December 2, 2016

A SHIP TO SALE

Jason Stark was on ESPN Radio recently talking about the Chris Sale market. He said teams have said that the White Sox demands are extremely high for their ace. He said it looks like the Sox want to have a team's No. 1 prospect, two more in top five and another quality player (probably major league ready). Not many teams are willing to unload 3 or 4 of their best prospects for one player.

But reports continue to surface that the Red Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Astros and the Braves have asked about Sale. Stark predicts that the price may come down, and the Sox will trade Sale before Opening Day.

Sale will command the highest price tag because this year's starting pitching FA crop is barren. The Red Sox and Nationals have indicated that they are not trading their top prospects.

It is felt that the Astros will be the most aggressive team this off-season. Houston is poised to make a break out season like the Cubs in 2015. The Astros have inked OF Aoki, Reddick,  C McCann and SP Morton. The top prospects in the system include #1 (#29 overall) RHP Franics Martes, 21, who is moved up quickly to AA with a 9-6, 3.30 record as a starter. #2 is OF Kyle Tucker, 19, in A ball. #3 is RHP Forrest Whitley, a 6'7" rookie league player. #4 is RHP David Paulino to went through 3 levels to make a sip of coffee in the bigs last season.  #5 is OF Derek Fuller, a lefty hitting OF who hit .245, 16 HR, 59 RBI and 23 SB in AAA. Another good prospect is first rounder 3B Colin Moran who hit .259, 10 HR, 69 RBI in AAA. He is major league ready.

The White Sox have plenty of pitching prospects but are weak on position prospects.  Did the Astros signal with their outfield signings it would be willing to trade George Springer, 27, who hit .261, 29 HR, 82 RBI in the right deal for a stud starter? Springer is under team control to 2021.

In order for the White Sox to "win" the Sale deal, they need to get the "best" player in the deal in return. Springer does fit a real long term need. Adding a lefty speed OF in Fuller and 3B Moran could be part of a package, since the White Sox are willing to trade Todd Frazier because the third base free agent market is as bad as the starting pitching one.

If the Sox want to trade a big piece, they have to get young quick. That was the formula that the Cubs used to snare Addison Russell.

The Sox have fence sitting fans. Any Sale trade needs to bring back immediate "impact" players in return. 

December 1, 2016

NEW DEAL

Selig's Folly is dead. In 2002, Commissioner Selig's All-Star blunder (of teams running out of players) of making the exhibition game "count" in the playoffs is no longer the case. Back to the basics of sports, the team with the best record will have earned the advantage in the World Series. This makes every game important.

The change of the All-Star game ramifications is part of the new collective bargaining agreement. The new five year deal tweaks various aspects of the old deal. MLB.com reviewed the new changes:

The most surprising twist is that home-field advantage in the World Series will no longer be tied to the All-Star Game, as first reported by The Associated Press. Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will get home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.

Free-agent compensation
Specifics on Draft-pick compensation are still being discussed. That said, qualifying offers -- which will still be calculated based on the average of the top 125 salaries -- can still be extended to free agents, but no more than once per player in his career. A player must still be on his club for the entire season to receive a qualifying offer.

Teams losing a free agent who received a qualifying offer will get a Draft pick only if the player signs a contract worth at least $50 million. After that, the pick depends on a team's market size, according to MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal.

Beginning in the 2017-18 offseason, teams will not lose first-round Draft picks for signing a premier free agent. However, teams exceeding the luxury-tax threshold would lose a second-rounder, a fifth-rounder and $1 million in international pool money.
 
If a club hasn't exceeded the luxury-tax threshold, it will lose a third-round pick.

Luxury tax threshold
Incremental increases from the current $189 million of 2014-16 to:
2017: $195 million
2018: $197 million
2019: $206 million
2020: $209 million
2021: $210 million

Tax rates for teams exceeding the threshold will rise from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first-time instances, remain at 30 percent for second instances and increase from 40 to 50 percent for third-time instances.

There's a new 12 percent surtax for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 40 percent for first instances more than $40 million above the threshold and 42.5 percent for teams $40 million above the threshold a second time, according to The Associated Press.

