Archive for Rays

The Other Dominant AL East Closer

Closers tend to be dominant, because if they weren’t dominant, they wouldn’t be closers. The role is selective, which makes total sense, on account of the stakes that come along with the designation. Now, this statement isn’t fact-checked or anything, but I feel like the closers in the American League East are particularly dominant. Maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t care, but the Red Sox, of course, acquired Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees, of course, acquired Aroldis Chapman, and they also have Andrew Miller. The Orioles have the unbelievable Zach Britton. Even the Blue Jays are happy with Roberto Osuna, who last year got himself some playoff exposure. The division knows how to finish games. It’s one of the reasons it’s a good division.

There’s another guy, and by process of elimination, you can see he closes for the Rays. Most good Rays players end up seemingly underrated, and the current closer is no exception. Jake McGee? They traded Jake McGee. Brad Boxberger? He’s been hurt. He’s on the way back, and they say he’ll close again, but if that happens, he’ll have to bump Alex Colome. Colome has been better than you probably realized. Colome has been better than I realized, and this is literally how I make a living.

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Jeremy Sowers: From Flawed Southpaw to MBA Ray

Jeremy Sowers doesn’t turn 33 until later this month. He’s young enough that he could still be pitching. Having succumbed to shoulder woes and ineffectiveness, he’s instead embarking on a new career with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Drafted sixth overall in 2004 out of Vanderbilt, Sowers never did fulfill expectations on the mound. In four seasons with the Cleveland Indians, the left-hander logged a 5.18 ERA while winning just 18 of 48 decisions. Known more for moxie than velocity, he fanned 10% of the batters he faced across 400 innings of work.

Unable to sufficiently school hitters, Sowers stepped away from the game and returned to the classroom, earning an MBA from the University of North Carolina. Now he’s back in baseball. After a summer spent interning with the Orioles, Sowers is currently a major-league operations assistant with the Rays, a position he sees as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Sowers talked about his path from first-round pick to entry-level baseball ops on a recent visit to Fenway Park.

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Sowers on working for the Rays: “Just because I played does not qualify me as an absolute source of information about this game. I think I offer a unique perspective, but my value is only increased by hearing out and understanding everybody else’s perspective. To use a really crappy movie analogy, in Sling Blade, everybody is trying to figure out how to make a lawnmower work. All of a sudden, the one character is like, ‘I reckon there’s no gas in it.’

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Corey Dickerson Is Hunting Endangered Game

The Rays are big fans of Corey Dickerson. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Consider that the Rays exchanged a valuable trade commodity to get him. And since Dickerson has joined the roster, the Rays have at times gushed over his swing and his approach. They love his natural aggressiveness, and they love the way the ball comes off of the bat. Dickerson is skilled, for a purely offensive player, and if anything the Rays would like more hitters like him.

Dickerson is a great individual indicator of the Rays’ move toward a more aggressive lineup. As they say, Dickerson goes up there prepared to take a swing. Okay, now, think about aggressive hitters. Think about aggressive power hitters, and how they succeed, and how they fail. Dickerson has seen new opponents in a new league, but what they’re doing might in one sense not be surprising at all. Provided you forget about Dickerson’s background.

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The Rays’ Rotation Has Already Improved

It was barely a month ago that we ran our annual positional power rankings series. Perceptions of players and teams ought not to change too much after just a few weeks of baseball, but the neat thing about having projections is around is that they update themselves every night. Never by much, but they’re constantly re-evaluating to reflect whatever’s happened by the appropriate amount. In this sense, they’re like an overreaction guide, holding your hand through the early goings of a season and letting you know just how much to make of Player X’s early-season struggles/successes. Like, for example, if you’re wondering whether to freak out about Rich Hill, you look to see how much the projections have changed since the start of the year, and you listen to the projections when they tell you that it’s perfectly OK to freak out.

