The Blue Jays have announced the signing of lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36MM contract.
Though it won’t take place until the end of the Winter Meetings, the stage has been set for the Rule 5 draft, as teams re-set their 40-man rosters in preparation. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper breaks down the players who weren’t protected and thus remain eligible to be plucked away. Cooper writes that we’re unlikely to see a repeat of last year’s incredible Rule 5 success rate, but still manages to come up with a large group of players who could draw interest. Best of all, they are sorted by player type (e.g., “inexperienced pitchers with great arms”).
Here are a few more prospect-related links to check out:
- MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo answered reader questions in a mailbag today. Among other topics, he talks about the status of Dodgers second baseman Jose Peraza. The club ought to give him a chance to win regular playing time this spring, Mayo argues.
- Mayo also recently listed ten standout prospects from the just-concluded Arizona Fall League. This group doesn’t reflect the players with the highest prospect standing from the fall league, but rather those that most improved their standing during the short season. Among them is Cardinals infielder Aledmys Diaz, who was outrighted last year but finished with a robust .315/.370/.616 line in Arizona and was added back to the 40-man roster.
- Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Eric Longenhagen took a detailed look at the fall league results. Catcher Gary Sanchez of the Yankees and Rangers center fielder Lewis Brinson were among the players who showed increased promise from a scouting perspective. Also drawing that review was lefty Josh Hader, who was one of several interesting players who went to the Brewers in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade.
Click here to read the transcript of today’s live chat with host Jeff Todd.
The Indians announced that they have signed former Mets catcher Anthony Recker to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training (Twitter link). Recker is a client of All Bases Covered Sports Management.
The 32-year-old Recker has logged significant time with the Mets as a backup over the past three seasons, hitting .190/.256/.350 in 432 plate appearances from 2013-15. Recker also has experience in the Majors with the Cubs and Athletics, who originally selected him in the 18th round of the 2005 draft.
Recker struggled to throw out runners in 2015, catching just one of the 11 men who attempted to steal against him, although those struggles were uncharacteristic; prior to 2015, Recker had caught 24 of 80 attempted base-stealers for a rate of 30 percent. His pitch-framing numbers, however, have come in consistently below the league average.
While Recker has been a serviceable backup for the Mets, he reached arbitration eligibility this year. The Mets, who have Travis d’Arnaud lined up to start in 2016, also have another highly touted young catcher in Kevin Plawecki and a backup alternative in Johnny Monnell — each of whom is making roughly the league minimum. As such, Recker was presumably deemed expendable. He’ll hope to win a job with the Indians this spring, although there’s a good chance he ends up serving as a valuable depth piece in Triple-A due to the fact that the Indians have a strong Major League catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez.
Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league…
- The Seibu Lions announced the finalization of their contract with former Indians right-hander C.C. Lee, who will earn just under $700K in his first season pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball (per Graveyard Baseball, on Twitter). The Indians announced last week that Lee was released in order to pursue an opportunity with the Lions, and they reportedly received between $350K and $500K as compensation for allowing him to depart. Lee has a 4.50 ERA with a 33-to-16 K/BB ratio in 34 career innings at the big league level. Graveyard’s Christian Gin has some video and translated comments from Lee’s press conference.
Outfielder Dayan Viciedo and left-handed reliever Jordan Norberto are nearing contracts with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, according to a report from Japanese media outlet Sankei Sports (h/t: NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman, on Twitter). As Newman notes, signing Viciedo would mean that the Dragons will not retain former big league infielder Hector Luna, who has spent the past three seasons with the team.
Viciedo, who will turn 27 in March, did not play in the Majors in 2015 after being released by the White Sox last winter. He spent Spring Training with the Blue Jays after signing a minor league pact but did not make the team, leading to another release, after which he signed a minor league deal with the Athletics.
