Tuesday 28 October 2014

Offseason 2015: Not Gose and Pillar

National Post
This isn't really the biggest problem.  2B/3B, the bullpen, and replacing Melky should probably all rank way, way higher than helping out CF.  That doesn't mean, though, that it isn't worth examining.  If there's a glass slipper out there, AA and crew aren't doing their jobs if they don't at least dip a toe in.

There are four guys* in the organization right now, excluding Colby Rasmus, who technically isn't a free agent yet but may as well be, that played CF at one point or another for the Jays in 2014.  One of them is Jose Bautista, mind you, who definitely shouldn't be playing CF unless it's a total emergency.  Other than that, though, there are some options.

*- Jon Mayberry Jr. has some experience in CF, but has graded fairly poorly defensively.  Probably no worse than Bautista, but UZR/150 has him at a -17.8 runs over a sample that equals out to most of a season, combining 5 years to get there.  Safe to say that's a bad idea.

Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar platooned in CF towards the end of the year.  We're counting some games in RF and LF for both, as well as some pinch running and junk, but the two combined for 1.9 fWAR over ~400 combined plate appearances this year.  They also struck out 27 and 23% of the time, respectively.  Neither seem to be doing a whole lot to strike fear in to major league pitchers, though Gose is at least showing some patience at the plate, with a 9.1% walkrate in the majors in 2014, and both provided positive defensive contributions (according to both fangraphs and baseball reference).  Pillar shows a bit more offensive upside than Gose does, especially if he can stop swinging at EVERYTHING (see above) and take a walk or two, and he hits lefty pitching not terribly.

The other internal option is Dalton Pompey.  He's still fairly young and somewhat raw, so it certainly makes sense to stick him in the minors to start the year.  Depending on how he responds, though, he is looking more and more like the CF of the future.  If that's the case, perhaps it makes sense to just allow Gose and Pillar to platoon CF for the time being, rather than going out to find someone.

There really isn't much out there on the free agent market.  See for yourselves.  The most attractive option looks like Emilio Bonifacio, assuming Denard Span's option gets picked up.  Having said that...

Denard Span (Trade)

Span's option is a lock to be picked up by the Nationals.  He was a 3.6 rWAR (3.8 fWAR) player in 2014, and the option is only for $9MM.  The problem is that there's a bit of a logjam in Washington.  The Nats have sent Ryan Zimmerman to LF since he sucks at 3B now, which has opened the door for Anthony Rendon to take over.  Zimmerman is still under contract for another bunch of years for all the money, and they certainly aren't moving Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth.  Of course, Adam Laroche is a free agent, and the Nats have a pretty organic play here: move one of Werth or Zimmerman to 1B, keep Span in CF, let Laroche walk.

If the Nats do decide to trade Span, however, I'd expect the Jays to be at least somewhat interested.  It's a 1-year option, and they don't need to attract Span to Toronto.  Span can leave at the end of the year, and perhaps Pompey is another step closer to being ready for the everyday CF role.

Ben Revere (Trade)

The day will eventually come where the Phillies break it all down and retool.  If that's this year, then Revere is a decent piece.  He's approximately average (2.0 fWAR in 2014) and is manageable in CF with great wheels (49 SB in 2014).  He's still under team control for three arbitration years, though he was a super-two this season, so he's a touch more expensive than he otherwise would be.  He hardly walks ever, but his strikeout totals are low, and he's a low-slugging .300 hitter who runs fast enough to beat out a bunch of infield singles and then steal bases.  Could do worse.


Others?  Already?  Yeah.  There's the previously mentioned Michael Saunders, I guess.  The Astros might be willing to move Dexter Fowler as he gets more expensive, but he's been pretty bad defensively the last few years.  Decent enough hitter though, and a nice walk-rate.

Who else?  Peter Bourjos has mentioned recently that he'd like to play more.  Bourjos is kind of a more expensive, right-handed hitting Anthony Gose, in that he's fast and good at defense, but we've already got one.