And just as the projections can be used as a guide to gauge how much early-season performances mean for players, they can do the same for teams. Team projections are just a composite of a bunch of player projections, after all. And while no one individual has improved their projection nearly as much as Hill, something stuck out to me while doing the research for that post:

Most-Improved Pitcher Projections, Preseason to Now
Name Team Pre_ERA Pre_FIP Pre_E/F RoS_ERA RoS_FIP RoS_E/F E/F_DIF
Rich Hill Athletics 4.17 4.18 4.18 3.77 3.75 3.76 -0.42
Jhoulys Chacin Braves 4.23 4.21 4.22 3.91 3.89 3.90 -0.32
Noah Syndergaard Mets 3.12 3.02 3.07 2.89 2.73 2.81 -0.26
Matt Moore Rays 4.11 4.25 4.18 3.89 3.98 3.94 -0.25
Drew Smyly Rays 3.47 3.70 3.59 3.28 3.50 3.39 -0.20
Taijuan Walker Mariners 4.05 3.98 4.02 3.88 3.77 3.83 -0.19
Vincent Velasquez Phillies 3.71 3.68 3.70 3.54 3.49 3.52 -0.18
Jaime Garcia Cardinals 3.40 3.44 3.42 3.25 3.24 3.25 -0.18
Blake Snell Rays 4.11 4.24 4.18 3.96 4.06 4.01 -0.17
Jerad Eickhoff Phillies 4.38 4.37 4.38 4.20 4.22 4.21 -0.17
SOURCE: ZiPS+Steamer projections
-Minimum 100 projected innings pitched

In the interest of full disclosure, the Rays don’t possess the most improved rotation, overall. That’d be the Phillies, by a sizable amount. I’ve written about the Phillies and their ubiquitous curveball usage, but frankly, while it’s fun that they’ve seemingly accelerated their rebuild with an already-good rotation, it still doesn’t really matter, in the scope of 2016, that the Phillies have the most improved rotation. But for the Rays, who have the second-most improved rotation with another gap separating them from third, it does matter, because the Rays aim to compete.

When we ran the positional power rankings, we split the starting pitching rankings into two halves. The Rays made the cut for the first half, but just barely. Just over a month ago, the forecast had the Rays’ rotation ranked 15th, with a projected group WAR of +13.0. Now, the Rays are ranked eighth, with a forecast that would put the group around +15 WAR over a full season. It only took 21 games for the projections to give the Rays’ rotation an extra two wins in the future, based on what they’d seen.

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Looking for Bryant-Like Service-Time Manipulations in 2016

A year ago, Kris Bryant‘s failure to make the Cubs Opening Day roster made a good deal of news because (a) Bryant, 23, had dominated the minors and was clearly ready for the majors, and (b) by holding him down for a couple weeks, the Cubs prevented Bryant from recording a full year of service time in 2015, which also prevented him from recording the necessary six years of service time for free agency before the end of the 2021 season. Bryant was the number-one prospect in baseball at the time, but he was not the only player kept in the minor leagues at least in part due to service time considerations. Carlos Correa, Maikel Franco, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Rodon, Addison Russell, and Noah Syndergaard all spent time in the minors last year before succeeding in the big leagues. There has been little uproar this year regarding service time shenanigans. While there is no Bryant-like player, the potential for some service-time manipulation is still there.

To identify players who are ripe for manipulation it’s best to begin with the very best prospects. Of the players mentioned above, six of seven appeared among Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list last year; only Franco appeared outside the top 20, down at 38 overall. Taking a look at Baseball America’s top 20 prospects this season, we can get a good start in identifying players.

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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Corey Dickerson on Hitting: Goodbye Coors, Hello Trop

Corey Dickerson has always hit. The 26-year-old outfielder slashed .321/.379/.596 in the minors, and then .299/.345/.534 in parts of three seasons with the Rockies. He doesn’t expect a move from Colorado to Tampa Bay to derail his production.

