The absence of a new collective bargaining agreement is going to cause problems for a few big-market teams that intend to be big buyers, because they won’t know what the luxury tax threshold will be until the new CBA is in place.
The current CBA, which expires Dec. 1, has a $189 million payroll threshold, so you can see why teams such as the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers would be hesitant in signing a big-ticket player until they know the actual luxury tax figure.
The general feeling is that the luxury tax threshold will go up, but by how much? There’s been speculation that $200 million or $210 million could be the figure. But if a team signs a big-money free agent prior to the new CBA, it could face unwanted penalties should the luxury tax threshold be lower than expected.
Agents who represent elite free agents such as Edwin Encarnacion and Yoenis Cespedes are a little worried that the market may develop late because of this uncertainty.
Commissioner Rob Manfred had hoped to have a new agreement in place by the end of the World Series. Now we’re beyond the general managers meetings, when player acquisition discussions start. On Dec. 2, a day after the current CBA expires, the Winter Meetings are on tap in Washington. That’s when trades and signings usually come to fruition. If there’s no new CBA, talks will certainly go on but may not be finalized for a while.
There’s always the chance an agreement is worked out by then, but while everyone involved expresses optimism of an agreement happening sooner rather than later, you do hear whispers about one or two major issues holding up the process.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said at the GM meetings that “it would be nice to know what the rules are.” Those rules will help determine whether the Red Sox pursue a more expensive DH such as Encarnacion, or whether they need to think cheaper, like Carlos Beltran or Detroit’s Victor Martinez (trade).
Sellers don’t seem to be quite as affected by this, but even they have a stake in the new rules because they’re selling to the buyers. The Tigers, for instance, are trying to pare payroll and have offered up their higher-priced veterans, including Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.
The new luxury tax threshold also makes a difference to medium-market teams, which may have just one big offseason move to make and would need to know how much they can and should spend.
Tigers GM Al Avila and White Sox GM Rick Hahn are looking to sell big-name players.
Avila isn’t focusing too much on the luxury tax because he knows that over the next three years he’s going to gradually sell off Detroit’s high-priced assets. And he said he’s not going to force the issue. If teams are interested, great, he’ll try to work out a deal. If not, he said he doesn’t mind carrying Cabrera or Verlander on the payroll. But the problem now is, a delay in the new CBA could hinder his ability to start the process this season.
“I don’t know what [the luxury tax threshold is] going to be,” Avila said. “We’re going to make this change in our business philosophy. We were just trying to get younger and whatever that ends up being, it ends up being. The market will decide what will happen. This is probably going to be a three-year process. It starts this winter.”
Avila said the Tigers haven’t been able to do what the Indians did at the trade deadline and get a game-changer such as Andrew Miller because they didn’t have the young players to pull it off. Avila wants to sell off, get younger, and get to the point where he can pull off a Miller-like deal if needed.
Hahn is in a little better position in that his big prize, Chris Sale, has three controllable years left at reasonable money (about $38 million). He also has Jose Abreu, who can opt out of his current contact (which runs through 2019) into arbitration. Abreu was scheduled to earn $12.2 million in 2017 but could do better in arbitration after his third consecutive 100-RBI season.
The Blue Jays, feeling they’ll lose Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in free agency, struck quickly to sign Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million deal, giving themselves cost certainty by signing a lesser-paid DH.
BUILT TO LAST?
Epstein has Cubs on stable track
Theo Epstein is likely headed to the Hall of Fame after winning his third World Series with two lovable losers in the Red Sox and Cubs, who went 86 and 108 years, respectively, between championships.
Epstein learned from his Boston experience that building a dynasty is tough, but with a new five-year contract in hand, why not give it a try in Chicago?
“I feel really lucky to be a part of two great franchises. I’m lucky to be working in major league baseball and showing up to a ballpark every day to work. Winning makes you realize how wonderful the feeling is and it makes you want to do it again,” he said.
With a young roster and superb resources, there’s no reason Epstein’s Cubs can’t keep winning. He’s got plenty of experience from the “year after” hangover that plagued the Red Sox. He also knows that key players leave and that you can’t stand pat with your roster.
