Minor Moves: Tigers Release Luke Putkonen

Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.

  • The Tigers have released righty Luke Putkonen, MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets. Putkonen, 28, pitched 29 2/3 innings out of the Tigers’ bullpen in 2013 and handled himself well, posting a 3.03 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. He missed most of the 2014 season due to elbow issues, however. The Tigers designated Putkonen for assignment and outrighted him in January.

East Notes: Papelbon, Warren, Victorino

Here’s the latest from the game’s eastern divisions to wrap up the day’s news:

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was notably on hand to watch Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon work early in his outing today against the Yankees, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports. While Salisbury notes that it is impossible to know the reason for the visit, Toronto obviously has some questions at the back of its pen and has been mentioned as a plausible suitor for the veteran righty. Papelbon has looked strong this spring, as the report further notes, though his contract (and, in particular, its vesting clause for next year) remains the largest factor in his trade value.
  • Though the Yankees have yet to say so officially, Adam Warren appears ticketed for the team’s fifth starter role, as Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports. If he does indeed take that slot, the out-of-options Esmil Rogers will either need to lock up a pen slot or, perhaps, find another team.
  • Shane Victorino‘s recent comments about the possibility of the Red Sox dealing for Cole Hamels led to a bit of a dust-up in Boston, due in part to a seemingly strained interpretation suggesting that Victorino was advocating for the departure of phenom Mookie Betts. As Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports, Victorino vehemently denies that reading of his words. Regardless, of course, as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal explains, Boston’s front office understandably has little interest in shipping away its most prized young talent for expensive veterans.

Minor Moves: Arguelles, Rays, Lorick, Lopez, Rockies

Here are the day’s minor transactions from around the league…

  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy delivers a series of recent releases. You can check his always-useful Twitter feed for the full run, but the highlight is probably the Royals‘ release of lefty Noel Arguelles (Twitter link). A high-profile signee out of Cuba back in 2009, the 25-year-old was hit hard in Double-A last year after switching full-time to a relief role. He was brought as a minor league free agent, but Kansas City has apparently seen enough.
  • Eddy also tweets that the Rays have parted ways with two of the team’s seven supplemental first-rounders from 2011, shortstop Brandon Martin and outfielder James Harris. Both players are still just 21 years of age, but neither has mastered the lower minors or even reached the High-A level.
  • The Cubs have released left-hander Jeff Lorick, per the team’ transactions page. The 27-year-old Lorick was a 20th-round selection back in the 2009 draft and spent the 2014 campaign (his age-26 season) at Double-A Tennessee, where he worked to a 4.52 ERA in 63 2/3 innings of work. Lorick struggled as a starter in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League in 2011, but he’s always missed a good number of bats when working as a reliever. However, he’s also walked more than four hitters per nine innings and has yet to reach the Triple-A level.
  • The Marlins have released second baseman Alfredo Lopez, also via the team transaction page at MLB.com. The 25-year-old batted .216/.298/.263 at Double-A in 2014 and had spent most of the 2015 spring working in Minor League camp. Lopez has hit well in the lower minors (.300 average, .384 OBP in Class-A Advanced) but stalled in Double-A and has very limited experience at the Triple-A level.
  • The Rockies released outfielders Jared Simon and Brian Humphries as well as infielder Matt Wessinger, per the MLB transaction page. Simon, a 2010 sixth-round pick, and Humphries, a 14th-rounder in 2011, each spent last season with Double-A Tulsa and OPSed south of .700. Wessinger is perhaps the most notable, as he was a fifth-rounder as recently as 2012, but he batted just .214/.278/.295 at Class-A Advanced in 2014.


West Notes: DeShields, Aiken, Lopez

Here are some notes out of the game’s western divisions:

  • Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. appears to have a place on the Rangers roster, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Taken from the Astros this winter, DeShields could be a force on the basepaths and would otherwise represent a backup center field and second base option.
  • The Astros-Brady Aiken fallout remains too clouded in uncertainty for final judgment, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. While Aiken’s Tommy John procedure has led some to claim that Houston was justified in seeking to drop the price tag on the first overall pick last year, Drellich explains that it is more complicated than just looking at that result. There’s a lot of ground covered in the article, and it is worth a full read for those interested in understanding this complicated situation.
  • New Diamondbacks righty Yoan Lopez has shown steady improvement in spite of an unsightly ERA in his first professional action, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Rival scouts have raised some questions about his upside, but D’backs pitching coach Mike Harkey says that he fully expects the 22-year-old to become “a really good pitcher.” Lopez has not brought quite the level of velocity that led the team to sign him, but manager Chip Hale explains that velo isn’t everything: “I think the fastball hasn’t been quite the velocity that we thought, but 92 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you can make it move and control it, spot it,” said Hale. “The electricity has been in the breaking ball, especially, and the change-up. But I think we do expect a little tick up in the velocity eventually.”

