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How Yankees Must Handle Impossible Masahiro Tanaka Decision in 2017

When it comes to opt-out clauses, the New York Yankees tend to opt in.

They aren’t always happy about it. They don’t always do it right away. But when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his deal during the 2007 World Series, the Yankees turned around and gave him a bigger contract they would come to regret.

When CC Sabathia was ready to opt out of his contract four years later, the Yankees added what amounted to two years and $50 million, another deal they wouldn‘t mind having back.

So now we come to Masahiro Tanaka. As every Yankees fan knows, he’s the closest to a sure thing they have in their 2017 rotation. And as every Yankees fan knows by now, he can opt out of his contract when the 2017 season ends.

There’s no way the Yankees can make this work in their favor. If Tanaka has a great year, he obviously opts out of the final three years and $67 million of what was originally a seven-year, $155 million contract. Then the Yankees pay him market value—more than his current $22 million a year, and more years—or someone else does.

If Tanaka has a decent year and stays healthy, he still almost certainly opts out. Or threatens to, with the Yankees extending his contract.

Or maybe Tanaka gets hurt. He made 31 starts in 2016, but he is still pitching with a slight tear in the UCL in his right elbow. It could tear further, requiring Tommy John surgery. He could suffer a different injury. Either way, he sticks with his current contract, and the Yankees are stuck paying him.

The Yankees obviously know all this. They knew it when they agreed to Tanaka‘s original contract. Three years into the deal, they were either going to pay more to keep him or he wasn‘t going to be worth what they were paying him.

There was no way that could work in their favor. But opt-outs are part of getting big contracts done—David Price and Clayton Kershaw have them too—and the only way around them is to offer even more guaranteed money.

The problem for the Yankees is they’re short on dependable starting pitching. They likely need to shop in the starting pitching market next winter even if Tanaka stays.

Behind Tanaka, they have only Sabathia (who’s old) and Michael Pineda (who’s unreliable). Both of their contracts expire after 2017 (which isn‘t necessarily a bad thing).

Behind them, the guy with the most career major league starts on the Yankees roster is Luis Severino with 22. They’re not even sure he should be a starter.

The guy with the next most career starts is Adam Warren with 21. They don’t want him to be a starting pitcher.

You get the picture, and you get why the Yankees would rather not think about Tanaka leaving.

So why not just eliminate the risk and renegotiate his contract now? Why did general manager Brian Cashman tell reporters the Yankees have no plans to do that?

Simple. Even though a new contract eliminates the risk of Tanaka‘s walking away, it adds the risk of getting stuck with an even bigger contract the Yankees don’t want.

Remember the $21 million they’re still paying A-Rod in 2017. Remember the $25 million they have committed to a 36-year-old Sabathia.

When Sabathia was ready to opt out in November 2011, he was 31 years old and had just finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award vote. The new contract wasn‘t ideal, but Sabathia had averaged 235 innings over his first three seasons as a Yankee. He seemed like a decent risk.

Tanaka will be two years younger when he reaches his opt-out date, but he has yet to finish higher than seventh in Cy Young voting. He has yet to pitch 200 innings in a major league season (he did it in Japan). He has pitched significantly better when he gets an extra day of rest, complicating how the Yankees set up their rotation. And he has that ligament tear.

He’s not an ideal candidate for a long, expensive contract. But maybe he doesn‘t need to be. Rich Hill, who is 36 and was hurt so much that he only made 20 regular-season starts in 2016, got a three-year, $48 million deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Starting pitching is expensive, and it’s only getting more expensive. The Yankees know that, and so does Tanaka.

They’ll take their chances and hope he pitches well enough to lift them into contention in the American League East this year. If it costs them more money and a contract they don’t love, so be it.

They have little choice at this point.

That opt-out clause is going to work out well for him, one way or another. It won’t work out as well for the Yankees.

Opt-out clauses rarely do.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Vladimir Guerrero: The $2,500 Signing with Mismatched Shoes and Clemente Tools

The kid showed up unannounced, riding on the back of a motorcycle, wearing shoes that didn’t match.

“One was larger than the other,” Fred Ferreira remembered. “He had a sock stuffed into one of them so it would fit.”

It was the spring of 1993, and Ferreira was on the outskirts of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He works for the Baltimore Orioles now, but he was with the Montreal Expos then, running a tryout camp at a field in Mendoza.

The kid with the mismatched shoes was about to become the best player he ever signed.

“I’ve had 72 guys make it up there [to the major leagues],” Ferreira said proudly.

Some were stars. Some won World Series. Ferreira thought Bernie Williams deserved Hall of Fame consideration, but he never got there.

