The Rangers' star was a steal last winter--though how much of a steal we can't say.
There are several important things to say about the surprising, runaway division-leading Texas Rangers. The first thing we should say is that they might not actually be this good, or even close. They climbed to 45-25 on Sunday, but their run differential suggests they should have five wins fewer, and their second- and third-order winning percentages only push them further down. Their true talent level is not that of a 104-win team, or even a 94-win team. The Mariners trail Texas by 8.5 games in the standings, but are probably a better team.
Another thing to say about the Rangers: they’re outperforming their projections right now. Elvis Andrus has a .268 True Average this year, which is not only the highest of his career, but also outpaces his career TAv by over 20 points. It’s not exactly stunning, since Andrus is only 27 (yes, really, still), but there wasn’t much reason to expect this kind of breakout. His performance so far roughly matches PECOTA’s 80th percentile preseason projection for him. PECOTA projected Ryan Rua for a .260 TAv prior to this season, but with his .292 in 152 plate appearances so far, Rua has dragged the system’s esteem of him up to a rest-of-season projection of .265. Nomar Mazara was an elite prospect entering this season, but no one exactly foresaw him getting a serious opportunity this soon. PECOTA mostly matched him to players who didn’t play (or played sparingly) at age 21, and projected a .240 TAv if Mazara did see substantial playing time. Instead, Mazara is raking to the tune of a .283 TAv in a full-time role.
That’s the reality to which many big-league GMs woke up Tuesday morning, now that Strasburg appears to have agreed to a seven-year deal worth $175 million (or more) with the Nationals. For those among that group who hadn’t gotten their free-agent pitching spending out of the way by now, this is very bad news. Billy Eppler, Brian Cashman, Dan Duquette, Dayton Moore, Neal Huntington, A.J. Preller, and Jerry Dipoto all would have liked the chance to bid on Strasburg this winter, even if most of them run teams unable to realistically meet the asking price he would have been able to set on the open market. Now, they face the unpleasant prospect of improving their pitching staffs for 2017 without having a single ace to chase. It’s perfectly possible that Rich Hill will get the biggest free-agent deal handed out to any starting pitcher in the coming winter.
Alas, it wasn’t in the cards. The AL Central team that now employs Jackson is not the Tribe but the White Sox, who inked him to a one-year, $5 million contract. And the runner-up in the race to sign the 29-year-old wasn’t Cleveland, but Anaheim, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
We have a lot of problems in the United States, and every few years, we get to hear a bunch of people blather on about what those problems are, what causes them, and how to best fix them before the very order of things that we know falls apart. We know of course that most people don’t pay attention to these issues until after the World Series is over (or so the saying goes), but this really is an opportunity to make the American Past Time great again. So on this Super Tuesday, I think it’s time we had a discussion about tax policy.
How PECOTA sees the historical free agency class of 2018-2019 changing.
A little over two months ago, with the current Hot Stove still more or less at its hottest, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports cast his eyes beyond it, three years into the future. What has been dubbed the SuperClass of 2018 caught Passan’s attention, and clearly, that of several team executives across the league. The resulting article named no fewer than 40 players of note who could reach free agency 32 months from now, and Passan posited that it could be a seismic event for baseball, from a competitive perspective, a financial perspective, a labor perspective, and a global-interest perspective.
As far as that goes, Passan is right. The sheer star power of a class headed by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Jose Fernandez, and Matt Harvey could outshine all previous free-agent classes, even the bountiful one that is just winding down. Passan talked about the likelihood that the prospective class could affect teams’ strategies over all of the winters between now and then, including this one, and about how it might change the priorities we see each side pursue in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement later this year. He’s (mostly, anyway) right about that, too.
Gurriel brothers defect from Cuba
In something of a stunning Monday morning development, the Gurriel brothers—the 31-year-old Yulieski Gurriel and the 22-year-old Lourdes Gurriel Jr.—are reportedly defecting from Cuba. The El Nuevo Herald had the story first, and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, the go-to source for news on soon-to-be Cuban free agents these days, expanded on it yesterday. The Gurriels defections come as a surprise mainly because the two were not expected to leave Cuba without permission from the government. It appears, however, that the allure of the majors proved too strong to resist.
Yulieski Gurriel is a veteran infielder, considered one of the elite players in Serie Nacional, and would not be subject to the international bonus pools. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., a shortstop and outfielder regarded as one of the top amateur talents in Cuba, would put his first big-league employer in the penalty—assuming he signs before turning 23 on October 19th. Sanchez pointed out that “it could take several months” for the Gurriels to receive clearance from Major League Baseball, by which point the younger Gurriel might be tempted to weigh the benefits of waiting until the fall to secure a major-league contract.
The Pirates' pitching guru is a free agent next winter, while an AL East team wants to ship Andrew Cashner across the country.
Ray Searage wants to stay with Pirates beyond 2016
Next offseason’s free agent pitching market might pale in comparison to the bonanza that teams were treated to over the past couple of months, but the market for pitching coaches could feature a marquee name.
Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote Sunday about the value of the Bucs’ pitching coach, Ray Searage, who is widely regarded as one of the game’s best teachers, able to extract maximum value out of arms who come to the Steel City with middling reputations. General manager Neal Huntington is able to rummage through the bargain bin, confident that every pitcher he finds will exceed expectations because, as Cook put it, “Ray will make him better.” But Huntington is only guaranteed that comfort for one more year, because Searage’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season.
The Guinness Effect, and why opt-outs are the only way for a true star to get what he's worth.
This offseason is starting to feel like an episode of Oprah. You get an opt-out! You get an opt-out! Yo gets an opt-out too! Opt-outs are the new must-have item this winter, and if you don’t have one, you can’t sit at the cool people table.
Most of the remaining free agents share something in common, and it's not something teams seem to trust.
As the market for positional free agents has (finally) begun to dry up, it’s the time of year to start redefining the top tier of available guys. A fortnight ago, it felt like there were three big names left on the board: Chris Davis, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. With the first two having signed, though, it feels less like Cespedes is the last hope for would-be buyers and more like Dexter Fowler, Howie Kendrick, and Ian Desmond have crept into the company (loosely speaking) of Cespedes. A tier below them, but more interesting as free agents than they were a month ago, are Pedro Alvarez, David Freese, and Austin Jackson.
Since 2006, 272 players have taken at least 2,400 plate appearances in the big leagues. If you sort that group of 272 by BABIP, players named in the paragraph above show up fifth (Jackson), 11th (Fowler), 12th (Kendrick), 19th (Freese), and 55th (Desmond). That’s not to mention free-agent outfielder Drew Stubbs (28th on the list). Cespedes has a fairly pedestrian .304 career BABIP, but since he ceased calling Oakland home in mid-2014, that number is .324, which (if it were his career mark) would slide him in several spots ahead of Desmond on the list. In other words, if you’re looking for the thing the guys stranded on the market right now have most closely in common, look no further than BABIP.
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I’ve been pondering the question of when, exactly, we should start being surprised at each moment passing without more things happening on the Hot Stove front. At some point, it becomes jarring even to check your phone after dinner and a movie and find that nothing has gone down. At some point, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes should no longer be free agents, or at least they shouldn’t all be free agents, and it’s proper to be vexed by their ongoing unwantedness. Have we reached that point, on January 11th? Probably not. But we’re not far off, right?