It’s official: Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas has been granted free agent status by Major League Baseball. After reviewing each MLB team’s needs and financial situations, I’m taking a stab at handicapping the race to sign him. Note: while I’m aware of several published reports connecting clubs to Tomas to date, I’m leaning almost exclusively on my own analysis of where he’s likely to land.
I did a similar exercise when Masahiro Tanaka was posted, and I think it proved fruitful. I had the Yankees second with a 25% chance, but after I wrote, we did find that the Cubs (who I had at 55%) made a strong push to land him (in Theo Epstein’s words, the Cubs “were on Tanaka hard”). I probably under-emphasized the role that the actual city of New York might have played as a recruitment tool, and while I have no reason to think that that kind of consideration will be as important to Tomas, I won’t repeat that mistake.
First, some general stuff so I don’t need to repeat it, and so that you know right off the bat whether you disagree with a premise I’m relying on. Yasmany Tomas is a power hitter with a flawed swing, about to turn 24 years old. Some have given him a 70 grade for his power, but there are reasons to doubt that grade; although a wrist injury and somewhat fewer at bats (241) might mean giving him a mulligan, Tomas hit just six bombs in the Cuba after totaling 35 in his previous two seasons.
Tomas doesn’t have a hit tool to match his power, and plus velocity has given him trouble in the past, according to Baseball America‘s Ben Badler. I’m assuming that teams will not take the hit tool as a guarantee, but that several teams will be willing to bet on his age — and on his ability. It’s one thing to struggle against plus velocity when you almost never see it, but Tomas will get the opportunity to see good pitching consistently almost right away.
It seems that Tomas’s defensive abilities will not increase his value in the market like we saw with Rusney Castillo, and I’m assuming that a major league team would be open to playing him in right field in addition to left. I’m not disclosing the possibility that he could play at first base, but I don’t think teams will be so scared away from his defense that American League teams will end up having an advantage in the marketplace.
Reports have suggested that it would take over $100M over seven years to sign Tomas, but I am not assuming that that’s true. That’s a team by team consideration, and the final number will ultimately depend on the identities of the motivated bidders. For reference, I do think Castillo’s high water mark of $72M is a fair comparison for a six-year deal (although Jose Abreu‘s contract will likely pay him more than Castillo’s, thanks to Abreu’s out clause). Also, my read is that there will be almost no power available among free agent outfielders this offseason, unless you count Melky Cabrera or Michael Cuddyer.
That’s it. Let’s roll.
30% — New York Yankees
Jacoby Ellsbury‘s name could be mowed right into center field in the Bronx, and Brett Gardner is also going nowhere. And diminished performance or not, Carlos Beltran is owed too much money ($30M for 2015-2016) for him to be written out of the plans.
But he could be permanently written out of the plans for the outfield, and made the primary plan for DH. The Yankees have used the DH spot as a way to keep their aging roster in working order in recent years, but they did commit Beltran to that role almost full time (305 plate appearances) after cutting ties with Alfonso Soriano.
Remember the worry about trying to get under the competitive balance tax threshold (just one time!) to re-set the escalating tax percentages? Just not in the cards, with $166.7M in guaranteed money already committed to just nine players, and plenty more requiring some kind of salary through arbitration or otherwise. No, limiting payroll at this point just doesn’t have that extra perceived benefit of re-setting the percentage.
Not having a DH available more frequently is not a trivial sacrifice; Mark Teixeira is not getting any younger, and if the Yankees re-sign Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez could also be in the mix for DH at bats. But Beltran won’t play every day at DH even if he plays most days, and if he can handle right field at all, DH would also be available on any day Tomas gets rest.
The Yankees don’t even have stiff competition for Tomas’s services in the form of another team. The reason their percentage isn’t higher, however, is that it’s the Yankees who might get in the Yankees’ way. It’s not like money is no object at all, and the Yankees wish to compete. Is Tomas actually worth the money he might command? Are the Yankees confident enough in his abilities to grant him playing time? It could take 2+ years of poor play before the Yankees could end up giving playing time to a more promising candidate.
Still, it seems clear that the Yankees are far and away the single most likely landing spot. He costs comparatively little, there’s no obvious alternative in right field, and he makes a still-old roster quite a bit younger. Anyone that signs Tomas will be taking a chance, and the Yankees might not be willing to do so. But it’s clear they could do so if they wished.
