Thursday, October 9, 2014

Orioles Sign J.J. Hardy to 3-Year Extension, Sabotaging Yankees' Offseason Plans

The Orioles have signed Shortstop J.J. Hardy to a 3-year extension worth $40 million, reports. 

Hardy, 32, was set to hit the free agent market this offseason. To the Yankees, who are now without Derek Jeter, he was seen as a possible 2015 starter, and was widely considered their best available option.

"When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency because he's distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league," O's Executive Vice President Dan Duquette said. "And J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore."

That certainly isn't good news for the Yankees, whose only offensively-strong choice right now seems to be Hanley Ramirez.

"(Free agency) crossed my mind, but at the same time, this is where I wanted to be," Hardy said. "There's a lot of uncertainty in free agency. You don't know what's going to happen. I knew that I liked it here and I liked playing with all my teammates. Bottom line, it comes down to winning, and I think we've got a good thing here."

With this new contract, Hardy will become baseball's highest paid shortstop, now making $13.3 million annually. Prior to his recent retirement, the aforementioned Jeter held that spot, making 15.

MLBTR: Free Agency Outlook David Robertson

Though he’s spent much of his career in the shadow of perhaps the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, Yankees right-hander David Robertson stepped onto the ninth-inning stage this season and excelled. The strong effort continued a four-year run of dominance that has positioned the former 17th-round pick quite well as he hits free agency for the first time.
In today’s game, strikeouts are king for pitchers, and Robertson excels in that department. Though he’s not overpowering — he’s averaged 92 mph on his heater in his career — Robertson racks up strikeouts at a prolific rate in part because he releases the ball closer to home plate than most pitchers, causing his fastball to appear quicker (a trait which’s Tom Verducci examined in a 2011 article). He averaged 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings this season and has punched out 12.0 per nine in his carer, including 12.3 per nine over the past four seasons.
Those four seasons are where Robertson truly began to establish himself as one of the game’s elite relievers. From 2011-14, Robertson owns a 2.20 ERA with a 354-to-95 K/BB ratio in 258 innings of work. His 46.7 percent ground-ball rate in that time has been slightly above-average, and he’s shaken the command problems that he showed early in his career. He walked nearly five batters per nine innings from 2008-11, but since that time he’s averaged just 2.8 BB/9.
A look at the rest of the closer market reveals quite a few older options, but Robertson will turn 30 next April, giving a signing team control of some prime-aged seasons. The next-youngest competition is Sergio Romo (32), who is coming off a down season in which he lost his hold on the ninth inning. In fact, a large number of Robertson’s competitors on the open market lost their jobs this year, but he can point to the fact that his grip remained iron-clad on the ninth inning this season.
Robertson has thrived in a big-market setting and in a hitter-friendly ballpark/division, so there’s little reason to worry about inserting him into any setting. While his time spent behind Rivera could be seen by some as a means of pointing out his lack of experience as a true closer, the argument can also be made that there’s no one better to have served as a tutor/mentor for Robertson throughout the first six seasons of his career.
Were Robertson on a different team, a qualifying offer of $15MM+ might not even be a consideration. Few clubs are comfortable paying relievers so extravagantly in this market, but the Yankees can certainly afford to. ESPN’s Buster Olney has written (subscription required) that it’s a virtual lock for Robertson to receive a QO, and as such, a signing team will have to forfeit its top unprotected pick in order to secure Robertson’s services. It’s nearly certain that no other reliever will come with this distinction.
Some may be surprised to learn that Robertson comes with somewhat of a platoon split — particularly because that split is of the reverse variety. While Robertson has completely flummoxed left-handed batters throughout his career and particularly in the past four seasons (.173/.254/.236), right-handed hitters have batted .230/.305/.373 against him dating back to 2011. Granted, that’s still not a particularly impressive batting line, but it’s closer to league-average production than one might think based on his otherwise elite stats.
Robertson dealt with what appears to have been a mild groin injury earlier this season. He required a trip to the disabled list — just the second of his career — though he only required the minimum 15-day stay and appeared healthy following that episode.
Laid back and reserved in nature, Robertson enjoys hunting and fishing in his free time. He also takes a great amount of pride in doing charity work for the community – a trait that is evident in looking at his High Socks for Hope charity. Robertson, an Alabama native, founded the nonprofit organization with his wife, Erin, after tornadoes ravaged his hometown Tuscaloosa area back in 2011. The charity seeks to benefit those whose lives have been impacted by tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Since founding the charity, Robertson has pledged to donate $100 for each strikeout he records, and he also pledged $200 for every save that he recorded in 2014. He’s been recognized with awards from Habitat for Humanity and has also been nominated for the Branch Rickey Award for community service in each of the past four seasons.
We’ve seen in the past that it typically behooves relievers to sign early in the offseason rather than to wait for the market to develop. The best hope for Robertson is for a team to make an aggressive push early in the offseason after deciding that he’s “their guy” and making a strong offer. This method worked for Joe Nathan and Joaquin Benoit with the Tigers, and we saw Jonathan Papelbon take a similar route when he signed in Philadelphia. On rare occasion, relievers that wait (i.e. Rafael Soriano) have been paid handsomely, but typically the market is strongest early on.
Not many teams are forking over major dollars to relief pitchers these days, but some clubs might be willing to make an exception for a pitcher that has been worth 8 fWAR and 9.3 rWAR dating back to 2011. The Yankees, who will likely make a QO, will of course be involved. However, they have a ready-made replacement candidate in the form of Dellin Betancesand do have other areas that need attention.
The Dodgers can never be ruled out on big-name free agents, although Kenley Jansenis currently entrenched as their ninth-inning man. The Tigers yet again endured bullpen struggles, but after watching their big-money investment in Joe Nathan go south, would they decide that the best solution is to throw even more money at the ninth inning? The White Sox don’t have a firm solution in the ninth, and they’re set at a number of positions with affordable contracts, but GM Rick Hahn recently downplayed the idea of spending heavily on the ninth inning. The Angels figure to be set with Huston Street and a repeatedly stated desire to stay under baseball’s luxury tax threshold. The Rangers have deep pockets and a weakened bullpen as well. Another logical landing spot could be the Nationals, who are set at many positions around the diamond and already have a strong rotation.
Expected Contract
Robertson has been nothing short of dominant, and in spite of the QO that’s likely to be attached to his name, I imagine that the goal for his camp will be to top Papelbon’s four-year, $50MM guarantee.
Given the fact that Robertson is the best player at his position in a free agent market that is thin on bats and features a number of talented but risky starters, a team may view Robertson as more of a sure thing than the rest of the market. A club looking to spend to improve but unwilling to take on the risk of an injury-prone starter or overpay for one of the few reliable bats may instead prefer to allocate its funds to shortening the game via a dynamic bullpen addition. It’s that line of thinking that leads me to believe it is indeed possible for Robertson to top Papelbon’s deal.
Aiming to set a new precedent is bold, but if there’s been a free agent reliever in recent history who can stake a legitimate claim to being able to do so, it’s Robertson. Based on his combination of age, strikeouts, command, ground-balls and success in a major market and hitter-friendly division, I’m predicting a four-year, $52MM contract for Robertson when all is said and done.

