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jon lester feature red soxIf you get some time this weekend, I would highly recommend checking out the series of Hot Stove Scouting Reports that Baseball Prospectus has been putting out. Each takes a look at some of the top free agents – many of them Chicago Cubs targets, or at least reported targets – and scouts them anew, breaking down present level ability, projecting future ability, projecting decline years, digging into approach, mechanics, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

To be clear, these are scouting reports, rather than mere dissections of player performance/results/statistics. So they’re a bit more fun to read, and also provide more insight into how the player might age.

Among the ones out so far that might interest you most:

  • Russell Martin – BP describes Martin as a very good catcher presently (quality starter, borderline All-Star), and projects that he can maintain that level for three to four years. His scouting report reads like you might expect – disciplined hitter, excellent receiver, etc. – but concludes by saying that the author wouldn’t hesitate to give Martin three to four years at $10 to $12 million. Obviously he’s going to get more than that, so that might actually be a mark against.
  • Max Scherzer – He’s a present ace, with that level of effectiveness projected for another three years before he falls down toward a Role 6 type (i.e. good middle-of-the-rotation starter). That underscores, of course, what you’re getting when you commit huge dollars to a starter like Scherzer: you’re expecting (hoping?) to get the most value out of him in the first few years, understanding that he’s probably not going to be “worth” his contract in the latter years. Scherzer’s makeup and work ethic come in for praise – that can help as players age.
  • Jon Lester – Lester’s present level is just a tick below Scherzer’s, but he’s expected to maintain that Role 7 level for three to four years, and then could settle in as a Role 6 type in the final years of his deal. Like Scherzer, Lester comes in for high makeup praise, and the BP piece suggests he might be the best long-term bet of the upper tier starters this year (the implication being he might not have the same peak as Scherzer, but might age better).
  • James Shields – Shields is probably just a tick below Lester in present ability, but also appears to project well as he ages (sticking in the Number 2 starter range for a while). Similar makeup praise. It sounds like BP would be on board with a four-year deal for Shields in the $19 to $22 million annual range. It seems like Shields is going to get that fifth year from some team, but, even though he’s already 32, it’s not hard to see the value when he might come at half the total commitment of, for example, Scherzer.
  • David Robertson – He’s described presently as a very good closer, and could remain at that level for another three or four years. Even if he takes a step back in stuff as he enters his 30s, Robertson could still be a top setup man. BP cautions that Robertson, from a scouting perspective, is not quite on the same level as Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel (but you already knew that).
  • Unfortunately, it appears that BP didn’t group the reports in an easy to click-through way, but you should be able to find the others by scrolling back through their list of articles here.

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