MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2021: FREE AGENCY=CHAOS THEORY
Baseball pundits (one of which I’m not...at least professionally... although I enjoy shooting my mouth off just as much as those who are paid for their Hot Air) are constantly examining the free agent market and the trade possibilities and trying to organize baseball in some sort of logical manner.
Team A needs an outfielder and a relief pitcher. Team A has X money so they can’t buy Free Agent B because he wants too much so they will have to be satisfied with Free Agent C or else maybe their Double A prospect E or on second thought they should trade for aging but established star F and convert starting pitcher G into a middle reliever and try an onside kick.
Logic just begets an endless wheel of possibilities and thwarted possibilities. In other words Chaos. Shit is just going to happen.
Everybody was waiting for the Free Agent market to…
1/start hiring people all ready.
2/extrapolate logically in a coherent, progressive manner.
Trevor Bauer would sign with the Mets or somebody, then J.T. Realmuto would go to some contender where they need a catcher, George Springer would go to either the Mets or the Blue Jays as soon as the Yanks re-signed D.J. LeMahieu and all would be revealed.
Ha! I say, and Ha! Again! Zero chance.
Instead, the Padres traded a bunch of prospects to the Rays for Blake Snell. (The poor small market Rays are always ready to trade their very best Starting Ace... whoever the hell it is... at any time.) Then the Padres traded some more prospects to get Yu Darvish...a top three starter from the recently completed season. (The Cubs got spare change for Yu but more on that later.) The San Diego Chicken Fryers completed their coup by signing one of the best Korean position players available, infielder Ha-Seong Kim. This is after GM A.J.Preller exchanged 26 players in September deals to remake the club. And all without even touching their four top prospects! Give that man a hand!
So all of a sudden the Padres have a pitching staff and a team that rivals the Dodgers. Can they be entering the market for Trevor Bauer as well? Even though Trevor has been linked to the Mets fairly convincingly, he is a California boy and might be happier out West. That could mean the Dodgers, the Angels or the Padres. (Maybe the Giants but he might not want to help a rebuilding effort quite that extensive.)
The Dodgers have money for Trevor but they already have a loaded staff. They might pluck him just to block the Padres. Personally, I think Bauer goes to the Angels, who simply HAVE to get their pitching upgraded somehow. One way or the other, the quick removal of Snell and Darvish from the market can only help Bauer, who will get plenty of coin.
Everybody (well, I’m speaking generally) says the Mets didn’t press for catcher Realmuto and got James McCann instead to save money so they could afford both Bauer and George Springer. Now they kind of have to hit on one of those guys or they look stupidly outmaneuvered. Knowing the Mets, they will overpay for Springer, who will fit nicely into the Mets tradition of always signing an aging player (30) who is injury prone. (See Cespedes/Cano etc.)
J.T. Realmuto is probably the jewel of the market this year. He’s a great defensive catcher. I’m not sure why he wasn’t a finalist for the Gold Glove in the NL but ask the GMs who’d they rather have...Realmuto or Tucker Barnhart. (The Gold Gloves have been taken over by Statcast and those freaks are all about pitch framing.) He is the best hitting catcher as well. He has the best arm and shuts down the running game. You don’t find a catcher like that very often. There aren’t that many starting pitcher Aces like Bauer, Snell and Darvish either, but there’re at least ten or twelve. And Springer...well...how many 30 homer guys are in the Bigs right now? Just turn over a rock. I think the Mets got the wrong catcher. McCann is good but Realmuto is a rare one.
J.T. also looks good for the Nationals. Catcher Kurt Suzuki gets hurt a lot and even though he platooned with Yan Gomes effectively, a catcher like J.T. Realmuto would work nicely with their vet starters Strasburg and Scherzer. He could also hit behind Juan Soto. The Nats missed Anthony Rendon (now with the Angels) badly last year, and Soto was a scary good hitter even without protection in the lineup. With help he might be Joe DiMaggio.
