November 18, 2017

HARD SELL

Agent Scott Boras went to the GM meeting demanding that teams spend big money on his clients like J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta. He is looking for $200 million plus deals for his players.

But his rants only caught the attention of a few reporters.

The luxury tax threshold and penalties of the new CBA are starting to take effect. Simply put, the penalty for going over the threshold of $195 million payroll is a percentage of the overage. If you go over year after year, that percentage increases to 100%. And then, you start having your draft choices being downgraded 10 slots. So the payroll cap has now both financial and operational penalties.

Owners want to control unnecessary costs and scouting departments do not want to be handcuffed with their draft picks. It puts teams more in line with the spirit of the rule. It also lessens the big market teams from overspending on free agents who are demanding long term deals.

The longer the deal for a veteran, the more likely it is that there will be more dead money at the end.

So it will be a harder sell for agents to get top dollar for an above average, free agent player.

Some speculate that many teams, including the Cubs, are holding back overspending this year because next year's free agent class is better (with Bryce Harper the star who may blow past the $400 million contract line.)

Others speculate that a few teams would rather collect international signing bonus money to try to get 23 year old Japanese star Ontani. The Mariners just traded a young, 100 mph flame throwing reliever to the White Sox for $500,00 international cash. Seattle now has $1.55 million in international cash to attempt to sign Ontani.

The Cubs and a few other clubs previously went over the international pool cap. They are penalized by not being allowed to spend over $300,000 for any foreign player. This effectively puts them out of the Ontani sweepstakes (if he gets posted by his current club).

It has been reported that baseball revenues have increased while the CBA is effectively not allowing those new dollars to flow into player salaries. The Marlins talk about trading Stanton (who has a no trade clause) to drop their payroll is another item that irks player agents. If Stanton and few other higher cost players are traded, the Marlins (under new ownership) will field a low-cost,  AAAA team in 2018.

November 16, 2017

WINTER CHECKLIST

Once the self-evaluation is completed, the Cubs front office should have a check list of items to correct/fill for 2018.

The shake-up in the coaching staff gives a clear message that last season's players were underperforming or lacking in development.

Even if the Cubs can get more production from Schwarber, Heyward, Russell, Baez and Almora, it cannot make up for the gaping holes in the 25 man roster.

PITCHING:

An aging Jon Lester leads the rotation, followed by Hendricks and Quintana. The entire rotation last season did not get into the 7th inning enough times to save the bullpen from being worn thin. Lester threw 180.2 IP/32 GS = 5.63 IP/GS. Henricks threw 139 IP/24 GS = 5.70 IP/GS. Quintana threw 84 IP/14 GS = 6 IP/GS. Over an entire season of 32 starts, these three will log in 557 IP.

A team needs to cover 1458 IP during a season. If you get 7 IP/starter, that covers 1,000 IP. That leaves 458 IP divided amongst 8 bullpen arms or 57.1 IP per reliever. Considering the specialization of the bullpen, that means each reliever probably gets 55 or more game appearances.

If your 4th and 5th starters only average 5 IP/start, that means the projected 2018 starters are only going to cover 857 innings. That is short 143 IP which adds to the bullpen arms an average 75 IP per reliever or a 31.5 percent increase in workload.

So the Cubs really need to find two starting pitchers capable of a) starting 32 games, and b) pitching at least 6 IP/GS to save the bullpen. Those workhorse starters are hard to find or expensive to acquire.

HITTING:

The Cubs really need more .300 bats in the line up. OBP stats are great, but the Cubs tend to feast or famine on home run hitters. A .300 hitting lead off man could solve many of the offensive issues of not having a set order, men on base for the heart of the order, and too many platoons. The Cubs really need to find a set batting order so players can know their roles, and get comfortable in the daily routine of preparation and play.

It really depends on how management views Almora, Happ and Schwarber. Are these three players everyday starters or are they trade chips?

If they are platoon players, then it may be better served to find everyday starters in CF and LF (preferably .300 hitter candidates).

The same is true with Zobrist and Heyward. Are they going to be regular starters or will they now become bench players due to their hitting woes?

If they are bench players, it may come to moving Bryant to the outfield, Baez to third and Happ to second.

CHECKLIST:

1. Lead off hitter, OF candidate with .300 career BA.
2. Two starting pitchers.
3. Four relief pitchers, including a closer.
4. Back up veteran catcher.

November 12, 2017

IMPORTED FROM JAPAN

The biggest baseball free agent may be the less known.

