After what has seemed like an eternity since the Nationals season ended in the NLCS against St. Louis and the San Francisco Giants have surprisingly been crowned world champions by sweeping the Detroit Tigers, now all 30 teams shift their focus to the 2013 season and constructing a roster capable of winning the World Series. News out of NatsTown has been understandably quiet in recent weeks, but this has not stopped people from filling my inbox with questions or suggestions to improve the Nationals and their favorite teams this offseason.
While responding to reader emails, I suddenly realized I have not published an edition of Dear NatsGM (I know, clever title) since June and thought these questions would be interesting to explore more in depth. In this edition the readers have focused on the forthcoming offseason, with topics including the Baltimore Orioles offseason plans, and some free agent predictions for this year’s Hot Stove season.
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Lance via Email -> “Dear NatsGM, as we approach free agency, I was curious what your predictions were both in salary and years for the following free agents: Adam LaRoche, Zach Greinke, Josh Hamilton, Melky Cabrera, BJ Upton, and Edwin Jackson?
Great question Lance… Free agency and the winter Hot Stove season began over the weekend, and with the arrival, we should see a flurry of activity in the next two months as teams try to improve their rosters for next season. With the recent influx of television revenue, another year of record ticket sales, and a slowly improving economy, baseball teams have cash to spend this winter and it should be riveting to see how this affects the contracts signed by free agents this winter. Here is a closer examination at some of the biggest names available this offseason, along with my predictions for their eventual contract terms they agree to:
Melky Cabrera -> At midseason Melky was trending toward a 4 or 5 year contract worth $10 plus million dollars annually, but after testing positive for elevated testosterone, his subsequent 50-game suspension, and being left off the Giants postseason roster, Cabrera is now expected to search for a 1-year contract in an offensive-enhancing home stadium to rebuild his value in hopes of signing a multiyear contract next winter.
Prediction –> Texas Rangers, 1-Year $6 million plus incentives
Zach Greinke -> Greinke is not without his question marks, namely his early-career battles with anxiety and desire to play in a smaller media market, but Zach is clearly the best starting pitcher in free agency this winter with a CY Young award and impressive career stats (91-78 3.77 ERA over 1,492 innings pitched) on his resume. While you can argue whether he is an ace-quality pitcher or if he slots better as a #2 starter, Greinke is expected to insight a bidding war between Anaheim, Texas, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, amongst other teams seeking to add a true front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Prediction -> Anaheim Angels, 6-Years $124 million
Josh Hamilton -> Hamilton’s contract negotiations will be fascinating to observe this winter, as his skills on the field make him one of the 10-15 best players in baseball, but his propensity to land on the disabled list and his well-documented personal issues provide enough apprehension to limit his market. These concerns, in addition to being 32-years-old next season, will limit him to a 5-year deal, not the 7-years some have predicted, but will find his annual salary north of $20 million dollars.
Prediction -> Seattle Mariners, 5-Years $112.5 million
Edwin Jackson -> Jackson entered free agency last winter seeking a large multiyear contract, but found a relatively soft market, with rumors of only Pittsburgh offering a multiyear deal. Edwin settled for a 1-year contract with the Nationals last January, switched agents during the season, and posted solid numbers in Washington this year. The Nationals did not offer him contract arbitration, and Jackson now enters free agency in search of the security of a multiyear contract, and the smart money says he gets his wish this winter, just not in Washington.
Prediction -> Toronto Blue Jays, 3-Years $35 million
Adam LaRoche -> After a terrible season in 2011, LaRoche rebounded to lead the Nationals with 33 home runs, a .271/.343/.510 batting line, and was selected for his first gold glove in a truly outstanding season in 2012. At 33 years old this week (happy birthday, Adam!), LaRoche will be looking to parlay his success this season into a long-term contract. He has stated his desire to return to Washington, but as the best first basemen in free agency this winter, I think LaRoche lands a multiyear contract from an American League team the Nationals are unwilling to match.
Prediction -> Baltimore Orioles, 4-Years $52 million
BJ Upton-> The former #2 overall selection in the 2002 draft, Upton has struggled to achieve the success associated and expected from such a preeminent prospect. Upton debuted in 2006 at 21-years-old, and now finds himself entering free agency as a 28-year-old center fielder that is above-average both offensively and defensively, but has not achieved the elite status forecast early in his career. That said, the general manager that signs him will see an above-average center fielder with some untapped potential, perhaps convincing himself a change of scenery will allow him to flourish. My early prediction for the “Wow, he got that contract” award this offseason, I expect numerous teams to aggressively push to sign Upton, including Philadelphia, Washington, and San Francisco.
Prediction -> Philadelphia Phillies, 5-Years $77.5 million
The Ghost of John Lowenstein via Email -> “What should the Orioles do this offseason to upgrade the club?”
While there are others out there that follow the Orioles more closely than I do, I must admit that I grew up as an Orioles fan and thus I keep a keen eye on them during the season. It was masterful watching Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter maximize their roster all year, leading to one of the most surprising seasons in a generation. Sure they fell short in the ALCS against the Yankees, but their loss in Game 5 should not take anything away from their extraordinary season and returning the term “Orioles Magic” to the vocabulary in Baltimore.
The Orioles enter this winter confidently having Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis as their foundation offensively, with Manny Machado and Brian Roberts slated to be Opening Day starters at third base and second base, respectfully. These seven players form an imposing offensive nucleus, however, this still leaves obvious questions at first base or left field, whichever position Chris Davis does not play defensively, and at designated hitter if they are not satisfied with a platoon of Wilson Betemit and Nolan Reimold.
The starting rotation was the Orioles biggest weakness this past season and continues to be the largest question mark entering the offseason. Three spots seem relatively spoken for with Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez, and Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Chris Tillman provide talented but inconsistent depth as they compete for the 5th starter position. As uber-prospect Dylan Bundy looms on the horizon as the Orioles future #1 starter, the team’s biggest priority this winter is finding a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with him, allowing their other starters to slot later in the rotation in areas more suitable to their talent levels.
The strength of the Orioles in 2012 was their bullpen, which collectively posted one of the best seasons in recent memory. Jim Johnson is expected to return as the team’s closer, with Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala, Troy Patton, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz providing support pitching in middle relief. Baltimore will look to add a veteran reliever to add some depth, but the Orioles are expected to return a very similar relief corps in 2013.
If it were up to me, my first order of business this offseason would be to offer arbitration to Mark Reynolds and make him the starting first baseman. Although his poor batting average and swing and miss tendencies can make even the most optimistic fan grow weary, Mark Reynolds can be counted on for 25+ home runs in the #7 spot in the lineup, and flashed the ability to be a reasonable defender at first base during his time there this season. Offering him arbitration gives them only a 1-year commitment, and with how seemingly shallow the first base position is this winter, I think Reynolds could be a nice value for the Orioles.
Next the priority is acquiring a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher as mentioned before – Zack Greinke is the best starting pitcher available and might be difficult to coax to Baltimore, but Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez, and to a lesser degree Ryan Dempster are also front-line pitchers available in free agency and the Orioles need to sign one of these starters. Finally, closer to spring training when players begin to soften their salary demands, the Orioles should look to add a designated hitter and a veteran reliever on a discount: names like Travis Hafner, Raul Ibanez, and Jim Thome could be good additions at DH, and Matt Capps, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, and Koji Uehara might fit as a veteran presence in the bullpen. But these weaknesses pale in comparison to their necessity for an frontline starting pitcher, and the ultimate success of their offseason will come down to how well Dan Duquette fills this need.
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