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is adequate and cost controllable, while prized young righty starter Sixto Sanchez is now a top-20 MLB pipeline prospect. The Phillies got an All-star catcher for a lot of years, so they already “won” this deal on their end. How Sixto Sanchez develops determines if the Marlins “win” their end of the deal, as everything else is now knowable. In summary, the Marlins gave away two MVP’s for nothing, and only acquired quality players in the Marcell Ozuna deal, and possibly the JT Realmuto deal.
The Cincinnati Reds keep making noise like they are players, when all they really have to be excited about is 3B Eugenio Suárez & young RHP Luis Castillo, whom they received from the Marlins for meatball pitcher Dan Strally in January 2017. Luis Castillo had previously been traded to the Padres for RHP Colin Rea in the Andrew Cashner deal on July 29, and then back on August 1, 2016, and this is perhaps the most infamous deal in AJ Preller trade lore.
The Reds were the beneficiary of all that foolishness as the traumatized & confused Marlins front office dealt Luis Castillo again a few months later. The tragic end of Colin Rea’s MLB career was the Marlins’ ugly unspoken organizational shame. When ace RHP Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident a few weeks later, the Marlins fate was doomed. Soon after, longtime owner & new stadium swindler Jeffery Loria sold the Marlins for a billion dollars in profit, and Project Wolverine was implemented by new ownership.
Getting back to the Reds who have a history of never developing enough quality starters, they have gone the trade route to acquire a respectable rotation, maybe their best ever and this franchise has been in existence since 1869. Ex-Yankee RHP Sonny Gray has been extended through 2023 at an affordable cost, but RHP Trevor Bauer will be a free agent after 2020. The Reds are still a frontline pitched or two short, with big holes in their line-up. The Joey Votto extension ($25M per year 2020-2023, plus a $7M buyout) is their albatross.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been forced into the second-tier of free agency in 2020, after splashing with RHP Jake Arrieta & RF Bryce Harper the past two winters. Those signings already look bad, and it’s still early, which is scary if you are a Phillies fanatic. RHP Zack Wheeler (5/$118M) is their last plunge, and it better pay off, otherwise the Phils are sunk.
They may be sunk even if Wheeler pitches well, as their roster has too many holes in their line-up, rotation & bullpen. Didi Gregorius (1/$11.75M) at SS is risky & an overpay, which is hard to accomplish with a one-year deal, yet the Phils managed to do it. Very poor planning & money management in Philadelphia already has them near the $208M Luxury Tax threshold. They went for it before they were actually ready, and now they are stuck in the middle. Bryce Harper is their albatross.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are the last NL team to discuss. Once again, they are trading their top veteran player, this time it’s CF Starling Marte, who is age-31 and has two years of team control remaining at $24M. The last place Pirates won’t get much for him, and would do best to keep him, but recall this is the organization that traded ace RHP Gerrit Cole to Houston two years ago. Historically, this is the organization that let Barry Bonds walk. The Marlins are the worst team in the NL, with the Pirates not far ahead of them. With the fall of the Cubs, the NL Central is now the weakest division in the senior circuit.
After coveted 3B Josh Donaldson signs, there will be very few impact players left in free agency who can move the needle on any of this. It’s pitching that everyone needs. The challenge, especially for AL teams like the Rays & A’s, is to identify & sign this year’s Charlie Morton. The AL is tougher on pitchers because of the DH. Therefore the AL’s best & brightest GM’s take the top pitchers first, and leave the leftovers for the NL.
Since LHP Madison Bumgarner garners no interest from the Yankees, Astros or Rays, he has diminished value to their competitors. Notice how they weren’t interested in Zack Wheeler either. A mid-level NL team, or desperate AL team will make Madison Bumgarner (and his like) the best offers in the coming weeks of free agency. But it’s actual performance which drives wins in MLB, and it’s mostly diminishing futures for old starters. This much we know, and the rest will play out and reveal itself next season.
Many top teams don’t stick around for the Rule 5 Draft, as they aren’t making selections. Therefore this writer is also signing off on the 2019 Winter Meetings, because there is no Josh Hamilton available. Here’s a MLB preview of the Rule 5 Draft, and I’ll let readers figure the results out for themselves.