Padres Actively Taking Calls On Relievers

Even after trading lefty Alex Torres to the Mets yesterday, the Padres are in active trade talks regarding their bullpen, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (on Twitter).

San Diego’s bullpen currently projects to be anchored by closer Joaquin Benoit, who is earning $8MM in the second season of a two-year, $15.5MM pact. His contract comes with an $8MM club option ($1.5MM buyout). Beyond Benoit, Kevin QuackenbushBrandon Maurer, Shawn Kelley, Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer, Frank Garces and Odrisamer Despaigne are all candidates for the bullpen, making for eight total relievers.

Of that group, Quackenbush, Vincent, Maurer and Garces are all relatively young and have several years of team control remaining, making them perhaps unlikelier to be dealt than their counterparts. (Then again, the same could have been said of Torres.) Despaigne seems likely to be the long man, though it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Padres to find an alternative long relief option should he draw significant interest. Kelley was just acquired this offseason, so it seems unlikely that he’d be flipped again so close to the regular season. Thayer, earning $1.38MM after avoiding arbitration for the first time this winter at 34 years of age, might be the most logical trade candidate, but he was excellent in 2014 and has been a generally useful relief arm for the Friars over the past three seasons.

It’s unclear exactly how serious any talks regarding their relievers are, but the Friars do have options in the event that they part with one of their relievers. Robbie Erlin would seem capable of stepping into the bullpen, though he’s been optioned to Triple-A already this spring. Right-hander Jandel Gustave, a Rule 5 pick by the Royals (out of the Astros organization), was claimed by the Padres last week, and Lin tweeted earlier in the night that the team may be able to work out a trade with the Astros to keep him (he did characterize that scenario as “unlikely”). The Padres could also simply choose to hang onto the hard-throwing righty and use him in low-leverage situations, though it’s difficult for a team that plans to contend to justify using a roster spot in such a manner.

Of course, San Diego could potentially receive a different relief option back in a trade of one of their current ‘pen members. Flipping someone like Thayer or Vincent for a second lefty behind Garces could make some sense, as he’s currently slotted to be the only left-handed option for manager Bud Black following the Torres trade. (Non-roster invitee Chris Rearick could factor into the equation as well.)

The Blue Jays and Tigers are two teams that are oft-cited as searching for bullpen help, though recent reports have indicated that the Twins, too, are on the hunt for relief upgrades. The Marlins were known to be looking at relief options late in the offseason, and the Dodgers have incurred multiple bullpen setbacks as well this spring. Suffice it to say, if the Padres are willing to deal from what should be a sound bullpen, they’ll likely have no shortage of interested parties with which to exchange ideas.


Blue Jays Notes: Travis, Pompey, Bullpen, Santiago

The Blue Jays set the majority of their 25-man roster today, and there were plenty of interesting decisions to break down. A look at some of the outcomes…

  • Two key spots on the lineup will be manned by promising young prospects, as Dalton Pompey was named the center fielder (as was widely expected) and Devon Travis was named the starting second baseman. As MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm writes, the two prospects have been friends since 2013 — before Travis was even acquired from the Tigers in exchange for Anthony Gose this offseason. One of the first calls Travis received upon being traded to Toronto was from Pompey, with whom he had maintained contact after meeting at the 2013 MidWest All-Star Game. Travis emotionally called today the “best day of [his] life,” adding that it was “incredible” to know he’d be a part of a Major League roster.
  • Pompey and Travis will be just two of six rookies on the roster, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported today that 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have made the team and will pitch out of the bullpen. Both hard-throwing righties impressed scouts this spring, as they combined for 20 innings (10 each) of one-run ball with 18 strikeouts against just three walks (all from Osuna). Rookies Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez will be in the rotation with Marcus Stroman out for the season.
  • The Blue Jays released veteran infielder Ramon Santiago earlier today, as the 35-year-old had broken his collarbone earlier in the spring. However, Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes tweets (in Spanish) that the Jays may yet re-sign him to a new Minor League deal. Doing so would allow the Jays to keep Santiago and allow him to rehab in the organization while avoiding having to pay the former Article XX(B) free agent a $100K retention bonus.

