AL Central Notes: Garcia, Viciedo, Weeks, Ichiro

The White Sox rank at the very top of the list of offseason winners compiled by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. GM Rick Hahn ticked through many of the team’s questions this winter and should have a competitive team to show for it, says Heyman. Of course, despite plenty of praise, there are still some non-believers out there. They can point to this year’s PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, which see Chicago as a 78-win team. Also of note from PECOTA, which is rather down on the division on the whole: the Tigers are tabbed as a .500 club, while the Royals project to win just 72 wins after appearing in the World Series last year.

More from the south side and the AL Central:

  • The White Sox are a much improved team heading into the 2015 season, but much of the optimism surrounding the club relies on the contributions of right fielder Avisail Garcia, writes Fangraphs’ Neil Weinberg. Perception appears to be that Garcia can handily outperform the just-designated Dayan Viciedo, but Weinberg cautions that we shouldn’t readily accept that as fact. Garcia’s stats to date tell a similar tale to that of Viciedo — modest on-base percentage with some power and below-average base-running and defensive skills. While Garcia’s track record is clearly smaller, the two are excellent statistical comps even when looking at their production through the age of 23. Weinberg notes that scouts have long questioned whether or not Garcia would be able to resist bad pitches and make enough contact to succeed, and the assumption that he will outperform Viciedo is based largely on perceived ceiling as opposed to likely outcomes.
  • Newly-designated White Sox slugger Dayan Viciedo should generate plenty of interest, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The American League West offers the best matches, Morosi argues, with the Mariners, Athletics, and Rangers all potentially making sense as landing spots.
  • Despite some apparent suggestions, the Twins are not interested in free agent second baseman Rickie Weeks, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets. That is not terribly surprising, given that the right-handed-hitting Weeks does not play short and would presumably have needed to serve as a backup to two right-handed hitters in Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe.
  • Ichiro Suzuki‘s representatives (who he shares with Twins skipper Paul Molitor) tried to generate interest in the veteran from Minnesota, but the club never saw a fit, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. As Berardino explains, Ichiro and Molitor — both incredible pure hitters — share an interesting relationship.

Blue Jays Making Strong Push To Sign Ronald Belisario

The Blue Jays are “making a strong push” to get a deal done with right-hander Ronald Belisario, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Toronto has long been said to be looking at pen upgrades, with reports last night suggesting that the team was looking hard at the free agent market.

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

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

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


NL East Notes: Gillick, Ichiro, Janssen

Today featured some important front office moves for a Phillies club that is facing some significant challenges — albeit with quite substantial resources — in the coming years. The team announced that longtime executive David Montgomery will return from a health-related hiatus to become the organization’s chairman, while current president Pat Gillick will retain that role.

Here’s the latest out of Philadelphia and the rest of the NL East:

  • Gillick leaves the impression that he is prepared to stay on board past the coming season, per Kevin Cooney of the Bucks County Courier Times (Twitter links). “I’ll do it as long as it is a challenge to me and [I am] capable of doing it,” said Gillick. “Age is just a number.” The 77-year-old Hall of Fame inductee reiterated that sentiment, and then some, in speaking with Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. “I’m going to probably stay in this position as long as ownership wants me to stay in it,” he said. Emphasizing that his prior expectation had been that Montgomery would return to the full-time president’s chair, Gillick said that he is “not really setting a timetable” on his time in office, though he does not expect to be “a long, long-term replacement.”
  • While Gillick has obviously earned quite a bit of respect over his years in the game, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News asks whether he really is the right man for to lead a rebuild at this juncture. While moving veteran assets for the best return possible is a straightforward-enough function, says Murphy, it will be much more tricky to make the right decisions in applying Philadelphia’s financial might to acquire the right new talent. Though Gillick oversaw many winning clubs, and adeptly constructed big league rosters, Murphy also points out that the organizations he guided tended not to be set up well for the long haul and that the baseline circumstances (rules, modes of analysis, and the like) were quite different in his heyday.
  • The Marlins obviously were interested in adding Ichiro Suzuki as a veteran presence to their young outfield and hopefully getting a late-career renaissance from an all-time great ballplayer, but the club also was interested in his nationality, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. President of baseball operations Michael Hill and president David Samson both emphasized the fact that Ichiro’s Japanese heritage was a factor in his signing. Indeed, the front office traveled to Tokyo to announced the deal. “It’s a bonus he’s a Hall of Famer and a Japanese player,” said Samson, who noted that Miami was one of only two teams (the Reds being the other) that had yet to employ a Japanese ballplayer. (For what it’s worth, Cincinnati has fielded a Korean player.)
  • Bringing in veteran reliever Casey Janssen fills the final hole for the Nationals, writes MLB.com’s Phil Rogers. The veteran should slot in nicely in a setup capacity while also providing some insurance in the closer position, says Rogers.