This week, that kid with the mismatched shoes could be Ferreira’s first in Cooperstown.

Vladimir Guerrero has a chance in his first year on the ballot, although the votes publicly revealed suggest he may fall just short. Ryan Thibodaux, who runs the Hall of Fame Tracker and follows these things more closely than anyone, has Guerrero at 74.4 percent so far, with 75 percent required for election.

Numbers like that mean Guerrero will get to the Hall of Fame, even if it’s not this year. A chance like this means Ferreira will be watching closely for the Wednesday announcement.

“I certainly am waiting,” he said.

He’s not alone. Every player on the Hall of Fame ballot has a scout who first signed him, a coach who first believed in him, an instructor who helped him along the way. Everyone has a story that becomes all the more cherished when the vote goes the right way.

Houston Astros scout Tom Mooney gave Jeff Bagwell a seven (out of eight) on power potential when Bagwell was at the University of Hartford and then recommended the Astros trade for Bagwell when he was still in Double-A.

“Remember it like it was yesterday,” Mooney wrote on his Facebook page after Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote about scouting Bagwell.

Texas Rangers scout Doug Gassaway clocked a 16-year-old Ivan Rodriguez throwing 93 mph to second base, as Sandy Johnson remembered in an story by Tracy Ringolsby.

And Fred Ferreira signed Vladimir Guerrero for $2,500 out of a tryout camp in the Dominican Republic.

“Jon Heyman wrote in Sports Illustrated it was the second-best deal ever, behind the Babe Ruth deal,” Ferreira said.

It’s an even better story.

Guerrero wasn’t exactly unknown that spring. His older brothers had both played baseball too, and Wilton Guerrero signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers a year and a half earlier. Vladimir spent a couple of months in the Dodgers academy, but they never signed him.

The New York Yankees worked out Guerrero too, but as a pitcher. They told him to come back a week later, but in the meantime, Guerrero showed up at Ferreira’s tryout.

“We had about 30 kids already there,” Ferreira said. “The first thing we had him do was run a 60-yard dash, and he ran like 6.5. He ran that well with shoes that didn’t match. Then we had him throw from the outfield. They were good throws, very good, exceptional.

“Running and throwing, those two tools can’t be taught.”

Ferreira was intrigued, but he had to know if Guerrero could hit. They were setting up a game, and he told his assistant to have Guerrero lead off every inning.

“The first at-bat, he hit a ground ball to short and tried to beat it out,” Ferreira said. “He was really busting it down the line and then he pulled up. He’d pulled a hamstring. I saw him go sit in the dugout with his head between his legs.”

So that was it for the day. Some running in mismatched shoes. A few throws. And one ground ball to short.

Ferreira had a flight out that afternoon, but he decided on the spot Guerrero was worth a chance. The flight home could wait.

Guerrero told the Expos he had been working out at the Dodgers academy, which would make him ineligible to sign with another team. Then he said he’d been there 60 days.

“I said that makes him a free agent,” Ferreira said.

The Dodgers hadn’t signed him because they thought he looked more like his older brother Albino, who they released because he was too slow. They preferred Wilton, who eventually played eight years in the big leagues but was never a star.

“In this business, you consider yourself a success if 5 percent of the guys you sign make it to the majors,” Dodgers scout Ralph Avila told Jeff Blair in a story for the Montreal Gazette three years later. “[Vladimir] will be part of the Expos’ 5 percent, not ours. And that’s how it works sometimes.”

Guerrero told the Expos he was 17, so they would need his parents’ permission to sign him. He was actually 18, but they wouldn’t know until 2009 that he had been lying about his age.

Ferreira canceled his flight and made plans for the 40-mile drive west to Peravia province, where Guerrero was born. But first, Guerrero told them he wanted to stop at the Dodgers academy to pick up his things.

“It turned out he had one shirt there,” Ferreira said.

The signing was straightforward, as Guerrero’s mother quickly agreed to the $2,500 bonus. It was a different era. By 2015, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, he got a $3.9 million deal.

“I signed a crude Dominican player with great tools to play ball and a good disposition,” Ferreira reported back to his superiors in Montreal.

“They sent him to the Dominican Summer League, and I told the people in the office this kid will be Player of the Month for the next six months,” Ferreira said.

He had another message for them too.

“He was swinging at everything, but I told our instructors to let him do what he does,” Ferreira said. “Leave him alone. When he got to the States, Felipe Alou told him the same thing.”

Alou would later refer to Guerrero as a “baseball machine,” according to the Blair story in the Gazette.

