Today in MLBTR: Wednesday, November 10th
On Vlad Jr., Gabriel Moreno, Steven Matz, Andrew Heaney, Justin Verlander, Marcus Semien, the CBA, Wade Miley, Edward Rogers, the A's fire sale, and more!
The GM meetings are underway in Carlsbad, California, this week, which means that the hot stove is actually getting kind of hot. So let’s talk about it!
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The flurry of activity here at the start of MLB’s offseason has been almost entirely minor in nature, but with a potential lockout looming in less than a month, and the league focused this week on the GM meetings, I think we really ought to take what we can get. So, with help from the always invaluable MLB Trade Rumors, here’s a look at all the latest rumours, rumblings, and transactions around the league from a Blue Jays perspective…
Award and prospecting season!
We won’t need help from MLBTR on this one, because if you’ve spent any time on Blue Jays Twitter this week you’ll surely already know that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been named the AL winner of the Hank Aaron Award, which goes to the best offensive contributor in each league. He’s the youngest player to have ever won the award and joins Carlos Delgado (2000), José Bautista (2010, 2011), and Josh Donaldson (2015) among Blue Jays to have taken home this particular piece of hardware.
I think Drew makes a good point here, too.
Elsewhere in the award space, the Jays had Marcus Semien winning a Gold Glove for second base earlier in the week, and on Wednesday we learned that three prospects, 1B/OF Spencer Horwitz, RHP Graham Spraker, and, of course, C Gabriel Moreno have been named Fall Stars in this year's Arizona Fall League, which means a place in the Fall Stars game. The game will take place on Saturday at 7 PM and will air on MLB Network.
Speaking of Moreno, he has now been officially named the Blue Jays’ top prospect according to Baseball America, who released their end-of-year top 10 for the Jays here on Wednesday. Moreno gets high marks for improving his arm strength, as well as his hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills. “Some scouts believe Moreno has a chance to be a perennial all-star, a potential plus to plus-plus hitter who could hit 20-25 home runs while chipping in above-average defense at a premium position,” the write. “He should be ready to contribute in Toronto at some point in 2022 and eventually become an impact player in their lineup.”
Jays GM Ross Atkins has heard Moreno’s name a lot this week, telling TSN’s Scott Mitchell on Tuesday that “his name comes up from other execs, media and agents ‘three or four times a day’.”
As expected, over the weekend the Blue Jays extended qualifying offers to free agents Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. As should have also been expected, they have elected not to extend a QO to free agent started Steven Matz.
Matz had a very good year for the Jays in 2021, but I think the “qualifying offer question” was probably overstated due to the fact that it was one of the few Blue Jays stories to write about during a fallow period for news. And if it hadn’t been clear already, I think it became exceptionally clear on Friday, when the Cubs claimed starter Wade Miley on waivers from the Reds, that back-end starters are just not valued by the industry enough for an $18.4 million one-year deal (the value of the qualifying offer) would make sense for Matz.
I don’t think that should be surprising to anyone. Matz was awful for 30 innings in 2020 but his track record before that was good enough that an outcome like the one he had in 2021 was hardly out of the realm of possibility. His strikeout and walk rates were almost exactly in line with his career norms, and his 3.82 ERA/3.79 FIP aren't that much better than his career marks (4.24/4.34). And yet the Jays were able to get him for a trio of guys (Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Díaz, Josh Winckowski) they seemed to not think had long-term futures on their 40-man, mostly because they were willing to pick up the entirety of Matz's $5.2 million salary.
Matz at $5.2 million works very nicely. Matz at potentially $18.4 million is a different story, even coming off a career year.
Evidently, though, the Jays were willing to meet him in the middle somewhere — though we have no idea where exactly that point may have lied.
Bringing back the 30-year-old Matz for two or three years at a reasonable salary would make some sense, and it’s not impossible that after testing free agency he ultimately circles back to Toronto. For the Jays right now, there certainly would have been some opportunity cost to locking him in early, so I doubt they’d have been offering him the moon here. Based on the Miley situation, I doubt the Jays would have been offering Matz the moon regardless — which I assume explains why the two sides were unable to line up on an extension.
There is, however, quite a bit of interest in Matz, as Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote for Sportsnet in a piece on Tuesday night. “Multiple teams are expressing interest in Matz,” Ben writes. He adds that “a strong finish gives Matz some momentum as he hits free agency, and interested teams are intrigued by the changes to his delivery and pitch mix that enabled his 2021 bounce-back.”
