It’s the first week of January, and much like last year at this time, there are many free agents — more than 200 of them — without teams.
“It’s become the new normal,” said one American League executive. “It’s frustrating and I don’t know the answer to it. I’ve heard about deadlines and things of that nature, and maybe that’s the way to go. The fact we’ll have free agency into February and sometimes into March, is just ridiculous. It shouldn’t take that long to figure things out. I’m not blaming one side or the other, but the current situation doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Nor did it make sense to Dave Dombrowski, who said as much at the Winter Meetings last month. Dombrowski called for some type of deadline for signing free agents, and maybe an offseason trade deadline. These are things that are expected to be discussed in the months ahead.
One prominent agent said, “I think the reliance on analytics to identify players for each respective team has slowed down the process. One thing the analytics are doing is pushing the older players out of the game. The older players are having trouble finding jobs and are being replaced by younger players whose numbers look better. Again, what some of the younger GMs are missing out on is the intangible things that the older players bring to the table.”
There are still quality players on the market. Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel heads a list of available starters. Keuchel is a Scott Boras client and they tend to wait longer than others to sign. Another Boras client, Gio Gonzalez, would be an attractive lefthander for the middle or back end of a rotation. Others who could be helpful to teams: Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Hellickson, Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, Wade Miley, Brett Anderson, Clay Buchholz, Marco Estrada, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Shelby Miller, Martin Perez, Drew Pomeranz, and James Shields.
The elite closer market also hasn’t fully emerged with Craig Kimbrel still out there. There were multiple reports Saturday night that Zach Britton had agreed to a three-year contract worth $39 million to return to the Yankees, which if accurate would fortify New York’s bullpen after the loss of David Robertson. We’ve seen good relievers such as Robertson, Jeurys Familia, Joe Kelly, and Andrew Miller sign deals in the $10 million-$13 million-per-year range for two or three years, but the 4-6-year deals for a reliever simply haven’t developed. And we’re not sure they will for Kimbrel.
While there’s been a lot of speculation that Kimbrel may wind up coming back to the Red Sox, Dombrowski indicated, “Nothing has changed with us and Craig.” Dombrowski said in December that he wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on a reliever.
We suspect there are some relievers who may get more than a one-year deal, such as Adam Ottavino, Adam Warren, Brad Brach, and Bud Norris, but at some point there will be a rash of one-year deals. There are still some good ones out there, which is why Dombrowski isn’t in a hurry to dive in and overpay for a reliever he could get on a one-year deal. Some possibilities include Greg Holland, Justin Wilson, Cody Allen, Ryan Madson, Brad Boxberger, and Shawn Kelley.
Overall, the market still has some very good positional players and even All-Star-caliber players. Obviously, the big two are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The next tier includes All-Star outfielder Nick Markakis. Also available are former Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, second basemen DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier, and Josh Harrison; shortstops Freddy Galvis and Jose Iglesias; third baseman Mike Moustakas; outfielders A.J. Pollock, Avisail Garcia, Adam Jones, and Carlos Gonzalez; and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
“I think everyone is looking for a bargain,” said one prominent agent. “It’s no different than it’s been in the past, in my opinion. We as agents always think we can get multiple years for our players, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Sometimes you have to settle and hope that a good performance triggers a multiyear deal the following season. That’s what it’s come to.”
NOTHING TO LOSE
Yankees did well to sign Tulowitzki
It may not be a game-changer, but the signing of Troy Tulowitzki could be significant for the Yankees as they try to fill the void at shortstop left by Didi Gregorius, who had Tommy John surgery and is looking at a projected midseason return. This move could also be in conjunction with the possibility that the Yankees sign Manny Machado, who met with them before Christmas and is definitely on their radar. There’s mutual interest, and it would be hard to believe the Yankees couldn’t close the deal unless they’re still in their frugal phase.
The Yankees were impressed with Tulowitzki’s workout in Long Beach, Calif., in December. After review of the video by their front office and talent evaluators in the organization, they decided he was worth the risk.
