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Dodgers Clear Payroll as Reds Move Closer to Contender Status

During the Winter Meetings, there were rumblings that the Dodgers were trying to move some salaries and some outfielders. The Cincinnati Reds were one team named as a potential destination, as Jay Jaffe discussed at the time. Included in that post is the following tweet by Ken Rosenthal.

A little over a week later, Jeff Passan was the first to report that Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Matt Kemp are headed to Cincinnati, while Homer Bailey and more would be going to Los Angeles. Bob Nightengale is reporting that Reds prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray are bound for the Dodgers. Joel Sherman is reporting that $7 million is going to the Reds. And Jon Heyman has indicated Kyle Farmer is heading to Cincinnati as well. Based on what we know right now, the trade looks like this.

Reds Receive:

  • Yasiel Puig
  • Alex Wood
  • Matt Kemp
  • Kyle Farmer
  • $7 million

Dodgers Receive

  • Homer Bailey
  • Jeter Downs
  • Josiah Gray

Read the rest of this entry »

Nationals Get Anibal Sanchez To Replace Tanner Roark

The Nationals made one big move to bolster their rotation in signing Patrick Corbin. Soon after, they traded rotation mainstay Tanner Roark to the Reds for a relief prospect in Tanner Rainey. The move was slightly curious for a team that clearly wants to remain in the window of contention; Roark has been a league-average starter for some time now. One week later, the Nationals have their Roark replacement in Anibal Sanchez. A year ago, nobody wanted Sanchez, but some changes to his pitch-mix revived his career, and now the Nationals have rewarded those changes and the upside Sanchez brings over Roark with a two-year deal worth $19 million, as first reported by Anthony Fenech.

Sanchez’s deal also includes up to $4 million in incentives and a $12 million option for 2021, with a $2 million buyout, which is part of the $19 million guarantee. Because it’s the Nationals, there’s also some deferred money, with $2 million from both 2019 and 2020 due in 2021. Back in 2012, Sanchez was coming off two and a half solid years with the Marlins and a half season with the Tigers, averaging 3.6 WAR per season. The Tigers rewarded Sanchez with a five-year, $80 million contract in free agency. Sanchez responded with the best season of his career, posting a 2.39 FIP and a 2.57 ERA en route to six wins above replacement. He followed that season up with a solid, three-win campaign in 2014, though he did have two separate stints on the disabled list. In the final three years of his contract, Sanchez was below average, but did manage to pitch 415.2 innings. For their $80 million, the Tigers received 11.4 WAR, a reasonable outcome even if the performance was front-loaded.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Cubs-Sinclair Partnership May Be Cause for Concern

It’s been long known that the Chicago Cubs would likely form their own regional sports network (RSN) after their partnership with the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Comcast ends at the conclusion of the 2019 season. The news that the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks would stick with Comcast, as reported by Bruce Levine, left the Cubs needing their own partner for a new network. The specific details vary, with the Sun-Times reporting the Cubs had agreed to a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group while Bruce Levine indicated Sinclair were merely frontrunners, with Jon Greenberg hearing the same. In addition to the Cubs, Sinclair is also in the bidding to buy 15 more FOX RSNs. That should worry Major League Baseball, but perhaps not just for the reasons many think it should.

Sinclair has been in the news most recently for its political leanings. According to FOX Business, Sinclair “control(s) more than 200 stations in over 100 local markets. The local media empire was built on snapping up these stations around the country and adding an extra element of right-wing commentary to its programming.” The company has come under fire for its content practices across those affiliates and been defended by the President for the same. Those content-based criticisms are surely a concern for many, but their business model also presents a separate potential issue for baseball. While baseball is trying to expand its reach and ensure young people have access to the sport, Sinclair is tied to an older model that could threaten massive carriage fee disputes and blackouts for fans in local markets.

