Tag Archives: hot stove

It’s Good to be Zach Greinke

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Zach Greinke is the top starting pitcher on the market this offseason. He may not turn out to be the best value, but he is the best. It helps that Cole Hamles and Matt Cain signed extensions this season, but that doesn’t take away from how good Greinke is. He made my list of aces last month and I’m comfortable saying he would be the #1 or #2 starter on every team except the Phillies.

Most reports seem to indicate Greinke will fetch a deal of 5-6 years worth $95-$120 million. His most recent employer, the Angels are heavily in the running, but every MLB will likely kick the tires. He would make every club better, it will just be a choice of how much you can afford to spend on your rotation.

Some in the media have speculated Greinke won’t fit in a big market because of a history of anxiety and depression, and what is clearly an introverted personality. I think their view is wrong in the sense that he couldn’t excel there, but he might choose a smaller media market because he will enjoy it more.

I think all other things equal, he’d avoid Boston or New York, but won’t rule them out based solely on the media narrative that he can’t handle them.

So if we agree Greinke will command a deal of the size I predicted and that every team in baseball would benefit from having him, who are the likely Greinke suitors?

The Angels are the obvious choice because they jettisoned Santana and Haren to free up the money. They loved him down the stretch there and he would fit in well with Weaver and Wilson going forward. The Angels have the resources, the need, and the familiarity to make them a player.

The Rangers make sense, too. They have the payroll flexibility and could use a reliable frontman instead of their revolving #1 spot of the last few years (Darvish, Holland, Harrison, Lee, etc). The Yankees and Red Sox both need pitching, but Boston seems better able to afford it than New York considering the Yankees’ desire to get under the luxury tax cap by 2014. The Orioles and Blue Jays should be in, but maybe not at the asking price.

Many speculated that the Royals could reunite with Greinke, but adding Ervin Santana’s $13 million seems to have indicated they won’t be making a push. The White Sox could be interested given their push to trade for him in July, but it’s hard to say if their recent extension to Peavy will block out too much money in the short term.

In the NL, the Braves, Cubs, and Dodgers seem like possible fits. Obviously we learned last year that the Mystery Team is usually involved, but this seems like a pretty accurate list of teams that will play big on the right hander.

For me, the team that signs Greinke will be in Los Angeles. It will be the Angels or the Dodgers. Both have the money and the need and both are good environments to pitch in. There will be a lot of teams involved, so predicting the landing spot is tough, but I’d take these two clubs against the field.

It’s not every year that you can add an ace to your staff through Free Agency, and it’s not every year that the market is as soft as it is this year. Translation? It’s good to be Zach Greinke right now.

Haren for Marmol? Um…what?

Baseball was having fun with us yesterday. Yesterday afternoon reports broke that the Angels traded RHP Dan Haren to the Cubs for RHP Carlos Marmol. My verbatim reaction on Twitter was “Um…what?”

Haren, coming off a down year in 2012, had posted seven straight 4.0 WAR seasons before that and was owed $15 million for 2013. Marmol is due $10 million next season and is coming off two poor seasons and has a career walk rate of over 6.00 per 9.

Let’s assume that this trade played out as reported and the Cubs backed out at the last minute. The Angels preferred saving $5 million and adding Marmol over Haren to saving $12 million (because Haren is owed a buyout) and not getting Marmol.

Again, um what? What the what?

That is crazy. Again, according to reports, THE CUBS PULLED OUT. The Cubs were getting a number 3 or 4 starter at worst and a number 1 or 2 at best for a $5 million price that included not having to have Carlos Marmol on your team and said no.

So the Angels proposed a stupid trade and the Cubs said no. Baseball was having some fun with us. The Cubs probably figured that the Angels would decline Haren’s option (which they did last night) and could perhaps sign him for less annual value if they waited until Free Agency opens today. They’re gambling that Haren will sign with them for less than $15 million AAV, which is probably around what he’ll sign for.

But that scenario still leaves them paying $10 million to Marmol in 2013 and doesn’t guarantee them Haren.

I can’t see an explanation here that makes any sense other than that the reports we heard we simply wrong. I guess both teams could be stupid, but what are the odds that neither team in this situation was like… “wait a second…?”

Either way, Dan Haren is a Free Agent allowed to sign with any club. The Angels have money to throw at Greinke and the Cubs might get a shot to pay him a little less (maybe).

