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Cliff Lee Can Still Be a Low-Risk, High-Reward Starter for a Contender

The teams are interested and lining up. 

They can certainly smell a potential deal that benefits them when the scent wafts through the offseason air. And the aroma is strong with this one.

One-time ace Cliff Lee is back on the market as a viable rotation option for some contending club. After missing all of the 2015 season because of a partially torn flexor tendon, Lee is back to throwing and hoping to land a spot in a big league rotation for 2016.

While the bidding for Lee could rise to the point that he has a guaranteed major league deal and potentially for more than just one season, he still provides a low-risk, massive-reward kind of incentive because he can help front any rotation if healthy. After all, we are talking about a guy who pitched at an elite level as recently as 2014 when he posted a 2.96 FIP and had a 6.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, though those numbers came in only 13 starts before the injury.

Let us not be misleading or overly optimistic. Lee is a big risk in terms of staying healthy, but low-risk in terms of what a team would have to commit to land him, relatively speaking about the current free-agent pitching market.

It is more than possible Lee signs with a team and his left elbow never responds the way he or the team hopes. Maybe he makes it to Opening Day but ends up a bad pitcher. The team ends up on the hook for whatever money it assured Lee, and he is gone from baseball forever. That is the worst-case scenario.

Because Lee is 37 years old, and because he’s pitched just 13 times in the last two seasons, that is the likeliest way for all of this to play out. It would be an unfortunate end to a career but not completely shocking considering all the miles Lee has accumulated during his impressive stand.

Bringing the body, and especially the arm, back from all of that trauma taxes it even more, and the likelihood of a successful comeback is small. Or at least that’s how baseball history tells it for pitchers.

But if Lee can indeed come back and recreate what he did in 2014, he could end up being a bargain and a leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. And in a dreamer’s world, Lee could even find enough of his old form to be one of the best pitchers in the majors, as he was as recently as 2013 when he had a 2.87 ERA and league-leading 6.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 222.2 innings with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The idea of that kind of bounce-back, that kind of reinvention, is why half the league is interested in what Lee brings to the table, both in terms of his medicals and his stuff, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Considering it might not take much of a commitment to sign him, any contending team’s front office would not be doing its job properly if it did not at least window-shop on Lee.

At this point Lee is far removed from 2013, but going back to 2010 and right through the last time he pitched in the majors, the numbers show he is a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Since the start of 2010, Lee has a 2.95 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 133 ERA+ over 134 starts. In those five seasons, his 26.2 FanGraphs WAR mark is fourth-highest in the majors, the ERA is seventh-lowest and the K/BB ratio is by far the best.

You can see why the interest exists. If Lee even hints at what he’s been in the recent past, a one- or two-year incentive-laden contract could end up as the biggest pitching bargain on the current markets, free-agent or trade.

That leaves plenty of teams in the mix for Lee, who wants to pitch for a contender. The Los Angeles Dodgers are probably out after agreeing to terms with Scott Kazmir on Wednesday, but every other club with a thought of playing in the postseason should be making a run at the lefty. High-payroll clubs like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and lower-payroll teams like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates should all be seriously considering Lee.

If the comeback fails, none of those teams are crippled by it since the money and expectations are minimal. If it succeeds, Lee is a game-changing rotation piece that shifts postseason odds.

Whenever Lee signs with a team, the news might not shake the ground. But if he pitches like his recent self in 2016, it would certainly be a seismic shift in either league’s playoff picture.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Scott Kazmir Fills a Need, but Won’t Turn Tide of Dodgers’ Disappointing Winter

Scott Kazmir is nice. Quite fine, even.

But Scott Kazmir is not enough to fix what is becoming a more uninspiring offseason by the day for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers, three-time defending National League West champions, agreed to a three-year, $48 million contract with the left-handed Kazmir, according to Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi:

On its own, the deal is solid, as the soon-to-be 32-year-old owns a respectable 3.33 ERA over the last two seasons.

But in the vacuum that is the Dodgers’ offseason, one that has seen them let Zack Greinke walk to a rival and Aroldis Chapman’s domestic issues sully a blockbuster trade and Hisashi Iwakuma’s balky medicals nix their agreement, this deal for Kazmir is not enough to say the Dodgers are the favorites in the remade and highly competitive NL West.

The opt-out after one year shows that Kazmir would like to re-establish his value with a good 2016 and that the Dodgers just need a stopgap starter before their young minor league pitchers mature enough to take on full-time roles in their rotation.

“In Scott’s case, he and his representation are aware that next year’s free-agent starting pitching market will probably be a pretty good seller’s market,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi told reporters. “From our standpoint, we have a lot of good young pitching that we feel is going to be ready to contribute at some point in 2016 and certainly by 2017.”