Alou was the Expos’ manager by then, and Guerrero would soon join him. He shot through the Montreal farm system, skipping Triple-A altogether.

“After seeing Vlad in Double-A, our scouts said the kid had tools like [Roberto] Clemente,” said Dan Duquette, the Expos general manager at the time.

He never did stop swinging at everything. And hitting everything.

“Vladimir Guerrero is the best retired Truly Bad Ball hitter of our time,” Eno Sarris declared in a post on FanGraphs this month.

It carried him through 16 big league seasons, 449 home runs, a .318 career batting average and four finishes in the top four in Most Valuable Player voting. In 2004, his first season after signing a five-year, $70 million deal with the Anaheim Angels, Guerrero won the MVP award in the American League.

He had long since justified the $2,500 Fred Ferreira spent to sign him and the canceled flight home.

And when he goes into the Hall of Fame, you can bet his shoes will match.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Making Sense of Baseball’s Edgar Martinez, Designated Hitter HOF Debate

The Hall of Fame lists Frank Thomas as a first baseman.

Not as a first baseman/designated hitter. Not as a designated hitter/first baseman.

Thomas started 340 more games as a DH than he did at first base, but nowhere on his Cooperstown plaque or on his page on the Hall of Fame website does it even mention his time at DH. Paul Molitor is a third baseman, according to the Hall, even though he started 1,168 games as a DH and 786 at third base.

When will we put a DH in the Hall of Fame? We already have.

Just not Edgar Martinez.

He was so good at the job that baseball named the annual DH award after him. He’s so connected to the job that you get the feeling it’s the biggest thing keeping him out of Cooperstown.

He was, as’s Jayson Stark wrote, “one of the great hitters of his generation.”

And yet until this year, I didn’t give him a Hall of Fame vote. I’m not alone. As recently as 2014, Martinez got just 25.2 percent of the vote.

He jumped to 43.4 percent last year, and Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has him taking another jump this year. He’s gaining votes, but he’s also running out of time. It doesn’t look likely he’ll get in this year, and he’ll be on the ballot only two more times.

In other words, it’s about time we figure out what to do with him. It’s about time we figure out how to judge a guy who barely wore a glove for the final decade of his career.

It’s about time we come to grips with the DH rule, now in its 45th year in the American League.

Do we judge a guy who was almost exclusively a DH (71 percent of his career starts and 98 percent of his starts in his final 10 seasons) the way we would any other hitter? Or does he need to be even better to make up for not contributing anything on the other side of the game?

Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, who spends as much time as anyone evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, calls Martinez one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time. During the best seven-year stretch of his career (1995-2001), Martinez ranked third in the majors in‘s OPS+, which equalizes for league and ballpark.

The only two guys ahead of him during that span? Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

Neither of them is in the Hall of Fame, either, but that’s another argument. It’s that other argumentthe steroid argumentthat dominates Hall of Fame debates. It’s so overwhelming that it obscures other just-as-interesting discussions, such as what to do with closers and what to do with designated hitters.

The Martinez debate is more than just a DH debate, though. He finished in the top five in MVP voting just once (1995), and his career totals (2,247 hits, 309 home runs) look a little light, in part because he didn’t become a major league regular until he was 27.

He didn’t have as many big postseason moments as David Ortiz, a DH who will likely find an easier path to Cooperstown.

But Martinez was still a great hitter, and it’s hard to believe he’d have such a hard time with voters if he’d spent the majority of his career at third base.

“I can’t believe any AL voter would discriminate against him,” Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe. “Has to be those NL Luddites.”

Yeah, except that two of the guys who didn’t vote for Martinez this year (Nick Cafardo and Dan Shaughnessy) have covered the Boston Red Sox for the Globe.

“I have left off Edgar Martinez, never feeling his numbers were quite good enough,” Cafardo wrote.

I know the feeling. I looked at Martinez’s numbers every year, and every year I thought, “Not quite good enough.”

Eventually, I realized I was looking for too much. I was asking for too much, trying to make up for what Martinez didn’t do on defense. I never eliminated him because he had been a DH, but I set unrealistic standards for him because he was one.

I switched this year, and I don’t expect to switch back. I’m not alone on that, either. Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has Martinez adding 31 votes this year (while inexplicably losing one). My Bleacher Report colleague Scott Miller was also one of the switches, citing many of the same reasons I did.

Martinez finally has momentum on his side. He has plenty of numbers on his side, including those where he compares favorably to Ortiz (147-141 edge for Martinez in OPS+, .933-.931 in OPS, 68.3-55.4 in’s version of WAR).

