The Braves are expected to make a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the event that Santana leaves, the team may pursue a top-of-the-rotation type of arm, O’Brien writes, but their lack of financial flexibility would make the trade market a more likely avenue than free agency. O’Brien adds that he finds it unlikely that Santana would accept the QO — a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. He also notes that should the club lose Santana, it might be more motivated to try to retain Aaron Harang, even though he is in line for a sizable raise from the $2MM he earned in 2014 (including incentives). MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Harang, pegging him for a two-year, $14MM contract. Santana was also profiled by MLBTR, with Tim Dierkes projecting a four-year pact worth $56MM.
Elsewhere in baseball’s Eastern divisions…
Pat Neshek improbably went from minor league signee to All-Star setup man after signing late with the Cardinals last winter. He’ll now look to parlay the finest season of his career into his first multi-year deal on the free agent market.
Over the past three seasons, Neshek has quietly assembled a nice track record. He’s pitched to a 2.26 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 over a period of 127 1/3 innings in that timeframe. In particular, the side-armer has been a dominant weapon against right-handed hitters, limiting same-handed bats to a paltry .173/.228/.271 batting line.
Neshek’s three-year platform looks solid from a statistical standpoint, but it downplays how great his 2014 campaign truly was. His 67 1/3 innings and 71 appearances ranked eighth and 12th among free agent relievers, respectively, and only Andrew Miller‘s 2.4 fWAR topped Neshek’s mark of 1.8 this season. Assuming the options of Darren O’Day and Huston Street are exercised, no relief pitcher can claim to have topped his 2.4 RA9-WAR, and only Koji Uehara can lay claim to a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Neshek’s mark of 7.56. He was even dominant against left-handed hitters, stifling them to the tune of a .196/.237/.304 line. However you slice it, Neshek was one of the very best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball this season.
A .233 BABIP and 83 percent strand rate also contributed to Neshek’s ERA, but somewhat remarkably, those marks are in line with his career norms. Neshek does appear to able to consistently strand runners and induce weak contact at a better-than-average rate, though it’s fair to question if he can sustain levels this superior to the 2014 league-average reliever rates of .294 and 73.9.
Like nearly all relief pitchers, he won’t come with a qualifying offer attached, so he won’t cost a draft pick. And, while he’s had some injuries in his pro career (most notably Tommy John surgery back in 2008), he’s been healthy in each of the past four seasons. His health in 2014 was apparent, given the fact that he posted his best fastball velocity since his rookie campaign in 2006.
Neshek also stepped into the ninth inning at season’s end and picked up six saves, which might make him a bit more appealing to teams with late-inning needs.
Neshek looked to be on the verge of breaking out as an elite setup man with his hometown Twins back in 2007, but the Tommy John surgery and a damaged pulley tendon in his right hand slowed his career considerably and limited him to just 22 1/3 big league innings from 2008-10. It’s been an uphill battle to reestablish himself in the Major Leagues since that time, meaning he doesn’t have a particularly lengthy track record to draw from. In fact, he’s totaled just 281 2/3 innings in the Majors.
Dominant as Neshek was against lefties in 2014, he had the opposite problem in 2013. Lefties batted .315/.367/.566 against Neshek last season, and he had enough trouble getting them out that he was at one point designated for assignment by the A’s despite possessing strong all-around numbers at the time. This season, he dramatically reduced the number of sliders he threw in favor of the fastball, and the result does seem to have been positive.
Neshek’s electric ERA was, in part, sustained thanks to a career-low homer-to-flyball rate of just 4.3 percent. Teams may worry that Neshek, who entered the season with a career 10.4 percent HR/FB ratio, will regress toward his career marks. Those who point to the change in pitch selection as a possible reason for this year’s shift won’t have a leg to stand on, either, as his slider has typically not been susceptible to homers.
Neshek’s resurgent season came at age 33, and he’ll pitch next season at age 34, so he’s older than a number of arms in the second tier of the free agent market. He also struggled down the stretch, allowing nine runs over his final 12 innings, although seven of those did come in just two bad outings.
Neshek’s unorthodox delivery stems from an injury sustained in high school that prevented him from throwing overhand. He was hit by a pitch on the wrist and described the sensation of throwing overhand following that incident to Ted Berg of USA Today by saying it felt like the ball “was ripping right through my fingertips.” Neshek’s delivery was developed to compensate for that injury but soon turned into a weapon that he used effectively in his college career at Butler.
