Author Archive

Let’s Find Homes for a Few More Unsigned Free Agents

On February 1, I checked in on the 10 players who made our Top 50 Free Agents list in November but had yet to sign contracts, attempting to match them up with teams still in need of that missing piece. Since then, the much-anticipated J.T. Realmuto trade has gone down, and the first camps have opened to pitchers and catchers, but none of those 10 players has come off the board. Instead we’re left with an endless swirl of rumors and rationalizations. Bryce Harper has talked to the Padres and Giants, but they don’t want to pay him $300 million! The Yankees have continued to check in on Manny Machado, but won’t improve upon an offer termed “low” by a source close to the player! Mike Moustakas may return to the Brewers! This is quite a party.

Alas, not really. It’s frustrating to watch this broken system playing out, and it has to be even more so for the players — not only the aforementioned ranked ones, but the dozens upon dozens beyond them who are being frozen out as well. These are real people who don’t know yet where they (and their families, in many cases) are going to spend the better part of the next year, and they’re being squeezed to the point of accepting a fraction of the money they might have reasonably expected just a couple of years ago. In many cases, the fates of these unranked, unsigned players are interconnected with the pricier options; a team in the market for rotation help, pursuing the likes of Dallas Keuchel (No. 4 on our list) or Gio Gonzalez (No. 33) might wind up going for one of the starters below if they don’t land their top choice.

As with my previous roundup, what follows here is an attempt to match the best of the rest of those currently unemployed with teams in need, using a combination our projected standings and Depth Charts, MLB Trade Rumors, Roster Resource, Cot’s Contracts, and some imagination. Consider it prescriptive, rather than predictive; the further down the pecking order one goes, the more one may as well be throwing darts. Read the rest of this entry »

Frank Robinson, Superstar Slugger and Trailblazer (1935-2019)

Frank Robinson always went into second like a guy jumping through a skylight with a drawn Luger.”
Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1974

Frank Robinson may not have had the mythic grace of Willie Mays running down a drive to center field, or the staying power of Hank Aaron as he chased Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record, but the mark he left on baseball, through the combination of his supreme talent and white-hot intensity, was of similar caliber. Though he never played in the Negro Leagues, as both Mays and Aaron briefly did, he was the spiritual heir to Jackie Robinson in bringing the Negro Leagues’ hard-charging style of play to the majors, and in blazing a trail beyond his playing days. At the tail end of a 21-year major league career that made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Robinson became the majors’ first African-American manager, and he spent more than 40 years working in baseball at the managerial and executive level.

Robinson passed away on Thursday at the age of 83 after battling cancer. Since 2015, he had served as a special advisor to the Commissioner and the honorary president of the American League, the final lines on one of the fullest resumés any player has ever assembled. Read the rest of this entry »

Rockies and Arenado Approach the Summit of a Long-Term Deal

Nolan Arenado has ranked among the game’s elite third basemen for the past four seasons, and he’s already made headlines this winter. Last week, he and the Rockies averted an arbitration hearing when he agreed to a $26 million salary for 2019, a record for an arbitration-eligible player. Now, there’s optimism in Denver that the team could reach a longer-term deal that would keep Arenado in purple. It’s a move that not only would be in character for a franchise that has made a concerted attempt to keep its iconic players, but could also impact this winter’s frigid free agent market.

Arenado, who will turn 28 on April 16, is coming off a .297/.374/.561 showing with 38 homers, a 132 wRC+, and 5.7 WAR in 2018. He led the NL in home runs for the third year out of the past four, and while that feat owes much to Coors Field (he has an 87-71 home/road home run split in that span), improved plate discipline has helped him increase both his wRC+ and WAR every year since his 2013 rookie season. Last year’s incremental steps forward owe much to Arenado’s career-best 10.8% walk rate, more than double his 2013-15 mark (5.0%); that increase has keyed a 52-point rise in on-base percentage from his first three years (.318) to his last three (.370).

And then there’s the leather. Arenado has won a Gold Glove in each of his six seasons, and has won the Platinum Glove as the NL’s top overall defender, in each of the past two years; he also took home the Fielding Bible Award as the majors’ top third baseman annually from 2015-17. While UZR doesn’t value his defense nearly as highly as DRS (career totals of 37.6 and 109, respectively), the two marks converged last year (5.8 and 5, respectively). Beyond the numbers, his highlight clips are appointment viewing. Here is the MLB Network compilation of his dives, spins, barehanded grabs, and seemingly impossible throws that accompanied Arenado’s 2018 award wins:

And here’s perhaps his most famous play, his April 14, 2015 over-the-shoulder-and-over-the-tarp-roll catch of a foul ball:

This is an excellent, entertaining player, a franchise cornerstone who has helped take the Rockies to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in club history.

After making $17.75 million last year as part of a two-year, $29.5 million extension signed in January 2017, Arenado sought $30 million in arbitration, with the Rockies countering at $24 million. Even if he’d lost a hearing, he would have surpassed Josh Donaldson’s $23 million salary from last year with the highest one-year salary for an arbitration-eligible player. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Arenado and the Rockies settled at $26 million after a face-to-face meeting:

Since then, Monfort has publicly expressed hope for the possibility of a long-term deal. On Monday, he told the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders, “I’m optimistic that we are close enough that something will come about. It’s in Nolan’s hands, but my last impression with him is that this is something he wants to do.” While stressing that there was no timetable to complete a longer deal, Monfort added, “[W]hat I took out of [the meeting] was a good, sincere [attitude] of, ‘Let’s get this behind us, then let’s go on to the next step and see if we can work something out there.'”

Per to Saunders, Arenado recently said, “I think the future is much brighter in Colorado than it’s been in the past. That excites me and makes me very aware of what’s going on here.” Indeed, an impressive nucleus of young, affordable starting pitching (Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, German Marquez, Tyler Anderson, and Antonio Senzatela) and the development of shortstop Trevor Story have been key elements of the Rockies’ recent success; that core is under club control through 2021 and ’22. What’s more, the team’s TV revenue situation is better than has been previously reported; the Rockies are making $40 million per year now, not $20 million, which was tied for last among the 29 US teams in Craig Edwards’ 2016 roundup. The team’s current deal runs through 2020, and negotiations for a new one are expected to get underway this summer.