Then the Nats news flashes: they trade off some middling players for Josh Bell of the Pirates. Bell was the most fearsome hitter in baseball the first half of 2019, then slumped badly the second half of that season and continued his bummer for all of the short season of 2020. If Bell evens things out this season the Nats have the protection that Soto needs and they have a first baseman to replace the aging Ryan Zimmerman and retiring Howie Kendricks combo. So much for Realmuto going to the Nats.
Meanwhile, just like what they did with Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates have sacrificed their best player to another team and gotten nowhere near enough for him. I have no idea what the Pittsburgh franchise is up to, but it’s ugly. Right fielder Polanco got hurt in the off season so now the Buccos have no “name” players on the active roster at all. (Unless you count up and comer third sacker Ke’Bryan Hayes). An historic franchise laid low.
The Phillies had J.T. Realmuto last season but got their asses chapped with a terrible bullpen. The Phils made a big boast two years ago about “overspending” to build a contender and they can’t reverse course now without alienating their already disappointed fans. Giving up on re-signing their star catcher won’t play well in Philliedom. I say J.T. gets a princely sum to re-up there. New General Manager Dave Dombrowski didn’t get hired to stand pat. In addition to Realmuto, the Phils might lose free agent shortstop Didi Gregorious as well, and their pitching is horrible. They will do something.
So far in the National League East, no team has made moves that could bring them up close to the Atlanta Braves, who made a valiant playoff run last season but couldn’t catch up to the Dodgers. Their DH/Left Fielder Marcel Ozuna was a surprise after his less-than-stellar couple of seasons with the Cardinals. He batted .338 with 56 ribbies and led the league (which is saying something in this ridiculous era) with 18 big flies. If the Braves can keep him in their lineup along with MVP Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. 2021 might be the year of the Atlanta Politically Incorrects. They signed Charlie Morton from the Tampa Rays to fill out the starting rotation too.
The NL East should be the most competitive division in baseball. Even the Marlins made the playoffs last year. That might have been a mirage, but they seem to have a pitcher or two.
Here’s a quick look at the rest of the teams who might be active in either the free agent or trade market. Remember that there are a lot of never-before-seen variables during this pandemic. The teams all lost money last year playing only 60 games with no live attendance to speak of. Will 2021 bring a full schedule of attendable games? Not likely. Maybe the vaccines get distributed by mid summer but expect social distancing to be necessary at least until autumn. Games will continue to be cancelled because of outbreaks, especially in the spring. This Covid 19 has proven to be a Hell Bitch of a disease and optimistic expectations have been dashed repeatedly. New symptoms. New weird contagion patterns. Sudden hot spot appearances. Scary mutations.
Don’t expect baseball to be immune. And because of that, don’t expect teams to suddenly be willing to shell out the big money for free agents. Young, cheap, controllable players will be the trend for the next few years. Veteran players... even productive ones... will either work cheap or be passed over. Sure, a few big names will get their money...but only from the wealthy teams. The little guys won’t be players for the really big contracts.
It’s a push in this division, where all the teams appear to be going backwards. Chicago was first last year but have traded their best pitcher and look to be ready to say goodbye to their core players like Kris Bryant and John Lester. Chicago took their shot and won their one championship. Now they are cutting salary. Giving up Darvish for a few teenage minor leaguers and Zach Davies was a bad bad sign for Cubs fans. GM Jed Hoyer better be careful if the Cubs fall off the edge of the world.
St. Louis has the deepest pockets in the divison now that the Cubs have spent themselves into a corner. But the Cards don’t have enough impressive young players to transition into a winner now that the old guard (Molina, Carpenter, Wainwright) is shuffling out the door. The Cardinals could trade for Bryant from the Cubs, or maybe Nolan Arenado from the Rockies. They’d have to give up the best young arms in their system though, and one veteran hitter won’t put them over the top.
