The Angels announced a series of roster moves Wednesday, revealing that recently designated right-hander Taylor Cole cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Salt Lake. The Halos also optioned right-hander Luke Bard, left-hander Ryan Buchter, outfielder Michael Hermosillo and first baseman Jared Walsh to Salt Lake.
Cole, 30, will technically have the right to reject the assignment in favor of free agency due to the fact that he’s been previously outrighted (by the Blue Jays in 2017), but given the uncertain state of the game it’d be a surprise to see him venture into the open market. The righty posted an ugly 5.92 ERA in 51 2/3 innings with the Halos last year and doesn’t have a history of success in Triple-A (4.96 ERA in 81 2/3 innings).
That said, Cole probably wasn’t as bad as his ERA appeared; Cole was weighed down by a .366 average in balls in play and a fluky low 60.3 percent strand rate. Assuming he does indeed head to Triple-A, he’ll provide some experienced depth to an organization that has been utterly hammered by injuries to the pitching staff over the past few years.
Of the players optioned to Triple-A, Buchter is the most surprising. The former Athletics, Royals and Padres southpaw inked a minor league deal with the Angels this winter but was selected to the MLB roster on Sunday, making it seem like he’d punched his ticket to the big league roster. Instead, it appears that whenever the season does begin, he’ll bide his time in Triple-A as he waits for an MLB look. In 214 MLB innings, Buchter has a 2.86 ERA with nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Bard pitched 49 innings with the Angels last year but narrowly kept his ERA under 5.00. The former second-round pick is proof that spin rate alone won’t bring about success — he led the Majors in fastball spin — and he’ll head down to Salt Lake for additional work. Hermosillo has yet to hit in the Majors and saw his production dip in a second Triple-A season last year. Walsh hit 36 home runs in 98 games with Salt Lake last year, slugging nearly .700 amid Triple-A’s own juiced ball bonanza. The 26-year-old’s output didn’t carry over to the Majors, but he received only 87 plate appearances. He’ll probably get another shot in the big leagues at some point in 2020.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto is no doubt one of the most successful position players in the history of baseball. The 36-year-old is a six-time All-Star and a onetime National League Most Valuable Player who, since he made his major league debut in 2007, has amassed 56.2 fWAR and batted .307/.421/.519 in 7,372 plate appearances. Votto ranks 27th all-time in wRC+ (151), placing him within striking distance of such luminaries as Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Joe DiMaggio, and an even better 17th overall in on-base percentage (.421, the same number as Mickey Mantle).
If you’ve somewhat slept on Votto’s career to this point because he doesn’t play in a huge market or hasn’t been a part of frequent postseason teams, you’re probably not alone. Votto may already be a Hall of Famer, though, and with four guaranteed seasons left on the franchise-record 10-year, $225MM contract he signed with the Reds 2012, plenty of time remains for him to keep making his Cooperstown case. However, for that to happen, Votto may have to perform far better than he did last year.
The 2019 season was stunningly subpar for Votto, who was nearly a replacement-level player (0.7 fWAR) over 608 trips to the plate. Votto’s 101 wRC+ represented a 50-point drop-off from his lifetime figure and tied him for 91st among 135 qualified hitters. As always, Votto got on base more than the average player, putting up a .357 OBP, but that’s an unimpressive number compared to how he typically fares. Votto has walked in 16.0 percent of plate appearances in the majors, but he only did so at a 12.5 percent clip a year ago. At the same time, he struck out 20.2 percent of the time (up about 2.5 percent relative to his career), posted a career-worst .261 batting average and managed his second-lowest slugging percentage ever (.411).
Sometimes underwhelming production can be a symptom of bad luck. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case for Votto last season. If you look at his Statcast page, he was regularly near the apex of the league in one important category after another from 2015-18. But he fell off to a notable degree in all aspects in 2019. For instance, his .343 expected weighted on-base average was superior to most players, and it did outdo his .332 real wOBA, but it paled in comparison to preceding years in which he hovered around the .400 mark.
