The first top-tier outfield domino fell on Wednesday, when the Braves inked B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract to supplant Michael Bourn as their center fielder. For more on that deal, see R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis.
While we await the fallout from the Upton signing, here are three non-outfield-related stories that lit the Hot Stove on Wednesday:
Pirates among suitors giving Yankees a run for Russell Martin
On Tuesday, ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand tweeted that Martin’s asking price is four years and $36-40 million. For a steady contributor at a premium position, that’s not spit-out-your-coffee territory, but even if agent Matt Colleran is able to meet his desired, $9-10 million average annual value, a commitment beyond 2015 seems to be wishful thinking*.
Martin ducked his final year of arbitration eligibility by meeting the Yankees halfway ($7.5 million), and he turned in a .255 TAv to go with 21 home runs over 133 games, while also being named a Gold Glove finalist*. The 29-year-old endured his share of bumps and bruises, as all backstops do—missing a couple of days at a time with elbow, groin, neck, foot, and lower back nicks—but he avoided the disabled list and showed few ill effects from his past hip and knee woes. From a health standpoint, Martin is a safer bet than Mike Napoli and not far off from A.J. Pierzynski, who has required only one DL stint in a dozen major-league seasons.
And that’s why, after providing between 1.4 and 1.6 WARP* in each of the past three seasons, Martin is drawing interest from at least four teams, with the Pirates and Yankees leading the pack, and the Mariners and Rangers lurking on the periphery. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports initially heard that Pittsburgh could pace the bidding at three years and $25 million, but Rob Biertempfel, a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, nixed that rumor, and Heyman acknowledged that the true proposal from general manager Neal Huntington is probably closer to $21 million. Either figure would be a far cry from the price tag Marchand reported, but the offers could pick up if Martin chooses to wait out the market instead of signing first and the teams in play miss out on his fellow free agents.
Now, you probably noticed asterisks in each of the first three paragraphs of this segment; here is where they come in. According to WARP, the salaries currently on the table for Martin are roughly commensurate with his measured performance in recent seasons. The operative word in the previous sentence is “measured,” because WARP does not account for one potentially crucial factor when it comes to catcher defense: namely, pitch framing. And, while Martin is light-years from Jose Molina’s 50-run wizardry, he did rank near the top of the league in both total runs saved (second) and runs saved per 120 games (fourth) during the five-year timeframe of Mike Fast’s study.
Considering that Molina was paid only $1.8 million in 2012 and will earn that much again next year, the league hasn’t priced-in the value of pitch framing yet, either. As Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller discussed on the Nov. 16 Effectively Wild podcast, there are various possible reasons for this apparent inefficiency beyond teams simply failing to acknowledge the skill, including uncertainty about its volatility between seasons and over the course of a catcher’s career. But if Martin can be counted on as a 15-run-per-year receiver, then his true value may be closer to 3.0 WARP annually. And, in that context, $10 million per year for four years could actually be a bargain.
Heyman believes that Martin will choose either to stay in the Bronx or to move to Pittsburgh before his agent heads to Nashville for the Winter Meetings. Your perception of his next contract may well depend on your faith in the science of pitch framing.
With Ryan Madson in tow, Angels shopping Jordan Walden
Mike Scioscia’s bullpen blew a league-high 22 saves last season, so it should come as no surprise that general manager Jerry DiPoto’s first significant move of the fall was bringing in a new closer. Madson put pen to paper on Tuesday, sealing a one-year, $3.5 million pact that, as was first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown, includes escalators that could bring his paycheck up to $7.5 million. The 32-year-old right-hander missed the entire 2012 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 11, but DiPoto has enough confidence in Madson’s recovery to consider one of his ninth-inning alternatives expendable.
According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, DiPoto’s first order of business after Madson signed was to notify reliever-needy teams that Walden is “very available.” Walden spent 41 days on the disabled list with a biceps strain last season, and the high-effort delivery he uses to produce triple-digit fastballs creates a considerable injury risk. But 25-year-old flamethrowers with passable control and only two years of major-league service time don’t grow on trees, so DiPoto should expect plenty of his counterparts to inquire about Walden’s cost in short order.
The Red Sox and Tigers are two teams that will almost certainly kick the tires on Walden, and the Phillies would have been a logical fit before they reeled in Wilton Lopez from the Astros. Beyond his electric stuff, Walden’s effectiveness against left-handed batters—who have actually fared worse (620 OPS) than his fellow righties (697 OPS) in a 490-plate-appearance sample—makes him an especially useful option in the late innings.
Update (4:08 p.m. ET): Jason Churchill heard earlier today that the Phillies have backed out of their deal with the Astros for Wilton Lopez because of concerns about the health of his elbow. According to Churchill, the deal, if completed, would have sent minor leaguers Tyler Cloyd and Sebastian Valle to Houston. Assuming that the Lopez deal is dead, the Phillies would once again make sense as a landing spot for Walden.
Dayton Moore working to clear payroll space, rotation spot
Kansas City’s pursuit of a frontline starter might be this offseason’s worst-kept secret, and according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, Moore is desperately trying to unload Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen before his window to acquire an ace runs out. Hochevar, who earned $3.2 million in 2012, will be arbitration eligible for the third time this winter, while Chen is set to take home $4.5 million in the second year of a two-year, $9 million hitch, so exporting both could give Moore close to $10 million in financial wiggle room.
Bob Dutton, the Royals beat writer for The Kansas City Star, wrote on Tuesday that owner David Glass is willing to loosen the purse strings and allow his player payroll to rise above $70 million. That’s hardly unprecedented, considering that Glass shelled out $75 million as recently as 2010, and in light of the team’s window of opportunity, which is beginning to inch open thanks to a talented core of major leaguers—including Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon—and an elite prospect in Wil Myers. If a chunk of 2013 salary is the difference between being forced to include Myers in a trade for, say, James Shields ($10.25 million) or Jon Lester ($11.625 million), and keeping the powerful right fielder in the pipeline, then—as Dutton’s colleague, Sam Mellinger, wrote on Monday—forking it over should be a no-brainer.
In the meantime, Chen (2.0 WARP) and Hochevar (0.6 WARP) may effectively be given away to any teams willing to accept their contracts, with Chen likely requiring a modestly more substantial return. General managers blessed with the luxury of a pitcher-friendly ballpark, such as Terry Ryan in Minnesota and Josh Byrnes in San Diego, would do well to take a chance on the lefty. If no one is willing to gamble on the righty, Hochevar could also be non-tendered.