Maintaining lofty numbers will nonetheless be a challenge. Coors Field is a hitter’s paradise, and Dickerson certainly took advantage. In 122 games at his former home park, he slashed .355/.410/.675. Tropicana Field represents a whole new kettle of fish. Along with catwalks and a “touch tank,” it is among the most pitcher-friendly venues in MLB.

Dickerson’s slow start at the Trop — a .564 OPS — doesn’t mean much. Ten games is ten games. Far more meaningful is the fact that he’s undaunted by his new hitting environment. And don’t expect to hear him complain about inter-division road trips. Compared to the NL West, the AL East is bandbox city.

Dickerson talked about his hitting approach, and acclimating to a new league, on a recent visit to Fenway Park.

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Dickerson on sticking with his aggressive approach: “If I deviate from what I do, at all, it messes with me both mentally and physically. You get to the major leagues doing what you do best. That’s what you have to stick to: being the best version of you. You might change the way you attack the baseball — you might channel your aggressiveness — but you have to stay true to yourself.

“When I first got called up… everybody tries to help you out. I heard, ‘You have to hit the fastball’ and ‘You have to be a little more patient at the plate; try to see a few more pitches and work better counts.’ But nobody has really ever messed with me. No one has messed with my swing or my stance, or anything like that. They’ve mostly just said, ‘You can hit, so keep doing what you’re doing.’”

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Meet Blake Snell’s Extreme Fastball

Blake Snell is already back in the minor leagues, but he probably shouldn’t be there for long. All the Rays need is an opening, and over the weekend Snell made his big-league debut in a spot start in Yankee Stadium. Everyone understood it would be a one-shot deal, but Snell got to get his feet wet. That counts for something. And we got enough data for a deep dive. That also counts for something.

Most of you probably learned about Snell for the first time last season. He got himself onto the radar for something extreme, which is to say, he made his 2015 debut on April 9, and he allowed his first run on May 23. Snell is forever going to have his scoreless streak, but what he did in the minors isn’t what’ll allow him to succeed in the majors. No — he needs to keep on performing, and in support of that, we can look to something else extreme. Snell’s a pitcher, so he throws a fastball. The fastball he throws is unlike almost any other.

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Drew Smyly Is a Strikeout Machine

Back when the Rays finally got around to trading David Price, they took an awful lot of heat for the return. It’s not that the package was bad — it was that it appeared insufficient, to many observers. The argument in support of the Rays focused on the idea of surplus value. Willy Adames looked like a promising low-level prospect. Nick Franklin seemed useful, and Drew Smyly was a league-average starter. You can get plenty of value from a league-average starter in his team-control years. It wasn’t sexy, and it was hardly a blockbuster of the type that people imagined, but the Rays were going to be okay. The return was a little dull, but fair.

If you want to spin things in a negative way, you could observe that Franklin has more or less busted. Adames is still talented and still young, but he’s just getting accustomed to Double-A. And Smyly missed months with a labrum problem, while Price signed a massive free-agent contract he earned with his performance. There’s another way to spin things. Since that deadline deal a couple summers ago, Price has posted a 3.23 ERA, with 26% strikeouts. Smyly, meanwhile, has posted a 2.52 ERA, with 28% strikeouts.

No, Smyly hasn’t yet been durable. But Drew Smyly has whiffed more hitters, rate-wise, than the ace for whom he was traded. I don’t think even the Rays expected Smyly to develop into a strikeout machine.

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Lefty Blake Snell Debuts for Tampa Bay

The Rays called up left-handed pitching prospect Blake Snell from Triple-A to face the Yankees in a spot start on Saturday. Snell looked very good in his debut. Although he lasted just five innings, he yielded just two hits, one walk and zero runs. By fanning six, he maintained the ~30% strikeout rate pace he’d been keeping in the minors for the last year-plus.

Prior to his call up, he owned a 3.01 FIP and 33% strikeout rate in three Triple-A starts this season. Last year, he blew through three minor-league levels — High-A, Double-A and Triple-A — and posted a 1.41 ERA and 2.71 FIP. Snell struck out an eye-popping 31% of opposing hitters, tops among pitchers to record at least 120 minor-league innings last year.