With such a revenue stream, Monfort seems to feel that the Rockies can support a payroll that includes a major commitment to Arenado on a long-term deal. While Cot’s Contracts projects the team to set a franchise record with an Opening Day payroll just over $143 million — up from around $137 million in 2018 (14th in the majors) and $127.8 million in 2017 (15th) — the Rockies have only $40 million committed for 2021, and $23 million for ’22, though of course, the salary increases of their many arb-eligible players will increase those figures.

In marked contrast to the White Sox, whose history under Jerry Reinsdorf I examined on Monday, the Rockies haven’t shied away from sizable long-term commitments. Granted, Monfort and his brother Charlie were merely minority partners until December 2005, when they bought out Jerry McMorris, the team’s principal owner since 1993 (before that, oy, there’s a story). During the McMorris era, the Rockies signed free agents Larry Walker (six years, $75 million in April 1995), Mike Hampton (eight years, $121 million in December 2000), and Denny Neagle (five years, $51 million, also in December 2000) — of which only the first deal went well, the last two disastrously — and extended franchise icon Todd Helton (nine years, $141.5 million, covering 2003-11). The Monforts were the principal owners when the Rockies extended Troy Tulowitzki (10 years, $157.75 million deal in 2010), as well as Charlie Blackmon (six years, $108 million last April), and when they added free agents Ian Desmond (five years, $70 million in December 2016) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million in December 2017). In terms of guaranteed money, all of those deals besides those of Neagle and Davis exceed the largest guaranteed contract ever signed by the White Sox, Jose Abreu’s six-year, $68 million pact from October 2013.

Whether on the watch of McMorris or the Monforts, not all of the Rockies’ big contracts have unfolded for the better. Some of that has to do with the particularities of playing at altitude — pitches don’t break as much, and athletes’ bodies don’t hold up as well — and some of it has to do with flawed evaluations of the players in question. At a time when so many teams are wringing their hands about spending money, it’s still noteworthy that the Rockies have stepped up to keep their top players. Extending Arenado, and assuming the risks that come with it, would be more in keeping with their style than (to return to my previous example) the White Sox signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

Of course, Arenado has to agree to a deal for this all to come to fruition, and it’s a bit ominous to think of how the relatively grim landscapes of the past two winters might be helping to fulfill the vision that the owners colluded in the mid-1980s to make happen: star players staying with their teams instead of testing the market and creating bidding wars. Still, free agency isn’t an obligation that every star has to fulfill; the combination of comfort and a record-setting salary in a competitive situation isn’t something to be taken lightly.

On that note, if an Arenado extension is completed before Machado signs, it would likely set a new baseline for third basemen (by topping Alex Rodriguez‘s $27.5 million average annual value) and perhaps for all position players (by topping Miguel Cabrera’s $31 million AAV). That, as Rosenthal pointed out, will make it harder for any team in pursuit of Harper or Machado to argue that those younger, higher-profile players should be paid less money.

After the past two winters of slow (or even negative) growth, it’s difficult to put too much faith in long-term estimates, but using the FanGraphs Contract estimation tool with very conservative parameters — $8.0 million per WAR, and just 3% average annual inflation, as opposed to $9 million or more and 5% — suggests a valuation approach $300 million:

Nolan Arenado’s Contract Estimate — 8 yr / $293.9 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2019 28 5.2 $8.0 M $41.6 M
2020 29 5.2 $8.2 M $42.8 M
2021 30 5.2 $8.5 M $44.1 M
2022 31 4.7 $8.7 M $41.1 M
2023 32 4.2 $9.0 M $37.8 M
2024 33 3.7 $9.0 M $33.3 M
2025 34 3.2 $9.0 M $28.8 M
2026 35 2.7 $9.0 M $24.3 M
Totals 34.1 $293.9 M


Value: $8M/WAR with 3.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), 0 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

Dialing the inflation back even further, to 1%, yields a $279.7 million valuation, and cutting the dollars per WAR figure to a retrograde $7.0 million with that minimal inflation in place still yields $244.7 million. In other words, even using extremely modest assumptions, an eight-year deal for Arenado (presumably incorporating this year’s salary) should bypass Cabrera’s eight-year, $248 million extension.

Another byproduct of an Arenado extension might be a change in the Yankees’ current approach. Circa late November, Rosenthal suggested that their lukewarm pursuits of Harper and Machado — due to a logjam of outfielders in the former case and the infamous “Johnny Hustle” comments in the latter — was because they were more interested in pursuing Arenado (who’s about 18 months older than Harper and 15 months older than Machado) once he reached free agency. In January,’s Andy Martino wrote that Yankees might be working on an even more immediate timeline, “[P]eople briefed on the Yankees thinking say that GM Brian Cashman — who did not respond to a request for comment — has internally discussed the possibility of trying to trade for Arenado either now or during the season. One source said that the teams have likely talked already, but neither Cashman nor Rockies GM Jeff Bridich have confirmed this.”

In theory, if Arenado does cement his desire to stay in Denver long-term, the Yankees could circle back to Machado, whose list of suitors for a long-term deal appear to consist of the White Sox, Padres, Phillies, and a conspicuous lack of other teams. Then again, if Cashman and company have shied away this long, one expects they’ll concoct some other rationale for bypassing Machado and Harper. And it is worth noting that the possibility of signing Harper and Machado was offered as a potential rationale for not signing free agents last winter. While his resume is certainly impressive, it will be interesting to see if Arenado can avoid a similar fate. There’s always another young buck coming, after all, and Mike Trout is only under club control through 2020.

On the other hand, if Arenado and the Rockies don’t get a deal done, it will be very interesting to see how the summer plays out. With the Giants and Diamondbacks both rebuilding, and the Padres possibly looking to spend their way to an earlier competitive window by signing one of the big two free agents, the NL West probably won’t be the three-team race of yesteryear. A Rockies team that’s out of the playoff hunt could conceivably trade Arenado at the July 31 deadline — or even in August, given his huge salary — if he suggests he plans to move on next winter anyway. A Rockies team that’s still in the race for a Wild Card spot or even the NL West flag (something the Rockies have yet to win) as Arenado eyes the horizon would face quite a quandary.