And just as it ought to help Trevor Hoffman that baseball named its National League Reliever of the Year Award after him, it should help Martinez that it’s the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award (which Ortiz won in 2016).

Cy Young is in the Hall of Fame, isn’t he?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Yankees’ Next Big Moves Will Make or Break New Era’s Future

It’s not easy to do what the New York Yankees have done. It’s even tougher to do what they have to do next. 

In this era in which total rebuilds are all the rage and tanking is rewarded, the Yankees rebuilt their farm system without also suffering through a 101-loss season (like the Chicago Cubs) or 324 losses over three campaigns (like the Houston Astros). Three years after said they had none of the top 60 prospects in the game, they have five of the top 51.

That doesn’t even include Gary Sanchez, who turned 24 in December but graduated from prospect status when he hit 20 home runs in just 53 contests in 2016.

“The Yankees have the best (and deepest) farm system in the game,”’s respected prospect analyst Jim Callis tweeted in December.

Great, so now they’ll start winning, just like the Cubs did?

Not so fast.

“This is still a building year for them,” said a National League scout who follows the Yankees and their farm system closely.

This is a building year, for sure, but it’s also a crucial year. For all the good work general manager Brian Cashman and his staff have done, and for all the patience managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has shown, they haven’t yet built a team that can win.

You don’t win with a rotation headed by Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia, with nothing but question marks behind them. You don’t win with uncertainty at so many positions in the field.

The Yankees didn’t build to win last year (when they were the only team not to sign a major league free agent), and they haven’t built to win this season (when they spent big on closer Aroldis Chapman and basically swapped Brian McCann for Matt Holliday as their designated hitter).

They’re trying to remain competitive while building for what could be a bright future, and so far, they’ve done a good job with that.

The Yankees haven’t won a postseason game since the 2012 Division SeriesDerek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Raul Ibanez played in that gamebut they also haven’t had a losing season since 1992.

But how do they get from here (impressive rebuild) to there (true championship contender)?

“The biggest issue they have, by far, is starting pitching,” the NL scout said. 

In his view, the Yankees need to find a way to trade for Jose Quintana, who may not be an ace but is a 27-year-old left-hander who is already a solid major league starter. The problem, the scout acknowledged, is that the Chicago White Sox have been looking for prospect-heavy deals like the ones they made for Chris Sale (with the Boston Red Sox) and Adam Eaton (with the Washington Nationals).

“They’re asking for blood and more,” the scout said.

The Yankees weren’t going to gut the farm system they just rebuilt to get Sale, so they certainly won’t do it for Quintana. If they can get him for what they deem a reasonable price, though, a Quintana trade would be a good place to start.

If not, then just wait.

With or without Quintana, the Yankees likely won’t win in 2017. There aren’t other obvious rotation upgrades available right now, but there will be. Unless he signs an extension, Jake Arrieta will be a free agent next winter. The Detroit Tigers would trade Justin Verlander for the right price. Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract after 2018. So can David Price.

If they don’t do anything stupid between now and then, the Yankees will be in position to chase whichever ones they want.

Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are already gone. Sabathia’s contract expires after this season. The Yankees might get under the luxury-tax threshold next winter, and in any case, they have just $74.2 million committed to five players for 2019.

There will always be speculation the Yankees will spend a big chunk of that money to sign Bryce Harper, who can be a free agent after 2018. In December, my friend Ken Davidoff of the New York Post named Harper “most likely to be a Yankee” out of the 2018 class.

I don’t doubt it, but so much depends on what happens between now and then. Can Harper recover from a subpar 2016 season? Will a big-hitting outfielder even be the Yankees’ most pressing need then? Would they be better off signing Manny Machado to play third base? Will they need to spend all their money on pitching?

Things change from year to year, as the Yankees know only too well. Twelve months ago, Luis Severino was one of the stars of the rebuilding process, a front-end starting pitcher ready to blossom. Now, the Yankees aren’t even sure he’s a starting pitcher at all.

They need to find out more this year about Severino and about fellow young starters Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell. They need to see if the progress James Kaprielian showed in the Arizona Fall League was real and whether fellow pitching prospects Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo develop as true rotation options.

They need to find out if Greg Bird is the answer at first base and whether Aaron Judge can overcome his swing-and-miss issues to be a dependable power source in right field. They need to watch shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Clint Fraziertheir reward for trading Chapman and Andrew Miller last summer.

“I think Frazier is playing right field for them before the year’s over,” the NL scout said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if Torres plays second, with [Starlin] Castro moving to third.”

