NL Notes: Upton, Brewers, Dodgers

Braves center fielder Melvin Upton (long known as B.J.) will miss the start of the season with inflammation in his left foot, the club announced. He is not expected to resume baseball activities until early April, per the release. Needless to say, these circumstances likely wipe out any remaining possibility of a spring trade of Upton and the three years and $46.35MM left on his deal. The club is expected to allow in-house options such as Eury Perez, Eric Young Jr., Zoilo Almonte, and Todd Cunningham to compete for the job in camp, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes.

More from the National League:

  • With Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez expected to retire after the season, Milwaukee will need to implement their succession plan, as MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy writes. The need for a replacement is not a surprise to the club, but that doesn’t mean it has an immediately attractive option. While Nick Delmonico had been viewed as a strong possibility when he was acquired in 2013, his fallout with the team and subsequent release left a gap. A weak free agent class limits that avenue. And internally, the most plausible candidates appear to be waiver claimee Luis Jimenez and shortstop prospects Hector Gomez and Luis Sardinas.
  • The remade Dodgers front office is acutely aware of the impact of injuries on team performance, writes Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register. While the club invested in several oft-injured arms over the offseason, they did so with an equal appreciation for the risk and the upside, in the words of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. The Los Angeles brass is exploring means of blending data and biophysics to reduce the harm wrought by physical issues — both to inform personnel decisions and to protect players already under contract. “I would contend that any kind of advantage in injury prevention is significant,” said Friedman.

Minor Moves: Gillies, Sale, Tigers, Dbacks, Dodgers

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league:

  • Former top Phillies prospect Tyson Gillies has signed a minor league deal with the Padres, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets. Philadelphia released Gillies over the summer while he was in the midst of a tough .214/.270/.289 run at Triple-A. Now 26, the center fielder was a part of the 2009 deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners.
  • The Rays have released former first-round pick Josh Sale, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweets. The outfielder hit .238/.313/.344 in 361 plate appearances for Class A+ Charlotte in 2014 before being suspended in August for drug use. He also received a 50-game suspension for drug use in 2012 and was suspended by the Rays in 2013 following an incident at a strip club.
  • The Tigers have signed righties Ryan Perry and Ross Seaton and first baseman Bobby Borchering to minor-league deals, Eddy tweets. Detroit drafted Perry, 28, in the first round in 2008, and he pitched for three seasons in their bullpen from 2009-2011. He also appeared with the Nationals in 2012 before struggling in Washington’s minor-league system in 2013 and 2014. The 25-year-old Seaton was a third-round pick of the Astros in 2008. He got through the lower levels of Houston’s system fairly quickly despite low strikeout rates, but struggled to establish himself in the Astros’ Triple-A rotation. Borchering, 24, was the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft, and he headed from the Diamondbacks to the Astros in 2012 in the trade that sent Chris Johnson to the desert. He struggled that year at the Double-A level and hasn’t yet made it back yet, hitting .238/.324/.333 in 71 plate appearances at Class A+ Lancaster last season.
  • The Diamondbacks have signed lefties Erick Threets and Trevor Reckling, Eddy tweets. Threets, 33, appeared in parts of three seasons with the Giants and White Sox from 2007 through 2010. He pitched in Mexico last season and last appeared in affiliated ball when he posted a 2.79 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in a 2012 season spent in Triple-A with the Athletics and Dodgers organizations. Reckling, a former Angels draftee, pitched in independent ball in 2013 and did not pitch in 2014.
  • The Dodgers have signed outfielder Travis Witherspoon, Eddy tweets. The athletic Witherspoon was once on the 40-man rosters of the Angels and Mariners. The 25-year-old hit .252/.338/.448 in the friendly hitting environment of Class A+ High Desert in 2014, mostly playing center field.

Michael Saunders To Miss 5-6 Weeks After Knee Surgery

TODAY: Toronto announced that Saunders is only expected to be out five to six weeks after undergoing his procedure. The timetable moved up because the cartilage could only be removed, not replaced, Anthopoulos told reporters, including John Lott of the National Post (Twitter links). While that could lead to some longer-term knee troubles for Saunders, it will allow him to return to action much sooner.