The Milwaukee Brewers are a team that seems almost dead in the water. They have top pitchers in Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burns and Josh Hader, but they seem to think they can get by with one hitter...Christian Yelich. When Christian was hurt and slumping last year the Brewers offense was non-existent. The Brewmeisters seem willing to let mediocrity prevail.
Pittsburgh Pirates. Ditto.
Cincinnati Reds. I was all behind the Reds to make a splash last year but even though they made the Wild Card round it wasn’t to be. Strangely, the Reds work in a hitter’s park...one of the best in baseball. So they don’t hit. Home runs, yes. 90 of them. But as a team they hit .212. You can churn your barrel- up, launch angle, hard-hit percentages all you want, but a .212 team average means your offense sucks. DH Jesse Winker was their only consistent threat. But their pitching was great! Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray. And good people in the bullpen as well. Well, when they should be going up, the Reds are set to go backwards, because they will definitely lose Trevor Bauer. Joey Votto is a year older and hit .226 anyway. Isn’t there some billionaire Reds fan somewhere who could step in and financially nourish this team?
One factor must now be considered when evaluating free agent possibilities this year: Does anybody want to move to California? They’ve got fire, plague and high taxes. The movie business is going belly up, too. (Feel my pain!) I already discussed Trevor Bauer maybe preferring soCal over the East Coast, and I still think he’ll wind up going closer to home despite the apocalyptic signs. But I don’t think D.J. LeMahieu is interested in a return to Denver and I really don’t see any of the other big names moving west. Not this year.
San Diego must be applauded for at least trying to match up with the Dodgers by adding star pitchers to their young and hungry ball club. The Pads had a team OPS of .798 last year. That’s very good. They batted. .257 and finished 3rd in NL homers with 95. 55 steals was the best in the NL. If they stay healthy, their offense is as good if not better than the Dodgers. Starting pitching is close. But the Dodgers as they are constituted now are not that much better than the Padres. At least there should be a pennant race in the West.
Not that the Dodgers are going to get fat and lazy just because they have finally won a world championship after 32 years. I’m sure they want more and they’ve got the money, the farm system, the young talent, the veteran leadership, the starting pitching and the political will to go get another trophy.
They’ve got Kershaw, Walker Buehler and a returning David Price and Dustin May to outpitch any other team in the game.
The keys for them?
1/Let Mookie lead. He’s a natural charisma magnet. The fans love him, his teammates love him...even the opposing players love him.
2/They should also discourage Cody Bellinger from turning into a pull happy homer hyena who tries to jack every pitch out of sight. Also talk to him about dislocating his shoulder with arm bumps.
3/think twice before letting the Yard Gnome (Justin Turner) walk away to another team via free agency. Along with Corey Seager and (to an extent) Mookie, Justin carried the club in the playoffs. Some older players are worth keeping around for their team presence even if they are moving out of their primes.
4/resist the urge to trade for Arenado or Francisco Lindor. Arenado will disturb the chemistry of your team. You’ve already got enough offense and Arenado hurt his shoulder and hasn’t been right for awhile. I don’t care what you say, he’s not going to put up the same numbers at Dodger Stadium that he has at Coors Field. Nolan will cost too much. And Lindor? How many smiling superstars can one team stand? Okay, it would be nice to have Lindor. Any team would want him. He’s the best shortstop in the game, taking both offense and defense into consideration. But is Corey Seager going to be happy to move over to third or second? He’s pretty good in the field too and he’s given his all for the Bluebloods.
5/instead of another remaking-the-team signing like Betts, this year spend your money on a bullpen. Go sign Liam Hendricks as your new closer. Kenley Jansen is still useful, but he’s not the dominant closer he once was. Fix the bullpen and you can win another world title or four.
Three teams for the penalty box: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and San Francisco Giants.
These teams play in the wrong MLB division to try to compete with second tier players. If the Padres can rebuild and turn into a winner, so can you guys.
Arizona: Saddest stat of the year... Madison Bumgarner ERA: 6.48.
