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MLB free-agency grades – Desperate for pitching, Los Angeles Angels add Noah Syndergaard



Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Jesse Chavez, Tim Lincecum. That’s a list of free-agent starting pitchers the Los Angeles Angels signed over the last six years, all in an effort to plug glaring holes on the cheap. They each obtained one-year contracts guaranteeing no more than $11 million, and combined for a — gulp — 6.62 ERA in Angels uniforms.

Angels starting pitchers produced the second fewest FanGraphs wins above replacement during that six-year window, topping only the group fielded by a Baltimore Orioles team that lost more than 100 games three times from 2016 to 2021. Homegrown pitchers didn’t develop well enough and minor trades for arms nearing free agency only helped marginally. And so the Angels languished on, wasting away more of Mike Trout‘s prime without seemingly learning from their own miscalculations.

That brought us to Tuesday morning and a $21 million agreement with Noah Syndergaard, and this astute analysis from Trout himself:

Syndergaard is still relatively fresh off Tommy John surgery, having made all of two appearances over the last two seasons. But he represents the first true high-upside gamble the Angels have made for their rotation in a long time, and he has the ability to become their first true ace since Jered Weaver, who essentially stopped being one nine years ago.

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MLB free-agency grades – Houston Astros bet on more greatness from Justin Verlander



The offseason run on free-agent starting pitchers continued on Wednesday with the news that longtime ace Justin Verlander has agreed to a deal to return to the Houston Astros. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Verlander will sign for one guaranteed season at $25 million, plus a player option for 2023, also reportedly valued at $25 million.

How did the Astros do? Let’s grade it.

Pitchers have come back from two-year, injury-related absences. One encouraging example that ought to be fresh in everyone’s mind is 2021 National League Cy Young finalist Zack Wheeler, who did not pitch in a big league game in either 2015 or 2016. New York Yankees righty Jameson Taillon became an elite hurler after missing two straight seasons as a prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ system.

The big difference and, hence, the big uncertainty when it comes to Verlander is that most anecdotal cases you can think of where a pitcher missed that much time because of a major injury, and returned to be elite, involved players a heck of a lot younger than him. The history of players of Verlander’s ilk, in this situation, is uncertain. The Astros embraced that uncertainty when they declared their willingness to pay Verlander — who has pitched in one big league game in the past two seasons and will be 39 on Opening Day — $50 million for the next two years.

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Way-too-early 2022 MLB awards predictions



The entire landscape of Major League Baseball is virtually guaranteed to change from one season to the next. The annual awards that were handed out over the course of this week are yet another example of that.

Just to pick one race, let’s go with the AL MVP competition. Just before the season, ranked the most likely candidates as Mike Trout of the Angels and Luis Robert of the White Sox. Based on what we saw in 2020 and, for Trout, over a multiyear period, the status of favorite for both made sense. Indeed, both played like MVPs while they were on the field, but injuries kept both players off the field so often that they were never factors in the race.

Meanwhile, eventual landslide AL winner Shohei Ohtani was tied for third in the futures market with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge. But the AL finalists in addition to Ohtani were further down the list, with Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming in tied for eighth (at 20-1) and Blue Jays teammate Marcus Semien off the board entirely, so somewhere south of 100-1.

That’s just one award, but that dynamic repeats for all of them, no matter where you’re getting your odds. The reason is simple: Predicting the future is hard. It’s hard in life. Hard in sports. Hard when it comes to teams. It’s especially hard when it comes to players.

Let’s do it anyway. Here’s a very early stab at the 2022 MLB awards races. How early? So early, that you might even call it way too early.

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New York Mets announce Billy Eppler as new GM on 4-year contract



NEW YORK — The New York Mets finally found a general manager, hiring Billy Eppler in a move announced Thursday night following their long and ridiculed search.

Eppler was fired as GM of the Los Angeles Angels a little more than a year ago after five unsuccessful seasons. But he landed the same position with the Mets after a recruiting process that became the butt of jokes while dragging on for more than six weeks since the 2021 season ended.

Eppler gets a four-year contract to become the 16th general manager in Mets history and their fifth head of baseball operations in 13 tumultuous months. He will be introduced by the team Friday via Zoom.

With an uncertain offseason already underway, his return to New York marks a major step toward restoring stability in the front-office structure under owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson.