YESTERDAY: Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders will miss approximately the first half of the season after tearing his meniscus, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Saunders was acquired for pitcher J.A. Happ over the offseason.

The news represents a disappointing start to camp for a club that had built plenty of positive momentum over the offseason. Saunders had seemed a solid replacement for outgoing free agent Melky Cabrera. He may yet be, but the club will have to wait for the summer to find out.

GM Alex Anthopoulos says that the club will give its internal options a chance initially to fill the void.  At present, Davidi notes, the group in camp includes just three members of the 40-man (Jose Bautista, Dalton Pompey, and Kevin Pillar) along with non-roster invitees Ezequiel Carrera, Chris Dickerson, and Caleb Gindl. (Twitter links.)

Of course, Toronto will undoubtedly look hard at what is available via trade over the course of the spring. The group that it had compiled was already lacking somewhat in depth, making some kind of addition seem reasonably likely. But Anthopoulos will surely be in no rush, and could also look to work the waiver wire for a solution.



Blue Jays, Athletics Talking With Dayan Viciedo

6:11pm: With Saunders now expected to return much sooner than had been anticipated, the Jays’ impetus to add Viciedo seems to have diminished significantly. Indeed, GM Alex Anthopoulos indicated that the team will likely stick with its internal options, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca writes.

5:16pm: The Blue Jays and Athletics are among the clubs who are in active talks with free agent outfielder Dayan Viciedo, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Previous reports have suggested varying levels of interest from the Indians and Reds.

Viciedo has never reached the performance levels that had once been hoped for, but remains an interesting talent at just 26 years of age. With power to spare and outstanding numbers against lefties, Viciedo has struggled to play serviceable defense and reach base against right-handed pitching. He also can be controlled through 2017 via arbitration.

Toronto is potentially in the market for at least a temporary fix in the corner outfield after losing Michael Saunders for the first half of the season. Though a left-handed bat would probably be the better fit for a right-leaning lineup, pickings are obviously rather slim at this juncture.

As for Oakland, Viciedo would not only make potential sense as a right-handed bench bat/reserve first baseman, but could challenge for a larger role in the corner outfield. The team’s candidates to provide right-handed pop (Nate Freiman and Rule 5 pick Mark Canha) are hardly certainties. And, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, left field is not locked down for Oakland, with slick defenders Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry each coming off of rough campaigns at the plate.


Doug Melvin On Papelbon Trade Talks, K-Rod Signing

Brewers GM Doug Melvin discussed his team’s recent efforts to upgrade the back end of its bullpen in an interview today with Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Milwaukee ultimate reached agreement on a two-year, $13MM contract to bring back 2014 closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The deal with K-Rod came together after ongoing talks with the Phillies regarding Jonathan Papelbon finally “hit a dead end,” per the report. Multiple reports have suggested that Rodriguez hoped for a return to Milwaukee, where he has pitched for most of the last four campaigns, and that factor (not to mention the presence of fellow late-inning man Rafael Soriano on the market) surely transferred leverage to the Brewers on all fronts.

As for Papelbon, Melvin tells Haudricourt that details in the veteran closer’s contract posed significant hurdles in talks. “We did engage them and didn’t come to a comparable deal for both sides,” said Melvin. “We had a lot of conversations. It’s complicated because of next year with the $13MM [vesting option]. Even if you agree to a deal, you have to go to the agent about the no-trade [clause].”

The vesting option was doubly complicated to handle in trade negotiations, per the report, because of the possibility of varying usage by the teams involved. Papelbon will be owed $13MM for 2016 if he finishes 48 games this season. While the Brewers would have expected that to occur had Papelbon been installed in the 9th in Milwaukee, the potential for a mid-season closer switch by the Phillies could at least theoretically allow the team to avoid the obligation. As a result, Haudricourt writes, “how to account for that money was nearly impossible.”

