Week In Review: 1/24/15 – 1/30/15

Here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.

Key Moves

Signed / Agreed To Terms

Trades

Designated For Assignment

Outrighted

Released

Key Minor League Signings


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Minor Moves: Wall, Castillo, Volstad, Burgos, Flores

Let’s run down the day’s minor moves:

  • The Pirates announced the signing of righty Josh Wall and catcher Wilkin Castillo to minor league deals with spring invites. And the club also added righty Chris Volstad, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America (via Twitter). Wall, 28, logged just one unsightly inning last year with the Angels but threw 44 1/3 productive innings at Triple-A. Oddly enough, Castillo has spent most of his time in the minors as a backstop but played only left field and second base in brief big league time back in 2008-09. The true utility man has been playing in Mexico since 2012. Volstad, of course, was a fixture in the Marlins rotation from 2008-11, but has seen minimal action since an unsuccessful 2012 run with the Cubs.
  • Right-hander Hiram Burgos is heading back to the Brewers, Eddy tweets. Burgos was a 40-man casualty in September, but will remain in the only professional organization he has known. The 27-year-old made one brief, unsuccessful stint in the bigs. He missed significant time last year due to shoulder surgery.
  • One additional catcher is joining the Braves organization, Eddy tweets, with Jesus Flores signing a minor league deal. A five-year veteran of the division-rival Nationals, the 31-year-old has bounced around in the upper minors the last two years and will look to extend his career in Atlanta.

Bullpen Notes: Cotts, Mujica, Brewers, Papelbon, K-Rod

Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.

Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:

  • The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
  • After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
  • A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.


Latest On Signing Eligibility Of Cuban Players

There has been quite a bit of confusion of late as to how and when a group of high-profile Cuban middle infielders will be freed to sign. The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) — the agency tasked with administering the United States’ now-loosening embargo against Cuba — has now notified Yoan Moncada in writing that it will not consider specific licenses for Cuban players who are already unblocked via the general license, agent David Hastings tells Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs.

Ben Badler of Baseball America explains the distinction here. In essence, the general license requires only residence in a third country, while the specific license carries more stringent standards. This news effectively means that OFAC will not perform any particularized assessment of Cuban players seeking to sign with MLB clubs.

The result is that, in McDaniel’s words, “the onus is now 100% on MLB.” Badler has previously explained the league’s role in this regard, and the OFAC letter to Moncada’s representative appears to remove any room for interpretation.

Simply put, the league must decide whether simply to accept the general license as sufficient for signing eligibility or find some other procedure to replace the OFAC specific license. If MLB decides to allow the general license to suffice, then presumably all Cuban players who have established third-country residence would become eligible to sign — including, presumably, Moncada and fellow top players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez.

As McDaniel goes on to explain, the latest industry speculation holds that the veteran Olivera could land a guarantee of between $20MM to $40MM. The younger Ibanez, meanwhile, is expected to land at or slightly above the range of recent signees Roberto Baldoquin ($8MM) and Yoan Lopez ($8.25MM) while also requiring the signing team to pay a near-100% penalty on that amount.


Red Sox Designate Drake Britton For Assignment

The Red Sox have designated lefty Drake Britton for assignment, the club announced (via Tim Britton of the Providence Journal, on Twitter). His roster spot will go to the just-signed Alexi Ogando, whose signing was made official.

Britton, 25, has seen 27 2/3 innings of action at the MLB level over the last two years, working to a 2.93 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. But he spent most of 2014 at Triple-A, where he struggled to a 5.86 earned run mark in 58 1/3 frames.

With Robbie Ross added to the bullpen mix and Craig Breslow already on hand, Boston apparently felt it could stand to sacrifice some southpaw depth. It surely did not help that Britton is out of options. That fact will limit interest around the league, though he seems a likely candidate to be claimed or traded out of limbo.


Rockies Sign Rafael Betancourt, Omar Quintanilla

The Rockies have re-signed former closer Rafael Betancourt and also added shortstop Omar Quintanilla, Matt Eddy of Baseball America reports on Twitter. It appears that the pair will head to camp on minor league deals.

