East Notes: Schuerholz, Alderson, Gibbons, Yankees, Pedroia

It was not easy for Braves president John Schuerholz to dismiss GM Frank Wren, writes MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby. Due to a combination of loyalty and good initial hiring decisions, Schuerholz has rarely decided to part ways with top members of his front office. But in this case, the longtime Atlanta executive said that change was necessary, albeit difficult. “It took time for me to get to the point of doing what I did,” said Schuerholz, who also indicated that failures in free agency may not have been the primary source of Wren’s undoing. “It’s not just about success of the club at the Major League level,” he explained, referring to the “life blood” of the club’s scouting and player development. “You have to be cognizant that the strengths of your organization are as strong as they need to be. it is why I used the words ‘cumulative effect’ [during the announcement Monday].”

  • Meanwhile, newly-extended Mets GM Sandy Alderson had a variety of interesting comments today, and Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com provides a transcript. Emphasizing that he does not believe the club needs “a giant leap” to contend, Alderson said he expects the team to be active in free agency while remaining cognizant that the open market is, as he described it, a “crapshoot.” After COO Jeff Wilpon indicated that his GM will have payroll flexibility (as Rubin reports on Twitter), Alderson said that he does not know whether the team will see a spike in payroll. He did note that he does not “feel that we will necessarily be constrained by the payroll next year.” With the team needing to improve by approximately ten to twelve wins, according to Alderson, it is looking to add production in any way possible rather than “get[ting] too bogged down in too much specificity now.” That opportunistic approach may take some time to play out, he suggested: “We’re going to explore all of the options and see where it takes us. It may take us a while during the course of the offseason to fully explore what those options are.”
  • The Blue Jays will retain manager John Gibbons for next year barring some unforeseen change in circumstances, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Though recent comments from GM Alex Anthopoulos led some to believe that Gibbons could be in some trouble heading into the offseason, Heyman says that the team is planning for 2015 without any intention of finding a new skipper.
  • While the Yankees have not played up to expectations after a winter of big spending, the club’s mid-season acquisitions could not have gone much better, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. With the exception of Stephen Drew, all of the veterans added with the hope of a turnaround did just that. contributing far more value in their short stints in New York than they had with their former clubs.
  • As the Red Sox continue to tinker with one of the game’s most fascinating talent mixes, those calling for a trade of cornerstone second baseman Dustin Pedroia may need something of a reality check, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. For starters, Pedroia’s deal contains a full no-trade clause, Bradford notes. And when Pedroia’s glove and veteran role are weighed in the balance, says Bradford, the idea of trading him makes little practical sense.

Mets Extend Sandy Alderson, Retain Terry Collins

TODAY, 2:22pm: The Mets have officially announced that Alderson has been extended through 2017. The club also announced that Collins will return next year.

YESTERDAY, 2:32pm: Alderson’s new contract will cover the 2015-17 seasons, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter links). The extension will technically be for two years, as the club will exercise his option and two more years to the deal.

2:05pm: Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets will announce an extension for Alderson after the season, and he adds that there will also be an announcement that manager Terry Collins has been retained (Twitter links).

1:38pm: Alderson’s contract extension will be for “about three years,” reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (on Twitter). However, the deal is not yet complete, and there are still details to be worked out, he hears.

1:25pm: The Mets will exercise their 2015 option on general manager Sandy Alderson and the two side are working toward a contract extension, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link).

Alderson, 66, was hired as the Mets’ GM following the 2010 season and signed to a four-year contract which contained the aforementioned option for the 2015 season. While the Mets have yet to have a winning season under his watch, Alderson has assisted the Mets in bolstering a farm system and stockpiling an enviable crop of young talent. Alderson acquired Zack Wheeler from the Giants in exchange for a two-month rental of Carlos Beltran, and he chose to trade R.A. Dickey rather than extend him following the knuckleballer’s Cy Young season in 2012. That move netted the Amazins top prospect Noah Syndergaard as well as current catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Last summer, after striking gold on a minor league pickup of Marlon Byrd, the Mets packaged Byrd and John Buck (also acquired in the Dickey trade) to land Dilson Herrera and Vic Black from the Pirates. Additionally, he appears to have made the correct choice in retaining Lucas Duda, rather than Ike Davis, as the team’s first baseman going forward.

