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A year ago, Ervin Santana entered free agency coming off a 9-10 season with the Royals, but with a 3.24 ERA and 211 innings pitched. He reportedly asked for big money, scared teams away with those demands and had to settle for a one-year, $14.1 million contract from the Braves.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Once again, he enters free agency attached to a qualifying offer, so the team that signs him will lose either its first-round pick (unless it's a top-10 protected pick) or a later pick. That will lessen the enthusiasm for Santana, who went 14-10 with the Braves but with a so-so 3.95 ERA.

Jim Bowden predicts a three-year, $42 million contract for Santana. Consider him a much less expensive and not as good option behind guys like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels.

Let's do our half-full, half-empty look at Santana.

HALF-FULL

Are you getting a Cy Young candidate in Santana? No. But you're getting a pitcher who has made 30-plus starts the past five seasons, making him a reliable 200-inning midrotation workhorse. He's averaged 1.7 WAR over those five seasons, but that includes a terrible 2012 season when he posted a 5.16 ERA. Otherwise, he's averaged 2.5 WAR in the other four seasons, which prices him at about $16 million per season in this market.

Santana's bread-and-butter pitch is a slider that generates a good number of swings-and-misses. Santana had the fifth-best strikeout percentage of any starter in the majors with his slider and the fourth-best swing-and-miss percentage behind only Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and C.J. Wilson.

Overall, batters hit .176/.225/.300 against it with 120 strikeouts in 268 plate appearances. When he's on, he's locating that slider on the corner or just off the corner. Batters know it's coming and still can't hit it.

ESPN Stats & Info


Santana's four-seam fastball averages 92.3 mph, still above-average for a right-handed starter, and he also started using his changeup more often in 2014 against left-handers, with good results. If that pitch continues to develop, that helps neutralize some of the problems Santana has had against left-handed batters in the past. Overall, with the slider and above-average velocity, there's no reason to expect a sudden downturn in performance if he signs a three-year contract.

While Santana's ERA was higher than the year before, his peripherals were actually better, with a 3.39 FIP compared to 3.93 in 2013. His strikeout rate increased to his highest rate since 2008 and he cut his home runs from 26 to 16 in large part because his fly-ball percentage was the best of his career. This may actually be a pitcher maturing as he hits his 30s. The only reason his numbers weren't better was a .326 average on balls in play, much higher than the .285 mark he's had overall since 2009.

HALF-EMPTY

Well, sure, Santana's peripheral numbers got better -- he went from the American League to the National League; it's nice getting to face the opposing pitcher a couple of times a game. Santana also pitched in the NL East, a division that had some terrible offenses in 2014. Against No. 8 and No. 9 batters, he had 46 strikeouts and 10 walks and just one home run allowed. If he goes back to the AL, he won't have the same luxury of building up some fancy stats against the bottom of the lineup.

Plus, be careful about reading too much into one-year home run numbers. This is a guy who gave up 26 home runs in 2013 pitching in a tough home run park in Kansas City and 39 pitching in a tough home run park in Anaheim in 2012. Atlanta has been more neutral, but the bigger point: He's benefited his entire career by pitching in friendly ballparks. Don't buy high on those 16 home runs being a new level of talent.

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What's your view on Ervin Santana as a free agent?

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Discuss (Total votes: 107)

You also can't just ignore that 2012 season. It happened and it could happen again. As good as his slider is, his fastball just isn't a great weapon and it makes Santana hittable when he doesn't get into slider counts. Batters hit .322 against his fastball in 2014, which ranked 84th out of 88 qualified starters.

Keep in mind that he's also pitched in front of good defensive teams -- the 2012 Angels ranked second in the majors in defensive runs saved, the 2013 Royals ranked first and the 2014 Braves ranked 11th. Again: New park, worse defense, a few more hanging sliders and you're looking at a back-of-the-rotation guy who will be getting paid like a front-of-the-rotation starter.

There's a reason Santana didn't get big money last year. He's a difficult guy to buy completely into at eight figures per season. He may get a three-year contract, but if he's asking for $50 million he's going to be left hanging again like last year.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?
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Just as everyone didn't predict, Yasmany Tomas agreed to a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks worth a reported six years and $68.5 million that includes an opt-out after four years. Tomas projects as a power-hitting left fielder with below-average defense, which suggests the D-backs will now shop Mark Trumbo, last year's acquisition who was supposed to be a power-hitting left fielder with below-average defense.

Of course, this is a different front office with Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart now making the calls, so don't blame them for the ill-advised trade that brought in Trumbo with the idea that he could play left field on a regular basis. Trumbo had averaged 32 home runs in three seasons with the Angels, spending most of his time at first base, although he did start 97 games in the outfield in 2012, but few analysts saw him as a left fielder.

Anyway, his 2014 season with Arizona was pretty much a disaster, as he missed two months with a foot fracture and then hit .235/.293/.415 in the 88 games he did play with 14 home runs.

Given the reports on Tomas' defense, it seems unlikely the D-backs will want to play both Tomas and Trumbo in the outfield, which opens up the idea of trading Trumbo. Trumbo is a low-OBP guy (.298 career) but he is a good defensive first baseman and averaged 2.6 WAR per season from 2011-13. Steamer projects Trumbo with a .245/.303/.461 line and 31 home runs. His estimated salary via arbitration would be $5-6 million.

Here are five teams that could be interested:

1. Miami Marlins: Looking for an upgrade over Garrett Jones at first base, the Marlins made a pitch for Adam LaRoche but he signed with the White Sox. Trumbo fits into their budget.

2. Seattle Mariners: The Mariners need right-handed power and while they prefer an outfielder, they also need a first baseman or DH -- they ranked 20th in the majors in wOBA at first base and last in the AL at the DH position. Trumbo could play first with Logan Morrison moving to the DH position.

3. Kansas City Royals: With DH Billy Butler now with Oakland, the Royals need a replacement. Trumbo is a good fit for a team that finished last in the majors in home runs.

4. Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays have James Loney under contract for two more years, but Trumbo could be brought into to provide power for an offense that ranked last in the AL in runs. He can DH, play some first and fill in some in left field. The budget-conscious Rays just designed Sean Rodriguez for assignment and could also be looking to trade Matt Joyce, so Trumbo essentially replaces their salaries.

5. Texas Rangers: The Rangers received terrible production from both first base and DH. Prince Fielder's return should help at one of those spots, but that still leaves ... Mitch Moreland? He's coming off a two-homer, injury-plagued season and it may be time for the Rangers to punt on him.

Trumbo shouldn't be too expensive to acquire, with the D-backs probably looking for pitching prospects or young, major-league ready arms. He's not a star and was overrated during his Angels days, but every team seems to be seeking right-handed power, and Trumbo provides that.
Baltimore Orioles: If Nick Markakis really wanted to return to Baltimore, wouldn't he have signed by now? ... Remember that year he had a .406 OBP? Yeah, that was a long time ago. ... Markakis won the Gold Glove, but that was as much by default as anything. There were only seven full-time right fielders in the American League and none of them were outstanding defenders. ... Nelson Cruz or Markakis? If I could only have one, I'd probably take the chance on Cruz and the potential that he'll have a couple more big seasons in him over Markakis' OK-but-nothing-special numbers. ... The Orioles could turn their attention to Melky Cabrera if they don't sign Markakis. ... If Jonathan Schoop can add 50 points of OBP, he's going be a very good player. He may already turn the double play as well as any second baseman in the game. ... Kevin Gausman should get 30 starts this year and -- while he projects as a solid mid-rotation guy -- imagine how dominant he could be as a multi-inning relief weapon, as we saw during the postseason. Still, he has more value as a rotation guy. ... One rumor has the Marlins asking about Chris Davis, but without Cruz and Markakis for now, the O's can't afford to punt on Davis, as bad as he was in 2014. ... Get healthy, Manny.

New York Yankees: Right now, I'd pick the Yankees to finish last in the division, with their first under-.500 record since 1992. But we can assume the current roster isn't close to their final roster. ... It wouldn't surprise me if Max Scherzer ends up being their big splash. How about a rotation of Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy (have to re-sign the last two)? ... Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Yankees are pushing harder to acquire a shortstop than a third baseman, which could indicate lukewarm interest in bringing Chase Headley back. Or, in other words, enjoy Alex Rodriguez, Yankees fans! ... Could see the Yankees going after one of the Seattle shortstops, Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. Mariners could use some rotation depth, so maybe Shane Greene for Taylor makes sense, especially if the Yankees sign McCarthy and/or Kuroda. ... How many years left on that Mark Teixeira contract? ... Any chance for a Carlos Beltran comeback at 38? Steamer projects a .261/.325/.440 line with 23 home runs. ... Steamer also foresees a similar improvement from Brian McCann, from a 92 wRC+ to 111. That would certainly help an offense that ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored. ... The last time the Yankees offense ranked that bad was 1990, when they were last in the league in runs. Jesse Barfield and Roberto Kelly were the only guys to drive in 50 runs that year. ... In the end, I think David Robertson returns to pinstripes.

Toronto Blue Jays: With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion still providing top-level offense, it makes sense for the Jays to go in all-in with Bautista still under contract for two more seasons. Remember when many thought the Jays overpaid for Bautista at $14 million per season? ... I think the Jays need to bring Melky Cabrera back, in part to get a left-handed batter alongside Bautista, Encarnacion and Russell Martin. ... It's asking a lot to expect Dalton Pompey to be the starting center fielder, considering his lack of experience above Class A. Steamer projects Pompey to hit .238/.296/.353. ... Dalton Pompey: That has to be a top-five name. Do the Jays play the Dodgers this year? Vin Scully would make that name sing. ... I'm buying big-time on Marcus Stroman and also expect Drew Hutchison to have a better season. Hutchison's strikeout rate was good so, so if he can cut out a few home runs, he looks like a solid mid-rotation starter. ... I'd be tempted to leave Aaron Sanchez in the bullpen. He dominated there when called u, while when he started in the minors his control problems were a big issue. But he walked just nine in 33 innings (and allowed only 14 hits) pitching in relief with Toronto. He could be a huge weapon as a middle-innings reliever, or a potential closer to replace Casey Janssen. ... The Jays have reportedly discussed Jay Bruce, or thought about going after Bruce, but Bruce apparently has a no-trade clause that includes Toronto. ... Good luck with Justin Smoak. ... What about Chase Headley at third base? They could slide Brett Lawrie over to second, although Devon Travis may be ready to take over there at midseason. ... Toronto may shop Dioner Navarro now; I have to think a team like the Dodgers would be interested. ... It still feels like the Jays have one more big move coming, whether it's Melky, a pitcher or another bat.

Tampa Bay Rays: Don't count out a bounce-back into contention from the Rays, although I do think losing Joe Maddon was a significant blow. ... They need Evan Longoria to be Evan Longoria after he dipped to a career-worst .253/.320/.404 line. Steamer sees some improvement but not back to his previous level of performance. ... The Rays scored 612 runs, lowest in the AL, but here's one reason to expect improvement: Their component statistics indicate an offense that should have scored 650 runs. ... In various splits, Tampa Bay's worst OPS figures came with runners at second and third and with the bases loaded. ... Goodbye, Jose Molina, your pitch framing will be missed but not your "bat." ... Don't sleep on Drew Smyly, who had a 1.70 ERA in seven starts after coming over from Detroit. He's not THAT good, of course, but he should line up nicely in the rotation behind Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. ... Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee ranked third and 12th in the majors in strikeout rate for relievers (minimum 40 innings), giving Tampa a dominant 1-2 punch out of the pen. ... The Rays could trade Matt Joyce, slide Ben Zobrist back to the outfield and give Nick Franklin a chance at second base. ... Remember Wil Myers? The more I look at the Rays, I believe they can get back in the playoff hunt, especially if Matt Moore can return and help out and Myers forgets about a lost 2014 and has a big season. ... Kevin Cash, Don Wakamatsu or Raul Ibanez for manager? No doubt that Ibanez would be the gutsy choice, but sounds like Cash is the favorite. He was on Terry Francona's staff in Cleveland the past two years.