(Ben’s Sportsnet colleague Shi Davidi adds on Wednesday that Matz’s situation “seems to be moving toward a quick resolution.”)
The Jays have set themselves up to have a great amount of “agility” here, so are a lot of ways they can play the offseason ahead, but as Gregor Chisholm wrote over at the Toronto Star on Tuesday, there are more teams looking to spend this winter than a year ago. Bringing Matz back may not be the sexiest move they can make — and there are certainly other ones they’d need to make beyond that — but he’s a guy with a strong market for a reason, and the fact that he knows the organization well may give the Jays a better chance than most to snag him. How hard they try to do so could be very telling about how they intend to play the unfolding market.
Also noted in Shi’s Wednesday piece is the fact that Edward Rogers’ power play for control for the board of the company that bears his name has worked. A B.C. judge sided with Edward back on Friday, granting him the authority to replace members of the board through a written resolution, rather than via a proper meeting. The company will not appeal the decision.
Shi adds that Edward Rogers remains the chair of the Blue Jays, and is "a prime internal advocate for the club," which is expected to be unaffected by all this internal strife. Maybe Jays fans should just be happy with the devil they know here.
Definitely the most surprising move from back on the weekend was the one I referenced above. Wade Miley has had a bunch of good seasons in his long career, starting with an All-Star campaign as a rookie in 2012. His career went sideways when he got to Balitmore in mid-2016, which is where my most indelible memories of him were made. His ERA over 54 innings with the O's that year was 6.17, and he followed it up with a 5.61 ERA campaign the following year. He's not overpowering, what little strikeout ability he once had is now disappearing, and my vague overall impression is that he kinda sucks. And yet he's produced a 130 ERA+ over the last four seasons, which would be higher if not for a rough four starts during the shortened 2020 season.
This year he put up a 3.37 ERA over 163 innings for the Reds, with a 3.97 FIP. According to Baseball Reference he was worth 5.7 WAR in 2021, making him the fourth most valuable pitcher in the National League by that metric. He also has a reputation as a leader in the clubhouse among pitchers. And yet, because the Reds are looking to “align our payroll to our resources,” as GM Nick Krall put it last week, instead of picking up Miley’s $10 million club option for 2022, they chose to put him on waivers late in the week after failing to find a trade partner.
$10 million! 5.7 WAR!
I wondered at one point if Cincinnati’s inability to make a trade was maybe an indication that teams are afraid to give up anything of significant future value for a guy who is only under contract for one season — a season that, at this point, has a non-zero chance of being wiped out because of a work stoppage — but the Cubs claimed Miley despite having the seventh highest waiver priority. Six teams — the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rangers, Pirates, Nationals, and Marlins — simply passed on taking on Miley’s deal for nothing.
As MLBTR notes, Brad Hand was put on waivers by Cleveland around this time last winter, and the whole league passed on his $10 million option even though he’d saved 16 games with a 2.05 ERA, 1.37 FIP, a WHIP of 0.773, and 29 K/4 BB over 22 innings — if you can actually believe that — so this is not exactly unprecedented.
Some of hesitancy with both Hand and Miley was likely down to timing, because it’s a fairly sizeable commitment for some teams to be making this early. But, also, the league certainly was proven right on Hand, weren’t they? The teams passing on Miley here may end up right as well. Like I say, despite the nice numbers he’s pretty unimpressive. He also turns 35 in a few days, averaged a career-low 89.8 mph on his fastball this season, struck out a below-average 18.1% of the batters he faced, and had a 4.19 ERA in the second half that undid quite a bit of his hot start to the year. The level of competition he faced in 2021 also leaves a lot to be desired, as 12 of his 28 starts came against teams that finished with 74 wins or fewer.
So maybe there’s not as much to read into this as it seems. Still weird though! I certainly would have considered it a mistake if he’d got to the Jays and they’d passed. And if Cincinnati is really that interested in moving out money, the Jays need to be in contact with them about starters Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.
Sticking with the back-end starter market, the Dodgers have signed the biggest contract handed out in the offseason so far, inking a one-year deal with lefty Andrew Heaney for $8.5 million. Heaney was a bit of a joke after struggling to a 7.32 ERA after a mid-season trade to the Yankees, and he sports an unimpressive 4.72 ERA for his career, but he's got some 2020 Robbie Ray-like qualities.
