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What the Braves Can Tell Us About MLB’s Financial Losses in 2020

Losses have come to dominate the narrative when it comes to baseball finances over the past year as the world has struggled to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. With just a 60-game schedule and no fans in the stands during the regular season, revenues dropped precipitously. The losses have been called “historic” and “devastating” by commissioner Rob Manfred and “biblical” by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. Separating hyperbole from reality is difficult when there is little concrete information to contest bald assertions from interested parties, and the refusal of those parties to divulge any of their info invites skepticism. As a result, we need to turn to the Braves, who are traded publicly and issue quarterly reports about their finances, to get a better sense of the picture league-wide.

This is not the first time we’ve taken a look at Atlanta’ finances, though 2020 represents a radically different year, with operating income (Adjusted OIBDA) totaling around $150 million in 2018 and ’19 combined. Before taking a broader look, let’s run through the third quarter, which includes July, August and September, aka the regular season. During this time, the team played 60 games, including 30 at home. Baseball revenue stood at $102 million, half that of what came in during the third quarter in 2019. Due to paying players pro-rated salaries and not having fans at games, expenses (which include the Battery development outside the park) also dropped, from $167 million to $104 million. If we assume that The Battery, with $8 million in third quarter revenue, is a breakeven proposition at the moment, that means that on an operating basis, the Braves’ turned a $6 million profit during the season despite having no fans in the seats. While MLB might claim teams lost money for every game played this season, the Braves are the only club with any amount of transparency regarding their finances, and they didn’t. Read the rest of this entry »


What Our Readers Think Will Happen To the Big Names at the Non-Tender Deadline

Last week, I asked our readers to answer a few questions about what might happen at the non-tender deadline. I didn’t list every potential non-tender decision, of course; I’ll point you to Eric Longenhagen’s analysis of nearly every decision teams will be faced with at the deadline for more comprehensive coverage. I was more interested in how you felt the deadline would go for a few of the bigger names and potential contracts.

For the eight players included, I asked if the player would be tendered a contract or reach agreement with his current team, be traded or claimed on waivers by another team, or be non-tendered and become a free agent. For one of the players below, we’ve already received at least a partial answer: Hunter Renfroe was designated for assignment by the Rays so they could use his 40-man spot to protect players for the Rule 5 draft. This was the same process used last year by the Orioles before they traded Jonathan Villar to the Marlins. While Renfroe might be traded or become a free agent, he will not be tendered a contract by the Rays for next season.

As for the results (we received around 1,000 responses per player), let’s start with the biggest name on the list: former MVP Kris Bryant. Read the rest of this entry »


Crowdsourcing Kris Bryant and Other Non-Tender Candidates

Earlier this week, Eric Longenhagen wrote about the looming non-tender deadline and the expectation that the number of available players after the December deadline will increase relative to normal. While the deadline will reveal which arbitration-eligible players have been tendered contracts and which will be made free agents, there will be some trade and waiver activity ahead of the deadline as well. Some players are likely to be placed on waivers to spur a trade while others could be moved before it reaches that point. Last season, the A’s traded Jurickson Profar to the Padres just ahead of the non-tender deadline. The Orioles placed Jonathan Villar on waivers ahead of his eventual trade to the Marlins, and Miami kept busy by claiming Jesús Aguilar off waivers from the Rays. Other players will reach agreements on a contract with their teams ahead of the deadline to avoid uncertainty.

While there should be considerable activity ahead of and at the deadline, it’s a bit unclear just how big the names that move in the next few weeks will actually be. To that end, I am asking for your assistance in assessing expectations around the non-tender deadline by focusing on the biggest names. Each player will have three options:

  1. Tendered a contract by his current team.
  2. Traded or waived and tendered a contract by his new team.
  3. Non-tendered and heads to free agency.

