As 2015 comes and goes, nobody is more excited to take the field again like infielder Chad Pinder.
Pinder is in the Athletics' minor league system. He was rated as their 7th-best prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, and is projected to make his Major League debut in 2016.
"To be honest I don't focus on that," Pinder said in an email to Cover Those Bases. "I can only control what is in front of me, and that's playing where they put me. I plan on continuing to develop and work hard at some of the aspects of my game that I think need to be refined."
The 23-year-old has come a long way to get to where he is today. He grew up in Virginia, in a household with baseball being a main focus. His father, Chris, played in the Indians' and Orioles' systems and influenced Chad in his baseball endeavors.
"[He was] definitely the biggest influence in my baseball life, mostly the mental side to the grind of minor league life," Pinder said. "He lived it so he prepared me for what it was like."
Pinder was a four-year Varsity baseball player at Poquoson High School in Poquoson, Virginia. Pinder continued his baseball career at Virginia Tech and racked up honors, including being named to the All-ACC team in 2013.
"It was an honor to be named all ACC with the talent in the conference," Pinder said. "I did have an idea I would be drafted going into my junior year."
And he got his wish.
On June 6, 2013, Pinder got word from his advisor that he was drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the 71st overall pick in the second round. "Beyond excited," Pinder celebrated the milestone with family and friends. With the selection, he was Virginia Tech's seventh highest draft pick ever.
"It was surreal," Pinder said. "You don't really ever think it's going to happen and finally it did."
Pinder has been moved aggressively through the A's minor league system, reaching Double-A Midland this year. He hit for a .317 average and posted a .847 on-base plus slugging percentage in 522 plate appearances, swatting 15 home runs and driving in 86 RBIs.
Pinder was quite happy with his second full season of professional baseball, but notes that there are things he could have done better. Going forward, he hopes to refine his game to make himself a more complete player.
The Athletics also felt that Pinder had an excellent year, naming him to the Arizona Fall League (AFL) this fall. The AFL is known as a breeding ground for top prospects, with many Major League stars spending time there, including Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Jimmy Rollins, Bryce Harper, and David Wright. Pinder himself loved his experience out west.
"I had an awesome time," Pinder said. "I learned a lot and really enjoyed getting to play with and against some of the best talent in minor league baseball."
Going forward, Pinder's ultimate goal, of course, is to make it to the Majors, but in 2016 he is not getting ahead of himself.
"My plan is to control what I can all while working as hard as I can along the way," Pinder said. "Hopefully the rest will take care of itself."
From southeastern Virginia, one Athletics prospect is thrilled as the calendar flips to 2016. He knows what is at stake and continues to enjoy the game he has played his entire life. As 2015 comes and goes, there is nobody more excited than Chad Pinder.
Justin Upton is not a star.
I have been thinking about what Upton will get in free agency. I looked over the numbers, did research on FanGraphs, and really tried to see him from many different angles, including base running, defense, and future production.
Let's face it. Justin Upton is good. He is very good, in fact. But Justin Upton cannot get that next distinction, at least in my mind. He cannot be put in that "star" tier.
While that may sound quite harsh, he will still get paid like a star this offseason. Most guys are getting paid as such. Upton will do quite fine.
But at the same time, Upton, according to FanGraphs, had just one season where he was worth more than five Wins Above Replacement. That came in 2011, while he was still with Arizona.
His past three years have followed a similar narrative. That being good, but not great. Upton has posted a 3.0, a 4.0, and a 3.6 fWAR from 2013 to 2015, respectively. That averages out to a 3.53 fWAR per year. Teams cannot go into negotiations with Upton and think he's the player he was in 2011. Let me tell you a little secret, he's not.
Upton is who he is. He's a guy that strikes out a lot, hits for good power, and provides okay fielding.
But could a team also be buying into what is to come for Upton?
Now that's an interesting thought. While all my column so far has been down on Upton, there's also a lot of positives to signing him in free agency.
His .304 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was among the worst of his career last year, indicating that he was extremely unlucky. Could his .251 batting average really be a .270 mark with better luck? Yes. Could Upton have easily posted an OPS over .800, something he has done time and time again? Yes. Could Upton have been a 4-5 fWAR player? Possibly.