There's not much else out there worth going crazy for.  I feel like between the three guys within the org, someone can be worth giving everyday playing time to, or platooning, or going with the hot hand or whatever.  There are bigger issues to look at, in my opinion, such as the bullpen.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Offseason 2015: The "Replace Melky" Edition

But we always drank plenty of Melk.

I hope the Jays can re-sign Melky, because that's a nasty hole that he'd leave at the top of the order, but at the end of the day, free agency is pretty much an auction.  And in order to win an auction, you have to have money to spend.  It's not that the Jays aren't spending money, it's just that they appear to have already spent it all.

Beeston said a few weeks ago that payroll was going to go up, which, well, it almost has to if the team is to look approximately the same, with the addition of a warm body at either 2b/3b and all the bullpen patchwork that needs to be done.  We already kind of touched on this, but the amount that it cost to pay everyone in 2014 as pretty close to what's committed already for 2015, with holes left to fill.  So yeah, technically, it has to go up-ish-- that's still technically true even if it goes up by, say, fifty bucks.

The idea that payroll is "definitely going up", though, at least suggests that the Jays are either serious about bringing Melky back, or finding something reasonable to replace him, or at least to fill one of the other holes.  They could just go after scrapheap guys to fill spots, trying to find another Bautista or Encarnacion redemption arc and just letting the big contracts expire in preparation for 2016-- they may still go after Melky and do that with all other positions, which is the half-measure that we don't really need at all-- or they can actually try to assemble some quality at all the positions and maybe win for a change.

All the non-Cabrera options here assume that Cabrera has signed elsewhere, and that the Jays will be getting a comp pick.

Melky Cabrera (Free Agent)

We already know what we have here, so we'll not spend too much time on it.  Good offense, sketchy defense, and something in the neighbourhood of $15MM a season.  It would be cool if there were an easier place for him to play (e.g. 1B or DH), because he can't even seem to handle LF all that well.  And of course, Melky leaving isn't all bad; if he signs elsewhere, the Jays are saving $15MM or so, are not hamstrung in to playing an aging and increasingly immobile player for another 3-4 years, and they get a compensation pick in the 2015 draft.  We all know what kind of lotto ticket draft picks are, but sometimes those hit.

Another con to signing Melky: the Jays have a bunch of expiring contracts heading in to 2015.  Melky will obviously command more than one year, and thus, will tighten the admittedly very loose noose as far as the future budget goes.

MLBTR's Steve Adams may have lost his mind today, when he suggested 5 years and $66.5MM, but he does make a reasonable case for it.  I think the winner, whoever it may be, is the only one to offer four years, myself, but regardless, I also don't imagine the Jays go to 5 years.

Yasiel Puig (Trade)

Yeah, I know.  Probably not happening.  It's rumor season.

Michael Saunders (Trade)

Speaking of rumor season, apparently Michael Saunders and Jack Z aren't seeing eye-to-eye in the Skydome Seattle.  Saunders, of course, is Canadian and seems to crush the Jays every time he plays them.  He's probably a part-time/ platoon player, but there's still upside there, and he was worth 2 WAR this year, powered by a .273/.341/.470 slash, and some roughly average fielding across the outfield.  He's actually a pretty reasonable comparison/replacement for Colby Rasmus.  He'll make ~$3MM in arbitration this season, and doesn't have a place to play full time in Seattle.  Perhaps a Saunders/Pillar platoon situation?  Mayberry fits in there as well.  Could do worse.

Nick Markakis (Free Agent)

I kind of expect Markakis to make it to free agency this year.  Markakis has been a roughly league-average player since 2009, and the O's are pretty unlikely to exercise his $17.5MM option.  Markakis is a capable, or at least passable, right fielder, and probably wouldn't want to move to LF to appease Bautista, but I don't know the guy.

