Winners and Losers of 2016 Spring Training's First 2 Weeks
With two weeks of spring training action in the books, it's time to take a look around the MLB landscape and name some winners and losers.
As bubble players continue to battle for the few available roster spots, injuries open up new opportunities for players to make an impression in 2016.
Spring is also a time for contract extension negotiations, and we've already seen two prevalent stories on that front—one ending in a new deal and one fizzling out as quickly as it started.
The waning free-agent market is also a factor, as it becomes harder and harder for a player to latch on with a team the closer we get to Opening Day. A few players have still managed to find good money since spring began, though.
So, with all of that in mind, here is a quick rundown of some winners and losers of the first two weeks of Grapefruit and Cactus League action.
Losers: Remaining Free Agents
At this point, it's not a good sign if you're still looking for a new team.
Here's a quick rundown of some notable players who are still sitting in free agency:
- OF Marlon Byrd
- IF Alberto Callaspo
- OF David DeJesus
- 1B/OF Corey Hart
- 1B Justin Morneau
- OF Alex Rios
- OF Grady Sizemore
- 2B Dan Uggla
- RP Joe Beimel
- SP Chad Billingsley
- RP Jason Frasor
- RP Nick Hagadone
- SP Aaron Harang
- SP Tim Lincecum
- SP Kyle Lohse
- SP Justin Masterson
- SP Alfredo Simon
- SP Jerome Williams
One name that really stands out on that list is Marlon Byrd.
Byrd may be getting on in age at 38 years old, but he's topped 20 home runs each of the past three seasons. He also made a serious impact after joining the Giants in August, tallying 18 extra-base hits and 31 RBI in 39 games.
Surely, someone could use a veteran bat with some pop, even if it's in a part-time role.
Winners: 3B Pedro Alvarez and CF Austin Jackson
It's not easy to find a guaranteed contract once spring training has started, let alone a lucrative one, but Austin Jackson and Pedro Alvarez managed to do that as last-minute signings.
Jackson joined the Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $5 million deal where he'll be the team's starting center fielder, pushing Adam Eaton to left field.
"It was a pretty easy choice for me...knowing some of the guys in that clubhouse and playing against some of them for a few years, it just seemed like it was the best fit for me. It was a pretty quick decision, and I'm looking forward to getting started," Jackson said, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
Avisail Garcia could be dubbed a loser in this situation, as he's now relegated to the fourth outfielder role.
Alvarez signed on with the Baltimore Orioles with a one-year, $5.75 million deal, and he'll be the team's primary designated hitter.
Now, he's playing catch-up in preparing for the new season.
"This is new for me. I’ve never done this before, so we are taking the approach we need to take, which is smart but aggressive at the same time. I’m working with everyone to get up to speed," Alvarez said, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
While he'll serve as the primary designated hitter, his ability to play first and third base does give the team some options, should injury strike.
Were these the contracts these two players envisioned signing when the offseason began?
Probably not, but it's generally as good as any player can hope for once spring training begins.
Loser: RP Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos
With Aroldis Chapman set to serve a 30-game suspension to begin the season, Andrew Miller returning to the closer's role and Justin Wilson traded to the Detroit Tigers, there is an opening for a left-handed reliever to step into a significant role in the New York Yankees bullpen.
Jacob Lindgren, a second-round pick in 2014, has risen quickly through the minor league ranks as expected and looked like a prime candidate to seize that opportunity.
His spring line: 3 G, 2.1 IP, 1 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 1 K.
All right, what about James Pazos?
The 24-year-old made 11 appearances with the big league club down the stretch last season, working five scoreless innings and allowing just three hits.
His spring line: 4 G, 2.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 K.
So, with the two leading candidates to step into that role struggling, the door could be swinging open for Tyler Olson—the only other lefty reliever on the 40-man roster—to grab a spot in the bullpen.
The Yankees acquired the 26-year-old from the Los Angeles Dodgers in January, after he appeared in 11 games out of the Seattle Mariners' bullpen last season.
His spring line: 4 G, 4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.
There is still time for Lindgren and Pazos to make the necessary impressions, but so far, they've failed to lock down their opportunity to join the relief corps.
Winner: RP Joel Peralta
Without fail, at least a few veterans break through as non-roster invitees to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.
This year, no one looks to be in a better position to do that than reliever Joel Peralta.
The 39-year-old was a late addition by the Seattle Mariners, agreeing to a minor league deal on Feb. 9 after a down season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Amid shoulder and neck issues, he appeared in 33 games and posted a 4.34 ERA, 1.241 WHIP and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings with three saves and three holds.
Prior to that, Peralta had been one of the game's most durable and reliable setup men.
As a member of the Tampa Bay Rays the previous four seasons, he appeared in 296 games and recorded 10 saves and 115 holds with a 3.58 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and 9.8 K/9.
If he can win a spot in the Seattle bullpen, he'll earn a $1.25 million base salary that could be worth an addition $2.5 million in incentives, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Spring injuries to fellow bullpen candidates Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner appear to have swung the door wide open for Peralta to crack the roster.
"He’s been through the wars, and he knows how to make a club and go about his business," manager Scott Servais told Bob Dutton of the News Tribune. "He’s been a nice addition in our clubhouse as well. He’s off to a good start."
