Good morning, Mets fans, and happy Saturday! The Hot Stove still has yet to turn all the way up, but as we get our ducks in a row and prepare for the frenzy of free agent signings and winter trades, certain teams’ strategies moving forward have become much clearer thanks to the qualifying offer deadline, which passed at 5:00 PM yesterday, and rather quietly, at that.
A record-low seven qualifying offers were extended to outgoing free agents yesterday. With the weight of draft pick compensation being reduced in the qualifying offer process, teams no longer stand to gain anything should they have their offers rejected. Players have until Nov. 12 to accept or reject the offers, which each pay $17.9M for an additional year.
In many such cases, front offices have used this reality to make more lasting decisions, as demonstrated by both the Cleveland Indians (who, as discussed yesterday by our very own John Sheridan, will listen to trade offers) and Colorado Rockies.
Kershaw, Dodgers, Agree to New Deal
While an opt-out on Kershaw’s end seemed a tad far-fetched in the first place, this still comes as a relative surprise. Rather than simply re-up for nearly $35M and prepare for another chance to strike it rich in free agency following the 2019 season, Clayton Kershaw has agreed to terms on a $93M pact that will keep in Los Angeles through 2021 (first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports). While the contract does not include any opt-outs or mutual options, Kershaw could net an extra $1M in annual incentives should he notch 24 starts in a single season, maxing out at $12M in the event he gets to 30 in each of the three years (incentive details first broken by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic).
The belief around baseball over the last year or so has been that Kershaw would prefer to remain a Dodger than explore alternatives, at least with consideration to the fact that the ace – despite the fantastic results when available – has struggled to stay healthy since the 2015 season came to an end. The three-time Cy Young award winner has gone 39-13 with a 2.26 ERA and 7.56 K/BB ratio in that span, but has averaged just 162 innings pitched – a far cry from the 215 he had boasted across the prior seven years. At just 30 years old, however, there’s still some time for Kershaw to pad his status as one of the generation’s best pitchers while also netting a significant long-term deal when the time comes.
Cubs Pick up Option on Hamels, Begin Shedding Arms
Cole Hamels essentially forced Chicago’s hand when he laid down a remarkable second-half performance to keep an otherwise stagnant Cubs team afloat in the pennant race this past season. Hamels posted a 2.36 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 12 starts while averaging 8.7 K/9 against just 2.7 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9, marking a drastic improvement over his 4.72 ERA, 5.20 FIP, and 1.8 HR/9 with the Texas Rangers.
Hamels’ now-exercised team option is worth $20M for one year, and as a result has forced the club to clear cap space. Fortunately for them, having completed a rotation that already includes the likes of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Yu Darvish, the Cubs were able to move left-hander Drew Smyly without much conflict, trading him to the Texas Rangers with a player to be named later in exchange for a PTBNL from Texas (all first reported by ESPN‘s Jerry Crasnick).
Smyly, 29, signed a two-year, $10M contract last offseason as he rehabbed his way back from Tommy John surgery. A backloaded deal worth $7M for the 2019 season, it most likely won’t be the only albatross lifted, as Buster Olney (also of ESPN) has speculated. Tyler Chatwood, who is owed $25M over the next two seasons despite averaging 8.2 BB/9 in 20 starts last year, could be the next casualty.
Rangers Decline Options on Perez, Moore, Fister, Chirinos
In a parallel development, the Rangers’ efforts to reconstruct a viable rotation went into action yesterday, as lefties Martin Perez and Matt Moore had their options declined, as did right-hander Doug Fister and catcher Robinson Chirinos (team announcement).
Perez, 27, was bought out for $750K as Texas declined his $7.5M option. He battled through elbow discomfort over 15 starts (6.78 ERA and 1.857 WHIP) in 2018, and likely wraps up a disappointing seven-year tenure with just 462 strikeouts over 761.1 innings in the back of the rotation.
Moore, 29, would have been owed $10M despite posting a -1.2 WAR this past season. Through 39 appearances (12 starts), the former Tampa Bay prospect posted a 6.79 ERA, averaging 1.7 HR/9 and 3.5 BB/9, and since 2015 has the second-worst ERA (5.23) among active MLB starters.
Once considered a potential rotation reinforcement as Met injuries first began piling up in early 2017, Fister has also had his share of issues staying on the field. The 34-year old has missed time with knee and hip issues, accumulating just over 150 innings across his last two seasons working as a swing-man in Boston and Texas. Fister has averaged just 6.4 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 while serving up 1.2 HR/9 since 2016, with his fastball losing over two mph in velocity this past year. He would have made $4.5M in 2019, but has instead been bought out for $500K.