Betancourt is entering his age-40 season. He came back from Tommy John surgery in late 2013 to throw 19 1/3 Triple-A innings last year, and he will surely hope for another crack at the bigs this time around. Betancourt has been excellent since joining the Rockies back in 2009, contributing 236 1/3 innings of 3.08 ERA bullpen work with 10.5 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9. He racked up 57 saves in that span.

Quintanilla, 33, will return to the place where he first cracked the show (back in 2005). He has bounced around a bit since, most recently appearing with the Mets. Despite a lifetime .220/.287/.295 slash, Quintanilla has taken 1,162 trips to the plate at the MLB level over parts of nine seasons. As one might expect, Quintanilla has spent the bulk of his time playing at short and second, though he has also logged a few innings at third.


Yankees To Sign Scott Baker To Minor League Deal

4:15pm: Baker will earn at a $1.5MM rate if he makes the big league roster, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

12:15pm: The Yankees have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with longtime Twins right-hander Scott Baker, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America (on Twitter).

Baker was a mainstay in the Twins’ rotation during their run at the top of the division, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training of 2012 and has yet to re-establish himself as a reliable rotation cog in the Major Leagues. Baker has spent the past two seasons in the Cubs and Rangers organizations, working to a combined 5.17 ERA in 95 2/3 innings of work.

Prior to those struggles and his surgery, however, Baker was a solid, if unspectacular mid-rotation arm for Minnesota. He averaged 181 innings of 4.11 ERA ball (103 ERA+) from 2008-10 with the Twins before seemingly taking a significant step forward in a 2011 season that was cut short by injury. Baker notched just 134 2/3 innings that year but had turned in a pristine 3.14 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 prior to being shut down. Metrics such as his 3.45 FIP and 3.43 SIERA reflected genuine improvement as well.

Now with the Yankees, the former second-round pick will hope to earn a rotation spot amid a sea of other injury question marks. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova ultimately comprise New York’s ideal rotation, but Nova won’t be ready to start the season after having his own Tommy John last year. Meanwhile, Sabathia is coming off knee surgery, uncertainty surrounds Tanaka’s UCL and Pineda’s history of shoulder problems is a persistent concern. Chris Capuano was signed to a big league deal this winter, so he should open the year in the rotation, but given the injury troubles surrounding the entire group of rotation options, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Baker get a crack, should his own health issues permit.


Red Sox To Sign Alexi Ogando

4:04pm: Ogando passed his physical, tweets Cafardo. He’s likely to serve as a seventh-inning option for Boston.

3:11pm: Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that there are an additional $1.5MM worth of roster bonuses and performance incentives in the deal.

3:05pm: Ogando’s deal is worth a guaranteed $1.5MM, tweets Rosenthal. He adds that Ogando can earn more via incentives.

2:44pm: The Red Sox and right-hander Alexi Ogando are in agreement on a one-year, Major League contract, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe had just tweeted that the two sides were “moving along,” and colleague Alex Speier added that they were nearing a Major League deal. The deal is pending a physical, per Rosenthal. Ogando is a joint client of Reynolds Sports Management and Draft Pix Sports.

The Rangers non-tendered Ogando this Deceber rather than pay him a projected $2.6MM due largely to concerns over his health. For that reason, the physical on this deal would not seem to be a slam dunk; Ogando battled nerve damage and inflammation in his shoulder as well as a biceps issue in 2013. In 2014, he was limited to just 25 innings of work thanks to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm.

Suffice it to say, the risk with Ogando is considerable, however the upside is tantalizing. In four seasons with the Rangers from 2010-13, Ogando pitched to a 3.12 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 381 innings as both a starter and a reliever. Ogando’s fastball averaged 96-97 mph when he was at his best with the Rangers in the first three seasons of his career, but his arm issues over the past two season dropped that heat to about 93.5 mph. If he’s healthy and his velocity returns, Ogando can provide the Red Sox with a weapon out of the ‘pen or perhaps another option for the rotation, though the picture is fairly crowded on that front. Boston has the added benefit of controlling Ogando through the 2016 season via arbitration, should he perform well enough to merit that scenario.


Rockies Designate Jayson Aquino For Assignment

The Rockies announced that they have designated left-hander Jayson Aquino for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for newly acquired right-hander David Hale.

