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Monday Mop-Up Duty: A free-agent splash in June? And the new Oriole Way

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SOUTH HILLS – Ken Rosenthal reported this weekend that the remaining free agents tagged with qualifying offers might wait until after the June draft to sign when they would no longer be tied to draft pick compensation. Rosenthal also notes these players could also benefit by waiting until after Opening Day to sign. Players cannot be tagged with a qualifying offer if they have not spent an entire season with the club.

From Rosenthal:

“Bean Stringfellow, the agent for right-hander Ervin Santana, said Sunday that the pitcher would consider holding out until after the amateur draft in early June if he does not receive an acceptable offer…..Scott Boras, the agent for shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman-designated hitter Kendrys Morales, also suggested that his clients might not sign until after the draft, when compensation no longer would apply.”

 

By waiting until after June these free agents theoretically could see larger, multi-year contract offers. Or, perhaps more likely, they’ll be in the market for three-month deals so they can again test the market next offseason without the depressing QO tag. After seeing how depressed Nelson Cruz’s value became, there’s incentive to wait. And the market might improve in June when injuries pile up on contending teams.

 

Here’s the dilemma facing the Pirates, who have spoken to Stephen Drew, according to Jon Heyman, and have kicked the tires on Kendrys Morales, according to Boras. Do the Pirates wait see what Andrew Lambo and Jordy Mercer can do before trying to potentially pick up a Drew or Morales on a three-and-a-half-month deal? Or by waiting until June would they risk being out bid when there’s no draft-pick compensation attached? But until mid June, these players have a depressed value that makes them more affordable to the Pirates. As we’ve written about before, this could be an opportunity.

 

Just for a reference, here is what the industry thought these players were worth back when free agency opened:

 

Ervin Santana

Rated as the No. 10 free agent by Yahoo!, No. 7 by CBSSports.com

CBSSports.com signing predictions back in November: Agent: 5 years, $77M. GM: 5 years, $75M. Heyman:5 years, $75M.

 

Nelson Cruz

Rated as the No. 17 free agent by Yahoo!, No. 9 by  CBSSports.com

CBSSports.com signing predictions back in November: Agent: 1 year, $14.1M (takes qualifying offer). Heyman: 4 years, $60M. Me: 4 years, $64M.

 

Stephen Drew

Rated as No. 17 free agent by Yahoo!, No. 15 by CBSSports.com

CBSSports.com signing predictions back in November: Agent: 3 years, $37M. GM: 2 years, $25M. Heyman: 3 years, $38M.

 

Kendrys Morales 

Rated as the No. 14 free agent by CBSSports,com

Agent: 3 years, $36M.GM: 1 year, $14.1M (takes qualifying offer). Heyman: 3 years, $39M.

 

Do you wait-and-see after the June draft? Do you wait until after Opening Day? Or you ignore all of these guys? Or do you follow the Orioles and jump in now if the prices are depressed significantly?

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. In their heyday, The Oriole Way was tried to a philosophy of three-run home runs and elite pitching, intellect combined with talent. Last week the Oriole Way was about going against convention to maximize a window of opportunity.  The Orioles signed Cruz at a major discount, losing their second-round pick, days after forfeiting their first-rounder to sign Ubaldo Jiminez at a modest discount. After after surrendering a first-round pick for one QO’d free agent, it becomes a lot easier for a team to give up a second-round pick for another.

 

8. So if Pirates were willing to surrender their first-round pick for a Drew or Morales, they should be even then more willing to give up their second to sign another QO free agent with a depressed market. It’s unlikely, sure, I get that, but the Pirates could pick up 4-6 WAR in players for well below market value costs. Two, 2+ WAR  players for $16-18 million in 2014? Could it be possible?

 

Four to six extra wins might be the difference between missing or making the playoffs. The Pirates should be a highly-motivated team given their projected placement on the win curve. The Pirates are a club that has to always be searching for opportunities and the Orioles demonstrated last week showed what an opportunity can look like in this strange, artificially-depressed market.

 

7.  I think if you’re Drew or Morales at this point, you are ideally seeking a one-year deal in early April where you can avoid the QO next offseason. Then, with a good season, you’re in line to restore your value and earn a more lucrative contract.  A Cruz-like contract makes sense — if they’re signing it in April.

 

6. The question is this: does 2014 present a special window for the Pirates like it does the Orioles? Baltimore could lose Matt Wieters and Chris Davis to free agency after the season. The Pirates have a healthier system, but they of course have their own group of significant 2014-15 free agents.

 

5. Bob Nutting had this to say earlier in the week: “Certainly nothing is off the table. But at the same time, we need to recognize that a first-round draft pick is a meaningful source of talent for a team like the Pirates. We want to be smart and cautious.”

 

BACK TO MATTERS ON-THE-FIELD IN BRADENTON …

 

4. A weight-lifting injury in July is thought to have contributed to Jeff Locke’s second-half woes. But even before the injury, we all know he pitched way above his rate stats. Moreover, his BB/9 was increasing each month prior to the injury. I have to think Edinson Volquez is the favorite for the 5th spot. As bad as Volquez was in 2013, he has more upside.

 

3. Until Gregory Polanco is cleared of Super 2 status, the assumption is there will be a platoon in RF. Maybe there will be but Jose Tabata has neutral splits for his career. He should be motivated. April and May might mark his last chance at making a case to be an everyday player. Otherwise he’ll be banished to fourth-outfielder status.

 

2. I think Neil Walker could be in for a big year. He quietly improve his walk and strikeout rates last season but fell victim to some poor luck and a few nagging injuries. If he can sustain those gains and add health and luck he could be one of better offensive second baseman in the game.

 

1. Jason Grilli has been nearly Craig Kimbrel-like the last two years. But I’ll be watching his velocity early in spring training. At his best, Grill was 93-95 mph in the first half of last season. At the close of the season, following his return from injury, he was 91-93 mph. Velocity loss for relievers is typically a big deal. Pirates have to hope an offseason of rest did the trick.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK $150 million

Guaranteed dollars in Mike Trout’s six-year deal, according to Yahoo!  Another important number: he’ll reach free agency at Age 28 if the terms are accurate.

 

That makes Andrew McCutchen’s six-year, $51 million deal seem like a pretty solid bargain, eh?

 

HE SAID IT

Jose Tabata on the unrest in his native Venezuela: “I get scared sometimes because you don’t know what’s going to happen. When I wake up some days, I think, ‘Wow, what’s going to happen today in Venezuela?’ It’s difficult sometimes. Thank God, everybody in my family is good right now.”

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

Like Fish and Chips? Then the Pub Chip Shop on Carson St. is a must visit.

– TS

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