From here on out, I’ve essentially put the teams in too-close-to-call tiers. Really, anything could happen in the race for Tomas, and there are only two teams (Rays, Angels) that I’m comfortable ruling out.
10% — Houston Astros
There is no team for which Yasmany Tomas makes so much sense that bidding for him aggressively seems certain. Of the non-Yankees contenders, however, the Astros seem to be the best fit.
I’ve yet to even see a report linking the Astros to Tomas, and I’m not even able to confirm that the team is one of the 28 that went to his showcase almost two weeks ago. The Astros are this high partly because no one is higher, and partly because he might make a ton of sense for them.
Consider this: one of the reasons that the market for Tomas may be so muted is that there is a non-zero chance that he’ll be a complete bust. There are many GMs in baseball who could survive that, but many who probably wouldn’t. For a GM without much tenure, Jeff Luhnow seems almost bulletproof in the way he’s steered the Astros ship. Although the team has found itself backing away from front office-inspired decisions on the field at least once — they have moved farther and farther away from shifting before re-committing themselves to it — the team has been resolute in sticking to their austere long-term vision.
Having a lot of rope in general could free Luhnow to make a strong offer to Tomas, but the previous results of having that rope could make such an offer all the smarter. The Astros have lived in the toilet for a while now, and it could take more than promises of forward progress for George Springer and Jon Singleton to re-galvanize their fan base. On-field progress for young players can’t happen in the offseason (at least, visibly), and the offseason is when season tickets are sold. Signing Tomas could make some of the critics happy, and sell some of those tickets. The move could also help all parties save face in the cable negotiations that have kept Astros games off of the TVs of most people in CSN Houston’s theoretical broadcast area.
Furthermore, despite the team’s protestations that it’s not pocketing as much money as reported, they have enough money to make this move. They need not sacrifice anything but a roster spot, in terms of personnel. The loss of a proving ground for other young players is not insignificant, and that could give the Astros the most pause (aside from the obvious uncertainty about Tomas’s ability level and future production), and I don’t know how willing the team might be to set Springer up in center or left field in their long-term plans. Nonetheless, with corner players representing the worst (after relievers) type of investment in traditional free agency, and with the team’s likely familiarity with aging curves, Tomas could end up making a lot of sense to Astros brass.
10% — New York Mets
New York was so starved for outfielders this year that they pulled Bobby Abreu back out of Venezuela. Abreu did not do well, with solidly negative defensive numbers and offense that was exactly league average (100 wRC+). Even if he had done better, it’s unlikely that they would have penciled him into their plans for 2015, which would be Abreu’s age-41 season. And while news of Tomas’s defection only hit American shores in June, failing to make a move for a long-term solution right after trading away Marlon Byrd probably tells us something.
It might tell us that the Mets are patiently awaiting the arrival of Brandon Nimmo and/or Michael Conforto, but both players are unlikely to make an impact before 2016. The fact that two such players are in the system makes the Mets a less than perfect fit for Tomas, as does the fact that if Tomas pushed Curtis Granderson to left field, neither left field nor first base would be free to act as a safety valve within the next few years.
Still, on a 6- or 7-year deal worth $12M per year, Tomas would represent the type of investment that the Mets could view as smart. It’s not pushing chips in for the 2015 season, and either the Mets would spend about that amount in 2015 to fill right field (Melky Cabrera?) or they could be open to letting Tomas learn on the job early next season. And there’s this, from a New York Post story by Mike Puma a few weeks ago quoting Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting Paul DePodesta:
DePodesta, speaking in general terms, indicated the Cuban market has been difficult for the Mets to penetrate, partly because of the prices.
“The dollars to this point have been beyond our reach or beyond our appetite,” DePodesta said. “But we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done, which is sort of be prepared proactively, and when these guys do become available, we’ll be there and see whether or not it’s something that makes sense for us.”
But for crushing payroll concerns, the Mets might even overtake the Yankees as front-runners for Tomas. Word is, however, that the Mets are unlikely to raise payroll above the mid-$80s-million levels the team maintained in 2014, and with raises due to several signed players (Granderson, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese) and several arbitration cases (Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, David Murphy), it’d be extremely difficult to fit a Tomas salary in. Other than those prohibitive factors, he’s a shoe in!
