Joe Blanton Has April 1st Opt Out With Royals

MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has learned that Joe Blanton has an April 1st opt out clause in his contract with the Royals.  The pitcher, who is a non-roster invitee with KC, is still in big league camp and throwing well.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Tillman, Rays, Lindor

On this date in 2001, Todd Helton signed a nine-year, $141.5MM contract extension with the Rockies, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes.  That year, Helton would go on to earn yet another All-Star selection, his second in what would be a string of five consecutive seasons.  According to Baseball-Reference, Helton earned upwards of $161MM over the course of his career which spanned 17 seasons in Colorado.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

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


Yankees To Release Scott Baker

The Yankees have released Scott Baker, according to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (via Twitter).  The Yankees signed Baker to a minor league pact back in January.

Baker was a mainstay in the Twins’ rotation during their run at the top of the division, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training of 2012 and has yet to re-establish himself as a reliable rotation cog in the Major Leagues.  The 33-year-old has spent the past two seasons in the Cubs and Rangers organizations, working to a combined 5.17 ERA in 95 2/3 innings of work.

Prior to those struggles and his surgery, however, Baker was a solid, if unspectacular mid-rotation arm for Minnesota.  He averaged 181 innings of 4.11 ERA ball (103 ERA+) from 2008-10 with the Twins before seemingly taking a significant step forward in a 2011 season that was cut short by injury.  Baker notched just 134 2/3 innings that year but had turned in a pristine 3.14 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 prior to being shut down.  Metrics such as his 3.45 FIP and 3.43 SIERA reflected genuine improvement as well.

The former second-round pick had an opportunity to help fill in a questionable Yankees rotation, but he’ll now be seeking employment elsewhere.  Had he made the Bombers’ big league roster, Baker would have earned a $1.5MM salary.



Braves Release James Russell

8:15am: The Braves have confirmed the move via press release.

8:05am: The Braves have released left-hander James Russell, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com (via Twitter).  The Braves will owe him roughly $600K.

On Saturday, Bowman indicated that Russell could be released due to his struggles this spring. Meanwhile, Luis Avilan has impressed in recent weeks as Russell faltered and prospect Brady Feigl could also be in line to take his spot on the roster.  Bowman also listed Josh Outman as a lefty reliever that could be in trouble, but his future is not immediately clear in the wake of Russell’s release.

Russell and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.425MM contract back in January.  The 29-year-old posted a combined 2.97 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 57 2/3 innings between Chicago and Atlanta in 2014.

The Braves acquired Russell and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for minor league catcher Victor Caratini and about $1MM in cash.  At that time, Russell had a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate, though he was dealing with significant command issues.  Russell was viewed by some as a non-tender candidate this winter but the Braves elected to retain him at his reasonable ~$2.4MM price tag.


Quick Hits: Semien, DeShields, Astros

Infielder Marcus Semien isn’t surprised the White Sox traded him last winter, and the Bay Area native is happy to be with the Athletics, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com writes. “We knew we had a lot of capable guys who could play at the big league level and that the White Sox needed some right-handed arms,” says Semien, who headed west in the Jeff Samardzija trade. “Those two, that went together and it just happened to be me and now I’m just excited to play and have an opportunity to play with anyone, especially being able to come home to Oakland.” Here’s more from around the league.

  • The Rangers are seriously considering keeping outfielder and Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. DeShields is fast (like his father was), but the Rangers are convinced he can do more than just run. “The speed is obvious,” says GM Jon Daniels. “But to me there is more to it. I think his arm has played ‘up.’ I think there is strength in his swing, it’s short and through the ball.” With Nate Schierholtz out of the picture, the Rangers now have DeShields, Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero competing for three open outfield jobs.
  • Roberto Hernandez hasn’t outperformed Asher Wojciechowski in the competition to be the Astros‘ fifth starter, but Hernandez should get the job anyway because that’s the easiest way to keep depth in the organization, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Wojciechowski can easily just be sent to Triple-A. Hernandez is an Article XX(B) free agent, so the Astros either have to add him to their roster, release him or pay him a $100K retention bonus to keep him in the minors. If the Astros were to send Hernandez to Triple-A, they would also have to give him a June 1 opt-out date. (On Twitter, Drellich also suggests that, as a courtesy, teams generally do not send Article XX(B) players to the minors.) The Astros have plenty of depth at some positions, but not in their rotation, so the easiest path for now would be to place Hernandez in their rotation and make sure that both he and Wojciechowski stay in the organization.

Twins Have Inquired On Rafael Soriano

SATURDAY: A Twins official says the team has very limited interest in Soriano and “might” watch him pitch if he were to hold a workout, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweets.

FRIDAY: 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.


Mariners Prospect Victor Sanchez Dies

Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has passed away, Jose Grasso of Finanzasdigital.com tweets. Sanchez was 20. Last month, Sanchez was swimming off the coast of his native Venezuela when he was hit by a boat. He suffered a fractured skull and a hematoma that caused a stroke, and he went into a coma.

