Love Me Not So Tender

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.

Chicago AL
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.

Chicago NL
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.

Kansas City
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.

San Francisco
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.

Looking for Relief

Veteran or former closers were in the headlines as Brad Boxberger was dealt to Arizona and Jim Johnson moved to the Los Angeles Angels, both in exchange for minor league arms.

The Rays closer in 2015, Boxberger spent much of 2016 either ineffective or on the disabled list or both and then missed most of 2 017 due to a back injury. Though only a small 29.1 inning sample, once healthy, the righty re-established his dominance with a 12.3 K/9 and improved his control to a 3.4 BB/9 mark. Long-balls continue to be a problem for him, however, his career home runs on fly balls rate standing at 14%. As an arbitration candidate, a not insignificant pay raise is coming his way which may have been expedited the move. Archie Bradley has been penciled in to close for the Diamondbacks despite just a single career save and Boxberger will give them another option to consider this spring. Worst case he is poised to be the number one closer insurance policy.

He still works with a plus fastball, nasty slider, and changeup combination and his layoff have not resulted in any decline in velocity. However, he has shown to be somewhat injury prone and volatile in terms of control and as mentioned, home run allowance. Even if he wins the closer job outright, an aggressive investment is not recommended.

Jim Johnson, meanwhile returns to his AL roots after two years with the Braves and at this point in time may be utilized more in a setup or middle relief role with the emergence of Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, but as a pitcher with 176 career saves, he could easily end up back in the role if others falter. Earlier in his career, Johnson was known as a pitch to contact, extreme groundball pitcher type with above average command a mid-nineties fastball. In recent seasons, however, his curveball has become a more effective weapon and his strikeout rates have climbed to more than a batter per inning even though he does not throw quite as hard as he did at his peak. This season his command crumbled from a 2.8 to a 4.0 BB/9 awhile his groundball rates dropped to under 50% for the first time in his career. The result, despite a career-high 9.7 K/9, was terrible across the board. The 34-year old has been written off before, only to rise from the dead. It would be unwise to write him off a second time, but still should only be considered as an endgame option or not all on draft day if he doesn’t claim the closer’s role.

Moving on to the minor leagues, the Rays acquired Curtis Taylor from the Diamondbacks. Taylor is a projectable, 6’6” right-hander who pitched in A-ball last year, posting a 9.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He was being used as a starter, but his upper nineties fastball and slider may lend themselves better to a relief role in the long run. He’ll move up to A+ ball next year, but a change in roles could move him through the system at a much faster rate.

Justin Kelly was acquired along with pool money from the Angels for Johnson. The 24-year old started in rookie ball and proceeded to then pitch at 4 subsequent levels, ultimately ending up in AAA before the season ended. Just because he moved that many levels do not mean he is any good. A former 33rd round pick, drafted just four shy of being drafted 1000th overall, tops out in the eighties and works with average at best pitches. Expect him to spend almost the entirety of 2018, if not his career, in AAA.

Free Agency Outlook: The New York Mets

While a few teams remain in the post-season it is time, for most teams, to start looking at 2018. With that in mind, I am kicking off a series that looks at each team’s potential free agents and their associated fantasy baseball impacts starting with my hometown Mets. The Mets will not have many, if any, free agent departures of note this off-season primarily due to the fact their most attractive pending free agents were already dealt amidst the season.

Free Agents
Tom Gorzelanny: Gorzelanny never actually suited up for the Mets in 2017 and spent much of the season dealing with shoulder injuries. He pitched a combined 7.2 innings at three different levels of minor league ball. The 35-year old will likely sign a minor league deal this off-season in an effort to come back as a long reliever or left-handed specialist.  Sadly he has not been relevant for fantasy sports purposes since 2013.

Travis Snider: A much-traveled former first-round pick has not touched the Major Leagues since 2017. He performed solidly, but unspectacularly, at two hitter-friendly PCL Triple-A franchises this past season, but showed only modest power (10 combined home runs), but respectable plate discipline skills. He will be thirty on opening day and will try again to win a backup role with an MLB club and will most likely find himself as organizational filler at the Triple-A level.

Desmond Jennings: Former Rays’ starting outfielder Desmond Jennings spent some time with the Mets in a minor league capacity failing to do much of anything of note, despite the friendly hitting confines that can be found in Las Vegas (.237/.301/.415). Technically the Mets released him in June and he has been a free agent since that time. He has now been released in two successive seasons after earlier in his career being one of the most highly-coveted young players in the game given his power/speed combination and minor league plate discipline skills none of which really fully materialized at the MLB level and then injuries started to rear their ugly head. Jennings will be 31 on opening day and it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll even try to sign with a club. If healthy, there is a chance there is something left in the tank as the skills he showed as a Ray are still lurking, but that is a significant “if”.

Team Options: The Mets have only two players with options on their contracts and both of them are team contracts of “reasonable” amounts in baseball terms and are likely to be picked up.

From an offensive standpoint, Asdrubal Cabrera, has been a generally successful addition on the offensive side of things in each of his two seasons with the club, showing solid power for a middle infielder. 2017 was one of the more useful seasons of his career, in fact, as he showed improved plate discipline, making contact about 85% of the time while walking 9% and posting a career-high .351 OBP along with 14 home runs. This is a very acceptable production level for a middle infielder, but mediocre at best should the Mets opt to shift him to third base in 2018. Given the context of his career, his overall fantasy stat line should remain similar, but a regression in his OBP should be expected. Defensively it is about time the Mets accepted that despite the fact that he has played a number of positions over his career, that does not mean he should be as he continues to be one of the least effective defenders according to advanced fielding metrics on the left side of the infield. In fantasy terms, he is still a fairly valuable player, but in terms of real baseball, we are talking about a player who had a lower WAR (Wins above replacement) than Jose Iglesias who had a .288 OBP in 2017. He showed an ability to be at least adequate at second base and capable at first, is blocked thereby Dominic Smith who will be given every chance to hold down the everyday job in 2018.

