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Earlier this week, when I examined the potential landing spots for center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., the Brewers stuck out as a team that didn’t appear to have a glaring need, particularly with center fielder Lorenzo Cain returning to the roster after opting out early in 2020. Yet FanSided’s Robert Murray, who previously covered the Brewers for The Athletic, had recently reported that the team was in the mix for them, and a week and a half later, they landed him via a two-year, $24 million deal that includes an opt-out after this season. The question is, how’s this going to work?
To these eyes, the bigger surprise than the Brewers adding to their stockpile of outfielders is that Bradley landed a multiyear deal in March, and at a healthy AAV at that. Aside from Bryce Harper‘s 13-year, $330-million megadeal, which was announced on March 2, 2019, in my research for the Bradley piece I was unable to find another multiyear position player deal that was completed in March during the past decade, with Manny Ramirez’s two-year, $45 million return to the Dodgers in 2009 the last one that came to mind. It’s just not a month for lasting commitments.
Given that slim history, plus Dan Szymborski’s less-than-glowing ZiPS projection for Bradley — WARs of 1.6 and 1.3 in the first two seasons over about 1,000 total plate appearances, a serviceable return if accompanied by a solid platoon partner — I figured it might be a stretch for him to approach the three-year, $27 million deal from the ZiPS contract model, to say nothing of the reports that he was seeking a contract of at least four years. Bradley (and agent Scott Boras) didn’t get the years, and his total guarantee is less than that of the model but not by much; with his opt out after the first season, he’s exchanged that for a good amount of control.
Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, who’s been on the job since October 2015 (initially as general manager) has a history of overstuffing the roster and letting manager Craig Counsell figure out the playing time, and it’s helped the team to three straight postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history. On back-to-back days in late January 2018, Stearns traded for Christian Yelich and signed Cain to a five-year deal, that despite corner outfielders Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana — not to mention first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames — coming off solid seasons; Santana had bashed 30 homers in his age-24 campaign. In late July 2018, he dealt for Mike Moustakas while third baseman Travis Shaw was in the midst of a 32-homer season; Shaw took up playing second base seamlessly and the team came within one win of a trip to the World Series. Read the rest of this entry »
On a day when the COVID-19 headlines in the U.S. ranged from very good to very bad, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Major League Baseball plans to delay the start of the Triple-A season by at least four weeks, and perhaps longer. Though it’s a bummer to at least some degree, the move — which does not affect MLB’s scheduled opening on April 1 — was anticipated within the industry. It addresses significant safety and economic concerns that come with operating the sport amid the ongoing pandemic, in part by reestablishing alternate training sites for each team to draw players from if and when roster moves are made.
The Triple-A season was scheduled to begin on April 6 — that’s for the Triple-A East teams (ugh on the generic league names), with Triple-A West teams starting on April 8 — but with the change, teams at that level are tentatively slated to open on May 4 (East) and May 6 (West), about the same time that Double-A and Single-A classifications open (the delay to their seasons was reported at Baseball America in January). The Triple-A schedule will be shortened from 142 games to 120, the planned length of the lower levels, with the season running until September 19 for East teams and September 21 for West teams.
MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations Morgan Sword said in a statement, “This is a prudent step to complete the Major League and Minor League seasons as safely as possible, and we look forward to having fans back in ballparks across the country very soon.” The league sent a memo notifying teams of the delay, and many minor league affiliates relayed the message to the public via their social media accounts. For example:
— SWB RailRiders (@swbrailriders) March 3, 2021
— SWB RailRiders (@swbrailriders) March 3, 2021
While Jake Odorizzi is clearly the top free-agent pitcher still available as March opens, Jackie Bradley Jr. is the market’s top position player still on the shelves, No. 18 overall on our Top 50 Free Agents list. Beyond the fact that they and their agents may have aimed too high with their contractual desires in an industry still feeling the economic pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic and treating the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold as a salary cap, the pair don’t have a ton of similarities beyond their availability. But like Odorizzi, Bradley could provide a clear boost to a contending team.
