Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer are the leading MVP candidates with two weeks left this season and it sounds like both players may spend the offseason negotiating contract extensions. Mauer is a free agent after next season and the Twins desperately want to lock him up long term, and St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt revealed Thursday that the Cardinals plan to approach Pujols with a long-term deal as well.
Pujols still has two seasons remaining on the seven-year, $100 million contract that he signed in February of 2004, so the Cardinals can afford to be a little more patient with him than the Twins can be with Mauer. In fact, the first order of business for the Cardinals this winter will be deciding what to do with free agent Matt Holliday, who’s hit .356 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 55 games since coming over from the A’s.
While the Cardinals decide whether to hand out $250 million in new deals, here are some other notes from around baseball …
* Lou Piniella reportedly gave Rich Harden the option of shutting things down for the season and the impending free agent decided against making another start. “It’d be a lot different if we were in it and they needed me to pitch,” Harden said. “I’d be out there in a second and I’d be fine. I’m still healthy, feeling good.” Maybe, but he’s not “feeling good” enough to give potential suitors one more look at his oft-injured arm.
As usual Harden has been dominant at times and shaky at times this year, going 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA and 171/67 K/BB ratio in 141 innings. He has the best strikeout rate in baseball among pitchers with 25 starts, narrowly beating Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander, and held opponents to a .234 average. On the other hand his walk rate is eighth-worst among 25-start pitchers and he hasn’t logged 150 innings since 2004.
* Bronson Arroyo held the Pirates to one run in seven innings Thursday for his 12th straight Quality Start, which is quite a turnaround considering that he was sporting a 5.65 ERA through early July. Since then he has a 2.15 ERA and 67/23 K/BB ratio in 109 innings spread over 15 starts and has allowed more than three runs just once in that time, although his win-loss record is modest at 6-5.
Arroyo’s impressive stretch has his ERA below 4.00 for the first time all year. In fact, the last time his ERA resided under 4.00 was following his first start of 2008. Arroyo isn’t having a breakout at the age of 32, but his turnaround makes next season’s $11 million salary a little more palatable for the Reds whether they choose to keep him or shop him to a big-payroll contender. Arroyo also has an $11 million option for 2011.
* I’ve posted tons of Twitter updates this week and will probably ramp things up even further once the playoffs get going, so sign up to follow me or forever be uncool.
AL Quick Hits: Clay Buchholz stayed on a roll Thursday with 6.2 shutout innings and has now allowed six total runs in his last six starts … Justin Verlander took over the MLB lead with 256 strikeouts and won his 17th game Thursday as the Tigers upped their AL Central lead to three games … Felix Hernandez picked up his 17th win with eight solid innings Thursday … Zack Greinke didn’t pitch Thursday, but still managed to get ejected from his dugout seat for arguing balls and strikes … Kevin Jepsen will be unavailable for another few days because of what the Angels are calling “a dead arm period” … Josh Hamilton (glute) plans to return to the lineup Friday after missing three weeks … Tim Wakefield’s next scheduled start has now been pushed back to Wednesday … Scott Feldman remains stuck on 17 victories after coughing up seven runs in 3.1 innings Thursday.
NL Quick Hits: Matt Kemp’s big game Thursday night made him the first player in the Dodgers’ storied history with 25 homers, 25 steals, and 100 RBIs in a season … J.A. Happ lingering oblique injury didn’t seem like a problem Thursday as he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings for his 11th victory … Raul Ibanez was scratched from Thursday’s lineup with a stomach virus, so Ben Francisco started in his place … Bruce Bochy said Wednesday that stud prospect Buster Posey may finally see some playing time behind the plate once the Giants are eliminated from the Wild Card race … Carlos Gonzalez (hamstring) was out of the lineup again Thursday and could be sidelined until next week … Jeremy Hermida (hamstring) took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since September 2 and aims to return this weekend … Cristian Guzman made a pair of throwing errors Wednesday and took Thursday’s game off because of shoulder soreness.
Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?
Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”
Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.
Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.
Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.
He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.
Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.
It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …
Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.
Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.
You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.
There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”
If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.
A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.
Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.
If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.
Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.
Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”
Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.
Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.
Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.
Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?
Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?