We have reached the end of January and we still have plenty of quality free agents on the market. The problem? The free agents aren’t free. In many cases, they are expensive. Too expensive for the budgets of several clubs. It isn’t for a lack of desire to sign the players, it really comes down to fitting certain players within the confines of the team’s budget as well as organizational plans.
Next week, I will discuss the current free agent process in a historical look at the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners Collective Bargaining Agreements.
In several previous articles I have shared my thoughts on major league club spending and resources. I don’t wish to rehash that here. In a nutshell, however, I feel every team can afford to have a salary budget that exceeds the $30MM of some teams. Not everyone must spend $200MM, but I do believe there should be a minimum (floor) and maximum (ceiling) in a salary structure that works for the clubs, the players and for fans.
For now, I want to highlight some events of the offseason thus far that I feel are significant.
Kyler Murray Has A Decision To Make
Baseball/football star Kyler Murray has announced that he is making himself eligible for the NFL Draft. Murray was the No. 1 selection of the Oakland Athletics in this past MLB Draft.
He was given a contract that included a $4.66MM signing bonus by the Athletics. He now must decide if he will play football as a professional when he is drafted or honor his baseball contract.
It is being reported the Oklahoma quarterback may well “follow his heart” and join the NFL club that drafts him. He is projected to be a first round pick in that draft.
A speedy outfielder, Murray has a difficult decision to make. He was selected No. 9 overall by Oakland in the June 2018 MLB draft. But the Athletics may come up second best in the internal struggle being handled now by Murray.
Yankees Load Up On Talent
As if the Yankees weren’t good enough already, they added several players this offseason that will likely make them even better. Any team that can add left-handed starter James Paxton to a rotation that already includes Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and C.C. Sabathia has a chance to win every time they take the field. I wrote about Paxton when he was first added to the Yankees rotation. However, they have also added D.J. LeMahieu to fit in their lineup as a quality second baseman who plays excellent defense, has some pop in his bat and if called upon, can take an extra base. LeMahieu will join newly signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in adding more offensive firepower to an already potent lineup. If Tulowitzki comes back from his injuries with some degree offense left in his game, the Yankees will have depth in their quest to win games while waiting for the injured Didi Gregorius to return. The addition of Adam Ottavino just shortens the game even more for the Yankees. He’s a solid reliever. But I caution that Ottavino was not as good two years ago when he slumped badly. Relievers are a bit volatile, but Ottavino was outstanding last season for Colorado. What a bullpen they have in the Bronx.
Twins Counting On The Long Ball
While their pitching remains suspect, the Minnesota Twins may be able to pound some teams into submission with the home run as a key offensive weapon. True, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, two major components of their long-range plans, went right into the dumper last season. Maybe one or both will emerge in the coming season. What if they live up to expectations? They, along with Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler provide a fairly solid nucleus. But now, in 2019 the Twins will be adding slugger Nelson Cruz as their designated hitter, powerful right-handed hitter C.J. Cron as their new first baseman and slumping but still promising Jonathan Schoop as their new second baseman. Can Schoop return to the guy the Brewers thought they were getting when they traded for him from the Baltimore Orioles? He’s in the same category as Buxton and Sano. What if? The Twins can be really scary if any of their question marks become exclamation points. But they still can’t pitch.
Who Are The Mariners?
General manager Jerry Dipoto never saw a deal he didn’t like. As the most prolific wheeler/dealer in baseball, Dipoto has taken a blow torch to his roster. He has added the likes of Jay Bruce, J. P. Crawford, Edwin Encarnacion, Domingo Santana, Justus Sheffield, Mallex Smith and Anthony Swarzak to his roster. The amazing turnover has cost him Mike Zunino, Robinson Cano, James Paxton and Edwin Diaz among others. But in reality, Dipoto may be on to something. His new collection of players could and should score plenty of runs. And who knows what the ceiling is for Mitch Haniger, who remains as of this writing? The problem? Somebody has to pitch for Seattle. They could win or lose game after game with scores like 11-9. But I think Mariners fans will love watching their new club marinate. Maybe this roster of solid offensive stars can outscore their mediocre pitching. Just like the Twins are hoping happens to them. And maybe they still make more moves. Maybe they move Encarnacion for a pitcher?
