Paul’s Preseason Coverage: Signings, Free Agents and Offers (PART 1)

Sports Commentary By:  Paul Slobodzian, Writer and Editor at The Prowl and Growl

-Paul Slobodzian will be catching you up on everything you need to know before the MLB season opens this Sunday, April 3rd. Keep checking in through the week and read all four parts of Paul’s Preseason Coverage.

MLB is Right around the Corner

Spring Training is quickly coming to a close in cities all across Florida and Arizona, and the thirty MLB teams (with the exception of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins) will be heading to their home states to begin the regular season.

Major League Baseball has sustained a multitude of changes since the Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets in Game Five of the World Series on November 1. Various free agent signings and trades as well as Spring Training injuries are shaping the teams and altering the Vegas odds.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the sport through the winter and are just patiently waiting for April 3, here’s a deeper look into the major events that have transpired since Game Five:

FREE AGENTS

Money has been flying around from some of the biggest markets in baseball, and the game is seeing a transition to more $100+ million deals and more guaranteed annual money than ever before. A plethora of big names were up for grabs this offseason, and they weren’t coming cheap.

David Price:  Seven years for $217 million with an opt-out clause after three seasons with the Boston Red Sox

Boston nabbed arguably the best pitcher on the free agent market when they inked Price to his now record deal. Price surpassed Clayton Kershaw’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers which tops out at $215 million, and he now gives the Red Sox the much-needed ace in the rotation they have been lacking over the past few seasons. Boston finished last in the American League East last season, but with Price at the top of the pitching staff, they look poised to compete for a division against the offensive juggernaut Toronto Blue Jays and lethal bullpen with the New York Yankees. Needless to say, there was joy in Beantown when fans heard this news.

Zack Greinke:  Six years for $206.5 million with $62.5 million deferred with the Arizona Diamondbacks

Zack Greinke was undeniably filthy in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alongside Clayton Kershaw, the two pitchers dominated opponents all season long, with Greinke pitching to a miniscule 1.66 ERA and Kershaw eclipsing 300 strikeouts. The last thing the Dodgers wanted to do was watch Greinke leave after another unsuccessful playoff run, but Greinke did exactly the opposite of what the Dodgers desired, jumping across the state line to Phoenix, Arizona to become the ace of the D-backs rotation. After narrowly losing out on the Cy Young Award to the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta, Greinke opted out of his contract with Los Angeles to test free agency, and he found himself face-to-face with the third-largest monetary contract offer in MLB history. It’s hard to turn down $31-32 million a year.

Jason Heyward:  Eight years for $184 million with an opt-out clause after three seasons with the Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have always been known as the “Loveable Losers,” as they have gone without the joy of a World Series title since 1908. Last season was different, though. A couple years ahead of schedule, Chicago found its way into the NLCS behind the strength of Jake Arrieta’s historic season as well as an offense featuring three starting rookies and other young stars in their early twenties. Many analysts didn’t expect the Cubs to compete at the level they did so soon, but the taste of postseason success has led GM Theo Epstein to start wheeling and dealing on the free agent market and exploring various trade possibilities. Enter Jason Heyward. Heyward was one the prizes of free agency this offseason and was expecting a significant pay raise. He certainly got it with a new annual salary well over $20 million and security for the next eight years if he so chooses. The St. Louis Cardinals were the previous owners of Heyward’s talents, and they believed he would eventually end up back with the team for 2016 and beyond. The Cubs, however, swooped in at the last minute to steal Heyward away from their arch rivals and round out an outfield that now features Heyward’s gold glove and two budding young stars in Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Dexter Fowler also resigned with the team after rumors surfaced of his signing with the Baltimore Orioles, so his presence brings the total to four solid outfield pieces. Holy Cow!