The player’s estimated 2021 salary from MLB Trade Rumors (which also appear on our RosterResource payroll pages) is in parentheses. For these purposes, treat reaching agreement on a contract ahead of the non-tender deadline the same as a player being tendered a contract by his current team. We’ll look at the results next week. Thanks for your help! Read the rest of this entry »


Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 12/19/2020

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Gary Sánchez Has No Trade Value

When looking at statistics for the 2020 season, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. The players had to prepare and then play in the middle of a pandemic with adjusted routines and preparation, as well as a lack of fans in the stands. Added to the mix is the 60-game season, which is just over a third of a normal year. All of that is going to lead to some weird-bad stat lines — like, for example, the one Gary Sánchez put up.

Sánchez stepped up to the plate 178 times in 2020 and got just 23 hits for a batting average of .147. Among the 18,273 batters with at least 150 plate appearances since 1969, that figure ranks 18,259th. His rate of hits per plate appearance was 13%, a touch behind Mike Trout’s rate of extra-base hits in his career. Thanks to the walks (18 and a 10.1% rate) and homers (10), Sánchez’s 69 wRC+ is merely awful instead of historically bad, but it’s still a gruesome line.

But as I said, we need to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, the overall picture of Sánchez as a player isn’t a pretty one right now. Over at ESPN, Buster Olney wrote how fixing Sánchez was a top priority this offseason for the Yankees, and what the problems are.

Well, a theory of some rival evaluators is that Sánchez’s confidence is all but shot, with his failures at the plate compounding it. Others note his increasing inability to cope with sliders, a pitch that seems to mystify him and accounts for a lot of his career-high 13.8% swing-and-miss rate in 2020, the worst of his career. At least some evaluators think that Sánchez has a hard time separating his offense from his defense, so that when he makes a mistake behind the plate, that tends to carry over to his hitting, and vice versa. And like many other young players, he seems to struggle to make in-game adjustments.

Some of the mental claims are somewhat dubious. Sánchez was a pretty bad catcher making plenty of mistakes back when he was hitting really well. As for in-game adjustments, he has generally hit the best in the fourth through sixth innings in his career, and since the start of 2019, his numbers in the first three innings match up with the last three innings, while the average player sees a 10-point drop.

The swing-and-miss issues on sliders are pretty indisputable, but they also aren’t new. Sánchez whiffed on 18% of sliders last year, which was right in line with his career averages. The problem for him is that he used to be able to run into a few of them: Last season he posted an .083 ISO on sliders, making him completely ineffective on the pitch. Further compounding things was a more than 50% increase on whiffs against four-seam fastballs: Sánchez went from a 10.7% swing-and-miss rate on four-seamers entering the season to 17% of those fastballs in 2020. That was also the second straight year in which Sánchez saw a big increase in four-seamer whiffs. He’s been swinging through fastballs at roughly the same rate as sliders, and neither number is good.

But wait, it gets worse. I noted Sánchez’s inability to hit the slider for power when he did make contact, and his general inability to get a hit when a ball is put in play ruins his chances of getting on base. Jeff Zimmerman looked at Sánchez’s poor BABIP and found the shift was killing his batting average despite his hard contact. While his high barrel rate makes it seem as though he should hit for a higher average, 10 of his 16 barrels last year were homers; his .281 xwOBA on balls in play is 30 points below league average.

Add that all up, and you get an offensive performance that hit new lows this past season and has been trending downwards for quite some time. Over the last three years, Sánchez has a .200/.296/.453 slash line with a 98 wRC+ in roughly 1,000 plate appearances. Since the middle of June 2019, he’s batting .168/.272/.379 with a 74 wRC+ in close to 400 plate appearances. Some of the blame could go to varying injuries over time, but catching takes a toll on the body, so we can’t exactly wish those away in the future.

While a dip this big in production didn’t seem possible a few years ago, there were always concerns about how Sánchez would profile. In Dave Cameron’s Trade Value Rankings back in 2017, he ranked 12th (which should provide some idea of his star production at the time), but:

That said, there are enough red flags to keep him out of the top tier for now. He’s one of the most extreme pull hitters in baseball, and you’ll note that the guys he’s hanging out with aren’t running BABIPs over .300. Toss in the pop-up problem and a below-average contact rate, and it’s easy to see Sánchez running a .240 batting average one of these years.