In all of this, we have yet to hear Arenado definitively say that he wants to stick around, but that’s not uncommon. There’s no reason for him to surrender leverage until he’s secured what he wants, and besides, his real talking on that score will be done with a pen and a contract. Until then, this is all just cloud talk, though amid so much cynicism, it’s quaintly refreshing to hear a star and a team at least thinking aloud about sticking together.

Harper or Machado Megadeal Would Be out of Character for Chisox

With most of the game’s top-spending teams apparently determined to remain on the sidelines instead of wooing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the White Sox have been conspicuous in their reported pursuit of both. That’s a surprise, given both the team’s recent lack of success and their historical avoidance of big contracts, but late last month, general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged that fans would likely be disappointed if they didn’t land one of the winter’s big fish.

Given that the White Sox haven’t finished above .500 since 2012, and that last year, their second year of a long-term rebuilding program, they lost 100 games — their highest total since 1970 — it might seem like an odd time to spend big money. Then again, at a time when so many teams appear to have lost their checkbooks, if Chicago’s desire to spend is sincere, they may be tapping into a market inefficiency. Considering their history under owner Jerry Reinsdorf, however, it’s fair to be skeptical until the ink is dry on a contract for either Harper or Machado.

For starters, note that of the 30 teams, only five have yet to sign a player to either an extension or a free agent deal worth more than $72 million:

Largest Contracts in Team History
Team Player Years $ Type Signed
Indians Edwin Encarnacion 3 $60.0 FA 1/5/17
Pirates Jason Kendall 6 $60.0 Ext 11/18/00
Athletics Eric Chavez 6 $66.0 Ext 3/18/04
White Sox Jose Abreu 6 $68.0 FA 10/29/13
Royals Alex Gordon 4 $72.0 FA 1/6/16
Rays Evan Longoria 6 $100.0 Ext 11/26/12
Brewers Ryan Braun 5 $105.0 Ext 4/21/11
Cardinals Matt Holliday 7 $120.0 FA 1/7/10
Blue Jays Vernon Wells 7 $126.0 Ext 12/18/06
Braves Freddie Freeman 8 $135.0 Ext 2/4/14
Mets David Wright 8 $138.0 Ext 12/4/12
Padres Eric Hosmer 8 $144.0 FA 2/19/18
Phillies Cole Hamels 6 $144.0 Ext 7/25/12
Rockies Troy Tulowitzki 10 $157.8 Ext 11/30/10
Orioles Chris Davis 7 $161.0 FA 1/21/16
Astros Jose Altuve 7 $163.5 Ext 3/19/18
Giants Buster Posey 9 $167.0 Ext 3/29/13
Cubs Jason Heyward 8 $184.0 FA 12/15/15
Twins Joe Mauer 8 $184.0 Ext 3/21/10
Diamondbacks Zack Greinke 6 $206.5 FA 12/9/15
Nationals Max Scherzer 7 $210.0 FA 1/21/15
Dodgers Clayton Kershaw 7 $215.0 Ext 1/17/14
Red Sox David Price 7 $217.0 FA 12/4/15
Reds Joey Votto 10 $225.0 Ext 4/2/12
Angels Albert Pujols 10 $240.0 FA 12/8/11
Mariners Robinson Cano 10 $240.0 FA 12/12/13
Tigers Miguel Cabrera 8 $248.0 Ext 3/31/14
Rangers Alex Rodriguez 10 $252.0 FA 12/12/00
Yankees Alex Rodriguez 10 $275.0 FA 12/13/07
Marlins Giancarlo Stanton 13 $325.0 Ext 11/18/14
Revised from a 2015 MLB Trade Rumors list. All dollar figures in millions. Signing dates via MLB Trade Rumors, Cot’s Contracts, or Baseball-Reference. FA = free agent, Ext = extension.

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Homes for the Top Remaining Free Agents

Even before this week’s polar vortex hit the Midwest and the Northeast, the hot stove had failed to generate adequate heat. It’s the second winter in a row that this has happened, this time with a much stronger free agent class. With less than two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, more than 100 free agents remain unsigned. According to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, 16 teams haven’t signed a free agent to a multi-year deal, and 23 haven’t done one longer than two years. This isn’t just a matter of teams waiting out a handful of players in order to get a slight or even steep discount to fill that last need; it’s yet another sign of an increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the union and the league. As if in concert, big-spending teams such as the Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs are suddenly turned austere, as if the goal were to fly tidier balance sheets over their ballparks, instead of championship banners.

Even some of the winter’s best free agents have yet to find a home. It’s not just Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, who ranked first and second on our Top 50 Free Agents list, who remain unsigned. Even after the Astros inked Wade Miley to a one-year, $4.5 million deal on Thursday, a total of 10 players within the top 50 are still without a home — setting the three pitchers on that list aside, that’s almost enough to fill out a makeshift lineup if the versatile Marwin Gonzalez can play two positions at once. Here’s the list, with the previous and projected WAR totals and crowdsourced contract information taken from our big board:

Unsigned Free Agents From Among FanGraphs’ 2019 Top 50
Rk Name Pos Prev Team Age Prev WAR Proj WAR Med Years Med Total
1 Manny Machado SS Dodgers 26 6.2 5.0 8 $256.0M
2 Bryce Harper RF Nationals 26 3.5 4.9 10 $330.0M
4 Dallas Keuchel SP Astros 31 3.6 3.3 4 $79.0M
12 Craig Kimbrel RP Red Sox 31 1.5 2.1 4 $64.0M
15 Marwin Gonzalez UT Astros 30 1.6 1.8 3 $30.0M
22 Mike Moustakas 3B Brewers 30 2.4 2.8 3 $36.0M
33 Gio Gonzalez SP Brewers 33 2.0 0.8 2 $24.0M
41 Adam Jones CF Orioles 33 0.5 1.2 2 $20.0M
43 Martin Maldonado C Astros 32 0.9 1.0 2 $10.0M
47 Jose Iglesias SS Tigers 29 2.5 1.7 3 $27.0M
Average 30.3 2.4 2.3
Med(ian) Years and Med(ian) Total contract values from our crowdsource balloting ( List does not include Adrian Beltre or Joe Mauer (both retired).