It’s nice for the Yankees and their fans to think about, because it’s fun to imagine talented players developing. But it’s also a challenge, because the next decisions will cost more (in money and/or prospects) and have bigger consequences.

Two decades ago, the Yankees made all the right decisions at a similar point. They kept Jeter and Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera while trading highly rated (but not as good) prospects like Matt Drews and Russ Davis.

They built a team that won year after year. They dream of doing it again.

The decisions they make over the next 24 months could determine whether it happens.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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Predicting Landing Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

No player enters free agency hoping to sign in January. No team wants to let half the winter go by with significant needs unfilled.

But here we are in the new year. Free agents remain unsigned. Deals that had to be made remain undone.

And Jose Bautista wonders where it all went wrong. Or maybe he doesn’t.

If Edwin Encarnacion waited forever before landing with the Cleveland Indians on a three-year, $60 million deal, Bautista has waited forever and two weeks to find his next employer. The Minnesota Twins have waited forever to get a Brian Dozier trade done. The New York Mets still have too many outfielders, and the Atlanta Braves still haven’t improved behind the plate.

Oh, and after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in two much-praised deals, the Chicago White Sox have gone nearly a month without more rebuilding.

There’s plenty still to do as we wait for Hall of Fame voting results and the start of spring training.

Reporting day is just six weeks away. Now these guys just need to know where to report.

We’re here to help, with Bleacher Report’s predictions for where the top remaining winter targets will land.

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These MLB Stars Are the Only Ones Worthy of 2017 HOF Enshrinement

The first year Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, I voted “not now.”

OK, technically I just didn’t vote for them, but as I explained then in a column for, it was more of a “not now” vote than a “not ever” vote.

“They may never get in,” I wrote, “but my guess is eventually they will.”

Eventually is coming.

It likely won’t happen this year based on early voting numbers tracked so carefully by Ryan Thibodaux. But Bonds’ and Clemens’ numbers went up last year after the Hall of Fame made changes in the electorate, and Thibodaux’s tracking numbers suggest they’ll rise even more significantly this time around.

Some votes switched after a Hall of Fame committee decided to enshrine Bud Selig, the commissioner who oversaw baseball’s steroid era. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports talked to some of those voters and explained why they switched.

The Selig decision didn’t affect my vote. I’ve voted for Bonds and Clemens since 2014 for reasons I explained then on Facebook.

Three years later, I feel the same way. And just as I did in 2014, I used the maximum 10 spots on this year’s ballot.

Here they are in alphabetical order (as they’re listed on the ballot), with the reasons why each one belongs.

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Is Ryan Braun or Brian Dozier the Better Superstar Bat on Trade Market?

First it was Ryan Braun. Now it’s Brian Dozier.

It’s hardly a surprise to see the Los Angeles Dodgers linked to a right-handed hitter with power, given the difficulties they had against left-handed pitching in 2016. They were the only team to make the playoffs despite a losing record when facing a lefty starter, and they went 0-3 when facing lefties in the postseason.

Braun (1.010 OPS against left-handers in 2016) could help them. Dozier (.965) could, too.

As of this moment, the Dodgers don’t have either one. They haven’t traded for Braun, despite midseason talks that nearly led to a deal, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. They haven’t yet traded for Dozier, despite a willingness to discuss top prospect Jose De Leon, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Both remain available on the trade market, even though Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns told Milwaukee’s 105.7 The Fan, “My expectation is that Ryan’s going to be here next year and going forward.”

You can take that to mean he hasn’t received any reasonable offers this winter, because it’s hard to believe the rebuilding Brewers wouldn’t remain open to a deal.

The question—for the Dodgers and any other team looking to trade for right-handed pop—is whether Braun or Dozier would be a bigger help. They don’t play the same position, and they don’t have the same contract, but they’re similar players in terms of offensive potential.

“Braun is a more complete hitter,” said one American League scout who saw both play last year.

“Everything equal, I would take Braun offensively,” another AL scout agreed. “But I would rather have Dozier overall.”

So would I, for reasons that go beyond Braun’s 2013 suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Braun might be a better bet to hit big in 2017. His 134 OPS+ over the last two seasons, as calculated by, ranked higher than Jose Bautista and Manny Machado, among others.

But Dozier hit more home runs than Braun and nearly everyone else in baseball in 2016. (He tied Edwin Encarnacion and Khris Davis for third in the majors, with 42.) Dozier, who turns 30 in May, is also three-and-a-half years younger than Braun.

Then there are the contracts.

Dozier’s is more than reasonable, with a $6 million salary for 2017 that jumps to $9 million for 2018. He’s eligible for free agency after that, so it would cost considerably more to keep him long-term. Still, he’s a bargain.