As predicted, the extreme pull rate, the popups, and the contact rate combined to make Sánchez a replacement-level player last season.

So what now? If Sánchez could field his position well, the Yankees could justify waiting for the bat to come around. There may be some hope there: He worked on a new catching stance in spring training, and in a very small sample, his framing was pretty close to average, and he still did a solid job with baserunners. If that holds and he is merely a little below-average behind the plate and at least average with the bat, then Sánchez is an average to slightly above-average player. If his catching regresses and the bat is average, then he’s a below-average player and a decent backup. And if he doesn’t get the bat back up to average, he’s the third catcher/26th man on the roster who can pinch-hit and rarely starts.

Unfortunately, the upside is more limited than it has been, too. If Sánchez’s bat really comes back, it might be best to let him make only occasional starts at catcher and take most of his turns at designated hitter —something that isn’t possible if he is just an average hitter. It’s hard to see a reasonable path back to more than anything than a three-win player, and the projections put Sánchez in the one- to two-win range that shouldn’t make him a starter on a contending club.

That leaves the Yankees with a difficult choice. They can hold on to Sánchez and see if he regain the ability to be a star hitter, but that likely entails bringing in another catcher to be the regular starter, as neither he nor Kyle Higashioka can be counted on for full-time (or really half-time) duty. The Yankees are supposedly “open” to trading him, but who is going to give up decent players and pay Sánchez his $5 million salary when he isn’t really projected as a starter-level player? There are a bunch of teams who would likely be willing to take a chance on him — the Rockies, Rangers, Marlins, and Tigers come to mind immediately — but they’re probably unwilling to give up any promising or useful players in exchange. The Yankees could just non-tender Sánchez and move on, but that’s a move that could backfire if he hits well, though signing J.T. Realmuto would likely make any regrets moot.

The Yankees and Sánchez, then, are likely stuck with each other for another season. He’ll get some opportunity to recapture his form, and the Yankees will pay him his relatively modest salary. They can’t trade him for nothing, and they shouldn’t let him go for free. But they also shouldn’t head into 2021 with Sánchez and Higashioka as the starting tandem at catcher. It makes Sánchez something of a potential bonus for the Yankees, and given their history together, it might actually benefit them both to give them one more season to get him back on track.


Padres Lose and Keep Mike Clevinger

The Padres made an announcement yesterday that Schrödinger would be proud of, releasing news that they had signed Mike Clevinger to a two-year deal covering his arbitration-eligible seasons and also that he would be lost for the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery. In the short-term, they lose a talented starting pitcher they just traded for a few months ago. Taking a longer look, they’re betting on a solid recovery in 2022 and will be paying just $11.5 million in guaranteed money for that season’s work. (The details of the deal, per MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell: Clevinger gets $2 million in ’21, $6.5 million in ’22, and a $3 million deferred signing bonus.)

The recent trade, the elbow surgery, and Clevinger’s arbitration eligibility make this transaction a little more complicated than it might look at first glance. First, the trade is essentially irrelevant at this point. While the Padres gave up a lot in quantity to acquire Clevinger, any cost is now sunk. San Diego certainly hoped for more than four good regular-season starts and a single postseason inning, but injuries prevented Clevinger from doing more, and the same arm trouble will now prevent him from pitching at all in 2021.

With the trade behind them, the Padres were faced with three options.

Option 1: Tender Clevinger a Contract

Clevinger earned a pro-rated portion of his $4.1 million salary last season, his first year of arbitration eligibility. While arbitration salaries are a bit murky this season, he likely would have been in line for $5 million or so in arbitration for next season and maybe another $6 million or more in 2022 after sitting out the ’21 campaign. That ’22 salary wouldn’t be guaranteed at all until the Padres tendered him a contract next December, and even then, only a small portion would be guaranteed at that time.