The problem is Kazmir, if he is not a front-line arm the way he was for the Oakland A’s during the first half of last season, is not the kind of piece that gives the Dodgers a major boost. In fact, if he pitches like he did down the stretch for the Houston Astros, he is a liability.

As of now, the Dodgers are not a bad club, despite what knee-jerk analysts, misinformed fans and radio talking heads might have you believe.

This team was among the best offensive clubs in baseball last season, and that was with Yasiel Puig out or playing hurt for the majority of 2015. And the offense stands to improve next season if All-Star center fielder Joc Pederson can become more disciplined as a power threat and rookie shortstop Corey Seager produces more than Jimmy Rollins did last season, which shouldn’t be difficult.

Then there is Puig, a player who the misguided believe should be on the scrap heap for offenses no more serious than him being a youthful headache. But he won’t even make $20 million in base salary over the next three years, and when he’s been healthy, he has been among the best. That last part is undeniable.

Oh, and there is Clayton Kershaw, the best thrower of a baseball on the planet. Also undeniable. Plus a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen, even if the rest of the bullpen is seriously suspect.

So people should be inclined to stop bashing the Dodgers as an afterthought within their own division. They might not be the favorite before the new year rings in, but they do not stink to the high heavens.

Kazmir affirms that. He could end up as a quality lefty, one battle-tested in the more difficult American League last season.

In fact, why Kazmir wasn’t more coveted in a market thirsty for pitching is a bit of a mystery. He is aged and he did have a rugged end to 2015, pitching to a gruesome 5.89 ERA over his final nine starts for the Astros (he had a 2.12 ERA over his first 22 starts between the A’s and Astros). But he’s healthy and capable, and he can help the Dodgers if he pitches as he did before his late-season collapse.

However, the Dodgers needed more than help this offseason. They needed significant impact considering they lost Greinke, arguably the best pitcher in the majors last season. And ideally, they needed a right-handed starting pitcher since, with Kazmir, the rotation might be entirely left-handed come Opening Day, though the Dodgers front office does not see that as a major negative.

“That’s something we’ve discussed over the course of the offseason,” Zaidi told reporters of the all-lefty rotation. “It sets you up for a situation where having some balance in the bullpen makes some sense, because you’re going to see a certain type of lineup day-in, day-out when you have an extreme rotation one way or another.”

Chapman would have provided that impact and excitement. Johnny Cueto or Andrew Miller would have, too. A deal for Jose Fernandez was always a pipe dream, but Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar had potential.

Instead, the Dodgers are driving a fall and winter that to this point have done little other than disappoint onlookers, and possibly themselves, as Chapman and Iwakuma appeared to be in the bag. The consolation prize is Kazmir and a bunch of little-to-nothing signings and trades, although their prospect package in the Todd Frazier trade was applauded and they could still win the bidding war for Kenta Maeda.

That does not mean the Dodgers should be written off as also-rans. They have a quality roster, one that most other GMs in the game would swap for their own right now. But this franchise is not in the business of simply being better than most.

It exists to win World Series titles. Kazmir could end up contributing to that, but as of right now, he is the Dodgers’ major acquisition and does not make them a pennant favorite in what is still a lackluster offseason.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Alex Gordon Can Provide Jason Heyward Impact at Nearly Half the Cost

Alex Gordon is the alternative.

Exactly what kind of secondary option on the free-agent market to someone like Jason Heyward he can actually be, well, every team with an outfield need is still calculating that.

In this era of ballooning market values, teams are still leery about what they consider overpaying for a player, especially one beyond 30 years old whose value is tied into being an elite defender and not a middle-of-the-order bat. This may be why the outfield market, even with Heyward setting the $184 million bar, has become so slow to play out. Gordon has a case to be a nine-figure player, but it appears, as of now, no club wants to make that kind of commitment to him.

Even still, one cannot deny Gordon’s place in the game. He has been one of the most valuable outfielders in the American League over the last five years, and for a team not wanting to hand out six or seven years and upward of $150 million, Gordon could be the most attractive alternative.

Gordon’s only franchise to this point in his career, the Kansas City Royals, reportedly have “no chance” of re-signing the left fielder as things currently stand, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. That is because the club’s offer, according to’s Jim Bowden (via MLB Trade Rumors’ ), would have topped out at around $52 million for four years. Gordon is reportedly seeking a deal that would pay him an average annual value of around $20 million, per Heyman, putting him at or over the $100 million mark over a five-year contract. 

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for Alex Gordon and what he has done here,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told Jeffrey Flanagan of “He has been a terrific player. He’s played on a championship team. We all appreciate the history of Alex Gordon in Kansas City.