Of course, not all of Alderson’s moves have panned out quite so well. The signing of Chris B. Young to a one-year, $7.25MM contract this offseason proved to be a failure, and while Bartolo Colon has pitched well enough to justify the first season of his two-year, $20MM deal, his $11MM salary for 2015 made him too difficult to trade this summer. Curtis Granderson‘s four-year, $60MM contract has the potential to be a negative, though Granderson is in the midst of a torrid finish, perhaps giving hope that he can be more productive in 2015 than he was in an up-and-down 2014.

Alderson’s largest move to date has been the eight-year, $138MM extension signed by David Wright. While “Captain America” looked well worth the money even in an injury-shortened 2013 — he batted .307/.390/.514 with 18 homers and 17 steals — Wright’s power vanished in 2014, which eventually proved to be his second straight injury-shortened season. The 31-year-old batted .269/.324/.374 with just eight homers this season as he battled shoulder and neck problems that finally caused his season to conclude on Sept. 8.


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Yasmany Tomas Rumors: Tuesday

Yasmany Tomas continues to await the day when Major League Baseball declares him a free agent, but teams have already gotten a first-hand look at him via a showcase in the Dominican Republic this past weekend. Since that time, he’s already been connected to the Pirates (in more of a due diligence fashion) and held a private workout with the Phillies.

Here’s more on the soon-to-be 24-year-old Cuban masher…

  • The Rangers will have a private workout for Tomas on Wednesday,  a source tells Ben Badler of Baseball America. The Rangers and Phillies both had strong contingents at Tomas’ showcase, Badler continues, while the Mets, Giants, Yankees, D’Backs and Padres were well-represented also. Among the Padres executives in attendance was new general manager A.J. Preller, according to Badler.
  • The Phillies were impressed with Tomas after his workout for the team, reports MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Philadelphia also held a private workout for Rusney Castillo prior to his signing with the Red Sox, but a source tells Zolecki that the team was just “lukewarm” on Castillo following that effort, and the club has “always” preferred Tomas to Castillo.
  • The Marlins had a pair of executives in attendance for the showcase, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Director of international operations Albert Gonzalez and vice president of player personnel Craig Weissman both flew to the Dominican Republic to get a first-hand look at Tomas.

NL Central Notes: Tomas, Martin, Jackson, Reds

The Pirates had scouts in attendance at Yasmany Tomas‘ weekend showcase, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer, but GM Neal Huntington didn’t sound overly optimistic about the team’s chances. “We like the player,” Huntington told Singer. “We will participate in the process. As it has with most Cuban players, the market may take it above a place where we feel comfortable.”

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that while Pirates owner Bob Nutting is the one who ultimately determines payroll, Huntington is the one who distributes the funds. And while Huntington doesn’t like the idea of allocating more than 18 percent of a team’s payroll to one player, Sawchik opines that Russell Martin is the rare case in which an exemption should be made. He notes that it’s unlikely for teams to go beyond four years for Martin, and they’re also unlikely to go as high as Brian McCann‘s $17MM average annual value. The Pirates can get by offering Martin something close to $60MM over four years, Sawchik writes, and given the lack of alternative options, he feels they’d be wise to do so.
  • It’s best for both the Cubs and Edwin Jackson if Chicago can orchestrate a change of scenery for the beleaguered right-hander next season, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Jackson, owed $22MM from 2015-16, has been a good citizen through his significant struggles in Chicago and remains positive, but both sides need to move on from a bad situation, Rogers continues. The Cubs’s best chance at moving Jackson is likely to swap him for another bad contract or to pay a large portion of his remaining salary, though as Rogers notes, it may be best to move on “no matter how they get rid of him.”
  • While many Reds fans are convinced that the team needs to add a power bat to play left field, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that the team should instead prioritize on-base percentage in a left field upgrade. Cincinnati’s team OBP dropped from .327 in 2013 to .298 in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo, who reached base 300 times last year, was replaced by Billy Hamilton, who is on pace to reach 184 times. Joey Votto, who reached 316 times in 2013, spent most of this season on the DL, and the team’s No. 3 hitters have combined to reach just 206 times as a result. Pointing to the team’s struggles in one-run games (22-38), Fay notes how important a healthy Votto and an OBP-focused left fielder could be to the team.