International Draft
Rather than an international Draft, which owners had sought, the two sides agreed to a bonus pool system, with a hard cap on how much each team can spend. That pool is expected to be $5 million to $6 million per team. Under the previous CBA, the bonus pools were scaled based on record the previous year, with the worst teams getting a little more than $5 million and the club with the best record getting a bonus pool in the $2 million range. It was also a "soft" cap, meaning teams could exceed it, but had to pay penalties for doing so.

Cuban-born players who are at least 25 years old, with six-plus years of experience in Serie Nacional, will maintain exemption from the international bonus pool, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Roster size
No change. Teams will have 25-man rosters for the regular season, expanding to 40 in September. An expansion to 26-man rosters for April through August had been discussed in exchange for a smaller roster expansion in September, but that did not materialize.

Disabled list
The minimum time for a trip to the DL will be reduced from 15 days to 10, according to The Associated Press.

Other items of note
• Beginning in 2018, the regular season will begin in mid-week to create additional off-days during the schedule.

• According to the New York Post, incoming Major Leaguers will be banned from using smokeless tobacco, but current players will be "grandfathered in" and still be permitted.

THE KEYS TO THE DEAL

1. The All Star league winner for home field advantage in World Series has been a thorn on many teams sides for years.  The idea that the best team should have home field advantage during the playoffs makes the most sense and will have the biggest change in the new deal.

2. The shortening of the DL from 15 to 10 days will have operational consequences. First, it makes it easier to activate players with day to day soft tissue injuries. Second, it is a compromise between the concussion protocol and the old DL time frame. Third, it will add additional player travel cost moving players from minors to the majors. Fourth, it really gives starting pitchers a quicker avenue to get back to the big leagues (missing 2 starts instead of 3).

3. The free agent qualifying offer compensation is still a quagmire of exceptions. The new deal allows second tier free agents (normally players in their late thirties looking for a final 2-3 year deal) to reject a qualifying offer for a one year deal (for this year's amount of $17.2 million) in order to get a higher guaranteed sum in a 2 or 3 year deal below the $50 million threshold.

4. The owners lost out on an international draft, but gained additional funds for the large market teams to equalize with the small market clubs. The hard cap makes it harder for international free agents to big up their bonus demands. It also stops teams from spending Round 1 bonus dollars on foreign teenagers, which makes U.S. high school and college prospects more of a scouting priority.


November 29, 2016

SALE SIGNS

ESPN's Buster Olney reports that teams tell him that they believe the White Sox “are serious about their intention to trade Chris Sale.  Only reports that  Chicago has told rival clubs they’re willing to trade anyone with fewer than four years of team control remaining, which would mean Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson are off the table, but names like Sale, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and David Robertson are all in play.

Sale’s name figures to dominate next week’s Winter Meetings, and the wide range of options available to Chicago GM Rick Hahn should mean the White Sox will be connected to plenty of trade scenarios.

Sale has worn out his welcome in Chicago. His clubhouse revolt in spring training on the Adam LaRoche matter, to the cutting of throw back uniforms in a tantrum, has made him an unwanted diva.

And Sale is the premier trading asset this off-season. The free agent starting pitching market is as dry as the desert.

The Sox could go in fire sale mode.

It seems the idea many teams are adopting is the concept of a young "core" of players under control for multiple years. Once you establish a set core of players (like the Cubs did), you can then fill needs through free agency or trade.

Olney's report states that Sox have decided that 4 years of player control is the "core" the team wants to use in order to target for a championship in 2020. But with only four core players (SP Quintana, SP Rodon, OF Eaton and SS Anderson) the White Sox are still far away from the playoffs.

However, to the right team, Sale could bring in five under-25 prospects and major league ready talent. Abreu, Frazier and Cabrera could bring a good prospect and another high ceiling low minor league prospect.

Trading those four players could yield about a dozen new, young players. Adding to the strength of the organization, minor league starting pitching, the White Sox do have the building blocks to make a rebuild work.

November 20, 2016

QUALIFYING OFFERS

Qualifying offers in baseball have been the bane of agents and teams for a long time.