The Rangers Remain A Mess
With a horrible pitching staff already in place, the Rangers added Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Drew Smyly. To help them hopefully keep their collective ERAs below 5.0, the team signed catcher Jeff Mathis. he should help the pitching staff with good game management skills. But really, Miller, Lance and Smyly? Is that the best they could do to reshape a miserable rotation? None among the trio would have cost their former team big dollars to retain. Yet, each former team passed. I think I know why. For their sake, and for the sake of Rangers fans, I hope this attempt at saving a few bucks with non first-tier pitchers works for them. Oh, and lest I forget, they also added pitcher Jesse Chavez as well. The Rangers have fallen further and further from baseball relevancy conversations with each passing season. With bad deal after bad deal, I fear Rangers fans will be talking only about their new stadium and not much about their club on the field.
The Mets Make Some Moves That Matter
I like what New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has done since he was named to his new role. Perhaps he is the beneficiary of the club spending more money now. Whatever the case, he’s made some nice moves. I particularly like fixing a broken catching situation by adding Wilson Ramos. I think Ramos will hit well in New York. I also think Robinson Cano has something to prove back in the Big Apple and following his suspension. Cano might be in the right place to shine in 2019. With Jeurys Familia coming back to their bullpen and with the edition of Edwin Diaz as the closer, the Mets starting pitching can get some assurance their efforts won’t go to waste. Remember, the team still has Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler as of this writing. That’s a pretty formidable rotation that now has some offense and some defense to help climb the National League East ladder. I don’t think the Mets are done dealing. I admire what they have done so far, and I think they can be competitive in the National League East.
Indians Continue To Search For That Inexpensive Diamond In The Rough
Count me among those that feel the Cleveland Indians can’t possibly open the 2019 season with their current outfield of Tyler Naquin, Leonys Martin and Greg Allen. Their collective home run output might equal that of Yan Gomes, who was traded to Tampa Bay. No. No. No. The Indians cannot waste another year of very good starting pitching with a popgun offense. That’s why I think Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer will be traded to either the Padres, Dodgers or Brewers. I hope it’s Kluber, as I believe Bauer is on the cusp of becoming a consistent Cy Young Award winner. I do think he tests the nerves of manager Terry Francona and the front office. I do think he’s a boatload to handle by management and the front office. And that may be why some teams might not give the sun and the moon in a trade for Bauer. He’s a bit off the rails for some clubs. Kluber is another story in my mind. Kluber’s breaking ball isn’t what it once was. His fastball has lost some velocity and bite. But if they wish to add offense and get some help in the bullpen, one of their starting pitchers has to go. Look for the Indians to roll out their comfortable pattern of scouring every possible list of players to find inexpensive relief pitching and outfielders that they hope can have a quality season in an Indians uniform. I still think they trade Kluber or another pitcher before the season starts.
Nationals Add…Even More Pitching
Lefty Patrick Corbin is an outstanding left-handed starter. As he showed last year, he is fully healthy after missing time with surgery. Corbin is calm and collected on the mound with good command and control to match a complete repertoire. Now Corbin will be pitching for the Nationals. For me, getting Corbin is as significant for Washington as getting Paxton was for the Yankees. They may lose Bryce Harper, but the Nationals now have a pitching staff that includes a very dynamic trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin. Each of those guys has a great chance to win their game with every outing. With or without Harper, the team still has Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and the remarkable Juan Soto to score runs and drive in runs. Victor Robles likely takes over in center field and Brian Dozier comes over from the Dodgers to play second base. I think the Nationals are loaded. Corbin should have an outstanding season in Washington using a complete repertoire that includes very nasty breaking balls.