This isn’t an especially aged group or one facing imminent declines. Aside from the top two players, none of them projects to wind up anywhere close to a nine-figure deal, and while some of this group may still be unsigned specifically because certain teams are waiting for the biggest dominoes to fall, that explanation only goes so far.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 1/31/19

Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon from Brooklyn, where it’s a comparatively balmy 11 degrees (-4 with wind chill). The Hall of Fame circus has left town, but having missed last week’s post-announcement chat slot, I’ll still take questions on that topic, as well as hot stove stuff

Syndergaardians of the Galaxy : Even though I am an obsessive baseball fan, i don’t know much about Hector Santiago. So I was surprised to see him #6 on the Mets starter depth chart in Szymborski’s ZIPS article on the Mets, ahead of Cory Oswalt. Is this just a projections thing, or has there been word that the Mets see him this way?

Jay Jaffe: I wouldn’t read much into it, honestly. Santiago has been a versatile and occasionally competent swingman over the years, while Oswalt was dreadful as a rookie last year. We’re talking about a projection for 38 innings versus one for 19 innings, and the likelihood is that there will be some jockeying in the spring, and perhaps another free agent added on a minor league deal who supersedes them both.

Guest: I tweeted you this already but:
Scott Rolen:
70.2/43.7/56.9/ 17 Yrs / 7 ASG / 122 OPS+

65.5/41.8/53.7/ 20 Yrs / 7 ASG / 112 OPS+

Thoughts?  Shouldn’t he be getting a lot more love from stat people?

Jay Jaffe: Rolen gets plenty of love from “stat people” — it’s the general BBWAA electorate that has been relatively reserved (17% included him this year), but that’s also a function of the clogged ballot, which will become considerably roomier over the next five years, as I wrote earlier this week (…). I expect Rolen’s vote share to climb, especially as he’ll be the next guy in the Raines-Martinez-Walker lineage of players who get a push from the analytics community

yojiveself: Would you give Harper/Machado a 10 year contract?

Read the rest of this entry »

Greg Holland Takes a Pay Cut

The last 15 months have not gone particularly well for Greg Holland. Coming off a solid return from Tommy John surgery with the Rockies in 2017 — albeit one with a lesser second half than first — he bypassed a reported multiyear offer to return, then was met with a frosty reception amid a free agent market that was generally more hospitable to relievers than other players. He finally signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Cardinals after Opening Day, but struggled to the point of being released on August 1. After salvaging his season at least somewhat with a strong showing with the Nationals over the final two months, he hit free agency again. On Monday, the 33-year-old righty reportedly agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million-plus-incentives deal with the Diamondbacks, pending a physical. It’s a living, but ouch.

Admittedly, it’s suboptimal to carry a season with a 4.99 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 0.3 WAR, and just three saves into a market flooded with alternatives coming off stronger showings, but one might have thought that the Scott Boras client could have built upon his late-season resurgence in Washington and the lack of a qualifying offer this time around. Then again, it was presumably Boras’ misread of Holland’s market last winter that got him into this jam in the first place. At least this time, he’s going to spring training.

By not signing until two days after Opening Day last year — and that only after Luke Gregerson was lost to a hamstring injury — Holland missed the entirety of exhibition season, and after making just a pair of tune-up appearances with the Cardinals’ Hi-A Palm Beach affiliate, he walked four out of the five batters he faced in his April 9 debut. He didn’t get his first save chance until April 27, but he blew that, and he never assumed the full-time closer role. He never found his control in St. Louis, and a three-week stint on the disabled list for impingement in his right hip, from late May to mid-June, didn’t help. All told, in 32 appearances totaling 25 innings with the Cardinals, his walk, strikeout, and earned run totals were identical: 22 (7.92 per nine) — not what you want. Six days after being released, he joined the Nationals, and at least righted the ship, posting a 0.84 ERA and 2.97 FIP while striking out 31.3% of hitters in 21.1 innings as the team played out the string.

The key, or at least one of them, was a more reliable slider that generated more chases and less zone contact when he backed off using it quite so heavily:

According to Brooks Baseball, while with St. Louis, Holland’s slider was hit for a .268 average and .357 slugging percentage, with a 19.8% whiff rate (37.3% whiffs per swing), while with Washington, the slider yielded an .081 batting average (all singles) with a 25.2% whiff rate (48.5% whiffs per swing). His fastball became less of a meatball with the transition as well (.342 AVG/.463 SLG before, .208/.375 after, with a whiff rate climbing from 4.2% to 10.7%); via Baseball Savant, his xwOBA dropped from .354 with the Cardinals to .239 with the Nationals. Granted, we’re dealing with small samples in terms of innings and pitches, with the latter ranging from 30 plate appearances ending with fastballs in Washington to 60 PA ending with sliders in St. Louis, but whatever changed did seem to work, allowing him to recover his first-half 2017 form — when he earned All-Star honors with the Rockies — if not his magic with the Royals. Life is just different when your fastball averages 92.9 mph instead of 96.9 (his average in 2013, according to Pitch Info).

On that note, it’s worth a brief historical review. Once upon a time, Holland ranked among the game’s elite relievers. From 2011 — his first full season in the majors — to 2014, he posted ERAs below 2.00 three times out of four, with FIPS below 2.00 twice. Over that span, only three pitchers (Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, and Wade Davis) outdid his 1.86 ERA, and only Kimbrel surpassed his 1.92 FIP and 9.1 WAR. In August 2012, he assumed the closer duties for the Royals, and over the next two seasons became a key part of their march to respectability, aided by a dominant bullpen. He made the All-Star team in both 2013 and ’14, ranking second in the AL in saves each year. In 2013, he led all relievers in FIP (1.36) while ranking second in WAR (3.0), while in 2014, after placing within the top handful in ERA, FIP, and WAR, he went 7-for-7 in saves while yielding just one run and four hits in 11 innings while striking out 15 during the Royals’ postseason run.