Loser: Will Middlebrooks
When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Will Middlebrooks to a minor league deal on Dec. 15, it looked like a smart buy-low move for a rebuilding team and a good opportunity for a young player who was once viewed as a future star.
A former top prospect in the Boston Red Sox system, Middlebrooks made a splash as a rookie in 2012 when he put up an .835 OPS, 14 doubles and 15 home runs in 267 at-bats.
However, he's hit just .213/.258/.363 combined over the past three seasons, including a disappointing first year in San Diego in 2015 that led to his non-tender in December.
Still just 27, he looked like the favorite to seize a wide-open third base job in Milwaukee.
Then, the team acquired Aaron Hill in a five-player deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and according to manager Craig Counsell, the job appears to be Hill's to lose.
"Aaron Hill is what I'm looking at third base," Counsell told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel back in February. "Aaron is going to spend quite a bit of time there, especially in the spring. How the season plays out, you're a little more open to but now I'm thinking Aaron at third base."
Middlebrooks is still a candidate for a bench spot, but he hasn't helped his case any with a rough start to the spring schedule.
He's 4-for-19 with no walks and three strikeouts in his first seven games.
Winner: Of Tyler Goeddel
As the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft by a rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies team, outfield Tyler Goeddel already had a good chance to stick on the Opening Day roster.
Now, a pair of injuries have made him a virtual lock.
The first to go down was right fielder Aaron Altherr, a player who turned heads in the second half last season when he put up an .827 OPS with 20 extra-base hits in 137 at-bats.
He'll be sidelined for four to six months following wrist surgery.
That was followed shortly thereafter by news that left fielder Cody Asche had a Grade 1 strained right oblique, an injury that puts him in the day-to-day category for now, but could well mean he's not ready for Opening Day.
With Philly down two outfielders, Goeddel not only looks like he has a roster spot secured, but it's not out of the question to think that he could follow in the footsteps of last year's Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera and wind up in the starting lineup.
The 23-year-old is 8-for-30 with a pair of doubles so far this spring, and he's impressed manager Pete Mackanin, who recently gave him a glowing review while talking with Matt Breen of Philly.com:
Not only does he play a solid defense. He can run. He looks like a heady ballplayer and I like his swing path. I like the way he approaches. He seems to have good pitch recognition, especially when he gets behind in the count. He doesn’t really offer at pitches that are out of the strike zone, which is really nice to see, a young player having good plate discipline like that.
Goeddel was already a good bet to be part of the team, but injuries have now opened the door for him to make a legitimate impact.
Loser: Chicago Cubs and Jake Arrieta
The Chicago Cubs still have two years of team control remaining over reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, but the club hoped to get the ball rolling on extension talks this winter.
Not so much.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the two sides talked this winter but didn't make it beyond the number or years.
Arrieta and agent Scott Boras were looking for a six- or seven-year extension, while the Cubs were unwilling to go beyond five years.
"Where we left it was they wanted to extend me for a shorter period of time than we would like," Arrieta told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "Plain and simple, I want to stay here for six or seven years, and that's it. If I'm going to sign a deal, that's kind of the neighborhood we need to be in."
That doesn't mean extension talks won't take place again soon, and by all accounts there are no negative feelings on either side over the negotiations.
In fact, team president Theo Epstein sounded optimistic that something will eventually get done when talking with Muskat:
Maybe the talks will provide a foundation for something to get done down the road. Jake has an extremely professional approach to this issue, with our support, I should say. As soon as he got to Spring Training, his biggest priority is his 24 teammates and winning as many games as he can. That's no surprise to us. He's not thinking about himself, he's thinking about the team.
The 30-year-old has rapidly become one of the game's elite pitchers, and at this point, his contract is not a pressing issue.
Still, it would have been a nice cherry on top of a terrific offseason if the Cubs could have locked him up.
Winner: St. Louis Cardinals and Kolten Wong
Not many second basemen have the potential and upside of Kolten Wong.
The St. Louis Cardinals recognized that, despite a subpar performance last season, and locked him up with a five-year, $25.5 million extension earlier this month.
The deal includes a $12.5 million club option for 2021 that holds a $1 million buyout and does not include any no-trade provisions.
"I wanted to be a Cardinal. I feel like this is something I needed to do," Wong told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. "I fell in love with the city. I want to do everything I can to help this city out. I didn't want to see what I could go and do in free agency. I wanted to be a Cardinal. If there was any chance that I could do it, I told them, 'Let's try to get that done.'"
The 25-year-old former first-round pick has a mix of power, speed and defensive ability that is rarely seen at second base, but he has yet to tap into his full potential.
Over 557 at-bats last season, he hit .262/.321/.386 with 28 doubles, 11 home runs, 61 RBI and 15 stolen bases for a 2.2 WAR.
That represented modest improvement over a rookie campaign that earned him a third-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting, but a breakout season could be coming.
"To me, I don't believe he's begun to tap into what kind of player he can be," manager Mike Matheny told Langosch. "We're still figuring that out. But you see all the pieces in place for this to be the kind of player that makes a big impact on this organization. I'm excited to watch how this continues to grow."