Rosenthal: Corbin Burnes eyes the pitching market, inside Matt Chapman’s deal and more

SARASOTA, Fla. — Corbin Burnes isn’t worried. And he probably shouldn’t be.

Burnes, like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, is represented by Scott Boras. But while those two free-agent starting pitchers remain unsigned, Burnes still figures to hit the jackpot as the top starting pitcher eligible for free agency next offseason.

“This is one of those weird offseasons where a lot of teams are blaming (their lack of spending) on the RSN deals,” the Baltimore Orioles right-hander said, citing the uncertainty several teams face with their regional sports networks.

“It’s kind of been an abnormally slow offseason, but my focus is what I’ve got to do here for the next seven months to get to that point. The way I look at it, if I go out and take care of business like I have the last three or four years, that will take care of itself.”

Burnes, the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner and a top-10 finisher three other times, is more of a workhorse than Snell and more accomplished than Montgomery. He does not sound interested in the types of arrangements Boras recently accepted for two of his hitters, Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman — essentially, three-year deals with two opt-outs.

“I’ve heard from a lot of guys that process is not a fun process,” Burnes said. “I want to do it once, get as long a term deal as we can, get that security everyone is looking for.”

Assuming Burnes succeeds with the Orioles, it shouldn’t be a problem. Consider the pitchers who struck it big this offseason: Aaron Nola, who signed a seven-year, $172 million free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Zack Wheeler, who agreed to a three-year, $126 million extension with the Phillies on Monday.

Burnes is more similar to those two than he is to Snell and Montgomery. Nola ranks third in innings pitched the past three seasons, behind Sandy Alcántara and Gerrit Cole. Burnes is fourth and Wheeler fifth, while Montgomery is 17th and Snell tied for 43rd. Burnes, who will be a free agent at 30, also is a year younger than Nola and four years younger than Wheeler.

The Athletic’s Tim Britton, in Part 1 of his series on extensions, wrote Burnes “holds his own when compared with pitchers who earned some of the biggest free-agent deals in recent history.”

Using Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $245 million free-agent contract as a baseline, Britton projected a Burnes extension would be eight years, $260 million, including his $15.6 million salary this season. Britton added, “a characteristic season from Burnes would set him up to top that valuation on the open market.”

In Burnes’ case, Britton’s analysis was a thought exercise, nothing more. Boras rarely agrees to extensions, preferring his clients to determine their values in free agency. The Orioles, even after their ownership change is complete, might not spend big. And Burnes, moving from the NL Central to the AL East, will face tougher competition, potentially leading to a decline in performance that might alter the way teams perceive him.

Then there is the Boras factor.

Burnes, previously represented by CAA, hired Boras last March, when he was two years away from free agency. His reason: the monster free-agent deals Boras struck for starting pitchers Gerrit Cole ($324 million), Strasburg ($245 million) and Max Scherzer ($210 million), among others.

“You look at what he’s done for the starting pitcher market, going back to the ’80s. He’s been the driver of that market,” Burnes said. “Obviously in recent years he has had some big names in that market. For me, the way it was lining up, there just didn’t seem like a better place to be than with him.”

Burnes still believes that, even as Boras’ offseason proceeds in less than ideal fashion. While Boras told reporters Monday the markets for Snell and Montgomery were intensifying, citing a “pitching panic” in Major League Baseball, Bellinger and Chapman signed deals below expectations. Few in the industry would be surprised if Snell and Montgomery did the same.

The RSN uncertainty is one possible explanation. Pullbacks by previous big spenders such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres are another. Boras overplaying his hand is a third. Of course, Boras will admit to no such miscalculation. And as always, it’s dangerous to underestimate him long-term.

The last time Boras experienced difficulty in free agency, during the 2018-19 offseason, I posed the question of whether he was sufficiently adapting to a changing market. The next offseason, he provided an emphatic answer, negotiating more than $1 billion in free-agent deals, including those for Cole and Strasburg.

History could repeat. In addition to Burnes, Boras’ clients in the next free-agent class include Juan Soto, Pete Alonso and Alex Bregman. Bellinger and Chapman could join them if they opt out after one year. Snell and Montgomery might re-enter the market as well if they agree to similar deals.

Both Bellinger and Chapman followed Boras’ party line in their public comments, indicating they preferred to bet on themselves if they could not secure the long-term deals they desired. Some in the industry question whether Boras’ free-agent clients allow the agent too much control. Burnes disputed that notion.

“All the conversations I’ve had with Scott, with some of the guys who have been with Scott, is it’s player-run. The players are the ones making the final decision,” Burnes said. “Scott’s job is to go out there, get as many options as he can, as many offers as he can and present them to us.

“That’s where he was with me, very upfront from the beginning. Obviously, he (gets) a bad rap in the media with teams because of how he goes about his business. But the way he looks at is, ‘Look, I’m the one taking the bad publicity, so the player looks good at the end of it.’ That’s kind of how he operates. You can’t argue with what he’s done.”

Matt Chapman (left) and Scott Boras (right) after Chapman’s first media conference with the Giants on Monday in Arizona. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Inside the Matt Chapman deal

How satisfied were the San Francisco Giants with the terms they negotiated for Chapman? They will be unable to recoup the draft pick they lost for signing him. Yet, even after factoring in the value of the pick, they determined he would be worth the potential cost if he stayed only one year.

In last Thursday’s edition of The Windup, The Athletic’s free baseball newsletter, I wrote that because of the rules regarding draft-pick compensation, teams might be reluctant to give one-year opt-outs to a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer — Chapman, for example.