Holland did not get to pitch during the Royals’ 2015 championship run. His velocity dipped from its typical 95-96 mph average into the low 90s in late August, and he was soon discovered to have suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. He tried to pitch through it — reportedly, he had been experiencing elbow discomfort as far back as August 2014 — but went to the sidelines in mid-September, yielding the closer’s job to Davis, and on October 2 went under the knife. He didn’t re-emerge until signing a one-year, $7 million contract with the Rockies in January 2017, a deal that included a mutual option, more on which momentarily.

Holland burst out of the gate in 2017, converting 23 straight save chances with a 1.09 ERA through June 14. He made the NL All-Star team on the strength of a 1.62 ERA and 2.80 FIP; a dreadful 9.1-inning, 14-run stretch in August blew up his second-half stats (6.38 ERA, 4.99 FIP), but he helped the Rockies snag an NL Wild Card berth, and finished with a league-high 41 saves along with a 3.61 ERA and 3.72 FIP (72 ERA- and 81 FIP-).

When Holland signed with the Rockies, he had a $10 million mutual option for 2018, with a $1 million buyout. By reaching either 50 games pitched or 30 games finished, that option converted into a $15 million player option, about on par with his total take in 2017 ($15.1 million) thanks to his having earned $9.1 million in incentive bonuses thanks to his 61 appearances, 58 games finished, and 2017 NL Comeback Player of the Year award. Holland declined the option and the $17.4 million qualifying offer that followed. Later he reportedly snubbed a three-year, $51 or $52 million deal from the Rockies, though whether that was a firm offer or a “conceptual” one (as Buster Olney phrased it) is up for debate. The Rockies instead signed Davis to a three-year, $52 million deal in late December — thanks, old pal — and a better offer apparently never came Holland’s way.

Hence, the mess in which Holland wound up, though he was hardly alone in misreading the market. The exact details of his new contract are unknown at this writing, but he can earn a maximum of $3.5 million in incentives, some of which probably depend upon his returning to closer duty. With Brad Boxberger departed in free agency (unsigned at this writing, actually), it’s not clear yet whether he or Archie Bradley, who excelled in a setup role, will be manager Torey Lovullo’s top ninth-inning choice. If Holland can stay healthy and maintain his old form, he stands to be quite a bargain for the Snakes regardless of his role, but one can’t help imagining that if he could play out the last year-and-change again, he’d be in a much better position than he is today.

Closing the Floodgates: the Next Five Years of BBWAA Hall of Fame Elections

Save for the actual inductions of this year’s six honorees — the late Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mr Unanimity, Mariano Rivera, elected by the BBWAA last week and Harold Baines and Lee Smith by the Today’s Game Era Committee last month — the Hall of Fame circus is leaving town, at least until the July 19-22 induction weekend in Cooperstown. Before it departs, however, it’s time engage in my sixth annual attempt to gaze into the crystal ball to see what the next five elections will hold.

Admittedly, this is an exercise requiring some amount of imagination and speculation, though it is grounded in my research into the candidates and the history and mechanics of the voting. Having said that, the past half-decade of changes to the process raises the question of how valuable that history is, at least as a road map. As a response to the logjam of qualified candidates, the Hall’s own truncation of candidacies from 15 years to 10 — less to clean up the ballots than to move the intractable debate over PED-related candidates out of the spotlight — and its rejection of any variation from the long-standing 10-slot rule, the writers have responded by setting and breaking records for slots used per ballot, and for ballots filled to the max. As a result, the BBWAA has elected 20 players over the last six years, five more than in any other six-year stretch in voting history. We’ve had three quartets elected over the past five years, compared to two (plus the original 1936 quintet) over the previous 78 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Roy Halladay and the Collision of Baseball Immortality and Human Mortality

From the time of its inaugural election in 1936, when the late Christy Mathewson (1880-1925) was chosen among the original class of five honorees, the Hall of Fame has often highlighted the stark contrast between baseball immortality and human mortality. In fact, more than one-third of the 329 members of the Hall were elected posthumously, an inevitability given that the major leagues had a 65-year head start on the institution that honors its greats. Yet Tuesday’s election of the late Roy Halladay — who died on November 7, 2017 while flying his Icon A5 light sport airplane — marked the first time since 1954 that the BBWAA elected a deceased player (Rabbit Maranville) and the first time since Mathewson that they did so in the player’s first year of eligibility.

A Denver native who spent 12 seasons with the Blue Jays (1998-2009) and four with the Phillies (2010-2013), Halladay was admired throughout the game for his tireless work ethic and his character as well as his impeccable control of his sinker. His devotion to the mental aspect of the game stood out; he rebounded from an historically dreadful 2000 season aided by the writings and counseling of sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman as much as the remaking of his mechanics and repertoire by Blue Jays pitching instructor Mel Queen. “Roy Halladay was your favorite player’s favorite player. A true ace and a wonderful person,” wrote pitcher Brandon McCarthy upon the news of his death. Read the rest of this entry »

Candidate-by-Candidate Look at the 2019 Hall of Fame Election Results

The 2019 Hall of Fame election results from the BBWAA’s vote broke new ground with the unanimous election of Mariano Rivera, the first candidate to run the table since the voting began 83 years ago. With the late Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina topping 75% as well, it also produced the institution’s fifth quartet in electoral history, and the third in five years, after these four:

In the six cycles since the 2013 shutout, the writers have elected 20 players, surpassing the 15 elected from 1951-56 for the most elected in a six-year span. With an eye toward electoral history and more recent trends, what follows here is both my rundown of the fates of all 35 candidates on the ballot (some of which will figure into my updated five-year outlook for Monday) and a clearinghouse for an assortment of relevant notes and links. One thing that stands out: all 15 holdover candidates gained ground, even if it was just by 0.2% (I’m working to confirm as to whether this is a first). None of those candidates’ share of the vote went down relative to 2018, though that doesn’t always mean that that they made real forward progress in burning a precious year off their eligibility clocks.

