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Mark Appel’s Fresh Start with Phillies Could Help Former No. 1 Pick Thrive

The news was stunning, unexpected but completely understandable.

The Houston Astros completed their trade with the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire closer Ken Giles, a flamethrower with huge upside and under club control for the next five seasons. The trade happened Wednesday but was not made official until Saturday afternoon.

And when all the participants were announced, they were accompanied by a bombshell of sorts.

Mark Appel, the Astros’ No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft, was included as part of the impressive package going to the Phillies. Appel was once a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, depending on the publication, and was at one time viewed as a potential front-end starter and ace after a stellar career at Stanford.

However, professional baseball has not gone according to plan for Appel or the Astros. So to nab Giles and revamp its bullpen, Houston moved its former elite prospect, providing Appel a fresh start with a new organization.

“I think about the times that I’ve gone through. It hasn’t always been easy going through the minors, but I feel like I’ve learned so many lessons being in the Astros’ organization,” Appel told Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I’m so thankful for the front office giving me the opportunity in drafting me.”

Larry Brown of LBSports tweeted: “Astros trading 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel for Ken Giles is clear admission they screwed up draft. Who went 2nd that year? NL ROY Kris Bryant.”

The Astros had a chance to draft Appel in 2012 when he came out of Stanford as a junior, but there were issues regarding his bonus expectations as the No. 1 draft prospect. So in a surprise move, the Astros went for signability rather than the guy who was major league ready, and it ended up being an excellent decision.

They took shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick. Appel fell to No. 8 and ended up back at Stanford for his senior year before the Astros, again holding the top pick, took him first overall in 2013.

Correa is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, and Appel, who grew up in and around Houston, is now with the Phillies in part because he has not lived up to expectations in the minors.

In 253 innings, topping out at Triple-A Fresno, Appel had a 5.12 ERA and battled control issues, with 3.5 walks per game in 2015 to go with a modest 2.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Because of those numbers and trends, Appel went from can’t-miss prospect to potentially never making his mark in a major league rotation, with his 25th birthday looming in July.

Appel has not lived up to his expectations as a No. 1 pick, according to JJ Cooper of Baseball America.

“This is absolutely true.” tweeted Ortiz in response.

“Some of the, not really bitterness, but some of the sadness is knowing that my Major League debut most likely won’t be in Houston in front of my friends and family in my hometown,” Appel told Brian McTaggart of “Definitely my friends and family will still be there when that time comes, but it will be in a different city.”

The Phillies and Appel are hoping the different city is the one of brotherly love. Philadelphia’s original package, as reported, was strong and included young major league arms Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer as well as outfield prospect Derek Fisher, who is No. 7 in Houston’s MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.

Saturday’s announcement included the pitchers, but not Fisher. Instead the Phillies landed Appel, who is now the organization’s No. 2 prospect, along with Velasquez, Oberholtzer and right-handers Harold Arauz and Thomas Eshelman. Those arms should go a long way in eventually re-establishing the Phillies’ staff as one of the better ones in the National League, even if not every prospect hits.

The haul is seen as a win for Philadelphia, which might not have much need for an elite closer, even one under team control, during its massive rebuild.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, “Phillies-Hou trade much different: Phils get Mark Appel with Velasquez, Eshelman & Arauz in Giles deal; like it much better for #Phillies now.”

Appel could end up being the steal of this deal. While he is getting up in age for a prospect, he still pitched at nearly four years below the Triple-A weighted average age in 2015. That keeps him as a promising prospect.

Beyond that, Appel’s stuff continues to rate as elite. His fastball can still touch 98 mph, his slider is still a wipeout pitch and he still flashes the mastery of both. In fact, last season he went through a stretch where he was as impressive as he’s ever been as a pro. There were bumps near the end of his time with the Fresno Grizzlies, though he finished with three consecutive quality starts.

If Appel can turn the corner in a new setting with a new organization, he still profiles as the kind of arm that can help lead a rotation, if not carry it. The Phillies believe that. Now Appel just has to prove them right and become Houston’s regrettable trade.


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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Key Takeaways from Week 5 of MLB Hot Stove Chatter

This year’s winter meetings, while not nearly the whirlwind of blockbuster activity they were last year, gave us plenty to chew on through the new year.