Volquez Hopes To Re-Sign With Pirates, Seeks Multi-Year Deal

Pirates starter Edinson Volquez is interested in re-signing with the Pirates as a free agent, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The 31-year-old righty is also interested in achieving a multi-year deal in the coming offseason.

Certainly, Volquez has made good on the one-year, $5MM deal he signed with the Pirates before the season. He has worked to a 3.15 ERA over 185 2/3 frames, easily his most productive output since his emergent 2008 season. That is a factor in Volquez’s desire to return to Pittsburgh. “I think I signed in the right place with the right coaches,” said Volquez. “They made me a better pitcher this year. So, I’d like to stay here.”

On the other hand, Volquez made clear that he hopes to parlay those numbers into a multi-year commitment. “You always want to sign for more than one year,” he said. “Especially now that I’m 31 years old, I’d like to sign with someone for two or three years and stay a little bit longer.”

It remains to be seen what level of interest the Pirates have in a reunion. Ultimately, if Volquez finds other clubs willing to plunk down a significant guarantee over two or three years, it is hard to see the Bucs beating the market. As stellar as Volquez’s bottom line has been in 2014, he has succeeded despite a middling K/BB rate of 6.3 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. With a .263 BABIP also playing a role in the outcomes, ERA estimators see little difference in Volquez’s performance as against recent years, when his earned run numbers came out less favorably.


Dan Haren’s 2015 Option Vests

7:41am: Haren insisted to reporters last night, including Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times (Twitter link), that he wouldn’t make a decision on whether or not to exercise his option until after the Dodgers’ season is over.

10:48pm: Dodgers starter Dan Haren now holds a $10MM player option for next season after notching his 180th inning on the year. By reaching that mark, he also triggered a $500K bonus (on top of $1.5MM in innings-pitched and games-started bonuses already met).

Haren, who just turned 34, joined the Dodgers on a one-year, $10MM deal that was filled with a variety of incentives. He has now achieved most of them, including the most valuable: the $10MM player option for next year. At one point, 180 innings seemed like a long shot, but Haren fought through a mid-season swoon and re-emerged as a much-needed piece of an injury-riddled rotation. Barring a decision to retire, Haren would seem to be fairly likely to take the option to continue throwing in his native California.

Of course, Haren could in theory still be tempted to test the open market. He has had an up-and-down year, but entered the day with a 4.14 ERA on the back of 6.9 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9. That strikeout total would be his lowest since he became a full-time big league starter back in 2005.

But Haren remains a solid innings-eater (at worst) with plenty of value. Though his days of logging well over 200 frames a year in the low-to-mid 3.00 ERA range are probably over, he has still managed to make 30 starts a year going all the way back to that ’05 campaign. And ERA estimators believe Haren to be as good or better than his earned run totals would suggest: this year, he owns a 4.19 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, and 3.80 SIERA.


AL Notes: Yankees, Joyce, Twins, Astros

A 2015 postseason appearance for the Yankees will likely hinge on improvements from costly middle-of-the-order hitters like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Barring a surprise, last year’s big spending leaves the club with few options to add significant run production to its lineup, explains Sherman.

Here’s more from the American League:

  • Rays outfielder Matt Joyce says that he believes he will be dealt in the offseason, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The 30-year-old is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility after earning $3.7MM this season. “I think there’s a good chance [of a trade], just knowing the organization and how they operate and how many young guys that they have in the outfield and coming up through the system,” said Joyce. The left-handed hitting outfielder owns a .252/.348/.379 slash over 477 plate appearances this year, continuing a trend of declining power numbers since he broke into the league.
  • The top offseason priority for the Twins will be the rotation, GM Terry Ryan tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Of course, that seemed to be the case last year, when the team made significant commitments to free agent hurlers Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. Only Hughes has been a hit, though he does look to be a legitimate bargain.
  • For the Astros, meanwhile, the bullpen figures to receive the most attention this winter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports. GM Jeff Luhnow said that the club might have seen a significant jump had two of its expected pen pieces — Matt Albers and Jesse Crain — been able to contribute more innings. Looking forward, he said that the team has no choice but to take its chances adding relief arms. “We’ve reflected on our process last year and made some improvements and we feel good about that,” said Luhnow. “It’s always a risk with relievers because there’s a lot of variables year to year, but we feel good we’ll identify the right guys and go after them, and hopefully get a good roll of the dice this time in terms of the health side of the equation.”

