Ian Thomas Malone

free agency Archive



November 2014



Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

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Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

The Red Sox shocked the baseball world yesterday by agreeing to terms with not one, but two, of the top free agents in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. This is somewhat puzzling for two reasons. Many top baseball analysts projected both to hit nine figures. Ramirez could hit that mark with his vesting option, but the 4/88 he settled for seems a bit low, especially in November. The exact terms of Sandoval’s contract remain to be seen, but the 5/95 reported amount is also somewhat low for playoff proven panda. The fact that most had Ramirez pegged for a permanent move to third complicated the roster.

The Sox also have one of baseball’s most impressive logjams on their hands with their outfield with Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all under contract. It’s clear that one or two of them needed to go even before you factor in Ramirez and Sandoval. Some early reports have left field as a possibility for Ramirez, but first let’s look at all the pieces before we can determine who goes where.

To make things a little easier, we can take second base, designated hitter, and catcher out of the equation. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Christian Vasquez will man those positions. Even if you’re not convinced with Vasquez as a major leaguer, none of the aforementioned players will take his place anyway. With starting pitching to address, it seems unlikely that Ben Cherington will look to add a costly option at catcher anyway, likely preferring a veteran backstop to mentor Vasquez and eventually Blake Swihart.

So there are six positions for about a million players, many of whom are legitimate starters. The fact that Cherington is essentially forced to trade a couple might hinder their value, but the overall bleak state of free agency should mean that there are plenty of suitors. But who to trade? And for what?

The first thing to consider is that this logjam is really only a problem for this season. The three most likely trade options are Cespedes, Victorino, and Mike Napoli as all three only have one more year on their contracts. Napoli’s grit and beard fit perfectly with the team and played a major role in the 2013 World Series but the case could also be made that he’s their most desirable commodity that the team could stand to lose. The team is said to be somewhat sour on Cespedes, which could hamper his return, and Victorino spent much of last season on the DL. The Sox would likely have to eat a couple million to send Victorino away before Spring Training unless a team is quite desperate (I’m not sure I’d rule that out).

Trading Napoli would allow Sandoval to man first. Despite his size, he’s actually a pretty good third baseman, but Hanley’s limitations at shortstop could prompt the team to put him at the hot corner instead. It seems somewhat unlikely that Ramirez will play short unless the team trades Xander Boegarts. Craig figures to be the backup first baseman, though I’d imagine the team would trade him for just about anything.

The problem is that the team’s biggest need is frontline starting pitching and three players with only a year left on their deals aren’t going to net that kind of return. Moving two to the same team isn’t terrible likely given the salaries involved. Teams don’t typically trade aces for anything besides top prospects and the Sox have something special in Betts and I think they know that. Cole Hamels is the most desirable trade target, but Ruben Amaro isn’t going to part with him unless he gets a mammoth return back.

The Reds have four starters who will hit free agency next year in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, and Mike Leake. The Sox would love either Cueto or Latos and the Reds look to want to contend in 2015, suggesting that the two could be trade partners. The problem is that Latos was injured for much of last year and Cueto deserves a king’s ransom that the Sox don’t seem particularly likely to provide.

A reunion with Jon Lester would solve some of this mess. I’d say the Ramirez and Sandoval signings could prompt Lester to return to Beantown, but he won’t come cheap and has plenty of other suitors. James Shields poor playoff performance made a laughing stock of his “Big Game James” nickname, but could be a good fit if the price is right. With the below market signings the Sox just pulled off, I think there’s more value in him than might have been expected.

The outfield projects to at least have Castillo manning center and likely Betts somewhere as well. That leaves one spot for Victorino and Cespedes assuming Craig and Nava are destined for the bench and JBJ goes to AAA or another team. If both get traded, Ramirez could factor in at left, but I have a hard time seeing it happen.

The Sox are not going to bet on Victorino’s health to the point where he’ll be guaranteed a starting spot. Keeping him around on the bench is a possibility if there aren’t any appealing trade scenarios, but the Sox should try to move him for bullpen pieces or fringe prospects as long as they can move 80% or so of his salary. Nava put up a 3.3 WAR season and has more value than people might give him credit for considering he’s a platoon player. The Sox won’t trade a valuable cost effective piece for nothing.

My guess is that Victorino and Napoli are the ones to go unless Cespedes can bring back a starter. The Sox have prospects that teams will be interested in, increasing the chances for some sort of package revolving around one of these guys or Nava. I wouldn’t rule out a Boegarts trade, but the possible landing spots are vague. The same holds true for Craig, which makes the Lackey trade look even worse than it did when it was made, though Joe Kelly is an interesting pitcher to watch. It seems like a bit of a waste to play Sandoval at first and I wouldn’t rule out the idea that Ramirez might be tapped for short, but that seems unlike from a defensive standpoint.

This is all contingent on the trade market, which Boston figures to be quite active in. From an offensive standpoint, these moves solidify one of Boston’s weak points from last season. But the team needs to figure out its rotation or these moves will be for naught. Signing both players looks somewhat excessive considering the logjam, but the Sox got two fantastic bargains and the bleak free agent market for next year make prudence of particular importance.

I’ll have another article on the shifting culture of the Sox at some point. To keep up with my articles, please like me on Facebook or subscribe via e-mail (or both).