Mariano Rivera (1st year, 100%)

It’s still almost unbelievable that Rivera was the first candidate elected unanimously. That honor rightfully would have gone to any one of a few dozen players before him if not for the self-appointed guardians of the Cooperstown gate, but it took a perfect storm of voter accountability, transparency, a candidate who was the best ever at his speciality, and a man universally respected throughout the industry, one who lived up to the responsibility of being the last player to wear Jackie Robinson’s otherwise-retired number 42, in order for it all to come together. And oh, what a moment to behold.

Once upon a time, there was a thought that the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty might not produce a single Hall of Famer. Now they have three, namely Torre himself (as manager, of course), Tim Raines (admittedly, a role player by that point) and Rivera, with Derek Jeter on the way next year. Rivera is the eighth Hall of Famer to spend his entire career with the Yankees (Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle are the others, and Jeter is next) and the second Hall of Famer born in Panama, after Rod Carew.

On Tuesday night, after the election results were announced, I did a spot for “The Big Sports Show” on St. Louis radio station WTRS, where hosts Ben Fredrickson and Brendan Wiese pointed out that I chose pretty well when it came to the cover subject for The Cooperstown Casebook.

Edgar Martinez (10th, 85.4%, up 15.0%)

The first modern candidate to post four straight year-to-year gains of at least 10 percentage points, Martinez took a much rougher, though no less rewarding, road to Cooperstown than Rivera. As previously noted, he’s the sixth candidate in modern electoral history (since 1966, when the writers returned to annual voting) to be elected in his final year of eligibility, after Red Ruffing(1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), Jim Rice (2009), and Raines (2017). He’s the fifth Puerto Rico-born Hall of Famer, after Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, and Ivan Rodriguez, and as La Vida Baseball’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz — a former president of the BBWAA — pointed out, his election alongside Rivera makes 2019 the first time the writers have elected two Latino inductees in the same year. Together, Rivera and Martinez run the total of Hall of Famers who spent their careers with a single team to 54.

As with the candidacy of Raines, the election of Martinez is somewhat personal. He was a favorite of mine when I was simply a fan, and I supported his candidacy from the outset in 2010. The Martinez profile I put together for Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider in December 2010 is the first version of a piece that was adapted for, the Casebook, and ultimately FanGraphs, reflecting the annual ups and downs of his candidacy.

There’s more to it than that. My uncle Harold Jaffe spent his retirement years as the gregarious “mayor” of the then-Safeco Field Diamond Club, but just as I was finishing the Casebook in January 2017, he passed away after a long illness. I had come to refer to that side of the family as the Edgar Martinez Wing of the Jaffes, and so Martinez’s candidacy took on an additional layer of meaning. In an appearance I did for the Mariners Hot Stove Show on Tuesday night (starting at the 13:20 mark here), I got a bit verklempt, discussing both Edgar and Harold, whom co-host Shannon Drayer called “an absolute Safeco treasure.” She had some kind words for me as well.

Roy Halladay (1st, 85.4%)

I’ve mentioned that Halladay was the first player posthumously elected by the BBWAA in a regular election since Rabbit Maranville in 1954, and the only other one elected by the writers in his first year of eligibility besides Christy Mathewson in the Hall’s inaugural election in 1936 (he died in 1925). I have more on that topic in a separate feature in the pipeline, so enough said about that angle for now.

Here’s one to ponder: who will be the next starter elected on the first ballot? Backstage at MLB Network in Secaucus, where I made a pre-announcement appearance on MLB Now, Jayson Stark (himself a Hall of Famer this year, via the 2019 Spink Award) and I pondered the question and concluded that the first pitcher to have a real shot would be Justin Verlander, since neither of us sees CC Sabathia as a slam dunk. I’m not yet sure Verlander is a slam dunk, either (let’s see how he finishes his career) and so upon further consideration, I might choose Clayton Kershaw as the next lock. We shall see…

Mike Mussina (6th, 76.7%, up 13.2%)

I didn’t catch this on Tuesday, but the 20.3% Mussina received in his 2014 ballot debut is the third-lowest percentage of any modern player elected by the BBWAA. The only ones lower? Duke Snider, with 17.0% in 1970, and Bert Blyleven, with 17.5% in 1998. It took Blyleven 14 years and a substantial grassroots campaign to gain entry; that Mussina only needed six is both a reflection of the growing impact of advanced statistics on the process and a testament to how overstuffed the ballots have been. Nonetheless, he made double-digit gains in three years out of the four since that debut, and now he has to figure out which cap to wear on his plaque (I lean Orioles – he was a perennial Cy Young contender in Baltimore, and represented the team in all five appearances). The link between Blyleven and Mussina is significant in another way. It took 20 years between the elections of non-300 win starting pitchers Fergie Jenkins in 1991 and Blyleven in 2011. We’ve had four since then: Martinez and Smoltz in 2015, and Mussina and Halladay this year. It’s about damn time.

Curt Schilling (7th, 60.7%, up 9.7%)

If not for his noxious public persona — the reprehensible things he’s said on social media and the radio, the cozying to white supremacists, the conspiracy theories — he would have beaten Mussina to Cooperstown, because he had a one-year head start on the ballot, and a 9.3% lead as of 2016 (52.3% to 43.0%). Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, however, and the voters gave Schilling a little chin music in 2017. As it is, he’s regained his momentum, receiving his highest share of the vote to date and putting himself within striking distance next year, particularly as he’s the top returning candidate by voting percentage. Of course, his capacity for self-sabotage doesn’t guarantee a smooth path to 75%.

Roger Clemens (7th, 59.5%, up 2.2%), Barry Bonds (7, 59.1%, up 2.7%)

If you were hoping that the Gruesome Twosome would regain momentum — which certainly appeared possible, given that both were about 6.5 points ahead of last year’s pre-election results in the Ryan Thibodaux’s (@NotMrTibbs) Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker — the answer is apparently no. The pair had public-versus-private differentials of 25.5% and 25.6%, respectively, the largest in Tracker history; those have since dropped below 20 points as more ballots have been revealed, but that still doesn’t count as good news.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reached out to 60 voters who according to the Tracker excluded both players from their ballots. He got responses from 18, 15 of whom told him that they couldn’t ever see themselves changing their minds. Whether or not that group constitutes a representative sample of the electorate is an open question, but here’s some sobering data from the Tracker: each had net gains of just three votes from returning voters, with Clemens matching last year’s total and Bonds tripling his. First-time voters went 7-for-8 on both this year, while last year, they were 12-for-13 on Clemens and 11-for-13 on Bonds. But that math doesn’t help them as much as flipping a no to a yes.