And there is risk. Not of the financial kind, because the Blue Jays are paying all of the $38 million remaining on his contract except for the minimum $550,000 the Yankees will pay. But there’s risk if you’re committing to Tulowitzki as the Gregorius replacement and then come to find that he can’t hold up.
Obviously, it’s one thing to watch a couple of hours of a workout and see that he’s moving well after recovering from double-heel surgery. But it’s another to see how he holds up playing nine innings on a regular basis. They’ll find out in spring training. There are enough shortstops looking for jobs, which means they still can find another guy to at least handle the position defensively. If worse comes to worst, they could move Gleyber Torres there, even though shortstop isn’t his best position.
Tulowitzki’s injuries have not only taken a toll on his defense, but his offense has suffered as well. He was never the hitter in Toronto that he was in Colorado, and it was more than the Coors Field factor. But if the injuries were responsible for curtailing his offense, and if he’s finally healthy, would that offense come back?
What a boost for the Yankees’ lineup, which is already stacked, if that’s the case.
Tulowitzki was a .299 career hitter in Colorado. His 162-game average over his career is .290/28/98 and an .856 OPS. He made five All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves. He’s been top 10 in WAR five times. He’s 34, which is getting long in the tooth for a shortstop, but Tulowitzki, who had been adamant about playing short, is now conceding that he’d be willing to play second base or third base.
The elephant in the room is Machado.
The Yankees have hosted Machado, which shows significant interest. That would create a snowball effect in which sophomore third baseman Miguel Andujar and Tulowitzki would become either the third baseman or Machado would move there permanently, since he’s a Gold Glove third baseman but not that caliber as a shortstop. If the Yankees couldn’t get proper value for Andujar, they would likely move him to first base, even though Luke Voit was a sensation last season.
Apropos of nothing
1. Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie, along with manager Alex Cora and trainer Brad Pearson, are heading to Fort Myers this coming week to meet with “some of our big guys,” according to LeVangie. Which likely means Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi. LeVangie has been busy with Cora and Pearson trying to formulate a common-sense schedule for each of the pitchers. “I’d say I’m about 80 percent sure about how we’re going to implement the schedule for our pitchers,” LeVangie said. “It’s fair to say we’ll do what we did with the pitchers last spring training again this spring training, but there’ll be different twists depending on who it is.” LeVangie wasn’t at liberty to be specific publicly, but suffice to say we likely won’t see many of the big names for a while. “We’re going to take into consideration health, the number of stressful innings that were pitched in the postseason, and things of that nature,” he said. “We won’t be a prisoner to the spring training schedule. We need to get everyone ready, but we won’t necessarily have to have guys ready by a certain date.”
2. Please, no pitch clock. Let’s leave baseball as one sport with no time issues. Enforce the batters being in the box. That seems to have slipped through the cracks the last couple of years.
3. The Minnesota Twins lost a great scout in Mashpee’s Bill Mele, who decided to leave the organization.
4. It’s strange that more organizations don’t emulate the Red Sox, who have the greatest balance of analytics and scouting. Many have gone over the deep end in analytics and shortchanged scouting. Some are trying to reinvent scouting, combining the analytics and the eyeball of scouting. Some have turned to video scouting.
5. While the Red Sox were quick to extend Cora, we haven’t heard much about Dave Dombrowski’s contract, which will expire at the end of 2019.
6. Looks like longtime scout Brad Sloan will take on much of the duties that Allard Baird had with the Red Sox. Baird, Dombrowski’s AL adviser and in the past who had had a hand in international scouting, took on a vice president’s job with the Mets, in which he will oversee scouting and player development. At the moment Dombrowski is not replacing Baird, but promoting from within. Tony La Russa is also returning as a vice president and adviser to Dombrowski.
7. Jim Bowden reported the Nationals’ offer to Bryce Harper was more than the 10-year, $300 million reported, and that it was only a first offer. Always thought Harper might end up back with the Nationals, though it wouldn’t surprise if the Phillies and Dodgers come in blazing for him.
