Tigers slow-playing the Yoenis Cespedes market
It’s no secret that free agent outfielders have found slow going on the market this winter, watching pitcher after pitcher put pen to paper while awaiting their own opportunities to cash in. The supply of top-line outfield bats appears to be exceeding demand, at least for now, and that means teams are in no hurry to set the benchmark with what could ultimately be viewed as an overpay.
The Tigers, now steered by Al Avila, are monitoring the glacially paced market. Anthony Gose is currently penciled in as their regular left fielder, perhaps in a timeshare, so the position is ripe for a late-offseason upgrade, which would add another bat behind Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Avila’s target could be a familiar face: Cespedes, who was a Tiger up until the 2015 deadline, when Detroit shipped him to Queens ahead of the Cuban’s second-half power surge.
At the time, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal pointed out that trading Cespedes could be the Tigers’ best route to keeping him in MoTown long term. A unique clause in the four-year, $36 million contract Cespedes initially signed with the A’s contained a provision that required his employer to release him at the end of the deal, unless he agreed to a new one within the five-day negotiating window after the World Series. The idea was to prevent Cespedes from being saddled with a qualifying offer when he hit the open market as a stateside veteran, but because of the rules surrounding released players, it also carried an unfortunate byproduct for the club doing the releasing: Cespedes would not be allowed to re-sign with that team until May 15th.
Once Cespedes was traded, though, he became ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, and he waived the release requirement in September, giving the Mets a fair chance to bring him back. The Mets have since moved on—signing Alejandro De Aza and Asdrubal Cabrera while obtaining Neil Walker in trade—so Cespedes must do the same.
The deadline trade to New York put the wheels in motion for the 30-year-old to return to Detroit. If the price is right at decision time for Cespedes, the Tigers’ roundabout plan just might come to fruition.
Yaisel Sierra declared free agent
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported Monday that there’s a newcomer to the free-agent pitching market. 24-year-old Yaisel Sierra is now eligible to sign with a major-league club, and while the right-hander is a relatively raw pitcher at this stage, he’s expected to attract plenty of bidders.
Sanchez wrote back in October that Sierra was holding regular auditions for stateside teams, showing the stuff to compete at the highest level shortly after signing. It’s not yet clear whether he’s rotation-ready, because he didn’t use his secondary pitches as much in Cuba as he would need to in the majors, but the scouts Sanchez spoke with were confident that Sierra would be an immediate contributor.
Sierra’s price tag isn’t known at this stage, but Sanchez offered Raisel Iglesias—who got a seven-year, $27 million outlay from the Reds—as a reasonable comp. Iglesias turns 26 on January 4th, so he was about the same age as Sierra when he signed. As a veteran of Cuban professional baseball in his mid-20s, Sierra is not subject to the signing-bonus pools for international amateurs.
Kenta Maeda made Christmas Eve visit to Dodger Stadium
Finally, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register relayed a Japanese media report that Kenta Maeda spent the afternoon of December 24th meeting with the Dodgers. After falling short in the Zack Greinke race over concerns about adding a sixth year, Andrew Friedman appeared to have plugged his rotation void with Hisashi Iwakuma, only to have a three-year pact collapse because of a failed physical. Iwakuma is now back with the Mariners, and with free-agent pitchers quickly coming off the shelves, it makes sense that the Dodgers are turning their attention to one of Iwakuma’s fellow countrymen.
The 27-year-old Maeda is either a back-end starter or a mid-rotation arm, depending on whom you ask, so teams whose evaluators paint him as the latter are likely to emerge as the finalists in the bidding. Clubs must be willing to pay the maximum $20 million posting fee to Maeda’s NPB employer, the Hiroshima Carp, in order to participate. As Plunkett noted, the deadline for Maeda to sign with a major-league team is January 8th, so his agents have about 10 days to consummate a deal.
With several free-agent pitchers already off the board, filling the rotations of possible Maeda suitors, the Dodgers are viewed as a clear favorite to land the righty. The Christmas Eve visit certainly won’t do anything to dispel the notion that L.A. is Maeda’s likeliest destination. There’s been no word of a specific contract demand, but the Osaka native is widely expected to secure a five-year contract, perhaps in the range of Mike Leake’s $80 million hitch with the Cardinals (or in the neighborhood of $60 million if the $20 million posting fee comes out of the pitcher’s pay).