Colorado: Rockies pitching...last in hits allowed/last in runs allowed/last in earned runs allowed/last in strikeouts/1.490 team WHIP. Why don’t you try loading up on knuckleballers or something?
At least the Giants are trying to retool. Trouble is, the Giants depend heavily on 10 players who are already in their 30s. It’s not a game where you can field a predominantly old club and expect to win anymore.
Ah Yes! The AL East! The Yankees vs. the Red Sox…wait a minute. No longer is the ancient rivalry headline news. The Yanks are still very good but they are making noises that they won’t be plundering the free agent market as in days of yore. And the Red Sox are wallowing in poverty if you listen to them. The only news coming out of Boston is what unknown minor league relief pitcher they’ve hired this week. Let us evaluate:
The Boston Red Sox used up all their starters and can’t replace them without severely busting the salary cap. They have to hope Eduardo Rodriguez can come back from Covid heart inflammation and that Chris Sale likes his new elbow. Nathan Eovaldi has to stay healthy and pitch up to the level of his stuff. Eovaldi had 52 Ks and only 8 walks last season but still had an ordinary ERA of 3.72. He’s better than that. The bullpen was unmentionable in 2020. Only if some of their young pitchers surprise everybody can the Bosox change their fortunes.
There was talk of signing George Springer and then trading Jackie Bradley Jr. That won’t happen. Bradley is too good a center fielder in a ballpark with a very challenging center field. He must save 6 or 7 runs a week climbing the walls and diving to make great plays and he throws like a missile launcher. And JBJ hit better last year (.283/.364/.450 average/on base/slug) Why spend big money for a minimal offensive upgrade and give back all that defense?
The Nuevo Yorko Yanquis are going to re-sign D.J. They are waiting for all the other interested parties to bid and then they will pay the rate to keep D.J. The New York Yankees don’t let their best hitter and team leader leave the team. They had the best OPS in the league last year (.789) and LeMahieu was a big reason for that. So the offense is already the best in the league. But they might lose Happ, Paxton and Tanaka. They have to get a couple of starters from somewhere. That means Bauer or a big trade with Cleveland (it’s happened before).
The Yanks won’t trade for Lindor either. Why give up young talent when they can wait a year and get Lindor as a free agent? I predict that the Yanks will wind up with Lindor one way or the other unless Lindor just doesn’t like being in New York. But he’d be close to Home Sweet Puerto Rico and he’s a superstar who needs a super team to get more famous. Late update: the Mets traded two infielders and some other guys to the Clevelanders for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. That means two things for the Metskies...giving up two mid-infielders means they are going to try to sign Lindor long-term. Getting Carrasco means they are out of the market for Bauer. He wants $30+ million a year and even the Mets have their limits. Lindor won’t hit as many home runs in New York but he can’t help upgrading the Mets’ chances. And he’s close to Puerto Rico!
One possible move for the Yanks: sign Yadier Molina and let the best defensive catcher of our generation teach Gary Sanchez how to block pitches. Let Yadi catch Gerrit Cole (who doesn’t need the offense and would love to have a real catcher like Yadi) once a week. He’s worth a run and a half off the team ERA. The Yankees have to upgrade at catcher...it’s getting embarrassing. Fix Sanchez or trade him. They aren’t getting offense from Gary anyway. He struck out 64 times in 178 plate appearances! He batted .147!
Everybody says Toronto wants to trade for Lindor but is Frankie going to go to another middling semi-rich team or is he going to cash in AND play for a winner? Remember...you have to pay taxes in Canada and the Jays don’t even have a stadium. They may have to play in Buffalo again if the cross border quarantine stays in effect. Lindor to Toronto is a pipe dream. Even if he got traded there he will walk in his free agent year in 2022. It’s the Yankees or the Mets or the Angels for Frankie...next year. Whoever trades for him this season will get burned when he walks to one of the Alpha Teams as a free agent.
