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National League Teams Are Still Figuring Out This Whole DH Thing

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The introduction (and then reintroduction) of the designated hitter to the National League wasn’t the smoothest of rollouts. It was first brought about as a safety measure in the chaos of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, designed to relieve unnecessary stress on pitchers who were already dealing with a disrupted preseason. Despite the best efforts of the Players Association, the DH was removed from the NL for 2021, as the league declined to implement it without getting something in return (in this case, a delayed and potentially shortened season). A year later, and more than two months into the lockout, as the league and the union battled through negotiations over the new collective bargaining agreement, it was announced that the universal DH would return for the upcoming season, this time indefinitely.

It was a difficult task for NL teams to prepare one way for one season and another for the next. Of course, any hitter can slot into the DH spot on any given night, but not every team comes with a player who can provide real value with his bat alone, and it takes time either to acquire or develop a player like that, or to build enough depth to overcome not having one. With the universal DH, NL clubs would need to get another 700 or so productive plate appearances from their rosters — that’s no small feat. Understanding this, let’s consider the state of the DH in the National League.
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Stripling Follows Wood to Oakland in Bay Area Swap

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland-for-now Athletics had themselves a roster shuffle on Friday, bolstering their pitching staff by adding right-hander Ross Stripling and officially announcing the addition of lefty Alex Wood. Wood joined the A’s on a one-year contract worth $8.5 million (with another million’s worth of incentives) after three years with the Giants. Now Stripling, too, is headed east across the bay, in a deal sending minor league outfielder Jonah Cox west to San Francisco (To make room for the pair, Oakland outrighted lefty Francisco Pérez and designated infielder Jonah Bride for assignment).

Wood and Stripling, who might have said something like “It’s not goodbye; it’s see you later” while packing up their lockers after the 2023 season, will be teammates for the fourth separate stint on three different California teams. They spent from 2016 to 2018 together on the Dodgers before Wood was dealt to the Reds, were reunited back in Los Angeles for the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season until Stripling was traded to Toronto, and then signed nearly identical two-year, $25 million free agent contracts with San Francisco a year apart from one another. Now, they’ll pair up again in Oakland and figure to factor into a starting rotation that was worth a league-worst combined 1.8 WAR in last season.

Both pitchers were available at a modest cost to the A’s after floundering in their only year together with the Giants. As Kyle Kishimoto wrote last week, Wood struggled to get hitters to swing at bad pitches and to miss whenever they did swing, falling to the 13th percentile in chase percentage and the 17th in whiff percentage. As a result, he struck out a lot fewer hitters and walked a whole bunch more. He also failed to stay healthy, with strains in his left hamstring and lower back sidelining him for the bulk of two months, and by late July, he was relegated to bullpen work as a sort of piggybacker and long relief option. He pitched better in this role, but it was far from what he and the Giants had hoped for when he signed his deal before the 2022 season. Still, Wood brings 10 years of big league service and a not-too-shabby 18.1 career WAR to Oakland, where he’ll try to right the ship. Read the rest of this entry »

Nolan Jones, Shadow King

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

By most any measure, Rockies outfielder Nolan Jones had an excellent rookie season in 2023. He finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting behind unanimous winner Corbin Carroll, Kodai Senga, and James Outman. He posted a .297/.389/.542 batting line in 106 games, becoming the first Rockie rookie to go 20-20 in franchise history. His .395 wOBA ranked 10th among the 212 players with at least 400 plate appearances. He was an above-average fielder, spending most of his time in the outfield corners, with his fairly poor range more than made up for by his elite arm (OAA, DRS, and UZR all agree that he was a plus defender). He led Colorado with 3.0 BsR, and finished as one of 12 players in the majors with as many as 3.0 runs above average in each of batting, base running, and fielding value:

Players With 3.0+ Runs of Batting, Base Running, and Fielding
Name Team Batting Base Running Fielding
Freddie Freeman LAD 56.8 5.1 4.3
Julio Rodríguez SEA 22.4 7.0 3.1
José Ramírez CLE 18.9 7.0 3.2
Nolan Jones COL 18.4 3.0 5.7
Adolis García TEX 18.3 3.5 11.5
Francisco Lindor NYM 18.2 7.7 4.2
James Outman LAD 12.9 5.7 5.0
Bobby Witt Jr. KCR 12.3 7.0 9.2
TJ Friedl CIN 11.3 9.1 4.0
Fernando Tatis Jr. SDP 10.0 3.1 15.5
Michael Harris II ATL 9.9 3.9 5.6
Ha-Seong Kim SDP 9.0 5.1 5.8