AL Central Notes: Graham, Pelfrey, Salazar, Finnegan

Word in the scouting community is that the Twins made a great Rule 5 pick-up in righty J.R. Graham, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com tweets. Graham was once a top-100 prospect with the Braves, who would receive him if he cannot stick with Minnesota or another club for the duration of the year. He scuffled in his second attempt at Double-A last year, throwing 71 innings (including 19 starts) of 5.58 ERA ball, striking out 6.3 and walking 3.3 batters per nine.

Here’s more from Minnesota and the rest of the AL Central:

  • The Twins might benefit from shipping Mike Pelfrey to a team that needs starting depth in exchange for a lefty pen piece, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pelfrey is, however, owed $5.5MM this year, which as Berardino notes would stand to complicate any trade efforts. The 31-year-old righty recently spoke with MLBTR’s Zach Links about his situation, saying that he feels good and is preparing to embrace whatever role he is given.
  • The Indians optioned righty Danny Salazar to Triple-A today, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. The 25-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance — in thirty career big league starts, he has struck out more than ten and walked less than three per nine — but has yet to put it all together and struggled badly this spring. With 162 days of service to his name, Salazar will pick up a year of service so long as he spends any real amount of time in the bigs, though a prolonged stint in the minors could jeopardize his ability to qualify as a Super Two down the line. Zach McAllister, T.J. House, and Josh Tomlin are now the three arms in the mix for the club’s final two rotation spots.
  • Also headed back to the minors is Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan, as Barry Bloom of MLB.com reports. A draft pick turned late-season star in 2014, Finnegan had a rough go in his first big league camp and will also benefit from the chance to develop as a starter. “We just thought it was better for him to go down,” said manager Ned Yost. “He had a huge workload last year. He hasn’t been real sharp in Spring Training. Just get him back down, get him going again. And have him ready for whenever we need him.” Of course, the club intends to be careful with limiting Finnegan’s workload, so it remains to be seen how much impact he can have at the major league level. Then again, the loss of Tim Collins leaves the club relying on Franklin Morales and Brian Flynn as pen lefties, so it is not hard to imagine a need arising. Finnegan has 28 days of service thus far, so a few months in the minors would likely keep him shy of a full year of credit.

Padres Fielding Trade Inquiries On Relievers

The Padres are among the teams around the league who are receiving trade interest in their relief pitching, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports on Twitter. As Brock notes, that is not necessarily surprising given San Diego’s pen depth.

Joaquin Benoit is cemented at the back of the pen, with righties Kevin Quackenbush, Dale Thayer, and Nick Vincent also looking like solid bets to maintain their roles. Offseason acquisitions Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer are also options from the right side, along with several minor league free agent signees, such as Jose Valverde, Marcos Mateo, and Jay Jackson.

Assuming he is not able to crack the rotation, Odrisamer Despaigne looks like a good bet to function as a long-man and spot starter. The club claimed the Rule 5 rights to Jandel Gustave recently, though he seems a long shot to break camp at this point.

The Pads have Alex Torres leading things among lefties, with Frank Garces and Chris Rearick also still in camp. Southpaw Scott Elbert has been sent to the minor league side for now but could factor into the equation down the line.

It remains to be seen whether San Diego will be motivated to pull the trigger on a deal, but it likely will not be forced into action. The team could roll with Benoit, Quackenbush, Thayer, Vincent, Kelley, and Despaigne, with Torres functioning as the lone lefty, while starting the remainder of those names mentioned in the minors. Of course, opt-outs or long-term strategic considerations could lead the team to part with one or more of its minor league free agents, but there appears to be a reasonable amount of flexibility. That depth also could allow the Friars to strike a deal to fill another need, of course.