5% — San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been favored by some in the Tomas sweepstakes, and they certainly have made a connection with him; his first showcase was at the Giants academy in the Dominican. The team is set with Hunter Pence through 2018 and with Angel Pagan for at least two more seasons, and it also has control over the valuable Gregor Blanco through 2016.
Blanco is a fantastic fit for the Giants, in part because their ballpark may dictate that a worthwhile fourth outfielder must be mixed in frequently. But that’s what Blanco may be at his best, and that leaves a slot unoccupied. The Giants tried Michael Morse on a reasonable $6M deal and did get some decent production out of him, but they’re unlikely to view Morse as Plan A after turning their attention to offseason business.
Travis Ishikawa is also unlikely to be Plan A for the Giants, and Tomas could be a very good fit from a roster standpoint.
The Giants could get tripped up by the price, however, even if the Yankees don’t bid, or don’t bid hard. Several of their players are due raises in 2015 (including Buster Posey, whose salary will jump by $6M), and they already have over $127M committed for 2015 — which doesn’t include payments to league-minimum players, arbitration guys like Blanco and Wild Card hero Brandon Crawford, or a backup catcher (which could be Hector Sanchez, or perhaps Andrew Susac).
Signing Tomas, then, would almost certainly see the Giants’ payroll rise beyond the $149M high water mark of 2014. That doesn’t rule them out, but it does take them out of the discussion of top contenders for Tomas, in my opinion. This is what Tier 3 looks like.
5% — Philadelphia Phillies
The idea that the Phillies could press hard for Tomas seems ridiculous; the team is more than one player away from respectability, let alone contention, and it already has $143.9M committed to next year’s payroll now that the strange Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley vesting options have vested at their highest dollar levels.
But although I’ve tried to emphasize fits with organizations in compiling this list, it’s impossible to ignore how hot the Phillies appear to be after Tomas. They’ve already had a private workout with him, and they haven’t been afraid to spend money — even in a previous case of a less-than-sure-thing Cuban player in Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. I can’t justify giving them a higher percentage because it just does not make sense to me. But I can’t justify giving them a lower percentage, either.
5% — Texas Rangers
I’m not quite as confused by the Rangers’ involvement thus far as I have been by the Phillies, but the Rangers also seem like an odd fit. As seems to be the case for the Giants, the Rangers might need to set a new payroll record for their franchise if they are to sign Tomas without divesting themselves of contractual obligations and salary commitments to likely arbitration players. The payroll is not so cut and dried in this case, because I have no idea how to process the $30M from the Tigers that isn’t technically tied to the Prince Fielder contract, but it does seem to be a stumbling block.
Even more than that, Shin-Soo Choo is going nowhere for a long time, and he isn’t going to get slipped into center field on a semi-regular basis ever again. With Fielder entrenched at first and a bit of a roster crunch in the rest of the infield with or without Jurickson Profar, the Rangers’ roster capacity hinges on whether they bring back Alex Rios, who is owed either a $13.5M option or a $1M buyout. I think most would agree that Rios is a fairly good bet at that salary without a longer-term commitment, even allowing for the fact that he had a down year. But exercising Rios’s option is nowhere near a no-brainer, and $1M is a small price to pay to move in a different direction, if the new direction is a better one.
The Rangers are a possible fit. No real roster impediment, as with the Giants, but also as with the Giants, there are payroll concerns here that could leave them in the dust.
5% — Miami Marlins
The Marlins don’t have a payroll limitation that seems clear to be an obstacle, like the other teams in this tier; instead, unlike the other teams in this tier, they have a roster obstacle. There is no compelling on-field reason for the Marlins to depart from their planned outfield trio of Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and of course, one Giancarlo Stanton. It’s also an obstacle that Stanton almost definitely will not move off of Tomas’s most likely position, right field.
Is there room to give in left field? That’s not so obvious. Ozuna is almost exactly the same age as Tomas, and he now has a 3.7 WAR season under his belt, complete with a 114 wRC+ and 23 home runs, a total that might be a fair guess for Tomas. Yelich is not far removed from being considered one of the top hit-tool prospects in the game, and his season (4.3 WAR, 116 wRC+) was arguably better than that of Ozuna.