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Counting Stars: Where Were All the 6-WAR Players in 2023?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season seemed to be studded with stars. Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani turned in by far his best offensive season (not to mention a very good pitching season before succumbing to injury) en route to a unanimous MVP selection. Ronald Acuña Jr. made counting stat history with the first ever 40–70 season, posting a .428 wOBA that was somehow 35 points shy of his .463 xwOBA and earning his own unanimous recognition from MVP voters. This despite playing in the same league as Mookie Betts, who had what would have been a career-best season for almost anyone else, slashing .307/.408/.579 with a career-high 39 home runs. Freddie Freeman had the best season of one of the best active careers in baseball, somehow improving on a 2022 campaign that featured a .325/.407/.511 slash line and 7.1 WAR. And I could go on — Matt Olson hit 54 home runs, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager anchored a championship lineup, Francisco Lindor quietly put up another 6.0-WAR season, and Corbin Carroll wasted no time in establishing himself as a bona fide superstar. Read the rest of this entry »

Mets Continue to Tweak Roster with Bader Addition

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK

Here’s an attempt at selecting some adjectives to describe the last year or so in Queens. After a bonkers 2022–23 offseason, a 2023 regular season that was nothing short of catastrophic, and a frantic trade deadline effort to mitigate some of the damage, this offseason, new Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns and company have so far taken an approach that could be described as measured. Last offseason, the Mets signed seven multi-year deals, including four valued at over $75 million. On Thursday, the club agreed to terms on just its second eight-figure contract of the winter, signing center fielder Harrison Bader to a one-year, $10.5 million deal.

The addition of Bader is the latest in an offseason of conservative one-year deals for Stearns’ group. They took a $13 million flier on Luis Severino, who will move over from the Bronx and slot in somewhere in the starting pitching mix after Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana (and perhaps future rotation additions). They made budget-friendly additions to a depleted bullpen, swinging a trade with Milwaukee for Adrian Houser, claiming a handful of arms off of waivers, and offering one-year deals to Michael Tonkin, Jorge López, and Austin Adams. They added to their position player depth with infielders Joey Wendle and José Iglesias (on a minor-league deal) and alliterative outfielders Tyrone Taylor and Trayce Thompson (also on a minors deal), who now have Bader looking down from above on the depth chart. Read the rest of this entry »

Royals Keep Adding Stuff to Staff With Lugo, Stratton Agreements

Seth Lugo
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, the Royals continued to bolster a pitching staff that desperately needs bolstering, signing Seth Lugo to a three-year, $45 million deal, and Chris Stratton to a one-year, $4 million pact. After signing left-hander Will Smith over the weekend and infielder Garrett Hampson in late November, the Royals have been among this offseason’s most active teams on the free-agent market. With Lugo, the club has made its fourth-largest financial commitment to a free agent in franchise history, and the largest since signing Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy to the two biggest contracts in franchise history after winning the World Series in 2015.

KC’s Biggest Free Agent Contracts
Player Date Years Total
Alex Gordon 2016 4 $72MM
Ian Kennedy 2016 5 $70MM
Gil Meche 2006 5 $55MM
Seth Lugo 2023 3 $45MM

That Lugo will be made one of the richest Royals ever says more about the market size and the finances of the club than it does about his value, but he makes for a nice add for a team who came out of 2023 with a lot more questions (Jordan Lyles? Brady Singer? Daniel Lynch IV?) than answers (Cole Ragans!) in the starting rotation. Kansas City identified a target in a crowded starting pitching market and went after him with an aggressive offer, and they’ve landed our 22nd-ranked free agent of the winter. Stratton, meanwhile, gives them another veteran in the bullpen at a modest cost. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dodgers Just Can’t Quit Joe Kelly

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers and right-hander Joe Kelly did a whole bunch of paperwork just to end up back in business together. In November, the Dodgers declined a one-year, $9.5 million option on Kelly, buying the right-hander out for $1 million and sending him into free agency. This week, the two parties agreed to terms on another contract, reportedly for one year and $8 million. Nobody likes to take a pay cut, but for Kelly, who was born in Anaheim, that’s $9 million in his pocket to stay put instead of $9.5 million – ultimately a pretty friendly outcome after the option decision didn’t go his way.