Shohei Otani is a pitcher-outfielder in Japan. At 23 years old, he is a major league talent.
In 5 pro seasons, he has hit .286 BA, 48 HR, 166 RBI and 13 SB. In 2016 he hit 22 HR in 104 games.
As a pitcher, he has a career 42-25 record, 2.52 ERA, 1.076 WHIP and 7 SHO. Last year he was limited in games played by a thigh injury.

But Otani and his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, have agreed to post him for MLB.

The Associated Press has written that Texas, the New York Yankees and Minnesota can pay the most for Otani if Major League Baseball and its Japanese counterpart can agree to the outlines of a deal to keep the old posting system for this off-season.
The Rangers can agree to a maximum $3,535,000 signing bonus from their pool that covers July 2 through next June 15, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball and obtained by The Associated Press. New York can pay $3.25 million and the Twins $3,245,000.

Just three other teams can give him a seven-figure signing bonus: Pittsburgh ($2,266,750), Miami ($1.74 million) and Seattle ($1,570,500).

After that comes Philadelphia ($900,000), Milwaukee ($765,000), Arizona ($731,250), Baltimore ($660,000), Boston ($462,000) and Tampa Bay ($440,500).

Twelve teams are capped at $300,000 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pool under baseball's previous collective bargaining agreement, which did not have a cap: Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington.

Other clubs have even less available: Detroit ($159,500), the Los Angeles Angels ($150,000), the New York Mets ($105,000), Toronto ($50,000), and Cleveland and Colorado ($10,000 apiece).
Each team started with a pool of $4.75 million, $5.25 million or $5.75 million, and amounts could be traded. Most of the pool money already has been spent on Latin American prospects.

Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the 23-year-old Otani can only agree to a minor league contract that is subject to signing bonus pools. If added to a big league roster, he would have a salary for about the minimum $545,000 next season and not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest.

If he waits until he is 25 to enter MLB, there would be no restrictions and he likely would get a deal for more than $100 million. MLB has warned of severe penalties if a team attempts to sign Otani to a secret long-term contract, then announce it in future years.

November 9, 2017

FREE AGENT CHECK LIST

With only 9 qualified offers still pending on the table, it is time to look at the Cubs' holes and the readily available free agents. (From MLBTR).

The Cubs want a veteran, pack up catcher for Contreras. The three they had last year are now available. Two other ex-Cubs (Castillo and Soto) are also available. Of this group, a return of Rene Rivera makes the most sense.

Catchers

Alex Avila (31)
Welington Castillo (31)
A.J. Ellis (37)
Nick Hundley (34)
Chris Iannetta (35)
Jose Lobaton (33)
Jonathan Lucroy (32)
Miguel Montero (34)
Rene Rivera (34)
Carlos Ruiz (39)
Hector Sanchez (28)
Geovany Soto (35)
Chris Stewart (36)


The Cubs are stuck with several platoon outfielders. Schwarber, Almora, Heyward are going to be on the 2018 roster unless there is a trade. Happ appears to be the super-utility player and Zobrist most likely getting less playing time behind Baez at second base. So it would appear that the Cubs would need one 4th outfield candidate. Maddon favorite, Jon Jay, is available but he may want a chance to start with another team. What would be ideal would be a traditional lead off hitter. A Cain, Gomez or Maybin would be expensive signee,  pushing Almora to the bench or trade market. I would not be surprised if the Cubs signed Granderson on a one-year deal to close out his career in his hometown.

Left Fielders
Norichika Aoki (36)
Cody Asche (28)
Peter Bourjos (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Andre Ethier (36)
Craig Gentry (34)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Franklin Gutierrez (35)
Chris Heisey (33)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Howie Kendrick (34)
Hyun Soo Kim (30)
Adam Lind (34)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Daniel Nava (35)
Eduardo Nunez (31)
Alex Presley (32)
Colby Rasmus (31)
Ben Revere (30)
Michael Saunders (31)
Ah-seop Son (30)
Jayson Werth (39)
Chris B. Young (34)
Eric Young Jr. (33)

Center Fielders
Peter Bourjos (31)
Lorenzo Cain (32)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jaff Decker (28)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Pedro Florimon (31)
Carlos Gomez (32)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Alex Presley (32)