Which is almost too bad — the Marlins could use a splash, and it probably does not escape the team’s front office that like Jose Fernandez, the Cuban Tomas might be particularly marketable in Miami. And while no one has talked about filing a grievance against the team in a while now, the team could be particularly open to a smart way to pad its payroll a little bit. Spending money the way that led to the $101.6M Opening Day payroll in 2012 is an experiment unlikely to be repeated, but it’s just as unlikely that the team will never spend more than $50M on payroll ever again.
Tomas could be part of that slow burn approach to building the team. But again, no clear spot for him in the outfield. It seems, then, that the Marlins’ interest could be predicated on either dumping/moving Garrett Jones and making Tomas a first baseman, or trading Stanton.
There is a non-zero chance that the Marlins trade Stanton, but it’s not a high chance, either. If it were 50-50 that he’d get moved, I’d probably have the Marlins percentage a little bit higher. It also should be noted that Stanton couldn’t be traded while the playoffs are ongoing, and there’s a halfway decent chance that Tomas signs before then. Trading Stanton after signing Tomas might not net the king’s ransom the team wants.
3% — Chicago Cubs
Look, I don’t think this is likely, exactly. But the Cubs weren’t interested in Tanaka just because he was a pitcher; they were interested in him because he wasn’t going to be on the wrong side of 30 for most of the deal, and because spending on him had no strings attached.
Yes, there’s nowhere for him to play, really. Left field is an option, but with both Starlin Castro and Addison Russell aboard and with Jorge Soler nailed down in right field, the Cubs could be loathe to lock up left long term, leaving Kris Bryant with no escape route from third base. Left field could also be the safety valve if both Arismendy Alcantara and Albert Almora prove that they deserve consistent playing time.
But Castro could get traded. One of Javier Baez, Russell, or Bryant could get traded for a studly young pitcher. And the fact that Tomas can’t be as good a deal as Soler appears to be doesn’t mean that Tomas is not a good idea. This is the team that, despite its need for pitching, drafted Bryant over Jonathan Gray. Value is value. And left field is essentially open right now and I wouldn’t put it past Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to decide that they can count on being able to make a trade later if no injury clears a path.
3% — Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are here for the same reason that the Phillies are in Tier 3: reports that they’re in. But is there really much to say here? The Pirates are already at their perceived limit for 2015 payroll, and while they might stretch to re-sign Russell Martin, that’s a pretty big obstacle for Tomas. It’s also not very clear how Tomas would be a good use of their money, even if he does turn out to be a pretty good player; Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte have two outfield spots locked up, and Gregory Polanco is at least as promising as Tomas.
3% — San Diego Padres
I’m not sure how Tomas would fit the Padres — I suppose 70 power is the good kind of power at PetCo, but Tomas is not a superstar, and San Diego seems to have other players who are fairly similar (if without Tomas’s ceiling) and who could be in line for playing time at the very same positions.
But they’re here in this tier because it’s A.J. Preller’s team now; Preller watched Tomas in person, and as a scout, Preller knows what he’s doing. If he wants to take the franchise in a new direction, signing Tomas would be one way to do it, even though it wouldn’t leave the Padres with much flexibility in the near future. It’s probably more likely that Preller will keep them out, but in this crowd of lukewarm suitors, being a potential wild card in this process is enough to get a 3% shot.
Here we are, at the lightning round. For the following six teams (each given a 2% chance), there’s some reason to think they’re in, some reason to think they should be in, or enough variability to keep them on our radar and Jay Alou’s cell phone contacts.
2% — Arizona Diamondbacks
There was a time not too long ago that I thought Tomas made a boatload of sense for the Diamondbacks, and we know that the team kept its options open by sending Ray Montgomery and others to see a showcase. Tomas was never a perfect option; the roster is full, and there are already four outfielders who have earned playing time (maybe a fifth). Some of the reasons why Tomas makes sense for the D-backs still apply, but now that new GM Dave Stewart has actually come out and said that they don’t need to add an outfielder, and now that we know the payroll could dip (there isn’t much room anyway), we can almost rule them out.
