RosterResource Free Agency Roundup: NL Central

This is the fifth of a six-part series — the AL East, AL Central, AL West, and NL East pieces have been published — in which I’m highlighting each team’s most notable free agents and how it could fill the resulting void on the roster. A player’s rank on our recently released Top 50 Free Agents list, along with Kiley McDaniel’s contract estimates from that exercise, are listed where relevant. In some cases, the team already has a capable replacement ready to step in. In others, it’s clear the team will either attempt to re-sign their player or look to the trade or free agent markets for help. The remaining cases are somewhere in between, with in-house candidates who might be the answer, but aren’t such obvious everyday players to keep the team from shopping around for better options.

Here’s a look at the National League Central.

Chicago Cubs | Depth Chart | Payroll

Nicholas Castellanos, OF
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 11
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 4 years, $56M

Castellanos had been an above-average hitter for a few seasons, although his fielding has left much to be desired. But for the two months following a trade from the Tigers to the Cubs, he was the kind of hitter — 154 wRC+, 16 home runs in 225 plate appearances — whose bat could more than make up for his defensive inadequacies.

Since the Cubs were the team to witness the 27-year-old at his best, especially at Wrigley Field where he slashed .384/.412/.750 in 119 plate appearances, they would have to at least be open to bringing him back. But with the current state of the roster, that does not appear likely unless they trade Kyle Schwarber. Read the rest of this entry »


Cole Hamels’ Vintage Changeup Returned in 2019

There’s a lot of starting pitching on the free agent market this offseason. There’s Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, among many others. But one guy who has always piqued my personal interest is left-hander Cole Hamels, who is entering free agency for the first time in his 14-year major league career.

Hamels ranked as the 19th-best free agent on the FanGraphs’ Top 50 released earlier this month. Kiley pegged him for a two-year, $28 million contract, and the median (two-years, $30 million) and average (1.93-years, $28.2 million) crowdsource values were pretty close to that. Per his agent, John Boggs, he’s already generated interest from 13 different teams; according to Boggs, Hamels plans to pitch “at least five more seasons.”

Whether or not Hamels can actually pitch for another five years remains to be seen, but what is certain is that he still had plenty left in the tank in 2019. Hamels pitched 141 and two-thirds innings this season, to the tune of a 3.81 ERA and a 4.09 FIP. He struck out 23% of hitters and walked just 9%. Hamels was worth 2.5 WAR over his 27 starts, a solid figure, especially for the middle-of-the-rotation starter Hamels is now. Shoulder and oblique injuries kept him from making a full season’s worth of starts, but when he was on the mound, he was solid.

Driving much of this success was Hamels’ changeup, which experienced a resurgence in 2019. Check out his weighted runs above-average on the pitch by year:

Hamels’ wCH by Year
Season wCH
2006 14.5
2007 17.4
2008 23.4
2009 11.8
2010 6.2
2011 29.3
2012 13.8
2013 28.6
2014 19.7
2015 17.2
2016 0.9
2017 7.0
2018 0.9
2019 11.6

Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Trout’s Third MVP Is His Latest Step Into Elite Company

When I was a little kid, I used to love reading Guinness World Records books. My childhood bookshelf at my parents’ house reflects this admittedly odd curiosity: There are several of the, I don’t know, adult(?) versions of the book from the mid-2000s — the ones that are text-heavy and include bummer-ish topics like war and crime. But then there are the “kids” versions, the ones whose pages are filled with large portraits of record-breakers, with little bar graphs in the corner to show what their performance looks like against the competition.

One of those kids’ books I had included a page dedicated to “Most MVP Awards” won in baseball. I remember seeing Barry Bonds‘ big smile, resting vibrant next to one of those graphs that showed just how transcendent he was. He’d won seven by the time this book published; the other names listed had won just three each. I knew Bonds, because I’d watched him often. The other names, I knew only from history books — names like Mantle, DiMaggio and Foxx. Pujols and Rodriguez hadn’t yet joined this class of three-time winners, hadn’t gotten the privilege of being immortalized as one of those short, stubby bars next to the tall structure looming above Bonds’ name on the tiny illustration intended to tell me who was the best ever at playing my favorite sport.

At the time I picked up this particular 2005 edition of my beloved book series, Mike Trout was just 13 years old. On Thursday, at the age of 28, Trout received the honor of joining this very silly-looking bar graph:

Read the rest of this entry »


Wild, Wild East: The Braves Sign Will Smith

It seems like only last week, I was jamming 14 Will Smith movies into a single paragraph of free agent hype, taking an obvious joke well past its logical conclusion. What would I do when Will Smith actually signed? Use the same movie jokes again? I wasn’t too worried about it. Free agents take months to sign! The Giants had made Smith a qualifying offer. No less a reliever than Craig Kimbrel had languished on the vine until after the amateur draft in similar circumstances. The same jokes could be funny again in a few months.

