February 17, 2014
Choosing the Brave Life
Signed RHP Suk-Min Yoon to a three-year deal worth $5.575 million with incentives that could make the deal worth more than $13 million. [2/13]
Were it not for failed physicals, the Orioles offseason would rarely receive mention. Dan Duquette spent the winter doing what he does best by accumulating decent, if unheralded contributors—like David Lough and Ryan Webb. Yoon is at once like and unlike those players; he has a modest ceiling, with some talent evaluators liking him better as a reliever, yet there is no guarantee he contributes to Baltimore this year or any year. Yoon missed time last season due to a mysterious shoulder injury, and saw his numbers and velocity worsen as a result. The stakes are low enough that it'll be easy to eat should Yoon go all Tsuyoshi Wada on the O's and never throw a pitch for Baltimore.
Signed LHP Erik Bedard to a minor-league deal. [2/14]
Over the past 15 months, the Rays have added four young starting pitchers through trades, each of whom had pitched at Double-A or higher with his previous club. In theory, adding that quartet to the pitching wealth already in place—which includes Enny Romero and Alex Colome, two of the organization's top three prospects—should have provided the Rays with enough depth to cover in case of injury. Yet here they are, not a fortnight removed from Jeremy Hellickson's surgery, signing a 10-year veteran to a contract with an eye on him making the opening day roster.
Whenever Andrew Friedman makes a move, money is usually a factor; either because the player costs too much for his meager budget, costs less than the team values him at, or helps the club save money in another facet. In this case, though, adding Bedard isn't about money. Friedman is beholden to the Super Two deadline when it comes to hitting prospects, but he seldom displays the same devotion with pitchers. He didn't keep David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, or Chris Archer down due to Super Two concerns, and there's no reason to think he's approaching Jake Odorizzi, Matt Andriese, or Nate Karns differently.
Bedard's purpose is to allow for further development of those young arms. The Rays almost have enough depth to start a different young pitcher each time through the rotation until Hellickson returns, but they might not have an arm they feel is definitively, unquestionably prepared for a prolonged big-league stay. Even Odorizzi, for as polished and as close to the majors as he is, could stand to tighten his command and secondary offerings. Bedard is a safety net in case none of the youngsters shows the necessary improvement this spring to earn a spot in the opening day rotation.
In a sense, Bedard is the new Roberto Hernandez, albeit without the leash or the upside. You can make a case Odorizzi is better than Bedard right now—PECOTA agrees—just as you could have argued Archer over Hernandez last March. But because the Rays take the big-picture approach with their prospects, Bedard—a back-end starter with a quality curveball, varied arsenal, and deceptive mechanics to his credit, as well as durability, control, and personality woes to his debit—might get the job anyway, like Hernandez did; even if it makes the club worse in the short run.
Re-signed RHP Craig Kimbrel to a four-year extension worth $42 million with a club option worth $13 million. [2/16]
Re-signed RHP Julio Teheran to a six-year extension worth $32.4 million guaranteed; deal includes a club option worth $12 million. [2/14]
In Baseball Prospectus 2014, former Braves intern and current Talking Chop contributor Mark Smith wrote: "The Braves look primed for another big year in 2014 because of an amazing young core, but that young core may not be around much longer if the team can't overcome the substantial pressures of the new TV contracts and the lure of what All-Star players headed into their primes can make on the open market."
At the time Smith's words were printed, they captured the uneasy state of a franchise fighting to sustain a young core without a great revenue stream. But these days, those words feel as dated as the Braves' old screaming Native American logo. Since the ink dried, the Braves have announced intentions to build a new stadium in Cobb County, and re-signed Freddie Freeman to an extension worth nine figures. Atlanta went longer than a half-decade between extensions of homegrown players, yet the Teheran announcement made it two within a half-month, and the Kimbrel agreement made it two within a half-week. The Braves have gone extension crazy in February.
Let's tackle the starter first.
