Smart but Heartless Moves MLB Teams Should Make This Offseason
As Liz Lemon once read on a tea bag, "Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same thing."
Netflix's removing 30 Rock was a heartless move, but perhaps it was necessary in order for the streaming service to produce more original content. Maybe it's simply not possible to have it all.
In the perfect world, each superstar spends his entire career on one team. After defying Father Time's regression, he rides into the sunset with a lavish year-long retirement tour and emotional goodbye.
Yet MLB is a business, and the real world is rarely idyllic. The proper move is often cruel. Fans will shout "Blerg!" and revolt when losing a marquee player who has stitched himself into the organization's fabric.
Such roster decisions aren't easy. But that doesn't mean they're bad calls.
MLB organizations should make these cold but calculated moves this offseason.
Toronto Blue Jays: Part Ways with Jose Bautista
Let's start with an inevitable one, something already in motion. Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has confirmed that the team will not pick up a $17 million option for Jose Bautista. Even before the public announcement, fans treated the slugger's final game at Rogers Centre like a farewell.
This does not, however, guarantee an end to Bautista's Toronto tenure. Although he wants to play next season, per Sportsnet's Shi Davidi, he likely won't have many suitors after hitting .203 with minus-0.5 WAR. The two sides could agree on a significantly lesser one-year deal so Bautista can retire with the Blue Jays.
Formerly a journeyman searching for a role, Bautista hit 288 home runs with an .878 OPS during his 10 years with Toronto. His indelible legacy and popularity, however, would serve as detriments now.
Although the 36-year-old did not justify regular playing time in 2017, he logged a team-high 686 plate appearances. He batted no lower than No. 4 in every start.
Benching a franchise legend is difficult. Then, maybe the Yankees would have made the 2014 postseason if not for locking Derek Jeter and his .617 OPS into the No. 2 hole. Parting ways would be sad for fans and teammates, but it would make manager John Gibbons' job much easier.
Atkins can find an affordable corner outfielder with pop in free agency. If Colby Rasmus stumbles, if Seth Smith falters, the Blue Jays can cut their losses and give someone else a shot. No guilt necessary.
After missing their championship window, the Blue Jays need to get younger. A complete tear-down might soon be necessary with Josh Donaldson's contract expiring next winter.
"Joey Bats" helped Toronto reach the American League Championship Series twice after a two-decade playoff drought, but he no longer fits into the franchise's future.
Miami Marlins: Trade Giancarlo Stanton
"Should the Miami Marlins trade Giancarlo Stanton?" was a popular question before he smacked 59 home runs, the most in a single season since 2001. The talking point will draw more polarizing discourse following his late-season power bonanza.
How does a team move someone who belted 38 home runs from July 1 onward? If new ownership wants a true changing of the guard, it will instead build around a highly compensated superstar.
Yet a backloaded contract may force the hands of decision-makers. Stanton's salary jumps from $14 million to $25 million in 2018, and Miami owes him $295 million through 2027 unless he opts out after 2020.
Without the supporting cast and resources to build a contender around him, the club probably will not want to pay so much to someone who has averaged 123 games played per season over his career.
Especially not if the Marlins plan on rebuilding. Stanton bluntly told FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman that he wants no part of another long-term renovation.
"I don't want to rebuild," Stanton said last week. "I've lost for seven years."
During Tuesday's introductory news conference, per ESPN.com, Jeter said he likely will have to make "unpopular decisions" as a new owner.
"We do have to rebuild the organization," Jeter said. "It starts with player development and scouting. We will build it from top down and bottom up."
Unless they are confident in his crushing 60 long balls in 2018, Stanton's value will never be higher. The slugger almost certainly won't merit a $32 million salary when he's 35, but someone will sell the farm for the outfielder prior to his age-28 season.
While Jeter was not directly addressing Stanton, dealing the team's best player is precisely the unpopular decision he must make.
Chicago Cubs: Let Jake Arrieta Walk
Acquiring Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history. The Chicago Cubs should walk away from their ace before seeing the story unwind with a sour ending.
After registering a 5.46 ERA in four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Arrieta has since compiled a 2.73 ERA for his current squad. He rode an unhittable second half to a 1.77 ERA and NL Cy Young Award in 2015 before winning both starts in the 2016 World Series.