There are valid reasons to believe that we’ve seen the last of the all-world version of Votto, but the Reds can only hope that’s not the case. Not only do they owe Votto $82MM over the next few years (including a $7MM buyout for 2024), but it could be a necessity for him to bounce back if they’re going to earn their first playoff berth since 2013 this season. For his part, Votto knows he needs to rebound in 2020.
Regarding his output last year, Votto told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com: Its the worst season Ive had in my career, pretty clearly. I dont think its close. Everything went the wrong way.
A lesser player wouldn’t necessary deserve the benefit of the doubt. However, considering the brilliance Votto has usually displayed, it may be unwise to bet against a renaissance.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Red Sox have signed utility player Yairo Munoz to a minor league contract, according to their transactions page. The club assigned Munoz to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Munoz came available when the Cardinals released him March 7. The two sides’ relationship took an especially sour turn when Munoz, upset by the lack of playing time he received last season, flew home from spring training without informing the Cardinals. Manager Mike Shildt suggested then that Munoz, who was also dealing with a hamstring injury, would have been in position to earn an Opening Day roster spot in St. Louis had he stuck around. Instead, though, if we even get a baseball season in 2020, Munoz will have to work his way back via Boston’s minor league system.
Now 25 years old, Munoz was an effective hitter off the bench for the Cardinals when he debuted in 2018. He was a .276/.350/.413 batter with eight home runs and five stolen bases across 329 plate appearances that year. However, his production tanked during a 2019 campaign in which he slashed .267/.298/.355 with a pair of homers and eight steals in 181 PA. Munoz’s walk rate dropped by almost 6 percent, one of the reasons he wasn’t able to replicate his successful rookie showing.
Despite last year’s struggles at the plate, Munoz does at least bring defensive versatility to the table. He has amassed 20 or more lifetime appearances at three infield spots (shortstop, third and second) and has totaled double-digit games at all three outfield positions. The Red Sox are clearly set at third (Rafael Devers) and short (Xander Bogaerts), but Munoz could still see action elsewhere if he does land a spot on their roster sometime in 2020.
Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks has been cleared to begin a throwing program, manager Aaron Boone told reporters Wednesday (Twitterlinks via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com). Boone didn’t provide a further timetable on Hicks, but it’s a notable step in the 30-year-old’s recovery from last October’s Tommy John surgery.
As MLBTR’s Connor Byrne noted when looking at how the postponing of Opening Day impacts the Yankees, Hicks’ recovery timetable was expected to be eight to 10 months, which would put him in line for a return anywhere from June until August. Depending on when (or if) the season is able to commence, it’s possible that Hicks could return to the lineup without having missed much time at all.
That’d be a notable boost for the Yankees; while many have lamented the seven-year, $70MM contract signed by Hicks immediately before back injuries caused him to begin the 2019 season on the IL (and before his elbow required surgery), it’s worth remembering just how strong Hicks’ 2017-18 seasons were. During that time, he slashed .255/.368/.470 with 42 home runs, 36 doubles, three triples and 21 steals through 942 plate appearances. In the field, he totaled 4 Defensive Runs Saved, a 5.7 Ultimate Zone Rating and was at least average, per Statcast’s OAA metric.
Boone also noted that lefty James Paxton, on the mend from back surgery, is continuing a throwing program at his Wisconsin home. All appears to be well on that front — or, at least, no setback or negative updates were provided — which bodes well for an on-target return to the mound. The Yankees announced he’d be sidelined three to four months when he underwent back surgery in February.
As for right fielder Aaron Judge, Boone offered little in terms of timeline but gave what’s sure to be a frustrating update for fans when he revealed that the slugger’s collapsed lung could date all the way back to a diving attempt in the outfield last September.“It’s probably something that’s impossible to know for sure, but I would believe that it’s all interrelated,”said Boone. Judge will be re-evaluated in a “few weeks” after his cracked rib has had more time to heal, tweets Brendan Kuty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
4:35pm: MLB’s latest proposal includes a delayed draft and would provide players with the same service time they accrued in 2020, tweetsRosenthal. It seems the league aims to contend that such a proposal only shorts players who’d make their MLB debut in 2020, although notable mid- and late-season call-up would also consequently fall shy of a full year of service. Second-half call-ups like Bo Bichette, Gavin Lux, Jesus Luzardo and many others would receive some big league service time under that scenario but still fall shy of the requisite 172 days of service that constitutes a full year. It remains to be seen if that’s a trade the union is willing to make.