A player cannot receive a qualifying offer twice, so the departure of Chapman after one season would leave the Giants ineligible for a pick. The exemption from a QO should give Chapman, as well as Bellinger, added incentive to opt out. If they re-enter the market, it will be without restriction.

Chapman, who turns 31 next month, will cost the Giants $20 million for one season if he declines his player option for 2025. Last year, the slot value of the pick the Giants will sacrifice for signing him, No. 51 overall, was $1.66 million.

If the slot values, based on industry revenues, increase by the same 10 percent they did a year ago, the value of the 51st pick will be about $1.8 million. And as Mets owner Steve Cohen tweeted in 2021, “Baseball draft picks are worth up to 5x their slot value to clubs.”

The pick the Giants sacrificed then, figures to be valued at about $9 million, bringing the potential acquisition cost for one season of Chapman to $29 million. That might sound like a lot, but Chapman the past three seasons averaged 3.9 fWAR. While much of his value stems from his defense, teams generally consider a point of WAR to be worth between $8 and $10 million. So, if Chapman puts up 4 WAR this season, he will be worth between $32 and $40 million.

The Giants might argue they got a bargain.

Freddie’s next frontier

Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman is a former MVP, seven-time All-Star and lifetime .301 hitter. His park- and league-adjusted OPS rank seventh among active players. Yet, he has one goal he still hasn’t accomplished in a season of 120 or more games.

Striking out fewer than 100 times.

The degree of difficulty is greater for a player who has missed only 11 games in the past six seasons and routinely ranks among the league leaders in plate appearances. But Freeman is still lamenting his 102 strikeouts in 2022, his first season with the Dodgers.

“I was like, come on, just one time,” Freeman said.

Freeman, 34, understands that his strikeout rates are still quite good — he ranked 19th in the majors in 2022, 31st in 2023. His primary goal is to play 162 games “and have Doc (manager Dave Roberts) not worry about me.” But as he put it, “There’s always little things that you can fight for and go for as individual goals.”

A sub-100 strikeout season is Freeman’s next one.

Orioles’ talent continues to overflow

Usually, it’s not a good thing when a manager has no idea what the composition of his infield will be less than a month before Opening Day. But with the Orioles, Brandon Hyde’s uncertainty is merely a reflection of the team’s incredible depth of young talent, which extends to its outfield as well.

The Orioles are 9-2 this spring in part because their reserves are superior to most opponents’. Hyde said Monday that Gunnar Henderson, the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year, will play a good amount of shortstop, as well as third base. Beyond that, the picture is unclear.

Hyde’s options at second, short and third include returnees Jordan Westburg, Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías, not to mention the game’s consensus No. 1 prospect, Jackson Holliday. Second baseman Kolten Wong is in camp as a non-roster player. Corner infielder Coby Mayo, who had 29 homers, 45 doubles and 93 walks between Double A and Triple A last season, barely is in the conversation. And he is the game’s No. 27 prospect, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law.

Holliday is 20. He has played only 54 games above Double A. And he’s a mere 4-for-18 with a double and triple this spring. But one club official, granted anonymity in exchange for his candor, gives Holliday at least a 50 percent chance of making the club, though the Orioles might want to protect him against lefties initially.

Henderson, after being rated a top-100 prospect, making the Opening Day roster and winning Rookie of the Year, earned Baltimore the 32nd pick in this year’s draft. The Orioles might be tempted to take the same shot with Holliday. But given the logjam in their infield, they could easily justify getting him more minor-league experience as well.

The team’s outfield is just as loaded, though in a different way. Veterans Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are the projected starters. But two prospects, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, represent intriguing alternatives, as does Kyle Stowers.

Significant trades are rare at this time of year, but the Orioles will be well-positioned at the deadline, just as they were for Burnes. Joey Ortiz, the shortstop they included in their package for Burnes, was perhaps the best defender of all their young infielders.

Around the horn

• One holdup for free-agent center fielder Michael A. Taylor, according to sources briefed on his discussions, is that he sees himself as comparable to Kevin Kiermaier and Harrison Bader, both of whom received one-year, $10.5 million free-agent contracts.

Taylor, who turns 33 later this month, is not without an argument. Kiermaier, 33, was 13 outs above average in 129 games in center last season, according to Statcast. Bader, 29, was nine outs above average in 98 games, Taylor nine above in 129 games. All quality defenders, in other words.

Offensively, Taylor hit a career-high 21 home runs, but his park- and league-adjusted OPS was still six percent below league average. Kiermaier was four percent above, Bader 31 percent below. Taylor is the most durable of the three — he has averaged 132 games the past three seasons, Kiermaier 105, Bader 96.

• Free-agent right-hander Michael Lorenzen continues to seek a two-year deal, according to sources briefed on his intentions.

Lorenzen, 32, earned $9.25 million last season, including $750,000 in incentives. An increase in his average annual value on a two-year deal would put him in the range of a $20 million guarantee.

I wrote more about Lorenzen in a recent addition of The Windup.

• And finally, here is an early candidate for favorite nickname of the spring: “Spin Daddy,” for Orioles left-handed reliever Danny Coulombe.

Chris Holt, the Orioles’ director of pitching, bestowed the nickname upon Coulombe last season while serving as major-league pitching coach. Coulombe’s cutter, sweeper and curveball account for more than 70 percent of his offerings.

Hence, “Spin Daddy.”

(Top photo of Corbin Burnes: Kim Klement Neitzel / USA Today)

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