Yoenis Cespedes:  Three years for $75 million with a one year opt-out clause with the New York Mets

Yoenis Cespedes was a machine for the Mets down the stretch after he was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers on July 31. Cespedes led the Mets to the World Series, and New York couldn’t envision its 2016 lineup not featuring him again, inking Cespedes to very player-friendly deal with the opportunity to test free agency again after this coming season. Much like the Cubs, the Mets also appear to be above schedule when it comes to legitimately competing in October, but young studs Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz dominated batters with their blazing fastballs and mature composure en route to New York’s first World Series appearance since 2000. Although they were unable to defeat the mighty Royals in the Fall Classic, the team looks destined for success in the next few years, and Yoenis Cespedes should be right at the forefront of it all.

Chris Davis:  Seven years for $161 million with $42 million deferred with the Baltimore Orioles

This deal was one of the more surprising pickups this offseason. It’s no surprise that Baltimore wanted to retain Davis’ monstrous power from the left side, but the dollar figure is questionable for a 29 year old, strikeout-prone slugger. Davis is currently in the “prime” of his big league career and should continue mashing homeruns at Camden Yards, but he has struck out over 160 times in each of the last four years, including a career-high 208 in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, Davis is a proven hitter with numbers that speak for themselves, but he is also just another feast or famine guy in a lineup that features Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo, who have similar strikeout rates to Davis. Baltimore’s lineup has the potential to crush homeruns like the Bronx Bombers featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but, as of right now, it doesn’t seem like the long balls will be able to balance out the punch outs.

Justin Upton:  Six years for $132.75 million with an opt-out clause after two years with the Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch, 86, is running out of time for his beloved Tigers to win a World Series. With one of the highest payrolls in baseball and big name stars like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander signed to lucrative, long-term deals and quickly heading toward the twilights of their respective careers, Detroit needs to put its potential in action and perform well in October. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Tigers. I can remember Magglio Ordóñez’s walk-off homerun in game four of the ALCS in 2006 to clinch Detroit’s first pennant since 1984. I can also remember the unfortunate events of recent postseasons for the Tigers when they got swept by the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic in 2012. I believe 2016 could be a huge season for Detroit. Now, we finally get to the Justin Upton signing. Upton was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the San Diego Padres in the 2014-15 offseason. He had a productive season with San Diego before becoming a free agent. As mentioned before, Ilitch isn’t getting any younger, and the Tigers haven’t won a World Series in 31 seasons. Upton brings more firepower to an already lethal offense. With Ian Kinsler, Cabrera, J.D. and Victor Martinez rounding out the two through five spots in the lineup, Upton can slot in either the two-hole as someone to set the table for the big boppers, or he can become one of the clean-up guys to drive home the men in front. I may be biased as a fan of the team, but I think this signing is fantastic for the club. If only they had some more pitching.

Jordan Zimmermann:  Five years for $110 million with the Detroit Tigers

Speaking of pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Ilitch made this splash before signing Upton to help bolster the pitching rotation. After trading David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays last year at the trading deadlines, the Tigers didn’t have a very formidable rotation at all. Verlander was coming back from an injury, and Alfredo Simon, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene and Kyle Lobstein all struggled mightily throughout the season.  While signing Zimmermann doesn’t give the Tigers a rotation that’s even remotely close to the Mets’ Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard or the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, Zimmermann does give Detroit more flexibility with its starters and a quintessential number two starter with the potential of being a number one. Zimmermann pitched with the Washington Nationals since he broke into the league in 2009, and he’s been a consistent innings-eater with a respectable ERA every season since 2011. Once again, another quality signing for Detroit. Well done, Mr. Ilitch.

Johnny Cueto:  Six years for $130 million with an opt-out clause after two years with the San Francisco Giants

Much like the Tigers and Cubs, the San Francisco Giants spent big this offseason. Looking for more help with the rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner, the Giants went after a 2015 World Series champion and proven top pitcher at times in his career in Johnny Cueto. Cueto’s postseason struggles may be cause for concern for San Fran even though the team is destined to win the World Series this year solely based on the calendar, but Cueto solidifies their rotation with an exclamation point.  The Giants do have a tough division now with the always formidable Dodgers and newly revamped Diamondbacks, but they’re certainly just as big a threat to the NL West as they have been over the past half-decade regardless of the competition within it.  