The Seattle Mariners are saddened to learn of the passing of Victor Sanchez,” says Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. “Victor was a tremendous young man and a wonderful teammate. He was a very talented player who was close to fulfilling his promise as a Major Leaguer. He will be missed by his teammates, and the coaches and staff at the Mariners.”

Sanchez had been in the midst of a promising career as a starting pitcher. The Mariners signed him for a $2.5MM bonus in 2011 and promoted him aggressively through their system. He threw a no-hitter in 2013 in Class A, then he held his own last year at Double-A as a 19-year-old. MLB.com ranked Sanchez as the 11th-best prospect in the Mariners’ system, praising his strike-throwing ability.

We at MLBTR offer our condolences to Sanchez’s family and to the Mariners organization.


NL Notes: Ichiro, Melvin, Rollins

New Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki says being an older free agent is like being an older dog in a pet store, Brad Lefton of the Wall Street Journal writes. “Amongst all the cute little puppies jumping and tumbling for prospective owners, there’s one who’s a little older, a little more mature, who keeps getting passed over for the more adorable ones,” says Ichiro. “When someone finally comes along and points a finger at him, an undying loyalty is born.” The 41-year-old Ichiro’s offseason training routine helps him stay relevant, Lefton writes. Ichiro works out at the Orix Buffaloes’ home park in Japan, with a pitcher who throws batting practice for him and another player he plays catch with. Ichiro might take 150 swings against live pitching each day in the offseason. Here are more notes from the National League.

  • GM Doug Melvin has recently discussed an extension to his contract with the Brewers, although it’s unlikely he and the team will agree to one before the season starts, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. Melvin’s contract expires after the 2015 season. Counting his previous job with the Rangers, Melvin has now been a GM for about two decades, and it sounds like he remains at least somewhat enthusiastic about continuing. “I still think I’m good at what I do and I still enjoy it,” he says. “I like the draft-and-development part of the job and that’s something we’ll always have to do in our market.”
  • The fact that he’s with the Dodgers now doesn’t mean Jimmy Rollins can’t relate to fans who dislike them, Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “For a long time – you don’t hear ‘Beat the Dodgers,’ you don’t hear ‘Beat the Lakers,’ even the Clippers now – it’s ‘Beat L.A.,'” says Rollins. “It’s everything L.A. stands for. . . . I’ve heard [it] for the first time on this side, and I was cracking up. Because I know how the crowd feels, the fans feel, on the other side.” This isn’t the first interview Rollins has given about how strange it can feel for a player to spend years with one organization and then abruptly switch to another, but his perspective on a common but little-discussed situation is still refreshing to read.

AL Notes: Rangers, Diamond, Rays, Orioles

Despite their acquisition of lefty Sam Freeman today, the Rangers are still on the hunt for bullpen help, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. They are not currently in any discussions for position players or starting pitchers. Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Freeman currently appear to be the only near-locks for the Rangers bullpen. They have, however, gotten some impressive Spring Training performances from inexperienced pitchers like Keone Kela, Roman Mendez and Jon Edwards. Here are more quick notes from the American League.

  • Former Twins starting pitcher and free agent Scott Diamond threw for the Rays yesterday, 1500ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets. The Rays have a number of injuries in their rotation and are known to be hunting for starting pitching depth to stash at Triple-A Durham. Diamond last appeared in the big leagues in 2013. He spent last season pitching at Triple-A Rochester and Louisville, where he posted a combined 6.57 ERA, 4.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 123 1/3 innings.
  • Orioles manager Buck Showalter says the team doesn’t seem likely to upgrade its backup catcher spot via the trade market, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets. “We haven’t had any name come up that we like better than the people we have,” says Showalter. With Matt Wieters recovering from elbow surgery, Caleb Joseph is likely to serve as the Orioles’ starting catcher. Joseph himself isn’t much of an offensive threat, although he balanced some of his poor hitting last year with strong defense. Ryan Lavarnway appears to lead the competition to be Joseph’s backup.

Minor Moves: Roberts, Baez, D-Backs, Putkonen

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

  • The Royals have released 2B/3B Ryan Roberts, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. Roberts, 34, played sparingly for the Red Sox last season and has a career .243/.320/.388 line in parts of nine seasons, also playing for the Blue Jays, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Rays.
  • The Royals have announced that they’ve traded righty Angel Baez to the Astros for cash considerations. Baez, 24, pitched 62 innings of relief for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last season, posting a 4.65 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9, improving somewhat upon the control problems with which he had struggled in the low minors.
  • The Diamondbacks have released a number of players, including righty relievers Jeremy Accardo and Henry Rodriguez, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert tweets. The 33-year-old Accardo spent 2014 in independent ball and last appeared in the Majors in 2012. He’s played parts of eight big-league seasons and appeared in the Blue Jays’ bullpen in every season from 2006 through 2010. The hard-throwing Rodriguez has appeared in the big leagues in all of the last six seasons (with the Athletics, Nationals, Cubs and Marlins), but has never really established himself, thanks in large part to control problems — he has 6.4 BB/9 for his career. Both pitchers signed minor-league deals with the D-Backs this offseason.
  • Twins utilityman Tyler Grimes has retired, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweets. The 24-year-old Grimes played at Class A+ Fort Myers in 2014, hitting .232/.313/.355 in 307 plate appearances while, remarkably, playing catcher, second, third and all three outfield positions. He had been a non-roster invite to Twins big-league camp.
  • 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.