Viciedo split the 2015 season between the Triple-A affiliates for the A’s and the White Sox, who re-signed him on a minor league deal after Oakland cut him loose after 30 games. In 66 total contests at the Triple-A level last season, Viciedo hit .287/.348/.450. Of course, he also has extensive Major League experience as well, having served as a corner outfielder and DH for the White Sox for the better part of five years from 2010-14. Viciedo came to the Sox on a four-year, $10MM deal after defecting from Cuba but never lived up to the lofty expectations many carried for him, as he batted .254/.298/.424 in 483 Major League games.
Norberto, 29 in two weeks, hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2012 and has been largely out of action for the past three seasons due to shoulder injuries, Tommy John surgery and a 50-game suspension due to his ties to the Biogenesis scandal in 2013. He did log 45 1/3 innings for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate this past season, posting a 4.96 ERA with 40 strikeouts against a troublesome 30 walks. Norberto was a key member of the Oakland bullpen back in 2012 when he pitched 52 innings of 2.77 ERA ball.
Luna, meanwhile, has spent the past three seasons with the Dragons, but saw his production decline in his most recent campaign with Chunichi. The former big league second baseman has been primarily a corner player for the Dragons and holds a career .316/.382/.466 line in NPB (all with Chunichi), though he didn’t hit for much power in 2015 when he batted .292/.367/.397.
Athletics infielders Brett Lawrie and Danny Valencia are generating trade interest, and one of the two is likely to be moved in the wake of Oakland’s re-acquisition of Jed Lowrie, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Sources tell Slusser that American League clubs are already showing interest in the duo, and she writes that Lawrie is “considered the better bet to be traded.”
Considering how long he’s been in the league, it’s somewhat surprising that Lawrie is still just 25 years of age (26 in January). One of the main pieces picked up in last winter’s Josh Donaldson blockbuster, Lawrie is controllable for another two seasons via arbitration. While his .299 on-base percentage in 2015 was certainly a disappointment, Lawrie tallied career highs in key arbitration statistics such as plate appearances (602), home runs (16) and RBIs (60), leading to a projected salary of $3.9MM from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz (a raise of nearly $2MM from this past season’s $1.925MM salary).
His sub-par offensive output in 2015 (from a rate standpoint) notwithstanding, there’s plenty to like about Lawrie. To this point in his career, he’s produced a roughly league-average batting line (after adjusting for park factors) and can handle either second base or third base from a defensive standpoint. The former first-round pick/top 100 prospect is also still young enough to be considered somewhat of an upside play. The White Sox, Indians, Astros, Padres, Braves and his original organization, the Brewers, could all use some help at second and/or third.
The 31-year-old Valencia is considerably older than Lawrie but has experience at a wider variety of positions and enjoyed a much stronger offensive campaign in 2015. Valencia, who didn’t even debut as a rookie until he was the same age Lawrie was this past season, had his best season since making his big league debut back in 2010. In 378 plate appearances between Toronto and Oakland, he batted .290/.345/.519 with a career-best 18 home runs.
While most of his damage has typically come against left-handed pitching, Valencia crushed righties this season as well (.285/.325/.556) and did so without the aid of an outlandish BABIP mark as some might have initially assumed. Most of Valencia’s career has been spent at third base, but he has experience at first base and second base as well, and the Blue Jays played him for 220 innings in left field this season, too. He’s projected to earn $3.4MM in 2016.
Per Slusser’s report, whichever player is retained will likely handle third base in 2016, with the newly acquired Lowrie manning second base and Marcus Semien remaining at shortstop. While Semien led the Majors in errors, the team feels he made significant strides, defensively, toward the end of the season. “He’s a shortstop,” GM David Forst told Slusser in regard to Semien.
