Of course, available talent though does not equal available money. If there are 12 apples whose intrinsic value is a dollar while only six dollars are available in the market, then those apples will likely sell for less than they are worth. We do not know how much money each franchise has, but we can guess. To arrive at a reasonable answer for this, payrolls from 2013, 2014, and 2015 were assessed for change over time. This change could then be used to estimate what might be the overall pool of money available for 2016. Estimated current total payroll for 2016 is $3,747,200, which is a 1.01% increase over last year. Should we expect more?
If that 8.52% increase happens, then we have about 280 MM in open spending available. With overall talent at 380 MM, it looks like it might shape up to be an incredible buyer's market, which was something we thought Dan Duquette would be angling for this offseason. Also, the rumors about players considering one-year deals, punting a season, and then resetting for the 2016/17 offseason make a bit more sense. It must have someone like Chris Davis thinking twice about rejecting the 7/154 offer he had on the table or why he is refusing that offer if it is indeed still there.
Payroll % 2013 3150500 2014 3396200 7.80% 2015 3709800 9.23% p2016 4025875 8.52%
Using the generic 8.52% increase over 2015 payroll marks might help us understand who exactly is in play for major talent. To note, this is generic because we are not considering whether 2015 was an abnormality in excess or under payment. Additionally, we do not know if resources are being redirected for immediate play or to support future franchises fortunes. Off the bat though, we have several teams that appear to be out of the game: Toronto (13.5 MM above 2015 + 8.52% payroll), Cleveland (22.5 MM), Angels (24 MM), Oakland 13.4 MM), Arizona (28.5 MM), Chicago (37.9 MM), St. Louis (4.1 MM), and New York Mets (1.3 MM). These eight teams seem, at a glance, out of the running for any of the top-tier talent.
What are the team needs of the 22 other clubs based on STEAMER projections?
(x denotes minor need as defined by 25th to 50th percentile; X denotes major need as defined by 1st to 25th percentile):
The data provided by STEAMER is slightly dated. For instance, it is difficult to portray Washington as having a great need in center field when they have just acquired Ben Revere. However, the data is nearly up to date and gives us a good indication of roughly where clubs are at the moment (as of Alex Gordon's re-signing).
The Orioles offered Chris Davis 7/154, BORAS model projected 5/110, and the Comp model thinks 5/91 makes sense. Regardless, he is a near 20 MM first baseman (even though the actual Boras is trying to sell him as an outfield option). Teams with great need at first base include Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Houston, Colorado, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Miami. Of those, it is difficult to see Tampa or Pittsburgh putting out the money from a payroll perspective. Meanwhile, entrenched veterans exist in Minnesota (Joe Mauer), Milwaukee (the newly signed Chris Carter), and Philadelphia (Ryan Howard with Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco making future noise). This leaves us with Houston and Miami as the most sensible destinations. A team that really values Davis, like the Orioles, seemingly has pretty much these two clubs as primary competitors. My guess is that Houston would be reluctant to meet Baltimore's price and may well be waiting on the Orioles to make a move elsewhere and then swoop in with a low offer to Davis. Houston right now looks weak only at catcher and first base, so Davis makes a great deal of sense. Miami? Who knows? They could have something up their sleeve. That said, Miami also has weakness at catcher, shortstop, and starting pitcher. As it stands, Miami likely only has payroll to acquire one elite player.
Likely Destinations: Baltimore, Houston, Miami
The second base market has been a bit quiet since Ben Zobrist signed, and Howie Kendrick is Mr. Incognito. A solid second baseman, but someone who has not been heard of much this offseason. Based on the clubs with cash and STEAMER, the weakest clubs appear to be Baltimore, Kansas City, Colorado, San Diego, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. That hurts for Kendrick. Baltimore appears to be quite happy to see how Jonathan Schoop develops. Kansas City has fringe options in Omar Infante and Christian Colon and appears to be largely disinterested in the infield market. They could be a landing place for a one-year bid. Colorado has larger troubles and appears content with D.J. LeMahieu to continue on. San Diego could be a spot when the dust clears. They have a number of weaknesses and should be looking at player to fall off to the floor. Milwaukee likes Scooter Gennett, the Phillies are in no place to compete and are working with Cesar Hernandez, and the Braves likewise have too many holes and a promising 2B in Jace Peterson. With all of that said, it looks like the Royals and, moreso, the Padres are the two openings. Both appear to be one-year deal scenarios, but the Padres could commit longer.