The vast majority of the Sinclair-owned stations are the traditional, over-the-air networks like FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the CW. Anyone with an an antenna and in range of the broadcast tower can view those networks for free, but cable and satellite providers aren’t allowed to simply broadcast those networks. Instead, cable providers must pay a retransmission fee to broadcast those networks on their cable packages (here’s a primer on retransmission fees). Sinclair has leveraged those fees in the past and been a part of the largest blackout in television history.

The biggest issues with Sinclair’s retransmission fees occurred in the lead-up to its eventual purchase of the Tennis Channel. Back in 2015, Dish Network, which has had its fair share of carriage fees disputes, indicated that it had reached agreement to broadcast 129 Sinclair-owned stations, but was being blacked out due to Sinclair’s attempt to gain leverage in its carriage negotiation with an unnamed cable network it was planning to purchase. Roughly five million Dish customers went without local programming.

In 2016, Sinclair bought the Tennis Channel, which was then available in about 30 million homes, and said it planned to pair negotiation for that channel with its broadcast networks. For the most part, the plan worked. The Tennis Channel now has roughly 55 million subscribers while nearly every other cable channel has been seeing its numbers drop. But those increases did not come without collateral damage. In addition to the previous Dish Network blackout:

  • In the beginning of 2017, Frontier Communications and Sinclair could not agree to a deal in a dispute that affected customers in the Pacific Northwest.
  • In September, failure by Sinclair and Hulu to reach an agreement led CBS corporate to undercut Sinclair in markets with a Sinclair CBS affiliate.
  • PsVue and Sinclair couldn’t reach an agreement earlier this year.

Sinclair’s attempt to buy half the regional sports networks offering baseball comes on the heels of a failed merger with the Tribune Company that might have meant an even greater reach of local broadcast networks, including those in Chicago and New York. That deal failed when the FCC determined that approving the merger would violate the law that caps the percentage of households into which one owner can broadcast. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai found fault with some of the sales Sinclair proposed to bring it under that cap, saying the sale “would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.” Tribune Media Company has since sued Sinclair for the part they played in halting the deal.

A deal for the Fox RSNs would not require FCC approval, as they are cable channels, but would fall under anti-trust regulations. The problem for baseball is less the federal regulations, and more in how Sinclair would negotiate carriage fees. Of the cities with Fox RSNs, Sinclair owns local stations in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. They also own stations in a whole host of smaller markets in Michigan, Ohio, California, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and New York. It’s not difficult to imagine how Sinclair might attempt to leverage retransmission fees to extract even more money for the RSNs. With few exceptions, RSNs have had little difficulty gaining entrance to cable providers basic digital package. This isn’t a situation analogous to the Tennis Channel, as the RSNs are already in a large percentage of homes. But if Sinclair raises the price higher than providers are willing to pay, disputes become more likely.

We could also see the RSNs used as leverage to gain greater access for the Tennis Channel; Sinclair could make getting an RSN on cable contingent on the provider accepting the Tennis Channel as well. Both situations would find the RSNs that broadcast baseball games caught in the middle of disputes having very little to do with the popularity of the sport or the desire of fans to watch baseball. While carriage disputes are in some respects inevitable, the results, with the Dodgers being the prime example, can be messy and deprive fans of access to the game and limit the number of new fans the sport can draw. With Sinclair potentially owning the rights to the broadcasts of 16 teams in 16 different markets, might they let a dispute drag out in Cincinnati or San Diego if they thought they could get a better deal in large-market Dallas?

As baseball moves forward, it’s imperative that it avoid these types of disputes, particularly as its audience grows older. Sinclair’s current difficulties negotiating with newer streaming platforms like Hulu and PSVue could be a warning sign that the company will likely cling to its older methods of extracting revenue from customers, and disputes could get worse as the number of cable subscribers shrink. That would be bad news for baseball as it tries to reach the consumers who are ditching cable for these streaming services.

