It feels like only yesterday that the Yankees snatched Mike Tauchman from the Rockies for a pittance and unleashed him on the AL East. In 2019, Tauchman was electric; his .277/.361/.504 slash line buoyed the Yankees in a season where they desperately needed it. Injuries (and 100 PA in the minors) kept him from playing a full year, but even in only 296 plate appearances, he managed 2.6 WAR, sixth among Yankees batters.
That performance didn’t carry over into 2020. Despite the team’s intermittent injury problems, the Yankees used him as a fourth outfielder and defensive replacement. He didn’t hit a single home run, a concise summary of what went wrong: his power disappeared overnight. By the start of this year, he was barely playing and out of minor league options, which makes last night’s development unsurprising: the Yankees traded him to San Francisco in exchange for Wandy Peralta and a player to be named later, as Jack Curry first reported.
Tauchman had lost his spot in the Yankees’ outfield, and it’s not hard to see why. Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are playing everyday, which left one outfield spot for three outfielders: Tauchman, Clint Frazier, and Brett Gardner. Tauchman and Gardner fulfill similar roles, and the team was giving Gardner the majority of the playing time while carrying no backup shortstop. Frazier is the only outfielder with options, but he’s playing far more than Tauchman, which meant Tauchman was the odd man out — the team needed to trade him to avoid exposing him to waivers. Read the rest of this entry »
The long Rougned Odor era in Texas has ended. On Tuesday, the Texas Rangers traded their second baseman, the incumbent since 2014, to the New York Yankees for minor league outfielders Antonio Cabello and Josh Stowers. The trade represents the final dismantling of the team’s longtime Odor-Elvis Andrus double play combo, a process that began last September when the cellar-bound team benched both players.
The interests are clear for both sides of this minor trade. The Rangers had already all but moved on from Odor despite the two seasons remaining on the six-year, $49.5 million contract he agreed to before the 2017 season. The second baseman didn’t even make the team’s final roster cuts this spring; he was designated for assignment last week. So getting two players in return for a guy they were willing to let go for free had to be attractive to the Rangers. In 2017, Odor was still just 23 and coming off two very solid seasons as the starter, albeit with some notable flaws. Odor’s power was always compelling, but his glovework was inconsistent, and though his contact rates weren’t that lousy, he still had abysmal strikeout-to-walk ratios. Odor never really developed an ability to leverage plate discipline into actual performance. For example, where the league tends to slug about .650 after 1-0 and 2-0 counts, Odor was only about 50 points above his career slugging percentage in these situations.
ZiPS didn’t anticipate much growth from Odor from age-23 on due to these issues, but thought he would at least plateau as a low-OBP hitter with excellent power for a second baseman and a below-average glove that wasn’t so abysmal as to force a move off the position. Read the rest of this entry »
Spiritually, the Orlando Arcia era in Milwaukee came to an end when the team acquired Luis Urías from San Diego in a four-player swap back in November 2019. Urías, then 22, had been one of the top prospects in the Padres’ farm system before his rookie eligibility expired the season prior and was expected to take over as the Brewers’ starting shortstop. Such a move would likely mean benching Arcia, a former top prospect himself who had put up rather anemic numbers in his first four big league seasons. Alas, Milwaukee’s starting infield hit a number of road blocks in the year that followed that trade, and when all was said and done, Arcia appeared in all but one of the team’s games last year, as well as each of the first four in 2021.
Now, it would appear that era has formally come to a close once and for all. On Tuesday, the Brewers traded Arcia to the Braves, who immediately optioned him to the team’s alternate training site as the infielder undergoes necessary COVID protocols. Two pitchers, Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel, were sent to Milwaukee to complete the deal.
Braves acquiring Orlando Arcia from Brewers, source tells @TheAthletic. First on talks: @JonHeyman and @ByRobertMurray.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 6, 2021
Braves acquiring Orlando Arcia from Brewers, source tells @TheAthletic. First on talks: @JonHeyman and @ByRobertMurray.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 6, 2021
When word first got out that the Brewers were discussing a deal involving Arcia, there was naturally speculation that the team on the other end might be San Diego. After all, just night before, the Padres had watched in horror as franchise shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. crumpled to the ground after injuring his left shoulder following through on a swing, and as of Tuesday morning remained unaware of how much time he was likely to miss. San Diego has ready replacements for Tatis in-house, but for a team as committed to accumulating depth as the Padres are, the timing of the news seemed all too convenient. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Friday, the Dodgers traded reliever Adam Kolarek and right-fielder Cody Thomas to Oakland in exchange for third baseman Sheldon Neuse and right-hander Gus Varland. While it’s unusual to see a division favorite flip a major leaguer for prospects with another contender, the move makes sense for both parties. The A’s get a little better in the here and now, while the Dodgers can dream on Neuse as another breakout candidate for the club’s stellar player development staff to work with.
