Part of the beauty with the MLB offseason is that it’s a slow-developing process. Maybe that’s the artistic side in me mixed with the fact that it’s kind of how baseball works, but I definitely prefer an offseason that takes a few months to develop rather than a few hours like the NFL and NBA.
But it can also leave us scraping the content bins trying to keep fans engaged while we work the phone lines for texts and emails to get the latest information.
With that in mind, I’ve assessed the free-agent market and these are the 10 things I believe to be true about this offseason class:
1. Matt Harvey is going to sign with a team who can get him closer to his Dark Knight days. My money is on Oakland or Houston.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one in the first place. In Harvey’s case, for one reason or another, it was the Mets. Shipping off to Cincinnati helped him regain some, but not all of his trademark stuff, and at times he looked more like the Dark Knight and less like The Joker.
Getting his velocity back will probably be the first big test, but even that jumped to 94.4 mph with the Reds — up from 92.6 with the Mets earlier in the year, but down from the 95-96 he averaged before arm issues cropped up — after the trade. With what the Astros have been able to do with Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole in recent years — and in light of the injury to Lance McCullers Jr. — I think they’re the natural landing spot here.
2. Almost everyone is underestimating the Yasmani Grandal market, which will result in a four-year deal worth at least $15 million per year.
Jon Heyman said he should accept the qualifying offer. Search his name on Twitter and you’ll see tons of fans decrying not only Grandal for declining it, but the Dodgers for even offering it.
Look, I realize there’s recency bias with October baseball happening so recently. But Grandal has never had a wRC+ under 100 and is among the best pitch-framing catchers in the league. That combination of hitting and defense almost never is available in free agency, and he just turned 30 five days ago.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets four years and $80 million with teams bumping up the AAV to avoid the fifth-year pitfall that the Russell Martin and Brian McCann deals are seeing or have seen.
3. Nelson Cruz is going to be a Minnesota Twin.
Twins DHs hit .252/.333/.388 last year — a 96 wRC+ that was better than only the Tigers — and Cruz is a perfect bridge to Brent Rooker, Tyler Austin or *gasp* Miguel Sano at the position.
The Twins need the power and have the payroll flexibility, and you know Thad Levine knows Cruz very, very well from their time together in Texas. By the way, the Twins also make a ton of sense for Carlos Santana — who is being shopped by the Phillies — with or without signing Mr. Cruz.
4. The middle of the road is going to provide some really, really nice value in the market.
This will be especially true on offense, where guys like Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Mike Moustakas and Asdrubal Cabrera each have their limitations, but are definitely quality players. But rather than the mega-deals they might have had their eyes on — at least the first three, anyway — they all might up signing for two or three years at solid, but not exactly superstar money.
To that end, I also think Marwin Gonzalez might see an over-inflated market. He’s a nice player, but 2017 looks like the exception instead of the rule, and there are some other interesting super-utility guys available. Are Daniel Descalso or Cabrera as good as Gonzalez? Maybe not, but instead of costing $50ish million they’ll be a lot closer to $15-20 million, I’d wager.
5. David Robertson will be the reliever every team wishes they’d signed.
The most fleeting thing for relievers is consistency, and this guy has it. Every year of his career — dating back to his cup of coffee in 2008 — he’s fanned more than 10 batters per nine innings. Every year in the past nine, he’s pitched between 60 and 70 innings with an ERA under 4.00 — and only once above 3.50.
Side note: He would be a wonderful addition to the Twins bullpen.
6. Joe Kelly’s market will be a lot hotter than fans might expect.
Kelly’s competitive fire was on display in the postseason, but the reality is that he has a lot of the pieces in place to be a really, really great reliever and just hasn’t quite put it all together yet. He struck out more than a batter per inning this last season and has always induced grounders, and he keeps the ball in the ballpark as well — all hallmarks of a truly great reliever.
But his command has been especially spotty the last three years — the three worst walk rates of his career — and that has led to wild fluctuations in his ERA. If homers are the easiest way to get a reliever yanked from late-inning work, walks have to be the Vice President and/or running mate in that race.
If Kelly gets those under wraps, he’s going to be a stud instead of merely very good.
7. If there’s any fool’s gold in the relief market, I think it will be Kelvin Herrera.
There’s a lot here to like. Herrera won’t turn 30 until after the 2019 season, and he’s pitched in some high-leverage spots for some really, really good Kansas City Royals teams. He’s seen some really great strikeout and walk rates, mixed in some grounders and in short scratches the itch of both the traditional and contemporary baseball minds front offices might employ.
But the last two years, he’s been only decent, and that’s particularly worrisome in light of his declining velocity in recent years. While he was averaging 98-99 mph just three years ago, he’s been 96-97 — including a career-low 96.9 mph this year. That’s still plenty good on its own, but when mixed with declining strikeout rates and a propensity for homers, it just doesn’t lend itself to a positive trajectory in my view.
Hopefully he proves me wrong.
8. Trevor Cahill will be the best value among starting pitchers.
The 31-year-old — in March — righty does everything you’d want from a starting pitcher with one very, very big exception. That is, staying healthy. The last time Cahill threw even 180 innings, Barack Obama hadn’t been re-elected yet (2012).
But he’s managed to work in some strikeouts, dropped his walk rate a bit, keeps the ball in the yard and induces lots of grounders. Think of him as the Dollar Store version of Kyle Gibson’s 2018.
That’s a darn good pitcher — and again, a nice fit for the Twins, who can mix in guys like Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero to pick up the slack if/when he needs to miss starts.
9. If there’s another Anibal Sanchez in our midst, it’s Marco Estrada.
Estrada maybe a little older (35) than Sanchez was at this point last winter (33), but his issues were much more confined (two years instead of three) and much less severe (5.27 ERA, 4.97 FIP vs. 5.67 ERA, 5.01 FIP) than Anibal’s were heading into 2018. Sanchez went off for the Braves in his age-34 season, posting a 2.83 ERA in 136.2 innings with nearly a strikeout per inning, a 1.08 WHIP and a FIP of 3.62.
Estrada has long been a pitchability guy — he hasn’t averaged 90 mph on his fastball since 2012 — and his swinging-strike rate of 10.1 percent was actually higher than his 2015 season (9.9 percent), when he posted a 3.13 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 181 innings.
Even if he isn’t likely to post gaudy numbers, he can definitely fill out the rotation of a good team.
10. J.A. Happ provides more value on his next deal than Charlie Morton.
Happ might be a year older than Morton, but I’ll just lean on the guy with a bit longer of a stretch of success (four years to two) who relies on a more age-appropriate blend of skills. I’m not saying it’s inappropriate for Morton to throw in the high-90s — it’s badass, frankly — but for how long is it sustainable?
Happ meanwhile mixes a 91-93 mph fastball with a slider and a change, and is coming off the best swinging-strike rate of his career (10.4 percent) at age 36. I just think he’s a very stable asset at this point — but I’m willing to be wrong.
I’m always willing to be wrong.
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