NL East Notes: Span, Utley, Hamels, Johnson, Familia

The Nationals activated Denard Span from the disabled list and inserted him into the starting lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. To make room for Span on the roster, Michael Taylor was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse despite slashing .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances this season. “He is one of our future players and needs to play every day,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said in explaining the reasoning behind Taylor’s demotion. “We got to see Michael Taylor become a player for us right in front of our eyes. I thought he handled himself brilliantly with some youthful mistakes. The ability level is there. The usefulness of putting it to a Major League setting was there and he took to it very well.

Elsewhere in the NL East:

  • The Phillies have told teams over the past year Chase Utley will not waive his no-trade clause, but ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in an Insider piece (subscription required) the second baseman, facing a long rebuild in Philadelphia, may have a change of heart like former teammate Jimmy Rollins. Olney also notes rival evaluators believe Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, as well.
  • Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez isn’t too concerned with Jim Johnson being roughed up in his last two appearances (four runs, six hits, and two home runs allowed) and will keep the right-hander in the role of the 8th inning setup reliever, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ll see how it plays out,” said Gonzalez. “But from what I saw in Spring Training, and other than these two outings here, I think he’s been fine. We always have a tendency to say what’s the matter with a guy as soon as he gives up something.
  • Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters, including MLB.com’s Joe Trezza, closer Jeurys Familia will remain in that role when Bobby Parnell and Vic Black join the club after completing their rehab assignments. “Certainly, right now Jeurys Familia has pitched well enough,” Collins said. “He is that guy until those other guys show us they’re ready.” Collins adds, in a perfect world, Parnell would be the closer with Black and Familia slotted for the 8th and 7th innings, respectively.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Orioles, Anthopoulos, Pirates

On this date in 1999, Cal Ripken Jr. landed on the disabled list for the first time in what was, at that point, a 19-year career, due to a back injury. Ripken had already voluntarily ended his likely unbreakable streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, though the DL trip served as evidence that baseball’s Iron Man was at least mortal. Ripken would eventually become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, of course, appearing on 98.53 percent of ballots after a career that saw him hit .276/.340/.447 with 431 home runs, a Rookie of the Year Award, two MVPs, eight Silver Sluggers, a pair of Gold Gloves and 19 consecutive All-Star nods. We’ll stick with an Orioles theme to kick off this week’s look at the baseball blogosphere…

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


AL East Notes: Francis, Balfour, Betts, Schoop

The Blue Jays announced today that they’ve selected the contract of veteran left-hander Jeff Francis and optioned fellow lefty Colt Hynes to Triple-A Buffalo. The 34-year-old Francis, a native of Vancouver, will add another Canadian player to Toronto’s roster, joining Russell Martin, Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey. Francis will hope for better results than he’s seen over the past three seasons, during which he’s posted a combined 5.84 ERA in 203 1/3 innings with the Rockies, Reds, A’s and Yankees. Toronto already had an open 40-man roster spot after designating Todd Redmond for assignment last week.

Here’s more from the AL East…

  • Recently designated right-hander Grant Balfour spoke with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times about how he wished his second run with the Rays had yielded better results. Balfour admitted to shying away from his fastball after the realization that the pitch lacked its typical life. The Australian righty wouldn’t state for certain whether or not he’d pursue another opportunity immediately: “Maybe a little bit of rest will be good for me. … I’m not thinking too far ahead. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
  • After speaking to multiple scouts about the futures of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes that Betts has leap-frogged Bogaerts in the eyes of the baseball industry. “I don’t think you could find anyone in baseball who would pick Bogaerts over Betts right now,” one scout told Silverman. Another said Betts “clearly” has the better bat of the two, while a third scout said that in 20 years, Betts “makes quicker adjustments to his game than anybody I’ve seen.” All of the scouts to whom Silverman spoke are quick to clarify that Bogaerts still has star potential, but the glowing reviews add to the meteoric rise of Betts over the past 12 months.
  • Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop is likely to miss longer than the minimum amount of time on the 15-day disabled list, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The 23-year-old Schoop suffered a Grade 1 partial PCL tear and an MCL sprain, and while surgery is unlikely, an exact timetable is unknown. Encina looks at Anthony Rendon as a possible comparable, noting that Rendon has just resumed baseball activities six weeks after spraining his left MCL.