Primarily a fastball-slider lefty, he doesn't throw as hard as Ray, but has continually been able to produce above-average strikeout numbers, won't kill you with walks, but has been extremely homer-prone over the course of his career. If that tendency can go away you might really have something there. With that in mind, the Dodgers, with their leading edge staff and their pitcher-friendly ballpark, are a pretty great landing spot for him. But the Jays could have been one too — and apparently there was interest there.
The Jays have a couple rotation spots to play with this winter, and the fact that they might have been willing to give one to Heaney gives us some insight into their gameplan, I think. Clearly there’s enough confidence that guys like Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, or Thomas Hatch will be able to cover a bunch of innings to allow for a little bit of risk in a fifth starter. What that presumably also means is that they really are prepared to be aggressive at the top of the market.
That certainly jibes with everything else we’ve heard so far — for example, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted on Wednesday that the Jays “appear aggressive in market” — though, again, that’s going to be a tougher thing to pull off this year.
The reports have been good from the showcase that Justin Verlander had for scouts this week. As MLBTR tells us, Verlander has pitched just six innings since the end of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery, but was sitting 94-97 with his fastball when throwing in front of 15-20 teams the other day. Astros' GM James Click went a step farther, telling reporters — including USA Today's Bob Nightengale — that “he looks like the Justin Verlander who is a Hall of Famer and Cy Young winner.”
Despite the fact that he’ll turn 39 in February, Verlander will be able to write his own ticket in an ultra-competitive market where it’s unlikely he’ll receive a contract longer than two or three years. He’s always felt to me like a guy with maybe a little too much star power to end up with the Jays — the Angels, who are also apparently aggressively shopping at the top of the starting pitching market, seem more like the kind of team he’d end up with, or maybe a reunion with the Astros or Tigers — but it’s hard to think of a better option for them than a fully-formed ace right-hander whose money will be off the books by the time Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette start to really get expensive. They should go after him hard.
“This is the cycle for the A’s. We have to listen and be open to whatever comes out of this. This is our lot in Oakland until it’s not,” said Oakland GM David Forst on Tuesday. Translation: guys like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas are all in play this winter.
Olson, an excellent left-handed hitting first baseman, will have less interest to the Jays, but the other certainly will. The Jays have done well before trading for an A's third baseman, and while Matt Chapman has had three straight years of declining numbers at the plate, the 28-year-old is an excellent defender and a good candidate to bounce back from the 101 wRC+ he posted in 2021 (his career mark is 120). Any of the other three may be even better options, as both Manaea and Bassitt are coming off 3.3 fWAR seasons and shouldn't cost a ton because they'll each be free agents next winter, while Montas has two years left, is younger, makes less money, and is coming off a 4.1 fWAR year.
Oakland is going to receive a lot of calls on these guys, and the Jays should absolutely be among the teams most aggressively doing so.
Switching gears here, Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported back on Friday that the Players Association has recently made a new proposal on "core economics" to the league, as both sides continue to work toward a new collective bargaining agreement with the expiration of the current one set for 11:59 PM ET on December 1. It's looking increasingly like we'll have a long time to talk about this stuff, so my preference over this next month will be to focus as much as I can on the hot stove, but obviously this is a huge part of everything that's going on in baseball right now.
The proposal from the league that was reported back in the summer was viewed “as a non-starter” by the players. Under it the luxury tax threshold would have been reduced to $180 million in exchange for a $100 million salary floor — though it's described in the piece as a "soft floor" with the penalty for being under that being unclear.
It's not difficult to understand why the players felt that way about that one. The current luxury tax threshold of $210 million functions as a de facto salary cap. Per Sportrac, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros, Cubs, and Philles have all been over the threshold in the last three season, but all have been careful not to do so for more than a year or two in a row, because the escalating penalties incurred are reset when teams drop below the threshold for a year.
As for the salary floor proposed, it would have only affected five teams in 2021, assuming that the same “luxury tax number” would be used for compliance with the floor.
Drellich and Rosenthal add that this earlier proposal also would have seen players “become free agents once they hit age 29 1/2, which might help some players who would otherwise have become free agents later, but hurt the best players who presumably would, under the current system, become free agents at a younger age.”
They haven't been able to report on is what's in the new proposal, though they suggest that “the players are seeking changes to incentivize competition and increase player salaries in a variety of ways, but only partial details about both sides’ initial proposals are known.”
Some of the items in the union's previous proposal included making players arbitration-eligible after two years instead of three, increasing the minimum salary, increasing the luxury tax thresholds, among others.