That proposed scenario would be a nightmare scenario for a club like the Dodgers, who traded young talent and took on considerable financial obligations in order to acquire the final season of club control over Mookie Betts. It’s unclear just how the league and union would allay any concerns that would surely arise from the Dodgers and other organizations who traded for one-year rentals.
1:01pm: We checked in last night on the latest talksbetween MLB and the MLBPA regarding the many complicated issues presented by the coronavirus-driven stoppage of play. While it seems players will be assured of recording full service time if the season is played, there’s plenty more to sort out.
The goal is to shoehorn in as many games as possible once that becomes possible. At the moment, it seems the most optimistic outcome would be a June resumption of play, with July perhaps more likely. That’ll dictate how many contests can be staged.
To maximize the number of games, the plan appears to call for numerous double-headers and perhaps even an accelerated second Spring Training. Active roster expansion would be offered to help allay concerns with overworked pitching. The postseason would be pushed into thedeep fall, or perhaps even the winter, at neutral sites. As Sherman points out, the league has some concern about television broadcast rights when major networks will be carrying key games from other sports (e.g. Sunday NFL coverage).
It’s not just teams and the league that are pushing to do as much as possible. In large part, all parties are in this together. MLB’s most powerful agent, Scott Boras, still thinks a complete season is plausible, asMike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports. Even a mid-summer start would permit a 144 or even 162-game regular season and full postseason slate, says Boras — if the tail end was played at neutral sites right through late December.
The talks also involve quite a few other matters, some of which are more concrete. MLB has committed to advancing $150MM in salary to be distributed to 40-man roster members. There’s also consideration of issuing payment tominor-leaguers at something close to their regular salary for at least some stretch of time.
So long as there’s a season to be played, it stands to reason that most matters will be sorted out so long as there’s sufficient good will between the sides. But even that will require some adjustment; as Passan and McDaniel note, the arbitration system is one of many areas that will have to be modified temporarily.
The draft, too, is a hot-button issue. It seems the two sides have discussed a wide range of scenarios. Sherman writes that the event could pushed back or shortened, with signing bonuses paid out over a longer term rather than in an up-front lump sum. SportsGrid’s Craig Mish suggests (via Twitter) that shortening the event — perhaps to as few as 10 rounds — could be likeliest.
But the real trouble lurks beyond: what if there is no 2020 season? That would unveil a host of thorny matters. MLB and MLBPA negotiators have evidently had less success agreeing on how to respond to such a drastic development. They’ve tabled those talks for the time being while hoping, along with the rest of us, that dealing with that outcome doesn’t prove necessary.
The Royals announced Wednesday that they’ve selected the contract of right-hander Trevor Rosenthal and designated lefty Eric Skoglund for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster.
As noted here at MLBTR earlier this morning, the Royals organization has been weighing how to handle the March 26 opt-out dates that were negotiated into the minor league contracts of Rosenthal and fellow righty Greg Holland.Several other clubs have agreed to push opt-out dates back until exhibition play resumes, although in Rosenthal’s case, it seems his strong spring showing was impressive enough that Kansas City opted to add him to the roster right now rather than risk him triggering the preexisting clause.
By having his contract selected, Rosenthal will lock in a reported $2MM base salary. The Scott Boras client’s deal was also reported to come with an additional $2.25MM via performance bonuses.