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My Best Guess at Chris Archer

Chris Archer isn’t where he wants to be. He’s made four starts this season — in two of them, he’s allowed three runs, and in the other two of them, he’s allowed six runs. One of the especially bad starts came Wednesday, and now Archer stands with baseball’s fifth-worst ERA, and baseball’s sixth-worst FIP. Archer so far has been mostly dismissive of his struggles, but given how he also ended last year on a pretty flat note, fans are paying close attention. By no means would concern be unwarranted.

One certainly shouldn’t be too concerned. This is something we can say without even going too deep. While Archer has some ugly numbers, he also has a top-20 xFIP, owing to his high rate of strikeouts. The stuff is still there, for the most part. And while there have been too many hits, Archer hasn’t shown any decline in contact rate. It’s still not easy to get the bat on the ball, and as long as Archer is getting whiffs, he stands a good chance of getting straightened out.

You just can’t say this has all been nothing. Archer himself would tell you he hasn’t executed. Not with sufficient consistency. He hasn’t located the ball like he’d like to, and that’s made him vulnerable. When the location goes, you can blame something physical, or you can blame something mechanical. I trust that Archer is healthy, so I’m thinking about mechanics. And I do have a guess at what’s been wrong. To repeat: this is a guess! I am not Chris Archer, and we’ve never even emailed. If we’ve ever been in the same room, I sure as shoot didn’t notice. What follows is just one thing I have noticed. Put however much stock in this as you want.

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The Rays Are Becoming Baseball’s Most Aggressive Team

Yesterday I published my annual reminder that it’s never too early to look at the standings. That is, even though we’re through just one week, the Orioles have done themselves a hell of a favor by starting out 6-0. Now, on the flip side, it can be too early to look at the leaderboards. Like, Tyler White is first in baseball in WAR. If you want to find some real signal, you just have to be patient. But sometimes I just can’t help myself. I mean, I practically live on this website, so of course I’m going to go exploring. And, related to that — it’s been just six games, but the Rays are already up to something.

It’s not something entirely new. I wrote about this when the Rays traded for Corey Dickerson, but during last season, the Rays switched to taking a more aggressive offensive approach. So if you were curious, no, that hasn’t been abandoned. The Rays hitters remain aggressive today, and based on the early indications, they’re going to be more aggressive than anyone else.

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KATOH Projects: Tampa Bay Rays Prospects

Previous editions: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles (AL) / Los Angeles (NL)Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York (AL) / New York (NL)  / Oakland / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / St. Louis.

Last week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Tampa Bay Rays. In this companion piece, I look at that same Tampa farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Rays have the eighth-best farm system in baseball according to KATOH.

There’s way more to prospect evaluation than just the stats, so if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Dan’s piece in addition to this one. KATOH has no idea how hard a pitcher throws, how good a hitter’s bat speed is, or what a player’s makeup is like. So it’s liable to miss big on players whose tools don’t line up with their performances. However, when paired with more scouting-based analyses, KATOH’s objectivity can be useful in identifying talented players who might be overlooked by the industry consensus or highly-touted prospects who might be over-hyped.

Below, I’ve grouped prospects into three groups: those who are forecast for two or more wins through their first six major-league seasons, those who receive a projection between 1.0 and 2.0 WAR though their first six seasons, and then any residual players who received Future Value (FV) grades of 45 or higher from Dan. Note that I generated forecasts only for players who accrued at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last season. Also note that the projections for players over a relatively small sample are less reliable, especially when those samples came in the low minors.