Neshek is an avid autograph collector and has a love of collecting and trading baseball cards. Neshek started a web site for fans who share his passion. He is a fan of Out Of The Park Baseball — a popular baseball simulation game — and is even a reader of MLBTR (Hi Pat!). Neshek is often described as an outgoing, engaging person who takes a genuine interest in those around him.
The relief market this season is fronted by David Robertson and Andrew Miller, but Neshek will be one of many strong options in the second tier. He and agent Barry Meister seem likely to target multiple years, and there’s certainly a case to be made. In terms of ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K%, BB% and GB%, Neshek’s three-year platform heading into free agency is comparable, if not superior, to that of Joe Smith, who signed a three-year pact with the Angels last offseason.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Smith’s contract is a reasonable expectation, as Neshek is three-and-a-half years older, has thrown fewer innings than Smith in that time and has struggled more against lefties. The point, however, is that he has rate stats commensurate with well-compensated relievers, and he is coming off an elite walk season.
In spite of the lower innings total relative to his peers, there will be no shortage of clubs that look at Neshek as a relatively affordable piece to strengthen their bullpen. I’d imagine that the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers, Giants, Indians and Nats could all have some interest. Each of those teams either made the postseason or was within striking distance this season. However, Neshek is a player who has “only” banked about $4.5MM in his career, so I can see him going to a rebuilding or non-contending club, should that team offer the most money. The White Sox are known to be in need of bullpen help, as are the Astros, Cubs and Phillies, to name a few.
Despite his standout 2014, I have a difficult time envisioning a three-year pact on an open market that is flush with relief options. I do, however, think that Neshek can land a two-year pact, possibly with an option, especially if Meister strikes quickly. Relievers are typically best-served to sign early in free agency, and Neshek should strive to do the same.
Last offseason, Edward Mujica inked a two-year, $9.5MM contract with the Red Sox despite a late-season slide that cost him his closer’s gig. While Neshek hasn’t built up Mujica’s track record of innings at the Major League level, he strikes hitters out at a higher rate and is coming off a better platform season. I expect something near Mujica’s contract to be the landing spot, as I’m projecting a two-year, $10MM contract for Neshek.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Cubs will hire Joe Maddon as their new manager, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Earlier today, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Maddon and the Cubs had been negotiating. Rick Renteria, who had been serving as manager, has two years remaining on the three-year pact he signed with Chicago just last offseason.
Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, has told reporters, including Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link) that the two sides are in negotiation, but he is still talking with other clubs. However, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that he, too, has been able to confirm through a source that an agreement is in place.
It’s very possible that both the Cubs and Nero are simply attempting to downplay the report because of its timing. Major League Baseball tends to frown upon major news announcements during the World Series, and Maddon joining the Cubs would be a major storyline to break just hours before Game 7 of the World Series between the Giants and Royals commences. Nonetheless, it does indeed appear that an agreement has been reached for Maddon to supplant Renteria as manager.
Maddon shocked the baseball world by opting out of his contract with the Rays last Thursday, just weeks after expressing a desire to remain with Tampa long-term. However, Maddon told reporters that he was unaware of a clause in his contract that provided him a two-week opt-out window should former GM Andrew Friedman ever leave the organization. (Friedman, of course, recently left the Rays to become the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.)
Shortly after his decision to opt out, Maddon explained that he felt this was his last chance to gauge his true value around the game by testing the open market. Reports have indicated that he was seeking something in the vicinity of a five-year, $25MM contract. It’s also worth noting that other reports have indicated that the Rays may look into the possibility of tampering, should Maddon end up with the Cubs quickly after opting out. Sherman tweets that he suspects they will do just that in the coming weeks.
Maddon has developed a reputation as one of the most-respected, if not the most-respected manager in Major League Baseball. As manager of the Rays, he compiled a 754-705 record, leading the Rays to six consecutive winning seasons from 2008-13. Within that run, Maddon was at the helm for the first postseason appearance and first American League pennant in Rays franchise history. He’s drawn praise for his ability to connect with players and also his advanced thinking and willingness to embrace new techniques. Maddon’s Rays were early adopters of mass defensive shifting, and he’s done well in rotating versatile players that are capable of fielding multiple positions. He was twice named American League Manager of the Year, first in 2008 and again in 2011.
Many have noted that Maddon could be seen as a “next-level” manager for a club that is on the brink of contention, and the Cubs fit that bill. The team has deep pockets and one of the game’s brightest farm systems, with many prospects at or near the Major League level. Maddon will be tasked with not only leading a core of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jake Arrieta and others back to the playoffs, but with crafting that group into a perennial contender.
