For a lack of a better word, the relief pitching market is set to explode during the 2016-17 offseason.
It's already coming to fruition. The Cardinals got Brett Cecil on a four-year, $30.5 million deal earlier today.
Yes, in terms of baseball contracts, that's not a number that necessarily jumps off the page. However, it's truly going to set a market which is expected to be the most lucrative for relief pitchers. Ever.
Consider this: during the 2014-15 offseason (so two offseasons ago), Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees. At the time, it was considered to be a big deal for a non-closing reliever. (Miller did not begin to close until after signing the contract.)
Miller was coming off of three strong seasons of being an effective reliever and, like Cecil, was going into his age-30 season. But, even though he wasn't the best reliever in baseball like he is now (sorry, Zach Britton), in this market, Miller would have blown past what Cecil earned. I'm sure of it.
Cecil has a very respectable 2.90 ERA and 3.68 K/BB ratio over the past four years, all of which he has been used specifically as a reliever. Miller, on the other hand, was coming off of three seasons of a 2.57 ERA and a 3.74 K/BB. So, he was slightly better, but not enough to truly warrant a huge deal.
However, when taking into consideration the contract years each of them had, one can see where Miller would earned way more than what Cecil did today.
In 2014, the season going into his free agency, Miller posted a 2.02 ERA, a 14.9 K/9 ratio and a 2.5 BB/9 ratio in 62.1 IP, cutting the amount of walks he issued in half from the previous season. Cecil, on the other hand, worked to a 3.93 ERA, a 11.0 K/9 ratio and a 2.0 BB/9 ratio in just 36.2 IP. He spent a lot of last season injured.
Now, if the Cardinals are willing to spent almost $31 million on a guy who sat out almost all of May and June, how much would they (or anyone else) have spent on a guy with Andrew Miller's numbers who stayed healthy for an entire season? I'm thinking $40 million or more.
Now, we've got two Andrew Miller-caliber relievers out on the free agent market: Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. With baseball's stigma towards closers being more important than regular relievers (they're not, but that's a discussion for another time), they're already going to be guaranteed much more than the $30 million Cecil earned.
I didn't think it was possible, but Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen could earn $80 million or more, with the former possibly pushing $100 million. No, I'm not joking.
Teams have seen how the Cubs, Indians, Royals and other successful postseason teams have used their relievers over the past few years. And with talk that baseball could expand to 26-man rosters, bullpens are not going away anytime soon. They're only going to become more prevalent . . . and more expensive.
If you are a free agent in Major League baseball, strike a lot of guys out, and pitch and inning or two max, you're going to make a lot of money this offseason. Brett Cecil can tell you all about it.
We are five weeks away from actual baseball. While Spring Training games still haven't started, it is time for my second divisional preview, this time focusing on the National League Central. (I did the NL East last Saturday, so check that out too.) This division is a competitive one, with three teams bunched closely at the top.
1. Chicago Cubs -- 2015 Record: 97-65; 2016 Projection: 100-62
The Cubs took the third-best team in baseball and made it even better this offseason. The team went 97-65 last season, and though they finished third in this very division, the team raced through the playoffs before being eliminated by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs just did not have the deep rotation they needed to outlast the Mets and that showed. The Cubs were swept.
Naturally, the first thing the Cubs did this offseason was add John Lackey, an established veteran starter and at a pretty good rate too. Lackey, now 37, cannot be expected to repeat his great 2015 (2.77 ERA in 218 IP), but still should be more than capable as the third best starter in the Cubs' rotation, behind reigning NL Cy Young Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.
The Cubs also added Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist this offseason, as well as re-upping Dexter Fowler's contract, giving them an absolutely stacked lineup. I knew Chicago had a good lineup, but after looking at it again, I'm astonished at the actual result. It includes: Heyward, Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Fowler, Miguel Montero, and Addison Russell. This team is built to steamroll everyone else.
2. St. Louis Cardinals -- 2015 Record: 100-62; Projection: 94-68
The Cardinals were the best team in baseball last season, and they became the first team to win 100 games since the 2011 Phillies won 102. Their offseason was more about subtraction than addition, and in such a competitive NL Central division, they will be a bit worse in 2016 as compared to their unstoppable 2015 squad. It's still hard to pick against a team that has made the postseason five years in a row and 12 times since 2000, so I have them taking a Wild Card spot in the National League.
