Like prior Hot Stove seasons, teams are spending the Winter months adding bats to already potent lineups (Red Sox), selling off expensive parts (White Sox), taking it slow and steady (Yankees), and seemingly doing nothing (Twins). Some teams have concrete plans, while others don’t.
UPDATE – 9 pm 12/22 – Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports has reported that Edwin Encarnacion has agreed to a three-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. The contract is valued at $20MM per year and includes an option for a fourth year.
What’s going on?
While the triumvirate of top closers – Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon – have all inked free agent contracts, there are a number of big name bats still available in the free agent market. The Toronto Blue Jays, for one, could look markedly different next season. Three regulars – First Baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion and outfielders Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders are free agents.
The Blue Jays have reportedly not made an official offer to Bautista, other than an initial qualifying offer. Interest in Bautista is not as deep as the 36-year old likely expected. That being said, FoxSports’ Jon Morosi reported that Bautista has turned down some offers, hoping to return to Toronto.
Bautista can still hit the long ball, but questions remain. Injuries plagued his 2016 season. Was the downturn in his game an indication of his future or a fluke? Those concerns, combined with his alleged pre-2016 contract demand (five years, $150MM) make it understandable that there hasn’t been too much buzz on the line concerning Bautista.
Encarnacion, a teammate of Bautista’s since 2009, is biding his time this offseason. He knows he’s going to land a big-money contract somewhere, so there’s no rush to put his name on a deal. In his last five seasons, the soon-to-be 34-year old averaged 38 home runs and 110 RBI. The Dominican native entered free agency coming off of a 42 HR, 127 RBI season.
But, there was one abnormality in Encarnacion’s 2016 season: he struck out a career-high 138 times. It was only the second time in his 12-year career that Encarnacion topped the century mark in strikeouts. He also struck out 40 more times than the prior season, though he had 73 more official at-bats in 2016.
According to Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzler, his client has been steadily receiving three-year offers. He didn’t sound very confident about getting a four-year offer, which is what he’s looking for. Kinzler feels the longer things take the less likely a return to Toronto will happen. And, re-signing with the Blue Jays is supposedly Encarnacion’s preference.
This is an opportunity for Brian Cashman and the Yankees. The Yankees can offer three years guaranteed with a fourth-year option/buyout or a vested fourth year, dependent on production and/or health.
The left-handed hitting Saunders had careers highs, both good and bad, last season. He reached a new high watermark in home runs (24) and tied his previous high of 57 RBI. He struck out a career-worst 157 times (in 490 at-bats), but his 32 doubles, 59 walks, and .816 OPS were all career bests.
Though he faced far more right-handed pitchers than lefties, Saunders’ splits were much higher against southpaws. Sixteen of his home runs came against right-handed pitchers, but his OPS (.783) paled in comparison to when he faced a left-hander (.927).
The Orioles expressed interest in Saunders in early December and recently the Indians reportedly showed interest. Saunders still has a lot to prove about his game. Teams will put up with 150+ strikeouts if the player is hitting 40-home runs a year. They’re not going to want a player that strikes out 150 times and hits 25 home runs.
Slugger Mark Trumbo is one of those players capable of hitting 40+ home runs and striking out 150+ times. He also had his free agency status perfectly timed. He’s got a power-bat when there is a shortage of power bats available. The Orioles’ outfielder hit 47 home runs and drove in 108 runs last season. Both were career highs for the 30-year old.
According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, the Orioles made an offer to Trumbo but reportedly took it off the table earlier this week. The two sides agreed on four years but were said to be up to $30MM apart in total salary. If Trumbo is truly looking for $20MM per season, he’s going to find it hard to come by. The 30-year old hit 61 HR and had 182 RBI in 2012-2013, but dropped off the next two seasons. Injuries limited him to 14 home runs and 88 games in 2013. A year later, he played in 142 games but hit a mere 22 home runs.
Trumbo has a good shot at a four-year deal, but his monetary expectations are going to need to be more realistic.
Matt Wieters‘ agent, Scott Boras, is playing the waiting game. While there have already been several moves involving catchers, it’s Boras’ opinion that the market for catchers really won’t get going until January. The Orioles took Wieters with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft. His defense and hitting progressed nicely until shoulder surgery derailed him in 2014-2015. He bounced back last year with 17 HR and 66 RBI. More importantly, he caught 117 games.
The Orioles look to have moved on without Wieters. They inked free agent Welington Castillo to a one-year deal while they wait on their highly touted prospect, Chance Sisco. At the moment, the team that appears to be showing the most interest in Wieters are the Washington Nationals. The Nats have already acquired backstop Derek Norris from the Padres but still have room for Wieters.
Mike Napoli’s name came up a lot early in the offseason, but it’s been very quiet since for the Cleveland first baseman. Napoli had a bounce back season in 2016 with 34 HR and 101 RBI, but he is a “Plan B” option to a lot of teams.