Bradley, who turns 31 on April 19, spent the past 10 years in the Red Sox organization after being chosen as a supplemental first-round pick out of the University of South Carolina in 2011. It took him awhile to find his footing in the majors: Since he couldn’t keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line over the course of 530 plate appearances in 2013–14, he bounced up and down between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston and spent nearly half of 2015 on the farm as well before finally sticking around for good.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Bradley has produced at about a league-average level offensively (.247/.331/.438, 102 wRC+) and provided exceptional and often spectacular defense. His +33 DRS in center field is tied for fifth in the majors in that span, and his 19.9 UZR is sixth, though he’s somewhere around 10th or 11th on a prorated basis, depending upon the innings cutoff one chooses. Likewise, his 42 runs via Statcast’s Runs Prevented metric ranks sixth since the start of 2016. In a league where Kevin Kiermaier has dominated the defensive metrics, Bradley has just one Gold Glove to show for his efforts, but he’s nonetheless put together some enviable highlight reels. Here’s one that covers just the last eight weeks of his work:
As the calendar flips to March, exhibition season has begun (!) in both Arizona and Florida, and yet a few top free agents remain unsigned. Atop the list in terms of projected impact is Jake Odorizzi, who’s had the misfortune of mistiming the market, in part due to an injury-wracked 2020 season. Still, there’s no shortage of teams that the veteran righty, who placed 24th on our Top 50 Free Agents list, could help.
Odorizzi, who turns 31 on March 27, spent the past three seasons with the Twins, putting together a solid campaign in 2018 (4.49 ERA,4.20 FIP, and 2.5 WAR in 164.1 innings), and an All-Star one in ’19 (3.51 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 4.3 WAR in 159 innings). Last year was a near-total loss, though, as he was limited to 13.2 innings by an intercostal strain and a blister. Prior to that, Odorizzi pitched four years and change with the Rays, that after being traded in blockbusters involving Zack Greinke and Lorenzo Cain (2010) — he was originally a supplemental first-round pick by the Brewers in ’08 — and then James Shields and Wil Myers (2012). In Tampa Bay, he totaled 6.5 WAR from 2014 to ’16 before a bout of gopher trouble (1.88 homers per nine) led to a replacement level season in ’17. That hiccup aside, he’s been very solid and (prior to 2020) rather durable, averaging 30.3 starts per year from 2013 to ’19; an oblique strain in ’15 and hamstring and back woes in ’17 kept him to 27 starts in those seasons. As best I can tell, he’s never missed significant time due to an arm injury.
Odorizzi has gone his entire career without signing a multiyear deal. He won back-to-back arbitration cases against the Rays in 2017 ($4.1 million) and ’18 ($6.3 million), the reward for which was being traded to the Twins just two days after the latter decision was announced. After making $9.3 million in 2019, his best season, he received a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Twins, which apparently put a drag on his market before he could fully test the waters. Via MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park, Odorizzi received “a lot of interest” from other teams at the time, to the point of exchanging dollar figures, “but the uncertainty generated by the timeframe and the draft considerations ultimately led to his return to Minnesota.” The fact that Odorizzi wouldn’t be be subjected to another qualifying offer the next time he reached free agency, and thus wouldn’t have the millstone of draft compensation attached to his signing, was a factor in his decision.
Alas, his 2020 season didn’t pan out as planned. The intercostal strain landed him on the injured list to start the season, and so he didn’t make his season debut until August 8. In his third outing, on August 21, he was hit in the chest by a batted ball, suffering a contusion and landing on the IL again. Upon returning, a blister problem led to another early hook. Though he was on the roster for the AL Wild Card series against the Astros, he did not pitch.