2% — Atlanta Braves
On first glance, it would be odd if new GM John Hart made a move this aggressive. In addition, Freddie Freeman isn’t going anywhere, and all three outfield spots are locked up for the next two years. Or are they? It seems impossible that the Braves would throw away B.J. Upton, and even less likely that they’d trade him while embracing his brother. There is a chance, however, that Hart throws Frank Wren under the bus for the B.J. Upton deal, making a show of cutting the team’s losses there. Even in that event, the team would have to rely on either Justin Upton or Jason Heyward in center field. All that makes Atlanta seem unlikely, but just a bit ahead of “the field” below.
2% — Boston Red Sox
Who am I to count them out? They’re “full,” but I’m not sold on the idea that Jackie Bradley Jr. will get much more rope (about the same amount of time that Tomas will need in the minors?), and Allen Craig could get traded. An all-Cuban outfield? Possible, if very unlikely.
2% — Chicago White Sox
Hey, it worked out well last time, even though Tomas doesn’t have Jose Abreu’s ceiling and will cost more. The team is committed to Avisail Garcia, but Dayan Viciedo is more or less the worst-case scenario for Tomas, and could be replaced. Or moved; there was some talk of moving Viciedo to first base, and while that’s extremely unlikely now, there’s no Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn clogging up the DH slot. The White Sox have almost done that thing that many GMs think is possible but few actually accomplish: kind of a quick-pitch retooling. But they aren’t all the way there, yet.
2% — Colorado Rockies
No connection to Tomas that I know of, but why not? Similar to the Blue Jays with Melky Cabrera, the Rockies could have room if Michael Cuddyer doesn’t come back. They may not know whether he will before someone pulls the trigger on Tomas, limiting the Rockies’ chances. But even with the presence of Charlie Blackmon and the underrated Corey Dickerson, the team might be loathe to bank on a healthy Carlos Gonzalez. It may be the only reasons that we don’t see Colorado stock up on flawed power-first guys are that: 1) it’s hard to target any particular type of player if you don’t make frequent plays in free agency, and 2) while power might be worth more to the Rockies than to other teams, it’s overvalued enough by other teams that they still can’t capitalize on that discrepancy.
2% — Detroit Tigers
If they don’t sign a pitcher, they could have the money. And Tomas would likely make less per season than the potentially-departing Torii Hunter was, anyway. Still, this move would come out of nowhere, and I’m not sure we can bank on the Tigers outbidding other interested teams. This was one of the teams I felt less secure about, in terms of my read, so take this with a grain of salt. Had they not been so willing to live with Miguel Cabrera‘s defense at third for so long, I would have more heavily weighted the idea that Nick Castellanos might need to move off of third base to join the outfield after all.
2% — Minnesota Twins
They have every reason to include Oswaldo Arcia in their long-term plans, but who exactly is going to play left field? Aaron Hicks is quite good against lefty pitchers, but has been so bad against RHP that the Twins could already back away from counting on him as a starting player. Premium defense and a useful platoon split makes for an excellent fourth outfielder, but even if Danny Santana becomes a permanent part of the center field picture, there’s room to make room for both Tomas and Byron Buxton. Tomas could put a rocket booster on the rest of the rebuild, but the Twins’ interest could depend in part on how certain they are that Miguel Sano will stick at third base.
2% — Toronto Blue Jays
They hope to bring Melky Cabrera back, but in terms of annual average value, will Tomas end up being that much more expensive? I think it’s a close call. I suppose having to put Tomas in left field might make him just a tiny bit less valuable to the Jays than to other teams, but they also have a safety valve available in the DH spot. No particular reason to think they’re in, but no particular reason to keep them out.
That leaves 5% left over that I’d split between the Mariners, Athletics, Cardinals, Orioles, Indians, Nationals, Reds, Brewers, Dodgers, and Royals. The only teams I was comfortable counting out were the Angels and Rays. That’s remarkable, right?
Each member of the ten-team “field” has some serious obstacles to negotiate if they want Tomas, or current personnel that makes them two moves or one very difficult move away from being able to fit him in.
The above percentages are one man’s synthesis of one man’s information, and it would not surprise me to find that I’ve miscalculated something. Still, after more than twenty hours of consideration that included time spent on every team, I feel comfortable calling the race as above. Typically, for this type of thing, I’d remind everyone that for a particular team’s percentage to get bumped up, that percentage would have to be taken away from somewhere else. But instead, I’ll say: before trying to talk one of these percentages down, remember the context – there probably is no perfect fit for Tomas, let alone multiple ones.
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