Disney is in the process of buying a large number of Fox Entertainment assets. In order to receive regulatory approval for that purchase, it agreed to sell Fox’s RSNs to ensure that Disney, which owns ESPN, wouldn’t control too much of the cable sports market. The first round of bids was just received and were apparently underwhelming, coming in below the more than $20 billion expected price. According to reports, Sinclair is currently in the driver’s seat to purchase the RSNs if all of the networks are sold as one. It’s possible the RSNs aren’t worth the $20 billion, as initial estimates proposed, but a large part of that misestimation could be because MLB has said it retains control of the digital streaming rights, leaving any potential buyer with an uncertain future and more negotiations to contend with. It could be that at some point, MLB joins the fray in bidding for these networks, so as to easily combine streaming and broadcast rights, but it seems likely they would prefer someone else pay for that guarantee. In the end, Fox may attempt to buy back the stations they’ve sold, but if the highest bidder ends up being Sinclair, it could be in the league’s best interest to make their own bid and ensure a bigger say in controlling its own future. There is considerable risk in making such a purchase, but Sinclair’s track record indicates there is also significant risk in letting it control who gets to watch baseball across the country.

What Alex Rodriguez’s Contract Would Look Like Today

After the 2000 season, a 25-year-old Alex Rodriguez had just finished a historically great season. He hit 41 homers, batted .316/.420/.606, and posted a 158 wRC+ to go along with solid shortstop play on his way to 9.5 WAR. In his first five full seasons, Rodriguez averaged over seven wins per year as he headed toward free agency. He might not quite have been early-career Mike Trout (nobody is), but he had just completed one of the 10 best starts to any career in history. The Rangers won Rodriguez’s services with a 10-year, $252 million contract. In the 18 offseasons since, no other free agent has received a larger contract despite payrolls that have more than doubled during that time.

In 2001, the first season of Rodriguez’s deal, the average year-end MLB payroll was $66 million, per data collected from Cot’s Contracts and calculated by Major League Baseball. Last season, that figure was $152 million, which was a drop from 2017, when the average payroll was $155 million. For some perspective, here’s how average payrolls have risen since 2000.

Generally speaking, salaries have risen pretty steadily over the past two decades. Even with the step back last year, salaries have risen at close to 6% per season starting in 2000 and 5% per season starting in 2001. The growth looks healthy, though it has tended to happen in spurts, with the last few seasons showing no growth at all. There is a discussion to be had about spending as it relates to revenue, but this is not that article. Here, I am more concerned with salary growth as it relates to individual players, particularly those at the top of the pay scale.

Average payroll has more than doubled in the past two decades, yet Alex Rodriguez’s contracts remain atop the free agent leaderboard despite occurring in 2000 and 2007. To get a sense of the progression, I looked at the 75 contracts Cot’s has listed as totaling at least $100 million. The first was Kevin Brown’s $105 million deal ahead of the 1999 season, and we go all the way to Patrick Corbin’s $140 million contract which starts next year. The contracts below aren’t only free agent contracts, as they include contract extensions as well. Here are the top 25. Read the rest of this entry »

The Yonder Alonso Trade is About 2019 for Both Teams

Cleveland made a big trade last week, netting Carlos Santana from the Mariners and Jake Bauers from the Rays, while sending Edwin Encarnacion, Yandy Diaz, Cole Hulser, and a draft pick off to the other two teams in the trade. Jeff Sullivan already covered that trade, which was pretty interesting for Cleveland, slightly interesting for the Rays, and not very interesting for the Mariners, who essentially just moved contracts around and received a draft pick for their trouble. On Friday, Cleveland made another move, trading Yonder Alonso, a one-time Carlos Santana replacement, as Alonso has now been replaced by the guy he replaced. Alonso heads to the White Sox in a deal that figures to help both AL Central clubs this season.