If you’ve tuned in to the postseason in the last decade, you’re probably familiar with the work of Kelly, who started a World Series game for the Cardinals in 2013, earned his first ring with the Red Sox with a dominant October in 2018, and pitched for the Dodgers in four of the last five postseasons, winning his second World Series in 2020. He helped set up a pair of future Hall of Fame closers in their only World Series seasons (so far) two years apart in Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. Since the start of his career, the only pitchers with more postseason appearances than Kelly’s 41 are Jansen, Ryan Pressly, and Aroldis Chapman:

Most Postseason Appearances Since 2012
Player Appearances
Kenley Jansen 59
Ryan Pressly 46
Aroldis Chapman 42
Joe Kelly 41
Clayton Kershaw 34
Pedro Báez 31
Justin Verlander 30

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Love Me, Non-Tender: Taking a Look at Some Newly Available Relief Options

Jovani Moran
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

In the few weeks following the conclusion of the World Series, with no meaningful major league games on the calendar until March, our collective attention shifts quickly to hot stove season. But as eager as we are to start slotting free agents into new rotations, bullpens, and lineups, there’s a bit of paperwork to take care of before the full extent of the winter’s class is even known. Teams have exclusive five-day windows with their departing clients, players and teams decide to opt in or out of optional contract years, and qualifying offers are issued and routinely rejected.

This past Friday was one of the final deadlines of MLB’s early offseason, by which teams had to choose whether or not to tender contracts to players on their 40-man roster with fewer than six years of service time. Those tendered contracts will remain under team control in 2024, but those whom teams declined to offer contracts were added to the free-agent pool and will look for work elsewhere. By the end of the day, a majority of teams had at least one extra empty 40-man spot, and dozens of players — headlined by two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff — were newly available.

Woodruff, who is recovering from a shoulder surgery and will miss most of the upcoming season, is certainly the standout arm in this year’s cohort of non-tenders, but he’s not exactly the prototypical non-tender. In this year’s crop, there are a number of interesting low-profile arms who are looking to re-establish themselves as bullpen contributors with another big league opportunity after injuries or stretches of underperformance. Let’s take a look at a handful of guys who will be hoping to find good fits as low-risk potential contributors over the next few months. Read the rest of this entry »

Lest We Forget, Frankie Montas

Frankie Montas
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

FanGraphs’ Top 50 free agents of the 2024 offseason went live on Thursday, and you might have noticed a starting pitcher or 20 among the group. Even though Shohei Ohtani won’t fit the description until 2025, the top of the market is just brimming with rotation talent, from Aaron Nola to Cy Young finalists Blake Snell and Sonny Gray, playoff hero Jordan Montgomery, and Japanese phenoms Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga. And the list goes on; beyond the cream of the crop are plentiful second and third tiers. Suffice to say, the market will be active this winter.

Amidst all the fray, a 30-year-old who finished sixth in the Cy Young voting two years ago will have comparably little attention on him. Frankie Montas lost almost all of 2023 to surgery on his right throwing shoulder, returning on the final weekend of the regular season to get four outs – and a win – for the Yankees in Kansas City on September 30. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Will Be Next To Win Their First?

Corey Seager Texas Rangers
Arizona Republic

On Wednesday night, the Rangers scratched their names off of one of baseball’s most undesirable lists: the franchises that had never in their history won a World Series. Major League Baseball is known for its historical championship parity; the sport’s 23 seasons without a repeat champion is the longest streak in the four major American sports leagues, and the Rangers became the ninth unique World Series champion in the last 10 years. But heading into Wednesday’s Game 5, six of the 30 MLB clubs — a full 20% — had never reached the promised land. On Thursday morning, it was down to five: the Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rockies, and Rays. With the Rangers happy to leave that club, who should we expect to be the next to follow?

The No World Series Club
Team Founded Last WS Appearance
Milwaukee Brewers 1969 1982
San Diego Padres 1969 1998
Seattle Mariners 1977
Colorado Rockies 1993 2007
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 2020

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