Braun is not. He makes $19 million each of the next two seasons, then $18 million in 2019 and $16 million in 2020, when he’ll be 36. He can also block trades to all but six teams. Since the Dodgers are one of the six on his list, and since they’re one of the clubs that can afford his contract, it’s not surprising that the Brewers’ most serious trade talks concerning Braun seem to have been with them.

It’s also not a surprise the Dodgers seem to prefer Dozier, who plays a position of greater need.

The Minnesota Twins should have a bigger market for the affordable Dozier, and Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports noted the San Francisco Giants’ interest on Tuesday. Beyond those two teams, though, it’s hard to come up with a contender in need of a second baseman. The Detroit Tigers faced the same issue when they gauged trade interest in their second baseman, Ian Kinsler.


Besides the better contract, Dozier has another edge. The Twins second baseman has played 155 or more games each of the last three seasons, while Braun last played 150 contests in 2012. He played 135 in 2016, never going on the disabled list but missing time with a back injury.

Braun had surgery to repair a herniated disk after the 2015 season, which surely is a concern to any team considering a trade.

Dozier doesn’t carry similar risk—or similar baggage. While Braun hasn’t been in trouble since serving his suspension, the fact he was busted for PEDs doesn’t go away.

As one anonymous team executive told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, “When a guy with that contract has been busted once, it’s hard to commit those dollars and those player resources because if he gets busted again, you lose all of your guys and you lose Braun. Nobody is saying he’d do it again, but while he’s a very good impact player, it’s just a tough one.”

With Dozier, the question is whether you believe his 2016 season was a breakout or a career year. Is he now a 40-homer-a-year guy, or will he slip back to the 18-28 range he was in before last season?

“I have more trust in Braun to maintain the consistency of impact,” one National League scout said.

Because of the contract, the acquisition cost, the back trouble and even the drug past, a team trading for Braun would be taking a bigger risk. But it could be for a bigger reward.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Rockies’ Aggressive Offseason Could Position Colorado as MLB’s 2017 Sleeper Team

When Mike Dunn gets $19 million from the Colorado Rockies, it tells you it’s always great to be a left-handed reliever.

It also tells you Ian Desmond was right.

When the Rockies made Desmond’s five-year, $70 million deal official this week, Colorado’s new first baseman (or will he be an outfielder?) spoke of joining a team on the rise.

“They’re close,” Desmond told reporters, including Thomas Harding of “That’s an industry-wide consensus. Ownership and management are committed to turning that corner. I’m right there with them on board.”

I’m not sure I’d yet call it a consensus, but there is a growing feeling the Rockies are getting better. They haven’t had a winning season since 2010, but even as they were losing 87 games in 2016, they won praise for their young talent, both on the big league club and in the system.

Already this winter, they’re winning praise again.

“They’re my sleeper team for this year,” one National League scout said this week.

It’s hard to consider the Rockies more than just a sleeper, given the presence of the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in their division. With all three teams needing back-end bullpen help this winter, the Giants spent $62 million over four years on Mark Melancon (a Colorado native), and the Dodgers topped that by spending $80 million over five years on Kenley Jansen.

Dunn isn’t Melancon, and he isn’t Jansen. He has four saves in eight major league seasons. Jansen had three saves in the 2016 postseason alone.

But spending what they did on Dunn (the $19 million is over three years) continues a winter trend for the Rockies. Instead of looking like a team trying to find its way, Colorado now looks like one pushing to win.

Signing Desmond to the second-biggest free-agent contract in franchise history (behind Mike Hampton’s $121 million in 2000) was part of that. But so were the other moves the Rockies have tried to make, and the ones they still could pursue.

While the Rockies signed Desmond as a first baseman, his experience playing the outfield last season with the Texas Rangers opens the possibility the Rockies could sign someone else to play first—Mark Trumbo? Edwin Encarnacion?—and trade one of their outfielders.

Roch Kubatko of reported the Rockies wanted Kevin Gausman from the Baltimore Orioles as part of a deal for either Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez. Kubatko wrote the Orioles “aren’t trading Kevin Gausman,” which is no doubt true.

The bigger point, at least from the Rockies’ perspective, is that general manager Jeff Bridich is thinking big when he looks for pitching help. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweeted during the winter meetings, the Rockies would like to trade for “a front-of-rotation-type pitcher.”

The Rockies don’t have one of those in their current rotation. They do have promising 25-year-old right-hander Jon Gray in the big leagues and equally promising 23-year-old right-hander Jeff Hoffman nearly ready in the minors. Hoffman was one of three prospects the Rockies got from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 Troy Tulowitzki trade.

