Who is trending up and down as baseball free agency nears?
The Globe talked to eight major league personnel — a combination of scouts, managers, and general managers — about which players will score in free agency and who won’t.
It’s all about impact. The Red Sox made two terrible free agent signings last offseason in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and are now trying to get out of both situations. That’s what you call negative free agent impact. Or in layman’s terms, a waste of money.
So, we asked eight major league personnel — a combination of scouts, managers, and general managers — about free agents. Based on those conversations, here’s our list of players trending up and down:
1. Daniel Murphy, 2B — There was a skeptical one or two who wondered whether we’re looking at Sandoval all over again. Sandoval was the World Series MVP for the Giants, then signed a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox. Murphy is scorching hot, no doubt. He’ll enter the World Series on a six-game home run streak.
“Obviously, he’s not going to be as hot as he’s been in the postseason, but he plays positions where his power plays well,” said an American League GM. “There are teams like the Dodgers and Yankees who need a second baseman. Others, like the Angels, need a third baseman, where he also plays. He’s going to be sought-after and get a five-year deal at around $75 million. Maybe more.”
Murphy also can play first base. So, he’s attractive to the Orioles, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Padres, and Tigers.
2. David Price, LHP — All eight agreed Price is the No. 1 pitcher out there. Age, experience, postseason experience (though most of it not good), and being lefthanded are reasons to throw a lot of money his way. The feeling is seven years, $210 million is fair. Some think Price won’t live up to it unless he goes somewhere he’s totally comfortable. Toronto seems to fit that description. The Dodgers, Cardinals, and Cubs are other possibilities.
3. Zack Greinke, RHP — He could exercise his opt-out clause by the end of the month. Our group thinks age (32) could be a deterrent, but one manager told us, “With his delivery, ability to pitch, a long-term deal won’t be a factor for him. He’ll be able to pitch into his late 30s even if he loses velocity.” One GM said Greinke is the closest current thing to Greg Maddux.
4. Jason Heyward, RF — Of the eight, five thought he’d be a very good free agent for a lot of teams, based on his age (27), production, and defense. Those against him cite a supposed lack of production. “You’re not getting a 30/100 player. You’re getting an 18/80 guy. That’s fine,” said an AL GM. “You’re getting great defense, but the offense is above average, not great.”
5. Chris Davis, 1B/DH/OF — Our panel would like to limit Davis to five years, but one scout said, “In the heat of the negotiations and fearing someone else will get him, this will likely get beyond what everybody wants. Scott Boras is the agent, so we may be looking at seven years.” The number nobody likes: 208 strikeouts. But they’ll take the 40-plus homers and 100 RBIs.
6. Yoenis Cespedes, OF — The numbers don’t lie. Cespedes produces, and while our group knows the other things that come with Cespedes, they believe a team will hold its nose and give him the five- or six-year deal at $100 million-$150 million. “He’s not the guy you’d ideally want to commit more than the $100 million to,” said an AL manager. “He doesn’t work hard on his defense. But he produces. The fact Cespedes could earn $120 million-$150 million is insane, but someone will do it.”
7. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP — Didn’t have a great season, but “he cares,” according to one National League scout. “He really competes. Tough guy. You take your chances with him. He’ll step up to the moment.”
8. Marco Estrada, RHP — With a 13-8 record and 3.13 ERA, Estrada has put himself on the radar. “A little buyer beware, but as effective as any starting pitcher down the stretch,” said one AL GM. “I would think Toronto gets him signed, but if they don’t, I’d say six or seven teams would be in the hunt on a four- or five-year deal in the $12 million-$15 million [a year] range.”
1. Johnny Cueto, RHP — Cueto is going to get a big contract, but he likely cost himself some money with a 4-7 record and 4.76 ERA in the regular season after being traded to Kansas City. And his postseason has been mostly bad, save for a strong outing against the Astros to help clinch the Division Series. There had been concerns about a physical issue, but his velocity hasn’t suffered. “He won’t get a Max Scherzer deal, but he’ll be around the Jon Lester [$155 million] area,” said an NL GM. “I know a few teams have scratched him off their list.”
2. Justin Upton, OF — When you mention his name, you get indifferent responses. “He’s a productive righthanded bat,” said an AL GM, “but you have to ask, do you devote a major contract to a guy who doesn’t move the needle enough?” Upton, said most of our panel, should be better, given his athleticism. “There’s something missing,” said the GM.