Likely Destinations: Kansas City, San Diego
The big paydays predicted for Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton have lost some of their shininess. The list here is not exactly as long as one might think: Baltimore, Chicago (AL), Detroit, San Diego, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. To mention previous points, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Atlanta appear to be dedicated to rebuilding and signing a player descending from peak value seems doubtful. If there is cash to burn, there is an extreme scenario where one of these clubs signs a Qualifying Offer player, hands over a second-round pick as their first-round picks are protected, and either moves up with a compensation pick or deals said player at the trade deadline. A move up in draft selection looks like a waste of money spent, but a deal for prospects could help jump-start the rebuild a little and make it worth sinking 10 MM for half a season.
More realistically, these two players will wind up in Baltimore, Chicago (AL), Detroit, or San Diego. After San Diego pushed their budget far, plopping down 20 MM for one of these guys might be too much, too soon. They have not been attached in the papers with an elite free agent, so it might well be that they are in the sub-15 MM market (such as Ian Desmond). For the others, they have each been mentioned in passing with either/both Cespedes and Upton. Baltimore may find themselves in a situation where it is difficult to choose because they could finalize deals with Cespedes, Upton, or Davis and only have Houston, Chicago (AL), and Detroit as primary competition. Perhaps Baltimore is the domino. It makes sense now that Alex Gordon re-signed with Kansas City because this market could wind up looking bad for someone.
Likely Destinations: Baltimore, Chicago (AL), Detroit
This is another area where the market is not as great as it might appear for Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy. Of course, it always seems like an unknown team will launch themselves into the void to secure a stronger pitching rotation (again see Max Scherzer), but how often might that happen? As it stands, we have Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Miami. It is hard to see Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Atlanta stepping into this negotiation. As they are all in rebuilding mode, starting pitchers tend to be poor options for those clubs. Starting pitchers primarily provide value their first season (~90% give more than 100 IP), but break down in the years following (~50% give more than 100 IP in year two or three or etc. afterward).
As it stands, Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit, and Miami are the primary players one might think based on the above methodology. We know Baltimore is in the market and has been circling Gallardo. Ian Kennedy makes a great deal of sense for them as well, but it makes one wonder if they can fit two 20 MM players on their roster. Kansas City appears to have pieced together a rotation, but would like to push Danny Duffy or Kris Medlen to a sixth starter role. It is questionable whether they are planning on any more splurges after Gordon. Detroit and Miami are options. Detroit is being pushed in a few ways, but I doubt they want anyone significant after signing Jordan Zimmermann. That leaves Miami who has been the most noticeable in their quest to secure Chen.
Likely Destinations: Baltimore, Miami
Slightly Informed Projections
So where will everyone go? My choice yet is for everyone to find a need that meets their interests. Here we go.
Chris Davis, Houston Astros
The Astros have one big need and that is first base. This fit seems to make a great deal of sense and might well happen. Davis has been a major target of Peter Angelos, but after a while someone saying no to 154 MM gets frustrating.
Howie Kendrick, San Diego Padres
I do not know whether this would be a one-year deal (which I think would make more teams interested) or a multi-year deal. One might think ownership would be concerned after devoting so much money to older players last offseason.
Yoenis Cespedes, Baltimore Orioles
Justin Upton makes more sense for the Orioles with his youth, but his youth makes it likely a player option or two would be involved. Those things apparently make Dan Duquette mad. Cespedes is old enough where opt outs stop making as much sense. Cespedes also has a much better arm and range than Upton, fitting in more with the Orioles' defensive goals. The Orioles may also like that Cespedes will not cost them a draft pick for signing him.
Justin Upton, Chicago White Sox
While there has been no mention of Upton to the White Sox, this seems to make sense once Baltimore settles in on Cespedes. The White Sox are probably more willing to offer a player option. Detroit, in my opinion, will rest on their laurels as their payroll is nearing luxury tax levels.
Wei-Yin Chen, Miami Marlins
The Marlins have cash, have been highly associated with Chen, and he seems to be a great fit for them. I would also assume that Chen, who lives outside the United States, would not be all that bothered if Miami went and traded him elsewhere after a couple seasons.
Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
This scenario has the Royals coming in unexpectedly to beef up their rotation with a short-term deal for Kennedy. If Orioles secure Upton over Cespedes, then I think they will be more willing to let go of a second-round pick to ink Kennedy to a deal in a similar vein to Ubaldo Jimenez'.
At the end of the day, a lot can happen. The Yankees may think they need to tighten up right field. Boston might determine they can spin some players around and get a proven left fielder. Rangers ownership could do a 180 on their stance about not significantly raising payroll. Regardless, all of these should be answered in the next four weeks.