Kolarek is the lone established big leaguer in this swap. The sidearming southpaw has been a stable part of the Dodgers’ bullpen since his acquisition from Tampa Bay 18 months ago, running an 0.88 ERA over 30 innings of work in Los Angeles — a fun bit of trivia that shouldn’t distract from otherwise normal peripherals. He primarily works with a high-80s, low-90s sinker out of a funky slot and has generated a 62% ground-ball rate over his career. Between that, a supposedly deadened ball this year, and a cavernous new home park, he may never allow a homer again.
He joins a very good bullpen in Oakland. The Athletics’ relief corps had the league’s best ERA and third-best FIP in 2020, and that group was pretty good the previous two seasons as well. Still, Kolarek fills a hole, as the ‘pen otherwise leaned heavily toward right-handers; Jake Diekman is the only other lefty likely to crack the Opening Day roster. With the A’s set to contend again this year, Kolarek adds depth to a strong unit that should see plenty of work in relief of Oakland’s young starters.
Read the rest of this entry »
The Kansas City Royals acquired outfielder Andrew Benintendi from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night as part of a three-way trade that also saw the New York Mets get involved. Heading to the Mets is outfield prospect Khalil Lee, while going back to Fenway is outfielder Franchy Cordero and pitcher Josh Winckowski. Also going to the Red Sox are three players to be named later, two from the Royals and one from the Mets.
It’s easy to see why the Royals would be highly interested in Benintendi. Most of the team’s additions this winter have been veterans in smaller deals, seemingly for the purpose of prioritizing short-term wins in 2021 and perhaps snag a Wild Card spot. While I’m unconvinced that the strategy will actually bear fruit this year, this is another move consistent with that plan. Adding Benintendi to Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, Michael A. Taylor, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland makes the Royals more entertaining than they were last season. Of course, Benintendi was a much hotter property back in 2018, hitting .290/.366/.465, enough for 4.4 WAR, before slumping to a .266/.343/.431, 2.0 WAR line in 2019. 2020 was an entirely forgettable four-for-52 campaign that lasted just 14 games due to a rib cage strain. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the weekend, the Rangers sent long-time shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Aramis Garcia, and $13.5 million dollars to the Athletics for DH Khris Davis, catcher Jonah Heim, and pitching prospect Dane Acker. The deal was surprising for a few superficial reasons (two fan favorites being traded within the AL West), but when you strip away the uniforms, it makes sense for both clubs.
The biggest names in the trade are Andrus and Davis, but the biggest pieces in the deal are Andrus and Heim. The Athletics needed to find a way to replace departed shortstop Marcus Semien, and Andrus joins a host of potential internal options (Chad Pinder, Sheldon Neuse, Vimael Machín, maybe Nick Allen fairly soon) who are unlikely to equal Semien’s production but might be enough to keep the A’s in the postseason hunt.
After an outlier 2017 during which he homered about as many times as he had in the previous four seasons combined, Andrus returned to Earth in ’18 and ’19, producing like a low-end regular at shortstop before he had a lousy 2020 season based on surface-level stats. But in addition to whatever COVID-related personal weirdness may have contributed to his lackluster year, there’s underlying evidence that he was his typical self and was instead subject to small sample variation caused by limited playing time. Andrus played in just 29 games last year and ran a .200 BABIP, but his average exit velocity and HardHit% stayed the same, and his .390 expected Slugging%, per Baseball Savant, was higher than his actual career mark of .370.