Mariners, Rays Swap Erasmo Ramirez For Mike Montgomery

The Mariners announced that they have traded right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays in exchange for left-hander Mike Montgomery.

Ramirez, 24, enjoyed an excellent rookie season with the Mariners in 2012 when he worked to a 3.36 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 40.4 percent ground-ball rate in 59 innings, making eight starts and eight relief appearances. While stats like FIP, xFIP and SIERA all pegged him for a slightly higher mark — in the 3.55 to 3.75 range — it was a promising debut for a player that had ranked as the organization’s No. 13 prospect (per Baseball America) in the previous offseason.

However, Ramirez has fallen on hard times since that impressive debut; over the past two seasons, he’s recorded just a 5.12 ERA that unfortunately lines up nearly exactly with his 5.11 FIP. Ramirez’s strikeout and ground-ball rates have remained similar, but he’s seen his control take a step back, averaging 3.7 walks per nine innings in that time while becoming increasingly homer-prone.

Ramirez was out of Minor League options, meaning he would have been required to clear waivers before the Mariners could send him outright to Triple-A. The Rays then appear likely to keep him on the 25-man roster and hope for better results from Ramirez at the back of an injury-plagued rotation. In addition to Matt Moore, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Rays will also open the season without Drew Smyly at full strength. Alex Cobb and Alex Colome have both been slowed by injuries this spring as well, which has led to a well-known search for rotation depth in Tampa.

Montgomery, who turns 26 in July, was once one of the crown jewels of a vaunted Royals farm system, but his career stalled upon reaching the Triple-A level. Montgomery posted ERAs of 5.32 and 6.07 in his first two years reaching that level, and he’s struggled at lower levels since. All told, he has a 4.98 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 in parts of four seasons at Triple-A.

The Rays acquired Montgomery from the Royals in the James Shields/Wil Myers blockbuster in hopes of revitalizing his career. However, while his numbers improved a bit — 4.29 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A last year — he’s yet to show the promise that made him the No. 36 overall pick in the 2008 draft and one of the game’s top prospects from 2010-12. In their last scouting report on him, following the 2012 season, BA wrote that Montgomery began experimenting with a lower arm slot that caused his velocity to dip from the 92-93 mph range to the 88-90 mph range, adding that left-handed hitters were too comfortable against him. Montgomery is a reclamation project for the Mariners, but although he’s on the 40-man roster, he, unlike Ramirez, has an option remaining and can therefore hope to rediscover himself in the Minors in 2015.



Article XX(B) Free Agent Updates: Tuesday

Per the latest iteration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with six years of service time who finished the 2014 season on a 40-man roster or on the 60-day DL but signed Minor League deals over the offseason are entitled to a $100K retention bonus if their new team wishes to assign them to the Minor Leagues. Otherwise, they must be added to the MLB roster or Major League disabled list. Players who do receive the retention bonus are also given June 1 opt-out dates in their Minor League pacts.

MLBTR’s Jeff Todd ran down a list of this year’s Article XX(B) free agents earlier in the month, and we’re now arriving at the juncture of Spring Training where decisions must be made on these players — the deadline will come at 11am CT tomorrow. Many such players have already been released or granted their release today (some will re-sign with the teams that released them, as Chris Perez did in Milwaukee), but here are updates on players who were paid this bonus or learned that they’ve made their respective teams…

  • Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweets that utility man Kelly Johnson has made the Braves‘ 25-man roster. Johnson inked a Minor League pact that included a yet-unreported base salary. His versatility, the organization’s familiarity with him and the fact that the 32-year-old slashed a hefty .273/.396/.523 with a pair of homers in 54 plate appearances this spring likely all factored into the decision.
  • The Nationals will pay left-hander Rich Hill the $100K retention bonus, tweets James Wagner of the Washington Post. The 35-year-old yielded a pair of runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring and will give the Nats some left-handed relief depth. Of course, the Nats also just traded away some lefty relief by dealing out-of-options southpaw Jerry Blevins and his $2.4MM salary to the Mets.

