White Sox Sign Gordon Beckham, Designate Dayan Viciedo For Assignment

The White Sox announced that they have signed infielder Gordon Beckham to a one-year, $2MM contract and designated outfielder Dayan Viciedo for assignment in order to clear a space on the 40-man roster. Earlier today, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweeted that a reunion between the Sox and Beckham was a possibility.

Chicago is of course more familiar with Beckham than any other club, having formerly drafted him eighth overall and watched him on their big league roster from 2009 through this past August, when he was traded to the Angels. Beckham never lived up to a strong rookie season and batted a fairly pedestrian .241/.300/.361 from 2010-14. However, the Sox were known to be looking for a utility infielder that can handle left-handed pitching, and Beckham will presumably fill that role with the team.

The White Sox and Viciedo had already agreed to a one-year, $4.4MM contract to avoid arbitration, however that salary is not fully guaranteed. This situation is the same in which Emilio Bonifacio found himself with the Royals last winter, when he was designated after agreeing to a salary. (Coincidentally, Bonifacio had a solid season and signed a $4MM contract to join the White Sox this offseason.) The White Sox are able to cut Viciedo for roughly one sixth of his agreed upon salary at this point, meaning they’ll be on the hook for roughly $733K of that $4.4MM sum, should he ultimately be released. Of course, a team could claim the entirety of Viciedo’s $4.4MM salary on waivers (which seems unlikely) or trade for him, with Chicago kicking in some cash as well.

Viciedo, 26 in March, has never provided much in the way of defensive value and saw his offense slip to a .231/.281/.405 triple-slash in 2014 — his worst full season of production to date. I was a bit surprised to see that the team tendered him a contract, but the Sox likely did so with the intent of flipping him to a club that was still enticed by his right-handed power. However, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets, the Sox tried unsuccessfully to trade Viciedo all offseason. Now, with Melky Cabrera in the fold in left field, Avisail Garcia expected to man right field and Jose Abreu/Adam LaRoche sharing time at first base and DH, there wasn’t a good fit on the roster for Viciedo.

Beckham will join Bonifacio as an option at second base, though he’s also capable of serving as a platoon partner for Conor Gillaspie at third base, shielding Gillaspie from his weakness against southpaws. Should Beckham finally tap into the potential that made him the eighth pick in the 2008 draft, he’d be able to fill in at second base on an everyday basis, with Bonifacio shifting into the role of a super utility player.


Mariners To Sign John Baker To Minor League Deal

The Mariners and veteran catcher John Baker have agreed to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter).

The 34-year-old Baker, a client of CAA’s Joe Urbon, spent last season with the Cubs and picked up 208 plate appearances despite struggling tremendously at the plate. Baker batted just .192/.273/.231 with Chicago, continuing a decline from what were a pair of solid offensive seasons in his first two years in the Majors. Baker batted .281/.364/.423 with 14 homers in 656 PAs from 2008-09 — his first two seasons of Major League action. However, since that time, he’s batted .209/.291/.249 without a homer in 572 PAs.

Baker is a career .272/.360/.408 hitter in the minor leagues, though, and his addition was likely made for depth purposes. That said, he’ll surely have a chance to compete with Jesus Sucre and John Hicks to determine who will open the season as the backup to former No. 3 overall pick Mike Zunino.


Nationals To Sign Casey Janssen

11:40pm: Svrluga adds that Janssen will earn $3.5MM in 2015, and the buyout on his mutual option is valued at $1.5MM (Twitter link).

10:48am: Janssen’s mutual option is valued at $7MM, reports Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post (Twitter link).

9:41am: The Nationals and right-hander Casey Janssen have agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option that will guarantee him a total of $5MM, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Janssen is represented by ACES.

Casey Janssen

The 33-year-old Janssen was one of the best remaining options on the relief market and has spent the bulk of the past three seasons serving as Toronto’s closer. His stats took a tumble in 2014, though some of that decline may have been attributable to a violent case of food poisoning. Janssen reportedly lost eight pounds in a single day as a result of that episode, and he likely rushed back to the mound too soon; Janssen spent two days on an IV to rehydrate his body and the next day began a stretch of five appearances in eight days.