Cafardo’s Latest: Giants, Craig, Lackey, Hamels, Kazmir, Viola

Though the Giants have had a rough start to the season — their 4-9 record has them at the bottom of the NL West — new GM Bobby Evans isn’t overly concerned yet, and an early-season trade for reinforcements is unlikely, he tells the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo“At this point you’re just going back to players that were offered you before that you didn’t deal for,” Evans explains. “Players who some teams are still trying to move that you took a pass on.” Injuries have already been a problem for San Francisco, who saw Hunter Pence go down with a broken forearm in Spring Training and have already placed both Matt Cain and Jake Peavy on the 15-day disabled list. Cafardo notes, however, that in all three of the Giants’ recent World Series runs, midseason acquisitions such as Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Peavy have played integral roles (I’d add Pat Burrell‘s name to that list as well), and this year will likely be no different if the Giants are to ultimately turn things around.

Here’s more from Cafardo’s weekly Sunday Baseball Notes column…

  • The Red Sox are in a catch-22 with Allen Craig, writes Cafardo. His poor 2014 performance has reduced him to a bench player, and no team is currently making much of an effort to acquire the first baseman/outfielder. However, if he doesn’t play much, he’s unlikely to look any better and boost his trade value.
  • Right-hander John Lackey is hopeful that the Cardinals will approach him about a contract extension, Cafardo reports, but the team is currently thrilled to have him at just the league minimum. Lackey’s preference may be to remain with the Cardinals, but he’ll likely pitch in 2016 whether it’s in St. Louis or elsewhere, as he recently told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that he wouldn’t be pitching this year if he didn’t plan to play beyond 2015.
  • One general manager who has inquired recently tells Cafardo that the Phillies‘ asking price on Cole Hamels has not dropped one bit since the beginning of the season, despite the fact that Hamels has had two rough starts in his first three appearances of the year. Hamels has, somewhat incredibly, yielded seven homers in just 18 innings after surrendering only 14 in 204 2/3 frames last year. Of course, homer-to-flyball ratio tends to stabilize around 10-11 percent (Hamels’ career mark is 11.2 percent), and he’s currently sporting a remarkably high 36.8 percent HR/FB, so better days are almost certainly ahead for Hamels.
  • An AL scout who has attended both of Scott Kazmir‘s starts this season says he’s never seen the left-hander more confident or more impressive on the mound. “Don’t know if it’s because it’s his walk year and he can become a free agent, but if he keeps this up most of the season, he’s going to make himself a lot of money,” said the scout. Of course, that’s just one scout’s take, but Kazmir has been electric to date. The 31-year-old has whiffed 18 hitters against five walks in 13 innings, and the 91.7 mph he’s averaged on his two-seamer in those two starts is up from last year’s average of 90.9, though it remains to be seen whether not that increase can be maintained.
  • David Price‘s hot start to the season makes it likely that his offseason price will land somewhere in the vicinity of Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM and Clayton Kershaw‘s seven-year, $215MM pact, one Major League source opined to Cafardo.
  • Former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is helping Frank Viola III, the son of former AL Cy Young winner Frank Viola, develop a knuckleball, Cafardo writes. Viola III was a 29th-round pick by the White Sox back in 2004, but Tommy John surgery and knee surgery derailed his career, and he retired from the game in 2010. He returned in 2014 and pitched with the Blue Jays’ Class-A affiliates, and he’s now aiming to get a look in the independent leagues as he attempts to work his way back into the game. Viola III has also worked with R.A. Dickey and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro on honing is skill with the pitch.

Quick Hits: Scully, Hendriks, Nationals

Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is celebrating his 65th anniversary in the booth tonight. His first game was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park featuring Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe. Incidentally, Roberts is also in the Hall of Fame while Newcombe is often discussed as a snub. Here’s more from around the league.

  • The Blue Jays did little to address an obvious bullpen problem over the offseason, writes Mike Wilner of Sportsnet.ca. However, the club might have lucked into a valuable solution in the form of Liam Hendriks. The 26-year-old is averaging 93 mph with his fastball – up about two mph from his career norm. Through six innings, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while recording nine strikeouts. Before anybody anoints Hendriks the closer, it’s worth noting that he has a low 5.3% swinging strike rate. At some point, that rate will either increase, or his strikeout rate will decrease.
  • The Nationals must learn to thrive under walk year pressure, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. When Jayson Werth entered his walk year with the Phillies, then-manager Charlie Manuel advised him to test free agency (in more colorful language). Now the Nationals have four key players on the road to free agency. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span could all leave after the season, which gives 2015 a make-or-break feel for Washington. Werth and Max Scherzer have advice for their new teammates – acknowledge all the sources of pressure.