“But it would be reckless and inappropriate to comment on any negotiation,” Moore added. “We’re just not going to do that.”

So, let’s assume the Royals have “no chance” to get Gordon based on those reports. That leaves teams like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles, according to Heyman. And most recently, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Chicago White Sox have gotten into the mix as they undergo a second roster shakeup in as many offseasons in their attempt to compete in the AL Central:

The interest in Gordon is multifaceted.

As an offensive weapon, he can hit anywhere in the lineup. Last season for the World Series champion Royals he batted leadoff, second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, and in the postseason, he occupied four of those spots in the lineup. Since becoming a full-time left fielder in 2011, Gordon has a .359 OBP and has flashed 20-homer potential that could easily be reached if he played his future home games in a more hitter-friendly ballpark.

Gordon stands out more defensively. Since 2011, he has obliterated all major league left fielders in all of the defensive metrics, based on FanGraphs’ formulas. And in terms of all big league outfielders, Gordon’s 94 defensive runs saved are second to only Heyward’s 107.

When it comes to wins above replacement, Gordon’s 25.1 FanGraphs WAR since 2011 is fourth in the majors among outfielders behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista, as NBC Sports’ Aaron Gleeman noted. That includes the 2015 season when Gordon missed 58 games and spent nearly eight weeks on the disabled list with a groin injury.

Of course, it all depends on how much value a front office actually puts into WAR. While it is a nice catchall kind of statistic, the Baseball-Reference version of it had Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as the third-most valuable player in the American League behind Trout and Josh Donaldson last season. While we should understand Kiermaier’s worth in this day and age, no one is confusing him for the third-best player in either league.

Either way, Gordon is clearly an elite outfielder. And even going into his age-32 season, he figures to age decently—or as well as a 32-year-old on a potential five-year deal possibly can—because of his on-base skills and the fact that he won’t be asked to play center field, as the Chicago Cubs are expected to have Heyward do next season.

There is also the hugely obvious reason Gordon is valuable on this current open market, which also includes much younger and more powerful players like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes—money. Gordon might seek and receive a nine-figure contract, but he won’t reach the heights of what Upton or Cespedes might get, let alone Heyward. We are talking about, potentially, up to $60 million less for Gordon than the other two available free-agent left fielders.

Gordon is an impact player, and as teams are looking to not overpay for position players the way they already have for pitchers during this offseason, he becomes as coveted as anyone still on the market. A team will not have to commit to him the way it will for Upton or Cespedes, and especially Heyward.

For a team expected to contend in the next few seasons, Gordon is the kind of piece to potentially change its fortunes for the better while still providing payroll flexibility. No other player on the market, at any position, can claim that.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Phillies Rebuild Finally Transitioning from Lost Cause to Genuine Hope

Being blinded by the captivating sunset and completely overlooking the edge of the oncoming cliff leads to an obvious outcome. 

That is what happened to the Philadelphia Phillies over the last four seasons. Their front office, led by former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his mission to make his faulty plan look like a genuinely wise one, found itself at a peak and believed it to be a plateau rather than the top of a steep drop. Winning 102 games in a season can do that, but it was the job of Amaro‘s construction team to project the future and see the fall coming.

He—and, in turn, the Phillies—did not. So rather than selling high and getting optimum returns on players who still had some value, the Phillies plummeted to the tune of 358 losses over the last four seasons. The reality of the situation smashed the organization in the face, as many of its former stars lost that value and aged rapidly, and Amaro‘s tenure came to a deserved end in September.

By that time, though, the Phillies had recognized the fault in their ways. Ace Cole Hamels had been traded, as had closer Jonathan Papelbon along with others. And this offseason, with new GM Matt Klentak running things, the Phillies, in a shift from the previous regime, actually sold early on a player, dealing back-end reliever Ken Giles to the Houston Astros.

Now, finally, the Phillies are fully rebuilding. No more foolishly patching holes. No more clinging to the dream that aging players will suddenly resurrect their careers. Now, there is again hope in Philadelphia.

The Phillies started this only a couple of seasons too late, as it is difficult to sell a plan that includes trading away stars months after the team wins 102 games in 2011. Still, after a .500 finish in 2012, the writing on the wall was clear and legible.

Taking so long to move veterans Hamels, Papelbon, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was a bad look. It was equally as bad, if not worse, for the club to not rid itself of veterans like Carlos Ruiz or Cliff Lee when they still had value and the losses were already stacking.

Alas, the mistakes were made. What the Phillies have done since, including with Amaro still as an employee, has been impressive.

Sure, maybe they could have gotten a much bigger haul for Hamels had they dealt him sooner (the same could certainly be said for Utley). But what they did end up getting back for Hamels before last season’s nonwaiver trade deadline was a solid haul.

