Winter is the time for moving in baseball. Players, from the most sought after free agent to career minor leaguers, move from team to team. Most players only make one move over the Winter, but this offseason has been particularly eventful for two players. Tyrell Jenkins and David Rollins have moved multiple times since the end of the baseball season, not through signing new contracts but through trades and waivers. Both players could interpret this as either as multiple teams not seeing their future potential or as multiple teams seeing them as a valuable part of their teams’ success.
Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
Tyrell Jenkins has been a member of four different baseball organizations since he was drafted 50th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He rose to Advanced A ball before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves with Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden on November 17, 2014. Jenkins made his Major League debut on June 22, 2016 for Atlanta. He pitched in 16 games for the 2016 Braves going 2-4 with a 5.88 ERA and 1.692 WHIP.
Tyrell Jenkins worked his way through the Braves farm system, time will tell if he can contribute to the rebuilding Reds. (www.milb.com)
Jenkins will turn 25 during the 2017 season and could become a valuable asset. This is why beginning on December 8th, Jenkins began his offseason odyssey. He was traded to the Texas Rangers with Brady Feigl for Luke Jackson. Two weeks later, the Rangers designated Jenkins for assignment. On December 23, 2016 the Cincinnati Reds claimed Jenkins off waivers.
In under a month Jenkins saw his role change several times. He was pitching for a Braves team looking to rebuild then on to the Rangers who will be looking to repeat as the American League West Champions, contending for a World Series. Jenkins’ fortunes turned again as he was claimed off waivers by a Reds team that is rebuilding in the tough National League Central. A new, new home could help Tyrell Jenkins become a main stay in the Majors. Time will tell if Jenkins will find lasting success in Cincinnati.
David Rollins, LHP
When comparing offseasons no one can keep up with David Rollins. Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2011 draft, Rollins rose to low A ball in just over a year with the Blue Jays organization before he was on the move. On July 20, 2012, Toronto traded Rollins, Kevin Comer, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Carlos Perez and Asher Wojciechowski to the Houston Astros for David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon. After rising to AAA in a season and a half with the Astros, Rollins changed teams again when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule 5 Draft.
This brought David Rollins to this offseason. Beginning on November 18th Rollins began his tour through baseball. The Mariners designated Rollins for assignment, and he was selected off waivers by the Chicago Cubs. He lasted with the Cubs for four days before he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. Ten days later Rollins left Texas when he was claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies held on to Rollins for almost three weeks. On December 21st, the Rangers again claimed Rollins off of waivers, returning to Texas from the Phillies. Two days later the Rangers again placed Rollins on waivers and the Cubs claimed him off waivers.
David Rollins is a man with many team this off season. (Getty Images/ Rob Leiter)
Rollins was claimed off waived five times in a little over a month. After pitching in just 31 career games in over two seasons, many teams seem to believe Rollins has a future in the Majors. Returning to two teams he was previously claimed off waivers by shows that Rollins’ career 7.60 ERA in the Majors does not reflect the talent that multiple teams believe he has. Putting a player on waivers clearly means a team has other players it values more. However, it does not mean an organization has given up on a player.
The movement of every player during the offseason is not always front page newsworthy. The signing of Edwin Encarnacion by the Indians made headlines. The rumors of where Mark Trumbo will land makes news even without a signed contract. The trading of Tyrell Jenkins or the claiming of David Rollins off waivers does make news, but only a footnote, not front page headlines. Changing teams has a huge impact upon players and their families, but often it is barely a blip on our collective radar. The offseason can be a time of boredom and loneliness for fans, but for players it can alter their lives and careers. Every line inside the transactions box at the back of the newspaper is someone’s life and career. It might not matter to you, but it matters to them. Winter is moving season in baseball. The action is not on the field, it is in the moving vans.
Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.
The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)
Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.
Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)
Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?
Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.
Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)
Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.
We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.
|Team||Years||Contract Amount (Millions)||Opt Out After||Pre Opt-Out Seasons||
Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)
|David Price||Red Sox||
The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.
The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons. While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)
The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.
The midwest got to enjoy some great baseball in 2015, especially NL fans. When the 3rd place team in your division would have won every other division in MLB, the offseason becomes a treacherous minefield of making the right minor tweak to improve or maintain the status quo. For the Brewers and Reds, offseason trading goals are clear but often seem like a management nightmare. The other teams need to maintain or improve their lineups, replace aging talent, and make sure they can afford it all. Baseball remains the team game that one single superstar cannot change a team’s fortune from struggling scrapper to playoff contender.
