Saturday, November 23, 2013

MLB trade winds blowing

Two trades highlighted this week’s MLB Hot Stove transactions. One, an all-star blockbuster and the other swapped players of need for both clubs.

The Blockbuster

Will Prince love Arlington?
Photo by Keith Allison
The Detroit Tigers dealt Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. Fielder, who signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers just two seasons ago, fills a void in left-handed power for the Rangers. Kinsler’s arrival in Motown gives the Tigers an all-star second baseman conceivably set to replace Omar Infante who declared free agency earlier this offseason.

It is easy to see both sides of this transaction, and to assign a winner or loser is always in the eye of the beholder. Look each team feels they made their club better. We can debate all we want about who did better or who made a mistake, but it certainly won’t change their perceptions. In this case, my opinion is that each side did well for themselves.

The Tigers relieved themselves of some serious cash when they struck this deal. Watching Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski work is often fascinating. Here he simply owns up to a mistake he made in the initial signing and turned it into something beneficial for the team’s future – gaining more cash in his pocket and one of the few offensive-minded second basemen in the league.

Sure, the Tigers lost some serious money in the two years Fielder manned first base ($76 million including the $30 million they sent to Texas), but they’ve regained wiggle room for further spending either on this year’s free agent market or to use toward signing 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to an extension. Either way, the deal makes absolute sense at this time for the Tigers.

For the Rangers, they got the bat they needed and while not cheap, they’ll pay Fielder just $138 million over the remaining seven years on the contract. If anything, they should get very good production from him over the next few seasons and by the time Fielder slows, $19 million-plus per season may not be such a hindrance, or so they hope.

The move also cleared a space for prospect Jurickson Profar to place second base in Texas. The Rangers can now see what they have in Profar, who turns 21 during spring training, on a daily basis over a full season. Profar hit .234/.308/.336 in 322 plate appearances in 2013.

This deal also provided the Rangers with some ability to trade either Profar or shortstop Elvis Andrus for top-notch starting pitching, and which would then signal positioning for a go at free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano.

Depth Swap for Angels and Cardinals

The Los AngelesAngels of Anaheim and the St. Louis Cardinals worked a four-player deal Friday which filled voids for both teams in areas where they felt they had depth. The Angels received 2011 World Series hero David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas, while the Cardinals netted center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.

A fresh start for David Freese?
Photo by Keith Allison
Freese, who had a down 2013 campaign (.262/.340/.381), after a career-year in 2012 (.292/.372/.467) will be reunited with Albert Pujols in Los Angeles. Salas had an up and down career with the Redbirds, netting 24 saves in the 2011 World Series season and then spending half his time in the minors in 2013.

Bourjos, who will turn 27 in March, is an above-average fielder with significant speed and a little pop. He’ll be the everyday center fielder, giving Bourjos a chance to fully demonstrate his abilities. Grichuk was once rated as high as #4 on the Angels’ prospect listings according to MLB.com.

As with the Detroit/Texas trade this one seems pretty well balanced in my view. The Cardinals are able to move Matt Carpenter to third base and hand over the starting second baseman’s job to Kolten Wong with Freese’s departure. Freese was also set to get a salary increase (approximately $4.4 million according to MLB Trade Rumors) via arbitration this winter which the Cards no longer have to concern themselves with. Bourjos, who could earn $1.1 million according to MLBTR, is considered an upgrade over anyone the Cardinals had in center last season. Grichuk adds more depth to the Cardinals system.

The Angels are able to free up their cluttered outfield with Bourjos on the move and pick up an extra bullpen arm that they feel they can work with in Salas. In adding Freese, Los Angelesfills a need at third base which was not going to be resolved via their farm system or a thin free-agent market.

It isn’t often that trades are consummated with major parts where an easy case can be made for both sides and when it is difficult to formulate strong assertions against the trade for at least one side. It happened twice this week, something that kept the hot stove as unpredictable as ever.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is MLB's spending bubble going to burst?

Major League Baseball is flush with cash and teams are not being bashful with it. Teams are spending loads of money and the big names are not yet off the board. I’m not arguing the value and cost of the deals in relation to gaining wins and I understand teams will receive bumps in revenue from media deals. But, I wonder if there comes a point in time when the owners decide to scale back on salaries?

Here is a list of some signings since the end of the 2012 season through Wednesday's announcements.