There’s clearly quite a gap here between the two sides, so I guess we just have to hope that what we’re seeing much more represents what they want and not what they’d settle for, and that the less reasonable side — *COUGH* owners *COUGH* — will be willing to bend enough to at some point meet in the middle. Ideally that would be before December 1, which would mean the offseason could continue as usual. Nobody commenting off the record seems to think that’s going to happen though, meaning I guess we also have to hope that the prospect of cancelling games and losing more money after two seasons of diminished revenue already is enough to push them toward a settlement rather than letting their greed destroy a sport that’s far more lucrative than they ever let on. (In franchise equity alone!)
According to Statista, MLB made $4.73 billion in revenue in 2005, and according to the Baseball Cube, total player payroll that season was $2.19 billion. I can’t validate those numbers — and, as I’ve written before, “payroll” can often have multiple meanings. But if we take them as accurate it means 46.3% of the league’s total revenues went back into payroll in 2005.
According to the same two sources, MLB made $10.37 billion in revenue in 2019, and total player payroll that year was just $4.01 billion. That’s 38.7% of revenue going back into payroll.
Numbers worth keeping in mind if you start to hear grumbling about greedy players later on in the winter! That’s a trend that the players really need to curtail, if not outright reverse, but based on everything I know about MLB owners and billionaires in general that seems unlikely to happen without a sizeable fight. And so here we are.
• The Mets have extended a qualifying offer to Noah Syndergaard, which is unfortunate because I thought he might be an interesting guy for the Jays to look at on a one-year pillow contract (he came back to pitch two innings this year for the first time since 2019 after recovering from Tommy John surgery and didn't exactly look all the way back, as his average fastball velocity was down to 94.7 mph after being a 97.7 the last time we saw him). I could definitely see him accepting that offer.
• The Red Sox have made a multiyear offer to starter Eduardo Rodríguez, which seems to be a sign that he will (as expected) have a pretty healthy market. Like a lot of guys, he could definitely be of interest to the Jays. However, it doesn’t seem like his bloated 4.74 ERA in 2021 is going to scare teams off very much, which might have given him more appeal seeing as his peripherals all looked as strong as ever.
• The Astros have leaked that they offered Carlos Correa a contract he will never accept. Five years and $160 million is apparently more money than Houston has ever given to a player, but it's also not anywhere close to enough for a guy who will play all but the last week of the 2022 season as a 27-year-old and has averaged five WAR per 150 games in his career.
• Speaking of the shortstop market, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters this week that his team is not going to be willing to move J.P. Crawford off of shortstop. Seattle might have been a natural fit for someone like Marcus Semien, who we’ve long heard may have a preference for the west coast, but maybe the fact that he won’t be playing his favoured position changes that. If he finds himself struggling for suitors willing to play him at short, does that maybe make the Jays’ offer more enticing? One can hope!
• The Dodgers have declined their club option on reliever Joe Kelly, which adds a pretty interesting power arm to the relief market. 2022 will be Kelly's age-34 season (he'll be 33 until mid-June though), so a two year deal might get it done. He had a 2.86 ERA and 3.08 FIP for the Dodgers this season while striking out 50 in 44 innings and averaging 97.7 mph on his fastball.
• The Rangers are set to increase their payroll pretty dramatically, and would seem to be a potential landing spot for a whole bunch of free agents who don’t mind playing for a trash organization. Add them to the list of teams who will be making the market much more competitive this winter.
• Add the Angels to that list as well, as GM Perry Minasian has said that his team wants to “significantly improve” in the rotation. A year ago they somewhat uncharacteristically spent just $10.6 million on free agent contracts, so it’s definitely possible that they’ll be big players this winter.
• The Yankees appear as though they’ll be aggressive as well, which is unsurprising. GM Brian Cashman told reporters this week that he has “some latitude” on spending after they were able to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2021, thereby resetting the penalties they’d incur by going over. They’ve also already had talks with the two top shortstops on the market, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.
• The Pirates outrighted several players off their roster on Saturday, including old friends Chase De Jong and Connor Overton. The most interesting name among them is former Yankees lefty Chasen Shreve, who produced good results in both 2020 (3.96 ERA) and 2021 (3.20 ERA), though a drop in strikeout rate, his 4.73 FIP this season, and the fact that he's not a particularly hard thrower certainly limits the appeal.