Alcides Escobar Joins The Legacy Agency

Alcides Escobar, formerly represented by the Kinzer Management Group, has changed agencies and is now represented by the Legacy Agency, reports Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal. Escobar will be represented by Peter Greenberg.

The 27-year-old Escobar has enjoyed a bounceback season after a woeful 2013 at the plate, improving his slash line from .234/.259/.300 to .281/.314/.376. Ultimate Zone Rating has pegged Escobar as an above-average throughout his career, and Fangraphs rates his baserunning ability among the best in the game. Over the past three seasons, only Mike Trout, Jacoby Ellsbury and Rajai Davis have provided more value on the basepaths.

Escobar signed a four-year, $10.5MM extension back in Spring Training of the 2012 season. (That contract was signed when Escobar was with the Wasserman Media Group, which Kinzer Management split from in October of 2012.) He’s set to earn $3MM in 2015, and the Royals hold a pair of club options on him for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, which are valued at $5.25MM and $6.5MM, respectively. Each contains a $500K buyout. Those options seem like no-brainers for the Royals, given Escobar’s solid glove and strong baserunning skills, and the fact that in two of the past three seasons, he’s posted OPS+ and wRC+ marks north of 90.

The Legacy Agency represents a host of big league players, including Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn and Francisco Liriano, to name a few. Their clientele, as well as information on more than 2,000 Major League and Minor League players, can be seen in MLBTR’s Agency Database. If you see any errors or notable omissions, please let us know: mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.


Diamondbacks To Announce New GM On Thursday

Here’s the latest on the Diamondbacks’ search for a new GM following the recent removal of Kevin Towers from that role.

SEPTEMBER 22:

  • The Diamondbacks will announce their new GM on Thursday, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter links). Dave Stewart is the heavy favorite for the job, although DeJon Watson is still under consideration. The team will also be promoting scouting director Ray Montgomery, according to Nightengale. In a third tweet, Nightengale says it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Stewart named GM, Watson hired as an assistant GM, Montgomery promoted and Towers retained in a senior scouting capacity.
  • Nightengale also tweets that while a decision won’t come until after the season, a managerial change appears likely given the team’s poor performance.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that Stewart, Watson and former Royals GM Allard Baird are the three finalists and runs down some of the qualifications of each candidate.

Earlier Updates

  • Gary LaRocque will remain in his current position as the Cardinals’ farm director, the team confirms to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link).
  • The “strong industry belief” is that Dave Stewart will be hired as the Diamondbacks’ new GM, though Gary LaRocque may also join the organization in some capacity, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links).  LaRocque is also still a candidate for the GM job and he and Stewart may be the final two names in contention.

SEPTEMBER 19:

  • The Diamondbacks completed the GM interview process today, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert tweets.

Continue reading


Reactions To & Fallout From The Braves’ GM Change

The Braves’ offseason has already begun with the firing of general manager Frank Wren earlier today.  Here’s some more about the Braves’ decision and what’s next for the team…