Well, the joke’s on me, because Smith signed a three-year, $40 million contract with the Braves yesterday. What follows is a level-head, straightforward analysis of that transaction. Just know that, if it weren’t so close in time, I’d probably have written another article of movie names.

The Braves fit a classic archetype of team that looks for free agent help. Their young core gelled impressively in 2019. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies keyed the offense, while Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz provided the starting pitching. The team had veteran help, of course: Freddie Freeman chipped in his usual stellar offense, Josh Donaldson was superb in a bounce back year, and Dallas Keuchel provided much-needed innings on his own one-year deal.

They also have payroll room. With Donaldson and Keuchel re-entering free agency, they only had $100 million in expected commitments for 2020 before the Smith signing. With Acuña and Albies signed long-term to (some would say exceedingly) team-friendly contracts, it makes perfect sense to spend on the rest of the roster, maximizing their playoff chances while they have a strong foundation to build from. Read the rest of this entry »


The Chicago Cubs Are in Gentle Decline

This Cubs team had their moment in 2016, but it is starting to look like their best days may be behind them. (Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

“Who doesn’t enjoy going downhill? That’s when you get to stop pedaling.” – Christian Finnegan

Every successful thing has a peak. The Romans had the Pax Romana. Napoleon had the Battle of Austerlitz. The Simpsons had the Who Shot Mr. Burns? cliffhanger. For the early 21st-century Cubs, it was Michael Martinez grounding out on a mild November evening, giving the team its first World Series championship since 1908. Moistened by celebratory alcohol, this was almost certainly the peak for these Cubs, and even a second championship probably wouldn’t touch the magic of this moment.

Since 2016, the Cubs finished each season a bit less successfully than the previous one. The 2017 team dropped four of five to the Dodgers in the NLCS, and the 2018 team’s end came in a wild card game against the Colorado Rockies. The 2019 team didn’t even make it into October.

The club’s dynasty was built on developing players from within and using their big-market financial heft to play in free agency. These two ingredients have faded into the background in recent years as the team’s farm system has been weakened from trades and graduations while ownership has increasingly embraced a more frugal financial strategy. The Cubs are a team in decline, to the point at which they’re just any old NL Central contender, not a behemoth pushing around the Cardinals or Brewers or Reds. Read the rest of this entry »


Despite Stardom and Swagger, Dave Parker is Still Short of Cooperstown

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Dave Parker
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Dave Parker 40.1 37.4 38.7
Avg. HOF RF 71.5 42.1 56.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2712 339 .290/.339/.471 121
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

A five-tool player whose power, ability to hit for average, and strong, accurate throwing arm all stood out – particularly in the Pirates’ seemingly endless and always eye-catching assortment of black-and-yellow uniform combinations — Dave Parker was once considered the game’s best all-around player. In his first five full seasons (1975-79), he amassed a World Series ring, regular season and All-Star MVP awards, two batting titles, two league leads in slugging percentage, and three Gold Gloves, not to mention tremendous swagger, a great nickname (“The Cobra”), and a high regard for himself. “Take Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and match their first five years up against mine, and they don’t compare with me,” he told Roy Blount in a 1979 Sports Illustrated cover story.

Parker, who had debuted with the Pirates just seven months after Clemente’s death and assumed full-time duty as the team’s right fielder a season and a half later, once appeared to be on course to join the Puerto Rican legend in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, cocaine, poor conditioning, and injuries threw him off course, and while he recovered well enough to make three All-Star teams, play a supporting role on another World Series winner, accrue hefty career totals and play past the age of 40, his game lost multiple dimensions as he aged. Hall of Fame voters greeted his case with a yawn; he debuted with just 17.5% on the 1997 ballot, peaked at 24.5% the next year, and while he remained eligible for the full 15 seasons, only one other time did he top 20%. He made appearances on both the 2014 Expansion Era ballot as well as the ’18 Modern Baseball one, but even after going public with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, he didn’t come close to election. Aside from the precedent set by Harold Baines‘ election last year — a small committee can throw us a wild card now and then — there’s little reason to believe his fate will be different this time. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Craig Edwards Decries Lazy Cheating

Episode 874

On this edition of FanGraphs Audio, I welcome Craig Edwards back to the program. Craig and I discuss the Astros sign-stealing scandal and how much is too much cheating in baseball, before we turn our attention to the offseason, the free agent market, the motivations of baseball owners, and the troubling trend of good teams seeming interested in shedding good players to reduce payrolls and avoid rich extensions.

You can read Craig on the Yankees’ payroll here.
You can read Craig on the Cubs’ potentially eschewing their window of contention here.
You can read Craig on the wisdom of the crowd when it comes to free agent contracts here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 47 min play time.)