The team was wisely willing to pay down some of Hamels’ contract in return for a better package of prospects because in the end, they have the money. They needed the players.

Earlier this month, Klentak struck another big trade. He moved Giles to the Astros, a club with a win-now window. Giles had a 1.56 ERA over the last two seasons, but a team challenging to lose enough games to get the top overall pick in the 2017 draft has no need for such a bullpen weapon. So Klentak traded him for a load of pitching promise.

Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, could eventually be the prize of the group. He had not lived up to expectations in the Astros organization, but he is only 24 years old and still possesses a live arm and plus stuff.

“We talked in the last two months about the importance of augmenting our pitching and maintaining balance in everything that we do,” Klentak told reporters. “And with these trades…we feel like we made our club better, both in the short and the long term. It improves our pitching up and down the system.”

The Phillies had the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, and that selection, right-hander Aaron Nola, has already debuted for the big league club. They had the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, will have the first pick next June and are the front-runners to have the top overall pick in the 2017 draft.

You see how the Phillies are stockpiling young talent to go with players like Nola, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. You see they are positioned to get impact players in the coming drafts. And finally, you should see that the team’s television contract is worth more than $2.5 billion, giving it the financial flexibility to push its payroll beyond $200 million soon enough.

And just in time for a free-agent class after the 2018 season that could potentially include Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, David Price and Clayton Kershaw.

No longer are there cries about the Phillies’ failing rebuild. Amaro is gone, and the false hope he saddled the organization with for too long is gone, too.

Philadelphia baseball has a new wave of hope. The rebuild is underway, finally. And the promise is blinding in a way that nobody has to worry about falling off a cliff anytime soon.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Mets’ Miserly Offseason Leaves Sobering Reality After Magical World Series Run

Euphoria lasts only so long.

The giddiness and amazement that existed with the New York Mets‘ fall wonderland was pure bliss for a franchise that had for too long operated without a semblance of a care for on-field winning.

The run to the World Series provided pleasure in the moment, but just as critically, it gave hope that the Mets would use their newfound springboard to put a dominant contender on the field for seasons to come. With cheap, great starting pitching already on the roster, the Mets need only to put adequate position players behind it to ensure the franchise is a significant threat to the National League pennant for the foreseeable future.

But as this offseason welcomes 2016, Mets ownership, led by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, has yet to supplement the pitching. Instead, the team’s debt is keeping it from making any significant free-agent signings. And because of that, the Mets cannot afford to leverage some of their young starting pitching for an impact bat because they need the cost-controlled arms to at least stay competitive in a floundering NL East.

“Mets fans should be celebrating their favorite team’s first World Series appearance since 2000 and preparing for even better days ahead,” Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote Tuesday after the Mets’ latest underwhelming signing—Alejandro De Aza—was reported. “Instead, they’re pissed off.”

Mets fans have a right to be upset, and analysts are clear to question the organization’s offseason direction when the Kansas City Royals, the World Series champions who knocked off the Mets in the Fall Classic, look like major players in the free-agent market when put next to the Mets.

The Mets unexpectedly saved about $12.5 million when Michael Cuddyer retired earlier this month, though some of that money could have been bought out by the club to save the remainder. And it is paying only about $9.5 million for the core of that rotation—Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz—and its closer, Jeurys Familia.

However, instead of capitalizing on that cost control and its enviable pitching makeup, ownership is more concerned with funneling money toward the debt it racked up after losing $500 million in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and an ensuing $162 million lawsuit settlement, ultimately costing $60 million and with the first $30 million due next year, according to’s Adam Rubin.

So, despite a relatively cheap payroll based on market size, up to $60 million in extra playoff revenue based on economist Andrew Zimbalist’s estimation (via USA Today‘s Joe Lemire), a nearly 20 percent attendance increase and spiking ratings for local television network SNY, in which ownership has a majority stake, the Mets are not pumping money into the 2016 product. This is happening despite an expected attendance increase next season, plus increased ticket prices and the ability to increase ad revenue from the TV network.

It should be noted that the Mets were reportedly willing to offer Ben Zobrist $60 million over four years, but he chose to take less money to play for the Chicago Cubs, according to the New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff. Beyond that overture, the Mets have only a trio of uninspiring transactions on the books for next season—signing De Aza, acquiring second baseman Neil Walker and signing infielder Asdrubal Cabrera.

The Mets are still competitive and probably even the NL East favorites considering the Washington Nationals have done nothing to put themselves over the top in this race. The rest of the division is uninspiring, so the Mets rotation alone gives them the competitive advantage.