Rosenthal was lights out prior to the spring shutdown, hurling five shutout innings with just three hits allowed. Most importantly, he didn’t issue a walk and punched out nine hitters. For a once-elite reliever who missed 2018 due to Tommy John surgery and saw his control completely evaporate in 2019 — 42 walks, nine hit batters in 30 1/3 innings between the big leagues and the minors — that lack of free passes was a particularly heartening development. Of course, incoming Royals skipper Mike Matheny is plenty familiar with what Rosenthal brings to the table when at his best; Matheny was Rosenthal’s skipper for the hard-throwing righty’s peak seasons in St. Louis.
Skoglund, 27, has appeared in 27 games for the Royals across the past three seasons but hasn’t found much success in the Majors. In 109 innings at the big league level, Skoglund has a 6.61 ERA with 5.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 1.6 HR/9 along the way. The southpaw was solid in his first run through the Triple-A level back in 2017 — 4.11 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 100 1/3 frames — but he’s struggled in his past two seasons with the Royals’ top affiliate in Omaha as well. Overall, Skoglund has a 4.87 ERA and a 151-to-46 K/BB ratio in 172 Triple-A innings.
The Royals still have a decision to make on Holland — who starred in the Kansas City bullpen during the club’s renaissance several years back. Like Rosenthal, Holland has seen his career take a turn for the worse following Tommy John surgery and that procedure’s arduous rehab process, but he’s looked solid in his own right during Cactus League play; in six innings he’s surrendered three runs but just five hits and a walk while racking up eight strikeouts.
With the disappointing news of Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd traces his tumultuous career arc. Check out today’s video here.
The Brewers’ offseason featured a large number of small-scale additions — a hallmark of the current front office regime — and the richest contract in club history for the face of the franchise.
The 2019 Brewers reached the postseason for a second straight year, although unlike their division-winning 2018 season, last year’s group limped to the postseason and narrowly secured a Wild Card victory. Christian Yelich’s early-September knee fracture was a major blow to a club that had already lost bullpen powerhouse Corey Knebel to Tommy John surgery and watched as shoulder and elbow troubles again wiped out the season of one of its most talented pitchers (Jimmy Nelson). Milwaukee still appeared poised to advance to the NLDS before a heartbreaking eighth-inning collapse saw the eventual World Series champion Nationals erase a three-run deficit against the likes of uber-reliever Josh Hader.
That bitter pill became even harder to swallow as Brewers fans watched Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas decline their halves of their respective mutual options and sign elsewhere in free agency — Moustakas with a division rival over in Cincinnati. Those departures combined with several other Milwaukee decisions — the trade of Chase Anderson to the Blue Jays, the buyout of Eric Thames’ option and the decision to non-tender Nelson, Travis Shaw and Hernan Perez — to leave many fans with the impression that the team was scaling back and cutting payroll.
In some ways, those concerns proved to be true. The Brewers’ payroll projects to drop by more than $18MM from its 2019 levels. Then again, Milwaukee signed more Major League free agents than any other club this winter, diversifying their risk portfolio by making small-scale investments in a slew of veteran assets. That’s been a common approach under president of baseball operations David Stearns — the Lorenzo Cain signing being a notable exception — and it’s one that has worked well to this point.
Oh… and the Brewers also doled out a franchise-record $188.5MM extension for the aforementioned Yelich. The contract will ostensibly keep Yelich in Milwaukee for the remainder of his career, giving the Brewers an MVP-caliber threat in the heart of their order for the foreseeable future. Yelich isn’t likely to remain that productive at the tail end of the deal, considering it runs through his age-36-campaign, but the contract looks to be a considerable win for the team. At a time when players like Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are all commanding over $30MM annually, Yelich’s $26.9MM annual value looks like a relative bargain. Of course, that comment can’t be made without underscoring that Yelich was three years from reaching the open market — two guaranteed campaigns and a third-year club option — and it also seems he had a clear desire to stay in Milwaukee.
So, how did the Brewers do in terms of addressing the many holes on their roster entering the winter? Opinions vary. The Brewers parted with relatively little in terms of long-term value in order to acquire three years of control over Narvaez — one of the game’s better-hitting catchers. The draft pick they surrendered is a lottery ticket that could certainly sting, but Narvaez and the .277/.358/.448 slash he’s compiled over the past two seasons will go a long way toward replacing the offense lost with Grandal’s departure. Defensively, Narvaez is a considerable downgrade, but few catchers in the game can match Narvaez’s value with the bat.
