The kindling in the MLB’s hot stove

©Alex MacDougall

By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service

While the MLB news-cycles during the month of November have mainly been highlighted by cheating investigations against the Houston Astros, there has been a handful of activity circulating around free agency and the upcoming Winter Meetings this December.

Last year’s MLB off-season didn’t see the significant free agents – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – signed until February and March 2019, respectively. However, some moves made by teams over the past couple weeks signal a more active — or hotter stove — this winter. 

Braves chop into the reliever market

The Braves lost in the National League Division Series this year against the Cardinals because of their pitching. While it’s easy to blame Mike Foltynwicz for setting up the Braves for disaster in Game five of the series, it should not be overlooked that this series could have been over before if their bullpen had been as sharp as advertised.

Mark Melancon, despite a 3.86 2019 regular season ERA with the Braves as a closer/reliever, has proved his ability to pitch in the clutch back when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had a 1.75 overall ERA as a closer and was a cog in the fierce machine that the team was during that time. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his best stuff when it mattered for the Braves, surrendering a 3-2 lead in the 8th, which would eventually allow the Cardinals to win the game by a score of 7-6.

Braves reliever Shane Greene, who had a 1.18 ERA as the Detroit Tigers closer before being moved to Atlanta at the trade deadline, surrendered the lead to the Cardinals in Game 4 of the series. The Braves were four outs away from an NLCS trip.

It’s evident that bullpen depth is what the Braves need to redeem themselves next year. That’s why Atlanta baseball operations wasted no time in claiming real-estate in the already thin reliever free-agent market. Within the month of November, they signed LHP Will Smith for three years, $39 Million, re-signed Chris Martin for two years, $14 million and re-signed RHP Darren O’Day to a one year, $2.25 million contract. 

While two of these signings are re-signings, the signing of Will Smith is very significant. It shows that the Braves front office isn’t afraid to spend money straight away to get what they need. Smith, who saved 34 games for the San Francisco Giants last season and went 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA, will offer the Braves bullpen the strength it needs. 

There are still more relievers left on the free-agent market, most notably consisting of RHP Kenley Jansen, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Daniel Hudson and RHP Will Harris. It shouldn’t take long for these guys to get gigs, even if teams have to spend more than chump change to get a quick purchase.

Grandal coming to the South Side

Catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is considered by many to be the most solid catcher on the free-agent market, just got his paycheck. He is going to walk it out with the Chicago White Sox on a four-year, $73 million deal.

Grandal is coming off of a high season with the Milwaukee Brewers, most notably sporting a .380 on-base percentage and tallying 109 walks. Complementing his skills at the plate are his skills behind the plate, serving as an excellent pitch framer and a solid backstop guard.

His deal with the Milwaukee Brewers was a one-year, $18.25M deal. Before taking this deal, he denied a four-year, $60 million offer from the New York Mets. He bet on himself and he won big.

Now, the catching market is going to begin to pace more quickly. The most notable names that remain are Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Travis d’Arnaud and Francisco Cervelli. All four of these names have the resumé necessary for a solid starting catcher, so expect teams to start jumping quickly now the Grandal is gone.

Bull market ahead for starting pitching

The reigning World Series MVP knows he can get some dough.

A few days after the last game of the World Series, Washington Nationals star pitcher Stephen Strasburg opted-out of the remaining four years of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent. He was guaranteed $100 million through the rest of his four years. He might be able to get twice that amount.

He finished the 2019 regular season with a 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 251 strikeouts in 209 innings. He shined in the postseason, posting a 1.98 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 47 strikeouts. 

It won’t only be Strasburg who will be earning large paychecks this off-season. Aces Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner and Zach Wheeler take up the top of the market. Dallas Keuchel, Michael Pineda, Cole Hamels and Kyle Gibson are also in the fray as well.

With what many baseball fans consider the start of the juiced ball era, expect a very competitive market for the top starting pitchers, as well as high activity for the rest of the starter market during the winter meetings.

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