Earlier Updates

  • Padres catcher Wil Nieves has received a $100K retention bonus, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nieves is still in the running for the team’s backup catching slot, Lin adds. Tim Federowicz was slated to be the team’s backup, but knee surgery has sidelined him for the next several months. The team must make a final call by this Sunday.
  • The D-Backs and catcher Gerald Laird and agreed to a five-day extension that will allow him to remain in big league camp, reports Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (on Twitter). Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic adds some clarity, noting that Laird still received the $100K retention bonus but will have the opportunity to fight for a roster spot (Twitter link). The five days will give the Snakes a bit more time to determine whether or not they want to take the veteran Laird north with them to open the season.
  • The Blue Jays have paid the $100K retention bonus to both Johan Santana and Munenori Kawasaki, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Both players were on Minor League deals, but Santana didn’t get into a game with the big league club as he continued to rehab from injury. Kawasaki hit .333/.481/.571 in 27 plate appearances but didn’t make the big league roster. He’ll head to Triple-A and wait for a call to the Majors in an organization with which he is quite familiar and where he is quite popular among the coaches and his teammates.
  • Right-handers Brad Penny and Jesse Crain both received retention bonuses from the White Sox, Passan also reports (on Twitter). The duo will remain in the Minors in the hopes of a spot opening with the big league club. Penny struggled to a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this spring, though little can be gleaned from such a small sample, and he did issue only four walks along the way. Crain, like his former Twins teammate Santana in Toronto, didn’t pitch in a big league game as he continued to rehab from injuries that cost him the entire 2014 season in Houston.
  • Both Geovany Soto and Matt Albers, on the other hand, have made the White Sox‘ roster and will be added to the 40-man, Passan reports in the aforementioned tweet. Presumably, Soto will be in the mix for everyday at-bats behind the plate following a strong spring performance. Albers will slot into the bullpen and bring an experienced arm to serve as a right-handed setup option. Soto’s base salary is an unknown, wheres Albers stands to reportedly receive a $1.5MM base for making the club.

Royals Notes: Hochevar, Morales, Flynn, Madson, Blanton

The Royals are facing a slew of roster decisions as the regular season draws near, and Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star provided updates on several players today. Let’s take a look (all links to his Twitter account)…

  • Luke Hochevar, who inked a two-year, $10MM contract this offseason, will begin the year on the disabled list. Manager Ned Yost told McCullough and other reporters that he hopes to have Hochevar ready to go by May. Adding a healthy Hochevar to the already exceptional trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera would give the Royals one of the most dominant bullpens in recent memory.
  • Though he hasn’t been given official word of making the roster, there’s a “high probability” that Franklin Morales will be on the roster. Morales chances of making the team likely increased when Tim Collins went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery.
  • Another lefty, Brian Flynn, has been one of the best relievers in camp this spring but has created a dilemma due to the fact that he has options remaining. Adding Flynn to the roster could mean risking the loss of out-of-options righty Louis Coleman or non-roster invitee Ryan Madson.
  • Madson has a “gentleman’s opt-out” at the end of camp that allows him to field MLB offers from other clubs if he is optioned at the end of camp, and while he’s expressed a willingness to pitch at Omaha, he will understandably take a big league offer if presented with one.
  • Veteran right-hander Joe Blanton has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Omaha. Blanton allowed three runs on 13 hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings this spring as he hopes to make a comeback at the Major League level. He’ll serve as a depth piece at Omaha, and one would think that a good performance there would position him as one of the first lines of defense should the Royals lose a member of their big league rotation.