My Championship Series Predictions

The American League and National League Championship series are set as Major League Baseball has their own version of the Final Four. In the American League the Kansas City Royals continue to shock the world and head into Camden Yards to take on the Baltimore Orioles for the American League pennant while in the National League we have the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.

Kansas City is a team that can come up with the big hits and pound the baseball as they lull you to sleep with great pitching. If the starters can get six innings in the books with the lead that Royals bullpen will shut them down more times than not. Baltimore is more of the team that will out-slug you and outscore you. The pitching in Baltimore is good, not great, but the back end of the bullpen with Andrew Miller and Zach Britton are going to be hard to beat in this series. The clear edge in my opinion goes to Baltimore simply because Buck Showalter has been here before. Good pitching beats good hitting but when you have a team full of stars the better manager tends to win nine times out of ten so I am going with Baltimore in six games.

I have been picking against the Giants all season long so you would think I would be silly to do it again right? Call me silly but St. Louis is just too good. St. Louis has the hitting, the pitching, the bullpen, the depth and versatility, and are the most complete team in my opinion. The Giants are good, don’t get me wrong, and have been continually finding a way to win with the cards stacked against them but that has to come to an end eventually and I think it will in a classic seven game series.

What say you? Leave your predictions in the comments section below. Thanks!

Ichiro to the Mets Makes Sense

Ichiro Suzuki has expressed an interest in playing in 2015 although no one really knows if that will be with the New York Yankees or another team. Ichiro has spent the past two plus seasons in New York after spending his entire major league career with the Seattle Mariners before that. Now it looks like Ichiro may be readying himself to play for a third major league franchise and that franchise may be in New York, just with the Mets.