Team
Player
Age
Total Salary
Years
AAV
Giants
31
90
5
18
Giants
29
35
2
17.5
Phillies
35
26
3
8.67
Giants
38
23
2
11.5
Phillies
36
16
2
8
Royals
32
13.5
1
13.5
Red Sox
30
13
1
13
Yankees
39
12
1
12
Rockies
33
11
1
11
Padres
30
8
1
8
Note: Salary figures in millions, ages beginning of season

The words and phrases that get tossed around like, “market value,” “safe risk” and “upside” have become commonplace when evaluating contracts. No one says, "Hold on this is crazy!" Per CBSSports.com, the average baseball player made $3.44 million in 2012 when in 1992 the average salary was $1.084 million. A “safe” deal now dwarfs what the top players made in the ‘90s.

It is particularly fascinating to see teams take risks on players like the 38-year-old Hudson, fresh off a gruesome looking ankle injury in late July of the 2013 season. Hudson is no doubt a proven commodity, but coming off the injury and given his age, is a two-year deal worth it? The Giants obviously think so and that either speaks to a lack of talent in the starting pitching market or with the fact that teams simply have a ton of money to spend.

The Giants in particular have already spent $148 million this offseason (including Pence’s late-season deal). They continue to ante up big-time for Lincecum despite recent years of mediocrity. For them, the “risks” are worth the chance to find them back in the World Series in 2014 upon which they can immediately feel a boost of revenue across all facets of their brand.

The Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals made “no-brainer” option signings for Lester and Shields respectively. Two very talented pitchers, but holy cow is pitching expensive these days!

I won't get too much into the free-spending Philadelphia Phillies purchases of Ruiz and Byrd other than to say that their general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. loves old players.

The New York Yankees inked Jeter to a one-year deal when they could have just converted the team option in his contract worth $9.5 million. He played in just 17 games last season. But, he’s Jeter, an icon and the Yankees gave him a “thank you” deal.

But what about teams who don’t seem to be ready to take the next step and make a postseason run? Look at the Padres signing of Johnson, who tossed 81.1 innings in 2013 and is also two years removed from a season in which he made just nine starts. I wouldn't expect the Padres to have a large payroll and after winning 76 games in 2013 they are not likely to find themselves in the postseason in 2014. Yet they felt a deal with Johnson was worth the risk. If the Padres were to raise their total payroll to $80 million in 2013, which would be way up from $68 million in 2013, he'd be making 10 percent of the team’s total salary.

According to the CBSSports.com listing the last time the average salary spend per player shrunk was in 2004 when it decreased by 2.7 percent from 2003. With teams getting more revenue from television deals this season it should not be shocking that some teams would up their payrolls. But, the question remains, will there be a spending bubble burst or will salaries continue to grow without abandon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Art Siegal via Flickr

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rumors dominate slow forming MLB free-agent market

As is typically the case early on in the MLB Hot Stove season, the rumor mill is very active while the actual signings of players is slow to develop. Eventually, there will be a contract announcement which will begin the snowball effect to more. Here are some observations from this past week which was dominated by hearsay.


Phillies go Byrd Hunting

The first “big” free-agent move of the offseason was the Philadelphia Phillies doling out a two-year, $16 million contract with an $8 million third year vesting option to outfielder Marlon Byrd. Byrd had a fine year for the New York Mets and then the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 slashing a line of .291/.336/.511 with a career-high 24 home runs. There has been mixed reaction to the deal. Some suggest that since Byrd is just one year removed from a 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension and a miserable season, a two-year deal could come back to haunt the Phillies.

There is some validity for concern, but I feel Byrd has the ability to minimally be a two-win player, making this a potential value signing when all is said and done. If things are not working out for the Phillies and Byrd is performing admirably, his contract may actually be easy to move at the trade deadline, especially in year two. Byrd could be the first of many moves by the Phillies who are looking like shoppers this winter.

A’s make a Good Punto

The Oakland Athletics signed utility infielder Nick Punto to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million with a vesting option for 2015. The signing was initially reported by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan via Twitter.

Punto, a member of the Los AngelesDodgers in 2013, is a scrappy player who can hold down second, third and shortstop. While carrying a light stick (career line - .248/.325/.325), Punto offers above-average defense and is considered a great teammate.

The A’s basically signed an insurance policy for the infield at a reasonable rate considering the anticipated production.

