Love is a fickle thing. Some received contracts; some were claimed off waivers, while others were giving their walking papers and joined the ranks of the unemployed. Let’s take a look at how this came down and what the futures of these players going forward is. Before I head into discussing moves from the Winter meetings, time to catch up with these players first
J.J. Hoover has his good points and his not-so-good points. He regularly strikes out more than a batter per inning and kept his ERA under 4.00 in 52 games for the Diamondbacks last year and looked like potential closer material in his earlier days with the Reds. However, his command and control have never been the same since 2013, resulting in high walk rates. Last year he also had an acute case of gopheritis although that has not been a long-term problem and could regress towards career norms going forward. All that said he would’ve gotten over $1.5 M in arbitration, if not over $2M. He’ll sign on with some team in middle relief, possibly limited to a minor league deal again.
Left-handed reliever T.J. MacFarland received the same fate after failing to post a K/9 of 5.0 or K% of 12-percent. The epitome of a loogy, MacFarland held lefties a .211/.256/.292 line while righties absolutely torched him .336/.398/.462. Even in his best season of 2014, similar splits were apparent. Lefties always get another chance, but the 28-year old will never be a viable fantasy baseball option. Sim and Strat players will find him useful in small doses.
Chase Whitley was in danger of not making the 40-man roster and thus the Rays waived him, with the Braves quickly snagging him and signing him to a one-year contract prior to the tender deadline. The former Yankee has average stuff, but controls it fairly well, armed with a career 2.3 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9. Whitley, is, however, fairly hittable and has struggled with runners on base at times. He’ll continue in the same role as 2017, middle relief.
Matt Adams, the highest profile hitter, of the players non-tendered is coming off a season that saw him play only on a part-time basis, but still, drive twenty home runs out of the ballpark, hit .274 and SLG .522. He does not make contact or walk often, but when he does the contact is harder than average. The lefty will never be an on-base machine given his aggressive approach and is a candidate for wide fluctuations in batting average. Vs. righties over his career he has a .286/.333/.495 slash with a .209 ISO, but has an equally depressing .206/.236/.357 line against lefties making it clear his future is that of a platoon player. To get playing time, he’ll need to pick his organization carefully or he could easily end up as Triple-A roster filler.
Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam were both mainstays of the White Sox’s bullpen heading into 2017, but both ended up injuring their elbows and requiring surgery. It would not be surprising to see both pitchers brought back on minor league contracts while they recover. Putnam underwent Tommy John Surgery and may not be back until the second half of 2018 while Petricka may be ready to start spring training.
Hector Rondon was once one of the Indians’ top starting pitching prospects, battled injuries when he was on the cusp of making it and was subsequently shipped to the Cubs where he pushed himself into a relief role for the past four seasons including substantial time as the team’s closer. The righty did not obtain a single save this season, but still managed a 10.8 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 along with solid groundball rates. However, he was also quite hittable, allowing home runs at high rates for the second straight year (closing in on 20% HR/FB) and saw his ERA soar as a result. Still works with a mid-to-upper nineties fastball and mid-eighties slider, but his arbitration price was going to see him earn in excess of $6M and as a reliever no longer utilized in high-leverage situations, was let go instead. Given recent trends, his role will more likely remain in middle relief or setup work rather than being given another chance to close, unless he signs with a team with a thin bullpen.
Kyle Crockett has been twice the victim of roster limitations in the past two weeks due to first the Indians trying to protect prospects on their 40-man roster and then the Reds opted to non-tender him on Friday. Crockett had an interesting debut with the Indians in 2014, but has been p and down with the club since then, unable to cement a regular relief gig. He’ll now have to go the minor league contract route and will probably spend most of 2018 in Triple-A.
Bruce Rondon was once tagged as the Tiger’s closer of the future, but has spent only parts of four seasons with the MLB club. The righty’s power stuff certainly shows up in his strikeout rates and it looked like he was turning a corner in 2016, but his command and control again fell apart in 2017 at both the Triple-A and MLB levels. He’ll be 27 on opening day and still averages around 97 on his fastball. Some team will want to take a shot and see if they resurrect his career.