This offseason, the Cardinals did add three underrated pieces: Mike Leake, Jedd Gyorko, and Seung-hwan Oh (otherwise known as "The Final Boss" in Korea). The Cards took a hit with the losses of Jason Heyward and John Lackey to their division-rival Cubs. Their pitching staff should still be one of the best, though, as Adam Wainwright will be completely healthy, and the addition of Leake makes him their No. 4 starter, flashing the amount of depth they have there. The bullpen should be anchored by Trevor Rosenthal, Oh, and others. The Cardinals' pitching staff, as always, is great.
As for their lineup, the loss of Heyward hurts. The "oomph" in the middle of the order has to be picked up by Jhonny Peralta, who posted just a 102 OPS+ in 2015. Matt Adams also becomes completely healthy in 2016, but as a whole, the lineup may have some weaknesses. They are going to need increased production from young players like Randal Grichuk (who was great last year), Kolten Wong, and Stephen Piscotty to make up for the loss of Heyward.
Overall, the Cardinals will need to win a lot of games 4-3 or 3-2 if they want to remain competitive. Knowing the Cardinals, that will probably happen, as they find themselves in a bullfight with the Pittsburgh Pirates for second in the National League Central.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates -- 2015 Record: 98-64; Projection: 93-69
The Pirates have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, and it almost appears that the fans in Pittsburgh have completely forgotten the two decades of terrible to mediocre (at best) Pirates teams. The National League is very top heavy, so it may be tough for the Pirates to beat out other likely Wild Card contenders, like the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, Mets, or Nationals. They did win 98 games last year, and most of their team is returning in 2016, so there's no reason to believe that this year will be any sort of regression for the team, even if they do miss the playoffs.
The biggest losses for the Pirates come in the likes of J.A. Happ, Aramis Ramirez, and Neil Walker. The biggest of those three is Walker, who the Pirates traded to the Mets for Jon Niese. Projected to replace him is prospect Alen Hanson until Jung-ho Kang returns from injury. As a whole, the lineup is still centered around five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, but needs increased production from Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco to have any chance of catching the Cubs.
The biggest question mark for the Pirates is the rotation, which is solidified with Ryan Vogelsong and the aforementioned Niese. I'd be even more worried if the Pirates did not have Ray Searage, who is probably the best at fixing up pitchers and giving the team value in ways that other teams just don't have. The rotation, led by budding ace Gerrit Cole may have the biggest upside for the team just because of Searage. In general, the Pirates will still win 90 games, but a few things have to go their way in order for them to eclipse the 95 mark like they did last season.
4. Cincinnati Reds -- 2015 Record: 64-98; Projection: 65-97
The Reds finally began to embrace a rebuild over the summer, trading Johnny Cueto to the Royals. This narrative continued over the offseason, dealing star closer Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees and third baseman Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Perhaps the only exciting part of the 2015 Reds was the return of Joey Votto's dominance. After a 2014 where he only played in 60 games, Votto had the best OPS+ of his career (min. 500 at bats), posting an even 1.000 OPS, good for a 174 OPS+. Votto finished only behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt in the NL MVP voting.
Besides Votto, there's not much to like about the 2016 Reds. Their biggest additions this offseason were all prospects, coming in the form of Jose Peraza, Eric Jagielo, and Rookie Davis. Cincinnati's minor league system may actually be more fun for fans to watch than their Major League club. Besides those three, Tyler Stephenson, Jesse Winkler, Cody Reed, and may others give the Reds a promising future.
The Reds could end up even worse in 2016 than projected if they decide to complete their teardown, which may mean dealing outfielder Jay Bruce and catcher Devin Mesoraco. Other than that, the 2016 Reds season is all about the development of their top prospects and the possibility that they begin to make their way up to the Majors, meaning that they will suffer in the win column.
5. Milwaukee Brewers -- 2015 Record: 68-94; Projection: 64-98
Like the Reds, the Brewers are in the midst of a rebuilding phase. They are under new leadership in the front office, hiring David Stearns to be their general manager last September. Stearns took the rebuild to heart this offseason, getting rid of any players that carried legitimate value. First baseman Adam Lind, outfielder Khris Davis, closer Francisco Rodriguez, and infielder Jean Segura are all in new homes.
Again like the Reds, the Brewers still have a couple big names on their roster, in catcher Jonathan Lucroy and outfielder Ryan Braun. Lucroy in particular would net the Brewers a large return, but it appears that the team is waiting until his value is a little higher before pulling the trigger, if they decide to do at all. I liked Stearns' additions of Chris Carter, Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis this offseason; they are all guys that could prove valuable for future Brewers teams or could be trade deadline pieces. All of them serve a purpose, and I don't think it's just to "eat" at bats in 2016.