He will lose the valuable David Ross, who is retiring, but Epstein said, “I think because we have young players who have now gone through the process and know what it takes to win a World Series, I probably don’t have to search for that guy like David that was such a big part of what we did. I think he really taught our players how to win and what it takes. I have faith that our guys will know what it takes going forward.”
He has to decide whether to re-sign free agent closer Aroldis Chapman or whether to spend the resources someplace else.
Epstein said that after winning you can take more chances in roster-building and the draft. You can be a little bolder. Epstein knows how difficult it is to sustain excellence. But at least he now has the experience through trial and error of knowing what to avoid.
Epstein said he has to pinch himself every day since the Cubs won. It was his dream. And it came true, which is why people are talking about the Hall of Fame.
“I give myself plenty of credit in that I still have a chance to screw it up, so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “It means a lot that people I respect would say that. It’s a reflection of great organizations I’ve been able to work for. There’s still a lot to accomplish for fans of Chicago and baseball.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Jed Hoyer has it pretty good in Chicago working under Theo Epstein. But he does acknowledge that he would like to run his own team again, as he did in San Diego as GM. “The structure wouldn’t work without Theo,” Hoyer said. “He gives me a lot of autonomy because he trusts me and we’ve been together for so long. It was easier for me to transition to having been ‘the guy’ in San Diego. My experience with other GMs, making trades, dealing with agents, making deals certainly put me in a good position. I’m just happy I’ve been able to build this with Theo and that we put this Hall of Fame issue to bed. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. He deserves it. He’s the best in the game. I’m fortunate to have been able to work with him. I like being part of a group. At some point I would relish [being in charge] again. I aspire to that. But I’m in no hurry. I’ve had opportunities to have that role and I turned them down to stay in Chicago. We had a real talented group back in the day in Boston. I hope all those guys are running teams someday because it means we did our job well.” Hoyer, 43, recently signed a five-year extension with the Cubs.
2. The Diamondbacks quietly hired Jared Porter, the former pro scouting director for the Red Sox and Cubs, as third man behind Mike Hazen and Amiel Sawdaye. His official title is assistant GM and senior vice president. Porter hails from Duxbury.
3. Giants GM Bobby Evans will focus on the back end of the bullpen this offseason. “We need to be clear who’s finishing our games. That’s the area where we don’t want to have any doubts. The nice thing for us is we can go different levels in the trade market or free agent market. We’ll have numerous options as to how we stack it up,” Evans said. Mark Melancon is frequently mentioned, but the Giants may also take a strong look at Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen as well in free agency, or explore a trade for White Sox closer David Robertson.
4. Future non-playing Hall of Famers — Brian Sabean, Bruce Bochy, Epstein, and Terry Francona.
5. Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said of Melancon, “He fit into our clubhouse beautifully. He was a great teammate.” But Rizzo also talked up in-house candidates or less-expensive options in free agency to fill the closer role. “It’s a deep group in free agency, so you don’t have to go after that elite group to fill your needs,” Rizzo said.
6. There was a time when you thought there was no better center fielder in baseball than Jackie Bradley Jr. But quite frankly, his play slipped a tad this year and he finished behind Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar in defensive metrics. While sporting a great arm, some of Bradley’s throws were off the mark. He was not recognized by either Rawlings Gold Glove or Fielding Bible this year.
7. How Ian Kinsler got the AL’s Gold Glove at second base over Dustin Pedroia is a head-scratcher.
8. Is Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado the best player in baseball? Think about it. Great fielder and a great power hitter.
9. Brock Holt’s value is pretty high because of his ability to play multiple positions, a skill all teams are seeking in young players now. But the older Holt gets, the less valuable he’ll be in that role, which tends to wear players down.
10. The AL Central is an interesting division. The Royals, Tigers, and White Sox are looking to turn over their rosters. The Royals may try to give it one more go-around. The Indians will look to sustain their success. The Twins are looking to take the next step.
Updates on nine
1. Jose Bautista, OF/DH, free agent — The Red Sox are a potential landing spot. Bautista loves Boston, loves Fenway, hits well there (.972 career OPS), and has strong relationships with John Farrell and Brian Butterfield from their Toronto days. Also on the radar are Texas, Houston, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Atlanta. The feeling is Bautista won’t accept Toronto’s qualifying offer and that he will get a multiyear deal somewhere.