Boston Red Sox: Think the Red Sox will do anything interesting this offseason? ... While it seems a foregone conclusion that Yoenis Cespedes will be traded, I guess you could keep him to play right field and use Mookie Betts as a super-utility guy. ... That would still leave Mike Napoli, Allen Craig and/or Daniel Nava as potential trade bait. ... Cespedes would bring the most back, although I can't see Seattle giving Hisashi Iwakuma for him. ... Are the Red Sox the best team in the East if they sign Jon Lester and trade for Cole Hamels? Not so sure about that. Boston won 71 games; if Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Lester and Hamels are all five-win upgrades, that's 91 wins. Except that Lester is, in part, replacing himself, so that's not a five-win upgrade. Plus, they've lost John Lackey's starts, and Hamels would be changing leagues and out of the weak NL East, where he faced several subpar offensive teams. And Sandoval is more like a three-win player. ... In other words, I still think there is work to do even if they land both Lester and Hamels. And that's not counting on any regression from David Ortiz, who is going to get old one of these years. ... Clay Buchholz did have a 4.01 FIP compared to his 5.34 ERA, so maybe he's a good bet to do better than 8-11. Or he may not make anything close to 28 starts again. ... Love Mookie. Kid is going to be a star. No, they're not including him in a trade for Hamels, so stop dreaming, Phillies fans. ... Have to think they'll get a lefty reliever. Maybe Andrew Miller returns? ... Rusney Castillo, can't wait to see what you can do with 500 at-bats. ... Yes, I still believe in Xander Bogaerts. No, I don't think he'd be included in a Hamels trade either.

'Good guy' Allen a smart hire for the Twins

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
12:18
PM ET
Neil AllenIcon SportswireAllen brings 11 years of MLB playing experience, as well as an eye for developing talent, to the Twins.

A few years ago, during a conversation with a former major league manager in between tapings of "Baseball Tonight," the topic of my favorite baseball player came up.

“Oh, he’s one of the good ones,” said the manager after giving me the usual puzzled look I get when I tell people who that player was. The manager went on to explain that he didn't know my favorite player personally, but that he'd heard many positive things about him.

I thought about the player again on Tuesday. The transaction that has intrigued me the most this offseason isn't the signings of Pablo Sandoval Hanley Ramirez or Russell Martin, but the move announced on Nov. 25 -- that the Minnesota Twins had hired Neil Allen as their new pitching coach.

Allen, a former closer for the New York Mets, was my first childhood favorite. (I liked relief pitchers.) I had his rookie card made into a T-shirt decal and wore it to a baseball card show at which he appeared in the spring of 1983.

Allen was nice enough to engage an 8-year-old in conversation, and when he saw my shirt he promised me that he would pitch better. A couple of weeks later, Allen was traded to the Cardinals in one of the Mets' best deals. The move netted them All-Star first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Nonetheless, I remained loyal to Allen. He would pitch in the majors until 1989 with the Cardinals, Yankees, White Sox and Indians -- a decent (albeit not great) pitcher best known for a high leg kick and a big curveball.

I amassed a collection of Allen's baseball cards and photos and commissioned a watercolor painting of the image on his rookie card. In 2011, I interviewed him for a piece that reflected on his tenure with the Mets. He was extremely appreciative that someone would view his four-year stint with the team so favorably.

AP Photo/Sal VederDuring his 11-year MLB career, Allen was known for his high leg kick and big curveball.
Allen is a baseball lifer who has persevered even through difficult personal circumstances. He is a recovering alcoholic and in 2012 his wife, Lisa, died of an aneurysm.

Other than a season spent as Yankees bullpen coach under Joe Torre in 2005, Allen has toiled in the minor leagues since 1995, working at every level from short-season A ball to Triple-A, where he spent the last four seasons with the Rays' affiliate, the Durham Bulls. Name a young pitcher who has succeeded with the Rays of late -- Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore, etc. -- and chances are Allen has worked with him.

Allen had a couple of major league near-misses along the way. He was rumored to be Mel Stottlemyre’s replacement as Yankees pitching coach in 2005 and was a finalist to be Bobby Valentine’s staff with the Red Sox in 2012.

Now, at age 56, Allen will finally get his chance. He replaces Rick Anderson, who was let go in September after 13 seasons with Minnesota. The Twins hired Allen to bring a fresh perspective. And he will: He comes from an organization whose major league team embraces the changeup like no other (Rays pitchers have thrown nearly 13,000 over the last three seasons) to one with a more traditional approach (Twins pitchers have thrown about half as many change ups over the same span).

But Allen should be flexible enough to work within the Twins' existing pitch-to-contact approach. He can speak from experience, having once thrown a two-hit shutout in 1986 against the Yankees in which he had no strikeouts and no walks.

Allen faces a challenging task, no doubt. The Twins have finished last in the AL in ERA in three of the last four seasons -- and they were next-to-last in the fourth year. They have four straight seasons of at least 92 losses.

Minnesota's projected 2015 rotation includes …

•  Ricky Nolasco, who signed a four-year, $48 million contract last offseason, and had a 5.38 ERA in 27 starts while dealing with an elbow injury. Nolasco has a history of great strikeout-to-walk numbers, but his ERA has never been in line with those of a high-end control pitcher.

•  Mike Pelfrey, who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness during a two-year, 34-start tenure in which his ERA was 5.56. During his prime with the Mets, Pelfrey was a hard thrower who never found the second pitch that would elevate him to ace-level status. He’s owed $5.5 million for 2015, so the Twins will be looking to get anything they can out of him.

•  Kyle Gibson, whose six starts of at least seven innings and no runs allowed tied for the second-most in the majors (the same number as Clayton Kershaw) in 2014. Gibson has a good changeup and limited opponents to 12 home runs in 179 innings last season, but still finished with a 4.47 ERA.

