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Get ready for another cold offseason

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It’s pretty early in the offseason. Teams can’t even sign free agents yet. But they are signaling to the public that, haha, no way do they plan to spend much money this winter.

First the Cardinals who, based on their far-from-impressive NLCS showing strike pretty much everyone as a club that, while good, needs to make some additions to take things to the next level. Will they be spending? From the Athletic:

The Cardinals have practically no financial flexibility, if history is a guide . . . The only way the Cardinals take on significant salary is to trade a major league player or two  — and most of their highest-paid players are virtually unmovable — or convince the owners to spend well beyond what they have spent before . . . Does that seem in character for this team? I’ll answer that. No, it does not.

The team’s owner, Bill DeWitt Jr., was asked about that, couched in a question or two about the team’s real estate development, Ballpark Village, next to Busch Stadium. As we have chronicled in the past, teams are increasingly getting into the real estate business and such developments can be pretty massive cash cows for them. The question, though, is whether the real estate money is going to be used to subsidize spending on the baseball team or, rather, if the baseball team is primarily a promotional tool — maybe even a loss leader — for the real estate development.

How’s it going in St. Louis, Bill?

“The economic benefits of that, whatever they turn out to be, they’re so long-term that others will be able to evaluate them, but not me . . . The commentary that this is a wildly profitable business is misguided and wrong.”

Got it: a billionaire made a massive investment in a real estate development but there’s not much money in it. A tale as old as time. It’s probably also worth noting that the team he bought for $150 million is now worth way, way north of a billion, but I suppose there’s no financial means whatsoever available at his disposal to increase payroll. Kind of how like someone who has massive equity in their home has no way of funding improvements to help improve its long term value. It just can’t be done! Oh well.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, where an even richer team resides, inquiring minds want to know if the Dodgers plan on making a play for top free agent Gerrit Cole, who is from Los Angeles. Thoughts?

The linked story at the L.A. Times above is about the Angels making a play for Cole, but Shaikin is plugged in with the Dodgers too. I suspect, based on that tweet and a similar aside in the Angels article, that the Dodgers are not at all interested.

And maybe that’s defensible. The Dodgers are, after all, a pretty darn good team without Gerrit Cole and they could spend money in different ways and still be a good or an even better team. But I am struck by that “business plan” comment and the idea that they don’t want to commit to a pitcher who will be 37 at the end of it. Especially when they’ve counted on Rich Hill for the past couple of years. Thirty-seven is not all that old. It’s Gerrit Cole.

Either way — be it the Cardinals, the Dodgers or any other teams sending “we’re not gonna spend money” signals — it just feels like this ruling things out by November 5 is both (a) highly questionable; and (b) is based on priorities other than winning as many baseball games as possible and trying to win a World Series.

And that’s the case even if the reasons seem like wise ones such as “wanting to ensure the success of one’s long term real estate ventures” or “not wanting to mess with what a business plan might look like circa 2028.”

If 2020 season is cancelled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be cancelled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)