Rays Designate Grant Balfour For Assignment

The Rays have designated reliever Grant Balfour, the team announced. The decision comes on the heels of an outing in which he allowed three runs on three walks and a home run over two-thirds of an inning. The club owes him $7MM this season. Tampa has selected the contract of Brandon Gomes in his place.

Balfour, 37, has a career 3.44 ERA with 9.53 K/9, 4.16 BB/9, and 84 saves. This season, his velocity has declined to a career low 89 mph. In his heyday, he regularly pumped 93-94 mph heat. After today, he’s walked four batters in four and one-third innings without a strikeout. It’s possible that he was underprepared for the season. Balfour’s father passed early during spring training, so it’s certainly understandable if he had trouble focusing on baseball.

The Aussie reliever is joined in DFA limbo by Xavier Cedeno, Todd Redmond, and Ryan Dennick.


Quick Hits: Rose, Herrera, Gregorius, Dodgers

Pete Rose will join the FOX Sports1 team, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. As you’re well aware, Rose is banned from baseball for gambling on the sport over 26 years ago. FOX is a broadcast partner with MLB, but the commissioner’s office has no say over who FOX does and does not hire. The media outlet did clear the move with MLB and says Rose was hired to provide a compelling, on-air personality. As I see it, this is a smart play for Rose as he continues to seek reinstatement.

  • In 2013, the Phillies made a mistake by returning Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte to the Diamondbacks, writes Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. However, the club is at no risk of repeating the poor decision with Odubel Herrera. The 23-year-old is hitting .308/.372/.513 in 43 plate appearances. He’s temporarily supplanted Ben Revere atop the lineup. Herrera was selected last December from the Rangers – a team that could also use him right around now.
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman made a couple trades over the offseason to address shortstop and starting pitcher. Those moves have not shown positive early returns, writes Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. Cashman sent pitcher Shane Greene to Detroit in a three-team swap for Didi Gregorius. Greene has pitched excellently in two outings – 16 innings, zero runs, eight strikeouts, and one walk. Meanwhile, Gregorius has hit just .152/.194/.152 and with a couple iffy plays on defense. In a related move, Cashman dealt Martin Prado for hard-throwing Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. He’s allowed five runs over 10 and one-third innings.
  • The Dodgers local TV blackout does not hurt the team’s brand, argues Bill Shaiken of the LA Times. Owner Magic Johnson said the same recently. As you might expect, there was some backlash to the comments. As Shaiken pointed out, the fans returned to the Dodgers after the Frank McCourt era. NFL teams are clamoring to return to the Los Angeles market despite losing a generation of fans. While L.A. residents may be forgiving, the club’s TV plans remain in limbo while federal regulators work through a proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Giants’ Peavy Injured, Susac Recalled

Giants pitcher Jake Peavy has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with an injured back, the Giants tweeted. In a related move, the club has recalled catching prospect Andrew Susac. Peavy has struggled with the injury throughout spring and the early season. He allowed eight runs in 7.2 innings through two starts and was scratched prior to an outing last week.

Peavy himself noted that his back needed “a little treatment,” per Chris Haft of MLB.com. Based on that comment alone, it sounds as though he may avoid an extended stay on the disabled list. Short term, the club can call upon Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit for spot starts. Both players are on the active roster. Matt Cain, who is on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon, is still a few days away from playing catch.

Of course, the promotion of Susac is of interest for a Giants squad that has scored just 32 runs through 12 games. Susac is the 88th ranked prospect by Baseball America. The 25-year-old accrued 95 plate appearances last season and hit .273/.326/.466. With the presence of Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez, there isn’t an obvious role for Susac. However, I could see the club giving Brandon Belt some rest (.077/.143/.077) or even using him in the outfield for a few games. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Susac will be optioned once the club needs a fifth starter. By my count, that will happen on April 25.


Quick Hits: Trout, Wilson, Tigers

Mike Trout is taking a more aggressive approach this season, writes Buster Olney for ESPN Insider. The result is a likely improvement to his 26.1% strikeout rate from last year. The new approach is designed to avoid pitchers’ counts. While we can’t draw any statistical conclusions from his 42 plate appearances, he has a 11.9% walk rate and 16.7% strikeout rate.

Olney also included a number of other interesting topics. Those include home runs allowed by Cole Hamels, Curtis Granderson‘s low swinging strike rate, and Mike Moustakas‘ all-field approach. Here’s more from around the league.