As teams start negotiating, Haren will be one of the more coveted players after Greinke, Josh Hamilton, Anibal Sanchez, BJ Upton, Michael Bourn, and maybe a couple others. He is entering his age 32 season and is coming off a down season, but if you’re willing to bet on a bounce back, Haren could be one of the best values this offseason.

The Cubs will be in the picture along with the Yankees and Red Sox according to reports. I’m sure other clubs are in the mix, but those are the names that are out there. To me, the Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Brewers, and Dodgers should be interested.

As Free Agency gets going, we’ll have full coverage and baseball will hopefully continue to have fun with us.

The Curious (Free Agent) Case of Josh Hamilton

Free Agency begins in earnest this weekend in MLB and one of the most interesting potential Free Agents is OF Josh Hamilton. He’s had really strong seasons in four of six seasons in the big leagues and is coming off an uneven, but ultimately above average 2012.

And then there are the Hamilton qualifiers. He’s entering Free Agency in his age 32 season (much later than a premier guy ever should) and he has a history of substance abuse and injuries. He has an MVP award and many playoff appearances, but when you throw this whole thing into a blender it turns out a product we’ve never seen before.

Josh Hamilton is the least typical FA we’ve ever seen. Former #1 pick, amazing tools, several good seasons. Old, injury prone, troubled past, terrible plate discipline, terrible middle part of 2012. What do you make of this if you’re an MLB club? What is the market for Hamilton and what should he reasonably ask for? Who takes the plunge?

To start off, Hamilton’s career WAR numbers look like this.

2007: 2.6 (337 PA)

2008: 4.1

2009: 1.4 (365 PA)

2010: 8.4

2011: 4.1

2012: 4.4

So if we’re willing to say that 2009 was the outlier and 2010 is the peak, Hamilton looks like a pretty stead 3.5-5.0 WAR player. That’s a tremendously valuable guy. Not quite perennially MVP, but he should make All-Star teams and hit in the middle of your order. But those numbers obscure underlining problems.

Obviously the substance abuse itself is worrisome, all other things being equal, but what would concern me most is that Hamilton did damage to his body in his early 20s that is going to catch up with him more and more as he ages. By traditional standards, Hamilton is already over his peak age as a baseball player and my guess would be his years of abuse will make that aging curve more problematic.

Additionally, Hamilton has put up some monster numbers, but has a really bad approach at the plate. No one is baseball swung at more pitches outside the strike zone in 2012. Actually, no one swung more period than Hamilton. In a lot of plate appearances I watched this season, Hamilton looked disinterested and swung at everything. If the ball made it to the plate, Hamilton was hacking. It cost his team in the middle and late part of the season as teams learned not to throw him strikes. This showed up in a big way because the Rangers lost the division by one game, so any marginal win would have been worth a lot to the team. If Hamilton could have improved his approach enough to win one more game, the Rangers would have made the playoffs instead of losing in the play in game.

So let’s talk contract details if we only look at what Hamilton has going for him. I’d wager to say an all good news Josh Hamilton is looking at a 7 year, $150 million deal. That pays him about $21 million per season which is right on par with what teams tend to pay per WAR. However, this is a good year to be a Free Agent and a lot of teams would pay handsomely to someone with Hamilton’s tools because the next best option might be BJ Upton. Let’s inflate Hamilton’s deal to 7 years, $170 million.

Now let’s evaluate Hamilton with only what he has wrong with him. He’s 32 and had some really big red flags pop up on the field this year, not to mention the potential aging problems we discussed earlier. You’re aware of his skill, but the other stuff is big. I’d say 3 years, $45 million. You want a shorter deal and fewer dollars, but you recognize he could give you 3 4.0 WAR seasons and are willing to gamble.

So how do those visions come together? Obviously the soft market is a big plus for Hamilton’s value. He doesn’t have Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun to compete with, so the dollars go up. When he’s on, the reward can be very high. MVP high. That pushes the dollars up. But he’s old, even if you are willing to offer a high yearly value, you don’t want to commit that much to a 38 year old Hamilton. Was the terrible July 2012 an outlier or a preview?

My sense is that someone with enough cash and enough guts will push north. 5 years, $100 million seems reasonable. But I’d set the range at 3 years, $50 million to 7 years, $170 million. That’s a wide space to drive a contract through. I can’t remember another Free Agent who could command such a strange distribution of offers.