A few notable teams have been clear offseason winners through this past week, and a few others have been virtually shut out despite carrying high expectations into the meetings. That is part of the reason there is so much left to dissect as the hot-stove season enters what could be a cool period before teams pick up their activity after Christmas.

From the Arizona Diamondbacks stunning the National League West to become the division favorite at this point to Jason Heyward leaving money on the table for a chance to be part of a potentially historic Chicago Cubs roster, this past week had all the makings of a great drama.

And it all started with the trade that never happened.

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MLB Winter Meetings Day 4: Analyzing the Impact of All the Latest Deals, Rumors

The transaction wire was flooded in the days leading into this week’s Major League Baseball winter meetings, and it did not stop over the first two days in Nashville, Tennessee. 

But by the time Day 4 concluded Thursday, the final official day of the meetings was mostly uneventful and much of the wire activity consisted of minor or mid-level moves. Still, all can be significant to the teams involved even if the signings and trades don’t necessarily move the needle.

The biggest news to the market came from the Baltimore Orioles who reportedly revoked their approximate $150 million offer to Chris Davis, and three teams being named as the finalists for Jason Heyward’s services.

The biggest signings were from the reliever market with Jonathan Broxton headed back to the St. Louis Cardinals and Tony Sipp re-signing with the Houston Astros. On the trade front, Yunel Escobar is headed to the Los Angeles Angels.

We analyze those rumors and deals, along with the others, coming out of the final day of the 2015 MLB winter meetings.

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Reported Ken Giles Trade Adds Another Elite Talent to Astros’ Youthful Contender

The Houston Astros have reportedly acquired a piece that bolsters their youthful core and keeps them in line as a World Series contender right now, and maybe over the next couple of years.

According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, on the tail end of a slow Wednesday at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, the Astros struck a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for the bullpen arm they coveted all offseason—Ken Giles.

Per Drellich, the trade cost Houston potentially ripening arms in Vince Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer, as well as outfield prospect Derek Fisher (No. 8 in the club’s top 30 prospects and now the Phillies’ eighth-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), along with a fourth player.

In return, the Astros get a proven addition to their bullpen who can pitch the eighth or ninth inning with a high-90s fastball and a put-away slider. They also get five years of control with Giles, whose 1.56 ERA and nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings through two seasons are good enough to put him among the elite’s elite.

That fits with what Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters Wednesday before the trade was reported when asked about the value of a proven arm:

There’s never a complete understanding of what type of pitcher makes that transition into that closer role, into that ninth inning role successfully. There’s been a lot of good arms, with good stuff that are good in the seventh and the eighth inning and have struggles in the ninth. There are pitchers that have successfully made that transformation and increased their value and there are those that have gone the other way. Having done it to me has value that it’s more likely to be replicable in the future.

Immediately after reports of the trade emerged, and for much of the era of advanced metrics and new-age ways to value relievers, pundits noted how they like proven dominant relievers, but also how they can be developed or found for cheaper than what the Astros paid for Giles. Recent history has shown that philosophy to be accurate, especially for teams lacking payroll to spend on their bullpens.

It is certainly noticeable that people are high on Velasquez, as they should be. He is 23 years old, struck out 9.4 hitters per nine innings in 2015 and averaged around 95 mph on his fastball. There is a lot to like about an arm like that, especially if he gains some command and is transitioned into the bullpen, where he can maximize his best pitches and top velocity.

But the Astros are not in position to experiment and hope. Not now, not after an unexpected run into the playoffs, and not when they were mere defensive outs away from advancing to the American League Championship Series. Not when they have the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner (Dallas Keuchel), the reigning AL Rookie of the Year and a superstar shortstop (Carlos Correa) and other current and budding stars littering the roster (Jose Altuve, George Springer, Lance McCullers).

This team is in win-now mode after years of asking its fanbase to wait out the losing years, to be patient with the prospects and to keep up the support. The fans did, and the Astros repaid the faith last season. Now, they have to take the next step forward, and Giles helps them do that months after the team lost to the Kansas City Royals in the Division Series in large part because of a bad bullpen.

Velasquez, for all his promise, is not a proven piece yet. Giles is.

This is why Luhnow went after the 25-year-old Giles. He would not cost in money or players what someone like Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller would. But he is proven enough that he is a huge upgrade, the kind that can help the Astros be the favorite in the AL West and lock down the late innings in October.

