NL West Hot Stove Preview: Top free agents, targets for every team
Over the past few days, SI.com has been breaking down the off-season plans for all 30 teams. Teams are presented in order of finish from 2015. Free agents are listed in order of wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference.com version). Age is their 2016 playing age. The listed salaries and bWAR totals are those for their final 2015 team only. Players with undecided options for 2016 are listed with the free agents and denoted by an asterisk.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2015 results: 92-70 (.568), 1st in NL West; lost to Mets in Division Series
Pythagorean record: 89-73
With the players above and payments for the already-departed Brandon Beachy, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Matt Kemp, Brandon League, Hector Olivera and Brian Wilson, nearly half of the Dodgers' record-setting $300 million in 2015 payroll is off the books; via Cot's Contracts, the team has $154.8 million in commitments for 2016, though you can bet that figure will surpass $200 million before Opening Day.
Among Los Angeles' current free agents, the most notable is Zack Greinke, who opted out of his deal, thereby forgoing the final three years and $71 million of his previous six-year pact in hopes of finding a longer-term deal with a higher annual value. One can't blame him, considering that he's coming off the majors' lowest qualifying ERA (1.66) since 1995 and the highest WAR (9.3) since his own 2009 AL Cy Young campaign with the Royals. That said, his age and mileage relative to other top-of-the-market alternatives—at 32, he's two years older and has thrown over 600 more innings than Johnny Cueto and David Price, for example—will give some teams pause. A return to the Dodgers isn't out of the question, but it's hardly guaranteed. Under the circumstances, extending him a qualifying offer was a no-brainer.
As for the rest of the players listed above, Brett Anderson stayed healthy enough to deliver 30 starts for the first time since his 2009 rookie season, posting a respectable 3.69 ERA, in 180 1/3 innings. That was enough to unlock an extra $2.4 million in incentives. Second baseman Howie Kendrick (.295/.336/.409 but -12 Defensive Runs Saved) had a substandard season, while fellow infielders Jimmy Rollins (.224/.285/.358, -7 DRS) and Chase Utley (.212/.286/.343 and a total of 0.4 WAR including Philadelphia) had dreadful ones that at the very least probably spell the end of their days as regulars. The club declined an option, worth somewhere between $5 million and $11 million, on Utley, who made a total of $15 million this past season between the Phillies and Dodgers. Kendrick and Anderson received qualifying offers that will probably cool their free agent markets, or at least limit them.
Also having their options declined are Bronson Arroyo ($4.5 million buyout on an $11 million salary, $1.5 million more than he made in 2015) and Joel Peralta (no buyout on a $2.5 million salary). The former, once among the game's most durable hurlers, missed half of 2014 and all of '15 due to Tommy John surgery, while the latter was limited to 29 innings with a 4.34 ERA due to recurrent nerve problems in his neck. Meanwhile, lefty reliever and bullpen staple J.P. Howell exercised a well-deserved $6.25 million player option to remain with the team.
Targets: Rotation, bullpen, 2B
Even if Greinke had not opted out, the Dodgers would be in the market for starting pitching, as they ended the season with a threadbare rotation beyond him and Clayton Kershaw. Alex Wood is the only other starter whose name is written in ink for 2016. That's because Brandon McCarthy won't be back until at least May or June due to Tommy John surgery, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is coming off shoulder surgery. L.A. is clearly open to the possibility of Anderson returning, and if it doesn't re-sign Greinke, you can expect it will to go big for another free-agent starter such as Cueto, Price or Jordan Zimmermann.
The bullpen has to be a priority as well given the multi-year struggles to bridge the gap between the starters and closer Kenley Jansen. Expect the Dodgers to go after a dependable everyday righty setup man such as Darren O'Day, or even a potential closer such as Joakim Soria. Another option would be to trade for an established closer such as Mark Melancon, who is getting pricey for the Pirates, and sort out the late innings between him and Jansen.
Highly-touted rookie Corey Seager is expected to take over for Rollins at shortstop, but second base is an open question. Kiké Hernandez and prospect Jose Pereza offer in-house options, but the former has additional value as a superutilityman, and the latter probably needs more minor league seasoning after hitting just .293/.316/.378 in his age-21 season at Triple A. Retaining Utley as part of a platoon is probably more likely than Kendrick returning on a one-year deal, since the latter is likely to get multiple years elsewhere.
