Mostly nothing has been happening on the MLB hot stove because everyone’s attention has been on the International Draft, which began yesterday, January 15. Young, cheap talent gets all 30 MLB GM’s (& their owners) excited. How each team does here, has a huge impact on an organization’s future. This draft has been moved up from July 2, due to COVID-19.
At the major-league level, only the SDP, NYM, ATL & CWS have made any significant roster upgrades, in an attempt to catch the LAD this off-season. As of this publication, the NYY just re-signed DJ LeMahieu (6/$90M), and reportedly just inked RHP Cory Kluber (1/$11M) to replace Masahiro Tanaka.
This treading water still makes NYY the AL favorites, because the TBR dumped ace lefty Blake Snell to the SDP, and HOU is losing free-agent OF’s George Springer (qualifying offer tagged), Michael Brantley, along with RHP Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery.
When you look at the free agents the CLE, OAK, MIN, TBR are losing, it’s hard to see any of them making a deep run in 2021, without spending some money now. The CHC dumped legitimate #2 starter, Hu Darvish & their back-up catcher to the SDP, for #3 starter RHP Zach Davies & four prospects– none of them pitchers. That dump turned the NL Central into mush.
PHI, TOR & LAA keep saying they’re going to do something, and they might. Plenty of talent available. Trevor Bauer (CIN), JT Realmuto (PHI) & George Springer (HOU) have a qualifying offer (QO) tag on them, meaning they cost a draft pick to sign with another team. NYY offered DJ LeMahieu a QO, and he refused, which gave the Yankees leverage in their negotiations.
If you’ve ever talked about how losing top picks affects a fantasy draft with friends, they’ll all tell you it’s a killer. It’s the same (x10) in MLB. Most GM’s are averse to losing draft picks now. This really limits the market for free agents.
Qualifying offer compensation depends on a complex formula in the CBA, based on revenues, but a team loses either a 2nd or 3rd round pick, (and possibly a later-round pick too) when they sign a QO-tagged FA. This helps recipient teams have great drafts, which puts those organizations ahead of their competition. Example: MIL needs a catcher, and JT Realmuto would work for them, except: 1) their payroll budget isn’t there; and 2) MIL needs their draft picks even more.
The lesson is that the player should almost always accept the QO. It’s becoming more true each winter. Example: RHP Marcus Stroman is smart for accepting his QO. Otherwise, he would have been waiting until after the June Draft as a QO-tagged FA. At $18.9M for 2021, it’s an overpay by the NYM. Next winter Stroman is an unrestricted FA.
Same deal with RHP Kevin Gausman and the SFG. Both teams (Mets & Giants) probably hoped these pitchers would refuse their QO’s, so they could collect a draft pick, but that wasn’t going to happen either way. Unless TOR signs George Springer to a big deal (and they could use him), he could become the next Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, who were frozen-out of free agency by their QO-tag.
The Achilles heel of the NYY is their predominantly right-handed lineup, and fragile/thin pitching staff. Re-signing DJ LeMahieu doesn’t fix that, it entrenches it. Lefty bats are hard to find, as WAS isn’t trading LF Juan Soto, and the NYM aren’t looking to deal OF Dominic Smith. The NYY are too right-handed, and that’s why smart teams like the TBR can run a bunch of tough right-handers onto mound and beat them consistently in 2020.
NYY are now about $10M below the threshold, which they’ve exceeded the past two seasons. Like the BOS in 2020, the 2021 NYY need to stay under that threshold to avoid a huge MLB penalty tax. They’ll need that $10M for call-ups during the season, and possibly a trade deadline deal or two.
This rules out a reunion with RHP Masahiro Tanaka. The SDP are looking for another starter in free agency, and will probably sign him, unless CIN is serious about dealing RHP Luis Castillo. AJ Preller would love to re-acquire the young flamethrower.