One day, maybe a couple of years from now, Velasquez and Fisher might end up starring for the Phillies as cost-controlled impact players heavily assisting the franchise’s rebuild. Maybe the trade will look amazing from Philadelphia’s end.

The Astros should not care. They are a team with a growing payroll that can be afforded, and many of the players on the 25-man roster are still cost-controlled anyway, including Giles.

They are also finished with their rebuild, and they need to win at the major league level. This kind of deal, for Giles, is part of the reason why they stockpiled so much young talent during the losing years, because if they needed to flip it for proven talent, they would be able to in an effort to win a World Series.

The Astros got the man they targeted for an area that needed improvement. Nobody knows how future performances will pan out, but in the now, Giles is a major addition to the team’s young core and championship chances.


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

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James Shields Is Going from Bad Contract to Potential Coveted Trade Piece

James Shields’ downward trend started two Octobers ago.

During the 2014 Kansas City Royals playoff run, Shields, the supposed ace of the staff, had a 6.12 ERA in 25 innings. That severely dropped his stock going into last offseason, and he ended up having to wait until days before spring training started before signing a four-year, $75 million contract with the San Diego Padres.

The disappointment continued into this season with Shields’ 3.91 ERA, 4.45 FIP and 33 home runs allowed while making half his starts in Petco Park, historically a severe pitcher’s park. Partly because of those numbers, along with the $65 million still owed to him over the next three seasons—that includes a $2 million buyout—and the Padres’ desire to shed big contracts, Shields is now on the trading block.

While the contract coupled with Shields’ recent production looks ugly at a glance, the current market for starting pitchers, even the lower-tier arms, has the soon-to-be 34-year-old Shields looking more and more attractive to teams seeking rotation help. Free-agent pitchers have their average annual values rising, and those aces being rumored in trades are priced so high they are virtually unavailable.

This could put Shields, an arm that has topped 200 innings in each of the last nine seasons, on several radars. And because of his down 2015, he could end up being a Comeback Player of the Year contender next year.

The open market has seen two legitimate aces sign for well more than $200 million, a pitcher with a 4.96 ERA last season and a 4.09 career ERA in Jeff Samardzija sign for $90 million and the Toronto Blue Jays give J.A. Happ and his career 4.13 ERA $36 million over three years despite him being 33.

That makes Shields a touch more attractive as a rotation filler whose average annual salary is at $18.75 million and on par with the likes of Rick Porcello ($20 million in 2016) and Homer Bailey ($18 million), two pitchers who had ERAs near or above 5.00 in 2015, respectively.

The problem could lie with the Padres, though. While teams might have interest in Shields, the organization seems to not understand his diminished value, nor their opportunity to trade him and get out from some of the money owed. The team, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, will not kick in any money in a trade and wants at the very least a young shortstop in return. If that is the case, expect the rumors on Shields to stay calm because that is an unrealistic asking price for a declining pitcher.

Then there is how other teams view Shields as a pitcher; never mind his salary. Simply stated, they believe he is getting worse.

In 2015, Shields’ fastball was down more than a mile per hour from last season, and his cutter was down nearly a mile per hour, according to FanGraphs. That was likely a factor in opponents having a .327 OBP, .450 slugging percentage and .776 OPS against him. All of those numbers are the highest for Shields since 2010, when he had a 5.18 ERA and he established himself as a front-line starter a season before.

Another significant red flag is Shields’ fledgling command. His 81 walks obliterated his previous career high by 13. And despite him posting a career-high 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio sank to a career-low 2.67—he had a career-high 4.09 mark in that category in 2014.

If those trends continue, Shields is not likely to opt out of his deal after next season, which he can do and forfeit $44 million the following two years. Had Shields pitched well enough to make him an opt-out candidate after next season, his value would be higher.

Even with all that working against Shields’ value and against an acquiring team getting a positive return on its investment, there is value here. Not a lot of it comes from Shields himself, other than him being a durable, innings-eating arm who may or may not have another bounce-back season in him. Instead, much of it comes from the current market.

Costs remain high for impact arms in free agency and on the trade market, which is probably why Padres general manager A.J. Preller has set Shields’ price so high, aside from him not wanting to totally eat his first significant signing in the GM’s chair.

The bottom line is nobody is going to give the Padres touted prospects and take on all of the money owed to Shields. One or the other would go a long way in propelling talks forward, but as of now there has been no confirmation on any team actively pursuing Shields, who turns 34 in a couple of weeks.