Goldy Locks Down First Base In St. Louis
Were St. Louis Cardinals fans looking and hoping for some more power? Well, Paul Goldschmidt should help in that department. By far the best player the Arizona Diamondbacks ever had is now playing in St. Louis. He and set-up reliever Andrew Miller are very consequential additions to a Cardinals club that always seems to be competitive. But I want to offer some caution on Goldschmidt. For two seasons I have seen him really, really scuffle at times. Not at all times. When he’s hot, there are few better run producers in baseball. But his slumps are real. His sore elbow was real. I have no idea if he is totally healthy. His strikeouts have been real. And they have come in bunches with men on base and with the bases empty. Goldschmidt is more than a hitter. He’s an outstanding defensive first baseman, and he runs very well. Maybe the humidity in St. Louis will help his offense. I hope so. He’s so much fun to watch. But Cardinals fans-be warned. There could be some long cold spells. And Miller’s back has barked for a while now. His beard tends to get a bit more grey. But if he’s on, his breaking balls can fool any hitter. Goldschmidt and Miller may not bring a World Championship to St. Louis, but they are very good players and they will help keep the Cardinals sniffing a pennant in the National League Central.
The Reds Could Be Relevant
It really has been a long time since the Reds made a splash in the National League. Tired of waiting for speedster Billy Hamilton to get on base so he could steal, the Reds didn’t fork over free agent money to keep him. Instead, they have added more firepower in the aging Matt Kemp and the ever-puzzling Yasiel Puig. Perhaps Puig is glad to be away from Los Angeles. But while the bats of Kemp and Puig should help the club score runs, it is the additions to their starting rotation that could excite fans. Adding Tanner Roark and Alex Wood to the starting rotation could be a huge shot in the arm for a team that just couldn’t string together enough quality arms to win games in the National League Central. I’m still waiting to see consistency from Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani, but Roark and Wood should really help. I think the Reds will add more before the season begins, as they are now starting to spend some money on the team’s payroll. I applaud that.
Diamondbacks Fall Off The Map
I can’t help feeling sorry for Dbacks fans. The team tied up a gazillion dollars to sign players like Zack Greinke who signed a $206MM contract that runs from 2016-2021 and virtually eats payroll money and strips the team of flexibility. They signed Yasmany Tomas to a six-year $68.5MM contract that will finally expire in 2020. Tomas spent all last year as a minor league player, and an expensive one, at that. Those two contracts were the gifts of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart, now long gone from the franchise. So with their projected $116MM payroll, there still wasn’t enough money to sign Paul Goldschmidt to a contract that was attractive enough to keep him in Phoenix. The team has a nice rotation, but they haven’t added much in the offseason. Carson Kelly takes over as the lead catcher. Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly should win jobs in the rotation. Nick Green was taken as a Rule 5 reliever off the Yankees roster. But as it looks now, I think the edition of Wilmer Flores will really help the team. He is improving as a second baseman on defense, and he can hit. The addition of Flores moves Ketel Marte to center field. I like it. Dbacks fans will have little to cheer about and there could be lots of good seats available on the day of the game at Chase Field. And by the way, Chase Field’s days may be numbered as well. The team is currently looking at venue options following opting out of their lease with Maricopa County in Arizona. That story is looking for a conclusion, and it could be a while until we know.
I LIKE THESE TEAM ADDITIONS
Some teams added pieces to their rosters that really make sense and offer some upside to the club’s overall perspective. I include the following among great moves:
1-Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera could stabilize a White Sox bullpen that awaits the next step of the club’s overall makeover. An addition like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper could change the landscape on the South side of Chicago. Just wait until fans get a good look at rookie outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. Those two, and a return from injury in 2020 by Michael Kopech could be the last pieces the team needs to add before turning the corner. I think either Machado or Harper could be playing for the White Sox this coming season.
2-Justin Bour and Matt Harvey should really boost a Los Angeles Angels club in desperate need of a transfusion. While I didn’t think they were very good, they won more than I thought they should last year. Adding these two guys to a club that includes Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons boosts their stock in the American League West. I’m not excited about Jonathan Lucroy, but if he can return to form, he’s another piece to a puzzle that needs completion. I don’t know how much is left in the tank of Trevor Cahill, but he and Harvey are upgrades to a pitching staff that was on life support more often than not.