One thing to watch is whether L.A. does anything to reduce its long-term commitments to outfielders Carl Crawford ($41.75 million through 2017) or Andre Ethier ($38 million through '17, including a buyout for '18). In light of the Dodgers' reduced commitments elsewhere—not to mention potential reduced headaches for their new manager, whoever it will be, when it comes to filling out his the lineup card—it's not difficult to see them eating half of at least one of those contracts and getting something of value back in trade, particularly for Ethier, whose 136 OPS+ (on a .294/.366/.486 line with 14 homers) ranked second among the team's regulars.
Changes are afoot in Chavez Ravine after the Dodgers failed to get past the Division Series for a second straight season. While there's some tension within the organization as to the goal of even more drastic cutbacks and a youth movement, the team's farm system has already graduated its top prospect in Seager, and more time is needed to turn the financial behemoth into a player development machine. Expect them to write some big checks this winter.
San Francisco Giants
|Alejandro De Aza||OF||32||$930K||-0.2|
That's a big chunk of change coming off the books. After long and impressive careers, Jeremy Affeldt and Tim Hudson both formally announced their retirements near the end of the season; the former was a key reliever on all three of San Francisco's championship teams from this decade, while the latter one pitched for the 2014 champs as well as five other playoff teams in Oakland and Atlanta. Marco Scutaro has reached the end of the line as well due to spinal fusion surgery that limited him to five games in 2014 and none this past year. Speaking of those with links to the Giants' championships, Tim Lincecum has reached a career crossroads, having struggled for a fourth straight season (4.13 ERA in 76 1/3 innings) before undergoing surgery to repair his left hip; if he returns, it will be for a whole lot less than the $35 million windfall he received for the past two seasons. Ryan Vogelsong may have to move on as well after putting up a 4.67 ERA in 135 innings split between starting and relief.
The pitcher most likely to stay is Mike Leake, who was acquired from the Reds at the trade deadline but missed a few weeks due to a hamstring strain. He pitched to a 3.70 ERA with 2.9 WAR in 192 innings overall, and figures to receive a mid-priced multiyear deal; San Francisco has interest in retaining him, but his lack of a qualifying offer opens the door to a whole lot of suitors that now won't have to surrender a draft pick to get him. Nori Aoki had his $5.5 million option declined after a rough season in which he hit .287/.353/.380 in 92 games but missed time due to a fractured fibula and a concussion; the team isn't opposed to bringing him back, but it wanted to maintain some flexibility. San Francisco also chose not to exercise Marlon Byrd's $8 million club option after a season in which he hit just .247/.290/.453 to go with his 23 homers and 1.5 WAR. Alejandro De Aza, who also spent time with both the Orioles and the Red Sox in 2015, hit a combined .262/.333/.422 with seven homers and 0.9 WAR.
Targets: Rotation, LF
With Lincecum's days as an ace long gone, Hudson and probably Vogelsong out of the picture, and Matt Cain a giant question mark after making just 26 starts over the past two seasons, it's time to remake the rotation around Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy. The good news is that not only have the Giants freed up a ton of cash, but by passing Proposition D on Election Day earlier this week, San Francisco voters have given the team access to a new financial windfall via the Mission Rock proposal, which will allow the organization to develop a high-rise district across from McCovey Cove. In the long run, that should help close the payroll gap with the Dodgers. In the short term, that means challenging their division rivals for frontline starting pitching. Price and Cueto have particular appeal, as neither is attached to a qualifying offer (players traded during the season aren't eligible for one), but poaching Greinke before he can re-sign with the Dodgers is also an option, and they've previously been connected to Jordan Zimmermann. One way or another, expect a star-powered signing here, and probably a secondary move on the level of Leake, Doug Fister or another mid-rotation starter.
Reading between the lines, while Jarrett Parker's late-season showing may put him in play for the leftfield job, the declining of Aoki's option opens the door for another significant acquisition, though more likely a mid-priced one such as Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra or Ben Zobrist instead of a bigger-ticket one such as Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward or Justin Upton. Going the trade route is also an option, with catcher Andrew Susac a significant piece who could be moved.
Not only does recent history suggest that the Giants will be in the thick of the NL West and pennant chase—2016 is an even-numbered year, after all, for the 2010, '12 and '14 world champions—but this team is increasingly one of the game's financial behemoths. President Brian Sabean and GM Bobby Evans will have considerable flexibility in remaking San Francisco this winter. Expect them to make headlines.
2015 results: 79-83 (.488), 3rd in NL West
Pythagorean record: 82-80
In one of the season's weirder moves, Saltalamacchia was released by the Marlins roughly one month into the second year of a three-year, $21 million deal. The Diamondbacks, whose catching situation was threadbare coming into the season, took advantage of that, paying Salty a prorated share of the minimum salary while he rebounded from a slow start. His .225/.310/.435 line with nine homers in 227 PA won't turn heads, and his pitch framing is nothing to write home about (-4 runs, via Baseball Prospectus), but there's a reasonable chance he'll be somebody's low-cost solution behind the plate, since Miami owner Jeffrey Loria is still paying for most of the $8 million he'll be owed in 2016.