If the Padres and Preller swallow some of the contract and get out from at least the majority of the money on the books, they could likely trade Shields. And if a team could get him for cheaper than $65 million for the next few seasons, he could end up being an asset and not a liability going forward.


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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Aroldis Chapman Trade Eliminates Dodgers’ Urgency for a Second Elite Ace

The Los Angeles Dodgers could not retain their Ace 2.0, so they are falling back on one of the absolute best and easily the most intimidating reliever in Major League Baseball.

After drawing a line in the sand and watching the Arizona Diamondbacks cross it to sign 32-year-old Zack Greinke to the highest average annual value in major league history ($34.4 million), the club turned its focus toward acquiring Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.

That focus has turned into maybe the biggest blockbuster trade of the offseason. The Dodgers and Reds have agreed to a deal that would net Chapman and his nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings last season for two of Los Angeles’ better prospects, but not any of its coveted top three—shortstop Corey Seager and pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon.

The deal just might give the Dodgers the best bullpen in the NL West next season, if not the entire league, after it was often far too unreliable for the team to win in October. And beyond that, it gives them the kind of late-inning dominance that scrubs away some of the urgency to replace Greinke with another secondary ace behind Clayton Kershaw, though one could still be in play via free agency or even another blockbuster trade.

Spending money has not been an overwhelming concern for the Dodgers since the Guggenheim Baseball Management group gained control of the team in 2012, but considering Greinke and David Price both commanded contracts well beyond $200 million and Johnny Cueto has already turned down $120 million from the Diamondbacks, they opted to go the route of building a dominant bullpen rather than add another player that would cost them upward of $30 million a season—Kershaw’s AAV is $30.7 million.

This plan obviously comes from the Kansas City Royals’ mold. They won the World Series with mediocre starting pitching, but masked that fact with a lights-out bullpen that dominated the seventh, eighth and ninth innings all year long.

The Dodgers rotation, with Kershaw’s greatness, Hyun-jin Ryu’s return from a shoulder injury and Hisashi Iwakuma’s possible bargain free-agent signing, is better than what Kansas City had in its World Series run. And with the bullpen being on par now, the Dodgers do not have the need for another No. 1 starter to replace Greinke.

“Because the price for starting pitching is so high both in free agency and in trade, they’d build strength from the back of the bullpen forward,” Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said on MLB Network. “And if you have Chapman and Jansen for a potential three innings each night, that’s not bad.”

We do not know how the Dodgers might deploy incumbent closer Kenley Jansen and Chapman—there is potential for a ninth-inning platoon with Jansen being right-handed and Chapman being a lefty—but both have the potential to get more than three outs on any given night. Plus, the deal now takes pressure off guys like J.P Howell (1.43 ERA), Pedro Baez (2.51 FIP) and Chris Hatcher (10.4 strikeouts per nine innings), as all can fill more specialized roles in lower-leverage situations. That assumes none of them is included in the return package to the Reds.

The Dodgers can still add another quality starter. That is not out of the question with a guy like Cueto still available and even possible jaw-dropping deals for guys like Shelby Miller or Jose Fernandez being bandied about the winter meetings, though those trades seemed like long shots as of Monday morning.

But even if they do not sign or pry away another rotation piece, this new bullpen dynamic and the current starting depth give them quite the formidable staff.

However, there is already speculation about a potential problem, especially with a first-year manager in Dave Roberts having to deal with it. Both pitchers are elite—Jansen has a 2.28 career ERA and has averaged 14 strikeouts per nine innings, while Chapman has a 2.17 career ERA and has averaged 15.4 strikeouts per nine—and both will undoubtedly want to close.

While neither guy is likely to prefer a move to the eighth inning or a split role, assuming any role besides full-time closer a season before their free agency will not have any affect on their open-market value a year from now. As long as they perform as they have in the past, both Chapman and Jansen stand to be paid as elite relievers in a game that has already seen non-closers like Darren O’Day and Ryan Madson rake in huge deals this offseason.

This is an era that looks at more than saves to determine a reliever’s value, and contracts are based solely on performance and not the inning in which it comes. So while the prestige of being the closer on a World Series contender might not be afforded to one or the other, the dollars definitely will be come next winter.

