Goodbye Lorenzo; Hello Alcides

MLB: Kansas City Royals at San Diego Padres

In a span of less than 24 hours, Kansas City Royals fans felt a mixture of pain, sadness, joy and confusion. Thursday night we finally found out the destination of Lorenzo Cain, as he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Many of us felt sad for the finality of Cain finally being gone, but also a sense of pride as he flourished during his time in Kansas City and had become one of the more productive center fielders in baseball. Then Friday morning, news broke that the Royals were close to a deal with Alcides Escobar, which left fans…well, confused to say the least. So what do these moves mean for the Royals (and the Brewers) moving forward?

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

First, lets look at the LoCain contract, which actually looks to be a pretty good deal in what has been a very slow market:

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Cain will earn $13MM in 2018, $14MM in 2019, $15MM in 2020, $16MM in 2021 and $17MM in 2022 (Twitter links). He’ll also receive an additional, deferred payment of $1MM in each of the five years following the contract’s conclusion. The no-trade provision offers complete protection in year one of the deal and limited protection each season thereafter, dropping down to five teams in the final year of the contract. More specifically, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy adds that Cain can block deals to 15 teams in 2019, seven teams in 2020 and five in 2021-22.

The biggest takeaway from the deal appears to be that Cain gave up a higher rate of money per year with other teams so he could get the fifth year of this contract. To be honest, I don’t blame him. Cain will be entering his age 32 season this year and with his injury history it would appear his value could be hurt if he had taken a smaller year total. The good news is that the Brewers have a couple of young outfield prospects and as long as they don’t go and trade Keon Broxton for pitching, more than likely he will eventually take over center field and move Cain to right. I would be really surprised if Cain was still a center fielder by the end of this deal, since the final year of his contract will be his age 36 season.

It also puts him back onto a contending team, as the Brewers showed in 2017 that they are getting closer and closer to being a threat in the National League Central. Cain would appear to be a player to lean on (or lean back) when October rolls around, as he is one of the few on the Brewers roster with postseason experience. Considering that teams like the Giants, Rangers and the Blue Jays were showing interest in him earlier in the winter, returning to Milwaukee (the place where his career began) looks to be a win/win situation for LoCain thanks to their role as contenders and what he got out of the contract.

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Before we could even digest the Lorenzo Cain news, reports started trickling out that the Royals were working on bringing Alcides Escobar back into the fold. It wasn’t long until an agreement had been made:

A little bit later, the financials became public:

So Escobar is back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. The next question most of us were asking is whether Esky starts or if Raul Mondesi was still the front-runner at shortstop this year:

To say Royals twitter handled this news well…that would be false. Yep, most fans lost their mind. To a degree I get it; Escobar has been a below average offensive player throughout his major league career (his highest OPS+ was 96 back in 2012) and he is infamously known for being a free-swinger, posting a 3.9% walk rate throughout his career. While his defense has been good (he ranks sixth among Major League shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating (+18.5) over the past seven seasons), there has been a slight shift in just how good he is these last two seasons, as he posted an UZR of 0.8 in 2016 and 1.9 in 2017 (after averaging 3.1 UZR over the previous five seasons, including years of 9.6 and 10.9).

But the bigger question is what happens with Mondesi? On the surface it would appear that the Royals have their concerns about Raul (which it turns out is accurate) and bringing Esky back is an insurance policy in case he struggles. It looks as if Escobar will be the starter and Mondesi will either float around at different positions or return to AAA for another season. With the Royals rebuilding, it makes sense to let Mondesi go out and just play, but it feels like Kansas City just doesn’t have that kind of confidence in him. That is where Escobar fits in.

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To be honest I wasn’t surprised by the signing and even predicted it a couple of times since October. First, my comments at the end of the season:

Alcides Escobar was almost a ghost in the first half of the season, posting a line  of .226/.242/.306 and a wRC+ of 39 (league average is 100). Escobar was able to pick it up in the second half of the season, hitting .282/.309/.424 with a wRC+ of 90 and might have even earned himself a new contract this offseason.

Even just a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that Esky would be back:

If the Moustakas market feels cold, then Escobar’s is Antarctica. To say the rumors of interested teams for Esky is limited would be an understatement. There’s the Padres, who showed interest in him before acquiring Freddy Galvis to play shortstop, and then there are…ummm…there is also the…uhhh…no one. Nope, I haven’t seen any other team linked to Escobar this winter, outside of a few writers suggesting locations that might need him. The honest truth is that Escobar has been a weak hitter these last few years who has gotten by on his defense…which has begun to regress. So it shouldn’t be a shock to say that the market for a light hitting shortstop, entering a period where his defense and speed will start to wane as well, is sparse. There aren’t many options for Alcides, so at this point he might have to just take what he can get, even if it is a role as a backup mentor on a rebuilding team.

Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals

So I wasn’t outraged when I heard the news on Friday. In fact, I’m not opposed to the signing at all. For one, it is only a one-year deal for a minimal amount of money. It’s not like the Royals opened bank for the guy. Second, with the team rebuilding, Escobar is a nice veteran that can be a mentor to some of the younger players, including Mondesi. Finally, if the organization is this concerned about Mondesi and his future, they might not even look at him anymore as the future shortstop. In fact, after the season Nicky Lopez had in 2017 it wouldn’t surprise me if he had jumped over Raul in the shortstop pecking order. If this is the case, signing Esky for one year is not a bad deal at all. We can discuss his actual value all day long (and to be frank about it, the Royals value him way more than any other team does) but it’s not like the team is going anywhere of substance in 2018; it’s one and done for Escobar…I think.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
Credit: Getty Images

Baseball is a business and sometimes as fans I think we forget that. While most of us hate the idea of Lorenzo Cain putting on another uniform, I understand the process for the players and don’t blame them a bit. Cain’s absence will leave a big hole in center field for the Royals that will not be easily filled. While many will hate it, getting Escobar back for one more year also isn’t the end of the world and seems to be a short-term solution to the bigger picture at shortstop. Expecting him to be much more than a placeholder is probably wishful thinking and I’m already expecting articles being written mid-summer this year about how he should be displaced…and to a degree, it will probably be warranted. When one door closes, another one opens with a new opportunity. That is what we are seeing with both Cain and Escobar. Next up? Hosmer and Moustakas. No one said this would be easy.

 

 

 

BBWAA Elects 4 to Hall of Fame; IBWAA Elects 6

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On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame got a little bit bigger as the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) voted in four new inductees: Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero. Add in Alan Trammell and Jack Morris and you have six induction speeches on a sunny July afternoon in Cooperstown. Meanwhile, my brethren in the IBWAA did some house cleaning as well, as we inducted six players (Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Trevor Hoffman) into our digital Hall of Fame. In my eyes, all the players mentioned above were worthy of this honor. It is also showing a shift in the thinking of baseball writer’s across the baseball landscape.

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First, let’s discuss the BBWAA voting, which almost led to a five man class in 2018:

First, it was very obvious going into Wednesday that Chipper, Vlad and Thome were locks. All three were over 90% for the polling (which was sitting at around 55% of the  ballots made public) that morning. Hoffman was a bit dicier, as he was sitting around 78.2% of public ballots. It appeared on the surface that he would get in, since he fell just five votes short in 2017.

Meanwhile, Edgar Martinez came up just a bit short, despite the fact he had been polling in the 80% range for the last couple weeks. The good news is that Edgar jumped up to 70.4%, less than 5% to the promised land as he enters his final year on the ballot in 2019.

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Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports

Also making ground this year on the ballot was Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. Mussina bumped up to 63.5% and Walker 34.1%. Mussina feels like a lock for induction sometime in the next couple of years, while Walker has only two more years of eligibility left. Clemens, Bonds and Curt Schilling all appeared to stay put around where they have been, so next year could be a big one for all three of them.

I was glad to see Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones get enough support to stay on the ballot, and their climb could get a bit easier over the next couple of years, since there are less Hall-worthy candidates on the horizon. The one disappointment was Johan Santana, who is a borderline candidate for the hall. If you are like me and believe strongly in WAR7 (which is the seven-year peak or that players best seven years) and notice the similarities with Sandy Koufax, then you are probably leaning toward him being in. If you believe in a long career and lots of innings for a pitcher, then you are probably against him. The one thing that most of us can agree on is he probably deserved to at least stay on the ballot and let his case be judged for a few more years. Unfortunately, he is now bumped off and like Lou Whitaker, Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton before him, he won’t get a fair shake of letting his case be heard.

Overall I felt like the BBWAA did an admirable job and it does appear as if the ballot logjam is starting to sort itself out. That should be a good thing for fringe candidates and those players like Mussina and Martinez who need a little extra nudge to get them over the finish line.

Now onto an organization I am part of, the IBWAA. If you want to talk about making room on the ballot for the future, I believe we took care of that this year:

Six players are entering our “Digital Hall of Fame” and I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit shocked that we elected Clemens and Bonds, just because they have been floating around on our ballot as well. This is just me throwing out a theory, but our members tend to skew a bit younger and it has felt over the last couple of years like the younger writers have less of an issue with the “Steroid Era” than the older ones. I’m sure there are different reasons for that, whether it is the lack of testing during that period making it harder to really know who did what, or feeling like the rest of baseball was able to get off scot-free while inducting then-Commissioner Bud Selig just last year. Whatever the case may be, Bonds and Clemens were joined by Chipper, Thome, Mussina and Hoffman as part of the IBWAA Class of 2018.

With six players off the ballot, that should make it easier for us to focus on some other deserving candidates next year. Schilling and Walker both took big jumps and Scott Rolen posted a nice 44.7% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Even Santana stuck around for round two, as he got 36 votes and sits at 21.1% in his first year. With next year’s class of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Todd Helton being the main first year candidates, it should be easy for us to keep honoring players who deserve this highest honor. We also get 15 votes instead of the BBWAA’s 10, which also helps us keep players on the ballot longer. All in all, I feel like we as a group did a great job this year and I look forward to the results in 2019.

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Credit: MLB Photos

In 2013, the BBWAA voted no player over the 75% threshold, which meant a very quiet summer in Cooperstown. Luckily, the last few years have made up for that error, as the writers have voted in 16 players over the last five years. Whether you prefer a bigger Hall of Fame or a smaller one, the truth is that we have seen a lot of worthy entries over these last few years. For every Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez that have to struggle and have people preaching their cause, there are the Chipper Jones’ and Jim Thome’s that have the numbers and look the part. Baseball is better when a light can be shone on the players of year’s past that helped make this the great game that it is. For all its flaws, baseball at its pinnacle is the grandest game of them all. To get to honor those that encompass that greatness…well, that just makes this process a whole lot sweeter.

 

 

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