Aquino, who turned 22 in November, split the 2014 campaign between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, working to a 5.13 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 107 innings (18 starts). Aquino has three times ranked among Colorado’s top 30 prospects, per Baseball America, topping out at No. 9 following the 2012 season. However, he slipped to 28th last offseason, with BA noting that while he possesses a plus changeup and an average slider, his fastball command is poor, and he doesn’t use the pitch enough. BA’s report also indicated that Aquino is too emotional on the mound, often showing that emotion when disagreeing with umpires’ calls.


Players Avoiding Arbitration: Friday

Here is today’s list of minor arbitration settlements, with all projections coming via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz

  • The Orioles and Steve Pearce have agreed to a one-year deal that will pay the first baseman/outfielder a sizable $3.7MM sum, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links). Pearce had an unexpected breakout season with the O’s in 2014, batting a whopping .293/.373/.556 with 21 homers after spending the first seven season of his career in relative obscurity. The 31-year-old entered the 2014 campaign with a pedestrian .238/.318/.377 batting line over the life of 847 big league appearances. The unique nature of Pearce’s breakout led him to vastly surpass the $2.2MM estimate of Swartz’s projection model. His $3.7MM settling point was the exact midpoint of the $5.4MM at which he filed and the $2MM figure submitted by the Orioles (which is one of the more notable gaps you’ll see in arb filing numbers). With his case settled, the Orioles have only Zach Britton, Alejandro De Aza and Miguel Gonzalez remaining.

Remember, all arbitration situations can be monitored using MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker.


Rockies Acquire David Hale, Gus Schlosser From Braves

The Rockies have acquired right-handers David Hale and Gus Schlosser from the Braves in exchange for minor league catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd, the teams announced today.

Of the players involved in this trade, Hale easily has the most big league experience. The 27-year-old Hale has turned in 98 1/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball over the past two seasons in a swingman role for the Braves, making eight starts and 39 relief appearances. He’s averaged just 5.3 K/9 and walked a slightly troubling 3.7 hitters per nine, but he’s also posted a stellar 56.7 percent ground-ball rate, which undoubtedly has appeal to the Rockies. It’s unclear at this time what role Hale will fill for the Rockies; Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Matzek and Jordan Lyles appear likely to hold down the first four rotation spots, and Hale could join Eddie Butler, Christian Bergman and Chris Rusin in competing for the fifth slot. He could also again serve as a swingman, providing long relief when needed and slotting into the rotation on occasion throughout the year.

As for Schlosser, the 26-year-old debuted in 2014 but struggled to a 7.64 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work. Schlosser struck out just eight hitters against six walks in that stretch, though he fared better in the minors to some extent, notching a 4.18 ERA with 6.4 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9. As MLB.com’s Mark Bowman points out (on Twitter), Schlosser has been through a curious cycle with the Braves over the past two months. He was non-tendered on Dec. 2 to clear a space on the 40-man roster then re-signed to a minor league deal four days later, and he’s now been shipped to Colorado.

Briceno, the more highly regarded of the two prospects headed to the Braves, didn’t rank among the Rockies’ Top 10 prospects per ESPN’s Keith Law or Baseball America, but he did place 11th among Rockies farmhands on the list of Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel. Briceno, who turned 22 in September, spent this past season at Class-A where he batted .283/.336/.476 with 12 homers in 350 plate appearances. As McDaniel notes, Briceno is a work in progress defensively but has a plus arm and plenty of athleticism to go along with raw power and a feel for hitting. It’s a long shot, but he’s a potential everyday option behind the plate in McDaniel’s eyes, which is enough for him to praise Atlanta for making this move (Twitter link).

O’Dowd, the son of former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, was San Diego’s 23rd-round pick in the 2012 draft. He split the 2014 season, his age-23 campaign, between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, posting a combined batting line of .271/.335/.385 in 471 plate appearances.

From Atlanta’s perspective, this move will open a slot on their 40-man roster, allowing the team to make Jonny Gomes‘ one-year contract official.