If the Braves are the Rays, then Freeman is their Longoria and Teheran is their Moore. The move to extend the right-hander is more about potential than it is past results—in part because there isn't much of the latter to go on. Teheran's first full season in the majors started poorly, but by the time the year ended he ranked second in the rotation in ERA and WARP. The second half was a cause for optimism, as the Colombia native recorded seven quality starts and fanned more than a batter per inning over his final 12 starts. Additionally, he became the fourth 22-year-old since 1998 to strike out at least 3.5 batters per walk in 150-plus innings, joining Mark Prior, Mat Latos, and Madison Bumgarner.
There are no guarantees Teheran follows Bumgarner's or Latos' path and becomes a mainstay at the front of the rotation. In fact, he could join Prior and never throw a big-league pitch after turning 26. However, if he does stay healthy, the Braves shouldn't regret putting pen to paper. That's because Teheran is a smart, athletic pitcher with good stuff, a strong pedigree, and the chance to succeed in the majors for a long time; in other words, he's almost the ideal extension candidate.
Kimbrel, undoubtedly the best closer in baseball, is a different beast. His side submitted a $9 million figure for arbitration, which was $2.5 million higher than the Braves' number. In the end, Atlanta will pay Kimbrel $7 million in salary with an addition $1 million signing bonus. The rest of the deal then breaks down as three years and at least $34 million (depending on whether a few million worth of incentives are hit). Maybe that's not ideal—particularly during an offseason that's seen just one closer receive an AAV exceeding $10 million—but if there's one relief pitcher worth a big payday it's Kimbrel.
The amusing part is the Braves might have saved money here. Had Kimbrel won his hearing, he would've topped $10 million next winter, leaving him in prime position to edge closer toward $15 million (or more) in his final season of arbitration eligibility. Anything can happen at a hearing, and perhaps the Braves had a great argument for why he should make only slightly more than Jonathan Papelbon did back in his first go-around with the arbitrators. But Kimbrel's statistical performance is so unusual that he broke MLB Trade Rumors' prediction model—they had to invent a rule just so his projected cost wouldn't shatter the historical precedent. Arbitration often favors the team; just maybe not when dealing with this kind of an extreme.
How great has Kimbrel been? You could argue his first three seasons as a closer were better than Mariano Rivera's. Comparing the raw stats (Kimbrel had a 1.48 ERA and 5.17 SO/BB; Rivera had a 1.87 ERA and 2.84 SO/BB) makes the point but ignores an obvious detail: those stretches came in different eras. So try this on for size: Kimbrel had a 264 ERA+; Rivera had a 243. Whether Kimbrel goes on to a two-decade run of similar dominance is to be seen, but he's one of the few who can thump his chest and say he outpitched Rivera during any three-year period.
We referenced the Braves chapter in the annual earlier. Here's a Kimbrel stat from the book to end this with: Last season, he was more likely to strike out the side (10 times) than allow multiple hits in an inning (seven times). He's incredible.
Signed UTL-S Emilio Bonifacio to a minor-league deal. [2/15]
Bonifacio's weird sequence of events concludes with him joining the Cubs. The erstwhile Royal avoided arbitration by agreeing to a contract with Kansas City earlier in the offseason that would have paid him $3.5 million. Yet Dayton Moore decided to pull the plug before the report date, and by doing so owes Bonifacio about $600,000, as arbitration contracts aren't fully guaranteed.
While Kansas City will pay Bonifacio to go away, the Cubs are paying him to come in and join the bench. A piece of the Miami-Toronto blockbuster last offseason, Bonifacio struggled during his time in Toronto. It wasn't until he joined Kansas City, in a late-season move, that he started to resemble his 2011 self. When Bonifacio is going well, he's slapping the ball around the park and using his top-end speed to cause havoc on the basepaths. Defensively, he's able to play all over, though second base is probably his best position.
Bonifacio reportedly turned down big-league offers to sign with the Cubs. You wonder then if Jed Hoyer hinted that the second-base job could be up for grabs if Darwin Barney doesn't offer more with the stick. Although Bonifacio has a few more years of service time, and will qualify for free agency after the season, he's only seven months older than Barney. Of course such a move would require the Cubs to put their short-term interests first, but it could become an early-season talking point in the Windy City.