  • Interim GM John Hart, team president John Schuerholz and long-time former manager Bobby Cox met with the media to discuss the move.  Schuerholz said he became concerned about the team’s dysfunction during the summer and felt a change was necessary before the end of the season (tweets from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale).
  • Hart is happy in his interim GM role and he’ll stay as an organizational advisor after a new general manager is hired, though Schuerholz left open the possibility that Hart could still be the Braves’ full-time GM (tweet from David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
  • Any decisions on Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves’ coaching staff will wait until after the new GM is hired.  Cox praised Gonzalez’s work and feels he should stay on as the team’s manager (tweets from Nightengale).
  • Bruce Manno, the Braves’ assistant GM and director of player development, was also fired, Schuerholz announced.
  • Jeff Wren, Frank’s brother and a Braves scout and special assistant, has been fired, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter link).
  • In a full column, Crasnick writes that the strained relationship between Cox and Wren has been evident since Cox omitted Wren from a list of people he wished to thank at his Hall of Fame induction speech. Cox will likely have a bigger role and voice going forward, Crasnick continues. He also notes that even if Gonzalez survives as the manager, there will assuredly be changes to the coaching staff.
  • Assistant GM John Coppolella seems to be a top contender or even the early favorite to be Atlanta’s next general manager, as cited by Nightengale, Yahoo’s Jeff PassanESPN.com’s Keith Law, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post (all Twitter links).
  • Wren “excelled at the mid-level and low-level decisions but failed at the big ones,” Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes.  While Wren did a lot of good in his time with the club, he could only make so many expensive mistakes given the Braves’ mid-market payroll, and Wren threw away a lot of money on B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe.
  • Some in the Braves organization questioned the lack of veteran leadership on the current roster, David O’Brien writes in a summary of Wren’s tenure.  Wren also made some questionable coaching hires and allowed some key members of the Braves’ baseball operations staff to leave for other jobs.  Highly-regarded pitching coach Roger McDowell was prepared to leave for Philadelphia last winter before Schuerholz convinced him to stay.
  • Even before the team’s 4-14 record in September, a high-ranking Braves source told Bob Nightengale that Wren and maybe Gonzalez would be fired if Atlanta missed the postseason.
  • There’s already been speculation regarding Royals GM Dayton Moore returning to Atlanta, and Royals owner David Glass tells MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel that he wouldn’t stand in Moore’s way if he wished to leave. However, Glass also says he “can’t imagine” Moore wanting to leave, adding that the organization is committed to Moore, and he feels that commitment is mutual. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star points out (on Twitter), Moore has spent eight years with the Royals building toward what could be the team’s first postseason appearance in nearly 30 years, and it’d be a shock for him to leave that behind. He is under contract through 2016.

Yankees Designate Josh Outman For Assignment

The Yankees announced that they have designated left-hander Josh Outman for assignment in order to clear roster space for outfielder Eury Perez, who was claimed off waivers from the Nationals earlier today. Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network first tweeted that Outman was packing up his locker, bringing about speculation that he’d be the corresponding roster move for Perez.

Outman, who turned 30 last week, appeared in nine games for the Yankees, totaling 3 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball. He faced a dozen hitters and set down 10 of them, dropping his season ERA to just 2.86. However, Outman’s lofty walk rate — he 16 free passes in 24 2/3 innings with Cleveland before being acquired by New York — kept him in the minors for much of the season and caused sabermetric marks such as FIP (4.82) to predict his ERA to be a mirage.

Right-handed hitters have always given Outman trouble, but he’s been lights-out against lefties in his career, yielding just a .186/.254/.283 batting line. Outman will finish the season with less than five years of Major League service, meaning that he can be controlled via arbitration for the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.


Yankees Claim Eury Perez

The Yankees announced that they have claimed outfielder Eury Perez off waivers from the Nationals. Perez was designated for assignment last week when the Nats claimed Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Twins.

The 24-year-old Perez has a very limited big league track record, as he’s totaled just 13 plate appearances in 22 games with the Nats over the past two seasons. He’s spent most of his time in the Majors as a defensive replacement and/or a pinch-runner. Given Perez’s speed — he swiped 64 bases as a minor leaguer in 2010, 45 in 2011 and 51 in 2012 — it’s not surprising that he’d find himself in such a role.

However, it’s not surprising to see a team express interest in perhaps giving Perez a larger role; he’s slashed .310/.354/.411 in 844 Triple-A plate appearances and is considered to be a plus defender. Baseball America has ranked Perez among Washington’s top 30 prospects in each of the past five offseasons, and their most recent scouting report notes that some scouts give his speed a rare 80 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale.


Trade Candidate(s): The Reds’ Starting Pitchers

The Reds’ hopes of challenging in the NL Central were dimmed by several major injuries this year, and this visit from the injury bug was particularly damaging to a team who already faced some big decisions in the offseason.  With just over $71MM committed to 10 players on the 2015 payroll, the mid-market Reds may be forced to save some money by moving a starting pitcher.  Though Cincinnati’s durable and deep rotation has been a big part of the club’s success in recent years, pitching seems like a natural area for payroll reduction simply due to the fact that three starters will enter their third year of arbitration eligibility.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Baltimore OriolesTwo pitchers who won’t be dealt are Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.  The Reds have already committed to Bailey in the form of a six-year, $105MM extension, and wouldn’t have been likely to move him even if Bailey hadn’t recently undergone forearm surgery.  Cingrani has also had injury problems, spending most of 2014 on the DL with shoulder problems.  Had Cingrani been able to build off of his impressive 2013 rookie season, the Reds would’ve felt at least a bit better about trading one of their more established starters (Bronson Arroyo wasn’t re-signed last winter in part because the Reds were comfortable with Cingrani).