Trading Tulowitzki was a big move for the Rockies, one ownership had previously resisted. It turned the team and the clubhouse over to the next generation, a group that includes star third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story, who was a strong Rookie of the Year candidate before a thumb injury ended his season in July.

With Arenado, Story, National League batting champion DJ LeMahieu and outfielder David Dahl, there was a strong sense in the Rockies clubhouse that they are a team on the rise. Scouts who followed the Rockies said the same thing and cited more young players the club has coming in the minor leagues.

They’ll go into 2017 with Bud Black as the new manager, which figures to be a positive not because Walt Weiss was bad (he wasn’t), but because Weiss and Bridich admittedly weren’t seeing eye to eye.

The challenges remain, from the payroll that will still trail the Dodgers and Giants by millions to the altitude that makes pitching in Colorado difficult and can make hitters believe they need a different approach on the road from the one they use at home.

It’s not impossible for the Rockies to win. They went all the way to the World Series in 2007.

Ten years later, they won’t be the preseason favorites to get there again. But at the very least, they seem headed in the right direction.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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When Is Perfect Time to Trade Harper, Machado and Rest of Lauded ’18 FA Class?

The countdown to 2018 began a while back. Everyone in baseball could see it coming because the names were too big to ignore, the dollars too big to even imagine.

Bryce Harper. Manny Machado. Josh Donaldson. Zach Britton. Andrew Miller. All ready to hit the free-agent market the same winter.

Clayton Kershaw. David Price. Both have opt-out clauses that could send them into that same market.

The countdown is real, both for the players about to cash in and the clubs that dream of signing them. But the countdown is just as real for the teams that could lose them and get only the value of a draft pick (reduced in the new collective bargaining agreement) in return.

Decision time is coming quickly, and the choices those clubs make over the next 19 or so months could be every bit as important as the ones players and teams make two years from now.

Can they sign their stars? Do they play it out and hope for the best? Do they try to cash in and avoid the risk?

The result could be the biggest trading market ever, leading to the biggest free-agent winter ever. But if you’re a team that can’t sign your star, when exactly do you try to move him?

“Good question,” said a National League general manager who doesn’t have any of the biggest stars. “My guess is next offseason or maybe as early as this summer.”

Another NL executive predicted the Washington Nationals could trade Harper after the 2017 campaign and that the Baltimore Orioles could trade Britton. He figures the Orioles will hold on to Machado in hopes of signing him to a new contract.

But former Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, now an MLB Network analyst, expressed doubt any of the biggest stars will be dealt. Their teams are trying to win now, he reasoned, and the return wouldn’t be big enough to justify a move.

“When your club has a chance to win, it’s very problematic,” O’Dowd said. “No matter how good the prospects are, they’re still just prospects. The new CBA makes it tougher too, because it’s harder to trade the impactful young players you’ll need to balance out your big contracts.”

O’Dowd and others believe teams will want to avoid the harshest luxury-tax penalties, which can rise to as high as 92 percent at the highest levels. The easiest way to do that is to have talented young (and thus cheaper) players to mix into your roster.

Top prospects will still get traded, as shown by the return the Chicago White Sox got this winter for both pitcher Chris Sale (from the Boston Red Sox) and outfielder Adam Eaton (from the Nationals). But the Red Sox got three years of control with Sale, who has a reasonable contract, and the Nationals got a potential five years of control with Eaton.

A team trading for a 2018 free agent now would have two years of control. But the only prominent class members who have come up in serious trade rumors this winter are Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen and Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.

Neither has been dealt.

It makes sense for their teams to keep trying, especially the Twins, who have little chance of winning in 2017. The Pirates might do better waiting to see whether they can stay in the NL Central race and/or whether McCutchen can rebuild his value by bouncing back from a subpar 2016.

What about the others?

Some aren’t realistic trade candidates. Price and Kershaw pitch for teams aiming for a championship. Mark Melancon has a 2018 opt-out, but it’s in a contract he signed with the San Francisco Giants in December. They’re not trading him now and almost certainly wouldn’t move him next winter, either.

The harder ones to predict are the other 2018 free agents playing for going-for-it teams.

If the Orioles fall out of the race early, would they consider dealing Britton and/or center fielder Adam Jones, helping free up money to try to sign Machado? If the Toronto Blue Jays fall out of it, could they market Donaldson to a team needing a second-half boost? Could the New York Mets offer pitcher Matt Harvey to help fill other needs?

It’s hard to see the Cleveland Indians dropping too far behind in the American League Central, but what if they did? Could Miller be a midseason trade candidate for a second straight July? They might get even more than the high prospect price they gave up to the New York Yankees to get him.