Simply knowing the Dodgers did not have to give up their best prospects for a one-year lease on an All-Star reliever makes the trade a win for them because of the way it solidifies the entire pitching staff. No longer is there an urgency to sign a nine-figure starter, and no longer is there concern that their bullpen will cost them in the postseason, assuming they qualify in 2016.

The Dodgers are likely not done moving and shaking at the winter meetings, but this is a fantastic start and things could get better for them in the next few days.


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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Jeff Samardzija Is Giants Upgrade, but Disappointing Fallback Option to Greinke

The San Francisco Giants did not land their man. 

Zack Greinke was the team’s No. 1 target this offseason, locking them into a battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the ace’s services. But the Arizona Diamondbacks undercut both division rivals to swipe Greinke, leaving both to reassemble their offseason game plans.

The Giants have already executed part of theirs by signing free-agent right-hander Jeff Samardzija to a five-year contract for $90 million Saturday. The deal is pending a physical. It’s not the impact move that Greinke would have been, but it just might be a solid start to building a good rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner for the next handful of years.

History shows the soon-to-be 31-year-old is not a consistent front-of-the-rotation starter, but it also tells that he is capable and talented enough to be one.

“Even in tough times [last year] he still put 200-plus innings on the board,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans told Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area. “You look at his track record, you look at his presence that he brings on the mound, you look at back-to-back-to-back 200-plus [inning] seasons, and you realize this guy is a force to be reckoned with. There’s a reason why we targeted him and a reason why we focused on him as one of our top priorities.”

Samardzija entered last season with massive earning potential coming off a year in which he had a 2.99 ERA and made his first All-Star team pitching for the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s.

But after being traded to the Chicago White Sox in his contract year, Samardzija struggled for most of the summer, putting up a 4.96 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 214 innings. He also led the American League with 228 hits allowed, 29 home runs allowed and 118 earned runs allowed. His strikeout rate also dropped to a career-low 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a full-time starter.

Things could change with the Giants, and in the National League West, where he will pitch in three parks that favor pitchers, including his new home, AT&T Park. The innings totals—647.1 over the last three seasons—are also attractive to the Giants, a team that dealt with several injuries in their rotation to just about everyone not named Madison.

And the innings to come should be aplenty since Samardzija spent his first four seasons in the majors mostly as a bullpen weapon.

“You’ve got a guy who has made the conversion from reliever to starter and has done that well,” Evans told Pavlovic. “There are a lot of innings left in that arm.”

The quality of those innings is unknown and unpredictable at this point in Samardzija’s career. Last season highlighted those facts and severely limited his value on the open market.

Samardzija is not seen as a front-line starter at this point, and that is why his signing is a definitive downgrade from what the Giants were shooting for with Greinke. But that does not mean the deal is destined to be a bust.

The Giants believe in Samardzija’s stuff. He still carries a fastball that sits at 94 mph and topped out at about 98. The Giants have one of the more renowned pitching coaches in the game in Dave Righetti, a big reason why they believe they can get better results out of Samardzija.

The Giants also feel, according to Pavlovic, that Samardzija suffered last season because he pitched in front of the worst defense in the majors. The White Sox had a minus-41.5 overall defensive rating, according to Fangraphs, easily the worst in the game. The Giants were at 30.2, the second best in the majors behind the Kansas City Royals.

However, Samardzija cannot be the Giants’ only get this offseason. While the club might be confident it can fix whatever has made him inconsistent, it would be foolish to totally rely on that for next season, especially with the Dodgers already being linked to Johnny Cueto, Kenta Maeda and Hisashi Iwakuma and with the Diamondbacks having Greinke in their rotation.

Since the Giants will not be spending the money on Greinke, they might use it to not only ink Samardzija, but also possibly an arm like Mike Leake, who pitched for the Giants last season.

Samardzija is not Greinke, obviously. But the signing shows the Giants are serious about upgrading to stay in the mix in the NL West with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. And they might not be done adding pieces.

That being the case, losing out on Greinke and adding Samardzija does not look as bad. And this deal could be the start of the Giants again constructing a quality rotation that keeps them among the league’s elite.


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 4 of MLB Hot Stove Chatter

What was once a sputtering offseason jump-started into high gear over the last week.

Two blockbuster free-agent signings are now in the books since Sunday. Jordan Zimmermann’s agreement with the Detroit Tigers whet the appetite and David Price’s monster deal with the Boston Red Sox put the rest of the market in a post-Thanksgiving contract coma.