Those three are among the pitchers whose potential the Twins have not yet maximized. “I’ve got to find a way to reach each individual,” Allen said during a conference call on Tuesday, explaining his approach to working with pitchers.



AP Photo/Mike JanesAllen, 56, is finally getting a chance to impart his pitching wisdom in the big leagues.
That personal approach is one of Allen’s strengths, according to one of his star pupils. “Neil is the most positive person I've encountered in baseball,” said Archer, now a starter for the Rays, in an e-mail. “Every day, whether you threw a gem or gave up 10 runs, he brought a smile and optimism to work. Since he had such a great big-league career, his knowledge of situational pitching helped propel my career."

It’s not just current major leaguers who speak highly of his work. Ten-year minor-league vet Brian Baker pitched two seasons for Allen, including one in which he racked up a 6.62 ERA.

“He didn’t care if you were a top prospect or an innings eater,” Baker said via Twitter. “He treated everyone the same. Every day, he had a story from back in his playing days, ready to make you laugh. If you were having a (bad) day, he could make you forget about it. If you needed help on the mound, he was the guy who could fix it. He knew his stuff.

“He had pitching drills, little tweaks of mechanics, towel drills, different philosophies to get you going back in the right direction on the mound. And they always seemed to work for you. He wanted you to succeed and he did everything he could every day to help make that happen.”

Now Allen will get the chance to help mold those mechanics at the highest level. I don’t root for the Twins, but I’ll be hoping that things work out well for him as he gets a shot at the big time.

After all, he’s one of the good guys.

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In 2012, Chase Headley had a monster season for the Padres, hitting 31 home runs and leading the National League with 115 RBIs -- big numbers considering Petco Park's dimensions and the lineup around him. He added a Gold Glove Award and finished a deserving fifth in the NL MVP voting.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Rather than sign an extension with the Padres, Headley played out the final two years of his contract, which probably cost him some cash. He wasn't able to match those numbers during the following two seasons, was dealt to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2014 and now hits free agency before his age-31 season.

The Yankees are certainly interested in bringing Headley back, but the Giants could also be suitors now that Pablo Sandoval has signed with the Red Sox. The Indians have also reportedly expressed interest, since Headley would be an upgrade at third base over Lonnie Chisenhall.

Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $27 million deal for Headley, but he'll likely do much better than that.

Let's examine Headley a little closer in our latest half-full, half-empty series installment.

HALF-FULL

In a way, Headley is being compared with the 2012 version of himself -- and he loses that comparison:

2012: .286/.376/.498, 31 HRs, 6.3 WAR
2013-14: .246/.338/.387, 26 HRs, 7.3 WAR

What went so right in 2012? For starters, from the left side of the plate (Headley is a switch-hitter), he had few holes in his swing. Here's his map of slugging percentage at different areas in the strike zone that year:

Chase HeadleyESPN Stats & Info


Not a lot of holes there. You may remember that Headley had a monster second half, during which he hit 23 home runs, 17 from the left side. There's always the chance that he regains that form again, or at least some of that form. Getting out of San Diego could help his power numbers (his home run rate increased after joining the Yankees) and, at 31, his skills should still largely be intact. In fact, Headley's line-drive rate in 2014 was 26.6 percent, much better than the 19.3 percent of 2012. Headley hit .243 in 2014, but that strong line-drive rates suggests that he hit into some bad luck along the way.

More important, even at his 2013-14 level of production, Headley has been a valuable contributor thanks to two underrated skills: his defense and ability to get on base. His 7.3 Baseball-Reference WAR over those two seasons ranks 11th among third basemen -- and higher than Sandoval, who just signed a $95 million contract.

Headley's defense is no fluke and it's one reason he should continue to hold value. His defensive runs saved totals since 2010 are: +14, +1, -3, +5, +13. Ultimate zone rating likes Headley's defense even more, with +35 runs saved over the past three seasons. (FanGraphs, which uses UZR as its defensive metric, has valued Headley at 8.0 WAR over the past two seasons.)

If we value Headley as a 3-WAR player -- a conservative estimate -- at the going rate of about $6.5 million per win on the free-agent market, he should be valued at about $18 million per season. Even if you account for some aging in a three- or four-year deal, Headley looks like he'll be an excellent return on investment even if he gets something like a four-year, $50 million deal.

HALF-EMPTY

First off, you can ignore that 2012 season, which was really one fluke half a season. That's the only time Headley has hit more than 13 home runs, so the expectation that he'll regain some of that power just isn't realistic. It's not like he suddenly starting bashing a lot of home runs after joining the Yankees, even with the benefit of that short right-field porch. His fly ball rate isn't dramatically different than it was in 2012; he just happened to see a lot more fly balls clear the fences that year.

So what does that leave you with? A 31-year-old third baseman who has hit .246 the past two seasons, a guy who draws value from walks and defense.

But ... his walk rate has dipped the past two seasons, from 12.1 percent to 11.2 to 9.6. Defensively, you're counting on him to retain that ability into his 30s. We know defensive players tend to peak in their 20s, before they start to lose a bit of that quickness and reaction time, so Headley is likely to decline in a season or two.

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What's your view on Chase Headley as a free agent?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,025)

And you can't compare Headley's potential contract to what Sandoval received. Sandoval is three years younger, so there's a vast potential difference in the years Boston will get out of Sandoval as opposed to what Headley's team will reap.

Headley is a nice player, a middle-of-the-pack third baseman. But his batting line is trending downward and middle-of-the pack third basemen in their 30s can quickly turn into below-average third basemen. He's a good risk at a reasonable price, but he's not going to be a huge difference-maker.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

Here's Tuesday's chat wrap. Two hours of baseball talk!
video James Shields is the third of the big three free-agent starting pitchers available this winter, ranked behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester.

After seven years in Tampa Bay, he spent the past two with Kansas City, who acquired him to become the top guy in the rotation. Shields delivered, going 27-17 with a 3.18 ERA over two seasons and helping the Royals reach the World Series.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Shields won't command the same money as Scherzer and Lester, as he's older and not considered to be quite in their class, but Jim Bowden still predicts a five-year, $100 million for the soon-to-be 33-year-old right-hander.