The Mets expected big things out of their center fielder in 2014 when they signed Chris Young to a lucrative contract with $7.25 million. Young was ultimately designated for assignment and released before latching on with the New York Yankees just in time for September call ups. Young was for the Yankees what the Mets wish they gotten out of him and the opposite may be the case for Ichiro and the Mets.

The Yankees signed Ichiro to a two year deal before the 2013 season expecting him to be the everyday right fielder and chase down the 3,000 hit mark in pinstripes. Ichiro proved early and often in 2013 that he was no longer an everyday player, at least offensively, and was delegated to a bench role in 2014. Ichiro accepted the role without complaint and actually flourished in the limited role.

Ichiro would once again be an everyday player in New York and would likely sign a two year deal with New York once again attempting to chase down 3,000 hits in the major leagues, only with the Mets. Ichiro would also be a mentor to all the young stars coming up from the Mets farm system and could also potentially help lure a Kenta Maeda type free agent for New York. Ichiro could help tap into a market where the Mets struggle and could help the Mets win now and for the future. This deal would make a lot of sense for Ichiro and for the Mets. 

MLBTR: Brandon McCarthy's Free Agency Outlook

After signing a two-year, $15.5MM contract prior to the 2013 season, Brandon McCarthystruggled with the Diamondbacks before experiencing a tremendous turnaround following a trade to the Yankees. He’ll hit the open market this season in a strong crop of free agent pitchers as he looks to cash in on his big second half.
McCarthy’s past two seasons don’t look great on the whole, but there were plenty of indicators that his ERA with the D’Backs, particularly this year, was in part due to poor luck. He was racking up strikeouts at the highest rate of his career with an elite ground-ball rate and a 1.6 BB/9 mark prior to his trade — all signs that led the Yankees to acquire him in exchange for Vidal Nuno. The rest of the season was a 180-degree turn for McCarthy, whose 5.01 ERA with Arizona feels like a distant memory after he posted a 2.89 mark with the Yankees.
Brandon  McCarthy
McCarthy finished this season with a 5.3 K/BB ratio — tops among free agent starters — and a 52.6 percent ground-ball rate, both indicators that future success could be on the horizon. This season also marked the healthiest year of his career, as he made a career-high 32 starts and totaled a career-high 200 innings. His diminished performance in Arizona takes some shine off his recent numbers, but over the past four years McCarthy has a cumulative 3.81 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and a 47.8 percent ground-ball rate. FIP (3.44), xFIP (3.43) and SIERA (3.60) all feel he’s been better than that ERA would indicate.
McCarthy posted the best peripherals of his career this season in part because his fastball averaged a career-high 92.9 mph. That led to the best swinging-strike rate he’s posted (8.8 percent on the season; 9.4 percent with the Yankees) since working as a reliever for the White Sox in 2006. Hitters have never chased out-of-zone pitches from McCarthy as often as they did in 2014, and they made less contact (82.3%) against him this season than they have since that 2006 campaign. That his greatest success came in on a contending team in a large market in the AL East will carry some weight with interested teams.
At 31 years of age, McCarthy isn’t necessarily a young free agent, but he’s younger than many of the pitchers in the second tier of this year’s market, including Jake PeavyErvin Santana and Jason Hammel. He’s also ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after being traded midseason, something that fellow 31-year-old free agent Francisco Liriano cannot say. A combination of relative youth, strong strikeout-to-walk numbers, increased velocity and no qualifying offer are strong points in his favor.
Despite all of the things working in McCarthy’s favor, there’s simply no getting around the fact that he doesn’t have a track record of durability. While one of his most recent injuries — a terrifying head injury suffered in 2012 when struck by a line drive — was clearly a freak accident, McCarthy has had multiple stress fractures in his throwing shoulder in the past. He’s landed on the DL for a shoulder problem five times in his career (including once in 2013), and he also missed nearly the entire 2008 season with a forearm injury. McCarthy has only topped 170 innings twice — in 2011 and in 2014.
McCarthy’s agent, Ryan Ware of LSW Baseball, will also have to explain his client’s sub-par ERA with the D’Backs to interested parties this offseason. For as excellent as he was with the Yankees, McCarthy turned in 224 2/3 innings of 4.75 ERA ball with Arizona prior to his turnaround. Can 90 innings with New York erase concerns over that performance? Ware can point out that there was some poor luck involved, which is true, but McCarthy has a history of posting low strand rates in his career. His overall mark of 71 percent is slightly below average, but he’s turned in four seasons with a strand rate south of 69 percent as a starter — something that does lead to a discrepancy between ERA and FIP. He hasn’t been a strikeout pitcher in previous seasons either, though that may no longer be the case if he can maintain his newfound velocity.
McCarthy is seen as a student of the game and is considered one of the most intelligent minds in baseball. As noted by Eddie Matz of ESPN The Magazine last year, McCarthy home-schooled himself in sabermetric principles and used his findings to reinvent himself as a pitcher in 2009 — adjusting his pitch repertoire and changing his gameplan on the mound.
Matz writes that McCarthy is an avid reader and has an extensive vocabulary that he regularly drops into everyday conversation. He’s very active on Twitter — a trait that has endeared him to many fans — and is said to be known for a dry sense of humor.
It’s not hard to envision half the teams in the league (or more) showing interest in McCarthy. The lack of draft pick forfeiture attached to his name and the fact that he will command lesser money than top arms Max ScherzerJames Shields and Jon Lester is undoubtedly attractive.
Contending teams in need of immediate rotation help and non-contending clubs alike will show interest. The Yankees could certainly use McCarthy back, and I wonder if his turnaround in the Bronx gives them a bit of an inside track in landing him this offseason. Other teams that could be in need of arms will include (but certainly aren’t limited to) the Red Sox, Cubs, Twins, Rockies, Giants, Marlins, Phillies, Pirates, Braves and Astros.
McCarthy has said he’d be open to returning to the Yankees, and he also noted that he’d be willing to sign early in the offseason if an offer to his liking came along. Oftentimes, signing early is a good move for free agents — particularly those that are below the top tier of the free agent class.
Expected Contract
Though his two-year platform heading into free agency is weaker than his previous two-year platform from an ERA standpoint, McCarthy’s entering free agency without the specter of a career-threatening head injury hanging over him as he did in the 2012-13 offseason. The market for pitching has only grown since that time, and as such, McCarthy should exceed his previous contract with ease.
Given his turnaround, strong peripherals and lack of a qualifying offer, I think a three-year deal is attainable for McCarthy. I’d expect that many teams will be comfortable pushing to three years in order to land him, and it’s possible that the first team that blinks and gives him a fourth year, even if it lowers the average annual value of the deal, will end up signing him. While I’m not ruling out the fourth-year scenario, I’m going to predict that McCarthy ends up on a three-year, $36MM contract.