• The White Sox will exercise their $16 million club option on reliever Craig Kimbrel, which probably makes sense given the high price they gave up for him (Nick Madrigal) and the fact that he can't possibly be as bad as he was over his 22 innings on the south side. Even factoring in the rough run after being acquired from the Cubs to be Liam Hendriks' setup man, Kimbrel still had a 2.26 ERA on the season (2.43 FIP) and struck out 100 batters in 59 1/3 innings. He'd have definitely been someone the Jays would have looked at if he'd hit free agency, I think, and as someone who had absolutely no interest in cheering as he does that stupid arm dangle thing before every pitch. Unfortunately for me, the White Sox may still have some interest in trading him.
• The Giants have declined Johnny Cueto's option, making the 35-year-old a free agent. Cueto certainly isn't the guy Jays fans will remember from the 2015 playoffs anymore, but he put up a respectable 4.08 ERA and 4.05 FIP over 21 starts in 2021. He's never been a huge strikeout or velocity guy, though both those things are down a bit now from his peak. This is more of a "fun" one and a "remember some guys" kind of thing than a serious suggestion, but you could probably do worse for a cheap back-end starter.
• Sticking with the Giants, they claimed hard-throwing right-hander Hunter Harvey on waivers from the Orioles on Friday. Harvey has struggled to stay healthy and has never hit the heights once expected of him as the 22nd overall pick, but it's interesting to me that more teams — Blue Jays included — weren't interested in giving him a roster spot, because 97.1 mph fastballs don't grow on trees and it would seem to me that it's a good bet that the useless Orioles were missing something that could potentially be unlocked by getting him out of that trash fire.
• Seiya Suzuki, a star outfielder for the Hiroshima Carp, will apparently be posted this winter. He's a right-handed hitter, which maybe doesn't make him an ideal fit for the Blue Jays, but if they believe in his numbers at the plate that could be a moot point. Per MLBTR, “the slugging right fielder is considered to be among the very best players in NPB at the moment and is putting the finishing touches on a monster season that has seen him slash .319/.436/.644 with 38 home runs, 26 doubles and nine steals (in 13 tries).” That’ll play! (Though obviously those numbers won’t translate quite as nicely to the big leagues, but according to the piece there is optimism out there that Suzuki will fare better in North America than some of his other recent non-Ohtani compatriots.)
• Reliever Keone Kela has had his option declined by the Padres, which could make him an intriguing option for the Jays, even though "the 28-year-old is recovering from Tommy John surgery and wasn't thought to be available until midway through next season." The former Texas Ranger has a 3.33 ERA for his career, an 11.05 K/9 rate, and before his abbreviated 2021 averaged above 96 mph on his fastball.
• Alex Colomé has had his mutual option declined by the Twins, which adds another somewhat interesting name to the relief market, I suppose. His velocity is on the decline, and his 2021 wasn't great, but he was good enough in 2019 (2.80 ERA) and 2020 (0.81 ERA) that if the Jays had traded for him in July it wouldn't have been at all out of character.
• Joc Pederson has declined his end of a mutual option with the Braves. He's notable because he had a loud start to the playoffs (both sartorially and on the field), and is a platoon outfielder who hits from the left side (which the Jays could use), but he also kinda sucks and no thanks. Bring me Kyle Schwarber if the Jays are going to go that route.
• Speaking of Schwarber, he declined his mutual option with the Red Sox this week. He's more a DH than an outfielder, but you can stick him in left field, he has an elite walk rate, his 118 career wRC+ is quite good, and the 145 wRC+ he put up in 2021 was even better. I'm not sure you add him to an outfield mix that already includes Springer, Herández, Gurriel, and Grichuk. But if you move one of those guys out I think he'd be a pretty good fit for the Jays.
• The Rockies reportedly offered starter Jon Gray a three-year extension "in the $35-40MM range" and are expected to extend him a qualifying offer. Gray is a guy who might be a "Pete Walker special" candidate, but clearly might also be much more costly than a mere reclamation project. He's got a good fastball and slider, has been durable, and his numbers can be misleading because he's pitched his whole big league career in the high altitude of Denver. But he was better at home than on the road in 2021, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and 2016. So the idea that he'll be significantly better than his career 4.59 ERA once he moves to a more favourable piching environment is a bit dubious. Interesting option for the Jays though, if he gets to the market.
• Lastly, former Texas Rangers starter Nick Martinez has been in Japan the last few years, and turned a corner in 2021 with the SoftBank Hawks. A 1.62 ERA in 149 2/3 innings is pretty good, as is the 146 strikeouts he compiled. How teams think that will translate to the majors, however, is another story. The Jays have some recent history of grabbing guys out of NPB, but Rafael Dolis and Shun Yamaguchi haven't exactly been success stories. Martinez will be a free agent this winter.