The problem with comparing the Mets to the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the above tweet does, is that New York is not Pittsburgh. The Mets are in the biggest revenue market in the sport, while the Pirates have to perennially pinch pennies. Fairer comparisons for the Mets would be teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

Yet in terms of payrolls, there is no comparing the Mets to those franchises. They are spending to win World Series. The Mets are spending, or not spending, in order to pay down debts.

“That’s what made us tight,” Wilpon told reporters in 2013, the last time he spoke to the press. “We were still getting revenues, lots of revenues, but those revenues were going to pay off debt.”

That has not appeared to change in the following three seasons. And it is an offense worthy of having the team stripped, as the Dodgers were from infamous owner Frank McCourt when he was rightfully strong-armed into selling the franchise in 2011.

Former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig ousted McCourt for using the Dodgers’ coffers to fund personal expenses, handing the franchise to the better-equipped Guggenheim Baseball Management that now pumps oceans of money into the club.

Essentially, Wilpon is doing the same thing McCourt did, but instead of snatching his team, new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called this a “fun fact.” Manfred is not alone in helping Wilpon. Selig loaned the Mets money and then did nothing when the loan was past due.

This is the reality Mets fans live in.

The inebriation of last fall’s World Series run, as wonderful as it was, is gone. The effects of the team’s finances and unwillingness to spend big on an impact player have taken over this offseason, and the reality, for that fanbase, is a sobering smack in the mouth.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Assessing Justin Upton’s, Yoenis Cespedes’ Worth After Jason Heyward’s Megadeal

For a brief moment in time, the entire belief made a lot of sense. 

It was too logical not to.

Major League Baseball’s free agency and trade market had seen the predictable run on starting pitchers, and even a bunch of relievers. Then, somewhat predictably, the biggest position player on either market, Jason Heyward, signed his megadeal with the Chicago Cubs for $184 million over eight seasons.

After that, if figured to be time for the best of the rest, especially the outfielders. Among them, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes were the headliners, but surprisingly, they remain on the marquee going on two weeks after news of Heyward’s agreement came to light.

While those two are still on the board, it is certainly worth examining why and how much each is worth, obviously using Heyward’s massive contract as a barometer. Neither Upton nor Cespedes should reach those heights in years or total money, but both deals stand to be significant—sooner or later.

“I don’t remember it ever being separated like that,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick days before his team agreed to terms with Heyward. “There was just more supply and more demand for pitchers than anywhere else, and outfielders came next. Everyone is just waiting for the first one to sign.”

The first one has now, yet there is still little to no movement on the markets for Upton or Cespedes, as well as Alex Gordon, who is seen as another premier outfield option, though one who will receive a lighter contract than the other two because he will be 32 years old next season.

All three can make cases to top $100 million in the open market, but Upton and Cespedes are locks to do so.

Upton, a former No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is going into his age-28 season and is coming off three very good seasons, all of which were played in the traditional pitcher-friendly parks of Turner Field and Petco Park. In those three seasons with the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres, Upton has averaged 27 home runs a year and put up a 126 OPS+.

He has been durable and consistent, a knock on him during his five seasons with the Diamondbacks, as his OPS+ totals fluctuated from as low as 107 to 141 in that time. That unpredictability, which led him to be tabbed by his first organization as an underachiever with five-tool talent, led to Upton being traded to the Braves, who flipped him to the Padres after two productive seasons in Atlanta.

Having absolutely proven he can be a middle-of-the-order bat, Upton’s market figured to be flush with suitors this offseason. But through November, the winter meetings and now headed into Christmas and the end of the year, there has been only quiet rumors regarding Upton. The Baltimore Orioles seem to be a realistic option and fit—the Orioles need an impact bat, could use an outfielder, and Upton is from bordering Virginia—but there’s been little traction there since CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the team met with Upton’s agent before Heyward signed with the Cubs.

The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels have a need for a power-hitting outfielder, but the Giants took themselves out of that market after signing Johnny Cueto last week, and Angels owner Arte Moreno told reporters (per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times) his team will not pursue Upton or Cespedes. We should not completely count out either club, though.

If they truly are out on either player, it would hurt both players’ leverage. However, Upton being the youngest of the remaining options and still a premier outfielder in his prime means a huge contract is in play. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted a seven-year, $147 million contract, and that kind of deal, and maybe even a richer one, still seems plausible considering what outfielders like Matt Kemp ($160 million), Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) and Carl Crawford ($142 million) have received.

In the current market, Upton is worth something along the lines of a $20-23 million average annual value. Despite being older, Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors predicted during the winter meetings that Cespedes would receive around the top end of that range, at $140 million over six years.

FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron predicted Cespedes would get $150 million over seven years. That total monetary value seems accurate, considering he is 30 and his recent and projected production, according to Cameron’s FanGraphs teammate Craig Edwards.