Things have cooled in the following days, but only to a simmer since they are expected to boil again next week at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. Then we might have a ton to talk about.

For now, this past week provided enough fodder for reflection and projection.


Teams Will Never Stop Offering Mega-Contracts

The examples of nine-figure and $200-plus million contracts that have gone bad, or surely will, are abundant. Even incredibly recent ones like Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are looking destined to become massive burdens. 

Owners and front offices know this. They see the numbers. They’ve done the research. They have the data. This is not news. It’s not surprising and nobody was caught off guard by how those deals are looking, or will eventually look.

Yet year after year we are seeing a team cave into better judgment to land the player they covet. This year it was the Red Sox handing Price $217 million over seven seasons, the largest contract ever given to a pitcher.

It is a contract that could turn ugly if Price does not exercise his opt-out clause after the third season, and we’ve already seen a comparable player—CC Sabathia—decline quickly after his huge payday. And Price is older at the time of his signing than Sabathia was at the time of his.

Despite all the history, near future and data that warns against such contracts that take players—pitchers and hitters alike—deep into their 30s, teams cannot help themselves to. They want to win now, and in the now, those deals get you the player in his prime. The ugly consequences come later.


Dave Dombrowski Is Not Ben Cherington

Consecutive last-place finishes, and three in four years, have a way of shifting—or completely demolishing—organizational philosophies.

The Red Sox are the latest proof of that. Signing Price to that kind of deal was pretty much unfathomable under former general manager Ben Cherington’s reign. He opted to make signings like Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello to complement the young talent he helped stockpile, which helped the Red Sox rate No. 2 in Baseball America’s farm system rankings entering last season. While those deals look awful, none went into the ninth figure. 

Dombrowski, new president of baseball operations, works in a very different manner. When he ran the Detroit Tigers, he gave veterans like Fielder, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera gobs of money while gutting the farm system, which is why the team was dead last in the Baseball America rankings.

But Dombrowski was brought in to win now. And to do that, he needed Price. And to get him, he/ownership had to pay what he/ownership paid. Period.


Jordan Zimmermann Took Less Than His Market Value

The names of the pitchers who, in 2016, will make about the same annual salary that Zimmermann will make is a who’s who of current mediocrity, at best—Homer Bailey, Porcello, Matt Cain, James Shields, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver.

Zimmermann will make slightly less than those pitchers next season, but we can attribute that to a back-loaded salary structure. However, we cannot attribute it to the fact that the Tigers’ new right-hander threatens to be head and shoulders better than every single one of those pitchers in 2016. At five years and $110 million, Zimmermann likely left years and cash on the table.

Sure, Zimmermann had a down 2015, by his standards. And he has had a Tommy John surgery, making him a likelier candidate for another in the future. But when he is proper, he is among the best starters in the game. And had he become a free agent last winter following a stellar 2014 season, he would have gotten $200 million.

That is why Tyler Kepner of The New York Times calls Zimmermann’s deal a “relative bargain” against the market. Had he waited until after Price’s deal was announced, Zimmermann could have easily—easily!—milked another $15 million out of the Tigers, or more had he added another year to the deal.

As it is, if Zimmermann gets back to close to the ace he was in 2014, the Tigers are going to have one of the biggest bargains of 2016 in their rotation.


Shelby Miller Won’t Pitch for Contender, But Cliff Lee Might

Shelby Miller, the Atlanta Braves’ top starting pitcher last season, is the highly coveted prize of the current trade winds, but it appears the Braves are content with keeping him unless they get a sky-high return. So, he might not be going anywhere to the disappointment of Hot Stove cooks and interested teams.

Miller might be on the back burner now, but Cliff Lee is a new name on the surface. He missed all of last season with a partially torn flexor tendon and is 37 years old. Typically there is not a market for a guy like that, but Lee was one of the very best starters in the majors very recently when he put up a 2.87 ERA in 2013 and had a 2.96 FIP in 13 starts in 2014. As of now, reports say he is healthy.

Because Lee will not command an ace’s salary, or even a back-end salary, there will be interest. Lee might have to settle for a small one-year deal, or even a minor league deal, but he will certainly get a shot to make a rotation going into spring training.

If he can give a team decent production over 22-26 starts, he could end up being a surprising steal.


