The Brewers continue to wait out the free agent market. Zack Greinke to Los Angeles should spur the market a bit, but Doug Melvin and the Brewers refuse to overextend themselves this winter. It appears they will wait and see which players unexpectedly fall through the cracks and subsequently pounce.
Waiting is the Brewers only option at this point because payroll constrictions have limited their ability to pursue the level of starting pitching they wish to acquire. This desire for a number two starter could cause the Brewers to make a move to free some payroll, and they will reportedly listen to offers on Corey Hart. Everything points to the Brewers retaining Hart unless a team vastly overpays, but in an offseason that has left Brewers fans little to discuss, a potential Corey Hart trade is what we’re forced to latch onto.
Milwaukee could trade Hart for prospects, play Mat Gamel at first base, and allocate that saved money to a free agent pitcher, or they could attempt to trade Hart for a number two or three starter, if possible. But what teams could be looking for a first baseman or corner outfielder?
Mariners: Jack Zduriencik has been connected to a handful of sluggers this offseason, including outfielder Josh Hamilton. The Mariners are moving in the fences at Safeco and need some power to complement an above-average pitching staff. Of course, they would likely be seeking more than a one-year rental, and Hart’s contract expires at the end of 2013.
Rays: They signed James Loney earlier this winter, but his -0.1 WAR and .272 wOBA don’t project to improve dramatically by moving to the AL East. The Rays have the pitching to compete for a postseason berth. Adding Hart to a lineup that features Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and (at some point) Wil Myers would make the Rays that much more dangerous.
Rangers: It’s been rumored that Ian Kinsler could see some time at first base to make room for Jurickson Profar at second base. If that doesn’t happen, however, the Rangers could use an upgrade at first. Mitch Moreland is not the answer. He only managed +0.6 WAR in 114 games last year. Not to mention left-hander Derek Holland could be available if the Rangers can acquire another starter this winter.
Orioles: They desire a power bat this winter and could use Corey Hart at either first base or a corner outfield spot. That would present them the opportunity to move Chris Davis to DH, where he’s a more natural fit than at first base or right field.
Red Sox: With Jonny Gomes and Ryan Kalish patrolling the corner outfield positions and 28-year-old rookie Mauro Gomez currently slotted to play first base, the Red Sox may be in the market for a power bat. Much like the Mariners, though, the Red Sox may seek more than a one-year rental. Then again, it’s not like Boston doesn’t have the money to sign Hart to a contract extension.
As stated above, the odds of Corey Hart going anywhere are exceedingly slim. Doug Melvin doesn’t like to fill one need by creating a hole in the roster elsewhere. However, if the Brewers want to clear some payroll space to pursue a starting pitcher on the free agent market, Hart is the obvious candidate to be moved. If that happens, the names above are just some of the teams who could be interested.
AROUND THE LEAGUE: ROYALS-RAYS MEGATRADE
Rumors swirled in Nashville regarding a possible trade that would send James Shields to Kansas City. On Sunday evening, the Royals acquired the frontline starter they’ve craved since sending Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, though the price tag was massive: Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard for Shields, Wade Davis, and a player to be named later.
Myers is the key piece of this trade. The 22-year-old outfielder ranks as one of the best prospects in baseball and hit an impressive .304/.378/.554 with 24 home runs in just 99 games for Triple-A Omaha. He projects to be a middle-of-the-lineup bat who will pair with Evan Longoria to give Tampa Bay a cost-controlled power duo for years to come. Although prospects are not sure things, position prospects pan out much more often than do pitching prospects — especially ones who have already shown plate discipline in the minors.
Kansas City obviously feels this is their window to compete. They leveraged their best asset to acquire James Shields who has been tremendous in the AL East the past two seasons, compiling a 3.15 ERA in 477 innings. Not only has he produced, but he has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the past six seasons. That durability should help anchor the Royals’ starting rotation, which features a handful of question marks after Shields.
Unfortunately, Shields’ success is not guaranteed to follow him to Kansas City. The 30-year-old has traditionally found significant success at home in the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field with a career 3.33 ERA. Away from Tropicana, however, his career ERA jumps to 4.54. His performance away from home has improved the last two seasons, but it still has been significantly worse than his home production. Not thrilling news for the Royals, as Kauffman Stadium houses a relatively average run environment.
The Royals needed to upgrade their starting rotation if they wanted to compete for a postseason berth this season. Their starting rotation posted a 5.01 ERA last year, which ranked the fifth-worst in all of baseball. Shields represents a step forward, but the primary motivation for including additional quality prospects seems to be in the inclusion of Wade Davis. Reports suggest the Royals intend to move Davis back to the starting rotation. While that appears smart due to his 2.43 ERA and 11.13 K/9 strikeout rate last year, FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron puts it nicely:
Wade Davis as a starter: 15.2% K%.Wade Davis as reliever: 30.6% K%.Some guys belong in the bullpen.
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) December 10, 2012
If Davis can transition his success in the bullpen to the starting rotation, the massive prospect package sent to Tampa Bay won’t sting as badly. If not, the Royals just traded four top-20 prospects — including a top prospect in all of baseball — for a number-two starter who has historically performed worse away from Tropicana Field and a back-end reliever.
For the Tampa Bay Rays, this trade not only sends a massive haul of talent their way, but it also sends a myriad of control years. Small-market teams find success by capitalizing on young, cost-controlled talent. We’ve seen that in Milwaukee over the better part of a decade. Of course, with new television contracts infusing big-market teams with unprecedented amounts of cash, those control years could become even more vital for small-market success. The Milwaukee Brewers saw the revenue from their television contract jump from roughly $10M to $21M this past season, while the Dodgers will reportedly see their television revenue increase to $240M per season.
You think teams like the Rays and Brewers can compete with that type of payroll on the open market? Of course not. Small-market teams like the Rays will have to rely even more heavily on their farm system, and the Rays just added an elite talent in Wil Myers. And Brewers fans are well-aware that Jake Odorizzi is no slouch on the mound, either.
On paper, this trade is a huge win for the Tampa Bay Rays. Kudos to Andrew Friedman and his crew for getting this done.