Assuming salary arbitration works the same under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2022, if the Padres didn’t like Clevinger’s progress, they could cut him all the way up to Opening Day and still only owe 45 days of termination pay (30 days if on or before the 16th day of Spring Training). This option has San Diego paying money now to retain greater flexibility for the 2022 season. Read the rest of this entry »


Marcus Semien, Potential Bargain Free Agent

Over the last three seasons, DJ LeMahieu’s 9.9 WAR ranks fifth among all free agents. Just ahead of him is George Springer (11.3), Trevor Bauer (11.6), and J.T. Realmuto (12.3), who comes in second place. But topping all current free agents over the past three seasons is Marcus Semien, with 12.6 WAR. Semien isn’t some older free agent, either; at 30, he’s younger than Springer and LeMahieu and within a handful of months of Bauer and Realmuto. If we looked at just the past two seasons, the production gap between Semien and his peers is even greater. But for a whole host of reasons, Semien doesn’t look like he’ll come close to earning as much as those peers in free agency, and that could make him the biggest bargain.

When examining the various free agent lists, it becomes clear that my fourth-place rank when it comes to Semien is the high-water mark. Keith Law and Kiley McDaniel both have him sixth. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince placed him seventh, CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson put him 11th, and MLB Trade Rumors slotted him all the way down at 15th. I either need to justify my ranking with a little more explanation or admit that I might have had Semien too high. This article will probably be one of those things.

Let’s start with the negatives. Semien wasn’t a particularly good player until 2018 and has had exactly one above-average hitting season in his career (’19), and his production in ’20 wasn’t very good. Add in questions about his defense at shortstop and a very crowded market at the position over the next few seasons, and we have a recipe for someone whose value certainly seems down. Semien’s market was helped slightly by the lack of a qualifying offer from Oakland, but compared to the other factors working against him, it’s a small gain. It isn’t really production or age that is keeping Semien from landing a big contract, though; it’s uncertainty. The error bars surrounding his performance would seem to be significantly higher than many other players due to defensive questions and the truncated 2020 campaign. Read the rest of this entry »


Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 11/12/2020

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Are the Giants Ready to Contend?

As the offseason moves forward, we hear mostly about teams reining in spending. Searching out aggressive teams is a bit more difficult, particularly when there’s little benefit in broadcasting those intentions. But one team expected to be aggressive is San Francisco, with Farhan Zaidi entering his third winter as president and the club trying to end a streak of four straight losing campaigns. The Giants are lacking a bit in talent on paper, but some recent fliers have worked out, top prospect Joey Bart received some MLB experience, and a few of the holdovers from the more competitive squads of years previous showed they still have something left. Whether it’s possible to make a big leap forward in one offseason is the big question.

San Francisco acquitted itself fairly well in 2020, missing out on the expanded playoffs due to a lost tiebreaker. The Giants scored more runs than they allowed, and by BaseRuns (stripping out sequencing in results), they were the fourth-best team in the National League. They excelled on the position-player side, where their 9.8 WAR ranked sixth in baseball. But what they did in a 60-game sample in 2020 isn’t likely to carry over into next season. Here are the offensive numbers for Giants with at least 100 plate appearances this past season: Read the rest of this entry »


Five Pieces of Advice for Steve Cohen and the Mets in 2021

As Steve Cohen completes his purchase of the Mets and begins his first offseason, there is going to be considerable speculation that Cohen will use his vast resources to make a splash and try to make the Mets contenders next season. He absolutely should do that, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a plan other than drop cash out of the sky and see which players take it. There are hundreds of free agents, tons of trade options, and many internal decisions on players. While unlimited funds sounds great, Cohen and the Mets will need to target their resources to make the biggest impact for this season and beyond. With that in mind, here’s how I would plan an ideal offseason for the Mets.

Don’t Trade Away Talented Players

When Brodie Van Wagenen got the Mets job, he had an admittedly difficult task to make the Mets into more of a contender without significantly increasing payroll. That meant taking on a bad contract in Robinson Canó’s deal, but also requiring cash to cover some of the costs and sending over players with near-term bad contracts in Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak to offset current contracts. Then, top prospect Jarred Kelenic was added all so the Mets could get an elite reliever in Edwin Díaz. In short, the Mets took on huge future salary commitments and gave up future talent for immediate salary relief and a reliever. The Mets shouldn’t have to make those types of moves to acquire talented players. Read the rest of this entry »