2. A.J. Pierzynski, C, free agent — Braves president of baseball operations John Hart thinks Pierzynski, who turns 40 on Dec. 30, wants to keep playing. It just may not be in Atlanta. Whether a team takes a chance on Pierzynski, a decent lefthanded-hitting catcher, remains to be seen. Pierzynski, according to Hart, doesn’t want to retire. The outspoken catcher also has a big future in the broadcast booth.
3. Shohei Otani, OF/RHP, Nippon-Ham Fighters — This marvelous two-way player likely won’t be posted this season, but it seems inevitable that the 22-year old righthanded pitcher and lefthanded hitter is destined to be the next great Japanese player in MLB. He recently led the Ham Fighters to the Japan Series title. Otani throws high 90s to 100 and was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings this past season. He also hit .322 with 22 homers, 67 RBIs, and a 1.004 OPS. Would a major league team allow him to pitch and play the field? It could be a prerequisite for Otani to sign with a team. Otani can be posted at any time, but mostly likely look for next year as a real possibility.
4. Mike Hazen, GM, Diamondbacks — Hazen said he has been told by ownership that he must keep the payroll around the same as last season (around $100 million), which means Hazen won’t have a lot of room to make big-ticket acquisitions. He also confirmed that he has a gentleman’s agreement with Dave Dombrowski not to raid the Red Sox coaching staff or front office staff further. “We are grateful Dave allowed us to bring in Amiel [Sawdaye] and Torey [Lovullo].”
5. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds — It appears Votto and his humongous contract will stay in Cincinnati unless, of course, Toronto comes calling. Votto has a no-trade clause and is owned more than $170 million. Reds GM Dick Williams said hasn’t spoken to Votto about waiving the no-trade and that he has not had any substantive trade talks with any team. “Joey is a guy we’re building around and we’re not in any conversations with anyone,” said Williams. “He’s so valuable in teaching our young guys. I forsee him being a part of what we’re trying to do.” Would they keep Votto as a draw? “We’ve traded away a lot of players we’ve drafted and developed. He’s one of the few that remains. There’s a sentimental connection with fans no doubt. But it doesn’t have anything to do with attendance and draw. It’s about performance. He delivers.”
6. Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals — Will the Nationals try to re-sign Harper to a Giancarlo Stanton-like deal? GM Mike Rizzo said, “We’d love to have him long term, but that’s a two-way street.” Harper had a significant fall from his MVP season in 2015. He hit .243 and had an OPS of .814 and hit only .226 in the second half. “The thing that goes unnoticed is he played outstanding in right field, stole 20 bases for the first time in his career. All aspects of his game improved. He struggled in the second half of the season, but there’s not one team that doesn’t have his name circled on the advance report,” Rizzo said.
7. Trae Turner, CF/SS, Nationals — Rizzo expects Turner to start in center field next season, though there is a scenario where Turner is at shortstop and Harper is in center. Rizzo said he’s trying to upgrade the offense. If he obtains a center fielder like Dexter Fowler, for instance, Turner could wind up at shortstop, his natural position.
8. Brett Gardner, LF, Yankees — Expect a few teams to inquire about Gardner’s availability, ones that could use a lefthanded bat/leadoff hitter. Gardner could bring back prospects to add to the Yankees’ war chest. “Open to listening on anything,” said GM Brian Cashman.
9. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — Sizemore was out of baseball last season, but he and his agent, Joe Urban, were at the GM meetings trying to drum up a playing assignment or a coaching job.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The pitcher with the most wins over the last 10 seasons is Justin Verlander with 156. The pitcher with the most losses over the last 10 seasons is Edwin Jackson with 110.” Also, “There were 20 leadoff batters who hit at least 11 homers, led by Charlie Blackmon, who hit 29.” . . . Happy birthday, Wade Miley (30) and Dan Petry (58).
How’s that for an encore?
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is the heavy favorite to win National League MVP honors this week. If he wins the award, to be announced Thursday, he would be just the fourth player in history to win Rookie of the Year honors one year and MVP the next. Only two players — Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and Fred Lynn in 1975 — swept both awards as rookies.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.