Let's look at the half-full, half-empty sides of Shields.

HALF-FULL

If you're going to spend $100 million on a pitcher, one thing you want above all else is durability, and that's what Shields provides. He's pitched 200-plus innings eight consecutive seasons, including at least 227 the past four seasons. Shields leads the majors with 932.2 innings over those four seasons -- only two other pitchers have reached 900. He takes the ball every fifth day and pitches deep into games. This exactly why he's considered a staff leader.

He turns 33 in December, but this is a guy who takes care of himself and has never missed a start in the majors. All pitchers carry the risk of breaking down, of course, but Shields seems like a safe bet to continue rolling out 30-start seasons.

But it's about much more than his durability. Since 2011, he ranks 14th in the majors among pitchers with at least 600 innings with a 3.17 ERA -- a better figure, by the way, than Scherzer (3.52) or Lester (3.61). Only four of those 13 with a better ERA pitched that entire time in the American League, so Shields has put up good numbers in the league with more offense.

While he gets a lot of recognition for his excellent changeup, Shields' cutter has become a bigger weapon for him the past two seasons, especially against left-handers.

James ShieldsESPN Stats & Info


Shields' fastball velocity is a tick above average for a right-handed starter -- 92.4 mph in 2014 -- but neither his four-seamer nor his two-seamer is an especially effective pitch against left-handed batters, who slugged .451 against his fastball. The cutter gives him another pitch he can use, either to get ahead in the count, or when behind. Over the past two seasons, lefties have slugged .337 against his cutter. Shields used the pitch more in 2014 than the year before, and he could ramp up its use even more in future seasons.

It's all part of Shields' deep arsenal of pitches, as he also throws a very good curveball to go with his changeup. That points to a pitcher who should age well, even if he loses a little velocity off his four-seam fastball.

Shields also lowered his walk rate in 2014, giving him the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. He has a ton of postseason experience. He's very good at holding runners -- he allowed six stolen bases in 2014 with four caught stealing and four others picked off. (Yes, some of that credit goes to Salvador Perez but Shields has always been tough to run on and one year picked off 12 runners.) All things that front offices will consider.

Baseball-Reference valued Shields at 3.3 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, and he's averaged 3.8 WAR over the past four seasons. Even accounting for some regression down the road, if he averaged 3 WAR per season, at the going rate of about $6.5 million per win on the free agent market, you're looking at $97.5 million of value. So that $100 million contract looks about right, and there's a good chance that Shields will earn that kind of money.

HALF-EMPTY

Good luck betting on a pitcher for his age 33 through 37 seasons. Know who else was durable? CC Sabathia. Or Cliff Lee. Or Roy Halladay, who finished second in the Cy Young voting when he was 34 and retired at 36. With pitchers, you just never know, and while Shields' durability has been commendable, he's also thrown the second-most pitches in the majors in the past five seasons behind Justin Verlander.

And look what's happened to Verlander.

But maybe the biggest concern regarding Shields is how he'll do in a different park with a different defense behind him. Both Tampa and Kansas City played in good pitchers' parks, and Shields has spent the past eight years pitching with good defenses behind him. Heck, you saw in the postseason how good the Royals' defense was in helping that staff.

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What's your view on James Shields as a free agent?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,990)

A couple of numbers that could scare teams off:

--In 2014, Shields allowed 16 home runs on the road, just seven at home; over his career, he's allowed 129 home runs on the road, 98 at home. While he's middle of the pack in his fly ball rate, he has clearly benefited from his home parks.

--Yes, Shields has a lot of postseason experience, but he also has a 5.46 ERA in 11 career playoff starts, perhaps confirming the belief that he doesn't have the raw stuff to beat the better teams. For example, the past two seasons he went 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 starts against the Tigers. Does that sound like a $100 million pitcher?

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

SweetSpot TV: Red Sox deals

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
3:20
PM ET
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Eric and I discuss the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signings. Others have analyzed the moves here on ESPN.com (and here's Eric's fantasy impact for the two), but I'm a little more skeptical on how all this plays out for the Red Sox.

If Ramirez moves to left field, isn't it possible his defense will be just as bad there as at shortstop? And Sandoval, while a nice player, has made his name more in the postseason than the regular season.

Beyond that, let's remember that the Red Sox are starting from a bad place: They were 71-91, and that included 42 starts from Jon Lester and John Lackey, two starters not currently on the team. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are your top two guys right now, which means the Red Sox don't have an above-average major league starter on the roster. Yes, they have offensive depth to deal from, but are Yoenis Cespedes or Mike Napoli really going to bring an elite starter back in return? Shane Victorino? Jackie Bradley Jr.? I don't think so; the Mariners, for example, aren't going to trade Hisashi Iwakuma for Cespedes, one rumor that's been that out there.

Anyway, this is just the beginning of Boston's offseason. The Cole Hamels rumors will certainly heat up and the Red Sox may still bring Lester back as a free agent. We'll see how it all plays out over the next few weeks.
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We continue our half-full, half-empty series on free agents with a look at Andrew Miller. He might actually be the most-sought-after free agent this offseason because every team would like to add a hard-throwing lefty reliever who held opponents to a .153 average in 2014. Not every team can afford Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, but every team could conceivably afford Miller. Reports last week indicated that at least 22 clubs had contacted Miller's agent.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo


Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $25.5 million deal for Miller, but with so many teams interested, I could see the average annual salary being closer to $9 million or maybe the length getting extended to four years. No matter what, Miller will have his pick from several suitors.

HALF-FULL

Nobody has ever doubted Miller's arm. The Tigers drafted him sixth overall out of the University of North Carolina in 2006, and he was regarded by many as the best talent in that draft, falling only because of his bonus demands. The Tigers rushed him to the majors, where he struggled in 2007; then he was traded to the Marlins as part of the Miguel Cabrera deal.