Toronto is all excited about their “Sons of the Samurai” Guerrero, Biggio and Bo Bichette. But last season the big surprises were outfielders Teoscar Hernandez (.919 OPS) and Lourdes Gurriel (.882) along with DH Rowdy Tellez (.886) If the young samurai actually do start producing as they are projected to, Toronto will be a contender. Meanwhile bring in some good arms, Blue Jays. Doesn’t Dave Steib have a kid?
Baltimore finished fourth last year somehow. Boy, are they in a hole. They played a lot of youngsters and these guys did pretty well. Do I spot any superstars to be? Not really. But the Orioles have a great young catcher, a number 1 pick in the 2019 draft… Adley Rutschman on the way up, so maybe they can build around him.
I’ve already talked about Tampa. I think they’re nuts alienating Blake Snell by removing him from one of the best pitched games of the entire playoffs when he’d only thrown 70 odd pitches and had struck out the top Dodgers hitters repeatedly and was absolutely cruising. Fire that manager. Where is George Steinbrenner when you need him?
The worm has turned in the Central. Cleveland and Minnesota are now looking up at Chicago. Kansas City and Detroit are going to be stocking up on high draft choices for a while longer.
Cleveland has to say goodbye to Francisco Lindor...and the legacy of great shortstops like Omar Vizquel and Lou Boudreau. Lindor hits like Boudreau and fields like Vizquel and they can’t keep him in his prime! That’s baseball today folks. They also lose Carlos (“Evil Ways”) Santana. They still have Jose Ramirez. (Unreal OPS of .993!) They keep an exceptional starting staff in Justin Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac and Triston MacKenzie along with closer Brad Hand. Don’t get too excited though, because the Indians will lose those guys too. Maybe they’ll use them as trade bait and pick up some young players to begin their rebuild. The window is closing fast for them to be a contender.
Minnesota made the playoffs last year and had the distinct honor of losing yet again to extend their history of futility to 18 PLAYOFF LOSSES IN A ROW!!! That’s the longest playoff losing streak in American major sports history. Thirteen of those losses came against the Yankees. This time the Astros had the pleasure of slicing the Twinkies. How do you figure? They should never have left the Baggie- Park. The ghost of Kirby Puckett is rattling his chains. Harmon Killebrew is moaning in the gloaming. And I feel sorry for those of you who never saw Harmon barrell up a fast ball. Oh My Good Lord! Take a look at this swing:
The Twins are a good team in many ways. Their lineup has Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton and Nelson Cruz. They led the league in homers in 2019 and were third in 2020. They have pitching too. Kenta Maeda had a WHIP of 0.750 and a K to BB rate of 80/10! They finished first in their division so what gives with my prediction of a disaster?
Well, the Twinks don’t have many ways of scoring without the home run and Nelson Cruz is an FA. Now, I think they’ll keep Nelson because he is their offensive centerpiece (OPS .992), but if Cruz walks they’ll really feel it. Even if he doesn’t leave he’s 39. How long can he hit like that? Also, the Twins finished in the bottom half of most offensive categories last season. It’s homers or nothing.
Also, the Twin City Wonders are losing 4 or 5 pitchers to free agency. Valuable men like Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill and Sergio Romo. That’s a lot of pitchers to replace and limited resources to allocate. And no matter what they do, Minnesota is not going to be a destination city for free agents or trade partners. And the Twins don’t have that much money. Free agency could kill them off fairly quickly. They need to win now.
Kansas City is showing signs of life. Thanks goodness! Baseball needs to have some teams that play small ball once in awhile. You know, stolen bases, sac bunts and all that? Defense and liners up the gaps? The Royals still have some gaping holes in their lineup, especially in the outfield and at second, but they have some talent too. Whit Merrifield in right, Adalberto Mondesi at short, Sal Perez at catcher, Mikael Franco at third and Jorge Soler at DH. Those are not superstars but they are close to All Star caliber most of the time. KC also has a few young pitchers developing. You Go Royals!