It’s coming down to a team making an offer, to nearly any player, who has no other options. If you’re a GM, it’s a buyer’s market for free agent talent, like never before. The question is, how will MLB owners pay for it?
On the field, the LAD & SDP have what it takes to handle the NYY & HOU, with WAS, ATL, NYM & CWS in the second-tier for 2021. Championships are often won in the off-season, and this winter appears to be no exception. Only a few teams are stacked to win a World Series in 2021. The possibility of a third-tier team winning it all is slim, and for a Cinderella, it’s remote.
MLB still hasn’t made a final ruling on the NL DH for 2021, when it’s already the new rule for 2022 & beyond. The universal DH protects pitchers & staff as a whole. It also allows NL rosters to be more flexible. You need both leagues to play by the same rules for it to be a fair game.
All this needs to be understood under the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic which is raging out of control. Sports stadiums are now being used as mass vaccination centers. Is it ethical to interrupt such a life-saving operation to play baseball?
I have friends as season ticket-holders, and they wonder out loud, “How can owners sell fans tickets to games?” Too many states won’t allow it at this point, with California being the most notable. The Dodgers, Padres, Angels, A’s, Giants, etc, may have to find a new home for 2021, and that’s if there’s even baseball at all. The start of the 2021 MLB season will be delayed for sure, that’s the industry consensus.
Tue 19 Jan 2021 10:30 AM EST
Padres get: RHP Joe Musgrove
Mets get: LHP Joey Lucchesi
Pirates get: OF Hudson Head, RHP David Bednar, LHP Omar Cruz, RHP Drake Fellows from the Padres and C/OF Endy Rodriguez from the Mets
RHP Joe Musgrove was another target of the NYY. Reportedly they were also interested in RHP Luis Castillo, but the Reds GM said he’s not being dealt in a statement on January 17, dedicated to quelling the rabid NY media. The asking price for Luis Castillo was surely too high for AJ Preller. The NYY couldn’t acquire either of these coveted young arms, because they don’t have the prospects. All the speculation on this was fake reporting & east coast bias.
Unlike hired-then-fired manager Carlos Beltran last winter, now ex-GM Jared Porter (pic above) had enough time to leave his mark on the Mets franchise. First there was the Francisco Lindor & Carlos Carrasco for prospects deal with CLE, which has been hyped as the biggest deal of the MLB winter. Really it’s a one-year rental on a star SS, with an expensive 3rd-starter thrown in. It’s a ‘Mookie Betts Lite’ salary dump by comparison, and if the NYM don’t sign Lindor to an extension, the question becomes: What did they give up?
Now the Mets just acquired left-handed 6th-starter Joey Lucchesi from the SDP, just as new GM Jared Porter was fired for sending over 60 explicit emails to women staffers several years ago. This is the Amazing Mess. Who is in charge of vetting, and reviewing resumes for MLB front office & management openings in Queens, NY? Why can’t the Mets keep their pitchers healthy? Why does this high-payroll team finish in the second-division year after year? Why are they so poor defensively? None of these realities are ever taken up seriously by the NY media, in their prognostications, nor by those who own this Amazing Mess.
Sat 23 Jan 2021 1:50 AM EST
MLB great Henry Aaron died yesterday at age 86. Here are my thoughts.
It appears the Joe Musgrove-to-the Padres deal was the final big trade of the MLB winter, the last coveted starter available for prospects. The Reds hoped to deal RHP Sonny Gray (2/$20M remaining), but teams were more interested in Luis Castillo (as discussed), so nothing developed there. This turned GM’s back to free agency, and the market has finally started to move.
Since my last update, CF George Springer signed with TOR for 6/$150M, and OF Michael Brantley re-upped with HOU for 2/$32M. SDP fans are pleased AJ Preller re-signed Jurickson Profar at 3/$21M. BOS nabbed LAD utility player Enrique Hernández for 2/$14M. Notice how position-flexible players like Profar & Hernández are valued today.