3-If he’s healthy, the Astros have a steal with the addition of Michael Brantley. I think the Indians will sorely miss his timely hitting. I do believe they were concerned about him holding up over a contract of more than one year. He isn’t flashy, but he’s a professional hitter. Robinson Chirinos gives them another outstanding offensive catcher. The Astros remain better than good.
4-The Rays have traded for Yandy Diaz from the Indians. Diaz is a very solid, opposite field line drive hitter with a very strong physical frame. The Indians didn’t like that Diaz didn’t hit the ball out of the park and they didn’t really know where to play him. In Diaz, the Rays have a guy they can move all over the field who should hit for a very good batting average and run the bases well. The addition of Avisail Garcia will depend upon his health and his interest in trying to improve. If he comes to play and all the parts are working, he can help. But he clearly isn’t Miguel Cabrera II as he was billed when he first signed. Mike Zunino adds some pop to the lineup from behind the plate. This is a good team.
5-The Phillies really helped themselves with the additions of David Robertson, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura. They are three veteran players who should be able to stabilize the club, offer offensive upside and help get Philadelphia closer to a title. Now, which of Harper or Machado will they sign? Or will it be both? As I write this, Phillies fans are hoping Harper will be a long-term addition to a young and exciting club.
I DON’T LIKE THIS TEAM ADDITION
1-The Padres have added Ian Kinsler to a team that has middle-infielders on the cusp. How does Kinsler help a team that is still in a building model? Frankly, I don’t get that.
REMAINING FREE AGENTS
As I write this, the following free agent players still remain unsigned. This is by no means a complete list. These are players I think may be able to contribute to a major league club. However, with the exception of those marked with a *, I wouldn’t try very hard to sign any of them if I were a general manager. It isn’t only money that is keeping these players from a new team. It’s age and a drop-off in skill
Martin Maldonado-age 32
Matt Wieters-age 33
Nick Hundley-age 35
Caleb Joseph-age 32
Lucas Duda-age 32
Hanley Ramirez-age 35
Logan Morrison-age 31
Asdrubal Cabrera-age 33
Josh Harrison-age 31*
Mike Moustakas-age 30*
Yangervis Solarte-age 31
Ryan Flaherty-age 32
Manny Machado-age 26*
Jose Iglesias-age 29*
Adeiny Hechavarria-age 30*
Freddy Galvis-age 29
Alcides Escobar-age 32
Marwin Gonzalez-age 30*
Derek Dietrich-age 29*
Gerardo Parra-age 32
A J Pollock-age 31*
Adam Jones-age 33
Austin Jackson-age 32
Bryce Harper-age 26*
Nick Markakis-age 35*
Carlos Gonzalez-age 33
Jose Bautista-age 38
Robbie Grossman-age 29*
Melky Cabrera-age 34*
Brandon Guyer-age 33
Carlos Gomez-age 33*
Evan Gattis-age 32
Matt Davidson-age 28 (Rays are looking at him as a pitcher/infielder)
Starting Pitchers (there are many more than this list)
Dallas Keuchel-age 31*
Gio Gonzalez-age 33*
Clay Buchholz-age 34*
Wade Miley-age 32*
Jeremy Hellickson-age 32
Brett Anderson-age 31
Drew Pomeranz-age 30*
Ervin Santana-age 36*
There are far too many to list
The new edition of Short Hops podcast is available every Friday morning. Listen to Doug Hall talk baseball and fantasy baseball with me on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and here on this ClubhouseCorner.com site.
Every week I will post my fantasy baseball position rankings. Last week I posted my CATCHER rankings. Today, I continue with my rankings of first basemen.
FANTASY BASEBALL FIRST BASE RANKINGS:
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT-ST. LOUIS
JOSE ABREU-WHITE SOX
JUSTIN SMOAK-BLUE JAYS
MITCH MORELAND-RED SOX
C J CRON-TWINS
ROWDY TELLEZ-BLUE JAYS
STEVE PEARCE-RED SOX
UNDER THE RADAR: JURICKSON PROFAR-ATHLETICS AND JAKE BAUERS-INDIANS
Players I state as Under The Radar are guys I think can really break out, have a terrific year and far exceed my ranking.