MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Episode 4

On the fourth episode of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast, host Jeff Todd opens with the transactional news from the week before being joined by free agent reliever Burke Badenhop (2:53) to discuss how his consistency, durability, and ground-ball production will play on the open market. Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and Bucs Dugout also joins the show (24:39) to discuss the Pirates’ looming offseason decisions. This episode comes to you courtesy of DraftKings.com, which invites you to join its $100K free roll fantasy football contest this weekend.

 

Podcast

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! You can download the episode directly with this link.

You can access the podcast via SoundCloud at this link. The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.


AL Central Notes: Royals, Aoki, Butler, Lovullo, Tigers

Though the Royals are coming off their best season in nearly three decades, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the team will soon need to turn its focus to some difficult offseason decisions. Industry expectations, according to Martino, are that the Royals will at least listen to trade offers for its more expensive players — including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — if other teams come calling this winter. Gordon’s case is the most pressing, as he’s only controlled through 2015 at $12.5MM before he has a $12.5MM player option. Gordon has publicly stated that he plans to exercise that option, though it’d be a surprise, to say the least, considering he could be in line for a much more sizable long-term commitment next offseason if he turns it down. Martino also notes that the Royals will have interest in re-signing Nori Aoki this offseason. From my vantage point, the team needn’t feel pressure to move any of the three previously mentioned players, though I’ll cover that at greater length in the upcoming Royals Offseason Outlook.

For the time being, here’s more on the AL Champs and the rest of their division…

  • The Royals are expected to decline their $12.5MM option on designated hitter Billy Butler in favor of a $1MM buyout, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The move isn’t exactly unexpected after the down season he had at the plate. However, Heyman adds that the team may look to pursue Torii Hunter, as they did seven years ago, in the event that Aoki signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough also hears that Butler’s option is likely to be declined.
  • The Twins‘ front office flew out to Torey Lovullo’s home in California to conduct their second interview with him on Monday this week, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, but there’s still been no decision reached as to who will be the team’s next manager. Lovullo and Paul Molitor are believed to be the favorites.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke candidly to reporters, including Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press, about the team’s lack of financial flexibility this offseason. Said Dombrowski: “We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we’re in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren’t what is common here. … It’s a situation where we’re really in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you’re going to do.”

AL West Notes: Astros, Lewis, Rangers, A’s

A federal bankruptcy judge today approved a Chapter 11 reorganization that will allow DirecTV and AT&T to purchase Comcast SportsNet Houston, reports David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The network will be relaunched next month as ROOT Sports Houston and will provide the Houston area with significantly greater accessibility to television coverage of Astros games. The team has issued a statement, via press release, expressing its pleasure with the outcome: “We are very pleased with Judge Isgur’s confirmation of the plan to reorganize the Network under AT&T and DirecTV. Throughout this long process, our main goal has been to provide broad coverage of Astros games for our fans throughout our region. This new Network will allow us to achieve this goal.  There are still a few obstacles that we have to overcome, but today’s decision is a big victory for Astros fans and the City of Houston.”

Here’s more from the AL West…

  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already had discussions with Alan Nero, the agent for free agent righty Colby Lewis, about a return to the organization for Lewis, reports MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers have extended a preliminary offer to Lewis, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports is a Major League offer. There’s mutual interest on both sides, according to the pair of reports, but the process has likely been slowed somewhat by the fact that Nero also represents manager Joe Maddon, who is said to be in line to take over as skipper of the Cubs. Lewis struggled in the first half of the 2014 season but rebounded quite well in the second half, posting a 3.86 ERA over his final 13 starts. His 5.18 ERA on the season was likely inflated by a .339 batting average on balls in play.
  • Also of note from Sullivan, the Rangers are expected to look to make rotation additions beyond Lewis this offseason, however they’re more likely to come via the trade market than via free agency. The Rangers do possess a good deal of middle infield depth. Both Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor both are seen as highly regarded talents, but the Rangers don’t have a place to slot both of them into the starting lineup. (It should be noted that the Profar/Odor speculation is my own, as opposed to something which Sullivan is reporting as likely.)
  • The Athletics today announced the promotions of three coaches (Twitter link). Darren Bush, who previously served as the team’s bullpen coach, will now shift into the role of hitting coach and fill the void left by Chili Davis (who signed on to fill the same role with Boston). Scott Emerson, who had previously served as a minor league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator, was promoted to the role of bullpen coach. Lastly, Marcus Jensen, who has served as a Rookie-league manager and minor league hitting instructor for the A’s, was named assistant hitting coach/catching coach.
  • Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has several updates on the Rangers‘ search to fill out new manager Jeff Banister’s coaching staff, noting that several announcements could come as soon as tomorrow.