And now, on with the show…
Beyond that, Butler’s fielding metrics are downright brutal (-84 via B-Ref) such that he finished with 49.7 WAR, about 19 fewer than Lofton and not enough to really make a dent in an advanced stat-based Hall conversation
Is Fernando Tatis Jr. the next Carlos Correa? The question has lingered in my mind in the wake of last week’s piece about Tatis’ already-substantial Hall of Fame chances, itself a response to the Padres’ shortstop landing a 14-year, $340 million deal at the tender age of 22. Digging into some of my previous research, I illustrated that even given the fairly slim sample sizes, the vast majority of players who perform as Tatis has through his age-21 season — whether based merely on offensive prowess or full value as estimated by WAR — are bound for the Hall of Fame.
That provocative conclusion certainly stirred the pot, perhaps even moreso than I intended, with critics offering a range of counterexamples, some of them so far off base as to be laughable (left fielder/designated hitter Joe Charboneau, AL Rookie of the Year at age 25, out of the majors by age 28), others a bit more subtle (Vern Stephens, a slugging shortstop who had some of his best years against lesser competition during World War II). The one that stuck in my mind, however was the example of Correa, whose performance through his age-21 season bore some striking similarities to that of Tatis, to the point that the pair were adjacent on multiple leaderboards. The comparison, which also includes some key differences, was still on my mind when I discussed the two shortstops and a small handful of other young players — most notably Francisco Lindor, Juan Soto, and Wander Franco — during a FanGraphs Audio podcast spot with Kevin Goldstein, who had a front-row seat to the professional progress of Correa, whom the Astros drafted with the first overall pick just three months before he joined their front office.
Correa, now heading into his age-26 season as well as his final year before eligibility for free agency, has had his ups and downs at the major league level. He won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015 while helping the Astros to their first playoff appearance in a decade. While he’s helped Houston to four more playoff appearances, including a World Series victory in 2017 and an AL pennant two years later, he’s been an All-Star just once, mainly due to injuries that have limited him to just one season with more than 110 games played: 2016, his age-21 season, when he played 153 games and set an as-yet-unsurpassed career high in WAR, whether by FanGraphs’ measure (5.2) or that of Baseball-Reference (7.0). More on that gap, which is driven by widely divergent defensive metrics, below.
Correa did play 58 out of the Astros’ 60 games last year, but hit just .264/.326/.383, setting career lows in slugging percentage and wRC+ (98) as well as more obviously counting-dependent stats like home runs (five) and WAR (0.9 by FanGraphs, 1.8 by B-Ref). To be fair, he was hitting .301/.367/.441 (125 wRC+) through September 7 before suffering through a 5-for-44 slump from September 8-22, so it’s not like his entire season was a slog; he had a very bad fortnight. He even hit his way out of that skid, closing the season by going 5-for-14 over his final four games and then batting a sizzling .362/.455/.766 with six homers in 55 PA in the postseason. That would have lifted his season line to .282/.340/.456 if we were to add it all up. Read the rest of this entry »
Non-roster invitation season is prime time to Remember Some Guys, players who had their moments in the sun in some hazy but not-so-distant past before slipping beneath the radar for one reason or another. A subset of those Some Guys are left-handed pitchers, and as discussed here previously, lefties who can throw strikes have a chance to stick around forever, at least in this NRI limbo if not on a major league roster or, at the very least, its fringes. Within this subset one finds Scott Kazmir, a onetime fireballer who last appeared in the majors with the Dodgers in 2016. The now 37-year-old lefty agreed to terms on a minor league deal — and of course the requisite NRI — with the Giants earlier this week.
Kazmir, a 12-year veteran and three-time All-Star who owns a career 108-96 mark with a 4.01 ERA, 4.01 FIP, and 25.2 WAR, is no stranger to comeback attempts. After his career deteriorated during his run with the Angels, the former Mets-prospect-turned-Devil-Rays-phenom was released following his lone appearance in April 2011; he was still owed nearly $14.5 million through the following season. Just 27 years old when he was released, Kazmir overhauled his mechanics, restored some lost velocity, spent a season with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, and resurfaced with Cleveland in 2013. Thus began a four-year, four-team run during which he was nearly as effective as ever, posting a 3.75 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 667.2 innings with additional stops with the A’s, Astros, and Dodgers. In that time, he made his third All-Star team and landed a pair of lucrative multiyear deals: a two-year, $22 million one with Oakland after the 2013 season, and then a three-year, $48 million one with the Dodgers two years later.