As for their pitching, I'm interested in Jimmy Nelson, who had a fairly solid rookie season last year, worth 2.1 fWAR. He struggled against left-handers, but with experience, may be able to turn into a fairly solid pitcher. For Brewers fans, though, this season is all about seeing prospect growth and hoping they'll be ready to contend in 2017 or 2018.
Next up: NL West.
Using Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, you should be able to tell who has the best chance of doing just that. Teams really should take those odds to determine whether they should be buyers and sellers because more often than not, they are right.
After games being played on July 6 last year, five of the ten eventual postseason teams had a 80 percent chance of making the playoffs or better. Every team that did have an 80 percent or greater chance of making the playoffs on this date last year did.
The team with the highest percent chance to make the playoffs on July 6 that ultimately didn't was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a 71 percent chance to punch their ticket, but collapsed down the stretch and failed to make it.
Only three (Orioles, Royals, and Pirates) had less than a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs following action on July 6. By July 31, the Orioles were up to a 71 percent chance, the Royals were at a 17 percent chance, and the Pirates were at a 46 percent chance.
Knowing this, I will use Baseball Prospectus' current postseason predictions to determine who should buy and who should sell at the 2015 Trade Deadline.
All In (85% or greater)
St. Louis Cardinals (99.3%)
There's no reason why the Cardinals, who own MLB's best record at 54-28, should consider selling. In fact, Baseball Prospectus says that they have a 99.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, leaving just a very small chance for an extreme collapse. If the Cardinals play just .500 ball the rest of the way, that would put them on pace for 94 wins, which would definitely put them in prime position to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Cardinals have no reason to do anything but buy.
Los Angeles Dodgers (92.9%)
The Dodgers have the second-highest playoff percentage in the league, and nothing suggests that this team won't buy at the trade deadline. I predicted them to go out and get Johnny Cueto, perhaps the best pitcher available not named Cole Hamels. The Dodgers are always willing to spend money and prospects to make their team better and can easily justify doing so at the deadline.
Washington Nationals (85.6%)
The Nationals have arguably not played their best baseball yet, but still have an 85.6 percent chance to make the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements in their bullpen, but most of the additions the Nationals will be getting will be players coming back from injury, such as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. They may not need to make a ton of moves in July, but if they do, they have good reason to do so.
Houston Astros (84.7%)
The Astros have already shown interest in some of the top pitchers that will be available, and Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds completely backs that up. Houston's playoff percentage, at 84.7 percent, is so close to 85 percent that I had to shove them into this category. The Astros have showed that while they are a bit of a surprise, they still can win ballgames and do it over a period of time. The Astros by no means are "pretenders," as they have been able to hold a comfortable AL West lead since late April.
Should be buyers (70-85%)
Pittsburgh Pirates (81.3%), Chicago Cubs (73.1%)
The Pirates and Cubs have a case of some serious bad luck. They are playing in the National League's toughest division and would be either leading or close to leading any other division in the league. The only reason I'm wary of either of these teams buying at the deadline is because they are not division leaders and have more of a chance to collapse and fall out of the playoff race altogether. Unless they believe they have a real shot at the Cardinals (which it appears they don't), they shouldn't completely unload their farm systems to go out and get the best guy on the market.
Kansas City Royals (75.3%)
Of the three teams in this category, I am most comfortable with the Royals buying at the trade deadline due to the fact that they lead their division by a comfortable margin and need just one or two pieces to really put the pressure on the rest of the division. All signs point to the Royals making the playoffs again this year, so I would go ahead and pencil them in as buyers at the deadline.
Los Angeles Angels (64.8%)
The Angels are in a good position right now. They are playing good baseball and have shown the need for an upgrade in left field. Of the teams listed in this section, I truly believe they are the best and most complete team, so therefore they should be buyers at the deadline. The Angels could use some rotation help as well, but if they patch up a few spots, they will get into the postseason. My verdict? They should be buyers.
AL East: New York Yankees (59.4%), Toronto Blue Jays (39.6%), Tampa Bay Rays (34.9%)
The American League East division is lumped together because the division is so muddled and close that really anyone could win it. Baseball Prospectus' simulations give the Yankees the best chance to go to the playoffs out of that division, but with some rotation help, the Blue Jays are the division's best team. The Yankees and Rays should stand pat or make small moves at the deadline, while the Blue Jays should go out and make a splash for a rotation piece.
