MLB

Inside the Clubhouse: Brad Hand and the offseason of impending doom

The lack of interest in Brad Hand is just one leading indicator of the historically ugly offseason ahead. Inside the Clubhouse explores what it means, along with news and notes from around the league.

The Cleveland Indians’ decision not to pick up Brad Hand’s option sent shockwaves throughout baseball. One agent referred to it as “one of the biggest headscratchers that I can remember.” Another called it “confusing.” A front office executive with a rival team described it as “a precursor of the impending doom the offseason will lay upon the industry.”

In a normal offseason, the Indians could have picked up Hand’s option and traded him for multiple top prospects. Hand, 30, has established himself as the seventh-most valuable reliever in baseball since 2017. His $10 million salary is a relative bargain and made him an ideal trade chip. But the Indians found no takers when they quietly shopped him at the beginning of the offseason. He went unclaimed by the other 29 teams after being placed on outright waivers.

It paints an ugly picture for an offseason where the industry is bracing for the worst. The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have led most owners to furlough and lay off employees, as well as ask employees to take pay cuts of up to 50 percent in order to keep their jobs. Now, that penny-pinching is expected to extend to the free-agent market.

“Other than the top 5 percent of the class and a few exceptions,” one prominent agent said, “this is going to be a bloody massacre.”

Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and George Springer are expected to secure lucrative multi-year contracts. D.J. LeMahieu, Marcus Stroman, Marcell Ozuna and Didi Gregorius will likely have strong markets. After that, the free-agent market is flush with mid-tier options and it will become even more saturated after the non-tender deadline on Dec. 2.

The Pittsburgh Pirates lead the league with 19 arbitration-eligible players, and the industry expectation is that they will non-tender most of them. The Mets have 13. The Yankees and Cubs have 12. The Angels, Brewers, Royals and Rockies have 11. The possibilities teams have for non-tendering players is “way more broad than ever,” one National League general manager said, leading some agents and executives to predict more than 300 players will be unsigned after the deadline.

With the GM and Winter Meetings being canceled, along with teams still figuring out their budgets for the 2021 season, it’s more likely those players will linger on the market. What could further delay their free agency is if the top players play the waiting game searching for top value, an increasingly realistic scenario.

But it’s unlikely many of those mid-tier players will land deals close to what they would have garnered in years past. The lack of interest in adding Hand — a very good left-handed reliever in an industry constantly looking to upgrade its bullpens — was yet another reminder.

The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants could be outliers this offseason

“Whichever team zigs while everyone else zags could make out like bandits.”

I received that text from an agent in response to the expected record number of non-tenders. His point, simply, was that teams could tender their own fringe players and look to add from a large crop of non-tendered players. But there are other options teams could look to explore.

  1. Tendering relievers for a small amount and adding other arms with upside to potentially fix your bullpen in one offseason.
  2. Tender fringe players and attempt to trade them for prospects.

It’s likely that teams will consider each scenario when looking for cost-effective solutions. But two teams that rival executives believe could look to get creative in upgrading their rosters are the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.

Giants:

The Giants have one of the most creative front offices in baseball, and Farhan Zaidi is constantly churning the bottom of his roster. They are further along in their rebuild than expected and Zaidi has already shown a willingness to spend after extending an $18.9 million qualifying offer to Kevin Gausman.

San Francisco is in the market for bullpen help, and there will be a variety of options available. They are also expected to look for multiple starting pitchers and another bat.

Mets:

The Mets will spend under new owner Steve Cohen. That is the worst kept secret in baseball. They could pursue Realmuto or Bauer. They can explore the top options on the trade market. They could tender Robert Gsellman and Chasen Shreve and look to further upgrade their bullpen in free agency or via trade.

With Cohen, the richest owner in baseball, the options are limitless. It’s why the Mets might just be the most fascinating team of the offseason.

Who will take over the Los Angeles Angels’ front-office?

The Los Angeles Angels are casting a wide net searching for Billy Eppler’s replacement as general manager, and the early indications appear to be that they prefer someone with a scouting and player development background.