Alas, back and neck issues limited Kazmir to 136.1 innings with a 4.56 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 2016 with the Dodgers, including just one inning on September 23 after a month-long absence. Tightness in his left hip forced him to shut down in the spring of 2017, and he managed just 12 innings, all during abortive rehab stints at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, for the entire season. In December of that year, he was traded to the Braves as part of a five-player deal that brought Matt Kemp back to Los Angeles but mostly amounted to two teams shuffling bad paper for Competitive Balance Tax purposes. Though at one point Kazmir appeared on track to make the Braves out of spring training in 2018, diminished velocity and a bout of arm fatigue led to his late-March release. Read the rest of this entry »
Shin-Soo Choo’s seven-year contract with the Rangers didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to, either in the grand scheme or the specifics. In a season already shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, he missed additional time due to oblique and calf strains, then sprained his right hand on September 7. He recovered in time to return to the lineup for the season’s final game, beat out a bunt to lead off the home half of the first inning… and then sprained his left ankle tripping over first base. D’oh!
Alas, that might have been the final play of Choo’s major league career. Though the 38-year-old outfielder/DH sought a contract for the 2021 season and had interest from as many as eight teams (some of them contenders), earlier this week he agreed to return to his native South Korea via a one-year deal with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization. “I want to play in Korea because I want to play in front of my parents and I want to give back to Korean fans,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson.
If you’re left-handed and can throw strikes, you have a chance to pitch forever. That appears to be Oliver Pérez’s plan. The 39-year-old southpaw agreed to a minor league deal with Cleveland last week, returning to the fold of the team for whom he’s pitched in the last three seasons. His contract includes an invitation to spring training, a clear path to being the bullpen’s top (and perhaps only) lefty, as well as appearance-based incentives.
Speaking from experience, if you want to catch casual baseball fans off guard, tell them that Pérez is still kicking around the majors. Particularly in New York, where he occasionally excited and often exasperated fans during his four-and-a-half year run with the Mets from 2006-10, the notion that he’s still plying his craft a decade and a half after his near-heroic effort in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS went for naught can get quite a reaction. “Get the —- out of here,” is the usual response.
It’s been quite a journey for Pérez, who debuted in the majors with the Padres in 2002, was traded to the Pirates in the Jason Bay–Brian Giles blockbuster about 14 months later, and spent a few seasons in Pittsburgh, most notably striking out 239 batters in 196 innings at age 22, a point at which the sky appeared to be the limit. Dealt to the Mets in the Xavier Nady deal in 2006 — seriously, his transaction log is a chance to Remember Some Guys — he generally pitched well before patellar tendinitis turned his three-year, $36 million return via free agency into a sub-replacement level disaster that culminated with his being released in March 2011 while being owed $12 million. Down but not out, he remade himself as a reliever, evolved into a respected elder statesman, and is now heading into his 10th major league season as a lefty specialist, and his 19th overall, the most by any Mexican-born player. In that second life, he spent time with the Mariners, Diamondbacks, Astros and Nationals — and additionally toiled for the Reds in spring training and the Yankees in exotic Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — before resurfacing in Cleveland in mid-2018.
Since then, Pérez has had his year-to-year ups and downs, but he’s been generally quite effective, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 91 innings while striking out 28.8% of hitters and holding batters to a .256 xwOBA, the majors’ fourth-lowest mark among lefties who’ve thrown at least 500 pitches in that span, behind only José Castillo, Josh Hader, and Aroldis Chapman. Read the rest of this entry »