The Orioles remain tight-lipped on the progress of their offseason talks with Chris Davis and agent Scott Boras, but one person within the organization at least termed the discussions thus far as “productive,” writes MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. According to Kubatko, the Orioles aren’t turned off by the notion that Davis could command a six- or seven-year pact ranging from $24MM to $26MM in annual value. If nothing else, he notes, the fact that the Orioles haven’t simply walked away due to that price tag is telling of their desire to retain Davis. However, waiting on Davis is at least somewhat risky, as it’s possible that many of Baltimore’s alternatives will sign elsewhere in the meantime, leaving little in the way of options should the team ultimately prove unable to retain the slugger.
A few more items pertaining to the AL East…
- The Orioles are “searching everywhere” for outfield help, writes CSNMidAtlantic.com’s Rich Dubroff. At present, there are seven players on Baltimore’s 40-man roster with outfield experience, but only Adam Jones is the only established regular among them, Dubroff notes. Arbitration eligible players like David Lough and Nolan Reimold could be non-tendered next week, Dubroff writes, though Reimold is a better bet to return than Lough, he adds.
- Former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was a recent guest on the WEEI Hot Stove show, and in discussing David Price‘s impact on the Jays, Anthopoulos called him the “best teammate I’ve ever seen.” Anthopoulos lauded Price for his work ethic and the way in which that rubs off on other players as well as the leadership he exudes in the clubhouse. Said Anthopoulos: “He brings something else more than just the two ERA and the 240 innings and everything else. He leads. He sets a great example. He’ll be a great get for any team that gets him.”
- Chad Jennings of the Journal News profiles some of the potential bargain help on the Yankees‘ roster. While names like Dellin Betances and Luis Severino are obvious picks, Jennings also points out the potential bargain the team could have acquired in buying low on Dustin Ackley, who seems likely to handle the bulk of New York’s second base duties next season. Ackley hit a robust .288/.333/.654 in his tiny sample of work with the Yankees, but getting out of Safeco Field could help him realize his potential. Brendan Ryan‘s $1MM salary looks like a bargain when compared to the two-year, $3.75MM contract commanded by a similar player — Cliff Pennington. And, the Yankees’ successful buy-low on Didi Gregorius last offseason has left the team with a shortstop whose production will far outreach his salary in the coming years.
In the wake of Jose Bautista‘s breakout 2010 season, the Blue Jays signed the right fielder to a five-year, $65MM extension that covered his final year of arbitration eligibility and first four free agent seasons. (It also included a $14MM club option on the 2016 campaign.) This extension generated quite a bit of controversy at the time. An MLBTR poll revealed that over 72 percent of readers polled felt the deal was unwarranted, and several pundits felt the Jays should’ve sold high on Bautista rather than gamble that his out-of-nowhere slugging prowess wouldn’t just as suddenly disappear.
Instead, that extension turned out to be one of Alex Anthopoulos’ canniest moves as Toronto’s general manager. Bautista has averaged a .933 OPS over the last five seasons, and he leads all players with 173 home runs over that same span. Needless to say, that $65MM deal has turned into one of the largest bargains in the sport, and the club’s decision to pick up Bautista’s $14MM option for the coming season was the easiest of no-brainers.
With this track record under his belt (and in the wake of a certain instantly-iconic postseason blast), Bautista has a lot of negotiating power on his side if the Jays want to negotiate an extension this offseason. That being said, there are a large number of factors to consider in this particularly interesting extension case, as if Bautista and the Jays were to reach a new deal, it would very likely set a new contractual precedent.
Bautista is still hitting at an elite level as he enters his age-35 season, and thus he doesn’t really have any comparables among past players with at least 6 years of service time who signed multi-year extensions. Looking at veteran sluggers who have signed big free agent deals in recent years, Bautista has out-performed the likes of Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz or Carlos Beltran and also lacks major baggage like Cruz’s PED suspension history or the torn ACL that cost Martinez his entire 2012 season. Since V-Mart was limited to DH-only duty and still received a $17MM average annual value, Bautista and agent Jay Alou can certainly make the case that Bautista’s superior hitting numbers and added defensive value deserves a $20MM+ AAV.
