Not for nuthin’: A phrase uttered by New Yorkers to soften the blow prior to saying something that could be construed as offensive or too strong.

Late last year, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz announced that he’d retire as a player at the conclusion of this season. As you’d expect, the outpouring of appreciation and affection for “Big Papi” has morphed his last season into a farewell tour.

The revelry is understandable. After all, Ortiz is an iconic player who embodies the rise of the Red Sox during the last decade or so. Since his arrival from the Minnesota Twins in 2003, Boston has won three World Series titles, which happens to be two more than the New York Yankees — their bitter rival.

No, I’m not from Boston, nor am I a “Sawx” fan. But, I root for players and it’s easy to pull for Ortiz. His baseball resume is impressive and — perhaps — it’ll earn him a plaque in Cooperstown someday. However, Big Papi’s brief speech at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombing and his meeting with a little boy named Maverick undoubtedly makes him a Hall of Famer in the hearts and minds of millions.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz walks towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon during a parade in celebration of the baseball team's World Series win, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)By this point, some of you may be wondering why I’d choose a title suggesting that Boston’s designated hitter isn’t “clutch” when all I’ve done is heap praise on him up. I have my reasons and it’s possible that you’ll agree with me by the end of this piece — even if you’re a diehard Sawx fan. Just hear me out.

Consider this thought for a moment. Have you ever been waiting for important news, or maybe a package to arrive? Doesn’t it seem like time drags on more slowly until the news or package finally arrives? Time didn’t slow to a crawl; you just perceived it that way. The same happens with hitters who deliver during pressure situations.

When great ball players continuously get the big hit with the game on the line, they earn the label of “clutch performer.” But, that’s more perception than reality. That so-called clutch player is actually really good and consistent. They deliver regardless of the fans’ stress level or the anticipation created by a good play-by-play announcer. Don’t believe me? Please let me show you.

First, let’s look at Ortiz’s career numbers and see how they stack up against his high-leverage “clutch” production. Some of you may be surprised by the similarities.

David Ortiz Career Splits
Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% K%
Career Totals 9808 .286 .380 .552 .931 13.1 17.4
High Leverage 1932 .291 .388 .551 .939 14.1 17.0

As you can see, Ortiz’s career totals are relatively the same as his stats during critical situations. Based on the praised routinely heaped upon the slugger by network talking heads and the Boston media, you’d expect vastly higher numbers when more was at stake. That’s not the case at all.

Those overemphasizing Ortiz’s performance in clutch situations are doing the 20-year veteran a disservice. His “clutchness” is rooted in his consistency. Big Papi is a great player all of the time, regardless of the circumstances.

High-leverage moments are better remembered by fans and given more attention by the media because everyone’s on the edge of their seat awaiting the outcome. That’s completely understandable, but players with clutch reputations don’t rise to the occasion. They simply play at the same brilliant level when the stakes are raised.

To make my point, let’s look at several other great players perceived as coming up big when the game was on the line. Since there were so many players to choose from, I used an unconventional method to canvas for names. I turned to Twitter.

Yes, social media isn’t exactly a reliable resource for data collection. But, I was looking for players perceived as clutch by fans. So, a random survey of the person on the street — or on tweet — made sense. See what I just did there? I acknowledge that my survey wasn’t exactly scientific. But, it was a fun, interactive way to get input for a story.

Career Splits of “Clutch” Players
Player Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
Jeff Kent Career Totals 9537 .290 .356 .500 .855 8.4 16.0
High-Leverage 1826 .282 .354 .480 .834 8.9 17.6
 Craig Biggio Career Totals 12504 .281 .363 .433 .796 9.3 14.0
High-Leverage 2228 .279 .362 .412 .774 9.6 13.9
 Dustin Pedroia Career Totals 5969 .299  .365 .445  .810 9.2 9.6
High-Leverage 1001 .304 .379 .446 .825 11.0 10.6
Edgar Martinez Career Totals 8674 .312 .418 .515 .933 14.5 13.9
High-Leverage 1749 .313 .431 .511 .942 16.6 13.2
Smoky Burgess Career Totals 5013 .295 .362 .446 .807 9.5 5.4
High-Leverage 1278 .286 .369 .443 .802 12.0 5.2
Kirk Gibson   Career Totals 6656 .268 .352 .463 .815 10.8 19.3
High-Leverage 1301 .258 .342 .437 .779 10.8 20.0
Reggie Jackson Career Totals 11418 .262 .356 .490 .846 12.1 22.7
High-Leverage 2360 .273 .357 .498 .855 11.3 23.1

The players suggested are all familiar names and are quite random — really random. When was the last time you read a piece discussing Smoky Burgess? Nearly all are Hall of Famers or should be enshrined in Cooperstown.

As with Ortiz, each player was perceived by fans as being clutch, although they were just really good — great actually. The largest variance between any player’s high-leverage performance and career totals was with Kirk Gibson and his numbers aren’t exactly skewed. Considering he only averaged 96 games-per-season during his 17-year career due to injuries, I’m not surprised that his numbers aren’t as closely aligned as his peers.

Most of you have probably noticed by now that I didn’t cover a player mentioned in my tweet — Derek Jeter. Since the retired New York Yankees superstar was known as “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November,” I thought that I’d quickly discuss the future Hall of Famer separately.

Derek Jeter Career Splits
Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
Career Totals 12602 .310 .377 .440 .817 8.6 14.6
High-Leverage 2052 .310 .390 .418 .808 10.1 14.8

Jeter earned his “clutchy” nicknames partly from dramatic postseason plays — in the field and with his bat. As a grand finale to his wonderful career, the retired shortstop closed out his Yankee Stadium career with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning. It’s easy to see why “The Captain” was perceived to be better under pressure.

Certainly, Jeter delivered some of the most unforgettable moments on the field during the last two decades. But, the future Hall of Famer’s stats during high-pressure situations are eerily similar to his overall career numbers. The bottom line is that Jeter was steadfastly superb under all conditions. That’s why he’s so well respected and has a date with Cooperstown.

Jeter 2Some of you may have noticed that I’ve yet to mention postseason play. There’s a reason. I’m not particularly fond of discussing playoff numbers because it requires wading in a small sample pool.

Of all of the players previously mentioned, only three have more than 300 postseason plate appearances — Jeter, Ortiz, and Reggie Jackson. It’s unreasonable to compare players who’ve had a limited number of playoff appearances to others with substantially more October experience.

For example, Ortiz’s teammate — Dustin Pedroia — has just 202 postseason plate appearances spread over four different years. Gibson, best remembered for his walk-off homer against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series, has just 92 trips to the plate during the playoffs. Despite my misgivings, I’ve compiled a table with the postseason production for Jeter, Papi, and Reggie.

Postseason “Clutch” Players
Player Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
 David Ortiz Career Totals 9808 .285 .379 .549 .928 13.1 17.4
Postseason 357 .295 .409 .553 .962 16.0 19.9
 Reggie Jackson Career Totals 11418 .262 .356 .490 .846 11.9 22.7
Postseason 318 .278 .358 .527 .885 10.4 22.0
 Derek Jeter Career Totals 12602 .310 .377 .440 .817 8.6 14.6
Postseason 734 .308 .374 .465 .838 9.0 18.4

Once again, the numbers are relatively close. Yes, Ortiz’s on-base percentage and batting average are elevated. But, not by much. Once again, we’re talking about very small sample size — his postseason plate appearances equals about a half-season spread over a decade.

Finally
As David Ortiz’s career comes to a close, I’ll remember him as a great player — not a clutch one. Perhaps, you won’t agree with me. Even if you disagree, I suggest you rooting for this great player as he closes out his distinguished career. You may not want him to help beat your team, but you could offer a respectful tip of your hat if he does.

That may be a tough pill to swallow for some diehard Yankees fans. But, Ortiz is much like Jeter. A local star who blossomed into an iconic figure within the sport. Whether Big Papi’s swan song turns out to be as memorable as Jeter’s remains to be seen. Although, one last great memory from a marvelous player would be apropos, wouldn’t it?

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners.

As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market.

The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers.

For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin.

What happened?
As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean.

Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention
Month RS/Gm RA/Gm
Total W-L
W-L (+4 Runs scored)
W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored)
April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8

As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games.

For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8?

The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff?

The ugly baby
The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex.

Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same.

Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts)
Player IP H
ER SO
BB
HR
AVG
Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235
James Paxton
26 28 4 27 8 1 .285

Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June.

The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn.

The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno.

Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season.

The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1

As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point.

For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs.

Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Reality check
Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85.

After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick —  Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson.

Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low.

Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations.

Reality check (Part two)
Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games.

Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark.

Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization.

Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation.

Bullpen
The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition.

We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place.

The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018.

Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree.

Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever.

The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long?

If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option.

I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City?

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today.

Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010.

Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever.

If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control.

Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned.

Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning.

Corner outfield
Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order.

Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks.

Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense.

Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense.

Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell?

A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off.

Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field.

Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat.

Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots.

Rotation
Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way?

To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true.

As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016.

Finally
What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification.

If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable.

Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers

Last June, I wrote a piece reflecting on several non-waiver deadline deals made in July 2011. My rationale for looking back so far was simple. Most of these trades involve prospects who are years away from reaching the majors — assuming they ever do.

Since I enjoyed picking away at those old trades last year, I thought I’d do it again and put several 2012 deadline deals under the microscope this time. There weren’t many sexy moves that year, but I chose a few that I found interesting. I hope that you will too.

Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva
When the Texas Rangers dealt for Dempster, they were leading the American League (AL) West division and trying to earn a third consecutive World Series appearance. It’s hard to criticize the Rangers for making the deal. After losing two consecutive Fall Classics, they were willing to part with prospects to get over the hump.

Dempster pitched adequately during his 12 starts with Texas and became a free agent after the season. Unfortunately for the club though, the resurgent Oakland Athletics won the division and the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to the Baltimore Orioles.

The Chicago Cubs were at the other end of the spectrum. They were in the midst of a 101-loss season, which happened to be the first with Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager. For them, trading soon-to-be free agent Dempster to get much needed prospects made complete sense.

At the time of the deal, Villanueva — a third baseman — was considered the centerpiece of the deal for the Cubs, but he has yet to reach the majors.

Although the 24-year-old ranks number-26 in Chicago’s stacked minor league system, he’s behind National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant on the depth chart. More importantly though, Villanueva suffered a fractured fibula in Spring Training and hasn’t played this season.

Hendricks has experienced better luck and landed in Chicago’s rotation as a full-time starter last season. This year, he’s off to a great start and currently ranks number-13 among NL starters, based on FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR).

David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon for Joseph Musgrove, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, and Kevin Comer
Another club in the midst of a massive rebuild — the Houston Astros — started trading away major league talent a year earlier when they dispatched Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in deals to the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves respectively.

In 2012, new general manager Jeff Lunhow continued the trend started by his predecessor — Ed Wade — by shipping Happ and two veterans north of the border in an attempt to restock his decimated minor league system. Although ten players were involved in this deal, only a few panned out or provided value to either club.

Lyon, Cordero, and Francisco were gone — via trade or release — within three months. After the 2014 season, Perez was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Hank Conger, who was subsequently purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays last December.

Carpenter, along with manager John Farrell were sent to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Mike Aviles. Just four days later, Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes were sent packing to the Cleveland Indians for Esmil Rogers, who has since moved on from Toronto.

Rollins was a Rule 5 selection by the Seattle Mariners in December 2015 and currently plays with their Class-AAA affiliate. Wojciechowski was waived last month and subsequently picked up by the Miami Marlins. That leaves Happ, Comer, and Musgrove to discuss.