Cespedes has proven to be a power hitter with plus defensive value, and his value spiked last season during a six-week span with the New York Mets when he batted .309/.356/.691 with a 1.048 OPS, 10 doubles and 17 home runs. That red-hot stretch sparked premature MVP consideration and had Cespedes looking like he might be the best bat on the market this offseason.

Unfortunately for his stock, he cooled in the final two weeks of the regular season and was mostly unproductive in the postseason. In a free-market system prone to overreactions based on October performances, it was a bad time for Cespedes to go cold.

Now teams will value him properly, and that means $150 million, or its surrounding areas, is where Cespedes’ eventual price should end up residing, and probably for six years. That would be reasonable based on his history and projections, especially if he finds himself in an extreme hitter’s park like Baltimore’s Camden Yards—the Orioles have had recent contact with Cespedes (per Buster Olney of ESPN), but nothing serious has come of it yet:

Heyward’s contract is a decent barometer, and if more teams were involved in the Upton/Cespedes rumors, whoever signed second could use the other’s deal as more leverage—they both have qualities the other does not, which could be used in negotiations. However, the fact that the market seems small for both, and Gordon, could lead to one of them jumping on a deal, as the other is not necessarily assured to top it afterward.

While we can somewhat gauge for how much Upton and Cespedes might sign, the more intriguing part of this is which club will lock down one of them first. The outfield market has yet to truly open up, and that could end up leading to a race to the negotiating table before the money and options dry up.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Key Takeaways from Week 6 of MLB Hot Stove Chatter

We are a week removed from the Major League Baseball winter meetings, but the action has cooled only slightly.

The last eight days provided a headline trade that furthered the Cincinnati Reds’ rebuilding project, and the Los Angeles Dodgers lost a player they thought they had acquired. But nothing was as noteworthy as the next-best starting pitcher coming off the market when the San Francisco Giants signed Johnny Cueto.

That deal made the Giants a favorite in the National League West and jump-started the week in hot stove happenings.

It’s time to examine the week’s takeaways, including San Francisco’s new front-line arm.

Begin Slideshow

George Springer Should Be Untouchable in Astros’ Trade Plans

The term “untouchable” is always relative, and the parameters of it depend on the organization and front office that hold said player who might be off limits in trade discussions.

Some teams hang up the phone after such a player’s name is mentioned, and that is assuming they do not answer the phone by stating the player is off the table as a salutation. Then again, other teams use the label loosely, as if to say an interested team would have to be willing to part with a massive return package just to start the conversation about that player.

It is the tag’s second form that most accurately applies to the Houston Astros’ view on George Springer, their 26-year-old right fielder who possesses promising power potential and is seen as part of the young core that has Houston garnering World Series expectations. Rumors about Springer came up during the winter meetings earlier this month, but to this point, there is no traction beyond passing inquiries as the Astros seem unlikely to part with Springer unless the haul for him is significant.

As it should be, rightfully making him one of Houston’s “untouchables.”

That does not mean the Astros will not listen, though many of the words might go in one ear and out the other if other teams are simply trying to gauge the market.

“We listen,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters at the meetings (h/t Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle). “We talk to clubs about everything. There’s nothing out of bounds.”

Of course, that is a far trek from putting a player on the trading block. That is particularly true when the player has put up back-to-back seasons with a 126 OPS+ despite injuries and still has five seasons of team control.

Luhnow is quite aware of those facts.

“It’s a tricky question to answer,” he told reporters when he was asked about untouchable assets. “Because if you have good players, other clubs are going to ask you about them and any time you get an inbound inquiry on any player, you’re going to at least look at it and talk about it with your group. I think for us, we’ve got young core players. That starts with [Dallas] Keuchel, [Jose] Altuve, [George] Springer, [Carlos] Correa.

“Those guys are part of the Astros and there’s no reason for us to move any of those types of players. They’re here, they’re under control for years, they’re good, they’ve played together, it works. I don’t think anybody in that group would be going anywhere any time soon.”

That seems to prove especially true for Keuchel and Correa, the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year winners, respectively.

Springer could be a different case, though.

The Astros certainly are not shopping him, but the 11th overall pick of the 2011 draft is attractive because of his ceiling and control. His current club understands the value that brings, and if he can garner a package of high-ceiling prospects and/or a top-shelf pitching prospect or front-line major league-ready starter, that listening the Astros are doing could turn into real talks.

There is a lot to like about Springer as a high-upside offensive player. He hit 20 home runs in 345 plate appearances as a rookie, and last season he ended up as the team’s leadoff hitter for most of the year, posting an .829 OPS from that spot—he also hit third early in the year and second in the final month.