At age-28, teams are going to have to consider a lot before they throw millions of dollars at Upton. They'll have to explore whether his prime is in front of him (I think it could be), how he'll play in their park, and other factors. They'll have to see what other outfielders are getting on the market and base from there how much Upton should receive.
One other thing to consider: Upton posted a .866 OPS at PETCO Park, one of baseball's worst parks for hitters. His average was 50 points better than on the road; his slugging percentage was over 100 points better. And that's at a notoriously bad park for hitters. I can only imagine what he could do at a different home park.
If I was a team, I'd be bullish on Upton, hoping he does well in a more hitter-friendly environment. With that said, however, I would want to see the going rate on fellow outfielders, most specifically Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes. But if I was GM right now, I'd give Justin Upton a six-year, $108 million deal.
The business of baseball is constantly changing. For example, different aspects of contracts have been becoming more prevalent in recent years, with all the data and analytics that surround the sport.
This offseason, the opt-out clause has garnered a lot of attention and has been included in an increasingly amount of contracts.
The opt-out clause defines itself. At the end of a specific year in a player's contract, he has the option to stay with his current deal or opt-out and become a free agent, in hopes that he gets more money than what is currently guaranteed in his deal.
The clause had really been a rarity around the Major Leagues. It existed, but was just uncommon.
Then came along a pitcher named Zack Greinke.
Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers after the 2012 season. His contract included said opt-out clause after the 2015 season. Greinke's contract would have expired after the 2018 season, making him a free agent at age 35. The deal he signed with Los Angeles was considered to be his one large payday.
Greinke was paid $70 million from 2013 to 2015, good for a modest $23.3 million salary per year. This past season, Greinke led the NL in ERA (1.66) and pitched like a top pitcher in baseball.
So, in hopes that he would get more money in free agency, Grienke turned down $77 million over the remaining three seasons ($25.67 million per year) to go elsewhere.
He cashed in quite nicely. Greinke signed a six-year, $206.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, good for over $34 million per season. He made a $9 million salary increase per year just by opting out.
And if Greinke hadn't pitched like an ace or got hurt? Then he wouldn't have opted out and the Dodgers would still be paying him a cool $25.67 million per year. It's a no-lose scenario for the player.
Baseball is a copycat industry, and after seeing the success Greinke had with the clause, David Price, Jason Heyward, and Johnny Cueto each followed with opt-out clauses of their own. Heyward, considering he's just 26, got two.
But I'm not here just to tell you about how good opt-out clauses are for the player. There's an argument to be made that they could be good for the team, too, but just with a much higher risk.
Using Greinke as an example once again, what happens if he declines quickly? Perhaps he only has one more good year and then he just starts to break down. Then, the Diamondbacks are on the hook. The Dodgers are old news. They paid Greinke top-tier money for seasons he was a top-tier pitcher. The Diamondbacks could be paying Grienke top-tier money for seasons he isn't a top-tier pitcher.
While that's the risk a team takes in any contract, it is especially true for the pitchers out on the market.
Take Price, for instance. He's 30 and can opt-out after 2018. If he pitches exceptionally well over the next three years, it's quite likely he does opt-out to earn more as a free agent again. Greinke did it at 32; who's to say Price won't be able to do it at 33, especially since contracts will continue to go up over the next three years?
If the Red Sox don't re-sign Price in free agency the year he opts-out, then they get three really good years from him without having to pay him for his decline. I'd bet that there are some in the Red Sox's front office that are hoping Price chooses to opt-out in 2018. If he doesn't, he's Boston's problem through age 36.
Obviously, since the team does not have the power to make the decision, there's more risk associated with contracts that inlcude opt-outs. Injuries, early declines, and other factors can all cause a player to not opt-out. But if they can maintain their performance, which also is pretty likely, they can opt-out.
As the business of baseball constantly changes, one thing that we are going to continually see in its business model is the inclusion of opt-out clauses in contracts.
Happy Holidays, everyone.