It’s possible Cincinnati could trade multiple starters, though I’d suspect that the team wouldn’t want to lose too much pitching depth until they know Bailey and Cingrani are fully healthy.  The Reds would probably rather not have David Holmberg or Dylan Axelrod as full-time rotation members next year, top prospect Robert Stephenson still needs some seasoning (a 4.74 ERA in 136 2/3 IP at Double-A in 2014) and the newly-signed Raisel Iglesias could still wind up in the bullpen.

The Reds’ other four pitchers are all controlled only through 2015, so the team likely wouldn’t score a truly huge return in a trade but all carry value even as one-year pitchers.  The candidates…

Johnny Cueto: The Reds have a $10MM option on Cueto for 2015 that is sure to be exercised given how well Cueto has pitched.  After an injury-shorted 2013, Cueto bounced back in a major way by posting a 2.15 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.73 K/BB rate over a league-leading 222 innings.

Cueto’s next contract will be in the nine-figure range, and it’s unclear if the Reds would be willing ink another major extension given how much money has been tied up in recent deals with Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.  Cueto would net the biggest return in a trade, though moving their ace would seem to hint that the Reds are punting on 2015, which I doubt they’re prepared to do.  On the other hand, the Reds could trade Cueto for Major League parts (such what the Rays and Red Sox received for David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester before last July’s trade deadline) and use a Cueto deal to reload rather than rebuild.

Keeping Cueto would give the Reds stability at the top of their rotation, and they could still explore dealing Cueto at next year’s trade deadline if they fall out of the race.  If they’re contending and wanted to keep Cueto, Cincinnati could then get a compensatory draft pick via the qualifying offer if he leaves in free agency after the 2015 season.

In a recent Insider-only piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored Cueto’s trade market and raised the possibility that the Reds could clear some payroll space by attaching Phillips, for example, to Cueto in a trade package.  With several notable starters available as free agents this winter, Olney believes some teams might prefer trading for a year of Cueto rather than making an expensive multiyear commitment for an ace on the open market.  Also, a contending team that potentially loses their ace in free agency (such as if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers or James Shields leaves the Royals) could look to Cueto as a short-term replacement to keep their rotation strong for another run in 2015.

Mat Latos: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited Latos as perhaps the likeliest of the Reds’ starters to be dealt, as both Latos and Cueto can make a case for commanding an extension larger than Bailey’s deal.  While Cueto is two years older than Latos, presumably the Reds would be more inclined to extend their homegrown product than they would Latos, who missed part of 2014 with an elbow injury.  Latos has a 3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 IP this year, though ERA indicators show that he hasn’t pitched quite that well (3.64 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA) and both his ground ball and strikeout rates dropped significantly below his career averages.  The right-hander’s average fastball velocity also dropped to 90.7 mph, down from 92.5 mph in 2013.

The Reds already tested the market for Latos at the trade deadline, so I tend to agree with Rosenthal that if a Cincy starter is moved, it’ll probably be Latos.  His declined numbers could be explained by his elbow issues, and if fully healthy, Latos could be a standout front-of-the-rotation starter for several teams.  He earned $7.25MM in 2014 in the last year of a two-year extension, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time this winter.

Mike Leake: Another pitcher with a third arb year remaining, Leake will get a raise from his $5.925MM salary in 2014.  The right-hander has been a reliable rotation piece over his five Major League seasons, not missing many bats (career 6.1 K/9) but inducing a lot of grounders (49.8% ground ball rate) and eating a lot of innings, averaging 191 IP over the last three years.

Leake comes with the fewest question marks of any Cincinnati starter, lacking the injury histories of Cueto and Latos but also never pitching nearly as well as those two have at their peaks.  While Leake’s ceiling in the bigs may never surpass the “solid” level (he has an even 100 ERA+ over his career), this also means that the Reds could extend him at a much lower price than Cueto or Latos.  A Leake extension could look something like the five-year, $65MM deal the White Sox gave John Danks a few years ago, as Leake and Danks are decent comparables in terms of age and career numbers to that point in their careers, plus both had one arb year left before free agency.

