Capitals

Free agents reject $13.3M deals as GMs head home

Free agents reject $13.3M deals as GMs head home

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Kyle Lohse were among nine free agents who turned down $13.3 million offers from their former clubs Friday as the annual general managers' ended and team officials headed home for what figures to be a busy month of negotiations.

Also rejecting the one-year guaranteed offers were the New York Yankees' trio of Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano and Hiroki Kuroda along with David Ortiz, Michael Bourn and Adam LaRoche.

Under baseball's new labor contract, all the deadlines of the business season has been speeded up in an attempt to prompt quicker decisions before the Christmas holidays. That should create more activity in the market before teams head to the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 3-6.

``It expedites things, People are out there and available and being discussed right away,'' said Dave Dombrowski, president of the AL champion Detroit Tigers. ``It definitely has picked things up more quickly.''

Under the old rules, teams had until Dec. 7 to offer salary arbitration to their former players who became free agents. Top players under a statistical formula that was part of the 1981 strike settlement had compensation attached if they signed with new clubs - which would lose high-round draft picks.

Under the labor contract agreed to last November, that system was replaced by qualifying offers. A team could make a qualifying offer last week that was the average of the 125 highest big league contracts by average annual value - $13.3 million this year.

Just nine of 165 major league free agents were given the offers - Ortiz then agreed to a $26 million, two-year deal to stay with the Red Sox. The group all said no in anticipation of receiving more dollars and years in the open market.

Now if they switch teams, their new club will lose a draft choice next June - its highest pick, unless that selection is among the top 10 in the first round. If a club signs more than one qualified free agent, it forfeits its highest remaining pick for each additional qualified free agent it adds.

For some of the remaining eight players, compensation may cause some teams to shy away.

``Would I have less interest in guys if I lost my No. 1 pick? Yes,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ``I've been recently trying to steer clear of losing our draft pick.''

In the past decade, free agents requiring compensation ranged from a low of 12 in 2003 to a high of 41 the following year - with the average at 22. The new rules mean teams can sign more players without figuring in the loss of draft selections, who are prized because they are years from eligibility for arbitration and free agency.

Only the elite players require compensation. The group that's below them include pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster, outfielders Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki, catcher Mike Napoli and first baseman Carlos Pena. Melky Cabrera, the All-Star game MVP, also is available after serving his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

``Most qualifying offers are really for players of the highest value,'' agent Scott Boras said. ``There's a lot of good players that didn't receive qualifying offers. It allows for so much earlier planning than the other system, so I think it's really been very good. It allows more freedom for those players that fit below that top regime of talent.''

There wasn't a major trade announced during the three-day session, and the podium at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa - owned by Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort - wasn't used a single time.

But there was ample discussion among team executives and with the many agents on hand. While in past seasons teams held off completing free agent deals until Dec. 8 - not wanting to lose draft picks - they anticipate being more aggressive.

Trade talks appear to be in the feeling-out stage. Among the players who might be available are Arizona outfielder Justin Upton and Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

``Individually there might be people who are gaining momentum in their discussions,'' Cashman said. ``I'm not.''

NOTES: Physicist Leonard Mlodinow addressed the GMs Friday and they were given copies of his book, ``The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives.''

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

las_vegas-sign-no_caps-stanley_cup_final.jpg
Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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