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Aiken Situation Could Lead To Changes In Draft Medicals

The Brady Aiken saga culminated yesterday with the news that he had undergone Tommy John surgery. Now, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the league and players association are preparing to explore ways in which medical information procedures can be adjusted to foreclose such a scenario in the future.

Aiken, of course, was the first overall pick of the Astros. He reportedly had a deal in place until a physical revealed a thinner-than-normal ulnar collateral ligament, leading the team to reduce its offer. Aiken ultimately did not sign. He will be eligible for the coming year’s draft, but will enter it in the midst of a rehab protocol.

There is still plenty of uncertainty as to where things might be headed in terms of the draft. One possibility, per Passan, is that a panel of medical experts would certify some number of draft-eligible players as having clean bills of health. On the other end of the spectrum, a full-fledged combine could take place that, among other things, would result in much more significant medical information going to every team.

Even the less involved of those two poles of the range of possibilities would come with difficulties. Logistics such as draft timing (in relation to the NCAA season) must be addressed. Both sides will have plenty to work through, but it seems from the report as if there is at least broad agreement that some procedural improvements should be considered.


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Brandon League Likely Out Several Months

Dodgers righty Brandon League is expected to miss at least a couple of months with a right shoulder injury, manager Don Mattingly told reporters including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick (via Twitter). An MRI revealed that there was sufficient injury to require League to be shut down, though it appears he will avoid surgery for the time being.

League, 32, figured to be a fairly important piece in the Dodgers pen. Though he is undoubtedly overpaid as he enters the final guaranteed year of his three-year, $22.5MM pact, League is nevertheless a plenty viable arm. Last year, he tossed 63 innings of 2.57 ERA ball, compiling a 3.40 FIP in spite of just 5.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 because he also managed to induce groundballs at a ridiculous 67.5% clip.

League’s deal includes a vesting option that will not almost certainly not vest. Of course, that was quite unlikely regardless since the clause was tied to games finished, requiring League to be the last Dodger to toe the rubber at least 55 times this year. Barring a run of unpredictable events, that was not going to happen anyway.

The news on League is perhaps most troubling for what it means for the Dodgers’ overall pitching depth. Already compensating for injuries to Kenley Jansen and starter Hyun-jin Ryu, the team is looking somewhat thin on established, healthy arms. Of course, with plenty of trade candidates amongst their positions players, the Dodgers could conceivably swing a deal or two to fill some innings.


Jordan Zimmermann Says Extension Unlikely

Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann, one of the team’s proudest homegrown talents, indicated today that a new deal appears rather unlikely, as Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington reports. Zimmermann made clear again today that he will refuse to discuss a contract during the season, leaving scant time to revive momentum.

Zimmermann, a Relativity Baseball client, is set to become one of the most desirable free agents in next year’s class. “I’m just not going to talk during the season,” said Zimmermann. “If something gets done before then — which is probably pretty rare right now — then it gets done. But it’s not looking good.”

With Max Scherzer now under contract for the foreseeable future, the Nationals seemingly lost interest in trying to convince the 28-year-old Zimmermann to take a deal that was palatable to the club. The same, perhaps, is true of Doug Fister. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the team will ultimately make a run at inking Stephen Strasburg to a long-term deal, though he too may be too close to free agency for that to be a realistic possibility.

As for Zimmermann, even an average season by his standards should make him an easy $100MM+ free agent. If he can repeat or improve upon last year’s effort (2.66 ERA/2.68 FIP over 199 2/3 innings), then he’ll probably be looking to build on the Jon Lester deal.


Twins Have Inquired On Rafael Soriano

The Twins have inquired about watching free agent right-hander Rafael Soriano throw, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports (via Twitter). Minnesota is known to be looking for bullpen help, and Soriano is the most established relief arm left on the open market. It’s possible, Wolfson notes, that they’ve already seen him throw in Miami.

Soriano, 35, is a client of Scott Boras and the lone remaining player from MLBTR’s list of Top 50 free agents that is yet unsigned this winter. At first glance, his 2014 numbers might make the fact that he remains a free agent surprising. He did, after all, work to a 3.19 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 32 saves with the Nationals.