TGP Daily Poll: St. Louis Will Defeat Madison Bumgarner in Game One

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants are gearing up for the National League Championship Series. St. Louis will send their ace Adam Wainwright to the mound to face off with the Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. I am calling for a St. Louis victory in Game One.

Vote in our poll.

Quick Hit: Rangers Goalie Cedrick Desjardins Honors Jeter

The New York Rangers goalie Cedrick Desjardins has honored both Derek Jeter and Frank Sinatra with a new air brushing on his hockey mask. Check it out, very cool.

This Day in New York Yankees History 10/9: Jeffrey Maier

Set the stage, the year is 1996 and the New York Yankees are at home playing the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS. New York was trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eight inning when Derek Jeter sent a deep fly ball to right field that cleared the fence for a game tying home run according to umpire Rich Garcia. Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco and manager Davey Johnson protested that a young fan, Jeffrey Maier, had interfered with the ball. The Yankees went on to win the game and the series and many think the young man changed the game and the series. 

Also on this day in 1961 the Yankees would capture their 19th World Series Championship when they beat the Cincinnati Reds in Game 5 by the score of 13-5. Johnny Blanchard, a reserve player, would hit two home runs and bat .400 in the series.

Also on this day in 1958 the Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves in Game 7 of the World Series for their 18th World Series Championship. This was also the Yankees seventh World Series win of the decade capping off an incredible streak.

Also on this day in 1938 the Yankees became the first team to win three consecutive World Series titles when they beat the Chicago Cubs in four games.

Finally on this day in 1928 the Yankees would win their third World Series Championship in the franchise’s history as they completed their second consecutive sweep in the Fall Classic. Babe Ruth hit three home runs in the World Series game and the Yankees as a team hit five in the contest.