Overall, he posted a 6.26 ERA in the second half that caused his overall mark on the season to balloon to 3.94. Janssen showed his typically excellent command in 2014, walking just 1.4 hitters per nine innings, but his strikeout rate curiously dipped, even during his healthy first half. Janssen averaged just 5.5 K/9 in 2014 — a decline of three strikeouts per nine when compared to his previous four seasons of work.

A rocky 2014 notwithstanding, Janssen’s work dating back to the 2011 season is nothing short of outstanding when judged as a whole. In that time, he’s worked to a 2.77 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate. He saved 83 games for Toronto in that stretch and should give Nationals manager Matt Williams an experienced safety net for closer Drew Storen. However, Storen posted a sensational 1.12 ERA in 2014 and took over the ninth inning late in the season after Rafael Soriano struggled. His ERA and the fact that he closed out the year with a stretch of 20 innings without allowing an earned run likely still makes Storen the favorite for saves in 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Joe Blanton Planning Comeback, Will Audition For Teams Next Week

Right-hander Joe Blanton is planning a comeback and will audition for teams on Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn., MLBTR has learned. Blanton will work out and throw a bullpen for those teams in attendance. Blanton has been on a throwing program in preparation for Spring Training, and as M. Blake Harrison noted (on Twitter) earlier this week, he’s been working out with Zach Duke — his neighbor in the Nashville area. Harrison also pointed out that the A’s are at least a logistical fit in theory, as Blanton has homes in California and Nashville (the new location of Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate).

Having just turned 34 in December, Blanton is perhaps younger than some may expect. He hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2013, when he struggled to a 6.04 ERA over 132 2/3 innings in his lone season with the Angels. Always one to post excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios, Blanton began to be plagued by home run problems in 2009, and those problems peaked in 2013, when more than 19 percent of the fly-balls hit against him left the yard.

However, Blanton was typically a reliable source of innings, clearing the 190 mark in six of his nine full seasons in the Majors. He’s had a relatively clean bill of health over the life of his career to this point, only missing significant time in 2011 due to an impingement in his right elbow. Blanton has a lifetime 4.51 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a  44.2 percent ground-ball rate in 1567 1/3 innings of work between the Athletics, Phillies, Dodgers and Angels.


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Marlins Sign Ichiro Suzuki

JAN. 28: Ichiro’s deal could reach up to $5MM if he receives enough plate appearances, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week (on Twitter). That, of course, is only likely in the event of a significant injury to another outfielder, as Jackson notes.

JAN. 27: The Marlins have officially announced the signing of free agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract that is reportedly wort $2MM.  The 41-year-old Ichiro, a client of John Boggs & Associates, should serve as Miami’s fourth outfielder in 2015.

Ichiro Suzuki

Though his skills have clearly eroded somewhat with age, Ichiro posted a respectable .284/.324/.340 batting line in 385 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2014. He also swiped 15 bases in 18 tries, continuing a career-long trend of pronounced efficiency in that regard. Defensive metrics pegged him as an average right fielder, and he slid over to center field for a brief, 19-inning cameo as well, suggesting that he’s capable of doing so in a pinch should the Marlins require such a move on occasion in 2015.

The Marlins’ primary outfield will consist of Christian Yelich in left field, Marcell Ozuna in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right — an excellent young trio that will limit Ichiro’s playing time and make it highly unlikely that he reaches the 156 hits he needs to reach 3,000 in his Major League career (he also had 1,278 hits in his Japanese career prior to jumping to MLB). However, there’s been no indication from his camp that this will be the likely Hall of Famer’s final season, so he could yet reach the plateau if he remains reasonably productive and secures another big league deal next offseason.

The addition of Ichiro merely adds to what has been a highly active season for the Marlins. In addition to this move, executives Dan Jennings and Michael Hill have added Mat Latos, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Martin Prado and Aaron Crow via trade while also signing free agent slugger Mike Morse to upgrade the team’s offense at first base.

Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio first reported the agreement (Twitter link). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that there were no options on the deal (Twitter links). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted the guarantee.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Latest On The Phillies’ Papelbon Trade Talks

JAN. 28: Haudricourt now tweets that he gets the sense the Brewers would like to find a way to make a Papelbon trade work, despite the fact that it would be complicated. Failing that outcome, a Francisco Rodriguez reunion is a fallback option for Milwaukee.

JAN. 27: While trade talks between the Brewers and Phillies regarding Jonathan Papelbon have slowed, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki hears from two sources that the Phillies are still talking  to both Milwaukee and Toronto about Papelbon. Zolecki adds that the seriousness of the talks is unclear at this time, though Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears that Toronto’s interest is extremely limited (Twitter link). The Blue Jays would only acquire Papelbon if the financial risk associated with the transaction is “extremely limited,” per Rosenthal.

Additionally, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that the Phillies have been in touch with an unknown AL club regarding Papelbon in the past few days. While that club could certainly be Toronto, it’s also possible that a second American League club could have kicked the tires on Papelbon.

The Blue Jays have repeatedly expressed interest in adding some experience to the back of their bullpen, though Papelbon is an imperfect fit for a number of reasons. For one, the Blue Jays are said to have only about $7MM remaining to improve their 2015 roster, and Papelbon is owed $13MM in 2015. Secondly, as CSN Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported last week, Toronto is one of the team’s on Papelbon’s no-trade clause. Multiple reports indicated that Papelbon would require his $13MM vesting option to be guaranteed in order to approve a deal to a team on his no-trade clause, further muddying the financial situation for the Blue Jays.

As for the Brewers, talks with that team broke down due to financial concerns, and those concerns are still present, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. As he further notes, the ball is in Philadelphia’s court when it comes to a Papelbon trade, but the Phillies are strongly against letting his $13MM vesting option kick in, so it makes little sense for the Phillies to pay that money to facilitate a trade.

That scenario was one of the topics I discussed in today’s MLBTR Chat earlier this afternoon. The Phillies, as it stands, are on the hook for $13MM of Papelbon’s contract. If the team trades him and guarantees Papelbon’s vesting option, the acquiring club would owe the 34-year-old a total of $26MM. In that instance, even if the Phillies ate half of the money owed to Papelbon, they wouldn’t actually be saving anything. In fact, they may actually cost themselves money, as moving Ken Giles, the likely closer-in-waiting, into the ninth inning to open the 2015 season would surely cause his eventual arbitration price to rise.

It’s difficult then, to envision the Phillies paying anywhere close to $13MM of Papelbon’s salary without receiving a return that they feel is a significant upgrade to their farm system. The alternative would be to deal Papelbon to a club that is not on his no-trade list, with the acquiring club deploying him in a setup capacity. That could allow Philadelphia to save some money on Papelbon’s salary without the option coming into play. However, to this point, there haven’t been any indications that any of the 12 teams to which he cannot block a trade — the Red Sox, Rays, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs and Padres — have any significant interest in trading for him.


Pitching Notes: Shields, Albers, Cotts, Gee

In his latest piece on the market for James Shields, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looks at the most recent significant contracts for starting pitchers of age 33 or older and points out that history is not on Shields’ side. MLBTR took a similar look at Shields in Spring Training of last year, noting that recent history suggested it’d be difficult to find a team willing to guarantee his age-37 season. Rosenthal notes that executives to whom he has spoken cite Shields’ age, innings backlog, declining strikeout rate and shaky postseason track record as negatives. At this point, Rosenthal feels a four-year deal worth less than $20MM annually is likely.