Springer suffered a fractured wrist in early July, when he was hitting .264/.365/.457 with an .822 OPS. He returned in September for the final 27 games and hit .304/.373/.464 with an .837 OPS, five doubles and three home runs.

Springer can also play solid defense. Last season, among major league right fielders with at least 800 innings played, he was sixth with five defensive runs saved, a counting stat likely lowered because of the time Springer missed, and seventh with a 4.4 ultimate zone rating per 150 innings, according to Fangraphs.

Despite missing most of July and all of August, Springer was still almost a four-win player by both Baseball-Reference‘s and Fangraphs‘ calculations. There is significant value in that, which is why other teams have a desire to put that type of lineup-versatile player on their roster.

The Astros are right to label Springer as one of their untouchables at this point. He could be just entering his prime, and his potential when given 600-plus plate appearances is high enough to cause salivation and project some All-Star selections in his future. The Astros are also right to listen to the chatter about their budding star. If a team is willing to pay the asking price, the organization has to consider moving him.

For now, though, Springer is an Astro and a major part of the organization’s plan to go from doormat to title hopeful. With him, the Astros are better. Without him, they might improve. And that difference is enough of a reason to mark him as an “untouchable.”


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Dodgers’ Next Move Could Be Acquiring an Ace by Trading from Prospect Stockpile

The stockpile is in place. 

The brain trust is comfortable and mapping out how to do its next big thing.

All that is left is for the Los Angeles Dodgers to actually strike the stunning deal.

Since Andrew Friedman (president of baseball operations), Josh Byrnes (vice president of baseball operations) and Farhan Zaidi (general manager) took over the organization’s front office, the Brainiac Bunch has made calculated trades in order to gain and retain high-level prospects, sometimes to the outrage of a fanbase that expects the Dodgers to do anything and everything to land every elite player on the markets.

Alas, the group is hoarding young, controllable and coveted talent in what can only be seen as ammunition for a blockbuster trade either in the immediate or near future.

That trend continued Wednesday when the Dodgers got involved in the trade that sent third baseman Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox, who turned over a trio of strong prospects to the Dodgers, who sent a trio of lesser prospects to the Cincinnati Reds, Frazier’s original team.

With the deal—the Dodgers acquired high-velocity right-hander Frankie Montas, second baseman Micah Johnson and outfielder Trayce Thompson—speculation immediately ensued about which ace the Dodgers would target in their attempt to make up ground they’ve lost during this offseason to the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants, clubs that added front-line pitching.

“I tip my cap to those teams. They both had very strong offseasons,” Zaidi told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday evening. “The bar has definitely been raised in our division, and we’re going to have to make sure that we’re not just keeping up, but continuing to play at the top of the division.” 

Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is the obvious connection right now. He was rumored to be on the trade market earlier in the offseason, and the Dodgers, winners of three consecutive National League West titles, showed their interest during the winter meetings earlier this month, though they were turned off by the Marlins’ asking price

But Fernandez is not the only top-end starter the Dodgers could seek out.

Oakland A’s ace Sonny Gray could be the piece the Dodgers want. Or it could be Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer. Or even White Sox stud Chris Sale, though that one is least likely right now considering Chicago is in win-now mode after deals for Brett Lawrie and Frazier. 

What is happening with the Dodgers’ farm systems makes it clear another move could be coming, and the front office knows it cannot hide its intentions any longer.

Friedman acknowledged as much during an interview with the team’s flagship station, KLAC 570 AM. He said (via Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register) Wednesday’s trade “also improves our trade capital to match up with other teams.”

He couched that by telling Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times that while other clubs are interested in the players he acquired from the White Sox, it does not necessarily mean a trade is imminent.

However, when Shaikin asked if he would be more comfortable trading elite pitching prospects after Wednesday’s deal than he was a day before, Friedman simply stated, “Yeah.”

The Dodgers have not done much this offseason besides signing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, and their biggest headlines came when they nixed a trade for elite Reds closer Aroldis Chapman after discovering he was involved in a domestic altercation in October, which Major League Baseball is now investigating and could hand down punishment for depending on the outcome. 

There are obvious hurdles in trading for a front-line starter, though. As Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported, baseball executives have described Fernandez’s asking price as “absurd” and “ridiculous,” so he could be out of play.

As for Gray, Archer and Sale, the price could end up just as high in the now. Figure the stunning price the Diamondbacks paid to get Shelby Miller, then figure that all three of the aforementioned aces are better than Miller and each has more team control than Miller’s three years.

That means any current conversation had about Gray, Archer or Sale starts at a better package than the Atlanta Braves received for Miller and somewhere close to what the Marlins are asking for Fernandez, who also has three more years until free agency and is still on an innings restriction after Tommy John surgery.

