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White Sox Extend Bummer’s Contract

Two months after extending Luis Robert, and less than a year after doing the same with Eloy Jiménez, the White Sox have locked in a contract for another young star, reportedly signing 26-year-old groundball specialist Aaron Bummer to a five-year extension worth a minimum of $16 million. The deal also includes options for Bummer’s 2025 and 2026 seasons, for $7.25 and $7.5 million, respectively, with $1.25 million buyouts in each year. If Bummer receives certain awards considerations, the final option year could be worth up to $10 million.

All told, the White Sox have guaranteed themselves a minimum of five and a maximum of seven years of Bummer’s services at a maximum cost of $32 million. Bummer has guaranteed himself $16 million. I suspect both parties will leave this deal feeling satisfied. As Bob Nightengale noted this is the largest extension given to a non-closer who has yet to qualify for arbitration in major league history. While the breakdown in the traditional closer role and the rise of elite sixth- and seventh-inning relievers makes that distinction somewhat less notable than it might have been a few years ago, this is still a major deal.

You may have already read Devan Fink’s detailed analysis of Bummer’s sinker earlier this month, but if you didn’t, here are the numbers that likely prompted the White Sox to put guaranteed money on the table: Bummer’s groundball rate in 2019 was 72.1% (second in the majors), he generated 14 runs on his sinker alone (also second), and he generated barrels on only 2.3% of batted ball events (third). Those numbers look a lot like those of another star reliever of recent vintage, Zack Britton, and it is indeed Britton who Bummer trailed in the first two categories. Read the rest of this entry »

Brewers Sign Brock Holt, Human Swiss Army Knife

That’s according to Ken Rosenthal, anyway, and the last time Ken got one of these signings wrong was never. We don’t have contract information yet, but you guessed two years and $8 million at the beginning of the offseason, and that sounds roughly correct to me. It’s possible that this late signing date is a clue that either the years or the dollars will be somewhat less than our expectation for them, but in the absence of any hard information, I’d bet there was enough interest in Brock Holt’s services that he hit what he was aiming for.

In Milwaukee, Holt will join a host of players competing for the role of Craig Counsell’s Favorite Son in spring training: Ryon Healy (who played first and third in 2019), Jedd Gyorko (first, second, and third), Eric Sogard (second, third, short, left, and right), and Luis Urías (second, third, and short) have already joined the Brew Crew this offseason. Holt, who did everything but pitch, catch, and play center field for the Red Sox last season, has been a more consistent hitter — especially over the last two seasons — than any of those four men, and so he probably has an inside track for a roster spot come April.

Given Milwaukee’s revamped outfield configuration — Christian Yelich in left (where he spent most of his time in Miami), some combination of Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl Garcia in center, and Garcia and Ryan Braun in right — Holt will likely pick up much of his playing time in the infield, I’m guessing primarily on the left side. Sogard (third base) and Urías (shortstop) are both stronger starters if their bats hold up, but the odds of that happening for both men seem reasonably low. I wouldn’t be shocked if the 350 or so plate appearances we’re projecting for Holt this year end up being low. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Holt gets most of his defensive chances at second base, depending on how Keston Hiura’s sophomore campaign proceeds. Read the rest of this entry »

Minor Leaguers To Be Paid More, Not Enough

Last Friday, Jake Seiner and Ben Walker of the Associated Press reported that Major League Baseball has opted to raise minor league player pay to, at minimum, $4,800 dollars a year. As usual, the change was announced unilaterally: minor league players are not unionized and cannot help but accept this compensation. Specifically, MLB decided to set minimum pay levels (not including spring training, which is unpaid, and not starting until the 2021 season) at:

  • $400/week ($4,800 for a three-month season) for Rookie or short-season (up from $290/$3,480)
  • $500/week ($10,000 for a five-month season) for Class A (up from $290/$5,800)
  • $600/week ($12,000 for a five-month season) for Double-A (up from $350/$7,000)
  • $700/week ($14,000 for a five-month season) for Triple-A (up from $502/$10,040)

Assuming that players work an eight-hour workday five days a week (which is an assumption you’d make only if you both knew nothing about how long minor leaguers work and also were feeling extremely generous towards the league), the new pay scale works out to an hourly minimum wage of $10, $12.50, $15, and $17.50, respectively. Assuming even 50 hours a week puts everybody below $15 an hour; 60 hours a week puts everyone below $12. And all of the scenarios assume either that players are independently wealthy or that they’ll fit their year-round conditioning and training in around finding some other way to make money seven or nine months out of the year. Read the rest of this entry »