Right Fielders
Norichika Aoki (36)
Jose Bautista (37)
Jay Bruce (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Craig Gentry (34)
Carlos Gonzalez (32)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Austin Jackson (31)
John Jaso (34)
Jon Jay (33)
J.D. Martinez (30)
Alex Presley (32)
Michael Saunders (31)
Seth Smith (35)
Ah-seop Son (30)
Ichiro Suzuki (44)
Jayson Werth (39)


The Cubs will have rotation issues in 2018. The team needs to replace Arrieta and Lackey, but also has to consider that Lester is older and the organization has no minor league pitching. The Cubs really need to sign three starters this off-season. The names on the radar include Darvish, Cobb, Lynn and Ross. But all those pitchers will want in excess of the qualifying offer price of $17.4 million/season. A player like Cashner now projects to convert to a closer role (which is another Cub need). The Cubs may go cheaper with some rehab/re-boot pitchers like Tillman, Locke, Peralta or Pineda.


Starting Pitchers
Brett Anderson (30)
Jake Arrieta (32)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Clay Buchholz (33)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Andrew Cashner (31)
Jhoulys Chacin (30)
Tyler Chatwood (28)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Wei-Yin Chen (32)
Alex Cobb (30)
Bartolo Colon (45)
Johnny Cueto (32)
Yu Darvish (31)
R.A. Dickey (43)
Scott Feldman (35)
Doug Fister (34)
Yovani Gallardo (32)
Jaime Garcia (31)
Matt Garza (34)
Dillon Gee (32)
Miguel Gonzalez (34)
Jeremy Hellickson (31)
Derek Holland (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Drew Hutchison (27)
Hisashi Iwakuma (37)
Ubaldo Jimenez (34)
John Lackey (39)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Jeff Locke (30)
Jordan Lyles (27)
Lance Lynn (31)
Miles Mikolas (29)
Wade Miley (31)
Ricky Nolasco (35)
Wily Peralta (29)
Michael Pineda (29)
Tyson Ross (31)
CC Sabathia (37)
Anibal Sanchez (34)
Hector Santiago (30)
Chris Smith (37)
Chris Tillman (30)
Jacob Turner (27)
Jason Vargas (35)
Hideaki Wakui (32)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)


The Cubs will have to rebuild their bullpen with a closer and solid middle relievers. Only Edwards, Strop and Montgomery are sure bets to return to the pen. Wilson is an enigma since he failed to impress or take the 2018 closer role. Wade Davis appears to be the best closer available, but he will want a long term deal.  Jake McGee is a possibility but he has some health red flags. If you are looking at potential bounce back candidates, Rodruiguez or Gomez are possibilities. For set up men, Shaw and Watson appear to be the most durable arms on the market.
 
For potential closers, Morrow and Reed probably fit the Cubs budget better than Davis.
Kintzler, Clippard, Swarzak and Krol may be the under the radar bullpen guys that most teams would like to fill out their roster.

Right-Handed Relievers
Matt Albers (35)
John Axford (35)
Tony Barnette (34)
Matt Belisle (38)
Joaquin Benoit (40)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Blaine Boyer (36)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Josh Collmenter (32)
Tyler Clippard (33)
Steve Cishek (32)
Wade Davis (32)
Neftali Feliz (30)
Dillon Gee (32)
Jeanmar Gomez (30)
Luke Gregerson (34)
Jason Grilli (41)
Deolis Guerra (29)
David Hernandez (33)
Yoshihisa Hirano (34)
Greg Holland (32)
Tommy Hunter (31)
Brandon Kintzler (33)
Chris Martin (32)
Dustin McGowan (36)
Brandon Morrow (33)
Jason Motte (36)
Peter Moylan (39)
Pat Neshek (37)
Juan Nicasio (31)
Bud Norris (33)
Seung-hwan Oh (35)
Yusmeiro Petit (33)
Chad Qualls (39)
Addison Reed (29)
Fernando Rodney (41)
Francisco Rodriguez (36)
Sergio Romo (35)
Trevor Rosenthal (28)
Fernando Salas (33)
Rob Scahill (31)
Bryan Shaw (30)
Joe Smith (34)
Craig Stammen (34)
Drew Storen (30)
Huston Street (34)
Anthony Swarzak (32)
Carlos Torres (35)
Koji Uehara (43)
Tom Wilhelmsen (34)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)

Left-Handed Relievers
Fernando Abad (32)
Craig Breslow (37)
Jorge De La Rosa (37)
Brian Duensing (35)
Zach Duke (35)
Josh Edgin (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Ian Krol (27)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Boone Logan (33)
Jake McGee (31)
Mike Minor (30)
Eric O’Flaherty (33)
Oliver Perez (36)
Glen Perkins (35)
Robbie Ross (29)
Kevin Siegrist (28)
Tony Watson (32)

November 8, 2017

BAD MONEY TRADES

It is projected that the Cubs will have approximately $70 million to spend on 8 major league roster spots ( 2- SP; 1-C, 1- OF, 4-RP).