Among the candidates to be interviewed, according to sources and published reports: Jason McLeod, Billy Owens, Jared Porter, Logan White, Matt Arnold, Scott Sharp, Gene Watson, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings, Amiel Sawdaye, JJ Picollo, Bobby Evans and Ruben Amaro.

The Angels have started scheduling second interviews with candidates and one of them is Hill, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Hill, the former Miami Marlins president of baseball operations, is among the most experienced candidates and someone Heyman termed “a frontrunner.”

Another name to watch is Porter, an assistant GM with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Someone who works with Porter in Arizona called him “one of the smartest people I have ever worked with.” Another said that “if I was ever running a team, he’d be at the top of my list to come work for me.”

For now, the people running the Angels are owner Arte Moreno, club president John Carpino and director of baseball operations Andrew Ball. But whoever is hired as GM will be tasked with something that has evaded the organization since 2014: getting Mike Trout to the playoffs.

Is Alex Cora headed back to Boston?

[Ed. Note: Minutes after this article was published, Jon Heyman reported that Cora had indeed been rehired by the Red Sox.]

There has been speculation since the Red Sox parted ways with Alex Cora in January that he would return to Boston after his one-year suspension. That talk was further fueled after firing manager Ron Roenicke following a disappointing 2020 season.

Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com reported that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran flew to Puerto Rico late last week to meet with Cora about the managerial position.

The Red Sox have narrowed the list of candidates and are getting close to naming their next manager, according to sources. It is believed that Cora and Phillies executive Sam Fuld, who worked with Bloom with the Tampa Bay Rays, are among the finalists. Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, Marlins bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson and Pirates bench coach Don Kelly were also heavily involved.

The Red Sox flying to Cora would seem to indicate their interest in a reunion is legitimate, but sources familiar with the team’s thinking cautioned that nothing is finalized. It still appears to be a matter of when, not if, Cora is hired by the Red Sox. But Bloom is taking a methodical approach to the search and is said to love Fuld, meaning that nothing can be ruled out.

There will be plenty of offseason interest in Charlie Morton

The Rays declining Charlie Morton’s $15 million club option was further evidence of a rough winter to come. General manager Erik Neander has not ruled out a return, but Morton is said to already be drawing strong interest.

“I screamed when I saw he was available,” one American League executive said. “He makes all the sense in the world for us.”

Morton, 36, makes sense for most contending teams on a short-term deal. He has established himself as one of baseball’s best big-game pitchers and his 3.45 FIP (4.74 ERA) along with a 9.9 K/9 rate in the regular season indicate that he is still able to pitch at a high level.

While Morton carried that success into the postseason — 2.70 ERA and 23/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings, including 10.2 shutout innings in the ALCS against the Astros — teams still have questions. His average fastball velocity decreased from 94.7 mph in 2019 to 93.4 mph in 2020, according to Baseball Savant, with hitters squaring up his pitches with more regularity. And Morton has made it known that he prefers playing close to his Florida home to be with his four children, which significantly limits the field of potential suitors.

Still, he provides short-term upside that will be difficult to find in the starting pitching market and appears to already have his choice of suitors.

Around the horn:

Padres reliever Matt Strahm recently underwent successful surgery to repair a partially torn right patellar tendon, according to league sources. He pitched with it for most of the season and finished the year with a 2.61 ERA. The Padres expect him to be ready for spring training.

Pitcher Spencer Patton is scheduled to become a free agent after his season ends with the Yokohama DeNa Baystars and he is eyeing a return to MLB. He ranks fourth in NPB with a 11.1 K/9 and has posted a 1.99 ERA out of the bullpen since July 26. There are believed to be a few teams interested.

Trevor Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba, announced on Twitter that he turned down the qualifying offer. J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and DJ LeMahieu are likely to do the same. Gausman is a realistic possibility to accept it.

The Angels have had contact with former scouting director Eddie Bane about the GM position, but it’s unclear if he has interviewed, according to league sources. Dave Dombrowski, long rumored to be a serious candidate for the job, told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that he is not a candidate.

Next: Can the Indians really not afford Francisco Lindor?