I wrote my first post for FanGraphs on April 14th, 2008. It was about Gabe Kapler’s return from managing to be a productive big leaguer. It referenced WPA/LI as our version of a modern statistic and talked unironically about how Kapler was keeping up with Casey Kotchman. It wasn’t great.
Since then, I’ve published 3,501 other posts (or chats). Hopefully, most of them were better than that first one. In these last 10 years, the site has changed a lot. In 2010, I went from a freelancer to the company’s first full-time employee, then was joined by a host of absurdly talented coworkers, many of whom now also get to do this for a living. FanGraphs went from a niche site into the mainstream, and along the way, I’ve seen our little corner of the baseball world help change the language of baseball fans.
It’s been a remarkable run. But for me, it comes to an end today. This will be my last post at FanGraphs.
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It’s January, and the story of the offseason is that it’s actually lived up to its monicker. Outside of Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani’s respective moves to new teams essentially on the same day, MLB clubs have been in hibernation this winter. And so instead of evaluating trades or free-agent contracts, we’re left instead to ponder what is causing the inaction.
The potential culprits are numerous. If you’re inclined to see owners as evil profiteers, it’s easy to talk yourself into a collusion theory. Or this is the consequence of the Players Association accepting a luxury tax that might be acting as a de facto salary cap. Or maybe it’s just that every team has figured out that prices go down as spring training draws closer, so now everyone is trying the same wait-it-out game plan. Or maybe these particular free agents just aren’t that good. Or maybe it’s that next year’s free agents are too good.
Each of those theories seem to have some validity, and I think there’s probably a bit of most of that going on. But I think there’s also an explanation that makes everyone’s passivity perfectly rational: a lack of sufficient divisional competition to create the sort of pressure that justifies high-risk free-agent signings.
Today, the Rockies agreed to sign Wade Davis to a three year, $52 million contract, capping an off-season of bullpen spending that also saw them give $27 million each to Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. The Rockies’ plan couldn’t be more obvious, as they are loading up on relievers in the hopes of bullpenning their way through October. With their trio of free agent relievers pushing Adam Ottavino, Chris Rusin, and Mike Dunn to earlier-game situations, the Rockies now have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. If they were able to roll out that group in the postseason, they could be dangerous.
The problem remains getting to October, however. We projected the Rockies for 79 wins before they signed Davis, so adding him will move the forecast up to 80 wins, most likely. And if you think that’s just Steamer being overly negative, it’s not just us.
Since the Orioles started listening to offers for Manny Machado, people have been trying to find the best trade partner for Baltimore to match up with. Unfortunately for Dan Duquette, the list of teams that have a glaring need at either SS or 3B and are in position to pay what it will take to land a one-year rental is pretty short. Teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox, and Cubs are pretty well set on the left side of the infield. Peter Angelos doesn’t want Machado on the Yankees. The Phillies make sense as a bidder for Machado next year, but not really this year.
That has led to a situation where teams like the White Sox and Diamondbacks are being mentioned as leading suitors, even though they don’t really fit what we’d think a Machado buyer would look like. The Cubs and Red Sox have gotten some mentions, but deals with those teams don’t actually make all that much sense. Especially with the Orioles apparently looking for big-league ready pitching in exchange, finding a team that lines up with Baltimore on a trade for their franchise player isn’t particularly easy.
But there’s one team that has the assets Baltimore is looking for, the incentive to make a substantial upgrade in 2018, and a spot for Machado in their line-up. The team that should land Manny Machado? The Cleveland Indians.
Manny Machado is on the trade block. And rightfully so, as the Orioles are not very close to the other contenders in the AL East, and are looking at losing Machado, Zach Britton, and Adam Jones to free agency next winter. There is simply too large a divide to justify holding those guys and hoping the team lucks into a Wild Card spot, so moving their best pieces while they have the most value is the rational decision.
That said, as I’ve ready some of the suggested offers various teams could make to bring Machado to their city, it seems there remains a disconnect between the understanding of Machado’s abilities and Machado’s trade value. It’s unquestioned that Machado is one of the best players in the world. He’s a star, and will be paid accordingly in free agency next year. But for anyone acquiring him, he’s a one-year rental, with some fringe benefit of being able to try to get him to give you a discount in free agency next winter. That’s worth something, but it isn’t worth the kinds of packages that people seem to expect.
At some point today, it will probably be announced that the Cardinals have acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, likely for some combination including Jack Flaherty and Sandy Alcantara. Ozuna isn’t quite Giancarlo Stanton, but St. Louis wants another good outfielder, and they have the pitching the Marlins are looking for.
But yesterday, it came out that the Orioles are willing to listen to offers for Manny Machado. They also are looking for arms, and reportedly want a pair of MLB-ready pitchers in exchange for their franchise player. While the Cardinals infield is more crowded than their outfield, Machado would still represent a substantial upgrade for them at either SS or 3B, and it’s fair to assume they kicked around the pros and cons of pursuing him as their big bat acquisition.
I will admit that I haven’t, at any point this winter, thought about the Diamondbacks trading Zack Greinke. They just won 93 games and reached the NLDS. They have Paul Goldschmidt under team control for two more years, but A.J. Pollock and Pat Corbin for just one. Their window to win with this group is not going to be open very long, but they haven’t made any real noise about rebuilding, at least not publicly. And if they’re going to try to win again in 2018, they probably need Zack Greinke to do it.
Right now, we have the Diamondbacks projected for 84 wins, putting them two wins behind St. Louis for the top Wild Card spot in the NL. The Cardinals are clearly looking to upgrade their roster, and are probably close to landing Marcell Ozuna from Miami, if I’m any good at reading tea leaves. There is a bit of a gap between AZ and the fringe NL contenders, so the Diamondbacks could get worse and still think they’re as good as Colorado or San Francisco, but reducing their chances of making the playoffs would be a weird strategy in Pollock’s walk year.
Of course, if they don’t move Greinke, they have no shot of re-signing Pollock, so perhaps if they thought they could free up enough money to keep Pollock in Arizona past this year, moving a good chunk of Greinke’s contract could make sense. So, yeah, if someone wants to take most of the deal, and you think you can use it to keep the rest of the core together longer, maybe that’s worth thinking about.
But there’s this rumor kicking around that has the Rangers and Diamondbacks talking about a Greinke trade that just doesn’t make much sense to me.