Free Agency Preview: Third basemen

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Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
This is part four in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Up now is third base.
Chone Figgins (Angels) – Viewed by most as the No. 3 position player on the board behind Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, Figgins is in position to get a four-year deal worth at least $10 million per season. It helps that he’s not limited to third base. He’s probably no longer an option as a full-time second baseman, but he can handle center or left without much trouble. The Phillies are known to want him as a replacement for Pedro Feliz, the Mets appear to like him as a left fielder and the Cubs could use him in center field. It’s possible that the Angels will keep him, but they do have Brandon Wood ready to take over at third base if the bidding gets out of control. Prediction: Cubs – four years, $48 million
Adrian Beltre (Mariners) – While Figgins is getting all of the attention, Beltre might well be the better bet going forward. He’s the younger of the two by a year, and he’s arguably baseball’s best defensive third baseman. His 2009 season was a mess because of injuries, but he’s still played in more games than Figgins over the last six seasons and he has the superior career OPS even though playing in Safeco has held him back (he’s a career .287/.338/.488 hitter in road games). He’d be an outstanding choice for the Twins if they could come up with the money, and the Red Sox would likely pursue him if they could find a taker for Mike Lowell’s contract. As is, his market is cloudy. Prediction: Phillies – three years, $27 million
Mark DeRosa (Cardinals) – DeRosa shouldn’t be viewed as a starting second baseman at this stage of his career, but because of his increased power production the last couple of years, there will be several teams in on him. The Cardinals, Phillies, Mariners, Angels and Twins may have interest in him as a third baseman, while the Cubs, Braves and Mets could use him in the outfield. Perhaps that will be enough to land him another three-year deal. Prediction: Cardinals – three years, $18 million
Troy Glaus (Cardinals) – Shoulder surgery, followed by some back troubles, limited Glaus to 29 at-bats last season, but he still thinks he can play third base regularly. He was able to start 151 games and hit .270/.372/.483 in 2008, so it’s too early to write him off. Still, it’d be best if he landed in the American League, giving him the DH spot to fall back on just in case. Time will tell whether the steroid taint causes him any difficulty. Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota and Baltimore make sense as possible destinations. Prediction: Athletics – one year, $4 million plus incentives
Joe Crede (Twins) – A third straight season with fewer than 100 games played guarantees that Crede is going to have to accept another incentive-laden deal. Despite all of his back problems, he remains exceptional defensively at third base when he’s in the lineup. However, he didn’t impress with his .225/.289/.414 line at the plate in 333 at-bats last season. If the Twins want to keep going cheap, they’ll probably re-sign him. Prediction: Twins – one year, $2.5 million plus incentives
Pedro Feliz (Phillies) – At least you know what you’ll get from Feliz; he’s finished with OPSs between 694 and 717 each of the last five years. He’s also played in 150 games four times in those five seasons (133 in the other). Feliz will turn 35 in April and he has lost a step defensively, but he’s still well above average. He likely has one or two years left as an adequate starter. Prediction: Astros – one year, $2.5 million
Melvin Mora (Orioles) – Mora is just a year removed from a terrific .285/.342/.483 season, but he lost 150 points of OPS in 2009, and since he’s turning 38 this winter, there’s little reason to think he’ll bounce back. That he remains above average defensively means he’s still worthy of a roster spot, if not a starting job. He’s another potentially cheap option for the Astros or Marlins. If he wants to stay close to home, then perhaps the Yankees, Phillies or Mets would take him on as a bench player. Prediction: Mets – one year, $1 million
Other free agents: Aaron Boone (Astros), Dallas McPherson (Giants), Mike Hessman (Tigers), Brian Barden (Cardinals), Joe Thurston (Cardinals), Joe Dillon (Rays), Brian Buscher (Twins), Rich Aurilia (Giants), Chris Woodward (Red Sox), Pablo Ozuna (Phillies)
There isn’t a lot of help here. Boone and Aurilia are expected to head off to retirement, and McPherson and Hessman are more likely to receive opportunities in Japan than in the U.S. … Barden deserves another look as a utilityman after the Cardinals gave up on him quickly last season. He’s an excellent defender at third and adequate at short.
Trade candidates: Mike Lowell (Red Sox – NTC), Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), Kevin Kouzmanoff (Padres), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Ty Wigginton (Orioles), Mat Gamel (Brewers), Brandon Wood (Angels), Jeff Baker (Cubs), Brendan Harris (Twins), Andy Marte (Indians), Neil Walker (Pirates), Greg Dobbs (Phillies), Jeff Keppinger (Astros), Matt Brown (Angels), Adam Rosales (Reds)
With Lowell’s hip slowing him down, the Red Sox would like to go in a different direction at third, either by shifting Kevin Youkilis to the position or by signing a free agent. Lowell, though, has a no-trade clause that he could choose to wield. His $12 million salary won’t make him easy to move anyway, though the Red Sox could help out with that. … The Blue Jays have seemingly wanted to be rid of Encarnacion since the day they picked him up for Scott Rolen. My feeling is that they should install him in right field and see what happens. He has very little trade value at the moment.
The Padres should play up Kouzmanoff’s sterling fielding percentage and his numbers outside of Petco Park and move him now. His dreadful approach at the plate isn’t getting any better, and they have Chase Headley capable of stepping in at third base. … It’d be quite a waste for the Brewers to send Gamel back to Triple-A, but that’s what they’ll probably do with Casey McGehee expected to start at third base at the beginning of next season. Maybe someone will step up and offer a quality starting pitcher for him.

Non-tender candidates: Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Brendan Harris (Twins), Jeff Keppinger (Astros), Eric Bruntlett (Phillies), Andy Marte (Indians), Freddy Sandoval (Angels), Brooks Conrad (Braves), Andy Tracy (Phillies), Andy Green (Mets)
The Rockies could have gotten something for Atkins at midseason. Now they’ll probably have to cut him. It’s hard to imagine someone acquiring him when he’ll almost surely come cheaper in free agency than in arbitration. He’d be due about $7.5 million next season in arbitration. … Bautista is a useful part-timer, but not at the $3 million or so that he’ll make in arbitration. … Harris will only make about $1.2 million, so he should be safe. The Twins might trade him, though. … Keppinger will probably earn about $1 million. That’s a fair number for an infielder who is pretty useful against lefties. The Astros, though, wouldn’t have room for him if they went out and got a Feliz or a Mora.
2010-11 free agents: Aramis Ramirez (Cubs)*, Jhonny Peralta (Indians)*, Mike Lowell (Red Sox), Scott Rolen (Reds), Brandon Inge (Tigers), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Eric Chavez (Athletics)*, Ty Wigginton (Orioles), Bill Hall (Mariners)*, Ramon Vazquez (Pirates), Geoff Blum (Astros)*,
2011 options: Ramirez – $14.6 million player option, Peralta – $7 million ($250,000 buyout), Chavez – $12.5 million ($3 million buyout), Hall – $9.25 million ($500,000 buyout), Blum – $1.65 million mutual option
2011-12 free agents: Aramis Ramirez (Cubs)*, Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), Casey Blake (Dodgers)*, Mark Teahen (White Sox), Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Greg Dobbs (Phillies)
2012 options: Ramirez – $16 million vesting mutual option ($2 million buyout), Blake – $6 million ($1.25 million buyout)

Report: Rangers agree to six-year extension with Rougned Odor

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The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.

It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.

According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.