When Phllies starter Jeremy Hellickson  decided to accept the Phillies’ $17.2 million qualifying offer ahead of  the deadline, he said he was considering declining the QO but potential suitors told his agent, Scott Boras, that they were reluctant to give up a draft pick in order to sign the right-hander.

Some teams value their draft picks more than free agents. Other teams, like the Yankees, churn their veterans for compensation picks while losing other picks by signing other teams free agents.

Players with attached draft pick compensation have had a tough time finding a home in free agency since the QO system was adopted. Outfielders Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler  did not  sign with their respective teams, the Rangers and Cubs, until late February prior to this past season, due to draft pick compensation being attached to them. Neither player got a multi-year deal and settled for salaries, $8 million and $13 million respectively, below last season’s QO value of $15.8 million.

Yahoo's Jeff Passan wrote that there is “increasing sentiment” coming out of collective bargaining agreement negotiations that the QO system will not be around for the next offseason. That’s great for free agents and teams that want to sign them, obviously, but bad for teams losing those free agents unless they’re allowed to recoup value in some other fashion.

The QO was designed to help small market teams that lost control of their star players to free agency to get something in return to developing talent for the large market teams. Some would say that revenue sharing and protected picks should be enough compensation for those clubs. Others felt that it was leverage for existing clubs to keep their star players. But the formula for setting the QO has gone through the roof, creating an artificially high floor in the free agent market. Some team owners gripe about $17.2 million to retain a player or negotiate with a free agent with that price tag already on similar assets.

In order for the program to change, the small market clubs will demand some other form of compensation. For example, if MLB does institute an international draft (with foreign players and representatives abhor), small market teams may be awarded extra sandwich compensation picks between rounds. Or, a team signing a "restricted" free agent (however that term will be re-defined) may have to pay some cash (development costs). Agents would not like that because a team could shave the payment off their contract offers to players. But in most CBA provisions, it comes down to money either going into the players' or owners' pockets.

November 17, 2016

NEW DIRECTION?

White Sox GM Rick Hahn said:

“We’ve always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win,” Hahn said. “At the same time, I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps. A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer-term fits in nature.”

The White Sox have been mired in a "win now" re-tooling of their roster since the 2005 championship. The club has signed or traded for veterans to try to get over the hump to win the AL Central and make it deep in the playoffs. But the Tigers, Royals and now the Indians have blocked their path. But now the Tigers are ready for a fire sale and the Royals are regrouping, the White Sox have to make a major decision: stay the course or rebuild the organization?

Critics think the Sox must follow the Cub rebuild plan. Tear it all down. Trade valuable assets like Sale, Quintana, Frazier, Eaton or Abreu to stockpile young, athletic talent.

Fans and ownership still believe the Sox are just one or two players away from a division title.

The problem with the White Sox has been that the team has not drafted well position players. And the team has not spent a lot of money on international free agents. As a result, the farm system has been weak for a long time.

There are two ways to remedy the situation: hire better scouts and development coaches to boost the talent in the minors or trade for quality prospects from other teams.

If you read between the lines, it appears that Hahn is still playing a middle approach. When he says he will look for longer-term benefits, it may mean that trade targets may not be rental players but players under 2 or 3 year deals. Or that prospects will be low minor leaguers under team control for six years. It also means that the White Sox may plan to hold on to their ten quality minor league pitching prospects.

And it also could mean that the team will not pour any more money on free agents this winter. It will let the roster weed itself out by contract expiration.

My guess is the White Sox will continue to on the same path of trying to field a veteran, competitive club with a short term goal of winning now.

November 14, 2016

CHECKLIST

The Cubs go into the off-season with many open positions/issues.

1. Centerfield and Lead-off Hitter. Dexter Fowler will reject the $17.2 million qualifying offer. He wants to obtain a long term, guaranteed deal. No one can blame him. He is saddled with the lost draft pick like last year. Many writers believe the Cubs need to re-sign Fowler because when he scored, the Cubs won more than 70 percent of those games.

If the Cubs do not re-sign Fowler, the job falls to Albert Almora or a defense weakening shift of Jason Heyward from right. Heyward has enough on his plate to correct his swing to worry about moving full time to CF. He prefers right field. Leave him there. If the Cubs are high on Almora, let him sink or swim in center.

