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Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 12/3/2020

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Five Takeaways from the Non-Tender Deadline

Wednesday was the deadline for teams to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, and the expectation going into the night was that plenty of players would be added to the free-agent pool. As Eric Longenhagen noted, non-tenders have been on the rise over the last few years, and 2019 gave us the busiest deadline in recent memory, as we saw players coming off injuries, quality second basemen, and sluggers with other deficiencies all get cut — 53 in total.

This year was even busier, as close to 60 players lost their roster spots. With the moves now official, here are a handful of takeaways from the deadline and what they mean for the coming winter. (For a full list of non-tenders, Roster Resource has you covered.)

Pre-Tenders Were a Big Deal for Small Deals

Sometimes the threat of a non-tender is enough to strike a favorable deal with players. There were a huge number of one-year deals agreed to, including some fairly recognizable names. Matt Olson, Eduardo Rodriguez, José Berríos, Byron Buxton, Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler, Johan Camargo, Jesús Aguilar, Omar Narváez, Steven Matz, and Alex Dickerson all agreed to one-year deals, likely below what they would have received in arbitration.

The fear of becoming a free agent in a pandemic winter likely played a big part in that. While free agency is generally a good thing, more players in the pool means more minor league deals and fewer major league guarantees for players on the fringes of the roster. By signing now and receiving a guaranteed deal, players also head into spring training without the risk of being cut and making considerably less money.

The Biggest Names Stayed Put

Ahead of the deadline, both Eric and our readers made their predictions on which players might get the axe, with some relatively big names potentially on the chopping block. But among the stars who might have been non-tendered, not much happened. Gary Sánchez received a contract from the Yankees, as Kris Bryant did from the Cubs. Tommy Pham looks like he’ll return to San Diego for another season. These weren’t exactly surprises, but after a shortened season and with teams scaling back payroll, big changes were still a reasonable possibility — if not via a non-tender, then as a potential trade. Some of these players — Bryant in particular — will resurface in trade rumors down the road, but for now, they’re staying put.

Sluggers Get Non-Tendered

The biggest name jettisoned was Kyle Schwarber, whose tenure in Chicago comes to an end after six seasons. The former postseason and World Series hero was still productive just a year ago, but his 2020 was a mess, as he struck out too much, hit way too many groundballs, and put up a 90 wRC+, though he was closer to average against right-handers. Though he’ll be just 28 years old next season and looks to be a big bounce-back candidate if he can find a nice platoon, the Cubs decided his $8 million salary would be better spent elsewhere. Given that they also jettisoned Albert Almora Jr., their outfield should look a little different in 2021.

Schwarber and Almora aren’t alone among hitters looking for a new home. Eddie Rosario and Hunter Renfroe were put on waivers and went unclaimed. Maikel Franco was not offered a deal by Royals. Adam Duvall, Danny Santana, Nomar Mazara, José Martínez, and Travis Shaw will all hit free agency, too. One of the more interesting players to be let go is David Dahl, who struggled in Colorado and battled injuries but was once a top prospect.

There wasn’t a crowded crop of corner outfielder-types on the market, with Marcell Ozuna in the top tier and Joc Pederson occupying the step below. But the likes of Rosario, Renfroe, Duvall, Dahl and Mazara will join the Robbie Grossman/Adam Eaton/Yasiel Puig tier that suddenly has a lot more available players.

Add a Few More Available Relievers

The veteran relief group was already pretty deep, and it got deeper on Wednesday. Archie Bradley was good last year and in 2019, and he might be the second-best reliever now on the market. The rest of the relievers now available don’t have Bradley’s upside, but Hansel Robles, Keynan Middleton, Ryne Stanek, Matt Wisler, A.J. Cole, Alex Claudio, John Brebbia, Chasen Shreve, Jonathan Holder, and Justin Anderson are all capable arms for bullpens in need. In the semi-intriguing starter/maybe reliever category, Trevor Williams, Tyler Anderson, and Carlos Rodón weren’t tendered contracts, either.

This Was As Bad As it Was Expected to Be

While the non-tender deadline is generally more of a minor date in the offseason calendar, it was a much bigger deal this season. With a greater number of players expected to become available, teams have, for the most part, opted to wait on signing free agents to see who got let go. With the pool of available players now larger, we will see if teams choose to wait out the available options to get even more favorable terms in free agency. We also saw a large number of arbitration-eligible players agree to deals before the deadline to avoid the possibility of being non-tendered. The uncertainty surrounding how arbitration will play out after a shortened season also likely played a role in the increase of these deals.

The starting pitching market in free agency appears to be moving rather quickly, and the Mets’ signing of Trevor May could get the reliever market moving too. But the non-tender deadline was a snap back to the reality of the long, cold winter players face ahead.

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’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.’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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