Miller finally put everything together in 2014, a season split between the Red Sox and Orioles. Mixing his mid-90s fastball (average velocity: 93.8 mph) with his sweeping slider, Miller struck out 102 batters in 62.1 innings, giving him an opponents' batting line that resembled a more-heralded lefty reliever's:

Miller: .153/.229/.227
Aroldis Chapman: .121/.234/.172

OK, maybe not quite Chapman; but if you live on the same planet as Chapman, that's impressive. Miller's strikeout percentage was second among all relievers in 2014.

The key for Miller was throwing more strikes. In 2012 and 2013 with the Red Sox, he was used mostly as a LOOGY -- he appeared in 90 games but pitched just 71 innings (he missed the second half of 2013 with a foot injury as well) -- as his walk rates remained high. In 2014, however, he was more effective spotting his fastball against right-handed batters:

Andrew Miller heat mapESPN Stats & Info


That allowed him to set up his deadly slider, and he held righties to a .145 average with just one home run in 144 plate appearances. As you saw in the playoffs with the Orioles, this ability to dominate hitters from both sides of the plate means he can be used as a multiple-inning weapon in the postseason, making him even more attractive to a playoff team.

Miller doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm, so a three- or four-year contract should lock up his prime years. For those who don't think teams should spend big money on a bullpen, just look at your 2014 World Series winners. The Giants had a veteran bullpen with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez all making at least $4 million. The days of relying solely on a bargain-basement-priced bullpen might be over.

HALF-EMPTY

Entering 2014, Miller had a career ERA of 5.33 ERA. Do you want to make him one of the game's highest-paid relievers -- including closers -- on the basis of one great season?

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What's your view on Andrew Miller as a free agent?

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Miller always had trouble throwing strikes, but he cut his walk rate from 4.7 per nine innings in 2012 and '13 to 2.5 in 2014. So he's turned the corner? I wouldn't be so sure. In 2012-13, 61.9 percent of the pitches he threw were strikes; in 2014, that number was 65 percent. But ESPN Stats & Information actually has him throwing almost the exact same percentage of pitches in the strike zone -- 50.8 percent in 2014 compared to 51 percent in 2012-13.

As mentioned above, Miller did throw more fastballs in the zone -- 55 percent in 2014 compared to 51.3 percent the previous two seasons -- which allowed him to get ahead in the count more and throw the slider. But it's a fine line here. Miller threw 565 fastballs in 2014; the difference between 55 percent and 51.3 percent is 21 pitches out of 565.

If those 21 pitches are balls in 2015, it's likely Miller regresses to being a good-but-not-great reliever, and that $8-9 million per season will look like an overpay.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?


Back in the 2009 draft, the Seattle Mariners drafted University of North Carolina star Dustin Ackley with the No. 2 pick. He was supposed to develop into a franchise-type player, the kind of guy who would compete for batting titles.

That hasn't happened, but in that draft the Mariners also selected Ackley's less-heralded teammate in the third round. Kyle Seager has become the star and has agreed to a seven-year, $100 million contract that includes an eight-year option.

You might not view Seager as a $100 million player, but he's one of the most underrated players in the game, putting up good offensive numbers in a tough park and improving each season he's been in the majors. He's worth this kind of contract, which takes him through three seasons of arbitration eligibility and buys out four years of post-free-agency years. Compare Seager's past three seasons with those of Pablo Sandoval, who reportedly has agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with the Boston Red Sox as one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason:


Seager: .262/.329/.434, 118 OPS+, 12.3 WAR
Sandoval: .280/.335/.424, 116 OPS+, 8.2 WAR

Yes, Seager lacks Panda's October heroics, but he's been the more valuable regular-season performer. Seager is also coming off his best season, hitting .268/.334/.454 with 25 home runs. His improved defense led to his surprise Gold Glove win (he had plus-10 defensive runs saved) and was valued at 5.8 WAR via Baseball-Reference.com, 10th among American League position players. He's been durable in his first three seasons, averaging 158 games per year. The only nitpick is that there's room for improvement against left-handed pitchers; he hit .242/.291/.370 against them in 2014.

The contract starts with Seager's age-27 season and takes him through his age-33 season, so the Mariners shouldn't be overpaying for a past-his-prime player in the latter years of the deal. Importantly for the Mariners, Seager is one of the few guys who has proved he can hit in Safeco Field. Along with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, he becomes the third long-term core piece for Seattle.

Looks like a good deal for the Mariners.

And I don't think Seager will have a problem with a $100 million contract.

* * * *

What's next for the Mariners? They had been rumored to be in on Hanley Ramirez; they could have signed him to play shortstop and then traded Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. They're desperate for a big right-handed bat for outfield or 1B/DH, which leaves a few options if they want to go "big":

(A) Free agent Nelson Cruz;
(B) Free agent Melky Cabrera (a switch-hitter);
(C) A Justin Upton trade;
(D) A Red Sox trade -- Yoenis Cespedes or Mike Napoli;
(E) Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas.

You'll hear names like Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma thrown out t here. Trouble is, right now the Mariners don't have rotation depth to deal from. The rotation would line up as Hernandez, Iwakuma, James Paxton, Walker and Roenis Elias. Paxton and Walker both had injury issues last year and Elias missed a start late in the season with a sore elbow. Walker is unproven. Elias had a so-so rookie year. I just don't see them trading Iwakuma with so much uncertainly in the 3 through 5 spots, so that leaves Walker as the most likely trade bait; but the Mariners aren't giving him up for one year of Upton, Cespedes or Napoli (all impending free agents), so those deals would have to be expanded in some form.

Anyway, it's nice to lock up Seager, but Jack Zduriencik still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.
Don't you love stuff like this: Stan Musial was born Nov. 21, 1920 in Donora, Pa.; Ken Griffey Jr. was born Nov. 21, 1969 ... in Donora, Pa.

As Bill James once wrote, Griffey Jr. is the second-best left-handed-hitting outfielder ever from Donora, Pa. (Griffey Sr. was also born in Donora, alas, on April 10.)

