The holidays are here, and for any baseball fan still hoping for a shiny new player under the tree, there are plenty of options remaining. It's been a remarkably slow season for position player signings so far. The next two weeks are unlikely to see that changing as players and teams go into temporary hibernation until 2016 arrives.
For the Tigers, the "most wonderful time of the year" (I was once a rural mailman for several years, hence the quotation marks) arrives with the team seemingly content with their roster at this point, and contemplating no additional moves of substance. While targets of opportunity may change that, GM Al Avila appears to be content to wait out the market and see if anything falls in their lap. And there is still a solid chance of that happening, if not to the Cespedian levels we might wish...
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Matt Goldman over at our sister site, MLB Daily Dish, has the updated list of free agents both signed and still available. Look it over and you get a strong sense both of how many players are left without a date to the dance, and also where teams have placed their emphasis this offseason. While Chris Davis is the lone standout among free agent infielders, and there is nothing available at catcher, the other positions still have plenty of interesting candidates available.
Teams, including the Tigers, have already snapped up the best of the bunch. Yet a quick perusal of available free agents shows a potential rotation of Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Ian Kennedy and Yovanni Gallardo still for sale. Obviously you'd be depending on depth rather than excellence at the top of such a rotation, but it illustrates how many starters are still available following the San Francisco Giants signing of the last major piece available in Johnny Cueto.
The best of the lot is probably Scott Kazmir, who is currently linked to a potential return to the Oakland Athletics. By contrast, the San Diego Padres qualifying offer to Ian Kennedy may have killed the market for a player who could potentially help several contending teams. Our A.L. Central buddies in Kansas City could still use a starting pitcher, and have the defense and stadium to be the perfect fit for Kennedy. Instead, we may see a quite useful starting pitcher go unsigned well into the 2016 season. He's a solid illustration of what an odd monkeywrench the qualifying offer has become in free agency.
Meanwhile, the outfielder market has gone cold since the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward to a fairly team friendly, eight year, $184 million dollar deal over a week ago. Incidentally, part of Heyward's motivation to take less overall money from the Cardinals is apparently his sense that the team's core is aging and in decline, a comment that manager Mike Matheny didn't take kindly to.
Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton all remain unsigned, with plenty of useful outfielders still waiting for the market to break loose. Grant Brisbee opines that the Tigers remain the most likely destination for Yoenis Cespedes, though it must be said that he comes to the same conclusion about Justin Upton. That's right Tigers fans, we're getting Yoenis Cespedes AND Justin Upton! BOOM! Clearly Mike Ilitch's largesse has reached legendary standing far beyond Detroit. And yes, I'm kidding. Sorry.
What this does illustrate though, is that there don't appear to be too many teams left looking to throw big money around. And of those few teams, none are in the same win-now posture that the Tigers are. Lesser players like Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and Denard Span, who is looking to assure teams of his health, may see their value dropping in the process.
My personal guess here is that the Cardinals sign Alex Gordon, who isn't going to be lowballed by the Royals, while Upton returns to the Padres. As to Cespedes? It seems clear that he's not the desperately sought after player some thought he'd be after he ignited the Mets run to the World Series. Perhaps the Rangers will finally end our agony. After that we'll just have to hope one of the more modest options rouse our owners pocketbook once again from its long winter's nap.
This is where the truth of our brave new world is revealed. Certainly there are still some good pitchers out there, with Antonio Bastardo and Tyler Clippard probably the best of the bunch. Yet the trades and signings around relief pitchers has been one of the hot topics of the offseason. The game continues its evolution to a place where a dominant bullpen is one of the most important features of a roster.
Enormous sums in terms of prospects have been paid for closers like Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles this offseason. Giles is the subject of an interesting piece over at Beyond the Box Score looking at the future of the elite reliever beyond the closer role.
While Aroldis Chapman's status remains in limbo pending his legal issues, just about every team with hopes of contending in 2016 has put a lot of emphasis behind building the best relief corps possible. The Tigers look to be in good shape in this regard as well, and perhaps ahead of the curve for once with several fairly talented young relievers who could force their way onto the roster in 2016 to support what looks like a very nice core of five.
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- Eno Sarris at Fangraphs spent time at the Winter Meetings talking to a group of managers about the evolution of the job, and what their experience has taught them about managing a baseball club in the age of advanced metrics.
- Much of the discussion here at BYB this offseason has gone beyond the players to trying to interpret the differences between former GM Dave Dombrowski and his successor, Al Avila. David Laurila looks at what happens within a baseball organization when teams change general managers.
- With the Hall of Fame voting season at hand again, Adam Darowski at Hardball Times makes a compelling case that the supposed exclusivity of the institution is entirely a myth, and that keeping out what some think of as marginal candidates makes no sense in the meager light of many of the players already enshrined.