The Cubs are hoping Jason Heyward is not a big swing and a miss. (www.foxsports.com)
The Chicago Cubs were that third place team in the NL Central but they were also seen as a legitimate World Series contenders. With some good front office management, the Cubs were able to sign both Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to beef up their batting lineup. They also got John Lackey and Adam Warren to solidify the rotation behind Jake Arrieta. It’s almost like the Cubs bought a whole new team that’s going to supplement the young guns they already have in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber. This isn’t a 450ft HR move but more like a 6-5-3 double play move – a collection of several good moves but we’ll have to see how it works out.
Brandon Phillips and the Reds are rebuilding in a hurry. (Joe Robbins/ http://www.datdudebp.com)
In a completely different direction, the Reds cleaned house for salary space and prospects. They made this space with Todd Frazier going to the White Sox and Aroldis Chapman going to the Yankees. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips have big contracts but the Reds probably wouldn’t have been able to find the buyers to pick them up. So what does that leave the Reds? A lot of room to build up some young talent. Cincinnati is a good sports city with patient and loyal fans. The only question is “Do the Yankees have good talent scouts?” because, in return for Chapman, the Reds got Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham who have all gone through the Yankees’ system. If you ask us, the Reds are looking to be respectable in 2016 but to win big in 2017-2018 as their competition ages out.
There really isn’t a lot of advice to give out for any of the teams in this division. They pretty much owned the rest of the league. But what’s a baseball blog for except to play armchair manager for our own amusement.
St. Louis Cardinals
BL – The Cardinals have an aging lineup but the sort of talent that’s been able to play for a long time. It’s part of the reason for their continued success. But El Birdos are soon going to feel the pains the Yankees are now as a storied core of players are starting to lose their elite edge. Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright…scouts and minor league managers better be working overtime to build up the talent to start taking over for them soon.
Yadier Molina continues to be the backbone of th Cardinalds success. ()
DJ – St. Louis is a smart baseball town. Yes the Cardinals have lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs, but these players are not irreplaceable. St. Louis needs to make some minor moves to shore up their bench and build up some power the team seemed to lack last season. Matt Adams and Jason Heyward were not the power hitters many expected, due to injuries and too high expectation. The Cardinals need to add some pop to the line up and continue to produce Major League quality players from their farm system.
BL – When the 2015 playoff picture was decided, I really thought that the Pirates would go much deeper into the playoffs, if not get to the World Series. They’ve got a stellar rotation, elite closer and bullpen, a young rockstar outfield, and a strong infield. If they can get some solid core guys in their infield, who’s going to keep them from taking the division? The Cubs? Maybe. The Cardinals? Only if they find some temporary fountain of youth. But really, I think it’ll be the Pirates in 2016.
Josh Harrison’s ability to do and play anywhere on the diamond has kept the Pirates moving up the standing. (www.post-gazette.com)
DJ – The Pirates seem to be one player away from making a deep run in the playoffs. Pedro Alvarez and Sean Rodriguez are solid Major Leaguers, but if Pittsburgh wants to get past the Wild Card game they need to upgrade at first base. Platooning at first is never a good sign. Pirates first basemen hit 30 HR with 88 RBI in 2015, however they also hit a combined .231. First base is never going to be where you play a slap hitter, but Pittsburgh needs a player who can put the ball in play on a more consistent basis if they are to be successful in 2016.
BL – To be perfectly honest, I don’t see what the Brewers can do to be competitive in the NL Central. Nothing exciting about the rotation and on the wrong side of the league average in nearly every hitting category. There are some oversized contracts that I don’t think they’ll be able to unload without a fire sale. The Brewers need to clean house and rebuild like the Reds. I just don’t think they’re going to do it until it’s too late to try.
The Brewers and Ryan Braun are tied together for better or worse. (www.thesportsfanjournal.com)
DJ – The Brewers are hurting in every area. Ryan Braun was unable to stay healthy in 2015, and with an immoveable contract, along with history, he will remain the foundation for Milwaukee. Matt Garza and the rest of the rotation under performed. Only Jimmy Nelson was able to reach double digits in wins, he finished with 11 wins, but he was also second on the team with 13 losses. Milwaukee needs to find bullpen help and innings eating arms in the rotation, Nelson led the team with 177 ⅓ innings pitched. Milwaukee cannot fix it all at once but getting starting pitching that can eat up innings to prevent the bullpen from being too tired to hold leads when they do exist is key to starting the turn around.