For Toronto, Happ was the centerpiece of the deal. The southpaw endured a tough run of injury problems with the Blue Jays, although he did provide value when healthy. In December 2014, the Jays swapped the veteran hurler Happ for outfielder Michael Saunders of the Mariners.

Happ must have enjoyed his stay in Canada because he returned to the team as a free agent last offseason after a brief stay in Pittsburgh last summer. Now, the Jays have both Happ and Saunders contributing to the big league club.

For the Astros, Comer hasn’t reached Class-AA yet and isn’t a top-30 prospect. However, Musgrove looks like he’ll eventually pay dividends for Houston. The 23-year-old is currently pitching at Class-AAA Fresno and projects to be a mid-rotation starter.

Zack Greinke for Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura
If I didn’t cover this deal made by current Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, I’d probably lose my parking privileges at the Prospect Insider headquarters.

At the time of the trade, Dipoto was running the Los Angeles Angels. His ball club was just three games behind the first place Rangers and held the lead in the AL wildcard race. Unfortunately, for the Angels and Dipoto, the team didn’t make it to the postseason despite winning 89 games.

The Angels’ dance partner — the Milwaukee Brewers — were hopelessly out of contention and looking to acquire value for Greinke, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Of the three players the Brewers acquired, Segura was the best. In his first full season with the club, he made the 2013 NL All-Star team and posted an excellent .294/.329/.423 triple-slash. The following two seasons, though, he was an offensive disappointment and subsequently shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January.

Hellweg is now in the San Diego Padres organization after signing as a minor league free agent prior to this season, while Pena is still in the Brewers minor league system. Neither is on their respective club’s 40-man roster.

Although Segura provided mixed results while with Milwaukee, the club did garner some value when they traded him along with pitcher Tyler Wagner to Arizona for minor leaguer Isan Diaz, pitcher Chase Anderson, and veteran infielder Aaron Hill. This was, in essence, the second layer of the Greinke deal.

The 34-year-old Hill will be a free agent at the end of the season and is a likely deadline deal chip for general manager David Stearns. But, Anderson and Diaz have long-term value to Stearns’ organization.

Anderson is under team control for five more seasons and currently a member of their rotation, while Diaz — a 2014 second-round draft pick — currently ranks number-11 in Milwaukee’s minor league system.

Hunter Pence for  Seth Rosin, Nate Schierholtz and Tommy Joseph
Just a year after picking up Pence from the Astros, Philadelphia flipped him to the San Francisco Giants for three youngsters. He’d eventually sign an extension with San Francisco and is under contract through the 2018 season. Along the way, the 33-year-old helped his team win the 2012 and 2014 Fall Classic.

Rosin is no longer with the Phillies after his selection during the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets in December 2013. He’s currently with Class-AAA El Paso in the San Diego Padres organization, but not on their 40-man roster. Schierholtz became a free agent after the season and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014.

From the Phillies’ perspective, Joseph was the key component of the deal. At the time, the right-handed hitter appeared to Philadelphia’s catcher of the future. Unfortunately, concussions derailed his career behind the plate. As a result, the team moved him to first base on a full-time basis. Now, the 24-year-old appears to be the heir apparent to veteran first baseman Ryan Howard.

Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough
The Los Angeles Dodgers were hot on the heels of the Giants and their new ownership group wanted to make a splash by reaching the postseason for the first time in three seasons. So, they acquired Choate and Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Unfortunately, for the club, San Francisco won it all and the Dodgers missed the playoffs altogether.

Although Choate left as a free agent after season, Ramirez proved to be an important contributor who helped the Dodgers reach the next two postseasons before he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in November 2014.

As compensation for losing Ramirez, Los Angeles received a compensatory draft pick — number-35 overall — and selected Kyle Funkhouser from the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers, Funkhouser didn’t sign and opted to return to school for his senior year.

For the Marlins, they recouped some value in the deal, although it was in a circuitous manner — like the Greinke deal.

McGough was waived in April, but Miami was able to flip Eovaldi with Domingo German and Garrett Jones to nab David Phelps and Martin Prado from the New York Yankees in December 2014. Phelps is the team’s eight-inning setup man and Prado is their starting third baseman.

Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and Jacob Turner
In another “sell-mode” maneuver, Miami sent Infante and Sanchez to the win-now Detroit Tigers. This deal turned out to be lopsided in favor of Detroit.

The Marlins got little value out of the threesome they received. Turner was traded to the Cubs for minor leaguers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer two years later. Arias is no longer playing professional baseball and the 26-year-old Bremer has yet to pitch above the Class-AA level.

Flynn was traded to the Kansas City Royals in November 2014 for Aaron Crow, who was granted free agency a year later. Brantly was eventually waived by the Marlins and the Chicago White Sox. He’s currently one of Dipoto’s layers of roster depth at Class-AAA Tacoma.

Conversely, Detroit did much better. Infante played well for the Tigers until he became a free agent after the 2013 season, while Sanchez finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting during his first full season and he’s still toeing the mound in the Motor City.

Ichiro Suzuki for Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell
This deal was a small one, but it did involve a future Hall of Famer and the Mariners. So, I thought I’d mention it.

Ichiro asked to be traded from the Emerald City and the organization obliged by sending him to New York. The former AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year helped the Yankees reach the postseason and played two more seasons with the club before moving on to the Marlins — his current team.

The 42-year-old is on-track to reach 3,000 hits this season and is certain to be a Mariners Hall of Fame member. Perhaps, his Cooperstown plaque will have him wearing a Seattle cap.

Seattle received fair value in return for Ichiro considering that he was 38-years-old and regressing. Although Mitchell was out of the Mariners system less than a year later and currently playing independent league ball, Farquhar helped the club for several seasons.

The right-hander was an asset out of the bullpen and even served as Seattle’s closer in the second half of 2013. During last offseason, Farquhar was part of a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought starting pitcher Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell to the Mariners.

Finally
Once again, my takeaway is that time is the best judge of deadline deals, not the instant gratification analysis certain to immediately follow after this year’s trades.

My advice to those following a team that deals for prospects next month is be patient and wait about four years before you make your final judgement. That’s easier said than done, but you’ll have a better idea on how your team actually fared. It might prevent your blood pressure from soaring in July too.

 …

Opening DayProspect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill fearlessly shared his forecast for 2016 yesterday. So, I figured that I should I join the fray and add my projections for the new season, although mine are more likely to end up in either the “fearful” or “foolish” categories.

Since Jason skillfully covered the standard stuff — playoff teams and awards winners — I decided to do something a little different. Perhaps, offbeat or quirky in the eyes of some. I’m going to avoid projecting the winners of awards and pennants. Instead, I’ll make several Seattle Mariners predictions and a few random projections about the rest of the league. Some of my choices will be safe bets. Hence, the use of the term “fearful.” The rest have a decent chance to land in the “foolish” category.

Regardless of how my projections turns out, it’ll be fun to look back at the end of the season to see how I did. It’ll either be fun for me when I’m crowing about how smart I am, or you’ll be provided with more opportunities to remind me how dumb my predictions turned out to be. Without further ado, let’s get going.

The King will reign on Opening Day
I’m not exactly going out on a limb with this one. Felix Hernandez has a 6-0 record with a 1.49 earned run average (ERA) on Opening Day. Still, I wanted to include this one because it’s tied into a larger issue; Spring Training stats are irrelevant.

Felix, once again, posted so-so results with a 0-2 win-loss record and 4.11 ERA and, once again, some fans were sounding the alarm on social media. In mid-February, I discussed the annual madness that goes on when a player either overachieves or stumbles down in Peoria. Yet, the insanity continues.

FelixFor those of you don’t remember, “King Felix” had a 10.22 ERA in Cactus League play last year, while Taijuan Walker was lights out during his audition for the fifth starter spot. Look how things turned out for both hurlers after the real games started.

Hernandez was outstanding during last season’s opener and Walker struggled until Memorial Day. Walker may become the eventual heir to the King’s thrown. However, his 2015 Spring Training numbers didn’t foreshadow his early-season difficulties or Felix’s regular season success.

Again, Spring Training results mean nothing and that’s why I’m taking the easy path on my first prediction; the King reigns supreme on Opening Day. If he doesn’t, I guess I’ll be considered the court jester.

The Mariners will use at least ten starting pitchers
This isn’t a very bold prediction either. Yet, it’s worth reiterating that the starting five in April rarely makes it through the entire season without needing reinforcements. Actually, the 2003 Mariners were the last major league team to use just five starters during a season.

That’s why the “Nate Karns or James Paxton for fifth starter” discussion during Spring Training won’t matter by the end of the season. Paxton, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and a few others are likely to start games for the Mariners in 2016.

I opted to predict ten starters because that’s been the major league average for ball clubs during recent seasons and that’s how many starting pitchers that the Mariners and both World Series participants — the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals — used last season. The fewest starters used was eight by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who still felt compelled to add a starting pitcher — former Mariner J.A. Happ — at the trade deadline last season.

Boomstick will lose some boom
It’s not exactly courageous to predict that Nelson Cruz — who’ll be his age-36 by the end of the season — will slow down. Some fans won’t agree with me, but I covered my reasoning in great detail yesterday when I discussed if the Mariners could survive a predicted swoon by their star slugger.

Fans will blame Cruz’s decline on playing DH
In 2015, “Boomstick” played 80 games in right field and 72 as the Mariners designated hitter. Most observers expect that he’ll spend considerably less time in the outfield compared to his first year in Seattle or during any point in his 11-year major league career.

If my prediction about a Cruz regression pans out, a segment of Mariners faithful will protest that his reduced playing time in the field will be the true reason for his decline. They’ll even back it up with career splits that illustrate that he’s always been a better hitter when used as a fielder.

Nelson Cruz’s 2015 Splits
Split G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
as RF 80 346 105 11 0 31 31 78 .337 .402 .670 1.072
as DH 72 309 73 11 1 13 28 86 .263 .333 .450 .783
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/3/2016.

There’s no disputing that there was a sizeable production split between Cruz’s outfield and designated hitter time during 2015. But, it’s a small sample-size that doesn’t distinguish the fact that 32 of his 72 games at designated hitter came when he was hobbled with injuries in June and September — his two worst statistical months during last season.

Is it possible that Boomstick struggles in his new role? Sure. But, I’d be more inclined to chalk up any difficulties to age-related regression, injuries, or just an old-fashioned slump. Even if Cruz stumbles out of the gate, he’ll have a good role model and mentor at his disposal — hitting coach Edgar Martinez. After all, the award that annually recognizes the best designated hitter in baseball is named after Edgar.

Okay, onto a few non-Mariners items. Let’s see how I do at making predictions about other teams and baseball related issues.

The Yankees will have a winning record
Perhaps, the Bronx Bombers will fall below the .500 mark this season. But, they haven’t registered a losing record since 1992 and I have no reason to believe that the streak will end in 2016.

The Mets will have a better record than the Yankees
This one has little meaning outside of the New York metropolitan area. Nevertheless, I grew up a Mets fan and I haven’t had many opportunities to say that the Mets are better than the Yankees. Therefore, I’m saying it now and it’s not just some deep-seeded resentment speaking.

The “Amazins” have a far superior starting staff — maybe the best in baseball — plus a decent offense and defense to support it. The Bombers, on the other hand, are not nearly as deep and play in a much more competitive division. The Yanks will have a winning season; they just won’t be as good as the Mets. Boy that felt good!

Minnesota stalls
The Twins are chock full of young talent that’s either on their big league roster or very close to reaching the majors. However, this is a ball club that overachieved last season when they finished with an 83-79 win-loss record.