3. Alex Gordon, OF — Assuming Gordon turns down his $13 million player option, he’ll be a free agent. There’s nobody who doesn’t love Gordon, but committing multiple years at more than he’s making — say $15 million — isn’t appealing. One of our GMs indicated that with Gordon entering his age-32 year, he wouldn’t give him more than three-year deal at $36 million-$38 million. The Royals may be able to retain him if they want.
4. Scott Kazmir, LHP — Things were going great for Kazmir until he was traded to the Astros. He had a 2.38 ERA in 18 starts with Oakland. He was 2-6 with a 4.17 ERA in 13 starts with Houston. Being a lefty, our panel thinks Kazmir could get a three-year deal, but in the $10 million-$12 million range per year.
GETTING THEIR WORK IN
Innings eaters few, far between
Two hundred innings, considered the goal for a modern pitcher, was reached by only 28 hurlers this season, six fewer than in 2014.
Even Blue Jays mainstay Mark Buehrle did not get to 200 innings after 15 consecutive seasons doing so.
There were 34 200-plus-inning pitchers in 2014, 36 in 2013, 31 in 2012, 39 in 2011, and 45 in 2010. There was a spike in 2013, but for the most part the number has gone down.
There has, however, been an influx of young arms who have not been allowed to go 200 yet; the Mets staff, for instance. So we may see more 200-inning performers in 2016.
The White Sox were the only team to have three 200-plus-inning pitchers this season: Jeff Samardzija, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana. The Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke), Astros (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh), Braves (Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran), Nationals (Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann), and Cubs (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester) each had two.
The Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies (Cole Hamels did it with two teams), Tigers (David Price two teams), Reds (Johnny Cueto two teams), and Twins did not have one 200-inning pitcher.
The individual leaders were Kershaw with 232⅔ and Keuchel with 232. Arrieta threw 229 innings. Even the amount of innings for the top guys has gone down. In 2014, Price threw 248⅓ innings, and Cueto, Felix Hernandez, and Corey Kluber surpassed Kershaw’s total from this season.
Obviously, bullpen innings are increasing. Teams such as the Yankees designed their staffs to be relief-oriented. They expected their five starters would pitch reduced innings because the back of the bullpen was dominant.
For the most part, the strategy worked. The Yankees, who lost a wild-card playoff game, will likely fill a rotation spot through trade or free agency but basically continue with that philosophy, which has served the Royals well the last two years.
Bullpen innings are sometimes defined by deficiencies in starting pitching, but teams that emphasized shorter stints by starters and more bullpen help, such as the Royals and Yankees, are interesting. With their revamped bullpen, the Yankees went from 501⅓ bullpen innings in 2014 to 530⅔ this season.
The Royals were 26th in bullpen innings in 2014, when they began their run of dominance, but that increased to 539⅓ , which was fifth overall, in 2015.
Apropos of nothing
1. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, a color analyst on Braves telecasts, was impressed with catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s handling of the Atlanta staff. “He did a great job with the staff, the veterans that he caught and the younger pitchers he helped bring along,” said Glavine. “His experience back there really helped the younger pitchers out.” Pierzynski is expected to be re-signed. Pierzynski, who will surely transition to the broadcast booth when his playing days are over, accepted a $2 million deal last offseason.
2. Qualifications for manager: no experience needed. Here we go again. Scott Servais was hired as the Mariners manager, but he’s never managed. He was GM Jerry Dipoto’s assistant with the Angels. What gives? Dipoto had a horrible experience with Mike Scioscia in Los Angeles and seems to be making sure the man in the dugout listens to him.
3. “USA Baseball Online Education” was launched this past week. It’s a program that provides online courses for coaches, parents, and umpires that focus on various aspects of baseball. The initiative is endorsed by Major League Baseball.
4. One big spring training emphasis will be helping Jon Lester continue to get over his issues throwing to bases. One major league observer noticed that when Lester fields a ball, he tends to stand up straight and then throw, rather than throwing from the low position at which he fields the ball.
5. Gary Tuck, Boston’s former catching guru, had three lives with the Yankees. He was let go again a couple of weeks back, as he didn’t seem to fit the Yankees’ analytical approach. Tony Pena, who was the catching guy, and had those duties stripped when Tuck came back to the Yankees, will go back to being the catching instructor.