Those moments will probably define the pinnacle of his career. He regressed to a 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 4.16 fielding independent pitching (FIP) in 2017—all his worst marks since joining the Cubs. His velocity dipped for the second straight season, causing his 8.7 swinging-strike percentage to dip below 10.0 percent for the first time since 2013.
Even without these worrying warning flags, it's risky to give a huge contract to any pitcher who will turn 32 before 2018's Opening Day. The Cubs took that gamble with Jon Lester, and it's highly unlikely they have any regrets after winning the 2016 championship. Yet the latter half of his six-year, $155 million deal could get uncomfortable based on this season's 4.33 ERA.
Lester was a necessary risk for a team with no rings in over a century and no ace to accompany a young lineup. Now they have Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana to ease the blow of losing Arrieta.
Paying two declining pitchers deep into their 30s would spur major ramifications down the road. They should instead target Alex Cobb and/or veterans willing to sign short-term deals.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Move Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen has personified the Pittsburgh Pirates for nine years. He led them to their first playoff appearance since 1992 in 2013. Then he took them to the National League Wild Card Game in each of the next two seasons.
Since the outfielder arrived in 2009, only Joey Votto has had a higher WAR among NL position players. While a franchise like the Pirates often loses such a superstar after six seasons, the 2005 first-round pick signed a team-friendly extension in 2012.
Oh, yeah, he also received the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award for his sportsmanship and community service. The Pirates could not have asked for a better player and person to steer their organization.
Now they should trade him.
There's little doubt Pittsburgh will accept a $14.5 million club option, but the 2013 NL MVP will enter free agency the following offseason. Austin Meadows, MLB.com's No. 16-ranked prospect, is waiting to join Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the major league outfield.
Despite McCutchen's bouncing back from an uncharacteristically poor 2016 to bat .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs, the Pirates went 75-87. They can try to make one last run with their star, but they face an uphill climb with the Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals also poised to field playoff contenders in 2018.
Pittsburgh will most likely wait until July to trade their star if not contending, but it would fetch a better return during the winter. The Arizona Diamondbacks got J.D. Martinez in July without forfeiting any premier prospects.
Trading McCutchen this offseason would undoubtedly be a callous choice, but it's the prudent one barring a spending uptick.
New York Yankees: Shop Dellin Betances
Randy Levine already demonstrated a knack for heartlessness during Dellin Betances' last arbitration hearing.
The New York Yankees president described the reliever's request for $5 million as "overreaching," "ridiculous," "half-baked" and "fantasy," according to Newsday's Erik Boland. This was either an over-the-top argument so the arbiters would side with the Yankees' $3 million offer—which they did—or plain stupidity. Anyone with the most basic critical-thinking ability knows that a pitcher with a 1.93 ERA from 2014 to 2016 deserves far more than $5 million.
That's not even mentioning Betances' leading all relievers in WAR during those three seasons. That might be too complex for Levine, who thought his relief ace didn't merit more money because he was not recording saves.
According to the New York Post's Joel Sherman, agent Jim Murray said Levine called Betances "Dylan" throughout the hearing.
Nobody would blame Betances for bolting at the first opportunity. He has two more years in arbitration before hitting the open market, but a loaded bullpen gives New York an opportunity to test his trade value now.
The people writing the checks may still live in the 20th century, but every MLB general manager appreciates a dominant middle reliever. New York sold Aroldis Chapman for Andrew Miller for massive hauls during the 2016 season. Yankees GM Brian Cashman could either replenish his farm system or bolster his rotation.
Perhaps he could even use the 29-year-old righty to unload Jacoby Ellsbury, who will make over $21 million per year through 2020.
New York has a bullpen surplus with Betances, Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and Adam Warren. Its farm system is loaded with pitching prospects who, like Betances and Green, could flourish in relief roles if they don't pan out as starters.
Besides, the setup man issued 44 walks in 59.2 innings with a 3.22 FIP well above his 2.28 career average. Because of those command woes, the Yankees did not use him in the AL Wild Card Game despite pulling starter Luis Severino in the first inning.
He should still garner massive trade appeal after compiling at least 100 strikeouts for the fourth year in a row, but that could change if he struggles to harness the strike zone in 2018.
Cashman could instead explore offers for Robertson or Chapman, but Betances has more trade value since the arbitration system fails to properly compensate relievers who don't close. Based on Tuesday's bullpen usage, he's also comfortably below them both in the Evil Empire's bullpen hierarchy.