February 20, 2017
Shooting for the Moon
Gagne considering a major league comeback
Eric Gagne is 41 years old. Eric Gagne has not played a full season of baseball at any level since 2009, has not carried a major-league contract since 2008, and has not, as was so elegantly written in the Baseball Prospectus 2005 Annual, “[exorcised] the stoicism out of Dodger Stadium and made it just plain rock” since 2004.
Despite his age and rustiness, Gagne will take the mound for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March and will balance his responsibilities as a guest pitching instructor and aspiring major-league pitcher in the Dodgers’ camp until then. He tossed an informal bullpen session in front of the Dodgers’ front office on Sunday, though MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick claimed the event wasn’t intended to be part of the veteran righty’s official comeback attempt.
It would take something akin to a miracle to see Gagne secure a contract, work his way onto a 25-man roster, and barring injury or collapse, return to the electric delivery and phenomenal success that characterized the better parts of his nine-year MLB run. Still, should the spring come and go without a contract offer, it won’t be for his lack of trying. Gagne’s agent, Scott Leventhal, insists that the former Cy Young winner's velocity is up, his split-change has life, and he’s willing and able to pitch on back-to-back days in order to prove his health and durability to any potential suitors. For now, however, he’s brought a smile to Dave Roberts’ face. That’s a good place to start.
Mets, Walker discussing extension terms
It’s only been three months since Neil Walker accepted a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Mets, but the two sides are already discussing a contract extension that would take the second baseman through the 2019 season. Neither side has commented on extension specifics, but Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News references a source that believes a figure “north of $40 million” is currently on the table.
Walker became the first Met in franchise history to accept a qualifying offer last November, following a season that saw his value spike to career-high numbers before it was derailed by a back injury. The 31-year-old turned in a .300 TAv, 3.5 WARP, and tied his previous career-high 23 home runs before getting shut down for the season in late August. While he appears to have recovered fully from back surgery over the offseason, it was assumed that his chronic health issues convinced the Mets to table extension talks last autumn.
Back issues notwithstanding, Walker has been the picture of health and consistency over the last eight seasons. Prior to his run with the Mets in 2016, he had not spent more than 18 days on the disabled list in any given year and reliably turned in 2-3 WARP every season since he picked up a full-time role with the Pirates in 2011. Provided that he can reinforce his positive health reports with another solid performance at the plate this spring, the Mets should have little hesitation in committing him to a long-term contract.
Yankees exchange blows with Betances over arbitration
Most salary negotiations carry a degree of unpleasantness, perhaps none more so than the arbitration process. Yankees setup man Dellin Betances bore the full brunt of this discomfort over the weekend, when an arbitrator sided with the Yankees and awarded the right-hander a $3 million salary for the 2017 season.
It’s a record-breaking salary bump for a non-closer in his first year of arbitration, albeit $2 million removed from the $5 million Betances requested. Rumors abounded that the two sides had not been able to reach a midpoint prior to the arbitration hearing, and when team president Randy Levine called for a press conference following the decision on Saturday, it was clear why talks had stalled. Levine took Betances’ representatives to task, accusing them of exploiting their client in order to set a precedent for setup relievers in future arbitration hearings. “It’s like me saying, ‘I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut.’ I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer,” Levine said after calling Betances’ $5 million request “ridiculous” and “half-baked.”
At the core of his argument was Betances’ lack of saves. The 28-year-old produced a remarkable 1.44 DRA and 32 cFIP in 2016 and temporarily converted to a closing role after the departure of Aroldis Chapman in August. Despite struggling through the last two months of the year, he racked up 12 saves and finished the year with 3.0 WARP. That wasn’t enough to justify his high asking price, according to Levine, who eschewed a more well-rounded analysis of Betances’ services and chastised his agents for pursuing a salary figure normally reserved for elite, full-time closers with “a lot, a lot, and a lot of saves.”
The comments provoked heated responses from Betances and his representatives, who claimed that the president had mispronounced the reliever’s name throughout the hearing and pinned the team’s declining ticket sales and lack of playoff history on his late-season issues. Betances, for his part, alluded to his impending free agency in 2020 and said it would be easier to approach that phase of his career following Levine’s outburst to the media.
The arbitration process is an imperfect one, ugly by nature and not always grounded in well-reasoned arguments or compelling statistics, but choosing to sabotage a working relationship over something as inconsequential as saves may have more long-term ramifications than either Levine or the Yankees anticipated.