It may sound like a big salary for a player in his mid-30’s, yet power is a valuable commodity. Tim Dierkes predicts that five of this winter’s free agents (Jason Heyward, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon) will all find deals with an AAV north of $20MM per season; add Bautista to that group, and he and Davis topped them all by each posting a 147 wRC+ in 2015. There’s enough interest in Ben Zobrist that he could also conceivably find a four-year deal entering his age-35 season, and while Zobrist far outpaces Bautista in defensive versatility, Bautista is also the far superior hitter. To sum up, if Bautista hit the open market this winter, he’d very likely find a four-year deal in the $80MM-$100MM range.
This is the price tag the Blue Jays will need to approach in order to extend their star. If they’re open to meeting this price, it might be a smart move to tear up Bautista’s 2016 contract and essentially start the extension next season by giving him a raise to at least $20MM and then three more $20MM+ seasons through 2019 (with possibly a vesting option for 2020). Starting a four-year extension in 2017 would mean the Jays are on the hook for a big salary in 2020 when Bautista would be entering his age-40 season. If I’m the Jays, I’d much rather pay Bautista a $20MM+ salary next year than I would for 2020 since the team is obviously much more confident that Bautista will still be a top run producer in the short term.
We’ve already looked at the pros of a Bautista deal, so now let’s focus on the cons. Despite Bautista’s consistency, guaranteeing big money to any slugger in his mid-30’s carries a lot of risk. Of the three veteran free agents I cited earlier, Martinez and Beltran both struggled through injury-plagued down years in the first seasons of their latest contracts. Bautista’s 2012 and 2013 seasons were both shortened by injuries — a bad wrist that required surgery after the 2012 campaign and a bruised hip that led the Jays to shut Bautista down in late 2013.
He also played through a shoulder injury for much of 2015 that didn’t much affect his hitting, though it weakened his usually-strong throwing arm and may have contributed to his subpar defensive metrics (-3 Defensive Runs Saved, -12.5 UZR/150). Bautista’s defensive numbers in right field have fluctuated over the years, though it also wouldn’t be a surprise if his 2015 stats are the first sign of a permanent downswing.
So if the Blue Jays were to extend Bautista, it would be under the assumption that he might only be a couple of seasons away from permanent first base/DH duty. It’s this scenario that poses the biggest question mark to a Bautista extension, as the Jays already have Edwin Encarnacion as a full-time 1B/DH. Encarnacion is also eligible for free agency after the 2016 season, is 26 months younger than Bautista and he’s posted slightly better numbers in some notable stat categories since the start of the 2012 season.
Bautista: 2266 PA, 130 HRs, 355 runs, .261/.377/.522, .387 wOBA, 146 wRC+, 18 fWAR
Encarnacion: 2431 PA, 151 HRs, 352 runs, .274/.371/.549, .391 wOBA, 149 wRC+, 16.3 fWAR
In Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto already has two major salaries on the books for the next four and five years, respectively. Another big long-term commitment will be added if the club extends Josh Donaldson. It’s hard to see the Blue Jays committing over $40MM per season in additional salary through the rest of the 2010’s to two more players, especially two players in their mid-30’s who would be locked into the first base and DH spots.
Unless Bautista or Encarnacion could somehow be talked into another team-friendly deal, the Jays may well have to choose which of the two franchise cornerstones they want to keep in the fold. Encarnacion is younger but Bautista is the better athlete of the two. In terms of pure dollars, Bautista’s age makes him slightly cheaper to extend since Encarnacion would likely push for another guaranteed season or two. Then again, if the Jays are willing to spend big money to retain a slugger, going with the younger option makes more sense if they feel all else is equal or if they feel Encarnacion will age better over the next few years.