As for Hernandez, he threw 33 2/3 innings in his first major league stint since undergoing spring 2014 Tommy John surgery, struggling to keep the ball in the park (1.6 HR/9) while posting a 4.28 ERA. Meanwhile, Arizona picked up its $5.5 million option on closer Brad Ziegler as well as a $1.85 million option on swingman Josh Collmenter.
The 2015 season was decidedly a mixed back for the rebuilding Diamondbacks, particularly in the rotation, which ranked 10th in ERA (4.37) and 11th in FIP (4.41). Patrick Corbin picked up where he left off in returning from Tommy John surgery, twice-traded Robbie Ray established himself as a big-league starter and Rubby De La Rosa threw a team- and career high 188 2/3 innings, though he was knocked around for a 4.62 ERA. Chase Anderson and Jeremy Hellickson were hit hard too, and highly-touted prospect Archie Bradley made just eight big league starts with a 5.80 ERA and 5.6 BB/9, missing time due to a line drive to the face and then a shoulder impingement.
All of which is to say that the rotation could use an upgrade or two heading into 2016, though Arizona is unlikely to pursue a frontline free agent such as Cueto, Greinke or Price. Options such as Leake, John Lackey or Hisashi Iwakuma might be more like it, though all three will be sought by contenders.
More likely, the D-Backs will pursue trades for pitching by using their surpluses of outfielders and infielders. They got strong work from their starting trio of outfielders—David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Ender Enciarte—in 2015, but somehow they have to find room for Cuban import Yasmany Tomas, who struggled in his first stateside season (.273/.305/.401 with 110 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 426 PA, not to mention -6 DRS in small slices of time at both rightfield and third base en route to -1.3 WAR). They've also got Trumbo-sque slugger Peter O'Brien and the wonderfully-named Socrates Brito waiting in the wings.
Arizona's infield situation beyond star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop Nick Ahmed is murkier, as second baseman Chris Owings struggled and third baseman Jake Lamb was merely adequate. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury, Phil Gosselin and Aaron Hill all loom as alternatives, with the last of them owed $12 million for 2016; perhaps he could bring back a reclamation-type pitcher on a similarly unfavorable deal.
As rebuilding teams go, the Diamondbacks are in better shape than most, though they'll need significant improvement from the rotation to contend in the NL West. Some of that may come from in-house, but they'll need help from outside as well.
San Diego Padres
2015 results: 74-88 (.457), 4th in NL West
Pythagorean record: 72-90
Justin Upton, acquired in a trade with the Braves last off-season, represented general manager A.J. Preller's best move of the past winter, as he posted his highest WAR since 2011 while batting .251/.336/.454 with a team-high 26 homers and 121 OPS+. He's in line for a nine-figure payday, though it probably won't come here. Shawn Kelley was good out of the bullpen (2.45 ERA with 11.0 K/9 in 51 innings) and should find a multi-year deal. Ian Kennedy, who posted a 4.28 ERA (85 ERA+) tin 168 1/3 innings, will see his market dragged down by a qualifying offer. He's been worth just 1.1 WAR in 2 1/2 seasons in San Diego and hasn't posted an ERA+ of 100 or better since 2012.
The rest of the free agents largely represent gambles that didn't pay off. Brandon Morrow made just five starts before going on the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation and, in August, cleanup surgery; he hasn't reached the 20-start plateau since 2012. He's lucky when compared to Josh Johnson, who underwent his second Tommy John surgery in April 2014 and then a third in September; next year will be his third straight without a major league appearance. Cory Luebke, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries and then a staph infection, had a $7.5 million option declined in favor of a $1.75 million buyout. Bud Norris was cannon fodder in both Baltimore and San Diego, lit for a 6.72 ERA in 83 innings. Clint Barmes was atypically subpar in the field (-3 DRS) and typically subpar at the plate (.232/.281/.353).
The team did pick up reliever Joaquin Benoit's $7.5 million option after a solid performance, with a 2.34 ERA and 8.7 K/9 over 65 1/3 innings.
Targets: SS, rotation, LH bat
One major flaw with Preller's audacious makeover last off-season was San Diego's weakness at shortstop on both sides of the ball. Barmes, Alexi Amarista, Jedd Gyorko and Will Middlebrooks were a combined seven runs below average via DRS and hit just .228/.279/.365 in that capacity. It's difficult to believe that the team will simply go forth with Gyorko in that spot and Cory Spangenberg at second base, so look for it to explore both the free agent and trade markets.