Yasmany Tomas (Free Agent)

The Market for Cuban defectors seems to just keep growing.  Yoesnis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo and Jose Abreu all signed the biggest contracts ever given to a Cuban at their respective times of signing, and all signs point to Castillo getting over $100MM, thanks to his age (24), power (apparently mucho), and lack of free agent compensation.  Very rarely can you find a high-upside free-agent and sign him through his prime without risking much of his decline phase, but we can look no further than Masahiro Tanaka to see just what teams will pay for that right.

The big caveat here is that Tomas is going to be expensive, and will have a whole bunch of teams looking to sign him.  It's very possible, though, that one of those teams will look to replace their current LF/RF with Tomas, and then trade off the incumbent as a consolation prize.

Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier (Trade)

With Andrew Friedman taking over in LA, it seems a bit more likely that there will be pressure to bring up Joc Pederson, or to at least fix the outfielder glut that the Dodgers have.  Friedman usually needs to trade expensive guys for prospects, since he's never had the luxury to have a bad contract or eat money in a deal; now he's going to have unlimited money, and should be able to get creative in freeing up some room with Kemp, Ethier, or Carl Crawford, I guess.

All of those contracts are pretty bad, and they're all corner outfielders at this stage of their careers.  Let's not worry about taking playing time away from Puig or Pederson anymore-- at least one of those contracts is going, and probably for pennies on the dollar.  If someone would take Ethier, that's probably better, since he's a glorified platoon player at the moment, but if not, Kemp probably still has a bit of value with his bat.  More likely is that he gets moved to a team who needs a DH, given his  -2.5 dWAR in 2014.  He's due ~$100MM between now and 2019, so I'd guess that the Dodgers would be eating $50-60MM just to give him away.

Norichia Aoki (Free Agent)

Aoki is a pretty interesting free agent, in that he's 33, and hits for absolutely no power, so he should be reasonably cheap.  He does get on base at a good clip though, and plays a pretty reasonable RF defense.  If the Jays miss out on everything, this could be a decent backup plan, especially as a guy who can get on base and set things up for the bigger bats.  He also hits lefty pitching much better than righties!


Like I've written in both the 2B and 3B post, I think the Reds should blow everything up.  Wanna make some sort of bold move, AA?  How 'bout some blockbuster for Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and, say, Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos?

  • Bruce is owed $26MM through 2016 (plus a club option) and was atrocious in 2014, so it would be selling low on someone who was worth 4 WAR just a year prior, but that's what blowing it up is.
  • Phillips is owed $39MM through 2017 for some reason, and isn't worth that much.
  • Cueto and Latos both have a year left before hitting free agency, but are very affordable (Cueto has a $10MM option, Latos should make about the same through arbitration) and very good pitchers... possibly even good enough to mitigate some of the risk of taking on $65MM worth of Phillips and Bruce.
I'm not smart enough to understand the mechanics of one of these kinds of deals and what would go back the other way, but if the Reds choose to explode, I would assume that they're selling anyone not named Votto and Frazier (Bailey?) that's making money or is within 2 years of free agency.  As such, the Jays could use an outfielder and a 2B, and Johnny Cueto is an upgrade over the entire rotation.  It's a bit of a longshot, admittedly, but so was the Marlins deal.

I can't really see why Nelson Cruz shouldn't be a target either, given the Jays struggles against LHP, but I think they end up getting outbid pretty comfortably if they even check in.

Friday 3 October 2014

Offseason 2015: The "2B Experiment" Edition

I'm not going to lie.  This is going to be a lot less interesting than the previous post.  There's just not a whole lot at 2B.  I think it's a lot more likely that we see Lawrie at 2B more and more as we move forward, and I'll explain that in a minute.