  • The Rangers own the baseball rights to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and they want him to play, Wilson told HBO’s Bryant Gumble (via Mike Florio of NBC Sports). Wilson, 25, was a two sport athlete in college. He spent a couple seasons in the Rockies minor league system, hitting .229/.354/.356 in 379 plate appearances. A tepid Single-A performance mixed with three years away from the sport isn’t encouraging, but Seahawks GM John Schneider notes Wilson’s off the charts confidence and preparation. It strikes me as unlikely that anything will come of Wilson’s interest in playing two sports. If something were to happen, it’s seemingly too late for the 2015 season.
  • The Tigers have done an excellent job remaining consistent while overhauling their roster, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. The team won the AL Central in each of the last four seasons and currently sports the top record in baseball (9-2). Aside from Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and Justin Verlander, most of the roster has turned over since Detroit won the AL pennant in 2012. Much of the credit goes to President and GM Dave Dombrowski who has overseen major trades involving Ian Kinsler, David Price, and Joakim Soria in recent seasons (among others).

Rosenthal’s Latest: Tillman, Gomez, Beltre

Here’s the latest from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, via a video on FOX Sports:

  • When the Orioles discussed an extension with Chris Tillman this spring, Tillman favored a contract similar to Lance Lynn‘s three-year, $22MM deal with the Cardinals. That contract did not buy out any of Lynn’s free-agent years. The Orioles were interested in a longer deal for Tillman that would have delayed his free agency eligibility.
  • The Brewers‘ poor start suggests that they could be sellers at the trade deadline, and Rosenthal notes that they could deal Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Gerardo Parra or even Aramis Ramirez (despite Ramirez’s plans to retire at the end of the season). A player who could bring a much greater return, though, is Carlos Gomez, who is signed to a bargain contract the next two years.
  • The Rangers could trade anyone if they fall out of contention, but it might be somewhat tricky for them to deal Adrian Beltre, who has limited no-trade protection and who has about $34MM left on his contract. Beltre also recently turned 36 and is off to a slow .149/.167/.298 start offensively. One might think that would only impede a trade if it were to continue deep into the summer, however — Beltre has a long history of providing excellent value both offensively and defensively.

Minor Moves: Huff, De La Cruz, Bautista, Meyer

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

  • The Dodgers have announced that they’ve outrighted lefty David Huff, who has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers designated Huff for assignment on Wednesday after he made one four-inning start for them. The 30-year-old has a 5.06 ERA, 5.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in parts of seven seasons with the Indians, Yankees and Giants in addition to the Dodgers.
  • The Yankees have outrighted righty Joel De La Cruz, then sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 25-year-old posted a 4.44 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 121 2/3 innings in the high minors last season. The Yankees selected his contract last week, but he did not appear in a game before they optioned him back to the minors.
  • The Red Sox have signed righty Denny Bautista to a minor-league deal, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. The 32-year-old Bautista last appeared in the big leagues with the Giants in 2010 and previously pitched for the Orioles, Royals, Rockies, Tigers and Pirates. He pitched in Mexico in 2014 (struggling with his control, also a problem in his big-league days) and in Korea from 2011-2013.
  • The Padres have signed former Astros third-round pick Jonathan Meyer, Eddy tweets. Meyer had been an infielder in the Astros’ system, but the Padres will use him as a catcher. The 24-year-old hit .215/.274/.280 at Double-A and Triple-A last year before Houston released him.
  • The Nationals are having infielder Emmanuel Burriss join the team, James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets. It’s not clear how the Nats will make room for Burriss on their 25-man roster, although Yunel Escobar suffered a groin strain against the Phillies on Friday. (MLB.com’s Bill Ladson tweets that Burriss is not listed on the Nats’ lineup card today, and Wagner notes that Burriss could simply be with the team as insurance in case the Nats need to make a move.) Burriss, a D.C. native, was hitting .286/.359/.486 in 39 plate appearances with Triple-A Syracuse. The Nats re-signed him to a minor-league deal last November. The 30-year-old appeared in parts of five seasons with the Giants from 2008-2012, hitting .243/.304/.269 in 801 plate appearances.