Unless a team is really close to going deep into the playoffs, like the Cubs were last season, general managers are not likely to trade their minor league talent to acquire pricey veterans. Teams now value young players who are cost controllable for 6 years more than star, free agents.

The winter trade market is different than the trade deadline. In the winter, every team is re-tooling their roster and making organizational talent evaluations. They review what worked and what did not work last season. They have to project how their minor league players will develop in the first and second half of next season. They have to project how their major league roster is strong and weak to adapt/compensate for a long season ahead.

But the most jarring evaluation point is the dead money portion of the payroll. Owners loathe paying millions of dollars for players no longer with the club, or players who are drastically underperforming their contract value.

In the winter you see more "change of scenery" deals where teams are willing to trade an underperforming player for another team's underperforming player with the hope that the new team can "fix" the player. Many of these deals are trying to lessen the dead money portion of the payroll budget.

The first speculative dead money deal of the winter had numerous reports involving the Giants and the Cubs. Yahoo Sports and MLB.com reported that the the Giants have their eye acquiring  Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, for starter Jeff Samardzija and closer Mark Melancon.

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, is still owed $134 million over the next six years of his contract. While he's proved dependable with the glove, his production with the bat has fallen off in recent years. This past season, the 28-year-old hit .259/.326/.389 with 15 doubles, 11 homers and 59 RBI in 126 games.

The Giants are looking for a new center fielder. Heyward's primary position is right field, but he has started 63 career games in center field, including 12 in 2017

Samardzija is owed $59.4 million for the next three years. While Samardzija finished with a 9-15 record and a 4.42 ERA this past season, he finished with a 6.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio,  good for second in the National League and fourth overall in the majors. He also surpassed 200 innings for the fifth straight season, finishing with 207.2 innings pitched. In the past two seasons with the Giants, he has a5.2 WAR, much better than his Cub years.

Melancon's first season with the Giants didn't go as planned. After signing a four-year, $62 million deal last winter, he battled an arm injury all year. He spent chunks of the season on the disabled list and appeared in just 32 games. When he returned in August, he served as the setup man to Sam Dyson. In early September,  He finished with a 4.50 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings.

Melancon underwent pronator release surgery for nerve entrapments in the proximal forearm  In a study of 205 patients using a self-assessment questionnaire, 45 months after the operation. The questionnaire consisted of visual analogue scale recordings of pre- and postoperative pain during rest and activity, questions about remaining symptoms and appreciation of the result and the Disabilities of Arm, Shoulder and Hand form (DASH). Altogether, 59% of the patients were satisfied, 58% considered themselves improved, and 3% as being entirely relieved of all symptoms. 

Melacon, 32, is owed $53 million for the next three years. There is a current medical condition that is problematic. You could not count on him to be a viable closer candidate.

The Giants are trying to unload two players and $102.4 million in salary. The Cubs would like to shed Heyward's contract, but would only get about $30 million in relief. But this rumor is a typical dead money type trade. They look for upside potential while trying to shed downside player negatives.

November 7, 2017

QUALIFIED

The new CBA rules on free agency took effect after the World Series. The old Qualifying Offer rules have been diluted and complicated to a point where there is less incentive to make offers and more incentive to sign players who rejected them (as the loss of a first or second round draft pick has been lessened based on revenue sharing and luxury tax components in a compensation formula).

Only 9 players received the $17.4 million one year offer from their clubs. The Cubs offered SP Arrieta and closer Davis contracts.

Arrieta had been adamant that he was going to reject a QO and head into free agency looking for a career ending 7 year $180 million plus contract. But his advanced statistics have shown the wear and tear of the last two seasons. He may have missed the golden parachute by a year. He may still get $20 million annual salary over 5 years.

Davis is the more interesting question. Closers are in high demand and there is a shortage on the open market (unless you think teams will convert some second tier starters like Andrew Cashner into closers). The Cubs have had a philosophy of not paying high value free agent closers. The long term contract requirements scare off the Cubs sinking potential dead money on older pitchers dead arms. And the way Joe Maddon tends to burn out his bullpen in the post-season is also an issue. (There is no question Chapman was not the same pitcher this year after his Cubs post-season abuse.)