It is possible the prices change for those pitchers by the time next July 31 rolls around or by this time next year. It is also possible the Dodgers prospects continue to blossom and their stock rises to the point the team does not have to give up as many in a return package.

Either way, whether it is in the next six weeks or in the next six or 12 months, the Dodgers are now prepared to part with some of their elite stockpile to land an ace. And when they do, they again become one of the scariest teams in all of baseball.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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MLB Offseason Frenzy Has Paved Road for Fascinating 2016 NL West War

This is not going to be the National League West of recent memory.

For the past four seasons, the San Francisco Giants, with two World Series titles (three in the last six years), and the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of three consecutive West championships, have run the division. Those clubs spent the most and won the most.

The San Diego Padres attempted to compete last season, making blockbuster trades and signings in order to climb the division’s ladder, but they failed miserably, again leaving the Giants and Dodgers to fight it out without interference from anyone else.

That is expected to change next summer. The Dodgers and Giants are scrambling to make trades and sign free agents to improve themselves, but the Arizona Diamondbacks have already done both and, as rosters are currently constructed, look to be the class of the West after acquiring pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller.

The offseason is far from over, but based on what we’ve already seen, the National League West is going to be a dogfight next summer, and probably for years to come, as none of those three clubs has any interest in lying back. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman made note of Arizona’s outlook:

“That’s now a damn good team,” an NL West scout told’s Jayson Stark at last week’s winter meetings. “That’s a very tough lineup to work your way through. They play the game the right way. And I like their rotation a lot.”

Arizona’s moves were bold and risky. It agreed to pay a 32-year-old Greinke an average annual salary of more than $34 million, the highest the game has ever seen, over six years. And to land Miller, the Diamondbacks had to give up a package of prospects that included last year’s No. 1 overall pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson, who could end up being an impact player at the major league level sooner rather than later.

The moves are aided by the massive television deal the team received for more than $1.5 billion, according to Nick Piecoro of AZCentral Sports (h/t MLB Trade Rumors)—the kind of contract that has already changed the way the franchise operates. Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart used that flexibility to sign Greinke for $206.5 million, and in the coming days and years the D-backs will be a legitimate contender for any high-profile free agent, including Japanese ace Kenta Maeda now and potentially Stephen Strasburg next year.

“What would you do to win?” Stewart told reporters last week. “That’s how I look at it. … We’re in the business here to win.”

As are the Giants, the winningest franchise Major League Baseball has seen in terms of World Series championships in some time. That is why after missing out on Greinke, they went to Plan B and signed Jeff Samardzija, hoping he can be a bounce-back candidate under pitching coach Dave Righetti. That came weeks after the team signed shortstop Brandon Crawford, possibly the best all-around player at his position, to a six-year, $75 million extension.

There is more to do. The rotation is still iffy even with Samardzija, and acquiring a power-hitting right-handed bat could be in the team’s near future. GM Bobby Evans told Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors that he has been in touch with “almost everyone on the outfield market,” and he did not rule out the possibility of the team’s going after Yoenis Cespedes when talking to MLB Network Radio before the winter meetings.

That kind of impact bat and another arm to put in the rotation or bullpen would put the Giants at Arizona’s level and make their bid for a fourth World Series in the even years a realistic possibility on Opening Day.

Then there are the Dodgers, mostly shut out at the winter meetings and having to absorb the loss of Greinke, possibly the best pitcher in baseball last season.

“If I was handicapping the division right now,” a scout told Stark, “I’d say the Dodgers would finish third.”

That is because aside from losing Greinke, the Dodgers opted to not trade for Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman after finding out he had been involved in a domestic incident in October. The teams had reportedly agreed to a trade, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, before the Dodgers uncovered the incident. MLB is now investigating the allegations and could end up suspending the left-hander.

The Dodgers are now poking around the New York Yankees to see what it would take to get closer Andrew Miller, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). That would be a nice secondary option, though he would likely cost a better return package than the one the team was willing to give up for Chapman since Miller is under contract through 2018.

Johnny Cueto is also a possibility for the Dodgers, as Heyman reported last week. If the Dodgers were to sign Cueto and pull off a deal for Miller, or another reliever of his ilk, they likely would not fall to third in the division and would be a favorite to win their fourth consecutive NL West title.

For all the noise the Padres made last offseason, they are a team falling way behind the other three clubs. And the Colorado Rockies are almost hopeless in this division, as everyone around them is making or attempting to make blockbuster moves to get better.

Whatever else unfolds between now and spring training, we already know the NL West is going to have three clubs involved in a knockdown, drag-out brawl for the top spot. And it should be a pleasure to witness.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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