In other words, it’s probably going to take another jolt akin to the 2016 decision to sunset inactive voters, and the 2017 election of Bud Selig, commissioner of the steroid era — which together helped Bonds and Clemens climb from the mid-30s to above 50% — for a substantial bloc of voters to change their minds. How about this: in 2022, their final year on the ballot, Alex Rodriguez, who served a full year suspension for PED violations, will be eligible for the first time, as will David Ortiz, who reportedly tested positive in the 2003 survey test, a result that commissioner Rob Manfred essentially waved off during the love-fest of the latter’s retirement tour, on the grounds of “legitimate scientific questions” about at least 10 samples, “issues and ambiguities were never resolved because they didn’t matter… [because] we knew we had enough positives to trigger the testing the following year.”

Rodriguez might be an obvious no in 2022, but neither Bonds nor Clemens are known to have failed the survey test or any other steroid test administered by Major League Baseball. As with Ortiz, both were beyond the league’s ability to discipline for any infraction, and let’s face it, they’re miles beyond Ortiz in terms of their overall caliber of play. How is somebody going to justify voting for Big Papi but leaving the pair off? We’ll find out.

Larry Walker (9th, 54.6% up 20.5%)

As noted on Tuesday, Walker posted the largest year-to-year gain of anybody on this year’s ballot and the ninth-largest in modern history; he’s also in the top five for two-year and three-year gains (32.7% and 39.1%, respectively). It’s a remarkable surge, no doubt, and again, the good news is that aside from current candidates, only Gil Hodges has received at least 50% and never gained entry.

Still, Walker finishing in the mid-50s instead of the high 50s was a sobering blow given the optimism of the past couple of weeks. He had a 25-point differential between published ballots (65.9%) and private ones (40.9%), the third-largest of any candidate this year after Bonds (25.6%) and Clemens (25.5%). Thus he fell short of the 57.1% projected by Adam Dore last week, an estimate that Dore described as “conservative.” Similarly, he fell short of the 57.2% median projected by Jason Sardell, the cycle’s most accurate projectionist. Can’t win ’em all.

As for next year, Walker needs to replicate this year’s jump almost exactly in order to get to 75%. Doing that would make for the third largest leap over the finish line in modern voting history, but here’s the thing: only one candidate has done so from below 60%, and he had a four-point head start on Walker.

Largest 1-Year Gains to Reach 75% on BBWAA Ballot
PLAYER Yr0 Pct0 Yr1 Pct1 Gain
Barry Larkin 2011 62.1% 2012 86.4% 24.3%
Vladimir Guerrero+ 2017 71.7% 2018 92.9% 21.2%
Yogi Berra 1971 67.2% 1972 85.6% 18.4%
Luis Aparicio 1983 67.4% 1984 84.6% 17.2%
Eddie Mathews 1977 62.4% 1978 79.4% 17.0%
Ralph Kiner 1974 58.9% 1975 75.4% 16.5%
Tony Perez 1999 60.8% 2000 77.2% 16.4%
Roberto Alomar 2010 73.7% 2011 90.0% 16.3%
Rollie Fingers 1991 65.7% 1992 81.2% 15.5%
Duke Snider 1979 71.3% 1980 86.5% 15.2%
Ryne Sandberg 2004 61.1% 2005 76.2% 15.1%
Since 1967 (annual balloting returned in 1966).

Like Walker, Kiner was in his final year of eligibility when he made that jump, and as we’ve seen in the cases of Raines and Martinez, voters tend to close ranks around players in their final turn — as well they should, given that all three of these candidates were robbed of five years of eligibility by the Hall’s unilateral rule change in 2014, when all three were scuffling for votes.

Omar Vizquel (2nd, 42.8%, up 5.8%)

The gain doesn’t look like much and no, he’s not a candidate that I support based upon his low JAWS ranking, but Vizquel is actually in very good shape as far as the voting goes. Only one modern candidate has polled above 40% in his second year and failed to gain entry via the writers, and — again, as the exception that seems to prove every Hall of Fame voting rule — that’s Hodges. Bet on some voters to consider him for the first time based upon their distaste for the fact that Jeter won five Gold Gloves with defensive metrics that are horrifying.

Fred McGriff (10, 39.8%, up 16.6%)

In his final year of eligibility, the Crime Dog posted the ballot’s second-biggest year-over-year gain, which enabled him to surpass 25% for the first time in his 10-year candidacy and approach 40%. It’s a showing not unlike that of Alan Trammell, who in 15 years on the ballot back in the olden days (2002-2016) didn’t break 20% until his ninth year, topped 30% for the first time in his 11th year, backslid into the low 20s but gained 15.8% in his final turn to top out at 40.9% — and then was elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in his first try. Between the final-year surge and the easy statistical hook of his 493 homers, McGriff seems likely to travel the same path in front of the 2022 Today’s Game Era Committee.

On MLB Now, Stark and I sat down with host Scott Braun to discuss McGriff and various other ballot matters:

Manny Ramirez (3rd, 22.8%, up 0.8%)

Manny is three ballots into his candidacy, with less than two points of variance between his high (23.8% in 2017) and low (22.0% last year). Shorter version: Two suspensions, no chance.

Jeff Kent (6, 18.1%, up 3.6%)

He’s short in my system, and I gather that his prickly personality made him less than a media favorite, but I remain shocked that the all-time home run leader among second baseman is six years into his candidacy and has yet to reach 20%. For what it’s worth, this is Kent’s best showing yet, and according to the Tracker team’s Anthony Calamis, he had 10 mentions from voters who said he would have been one of their picks if they had more than 10 slots, tied for the second-highest total. Six of those were McGriff voters, and recent history says that the conversion rate on voters using those spots is pretty good (expressing it mathematically is complicated). Like McGriff, Kent’s best chance at reaching Cooperstown is probably to build to 40-50% and then hope for better luck in front of the Today’s Game panel.

