Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2016-2017 MLB Offseason, Week 5
The recently signed labor agreement answers so many questions, namely that we’ll have baseball in 2017. But also that free agency is sure to begin in short order.
Over the next several weeks, which include the baseball winter meetings, a flurry of deals should be made—both in free agency and the trade market. But given that there has been little action this offseason, there is so much we don’t know about how the next few weeks might play out.
And, well, this raises a whole bunch of other questions. Let’s go ahead and try to get some answers.
How Will the New CBA Affect the Trade Market?
However, baseball executives will be playing by an entirely new set of rules.
Among the most notable changes to the CBA are stiffer penalties for those organizations that cross the luxury-tax threshold. For reference: The old threshold was $189 million. It jumps to $195 million in 2017 and incrementally increases to $210 million in 2021.
Depending on how much they go over the threshold, teams could have to pay a tax of up to 92 percent.
With free-agent contracts increasing, that adds trade value to players on contracts perceived as bargains. Think: Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale, who owns one of the game’s dominant arms.
Sale is entering the last year of a five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019. A player like Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (six-year, $25.5 million deal through 2019) may also have a higher trade value now.
Conversely, players such as Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (on a 10-year, $219.5 million deal through 2019 with a vesting option for 2020) and first baseman Miguel Cabrera (eight-year, $240 million deal through 2023 with vesting options for 2024 and 2025) may have less trade value than their performance in 2016 may otherwise indicate.
What Is Jose Bautista’s Market Value?
Jose Bautista made it clear during spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason: There would be no hometown discount.
Bautista wanted to test his talents on the open market. While no conclusion can yet be drawn as to how teams value Bautista, it’s safe to say his numbers indicate he should not be among the most sought-after bats in this class of free agents.
The right-hander only recently became a home run threat, hitting 54 in 2010 at age 30. But now, at 36, Bautista can only say he has eclipsed the 30-homer threshold in four seasons.
That’s hardly impressive for a player marketing himself as one of the league’s premier power-hitting threats. Sure, perhaps he would have eclipsed the mark in 2016 had he not struggled with injury.
But durability—or lack thereof—factors into a player’s value. Given his increasing age, teams can only assume that remaining healthy for an entire season will be more of a challenge for Bautista.
What does it all mean financially?
Well, it likely suggests that he will not get the $20 million annual salary typically awarded to free agents perceived as having star power.
Will Andrew McCutchen Be Dealt?
The likelihood that the Pittsburgh Pirates will trade center fielder Andrew McCutchen, once thought to be the franchise’s cornerstone player, is at an all-time high.
Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that the Washington Nationals are in talks with the Pirates to acquire McCutchen.
The deal would make sense for the Nationals, who want to move Trea Turner to his natural shortstop position. Turner played center field for Washington during his 2016 rookie season.
McCutchen’s value is at an all-time low after he hit .256/.336/.430 in 2016—all the worst of his eight-year career. Now 30 years old, his speed also noticeably dipped last season.
McCutchen might not be able to be the star on a winning team. But with players like outfielder Bryce Harper (assuming a subpar 2016 season was largely due to a shoulder injury), second baseman Daniel Murphy and Turner carrying the load for the Nationals, McCutchen could fit in nicely as s secondary piece.
The Pirates are looking to get young. A deep Washington farm system could provide just that.
Which Big-Market Teams Will Remain Quiet?
Now that a new labor deal has been agreed upon, the offseason will begin in earnest.
As is the case every offseason, we’ll see big-market teams stay true to their characterization by—you guessed it—spending big.
But the World Series champs could be among the teams a little hesitant to break out their wallets.
Of course nothing is a guarantee. The Chicago Cubs need a closer. So they should be considered among the suitors for big-money relievers Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon—all free agents.
But given that the team, in the near future, will have to sign young players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber to large contracts, the organization might shy away from committing itself to high-priced talent this offseason.
The Cubs, instead, might turn their attention toward getting a controllable, young starting pitcher to fill the void left when the team elected to buy out the contract of 2016 No. 5 start Jason Hammel.
The aforementioned luxury tax will require big-market teams to examine payroll several seasons into the future. Choosing not to sign big-money free agents this season could allow the Cubs the flexibility to sign their young stars to big contracts in the future.
What Should Be Boston’s Contingency Plan If Carlos Beltran Signs Elsewhere?
Multiple reports, including one from Joel Sherman of the New York Post, have the Boston Red Sox linked to negotiations with free agent Carlos Beltran.
The retirement of David Ortiz left the Red Sox without a designated hitter, a role that Beltran could fill.
But Sherman details other teams, including the Yankees, have interest in Beltran, which makes it far from a guarantee that the Red Sox will be able to lure the left-handed hitter to Boston.
As such, the team must have contingency plans.
Given that Beltran is Boston’s top choice, there is little that has been reported linking them to other hitters who could fill the hole in their lineup. But the team should consider Edwin Encarnacion, who had 42 homers and 27 RBI for the Blue Jays in 2016.
Encarnacion’s teammate last season, Jose Bautista, is another potential solution. But, at 36, he offers less long-term security. The Red Sox could also attempt to engage in trade talks with the Tigers for Miguel Cabrera.
The Tigers are looking to shed payroll. Cabrera, who swings a Triple Crown-like bat, is more capable than any of the aforementioned players at filling Ortiz’s spot in the lineup.