Loogy Jeremy Blevins has pitched in now fewer than 73 games each of the last two seasons for the Mets, posting a sub 3.00 ERA and striking out batters at 11.1 and 12.7 K/9 respectively. On the open market his services would be highly contested and his salary, even at 34 years of age, could easily be higher heading into 2018 ($7 M) if allowed to enter the open market. Last year he allowed a .195 batting average against left-handed batters along with a .250 OBP with 48 strikeouts in 34 innings. Righties, unsurprisingly, smoked him with a .288/.447/.545. line and his career numbers against him of .242/.343/.400 contrasted against his .206/.264/.304 against lefties make his role quite clearly defined. His real utility is in leagues that count holds as he nailed down 16 and 19 the past two seasons.

Non-Tender Candidates
Despite the fact that he will be 36 years old come opening day Norichika Aoki is still arbitration eligible, albeit for the final time, this year. He has earned the same contract ($5.5 M) each of the past two years and continues to display the same tools and skills that obtained him those contracts. The Mets could conceivably keep him as a semi-regular especially considering Michael Conforto may not be ready to return on opening day or could let him walk while simply let him walk and take their chances in the free agent and trade markets instead. That aside, Aoki remains a tweener with consistent plate discipline skills and above average speed that allow him to hit for a solid batting average and respectable OBP while stealing a few bags. His extreme ground-ball tendencies and limited power will keep him from ever being more than a low single-digits homerun hitter. It should be noted that the lefty is having an increasing spread in his platoon splits, failing to muster much of anything against his left-handed counterparts the last two seasons. His defense also appears to be in decline the last few seasons as well upon a closer look. Aoki still has value as a fourth outfielder for contending teams. If the Mets bring him back, similar playing time and production levels as a platoon player should be expected.

Tommy Milone was awful for the Mets and has always been considered a back end of the rotation starter, but at least having bone spurs to blame for his 7-plus ERA makes some sense. It remains to be seen whether or not he will undergo surgery for the issue which typically has no long-term effect on a pitchers’ career. When at his best, Milone is a fairly soft-tossing lefty known for allowing fly-balls and subsequently home runs at fairly high rates. He owns a career 12.3 HR/FB and a FIP well over 4.00 making him a non-recommended option on draft day in all formats.

It’s All About the Glove: Breaking Down the Adeiny Hechavarria Deal

Trade Background: It’s all about the glove, at least from the Rays’ point of view. The Rays dealt minor leaguers Braxton Lee and Ethan Clark for Adeiny Hechavarria. From the Marlins, it was about getting rid of the remainder of Hechavarria’s $4.4 M dollar salary. Long term that makes him a non-tender candidate as he’ll head to arbitration once again this Fall, but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Roster Ramifications: Hechavarria was on the DL with the Marlins and will be activated later this week, so a corresponding move has yet to be made. He’ll take over as the primary shortstop with Tim Beckham and Daniel Robertson splitting time at second base. Taylor Featherston could end up the roster casualty though it could possibly be Robertson being sent down too since he has options remaining. The returns of Brad Miller and Matt Duffy, both not until the second half for Duffy for certain and possibly for Miller, will shuffle up this whole middle infield situation again in time.

For the Marlins, since Hechavarria was already on the DL, the deal does not result in any MLB-level roster changes. What it does is lock in J.T. Riddle as their primary shortstop. The Marlins do not have any other shortstop prospects close to MLB ready and so it is sink or swim time for Riddle. They do, however, have an array of journeyman/veterans with plenty of MLB experience in Triple-A to fill in should the need arise.

As for the minors, Braxton Lee will head to Double-A Jacksonville and Ethan Clark is moving to Low-A Greensboro.

Player Analysis: Without his plus glove Hechavarria would not have much of an MLB career. The 28-year old makes a reasonable amount of contact but lacks power, patience, and though he runs well, is not much of a stolen base threat. At best, the righty may provide a .270s to .280s batting average and single digit HR and SB totals.

Braxton Lee, 23, was a 2014 12th round draft pick by the Rays. A 5’10” centerfielder with well above average speed, Lee brings a decent approach to the plate, combining moderate selectivity and some contact making skills in an effort to put the ball on the ground and leg it out as much as possible. Not surprisingly the result is an almost complete lack of a power-hitting game. In fact, his first two professional home runs came this year in his fourth season of pro ball. He was having a nice season with a .318/.387/.391 slash along with 12 steals, but still barely surfaces on the prospect radar. Expect him to be on the journeyman/fifth outfielder career path.

Ethan Clark is not a high-pedigree prospect either. The 22-year old was a 2015 15th round draft pick and has worked in both starting and relief since signing with the Rays. Despite standing about 6’6”, Clark is not a power pitcher per se, but he has good command and his primary pitch is a heavy sinker that he mixes with a changeup and curve. In 55 innings Clark has posted an 8.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. At best, he projects as a back-end of the rotation starter or middle reliever. The development of a secondary pitch as a true swing and miss offering is the key here.

Conclusions: The Rays were determined to upgrade their defense and they accomplished that goal though it is uncertain whether or not Hechevarria will eventually fade into a defensive replacement role once Duffy and Miller both return to the scene. The Marlins meanwhile managed to shed some salary and acquire two prospects, though neither has a high ceiling, both have their utility and could contribute at the MLB level in time.