The Twins Contending for Biggest Bargain of the Offseason

While a guy like Zimmermann is the front-runner to be the best value of free agency, the Minnesota Twins are vying to put their new slugger in the mix.

The team agreed to a four-year, $12 million contract with Korean power hitter Byung Ho Park this past week. This is after posting the winning $12.85 million bid for his negotiating rights.

“Because of our situation of having a scout over there,” Twins Vice President of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff told reporters at Park’s introductory press conference, “we have a lot of conviction that Byung Ho is going to be able to integrate into our organization and be a very productive player.”

Park hit 105 home runs over the last two seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization and batted .343/.436/.714 with a 1.150 OPS last season. While the KBO certainly is not on the level of Major League Baseball, the success of Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang in 2015 shows that KBO success can somewhat translate to the majors.

Assuming Park’s power and impressive exit velocities travel with him, the Twins are carrying one of the nicer team-friendly contracts of this offseason.


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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Japanese Star Kenta Maeda’s Posting Adds Another Possible Ace to MLB Free Agency

It appears there is about to be another stud starting pitcher diving into the Major League Baseball free-agent pool. 

A little more than a week after ace right-hander Kenta Maeda asked his Hiroshima Carp team of the Japan Central League to post him for MLB teams to bid for his negotiating rights, his wish is going to be granted, according to Yahoo Japan and Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times.

Assuming early reports are an accurate indication, Maeda is the next potential front-line pitcher from Japan to venture to the major leagues. Coming off a season in which he won his second Sawamura Award—the Asian island’s equivalent to MLB’s Cy Young Award—and because he will pitch next season at the prime age of 28, expectations are his posting bids will top out at the $20 million ceiling, as did former Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka’s before he signed with the New York Yankees.

Under MLB’s agreement with the Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, which caps the bids at $20 million rather than having them skyrocket in excess of $50 million as they did with Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka, multiple teams can make the maximum bid. That would leave Maeda and his agents to negotiate with more than one club in the 30-day window after the potential winning bids are announced.

Maeda’s posting adds yet another arm to the rich group of starters already engulfed in free agency. While he does not project to be the kind of major league ace that Darvish, Matsuzaka or Tanaka were upon their bidding, he is expected to be an effective major league starter with a floor set at him becoming a quality No. 4 starter, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler

That assessment makes it fair to believe Maeda will not get the nine-figure contract handed to Tanaka (seven years, $155 million), but he could be more in line with the $56 million given to Darvish or the $51 million given to Matsuzaka, both of which are now a relatively low figures.

That does not mean certain teams do not see him as better than a No. 4 starter, but it does mean he could end up as a bargain in this market where a pitcher like Jeff Samardzija, coming off a poor season, is being rumored to have a $100 million offer already at his feet, per Jayson Stark of ESPN.

Knowing that, and knowing there is already heavy major league interest in Maeda, he could end up as one of the most coveted second-tier arms on the market.

“I love Maeda,” Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart told reporters a little more than a year ago. “I love him. We have a lot of video and film and we have people who have seen him. We think that he’s got a chance to be very successful in Major League Baseball. We’re going to try to be in on the market when he does post, if he does post.”

Stewart and Diamondbacks scouts have continued to keep a watch on Maeda, who recently pitched in the Premier 12 international tournament in Japan last month. Per Jerry Crasnick of

Maeda had a 2.09 ERA with 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.8 walks per nine in 206.1 innings last season. It was his sixth consecutive year with an ERA of 2.60 or lower.

Those numbers go a long way in making Maeda a wanted man in free agency, as does not being tagged with draft-pick compensation. That combination should make him the kind of arm that receives multiple $20 million bids, giving him leverage. Teams who match the maximum bid but do not sign him get their posting fee returned, so there is no risk if a club does not sign him to a contract.

While Maeda’s raw stuff does not compare to Tanaka’s or Darvish’s, he did showcase a revamped changeup in the Premier 12 tournament, while his fastball sat between 89-93. As we’ve seen with pitchers like Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and even Marco Estrada, a quality changeup can be a devastating pitch even without other overpowering weapons.

“I didn’t think his slider was very good that day [against Mexico], but his changeup was nasty,” a scout told Badler (h/t to MLB Trade Rumors if you do not have a Baseball America subscription). “He was throwing it to righthanders and lefthanders. To me, that was his best pitch.”