The Reds put Leake and Latos on revocable waivers in August, possibly in a move to gauge trade interest for the upcoming offseason.  I’d guess there’s a better chance Leake stays in Cincinnati than goes, though the Reds will certainly get interest in the durable 26-year-old.

Alfredo Simon: The big surprise of the group, the 33-year-old Simon moved from the bullpen to the rotation as an injury fill-in and wound up making his first All-Star team.  Though his performance has very much come back to earth in the second half, Simon still has a 3.48 ERA through 178 1/3 innings on the season despite a middling 5.9 K/9.

Simon is arb-eligible for the third time this winter and he’ll earn a healthy raise over his $1.5MM salary, though the raise will hardly break the bank.  Simon’s age and career track record give him a very modest amount of trade value, so it’s likely he stays with the Reds and competes for the fifth starter’s job (or returns to the pen) if and when a rotation spot opens up via trade.

With this variety of available starters and a wide variance in asking prices for each of the four pitchers, many teams could fit as potential trade partners for the Reds under the “you can never have too much pitching” argument.  If the Reds look to deal a starter and fill an everyday lineup hole at the same time, they’ll likely target a left fielder or a shortstop as upgrades on Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart, respectively.  Ludwick has a $9MM mutual option for 2015 but after two negative fWAR seasons, the Reds might instead buy him out (for a deferred $4.5MM) and look for other options.

Using these needs to speculate about trade partners, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and possibly the Indians stand out as teams with a shortstop surplus.  The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders and are known to be looking for starting pitching.  The Dodgers could finally solve their long-standing logjam in the outfield and, if it meant getting back Cueto or Latos, would be willing to eat a lot of salary on one of their high-priced outfield bats.

As Ken Rosenthal noted (video link), the Reds could employ some gamesmanship with their starters and perhaps leverage them against each other in figuring out which (if any) pitchers they want to sign over the long term.  Between these negotiations and waiting for the free agent pitching market to play out, Cincinnati might wait until January or even February to move a starter.  At this point, the only thing that seems certain about the Reds’ 2015 rotation is that at least one of Cueto, Latos, Leake or Simon won’t be on the roster come Opening Day.

Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon/USA Today Sports Images


Braves Fire Frank Wren

The Braves have fired general manager Frank Wren, the team announced.  John Hart, a senior advisor with the club, will become the interim GM and will also be part of a three-man team (along with team president John Schuerholz and former manager Bobby Cox) in charge of finding a permanent general manager.

It was reported earlier today by David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a front office move was on the verge of happening, and Wren’s firing comes just a day after the Braves were officially eliminated from postseason contention.  The team is in the midst of a dreadful 4-14 stretch and the slump brought with it several rumors that Wren was on the hot seat.  The Braves will also make changes to their international scouting and player development departments, Peter Gammons reports, though manager Fredi Gonzalez’s job appears to be safe according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman (Twitter link).

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at New York YankeesWren had been a member of the Braves front office since 2000, first serving as Schuerholz’s assistant GM and then taking over the general manager’s job following the 2007 season.  While Wren obviously had a tough act to follow given Atlanta’s string of consecutive playoff appearances under Schuerholz, the Braves “only” reached the postseason three times during his seven seasons as general manager and never advanced further than the NLDS.  The Braves were in playoff contention for much of this season before their September collapse sunk their chances and left the team in danger of only its third sub-.500 record in the last 24 years.

It was just this past winter that Wren received a contract extension and wide praise around the baseball world for locking up several of the Braves’ young stars (Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward) and then acting fast to sign Ervin Santana in Spring Training when Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both went down to Tommy John surgeries.

What ultimately doomed the 2014 Braves, however, was a lack of hitting, which underlined Wren’s two biggest mistakes — signing B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25MM free agent deal and signing Dan Uggla to a five-year, $62MM extension after acquiring the second baseman in a trade from the Marlins.  As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick put it, these two moves alone probably cost Wren his job, since Uggla was released earlier this year and Upton has been a bust since coming to Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images