The Brewers’ biggest free-agent signing didn’t even come at a position of dire “need.” With Cain, Yelich, Ryan Braun and Ben Gamel on the roster, the outfield wasn’t exactly lacking. But Milwaukee moved Trent Grisham (and solid starter Zach Davies) in an effort to find a long-term answer at shortstop, and Avisail Garcia effectively replaces him on the roster. Garcia will likely see the bulk of playing time in right field, and the Brewers clearly believe he’s closer to the 2017 and 2019 versions of himself than the 2018 iteration that struggled across the board. He is deceptively fast and makes plenty of hard contact, but he’s been an inconsistent all-around performer.
Speaking of that Grisham/Davies trade, the Brewers managed to parlay a big year in the minors from Grisham into the acquisition of a prospect who one year ago was considered to be one of baseball’s premier minor league infielders. Luis Urias hasn’t hit in the big leagues yet, and the manner in which the Padres continued to acquire veteran options to play ahead of him perhaps suggests that they were never as high on him as prospect rankings seemed to be. Urias is still only 22 and has crushed Triple-A pitching (.305/.403/.511 in 867 plate appearances). Losing Grisham could potentially sting, but the Brewers felt more confident in their ability to capably replace an outfielder via free agency than to find a much-needed middle infielder. On the pitching side of that trade, the Brewers came away with the more controllable arm — but one that has yet to find the success Davies has enjoyed in the Majors.
Elsewhere in the infield — things are a bit of a hodgepodge. Not only did Milwaukee acquire Urias, they signed veterans Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko, Brock Holt and Ryon Healy. The additions put pressure on incumbent shortstop Orlando Arcia to finally tap into the potential that made him an elite prospect several years ago. That collection of veterans will surround second baseman Keston Hiura and, occasionally, Braun (when he plays first base). Smoak adds some thump and quality glovework at first base.Gyorko, Sogard and Holt can play all over, adding the type of versatility that the Brewers have emphasized in recent seasons. Sogard and Holt, in particular, offer plus defense at multiple positions.
The pitching staff lost a glut of arms — Davies, Chase Anderson, Drew Pomeranz, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles and Junior Guerra — from a team that graded in the middle of the pack across the board. Milwaukee starters and relievers both ranked between 13th and 18th in terms of ERA and FIP. Clearly, some help was needed, but while many fans pined for a major splash, the Stearns regime has never demonstrated a willingness to sign a pitcher to a lucrative, long-term deal. The two-year, $15MM contract inked by Jhoulys Chacin two winters ago is the most expensive contract given to a pitcher by this iteration of the front office, and the three-year, $9.125MM deal given to wildcard Josh Lindblom this winter is the longest contract to which Stearns has ever signed a free-agent starting pitcher.
The Lindblom deal was the first and most interesting of several smaller-scale additions to the Milwaukee staff. The 32-year-old Lindblom was a second-round pick of the Dodgers back in 2005 but never solidified himself in the big leagues. Stints with Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Texas, Oakland and Pittsburgh didn’t pan out, and Lindblom went to South Korea on multiple occasions to pitch in the KBO.
As I detailed at greater length early in the offseason, Lindblom dove headfirst into a more analytical approach to pitching in his most recent KBO tenure and overhauled his pitch repertoire, adopting a splitter that proved to be a knockout offering. He won consecutive Choi Dong-won Awards — South Korea’s Cy Young equivalent — in 2018-19 and was named the KBO MVP this past season. Lindblom isn’t overpowering in terms of velocity and will turn 33 this June, but he’s posted highly appealing strikeout rates, control, spin rates and exit velocities in Korea.