A few more pitching notes from around the league…

  • Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the Twins were informed yesterday of a Feb. 10 showcase for right-hander Matt Albers in Houston (Twitter link). All teams are invited to watch Albers throw, of course, and Wolfson does note that the Twins are open to adding a bullpen arm. A shoulder injury limited Albers to just eight appearances with the Astros in 2014, but he does have a pristine 2.63 ERA over his past 133 1/3 big league innings (three seasons’ worth of work).
  • While it’s been previously written that the Rangers expect Neal Cotts to sign elsewhere, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram now reports (via Twitter) that the Rangers have been officially informed that the 34-year-old lefty will sign with a different team this offseason. Cotts wasn’t able to replicate his exceptional 1.11 ERA from his 2013 comeback, but he did post a 4.32 ERA with solid peripheral stats in 2014 (8.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 3.58 FIP, 3.41 SIERA).
  • The Mets still aren’t close to trading Dillon Gee, tweets MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, nor are they close to dealing any of their other potentially available starters (presumably referring to Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon). However, as DiComo notes, that type of situation can change quickly in the three weeks leading up to Spring Training, and of course, a deal could always be negotiated in Spring Training as well.

Minor Moves: Morris, Stewart, Herrmann

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • First baseman Hunter Morris has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the Brewers announced this week. Morris was at one point considered to be the Brewers’ first baseman of the future, and he posted an impressive .303/.357/.563 batting line at Double-A in 2012. However, he’s slipped to a .260/.315/.453 line in two seasons at Triple-A and missed time with a fractured forearm this season. Morris will play the coming season at age 26.
  • The Angels have signed right-hander Zach Stewart to a minor league deal with no invite to Spring Training, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Stewart, 28, once looked to be a fairly promising prospect but has registered just a 6.82 ERA in 103 innings with the Blue Jays, White Sox and Red Sox. The former Reds third-rounder has a lifetime 4.15 ERA in 364 2/3 Triple-A innings.
  • The Angels announced the signing of righty Frank Herrmann to a minor league deal with a spring invite, via Twitter. The 30-year-old last worked in the bigs back in 2012, and owns a 4.26 ERA with 5.4 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9 over 120 1/3 career frames. After Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2013, Herrmann struggled last year in 29 2/3 Triple-A frames with the Indians, the only organization he had previously played for.

Angels Open To Extensions With Street, Iannetta, Richards

The Angels are planning to discuss an extension with closer Huston Street in Spring Training and are also open to extensions with catcher Chris Iannetta and budding ace Garrett Richards, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. The Halos, in fact, have already approached Street about the possibility, Gonzalez adds.

An extension with Street has been a known possibility for some time, as GM Jerry Dipoto told Gonzalez back in November that the two sides would talk during Spring Training. However, interest in extending Iannetta had not surfaced publicly prior to this point.

Interestingly, Street will represent himself in any contract negotiations, the reliever himself told Gonzalez in that same November piece by Gonzalez. A former client of Hendricks Sports, Street earned $7MM in both 2013 and 2014, and he’ll earn the same amount in 2015.

Street’s strikeout rate rebounded from a career-low 7.3 K/9 in 2013 back up to a more typical 8.7 K/9 in 2014, and he enjoyed his second sub-2.00 ERA campaign of the past three seasons. Although his ERA has fluctuated significantly over the past four seasons, his efforts have netted a 2.49 ERA in 213 1/3 innings with 8.6 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. ERA estimator SIERA has pegged Street as a sub-3.00 ERA reliever in five of the past six seasons, with the lone exception being the aforementioned 2013 season in which his strikeout rate dipped.

As for Iannetta, it makes sense to see the Halos interested in retaining him, given the fact that the soon-to-be 32-year-old is slated to be one of the top backstops available on next year’s open market, alongside Matt Wieters and Alex Avila. Iannetta offers not only respectable pop from behind the dish (.148 ISO with the Angels) but also has posted gaudy OBP numbers for much of his career thanks to a lifetime 14.2 percent walk rate. He does leave something to be desired in terms of pitch framing and is a bit below average in terms of career caught-stealing rate, but he’s a consistently valuable option behind the dish.