Indians Receive:

White Sox Receive:

  • Yonder Alonso

Last season, Yonder Alonso was the discount version of the Carlos Santana who was on Cleveland’s 2016 pennant winner. Sure, Alonso is left-handed, not a switch-hitter, but he can play an adequate first base with a bat that is a little worse than Santana. He required just a $16 million guarantee to go to Cleveland while Santana received $60 million from Philadelphia. Having signed Edwin Encarnacion for $60 million after 2016, the Indians elected to let Santana go and brought in Alonso coming off a career year in Oakland and Seattle. “Career year” is a bit of a misnomer; Alonso hit 20 homers and put up a 147 wRC+ in the first half of 2017 before settling in closer to his career norms with a 114 wRC+ in the second half, much of it with the Mariners.

Alonso was a bit out of place in Cleveland as an everyday player. In his breakout season in Oakland, only 15% of his plate appearances came against left-handers; that figure jumped to 24% in Cleveland. Alonso has a career wRC+ of 80 against lefties in his career, including a dreadful 64 wRC+ last season. If Alonso had half as many plate appearances against lefties last year, and had hit closer to his career average against them, he would have been worth about half a win more last year. The White Sox might be able to get more value out of Alonso next year by aggressively platooning him. Read the rest of this entry »

The Standard Reliever Contract Is Back

Last season, the relief market was the only aspect of free agency that moved quickly. Of the first 14 free agents to sign last winter among the Top 50 players available, eight were relief pitchers (nine if we count Mike Minor). All eight received similar contracts for two, sometimes three, seasons, and around $7 million to $10 million per year. In “deals that were announced at 2 AM the night before everyone at FanGraphs left the Winter Meetings and spent most of Thursday on airplanes,” we have two free agent reliever signings that meet the qualifications for that standard reliever contract.

Let’s address both Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly’s new deals in turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Yankees Appear to Snag J.A. Happ in Shrinking Market

Rumors swirled on Wednesday morning that the New York Yankees had reached an agreement to re-sign J.A. Happ, but that deal was walked back as the two teams couldn’t quite come together. As the parties kept getting closer, alternatives continued to come off the board, with Charlie Morton signing with the Rays and Lance Lynn headed to Texas. All of this was set against the backdrop of a warmer-than-expected market for starting pitching, which had already seen Patrick Corbin get a sixth year on his deal with the Nationals and Nate Eovaldi receive a guarantee of $68 million from the Red Sox. The cause of the holdup between Happ and the Yankees was likely the years of the contract, as Happ wanted three and the Yankees wanted to pay for two. The result the two sides seem to have come to is a two-year, $34 million contract with a $17 million option vesting for Happ if he reaches 27 starts or 165 innings in 2020, providing the Yankees with significant protection against potentially paying an ineffective 38-year-old. The deal has yet to be officially announced.

Happ returning to the Bronx wasn’t a foregone conclusion, as there appears to have been significant interest in the lefty, and for good reason. Over the last four years, Happ has been a consistently above-average pitcher, grabbing about three wins and 170 innings every year. In our free agent rankings, Eric Longenhagen discussed how Happ has been able to perform well through his mid-30s.

Greater use of a sinker to complement his changeup has facilitated his ascent from 1.0 WAR back-end starter to 3.0 WAR mid-rotation innings-eater. Happ’s size and length create discomfort for opposing lefties, and he has been able to dominate them (left-handed opponents slashed .171/.239/.248 against Happ last year) without a good breaking ball. Instead, Happ makes unusually frequent use of his fastball (throwing 73% of the time, roughly 20 points higher than the league-average mark for starters), which is firmer now than it was in his mid-20s.