Andrus did struggle in other areas that might indicate real physical decline. Again per Savant, he was nearly a full tenth of a second slower from home to first, his top-end speed (Sprint Speed) fell, and he regressed (on paper) defensively. But I don’t believe Elvis is actually dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, because he’s 32, the weird start-stop-sprint sequencing of the 2020 season had an outsized impact, and that playing for a non-competitive team didn’t aid his level of motivation. A normal lead up to the season and playing for a contending club could lead to a revival, to say nothing of the new financial motivators that are now at play. Remember, Andrus had to waive a no-trade clause to go to Oakland; he wants to be there. And per the terms of the contract he signed with Texas, what was supposed to be a 2023 mutual vesting option is now a vesting player option that Andrus can trigger by either accruing 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 appearances in ’21 and ’22 combined. He’s owed just over $14 million each of the next two years, while the player option year in 2023 is set for $15 million. I believe the A’s will be getting the best of whatever is left of Elvis Andrus as he chases control of that vesting option.
It was bound to happen once the odds shifted in favor of baseball starting on time, but the offseason has ramped up quickly over the last week. Some of the top free agents have come off the board, and a five-player trade, some smaller signings and all sorts of 40-man roster shuffling took place. Buried among it all was a quick move by the Cardinals on Thursday, as they sent outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Angels per Jon Heyman, with St. Louis picking up all but $1.75 million of his 2021 salary.
It’s not a transaction that really moves the needle for either team in terms of the standings. And it’s not a transaction that creates any kind of real financial flexibility for future moves. Instead, this is a deal that illustrates how one player may fall on different points on the insurance vs. opportunity spectrum depending on which uniform he’s suiting up in.
I’m not here to argue that Dexter Fowler is that good now. He wasn’t a star necessarily, but he spent a nice-sized chunk of the last decade firmly in the “very good” category. He got on base and had some sneaky pop, and from 2011-17 averaged a .370 OBP with an .800-plus OPS and a 116 wRC+. And while he was certainly athletic enough to be a good center fielder, but he’s never been a good defender. His jumps and routes have always been substandard, and his habit of catching the ball at his chest has driven fundamentals-focused coaches insane for 13 years now, though he at least does tend to catch it. I remember Fowler’s 2014 campaign with the Astros and how I’d wince every time the ball was hit his way. I’d hoped to find a video to illustrate this tendency, and it didn’t take long. I thought I might need to go through a few videos from MLB’s vault to uncover a good example, but it was right there in the first video provided, his last putout of the 2020 season.
Hey everyone, and welcome to the convergence of two recurring segments. It’s the highly awaited crossover between “Can You Believe the Cardinals Got Nolan Arenado for That?” and “Let’s Value Gimmicky Contracts,” two columns I almost assuredly enjoy writing more than you enjoy reading.
Let’s get the deferred money part out of the way first, because while it’s obviously very important to the Rockies and Cardinals, it has nothing to do with Arenado’s decision-making. He’s getting his cash, and whether the check says Monfort or DeWitt, the cash still spends the same. It won’t affect his decision on whether to rip the whole contract up.
As Jeff Jones reported, Arenado agreed to modify his contract as part of the trade. In 2021, he was due $35 million. Now, he’ll receive $15 million this year, paid directly by the Rockies. He’ll also receive $20 million in deferred compensation, regardless of whether or not he opts out. If he’s still under this contract, that money will be sent to the Cardinals, who will then pay it to Arenado. If he opts out, the Rockies will pay him the $20 million directly.
Finally, if Arenado doesn’t opt out, the Rockies will be on the hook for the $16 million he’s due in 2027. That’s the new year that the Cardinals agreed to as part of the trade, and while it’s unclear exactly why the Rockies chose to pay that part rather than some pro-rated portion of earlier salaries, here we are.
For the Cardinals, this is a great fit. They’d been acting as though cash was a key constraint this year, and getting a year of Arenado at no cost (literally, no monetary cost!) does a good job of making the short-term books work. In the long run, they’re paying him nothing for one year (if he opts out after 2021), $35 million over two years (if he opts out after 2022), or $164 million over seven years.
With that covered, let’s talk about Arenado’s options. The structure is as straightforward as it gets for these kinds of things. After 2021, Arenado will have the option to walk away from the entire deal and become a free agent. If he opts to remain in St. Louis, he’ll get another chance to wash his hands of the deal after 2022. If he still wants to stay, then he’ll be under contract until after the 2027 season.
When Arenado signed his extension two years ago, I covered a probabilistic way of thinking about the value. In the interim, a few things have happened. First, Arenado had a down 2020. Second, Dan “Dr. ZiPS” Szymborski gave me a long-term forecast for Arenado that beats my generic aging expectations. Finally, I’ve added a few bells and whistles to the option model in the interim. For the most part, though, we’re just running it back.