Soriano did also benefit from the second-lowest homer-to-flyball ratio of his career, however, and he lost the handle on the closer’s gig in September. Over Soriano’s final 18 appearances last year, he yielded 13 runs in 16 2/3 innings for a 7.02 ERA. Those struggles likely played a big role in the somewhat tepid market for Soriano this offseason, as scouts told ESPN’s Buster Olney last month that they felt the veteran closer’s stuff evaporated late in the year.

Still, it’s not entirely surprising to see Minnesota inquiring on Soriano. I noted in my Offseason Review of the Twins that it wouldn’t be surprising for Boras to try to sell GM Terry Ryan on Soriano, as closer Glen Perkins was shut down late last year with a forearm injury and has been battling an oblique issue this spring. Beyond Perkins, the Twins lack established bullpen arms. Casey Fien looks to be the top setup option, and lefty Brian Duensing is a lock for the ‘pen as well. Tim Stauffer will probably hold down a spot despite a poor spring, and his former Padres teammate Blaine Boyer looks increasingly likely to make the club as a non-roster invitee. Additionally, it’s possible that Mike Pelfrey, Trevor May or Tommy Milone, each of whom is fighting for the fifth starter’s role, could end up in the ‘pen as well. Other options such as Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin have already been optioned, though Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham is still in the mix for a spot and may yet make the club to open the season.


White Sox Claim Kyle Drabek

Right-hander Kyle Drabek has been claimed on waivers by the White Sox, the Blue Jays announced. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted minutes before the announcement that an unknown club had claimed Drabek, and Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi had originally tweeted that Drabek was packing up his locker and appeared to be on the move. Fellow righty Nate Jones has been placed on the 60-day DL to clear a roster spot, the White Sox announced.

The 27-year-old Drabek was once regarded as one of baseball’s top 30 prospects by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Roy Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia. Injuries, however, have limited much of his ability to stay on the mound since being acquired by Toronto (he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012), and he’s been ineffective when able to take the hill. In 172 1/3 big league innings, Drabek has a 5.27 ERA, an even more unsightly 5.41 FIP and an uninspiring 118-to-111 K/BB ratio.

Drabek has been effective over the past two Minor League seasons, however, and he’s had a strong Spring Training (7 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K), though it’s tough to place too much emphasis on seven spring innings. Drabek is out of Minor League options, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently noted, meaning that he’d have to clear waivers before the Sox could send him outright to Triple-A.

The Sox may very well try to sneak Drabek through waivers, as the bullpen picture already contains David Robertson, Jake Petricka, Zach Duke, Daniel Webb, Zach Putnam, Javy Guerra and Dan Jennings, with Maikel Cleto and Eric Surkamp also serving as options.


Mariners Rule 5 Pick David Rollins Suspended 80 Games For Failed PED Test

Mariners Rule 5 Draft pick David Rollins has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for Stanozolol, the league announced. Rollins, a 25-year-old lefty selected out of the Astros organization, had pitched exceptionally well in Spring Training and was considered likely to make the team’s bullpen. In eight innings, Rollins had yielded one run with seven strikeouts and no walks.

The Mariners will be allowed to keep Rollins and place him on the restricted list until his suspension has been served. He can head into extended Spring Training and work out there, eventually moving to a rehab assignment before ultimately joining the team, if the club wishes to retain him. That appears to be the likely outcome, as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes that GM Jack Zduriencik has indicated the team is leaning toward keeping Rollins. Via Dutton, Rollins says that the mistake came following an injury in winter ball when he was trying to speed up the recovery process. Zduriencik released the following statement via press release: “Having spoken at length with David, I know that he is truly remorseful for his error in judgement. We will continue to work with him to get past this situation.”

In a statement released via the Players Association, Rollins apologized to the organization and thanked the Mariners for their support: “My positive test was the result of a serious error in judgment. I know I have disappointed my many supporters; and my sincerest apologies go out to everyone associated with the game of baseball, especially the Seattle Mariners organization, my teammates and the fans. I am truly grateful for the opportunity the Mariners have given me and never again want to compromise this trust. From the bottom of my heart, I deeply regret this mistake and give you my word it will never happen again.”