Scott Rolen (2nd, 17.2%, up 7.0%)

Rolen didn’t double the support he received in last year’s debut, but he did make some headway, and he stands to make more as the traffic thins out. Not only did he lead all candidates with 11 mentions in the “If I had space” category, but now that Martinez and Mussina are in, and Walker has only one more year, Rolen’s candidacy stands to benefit from being a focal point for attention from the statheads.

Billy Wagner (4th, 16.7%, up 5.6%)

With three relievers elected in the past two years (Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith) to bring the total enshrined to eight, standards are starting to come into focus. This time around, half again as many voters included Wagner as last year, and he tied with Kent with 10 “If I had more space” mentions. He should benefit from being the ballot’s top closer, for those who swing that way, but it’s still going to be an uphill climb.

Todd Helton (1st, 16.5%)

A Hall of Fame-related conversation at the Winter Meetings with a fellow writer (one who has a ballot) led to a gentlemen’s wager over Helton’s first-time percentage. With a pint of beer at stake, we agreed to set the over/under at 30.0%, and I — who eventually included the first baseman on my virtual ballot — took the under. That’s one less brew I’ll have to pay for next December. I’m a bit surprised that Helton did not fare quite as well as Walker in his debut (20.3%), though to be fair, this year’s ballot is deeper than 2011’s.

And don’t count him out just yet. He got nine mentions from the space cases, and I suspect next year’s focus on Walker — and that particular slot on the ballot freeing up for 2021, regardless of outcome — will benefit Helton in the long run as well.

Gary Sheffield (5th, 13.6%, up 2.5%)

He picked up a few votes among holdovers, and I know that two analytically included first-time voters, ESPN’s Christina Kahrl and Keith Law — both alums of Baseball Prospectus (as am I) — included him due in part to their suspicions over the extent to which his defensive metrics are such outliers. He went 0-for-6 among the other newcomers in the Tracker, however, and appears fated to remain in down-ballot limbo.

Andy Pettitte (1st, 9.9%)

Despite his high win total and strong postseason track record as part of the Torre-era Yankees dynasty, Pettitte did not make an auspicious debut. That almost certainly had far less to do with his appearance in the Mitchell Report and subsequent admission of HGH usage than it did his presence on a ballot with four clearly Hallworthy starters (the two elected, as well as Clemens and Schilling, warts and all). Other than postseason volume, which ain’t nothing, there’s no area where he stacks up as the best of the bunch, and it’s still a 10-slot ballot. I suspect his future is as a Kent or Sheffield-type candidate who gains enough support not to be in danger of falling off the ballot but doesn’t come anywhere close to 50%, let alone 75%.

Sammy Sosa (7th, 8.5%, up 0.7%)

Between the eye test and the New York Times report that he was on the 2003 survey test positive list (see above), Sosa can’t escape the perception that his career, and particularly his 609 homers, was purely PED-driven. He hasn’t been in double digits since his 2013 debut (12.5%) but he does have enough support to stick around on the ballot and remind the baseball world of the inconsistent standards voters have applied to PED-linked players.

Andruw Jones (2nd, 7.5%, up 0.2%)

Whether it’s due to ballot crowding, the quick fadeaway in his 30s, the post-career domestic violence allegation, or the Rule of 2,000 — nobody with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place in the post-1960 expansion era has ever been elected — Jones didn’t gain any traction. Still, it appears that the strength of his defensive metrics and position within the Braves’ dynasty will keep him on the ballot for further consideration.

Michael Young (1st, 2.1%)

Young fell below the 5% cutoff but did receive nine votes, including two from longtime Rangers beat writers Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News and T.R. Sullivan of Once upon a time, when ballots were less crowded and the process less scrutinized, such gestures of respect were commonplace. Grant, who took considerable heat for giving Young a first-place vote for MVP in 2011 (when Verlander beat out Jacoby Ellsbury), was prepared to to do the same for including him here, and explained his rationale at length, summarizing, “The Hall of Fame is a state of mind more than anything else, the qualifiers the things that make a player special in each individual fan and voter’s mind. In mine, Michael Young left an indelible mark on a franchise and the game. And if you want to laugh at me for that, it’s OK.” No laughs here, and no pitchfork.

Lance Berkman (1st, 1.2%), Roy Oswalt (1st, 0.9%)

Five votes for the former, four for the latter. There’s little doubt in my mind that both had Hall of Fame-caliber talent, but their bodies didn’t hold up long enough to yield careers that could stand out alongside those who lasted longer. Berkman, with 1,905 hits, is the latest victim of the Rule of 2,000, while Oswalt’s fate resembles that of 1980s Blue Jays great Dave Stieb, just as his career did. The good news is that the Astros are creating their own team Hall of Fame, and while this pair isn’t part of the inaugural class, there’s little doubt they’ll get their due soon.

Miguel Tejada (1st, 1.2%)

Between the various allegations connecting him to PEDs — the mention in Jose Canseco’s book, the desperation of Rafael Palmeiro trying to pin his own positive test on Tejada, the Mitchell Report mention, and finally his actual suspension for using a banned stimulant in 2013 — and the fadeaway in his mid-30s, Tejada never had a real shot at election. Nonetheless, the arc of his career, from its extreme poverty and age falsifying in the Dominican Republic to the highs and lows of the Moneyball years in Oakland to the big contract and the mess he got himself into later, is fascinating and instructive. “No one player encapsulates baseball’s modern era better,” wrote Sports on Earth’s Jorge Arangure in 2013, who called him “baseball’s version of Forrest Gump, an observer and participant in some of baseball’s most defining moments of the era.”

Placido Polanco (1st, 0.5%)

Not a Hall of Famer but a better player than you probably remember. Damn, could that guy pick it.

Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Travis Hafner, Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Darren Oliver, Juan Pierre, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis (1st, 0.0%)

As the great Vin Scully often reminded viewers, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” There’s no shame in being shut out on the ballot; that check box next to these players’ names is the reward for their unique, impressive careers.