This season, the AL Central could feature three above-.500 teams for the first time since 2015. The Twins and Indians should remain at the top of the division, but after an active offseason, the White Sox could very well join them in a tight race. It reminds me a bit of the NL East in recent years: a lot of good teams, but none without a glaring hole somewhere.
The White Sox are hardly immune. Their rotation doesn’t project to be great, and there are still a few question marks in the lineup, like whether Yoán Moncada will regress, or Nomar Mazara will progress, and how Luis Robert will hit.
But even with those options, I would argue that Chicago’s most prominent weakness is their bullpen. By projected WAR, the White Sox relief unit ranks 26th in the majors, their worst individual ranking among any of the 12 positions we currently have listed on our Depth Chart pages. Most of their expected value comes in the form of Aaron Bummer, who flew far under the radar last season despite being among the best at one extremely important skill: inducing groundballs. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, with baseball’s attention firmly fixed on the fall out from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the Twins signed Josh Donaldson to a long-term deal. You’d be forgiven if the signing slipped your mind; there was a lot going on. The Braves, however, are certainly aware that Donaldson is no longer a member of their organization; I’m sure the Nationals (and really, the rest of the NL East) are at least happy to have him out of their division. There’s no denying Donaldson’s impact in 2019 — a 132 wRC+ over 659 PA and 4.9 WAR in 155 games made him one of the best free agent signings of last offseason. And while the Nationals ultimately won the World Series, there’s a more-than-reasonable argument to be made that Donaldson represented the difference in the Braves winning the division crown.
Without Donaldson in the fold, the Braves’ lineup is due to take a step back. Of course, this is still a team flooded with talent; among the six position players to amass at least 400 PA for Atlanta last year, five had a wRC+ above 100. Their offensive output was led by Freddie Freeman (138 wRC+) and certainly more than aided by Ronald Acuña Jr. (126) and Ozzie Albies (117). That trio will be back this year and supplemented by outfielder Marcell Ozuna (110), signed last night, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who represents something of a wild card offensively, though he did post a 107 wRC+ during his time in Tampa Bay. But perhaps the Braves’ solution to soften the offensive blow of Donaldson’s departure is the player who spent all of last season next to him in the field: Dansby Swanson. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s nothing like a good homecoming story during the holidays, and in this tale, Kole Calhoun will serve as our protagonist. The Arizona native and Arizona State alumnus will return to the desert in 2020, as Calhoun and the Diamondbacks agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract according to multiple reports on Tuesday. The deal includes a team option for 2022 valued at $9 million.
Calhoun, now 32, became a free agent in early November after the Angels declined his $14 million team option in favor of a $1 million buyout. Though he was effective last season, the decision was an easy one for Los Angeles; with top prospect Jo Adell waiting in the wings to play right field full-time, it made little sense to keep Calhoun around.
Calhoun is a much clearer fit for the Diamondbacks. He’ll slot in quite nicely at his primary position, where he will essentially replace Adam Jones, who signed with Japan’s Orix Blue Wave earlier this offseason. Though he started his 2019 campaign hot, Jones was effectively a replacement-level player across 137 games last year, posting an 87 wRC+ in 528 plate appearances; he was worth -0.1 WAR. In total, Diamondbacks right fielders produced a total of 0.9 WAR, good for 26th in the majors. Read the rest of this entry »
Relievers are weird. For proof, just ask Blake Treinen. One year, Treinen is the best reliever in baseball. The next, he’s below replacement-level and gets non-tendered, though he still landed a relatively lucrative payday after signing with the Dodgers.
The reason teams remained interested in Treinen at all, let alone at a price above his arbitration projection, was because of his stuff. As Ben Clemens chronicled, Treinen’s stuff experienced a hiccup in 2019, but it was so good in 2018 that a $10 million gamble made plenty of sense. In baseball, stuff sells, and if Treinen can prove to still have the 2018 version of his one-seam fastball somewhere in his back pocket, Los Angeles will be quite pleased with the signing.
That brings me to Yimi García. He’s not a household name — you probably know him if you’re a Dodgers fan, or if you happened to sort the leaderboard of 2019 relief pitchers by HR/9 in descending order. (Yikes, Edwin Díaz.) The Dodgers non-tendered García, who had been projected to earn $1.1 million in arbitration. The Marlins picked him up on Thursday, signing him to a one-year, major league deal; his salary is not yet known. Read the rest of this entry »
At this point in his career, seeing Brett Gardner in anything but Yankees pinstripes would have come as a surprise. That’s why it is no shock that Gardner and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year, $12.5 million contract, a deal that includes a club option for 2021 valued at $10 million, as first reported by George King of the New York Post.
Gardner, now 36, has spent his entire 12-year big-league career in New York, and with the retirement of CC Sabathia, remains the last holdover from the Yankees’ 2009 World Series squad. This new deal represents his third time negotiating with the Yankees to extend his stay; the first time Gardner was headed for free agency, the two sides agreed to four-year, $52 million extension beginning in 2015 with a club option for 2019. The Yankees declined that option but brought him back anyway on a one-year, $7.5 million contract, his first signed as a free agent.