But that does leave a gap at lead-off spot. No one of the club right now is the prototypical lead off hitter (high contact, walks and stolen base threat).

2. Left handed reliever. Travis Wood is a free agent. He is likely to sign elsewhere. He was a workhorse out of the pen (and a pretty good hitter off the bench). He had 77 appearances for 61 IP. With Mike Montgomery penciled in as the 4th starter next season, the job may fall to Rob Zastrynzny, who had 8 appearances (1 start) for a 1-0, 1.13 ERA record in 16 IP. However, the Cubs are weak at starting pitching depth in the minors so Zastrynzny may start 2017 at Iowa in case there is an injury in the rotation.

3. Closer. Will Hector Rondon return from his injury to reclaim his closer role? Or will there be a closer-by-committee approach with Rondon, Pedro Strop and CJ Edwards? Most writers believe that the Cubs will go after a high priced closer to replace Chapman (and thus making the bullpen rebuild less onerous).

4. The Schwarber Problem. Where will Kyle play? With his significant knee injury, most experts doubt that he will be in the position to catch at the major league level. Too much strain and stress on the rebuilt knee. Willson Contreras will be the main catcher, and Miquel Montero the expensive back-up catcher (maybe Lester or Arrieta's personal catcher). In the best case scenario, Schwarber would catch Hendricks starts (30/ year).  Where will he play for the other 120 games? 20 at DH in AL parks? 100 games in LF?

The left field situation gets very crowded with Schwarber, Zobrist and Soler all in the mix for playing time. Zobrist has lost his second base position (unless Baez is at third which moves Bryant to LF). Zobrist has been the only consistent Cub to protect Anthony Rizzo in the line up.

5. Starting pitching. As stated, Montgomery appears to be the guy to take Hammel's spot as the #4 starter (moving Lackey to #5). But the Cubs depth chart as an organization is thin with major league ready starting pitching. Most pundits plead for the Cubs to move several young players to acquire young, durable and controllable starting pitchers. But most clubs will not trade their best pitching prospects, even for really good hitters. The free agent market for starters is also weak.

6. The bullpen. It is an annual make-over for bull pen arms. The Cubs current 40-man roster has this group to potentially fill four (4) opening day bull pen slots: Aaron Brooks, Jake Buchanan, Geraldo Concepcion, Justin Grimm, Conor Mullee, Spencer Patton, Felix Pena, Jose Rosario and Zac Rosscup. Concepcion and Patton had their call-up moments and did not stick. Grimm has been hanging around but is inconsistent. Rosscup is coming back from a major injury. Mullee was a recent waiver pick up. No matter what is in the system, the Cubs still need to look to upgrade bull pen arms.

November 12, 2016

THE SILLY SEASON

The silly season of writer speculation is upon us.  A blogger just posted a fantasy piece about the Angels Mike Trout, the consensus pick of the best baseball player in the game.

He wrote that if the Angels would trade Trout, there is only one team that could acquire him: the Cubs.

He thought a package of Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Ian Happ and Miguel Montero could get the Angels to make the deal.

Of the list of Cub players, maybe two are even in the trade asset column: Candelario because he is blocked at third by Bryant, and Montero who is a the end of his unhappy but expensive contract.

The Cubs have made it clear that their love for Schwarber is unconditional. His work ethic may surprise people to the point of being able to catch again. Otherwise, he is doomed to be designated as a professional DH.

Baez is the supersub Joe Maddon needs to juggle his lineup. But many fans now realize that Baez success means that he will demand more playing time, which could affect Zobrist or Soler's plate appearances. Almora is poised to take Fowler's CF job. As a top draft pick, the front office is not going to give away "one of their guys." Happ is another one of those "pure" hitters the Cubs have drafted in recent years. He can play 2B-OF. Zagunis is a AAA outfielder who is in line to probably replace Coghlan.

Trout has monster production: 29 HR, 100 RBI, .315 BA, 10.6 WAR. He is on the easy path to the Hall of Fame. And he is only 25 years old.

The hot stove winter is mainly about these type of stories. The bar talk about moves your favorite team should make in order to win next season's championship. The Cubs are in a strange position this off-season. They already have the pieces to win next season's championship.