8. At least the White Sox have tried to tangle with the big boys and have made Manny Machado an offer, but by all accounts it’s not in the 10-year range, but more 7-8 years at about $30 million per year. Apparently not good enough for Machado.
9. Always been fascinated with the name Arquimedes(z). The Red Sox had one named Arquimedez Pozo. The Mets now have Arquimedes Caminero.
Updates on nine
1. Derek Jeter, chief executive officer, Marlins — According to industry sources, Jeter is letting his baseball ops people know that he needs a major league player back in return for catcher J.T. Realmuto. The feeling is the Marlins got burned in the Christian Yelich deal with the Brewers and they’re going to make sure they get a young, controllable, proven major leaguer in a package for the sought-after catcher. The Astros and Braves seem to be hanging in there on talks that seem endless.
2. Danny Salazar, RHP, Indians — He’s almost been forgotten because of injuries, but Salazar was once part of that great young core of pitchers groomed by the Indians. Terry Francona revealed that Salazar will not be ready for spring training after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in early July. “He’s going to still be in that rehab mode,” Francona said. “Then we’ll see as he gets going. We’ve seen guys come quick. But everybody’s on their own program. To force it with somebody doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
3. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners — Word is King Felix is working hard to return closer to the pitcher of old in 2019. It’ll be the final year of his contract, which at one time made him the highest-paid pitcher in the game. Hernandez’s velocity has dipped considerably, but the hope is the wisdom he’s acquired will make him better than a back-end starter. Hernandez is scheduled to earn $27.9 million in 2019.
4. Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox — Pitching coach Dana LeVangie thinks Barnes “has closer stuff. He has swing-and-miss ability, he doesn’t give up a lot of big hits. I give him a lot of credit in that he fought through an injury and came back strong for us when it counted most.” Barnes has seemingly served his apprenticeship as a setup man, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can be a closer. “I think with any pitcher, you have to find out if they can handle it. Until you do, you don’t know,” LeVangie said.
5. Nicholas Castellanos, RF, Tigers — People in the game think if the Tigers are serious about dealing him, this would be the time. “He has definite defensive issues, but he can really hit.,” said one American League executive. “Teams are certainly aware of those deficiencies in the field, but as time goes on, if they become more glaring it will be tougher to deal him.”
6. Dan Duquette, former GM, Orioles — Now living on Cape Cod, he has been talking to a couple of teams for a front-office role. Duquette wasn’t at liberty to divulge which teams were in play. He remains hopeful he’ll find the right role before the winter is over. Duquette said he doesn’t want to take any time off and would like to stay employed in the game. He has been GM of three major league teams — the Expos (1991-94), Red Sox (1994-2002), and Orioles (2011-2018).
7. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers — Fulmer’s trade value has likely diminished as he recovers from meniscus surgery this offseason. The Tigers have certainly made him available, but now with the knee rehab teams are likely to back off until they see a healthier version. Fulmer also had a right elbow ailment in 2017 after being named AL Rookie of the Year in 2016.
8. Luke Farrell, RHP, Rangers — The son of ex-Red Sox manager John Farrell has become baseball’s traveling man. The Rangers mark his sixth organization since he was drafted in the sixth round in 2013 by the Royals out of Northwestern. He’s also been with the Angels, Dodgers, Reds, and Cubs.
9. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants — The buzz on Bumgarner getting dealt this offseason has quieted considerably in recent weeks. It doesn’t mean Bumgarner won’t get traded, but does new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi trade one of the most popular players in San Francisco as his first big move?
From the Bill Chuck files — “Batting with the bases empty was a stat that meant something in 2018: The Sox led the majors, hitting .258 with the sacks empty in 2018. Of the top nine teams hitting with the bases empty last year, the Reds ranked seventh, hitting .248, and were the only team not to win 90-plus games.” . . . Happy birthday, Casey Fossum (41).