From a statistical standpoint, they shouldn’t have been in contention for the second wild card spot going into the last full week of the season. Yet, they were. Minnesota had the worst team on-base percentage in the American League, and they were also near the bottom of the league in batting average and slugging percentage.

Twins hitters weren’t very good against right-handed pitching — which constitutes approximately 80-percent of the league — and mid-pack when facing southpaws. Their pitching was similarly pedestrian and was either below league-average or at the bottom of the league in most significant categories. So, how did they do it?

This may make some Twins fans see red, but luck? The offensive category that Minnesota excelled at is my least favorite statistic, batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP). Last year, I tried my best to debunk RISP and the notion that the metric indicates whether a play is or isn’t “clutch.” Yet, baseball broadcasters and pundits continue to refer to this small-sample size statistic as if it were reliable, or predictive in nature.

With that said, I don’t think that the Twins will take a huge step backwards. But, I expect that their 2015 RISP luck has run out.

Fallen Angels
Anytime you look at the Mariners’ woeful rankings for offensive production in 2015, you’ll find Anaheim lingering nearby in every category. The former club of Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t have a potent offense last year and the new front office didn’t do much in the offseason to improve their chances for 2016. It’s true that they have one of the best players on the planet in Mike Trout, but who’s going to get on base so Trout can drive them home?

When I discussed how the runs batted in (RBI) stat had no value in early January, I pointed to the fact that, among the nine players with 40 or more home runs last season, Trout had the fewest runners on base when he came to the plate. What’s the use of having a player of Trout’s ilk if the players in front of him in the batting order can’t get on base?

Assuming that Anaheim’s rotation continues to be near league-average as they were last season, it’s tough envisioning them scoring enough to win as many games as last year. They’ll finish closer to the bottom of the division than the top in 2016.

The Diamondbacks won’t take the next step
This pick isn’t much of a reach either, at least in my mind. Though it’ll probably upset the team’s fan base. There’s no doubt that the Diamondbacks made several splashy moves during the offseason. But, I don’t see how trading away the number-one overall pick from the 2015 amateur draft (Dansby Swanson) and an outstanding defensive outfielder (Ender Inciarte) for starting pitcher Shelby Miller, plus overpaying (six-years/$206.5 million) to 32-year-old ace Zack Greinke actually helps Arizona in 2016 and beyond.

Yes, their starting pitching will be significantly better and they have one of the most underrated and best hitters in the game — Paul Goldschmidt — in their lineup. But, I don’t see it being enough to win the National League (NL) West division and winning a wild card berth will be a challenge with some many good teams in the NL East and Central divisions.

Unfortunately, for Arizona and baseball, A.J. Pollock will be lost for three months due to a broken elbow. Losing a budding star like Pollock leads into a conversation about ownership’s willingness or ability to add salary and make in-season roster adjustments.

According to information available at Baseball Prospectus, the Diamondbacks have exceeded their current 2016 payroll projection of $91 million only once during their club’s history. Will management make the necessary moves or will the Greinke deal hamstring the team’s ability to improve? I suspect it will.

Letting pitchers hit will continue to be a dumb
Other than the entertainment value of watching a Bartolo Colon helmet swirl, what’s the point in having pitchers continuing to make plate appearances?

Colon HittingWhat’s the result of letting pitchers hit? More pinch-hit appearances and fewer runs scored, which leads to less fun. Only five NL teams scored over the major league average of 4.25 runs-per-game in 2015, while major league pinch hitters batted .218 last season. This doesn’t make for compelling baseball, ever.

As comedian/writer Larry David might say while during his most recognizable political impersonation, “Enough is enough!”

There’s still hope at the All-star break 
Even if your team is struggling at the midway point of the season, there is hope. Look at how many first place teams from the last five all-star breaks didn’t win their division or completely missed the postseason.

First Place Teams at the All-Star Break
Year AL East AL Central AL West NL East
NL Central NL West
2015 NYY KCR LAA WSN STL LAD
2014 BAL DET OAK WSN MIL LAD
2013 BOS DET OAK ATL STL ARI
2012 NYY CHW TEX WSN PIT LAD
2011 BOS DET TEX PHI MIL SFG
Finished as a Wild Card                                  Missed the postseason

Some old guy will spout off about something
Another former player will likely follow in the steps of  Goose Gossage and gripe about Bryce Harper or other players who don’t “respect the game.” For the old-timer, the bat flip is sacrilegious. Today’s fans and players don’t see it that way.

That “get off my lawn” guy will echo Gossage’s sentiments. As I noted in a recent “N4N” piece, complaining about the kids is rite of passage for the older generation.

As an “old guy” myself, I can’t say that I like everything that Millennials do on the field. But, who cares? It’s baseball played by young men, not people eligible for Social Security. Besides, nothing that the younger generation of ball players do will ever bother me as much as Washington state drivers who loiter in the passing lane of highways.

Alright, enough of the old guy speak. Let’s close this out with a few more Mariners related items.

The Mariners bullpen will be better than last year
This projection isn’t exactly hard to envision either. With the exception of Carson Smith, the 2015 relief corps was a complete disappointment. Yes, the current group may not inspire confidence. But, I expect it’ll still be better than last year’s group. No where to go, but up, for Seattle’s relief corps.

Jerry Dipoto won’t stand pat
Second easiest prediction ever; the easiest one comes later. During his first offseason with the Mariners, Dipoto added 12 new players to his club’s 25-man roster, including two starting pitchers, his closer and eighth inning set-up man, and four starting position players.

The 47-year-old’s aggressiveness is another reason to believe that the team’s bullpen will be better in 2016. Dipoto won’t rest if his relievers are collectively tanking, especially if the Mariners are have a reasonable chance to make a postseason run at the all-star break.

Based on his busy offseason and his stated willingness to pivot when things don’t work out, Dipoto should keep the Prospect Insider staff busy during the regular season.

The Mariners will have a winning record
I’m not saying they’ll be in the postseason. But, I do believe that the Mariners are — at least — six wins better than last season when they finished with a 76-86 win-loss record. So yes, I do expect his club will have a winning record during the first year of the Dipoto/Servais regime.

As Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times noted, Dipoto feels the same way and expects to enter the season with a chance of winning 85-86 games. As the new general manager said, “We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s.”

Whether the Mariners have a realistic shot to contend will likely come down to their overall health, how the revamped bullpen performs, and how well Dipoto pivots during adversity. Regardless, the team should crack the 81-win barrier in 2016.

Finally…Seattle will rejoice when Junior goes to Cooperstown 
This is the easiest prediction I’ve ever made. Ken Griffey Jr. made baseball and Mariners history when he was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January. First, the best player to wear a Mariners uniform justifiably earned the highest vote percentage ever recorded during the Hall’s 80-year history.

Then, the club unexpectedly announced that “Junior” would be the first Mariners player to have his uniform number retired. From this point forward, no one will ever wear the number “24” at any level within the Mariners organization.

Regardless of how the Mariners do during the 2016 season, Seattle will celebrate on July 24, when Griffey formally enters Cooperstown, and during “Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend” at Safeco Field on August 5-7, when his jersey is officially retired. At least I know that I’ll get one 2016 prediction right.…

In an age of free agency and mobile players, few major leaguers last enough with one club to earn the venerable status of “face of the franchise.” The kind of players I’m referring to not only have been with a team for at least a decade, but also have become the cornerstone of the organization through acts of goodwill and exceptional performance on the field.

Fans fortunate enough to have such a player on their favorite team’s roster probably feel grateful to have them represent their ball club and city. But, what happens when that face begins to lose his luster and show his age?

Depending on the emotional equity that the player has earned through the years, it’s reasonable to believe that most fans will be willing to fail to notice their natural decline. Look no further than the Bronx for a most recent and prominent example of such a phenomenon.

Number two
On the last day of the 2014 regular season, New York Yankees great Derek Jeter was facing Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox in the top of the third inning at Fenway Park. After falling behind one ball and two strikes to Buchholz, Jeter plated Ichiro Suzuki with a high chopper to third baseman Garin Cecchini.

During previous years, Jeter’s single may have affected the postseason fortunes of either club, but not in 2014. Both the Yankees and Red Sox were well out of contention and just playing out the season on that sunny day in Boston. That’s not to say that Jeter’s single wasn’t significant; his plate appearance against Buchholz would be the last of his storied career.

When Yankees manager Joe Girardi — a former teammate of Jeter’s — replaced the future Hall of Famer with a pinch runner after that run-scoring single, the team’s captain received a poignant send-off from the Fenway crowd. It had been an emotional week for Jeter, who had previously announced that 2014 would be the last season of his 20-year career.

Just three days prior, the veteran shortstop’s last hit at Yankee Stadium was a dramatic walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning after his team had blown a three-run lead to the Baltimore Orioles in the top half of inning. Would you expect anything less from a player nicknamed “Captain Clutch?”

The truth hurts
Although fans succumbed to the nostalgia surrounding the Jeter farewell tour, the media wasn’t necessarily as captivated during his final year in the majors.

Early in the season, Ted Berg of USA Today predicted that Jeter’s defense would cost the Yankees. Joel Sherman of the New York Post opined in early September that Girardi needed to reduce Jeter’s role. That’s just a small sample of the criticism that columnists and bloggers delivered during the retiring shortstop’s final season.

Jeter 2 Some fans may not have liked reading those kind of comments, but the pundits were correct to point out that Jeter’s star was no longer shining brightly.

Yankee lovers — and baseball fans in general — can find a measure of comfort in one clear-cut certainty. By the time Jeter is formally enshrined at Cooperstown in the summer of 2020, the thrilling conclusion to his magnificent career will be all that anyone remembers about his last year in the majors.

Irreconcilable differences
Although fans are happy when a player of Jeter’s ilk finishes his career where he started, they want their teams to win championships. Having a face of the franchise on the decline taking a roster spot could hurt the team, as both Berg and Sherman suggested about Jeter.

One could make the case that a sense of misguided sentimentality prevented the Yankees from finishing closer to a wild card berth during Jeter’s last season. The rationale being that a little less Jeter could’ve led to a few more wins and postseason play. That’s a tough sell for me.

Remember, management never found an adequate replacement for departed free agent Robinson Cano. They didn’t have one in 2015 either. Carlos Beltran had a sub-par year — worse than Jeter’s. Finally, let’s not forget that Alex Rodriguez missed the entire season due to suspension. In the end, I don’t think that the casual Yankee fan cared; they just wanted one more year of Captain Clutch.

Next farewell tour
Boston’s David Ortiz will end his career with “the Sawx” after this coming season. “Big Papi” didn’t start his career in Beantown, but he’s now considered a community ambassador, especially after his remarks at Fenway after the Boston Marathon bombing.

The R-rated comment delivered by Ortiz during that brief speech further elevated his already iconic status throughout New England. Only time will tell whether he’ll be able to replicate Jeter’s season-ending heroics. Without doubt, his last trip to Yankee Stadium and his last home stand will be “must see” events.

What if Ortiz gets off to a slow start in 2016 or struggles as the season progresses? How will the media react? Probably in the same manner as they did during Jeter’s last season — by telling the truth.

How about fans? If Papi is scuffling and Boston is in a pennant race, would fans prefer to see him play or ride the bench? This quandary is always possible when the face of the franchise gets long in the tooth.

I suspect that Boston fans will treat Ortiz the same way as Yankee fans did Jeter; they’ll shower him with an outpouring of affection of support regardless of his performance. Both players helped provide many extraordinary moments — and World Series rings – to their respective towns. That helps fans overlook a few blemishes at the end of the line.