Optics will also play a big role in a Bautista extension. The Blue Jays organization already took a PR hit with its revived fanbase this offseason given the awkward nature of Anthopoulos’ departure. It wouldn’t help public perception of new president/CEO Mark Shapiro or the Rogers Commnications ownership group if a new deal couldn’t be worked out with the face of the franchise. Bautista hasn’t been shy about expressing his opinions on the club’s business over the years, and one suspects he would speak up if he doesn’t feel the Jays are making a concerted effort to extend him.
From Bautista’s perspective, an extension would allow him to remain in a familiar spot, keep him playing for a contender if the Jays keep up their 2015 form and, in all likelihood, spend the rest of his career in Toronto. Given all of the factors that will go into Bautista’s extension case, it will fascinating to see if the two sides can reach a new deal or if Bautista will be tossing a bat while wearing another team’s uniform in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images
In response to a reader question about Matt Holliday as a possible trade candidate, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch doubts the Cardinals would move a such strong bat since the team’s main winter goal is to add offense. Langosch isn’t sure if the Cards have any interest in dealing Holliday or if he would accept a trade via his 10-and-5 veto rights. Even at age 35 and battling injuries last season, Holliday still posted a very respectable .279/.394/.410 line over 277 plate appearances. 2016 is his last guaranteed year under contract (St. Louis has a $17MM club option on him for 2017) so it’s also not like Holliday is a long-term roadblock for the club’s upcoming young outfielders. Here’s some more from around baseball as we look forward to leftover turkey tomorrow…
- The Astros aren’t likely to be big players for Chris Davis, a source familiar with the situation tells Evan Drelllich of the Houston Chronicle. Davis will command a big price and Houston already has a lot of high-power, high-strikeout hitters. I myself speculated that Davis and the Astros could be a fit in my Astros Offseason Outlook piece, under the logic that the team needs a big left-handed bat, Davis is a Texas native and first base would be open if Chris Carter and Evan Gattis were non-tendered. Drellich’s piece looks at that first base situation for the Astros, and the presence of prospects Tyler White and A.J. Reed might also make a Davis signing unlikely.
- Six general managers who recently spoke with Peter Gammons believe the Red Sox will sign David Price this offseason. “Boston will go $30-40M above anyone else” to land Price, one NL GM opines. This is just the latest chatter connecting Price to the Sox, and while Gammons writes that “some feel he is uneasy about Boston, but David is so sophisticated, so talented and so intelligent he will make the best of any situation.” Another GM, however, speculates that the Cardinals could be the ones to make the big play for Price, passing on re-signing Jason Heyward in the process.
- Gammons shares some more chatter from his sources, including “a lot of John Lackey and Alex Gordon to the Cubs speculation.”
- Recently designated players like John Axford, Daniel Nava, A.J. Griffin, Danny Hultzen and Wilin Rosario could all be intriguing targets for the Padres, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune opines. The first three are free agents, Hultzen was outrighted off the Mariners’ 40-man roster and Rosario is still in DFA limbo.
- Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris tries to identify some of the smaller-name or underrated relief arms on the open market that could blossom into bargain pickups. The Cubs are one example of a club that has built an entire bullpen (and a strong one, at that) out of such under-the-radar pitchers, as Sarris notes.
- One of the underlying stories of 2016 will be the negotiations between MLB and the players union over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, ESPN’s Jayson Stark writes. Stark’s piece highlights some of the major issues that are likely to play a big role in the upcoming talks, ranging from revenue sharing, free agency and the qualifying offer, the length of the season, a possible international amateur draft and more. Another interesting topic could be how the league may address teams “tanking” several seasons in an attempt to rebuild, and possible solutions include a draft lottery or a rule prohibiting teams from drafting in the top five in consecutive seasons.
- The good news about the CBA talks is that multiple sources on both sides tell Stark that everyone wants to keep the labor peace that baseball has enjoyed for over two decades. “It’s a 9-and-a-half-billion dollar industry. Nobody is going to want to blow it up,” one source tells Stark.