Quick Hits: Hamilton, Ichiro, Kang

The Angels are reportedly discussing a potential resolution to their standoff with Josh Hamilton, and Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register examines some possible forms that resolution could take. Releasing or trading Hamilton are two possibilities, but not ones Fletcher thinks would be very attractive to the Angels — if they released Hamilton, they’d have to eat the entire rest of his contract, except a prorated portion of the league minimum once he signed elsewhere. And it’s very unlikely trading Hamilton would result in much salary relief for the Angels, since he hasn’t played yet this season (and, presumably, since the Angels’ issues with him are so well known). They could also, of course, settle with Hamilton for some portion of his remaining contract. Fletcher also suggests the possibility, though, of the Angels simply bringing Hamilton back and letting him play for awhile, which would allow him to build value, or at least give the Angels clarity by having Hamilton demonstrate how much value he has. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Marlins were mostly unknown to Ichiro Suzuki before he signed with them, the veteran outfielder tells Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I didn’t have that much information about the city or the team in general,” Ichiro says through an interpreter. “The Marlins are new, and they’re still trying to find that identity of what the Miami Marlins are all about.” Ichiro had played his whole big-league career in the American League, and at 41, he’s older than any MLB player except LaTroy Hawkins and Bartolo Colon. Kepner notes that Ichiro does not seem to intimidate the Marlins’ mostly young group of players, however.
  • Jung-ho Kang has played only sparingly since the start of the season, but the Pirates are not considering sending him to Triple-A, Clint Hurdle tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). Before the season, the Bucs signed the 28-year-old Kang to a four-year deal with an option for a fifth, but there’s currently nowhere for him to start, and he has one hit in nine plate appearances so far. As a position player signed out of Korean pro baseball, Kang is in a unique position both on the field and off it, but it appears the Pirates will allow him to adjust at the big-league level rather than giving him regular playing time in the minors.

Marlins Claim Matt Tracy

The Marlins have claimed lefty Matt Tracy from the Yankees, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. They will send Tracy to Triple-A, tweets MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. To clear space on their 40-man roster, the Marlins have announced that they’ve moved Jose Fernandez to the 60-day disabled list.

The Yankees added Tracy to their roster last week to provide help after an 19-inning game against the Red Sox. He pitched two innings and allowed three runs, none earned, last Saturday, and then the Yankees designated him for assignment.

The 26-year-old Tracy pitched 150 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, posting a 3.76 ERA, 5.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. The Marlins had shown interest in Tracy before, becoming the first team to draft him when they selected him in the 43rd round in 2010. The Yankees made him their 24th-round pick the following year.


McDaniel On The June Draft

Here’s the latest on the 2015 draft, via a massive post from FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel.

  • McDaniel notes that there isn’t much top-level talent in this draft (an opinion shared by many analysts), and says that the industry is unclear what the Diamondbacks will do with, or even how they’re thinking about, the first pick in the draft.
  • The Astros, who have the second overall pick, appear to be focused on high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers, UC-Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate, and Vanderbilt infielder Dansby Swanson, who McDaniel ranks the top three prospects in the draft.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was seen on ESPNU last night watching Swanson and Vanderbilt pitcher Carson Fulmer. The Red Sox pick seventh. They’ve also been connected to LSU shortstop Alex Bregman. McDaniel ranks Bregman the fourth-best prospect in the draft, Fulmer the seventh.
  • Since the draft lacks much top talent, one possibility is that many teams will draft second-round-type players in the first round and save money against their bonus pools for later picks in the draft.
  • McDaniel ranks Astros unsigned 2014 No. 1 pick Brady Aiken the No. 24 prospect in the draft, noting that many in the industry feel that Aiken’s arm issues go beyond Tommy John surgery and that he could have further injury problems later in his career.

Hamilton, Angels Discussing Resolution Of Dispute

Josh Hamilton and the Angels are in talks to resolve their dispute, although no agreement is close at this time, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes (Twitter links). The Angels could trade Hamilton or buy out the rest of his deal for an amount less than the $83MM they currently owe him, although the union likely would disapprove of the latter option.

Rosenthal further notes (again via Twitter) that Sidney Ponson and Denny Neagle, former players whose teams felt they had personal-conduct issues, agreed to settlements for 75 to 90 percent of the remainders of their deals. Jason Bay also agreed to a buyout of his deal with the Mets following the 2012 season (although not for personal conduct-related reasons, and Bay still received the entire amount he was owed, only with some of it deferred).

MLB announced in early April that Hamilton would not be suspended for a self-reported relapse into drug use. Later reports indicated that the Angels would try to enforce provisions in Hamilton’s contract pertaining to the use of alcohol and drugs, although the union made a statement denying that the team had the right to do so. Such actions could only affect Hamilton’s 2016 and 2017 salaries, since his $23MM 2015 salary became guaranteed on Opening Day. Hamilton is currently recovering from shoulder surgery, although several Angels players recently met with him and say he’s ready to play, according to the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher.