Indians

Slow cooking on the MLB hot stove: Why the sluggish offseason?

December 19 has arrived and only a handful of players have inked free agent deals. The reliever market has somewhat dried up with the exception of a couple big names; Wade Davis and Greg Holland. As far as position players are concerned, the only significant signings have been Justin Upton, Zack Cozart, and our beloved Carlos Santana. The biggest starting pitching dominos have yet to tumble.

What has created this blockade, of sorts? WFNY’s own Joe Gerberry has joined me to discuss.

Gage: Prior to Winter Meetings, the buzz around the hot stove was that the market would pick up once Shohei Ohtani found a home and Giancarlo Stanton relocated. Ohtani is now an Los Angeles Angel and the New York Yankees have acquired Stanton. Yet, we are still waiting for the cavalcade of stove action. What is the true dam of the hot stove holdup?

Joe: The ignitor to the Hot Stove is and always has been Scott “Random Nickname Generator” Boras. Almost every year, Boras’ local Office Max salivates as November takes shape and new binders of easy-to-use, readily available data get printed for consumption. This year has been no different and has already been thoroughly clogged up due to Boras being the agent for the top three players available in Eric Hosmer, JD Martinez and Jake Arrieta.

Gage: You’ve hit the nail on the head, Joe “Wordsmith of the People, Sultan Of Story” Gerberry. My Boras-speak is not up to snuff, but Hosmer, Arrieta, and Martinez have created a Boras initiated blockade on the flow of the market. Hosmer hits free agency in his prime, following a career year. The San Diego Padres have made him target numero uno and haven’t shifted elsewhere. The Boston Red Sox have staked a position in the JD Martinez market. It comes down to Boras, who has a history of slow-playing the market and leveraging teams to find the most lucrative deal for his clients.

Joe: The ability Boras has to get his clients even more than what was expected is unprecedented. A quick dive into Boras’ wiki is a gold mine of cautionary tales of free agencies gone by, almost all of which take place once the 12 Days of Christmas are upon us. Take the 2004/2005 #hotstoveszn for example: Adrian Beltre to Seattle for five years, $64 million, four years and $40 million given to Jason Varitek from the Red Sox, SEVEN years $119 million to Carlos Beltran for the Mets. Perhaps the most egregious was a five year $75 million deal that had two years of a vesting option that pushed it to seven for $105 million…given to Magglio Ordonez by the Detroit Tigers. All of these contracts were signed AFTER December 17th.

It must be pointed out, however, that while these deals look bad now, given the names and dollars included, at the time they were worth it. Beltran was only the third $100 million deal of Boras’ career and never had a wRC+ under 106 as a member of the Mets. Magglio was second in the 2007 MVP race. In extreme Donald Trump voice, Boras clients are the best players, there are no better players than Scott Boras players.

Gage: As Joe’s research indicates, the Boras plan drags out the free agency process and the reasoning is simple: He wants to extrapolate every last cent for his clients. This impacts the Cleveland Indians’ offseason plans — Tribe brass is focused on waiting out the market, as indicated by the Edwin Encarnacion deal in 2016.

The Boras/Hosmer dynamic has created a bottleneck on the rest of the first base market. Though the Red Sox agreed to terms with Mitch Moreland, other names like Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison are victims of the Hosmer standstill. The Indians have rumored interest in both Duda and Morrison as fallback options to losing out on Santana. The Moreland contract with Boston might be a signal that the free agent dam is coming apart but it’s likely that a Hosmer deal would really open the floodgates. Waiting out that domino bodes well for the Indians chances on landing a Logan Morrison. The Arrieta and Martinez deals shouldn’t affect the Tribe much, barring unexpected interest in a Lorenzo Cain type.

Joe: You are right, Gage. If Cleveland legitimately got a chance to match any offer made to Santana, and three years/$60 million was too expensive, Martinez and Hosmer will be priced far outside of the Tribe’s comfort zone. Even if pushed into January, Boras has a way to get teams to pay sticker price.

If the front office of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff are playing bargain bin shopping, hoping for another Edwin to fall in their laps, Lorenzo Cain does seem to be in that mold. 31-going-to-be-32 year old center fielders who base a lot of their game off speed might give fans flashbacks to Michael Bourn, but Cain could easily move over to an easier left field, giving way to The Machine Bradley Zimmer while also taking some strain off his legs.

  • scripty

    Leaguewide, GMs are all getting more patient too and trying to suss out value more than ever. Sure, when Kevin Towers took over and spent $200 million on the first day of free agency, that helps speed things up.

    I’d argue this is the new normal.

  • Gage Will

    I agree there’s a shift to more patience with letting the market unfold.

  • Steve

    Obviously everything is contingent on the dollars, but if Cain can’t play CF, I don’t want any part of him. His projected 107 wRC+ (and trending down as you go forward) even with plus defense in the corner is not worth a big payday. 3/$45M.

    I’d rather go after an all-hit, no-defense player and let Zimmer be Kelly Leak.

  • mgbode

    It depends on your intepretation on OF defense during this Elevation Revelation phase of MLB. I have seen conflicting data dives and frankly it is too soon to know. There is a group who believe having premier OF defense will be a priority. If so, an outfield of Cain-Zimmer-Allen could be tops in baseball.

    The contract you mention above is about all I would give him though. And, I’d still be mad that we did that and not Santana (sorry, hasn’t been a week, so I cannot quite let it go).

  • Steve

    Definitely agree on the Santana bit. But defense scales the opposite way of offense. When you add a .360 OBP to the lineup, every other hitter gets more chances, and your offense stacks and goes up by more than simply adding a .360 OBP.

    On the other hand, plus defenders take away plays from each other. Having Zimmer and Cain cutting down a lot of balls to the LCF gap catches more than just one of them, but there will be many plays that you only needed one of them for.

  • mgbode

    Yes, I agree in general, but I wonder if teams are able to play more with the catch probability per outfielder to more completely cover the field. In other words, reduce that overlap, while spreading the range (also that should include covering foul ground coverage as a catch is a catch).

    Hitting is still more pragmatic, but if a market inefficiency develops for a guy like Cain, knowing how to take advantage of it could be fun.

  • Eric G

    If it makes you feel better, I can no longer think of Santana without thinking of you.

  • mgbode
  • Eric G

    Do you also say, “Fro-drick”?

  • mgbode

    Walk.This.Way.

  • Eric G

    Someday you and I will recite an entire movie.

  • mgbode

    Don’t give me that. I don’t believe in fate. And I won’t say it.

  • Eric G

    Suit yourself. I’m easy.