Beyond that, Papelbon’s limited no-trade clause included protection from being dealt to Milwaukee without his blessing. Per the report, it was at least considered a strong possibility that Papelbon would demand his vesting option be guaranteed. And Philadelphia was apparently after “at least one top prospect,” Haudricourt writes.

 


Brewers To Re-Sign Francisco Rodriguez

TODAY, 4:30pm: The deal includes a $2MM buyout on the club option and $2MM deferral, Haudricourt reports. The cost of the option remains unclear, with Haudricourt saying that he has heard both $6MM and $8MM mentioned.

It will take a few days for the deal to be finalized since Rodriguez must first get a work visa and take his physical.

YESTERDAY, 7:44pm: Rodriguez will be paid $3.5MM in 2015 and $5.5MM in 2016, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (via Twitter).  The additional $4MM in guaranteed salary will be deferred.  The Brewers’ 2017 club option for Rodriguez is worth $6MM.

11:59am: The Brewers have reached agreement on a two-year, $13MM deal with reliever Francisco Rodriguez. Milwaukee also holds a club option for the 2017 season over the Boras Corporation client.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals

While the annual breakdown is not yet fully reported, Rodriguez will earn just $3MM in 2015 and $6MM in 2016. The remainder will be deferred in some manner, though it is not clear how much is deferred salary and how much will go toward the option buyout. That will have important ramifications for the deal’s incentives, but the bottom line is that Milwaukee will save on up-front costs.

At $13MM, Rodriguez will land just shy of the $14MM that MLBTR predicted before the start of the offseason, though the option structure had to be agreed upon to achieve that. The deal appears to slot in fairly sensibly among recent contracts for similar-quality relievers. Only the younger Luke Gregerson landed a three year deal (at a $6MM AAV), while Koji Uehara ($18MM — just before hitting the market), Sergio Romo ($15MM), and Pat Neshek ($12.5MM) all got significant guarantees on two-year pacts.

Rodriguez, 33, has spent most of the past four seasons in Milwaukee. All said, he owns a 3.11 ERA over his 193 2/3 frames with the Brewers. He has maintained double-digit strikeout-per-nine rates over the last two years in addition to an excellent K%-BB%. Though FIP has been down on Rodriguez’s work in recent campaigns, other ERA estimators like xFIP and SIERA view him as a 3.00 or better performer.

One potential knock on Rodriguez — the many miles on his otherwise relatively young arm — has a positive side as well. Rodriguez has been exceptionally durable, putting up an average of 69 innings running all the way back to 2003. And he still delivers his fastball in the same general, low-90s range that he has found success with in the past.

In nailing down the closer role in Milwaukee and taking Rodriguez off of the market, the signing goes a long way to clarifying the remaining relief market. For one thing, it leaves Rafael Soriano as the undisputed best free agent still available. For another, it takes away the most obvious trade match for the Phillies and closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the signing, length, and presence of an option (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the total guarantee on Twitter. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweeted the annual breakdown.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Athletics Claim Alex Hassan From Orioles

The teams involved have announced that the Athletics have claimed outfielder Alex Hassan from the Orioles. The Orioles had designated Hassan for assignment earlier this week. To clear space on their 40-man roster, the Athletics have placed pitcher A.J. Griffin on the 60-day disabled list.

The Athletics’ latest waiver claim continues what must be a disorienting offseason for Hassan. The Athletics initially claimed him from the Red Sox in November, but lost him three days later when the Orioles claimed him. Now the Athletics have him back. The 26-year-old Hassan isn’t a power hitter, but he’s posted good on-base percentages in the minors. He hit .287/.378/.426 in 474 plate appearances while playing both corner outfield positions and first base for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2014, also going 1-for-8 in his first cup of coffee in the big leagues.


Yadier Alvarez Seeking Waiver To Allow Deal

Representatives for Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez are seeking a waiver that would allow him to sign before July 2, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports. A previous report had indicated Alvarez and fellow Cuban hurler Vladimir Gutierrez would not be able to sign before July because international prospects born after September 1, 1995 must register with MLB before they could sign, and Alvarez and Gutierrez were not registered.