BL & DJ
The Atlanta Braves took two steps towards continuing their return to dominance of the National League East. While some say the Team of the 90’s underachieved by only winning one World Series, I would contend their success is among the greatest in baseball history. The Yankees did have more success in the World Series during the 1950’s. However they did not have to navigate the treachery that is the Major League Playoffs. The Braves were faced with a much longer task and the advent of free agency meant it was harder for teams to retain talent, as that talent could not be controlled for the entire length of their career. Could you imagine what players like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle could have earned if free agency existed when they played? This adds to how special the Braves were during their run of 14 consecutive National League East titles.
Just as the Yankees continually reach into their deep pockets and sign one big free agent after another, the Braves have an approach all their own. This approach has three parts. First, they develop home grown talent, such as Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine. Second, the trade for young talent which is usually still in the minor leagues, such as John Smoltz. Third they are selective about signing free agents, such as Greg Maddux. The signing of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to new deals fits the mold of how the Braves operate, they are keeping their home grown talent. They drafted and developed Heyward and Freeman and are building the future around a young pitching staff and these All Star caliber players.
Jason Heyward is coming off a down year. Although this is primarily due to injuries and he should bounce back in 2014. Heyward’s speed and power make him a prime offensive threat and prevents countless hits from dropping in the outfield. His throwing arm makes any opponent trying to take the extra base think twice and many wisely decide not to. While Heyward has tremendous upside his career thus far has been a little bit of a roll coaster due to a lack of plate discipline in his second season and injuries this past season. The Braves were smart to sign Heyward to a two year, $13.3 million deal as it allows him time to get and stay healthy and for the Braves to not be tied down to a big contract. I expect Heyward to have a great 2014 season. The Braves should be eager to work with him next off season to sign him to a multi-year deal. This saves the Braves some money now and allows Heyward to sign a larger deal as he enters his prime as he will be 26 when this new deal ends. If the Braves are smart they will keep Heyward in Atlanta beyond this new contract and continue to build their new dominance with him as one of the cornerstones.
Freddie Freeman is now the face of the Atlanta Braves. The retirement of Chipper Jones meant the team of the 90’s was gone and the Braves were beginning anew. Freeman has gotten better every year he has been in Atlanta. He hits for power, he hits for average, and he is an excellent defender at first base. He has increased his walk totals and decreased his strikeout totals every season. Freeman is durable and has average 150 games a year in his career without the aid of the DH to keep his bat in the lineup, while giving him days off from the field. Freeman will be 32 when his 8 year, $125 million deal ends in 2021. He will be on the back end of his prime, however the Braves have shown a willingness to work with their best players to keep them in Atlanta and yet continually fielding a contender. Chipper Jones restructured his contract with the Braves, which allowed the front office to continue to put a winner on the field. He has since retired as a legend in Atlanta. I will not be surprised if Freeman does the same thing. He fills a valuable position on the field at a discount later in the contract, as salaries in baseball will undoubtedly continue to go up. Freeman is the left handed bat in the middle of the lineup that helps keep the Braves balanced while protecting Heyward. The Braves are spot on with their signing Freeman to a long term deal as it provides a core to build around and by signing him so early, like the Tampa Bay Rays did with Evan Longoria, Atlanta will be getting All Star caliber play, if not better, at a reduced price.
The Atlanta Braves cannot compete with the Dodgers and Yankees for high priced free agents. At the same time they are not the Houston Astros. They remain in the upper middle class as far as Major League Baseball team payrolls are concerned, and yet nearly every year they out perform their payroll as they have developed quality players at a fraction of the price that a free agent would cost them. You can argue the Braves are titans during the regular season but are paper tigers during the playoffs. However, I would say they understand how to run a quality organization that has created a way for the team to be competitive year in and year out. Having the opportunity to win every year means winning pennants and World Series Championships are more likely than the ebb and flow experienced by other teams. The Braves do all this without the high payroll or necessarily being a destination team. The Yankees and Dodgers will always have appeal to players as destinations for players due to their location, history, and their deep pockets. However, on the field there is little that replaces winning and the Braves know how to win.