Friday, November 6, 2015

Warming Up the Hot Stove

For fans of teams that didn't partake in serious contention of a title, and that's most teams, this is their favorite time of year. They say Opening Day brings optimism, but it's really the hot stove league that can give all fans the chance to dream.

We got the hot stove out of storage last night, by loosely breaking out free agents into tiers. Tonight, we are going to get it warmed up with a few notes, quick thoughts, and observations.

As noted by the indispensable, twenty players were offered 1 year/$15.8 million qualifying offers. This is the fourth offseason qualifying offers have existed, and no player has ever accepted one. The choice is accept the offer, or enter free agency. Most players have waited so long for free agency and can't resist their intense desire to enter the market in hopes of a larger payday. What complicates matters is a player who rejects a Q.O. will cost his new team their first round pick, unless the team has one of the first ten picks in the draft. That means that most good teams, who tend to have the ability for higher payrolls, also tend to have an aversion towards players who will cost them a first round pick. One interesting wrinkle to the game theory of acquiring players attached to a qualifying offer is that once you sign one of them, you may as well sign two or three, because the subsequent costs of losing a second and third round pick is much less. We've seen some players reject their qualifying offers and not get signed until after the next year's June draft, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew from a couple of years ago jump out in recent memory. Below are the twenty players with qualifying offers this year:

Photo credit: Unknown
Brett Anderson
Wei-Yin Chen
Chris Davis
Ian Desmond
Marco Estrada
Dexter Fowler
Yovani Gallardo
Alex Gordon
Zack Greinke
Jason Heyward
Hisashi Iwakuma
Howie Kendrick
Ian Kennedy
John Lackey
Ian Kennedy: Environmental Beneficiary
Photo credit: Sean M. Haffey
Daniel Murphy
Colby Rasmus
Jeff Samardzija
Justin Upton
Matt Wieters
Jordan Zimmermann

The question most often brought up is, "Who's going to be the first player to accept their qualifying offer?" This year, it looks once again like no-one will. The next thought would be, "Will any of these players need to wait until June to be signed for next season?" I think all of these players will reject their offer, and they will all be signed before Spring Training. For the record, I think the worst player on this list is Ian Kennedy. He's been durable, making over 30 starts for six consecutive seasons, and there's enough value in that to get him a deal worth more than 1 year/ $19 million. Positioned one way, his agents can show a decent ERA of 3.92 the past two seasons, but his ability to actually prevent runs has been well below average the past three seasons. Baseball-Reference shows his Runs Allowed per 9 innings has been 4.79, when an average pitcher facing the same competition would have allowed an RA9 of 3.89 since the start of 2012. Any team who signs Ian Kennedy will likely be disappointed when he gives up 30+ home runs and has an ERA over 4.50 next year if he stays healthy.


One of the top free agents this year is Johnny Cueto. He has a strong track record, is still only 30 years old, and has shown durability. He's also the only professional athlete worth following on Instagram.


One international free agent we failed to mention is 24-year old Cuban hurler, Yaisel Sierra. He's a 6-1 right-hander who throws hard, has a lively arm, but doesn't have the statistics to show that he can miss bats as often as he misses the strike zone. Still, a guy who is this young and has been clocked up near 97 mph will get every opportunity to, at least, stick in a Major League bullpen. Below is a recent scouting video that shows some of his stuff and, optimistically, a repeatable and clean delivery.

2015-16 MLB Free Agent Tiered Rankings

Credit: Bruce Hemmelgarn/Getty Images 
At the moment, I believe the top free agents to be Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon. That would be my top tier, consisting of six outstanding players who are still young enough to provide All Star production for three or more seasons.

A second tier would look more like a tier 1A, with Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto. They are 30-years old, the same age as Price, younger than Greinke, but a step below in track records.

Our third tier is all position players: Ian Desmond, Chris Davis, Howie Kendrick, Matt Wieters, and Ben Zobrist. This is where I'd start to place International free agents, like starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, first baseman Byung-ho Park, and outfielder Ah-seop Son.

My fourth tier has a baker's dozen of players, who should be good at least in 2015, but seem to have lower floors than most of the players listed above. This tier is mostly pitchers, or batters with unmistakable flaws, featuring Colby Rasmus, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Samardzija, Marco Estrada, Scott Kazmir, Wei-Yin Chen, Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Brett Anderson, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Leake, Dexter Fowler, and Daniel Murphy.

Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images 
So far, we've listed 26 Major League and 3 International free agents. Now, we start talking about role players (Gerardo Parra, Chris B. Young) and lottery tickets (Rich Hill). Steady big leaguers can be acquired in Dioner Navarro, Alexei Ramirez, Denard Span, Nori Aoki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Steve Pearce, Alex Avila, and David Freese. Back end of the rotation arms, like Doug FisterMark Buehrle, Ian Kennedy, and J.A. Happ can be found along with relievers like Ryan Madson, Darren O'Day, and Matt Thornton.

Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
The bargain bin is littered with more role players and guys looking for one more year in the sun. Drew Stubbs can still be a good pinch-hitter, hits lefties pretty well, and can run. Marlon Byrd has found the fountain of youth a few times. Will Venable might have something more to give. You could do worse than Brayan Pena as your backup catcher. Justin Morneau is a former league MVP looking to stay in the game. Gordon Beckham and Austin Jackson are still only 29 years old and can be a good utility infielder and fourth outfielder, respectively.

That's 53 Major League and 3 International free agents. This isn't the most top-heavy free agent class we've seen, but there should be a decent amount of good players to go around and Major League GM's play musical chairs with their 40 man roster spots. Afterall, the tiers above still don't include Shane Victorino, the pitcher Chris Young, Cliff Pennington, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Geovany Soto, Chad Qualls, Justin De Fratus, John Jaso, Tyler Clippard, Chris Iannetta, Juan Uribe, Jimmy Rollins, Kyle Lohse, Rajai Davis, Alejandro De Aza, Dillon Gee, Aaron Harang, former top prospects Travis Snider and Domonic Brown, reclamation projects Brandon Morrow and Bobby Parnell, fan favorite Munenori Kawasaki, nor games finished folk heroes Matt Albers and Ryan Webb.

Who doesn't love the Hot Stove?
Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
That's a total of 83 players who are looking for work, and range from players demanding 9-figure contracts to those hoping for a Spring Training invitation. Experts will start posting their lists of top Free Agents in the next few days. It will be interesting to see how our tiers vary from theirs, and ultimately, which players proved to be worth their investments.

Did overrate or underrate someone egregiously? Did we miss anyone completely? As always, please provide feedback in the comments section below or on one of our social media channels.