Veteran ground-ball savant Brett Anderson represents the only other rotation addition for the Brewers, who’ll rely on a combination of Brandon Woodruff, Anderson, Adrian Houser, Lindblom, Eric Lauer, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes to start games early on. As explored early in camp, it’s a group that’s light on name recognition — Anderson excluded — but one with a good bit of upside. The Brewers will also surely leverage some openers and generally unorthodox deployments of their pitchers. Few teams play matchups and shuffle the deck with their pitching staff as much as Milwaukee. It’s a strategy that regularly draws criticism from onlookers — but one that has produced generally favorable results in recent years.
In the ’pen, the Brewers brought back Alex Claudio on a low-cost one-year deal and inked righty David Phelps to an even more affordable pact that comes with a 2020 option. The 28-year-old Claudio has been clobbered by right-handed hitters in his career, making his return a bit curious given the impending three-batter minimum. He’ll surely still be deployed against lefties as often as possible, but an increase in disadvantageous matchups against righties feels almost inevitable. Phelps, meanwhile, will hope to bounce back to his pre-Tommy John form, when he looked to be emerging as a high-end setup piece between Seattle and Miami (142 1/3 innings, 2.72 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9).
Corey Knebel’s return could be the biggest upgrade for the Brewers’ bullpen, though. The 28-year-old was on par with Josh Hader in terms of bullpen dominance in 2017, when he posted a 1.76 ERA in 76 2/3 innings with just under 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2019 season, but pairing a healthy Knebel with Hader would create a dominant one-two punch at the back of games. Some combination of Phelps, Claudio, Brent Suter, whichever of Peralta or Burnes isn’t starting games and perhaps the flamethrowing Ray Black could create a quality all-around unit.
Speaking of Peralta, his own extension is certainly worth highlighting. The young righty’s five-year, $15.5MM deal carries minimal downside for the club and comes with enormous potential for surplus value, particularly when considering a pair of club options that would total an eminently reasonable $14MM. It’s the sort of deal that makes agents cringe — Peralta himself even acknowledged that his own representatives advised against the deal — but it’s also hard to see how a 23-year-old who is still more potential than production would find it impossible to say no to that type of life-changing payday. Whether he’s in the ’pen or rotation, Peralta should be able to easily justify the investment with even moderate productivity. For a typically low- to medium-payroll club that just went beyond its traditional comfort zone to extend the face of the franchise, the potential cost efficiency such a contract creates is vital.
2020 Season Outlook
Questions about the Brewers’ pitching staff abound, but that’s nothing new for Stearns, manager Craig Counsell and the rest of the organization’s top decision-makers. Woodruff has demonstrated top-of-the-rotation potential, and Anderson has generally been a quality rotation stabilizer when healthy (which, admittedly, has been sporadic). There’s reason to dream on any of Houser, Lindblom, Peralta, Burnes or Lauer as a quality mid-rotation piece.
On the offensive side of things, it’s similarly difficult to forecast how things will play out. Milwaukee was a middle-of-the-road club in terms of total runs scored and wRC+ in 2019, and they’re losing both Grandal and Moustakas. At the same time, they’ll subtract an unthinkably poor chunk of at-bats from Travis Shaw, whose abrupt downturn at the plate caught everyone by surprise. Narvaez himself brings a pretty nice bat to the equation, and Garcia adds some production and upside to the mix. Smoak has plenty of power and a steady glove. It’s easy to see the infield as a strong group if things break right, but there’s readily apparent risk in relying on a group of options that has demonstrated such high levels of volatility in recent seasons.
The Brewers arguably have a wider range of plausible outcomes for their 2020 season than any club in the National League. That’s to be expected for a team whose offseason consisted on short-term, relatively low-AAV bets on what amounts to nearly half its roster. It’s a bulk approach to offseason acquisition the likes of which we haven’t seen in recent years, but perhaps one that was necessary for a team with minimal upper-level depth in the minors after depleting the farm via trades in recent years.
How would you grade the Brewers’ 2020 offseason? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)
Typically, late March is a time in which we see a lot of roster movement as clubs sort out their Opening Day rosters. Veteran free agents on minor-league deals can often force the action by virtue of opt-out clauses in their contracts. But the situation looks quite a bit different under the unusual circumstances of the delayed 2020 season.