It’s possible that Rollins could eventually pitch for the Mariners this season, and the southpaw’s Minor League track record and solid spring indicate that he could indeed stick with the club. In four seasons since being selected in the 24th round by the Blue Jays (Rollins was sent from the Jays to the Astros in the 10-player J.A. Happ/Francisco Cordero trade), Rollins has worked to a 3.39 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 358 2/3 Minor League innings. The Mariners have a potential need for a second lefty in the bullpen behind Charlie Furbush, as the team did not re-sign Joe Beimel or add a second lefty on a big league deal.


Blue Jays Outright Scott Barnes

The Blue Jays announced that they’ve outrighted left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster. This marks the first time that Barnes has been snuck through waivers this offseason. He was originally acquired by the Orioles from the Indians, then claimed by Rangers and then the Blue Jays.

The 27-year-old Barnes has a 5.20 ERA in a small sample size of 27 2/3 big league innings, but he has a nice track record and Triple-A and pitched well there in 2014. Last season, he notched a 3.69 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 while holding opposing lefties to a .191/.296/.255 batting line.


Twins Outright Lester Oliveros

The Twins have outrighted right-hander Lester Oliveros off the 40-man roster, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). The move drops the Twins’ 40-man roster to 39, Berardino adds.

The 26-year-old Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in a trade that sent Delmon Young to Detroit back in 2011. Oliveros has thrown just 21 1/3 innings with the Twins since being acquired, as part of his tenure has been shortened by 2012 Tommy John surgery. The Twins are likely happy to see Oliveros clear waivers, as he does possess some upside; in 97 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level, Oliveros has a 3.69 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. He’s also averaged 93.8 mph on his fastball at the Major League level.

Removing Oliveros from the mix adds a bit of clarity to the Twins’ bullpen mix. Glen Perkins, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing are all locks to make the bullpen, and whichever of Trevor May, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey don’t make the rotation could join the bullpen also. Other candidates for the bullpen include lefties Aaron Thompson and Caleb Thielbar as well as righties J.R. Graham, Tim Stauffer and Blaine Boyer. The Twins are known to be looking for one, if not two relief pitchers, so this move could provide them with the flexibility to add someone down the line or could be used to add a non-roster invitee like Boyer to the 40-man roster.


NL Central Notes: Bryant, Kang, Reds, Cardinals

Cubs president Theo Epstein said yesterday that he’s never taken a Minor Leaguer and put him on an Opening Day roster with zero prior big league experience, but super-prospect Kris Bryant feels like he could be the exception to that rule, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers“I look at it as ‘Why not me?” Bryant said on Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy that can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to come out here and show them that I can.” Bryant, of course, is the talk of Spring Training with nine homers and a ludicrous .406/.472/1.313 batting line in 36 plate appearances. The Cubs, though, can delay his free agency by a full season if they keep him in the Minors for a bit less than two weeks to open the season. While Cubs management and ownership naturally insists that any decision would be baseball-related as opposed to business-related, it seems likely that Bryant would be recalled early in the season once the year of team control is gained.

More from the NL Central…

  • Jung-ho Kang has struggled to a .111 average in Spring Training thus far, but Pirates GM Neal Huntington is still planning on bringing the Korean infielder north with the club to open the season, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’ve seen some really good things,” Huntington told Biertempfel in regard to Kang.
  • Chris Dominguez, Brennan Boesch, Ivan De Jesus and Irving Falu are all competing for the Reds‘ final bench spots, writes MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, and each has performed well in Spring Training. Manager Bryan Price also noted that the rotation isn’t yet settled. Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias are all in the mix for the final two spots, and Price explained how his club is looking beyond statistics to determine who will fill those roles. In general, he spoke very highly of DeSclafani, so it seems likely that he’ll be in the rotation to open the year.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak spoke with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (subscription required/recommended) about his tendency to hang onto young pitching and his deviation from that process by trading players such as Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to land John Lackey and Jason Heyward“Believe it or not, even though in these deals it appears like we’re giving up the control factor, we felt they were fair deals for both sides,” said Mozeliak. “Put it this way: We understand the risk.” Mozeliak went on to discuss the increased importance teams now place on prospects as opposed to the 1990s and early 2000s, noting that cost control has become an increasingly large factor in trades. The Cardinals, Goold writes, have an in-house algorithm and scouting process to assign dollar values to players, which they use in free agency and in trades. Said Chairman Bill Dewitt, Jr.: “Our model is value-based, and what we want to do is get value back for value given. Because there is always opportunity to use resources to acquire talent.”