*****

1. Jake Bauers, 1B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 8.2 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Bauers spent his age-19 season squaring off against High-A and Double-A pitchers, and more than held his own. Bauers didn’t show any glaring weaknesses offensively, and rode a 14% strikeout rate to a .273/.347/.422 batting line. Bauers doesn’t have the power of a traditional first baseman, but he excels in every other offensive area. Considering how young he’s been for his level, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Jake Bauer’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 James Loney 6.0 6.7
2 Adrian Gonzalez 5.2 19.1
3 Justin Morneau 6.5 14.9
4 Randall Simon 5.7 1.5
5 Rico Brogna 6.6 4.4
6 Paul Konerko 8.9 9.2
7 Prince Fielder 11.3 24.9
8 Kyle Blanks 5.4 3.7
9 Derrek Lee 6.4 14.6
10 Roberto Petagine 5.5 1.0

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Jake Odorizzi’s Search for a Third Pitch

Useless and true: Jake Odorizzi is currently the major league’s pitching WAR leader. He’s made one start! Danny Salazar has made zero starts. All this means is that Odorizzi’s first start was a good one, and maybe the best so far, or maybe not. Noah Syndergaard had a pretty awesome debut, too. Jose Fernandez was sweet. Chris Archer looked good. Odorizzi was right there. He struck out 10 Blue Jays in 5.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks. Nice little start! Against a nice little offense.

Tampa Bay’s rotation ranked 15th when we rolled out our positional power rankings, but it’s also a rotation that figures to posses considerable upside. Everyone’s young, and everyone’s hinted at a higher level. Archer, obviously, is fantastic. Last year, he positioned himself as an ace, and even he’s got room to improve. Drew Smyly struck out a shocking number of batters last season, and with just a year of health could reasonably go from a name that just baseball nuts know to a name that everyone knows. Matt Moore will seemingly always have potential. There’s plenty of talent down on the farm. Plus, there’s Odorizzi. You could make the case for anyone here as being on the cusp of a breakout. At the very least, everyone’s doing what they can to take that next step.

Odorizzi, in particular, has something in the works, something about which he’s been vocal as of late, and something that was on display in his season debut. It’s best to be up front right now and say the results, admittedly, were mixed, but Odorizzi understands he has a weakness, has formulated a plan to combat that weakness, and is seemingly committed to seeing it out.

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Jose Bautista and the New Slide Rule

That didn’t take long. Just a few days into the season, we have a controversial play relating to the slide rule instituted this offseason. Last night, trailing 3-2 in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out, Toronto Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria threw to second base to force out Jose Bautista, who had been running from first base. As second baseman Logan Forsythe attempted to throw the ball to first base for an inning-ending double play, Bautista’s arm caught Forsythe’s foot, Forsythe’s throw went awry, Encarnacion was safe, and two runs scored. Officials overturned the call, ruling that Bautista violated Rule 6.01 for interference and Encarnacion was declared out at first, ending the game in favor of Tampa Bay.

Those are the basic facts of what happened last night, and while the interpretation of the rule might be subject to criticism, there can be little dispute about what happened. There is also likely little dispute about the impetus of the new rule — player safety — and that last night’s play had little to do with player safety. That leads to a couple questions. Like, was the rule interpreted correctly? And like, should the slide rule cover plays like Bautista’s when little harm is likely to come on the play?

Before we take a look at the play, let’s consider the precise language of the new rule itself. Rule 6.01(j) is the relevant one here, titled “Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts”. So what does the runner have to do?

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01.

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Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

EVALUATING THE PROSPECTS 2016
Angels
Astros
Athletics
Blue Jays
Braves
Brewers
Cardinals
Cubs
Diamondbacks
Dodgers
Giants
Indians
Mariners
Marlins
Mets
Nationals
Orioles
Padres
Phillies
Pirates
Rangers
Rays
Red Sox
Reds
Rockies
Royals
Tigers
Twins
White Sox
Yankees

The Rays system has considerable upside and depth throughout its minor-league levels. Reviewing the organization, I was particularly struck with how many pitchers I liked, including many whom I figured wouldn’t be able to stick as starting pitchers but would be very viable members of the bullpen. Indeed, most of their near-ready starting options are already in the majors or well on their way to becoming relievers. Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell give them a lot of upside while the club waits for some of their lower-level pitchers to develop.