League rosters have not been frozen. And there’s no rule suspending the operation of those opt-out clauses. Accordingly, teams and player agents have been left to sort things out on a case-by-case basis.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports (Twitter link) that there are a variety of approaches being taken around the game. In some cases, teams and players have effectively pushed back the decision by reaching new agreements pegged to some future date — from the start of a second Spring Training or eventual Opening Day. The Phillies, Blue Jays, and Pirates are in the latter camp.
In other situations, it seems, the sides have more or less tabled the details, leaving for another day a determination on the operation of the opt-out clause. And in still other cases, there’s still uncertainty. The Royals, for instance, are still trying to decide how best to handle the immediately pending (March 26th) opt-outs of veteran relievers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal.
It’s certainly possible that those and other players will simply exercise their opt-out rights as originally negotiated.We’ve already seen some players — Joe Panikwith the Blue Jays; Ryan Buchterwith the Angels — earn 40-man roster spots in recent days, so some clubs have obviously been willing to make commitments.
Curious how this might impact your favorite team’s plans? Our 2019-20 Free Agent Tracker includes links to all of our posts on minor-league signings, with simple filters to help you isolate the signings of interest. At minimum, you’ll see many of the players who were brought into camp as non-roster invitees. And the linked posts on the signings include opt-out details, if they were reported.
A season after locking superstar Nolan Arenado into a long-term deal, the Rockies entered the offseason with a payroll bordering on the highest in team history. Despite flirting with the idea of moving Arenado and his mega deal, Colorado largely stood pat. When the 2020 season begins, they will confront their rivals in the NL West with close to the same team that racked up 91 losses a year ago.
Trevor Story, SS: Two years, $27.5MM (includes $2MM signing bonus, $8MM salary in 2020, $17.5MM salary in 2021)
Scott Oberg, RHP: Three years, $13MM deal ($2MM in 2020, $4MM in 2021, $7MM in 2022, $8MM team option for 2023)
Notable Minor League Signings
It’s been a long offseason for Rockies’ fans, even before COVID-19 put the season on temporary hold. The team that lost 91 games in 2019 didn’t get anything in the way of reinforcements over the winter. Executive VP & GM Jeff Bridich handed out just one major league contract — to Jose Mujica, a candidate for the rotation, though he has yet to make his major league debut. Mujica, 23, became a minor league free agent after six seasons in the Rays’ system. The 2019 season would have been his seventh with Tampa had he not undergone Tommy John and missed the entire year. In 2018, Mujica ascended as high as Triple-A where he notched a 2.80 ERA/2.81 FIP across 36 2/3 innings. He enjoyed good luck in the home run department over that span, as just 2.6% of the flyballs he allowed left the yard, but there’s at least a reasonable expectation for Mujica to join the pool of rotation candidates in Colorado, especially given their uncertainty in that department.
Colorado pitching, after all, has proven one of the more frustrating team-building challenges in the major leagues. The Sisyphean task of constructing even a league-average pitching staff at Coors Field persists year-after-year. Over the course of their 27-season history, the Rockies posted a league-average or better team ERA just three times (2010, 2009, 2007). In 2010, Jim Tracy’s 83-win squad finished with an exactly-league-average ERA, but those other two seasons — 2009, 2007 — happen to be two of the only three seasons in which the Rockies won 90 games in their history.
The third would be 2018. The Rockies pulled off a 91-win season the year before last, and though the pitching staff finished with a 4.33 ERA — slightly higher than the league average at 4.27 — they outplayed their pythagorean record by six wins and came within a play-in game of stealing the divisional crown from the Dodgers. Last season, the team ERA ballooned to 5.66, and Bud Black’s crew reversed their fortunes from a year before. The Rox weren’t the only pitchers to struggle last season, of course, as the league’s ERA on the whole ballooned from 4.27 in 2018 to 4.62 in 2019, but few staffs did so as mightily as the Rockies.