San Francisco Signs Pence, Hamilton

I firmly believe that every baseball fan over 15 years of age — old enough to remember 2012 with some clarity — has a story about the day they fell in love with Hunter Pence, who signed a major-league deal with the Giants last week. Mine was the day, sometime in the late fall of 2012, that I watched his San Francisco teammates demonstrate, through the very best impressions they could muster, that they loved him too. From that day forward, I was a fan of every bug-eyed, gangly, corkscrewed swing. I watched with delight as Pence helped bring a third title to San Francisco in 2014 (his second), then in dismay as he faded to a 60 wRC+, -0.8 WAR nadir in 2018 that spelled the end of his first Giants run. In reporting on his 2019 deal with the Rangers, I wrote that:

I’m never optimistic about players’ ability to re-tool their games after 35 — this is increasingly a young man’s sport, and there’s precious little margin to get it right — but in Pence’s case I hope I am wrong, and that Pence makes the roster and contributes for Texas this year. Hunter Pence is not like many we’ve seen before in this game, and we need more like him.

I was wrong. Pence rode a revamped swing (discussed here by Devan Fink) to a .297/.358/.552 line across 316 plate appearances for the Rangers in 2019. Pence’s 128 wRC+ was the fourth-highest of his 13-year career and his best since 2013’s 135 mark. Pence’s improvement was driven not by an increase in contact rate (his 70.3% mark was unchanged from 2018) but by a marked elevation of his launch angle (to 10.1 degrees, after sitting at 5.7 last year), which led to a substantial increase in his fly ball rate (35.6%; second-highest in his career, again after 2013) and an even more dramatic increase in his HR/FB rate (to 23.1%, more than triple last year’s mark and by three points the best of his career). Read the rest of this entry »

Rockies Retain Story, Troubled Narrative

Last February, shortly after the Colorado Rockies agreed to pay Nolan Arenado $260 million to play baseball in Denver through the 2026 season, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale quoted the team’s franchise player as saying “I grew up here in this organization, so it feels like home in a way. I’ve been here since the tide has changed, and that’s a really good feeling.” The meta-story of that signing was that the Rockies had convinced Arenado that they were finally serious about building a contender around him, and it was that assurance (plus, of course, the $260 million) that convinced their generational star to sign his name on the dotted line.

We’re not even a year into that deal, and things have soured at Coors Field. The Rockies finished 2019 71-91, fourth in a soft-besides-the-Dodgers NL West, and until last week, their biggest offseason deal was signing Chris Owings to a minor-league contract. That by itself would probably be enough to alienate Arenado, but a reportedly disastrous offseason meeting between the Rockies star and GM Jeff Bridich led to a public rift that has yet to fully resolve itself. Bridich declined to answer media questions about the Arenado situation (or any other subject) at the team’s Fan Fest last week, and although Arenado worked to tamp down the public aspect of the story last week, it’s clear things aren’t over. Read the rest of this entry »

Angels Acquire Andriese From Arizona

With Anthony Rendon now under contract in Anaheim, our depth charts project Angels position players for 30.0 WAR — fifth-best in the major leagues, and within a half-win of second place. Anaheim pitching, however, is projected for just 13.1 WAR (eighth-worst). No team projected to finish in the top half in WAR is expected to finish with so little of their total coming from their arms (the Twins, who’re projected for 14.9 pitching wins and 45.2 overall, are closest). Given that imbalance, it’s not entirely unexpected that the Angels would spend this latter part of their offseason trying to get arms wherever they can. This week, they got Matt Andriese in a trade with the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league right-hander Jeremy Beasley.

Andriese, 30, has played in parts of the last five major-league seasons for the Rays and Diamondbacks but has yet to spend a full season at the major league level since making his professional debut in the San Diego system back in 2011. Last year, his first (and, as it turns out, only) season in Arizona, was also his first season pitching exclusively in relief. Andriese acquitted himself adequately in that role, posting an 85 FIP- and 107 ERA- over 70 2/3 innings, mostly ahead of Archie Bradley and Greg Holland. Perhaps most appealingly, he posted a 50.3% groundball rate in a season where the league average was just a touch below 43%. Read the rest of this entry »

Dodgers Add Latest Pitching Project in Jimmy Nelson

It’s not a new insight to point out that the Dodgers decided a few years ago that one helpful thing they can do with all their money is take fliers on a ton of injured or otherwise unreliable starting pitchers, only some of whom will work out. Other teams do this too, of course, but only the Dodgers do it at a scale that leaves their starting pitchers’ depth chart looking quite this crowded year after year:

Jimmy Nelson, row seven, is the newest addition to the Dodgers’ crop of injured arms, as he reportedly signed with Los Angeles for $1.25 million in guaranteed dollars with a litany of incentives and option years (up to $13 million over two years, according to reports). That structure has the effect of capping Nelson’s earnings through the end of 2021 if he comes back healthy — starting pitchers have signed for a median of $8.25 million a year so far this offseason, which puts Nelson’s cap of $6.5 million well below average — while committing the Dodgers to very little guaranteed money in the event Nelson fails to bounce back. Read the rest of this entry »

Cabrera, Nationals Come Back for More

Asdrúbal Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 (145 wRC+) in 146 plate appearances for the Nationals down the stretch in 2019, which I suppose is the kind of performance they had in mind when they reportedly signed him up for another year in D.C. last week. Then again, the fact that the deal was for just one year, and $2.5 million, suggests that they also had in mind the 79 wRC+ he put up in 368 plate appearances for the Rangers at the beginning of the season. At that price and term — which, unlike many this offseason, comes in under the AAV predicted by both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd ($6 million) when Cabrera placed 48th on our Top 50 Free Agents list earlier this winter — it won’t hurt the Nationals much if Cabrera is more like the player he was in Texas than the one he was in the sacred fall, but it sure would be nice. Anyway, we’ll all find out soon.

It’s probably easiest to understand this move as one intended to make Josh Donaldson’s representatives — not to mention the Cubs’ front office, who’re dangling Kris Bryant — a little less confident that the Nationals are dead-set on replacing the recently-departed Anthony Rendon with a player of similar caliber (see also their deal with Starlin Castro last week). I’m not sure the deal is all that effective on those terms, as any team would prefer to have Donaldson or (particularly) Bryant playing third base for them instead of Cabrera. But in the reasonably likely event the Nationals start the season with neither star in-house, this deal means they will not have to routinely start, say, Jake Noll at third base (though, to be fair, the more likely option is Carter Kieboom). Read the rest of this entry »

Boston Signs Peraza, Pérez With Moves Ahead

The Red Sox signed a pair of former top prospects to modest deals at the end of last week: José Peraza, 25, to a one-year deal worth $3 million; and Martín Pérez, 28, to a one year, $6 million deal with a club option for a second year and $6.25 million. Those moves appear targeted to replace the already-departed Brock Holt and the perhaps-soon-be-departed David Price, respectively, on the roster at a significant savings in cost. (Price is signed for $96 million over the next three seasons, and the Red Sox are apparently bound and determined to stay under the $208 million luxury tax threshold next year.)

The Peraza signing is the easiest to evaluate fully now, without the benefit of a full offseason’s worth of moves to put it in context. Holt, who has yet to sign with a team this offseason but now seems unlikely to return to Boston, played seven positions for the Red Sox last year and put up a perfectly respectable 103 wRC+ while doing so. Peraza only played six positions in 2019 — and one of them involved two stunt appearances on the mound — but he’s six years younger, quite likely cheaper, and there’s still hope that he’ll look more like the hitter who posted a .331 wOBA with the Reds back in 2016 than the guy who posted a .272 last season.

If Peraza can bounce back at the plate, the Red Sox can retain his services through arbitration (and at relatively low cost) all the way through the 2022 season. If he can’t, the Sox can non-tender him next season (or sooner) and all it’ll cost them is $3 million. I have my doubts that’ll happen, though. Peraza’s seen ever-fewer pitches inside the zone each year since 2017, as pitchers learn they don’t need to challenge him to get him out, and he was absolutely awful against the slider last year in a way that doesn’t leave me confident he’s due for a bounce back. Still, stranger things have happened, and Holt wasn’t going to be a Boston lifer. Read the rest of this entry »

Rangers Sign Lyles, Still Need Bats

The three pitching lines below all belong to Jordan Lyles, who just signed with the Texas Rangers for two years and $16 million:

Getting Better All The Time
2011-19 909.2 17.4% 7.9% .340 5.11 4.52
2018-19 228.2 23.7% 8.6% .316 4.13 4.43
2019, MIL 58.2 23.5% 9.2% .271 2.45 4.42

Now, maybe you’re not surprised that Lyles, 29, signed for $8 million a year. In our Top 50 Free Agents post, where we ranked Lyles 45th, you predicted two years and $12 million for the righty. $12 million isn’t $16 million, to be sure, but it’s in the ballpark. So perhaps you’re not surprised at this deal. I’m a little surprised, though. That’s because I think Lyles’ 2018-19 performance is far more likely to be indicative of his 2020-21 performance than his excellent run for the Brewers at then end of last season, and thought most teams would agree and offer him an accordingly modest deal this winter. The Texas Rangers, apparently, had other plans. Read the rest of this entry »