You can have a quick look at the MLBTR 2015 Free Agent list and realize that holy fuck, Ryan Goins may be a viable option.  I mean, yeah, at the end of the day, Ryan Goins was below replacement level, on account of his 26 wRC+, so he's really not a viable option at all, but other than that. We can't forget, either, that Maicer Izturis will be back, and Steve Tolleson is totally serviceable in a platoon situation.

Since there's nothing out there, though, and someone has to play 2B... I dunno, suffice it to say that we're going to expand this to look at shortstops too, just to scrape the bottom.  I think it's reasonably safe to say that if the Jays have a lazy offseason, or are more worried about, say, re-signing Melky and building a bullpen, 2B is a spot in the lineup where we can just go with a platoon-ish situation and worry about rebuilding the rest of the lineup.

Anyway, that's probably enough words to qualify as a warm-up, so let's have a look.  Again, we're using the previously linked MLBTR Free Agent list, as well as Fangraphs' leaderboards.

Brandon Phillips (Trade)

Phillips is one of the more overrated players in baseball, in my opinion, but he's certainly had some good seasons.  He put up a big stink when the Reds signed Joey Votto to a big extension, and was then inexplicably signed to a 6-year extension to lock him up through age 36 or 37.  The Reds have since had Kris Negron emerge as a quality infield option.  If they can find a taker, I'd bet the Reds look to trade Phillips, even if they don't blow the whole team up.  I'd blow the whole team up, though.

Phillips, for his part, is a ~2WAR player going forward (sidenote-- wait, 2015 Steamer projections are out? (sidenote on the sidenote-- Edwin Encarnacion listed as a 3B, eh?)), owed $36MM over the next three years.  He's still a positive defensively, but that's about it.  Having said that, available second basemen aren't exactly good at hitting, so you could do worse than Phillips with the bat, even in his decline (wRC's of 101, 91 and 88 in the last three years).  There's very little, if any, surplus value there, so if Cincinnati wanted something in return, they'd need to eat some money.

For whatever it's worth, Phillips has been pretty healthy throughout his whole career, so the turf shouldn't be a huge deal.

Asdrubal Cabrera (Free Agent)

Cabrera was a shortstop, right up until the Expos acquired him at one of the trade deadlines and stuck him at 2B.  I'd guess that he would want to go back to playing shortstop, but I've never actually asked him since we've never met.  The Tigers and Yankees (and Dodgers, maybe), and probably more, need a fucking shortstop and there's really only JJ Hardy (and Hanley Ramirez, if he can still be considered a shortstop) available, so I'd be a little surprised if Cabrera is playing anything other than short in 2015.

Cabrera isn't exactly as good as he once was, but he's got a couple pretty good seasons under his belt, was a roughly average player in 2014, and he's not even 29 yet.  If he's open to playing 2B again, he may end up as a target, but I'd classify this one as unlikely.

Rickie Weeks (Free Agent)

I'm assuming the Brewers don't exercise Weeks' option for $11.5MM, because that would be insanity.  He put up .274/.357/.452 this year though, over 286 plate appearances in a part-time role.  There's probably very little upside there, but he's not Ryan Goins, which is as good as upside.  He hits lefties, which is something that happens already with Tolleson, so heh.  He probably gets the old 1-year deal forever, and at like $4-5MM so it's not a huge risk, but I just can't imagine him being a big upgrade over what's already in the organization.  Plus, the 2014 return to form was fueled by a .355 babip outlier, versus the .305 career norm.  Probably nothing.

Cliff Pennington (Trade)

Pennington should make about $4MM through arbitration this year, which is certainly affordable.  He's really a backup player, but he is serviceable defensively and he walks a lot.  Could be worth a flyer.  Not sure if the DBacks are looking to trade him or not, but it's not like he's completely irreplaceable or anything.  Again, we're scraping.  He's a switch-hitter, but is practically useless against righties, so, again, Steve Tolleson.


Ben Zobrist was worth a bunch of WAR this year, but he only has one year left on his contract, and is a trade candidate, considering the way the Rays do business.  I'd be incredibly shocked if they traded him within the division, but I can dream.  Would be fucking sweet though.