Regardless of where the league ERA falls in 2020, the blueprint is clear: if the Rockies can eek out average production from their pitchers, they’ll have a shot at contention. Unfortunately, the only additions from outside the organization this winter (beyond Mujica) were minor league signings like Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Collins, Daniel Bard and Zac Rosscup. Jimenez made his debut in the rotation for that 2007 team, and he fronted the staff by 2009. Maybe there’s some wisdom he can impart about how to manage in Coors Field, but he’s unlikely to make much of a contribution on the hill. The 36-year-old last pitched in the majors in 2017 for the Orioles.
Collins may actually help in the bullpen, as he’s put up consistently solid ERAs when healthy. He shouldn’t be affected by the new three-batter rule either, with near identical splits versus lefties (.226/.339/.381) and versus righties (.235/.332/.358). That said, he’s yet to really re-establish himself after missing all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons after undergoing, you guessed it, Tommy John.
Worse yet for the Rockies, the messaging out of Colorado immediately after the season ended was that of befuddlement and frustration. Given that they didn’t spend much effort pursuing free agents, perhaps they’ve had time to figure out if the new baseball really was unduly launch-able in Colorado’s thin air, but as of November, the organization was still reeling and seemingly at a loss. Of course, a lot of time has passed since then, and time will tell if more stringent adherence to mechanical repetition can return Colorado hurlers like Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, and German Marquez to unleashing better versions of themselves. Without bounce-back campaigns from their rotation – as well as closer Wade Davis, who was recently re-minted the ninth-inning man despite a 8.65 ERA/5.56 FIP in 2019 – the Rockies will have a tough time recording outs with consistency enough to compete in an increasingly competitive NL West.
On the position-player side, the Rockies should remain competitive, though their activity this winter was hardy encouraging. Mostly, they spent the winter engaged in a cold war with their franchise player, who felt “disrespected” by the organization while expressly voicing his desire to play for a contender. All is not lost, however, and Arenado remains an extremely valuable asset, even while raking in $35MM a year. He’s that good.
And yet, the rift between Arenado and the club is unsettling. For now, the Rockies have probably the best left side of the infield in all of baseball, but Trevor Story may not be a lifer in Colorado either. Story signed an extension this winter, which on its face may seem like a positive, but it merely preserves an existing window of control before he’s slated to qualify for free agency. Story’s deal settled his final two seasons of arbitration without buying out any free agent years.
Then there’s this: The expiration date of Story’s new deal coincides with a lot of money coming off the books in Colorado. Barring a long-term agreement, he’ll be a free agent after the 2021 season, at which time the Rockies will also be free of current upscale rosterees likeDaniel Murphy, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Ian Desmond, as well as Gray, the presumptive staff ace, who enters his final arbitration season in 2021. Arenado, as well, has an opt out that same offseason. The Rockies essentially have two seasons before they could face a complete organizational reset – which means the clock is ticking on any opportunities to get out in front of these free agent departures.
The offseason, however, felt anything but urgent. Having ramped up salaries in the past several years, Colorado doesn’t appear willing to spend beyond the current level. With an opening day payroll set to be around $156MM, per Fangraphs’ Roster Resource, the payroll remains exactly where it was at the start of this offseason.
Despite their overall stagnancy, the Rockies did extend their best bullpen arm in Scott Oberg. Bridich has poured a lot of money into the bullpen in recent years, and the results haven’t exactly been gold-star worthy. But the Oberg investment looks solid. Over 105 games the last two seasons, he’s put up a 2.35 ERA/3.20 FIP with 9.0 K/9 versus 2.7 BB/9, and the financial terms are modest.
It’s bound to be a tough season in Colorado. If they struggle out of the gate, the frigidity between the club and Arenado isn’t likely to improve, and the trade rumors will continue to swirl. They’ve shown no inclination towards dealing any of their top trade chips (Arenado, Story, Gray, David Dahl), but if the pitching doesn’t make an immediate and drastic 180 at the start of the season, Bridich may be forced to consider his options.