Chris Carter, on the other hand, has probably dropped to “Plan C” by now. The Brewers’ first baseman tied with the Rockies Nolan Arenado for the NL lead with 41 home runs. Remember the statement earlier in this column about teams putting up with hitters that produce 40+ HR and 150+ strikeouts? It doesn’t really work for players with 200+ strikeouts. Carter struck out 206 times last year, the second time in his career that he’s topped 200 Ks. It’s the reason he took a $1.6MM pay cut last season and was non-tendered after the season. At this point, a minor league contact may be the best Carter can do.
Rajai Davis had a number of heroic moments for the AL pennant-winning Cleveland Indians last season. As a 35-year old, he hit a career-high 12 home runs and led the AL with 43 steals. But, he only posted a .649 OPS and is now a year older. If he’s looking for a deal beyond two years, he’s not likely to find one. A number of his former teams (he’s played for six) have looked into bringing him back, but they’re in no hurry.
There are other veterans in a similar position to Davis. Erick Aybar, Coco Crisp, Justin Morneau, Angel Pagan, Pedro Alvarez, Billy Butler and Ben Revere are chief among them.
Trade bats here, get your trade bats!
There are some decent bats in the trade market as well. The New York Mets are fielding and making calls on outfielders Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson. Bruce, a consistent run producer with Cincinnati, stunk out the joint after the Mets acquired him at the trade deadline. Bruce produced 33 home runs and 99 RBI last season, but just eight home runs and 19 RBI in 50 games as a Met.
He has one year and $13MM left on his contract. Unless the Mets are asking for too much in return, they should be able to move Bruce before Spring Training. Granderson is in a similar situation to Bruce, but he’s six years older than his fellow outfielder. Granderson is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $15MM in 2017.
The “Grandyman” can still hit 25-30 home runs and play solid defense, but his all around hitting isn’t what it once was. The Mets often used him in the leadoff spot, but he’s not really suited for that spot in the order. But, he’s still a serviceable hitter, even if it’s in a platoon situation.
Meanwhile, the Mets are looking for a bona fide center fielder and are taking a look at Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates outfielder will earn $14MM in 2017 and has a $14.75MM team option/$1MM buyout for 2018. The Pirates want to move McCutchen before he loses any further value. While that’s not to say that he has, but his 2016 season was subpar for him.
McCutchen won the NL MVP Award in 2013 and finished in the top five in voting for four straight years (2012-2015). This past year he produced career low splits – .256/.330/.430 – and struck out a career-worst 143 times. McCutchen was bothered by knee and thumb injuries last year but refuses to use it as an excuse.
“I just didn’t have it,” McCutchen told DK Pittsburgh Sports. “It just wasn’t there. It had nothing to do with injuries. I didn’t produce the way that I wanted to, that’s plain and simple. I appreciate it because people are like, ‘Something’s not right. Something’s off. He has to be injured to not be performing.’ Honestly, it was nothing. The performance just wasn’t there.”
The Detroit Tigers have looked to shed payroll this offseason, but haven’t been successful so far. The latest Tiger the team is trying to move is outfielder J.D. Martinez. The 29-year old had a breakout season in 2015 when he slugged 38 home runs, drove in 101 runs and was a first-time All-Star.
Martinez missed time with injuries last season and has topped 150 games played in only one of his six years in the Major Leagues. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Tigers are looking for young talent that will be under team control for the foreseeable future. So far, they haven’t been able to find a match. Martinez is in the final year of a three-year deal that pays him $11.75MM next season.
He’s another stop-gap option that the Yankees could look into. Martinez could share the DH and outfield spots with Matt Holliday. It would also take some of the pressure off of Aaron Judge and the Yankees’ other young outfielders. A lot of additional moves made by the Yankees this offseason depend on their ability to move Brett Gardner.
There are a number of lower level free agents that could be useful to teams as utility players, pinch-hitters, etc. Veteran Jimmy Rollins recently signed a minor league deal with the SF Giants. Outfielder Peter Bourjos appeared to be on the verge of becoming an All-Star with a breakout 2011 season. He had 12 home runs, 13 triples (tops in the AL), 26 doubles and 22 stolen bases. But, Bourjos hasn’t come close to a season like that since. However, he could still provide above average defense and speed as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
Emilio Bonifacio is a well-traveled utility player that averaged 31 stolen bases from 2011-2014. He’s played in the Major Leagues for eight different organizations and could be the 24th or 25th man on the roster.
Armed and ready
A quick check-in on pitching shows that the White Sox are fielding plenty of calls on starter Jose Quintana. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Wednesday that the Pirates have “worked hard” to obtain the nicely priced lefty.
In case you missed it, the Red Sox shipped often-injured/used-to-be-consistent starter Clay Buchholz to the Phillies. In return, the Red Sox received minor league infielder Josh Tobias. The Phillies will be picking up the majority of Buchholz’ $13.5MM salary for next season. Tobias is a 5’9″, 195 lb fireplug second baseman with a decent bat. He played ‘A’ ball last season.
The San Diego Padres are talking about a possible reunion with their one-time All-Star, Jake Peavy. Coming off of a terrible 2016 campaign, Peavy captured the 2007 NL Cy Young Award while with the Pads.