Nolasco first starting pitcher to sign?

Apparently, Ricky Nolasco is not short of suitors and has at least two four-year offers on the table. Nolasco’s camp revealed early on that he was looking for a five-year, $80 million contract. Teams said to be involved in talks with Nolasco are the Minnesota Twins, the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Nolasco registered a 3.0 WAR per FanGraphs in 2013 and has hovered in the 2.5 to 4.1 range since 2008. The 31-year-old right-hander has the ability to eat innings and produced ground balls (41.7 percent career rate).

Whatever Nolasco is paid, it will go a long way toward setting a market for starting pitchers. A contract in the four-year/$60 million range seems attainable.

O’s moving Wieters to make room for…Beltran?

In one of the more interesting rumors, the Baltimore Orioles are said to be considering moving catcher Matt Wieters or another high-salaried player in an effort to make room for Carlos Beltran. Wieters, really? The rumor was put out there by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal via a tweet.

Wieters, who hits the free agent market after the 2015 season, made $5.5 million in 2013 according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. With Scott Boras as his agent, Wieters will surely test the open market at that time so moving him makes more sense prior to the 2015 season, not right now in my opinion. Plus, MLB Trade Rumors estimates he’ll earn a one-year, $7.9 million deal via arbitration which doesn’t seem all that high for a player of Wieters caliber. MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli does not see the O’s trading Wieters this offseason.

Beyond moving Wieters, who is not exactly breaking the bank, parting ways with him or anyone else on their roster for Carlos Beltran seems shortsighted. Beltran, who will be 37 next season, is looking for a three-four year deal (probably four if he can latch onto an American League team), will not come cheap and could be reduced to a DH at the end of such a contract. Further, while the Orioles wanting Beltran makes sense, they should contemplate adding Beltran without worrying about dumping salary, at least not this season.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Hadsall via Flickr


Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Five Annoying MLB Hot Stove Trends

We’re days removed from the inevitable declining of ALL qualifying offers and in the middle of the final day of the initial GM/owner’s meetings and there are some extremely annoying trends evolving with the MLB Hot Stove.

Trend #1 – If you’re not doing it like Team X, you’re doing it wrong

Yeah, I love this one. Everyone had to emulate the San Francisco Giants after 2012 right? The Giants finished 76-86 in 2013. Did their strategy change? Nope. So now the Boston Red Sox are the picture-perfect organization, one year removed from being the joke of the league.

Fans INSIST general managers and owners find their very own Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara. By the way, Uehara was third on the Red Sox closer depth chart at best when signed. Sometimes, stuff happens and great events come out of it, not because the Red Sox were so smart to sign Uehara. Come on, we all know it was the beards.

Trend #2 – Suggesting free agents want loads of cash

Great, here’s another obvious statement from the writing elite. Has there been an offseason when free agents want less money? There are plenty of years in which the owners didn’t want to dole cash out, but free agency is all about the player trying to get maximum value for his services. Oh, and yes, Robinson Cano wants the world – and guess what – he should ask for it while he can.

Trend #3 – Professional baseball writers get tweet happy

Look, I understand that we are a 24/7 consumption universe and professional baseball writers are expected to fill their timelines with information. But please don’t tell me that if the Orioles decide to trade Matt Wieters, they can fill the void by looking at free agency. Really? Thanks for the heads up Mr. Rosenthal.
Trend #4 – Citing sources is a lost art

This one is for a few in the professional media, but mostly for bloggers. If you’re going to quote a "source," give us something interesting from the source. Also, when I think of a source, I think of first-person discussions, not secondhand garbage. We don’t want something that the writer next to you just uttered or something that you read on your timeline. We follow that writer too. Also, easy does it with the confirm tweets – “I can confirm that so-and-so is talking with Team X per @soandso.”

Trend #5 – No one really knows anything at this point

As of Nov. 13, we only know there is a lot yet to happen via free agency and the trade market. Some transactions will be uninspiring and unsurprising. Other moves will force writers (professional and otherwise) to run to their laptops in a frenzy due to the shock and awe of the player/team combo.

For the most part, much of what we read and hear leading up to a signing is hearsay. So take it with a grain of salt when the knucklehead with a handful of Twitter followers rocks your timeline with a big breaking news tweet. We all know if it hasn’t been confirmed by Rosenthal, Jon Heyman or Jon Morosi it can’t be true.