NL West Notes: Gutierrez, Ethier, Dodgers, Padres

Giants right-hander Juan Gutierrez has elected not to exercise the April 1 opt-out clause in his contract, MLBTR has learned (Twitter links). Gutierrez has been slowed this spring by shoulder inflammation but is healthy now and touched 93 mph the last time he threw. Gutierrez has another opt-out in his contract for June 1 and will, in the meantime, hope to find an opportunity with the big league club. The 31-year-old Gutierrez logged 63 2/3 innings in the Giants’ bullpen last year, posting a 3.96 ERA with 6.2 K/9, a career-best 2.3 BB/9 and a 36.8 percent ground-ball rate, averaging a strong 93.5 mph on his fastball.

Here’s more from the NL West…

  • Andre Ethier was hit on the wrist by a pitch from Carlos Rodon today, but x-rays came back negative, writes ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Mark Saxon. Additionally, he notes that contractual issues surrounding Ethier won’t keep the Dodgers from going with Joc Pederson in center field. Saxon also says that the Dodgers won’t keep Pederson in the Minors to delay his free agency, although his situation is different than that of Kris Bryant, whose demotion to the Minors has caused quite a stir; Pederson already has 28 days of Major League service and would need to spend nearly six weeks in the Minors at this point to give L.A. an extra year of control. Manager Don Mattingly has hinted that Pederson will get the nod, though nothing has been officially announced yet, Saxon adds. “Joc’s kind of checked off all the boxes,” said Mattingly.
  • The Padres gave veteran catcher Wil Nieves a $100K retention bonus rather than adding him to the big league roster or releasing him, but he’s not a lock to be their backup catcher, writes Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. While it may be difficult to find a definitive upgrade outside the organization this close to the regular season, a source tells Lin that the search could go right down to the wire before Sunday’s deadline to set the 25-man roster. An out of options player such as Austin Romine of the Yankees would make some degree of sense, and the Orioles have quite a few experienced catchers, including Steve Clevenger and Ryan Lavarnway. Those names, however, are merely my own speculation.

Giants Designate Gary Brown For Assignment, Add Justin Maxwell To Roster

The Giants have designated outfielder Gary Brown for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for fellow outfielder Justin Maxwell, who has been informed that he made the team, per Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links).

Maxwell, 31, entered the day with a .316/.361/.526 batting line and went 4-for-4. After a pair of solid seasons at the plate in 2012-13, Maxwell received just 45 plate appearances with the 2014 Royals and struggled to a .150/.222/.175 line. Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Maxwell has batted .230/.344/.407 against left-handed pitching throughout his career. Maxwell grew up a Giants fans, Schulman notes, so today’s news is likely particularly exciting for him.

Designating Brown for assignment was likely tough for the Giants, as he’s a former first-round pick and top 100 prospect whose career has yet to take off as many expected. Brown surfaced in the Majors for the first time in 2014, collecting three hits in seven at-bats. A center fielder, Brown has batted .277/.342/.415 in parts of five Minor League seasons.


AL West Notes: Nix, Astros, Mariners, Rangers

In a revealing piece for Sports Illustrated, Stephanie Apstein spoke with 2014 fifth-round pick Jacob Nix, who was selected by the Astros and agreed to a $1.5MM bonus before having the offer pulled following complications with top pick Brady Aiken‘s physical. As most readers remember, the team reached a verbal agreement with Nix before finalizing Aiken’s deal, and once Aiken’s physical revealed troubles with his UCL, his offer had to be reduced. When Aiken didn’t agree to terms, the money for his slot was lost, and the team could no longer fit Nix’s bonus into its draft pool without incurring maximum future penalties. (Aiken, of course, recently underwent Tommy John surgery.) Nix discussed the waiting at length with Apstein, stating, “I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’ve always been out doing something.” Nix waited two weeks after departing Houston before the team contacted him, and he then waited another week to hear if his signing would come together. He was offered a revised $616K offer about an hour before the deadline, Apstein reports, but Nix passed and has since enrolled at IMG Academy in hopes of boosting his stock. It seems to have worked, as ESPN’s Keith Law noted in February that Nix is already showing first-round potential after adding 25 pounds of muscle and flashing average or better changeups and curveballs at times, complementing his solid velocity. Nix is looking forward to his pro career, though he won’t consent to being re-drafted by the Astros. “I hear nothing but good things about 29 teams,” Nix told Apstein. “I just want to get in and start my career.”