With Stewart’s comments hiding nothing, we know the Diamondbacks are a contender for Maeda. Beyond them, up to half of major league general managers should have interest since a posting fee and a contract in the $60 million neighborhood could still be a bargain considering how the current market for starting pitchers is playing out.

That means count in obvious teams like the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Diamondbacks, and add teams like the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros as possible suitors.

Seriously, everyone could be in on Maeda just because the cost could be manageable. That means his negotiations could be as intriguing as anyone’s this 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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Red Sox Could Still Be Players at Winter Meetings Despite Price, Kimbrel Deals

Coming off a last-place finish last season, their third in the last four years, and armed with a new leader in the front office, next week’s winter meetings figured to be a playground for the money- and prospect-rich Boston Red Sox

That notion seems to have faded now, but not because the team has scoffed at a major 2016 roster shakeup. It is because Boston has already started playing in its offseason sandbox, having acquired a top-shelf starting pitcher in David Price and an elite All-Star closer in Craig Kimbrel before anyone boards a flight to Nashville for the winter meetings. 

Those two moves appear to have made the Red Sox drastically better than the 78 wins they compiled last season. They still have young, quality position players up the middle of the diamond, David Ortiz is still a middle-of-the-order bat and Clay Buchholz is potentially a co-ace for Price.

With all of that, Boston’s first-year president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is likely done making significant offseason acquisitions before the meetings start.

“You can always get better. We’ll be open-minded going into the winter meetings,” Dombrowski said on a conference call Wednesday. “We’ll see what happens over the next few days leading into that, but we’ll be in a position that I think our major moves are done. But when you go to the winter meetings, you can never tell what happens.”

That leaves the door open for more things to come, although adding major salary to their current payroll does not seem likely since the Red Sox are already committed to more than $180 million for 13 players next season. By the time the 25-man roster is complete, the club is destined to be well over the $200 million threshold. 

However, there is room to make other impact moves, such as using a deep prospect pool to acquire another cost-controlled player or shedding some of the salaries already on the books. Whatever the case may be, the winter meetings could bring the Red Sox more headlines.

“I’m definitely sure they’re not finished yet,” Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts told Ian Browne of regarding the front office. “Who knows what else they’re going to do?”

Maybe we do not know what the team is going to do at the winter meetings, but we have an idea of what it might want to do and what it should look to do.

First, the rotation is hardly great even with Price. Buchholz has the talent to help, as he’s shown with a 1.74 ERA through 16 starts in 2013 and a 2.68 FIP through 18 starts last season. The problem is he also has a 5.34 ERA on the books between those two seasons, and his health has been a major concern throughout his career as he enters his age-31 season.

The Red Sox had the third-worst rotation ERA (4.39) in the American League last season. Simply adding a new ace might not be enough, especially in the long term, as Price will be 31 next August after signing the richest contract for a pitcher in the sport’s history.

Last year, under former general manager Ben Cherington’s guidance, the Red Sox passed on making free agent Jon Lester the kind of offer he looked for because they feared the second half of that contract as Lester aged.

Despite the franchise completely changing course under Dombrowski, who has never been shy about handing out mind-boggling contracts to aging players, it still must know it has to get younger and cheaper in the rotation.

That should bring Atlanta Braves right-hander Shelby Miller into play. Miller, 25, had a 3.02 ERA in 33 starts last season, and the Braves are listening to offers on him. The price is high, but the Red Sox did not forfeit a draft pick to sign Price, and they did not have to give up their young major league talent to get Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. They also still have a strong prospect pool in the minors.

Using that to acquire Miller, who is under team control and will make about $5 million next year, would make the Red Sox a serious October threat. That makes him a fit even with Price in the rotation.

While Miller or another starter might not be a priority at the winter meetings, getting rid of at least one of last offseason’s regrettable signings—Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez—should be. The Red Sox still owe Sandoval $75 million through 2019 and owe Ramirez at least $66 million through 2018, not counting a $22 million vesting option for 2019.

Despite those salaries, Ramirez and Sandoval were the worst players on the roster in 2015. While either deal would require the Red Sox eating a lot of money, they should be aggressive in ridding themselves of either player. The winter meetings are a perfect breeding ground for such trades.

Dombrowski assured the Red Sox took care of their major business prior to the meetings, making two blockbuster moves beforehand. But there is still work to be done, so do not be shocked if at least one more happens next week.


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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