If we're looking at shortstops, The Mariners might trade one of Brad Miller or Chris Taylor (Taylor seems like he's actually good, so they'd probably keep him), so if one of those guys wants to play 2B...

Of course, there's a glut of mediocre second base-types in the organization already; Izturis, Goins, Tolleson, etc.  We can also dream of Jose Reyes moving off shortstop and finding someone to fill SS, but that's probably at least a year away, if it ever comes.

And that's really about it.  There's just not a whole lot available out there.  There are a bunch of guys who are never getting traded (e.g. Pedroia, Cano, Altuve) and then a bunch of 1WAR guys that aren't really worth fussing about.

This is why I'm guessing that if a big infield upgrade comes along, it's going to be a 3B, moving Lawrie to 2nd full time.  Hopefully he likes it there.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Offseason 2015: The "Brett Lawrie plays 2B" Edition

Photo pilfered from Jason Miller
My next couple posts will likely be following the same basic template of determining who to go after this offseason, dividing each up based on the position of available (or potentially available) players out there that can help fill the various holes in the Jays' lineup.  It's certainly possible that the Jays just don't have any money and use internal options, in which case, God bless our souls as fans and let's 2016!

Alex Anthopoulos has a few options internally for most of those spots-- Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey and Steve Tolleson can all play the outfield, Brett Lawrie and Maicer Izturis will be back, along with Tolleson, Ryan Goins and Danny Valencia, who can man infield spots, and there are various young-ish, cheap arms in the organization that can probably come out of the bullpen and stick a thumb in the dam until something better comes along.

But that's kind of been the strategy for the last couple years, and it hasn't seemed to work, so perhaps it's time to look outside the organization to fill at least some of the holes.   We'll start with 3B, since that's the position that is immediately the most interesting to me.  For the sake of the exercise, I'm using Fangraphs' leaderboards and MLBTR's list of 2015 Free Agents when I mention anything about how good people are at baseball or how free agenty they are.

Josh Donaldson (Trade)

Buster Olney wrote yesterday that he thinks Josh Donaldson gets traded this offseason.  I think that's a complete crock of horseshit and he's only saying that because the A's lost their wild-card play-in game, and therefore have to break the whole fucking team apart.  Donaldson was a 6.4 WAR player in 2014, making somewhere in the range of $500k.  He's arbitration eligible for the first time this year. I'd guess that he'll make $5MM or so this trip through arbitration, but it could certainly be less, given that a good chunk of that value is defensive.

Donaldson is going to get expensive fast, so the A's may decide to move him at some point, but I really don't think that it's this year.  He'll still be plenty affordable even in 2016, and the A's are still good.  They opted to spend about $25MM on a bullpen this year, including $10MM on Jim Johnson that they eventually just ate. This isn't the Moneyball Oakland A's anymore, and even if they were, there are probably more likely to trade the handful of guys on the team making $5MM+ who aren't worth 6WAR.

Having said all of that, if they do trade Donaldson, it would be for a huge haul.  Three cost-controlled years of an elite 3B, in an offensively starved era of baseball, would take a shitload of good prospects/major league ready players.  I'd guess one of Stroman, Hutchison, Lawrie or Sanchez would need to be involved, and that's definitely just the start.  Remember the pricetag for Samardzija this year?  That, plus more.  I'm suddenly afraid that Boston has the prospect depth and the need at 3B.

Pablo Sandoval (Free Agent)

Brian Sabean tends to hang on to his players, so I wouldn't at all be surprised if the Giants re-signed Panda over the next couple months.  If not though, he'd be worth a decent look.  His 5 WAR (i.e. skinny) days are probably behind him, but that doesn't preclude him from being a useful regular with some upside.