The remaining starters in free agency are mediocre, injury risks, and/or old. Masahiro Tanaka is probably the second-best option, after Trevor Bauer. It appears the LAA are going to make the reigning NL CY Young Award winner an offer he can’t refuse. The Angels are the team with money to spend that needs Trevor Bauer most, after recently signing LHP Jose Quintana for 1/$8M.
With the top starters decided, or out-of-reach, the market has turned to relievers. Pedro Baez (2/$12.5M w/ HOU), and Kirby Yates (1/$5.5M w/ TOR) were the most coveted bullpen arms, after closer Liam Hendricks signed a 4/$54M deal with the CWS last week. That shows you what’s left in the reliever market, and how quickly it dries up.
JT Realmuto appears heading back to PHI at ~ 5/$110M, unanimously according to industry sources. Lots of free agents speculated to go back to their old teams. Nelson Cruz (MIN), Marcell Ozuna (ATL), Didi Gregorious (PHI), etc. We’ll see. The Phillies have been slow-played this winter in their quest to re-sign catcher JT Realmuto, to the point where they can’t do anything else until this happens. Realmuto would probably like to sign elsewhere after losing in PHI, but he isn’t getting any other comparable offers.
There are still a bunch of mediocre catchers available, and most teams need depth, but no one can make a move in the catcher’s market until the top guy signs. Until then, just about everyone in need, holds out hope they can get him for cheap. That’s how the Cubs got RF Andre Dawson in 1987 for league minimum salary, if you think it can’t happen.
Now that George Springer & Michael Brantley have signed, the outfielder market will get some movement, for these reasons. But outside of the top remaining players, it’s mostly cheap one-year contracts for these guys at this point. That means it’s time for the Twins, Brewers, Cardinals, A’s, etc, to get active.
Penny-pinching teams are looking for bargains, and veterans are being squeezed out of the game. Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, etc, aren’t getting MLB deals. It’s minor league contracts for these guys, at best. A lot of veteran sluggers are about to announce their MLB retirements over the next few months, they just haven’t accepted it yet.
Summarizing conclusions: The upshot of this is that EVERY team values talent MUCH differently than they did, even as recently as five years ago. Data-driven analytics, started by Bill James in the 1980’s, has opened up new frontiers in competitive baseball. The SDP are now the sexy franchise model, which combines the best of old-school scouting, with metrics & modern money management.
The LAD are the big-market model, but it’s too expensive for most, so teams have to find a different way to compete, and that starts with talent in the minors. Many fans ask, “What’s left of the minors?” That’s another serious baseball question. COVID-19 has encouraged teams to bring up young talent faster than ever, because, 1) they are cheap, and 2) there may be no tomorrow.
Here’s another new GM rule which is helpful to understand. Teams are targeting specific players, in their needs. This means if the targeted player signs somewhere else, GM’s will often leave that market, because the second option(s) at that position isn’t a good fit for the team/organization. Needs are very specific in terms of age, lefty/righty, switch hitters, power, OBP, defense, utility players, stealing bases, etc, whether it’s at a certain position or bench depth. Moreover, money is now too expensive for any MLB owner to waste.
In the end, the game comes down to which GM’s & scouting departments evaluate talent the best? Right now it’s the LAD, TBR, HOU, NYY, ATL & SDP. Here’s another dirty secret the MLBPA doesn’t want fans & their own players to know: the luxury tax is basically a hard cap. The financial & draft-pick penalties get every owner under it after two years, and they don’t ever go back over with the reset, because it’s HARD to get under without breaking up the team. See the Mookie Betts-David Price deal for BOS.
The NYY have signed minor-league contracts with pitchers which they are bringing into spring training to compete for spots [!] on their 26-man roster. This is a team with a $200M payroll. The waiver wire has also been active this winter. For example: Padres outfielder Greg Allen went to NYY through waivers, to clear roster room for all their big acquisitions, while low-OBP slugger Hunter Renfroe was waived by the Rays, and signed with BOS for 1/$3M. That’s ironic franchise role reversal, from as recently as two years ago.