To calculate the value of an opt out, we need a few things. First, a central projection for how good a player will be in the future. ZiPS is all over that. Here’s the next five years of Arenado’s projections:
I’ll assume a standard aging curve after that, which gets us a central tendency for how his career will go.
Next, we need to apply variance. I’ve found in previous studies that projections for players who fit Arenado’s mold — mid-career and projections above 2 WAR — vary with a standard deviation of roughly 1.4 WAR from year to year. We’ll start with projections as a baseline, but to figure out the value of an option — the right but not obligation to do something — we’ll have to simulate 10 million or so different futures, then work out what happens on average.
Finally, we need to figure out how to translate Arenado’s projections into a potential new contract. Converting WAR to dollars misses some team-building effects, and as Craig Edwards showed last year, it’s not as simple as applying a linear conversion. Still, it’s my model, and it’s just for Arenado, not for the dang league as a whole. Let’s start with $8 million per win.
While we’re varying projections, we also need to vary the cost of a win. I assumed that the cost of 1 WAR will increase by an average of $250,000 per year, but with a standard deviation of $800,000. In plenty of years, the cost of a win will go down, even if the overall cost increases over time. There might be, say, a global pandemic, or a shortened season with no fans… wild nonsense like that.
Finally, we get down to brass tacks. When the player reaches his opt out, there’s a simple calculation. Take his new median projection, age it down as appropriate, and come up with a WAR projection for the remaining years of the contract. Multiply that number by the cost per win that we simultaneously calculated, and you have the contract that Arenado would sign, in a perfectly efficient market, if he opted out. I added one quick sanity check: if it’s within $10 million dollars of breaking even, Arenado won’t leave. That represents the uncertainty of finding a new contract, as well as the benefits of familiarity.
If there were only one opt out, our calculation would be simple. After one year, we simply apply an aging penalty and a random change in projection. Then, we use that to price out a new contract. With only one year before an opt out, things are simple like that.
In Arenado’s case, the odds are stacked in favor of him declining the opt out. The average situation (no change in projection) sees him with a $101.5 million contract after this year. He’d need to raise his 2022 projection by roughly 1.5 WAR to merit a contract that would be worth opting out for. How often does that happen? Roughly 14% of the time.
Let’s look at it more thoroughly. Here’s how much he projects to make in each scenario, including the $35 million he’s making in 2021 regardless:
In that sense, the opt out already in Arenado’s contract is “worth” $6 million. It could be worth more, though. Replace our forecasts with the ZiPS forecasts that ignore 2020 (they used 2019’s rate stats again), and instead things get a little spicy:
Hey, look! If Arenado were projected to be a bit better — and again, injury has at least something to do with why he’s not — then his option would be worth more. Neat stuff!
That’s not why you’re here, though. Or, maybe it is, but that’s not what Arenado’s contract looks like anymore. In agreeing to head to St. Louis, Arenado gained an extra opt out after the 2022 season.
It’s slightly tricky to model nested opt outs like this, where the second one can only be exercised if the first isn’t. In practice, the decision won’t be overly complex. After 2021, Arenado and his agents will model something that looks a lot like the calculations I did above, valuing his existing contract based on his current projections and including a 2022 opt out. That number will come out to something higher than $180 million, because some amount of the time, he’ll opt out after 2022 and get a raise.
With that number in hand, they’ll approximate what he could get on the open market and compare the two. If he thinks he can get more now, on the open market, than the value of his existing contract inclusive of the opt out, he should leave. Otherwise, he should stay and wait the extra year to see what happens.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work well in my framework. In each of my 10 million simulations, computer Arenado would need to run 10 million simulations to work out the value of his option using this Monte Carlo method. That comes out to one hundred trillion simulations, and it doesn’t even add much precision for our trouble. Instead, I’m just setting the cutoff higher; Arenado will need $15 million in prospective gains to pull the trigger on opting out after year one.
How does this change things? Less than you’d think. I previously calculated that Arenado would opt out 14% of the time; he now opts out 12.4% of the time in year one. With more time to vary, and thus a higher percent chance of improving enough to opt out, he also has an 8.2% chance of opting out after 2022. All together, that looks like this:
In the scenarios where Arenado opts out after 2022, he is, on average, quite good. This makes sense, because he’s only opting out in the best 8% of scenarios. If he muddles along, he’s staying. If he has a late-career renaissance, it only stands to reason that he’ll be more valuable. All told, the two opt outs add a projected $13 million to the value of the deal — not bad!