MLB can waive that requirement, though, for a player who has “a compelling justification for his failure to register.” Such a waiver has never been given to a Cuban player, McDaniel notes, but the league has granted waivers for players from the Dominican. One might think the fact that Cuban players are unable to register while living in Cuba could potentially provide a compelling justification.

A waiver would allow Alvarez to sign either in the current signing period or the one that begins next July. That could widen his field of suitors, because Alvarez will be subject to rules regarding international bonus pools. The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Diamondbacks and Rays have all exceeded their 2014-15 bonus pools, so for the signing period beginning in July, they won’t be able to sign any player subject to the pool system for more than $300K. If Alvarez were allowed to sign before that, any of those teams could theoretically try to sign him. McDaniel writes, though, that the Dodgers appear to be most interested in Alvarez right now.


Inside Arbitration: The Responsibility Felt By Teams

This offseason saw more arbitration hearings than any in recent history, with 14 players going to trial to determine their 2015 salaries. Many of the hearings were over relatively small amounts of money, a few hundred thousand dollars, prompting frustration from fans who view the process as a cheap means of cost-savings. However, executives who spoke to MLBTR used a different word — “responsibility” — to describe the process. Not financial responsibility in regards to their own payroll, but rather, responsibility to the rest of the league.

“At some point, there’s a sense of fairness to the fact that this deal not only reflects on this player and this club, but that this deal also reflects on other similar players and similar clubs,” Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans told MLBTR. “So you have somewhat of a responsibility within the market to be reasonable on both sides so you’re maintaining the correct market for a player and not creating an unfair low market or an unfair high market.”

As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz has explained throughout his Arbitration Breakdown series, arbitration salaries are largely determined based on statistically similar players with similar service time to a player that is currently eligible. “You don’t want to go out there and make a deal that wouldn’t be fair on either side for the players that are not involved in the deal,” said Evans. In a strange way, the result of this sense of responsibility is a sense of collaboration among entities that spend every other waking moment trying to gain an edge over each other.

“It’s the one time of the year — at least in the baseball operations realm — where the clubs are working together,” said an AL exec who preferred not to be named. “Usually we’re competing on the field … we’re competing for player talent in free agency. We’re competing to get the better end of a trade. There’s 30 of us and we’re all trying to win the World Series. But, I feel like there’s a collective responsibility that we all feel to each other in salary arbitration to not try to allow that market to escalate too far.”

It may be puzzling to see a team head to trial over sums as seemingly negligible as $200K (Jerry Blevins) or $450K (Vance Worley), but when it comes to the arbitration process, “There is no such thing as trivial amounts of money,” Braves assistant GM John Coppolella said to MLBTR. “Whatever you negotiate is not only behalf of your club and ownership, but also other teams throughout the league.”

Perhaps of greater concern to fans than the financial implications is the potential to damage the relationship with a player. Arbitration hearings aren’t a friendly process; the player and his representatives are in the room with representatives from the team as the two sides argue back and forth over a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Last year, then-Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano expressed surprise to hear the team use statements he’d made to the media against him in a hearing that he eventually lost. Pestano said at the time that he “definitely” thought it would affect his views going forward, and while he didn’t express any ill will toward the team, it may be telling that he was traded to the Angels roughly six months after his hearing.

“If you look at the history of players who have gone to arbitration hearings, for whatever reason, very few remain with the same team for the long term,” said Coppolella. “I don’t think the hearings are contentious per se, but the process isn’t exactly friendly and heartwarming.” The Braves did have a hearing with Mike Minor this offseason, from which Minor emerged victorious, but Minor told reporters after the fact that it was “just business” and he didn’t have any grudges against the team.

The player’s acceptance of the situation may come down to how the team approaches their side of the hearing. As one former NL GM told MLBTR’s Zach Links, “It was always very important that in any arbitration case … I wanted to see us be straight factually, bottom line. Never ever do anything to diminish the ability or the skills of the player. … What arbitration is all about is reaching a comparative level. … The meeting isn’t the easiest path, but you don’t want to damage any relationships.”