If Mike Fiers could just keep the ball in the ballpark, that’d be just great. The righty keeps managing to log strikeouts at solid rates and throw strikes with a career 7.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/8, yet his ERA is almost a 5.00. he can still be an adequate number, fifth-man, as is, but given a change of scenery to a pitcher-friendly park and perhaps a chance to his repertoire is needed to save his career. At 32 time is running out. He might have commanded in excess of $4 M, if not 5 given his three straight seasons of around 30 starts.
The Royals non-tended Terrance gore who had played sparingly in parts of four seasons in the majors, but never stuck. The 26-year old is a plus runner and defender, but is devoid of power and fails to make the necessary very-high contact-making skills to be an effective player with those types of tools.
Los Angeles AL
Blake Wood avoided arbitration and will return to the Angels in a middle relief role. Another hard thrower with control and command issues and long-ball problems, but at a reasonably priced $1.45M. His skills are still similar to that of his 2016 performance.
Albert Suarez made 12 starts for the Giants in 2016 and pitched in just 18 games in relief this past year. He showed more swing and miss skills in the latter role while maintaining good control. Given his level of experience and success, a minor league contract is the most probable outcome for him.
Drew Smyly underwent Tommy John Surgery and subsequently was non-tendered without having thrown a single inning for the Mariners. He could return to a one-year contract with an option for a second while he recovers from injury. 2016 was his career high usage with 30 starts and 175.1 innings of work. He always tantalizes with potential, but cannot stay on the field. Moving back to a relief role is a possibility.
Reliever Shae Simmons is in a similar situation as he attempts to come back from TJS as well. A hard thrower with on again/off again control problems has yet to really establish what he is capable of any level of ball though he tantalized with potential during his 2014 stint as Double-A closer while with the Braves organization.
A.J. Griffin keeps flashing promise, but injuries slow him down and the end of season results have been quite ugly. The 29-year-old right-hander will move onto his third MLB team this off-season. The soft-tosser is now barely cracking 87 mph and combines that with his slow curve and low-eighties changeup. It doesn’t help that he has become an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has difficulty keeping the ball in the park to boot. He’ll probably have to sign a minor league contract but could find work as a fifth starter.
Ryan Goins is a utility infielder whose service time was starting to make him expensive. Though versatile in the field, the lefty’s bat is easily replaceable. Goins has average power for a middle infielder but lacks on-base skills or any plus speed to keep him in the lineup. He’ll likely have to sign a minor league contract, but his versatility afield as well as his “veteran” status could allow him to claim the 25th spot on some roster.
Goins presence was also made rather expendable as a result of the acquisition of Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals. Diaz is a Cuban defector who signed a four-year deal with the Cardinals in 2014, enjoyed a solid rookie 2016 season only to struggle in his sophomore season and ultimately have his starting job taken away. Diaz will not start with the Jays, but gives them an upgraded backup capable of starting should Devon Travis or Troy Tulowitzki spends time on the DL again. Diaz has enough talent to potentially push Travis as well for the starting job in the spring. His skills remain rather unchanged from his 2016 breakout, displaying a contact-oriented approach with still-emerging power in a homerun friendly environment. Given the opportunity, he could still impress and is a nice bargain pick for AL-only leaguers.
In exchange, the Cardinals received J.B. Woodman, a 2016 second-round draft pick who made to full-season A-ball last year. Woodman is a good tools guy with 15/15 or 20/20 potential. A good defender who is willing to draw a walk (10 to 11% of the time), has also shown himself to be notoriously susceptible to the strikeout, doing so over a third of the time at the lower levels of professional baseball. The 23-year old is the definition of a project and a long shot to make it as an MLB regular barring a substantial improvement to his plate discipline.