Detroit Tigers (36.7%)
With Miguel Cabrera being sidelined with his hamstring injury, I'm going to pencil the Tigers in as should be sellers, but as this team continues to try and make a run once again, they will find themselves trying to buy. The Tigers are heading towards a Phillies-esque fall, and if they don't realize that soon, it could only get worse if they decide to buy at the trade deadline in hopes for one last run at the World Series.
Maybe/Stand Pat (20-30%)
New York Mets (28.9%)
Even if the Mets added an offensive piece, I don't think that would be enough to get them to the playoffs this season. With that said, however, I could see them dealing for a guy with more than one season of control, as their young and talented pitching staff comes into their own. The Mets couldn't justify buying for a rental player, but a guy who is at least signed through 2016 could make sense.
Baltimore Orioles (28.7%)
The Baltimore Orioles have a ton of free agents at the end of the season that they probably should move. The Orioles could be one of those teams that tries to get 25-man roster guys with more years of team control in return. The Orioles could be a team that buys and sells at the trade deadline, and I would be fine with that.
San Francisco Giants (22.9%)
It's an odd year. The Giants aren't good enough to win the NL West, and considering that they have to deal with the Cubs and Pirates for the Wild Card, it will be tough for them to really make a run into the postseason. However, they still have a good core group of guys and the team has proved me wrong before. They probably should stand pat.
Shouldn't buy (Less than 20%)
Minnesota Twins (18.2%)
The Twins just aren't that good. Sure, they had a good run earlier this season, but all the numbers suggest that they were going to fall out of first in the AL Central. The Twins should really try and go for 2016, when some of their rookies will be more polished.
Texas Rangers (15.0%)
While the Rangers shouldn't buy, they probably will, as I consider them to be in a similar boat as the Tigers are in. The Rangers could legitimately contend, but they would more than a couple of upgrades, to the point where they probably shouldn't go for it this season.
Cleveland Indians (13.5%)
The Indians were a popular postseason pick prior to this season, but Baseball Prospectus' simulations show that they would need some serious luck to actually get there. The Indians shouldn't sell any pieces other than the impending free agents because my gut says that they will be back in the postseason sooner than later.
Boston Red Sox (11.8%)
The Red Sox are in a tough position right now. It might not be time for a fire sale quite yet, but it's definitely not time to go out and try and contend this season.
Seattle Mariners (7.0%)
The Mariners have had some issues staying in the race this season, and while they shouldn't sell off their entire team, they really shouldn't be buyers either.
Oakland Athletics (6.8%)
The Athletics are already shopping their pieces and it looks like they will be sellers.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6.4%)
The Diamondbacks are a team that should stand pat. They still have pieces to contend in the near future and as their pitching improves with guys coming back from injury, they could be a legitimate contender coming 2016.
Atlanta Braves (3.8%)
The Braves, especially in the offseason, have committed to becoming a selling team. They don't have any exciting pieces, but even though they have kind of surprised, they should by no means buy.
Chicago White Sox (3.2%)
The White Sox are in a tough position. They reportedly won't have a fire sale, which makes sense considering how much money they spent in free agency, but they need to get rid of Jeff Samardzija and still be planning to try again in 2016.
San Diego Padres (2.7%)
The Padres could buy at the deadline, but in all reality, they shouldn't. They've got some important games coming up that they need to win if people start seriously seeing them as contenders. Once again, they are proving that the winners of the offseason don't necessarily win during the season.
Miami Marlins (1.6%)
The Marlins shouldn't go into a fire sale, but Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Brad Hand, and other free agents at the end of the season should be gone.
Cincinnati Reds (1.1%)
The Reds have Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and possibly Aroldis Chapman available, and while they won't sell until after they host the All-Star Game, I expect it to come, as it should.
Colorado Rockies (0.2%)
I'd pull the trigger and deal Troy Tulowitzki. It's time for a real change in Colorado if they want to be relevant down the road.
Milwaukee Brewers (0.2%)
The Brewers should enter into a fire sale.
Philadelphia Phillies (0.0%)
Now, these rankings and categories don't mean that each of these teams will do as I advise. Their postseason percentages could change and perhaps an addition is all they need to do that. However, Baseball Prospectus' odds are very accurate and should not be taken lightly. Teams really should use them to determine whether they could justify buying at the deadline.