But the Cubs have no closer on their current roster. Edwards may be projected into that role, but his lack of command at the end of last season has given some Cub observers the Marmol chills.

The front office has admitted that the minor league system is bare. It means that if the team wants to find a quality starter or a closer in the trade market, it will have to send one or two players off their current 25 man roster. The likely trade chips are Russell, Baez, Schwarber and/or Happ.

One rumor is that the Cubs could package two position players for Tampa's Chris Archer, a quality starter with four more years of team control. But like Arrieta, Archer's advanced pitching stats indicate that his 4 to 1 strikeout ratio and innings pitched have made him more ineffective in the last two season. The quality of his pitches is down.

There was also another rumor that the Cubs could try to package a deal to swap bad money deals. What was floated in the speculative bubble of the internet was the Cubs trading Heyward and half his salary to the Giants for Jeff Samardzija and his $59 million, 3 year contract. There are two problems with this speculation: one, Samardzija had a poor year with a 4.42 ERA and two, Heyward still has one more year of a no-trade clause. It is doubtful that Heyward would waive his no trade to move to a rebuilding club in San Francisco. The Cubs really do not have a great right field player to push Heyward to the bench.

The Cubs painted themselves into a corner. The minor league system is not producing quality starting pitchers. AAA Iowa does not have quality arms to re-stock the major league bullpen. Edwards is not ready for a prime time closer role. The Cubs have two starting rotation slots to fill. The Brewers are one or two players away from taking the NL Central.

October 30, 2017

THE NEW ORDER

One of the major deficiencies the Cubs had in 2017 was the lack of timely hitting.

In the playoffs, the Cubs could only score runs on homers.

The front office stats department has been keen on signing OBP hitters. On base percentage was more important than batting average. This led to a line up devoid of any .300 hitters.

On base is great if you actually get on base. In the playoffs, the Cubs batters looked at less than the league average in pitches per at bat. The Dodgers threw more than 200 less pitches to the Cubs during the NLCS. You cannot walk on less than 4 pitches per at bat.

The other problem with the Cubs line up was that it really could not manufacture runs.

Joe Maddon has an issue in "giving up outs" to sacrifice a hitter to move up a runner (the exception is the pitcher's spot.) But in close games, one cannot count on .250 hitters coming through to drive in runners in scoring position.

The way to manufacture runs is through the lead off hitter. Traditionally, the lead off hitter has been a high average, speedy base stealer. Once on base, the lead off man has many options to put pressure on the pitcher/defense: steal a base; hit and run; move from first to third on a single; move to second on sac bunt.

The Cubs have used many unconventional lead off hitters: Schwarber, Rizzo, Bryant, Zobrist.

One of the glaring needs is a solid, consistent lead off hitter to create a stable line up.
Players are creatures of habit. They like to know their role. They like to know where they will be batting in the lineup because their approach may differ.

A good lead off man will come up three times in a game with the opportunity to be the engine to manufacture a run. After reaching first, a steal and a sacrifice to third puts a runner 90 feet away with less than two outs. The odds are more than 50 percent that the runner will score. That is much greater than waiting for a hitter to hit a home run. The Cubs home run/at bat percentage was just three percent.

Unless the Cubs are going to try out Almora as the new lead off man (and that is a big "if" since Maddon refused to start him against right handers on a regular basis), the 2018 lead off man is not currently on the Cubs active roster.

Without runners on base, the meat of the order has less chance of driving in runs.

The Cubs need to refine their line up decisions to create a dynamic options for the offense.
The order needs to look like this:

1. A new lead off hitter who can get on and steal bases.
2. A new protection hitter who can get the lead off hitter into scoring position.
3. Traditionally, the team's best hitter for average.
4. Traditionally, the team's best power hitter.
5. The team's second best hitter for average and power.

Barring a day off, these top five hitters should remain in their slots for the entire season.

But Maddon likes "match ups" more than players "adjusting" to pitchers. Maddon will like to platoon two outfield positions with righty-lefty matches than try to get a consistent chemistry in a batting order.

A side note on the start of the off-season. The front office purged the coaching staff. Theo and Jed have added more ex-Boston coaches, including new hitting coach Chili Davis. It would appear that management is looking for more production from the players they currently have on the roster.