The Detroit Tigers are financially limited and can’t do anything to effectively upgrade their team until they get Miguel Cabrera (owed 30 mil this year) and Jordan Zimmerman (owed 25 mil last year) off the books. (Jordan is actually off the books this year. Miggy is owed 32 mil a year through 2024. Two formerly great players who are now warning labels for long term contracts.)
Now Hear the Pealing Bells of Resurrection! Welcome back from the Dead, Chicago White Sox! You now have an exciting team on the way to Baseball Glory. Don’t screw it up!
Jose Abreu, the MVP at age 33, played 60 games last year and accumulated 60 RBIs. Admittedly, that means he was red hot but for less than half of a regular season. Still, the other guys who have pulled this off...as many RBIs as games played... are names like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez. Good company. Jose led his fellow Cubanos into the Playoffs in 2020 and they should stay a playoff team for the foreseeable. Their pitching may be a couple of years behind the offense though, so the Pale Hose got Lance Lynn to come and help Dallas Keuchel and Luis Giolito until the Down-on- the-Farmers like Michael Kopech arrive. The Sox may be in on one of the good relievers available...Ian Hendricks from the A’s or Brad Hand of the Indians.
The White Sox are in the right division at the right time. I expect them to cruise once they stabilize their pitching staff. The only caveat I must mention is that Tony LaRussa is returning to the dugout to manage the Hosiery. I’m not sure his style will mesh with these young Latin stars. Tony is a hell of a manager but he’s the Leo Durocher type...if you play hard and succeed you are his prize calf, (see Willie Mays) but if you are human and screw up as you learn the game there can be trouble.(see Adolfo Phillips...a sensitive but super-talented centerfielder for the Cubs who was driven out of the game when Leo managed him like a drill instructor who thinks he can verbally abuse his recruit into being a Marine.) For the Adolfo Phillips story read this:
I think the White Sox need a Daddy to get them started on the road to greatness...somebody like Jim Leyland. But LaRussa knows this game pretty damn well...maybe he can adjust his style and maybe the kids can meet his expectations. We’ll see the first time Yoan Moncada doesn’t run out a ground ball.
The Astros had a losing record in the 2020 Covid Season. And they still finished second in their division. That’s how weak the West really is. The ‘Stros hitters went “Thud”. Altuve, Gurriel, Correa and Bregman all had down years...way down. Only Springer, Brantley and rookie Kyle Tucker carried water. The pitching was pedestrian. The bullpen was just okay, but without Justin Verlander (Tommy John) and Gerrit Cole (Yankee money), the starters were lacking. Zach Greinke was the lynchpin.
So now the Astros are in the same shape as everybody else in their division. Not enough coin to keep all their stars and still add more talent . They had their moment but Houston is not New York, not Boston, not Los Angeles, not Chicago...not even Washington or Philadelphia. They don’t make enough money to be able to go over the limit. So the Slow Bleed begins.
Oakland is like Tampa; they can only be competitive for a couple of years at a time because they can’t keep their good players. They are losing their shortstop Semien, their closer Hendricks and who knows how many others. (They’ve got ten free agents.) Most ominous is the loss of Billy Bean, their small market genius who kept them relevent all these cheapskate years. Billy has had enough.
I can’t believe that the A’s could never figure out how to move to San Jose and make money instead of staying in that gruesome Coliseum.
Five starters in the everyday lineup of the Texas Rangers batted under .200 in 2020. This is what selling out the game of baseball to the Twin Gods of Home Runs and Strike Outs has led to. We get to watch ballgames full of Mendozas.
Seattle is still kicking themselves for that trade for Robbie Cano. He was billed as a team savior. Yeah...he saved the Mariners from honesty and fair play.
The Los Angeles Angels need to get some pitchers and get them now. If they use up Mike Trout’s whole career without getting to the Playoffs they will be consigned to that corner of Baseball Hell where ex Cubs executives are turning slowly on the barbecue while Ernie Banks leans in and whispers in their ear over and over again...”Let’s Play Two...”