The Baltimore Orioles look like they're in no position to begin selling pieces off their roster.
At 34-32, the Orioles are right in the heat of the AL East division rate, sitting just three games out of first place. With a +36 run differential, the Orioles could be looking to get on a tear soon, perhaps catapulting them up in the division or the Wild Card races.
Despite all this, the Orioles need to move slugging first baseman Chris Davis at some point during the season.
Davis, 29, would be an attractive piece due to his power, as he's hitting for a .224/.314/.461 line this season with 14 homers and 38 runs batted in over 264 plate appearances. He's just a season removed from a 53 home run performance.
Teams like the Cardinals and Rays could have need for the first baseman Davis. St. Louis has had to deal with a season-ending injury to starter Matt Adams. The Rays would be a good fit for Davis due to the injury and under-performance to James Loney, but the Orioles may be reluctant to move Davis to a division rival.
With free agency impending following this season, it seems nearly impossible that the Orioles will have Chris Davis following the 2015 season. Scott Boras, who is known for commanding big deals for his clients, represents Davis.
The Orioles may just not be willing to pay Davis like a primer slugger when he has trouble hitting for a good average and getting on base. This makes him a perfect to candidate to be dealt.
It's also a possibility that the Orioles decide to offer Davis a qualifying offer after the season and collect their draft pick. So, a trade is by no means a given.
However, a trade is an interesting thing to think about for the front office staff and GM Dan Duquette, who is known for being extremely creative with his roster. Perhaps the Orioles could get a Major League starter for Davis, as their rotation is among the worst in baseball. It is definitely a possibility.
As for the Orioles at first base, Steve Pearce could get a look, as he is suffering from an extremely low BABIP and is still hitting plenty of line drives. It's possible that he could rebound and make Davis seem like he was never gone.
With the trade deadline just a month away, it is finally time to be talking about possible "out of nowhere" moves. The Orioles could and probably should move Chris Davis in the next month.
Tough news came out of St. Louis yesterday, as the baseball world learned that Cardinals' first baseman Matt Adams had torn his quadriceps, and will undergo surgery tomorrow, likely missing the rest of the season.
In the short term, Mark Reynolds is likely to step into the position of first, though his career .230/.324/.456 slash line isn't likely intriguing to a team that is vying to win the National League Central and go deep into the playoffs.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was almost immediately mentioned as a possible trade candidate for the Cardinals, as he is playing for a team that not only has the fourth-worst record in baseball, but is almost guaranteed to sell at the trade deadline.
Howard is from St. Louis. He was born in Missouri and went to high school and college in Missouri. With Howard having complete no-trade rights due to the 10-and-5 rule (10 years in the big leagues; at least five with one club), St. Louis would be a spot that many think he would waive a trade to.
However, a Twitter follower of mine did bring up a good point. @JasonWeisel noted that Howard has had some family issues, including an ugly legal fight where his brother attempted to sue him for just under $3 million. Could that cause Howard not to want to move back home and want to be traded elsewhere, if not stay with the Phillies? That could play an interesting role.
The need is there and the fit could be there. But I'm not fully convinced that Ryan Howard will draw any interest from the Cardinals for multiple reasons.
St. Louis is a team that focuses a lot on defense, which, to put it lightly, Howard does not have. Howard has been worth a horrid -55 defensive runs saved in his career, and is at a -3 mark this season. That is why many believe that Howard is bound to be traded to an American League team and DH.
Reynolds, on the other hand, is much better, being worth -12 defensive runs saved at first and 2 this season.
Howard is also signed through next season with a team option for 2017, which could add complications for when Matt Adams does return to action. If Adams comes back healthy, does Howard become a bench player for the Cardinals? Or do they try and trade him in a possible contract year? Those are questions that club officials will have to answer .
With a .256/.298/.519/.817 line, Howard has experiences somewhat of a revival this season, posting the highest wRC+ since he hit 33 home runs in 2011. Howard already has 10 homers this season and has driven in 24 runs.
At Busch Stadium, Howard has been a pitcher-killer, slashing .341/.468/.643/1.111 in 156 plate appearances, hitting 11 homers and 39 runs batted in.
On paper, a deal for Ryan Howard would make a lot of sense for the Cardinals. But, with anything, there are always some downsides, which could mean that the Cardinals are not the best fit if Howard is eventually dealt.