Though I find that I’m less sold on many of the more popular bats, or at least those who are closer to the big leagues, there are a ton of options both as future regulars and as valuable role players who can succeed in situational exposure. Luckily, the Rays have been awesome at maximizing those types of assets, so even if more hitting prospects flame out, they have a strong pipeline to supplement the core at the major-league level.

On that note, I really like Kevin Padlo and Adrian Rondon as prospects who will take at least a few years to make it to the parent club. You’ll see I’m much less optimistic on Richie Shaffer and Casey Gillaspie despite their solid years in 2015. Shaffer’s power probably gets him a shot in the big leagues soon, but his lack of overall value makes him a fringe option in my opinion. Gillaspie could just be a case of hand-eye coordination and raw strength making up for unathletic moves, but I need to see him face better pitching before trusting his results more than what I see him doing with the bat, and he too has limited value elsewhere in his profile.

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Sal Perez and Awarding Contract Extensions Out of Fairness

Earlier this week, Salvador Perez and the Kansas City Royals agreed on a second contract extension. In terms of financial need or justification for the Royals, there weren’t any compelling reasons for the Royals to sign Perez to another extension when his previous contract kept Perez under control through the 2019 season. Even with no extensions, Perez would not have been a free agent until after this season. In his analysis of the deal, Jeff Sullivan focused on the human element of the deal and being fair to Perez. Ken Rosenthal wondered if this would start a trend and named a few other players who might benefit from teams deciding to be a bit more fair. Perez is certainly not the first player to sign a very team-friendly deal, but he is also not the first player to be awarded a second deal despite having a number of years still left on his first contract.

In Rosenthal’s piece, he acknowledges that Perez was a “special case,” noting that the Royals catcher had recorded just 158 plate appearances at the time he signed the contract. That lack of experience led to a very low guarantee and the three team options that would have prevented Perez from reaching free agency for another four seasons. While acknowledging both the lack of need and the recognition of fairness, Rosenthal suggested six other players who might fit the same bill as Perez, although perhaps on a smaller scale given their larger guarantees: Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner and Chris Archer.

On the whole, these types of extensions save massive amounts of money for teams, but we can take a look at the contracts Rosenthal discusses and compare them to Perez’s to see if they are actually close. The first few columns of the table below should be self-explanatory, but the last column, FA Surplus Value, might not be. To calculate the surplus value, I took current projections, applied standard aging curves, set the cost of a win at $8 million for this year along with 5% increases in years thereafter and compared the value of the projected production to the cost for free agent years only. For the players below, their arbitration salaries have also been at a discount, so if you want to include those values, feel free to add on another 20% or so (whichever number you feel like) to capture that discount as well.

Bargain Contract Extensions
Player Years Left (w options) Dollars Left (w options) FA before Contract FA after Contract FA Surplus Value
Sale 4 $47.25 M 2016 2019 $118.2 M
Rizzo 6 $59.0 M 2018 2021 $104.1 M
Bumgarner 4 45.25 M 2016 2019 $84.9 M
Goldschmidt 4 $40.0 M 2017 2019 $68.5 M
Perez 4 $16.75 M 2016 2019 $67.0 M
Altuve 4 $20.5 M 2017 2019 $49.9 M
Archer 6 $45.25 M 2019 2021 $45.9 M

Rosenthal did a very good job identifying the super-team-friendly contracts. Perez falls right in the middle of those contracts in terms of surplus value, but what makes his case different is the very low salary-level in relation to the other players — this, even if his options had been picked up. The top-four players on that list are massive bargains, but at least they will be paid around $10 million or more per year — double that of Perez. Altuve is in nearly the same boat as Perez in terms of salary, but he gave up just two years of free agency, which limits the surplus value.