Richards and the Angels have to hammer out his arbitration salary — he filed for a $3.8MM salary, while the team countered at $2.4MM, as can be seen in our Arbitration Tracker — and talks are said to be progressing slowly, per Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times (Twitter link). DiGiovanna adds that to this point, there’s been no discussion of a multi-year pact with Richards’ representatives at Relativity Baseball, and Gonzalez did caution that such negotiations might not even begin until after Opening Day.

However, as MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows, Relativity has been amenable to extensions for young starters in the past, as they negotiated long-term deals for Chris Archer, Julio Teheran, Madison Bumgarner and Jon Lester prior to those players reaching three years of big league service. Of course, Richards is a Super Two player and already eligible for arbitration, so he figures to be a more expensive commodity than the aforementioned names, who signed prior to arbitration.

Uncertainty surrounding Richards’ health as he recovers from knee surgery may be a factor in potentially delaying talks until the season begins, though Gonzalez reports that the right-hander is running on 75 percent of his body weight and should progress to 100 percent next week. He’s expected to be ready to begin throwing off a mound around the time the club begins its workouts in Spring Training. GM Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t comment on extension talks with Richards (or any other player), but he expressed confidence that the Angels would avoid an arbitration hearing with Richards, Matt Joyce and David Freese, Gonzalez writes.


Orioles Acquire Travis Snider

8:23pm: Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells reporters, including Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link), that the player to be named later will be “similar” to Tarpley. It seems worth noting, then, that Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported earlier tonight that fellow Class-A left-hander Steven Brault was a possible name that could exchange hands.

7:32pm: It’s been a quiet offseason for the Orioles in terms of outfield additions, but the team announced today that it has struck a deal to acquire Travis Snider from the Pirates in exchange for Class-A left-hander Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later.

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Snider, who turns 27 next week, represents the first outfield addition to an Orioles club that has already lost both Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz this offseason (though the team did also re-sign Delmon Young). Where he fits into the overall picture for the Orioles is a bit less clear, as the team already has a pair of left-handed hitting corner outfielders in Alejandro De Aza and David Lough. However, Lough doesn’t have the same offensive ceiling as Snider and may be considered more of a fourth outfield option for the Orioles follwing this trade.

Snider, formerly a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball per both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, has not lived up to that billing nor his lofty draft status (14th overall in 2006), but he enjoyed a strong season at the plate in 2014 with Pittsburgh. After a slow start, Snider recovered to slash .264/.338/.438 with 13 homers in 359 plate appearances. Specifically, Snider was excellent after the All-Star break, hitting .288/.356/.524 in 188 plate appearances.

The Pirates and Snider have already agreed to a $2.1MM salary for 2015, thereby avoiding arbitration. Snider will be arb-eligible again next winter for the final time before hitting the free agent market in the 2016-17 offseason.

As for the Orioles, they’ll acquire a 21-year-old former third-round pick (98th overall in 2013) in the form of Tarpley. The Arizona native spent 2014 with short-season Class-A Aberdeen, working to a 3.68 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 66 innings of work (12 starts, one relief appearance). Tarpley recently ranked 14th on MLB.com’s list of Top 20 Orioles prospects and last winter ranked 21st on Baseball America’s list of Top 30 Orioles prospects. BA noted that Tarpley has the stuff to start, with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 96 at times in addition to a curveball and changeup. He previously had a slider in his arsenal as well, though the Orioles opted to scrap that pitch so he could focus on his change, per BA. MLB.com praised him as an arm with upside, touting not only solid curveball and a changeup that shows potential, but also his pitchability and size.

Even more recently, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel ranked Tarpley ninth among Orioles’ prospects, noting that one scout labeled his curveball as a 70 (on the 20-80 scale), but Tarpley is inconsistent due to both inconsistent mechanics and some maturity/makeup issues, though he looks to be coming around on that front.

Beyond that, however, are the implications for the Pirates’ 2015 roster. With Snider out of the picture, a path is likely cleared for top prospect Gregory Polanco to receive everyday at-bats in right field. Polanco got off to a blistering start in 2014 but quickly cooled and eventually lost time to Snider in the second half. The Pirates will surely hope that Polanco’s 2015 batting line will more closely resemble his .328/.390/.504 batting line from Triple-A than his .235/.307/.343 Major League triple-slash.

