Five Bold MLB Offseason Predictions
Now that the parade has concluded in Boston, it’s officially time to turn our focus to the offseason. A few minor moves have been made, mostly options being exercised or declined, with the only major move being the White Sox signing of Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu. In honor of this change in the seasons, I decided to make some bold predictions that may seem unlikely but have legitimate arguments justifying them. The goal of this exercise is not to see how many predictions I can accurately make but rather to bring attention to and start discussion about these potential moves or non-moves.
1. The Marlins do not trade Giancarlo Stanton
The Marlins are not close to being contenders and will likely not be contenders before Giancarlo Stanton hits free agency, meaning that the logical move for the Fish is to trade him now when his value is highest. Trade value for each player decreases as his salaries increase through arbitration and his team control decreases which means Stanton’s value will continue to diminish through time.
The Marlins should have traded him last offseason or even at the trade deadline, preferably accepting a package from the Rangers that could have included top prospect Jurickson Profar. It is unknown whether that offer is still on the table, but chances to acquire young players with superstar potential are rare and the Marlins may have missed their chance with Profar. Instead, with virtually no chance to resign Stanton, the Marlins have been watching the trade value of their young star fade during their losing seasons, a trend which I believe will continue this offseason. Should the Marlins put Stanton on the block they would have no shortage of takers, led by the Rangers, Red Sox, and Pirates.
2. Robinson Cano signs for less than $200 million.
Robinson Cano is an elite player, and elite players who are free agents these days sign for over $200 million dollars. Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, and Alex Rodriguez have all signed $200 million dollar contracts and Cano is arguably just as valuable as each of those players. While Cano’s opening request for $305 million is downright absurd, surely he will be payed at least $200 million right? Wrong. The issue with the members of the $200 million dollar club is that three of the four contracts (Votto is the exception) are albatrosses that are essentially untradable without the team eating tens of millions of dollars. If the Angels, Tigers, and Yankees could go back in time it is doubtful that any would offer their aging slugger the same contract.
Since Cano will also be on the wrong side of 30 next year, the point in his career where players begin their decline phase, it is very realistic to believe that Cano’s best years are behind him. Furthermore, since the contract compensates him for future value, any offer should be measured by his projected future value per se and not based on what he has done thus far. To put a $200 million dollar contract in perspective, Cano would have to be worth 40 wins over the duration of the deal, assuming the ratio between money and WAR on the free agent market remains consistent.
Cano was worth 6.0 WAR this season but is projected to be worth 5.6 next year, a beginning of a decline that will continue throughout the rest of his career. Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ front office have strayed from the old Yankee way of buying everyone at any cost in favor of a more cost conscious approach (this is what happens to a team of expensive, aging, injured players), meaning that if Cano’s price tag is too high Cashman could legitimately say no. Furthermore, the Yankees are known to be interested in many of the top free agents this offseason so not resigning Cano would mean that they would have more money available to pursue players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka.
3. Dusty Baker is not asked to interview for a managerial opening
I’ll start by saying that Dusty Baker is highly regarded as an individual and is generally well liked by everyone he meets. When it comes to sabermetrics and the X's and O's of managing, however, Dusty Baker is the poster boy for how to use the numbers to your disadvantage. Baker is admittedly an old-school manager, evidenced by his traditional reliance on the sacrifice bunt and inserting poor hitters in the second slot of the lineup. The numbers say that giving the opposing team an out via a sacrifice bunt almost always lessens a team’s run expectancy, yet this tactic remains frequently employed by Baker and others alike.
Similarly, his insistence of inserting light-hitting shortstop Zack Cozart in the two-hole frustrated sabermetricians since it gave more plate appearances to one of the Reds lightest hitting regulars. This flaw hindered the Reds’ success most frequently when they faced late game deficits and Votto was left on-deck watching an inferior hitter record the final out. As the game continues to adopt sabermetric philosophies, old-school managers like Baker will have to join the movement if they wish to continue to be successful. Furthermore, the recent trend in managers is to hire former players with no prior managing experience, such as Mike Matheny, Walt Weiss, Don Mattingly, Bryan Price, Mike Redmond, at the expense of veteran managers such as Manny Acta, Ozzie Guillen, and Dusty Baker.
4. Max Scherzer is traded
Max Scherzer will likely win the Cy Young Award this year and has one year left on his contract, so if the Tigers do not resign him, they will lose him for nothing more than a draft pick next offseason. Coming off of such an elite season, Scherzer’s value will never be higher and it may be wise for the Tigers to cash in now through the trade market. True aces are always difficult to find so even with only one year left on his contract the Tigers would have no shortage of interested teams if they did make Scherzer available.
Detroit’s rotation would clearly suffer a loss, but with Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez signed to long term deals, the front of the rotation is set for years to come, with Doug Fister stepping into the third slot. The final two spots could be filled by incumbent Rick Porcello and lefty Drew Smyly, or if they preferred to keep Smyly in the bullpen, they could sign a low-cost veteran for the final slot. Since true aces are not readily available it would be wise of Detroit to gauge the market for a year of Scherzer’s services and go through with a trade if they are offered a substantial return.
5. Masahiro Tanaka is the highest paid free agent (including posting fee)
The latest elite Japanese player to enter the posting system will be Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old right handed pitcher currently posting video game numbers in NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball, the premier Japanese league). His 30 start unbeaten streak came to an end in a playoff game earlier today but not before he posted the longest such streak in the history of professional baseball. In the regular season, Tanaka posted a perfect 24-0 record along with a 1.27 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in 212 innings, impressive numbers in any league.
Yu Darvish set the most recent precedent for elite Japanese pitchers, commanding a $51.7 million posting fee and a six year, $60 million contract for a total of $111.7 million, but it is widely believed that Tanaka will surpass those figures. Could he also require more money to sign than current Major Leaguers Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury?
Tanaka has two main advantages over Cano and Ellsbury: age and not being tied to draft pick compensation. Cano will be 31 next season and Ellsbury will be 30, while Tanaka recently turned 25. A player’s peak is often from ages 25-29, so Tanaka's contract will cover his prime while the contracts for Cano and Ellsbury will cover their decline.
Additionally, teams have recently shown extreme disdain for losing draft picks and signing Cano or Ellsbury will require the signing team to forfeit one, which is not the case for signing Tanaka. The Kyle Lohse saga last offseason is a perfect example of this phenomenon as Lohse received significantly less money than Edwin Jackson despite being a superior pitcher. The concept of the relative unknown also intrigues teams as Tanaka could turn out to be even better than Darvish though there is an obvious downside that he could become the next Kei Igawa. If Cano receives $180 million, it is possible that Tanaka could top that through a $100 million posting fee and an $85 million contract. That’s certainly a lot of money, but for a potential ace that does not require the loss of a draft pick or top prospects, it is a price that could be paid.