NL Notes: Bryant, Garcia, Villanueva, Nats, Mets

The Cubs‘ impending decision about whether to have Kris Bryant start the season in the minors has players around baseball talking about service-time rules, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes in a story that collects responses to Bryant’s situation from players from several teams. “Hey, we have a chance to make a lot of money in this game, but the rules are the rules,” says Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. “If that works in the Cubs favor, and the Cubs are a better team for that, they’re entitled to (use the rule to their favor). We negotiated that. It’s the reality of what our collective bargaining agreement says.” Here’s more from the National League.

  • Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia will miss his start due to a shoulder issue, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Garcia likely will not be in the team’s Opening Day rotation. Garcia had impressed the team in camp and might well have made the Cardinals’ rotation, particularly since having him start rather than Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez would have been the best way for the Cards to protect their assets — they could have easily just optioned Gonzales to the minors, put Martinez in the bullpen and kept all three pitchers. Instead, it’s yet another injury for Garcia, who’s dealt with plenty of them in the past few seasons. There is, however, reason to hope it won’t be serious — GM John Mozeliak (via Langosch on Twitter) characterizes the injury as fatigue and the missed start as “more of a pause than anything.”
  • Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on a minor-league deal with the Cardinals, can opt out of that deal Monday, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch notes (via Twitter). Villanueva has gotten fairly good results in camp and has a track record of providing solid performances in a swingman role, so the Cardinals could try to find space for him on their roster.
  • Intentionally or not, the Nationals, who have lefty relievers available, gave the lefty-starved Mets a look at Jerry Blevins Saturday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. (Blevins struck out Curtis Granderson but gave up a triple to Lucas Duda.) The Nationals have Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton, and all are out of options, so they could end up trading one.

Rangers Release Juan Carlos Oviedo

Juan Carlos Oviedo has requested and been granted his release by the Rangers, the team has announced. The Rangers informed Oviedo earlier today that he would not make the team.

Oviedo, 33, pitched 31 2/3 innings for the Rays in 2014, posting a 3.69 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9. That was the former Marlins closer’s first season in the big leagues since 2011, after which he spent two years dealing with injuries. The Rangers signed him to a minor-league deal in January. The pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez threw 3 2/3 innings this spring, allowing four runs, two earned, while striking out four and walking two.


Mets, Lucas Duda Discussing Extension

The Mets are discussing an extension with Lucas Duda, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Duda himself characterizes the talks as “preliminary stuff,” and agent Dan Horwits confirms that there have been talks but says those talks will be put on hold beginning on Opening Day.

Duda will make $4.2MM in 2015 and will be eligible for arbitration two more times before becoming a free agent following the 2017 season. By that point, he will be heading into his age-32 season, and Sherman points out that it might be tough for a 32-year-old first baseman not known for his athleticism to land a big contract. So perhaps one possibility for Duda might be to sign a four- or five-year deal that would give the Mets an extra year or two of control in exchange for a significant guarantee.

Of course, if Duda doesn’t sign an extension, much of his future earning power will depend on whether he can continue hitting for power the way he did last season. 2014 was a breakout year for Duda, who rewarded the Mets’ faith in him by hitting 30 home runs in a full-time role while batting .253/.349/.481.


Nate Schierholtz Opts Out Of Deal With Rangers

Outfielder Nate Schierholtz has taken his release from the Rangers, Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. The Rangers informed Schierholtz earlier today that he would not make the team. They signed him to a minor-league deal last month, with an opt-out date of today.

Schierholtz, 31, batted just .195/.243/.309 in 383 plate appearances with the Cubs and Nationals last season, then continued to struggle this spring. The left-handed Schierholtz has historically been a good weapon against right-handed pitching, but he didn’t separate himself from a variety of Rangers outfield options, also including Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Carlos Peguero and Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields along with Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin.


Rosenthal’s Latest: Rays, Utley, D-Backs, Matusz

Here are the highlights from an enormous notes post by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

  • There’s the potential for lots of trade activity between now and Opening Day, with an unusual number of teams with logjams at particular positions. But there aren’t many good pitching options, and many teams are already close to their payroll limits.
  • The Rays are one of several teams looking for starting pitching, but they’re currently focusing their efforts on depth, figuring they only need to cover for injured starters Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly for a month or so.
  • If the Phillies struggle early in the year, trade whispers involving Chase Utley could grow louder, with the Padres, Angels and possibly Giants looming as potentially interested teams. Utley would, of course, have to waive his no-trade clause, but he has West Coast roots.
  • The Diamondbacks are currently unwilling to trade Mark Trumbo, but that could change if they become dissatisfied with their outfield defense.
  • The Orioles discussed trading lefty Brian Matusz to the Rangers before Texas acquired Sam Freeman, and have listened to other clubs interested in Matusz as well. But the Nationals might be more willing than the Orioles to trade a lefty reliever — some within the Orioles see Matusz as a better option than either T.J. McFarland or Wesley Wright.