Another major flaw in Preller's remake was the lack of a true centerfielder. Wil Myers and the half-dozen other players who saw time there were a combined 12 runs below average via DRS. That said, Melvin Upton Jr. turned in a solid performance in 228 PA (.259/.327/.429, +2 DRS), so he and rookie Travis Janikowski can be considered the incumbents there, with Myers either in leftfield or at first base (opening up the possibility of sending Yonder Alonso yonder) and Matt Kemp still in right. Even if Alonso stays, Preller is said to be looking for another lefthanded bat, as Spangenberg, Jankowski and switch-hitter Yangervis Solarte are the main options from that side of the plate.
Also on Preller's shopping list is a lefty starter to join righties Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner, and lefty Robie Erlin. Ross's name has come up often in trade talks, and it's hardly out of the question that Preller could deal him or shake things up even further. With Benoit back in the fold, trading close Craig Kimbrel, who's due at least $25 million over the next two seasons, is a possibility.
The Padres shuffled the deck chairs but sailed nowhere in 2015, and with the honeymoon over, Preller has to figure out how to solve the team's outstanding problems, which include a weakened farm system in addition to a roster in need of multiple fixes. Don't be surprised if some of the headline-making names from last winter are moved again.
2015 results: 68-94 (.420), 5th in NL West
Pythagorean record: 71-91
Justin Morneau, who won the NL batting title in 2014 with a .319 average while enjoying his best season since his 2010 concussion, hit .310/.363/.458, but that came in just 49 games, as he missed 3 1/2 months after suffering yet another concussion. The Rockies declined their end of Morneau's $9 million mutual option, paying him a $750,000 buyout instead, and will go cheaper with fill-in Ben Paulsen, who hit .277/.326/.462 (99 OPS+) with 11 homers,. As for Kyle Kendrick, he was hammered for a 6.32 ERA and 2.1 homers per nine in 142 1/3 innings, some of which owed to the Rockies' high-altitude environment; 21 of his league-leading 33 homers were launched at Coors Field.
Targets: Rotation, catcher
Stop us if you've heard this one, but Colorado's pitching was woefully inadequate in 2015. While the team scored an NL high 4.55 runs per game, it allowed a league-high 5.21 per game as well.Chad Bettis, Jorge De La Rosa and Yohan Flande were the only pitchers to make more than five starts for the team while finishing with ERAs below 5.00, and they combined for just 56 starts. Tyler Chatwood is returning from Tommy John surgery, and while Jon Gray, Eddie Butler and Jordan Lyles have plenty of promise, all three of those youngsters took their lumps at the major league level, and between past injuries and workload concerns, they won't be enough to get through 2016. Likewise, it's a bit early to count on anything from prospect Jeff Hoffman, who was acquired from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster and split his year between High A and Double A. Finding a low-cost veteran willing to pitch for a noncontender under such adverse conditions isn't an easy task, but suffice it to say that an ability to generate groundballs is a big help.
One option, of course, is to trade 32-year-old shortstop Jose Reyes for pitching. Reyes. also a part of the Tulo trade, hit just .274/.310/.378 for an 84 OPS+ split between the Blue Jays and Rockies, and his defense was eight runs below average as well. Still, he's just a year removed from a 3.2-WAR season; if Colorado is willing to absorb some of the $48 million he's still owed, it can bring back some worthwhile parts while clearing a path for prospect Trevor Story, who spent his season at Double A and Triple A but didn't get a September call-up. An option that would bring back an even stronger return would be to trade star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who rebounded from a dismal, injury-marked season to set career highs with 153 games and 40 homers while batting .271/.325/.540. He's 30 and owed $37 million over the next two years, so there may never be a better chance move this particular CarGo.
Regardless of whom the Rockies bring in to pitch, it would help to upgrade the catcher spot. Nick Hundley had a strong year with the bat (.301/.339/.467 with 10 homers in 389 PA) and is very affordable ($3.15 million for 2016), but he isn't much of a defender (-11 DRS, -6 framing runs via Baseball Prospectus), and this team needs all the extra strikes it can get. Matt Wieters would carry significant risk given his injury history, though with a protected first-round pick, Colorado wouldn't lose a draft pick by signing him.
Having traded Tulowitzki in July, GM Jeff Bridich has freed the Rockies to embark on a full-scale rebuild, He's got a golden opportunity to further that effort by moving Gonzalez, which won't make the team more watchable in 2016 but should bear dividends down the road.