The last noteworthy cut features the second backstop in as many days in Chirinos, who has combined for 35 homers and 103 RBI the last two seasons. While .236/.347/.456 line over these 201 games may be impressive given how few catchers can amass such numbers in today’s game, his negative frame values and abysmal caught-stealing rate of 10% ultimately warranted a buyout. Texas will have $2.38M more to spend as the 34-year old sets out to contribute elsewhere.
Qualifying Offers Issued
Patrick Corbin (29), Arizona Diamondbacks – Almost certain to reject the offer, Corbin is coming off his second-straight 30-start season, this one far more eye-opening than the last. A 3.15 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and 4.6 WAR should play out handsomely on the open market.
A.J. Pollock (31), Arizona Diamondbacks – The team announced its decision to extend an offer to the dynamic center fielder. He may not command the market quite like a Harper or Machado given his injury history, but could still court a generous offer from a team desperately looking for a bat at the top of the order, like the Giants or Phillies.
Craig Kimbrel (30), Boston Red Sox – Kimbrel is the best closer among current free agents in terms of experience and effectiveness, and as a result, the Sox will naturally try to entice him while they can (first reported by Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports).
Dallas Keuchel (30), Houston Astros – The 2015 AL Cy Young recipient struck out just 6.7 per nine innings in 2018, but continued to churn out results as an efficient, reliable ground-ball pitcher. Financially capable of doing so, Houston will try to retain Keuchel if possible (also reported by Heyman).
Hyun-jin Ryu (31), Los Angeles Dodgers – First reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Ryu made just 15 starts in 2018, but electrified in that time, notching career-bests in K/9 (9.7) and BB/9 (1.6) with a 1.97 ERA/3.00 FIP/3.11 xFIP. He hasn’t reached 150 innings since 2014, however, and could go Kershaw’s route as he tries to build credibility as a physically reliable starting pitcher.
Bryce Harper (26), Washington Nationals – Harper will almost certainly try his luck on the open market, seeing as he can easily make over $17.9M annually. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post still reports that the Nationals, like any team with such a talent, will give it a try and hear back in ten days.
Qualifying Offers Withheld
DJ LeMahieu (30), Colorado Rockies – The numbers the last two years, particularly on the road, don’t speak too highly to LeMahieu’s contributions as a Rockie. His defense is impeccable, but a 6.4% walk-rate and .749 OPS may not necessitate a $17.9M paycheck regardless of Colorado’s future initiatives (first reported by Nick Groke of The Athletic).
Adam Ottavino (33), Colorado Rockies – Not even Ottavino and his career-high 2.6 WAR season as Colorado’s chief set-up man is spared. In fairness, though, the Rockies have already invested a hefty sum of money in the bullpen tandem of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee. $17.9M for one year may be excessive in this instance.
Charlie Morton (35), Houston Astros – Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports has the scoop. Morton is likely to cash in on a short-term deal as his age and longevity remain a point of concern. A one-year deal could have been a safe bet for Houston, but with this information, it appears clear the Astros are more interested in taking a different direction around the back of their rotation. He’s 29-10 with a glistening 3.36 ERA, 1.176 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 over his last two years in Houston.
Updates on Familiar Faces
The Cincinnati Reds have claimed former Met farmhand Matthew Bowman off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals. Bowman was claimed by the Cardinals in the Rule V Draft following the 2015 season, and had enjoyed moderate success through his first two seasons, as evidenced by his 3.70 ERA/3.47 FIP across 134 appearances.
Unfortunately, injuries threw the righty off course in 2018, as he stumbled over a 6.26 ERA/4.73 FIP in 23 innings of work amidst nagging blisters on his throwing hand. That said, Bowman did see a two mph jump in fastball velocity (92.1 to 94.1), and could definitely have something in the tank.
In a corresponding move, the Reds outrighted fellow one-time prospect Dilson Herrera off the 40-man roster. Herrera, 24, hit just .215/.308/.383 in 169 plate appearances with the Mets between 2014 and 2015 before being shipped to Cincinnati in the Jay Bruce trade at the 2016 deadline.
Since then, Herrera has made some strides in the minor leagues (.277/.336/.426 through three seasons with Triple-A Louisville), but has yet to translate the potential in the majors. In 53 games this past year between second base and left field, Herrera hit just .184/.268/.414 with five home runs and 11 runs batted in. The respective emergences of Jose Peraza and Scooter Gennett along the middle infield hasn’t benefitted the Colombia native a whole lot, but he remains in the organization’s system, clearly of some intrinsic value given he is set to enter his fourth straight year in the Reds’ system.