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November 16, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Friday, November 16

by Daniel Rathman

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On a day dedicated to honoring the Most Valuable Player award recipients, the transactions wire was dormant, with only a pair of contracts for backup catchers preventing the hot stove from turning ice cold. The Braves scooped up Gerald Laird to fill David Ross’ shoes with a two-year deal, and the Cubs added Dioner Navarro for a 2013 salary of $1.75 million. As you wait for more action, here are a few developing stories to keep an eye on:

Marlins intend to keep Ricky Nolasco… or, so they say
While the Tigers and Giants were resting up for the World Series, the Marlins were busy preparing for the offseason, and on Oct. 23, President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest told fans, “Our hope is that a new manager, along with roster improvements, will restore a winning culture.” He delivered on the promise of a new manager, hiring Mike Redmond to replace Ozzie Guillen, but then—perhaps under a directive to cut payroll—blew up the roster he had promised to improve. The lesson, for those who had not already learned it: don’t always take the Marlins at their word.

On Thursday, President David Samson said during a radio appearance with Dan LeBatard that the team intends to keep Nolasco in Miami, where he would provide a veteran presence to an otherwise youthful rotation. The 29-year-old is owed $11.5 million, set to hit free agency after next year, and showing signs of decline. He is exactly the sort of player you would expect the now-rebuilding Marlins to unload.

Time to invoke an overused adage: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” In hindsight, considering that a public-relations disaster was the only obstacle preventing Beinfest from shedding heavily backloaded contracts after a 69-93 season, the 12-player shocker currently on Bud Selig’s desk should not have been all that shocking. Now, with Nolasco accounting for roughly half of owner Jeffrey Loria’s remaining player payroll, and the team’s reputation already in the doldrums, the only thing standing between Beinfest and a deal involving Nolasco is a search for a willing taker.    

And the only things standing between Beinfest and a willing taker are the data in this table:

Year

ERA

FIP

Strikeout Rate

2009

5.06

3.35

24.8 percent

2010

4.51

3.86

22.1 percent

2011

4.67

3.54

16.6 percent

2012

4.48

3.87

15.0 percent

Early in his career, Nolasco posted drop-dead peripherals and consistently underperformed them. The numbers were so disparate that convergence was virtually inevitable—the only question was which metric, ERA or FIP, would move toward the other. Over the past three years, Nolasco’s ERA has dropped about half a run, while his FIP has climbed by roughly the same amount, mostly because of a precipitous decline in his strikeout rate. So far, the convergence has been balanced, and we now see Nolasco for what he is: a league-average starter worth 1.3 WARP in each of the past two seasons. But those freefalling strikeout percentages suggest that Nolasco’s FIP will continue to rise, and there is little corresponding evidence to suggest that his ERA won’t go with it. If Nolasco can’t stem that tide, he’ll plunge into replacement-level territory in short order.

All of that said, for a one-season commitment worth $11.5 million, general managers seeking rotation depth should be willing to gamble on Nolasco, whose clean injury history and penchant for throwing strikes are notable strengths. Nolasco has not landed on the disabled list with an arm-related ailment since 2007, and he issued two or fewer walks in 24 of his 31 starts last season. The Yankees, according to Newsday beat writer Erik Boland, have already expressed interest, and other teams should soon follow.

In a recap of Samson’s radio appearance, The Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi noted that the team president left the door open by adding that Nolasco might be moved “if the phone rings and something crazy happens.” Well, Beinfest’s phone is already ringing, and if recent history is any guide, the Marlins aren’t afraid of a little craziness.

Red Sox will explore extension for Dustin Pedroia
After dumping his three largest contracts on the Dodgers in August, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, while adding short-term reinforcements like David Ross, is also looking beyond 2013. Pedroia, Boston’s best remaining position player, is signed through the 2014 season with a club option for 2015, but Cherington is reportedly going to touch base with his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, about tacking on more years to what has been an exceptionally team-friendly deal.

Pedroia took home Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, then added an American League MVP trophy to his mantel the very next season, and the Red Sox, with an arbitration battle looming a year later, locked up their second baseman on a six-year, $40.5 million extension. The 29-year-old Pedroia would have been eligible for free agency this winter had he chosen to go year-by-year instead of inking the long-term hitch, but he exchanged what is likely to be three years of team control for instant financial security. Pedroia has taken home $18.5 million over the first four years of the extension, and produced 12.1 WARP, despite missing 85 games with a broken foot in 2010 and struggling with a nagging thumb injury for much of last season.

The Arizona State product’s durability may be a concern, but from Cherington’s perspective, it also offers an opportunity to keep a fan-favorite, All-Star-caliber player at a below-market rate.  And that’s one reason why, as ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald wrote on Thursday, the Red Sox are inclined to begin discussions with their second baseman sometime this winter.

Pedroia is set to earn $10 million in 2013 and 2014, and his $11 million club option for the 2015 season—which carries a $500,000 buyout—figures to be a no-brainer. Whether Pedroia will demand a short-term raise to commit to the team beyond 2015 remains to be seen, but two other elite keystoners could factor into the negotiations:

  • Robinson Cano’s current deal with the Yankees—which originally was a four-year, $30 million hitch with two club options—expires after a $15 million payout for the 2013 season. His new agent, Scott Boras, is likely to milk every last penny from general manager Brian Cashman, or attempt to gain leverage by advising Cano, who finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting, to test the free-agent waters next winter.
  • Ian Kinsler played the last five seasons for the Rangers on a $22 million pact, which included a $10 million club option for next season. But, in April, he traded that deal in for a five-year, $75 million agreement, which bumped his 2013 salary up to $13 million and also includes a club option for 2018.

This is a situation that bears monitoring, both because of its impact on Pedroia’s future with the Red Sox, and for the financial precedents that could be set in the process.

Ian Kinsler willing to move off of second base
And speaking of Kinsler—even with his salaries set for at least half a decade, the Rangers’ leadoff man can’t seem to stay out of the news. That’s because the rapid ascent of top prospect Jurickson Profar, along with Josh Hamilton’s likely exit in free agency, could force general manager Jon Daniels to shuffle his defensive arrangement in the near future.

Kinsler, by most accounts, is a solid defensive second baseman—having logged a positive FRAA total in five of his seven major-league seasons—but Profar’s natural position, shortstop, is already occupied by an outstanding gloveman, Elvis Andrus, and if the Rangers want to keep all three of them, something’s got to give. The easiest solution, with Hamilton vacating left field, would be to move Kinsler there and shift Profar to the other side of the second-base bag. According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the 30-year-old is amenable to such a change, and Profar’s progress is likely to determine the timetable for it.

Wilson also mentions first base as a possible future home for Kinsler, but the Rangers control the incumbent, Mitch Moreland, for four more seasons. That scenario would become plausible only if Daniels uses Moreland as a trade chip to obtain a catcher, outfielder, or starting pitcher. For now, only one thing is clear: Daniels and manager Ron Washington have plenty to think about in the coming weeks.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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