Of course, for those of us of a certain age, it's even more shocking that Griffey is 45 years old. It seems not that long ago I was driving home from college in 1989 and rushing out to a Mariners game to see the 19-year-old phenom in person for the first time. He didn't start that game I went to, but he pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Brewers ... and hit a two-run home run off Bill Wegman. Here's the box score.

Back in August, Jayson Stark wrote a "What if" piece on Griffey, asking how home runs he would hit had he stayed healthy. He hit 630; Jayson estimated he probably gets to 730-755. In retrospect, it's amazing and sad that Griffey received MVP votes just once after turning 30 -- and that was a 24th-place finish in 2005.

Because of that lack of production in his 30s, it's hard to argue that Griffey had the more valuable career than Musial, who hit .325/.415/.560 while averaging 26 home runs per season in his 30s. Musial played 150 games six times in his 30s, Griffey topped out at 145. Their career WAR isn't close, Musial at 128.1, Griffey at 83.6.

Still, there's no shame in being the second-best player ever from the small town 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. Happy birthday, Junior.



I love transactions tree. Last week, I tweeted a link from our Indians blog that traced Cy Young winner Corey Kluber back to former Indians infielder Jerry Dybzinski through a series of transactions.

Ben Lindbergh of Grantland wrestled up the "oldest" roster spot for each team. Awesome idea and execution. For two teams, that was merely a draft pick: Matt Cain for the Giants in 2002 and Jimmy Rollins for the Phillies in 1996. For other teams, you had go back to the 1990s and 1980s.

In some ways, this shows the constant and ongoing fluidity of baseball, especially compared to the other sports where you don't see as many trades and draft picks. Moves that go back several generations of general managers can still affect a team's fortunes years and years later.

As it turns out, the "oldest" roster is, indeed, Corey Kluber. Dybzinski was originally drafted in 1977 and traded to the White Sox for Pat Tabler in 1983. Six players later, Tabler had become Jake Westbrook, who was traded to St. Louis as part of a three-way trade that saw the Padres send Kluber, then a minor leaguer, to the Indians on July 31, 2010.

Anyway, check out Ben's piece for the cool graphical representation of the oldest trees for all 30 teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andrew Friedman just acquired his old Tampa Bay reliever, Joel Peralta, for hard-throwing righty Juan Dominguez. ... Peralta is coming off a 4.41 ERA as his hit rate increased. He's always been homer-prone as he's an extreme flyball pitcher. Considering he's 39, this looks like a minor upgrade for bullpen depth at best. ... The key to the deal may actually be the second reliever acquired, Triple-A lefty Adam Liberatore, who struck out 86 in 65 innings and allowed just one home run. ... We all saw what happened last October to the Dodgers lefty relievers. ... The Dodgers lost hard-throwing but injury-prone lefty Onelki Garcia on waivers to the White Sox. Garcia made just one appearance in the minors in 2014. ... Still don't see how Andre Ethier gets traded unless the Dodgers eat pretty much the entire contract. He's still owed at least $56 million with a possible $17.5 million vesting option in 2018. ... Catcher? Shortstop? Dodgers have an estimated $222.6 payroll right now according to Baseball-Reference and still have no sure thing at catcher and shortstop behind A.J. Ellis and Justin Turner/Mel Rojas/Erisbel Arruebarrena. ... Which explains why Ned Colletti was fired (err, moved to another position). ... But, hey, at least they have Brian Wilson and Brandon League around for a combined $17 million to provide top-grade relief work. ... Going after Alexei Ramirez makes a lot of sense, as you'd get him for two years at $10 million per. But he's not going to be cheap. ... I wonder if Clayton Kershaw has watched either of those postseason starts. ... Wouldn't shock me if Alex Guerrero ends up seeing more time at second in 2015 than Dee Gordon.

San Francisco Giants: As each day passes, it seems less likely that Pablo Sandoval returns to the Giants, no? ... As good as he's been in October, I just don't see him as a $100 million player. But with the way money is flying around these days like leaves in a Kansas windstorm, I guess it will probably happen. ... The Giants are reportedly one of the teams in on Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, having seen him four times, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan. ... The Giants' website currently lists Tim Lincecum as a reliever, not a starter on its depth chart. Which may be his 2015 role. ... May have a little Joe Panik blog coming up later today. ... Things I miss in the offseason: Brandon Crawford's defense. ... Justin Masterson is a good buy-low candidate for a team like the Giants. He shouldn't cost much after a terrible season. He's always struggled against left-handers, but that wouldn't hurt him so much at AT&T Park. ... Not sure Torii Hunter would switch leagues but he'd be a nice platoon partner for Gregor Blanco in left field. ... How much money did Madison Bumgarner leave on the table with that contract he signed a few years ago? It's hard for young players to turn down that lifetime security but the teams are definitely benefiting from these long-term extensions.

San Diego Padres: Surprisingly, the Padres are also one of the teams rumored to be hot after Tomas. Certainly makes sense for the Padres to look for some power. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports the Braves and Padres are now the favorites to land Tomas. ... Do Padres fans even remember what a power hitter looks like? ... What will Jedd Gyorko do in 2015? No idea. Steamer projects him at .242/.303/.399, 1.9 WAR. ... If Rene Rivera can come close to hitting .252/.319/.432 again, he's a very valuable player given his terrific pitch-framing behind the plate. ... Tyson Ross allowed two runs or fewer in 19 of his 31 starts. Padres got him a couple years ago for Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner. Memo to Billy Beane: Ouch. ... Pablo Sandoval to the Padres? Outspending the Giants to steal him away would certainly be a coup. Or a big mistake in three years when Sandoval shows up to camp at 270 pounds. ... Fantasy sleeper for 2015: Jesse Hahn. In fact, the Ross-Andrew Cashner-Ian Kennedy-Hahn-Odrisamer Despaigne rotation is pretty decent. ... Rumors are out there that Ross and Cashner could be traded, but I think the Padres have to keep both and figure out how to improve the offense.

