By Andrew Perna
Looking to rebound from their second last-place finish in three seasons and with money to spend, the Boston Red Sox made two big splashes on Monday when they agreed to terms with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
Sandoval received a five-year, $95 million contract with a club option at $17 million for a sixth season. The Red Sox will have the option to buy out that sixth year for $5 million in 2020 when the third baseman will be 34 years old.
In seven Major League seasons, the switch-hitter has a .294/.346/.465 slash line with 106 home runs and 462 RBIs. He has won three World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants, who will now have to replace his production. The silver lining for the Giants is that Brian Sabean has always been able to plug emerging holes in the team’s roster, but the loss of Sandoval is unlike one the club has experienced during their current run of success.
What hurts the Giants most is they offered "Kung Fu Panda" a very similar contract without signifying that an increase was out of the question if negotiations continued, according to numerous reports. The San Diego Padres also offered Sandoval a five-year deal in the $95 million range, but to put it bluntly the Padres aren’t the Giants or Red Sox.
The Red Sox introduced Sandoval as the newest member of the team on Tuesday and he admitted choosing Boston over San Francisco was “tough.” He added that playing at Fenway Park “was one of the things I was thinking about in my decision.”
When you consider the recent success of both franchises, similar contract offers and familiarity the 28-year-old had with the Giants, it’s difficult to settle on a reason why he would leave the Bay Area for New England.
Sandoval’s weight was a long-running point of contention between the Venezuelan and the San Francisco front office, but he claims to have never taken the organization’s concerns personally. He has also already committed to working with Boston’s trainers to help keep his weight under control. So did the Giants upset Sandoval with their concerns about his weight? Maybe, but that’s not the reason he passed on a chance to stick around.
In the wake of this deal, some of his former Giants teammates have expressed both a love for Sandoval and knowledge of his desire to take care of his family financially. The truth is that every a five-year, $95 million deal isn’t the same.
Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area spoke with Forbes and uncovered the truth about the difference between $95 million in California and Massachusetts. Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes estimates that Sandoval will earn an additional $3.735 million over five years in Boston than he would have in San Francisco. The details can be found in Ratto’s piece, but the short of it is that Massachusetts has a flat personal income tax, while California uses a progressive rate.
Grade for Sandoval: A-
For Sandoval, he gives himself another avenue into the lineup if his body and defense don’t hold up as a member of the American League. That, in addition to the tax benefit, make the Red Sox a nice fit.
The Giants know what they are losing, but what are the Red Sox gaining?
Boston was in dire need of a third baseman after Will Middlebrooks failed to progress in 2014. The 26-year-old hit .191/.256/.265 in 234 plate appearances, numbers that Sandoval can put up with one eye closed. Sandoval gives John Farrell some variety in the batting lineup. He’ll help balance a mostly right-handed batting order.
It’s hard to calculate how instrumental David Ortiz was in getting Sandoval to come to Boston. Ironically, it's conceivable that Ben Cherington plans to slide Sandoval to designated hitter, opening up third base, when the Ortiz, 39, finally retires.
Sandoval produced very well at AT&T Park, hitting .313/.365/.488, but those numbers figure to swell at Fenway Park. He has never logged a plate appearance in Boston, but it bodes well that his average at his former home park, which is famously cavernous, is better than his overall line.
He has long been seen as a perfect fit for Fenway and Cherington identified him as his main target this offseason. The Red Sox had money to spend and aren’t an organization that can simply stand by after a last-place finish. For so many years they wanted to be seen as a perennial contender much different than the rival New York Yankees, but that can no longer hide behind that façade. They spend with the best of them.
Grade for Red Sox: B+
Any contract of this size carries some risk, but Sandoval isn’t as big a risk as one might think. He’s a great hitter, produces in the postseason, plays better defense than the average fan thinks and will only be 33 years old in the final guaranteed year of the deal.
Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, Free Agent Rumor, Misc Rumor, Signing, Terms Agreement
By Scott McCourtney
There was no loyalty for this longtime Royal. After eight seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Billy Butler has signed a three-year deal with the Oakland Athletics worth $30 million.
The Royals declined Butler's $12.5 million team option for 2015, paying him a $1 million buyout and allowing him to become a free agent for the first time in his Major League career. He will receive a $5 million signing bonus payable by Dec. 31, a $5 million salary in 2015 and $10 million in each of the final two seasons of his new contract.
In yet another interesting move by Billy Beane, the A's have seem to have found an everyday designated hitter for the first time in three years. Beane is trying to play it safe by again signing a guy without great numbers, hoping he'll be the bat in the lineup that can replace Yoenis Cespedes.
Grade for Butler: A
This may be the best possible situation for Butler. He gets a fresh start in Oakland after a disappointing 2014 season. From 2009 to 2013, he hit below .300 only twice (.291 in 2011 and .289 in 2013) and had 15 or more home runs.
In 2014 he hit .271 over 151 games and saw his home runs dip to nine and his RBIs drop to 66. He also had career lows in slugging (.379), OBP (.323) and OPS (.702). You can make the conclusion that Butler scored nicely this offseason, especially since he was looking to stay in Kansas City.
"We gave them a chance," Butler said of the Royals to ESPN. "It didn't work out. It's unfortunate. I enjoyed every day ... It dampens it a little bit for me that we got to the top of where we're at and now I'm gone. I'm glad I got to see it through this year… It hurts a little bit that I'm not going to get to see the rest of that go through. I'm on to a different chapter, that's the way you have to look at it."
Grade for the Athletics: C
Billy Butler is not Yoenis Cespedes, just like Cespedes is not Butler. Butler is a contact hitter and Cespedes a good power hitter. You can't replace one with the other, but both are counted on to drive in runs for their teams. Beane needed pitching more than Cespedes's power in 2014 and that didn't work out. Now he is trying to get a little of that back at around the same price. Cespedes will earn $10.5 million next year, but could make a lot more as a free agent after next season.
The Athletics have been contenders for a few years now and with Butler they are looking to take a step forward with small splash buys.
Beane likes to sign veterans to short-term deals as he did with Bartolo Colon (two-years, $5 million) and Frank Thomas (one-year, $ 3.1 million). Colon went on to be a Cy Young contender and Thomas won Comeback Player of the Year. He also picked up current players Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson for almost nothing. Moss made $1.6 million in 2013 and $4.1 million in 2014 and his power numbers have surged with 20 plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs. Donaldson also saw his numbers surge in the last two years while only making $500,000 in 2014. He also hit 20-plus home runs with 90-plus RBIs in both years.
"Finding right-handed power in the middle of the lineup at this stage is really difficult. It's not very often you get free agents that are in the prime of their career and still have some upside to them." Beane said to ESPN.
Beane has always been a wiz at finding talent, but he is stretching it a bit with Butler. He is coming off the worst season of his career. Beane feels Butler is at his "prime" at 28 and maybe he is right, but on a good Royals team Butler declined. The hitter has only had one 100 RBI season and I don't know if that means Butler deserves to be paid $30 million over three years. Like the Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel trade, Beane seems to be gambling bigger and bigger.
Butler could turn out to be like Moss or Donaldson or he could turn out to be like Chris Young ($7.25 million for one year) or Curtis Granderson ($40 million four years).
In the end, Beane knew he would have to replace Cespedes. Out of all the free agent designated hitters in this year's class, Butler is one of the youngest. He could thrive in that A's lineup, but that money could have gone to Torii Hunter or Nick Markakis.
Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, Free Agent Rumor, Misc Rumor, Signing, Terms Agreement
By Scott McCourtney
The Detroit Tigers have officially announced that Victor Martinez has re-signed with the team for $68 million over four years, ending his free agent status quickly. Martinez will make $14 million in 2015 and $18 million annually over the following three years.