If I’m a GM, I pass on Hamilton unless the price is in the bottom of the distribution. I only want Hamilton if everyone else undervalues him. I would not pay Josh Hamilton what he should earn. I would only pay him less, because he’s asking me to trust him that he can maintain his level of play for a long term deal.

If Hamilton and his agent walk in and ask for 7 years, my answer is no unless it’s for $80 million or less. 6 years I’ll go for $100 million. 5 years $90 million. 4 years I’ll go $75-80 million. If you picture this, I’m basically saying the more years he wants the less I’ll offer in AAV. I can’t risk $25 million to 2018 Hamilton. I just can’t.

So where does this leave us? Who makes sense for Hamilton?

MLB Trade Rumors postulated that the Rangers will end up winning the bidding after other teams show Hamilton that they won’t pay the big dollars. I think there are a couple teams who intrigue me as possible suitors (with percentages).

White Sox (25%)

Rangers (22%)

Other (11%)

Brewers (10%)

Mariners (10%)

Orioles (5%)

Red Sox (5%)

Yankees (5%)

Phillies (5%)

Blue Jays (2%)

Mainly this is all pretty much the prevailing opinion except for the White Sox. I think they make a ton of sense. There’s room in the OF. Konerko and Dunn are both in the last two years of their deals with Konerko closing in on retirement. Konerko is a FA after 2013, Dunn after 2014. Rios after 2014. Alexei Rameriz is the only position player signed into 2015 with any sort of dollar value (and John Danks is the only pitcher).

Viciedo is a very tradable player if you want to go Hamilton, De Aza, Rios across the outfield, or you could go Viciedo, Hamilton, Rios and find buyers for De Aza. He’s not blocked in 2013 in the OF. If you look to 2014, if Konerko retires, Hamilton can play the OF if he’s able or move to DH with Dunn going to 1B. If Hamilton can wait until 2015 to break down, the DH spot is wide open.

The payroll is there. The spot is there. The need is there. The White Sox are a team in the 80-85 win zone where one big player could make a difference and they might just be crazy enough and gutsy enough to go for it.

I think it’s more likely Hamilton signs in Not Chicago than in Chicago, but if you told me to pick one team, that’s the team to watch. Hamilton is a unique Free Agent, so it’s anyone’s guess.

Trade Grade: Royals Nab Santana

The Royals really like buying low on starting pitching and they did it again today. Ervin Santana joins the AL Central as Kansas City sends minor league lefty Brandon Sisk the other way to the Angels.

Santana had a very poor season in 2012 and is owed $13 million in 2013, but the Royals were willing to gamble to improve their pitching staff in hopes of becoming a relevant baseball team in one of the weaker divisions in the sport.

He posted a -0.9 WAR this season to go along with his 5.16 ERA and 5.63 FIP. In 2010 and 2011 he was above 2.0 WAR and had ERAs under 4.00 to pair with his very strong 5.8 WAR in 2008.

Santana’s had four 200+ inning seasons in his career and is entering his age 30 season. While I certainly wouldn’t offer him a long term deal, a one year contract is of pretty low risk for someone who can bring some upside and has no-hit stuff when he’s right.

From a player for player standpoint, the risk was worth taking, the real question is if $13 million is worth it for someone coming off such a bad season. Obviously the Royals think 2012 was an outlier and the real Santana is more like the 2010 and 2011 versions. The Angels take the other side.

It’s hard to imagine that this is the best way to spend $13 million this offseason for a club that needs multiple starters to really explode onto the scene, but if they are willing to expand the payroll it’s a risk worth taking.

Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy are the other four members of the Royals projected rotation at this point, but Chris Volstad and others will enter spring training with their sights on a spot.

Dayton Moore and the rest of the Royals front office needed to target starting pitching this offseason given that their top two pitchers by WAR both came out of the bullpen in 2012. Santana is a risk worth taking if they’re going to increase payroll. If they’re allocating most of their offseason budget on Santana, however, I’d give them a failing grade.

On the Angels side, they got a live body for a player they didn’t want anymore, so you can’t really complain. They’ll likely use some of that Santana cash to bid heavily on Zach Greinke.

Free Agency starts Saturday, so stay tuned for updates.

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