Colorado Rockies: It's all about whether new GM Jeff Bridich will be shopping Troy Tulowitzki. ... Look for the Tulo rumors to heat up during the winter meetings, or once Hanley Ramirez signs somewhere. ... Tulo's contract isn't bad, but teams don't like to pay big salaries AND have to give up elite prospects for a player. I think it's going to be difficult to extract a massive return for him. ... The Rockies designated Juan Nicasio for assignment. A little surprising but he hasn't been that effective after suffering a broken neck late in his 2011 rookie season. ... Man, that rotation just looks awful. ... It's not all Coors Field, either. The Rockies had the worst road rotation ERA in the majors (4.97). ... I'd say the Rockies are further from contending than any other team right now. ... Will the Rockies ever learn to properly evaluate their players? Charlie Blackmon had a .269 OBP on the road. Even given the "Rockies hitter struggle when they go on the road because of the Coors Field" effect, that's unacceptable. He's really a fourth outfielder. ... Rockies may have most underrated fan base in the game: Finished fifth in the NL attendance for the second year in a row despite another terrible season. They actually drew more fans than the playoff seasons of 2007 and 2009, so kudos to the Rockies' marketing and ticketing departments.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Just a couple years ago it seemed the Diamondbacks were loaded with young pitchers and pitching prospects. Now they're hoping Jeremy Hellickson can re-discover some of the luck he had his first couple of years in Tampa. ... Wouldn't bank on that happening. ... The good news: The Diamondbacks hired a guy to head their analytics department! ... The weird news: Dr. Ed Lewis is a 66-year-old former veterinarian, not that 66-year-old former veterinarians can't be good at baseball analysis (Lewis was also a stock market analyst). ... Shockingly, he's a longtime friend of Tony La Russa. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has the story of their longtime friendship. ... Hey, who knows. It's easy to poke fun at the the hire when other teams are hiring computer whiz kids and MIT grads for their analytics departments. It's really about asking the right kinds of questions, which presumably La Russa has the knowledge and experience to ask. ... Or he could be so grounded in what he believes that he won't ask the right question. ... All that said, I'm rooting for Dave Stewart to succeed as a GM. As a minority GM and ex-player, he's one of a kind now that Kenny Williams has moved out of that position for the White Sox.
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When Mariano Rivera called it a career after the 2013 season, David Robertson graduated from eighth-inning reliever to closer. In 2014, he went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA while allowing a .192 batting average. This fall, he turned down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer -- which would have been the largest single-season salary ever paid to a relief pitcher – and decided instead to seek a multiyear contract on the free-agent market.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Robertson probably won't get $15 million per season, but Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $39 million contract for Robertson. ESPN's Andrew Marchand reported earlier this offseason that Robertson is looking to match or exceed the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies a few years ago.

Is Robertson worth it? Let's do another half-full, half-empty.

HALF-FULL

This year's World Series teams showed the importance of a deep, dominant late-inning bullpen crew, as both the Royals and Giants (with the exception of Madison Bumgarner) had mediocre rotations but terrific bullpens. Just ask the Nationals or Tigers about the importance of a shutdown reliever. The Nationals might have won two World Series titles by now if Drew Storen hadn't blown crucial save opportunities in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, and the Tigers have struggled with their bullpen for years. Both teams could be interested in Robertson.

There's no denying Robertson's late-inning dominance. Over the past four seasons, his 2.20 ERA is sixth in the majors among pitchers with at least 200 innings in that time span -- and that's come in Yankee Stadium, where routine fly balls to right field land three rows deep in the stands. He's allowed a .201 batting average over those four years with a strikeout rate of 34 percent -- again, sixth overall in the majors. Not bad for a onetime 17th-round draft pick.

He's showing no signs of slowing down; indeed, his 2014 strikeout rate of 37.1 percent was the highest of his career. Robertson throws a cutter and a curveball (and a very occasional changeup). It's that curveball, one of the best in the game, that has made him an elite reliever:

David Robertson heat mapESPN Stats & Info


The curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch and generates a lot of ground balls, owing to that sharp 12-to-6 break and location down in the zone. Obviously, it's Robertson's go-to pitch when he's ahead in the count. Since 2011, batters have hit .161 against it with one home run, 140 strikeouts and just seven walks.

Robertson has had two minor DL stints in recent seasons, but neither was an arm-related injury. He repeats his delivery well, and considering he's entering his age-30 season, he's a good bet to remain healthy over a three- or four-year contract.

Importantly, he's pitched in New York. If he ends up leaving the Yankees, there should be no concerns about how he will handle the pressure of closing elsewhere.

HALF-EMPTY

There's a reason the Papelbon contract was much derided at the time: Relievers, even good ones, just don't create enough value to be worth huge, multiyear contracts. Plus, it's not that hard to come up with good ones. Look at the Phillies; They have Ken Giles ready to take over as closer but are stuck with Papelbon's big contract.

Even if a team is desperate for a closer, where's the guarantee that Robertson does the job in October if you get there? He has one season of closing under his belt and has never had to save a postseason game. There are a lot of great regular-season closers who haven't done the job in October.

SportsNation

What's your view on David Robertson as a free agent?

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    44%
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    56%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,715)

Plus, Robertson is coming off a 3.08 ERA -- that's nothing special these days for a reliever. Sixty-nine relievers who threw at least 50 innings had a lower ERA in 2014. He saved 39 games in 44 opportunities. That's a save percentage of 88.6. Sounds good, but again, it's nothing special; 13 closers with at least 20 opportunities had a higher percentage in 2014. Robertson also allowed seven home runs in 2014, six to right-handed batters. Whoever signs him has to hope that number was either an aberration or Yankee Stadium inflation.

Yes, there has been consistency in his performances over the past four seasons. But relievers tend to burn out quickly. Do you want to gamble $40 million that Robertson will remain healthy and productive in a role that's fairly easy to fill?

What do you think? Will he return to the Yankees or will the Tigers be desperate and give him a Papelbon-like deal?

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