Deep into the off-season, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana, and Kendrys Morales were still free agents despite being productive players last season. Jimenez and Cruz recently signed with the Orioles, but the latter three still remain unsigned with the regular season just weeks away. All five rejected $14.1 million qualifying offers from their former teams and now have draft pick compensation attached to them, which is a considerable penalty for teams thinking about signing them.
Kyle Lohse knows their pain. Lohse rejected the Cardinals’ $13.3 million qualifying offer after the 2012 season and remained unsigned late into March before finally striking a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers.
Lohse isn’t too happy with how the qualifying offer system has changed life for veteran free agents such as himself and this winter’s five. Via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:
“The market goes from 30 teams to like two or three,” Lohse recalled of his own experience. “I don’t think that’s the idea of a free market.”
It is, as Lohse called it, a “screwy” system whereby being part of a bad team (which triggered their midyear trades and precluded the possibility of qualifying offers), as Garza and Nolasco were, monumental benefits to the player. Meanwhile, being part of a good team like Santana was with the Royals and shortstop Drew certainly was with the World Champion Red Sox, is a detriment. Had Nolasco been saddled with a qualifying offer, there’s no reason to think he’d have gotten anywhere near $49 million.
“It seems screwy to change the system that drastically to where teams are staying away from guys who could definitely help them,” Lohse said.
The collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2016, so free agents will have to put up with this system for at least a couple more seasons.
Brandon Belt filed for $7.5 million and was offered $5.3 million by the Giants when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. That’s a pretty sizable gap. While there’s still a chance that an agreement will be worked out at the last minute, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that an arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
The Giants haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 2004, when they lost to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Schulman hears from one person involved that because of the gap between Belt and the Giants, there’s a real chance this will break that string and require a hearing.
Belt batted .280/.356/.478 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI over 137 games in 2015, but he dealt with concussion symptoms for the second straight season. An arbitration hearing could bring some unpleasant conversation to the surface.
Schumaker, who turned 36 last week, has spent the last two seasons with the Reds. He batted .242/.306/.336 with one home run and 21 RBI over 131 games last season while making starts between all three outfield spots and second base. Cincinnati cut ties with him in November after declining a $2.5 million club option for 2016.
While Schumaker had to settle for a non-guaranteed deal here, it would be no surprise to see him land a bench job with the Padres come Opening Day.
After Ruben Tejada suffered a fractured right fibula on a takeout slide from Chase Utley during the playoffs, there was momentum for a new rule about slides at second base. We haven’t heard much about it since the Owners’ Meetings in November, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that talks between MLB and the players’ union are making progress and a change is expected for the 2016 season.
The exact wording of the new rule is still unclear, but Olney hears that there’s a focus toward “ensuring that sliding runners either touch the base or make an effort to touch the base.” Below are some more details:
Sources said that in the union’s internal discussions, players made it clear they had been taught since they first began playing baseball to go into second base with the intent of breaking up double-play attempts. Although the union wants to improve safety for middle infielders, it does not want to eliminate players’ aggressiveness on slides or the ability to break up a double play.
However, there is a desire on both sides to eliminate slides on which a baserunner goes beyond the effort to reach second to make contact with middle infielders.
There’s already a rule in place for a situation like we saw with Utley, but it’s rarely, if ever, enforced. It’s unfortunate that Tejada’s fractured fibula had to be the catalyst for change or clarification with the rules, but hopefully this will result in fewer injuries in the future. Similar to the “Buster Posey Rule” for plays at home plate, get ready for life with the “Chase Utley Rule.”
Here’s the video of the Tejada/Utley play:
And here’s the video of another high-profile play from 2015 which resulted in a torn lateral meniscus and a fractured tibia for Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang:
UPDATE: Jason Beck of MLB.com confirms that it’s a two-year, $18.5 million deal.
8:00 p.m. ET: Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Tigers have avoided arbitration with outfielder J.D. Martinez by agreeing to a two-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved, but Robert Murray of Baseball Essential reported earlier today that he was hearing rumblings about a two-year, $18.5 million deal.
Martinez filed for $8 million and was offered $6 million by the Tigers when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. There has been some talk about a long-term extension, but we heard last week that the two sides were discussing both one- and two-year deals. This new deal will buy out Martinez’s final two years of arbitration, so as of now, he’s still on track to go into free agency after 2017.
After a breakout 2014, Martinez batted .282 with 38 home runs and an .879 OPS over 158 games last season.