“I’m so thankful to Steve and Sandy for what I consider an opportunity of a lifetime,” Eppler said in a statement. “We have a lot of work to do and will systematically begin to work towards our goal of building a perennial winner.”

The 46-year-old Eppler was GM of the Angels from 2015 to 2020, overseeing five straight losing seasons. The team went 332-376 (.469) under three managers, with a rotating cast of supporting players around Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

Unable to provide enough pitching, an aggressive Eppler did land some big fish for Los Angeles with the help of owner Arte Moreno’s checkbook. He lured two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani to the Angels and signed free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon to a $245 million, seven-year contract. Trout got a $426.5 million, 12-year deal.

“Billy has the experience, character and respect of the baseball community that will allow him to attract the players and front office talent to lead the Mets forward,” Cohen said. “He is a leader who has worked in two of baseball’s biggest markets and his talents and personality will move us closer to my goal of sustained success.”

Although the Angels didn’t win much under Eppler, he boosted a previously barren farm system with several prospects now making an impact on the big league level, including All-Star slugger Jared Walsh, Brandon Marsh, Jo Adell and Reid Detmers.

“One of the most honest people I’ve met in this industry. Great talent evaluator,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Eppler at the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. “I’m certain he’s going to land firmly on his feet.”

Two months ago, Eppler joined WME Sports as part of their baseball representation.

“Over the past two decades, Billy has been a scout and an assistant GM,” Alderon said. “He’s also more than familiar with the New York market. This uniquely qualifies him to lead our efforts going forward. He’s smart, he hustles and has a keen eye for identifying talent. He’s going to make us better. I am really pleased that we have someone of his caliber leading the Mets.”

Eppler graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1998 with a finance degree and worked in scouting and player development for the Colorado Rockies from 2000 to 2004. After that he joined the New York Yankees and became a rising star in their front office. He was director of professional scouting from 2006 to 2011 and an assistant GM under Brian Cashman from 2012 to 2014.

Eppler will surely be busy right off the bat with the Mets, who have 11 players who became free agents and remain unsigned. The group includes infielder Javy Báez and starting pitcher Marcus Stroman. Right fielder Michael Conforto declined the team’s $18.4 million qualifying offer Wednesday, and pitcher Noah Syndergaard left the Mets on Tuesday for a $21 million, one-year contract with the Angels.

Syndergaard had also received the $18.4 million qualifying offer from New York.

With a GM finally in place to direct the search, the Mets now will turn their attention to picking a new manager after Luis Rojas was let go Oct. 4 following two losing seasons.

Rojas was hired across town Monday as the Yankees’ new third base coach.

Alderson, who turns 74 next week, has been running baseball operations since acting GM Zack Scott was placed on paid leave following his arrest in late August on charges of drunken driving. He was fired Nov. 1.

Scott was promoted to the role in January when Jared Porter was fired after fewer than 40 days on the job following revelations he sent sexually explicit text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 while working for the Chicago Cubs.

Porter and Scott were hired last offseason after Alderson and Cohen failed in their search for a president of baseball operations. The club hit a similar roadblock this offseason and pivoted to GM again.

Alderson said several candidates were unable to get permission from their current clubs to interview for the job, while others declined because they were too comfortable personally or professionally where they are.

He said he was a little surprised by how many candidates had turned down the Mets. Largely, though, he thought New York itself was keeping people away.

“I don’t want to give you a timeline,” Alderson said last week at the general managers’ meetings in California. “We’ve already blown through what most people would say is a reasonable timeline.”

Alderson, whose son, Bryn, is an assistant general manager with the Mets, did not rule out the possibility that a president of baseball operations could be hired above the GM in a future offseason.

“Assuming we only hire one person, there will be at least a year runway for that person to demonstrate their ability and their potential,” Alderson said. “I’ve said this to others in the past — that’s the opportunity. That’s all you can ask for. And demonstrated ability tends to get rewarded.

“If you’re looking to be comfortable, this is probably not the place, the Mets are probably not the place to come,” he added.

Alderson joked at the GM meetings that he’d interviewed so many candidates for the Mets job that “probably half the people are going to be here today.”

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel also found humor in the situation, tweeting that “after much thought, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration as GM of the @Mets.”

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