The next wave
It’s easy to see how fans would tolerate the decline of stars like Jeter and Ortiz — their final season was at age-40. But, what about franchise faces who’ll see their contracts expire at a younger age? The decision to retain these players won’t be as easy for their respective organizations. Is it possible that fans would be less enthusiastic about keeping a fading star in his mid-thirties, compared to a 40-year-old?

Here are a few players who could fall into the category that I just described. All will be age-30 or older during the upcoming season and are considered the face of their respective franchise.

Player Age Tm 2015 WAR Contract terms Contract ends at age
Dustin Pedroia 32 BOS 2.0 6 yrs / $85M (2016-21) 37
David Wright 33 NYM 0.5 14 yrs / $192M (2007-20) 37
Yadier Molina 33 STL 1.4 10 yrs / $96.5M (2008-17)   34*
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 1.5 8 yrs / $184M (2011-18) 35
Felix Hernandez 30 SEA 4.4 7 yrs / $175M (2013-19)   33*
* Team or player holds an option for an extra year after this age

Diminishing returns
The heir apparent as Boston’s torchbearer is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who suffered through a tough 2015 season due to injury. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s about to take a nose dive, although the Boston media has already begun to ask whether the “Laser Show” has started to decline.

Pedroia’s hard-nosed playing style has made him an endearing figure in the eyes of Boston fans, but that same gritty approach could eventually accelerate the deterioration of his outstanding skills. The 10-year veteran is under contract with the Red Sox through his age-37 season.

New York Mets third baseman David Wright only played in 38 games last season due to a spinal stenosis diagnosis and has averaged just 95 games during the last three years. Some scribes have already asked whether “Captain America’s” stenosis could affect his career length and, consequently, his Hall of Fame chances.

Two players who started out as catchers — St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina and Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer — have begun to show the negative effects of wearing the tools of ignorance for so many years. Molina’s offensive numbers have dropped over the last three seasons and he was limited, due to a thumb injury, during the 2015 postseason.

Mauer — a St Paul, Minnesota native — no longer catches due to concussion problems. Now, he patrols first base for the Twins. Like Molina, he’s seen his offensive stats decline since 2013.

Long live the King?
Seattle Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he took less money to stay with the only team that he ever knew. Why wouldn’t a fan base love this guy?

Hernandez — whose contract expires after his age-33 season — hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but he’ll be on the “wrong side of thirty” by the Mariners’ first home stand ends this season. It’s inevitable that the former Cy Young award winner will start to lose his edge. But, what should the club do when his deal expires?

The Mariners hold an option that they can exercise if Felix spends more than 130 consecutive days on the disabled list due to surgery — or any other procedure — on his right elbow. Basically, he’s a free agent after 2019 if he stays healthy. If he has elbow issues, the team can keep him for 2020 at a very team-friendly price.

It takes two to tango
In 2010, re-signing Jeter probably seemed like a “no-brainer” to the typical Yankee fan. Although he was starting to show signs of decline at the plate and his fielding numbers were below average, he was still a valuable contributor. But, that doesn’t mean everything went swimmingly between management and the player.

Reportedly, Jeter wasn’t a happy camper during his contract extension negotiations with the Yankees. Although he eventually stayed in the Bronx, it’s been reported that the negotiations led to a chill be between Jeter and general manager Brian Cashman.

Affairs of the heart
As we saw with Jeter, the aging face isn’t necessarily smiling when the business of baseball tramples on a decade of goodwill. Pedroia, Wright, Molina, Mauer, and Hernandez could face a similar tact from their respective organization’s management. “Thanks for the memories. But, we reward production.”

Both Pedroia and Wright will be 37-years-old when their deals expire. What happens if they want to continue being a starter, but their team prefers to use them in a more limited role? Maybe, they’re blocking the progress of an up-and-coming prospect. How will Red Sox and Mets fans want their team to handle their franchise icon?

Molina’s and Mauer’s contracts conclude after their age-35 season. From a baseball business perspective, both the Cardinals and Twins would be wise to move on from their long-time stars at that time or — at the very least — lessen their role with the ball club. As with Pedroia and Wright, would the players be willing to accept less playing time?

Say for a moment that Felix maintains his health and is a free agent in the autumn of 2019. Should the Mariners retain him and at what cost? The emotional response is an emphatic “yes!”

After living in the Pacific Northwest for the last seven years, I understand why Mariners fans would feel so strongly about Felix. When his deal expires, he’ll have been with Seattle for 15 seasons; that would rank second to should-be Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez (18).

Despite the love affair that the Emerald City has with their King, the team could potentially face a challenge with re-signing their star pitcher. What happens if his contract demands exceed the value of a 34-year-old pitcher with 15 big league seasons under his belt?

I know that sounds cold-hearted, but it’s a factor to consider. As we saw with Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners had a predetermined limit on years and dollars that they wouldn’t exceed. In Iwakuma’s case, the team wasn’t comfortable with three guaranteed seasons due to his health history. Could Seattle reach a similar impasse with the face of their franchise?

This tidbit may make Felix fans cringe a little. In the last 50 years, only five of 29 Hall of Fame pitchers have spent their entire career with one team — Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Whitey Ford. Only Palmer played during in the free agent era.

The sad goodbye
A somber truth awaits fans; their favorite baseball player could hang up their cleats for the final time in a different city. Team supporters want to believe that their icon wouldn’t leave, but history shows that even the greatest players will occasionally leave as the end nears.

Iconic names like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron all finished their memorable careers in an indistinguishable manner with another team. If they could end up somewhere else, why couldn’t Felix Hernandez or Dustin Pedroia?

Does that mean that the players I’ve mentioned are destined to leave the only team that they’ve known? Of course not. However, it’s worth noting that it takes two things to happen for a player to remain with a team; the player has to want to stay and the team has to want to the player to stay.

On the surface, that sounds like an easy proposition. However, agreeing to terms when millions of dollars are involved isn’t necessarily easy. Refer back to the aftermath of the Jeter negotiations as an example of how long-standing relationships can go sideways when factors such as ego and economics come into play.

My advice to baseball fans is simple. Enjoy your stars while you have them and wish them well if they opt to leave. Professional sports has been — and always will be — a business first. That’s why good organizations don’t feel the tug of heartstrings — like their fans do — when it comes to making these tough decisions. Even if an aging face of the franchise is involved.…

 

When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto set out to reshape the club’s roster, the prevailing thought was that the team needed to address their starting pitching, bullpen, catching depth, outfield defense, and fringe depth. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill first discussed these areas of need in late October. Since then, Dipoto has aggressively addressed everything that Jason mentioned through a series of transactions that’s seen 30 players change teams. All-in-all, the Mariners have netted 17 new players.

That doesn’t mean that Seattle is ready to field a contender. There’s still more work to do with the starting rotation and the bullpen, especially after the team was unable to retain the services of free agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

Another reason that the Mariners are far from ready is the fact that Dipoto created a new hole at first base while making his multitude of moves. The departures of Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison leave Jesus Montero and the newly acquired Andy Wilkins as the top candidates to take over the position.

Considering that it’s only the first Monday in December and the Winter Meetings only started today, Mariner fans shouldn’t be alarmed. I suspect that Dipoto desired to make a change from the onset of the off-season and moving Trumbo and Morrison was part of a big picture plan to upgrade first base and other areas on the 40-man roster.

Since most observers don’t view Montero and Wilkins as the answer, let’s look at potential options available to Seattle, via trade or free agency. I’m sure other names will crop up in the rumor mill. It’s not my intent to predict the next Mariners first baseman. I’m just presenting some ideas. Some are more far-fetched than others. Let’s start with a couple of free agents.

Mike Napoli
The 34-year-old could be the kind of buy-low players that Dipoto has been attracted to since taking over. Napoli’s 2015 slash against right-handed pitching doesn’t look great. But, his.243/.340/.464 career slash against righties demonstrates that he still can contribute at the plate.

The former catcher-turned-first baseman has also done well from a defensive perspective by averaging over six defensive runs saved (DRS) during the last three seasons. Another plus – a very minor one – is that he could serve as an emergency catcher, although he hasn’t donned the “tools of ignorance” since 2012.

Steve Pearce
His career slash is .247/.325/.431, which hovers near league-average and he’s a versatile player who has played first, second and third base, plus both corner outfield spots. Since his debut in 2007, he’s totaled 10 DRS while manning first base. Like Napoli, he’d be a low-risk, low-cost signing.

I’ve had several people ask me about former Colorado Rockie Justin Morneau. He poses a much higher risk due to his injury history. In 2015, he once again had concussion and neck problems and has averaged just 112 games played since 2012. Plus, his recent offensive renaissance is probably fueled by playing in Coors Field.

Trades
It’s hard to predict deals between teams because it takes at least two parties who have needs that blend in a way to make a trade beneficial to all involved. It also comes down to the willingness of clubs to part ways with the necessary assets to get their player(s). The law of supply and demand definitely applies to the trade market.

With that in mind, I selected a few players who could be trade targets. Most of them cost more than the Mariners appear to be willing or able to pay, especially if the player doesn’t have multiple years of team control remaining.

Adam Lind – Milwaukee Brewers
The 32-year-old would be a significant offensive upgrade for Seattle. He’s posted a superb .293/.354/.509 slash against right-handed pitching during his career. He is under contract for one more year before he enters free agency and will make a relatively reasonable $8 million next year. More than likely, he’s still with the team because Milwaukee because they haven’t received an acceptable offer from potential buyers.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently speculated that the Cleveland Indians were able to get southpaw Rob Kaminsky – who was a 2013 first-round draft choice – from the St. Louis Cardinals at last season’s trade deadline and that Brewers management could be seeking a similar return.

As Rosenthal pointed out, there’s one significant difference between Lind and Moss situations. The Brewers’ first baseman is a free agent after next season, while the Cardinals got a season and a half of Moss. More team control leads to getting more value in return during a trade. This concept applies to all of the players I’m about to mention.

Clint Robinson – Washington Nationals
A late bloomer as a 30-year-old rookie last season, the left-handed hitter had an impressive .272/.358/.424 slash during 352 plate appearances and has been a average defender at first base. Granted, it’s a small sample size and whether the Nationals would be willing to part with Robinson is questionable, especially with the injury history of starting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Travis Shaw – Boston Red Sox
The 25-year-old’s .270/.327/.487 slash and 13 home runs in just 248 plate appearances during his rookie season would make him attractive if the Red Sox were to make the left-handed hitter available. It’s possible that Boston would part with Shaw if they’re truly committed to Hanley Ramirez at first base. That remains to be seen since Ramirez has never played first base at any professional level and is coming off a disappointing 2015 season.

Justin Bour – Miami Marlins
The 27-year-old performed superbly during his first full season in the majors and even finished a distant fifth in Rookie of the Year voting to the runaway winner – Chicago’s Kris Bryant. Bour’s .262/.321/.479 and 23 home runs in 446 plate appearances would make the cost of acquiring the left-handed hitter very prohibitive. One mark against him is that his defensive metrics weren’t very favorable – he registered -7 DRS last year. In fairness, a partial season of defensive metrics doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to pass judgement.

Chris Colabello – Toronto Blue Jays
If Toronto opted to move Edwin Encarnacion to first base on a full-time basis, the 32-year-old late bloomer could be considered excess since the team already has former Mariner Justin Smoak to serve as a back-up. The right-handed hitter posted a .265/.323/.438 career slash and has some pop in his bat. Like Bour, Colabello’s -6 DRS during 644.1 innings at first base isn’t reliable due to the small sample size.

Wil Myers – San Diego Padres
It may be a surprise to some that the former American League Rookie of the Year only turns 25-years-old in three days. It may also surprise some that I;ve mentioned Myers as a first base option since he’s only started 24 major league games at the position. Based on his athleticism, the former catcher and outfielder should easily adapt to first base. This is an interesting idea, but it looks like San Diego came up with it first and may opt to keep Myers to be their first baseman, especially after trading away Yonder Alonso.

Lucas Duda – New York Mets
The 29-year-old has excellent left-handed power and good on-base ability for a player who averaged 136 strikeouts over the last two years. Duda will likely earn in the neighborhood of $6.7 million in arbitration and is a free agent after the 2017 season. Despite his disastrous throwing error in the World Series, he’s a good defender. If the Mets opted to move team captain David Wright – who has spinal stenosis – from third base to first, Duda would become expendable. New York may eventually move Wright to first, but there’s no indication that it’ll happen in 2016.

Davis effect
If a team that already has a first baseman were to sign free agent first baseman Chris Davis, a new partner could appear for Dipoto. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Toronto are interested in the power-hitting Davis.

Signing Davis would make Colabello available. The Cardinals would likely trade Matt Adams if they inked Davis. The arbitration-eligible Adams is projected to earn $1.5 million according to MLB Trade Rumors and a free agent after the 2018 season. The Red Sox would definitely have an excess at first base if they signed Davis to play there. Whether they would they be more inclined to trade Ramirez or Shaw is unknown.

Multi-team mystery
Since the Mariners have limited trade assets to use to get a first baseman – or starting pitching – Dipoto could turn to a multi-team deal to make a move. That’s how former general Jack Zduriencik was able to flip Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson in 2014 that involved David Price moving from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Dipoto has used the multi-team deal while with the Los Angeles Angels. In December 2013, he made a three-way trade with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks that netted the Angels Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, for Mark Trumbo and A.J. Schugel. These deals are complicated and can fall apart at any times.

The trade option would likely net a better player, but the Mariners are planning to contend in 2016. So, they may be reluctant to part with major league talent and they don’t have a much to offer in the form of high-level prospects.

Unless Seattle is willing to take on a bad contract or under-performing player – like Hanley Ramirez – it’s tough for me to envision how the Mariners could pick up one of the above players or someone similar in talent and team control.

That’s why Napoli and Pearce intrigue me the most. Both would be low-cost alternatives who would help the team with on the field and at the plate.

 …


 

 

This year’s crop of free agents is particularly deep with high-profile names like Zack Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton among the headliners. The first player in this group to sign with a team was Price, who agreed to a reported seven-year/$217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox just two days ago.

Price won’t be the only player who’ll hit the jackpot. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly in hot pursuit of Greinke. The former Dodger may not get a seven-year deal like Price because he’s a few years older. But, his potential contract is expected to have a higher annual average value (AAV) than Boston’s new ace. At least a few others will get longer commitments than Greinke though.

It might take seven years to secure the services of Cueto and Upton and it’s possible that it’ll take to a 10-year commitment to get Heyward, who will be 26-years old next season. Obviously, teams have money to spend, but is committing to a player for nearly a decade a wise strategy?

Unfortunately for teams and their respective fan bases, the majority of these long-term deals won’t help their team win a championship. By year-six, fans are more likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse than a hangover from overindulging at a World Series victory party. Bad long-term deals are almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

Sure, it’s a great day when a team presents their freshly signed player to the media and fans for the first time. He’ll strut out and model his new jersey and ball cap for the cameras and his smiling face with his new team colors will saturate the internet. During that introductory press conference, the newly imported star will likely explain why he chose his new team, while omitting the fact that his new employer was the highest bidder.

At the time, most fans won’t care if their team overbid for their new star or just outbid themselves. Their team spent the big bucks to get their man and that’s all that will matter. Naturally, the blogosphere will erupt and season ticket and team merchandise sales will escalate. But, how long will it be before the jubilation turns to frustration?

Big dollars, lots of years
Take a look at the 15 biggest major league contracts of all-time to see why fans could go from ecstatic to pessimistic just a few years after the big name signed with their team. The players highlighted in yellow have appeared in a World Series after signing their monster deals.

Player Current Age Tm Total Value (million)
Duration
Giancarlo Stanton 26 MIA $325 2015-27
Alex Rodriguez TEX $275 2008-17
Alex Rodriguez 40 NYY $252 2001-10
Miguel Cabrera 32 DET $248 2016-23
Albert Pujols 35 LAA $240 2012-21
Robinson Cano 32 SEA $240 2014-23
Joey Votto 32 CIN $225 2014-23
Clayton Kershaw 27 LAD $215 2014-20
Prince Fielder 31 DET $214 2012-20
Max Scherzer 31 WAS $210 2015-21
Derek Jeter (retired) 41 NYY $189 2001-10
Joe Mauer 32 MIN $184 2011-18
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY $180 2009-16
Justin Verlander 32 DET $180 2013-19
Felix Hernandez 29 SEA $175 2013-19

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On the surface, that may not seem that bad since so many of the above deals are relatively new. On the other hand, only three contracts – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira – have helped a team win a World Series and that was the 2009 New York Yankees.

A couple of Detroit Tigers did appear in the Fall Classic during a losing effort – Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Fielder was traded the Texas Rangers after being with the Tigers for just one season and appearing in the 2012 World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera is starting his second eight-year extension with Detroit.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera’s his first extension paid dividends for the Tigers. He’s a two-time league Most Valuable Player and a perennial Silver Slugger award winner. But, he’s age-33 next season and his current deal runs to at least 2023. Will he still be worth $32 million annually at age-40?

Ironically, the Tigers are one of two teams with players on the list that finished in last place in their division last season – the Cincinnati Reds is the other. They’re not the only teams that had big contract players and were unsuccessful in 2015.  The Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, and Miami Marlins all underachieved last season.

Long-term deals can affect a team’s executive suite also. Six of the 10 clubs with players on the top-15 list have replaced their GM after their high-dollar signing(s). Spending an owner’s money can be risky business, depending on the outcome.

The Yankees or the Dodgers can afford to overpay – if they choose – and not overextend themselves financially. Conversely, Cincinnati’s signing of Joey Votto may have thrilled the masses when the deal was announced. Now, the team is reportedly ready to trade away major leaguers that they’re no longer willing or able to pay due to Votto’s increasing salary.

In 2015, Votto’s paycheck accounted for nearly 13-percent of the Reds’ payroll. Depending on offseason acquisitions, that could rise to nearly one-quarter of player salaries for next season. Plus, his pay continues to climb throughout the term of the contract. By the time that Cincinnati climbs back to relevance, their high paid star may no longer be a star, but he’ll still be high paid.

Sure, there’s still hope for the above organizations and I’m not trying to say that teams shouldn’t strike deals of seven years or longer. It comes down to making wise choices and understanding the risk being accepted.

Sometimes, it makes sense for a team to go all-in on signing a big name. Perhaps, ownership wants to make a statement on their commitment to winning or they’re in a “win now” mode. That’s why the Mariners signed Robinson Cano to an enormous contract.

Cano’s legacy with Seattle fans will hinge on whether the team wins a World Series during his tenure. If they don’t, his 10-year/$240 million deal will only cause angst among Mariners faithful. Especially, when he inevitably declines during the last five years of his contract.

Other times, winning isn’t the only priority. Creating goodwill by retaining a homegrown star who’s become an icon in the local community matters too. Examples of that practice would be the Mariners and New York Mets, who signed the face of their franchise to long-term extensions. Those players are Felix Hernandez and David Wright respectively.

“King Felix” is still at the top of his game. But, how long will that last? Yes, he’ll only be entering his 30-year-old season next year. However, his 2,262 innings pitched is third highest by any active pitcher since his debut in 2005. Who’s right behind him? C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and Justin Verlander who all had a down year in 2015.

I’m not saying that the end is near for Hernandez. Every pitcher is different. But, seeing his peers struggle should give fans a reason to pause since he’s signed through at least 2019.

Wright is suffering from spinal stenosis and his long-term future is questionable. He’s under contract through 2020, which is his age-37 season. Fortunately for the cash-strapped Mets, his annual income drops from its current level of $20 million to $12 million during the last year of his deal

I grew up as a Mets fan and I’m married to a Mariners lifer, so I appreciate the reasoning behind both teams signing own stars. With that said, both players could fall into the “overpaid, under-performing ” category by the end of their deals.

Big dollar bats
Since the majority of the above contracts kicked-in during the last three years, I decided to look back at 12 current long-term deals that were signed in 2012 or earlier to see how they look with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. You’ll notice that there are a few familiar names already mentioned.

I focused on games played (G) to gauge durability and the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to measure performance. Average games played for 2012-2015 and games played for last season that were below 120 have been highlighted in yellow. I did the same with below league-average slash stats. All league-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com.

Player Age Tm Avg G (2012-2015) 2015 G PA 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
Adrian Gonzalez 33 LAD 158 156 643 33 0 28 .275 .350 .480 2012-18 $21.9M
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY 93 111 462 22 0 31 .255 .357 .548 2009-16 $23.1M
Albert Pujols 35 LAA 142 157 661 22 0 40 .244 .307 .480 2012-21 $25M
Alex Rodriguez 39 NYY 106 151 620 22 1 33 .250 .356 .486 2008-17 $21M
Prince Fielder 31 TEX 131 158 693 28 0 23 .305 .378 .463 2012-20 $24M
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 134 158 666 34 2 10 .265 .338 .380 2011-18 $23M
Matt Holliday 35 STL 132 73 277 16 1 4 .279 .394 .410 2010-16 $17M
Ryan Zimmerman 30 WSN 112 95 390 25 1 16 .249 .308 .465 2009-19 $14M
Matt Kemp 30 SDP 121 154 648 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 2012-19 $21.8M
David Wright 32 NYM 110 38 174 7 0 5 .289 .379 .434 2014-20 $20M
Carl Crawford 33 LAD 80 69 193 9 2 4 .265 .304 .403 2011-17 $21.6M
Jayson Werth 36 WSN 111 88 378 16 1 12 .221 .302 .384 2011-17 $21M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Several of the players listed above had “decent” years. But, the majority struggled with poor performance and/or injury in 2015. For some, their struggles started before last season.

Adrian Gonzalez continues to provide value, as did Teixeira. But, “Tex” only played in 111 games. Injuries have plagued the 35-year-old first baseman during the majority of his contract – he hasn’t played in more than 123 games since 2011. Teixeira isn’t alone when it comes to having injuries affect both playing time and performance.

Rodriguez averaged just 88 games-per-season between 2011 and 2013 due to hip issues. As a result of his physical limitations, he’s been restricted to the designated hitter position. “A-Rod” enjoyed a strong start to 2015 and his overall numbers look good. But, a closer look at his stats uncovers a paltry .191/.300/.377 slash during the last two months of the season.

Albert Pujols hasn’t missed much playing time during the last two seasons, but he’s been hampered by foot problems and is projected to miss the start of the 2016 season due to foot surgery. His overall numbers fell below expectations and were buoyed by a strong June. Like A-Rod, he struggled during the second half of 2015 with a .231/.288/.419 slash.

Losing playing time due to injury shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a curse unless it’s been a trend. For example, Fielder hadn’t missed a game in three consecutive seasons until he had neck surgery in 2014 and missed all but 42 games. He bounced back to play in 158 games in 2015 and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. Hopefully for the team and player, he’ll stay healthy through 2020 when he’s age-36 and earning $24 million annually.

Hired guns
Let’s turn our attention to starting pitchers where the list is much smaller. Until recently, clubs were very reluctant to go seven years or longer with a starter.

Since 2013, four pitchers have signed deals of seven years or greater – Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander. Only Tanaka’s signing wasn’t an extension deal with the player’s original club. Price’s signing suggests that some teams are willing to commit to elite free agent pitchers on the grandest scale.

Like with the position players, I reviewed starting pitchers with deals greater than seven years and signed in 2012 or prior. Only two pitchers fit the bill. Depending on your outlook, both could be viewed as either worthwhile or a bust.

Player Age Tm G GS CG Avg IP (2012-15) 2015 IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
CC Sabathia 34 NYY 29 29 1 156 167.1 4.73 4.68 28 .285 .338 .458 2009-16 $25M
Matt Cain 30 SFG 13 11 0 139 60.2 5.79 5.54 12 .293 .352 .545 2010-17 $20M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Sabathia started strongly with the Yankees by helping the team win the 2009 World Series and finishing in the top-four of Cy Young award voting during his first three seasons. Since then, he’s declined with each passing season. There are many fan bases that would accept the down years of Sabathia if it meant winning a championship. I’m not sure that Yankee fans feel that way though.

Perhaps, carrying the long-term deals for fading players like Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia, and the recently retired Derek Jeter is the reason that the Bomber’s World Series chances have dimmed lately.

Similarly, Matt Cain initially did well after signing his long-term deal and has gone on to struggle in recent years. During the early years of his contract, his team was successful in the World Series. Unfortunately for the pitcher and his team, he’s suffered injuries that have restricted his innings during the last two seasons.

Some Giants fans may view the Cain deal as a waste, while others probably don’t mind. The fact that Cain pitched in two of their three victorious World Series has to help lessen any frustration.

Final thoughts
Signing an elite free agent can be a defining moment for a baseball organization. Sometimes it’s a good moment, more often it’s not. Especially, if a team ventured outside of it’s financial comfort-zone to seal the deal or went significantly above market value to get their man. The cold, hard truth is there’s no guarantee that signing the biggest name on the market will ever translate into a championship.

Fans who want to see a World Series championship parade in their town shouldn’t necessarily pine for the next Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano. They’d be better off hoping that their team’s GM takes a balanced approach between developing homegrown players and acquiring reasonably priced talent. It’s not sexy, but five of the last six World Series champs were built that way.

Ironically, the only big spender to win it all lately – the Red Sox in 2013 – just signed Price. It’ll be interesting to see if they can avoid the same fate of the other two most recent big-spending champions – the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Both clubs have been weighed down by bloated contracts of aging players over the past half-decade.

History isn’t on Boston’s side. Death, taxes, bad long-term deals……

With the flurry of moves made by the Seattle Mariners over the past two weeks, it’s easy to forget that Major League Baseball’s offseason has only just started. Since that is the case, the market for many free agents, including Hisashi Iwakuma, has yet to develop. This isn’t unusual as many mid-tier free agents sign around the winter meetings in early December, or once one of the big fish have signed and helped set the market.

For Iwakuma and the Mariners, the situation seems simple enough: both parties are interested in a reunion. General manager Jerry Dipoto has  gone so far as to say re-signing the right-hander is a priority and there hasn’t been any indication Iwakuma would prefer pitching elsewhere.

The 34-year-old has accumulated 8.6 fWAR over the past three seasons and owns a career 3.62 FIP in 653 and 2/3 innings pitched. While Iwakuma won’t blow hitters away with velocity, he’s posted a ground ball rate north of 50 percent in all but one of four major league seasons and is excellent at limiting walks. There’s some evidence to suggest that this type of skill set will age well. He’s also been relatively healthy aside from a disabled list stint this past season for a lat strain.

Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins recently examined the situation and noted that a three-year extension would take Iwakuma through his age-38 season, a risky proposition. Three years isn’t an unreasonable ask for the right-hander, particularly in free agency, but it could be a little rich for Seattle’s taste.

For the same reasons that Iwakuma is valuable to the Mariners, he could be valuable to 29 other clubs. And there’s no reason to think that a reunion is a sure thing.

There hasn’t been much talk about potential landing spots for Iwakuma outside of Seattle, but these are a few places where I believe there could be a fit.

Seattle Mariners
A major factor in Iwakuma’s free agency was his rejection of the qualifying offer. Any team looking to sign him would have to commit multiple years and surrender a draft pick for his services. This doesn’t mean that another team won’t make an attempt to sign the right-hander, but does give the Mariners an advantage as there is no draft pick cost.

There hasn’t been any indication that the M’s aren’t the leader for Iwakuma’s services. Behind Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker exists three question marks, with James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Nate Karns in that conversation. Walker could well be a question mark, too. Seattle needs to acquire a No. 3 at the least, with a No. 2 behind Felix being ideal.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The rotation is currently bare behind Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson as Zack Greinke is a free agent and Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu recovering from injuries. LA is expected to be active in the free agent market and have been linked to bigger names like David Price and Jordan Zimmermann. However, Andrew Friedman and co. elected to make lower-level pick-ups at the trade deadline this past July, acquiring Alex Wood and Mat Latos instead of an ace, and could look to make similar value adds this winter.

Los Angeles, like Seattle, provides easy access to Iwakuma’s native Japan. It’s wrong to assume that location is always a factor in a player’s desired destination, but there’s a good chance it’s in play here. Obviously money is no problem for the Dodgers, so if they feel that Kuma is the missing piece, they won’t be beat on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers are also in the market for rotation depth but appear to be avoiding the higher-priced options. It’s possible Iwakuma could be interested in joining his former Rakutan teammate Masahiro Tanaka. Of course there is concern over Tanaka’s health as he pitched the season with a partially torn rotator cuff and underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery back in October. There’s also some uncertainty with C.C. Sabathia who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness the past couple years and missed the American League Wild Card game after checking into rehab.

New York has been a major player in free agency, but in recent years have turned more towards the trade market for potential solutions. They have also made a much-needed push towards getting younger with Luis Severino in the rotation and recently acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks. There’s also some discussion that the Yankees would rather trade for a younger, controllable starter. The club’s preference is for a high strikeout and ground ball rate pitcher with a low walk rate, a mold Iwakuma fits.

San Francisco Giants
The giants are very much in on this winter’s free agency prizes, Greinke and Price, and have the resources to make that dream a reality. They were also heavily involved with Jon Lester last year. Not to suggest Iwakuma is in the same ranks as these pitchers, he’s not, but should San Francisco fail to lure a big-time starter to the Bay Area, their attention no doubt will turn to other mid-tier options.

Beyond Madison Bumgarner the rotation needs help. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are solid veterans but combined for 171 and 1/3 innings last year due to injuries. Sticking with the narrative that the Giants will win the even-numbered 2016 World Series, a couple short-term upgrades should be in order. San Francisco is another west coast team and offers a friendly pitching environment that could interest Iwakuma.

Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays pursued Iwakuma two summers ago as a trade target, and although Alex Anthopolous is no longer the decision-maker, his right-hand man at the time, Tony LaCava, is the interim general manager. A lot can change in two years, however, so reading too much into that is unwise. But Iwakuma does fit Toronto’s needs in several ways. The club doesn’t appear to be a serious player for Price and also stands to lose Mark Buehrle to free agency or retirement, two holes that need to be filled in the rotation.

The Blue Jays are in position to win now and are looking to maximize the seasons of potential free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, though both could be extended. The club also acquired Jesse Chavez from the Oakland Athletics to beef up the pitching staff, but are still looking to add another starter. Iwakuma’s ground ball tendencies and Toronto’s excellent defense could match-up well.

Marco Estrada, also a recipient of the qualifying offer, elected to re-sign with Toronto for two years and $26 million. Estrada doesn’t have the track record that Iwakuma does, but the 32-year-old likely saw potential suitors back off, either in total or in potential dollar commitments, with the qualifying offer in play.

I’m not prepared to suggest the same fate awaits Iwakuma. If he were to receive a three-year deal though, I could see the average annual value being closer to $13-to-14 million instead of $16-to-17 million with the qualifying offer in mind.

As with all free agents it only takes two bidders — or if you’re represented by Scott Boras, one and a ‘mystery team’ — to drive the price past what initially was deemed reasonable.

I still think Seattle and Iwakuma get something done, but he’s not without options should a reunion become out of reach.…

With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably.

Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days.

Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important:

  • Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM
  • Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end
  • Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016.
  • Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything.
  • The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning.
  • Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner.

Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats:

  1. I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy.
  2. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters.
  3. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway.
  4. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others.
  5. These are listed in no particular order.
  6. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so …
  7. It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job.
  8. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider.
  9. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere.

Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM
Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski.

Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle.

John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir.

Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart.

In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within.

He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach.

If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about.

Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs
Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical.

Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade.

McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates.

Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle.

Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals
Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense.

I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll.

Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.”

But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees
Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies
Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Dan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins
Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays
Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins
Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds
Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees

LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff.

Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM.

Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season.

Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick.

Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency.

Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end.

Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book.

Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker.

Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.…

What seemed inevitable in recent months has come to fruition: Dustin Ackley has been traded. The New York Yankees are betting prospects Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez that the former No. 2 overall draft pick is just a couple fixes away from being a consistent major league hitter again.

Ackley, 27, has been more or less a fixture in the Mariners lineup since summer 2011 when he burst onto the scene. Drafted as a can’t-miss hitting prospect, the left-hander immediately left a mark with a .273/.348/.417 slash line and 117 wRC+ in 376 plate appearances through the end of that season.

Major League Baseball adjusted to Ackley in 2012 though as the then second baseman posted just a 75 wRC+. Still, as a sophomore who played reasonably good defense up the middle, it wasn’t an unacceptable season. In fact, between his 2011 and 2012 seasons he was worth 4.6 fWAR. That’s similar production to what veterans Marco Scutaro and Omar Infante produced over that time, both of whom had full 2011 seasons.

Ackley would struggle some during a 2013 season that required a demotion to Triple-A. It was also the beginning of his conversion to full-time outfielder as he spent nearly 500 innings in the outfield for the M’s.

Then, in the winter of 2013, Seattle signed Robinson Cano to take over second base indefinitely and Ackley would be transferred to left field completely.

The now former infielder made great strides in the outfield under the tutelage of coach Andy Van Slyke and had turned himself into a capable outfielder. He also managed to turn a red hot July and August stretch into a 97 wRC+ on the year. Ackley finished the season with 2.0 fWAR and was actually an average major league contributor. Not the perennial All-Star the M’s hoped was being drafted following Stephen Strasburg, but far from nothing like the result of many draft picks.

Entering 2015 the Mariners picked up another former second baseman in Rickie Weeks whom they hoped would form a platoon with Ackley, who had better success against right-handed pitching throughout his career.

The Weeks experiment wouldn’t last. After the addition of Mark Trumbo, Ackley and his 77 wRC+ were often found on the bench or coming into the game late as a defensive replacement. The return of Franklin Gutierrez, who’s proven to be a capable fourth-outfielder type, also lessened the need of Ackley on the current roster — he had started just four games since the All-Star break.

The good news, is that the Mariners didn’t get rid of Ackley — who was slated for free agency following the 2017 season — for nothing. Instead they picked up a pair of prospects that add some depth to an empty system at the upper levels of the minors.

Flores, a 24-year-old outfielder, made his big league debut this year for the Yankees after spending six years in the Bronx Bombers’ system. He has nearly 600 plate appearances at Triple-A between this year and last and he has hit throughout his minor league career. Flores appears to be about ready for a real test in the major leagues, but his skill set likely limits him to being more of a situation player than an everyday bat.

Across the board Flores has average tools aside from power, which is below. He has enough arm strength to work in right but his range likely will keep him from playing any meaningful role in center field. His plate discipline is regarded as being strong and he’s regularly posted walk rates around 12 percent in the minor leagues.

Flores may be able to fill the role Ackley held immediately as a late-inning pinch runner or defensive replacement, though his bat will probably be less effective this year. He’s somewhat of a complement to James Jones, who can play a decent center field and is probably the best base runner in the organization, as a corner guy with a little more pop and a better eye at the plate. Nevertheless, it’s more outfield depth.

In terms of stuff, Ramirez, a 25-year-old right-hander, is very well regarded. His fastball has hit 100 MPH and he’s flashed an above average changeup in the past. He began his professional career as a starter, but after battling command problems he’s been exclusively a reliever for the past two seasons.

Ramirez’s fastball sits in the 91-to-95 MPH range with some life and can still touch 98 at times. There’s enough in his secondary offerings as well that he could wind up as a set-up man or higher leverage reliever. The command is the real issue and until that resolves, he’s best suited for mop-up work.

One thing the addition of Ramirez does do is add to the stockpile of younger arms that Seattle has drawn from in trades for batters recently. Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone, and Brandon Maurer have been dealt since December. There’s also some concern over whether or not Danny Farquhar will be able to solve his command problems as well; 2015 has been a messy year for the right-hander.

The dealing of Ackley offers a disappointing reminder to what could have been. But in return, the Mariners are getting an outfielder who conceivably could be just as good as Ackley in the present, and an intriguing arm who could fill a role in next year’s bullpen. Add the fact that they are saving about a million dollars in salary that could be redistributed to other means in the organization.

It was reported last night that the Mariners had rejected an offer from the Yankees for Ackley that included Flores and Benjamin Gamel, another outfield prospect. On the surface, it looks like playing hardball has payed off for the M’s who are getting a prospect with higher upside in Ramirez.

Don’t be surprised to see Ackley turn things around in New York. Yankee Stadium is built for his swing and a new set of voices on the player development and coaching side will probably do him well. We’ve all heard about the problems with the current Mariners player development procedures, or lack thereof.

Whatever the case, as much as it hurts some to see Ackley go, it was a move that needed to happen and the return was solid. Now, if only the Mariners would change their stance on Hisashi Iwakuma as we enter the final hours before the trade deadline on Friday.…

ChapmanEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Royals Going For It
The Kansas City Royals reportedly were close to acquiring right-hander Johnny Cueto Saturday night. The deal fell through due to an apparent lack of medical clearance for one of the players headed from Kansas City to Cincinnati in the deal. Even with the deal failing to go through, this news tell us the Royals are going for it.

Cueto, a legitimate No. 1 starter, is a two-month rental and the Royals went for it. Certainly they will continue to attempt to land such a piece, perhaps even Cueto still. With such aggressiveness at the forefront, one has to wonder if the club also will look to grab an outfielder. Alex Gordon is out for a few months, and while Alex Rios has swung the bat better in July, he may not be a trustworthy bat. Gordon likely will return for October but if there are any setbacks with his rehab the Royals could be down a hitter in the postseason.

Brewers’ Sale
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that right-hander Mike Fiers has drawn trade interest, but adds that the club is trying to move Kyle Lohse and/or Matt Garza, instead.

Good luck.

Lohse and Garza started the year with a chance to create nice value, but neither have pitched well. Garza has $25 million guaranteed still on the books, too, with a vesting option based on games started and the avoidance of the disabled list worth $13 million or a $5 million buyout. Lohse is movable, perhaps even without cash going with him. Garza is not, unless a bad contract is coming back.

Garza has posted a 4.89 FIP while seeing his strikeout rates fall for the fourth straight season. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph with three offspeed pitches but his fastball is getting hit hard and his above-average slider and curveball have also dipped in effectiveness. He’s 32 in November and has not gone more than 163 1/3 innings since 2011.

Milwaukee, however, is expected to strongly consider offers for Carlos Gomez, who may net the club a future impact piece. Fiers, by the way, is a solid No. 3 starter with four more years of club control remaining. He will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season.

Chapman, Kimbrel
Aroldis Chapman may or may not be traded this summer, but if he or Craig Kimbrel lands in Washington the Nationals will have even fewer excuses for an October failure than they have had in the past.

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Saturday that rival executives believe if Nats GM Mike Rizzo makes a move it will be a big one. Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would be pretty big. Either’s presence would push solid closer Drew Storen to the eighth inning.

The Padres and Reds aren’t contending and could jump start a busy offseason by maxing out their value this month, rather than reducing their value by hanging onto them for two more months. Expect both to be dealt, as A.J. Preller and Walt Jocketty get busy on a reload job.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Cishek Deal Not A Market Setter
While Oakland’s haul in return for Scott Kazmir may indeed help set the market price for starting pitcher rentals this summer, the Steve Cishek acquisition by the St. Louis Cardinals won’t come close to doing so.

For one, Cishek, 29, has struggled this season. So much that at one point he was shipped back to Triple-A. His velocity is down a bit, he’s walking more batters and striking out fewer and simply allowing more hard hit baseballs. He’s also owed more than $2 million over the final two months of 2015.

Not only does the trade cost for Cishek — 25-year-old Class-AA reliever Kyle Barraclough — not set the market for closers, it likely doesn’t do so for setup men, either. He may very well end up a solid pick-up for the Cardinals, but we’ve yet to see a legitimate high-leverage reliever change teams, so we’ll have to wait until one does to get a sense of what the price is going to be for such arms.

Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria and Francisco Rodriguez are among the proven closer rumored to be somewhat available this month. Late-inning, setup or mid-level closer types that may be available include Brad Ziegler, Joaquin Benoit, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Will Smith, Jim Johnson, Mark Lowe, Brad Boxberger, Jonathan Broxton and Shawn Kelley. The Red Sox, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, have received interest in Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara but there are no indications Boston will move either right-hander.

Who Needs CF Help?
Contenders that have not received much production from their centerfielders and could be on the lookout for some assistance there before the July 1 deadline:

St. Louis Cardinals: 76 wRC+, .279 wOBA
Peter Bourjos has taken away most of the playing time from Jon Jay and has been much more acceptable offensively with a .314 wOBA and 100 wRC+ supporting a solid .339 OBP.

With so little available on the market, the Cardinals do not appear likely at all to try and trade for a Cameron Maybin, Austin Jackson, Ben Revere or Rajai Davis.

Houston Astros: 76 wRC+, .280 wOBA
Jake Marisnick is a solid glove but at .229/.266/.367 and a .275 wOBA, the contending Astros could use a little more offense. But they also need corner-outfield help and it appears they’re more likely to get a decent player in that search.

San Francisco Giants: 86 wRC+, .286 wOBA
Angel Pagan has scuffled most of the season — .302 OBP, 277 wOBA, 79 wRC+ — and he’s not the glove he was three or four years back. The Giants may prefer to go after starting pitching — they have been linked to Mike Leake and might be a terrific fit for Hisashi Iwakuma if the Mariners end up selling — but center field is a weak spot without question. Pagan has hit left-handed pitching well in the small sample that is 102 plate appearances, suggesting perhaps a platoon partner might make more sense than attempting to land an everyday replacement. Revere is the ideal option in this case.

Tampa Bay Rays: 91 wRC+, .294 wOBA
Moving Kevin Kermeier to a corner or acquiring another centerfield-type defender and playing him left — even if the offensive output isn’t significant — may be the best way a surprise Rays club can get better without spending big in trade cost or salary. Of course, a healthy Desmond Jennings could change the approach and he’s on the comeback trail after knee surgery last month.

Catchers
Several clubs would like to add at least a No. 2 catcher, if not a split-advantage backstop or even a starting-quality option, but there’s not much available and the cost for those that are is quite steep.

Seattle, since trading Welington Castillo in the deal to land Mark Trumbo, has been one of those clubs. One of the clubs they spoke to requested a high-end prospect in exchange for a veteran backup catcher who will be a free agent after the season. The talks, apparently, dies right there.

Here are some catchers that may be discussed over the next week, and some of them perhaps beyond into the waiver deadline period in August:

Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay
Alex Avila, Detroit
A.J. Pierzynski, Atlanta
Stephen Vogt, Oakland
Nick Hundley, Colorado
Geovany Soto, White Sox
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
Brayan Pena, Cincinnati
Michael McKenry, Colorado

There aren’t a lot of clubs contending right now that are having significant issues behind the plate. Minnesota is getting a down year from Kurt Suzuki at the plate, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters hasn’t hit much yet and the Rays, who may end up selling instead, are getting nothing offensively from their group. Chris Ianetta’s poor year is hurting the Halos but they aren’t going to move on from him at this stage of the season while they lead the division.

Some have speculated the Padres may be willing to listen on Derek Norris, and if that is the case, like with Oakland and Vogt, clubs may come out of the woodwork to consider him.…

IwakumaIf Hisashi Iwakuma goes out in five days and pitches well again, the Seattle Mariners absolutely will have the opportunity to trade the right-hander to a contender, and the package Oakland received in exchange for Scott Kazmir could serve as a baseline for any deal Seattle makes involving the 34-year-old. This should increase the chances the club makes such a trade.

Iwakuma isn’t going to bring back the same level of package as Kazmir just did — he hasn;t been as good in 2015 and is even more of a concern to clubs in terms of his health, but Kazmir returned a potential future above-average everyday catcher in Jacob Nottingham plus a future back-end starter or reliever in Daniel Mengden.

Such a haul suggests Seattle could net something useful in return for Iwakuma, provided he doesn’t blow up next time out. He’ thrown the ball well three straight times out and despite giving up for homersin his first start off the disabled list, he did show something in that one, too. He’s struck out 18 in his last 20 2/3 innings, walked just four over that span and has induced a lot of ground balls outs. His four starts since being activated have been versus Detroit twice, the Yankees and a red-hot Angels club, too.

Iwakuma could be attractive to clubs that don’t like the asking price for Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Johnny Cueto and even Mike Leake. Those interested in Leake or other mid-rotation types could end up with a better deal and a better pitcher in Iwakuma, who has looked the part of a No. 2-3 type starter of late.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted earlier Thursday that indications are the Mariners are “hesitant to sell.”

Of course they are, because it tells the fan base that 2015 is a failed season, which doesn’t bode well for attendance, TV ratings or the job security of the general manager. It’s the right things to do, however, which is why the A’s went ahead and did so, even though starting play Thursday they were ahead of the Mariners in the standings.

Reports surfaced last week that Detroit, who sits several games ahead of Seattle, is exploring trading their own pending free agents such as ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. More evidence that a smart seller can take advantage of so clubs preferring to buy this summer.

Clubs that may see Iwakuma as ideal may include the Baltimore Orioles, who want to add a bat and perhaps a starter, too, but don’t have a lot of ammo to land both and as a result could get left in the cold for the bigger names. The Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals (who need multiple starting pitchers) and even San Francisco Giants also could see a reasonably-priced Iwakuma as a solid option.

Waiting to ‘make sure’ they’re out of the race before selling could cost the Mariners a chance to capitalize on the market. Doing so with Iwakuma and/or J.A. Happ is a ridiculous mistake, especially considering a perfectly capable Roenis Elias is awaiting a recall from Triple-A Tacoma. If the M’s get hot and somehow find themselves in the race in late September, it won’t be because of a negative value differential between Iwakuma (or Happ) and Elias. Not to mention there’s still a chance James Paxton makes it back at some point.…

"<strong/Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Advantage Sellers
Since there aren’t as many sellers as there are buyers those clubs ready to sell have a chance to take advantage of the market. The wisest of those clubs will sell aggressively if they get the opportunity. The Seattle Mariners could be one of those.