Ultimately, the impact on the player likely varies from case to case, however. As Evans explained, “Some players might just be very curious about the process and therefore not be the least bit offended. … Some players may be inconvenienced by it and irritated that the club wasn’t making an offer to their liking. … It really depends on the spirit of the negotiation.” The aforementioned AL exec had a similar notion: “Some players and some teams are going to be more emotional and more stubborn than others. … Sometimes you know who those players are. You’ll say ‘This guy is not the right guy to take to a hearing. He’s a little soft. This could stick with him for awhile.’ Other players are much more corporate and can handle it.”

I asked Evans if that makes it more difficult to negotiate with players with whom the team does not have a longstanding relationship. For instance, San Francisco acquired third baseman Casey McGehee from the Marlins this offseason and immediately had to begin negotiating a contract in an effort to avoid arbitration. Evans felt that history was secondary to how the two sides handled the negotiation, adding that he was happy to have avoided a hearing.

Another similar case to McGehee is that of the Angels and outfielder Matt Joyce. Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak went a bit more in depth when discussing the pros and cons of negotiating with a player just acquired in an offseason trade. “I think sometimes it’s easier to go to a hearing with a player you’ve never met,” said Klentak (although he was glad to have avoided one with Joyce). He continued that while teams try to be objective in these proceedings, it’s difficult to completely eliminate the bond that has formed when seeing a player develop, triumph and rise through a system to the point where he’s eligible for arbitration. That element is removed when negotiating with new players.

“I still haven’t met Matt Joyce. I’ve negotiated his contract with his agent, we’ve traded for him, but I’ve never personally met him. … I’d really have hated for the first time I met this guy to be wearing a suit, sitting across a table, arguing over a million dollars. But, that is easier when you don’t know the person.”

Arbitration can be contentious, and for onlookers it’s easy to question the motives of a team or of a player when seemingly small gaps are bridged through a potentially inflammatory process like a hearing. But those small gaps compound over time, and the overriding theme when speaking with executives is that the responsibility of managing a market shared by all sometimes makes these hearings a necessary evil.


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Juan Pierre Officially Retires

Veteran outfielder Juan Pierre has officially retired, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tweets. Pierre did not play in 2014, so it comes as little surprise that he’s retiring.

The speedy Pierre racked up 614 stolen bases in parts of 14 seasons in the Majors and rarely struck out, finding ways to annoy opposing pitchers despite his lack of home-run power. He led his league in stolen bases three times and is currently 18th in career steals. (He’s also sixth in caught stealings for his career, with 203.)

For much of his career, Pierre was also a serious on-base threat, with six seasons with on-base percentages above .350. Pierre was a key member of the World Champion 2003 Marlins, swiping 65 bases that season before hitting .333/.481/.429 in the World Series against the Yankees.

Pierre finishes his career with a .295/.343/.361 line with the Rockies, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies, earning at least $57MM in the process, via Baseball Reference. Much of that came from a $44MM deal with the Dodgers signed prior to the 2007 season.


Aramis Ramirez Likely To Retire After 2015 Season

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez is likely to retire after the season is over, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Last offseason, the Brewers and Ramirez exercised his $14MM mutual option, and Ramirez said at the time that he would decide whether he wanted to play beyond that. It appears he is, at least, close to making that decision.

USATSI_7987558_154513410_lowres2015 will be Ramirez’s 18th season in the big leagues, even though he’s only 36 — he made his debut as a 19-year-old with the Pirates in 1998. It took a few more years for him to establish himself as a regular, but he announced his presence boldly with a .300/.350/.536 season in 2001. He struggled in 2002, however, and the Pirates shipped him to the Cubs in a cost-cutting move in 2003.

In Chicago, Ramirez blossomed into a dependable slugger, posting three straight seasons of 31 or more home runs beginning in 2004 and joining Derrek Lee as a key offensive player on a series of good Cubs teams. Ramirez remained with the Cubs through the end of the decade, then signed with the Brewers as a free agent following the 2011 season. He had one of the best years of his career in his first season in Milwaukee, leading the NL in doubles with 50 and posting a .300/.360/.540 line as he finished ninth in MVP balloting.