Kenta Maeda:  Eight years for $25 million with incentives with the Los Angeles Dodgers

Maeda was the prize from overseas this offseason, as the 27-year-old right handed pitcher hails from Japan and had been arguably the best pitcher in Japanese professional baseball over the past few seasons. Concerns over the durability of his throwing arm surfaced during the early winter months of free agency, and it, most likely, drove some teams away. The Dodgers, however, were willing to accept the high-risk-high-reward pitcher, jumping at the opportunity to sign the Asian standout to a team-friendly deal with the possibility for Maeda to earn an additional $8.15 million per season on top of his $3 million base salary based on his performance on the mound. Maeda boasts a career 97-67 win loss record in Japan as well as a 2.39 ERA and 1,233 strikeouts, so Dodger fans, and fans of the game including myself, hope to see his success translate in the States and watch Maeda continue his dominance of opposing hitters.

Jeff Samardzija:  Five years for $90 million with the San Francisco Giants

As mentioned earlier, the Giants now have quite the starting rotation with the first three slots easily filled and the fourth and fifth spots being competed for by solid pitchers. San Francisco missed out on the top pitchers of free agency in Greinke and Price, but they seem to have made up for by acquiring two good pitchers with the signings of Cueto and Samardzija. Samardzija does appear to be a good option for the Giants as he looks due for a bounce-back type of season, but the dollar amount seems too high. $90 million is a lot of money. Period. It’s a lot of money for anybody, especially a professional athlete. I know the Giants didn’t want to miss out on all of the elite arms in the free agent pool, but $90 is too much for the numbers Samardzija has posted throughout his career. Last season with the Chicago White Sox, Samardzija had an ERA very close to 5.00 and gave up the most hits and homeruns in the entire American League. Like I said, he may be due for a bounce-back year, but last season’s stats don’t lie; Samardzija might be heading toward the tail-end of his career. A long-term contract for almost $100 million doesn’t seem fit. I guess we’ll have to see.

Other notable free agent signings:

Ben Zobrist:  Four years, $56 million with the Chicago Cubs

Alex Gordon:  Four years, $72 million with the Kansas City Royals

Byung-ho Park (Korea):  Four years, $12 million with the Minnesota Twins

Daniel Murphy:  Three years, $37.5 million with the Washington Nationals

Gerardo Parra:  Three years, $27.5 million with the Colorado Rockies

Denard Span:  Three years, $31 million with the San Francisco Giants

Wei-Yin Chen:  Five years, $80 million with the Miami Marlins

Scott Kazmir:  Three years, $48 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers

John Lackey:  Two years, $32 million with the Chicago Cubs

Ian Kennedy:  Five years, $70 million with the Kansas City Royals

Mike Leake:  Five years, $80 million with the St. Louis Cardinals

QUALIFYING OFFER

For the first time since the qualifying offer has been introduced as an option for free agents in 2012, a player accepted it. Actually, three free agents accepted the qualifying offer, setting a new precedent for free agents to come. The qualifying offer is computed by averaging the top 125 player salaries for the past season together. If the free agent is offered the qualifying offer, which is a one-year contract, they have the opportunity to turn it down and explore other options or accept it. If they decline their team’s offer and sign elsewhere, the player’s previous team will receive a draft pick as compensation for the lost player. Every player since 2012 has declined the offer, but Colby Rasmus of the Astros, the Dodgers’ Brett Anderson and the Baltimore Orioles’ catcher/designated hitter Matt Wieters all accepted the $15.8 million qualifying offer from their teams. The qualifying offer is only going to increase over the coming seasons as player salaries continue to increase rapidly, so it will be interesting to see how it affects free agency in the future.

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