He should have help from the front office as well, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are said to be willing to spend heavily this offseason to supplement their young core. The Cubs have already been tied to elite starting pitchers, including Jon Lester and James Shields.
The move comes as a blow to Renteria, who is seen as a solid baseball man and by all accounts was well-respected and performed well in his first season as a Major League manager. Both Rizzo and Castro, who struggled in 2013, rebounded in 2014 under Renteria. It seems likely that Renteria will again find a managerial opportunity in the near future, but he may have to wait until next year, as only two openings currently exist: the Twins and the Rays. Minnesota is said to be nearing completion of its managerial search, while the Rays, obviously, have only just begun their own.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here are the day’s outright assignments:
Now that the 2014 World Series has ended, it's time to look ahead to the offseason. Every team—even the San Francisco Giants—will have holes to fill.
Free agency is often a whirlwind of information, rumors and speculation. Usually, only a fraction of it comes true. Free agency is as unpredictable as this past season was, meaning it won't be easy to predict where the top talents will land.
It's easy to match players to teams with holes at their position, but it usually takes more than that for a union to happen. Contracts, player preferences and other factors certainly come into play.
Below are a few predictions for some of the top free agents on the market based on the current rumors floating around the rumor mill.
As the best catcher on the market by a wide margin who just enjoyed a career season at the plate, Russell Martin is in the driver's seat this winter.
He's in a position to score big in terms of both dollars and years, and several clubs around the league could use an upgrade behind the dish. He hit .290/.402/.430 in 111 games, but it wasn't just his work at the plate that made headlines. Martin is widely considered one of the top game-callers in baseball.
That's why general manager Neal Huntington will probably bring him back to the Pittsburgh Pirates, via Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "General manager Neal Huntington has said the Pirates will 'stretch beyond normal comfort levels' to retain Russell Martin."
The market for Martin will be chock-full of teams looking to upgrade, but it could dwindle quickly. The Canadian-born backstop will be 32 in February. That could certainly deter a handful of teams.
It's also reasonable to believe that Martin could command a contract only a bit less lucrative than the five-year, $85 million deal Brian McCann signed last offseason. That will also knock a few teams out of the running.
Pittsburgh has been successful in the last two years in large part because of how well Martin handles the pitching staff. Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez have enjoyed career rebirths with the Buccos mostly because of Martin's leadership.
Given the service he has performed for the organization, look for Martin to end up back in Pittsburgh.
Jake Peavy didn't pitch all that well in the World Series, but he'll still gladly take home a ring. Will he be a member of the Giants for the ring ceremony next season?
Judging by the report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, it doesn't appear so: "Peavy didn’t want to talk too much about his pending free agency with a title hanging in the balance, but the former Cy Young winner has the Cubs at the top of his wish list, according to sources close to him."
The Chicago Cubs are a far different organization than they were just a few days ago. As CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted, the team will welcome Joe Maddon as the new manager:
Maddon is one of the most brilliant minds in baseball. The Cubs are probably still a year or two away from seriously competing, but there are few other people in the sport who Chicago would rather have managing its young talent.
Peavy obviously isn't a young guy, but he's the type of veteran presence who can help ease the transition into the next successful Cubs era.
He pitched far better with the Giants than he did with the Boston Red Sox this season. Teams will try to grab him for less money because of the risk that he could pitch like he did in the first half, but coming off a World Series, Peavy holds most of the cards.
Many veterans often give up dollars to play for the team of their choosing. If Heyman's report is true, then he'll be with the Cubs.
During any other World Series, Pablo Sandoval probably would have brought home MVP honors. But he happened to play for a team with Madison Bumgarner, who was absurdly unhittable in three Fall Classic appearances.
Sandoval is one of the few stalwart options at the hot corner in baseball. The position is running thin throughout the league. Unsurprisingly, so is the market for third basemen.
This makes Sandoval one of the top free agents at any position. Heyman reports that the Red Sox will be in play for his services: "The Red Sox, in need of third base production, are prioritizing Giants postseason hero Pablo Sandoval as well as Chase Headley, according to people in the know."
While not the most athletic-looking third baseman, Sandoval makes almost all the plays at a physically demanding position. He runs surprisingly well for his size (5'11", 245 pounds) and has a strong arm.
He's also one of the best postseason hitters of the past five years, as he's hit over .330 in his playoff career. The Red Sox, who are looking to get back to October baseball, will certainly take that into account.
While Boston may pursue him heavily, it's hard to picture a Giants team without Sandoval manning third—especially after yet another World Series win.