Latest On Blue Jays’ Search For Relief Pitching

The Blue Jays are “in contact” with the representatives of multiple top free agent relievers, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. Among them are righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Burke Badenhop.

With former Jays closer Casey Janssen now headed to the Nationals, Toronto officially must look elsewhere to build out its pen. The three names listed above are arguably the top three arms remaining, though several other options remain as well.

GM Alex Anthopoulos said earlier today that he is looking for many different ways to add talent to the relief corps, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. As things stand, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are perhaps the top two candidates to hold down the ninth inning, and Toronto is not sending signals that it feels an established closer is a necessity.

Payroll may be the driving factor at this point, writes Nicholson-Smith. With perhaps $5MM to $6MM in 2015 spending capacity remaining, that makes trade candidate Jonathan Papelbon a questionable fit. “When you see us linked to a player for days and days and back and forth, I’d say 9.9 times out of 10 there probably isn’t anything to it,” Anthopoulos said. “I can say we’re not going to be in the market for relievers making $10-plus million or more.”

Otherwise, Anthopoulos indicated that the team was in an opportunistic mode after getting a lot of work done earlier in the winter. “Most times the later you get in to the winter there’s potential for the prices to change on some of these guys,” he noted. One internal wild card, catcher Dioner Navarro, remains available in trade but seems destined to remain with the Jays unless a suitable offer comes in.


International Notes: Tejada, Ibanez, Kang

Longtime big leaguer Miguel Tejada, now 40, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Mexican League’s Pericas de Puebla, Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deports reports. Tejada does not appear to be looking to spark another return to the big leagues, but instead says he wants to play out the season and enjoy one more winter league run before hanging up his spikes.

Here are some more notes with an international flare:

  • While Yoan Moncada has drawn much of the attention, fellow young infielder Andy Ibanez is a legitimate prospect in his own right, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Ibanez figures to command a pool-busting bonus, says Badler, who breaks down the full history and book on the 21-year-old. Though he lacks the flashy tools of Moncada, Ibanez is framed as a solid all-around player with a promising bat. All said, he is a better prospect than Roberto Baldoquin, who just landed $8MM from the Angels, in Badler’s estimation.
  • The transition from playing in one country to another can be difficult on many levels, as Ryan Sadowskinow the first-ever full-time international scout for the KBO’s Lotte Giants — explained to me on a recent episode of the MLBTR podcast. New Pirates addition Jung-ho Kang is in the midst of just such a move, as Bill Mitchell explores for Baseball America. Kang is currently training in the United States with his now-former KBO club, the Nexen Heroes, before heading to camp with the Bucs to begin his new journey.

Giants Release Marco Scutaro

JANUARY 28: Scutaro has been released, according to the MLB.com transactions page.

JANUARY 21: The Giants have designated infielder Marco Scutaro for assignment, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter links). His roster spot will go to the recently-signed Nori Aoki.

San Francisco expects to retain Scutaro once he clears outright waivers, which seems a virtual certainty given his injury status and the $6MM left on his deal. Per Schulman, the team still hopes that the 39-year-old veteran will be able to return from his back issues (which included surgery in December).

When Scutaro went in for fusion surgery last month, it was reported that it would take four to six months before his future on the diamond can even be assessed. Needless to say, the odds of a return at this point appear to be low.

The 13-year big league veteran signed for three years and $20MM as a free agent after originally joining the team in the middle of 2012 and playing a major role in a World Series victory. He has only made 560 plate appearances under that contract due to injury, though he was as productive as hoped for when on the field in 2013.


Marlins Designate Arquimedes Caminero

The Marlins have designated righty Arquimedes Caminero for assignment, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Caminero, 27, has been in the Miami organization since the then-Florida Marlins signed him out of the Dominican Republic back in 2005.