6. Speaking of the Yankees, don’t expect much in free agency. Their payroll will be tapped out, with no one coming off the books. GM Brian Cashman also seems committed to his young players. The Yankees were one of the top offensive teams for the first half, but production fell in the second half, which ultimately cost hitting coach Jeff Pentland his job. The Yankees expect a big comeback from Jacoby Ellsbury.
Updates on nine
1. Don Mattingly, former manager, Dodgers — Despite the NL West title, Mattingly’s style never seemed to mesh with the Dream Team front office, which is far more analytics-oriented. Mattingly always had a tough team to navigate, from Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, to this season with Yasiel Puig and a declining Carl Crawford. There are already rumors about Mattingly becoming the Yankees hitting coach, but he could have options. If he can coexist with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, that could be a possibility.
2. Larry Bowa, bench coach, Phillies — Bowa should be considered a managerial candidate in Miami, and anywhere else there is a vacancy. He’s not afraid to get into a player’s face, and that may be his downfall, but he’s a leader and has tremendous passion.
3. Matt Klentak, GM, Phillies — Klentak, a Medfield native, is expected to be named the Phillies’ GM, according to a major league source. Klentak had worked for Phillies president Andy MacPhail in Baltimore and had recently been the assistant GM for the Angels. Some Phillies staffers had thought former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was up for the job, but Cherington confirmed he never interviewed.
4. Rich Hill, LHP, free agent — At least two teams have their top advisers and scouts breaking down Hill’s last four starts with the Red Sox in an effort to see if they should believe their eyes. Hill went 2-1 overall with a 1.55 ERA. He struck out 10 batters in each of his first three starts, against Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore, then lost to the Yankees in an outing in which he lasted six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six. “Everyone needs a low-cost lefty starter,” said one AL scout who watched Hill three times live and has spent a lot of time watching video. “I saw a confident guy on the mound who felt like he could get anyone out he faced. He’s going to get some offers.”
5. Bob Geren, bench coach, Mets — Geren has wanted to return to managing after his stint in Oakland. With the high-profile nature of the Mets, Geren being Terry Collins’s righthand man might have gotten him back in the mix. Geren, 54, went 334-376 in parts of five seasons with the A’s.
6. Jason Varitek, special assistant, Red Sox — We mentioned a couple of weeks back that Varitek was going to be sought-after as a manager. Sure enough, he reportedly was offered the Mariners job by GM Jerry Dipoto, who has had his eye on Varitek since his first stint as a Red Sox scout, and then reconnected with Varitek when he was hired as a consultant to evaluate the Boston farm system. But Varitek turned it down. Cherington wasn’t surprised. “He’s been so consistent in saying he doesn’t want to jump into anything full-time until his kids are older,” said Cherington. “But he’ll be good when he’s ready.”
7. Matt Wieters, C, free agent — The Braves, Dodgers, Rays, Astros, and Mariners could bid for Wieters, who is a season removed from Tommy John surgery.
8. David Ross, C, Cubs — Ross said he will honor the final year of his contract and return next season. “It was a great ride,” Ross said. “It’s more sad we didn’t play well and [the Mets] played great. A lot of positives as I look back, but thought we had a legit chance at the World Series. I really wanted to get [Jon] Lester and [Jake] Arrieta another start.”
9. Tim Naehring, scout, Yankees — Naehring is about to get a major promotion, with the title being announced soon, according to a major league source. The Yankees’ assistant GM job is open, but Naehring has resisted a full-time, in-office position because of his family commitments.
From the Bill Chuck files: “In Paul Goldschmidt’s five years in the majors, his career batting average has risen: 2011 — .258; 2012 — .278; 2013 — .289; 2014 — .292; 2015 — .299.” Also, “Over the last three seasons, Lester has pitched 638 innings without issuing an intentional walk.” . . . Happy birthday, Joe Nelson (41), Pedro Martinez (44), Danny Darwin (60), John LaRose (64), and Chuck Schilling (78).
Meet the Mets
If the Mets win the World Series this year, they will have one thing in common with the franchise’s two other world champions: a young rotation. This year’s postseason rotation features a quartet with an average age of 25.0. Only seven times since 1960 has a World Series team had a rotation that averaged 25 years or younger, with the Mets doing it three times.