Gardner had one of his most productive seasons to date on his one-year deal, earning every penny and more. In 550 trips to the plate, Gardner slashed .251/.325/.503, setting full-season career-highs in home runs (28) and wRC+ (115) to boot. Always a great all-around player, he still graded out positively in both center and left field while adding nearly five runs on the bases. In total, he was worth 3.6 WAR. Read the rest of this entry »
Just as an earthquake can send shockwaves across a region for days, a high-magnitude free agent signing can create ripple effects for other teams around baseball.
On Tuesday, the Yankees agreed to sign Gerrit Cole to the richest pitching contract in history, getting their man for $324 million over nine years. While the top free agent is now officially off the board, the decision-makers in front offices across the league aren’t resting quite yet. In fact, the Yankees began preparing for the reality of signing Cole before the deal was even completed, with Joel Sherman reporting on Monday that the team is “actively” trying to trade J.A. Happ.
Happ is entering the second year of a two-year, $34 million contract, meaning that he will count for $17 million for luxury tax purposes. We currently project the Yankees’ 2020 payroll to be approximately $250 million, already putting them above the $208 million tax threshold. Even if the Yankees clear Happ’s salary in a trade, Cole still puts them well above the threshold, but at that point, it’s more than worth it. For New York, the key isn’t as much getting below the tax as it is getting below $248 million. For every dollar spent up to $248 million, the tax is solely monetary. Beyond that point, however, a team’s highest draft selection is moved down 10 slots. That’s why the Yankees (or any team) can blow pretty far past the tax without having to worry about impacting anything other than their owner’s checkbook. Read the rest of this entry »
The NL East is experiencing quite the arms race. The Braves have already signed two catchers, multiple relievers, and most recently, brought lefty Cole Hamels into the fold to add to their rotation. The Phillies, meanwhile, added Zack Wheeler on Wednesday in the largest free agent signing of the offseason to date. The Nationals and Mets have been relatively idle, though I’d expect both teams to make some noise before the offseason is over.
The division is a weird one. As of today, those four NL East teams include the representation of the reigning World Series champions, the back-to-back division winners, the best starting rotation in baseball (at the moment), and the team that has shown the most willingness to spend money on large contracts in each of the past two offseasons.
All of this, of course, excludes the Marlins, who are in the midst of a rebuild after finishing with the worst record in the National League. In the two full seasons since Derek Jeter took control as the team’s chief executive, the Marlins have lost 203 games, with the hope that a full teardown will lead to winning at some point in the near or distant future. Read the rest of this entry »
As part of the parade of non-tenders, the Phillies parted ways with two infielders on Monday: second baseman César Hernández and third baseman Maikel Franco. Both Hernández and Franco played important roles in the Phillies’ transitional phase, but in their first attempt at contention this past season, neither player contributed as the team would have hoped. Alas, they are now free agents.
The Phillies’ 2019 infield issues stretched beyond Hernández and Franco, however. Depth was often a problem. They did sign Sean Rodríguez and Phil Gosselin to minor league deals last offseason, and Rodríguez ultimately accumulated 139 plate appearances over 76 games while Gosselin saw 68 plate appearances across 44 contests. They also traded for Brad Miller in June; he made 130 trips to the plate donning red and white pinstripes. All told, these three players received roughly a half-season’s worth of playing time. They were worth 1.4 WAR — a mark that isn’t actually that bad. Still, considering Hernández and Franco themselves were worth just 1.2 WAR, the issues in the Phillies’ infield ran deep.
Philadelphia will almost definitely make a move this offseason to retool their infield for 2020, whether that be for Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, or even someone like Howie Kendrick. One transaction that they’ve already made to bolster their depth was completed last week when the team agreed to a minor-league deal with veteran infielder Josh Harrison, an agreement that includes an invite to major league spring training. Read the rest of this entry »
In their contribution to the recent flurry of league activity, the Tigers and Pirates quietly made a deal last Monday: Pittsburgh sent right-hander Dario Agrazal to Detroit in exchange for cash considerations.
While the trade didn’t make headlines, it may still provide insight into Detroit’s 2020 plans. Agrazal, who turns 25 in late December, debuted this season with Pittsburgh and appeared in 15 games, making 14 starts. His results were mixed: He posted a 4.91 ERA and a 5.90 FIP over 73.1 innings, striking out only 13% of opponents while walking 6%. Among pitchers who threw at least 70 innings, Agrazal had the third-lowest strikeout rate in the majors.
Upon first glance, pitching to contact seems like a poor strategy in today’s three-true-outcome game, and Agrazal may ultimately be no more than a spare arm in Motown; we’re guessing that he’ll start the season in Triple-A. Still, under the right circumstances, Agrazal has the ability to turn into more than organizational depth. Read the rest of this entry »
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:
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