The Braves and Will Smith Agree on Three-Year Contract

Up against a deadline to either accept or refuse San Francisco’s qualifying offer, free agent reliever Will Smith signed a three-year, $40 million pact with the Atlanta Braves. Smith’s deal with Atlanta will pay him $13 million in each of the next three seasons, with the Braves retaining a club option for either a fourth season at $13 million or a $1 million buyout.

Now two seasons into his return from Tommy John surgery, Smith’s 2.66 ERA and 2.71 FIP to along with 3.2 WAR in 118 and a third innings in 2018-2019 firmly established him as the best free agent reliever available this winter. While on paper Aroldis Chapman electing to stay with the Yankees could have established a better negotiating environment for Smith, teams just aren’t in love with closers the way they were 10 or 15 years ago. Being in the next tier of relievers down from his fellow left-hander, and with the loss of a draft pick attached, Smith was unlikely to do much better; his deal exceeds Kiley McDaniel’s three year and $36 million estimate as part of our Top 50 Free Agents list, as well as the crowd’s median projection of three years and $30 million.

The Braves entered 2019 as a serious contender, but one with a bullpen problem. In our 2019 Positional Power Rankings, Atlanta’s pen ranked 18th in baseball. The team’s relief issues never reached the same level of notoriety as those of their division rivals in DC, but Atlanta’s corps was 20th in baseball in WAR over the first half of the season, prompting them to trade prospects Joey Wentz and Kolby Allard for Shane Greene and Chris Martin, respectively. Also acquired at the deadline was another member of the Giants’ bullpen, Mark Melancon.

With Greene, Melancon, and Luke Jackson all returning in 2020, the addition of Smith gives the Braves a deeper group than when they started the 2019 season. It would make sense for Smith to get first dibs on save opportunities, but if fellow lefty Sean Newcomb is given a chance to start in 2020, the team may very well decide they’re better served leaving Smith in a more flexible role that allows him to be used tactically against left-handed hitters.

The loss of Smith, when added to the plethora of relievers traded in July, leaves the Giants with a rather thin bullpen. However, that team has 99 more pressing problems than holding late-inning leads to worry about. We’ll have more on the Smith signing up on the site soon.

ZiPS Projections – Will Smith
Year W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2020 4 2 2.83 57 0 57.3 43 7 18 83 148 1.2
2021 3 2 2.87 53 0 53.3 39 6 17 77 145 1.1
2022 3 2 2.94 52 0 52.0 38 6 17 76 142 1.0

The Pomeranaissance

If your favorite team is one of the few looking to improve itself via free agency this offseason, there’s a good chance they could use bullpen help. Every team except the Yankees could, after all, and even they could use another good reliever on the margin. There’s only one problem — the cupboard is somewhat bare.

Our list of the top 50 free agents features only one reliever, Will Smith, among the top 20 players. Miss on Smith, and the next tier is in the mid-20s: Dellin Betances, Will Harris, Drew Pomeranz, and maybe Chris Martin if you’re into that kind of thing. None of those players are the type of impact reliever fans dream of signing to turn the bullpen from a weakness to a strength.

Or at least, none of them are now. Pomeranz, who is likely a full-time reliever now after two years as a swingman, has the potential to be an absolute star, the kind of game-changing reliever you pencil in for four big outs whenever you need them, or maybe six big outs in a key playoff contest.

That would be a wild sentence to read after 2018, when Pomeranz signed a one-year contract with the Giants after a dismal season in Boston. It’s mildly less surprising after 2019, when he excelled in Milwaukee. But still, the dude had a 4.85 ERA in his good season, and he’s 31. Rather than lean too hard into a half-season of ERA in Milwaukee, let’s build a more detailed case for the Pomeranaissance. Read the rest of this entry »


Nick Solak Gives the Rangers Options

The Rangers entered this offseason in a unique position. While many teams appear to be content to wait patiently for the free agent market to get moving and a handful are actively trying to clear salary, the Rangers seem like one of the few clubs approaching the market aggressively. That stance isn’t necessarily reflective of their standing in the AL West — they finished a distant third behind the A’s and the Astros — but it’s partially an artificial urgency created by the opening of their new stadium in 2020.

General Manager Jon Daniels has made it clear that the team will be looking to improve its roster any way they can, including dipping into the top-tier free agent market. They’re reportedly “aggressively” pursuing Josh Donaldson and have been linked to a number of other big names. With their outfield more or less set, with Willie Calhoun, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara manning the three spots from left to right, the infield is the likely target for an upgrade on the position player side of the roster.

Third base seems like the best place to pursue a high-end free agent simply because there are more of them on the market than any of the other infield positions. Plus, the Rangers have Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor’s unmovable contracts entrenched up-the-middle. The problem is the Rangers infielder with the best 2020 projection is currently penciled in as their everyday third baseman. Read the rest of this entry »