Every team could use the three wins and 30 starts the Yankees can expect from Happ in 2019. The potential issue, though, isn’t so much next season as it is the ones that come after it. The Yankees didn’t want to guarantee that third year and that reticence is justified. The lefty turned 36 years old in October. A three-year contract would take him through his age-38 season. Over the last decade, only six pitchers have produced even four wins and 400 innings in their age-36 to age-38 seasons, with CC Sabathia likely to join that group in 2019. Here is how those pitchers, along with Happ, fared in their age-32 to age-35 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Cleveland Rotation Picture Gets a Little Clearer

It’s not a secret that Cleveland, expected to coast to another division title in 2019, has been shopping its top starters in an attempt to get back multiple players who will help them down the line. Corey Kluber has a great reputation and performance to match, with two Cy Young awards and a third-place finish this season. His contract will pay him $17 million next year, with a $17.5 million option in 2020 and an $18 million option in 2021. If he is traded, those options must both be picked up at once after the 2019 season. Trevor Bauer, coming off a breakout, six-win campaign in 2018, will likely receive around $11 million in arbitration next season, with a decent raise expected in 2020 before he can become a free agent. The final trade candidate is likely no longer one, as Cleveland and Carlos Carrasco have come to terms on a contract extension.

Next season was to be the first of Carrasco’s two option years in a contract he signed right as the 2015 season was getting underway. Without a new contract, Carrasco would have been eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. Under the terms of this new deal, Carrasco will be under contract through at least 2022 with a club option for 2023.

This guarantees Carrasco the $10.25 million he would have gotten in 2020, then adds $27 million more in guarantees including the buyout in 2023. Two extra years at $27 million might not seem like much for a pitcher of Carrasco’s caliber. Since he signed his first extension in 2015, his 18.2 WAR is seventh among all starters. His back-to-back five-win campaigns puts him in company with only Kluber, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Luis Severino. Getting two additional seasons from an ace-level performer for what a single season of Patrick Corbin will cost feels like a bargain. If he were a free agent right now, he’d probably get more than double the $44 million he’s set to receive. Read the rest of this entry »

Cardinals Bet Big on 2019 with Paul Goldschmidt Trade

After missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be pushing some chips into the pot for next season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. Derrick Goold reported the sides were closing in on a deal, while Jon Heyman first reported the deal as done. The Diamondbacks appear to be the first to report their return. Here’s the trade.

Cardinals Get:

  • Paul Goldschmidt

Diamondbacks Get:

We probably don’t need to talk a ton about Goldschmidt. He’s arguably been the best player in the National League since 2013, with a .301/.406/.541 hitting line good for a 149 wRC+ and 33 wins above replacement. Over the last three years, he’s put up a 140 wRC+ and five wins per season, and last year was no different. He struck out an unusually high amount the first two months of the season and had a terrible May (46 wRC+), but boasted a strong recovery on his way to typically excellent numbers. There’s nothing fluky in his Statcast numbers. He’s one of the top 10 hitters in baseball, and going into his age-31 season, he’s projected to be one of the top 15 hitters in baseball again. Steamer projects Golschmidt for 4.1 WAR while ZiPS puts him at 3.7. It’s pretty safe to say he’s a four-win player, which even with the higher expectations of offense at first base, makes him one of the top 25 or so players in the game, and the new best player on the Cardinals. Read the rest of this entry »

Nationals Get Another Ace in Monster Deal with Patrick Corbin

No offense to Josh Donaldson, Steve Pearce, and Kurt Suzuki, but it appears the first big domino has fallen in this winter’s free agent class. Patrick Corbin is reportedly set to sign a six-year contract with the Nationals, per Chelsea Janes. Jon Heyman has reported the deal is for $140 million and, as most Nationals contracts do, it includes deferrals, per Ken Rosenthal, which lower somewhat the actual value of the contract. The Diamondbacks will get a draft pick after the first round for their troubles.

This might not quite qualify as mystery team material, but the industry consensus seemed to be that Corbin was likely to sign with the Phillies or the Yankees, making the Nationals moving in a bit of a surprise. Now, it would be appropriate to say the Nationals didn’t need pitching given that they already have Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation. But it would probably be even more appropriate to say every team needs pitching, and signing a pitcher of Patrick Corbin’s quality does a lot to help the Nationals as they try to recapture the division after a disappointing season and the seemingly likely departure of Bryce Harper.

As for how Corbin will perform, our own Dan Szymborksi was kind enough to pass along the following ZiPS projections: Read the rest of this entry »