November 2014



Is the Qualifying Offer Working?

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As MLB’s Hot Stove got turned up a bit with the rather unexpected five year, $82 million dollar contract handed out to Russell Martin by the Blue Jays, I thought I’d look at the Qualifying Offer. The QO is in its third year of existence and saw another offseason go by without a single player accepting the one year $15.3 million dollar contract required for teams to receive draft pick compensation. This is sharp contrast to the old compensation system, which usually had a couple of players accept each year.

Which brings the question of the effectiveness of such an offer if no player is interested in accepting the offer. This was a major bone of contention for last years crop as the agents for Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jiminez, Stephen Drew, and a Nelson Cruz all complained ad nauseam about the negative effect the offer had on their clients. Before we examine the legitimacy of their complaints, I wanted to first explain the old system a little bit to see the differences.

Under the old Type A/B system, players were categorized by the Elias Sports Bureau into tiers that determined draft pick compensation. Type A’s netted the former team either a first or second round pick depending on the ranking of the signing team plus a sandwich pick. Type B’s did not require a loss of draft pick for the signing team, but earned the former team a sandwich pick and type C’s didn’t really factor into the equation. If a player accepted, unlike the QO which is determined by the average earnings of the top 125 players, the old system forced players to negotiate with teams as they would under salary arbitration. This model seems a bit archaic especially considering the rise in pre-arbitration extensions and it makes sense that teams and players alike would wish to gravitate away from this often hostile practice. The one advantage for players was that their salary could not be less than 80% of their current deal, making a pillow contract style situation at least somewhat appealing.

The problem with the old system was that it was unfair to players who were typically undervalued by free agency. Career middle relievers like Jason Frasor could be ranked at Type As alongside closers as the rankings failed to differentiate between types of relievers and as such, these sorts of players were practically forced into accepting these deals. Bench/utility players were sometimes victims of this as well, creating somewhat of a double-edged sword. More playing time would likely mean a greater salary, but becoming a type A free agent would negate those benefits fairly quickly. It’s really no surprise that this was done away with.

The QO lets teams determine the value of their players. A career middle reliever like Frasor could in theory be offered one, but compensation no longer acts as a hindrance to players like him. Players traded midseason can no longer be tied to compensation, increasing the risk in making such acquisitions.

So why do players hate it so much? Why does no one want a $15.3 million dollar payday?

We’ve seen a drastic shift in mentality with regards to dollars vs. years. Young players frequently take below market value extensions to get the guaranteed money, which has radically changed free agency as a whole. Fifteen million is a bigger, one year payday than many of these players would get, but it’s still only a year. An injury or a down season would have a big impact on the future. Jimenez’ four year deal with the Orioles pays him an AAV less than the $14.1 QO he was offered last year, but his poor performance this season would’ve taken a big contract off the table.

Of last year’s crop, it’s hard to really say really say that any of them made a mistake turning their QO’s down. All the players mentioned are guilty of drastically overvaluing their markets, which served as more of a deterrent than the draft pick. Santana wasn’t a $100 million dollar pitcher and Cruz was never going to get close to $75 million regardless of the draft pick. Drew and Morales probably should have considering Scott Boras’ insistence that both deserved elite salaries despite the numerous question marks surrounding both players. Pillow contracts would’ve gone a long way and now both players find themselves in unenviable positions.

To put it simply, there hasn’t been a straight case of “you have no market because you’re tied to a draft pick.” Sure it makes certain teams less interested, like the case of Michael Bourn and the Mets two years ago. But that’s also another case of a player who was hurt because he waited too long for his market to develop.

Perhaps the best example of this was seen last year with Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza. Nolasco was viewed as a tier below Garza, Jimenez, and Santana, but wound up with a four year $49 million dollar deal that was a lot closer to Garza and Jimenez’ 4/50 deals. All three have vesting options with performance bonuses that could make any of the three the highest paid overall, though we won’t know that for a couple years. Oddly enough, Nolasco and Garza were not tied to compensation.

The big difference between these pitchers was that timing. Nolasco signed at the end of November. Garza waited until the end of January and Jimenez waited almost another month before inking his deal. Teams had spent most their available money by that point. It’s hard to really blame the draft pick when players want drastically more money than anyone is realistically willing to pay them.

Michael Cuddyer’s recent deal with the Mets prevented him from likely becoming the first player to accept the QO. The Rockies were criticized for extending what looked like a gross overpay to a player who spent much of the season on the DL, but the Mets quickly made that look like a great decision. A one year overpay of a few million wouldn’t hurt most teams, but the cash strapped Rockies might have been in trouble. But they valued both the draft pick and Cuddyer and now have something to show for it.

It’s hard to argue that the QO benefits larger market teams over smaller ones either to an extreme extent either. This year the Pirates handed out the same amount of QOs as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox combined. There’s plenty of parity in the QO and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

The QO is not perfect, but it’s also not really the drastic hindrance that it’s made out to be either. Players are offered a sweet one-year deal and if they don’t like it, they can test the market. But testing the market has its risks and when the waiting game doesn’t work out, it’s easy to blame the QO. That doesn’t mean that it’s at fault or that it should be changed.