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On the heels of another spectacular performance in the World Series, third baseman Pablo Sandoval is in position to land a huge contract in free agency.
While remaining with a San Francisco Giants team that has won three titles in the past five years is certainly possible, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the Boston Red Sox plan on making a run at Kung Fu Panda.
Chase Headley and Aramis Ramirez are also potential options for Boston at third base, per Heyman, but there is no doubt that Sandoval has the highest profile among them.
Not only is the Venezuelan star already a three-time champion at just 28 years of age, but he also enjoyed an all-time great playoff run this season by registering the most hits in a single postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Sandoval is a two-time All-Star and he enjoyed a strong regular season in 2014 as well with a .279 batting average, 16 home runs and 73 RBI. With that said, he simply has a penchant for elevating his play when the games matter most.
As pointed out by Jon Morosi of Fox Sports 1, Sandoval is willing and able to contribute in any area in order to win:
Sandoval has been a key player for San Francisco since bursting onto the scene as a 21-year-old in 2008. He has never played for another team in his MLB career, and Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune believes the star third baseman may have forced the Giants' hand in terms of offering a big contract:
One person who would love to see Sandoval back in the fold is Giants manager Bruce Bochy, according to Daniel Brown of The San Jose Mercury News.
"As far as what happens, I don't know. It's obvious I love this kid," Bochy said. "Hopefully something gets done, but these are things that take care of themselves in the winter."
If the Giants aren't willing to commit to Sandoval over the long term, then there is no doubt that another team will happily swoop in and sign him.
Perhaps the Red Sox will be that team if they are as intrigued as Heyman suggests, but Sandoval figures to have plenty of options to choose from regardless.
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Although third baseman Chase Headley has had his ups and downs over the past couple seasons, the skilled third baseman is receiving plenty of interest on the free agent market.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Boston Red Sox are in search of someone to man the hot corner, and Headley may be near the top of their wish list. In order to secure him, though, the Sox may have to outbid the AL East rival New York Yankees.
Headley was on the road to superstardom just a couple seasons ago as he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBI for the San Diego Padres in 2012. That was good enough for a fifth-place finish in the National League MVP voting, and he also took both Silver Slugger and Gold Glove honors.
Unfortunately, his production dipped significantly in 2013, and it got even worse with the Padres this past season. With the 30-year-old slugger hitting a disappointing .229 with seven homers and 32 RBI over 77 games, he was traded to the Yankees for utility man Yangervis Solarte.
Following the deal, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman revealed that he viewed Headley as a rental player who was brought in to help New York reach the playoffs, according to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch:
The Yanks fell short of that goal, but Headley did some good things in pinstripes. His hitting improved while with the Bronx Bombers as he put up a .262 average with six home runs and 17 RBI in 58 games.
Where he truly shined, though, was out in the field. Headley masterfully manned the hot corner for the Yankees and the Padres as he ranked third in the league with an Ultimate Zone Rating of 20.9, per Fangraphs.com, which measures the amount of runs he saved defensively.
The impact of strong fielding is often overlooked, but Headley is arguably the best defensive third baseman in baseball. He has also flashed enticing power potential offensively, so it is easy to see why he is generating interest.
Headley's stellar play down the stretch endeared him to Yankees fans, and it makes for an interesting situation. Despite Cashman's rental comments after making the trade, Heyman has reported that "strong indications" suggest the organization is interested in signing Headley.
One potential issue that complicates matters, however, is the impending return of Alex Rodriguez from a season-long suspension. A-Rod is a third baseman by trade, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up at that position over the course of an entire season at 39 years of age.
The Yanks seem committed to utilizing Rodriguez, but David Waldstein of The New York Times believes that New York should bring Headley back regardless:
Headley has similarly expressed some interest in returning, but his comments to Dan Martin of The New York Post seem to indicate that he would require an assurance of regular playing time.
"I know they have a player (Rodriguez) under contract," Headley said. "We'll see how that shakes out. We'll see what my role would look like. ... I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don't want to be a part-time guy."
If the Yankees are unwilling to commit to Headley as a full-time player, then his time in the Bronx may have already come to an end. With that said, he won't have any issue finding a landing spot elsewhere.
The Red Sox have already emerged as a top candidate to poach Headley from New York, and there is no question that other teams will get in on the act as well.
There is a big market for a switch-hitting third baseman in his prime who also happens to be a wizard with the glove. Headley is poised for a huge contract even after a couple difficult seasons, and that speaks to the dearth of quality hitters available.