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports then reported that an agreement had been reached, and Tarpley was headed to Pittsburgh (Twitter link). Connolly added (on Twitter) that a PTBNL would be in the deal as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Orioles Designate Michael Ohlman For Assignment

The Orioles announced that they have designated catcher Michael Ohlman for assignment in order to clear room on the 40-man roster for the newly acquired Travis Snider.

Ohlman, 24, spent this past season with Double-A Bowie in the Orioles’ minor league ranks, hitting .236/.310/.318 with a pair of homers in 113 trips to the plate. That production represented a significant step back from his 2013 campaign — a strong .313/.410/.524 showing with 13 home runs in the Class-A Advanced Carolina League. Baseball America ranked him ninth among Orioles’ prospects just last offseason, although clearly his poor showing in 2014 caused his stock to slip. In their report, BA noted that Ohlman’s 6’5″ frame is large for a catcher, and he struggles with both receiving and pitch blocking, though they did note that he possesses solid-average arm strength.


Orioles, Pirates Closing In On Travis Snider Trade

6:36pm: One name involved in talks, according to Connolly, is Class-A left-hander Steven Brault (Twitter links). Connolly gets the sense that if Brault and a second prospect are sent to the Pirates, the second player would be a hitter.

5:06pm: The Orioles are attempting to acquire Snider for “less” than two minor leaguers at present, tweets Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com.

4:47pm: Connolly adds, via Twitter, that the two sides could be closing in on a deal, and a trade could be agreed upon within the next day.

4:42pm: The Orioles and Pirates have rekindled their previous trade talks regarding Travis Snider, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. While Connolly cautions that a deal is not complete, it seems that the general parameters have been discussed in some depth, as he adds that Snider would cost the Orioles one or two non-40-man prospects — at least one pitcher and possibly another player (that could also be a pitcher).

The 26-year-old Snider (27 next week), formerly one of the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, never was able to live up to those lofty expectations, but he enjoyed a solid season in 2014. Last year with the Pirates, the former Blue Jays top pick batted .264/.338/.438 with 13 homers in 359 plate appearances.

Snider and the Pirates have already agreed to a $2.1MM salary this season, avoiding arbitration. He’s controllable through the 2016 season, as he currently has four years, 91 days of Major League service time. Previous talks regarding Snider involved Brian Matusz, according to Connolly, though he is not under consideration as a part of this deal.

The Orioles lost both Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz to free agency this offseason and have yet to replace either, with the current starting outfield projecting to feature Alejandro De Aza in left field, Adam Jones in center and David Lough in right field. Both Steve Pearce and Delmon Young could serve as right-handed options at the outfield corners, though Young figures to spend most of his time at DH. The left-handed hitting Snider would give the Orioles a third lefty-swinging corner option, though perhaps the team feels that the defensively oriented Lough is best deployed as a fourth outfielder.


Yoan Moncada, Others May Be Nearing Free Agency

6:26pm: Badler adds (via Twitter) that should Major League Baseball end its previous policy of requiring a specific license, in addition to OFAC’s license, then not only would Moncada be eligible to sign, but second basemen Andy Ibanez and Hector Olivera would also be able to sign immediately.

6:21pm: Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada is close to being declared a free agent and could be cleared to sign with a Major League club as soon as two weeks from now, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

As Passan writes (and as Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel chronicled recently), changes announced by President Obama allow Cubans that can prove residence in a third country to receive a general unblocking license and avoid the process of being cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The 19-year-old Moncada has a permanent residency document from Guatemala, a Guatemalan National I.D. and a statement from a Guatemalan bank to prove that residency, Passan reports.

A Treasury Department official tells Passan that if Moncada receives that general license, the onus falls on Major League Baseball to clear the player to negotiate with big league teams. Moncada had previously been waiting for a license from OFAC, but changes to the relations with Cuba now shift responsibility to clear him to MLB (which is one of the reasons that Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently reported that MLB, not OFAC, was preventing Moncada’s free agency). The League has drafted a letter and will request a meeting with OFAC to confirm that the changes to the policy, Passan hears.