The Rule 5 Draft had a lot of selections, which surprised some people, but this is how AJ Preller re-built the SDP from winter 2015 through 2018. Saving money, dumping veterans, accumulating draft picks, investing in young talent, properly valuing defense & relievers, being active in the international draft, etc. Basically, leave no stone unturned when it comes to talent acquisition & getting a fair edge. Think outside the box. Exhaust all the less-expensive options before committing to premium free agents. Everyone in MLB has learned, and is applying this method, mostly out of self preservation in 2021. That explains the free agent hot stove slow burn all winter.
Mon 25 Jan 2021 3:55 PM EST
Postscript: Hand job
This is an interesting case in free agency. Elite reliever Brad Hand had a $10M option with CLE after 2020. In a surprise move, Hand was put on waivers by CLE. But he wasn’t picked up, because no one wanted to pay his 1/$10M contract, so CLE had to buy Brad Hand out for $1M, and he became a free agent. Now Brad Hand reportedly has signed with WAS for 1/$10.5M.
Brad Hand gets the million dollars from CLE for the buyout, but has to pay his agent a fee for the new contract & move, so I don’t think he wins in free agency. Brad Hand’s deal with CLE was an AJ Preller contract he signed with the SDP after 2017.
How well did AJP’s player valuation hold up? He nailed it. Brad Hand was selected by Preller off waivers from MIA in April 2016, just before Mike Hill dealt righty pitching prospect Chris Paddack for Fernando Rodney on June 30, because his team needed a closer. Marlins finally have a new GM, but the damage has been done, and it will be a long climb into serious contention for new GM Kim Ng.
I’ll conclude with the Marlins, because they were so much the story in 2020, in being allowed to cancel & reschedule MLB games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among their players & coaches. Instead of forfeiting these contests, as MLB rules instructed, the commissioners office & MLB executives made things up on-the-fly with new “protocol”, etc. The official forfeit score in baseball is 9-0. In football it’s 2-0, basketball 20-0, and ice hockey 1-0.
In a 60-game season, MIA played about half their games as 7-inning double-headers. They were able to plan their rotation & bullpen strategy far ahead of their AL/NL East competitors, who all had to accommodate the Marlins. This was a deciding factor in sneaking the Fish into the post-season in 2020. But it won’t hold up for 162 games, and neither will MLB in 2021 if COVID-19 is still raging, which by all indications it still will be.
Everything I’ve analyzed above is an industry deluded with the irrational idea that baseball can be safely played in 2021. But rational thought no longer matters in politics, it’s only the opinions of the owners that count as ‘authentic news’. MLB is being faced with survival issues, which has completely disrupted the market, despite the clarity that any independent sportswriter can bring to it.
The Fed can’t keep bailing the MLB owners out forever. Without a bailout, or fans in the stands, how are teams going to meet payroll and other big expenses? There are some owners that feel they can manage it, while others are concerned– to say the least. With all this unrest & uncertainty, there’s a high probability of a labor stoppage in MLB this season, which means the minors too.
HoF voting announced tomorrow: I’m a “small-Hall” guy for everything. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones & Jeff Kent are all Hall of Famers. I maintain my steroid line from 2012 with “No” to Manny Ramírez, Sammy Sosa & Gary Sheffield. Mark Buhrle & Andy Pettitte are my borderline guys. Omar Vizquel, and the rest weren’t quite good enough.
Final nugget, just breaking: NYY trades a reliever, along with $850K, and a prospect to BOS, in return for NOTHING. Red Sox pick up $8.15M left on Adam Ottavino’s deal, and send a PTBNL to NYY. Yankees are dumping salary to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Poor player-valuation by Yankees GM Brian Cashman, as this contract didn’t hold up at all, like so many others.