More on Nix, the Astros and the AL West…

  • Team officials have indicated to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that the Astros‘ currently reported 2015 draft pool and the amount they spent in 2014 aren’t accurate (Twitter links). It seems, Drellich continues, that someone after the 10th round got more than the allotted $100K in last year’s draft. All rounds following the 10th have a $100K slot, and additional spending over that mark counts against a team’s bonus pool. Drellich notes that this makes it impossible to know what the maximum amount Houston could have offered either Aiken or Nix truly was.
  • As much or more than any other team, the Mariners receive a huge portion of their value and income from their television arrangements, as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times explains. A close bottom-line focus over recent years did not deliver a winner, but did leave the team in position to ramp up its spending. Now, certainly, Seattle enters the 2015 season with postseason expectations.
  • The Mariners could use a modified six-man rotation, writes Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. By slotting in Roenis Elias liberally throughout the year, the club might hope to limit the wear and tear on its five top starters over the course of the regular season.
  • That sort of flexibility figures to play an even more prominent role for the Rangers this year, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News explains. Texas may not quite reach the level of impermanence it did last year, when it used a league-record 64 players at the big league level, but the club figures to rely heavily on option years to shuttle players back and forth between the bigs and the upper minors.

Braves Outright Zoilo Almonte

Outfielder Zoilo Almonte has cleared waivers and been outrighted by the Braves, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (via Twitter). Atlanta had signed the 25-year-old to a Major League contract this winter despite a very limited big league track record. By outrighting Almonte, they’ve cleared a spot on their 40-man roster.

The former Yankee hit just .245/.283/.265 in 53 plate appearances in his bid for a spot on the Braves’ 2015 roster. Instead, he can head to Triple-A Gwinnett and hope for another opportunity to join the roster at some point this season or elect free agency and seek an opportunity with another club, as he has previously been outrighted in his career.

Almonte has a solid track record at the Triple-A level, where he owns a .275/.333/.431 batting line in 747 plate appearances. It seems that Jonny Gomes will be ticketed for the bulk of the left field at-bats early in the season while Eric Young Jr. figures to man center field while Melvin Upton Jr. rehabs from injury.


Evan Gattis Settling In With Astros

Even after watching the Braves ship out key players such as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis wasn’t expecting to be the next one to go.  In January, after weeks of rumors and speculation, Atlanta struck a deal with the upstart Astros to continue their massive overhaul.  Gattis was caught off guard, but it didn’t take him long to come to terms with the move and get comfortable with his new club.

I wasn’t really actually bummed about the trade, I was just more surprised than anything. I just didn’t think it would happen,” Gattis told MLBTR prior to Wednesday’s game against the Phillies. “Other than that, its been a good camp and there’s a really good group of guys here.  I’m just excited and looking forward to the season.”

Gattis understood that major change was coming to the Braves, but he figured that he would be immune to it all since he’s still pre-arbitration eligible for one more season and playing near the league minimum.  Eventually, when it became clear that the Braves were listening on offers for him, he still didn’t panic or personally reach out to anyone in the Atlanta front office.  “I’m always the type to focus on my own business and I just worry about what I need to do to play,” Gattis explained.

With the Braves eyeing 2017 as their year to get back to contention, Gattis sounds legitimately enthused to be with a team that has advanced their own timeline considerably.  In fact, he says he’s okay with being flexible with regards to his exact role this season and isn’t fretting the split he might have between left field, the DH spot, or occasional time behind the plate.  Gattis hasn’t gotten a ton of balls hit his way in left during spring training, but he’s confident that he’ll get comfortable there in time, just as he did with his new club.


