Welcome to Winter Meetings Week 2015! By the early looks of things, this year’s edition, coming to you live from Nashville, Tennessee, will be chock full of blockbuster deals, free-agent signings, and a few out-of-the-blue trades. This week, the Baseball Essential Mailbag will focus on the Winter Meetings.
The week leading into the Meetings brought the signings of David Price, Zack Greinke, and Jeff Samardzija. Price set the new record for average annual value with his seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. Greinke soon broke that record with his six-year, $206 million contract with a very surprising team — the Arizona Diamondbacks. Samardzija capitalized on both of the big names being off the table, and signed for five years and $90 million with the San Francisco Giants. Two of the best relief options appear to be off the market, as it has been widely reported that Darren O’Day will re-sign with the Baltimore Orioles and Aroldis Chapman will be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Quite a week. Will the week of the Winter Meetings live up to the hype? Let’s hope so. Here are your questions, and here are our answers. (Josh will be running the show this week, as Robert is busy covering the Winter Meetings in-person from Nashville.)
— Ryan O’Neill (@ryanrules228) December 5, 2015
JS: Ah yes — Mr. Johnny Cueto. The final remaining ace on the free-agent market. Most expected Greinke to re-sign with the Dodgers, but the team low-balled him with a five-year offer. The LA front office should have known Greinke would command a six-year deal from another team with cash to spend and a genuine need for an ace. The Arizona Diamondbacks were that team. No word yet whether or not Greinke gave the Dodgers a chance to match the Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers are now left to pick through the remaining free-agent starters to fill out their rotation, now complete with a huge hole behind Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers already picked up Hisashi Iwakuma, but it’s likely they will still need one more free-agent arm.
The market for Cueto could really have dried up by now. He turned down a six-year deal for $120 million from the Diamondbacks, whose front office really should be sending Cueto a fruit basket or gold chain. Really, any show of gratitude will do. The Diamondbacks get the better, safer pitcher, and Cueto is left to sweat it out and hope he can top $20 million annually at this point.
Besides the Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants may take a run at Cueto. Perhaps he will revisit negotiations with Arizona. The Diamondbacks have interest in Mike Leake, and he will not be that much cheaper than the $20 million offered Cueto. It might not be a total shocker to see Cueto open talks back up with the Diamondbacks. For now, however, the Dodgers should be viewed as the logical landing spot for Cueto. There will be too much desperation to add a quality pitcher, and Cueto’s stuff should play well in Dodger Stadium and the NL West. Prediction — five years, $125 million makes Johnny Cueto a member of the Dodgers.
JS: I’ve been using a term the past few days to describe what the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing — Reverse Blue Jaysing. The Toronto Blue Jays, who call a city with a metropolitan population of nearly six million home, are behaving like a small market team on the heels of their first playoff appearance in over 20 years.
Alex Anthopoulos really, really went for it at the trade deadline and landed, among others, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere, and LaTroy Hawkins. All of the trades paid off, and the Blue Jays roared ahead of the New York Yankees and won the AL East. Mark Shapiro came over from Cleveland to take over as Team President. Anthopoulos, possibly the most-loved Canadian sports figure of 2015, decided working under Shapiro was not a super-attractive role, and decided to move on to new opportunities.
Judging by Shapiro’s moves so far this winter, it’s highly unlikely the Blue Jays would have been so aggressive on July 31 were he the one calling the shots. The team did not even make Price an offer despite the fact that he actually wanted to return to Toronto. Maybe re-signing a pitcher in his thirties to a seven-year contract would not have been the smartest move, but the Blue Jays are coming off their best season since 1993 and were routinely packing 50,000 people into Rogers Centre during the stretch run.
This was the kind of season you have to build on as a front office. Instead, the new regime has thrown a big old bucket of ice water on Canadian baseball fans. The answer to losing Price was to re-sign Marco Estrada and bring back J.A. Happ. The Blue Jays are spending $62 million on a pair of mid-tier starters. The first three years of Price’s contract with the Red Sox come at a cost of $93 million. After that, he will surely exercise his opt-out clause. That clause is essentially a golden parachute, and the Blue Jays easily could have walked away from Price at the end of three years. Instead, they are left with two middling pitchers who will most likely regress next year. The team was not in line to make the playoffs before the trade deadline, despite the strong offense. Marcus Stroman will have to be ready to act as an ace, because the rest of the staff is unlikely to pick him up if he falters. As for the rest of the offseason, it would not be a surprise to see the Blue Jays add one more mid-tier starter and hope for the best.
There is no clear indication that the team is going to be overly aggressive this winter, which could result in a failure to capitalize on the strong momentum built during the run to the postseason. Blue Jays fans should be befuddled, and there is plenty of reason to question the direction of the franchise in the new front office’s first season at the helm.
JS: The Cubs did at least make David Price an offer, not a great one, but an offer nonetheless. The Cubs clearly have some issues with their fourth and fifth starters. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks will not cut it if the Cubs are going to get past the other great rotations of the National League. Addressing the areas of concern through the trade market should be the best course of action. Cueto just comes with too much risk, and the Cubs have plenty of prospects who are already blocked at the next level. Wei-Yin Chen or Mike Leake will not have the same impact as a Shelby Miller, Carlos Carrasco, or Tyson Ross.
Any of those three pitchers will be a great fit for the Cubs. Miller and Ross both have the type of heavy, sinking fastball that will play well in Wrigley Field. Carrasco is one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball and is signed to an extremely team-friendly contract. The Cubs have an overabundance of young hitters that could be put to work as trade bait. Jorge Soler, for example, would be very attractive to the Cleveland Indians, who need a young outfielder. The Atlanta Braves may be willing to settle for younger prospects in exchange for Miller since their rebuilding process is only now getting seriously under way. The San Diego Padres could have become a more difficult team for the Cubs to make a deal with after the Craig Kimbrel trade. Many of the prospects the All-Star closer brought back to the Padres play the same positions as the players the Cubs have to offer.
At the end of the day, if the Cubs are serious about making a trade for a young, controllable starter, they have the pieces to get a deal done.
JS: Shelby Miller for Ender Inciarte? Hmmm, that’s an interesting proposal. The Diamondbacks probably hang up first. Arizona is building one of the best offenses in the National League, and most of their position players are still young and extremely cheap relative to the value they produce. The second-year outfielder, Inciarte, was worth 5.3 WAR in 2015 while earning just over $500,000. He’s got speed, and could eventually develop some power, all while being a plus-defender.
Inciarte may not even be their most valuable trade asset. Everyone seems to want the Diamondbacks to include A.J. Pollock in a trade for a starter. That would be pure insanity on the part of Arizona.
Having so many young studs being paid well below market value is what allowed the Diamondbacks to go out and get Greinke. The team just completed the first year of a $1.5-billion TV deal, and is putting that money to work aggressively in an effort to capitalize on the great offense. I believe Arizona will make Mike Leake, a local product out of Arizona State University, a great offer. They could even stay aggressive and go back after Cueto, selling him on the prospect of pitching behind Greinke. No one would have envisioned any of this at the start of the offseason, so it is very difficult to predict what Arizona does next, but their plans should involve holding onto all of their great young hitters.