Once more, let’s plug in a more optimistic view of Arenado and see what shakes out. This is Dan’s pre-2020 version, where he’s projected for 5 WAR in 2021:
Again, the better Arenado is now, the higher the chance he opts out, and the more the second opt out is worth to him. In the base case ZiPS projections, a second opt out added roughly $6 million to Arenado’s expected earnings. In this pre-injury case, a second opt out would add more than $17 million.
That’s the gory math of the way this complex contract works. In practice, however, Arenado seems likely to take the Clayton Kershaw route. Kershaw, too, had the choice of opting out of his contract early and becoming a free agent. He used that leverage to get the Dodgers to offer him a new contract, avoiding free agency but monetizing his ability to leave. Even if Arenado improves this year and next, that seems like the most likely eventuality.
What’s an opt out worth? In Arenado’s case, it’s real money in expectation. Add that to the extra contract year that he snagged as part of the deal, and it’s easy to see why the player’s union was okay with him taking deferrals in 2021. Remember, though: even in the scenario where he’s at his best, he still leaves less than half the time. It’s valuable despite being unlikely, and that’s the magic of options.
For years, there’s been one refrain in Anaheim: get Mike Trout some pitching help. The last time an Angels pitcher accrued 4 or more WAR was Garrett Richards in 2014, and there’s been a carousel of arms in the half-decade since. Yesterday, the Angels wholly misunderstood that refrain, sending Jahmai Jones to Baltimore in exchange for professionally cromulent starter Alex Cobb.
Cobb, who is in the last year of a four-year, $57 million contract, reached free agency after years of quiet competence. In the three intervening years, he’s alternated between being competent or hurt. He gets to it in a strange way — few strikeouts, fewer walks, and enough grounders to blot out the sun — but it adds up to something a little worse than average but significantly better than replacement level.
For the Angels, that may or may not be a meaningful upgrade to start the season. Shohei Ohtani will return in 2021, but certainly not for the whole season. When he does, he’ll likely be part of a six-man rotation. The top three starters will be Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, and new acquisition José Quintana. That leaves two spots for other pitchers. Before the acquisition of Cobb, that meant Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval. Both are interesting, albeit unproven, options. Read the rest of this entry »
It was never going to be enough for one of the more electrifying players in the world, but allow me to sing one part of the harmony panning the Rockies’ return for Nolan Arenado. As I was on the phone working on prospects lists in the days before the trade’s prospect details were finalized, casual conversation with scouts and front office folks indicated that both Arenado’s public request for a trade as well as Rockies ownership’s supposedly mediocre financial situation made it so that teams pursuing the third baseman were really leveraging Colorado into taking an underwhelming prospect package, knowing that the front office (which is different than ownership) would have no choice but to trade him, and soon. While I can’t know what other offers the Rockies received or how those prospect packages compared to the one they got, which we’d really need to know to truly evaluate this or any trade, it certainly isn’t an exciting group. They’re 40 FV prospects who I think can be big league role players, but none are potential stars, and there may not even be a regular among them. I think you could argue this group does better to mitigate risk through quantity than, say, the prospects in the Joe Musgrove trade, but the best piece in the Musgrove trade (Hudson Head, a 45 FV) is two full FV grades better than anyone in this deal. And St. Louis got Nolan Arenado.
But let’s talk about these players — Austin Gomber, Elehuris Montero, Mateo Gil, Tony Locey, Jake Sommers — and then the future of this bizarre Rockies organization. The player in this deal with the most obvious physical talent is 22-year-old 3B/1B Elehuris Montero, who spent the year at the Cardinals’ alternate site. He peaked as a 40+ FV prospect after his 2018 performance (.322/.381/.529 at Low-A) but I backed off of him after spending an extended period watching him in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. His approach is a problem. During some of his Fall League starts, Montero saw five pitches over the course of an entire game. During the regular season, he averaged just shy of 2.5 pitches per plate appearance. For comparison’s sake, among big league hitters with at least 200 PAs in 2019, Willians Astudillo ranked last in pitches per PA with 2.9; no other big leaguer was under three. From a hitting talent perspective — the bat speed, primarily — Montero has everyday upside, but corner bats with approach issues are terrifying prospects. Read the rest of this entry »