In spite of that, there were signs that Ramirez might be reaching the end. He’s coming off a solid .285/.330/.427 2014 season, but he missed significant time due to injury in 2013, and his power has slipped since 2012. He is also reportedly highly dedicated to his family, which lives in his native Dominican Republic. “It’s more of a family thing,” Ramirez tells the Journal Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak. “I’ve got three kids, I’ve been playing for a long time, been away for a long time. Sometimes it’s just time to do something else.”

For his career, Ramirez has hit .285/.344/.496 with 369 home runs, and he’ll likely end his career in the top five in that category among third basemen. He has made three All-Star games and been in the top 20 in NL MVP voting five times.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Blue Jays Sign Johan Santana To Minors Deal

FRIDAY: Santana will receive a $2.5MM base salary if he’s in the big leagues, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports (Twitter links). The deal also includes $2.05MM in incentives for games started (up to 25) as well as $2MM in roster bonuses. He has an April 28 opt-out date, and it’s not likely he’ll be ready by Opening Day, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.

THURSDAY: The Blue Jays have signed veteran left-hander Johan Santana to a minor league contract with an invitation to their big league Spring Training camp, according to a team press release.  Santana is represented by Peter Greenberg of the Legacy Agency.

Santana hasn’t pitched in either the majors or minors since 2012, as he has been sidelined by both left shoulder capsule surgery (his second such procedure in three years) and, most recently, a torn Achilles tendon last June while on a minor league deal with the Orioles.  Santana returned to make some appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason and drew interest from multiple teams, including the Padres and Yankees, though his Venezuelan outings were limited by shoulder soreness.

Given his checkered injury history and the fact that Santana turns 36 in March, it’s hard to see this as anything more than a depth signing for Toronto.  It’s worth noting, however, that the last time Santana was healthy (the first few months of the 2012 season), he still gave the Mets several quality starts, including a no-hitter.

The Jays’ rotation depth was thinned by a few offseason trades, leaving rookie top prospect Daniel Norris as the projected fifth starter behind Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman and Drew HutchisonAaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada are likely the two top backup options should Norris struggle, though since the Jays are aiming to have both pitchers in the bullpen, a veteran option like Santana could come in handy.  The Jays have been looking for relief pitching depth as well, though according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (Twitter link), Santana is being looked at by the team as a starter.


NL Notes: Nationals, Escobar, Holliday, Lopez

The Nationals haven’t managed to avoid the possibility of losing key members of their team due to free agency, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports. The Nats could be without Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister after the season because they haven’t managed to sign those players to long-term deals that delay free agency. That might not be entirely their fault, Svrluga suggests — they tried to sign all three players. In the meantime, though, they have another wave of core players (Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon) to whom they could turn their attention. Strasburg, Harper and Rendon are all represented by Scott Boras, who does not generally like long-term deals for pre-free-agency players. Some of his clients, such as Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez, have signed them, however. Here are more notes from the National League.

  • Yunel Escobar wasn’t happy to have been traded away from the Rays to the Athletics and then from the Athletics to the Nationals, and he also wasn’t happy he’d have to move from shortstop to second base, the Post’s James Wagner writes. Escobar has changed his mind since then, however. “They’ve reached the playoffs two of the last three years,” says Escobar. “I want to help them win a World Series. If the missing piece is me playing second base, then I’m here for anything.” Escobar says certain aspects of playing second base, like turning double plays, are “confusing,” but says that he’ll improve that them with practice.
  • Baseball is full of incredibly disappointing free-agent contracts, but Matt Holliday‘s current seven-year, $120MM deal with the Cardinals isn’t one of them, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I really wanted it to work out great for both sides,” says Holliday. “A lot of times with a long-term contract, you hear ‘They hope to get a couple of good years out of it.’ My goal from the day I signed was to get to the end of the contract and have everybody feel really good about it.” Holliday’s defense has slipped since signing, but he’s maintained a high standard offensively, and with just two years (plus an option) left on the deal, it looks like the Cardinals are going to get more than their money’s worth.
  • When Cuban righty Yoan Lopez signed with the Diamondbacks, he joined the organization he rooted for as a child, Carlos Torres Bujanda writes for Baseball America. “Since I was a kid, I followed the D-backs when Randy Johnson was on the team,” says Lopez. “To see the games or check the stats I had friends who worked in hotels with Internet access. They download the games so I can watch later, or see the numbers.” Lopez adds that he’s happy the Diamondbacks also signed another Cuban player this offseason, Yasmany Tomas.

AL Notes: Frieri, Hamilton, Blanton

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey is already helping new reliever Ernesto Frieri make adjustments, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. “That’s why I’m here,” says Frieri. “He knows what he’s doing. He fixed a couple of guys before, and I hope I’m not the exception. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the right information and I’m going to take advantage.” The Rays have helped veteran relievers like Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth and Joaquin Benoit improve their stock, and Frieri hopes to be the next in line. The 29-year-old is coming off a terrible season with the Angels and Pirates in which he posted a 7.34 ERA and struggled mechanically. His 10.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and good velocity suggest he might have more gas in his tank, however, even if his fly-ball tendencies make him homer-prone, so he could be a bounce-back candidate if he can make the right adjustments. Here’s more from the American League.

  • MLB plans to be compassionate in the case of Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton after his relapse, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi report. The league is expected to suspend Hamilton for 25 games or more, but for less than a full season, although an official decision is not close. Hamilton’s relapse violated the terms of the treatment program the league required of him when he was reinstated in 2006 following a lengthy suspension.
  • The Royals will use Joe Blanton exclusively as a reliever, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports. “The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen,” says Ned Yost. “We’re not going to stretch him out.” Blanton, 34, recently signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City after sitting out the 2014 season. He has spent almost his entire ten-year big-league career as a starter.

Quick Hits: Draft Pools, Street, Viciedo, Melky

Major League Baseball has let teams know the bonus pool values for the 2015 amateur draft, and Baseball America’s John Manuel has the full list of what each team can spend on players taken in the first 10 rounds.  The Astros have the highest bonus pool (at a bit more than $17.289MM) in part because they received the second overall selection as compensation for not signing Brady Aiken with the No. 1 pick last summer — Houston has both the second and fifth overall picks in the 2015 draft.  As noted earlier today, the 2015-16 international draft pool values were also determined and revealed by Baseball America’s Ben Badler.

Here’s some more from around the game…

  • Huston Street and the Angels haven’t begun yet talks about an extension during Spring Training, he tells MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez (Twitter link).  Street said he wanted “a week or so to settle in first” at camp and then the two sides would start negotiating.  The closer is known to be looking for a new deal comparable to the contracts signed by David Robertson and Andrew Miller this offseason.
  • The Indians are still interested in adding Dayan Viciedo but only on a minor league contract, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets.  Hoynes reported on the Tribe’s interest in Viciedo two weeks ago, though Hoynes felt Viciedo would more likely opt for a team who could offer him a Major League deal and a clearer path to playing time.
  • Melky Cabrera was already intrigued by the White Sox since his wife loves Chicago, though the outfielder wasn’t totally sold until he saw the team’s winter moves, Cabrera told CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes.  When GM Rick Hahn approached Cabrera earlier in the offseason, he was more skeptical since he wanted to play for a contender.  Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Hahn recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”
  • With Michael Saunders sidelined for several months, the Blue Jays are lacking in solid left field replacement options, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  Nicholson-Smith lists several internal and external candidates who are flawed (or unlikely to be pursued) for one reason or another.  The PadresWill Venable is cited as perhaps the best trade candidate for the Jays’ LF hole, though even he isn’t a perfect fit.
  • The Mariners are putting a lot of faith in Logan Morrison to be healthy and productive this season, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes, given Morrison’s injury history and Seattle’s lack of depth at the first base position.