Even with David Price and Yoenis Cespedes added to the trade market, there still is a shortage. Some clubs that want to add to their rosters may not be able to do so because they either cannot afford or prefer not to part with the talent it takes to land Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or Cole Hamels. Some clubs looking for starting pitching will prefer the mid-rotation, innings-eater type, or may even want an option to cover a spot in the rotation until an injured arm can return. J.A. Happ isn’t going to return much, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be advantageous to move him. This landscape may allow for the legit return necessary to bother pulling the trigger.

Teams that ultimately balk at the price for Mike Leake could look to Happ or Rangers righty Colby Lewis.

Teams looking for offense may run dry on options once Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist are moved. Mark Trumbo has some value. Like Happ, Trumbo isn’t bringing back anything earth shattering, but a piece that can help? No doubt.

The Mariners, though, will have to be aggressive in shopping their available players because they aren’t alone. The Padres, Red Sox, White Sox and Rockies have a similar opportunity, and at some point the buyers could run out. Timing is of the essence. Happ’s last start in a Mariners uniform should already have been made. Trumbo’s days should be numbered. Austin Jackson‘s .271/.311/.376 triple-slash since May 26 is just reasonable enough to poach a useful piece from a contender needing help in center field, too. Jackson could be more than just useful in a time share, as he’s hitting .275/.315/.464 versus lefties this season.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins are two contenders that have not received much offense from their centerfielders. So little that Jackson would serve as an upgrade.

Trading Nelson Cruz
Trading Nelson Cruz might be a good idea for the Seattle Mariners. Maybe this summer, maybe over the winter. He’s had another fantastic season at the plate, his best in the big leagues. He’s owed $42 million over the next three years, which hardly is a burden — if he keeps hitting.

Cruz is 34 and probably isn’t going to be much more than a league average DH soon. The Mariners, who have had significant issues building a competitive offense, seemingly should cling to Cruz and keep building, and maybe that’s the right move in the end. But if trading Cruz can answer another question or two for 2016, dealing the slugger pushes the reset button a bit.

Cruz, though, is the James Shields of hitters. Teams were in no hurry to give him four years last offseason and their assessment of his value may not have changed enough to all of a sudden encourage them to take on the final three years of the contract plus trade talent to do so.

In theory, Seattle should trade Cruz and start anew over the winter, attempting to build a roster with more speed, defense, pitching and a bat or two that plays well at Safeco Field. Giving him away to cut payroll doesn’t make sense. If an offer comes along that helps the club get where they need to go, they should pull the trigger. The market for Cruz, however, may to dictate the Mariners keep Cruz.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

The Mets and Ben Zobrist?
The New York Mets have been linked to Ben Zobrist, among other left-side infielders, but Tuesday Ken Rosenthal tweets that discussions have been set aside.

The Mets are in the thick of the races in the National League and need offense in the worst way. David Wright may not be back in 2015, Michael Cuddyer now is hurt and the lineup was down a bat or two even with those two healthy.

Zobrist could play some shortstop for the Mets, or he could slide into a corner outfield spot. He’s a rental that will likely interest a number of clubs. The Mets may need two acquisitions, however, perhaps a shortstop or third baseman plus an outfielder. Zobrist helps, but another addition to go along with him might put the Mets over the top. The problem is, the Mets, like a few other clubs in buy mode as the trade deadline nears — Orioles, Angels, for example — the Mets don’t have a ton of talents that make sense for them to part with for two-month answers. Their pitching is either hurt — Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler — or completely off limits — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and there aren’t a ton of mid-level prospects in their system.

Finding at least one match may be doable, however, it’s the second one that’s difficult to see happening.

Where Zobrist lands is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost certain he gets moved. Several clubs could use him in a number of spots on the field and in the batting order, including the Yankees (2B, SS), Baltimore (OF), Angels (OF, 2B), Kansas City (OF, 2B), Mets (SS, OF), Pirates (SS), Dodgers (SS, OF).

My List of Sellers
Philadelphia
Milwaukee
Oakland
Seattle
Boston
Texas
Miami
Cincinnati
Arizona
Colorado
White Sox
Boston
San Diego

Oakland, Seattle, Boston, Texas, Arizona, San Diego and the White Sox have an outside shot to get white hot for the next 8-9 days and play themselves into buying. It doesn’t appear Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Colorado have even that kin of shot. TMany of the former seven clubs may look to buy for the future, including Texas, who continues to be linked to Cole Hamels.

Bubble
Detroit
Cleveland
Atlanta

The Tigers already have reportedly decided to field calls for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, but at 46-47 and four games back in the American League Wild Card race, it’s tough to expect them have already decided to sell a few pending free agents and close up shop. Detroit may be the classic sell-buy combo club this month: Trade Cespedes and Price for players that can help them now as well as in the future.

Cleveland is the quintessential bubble team at 44-48, 5.5 games out in the Wild Card. A poor next nine games they could find themselves in a position to plan more for 2016 than worrying about this season. If they were to lose three or more games in the standings and perhaps even get pass by the Rangers and/or White Soxm for example, aggressively buying no longer makes much sense. The Indians don’t have the group of pending free agents some other potential sellers have, however, and they’re actually a talented team with a chance to win immediately, so we’re not talking about the big names here, and perhaps not even many of the smallers ones.

Atlanta is likely to sell, but if they were to find a way to close the Wild Card gap from six games to, say, 3-4 games, they may not be quite as aggressive in sell mode. Buying for this season appears to be the one thing the Braves won’t do, however, so they are as much sellers, really, as the top group.

Buyers
Kansas City
L.A. Angels
Houston
Baltimore
Toronto
Minnesota
Washington
St. Louis
L.A. Dodgers
Pittsburgh
Chicago Cubs
San Francisco
New York Mets

The Mets may have a tough time landing what they need, but they have the ammo to get at least one helpful deal done. The Royals likely will be looking for starting pitching and the Halos are linked to Jay Bruce, among other bats. Baltimore apparently is after another bat, but can someone get Buck Showalter a frontline starter, please? Chris Tillman isn’t a No. 1 — or a No. 2. Neither is… anyone else in that rotation.

The Blue Jays need pitching help, as do the Astros. The Twins may choose the dull route, but they aren’t selling off pieces as the current holder of the No. 2 Wild Card berth. The Nationals are loaded, but aren’t healthy, and shortstop Ian Desmond has been awful at shortstop. Maybe another bullpen arm is on Mike Rizzo’s radar.

The Cardinals don’t have any glaring needs, per se. On the surface it would seem they could use a frontline starter to fill in for Adam Wainwright, but Lance Lynn (.278 FIP, 9.67 K/9) has done that job nicely and Michael Wacha (3.20 FIP), John Lackey (3.5 FIP) and Carlos Martinez (3.51 FIP, 9.3 K/9) have been strong solidifying the starting five. With Jaime Garcia also out, howver, St. Louis could set out to acquire a mid-rotation option, perhaps as solid as Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake or Tyson Ross or as ordinary as J.A. Happ.

The impact move is Hamels, Johnny Cueto, David Price or Jeff Samardzija. A few potential under-the-radar targets include Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner or John Danks. Yovani Gallardo, reportedly being shopped by the Rangers, could fit, too.

The club to watch here is the Cubs. They have the inventory to get just about any player, perhaps any two. With bait that for the right return could include Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler, plus prospects such as Billy McKinney and Albert Almora, the North Siders can bully their way into trade discussions for any available player. There’s probably zero chance two of Castro-Baez-Soler is moved, and it’s unlikely but not out of the question that one of them is moved.

The Cubs could use a starting pitcher, a reliever and not a lot else. Dexter Fowler hasn’t been stellar in center field or at the plate, but unless it’s Carlos Gomez the center field market isn’t likely to help here, and Fowler is showing signs of life since the break.

The Giants are tough to figure out for me. Anyone?…

AdeinyEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Another Ace on the Market
With Bob Nightengale’s report that the Detroit Tigers are preparing to discuss trading ace left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Price hitting the market could have an impact on the prices for other starters, especially Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija. I’m not sure if Price’s availability would increase or decrease the value of the others expected to be on the market, or perhaps do nothing. The first one to be moved could kinda-sorta set the market. Price could, however, take a team out of the market for one of the others, particularly the other rentals — Scott Kazmir, Cueto, Samardzija — and reduce the return their clubs ultimately receive.

For example, maybe the best chance for Chicago White Sox to max out on Samardzija’s value is to pit, say, the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers against one another — just for example, not assuming interest or fit here. If the Cubs land price, not only does it remove a club from the bidding, it removes specific talents from the equation. It becomes a two-team bidding war, not three, and the potential asking price from the Cubs is deleted.

As for which clubs appears as fits for Price? Any contender this side of Washington could work. The Dodgers may prefer Hamels since he’s under club control beyond 2015 and Zack Greinke may opt out at season’s end. Clubs such as Tampa Bay may not have the inclination to add a little salary on top of the trade cost to reacquire their former ace and No. 1 pick. The Twins may be in the same boat. Some clubs may not be likely matches in terms of talent inventory, possibly including Baltimore and the Angels.

As for Cespedes, he could fit what the Angels would like to do offensively, though a left-handed stick makes more sense. They have been linked to Jay Bruce. Gerardo Parra is a better fit — less trade cost, no future commitment. The Halos reportedly prefer a hitter they can use beyond 2015, however.

If the Tigers are sellers, though, Price and Cespedes aren’t the lone potential pieces GM Dave Dombrowski could deal. Outfielder Rajai Davis, right-hander Joakim Soria and catcher Alex Avila could make sense to move, too. If they aren’t contending, there’s no point in holding tight to pending free agents. Avila’s father is one of Dombrowski’s assistants, so that situation may be handled differently than some others, but Avila could bring back a useful piece or two, especially considering the high cost of catching.

Shortstop Thoughts
Several clubs have been after help at shortstop since long before the season started. San Diego and the Mets are two examples. The Pirates, with the injuries to Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison, now could use a third baseman or a shortstop.

It’s a difficult position to fill in Major league Baseball, and always has been. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, Cubs and Orioles have received very little offense from the position.

The Dodgers could call on Corey Seager to help at the position and the Rays, Cubs and Orioles don’t appear to be in any hurry to go outside the organization. Baltimore just signed Everth Cabrera for some depth.

The Padres are not currently being thought of as buyers so any acquisition at shortstop has to be about 2016 and beyond. The Rangers would love to get rid of Elvis Andrus‘ contract, but it’s difficult to imagine that occurs. Perhaps a club is willing to take a piece of it, however.

Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, Jean Segura may be the best player on the shortstop market, all apologies to Alexei Ramirez, and tertiary names such as Jose Ramirez, Chris Taylor and Cliff Pennington have limited value, although Ramirez and Taylor bring club control and low salaries with them.

The shortstop situation — many clubs with a need, pretty much no club with a surplus of a shortstop capable of providing everyday value — begs the question: Would it behoove a club with a solid, under-club-control option at shortstop be wise to take advantage and make theirs available, even without another answer of their own? For teams not close to contention, this is absolutely a good idea — at least see what clubs might pay. For others, those contending now and those with even a chance to contend in 2016, not having a viable option after the current starter.makes it difficult, but still worth casting a net.

That includes clubs such as Miami with Adeiny Hechavarria, Seattle with Brad Miller and certainly the Cubs with Starlin Castro. You simply never know what a club may be willing to part with when a starting-quality shortstop with years of club control are on the hook.…