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The conclusion of the World Series on Wednesday means that free agency is nearly upon us.
This year’s free-agent class features three high-end pitchers in Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, as well as a few middle-of-the-order hitters such as Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez and Pablo Sandoval.
However, there’s an even longer list of less-notable players entering free agency, including Aaron Harang, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus and Brandon McCarthy. While they could offer the right team great value, they also come with considerable risk, usually as a result of injuries or underwhelming production in previous years.
With that in mind, here’s a look at four soon-to-be free agents that are either currently in a decline or likely to decline in the coming years, and should therefore be avoided by teams looking to make a meaningful upgrade during the offseason.
The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in a hard-fought battle against the Kansas City Royals, but there were some individual performances that stood above the rest.
As a team, the Giants can now be considered a dynasty after winning three titles in five seasons. Meanwhile, the Royals will be remembered for one of the most exciting postseason runs in history. For two weeks, they could seemingly do no wrong.
While both sides had great group efforts, these players really deserve the recognition for outstanding showings in the seven-game series.
Lorenzo Cain, Royals
Although he was not as impressive in the World Series as in the American League Championship Series, Lorenzo Cain was still the Royals' best position player against the Giants.
The center fielder finished the series with a .308 batting average that included three multihit games. He was especially clutch in Game 6, getting on base four times and driving home three runs in a 10-0 win.
While the 28-year-old outfielder had never really gotten a chance to be an everyday player before this season, Cain showed he can be a quality hitter with a great approach at the plate almost every at-bat.
Amazingly, Cain did more than just hit the ball in the postseason. He also flashed the leather with some of the best fielding from anyone in October. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports made this revelation earlier in the week:
ESPN's Buster Olney was also impressed in the outfielder's all-around game:
A month ago, Cain was not a player who was well-known outside of Kansas City. He is now on the brink of stardom thanks to an excellent run throughout the playoffs and in the World Series.
Wade Davis, Royals
Down 3-2 going into Game 6, Ned Yost wanted to rely on the players who had got him to that point: the elite bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
According to Bleacher Report's Scott Miller, the Royals manager had this to say Tuesday:
While the extra bullpen arms were not needed in Game 6,Yost certainly backed up Jeremy Guthrie with his best pitchers in Game 7. After the starter was knocked out in the fourth inning, Herrera and Davis combined for 4.2 shutout innings out of the bullpen. Herrera's one inherited run scored was the only mark against the duo.
Although the Royals could not get anything going offensively for the rest of the game, these strong performances kept the team in the game, just like they have all postseason.
Davis was especially impressive in the World Series, allowing just three hits and no earned runs in five innings. He finished the postseason with just one earned run allowed in 14.1 innings.
This was a continuation of a great season where he posted a 1.00 ERA as an eighth-inning specialist. Considering he was a middling starter for most of his career, this had to be surprising for everyone involved.
Still, Davis has turned his career around and should now be considered one of the top relievers in baseball going forward.
Pablo Sandoval, Giants
All postseason, the Giants were able to rely on Pablo Sandoval to come through in big moments. In reality, he came through in all moments—his 26 postseason hits were the most in MLB history.
The third baseman was especially big in the final game. He went 3-for-3 with a hit by pitch and two runs. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports joked about how well he was swinging the bat:
Sandoval finished the series with a .429 batting average, which would usually be good enough for an MVP award if not for a certain incredible pitching effort that also took place.
The interesting thing going forward is what will happen to Sandoval now that he is a free agent. Many speculate that he will get a big contract somewhere, but Peter King of Sports Illustrated thinks he should stay in San Francisco:
No matter what happens, both the team and the player will remember the past few years fondly and especially this 2014 title.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Was there any doubt he would be on this list?
Not only did Madison Bumgarner have the best performance in this World Series, he had one of the best efforts ever seen in baseball history. After getting a win in Game 1, he returned with a complete-game shutout in Game 5. If this wasn't enough, he came in as a reliever in Game 7 on just two days' rest to pitch five more shutout innings.
ESPN's Bill Simmons was one of many impressed with the Giants pitcher:
Of course, more people had the mindset of ESPN the Magazine:
ESPN Stats & Info puts Bumgarner's performance against those in history:
Not many have done or will do what the 25-year-old starter did in this World Series, which is what makes it so memorable. He was outstanding throughout the playoffs and really the main reason the Giants were able to celebrate a championship.
No matter what happens in the future, San Francisco can feel comfortable any time Bumgarner steps to the mound in the postseason.
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