Martinez has a parcel no-trade clause in the contract, meaning he can list up to ten teams to which he does not want to be traded. He will also have the right to block any trade as a 10-year veteran after the 2015 season because he will have been with the Tigers for a minimum of five years.
The Tigers are keeping the power-hitting designated hitter in the middle of their lineup after he finished second in the AL MVP race this past season. The 35-year-old and five-time All-Star didn't seem likely to go anywhere else after hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs.
"I'm just real excited for this great opportunity to get my dream complete, which is winning a World Series," Martinez told ESPN. "I have never been on a team like this."
Grade for Martinez: B+
Martinez is hungry for a ring and maybe that is why he took less in 2015 and beyond than Miguel Cabrera ($22 million) and Justin Verlander ($28 million). Martinez was one of the top free agents along with Jon Lester, Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Detroit teammate Max Scherzer. Stanton signed the largest contract in baseball history, making one wonder what Martinez could have gotten on the open market if he tested the waters extensively (despite the quick agreement, the Mariners were reportedly in advanced talks with his representatives).
Although Joe Mauer was younger at the time, you could compare Martinez to the Minnesota catcher's $184 million deal that stemmed from similar MVP numbers. You might think that Martinez left significant money on the table, but Mauer was 27 when he signed that eight-year deal with the Twins. Martinez will turn 35 next month.
Martinez has never played a full season, but part of that is because of the wear and tear he endured as a catcher. He has, however, missed games due to injury in each season with the Tigers, including the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury. Martinez has played in 145 or more games in the last two seasons though. He is either at his peak or could be in his decline.
No matter how you slice it, the Venezuelan got paid. Maybe not as much as he should have but he wanted to stay with a contender. That may leave some room for the Tigers to re-sign Scherzer or someone else to help get Detroit its first World Series title since 1984.
Grade for the Tigers: A-
The only reason the Tigers get an A- instead of an A is because Martinez could be at the peak of his career. However, he has produced every year with Detroit and hasn't hit below .300 since 2009 when he only played 99 games for Cleveland. He has also hit over ten home runs and had over 70 RBIs in every healthy season since 2009. He has an average of 40 or more walks and 30 or more doubles over that same span.
You could argue that the Tigers deserve an A+ for the deal as long as Martinez stays healthy and puts up anything close to the numbers he has since joining the team in 2011, but at $15-18 million it's a low-risk gamble when you look at Mauer and even Andre Ethier's contract.
The Tigers gave a lot of money to Cabrera and Verlander and they will need to throw a lot of money at Scherzer to keep him in Detroit. They are not going to re-sign Hunter even after he put up good numbers in both years (2013: .304 17 HR 84 RBI, 2014: .286 17 HR 83 RBI). The Tigers will have to find a replacement unless the want to give Steven Moya a chance (.276 with 35 HR 105 RBI in AA).
This contract could backfire if Martinez has reached his peak but as a designated hitter and proven hitter throughout his career, he should be the Big Papi of the Tigers.
Detroit Tigers, Free Agent Rumor, Misc Rumor, Signing
Michael Cuddyer had been considered a strong candidate to become the first Major League player to accept a qualifying offer.
Max Scherzer leads a group of free agents heavy on pitching this offseason and there will be no shortage of huge contracts signed.
Madison Bumgarner may only play in two World Series games, but he'll be the key to whether the Giants win a third title in five years or the Royals bring a long-desired crown to Kansas City.
The Giants and Cardinals are evenly matched with strong track records in recent years, which could set up for a historic postseason series.
Baltimore's deep roster and the leadership of Buck Showalter will be enough for the Orioles to advance to the World Series and end Kansas City's mystical run.
Pitching will be the name of the game in the National League postseason with the Nationals and Dodgers holding advantages over the Giants and Cardinals heading into each NLDS.