Caminero has had some ups and downs in only two brief MLB stints. In 2013, he worked to a 2.77 ERA over 13 frames, but last year he was torched for eight earned runs in just 6 2/3 innings.

Caminero has had no trouble missing bats at all levels, averaging 11.0 K/9 over nine minor league campaigns and whiffing better than a batter an inning in the bigs. He has struggled somewhat with the free pass (4.5 BB/9 in the minors), but his mid-90s fastball will surely draw some interest from other organizations.


Players Avoiding Arbitration: Wednesday

Here are the day’s lower-cost arbitration settlements:

  • The Mets have avoided arbitration with righty Jenrry Mejia for $2.595MM, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter. After opening as a starter last year, Mejia took over closing duties for New York and held onto the role for much of the year. The 25-year-old racked up 28 saves at an opportune time — entering his Super Two year — which led to a $3.1MM projection from MLBTR/Matt Swartz. While Mejia did not reach that mark, he did come in just above the midpoint between the sides’ filing figures and has set himself up nicely for future earnings.

Minor Moves: Jeremy Horst

We’ll keep tabs on minor moves around the league here:

  • The Dodgers have inked lefty Jeremy Horst to a minor league deal, his agency ONYX Sports Management tweeted yesterday (h/t to SB Nation’s Eric Stephen). Horst, 29, had an outstanding 2012 (1.15 ERA, 2.39 FIP in 31 1/3 innings) but struggled in 2013 for the Phillies. Last year, he tossed 63 1/3 innings of 3.98 ERA ball for the Phils’ top affiliate. Horst has held opposing lefties to a .241/.336/.352 line in the big leagues, but has been hit hard (.792 OPS) by righties.

Angels Avoid Arbitration With David Freese

The Angels have avoided arbitration with third baseman David Freese, Mike Perchick of WAPT tweets. Freese will earn $6.425MM in his final season of arbitration eligibility, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports on Twitter.

That settlement amount represents the exact mid-point between the player and team filing points. Freese, a client of CAA Sports, ultimately lands just $125K over the projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. His signing leaves the Halos with two players — Matt Joyce and Garrett Richards — with open arbitration cases.

The 31-year-old will enter his second season in Los Angeles coming off of a mixed 2014 campaign. On the one hand, he posted a career-worst .704 OPS (.260/.321/.383) and scored middling-to-poor defensive ratings. On the other hand, that roughly league-average offensive output landed a reasonable sight above replacement level for the hot corner, and Freese’s total worth came out to 1.3 rWAR and 2.1 fWAR.


Braves Designate Jose Constanza For Assignment

The Braves have designated outfielder Jose Constanza for assignment, the club announced. His roster spot will go to Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano, whose signing was also announced today after being reported last month.

Constanza, 31, has seen only 240 plate appearances at the big league level over the last four seasons, compiling a .273/.316/.323 slash. He has spent quite some time at the Triple-A level, logging 2,073 trips to the plate and a .303/.358/.352 batting line and 122 stolen bases over the last five years.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Constanza exceeded expectations with a nice .724 OPS run in 119 turns at bat back in 2011. But he was and remains more of a reserve or organizational depth piece, with his speed and ability to play center his two main calling cards.


David Montgomery Named Phillies’ Chairman; Gillick Remains President

The Phillies announced this afternoon that David Montgomery will return as the Chairman of the team. Pat Gillick will continue to fill Montgomery’s former role as president (now with the temporary tag removed), while Bill Giles will serve as the Chairman Emeritus.

Montgomery, formerly the president and CEO of the Phillies, took a leave of absence from the team in August of 2014 to continue treatment on cancer of the jaw, with Gillick, the team’s former GM, taking over as interim president. Today, Montgomery issued the following statement:

“I am fortunate to be healthy enough now to resume some of my previous responsibilities.  I am very appreciative that Pat Gillick is willing and available to remain as the club’s President.  Pat and I have become very close since he joined us in the fall of 2005.  I look forward to returning to work as Phillies Chairman.”

Rumors have swirled since Montgomery took his leave, with one report indicating that Montgomery was “forced out” as minority owner John Middleton made a run at buying up a majority share of the team. Those rumors were adamantly denied by the Phillies, and Middleton himself (who reportedly has a 48 percent ownership share) even noted that Montgomery’s situation would be re-evaluated in January, which has now obviously occurred.


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.