Looking back through MLB Trade Rumors’ extension tracker, I identified players who were locked up to a second extension while still possessing multiple years on their first one. The idea: to find some sort of precedent for the Perez contract, or perhaps something closer to the situations of Sale, Bumgarner, Goldschmidt and Rizzo. Certain names come to mind immediately when considering players who’ve received a second extension while still playing on the first. Miguel Cabrera, for example. And Ryan Howard. These are classic cases of a team mistakenly extending players before they’d have to, but neither case is really similar to Perez’.

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Blake Snell and Extending a Player Without Service Time

You can probably be forgiven if you heard about a possible Blake Snell contract extension and your first reaction was to wonder, “Who?” Snell has never pitched in a major-league baseball game. He is not one of the top-ten prospects in baseball. Rather, he’s made just 21 starts above Class-A, has produced a walk rate above 10% in every year of the minors, and (perhaps as a result of playing in the Tampa Bay Rays organization) is generally unknown to the masses. However, Snell is one of the top-20 prospects in baseball, his walk rate has moved down as he’s moved up the minor-league ladder, he struck out more than 30% of batters last season, and he allowed just 21 runs in 134 innings last season (1.41 ERA). He’s also likely to see the majors this season, and the Rays have had talks with Snell about a contract extension.

Contract extensions for players with no service time are incredibly rare. The last one was Jon Singleton in June 2014, and prior to Singleton, Evan Longoria‘s contract extension in April 2008 — which was not announced until after a week in the majors — was the closest comparison. The Rays are not strangers to similar deals. Matt Moore is in the final guaranteed year of his contract that he signed after pitching just 9.1 innings back in the 2011 regular season. They also approached Melvin Upton as a teenager, but were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement. Since 2010, there have only been four contract extensions for players with under one year of service time and the Rays are responsible for two of them in Moore and Chris Archer. (Singleton and Salvador Perez are the others.)

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MLB Farm Systems Ranked by Surplus WAR

You smell that? It’s baseball’s prospect-list season. The fresh top-100 lists — populated by new names as well as old ones — seem to be popping up each day. With the individual rankings coming out, some organization rankings are becoming available, as well. I have always regarded the organizational rankings as subjective — and, as a result, not 100% useful. Utilizing the methodology I introduced in my article on prospect evaluation from this year’s Hardball Times Annual, however, it’s possible to calculate a total value for every team’s farm system and remove the biases of subjectivity. In what follows, I’ve used that same process to rank all 30 of baseball’s farm systems by the surplus WAR they should generate.

I provide a detailed explanation of my methodology in the Annual article. To summarize it briefly, however, what I’ve done is to identify WAR equivalencies for the scouting grades produced by Baseball America in their annual Prospect Handbook. The grade-to-WAR conversion appears as follows.

Prospect Grade to WAR Conversion
Prospect Grade Total WAR Surplus WAR
80 25.0 18.5
75 18.0 13.0
70 11.0 9.0
65 8.5 6.0
60 4.7 3.0
55 2.5 1.5
50 1.1 0.5
45 0.4 0.0

To create the overall totals for this post, I used each team’s top-30 rankings per the most recent edition of Baseball America’ Prospect Handbook. Also accounting for those trades which have occurred since the BA rankings were locked down, I counted the number of 50 or higher-graded prospects (i.e. the sort which provide surplus value) in each system. The results follows.
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How Corey Dickerson Fits the Rays and the League

It shouldn’t take a lot to understand why the Rays went and picked up Corey Dickerson. In general, it was a pretty classic Tampa Bay move: they dealt more expensive and conspicuous talent for under-appreciated talent and team control. Jake McGee is very obviously good, but Dickerson is his own brand of productive, and he ought to remain affordable for years. The Rays have been doing things like this for the better part of a decade.

That’s what’s most important: Dickerson should remain a quality hitter, and he fits within Tampa Bay’s budget, whereas McGee was pricing himself out. Yet you can find even more appeal in the specifics. Dickerson’s also a good match for an organizational trend, a trend that’s being mirrored by the rest of the league.

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