Then there’s Harper, who will have just turned 26 when he hits the free-agent market. He’s a big part of the Nationals’ plan to win in 2017, but would they move him if they don’t?

Several executives said midseason 2017 trades could be the most realistic option for big-ticket free-agents-to-be.

“Teams can be desperate, and there aren’t free-agent options available in July,” one AL executive said. “And a team can trade for a guy knowing they can have him for two pennant races.”

With so many top players a year and a half away from free agency, the buy-sell decisions could be tougher and more significant than ever this July. Keeping a player until next winter could severely limit the potential return and thus make it less likely the player gets moved at all.

No matter what, July figures to be fascinating. Next winter could be interesting, as those same teams try to judge their chances of winning in 2018 against the risk of getting only draft picks back for departed stars.

It all leads up to November 2018, and the start of a baseball winter like none we’ve ever seen.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Edwin Encarnacion Can Still Swing Fortunes for MLB Contenders This Winter

The stories this week about Edwin Encarnacion were mostly about how much money he wasn’t going to get. And maybe he won’t.       

Encarnacion’s market “cratered,” to use the word Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports worked into a tweet Wednesday. And maybe it did.

But unless you’re Encarnacion’s agent or banker or a family member, none of that should be a big concern. We can analyze later, when the final numbers are in, whether Encarnacion and his advisers badly misread the market when they turned down four years and $80 million from the Toronto Blue Jays, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported.

Right now, Encarnacion represents something else. He represents opportunity for the many American League teams trying to deal with the loaded Boston Red Sox and for the National League teams still trying to catch up with the Chicago Cubs.

He represents a potential game-changer, because consistent run producers like him aren’t supposed to sit there on the market waiting forever for teams to realize how much they need them. The market this winter has been overloaded with players who can fill an Encarnacion-like role (Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Jay Bruce, etc.), but there’s only one guy out there who has driven in 97-plus runs each of the last five seasons.

Encarnacion is the guy, and even if you’re down on the value of RBI as a stat, it’s hard not to value what Encarnacion has done.’s offensive WAR credits him with 22.8 wins over those same five years, 11th in the major leagues and tops among all players who have moved or are likely to move this winter (assuming the Pittsburgh Pirates are now serious about keeping Andrew McCutchen).

So maybe Encarnacion really is an “unlikely” option for the Texas Rangers, as general manager Jon Daniels suggested to reporters, including T.R. Sullivan of Maybe it really would take “a multimillion dollar miracle” to send Encarnacion back to the Blue Jays, as Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun wrote after listening to Jays general manager Ross Atkins.

“If there’s a way, I don’t see it,” Atkins said.

Some team is going to find a way—that’s for certain. And none of us should be surprised if the team that eventually finds a way ends up playing well into October next year.

The Cleveland Indians seem to understand that, given their reported interest in Encarnacion this week, as Paul Hoynes wrote for The Indians have never been among baseball’s big spenders, but when they took advantage of a soft market to sign Mike Napoli for $7 million last winter, they were rewarded with a big season and ultimately a trip to the World Series.

Napoli is a free agent again. Given how much the Indians like him, he could well return. But Encarnacion is a clear step up, and an Indians team that painfully lost the World Series has every reason to look for upgrades.

The same goes for the St. Louis Cardinals. They don’t have the long championship drought the Indians do, but their first playoff-less October since 2010 had to be made more painful by watching the rival Cubs celebrate.

The Cardinals reacted Friday by signing Dexter Fowler, one of the Cubs’ stars. The Cubs were unbothered enough by that news to thank Fowler on Twitter (before going back to plugging their trophy tour):

The reaction from Chicago might not be as positive if the Cardinals follow up by signing Encarnacion, which Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested as a possibility. Fowler gives the Cards a needed spark atop the lineup, but Encarnacion would give them the type of muscle that could actually threaten the Cubs’ intended dynasty.

Then there are the teams that called an Encarnacion signing “unlikely” or said they “don’t see” a way.

As Tim Cowlishaw wrote in the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers haven’t yet made up for the offense they lost when Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland all departed. As Richard Griffin wrote in the Toronto Star, the Blue Jays don’t have a real replacement for Encarnacion or Jose Bautista.

If the Encarnacion market really is cratering, Griffin wrote, “the Jays should do everything in their power to make it happen.”

After all, when this winter began, plenty of us saw Edwin Encarnacion as a potential difference-maker. No matter what may have changed about his market, nothing has changed about the impact he could make on whichever team lands him.        


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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