Royals Release Rafael Furcal

The Royals have released infielder Rafael Furcal, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. Furcal was only recently brought into camp on a minor league deal and had been working through a hamstring injury.

The 37-year-old saw only minimal action last year with Miami and has generally been unable to stay healthy since going down with a UCL tear late in 2012. He had been a consistent and reliable presence in the middle infield to that point.

It is unclear whether Furcal will seek another opportunity. Over his productive career, Furcal has slashed .281/.346/.402 in 7,237 plate appearances with 113 home runs and 314 steals. He has been worth more than thirty wins above replacement in total.


MLBTR Chat Transcript

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Brewers Re-Sign Chris Perez

The Brewers have re-signed righty Chris Perez to a minor league deal, the club announced. Milwaukee had released Perez on Sunday.

Perez, a former closer with the Indians, seemingly took some time to look around for a big league opportunity before deciding to return. At least one team, the Twins, was approached but declined the chance to add him, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets.

In spite of his solid results this spring, Perez was passed over for an Opening Day roster spot with Milwaukee. Of course, the 29-year-old has struggled to keep runs off the board in each of the last two seasons, with both results and advanced metrics painting a less-than-promising picture.


Dodgers Release Dustin McGowan, Will Pay Mike Adams Roster Bonus

The Dodgers have released righty Dustin McGowan, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Additionally, the Dodgers will pay Mike Adams a $100K roster bonus by starting him off in Triple-A, as MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports on Twitter.

McGowan had been in camp on a big league deal that guaranteed him a league minimum salary and came with a $1MM Opening Day roster bonus. The 33-year-old had strong results last year when working from the pen for the Blue Jays. Though he struggled as a starter, he held opposing hitters to a .215/.284/.405 line and posting a 3.35 ERA in 43 relief innings. But McGowan was not sharp this spring, allowing six earned runs in eight frames.

Adams, of course, has an excellent performance record but comes with shoulder questions. The veteran was knocked around somewhat this spring, but proved late last year that he can still miss bats and get outs at the big league level.


Released: Bello, Herndon, Accardo, Rodriguez, Rogers

Here are the latest minor moves, all via the MLB.com transactions page, the PCL transactions page, and/or the International League transactions page:

  • The Braves have released catcher Yenier Bello. Bello, of course, signed out of Cuba for a $400K bonus last year, but the 30-year-old obviously did not show enough to stay in the system. He slashed .308/.315/.404 over just 55 plate appearances last season split between the Rookie and low-A levels.
  • Brewers right-hander David Herndon will also be in search of a new organization after being released. The 29-year-old carries a 3.85 career ERA over 117 big league frames, but has not seen action at the game’s highest level since 2012.
  • The Diamondbacks have released big league veterans Jeremy Accardo and Henry Rodriguez. Both righties, Accardo (eight years) and Rodriguez (six years) each have seen their share of time at the major league level, including action in a closing role. Accardo owns a 4.30 ERA with 6.5 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 across 284 2/3 big league innings, but last saw action at that level in 2012. Rodriguez, still just 28, has worked to a 4.31 ERA over his 150 1/3 lifetime frames, striking out 9.0 and walking 6.4 per nine.
  • The Rangers also released a couple of right-handers in Mark Rogers and Mitch Atkins. Rogers, once one of the game’s brightes pitchign prospects, has struggled with a variety of injury issues and was not able to gain traction in camp. Atkins, 29, had worked to a 3.76 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 in 141 1/3 innings last year in the upper minors. Both players have some big league experience to their credit, but none in recent campaigns.
  • Reds right-hander Wilmer Font and oufielder Felix Perez have both been released. Font is just 24 and has reached the bigs briefly in each of the last two seasons with the Rangers. But he ended last season with an elbow injury and never played in major league camp this spring. The 30-year-old Perez, meanwhile, hit .280/.325.450 at the Triple-A level last year but struggled in camp this spring.