Passan adds that MLB is rightfully taking caution in their approach to this, as past cases of Cuban players coming to America have been tainted by forged documentation and bribes to expedite the process. Should there be a conflict with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, penalties could include $1MM in corporate fines, $250K in personal fines and as many as 10 years in prison. The league issued the following statement to Passan regarding the matter:

“MLB has important questions regarding how the new regulations apply to the unique circumstances of Cuban players based on our significant experience in this area, and our discussions with OFAC in prior years. MLB is committed to following the laws of the United States, and will not change its policy requiring that Cuban Players receive a specific OFAC unblocking license until it confirms with all relevant branches of our government, including OFAC, that any new approach is consistent with the law. We hope to receive clarity on this issue as quickly as possible.”

As it stands, the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs remain the favorites, Passan notes. Of course, the Cubs are presently unable to sign Moncada as they are restricted from signing an international prospect for more than $250K after blowing past their international spending limit in the 2013-14 signing period. Should Moncada not sign rior to June 15, the Cubs would again be able to sign him, while the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Angels would be restricted from doing so after exceeding their own international spending limits from the 2014-15 signing period.


Red Sox, Rangers Swap Anthony Ranaudo, Robbie Ross Jr.

Rangers executive vice president of communications John Blake has announced, on Twitter, that Texas has acquired right-hander Anthony Ranaudo from the Red Sox in exchange for left-hander Robbie Ross, Jr.

Ranaudo, 25, made his big league debut in 2014 with the Red Sox but experienced underwhelming results, compiling a 4.81 ERA with 3.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 34.1 percent ground-ball rate in 39 1/3 innings (seven starts). However, Ranaudo has a respectable pedigree, having previously ranked as a Top 100 prospect, per both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus after being selected 39th overall in the 2010 draft.

Indeed, Ranaudo fared significantly better at Triple-A in both 2013 and 2014, totaling 168 1/3 innings of 2.67 ERA ball with 7.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He could compete for a rotation spot with a Rangers team that lacked depth last year in what was an injury-riddled season, but it’s also possible that the Rangers view him as a bullpen candidate. Currently, Texas projects to have a rotation consisting of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis and one of Ross Detwiler and Nick Martinez.

As for Ross, the 25-year-old struggled when he transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation last year, largely due to those injuries. However, he excelled as a left-handed weapon out of the Rangers’ bullpen the previous two seasons, logging 127 1/3 innings with a 2.62 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. Ross has a 53.8 percent ground-ball rate in his career, including a worm-burning 62.4 percent mark in his 2012 debut.

Curiously, Ross has a significant reverse platoon split. Even when he was at the height of his game in 2012-13, he held right-handed hitters to a meager .223/.292/.282 batting line while surrendering a fairly robust .276/.347/.425 line to fellow lefties.


Players Avoiding Arbitration: Tuesday

Here are the day’s minor arbitration settlements, with all projections coming via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz (remember that all arb situations can be monitored via MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker):

  • Shortstop Brandon Crawford and the Giants have settled on a one-year deal worth $3.175MM, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). Crawford, arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, had filed at $3.95MM, while the team had countered with an offer of $2.4MM. His eventual salary represents the exact midpoint between those two figures, as Heyman notes. The 28-year-old Crawford, considered to be a standout defender at shortstop, turned in his best season to date with the bat in 2014, posting career-bests in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs. He did well to top Swartz’s $2.5MM projection by a significant margin.
  • The Royals have agreed to terms with outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Heyman reports on Twitter. Dyson will receive $1.225MM next year, landing just under the midpoint between the two sides’ submission points and his projection of $1.3MM. Dyson, 30, has a marginal bat but is a major threat on the basepaths (36 stolen bases last year despite just 290 plate appearances) and a stellar defender (36.4 UZR/150 in 2014).