Salisbury’s Latest: Gillick, Sandberg, Utley

While new Phillies president Pat Gillick only figures to occupy that role for a year or so — the 77-year-old has expressed no interest in filling the position long-term — his brief tenure could define the next generation for the team, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes.

As Salisbury notes, Gillick has already signed off on an organizational rebuild and the decision to replace longtime scouting director Marti Wolever. Now, Gillick will be tasked with overseeing any structural changes to the Phillies’ front office, including the decision as to who will replace him as the club’s president. Should the team make a change at GM, a new president would likely make that call.

Additionally, Gillick’s successor would oversee any changes made in the dugout. Ryne Sandberg didn’t distinguish himself with his leadership in 2014, Salisbury writes, and some within the organization question whether he’s the “right guy” to oversee the rebuild. Sandberg will be afforded more time to prove himself, but Gillick will be keeping a watchful eye on his skipper as he enters the second season of a three-year contract.

Also of note in the article, Salisbury hears that teams that have expressed interest in Chase Utley this winter have been informed that he is not interested in waiving his 10-and-5 rights, which grant him the ability to veto a potential trade to any club.

The Dodgers and Phillies reportedly had brief discussions regarding Utley and the Winter Meetings prior to the team’s acquisition of Howie Kendrick, but shortly thereafter, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated to reporters that Utley’s desire was to remain in Philadelphia. Utley himself has said as much in the past, but some have speculated that he might eventually warm to the idea of a trade as the Phillies’ rebuild wore on. That apparently has not been the case even after trading Antonio Bastardo, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd.

Utley, 36, batted .270/.339/.407 in 664 plate appearances last season — his highest total since the 2009 season. He’ll earn $15MM in 2015 — he triggered a $5MM salary increase by avoiding the disabled list — and has three vesting options at the same price on his contract, the first of which will trigger if he reaches 500 plate appearances this coming season.


MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Episode 15

In our 15th episode, Jeff runs down a slower news week in baseball before welcoming Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle on to talk Astros (0:51). Jeff then takes a look back at his prior research on options (see: overall trendsprimary option types) as a gateway to sizing up the coming extension season (21:22).

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.


Deal Between Blue Jays, Belisario Falls Through

JAN. 30: The deal between Belisario and the Blue Jays has fallen through, reports Mike Wilner of Sportsnet (on Twitter). The two sides were very close to a deal before it fell apart. Belisario remains a free agent.

JAN. 29: The Blue Jays added some depth to their bullpen mix today, agreeing to a minor league contract with right-hander Ronald Belisario. Toronto has long been said to be looking at bullpen upgrades, with reports last night suggesting that the team was looking hard at the free agent market. Though Belisario’s spot isn’t guaranteed, the McNamara Sports Group client will compete for a job in Spring Training and will reportedly earn $1.7MM if he makes the team.

Belisario, 32, was designated for assignment back in November by the White Sox to make way for the claim of Onelki Garcia. He was one of several players to slot in at closer last year in Chicago, but failed to grab hold of the job. Belisario was ultimately charged with an unsightly 5.56 ERA on the year.

Though the bottom-line results weren’t pretty, Belisario’s peripherals are decidedly better. With 6.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and a stellar 59.3% groundball rate, Belisario drew marks from ERA estimators in the low-to-mid three range. His ballooned run tallies may well have been the result of a very low 57.7% strand rate and a somewhat bloated .339 BABIP.

Belisario had been projected by MLBTR/Matt Swartz to earn $3.9MM in arbitration before losing his roster spot in advance of the non-tender deadline. Toronto saw former closer Casey Janssen lured away with a total $5MM guarantee, though the club is said to have about that much in remaining payroll space.

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported, on Twitter, that the Jays were making a strong push for Belisario. ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported the agreement and terms (Twitter links).


Brewers Designate Elian Herrera For Assignment

The Brewers announced that they have designated infielder/outfielder Elian Herrera for assignment in order to clear space on the 40-man roster for the newly signed Neal Cotts.

The 29-year-old Herrera, claimed off waivers from the Dodgers last winter, spent 69 games with the Brewers and picked up 140 plate appearances, hitting .274/.288/.341. He’s seen time at all three outfield positions as well as third base, second base and shortstop in parts of three seasons at the Major League level.