He's been an above-average player the last three years (as in "above-average but not excellent" for those three years, excellent before that), has remained reasonably healthy for the duration of his career, is alright defensively, and will be 29 years old on opening day.  I can see plenty of reason why he'll be sought after by several teams, which probably means that he gets a qualifying offer if he leaves SF.  It will probably take a 3 or 4 year deal, at $13-16MM per to get it done, but I can think of worse people to have in the middle of the Jays' lineup.

Chase Headley  (Free Agent)

Headley was traded mid-season from San Diego to New York, which means that he'll be the only 4 WAR 3B on the market, and without a compensation pick attached.  He's also a switch-hitter, an elite defender, and has a career walk-rate above 10%.  2015 will be his age-31 season, so he's not old by any stretch, and he clearly has some good baseball left in him, based on the .262/.371/.398 line and +12.8 runs of defensive value he put up post-trade (58 games) this year.  Sure, that's playing in Yankee Stadium, as opposed to pitcher-friendly Petco, but still... 4.4 WAR, and no comp pick sounds mighty tempting.

Trevor Plouffe  (Trade)

I have no idea if the Twins would be willing to move Plouffe, given his excellent 2014 and relatively cheap contract, but I think it's worth a stab.  The Twins are still pretty bad, and are probably going to tread water at best until their farm system delivers.  They have Miguel Sano in the woodwork, but Plouffe can play all over the diamond (albeit not very well), so there are certainly ways to get both in the lineup if Sano even stays at 3B.

Plouffe, for his part, hit .258/.328/.423 in 136 games this season, with 14 HR's and a 9% walk rate.  Somewhat pedestrian, until you remember that he's playing half of his games outdoors in Minnesota, where I'm pretty sure it snowed at least once this baseball season.  Adjusted, that's a 112 wRC+.  You could do worse.  He's going to hit arbitration for the 2nd time this offseason, and will get something like $4MM.  If Minnesota is willing to listen, I think this is realistic.  Minnesota seems to think they can contend every year though, before ultimately losing 95 games.

Todd Frazier  (Trade)

This one is a longshot, and hinges on the Reds breaking it down entirely.  Frazier hits arbitration for the first time this offseason, and was worth 4.7 WAR in 2014, so that's some cheap production.  The Reds definitely don't need to trade him, as they can probably trade a bunch of expensive, soon-to-be free agents and build it back up before Frazier's team control is up, but if they do decide to move a bunch of their starters (Latos, Cueto and Leake are all free agents after 2015), they may want to break the whole thing down and get value for Frazier, instead of have him be good on a terrible team.  Frazier will be a cheaper, slightly-worse-but-still-very-good version of Donaldson and would cost a shitload (he's basically Donaldson without the defense).


The only other real quality option I see is Aramis Ramirez.  He and the Brewers have a $14MM mutual option on 2015, but those rarely get exercised.  Ramirez was roughly league average this season over 133 games.  His power numbers are down, he's becoming worse defensively, and he's missed time in three straight years.  He'll also be 37 midway through the season.  Might be worth a shot on a 1-year deal, though I'd worry about the turf.  He is Dominican though!

Other than that, I don't really see a whole lot else.  Fortunately, Brett Lawrie can also play 3B, which means that the pool of available associates can grow to include 2B as well, which is next up.  2B is not exactly swimming with available talent though, so maybe moving Lawrie to 2B is the best way to improve the team.

I think Plouffe and Headley are probably the two best ideas here.  Headley will be sought after and might be able to leverage his way in to a nice contract, but it's one that probably won't go too far south given how good he is defensively.  Plouffe is a bit more risky, in that he really only has one good season under his belt, from a WAR perspective.  He'll only cost prospects though, which is obviously a bonus if there isn't a whole lot of money to spend, and his offensive skillset translates really well to the dome.  He can play the outfield or 2B in a pinch, which could help against lefties (i.e. getting Tolleson in the lineup) if we see a situation where Anthony Gose is the regular CF and Melky leaves or something.