Photo of Ken Rosenthal courtesy of Keith Allison


Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can Scott Boras Obtain Above-Market Deals for Ellsbury and Choo?

Scott Boras is touted by many as a “super-agent” after constructing some of baseball’s most lucrative contracts. He has also been able to create deals for players well above the anticipated market several times. Near the top of many free-agent rankings are two Boras clients, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. Each player is looking at very rewarding long-term deals and has the right man working for them to accomplish the task.

There are comparables for each player and Boras typically knows how to go well above those when dealing with new contracts. I thought it would be interesting to speculate about Boras’ ability to garner Ellsbury and Choo above-market contracts.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr
Ellsbury, in timely fashion, put together a fantastic season for the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox. The center fielder compiled a line of .298/.355/.426 and an OPS+ of 114. Ellsbury stole 52 bases in 2013, the second time he has led the majors.

Ellsbury bounced back from an injury-shortened 2012 campaign and MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes’ estimation of seven-years, $150 million, would put Ellsbury above Carl Crawford’s seven-year/$142 contract he signed three years ago. Dierkes has Ellsbury ranked #2 among all free agents, while Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan has him fifth.

Ellsbury recorded a 5.8 WAR accordingto FanGraphs in 2013, which equates to a performance value of $28.9 million. If there is a hesitation with Ellsbury, it is his injury history. He played in just 74 games in 2012 and he missed 28 games in 2013. If the injury bug is considered a problem, teams will lower their offers.

No one expects Ellsbury to blast 32 home runs again as he did in 2011 en route to a 9.1 WAR, ($41.1 million value), but Boras will certainly use the fact he has such a season under his belt as leverage. Ellsbury’s abilities are mostly demonstrated with his legs, turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Not only can he rack up stolen bases, he is very efficient when doing so (52-of-56 in 2013).

If we consider simple inflation and Ellsbury’s performance matching or surpassing Crawford’s, Dierkes’ estimation is a valid one. Ellsbury’s potential suitors, the Seattle Mariners, Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs all have big wallets which could bring about a bidding war. Can Boras eek more out of the market? I bet he can. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ellsbury getting another 5-8 percent on top of Dierkes’ guess, so somewhere in the $157.5 - $162 million range for the same seven years.

Shin-Soo Choo

Courtesy of glennia via Flickr
Choo, who played center field in 2013, is more suited for a corner outfield position and is generally considered to be below average in the field, if not a detriment. But, it is his bat, eyes and speed that make him an attractive free agent. Choo ranked fourth in MLB with a .423 OBP in 2013, recorded a 21 HR/20 SB season with an .885 OPS and 143 OPS+. Choo owns a career line of .288/.389/.465.

Choo, ranked #3 by both Dierkes and Passan among free agents, managed a 5.2 WAR in 2013 which translates to $26.1 in performance value. Unfortunately for Choo, his defensive misgivings (-15.8 UZR/150 in 2013) really drop him back a peg or two.

Choo has been compared with Hunter Pence as a equivalent player in the recent market. Pence just signed a five-year, $90 million extension with the San Francisco Giants at the end of September. Pence also displays a nice power/speed combination (27 HR and 22 SB in 2013) and owns a career line of .285/.339/.476. This resembles Choo in average and slugging percentage, but Choo’s on-base percentage dwarfs Pence’s. This is certainly something that Boras will note when teams bring up Pence’s deal.

When comparing Choo to Ellsbury, he may seem like a bargain at six-years, $100 million which Dierkes foresees. Most of the teams targeting Ellsbury also have Choo on their radar, likely as a fall-back option. If it plays out that way, and I bet Boras wants it to, Choo could see a bump in value, especially if Ellsbury does better than the market indicates as I’ve suggested. Six-years, $108-110 million (that’s 8-10 percent more than Dierkes’ guess) would not be out of the question for Choo, again depending on Ellsbury’s deal.

Boras is incredibly adept at creating a market beyond the market when it comes to above-average and elite free agents (see Barry Zito and Jayson Werth). In Ellsbury and Choo he has that type of quality. He benefits from teams with money to spend as the interested parties and MLB is rolling in revenue dollars unmatched in recent years. I’d expect both Ellsbury and Choo to sign for more than Dierkes’ estimates and potentially establish a new outfield market in the process.


Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.