D’Backs Exercise Options On Hudson, Reynolds

The Diamondbacks announced that they have exercised their 2015 club options on right-hander Daniel Hudson and left-hander Matt Reynolds. Hudson’s option guarantees him $800K next season, while Reynolds will earn $600K.

Hudson, 27, hasn’t seen regular MLB action since 2012 season due to not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. He looked to have recovered from his first Tommy John operation before re-injuring the elbow early in a rehab stint and requiring a second procedure. Hudson remained determined and worked his way through the rehab process once again, this time reaching the Majors at the tail end of the 2014 season and making three relief appearances. The D’Backs appear likely to use him as a reliever in 2015, and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets that he can earn an additional $300K in roster bonuses.

Originally acquired from the White Sox along with lefty David Holmberg in exchange for Edwin Jackson, Hudson looked to be a key cog for the Diamondbacks’ rotation after a brilliant debut for Arizona. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts for the D’Backs in 2010 and followed that up with a 3.49 mark in 222 innings the following year before injuring his UCL in 2012.

Reynolds, 30, was acquired from the Rockies in a rare intra-division trade that sent Ryan Wheeler to Colorado. Reynolds was enjoying an excellent first season with the D’Backs in 2013, having pitched to a 1.98 ERA with 23 strikeouts against five walks in 27 1/3 innings before his injury. He spent the 2014 season rehabbing and did not take the mound in either the Majors or Minors, though at just $100K over the league minimum, there’s little risk for the Diamondbacks in exercising their option.


Padres Decline Josh Johnson’s Option

The Padres announced that they have declined their $4MM club option on right-hander Josh Johnson. As MLB.com’s Corey Brock tweets, the Friars are said to want to work out a lesser deal with Johnson and his representatives at Sosnick/Cobbe Sports.

Johnson, 31 in January, signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Padres last offseason. That deal contained a clause stipulating that if Johnson were to make fewer than seven starts, the team would secure a $4MM club option for the 2015 season. Not only did Johnson fail to make seven starts, he didn’t take the mound at all in San Diego, as he fell victim to Tommy John surgery in April. Brock tweets that Johnson began a throwing program earlier this month and feels that he has “unfinished business” in San Diego.

Johnson’s injury history is lengthy, to put it mildly, but there’s no denying his status as one of baseball’s most talented pitchers when healthy. He owns a lifetime 3.40 ERA, but that number is skewed by some poor performances in injury-plagued seasons. During the best (and healthiest) stretch of his Major League career from 2009-11, Johnson posted a 2.64 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 453 innings with the Marlins. He’s a two-time All-Star that finished fourth in the 2006 Rookie of the Year voting and finished fifth in the 2010 Cy Young voting.


Orioles Exercise Options On Chen, O’Day; Decline Options On Markakis, Hundley

The Orioles announced that they have exercised their club options on left-hander Wei-Yin Chen ($4.75MM) and right-hander Darren O’Day ($4.25MM). Additionally, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that the team has declined its half of Nick Markakis‘ $17.5MM mutual option (in favor of a $2MM buyout) and declined Nick Hundley‘s $5MM option.

The decision to pick up the options on Chen and O’Day was an easy one, as both appear to be bargain rates relative to the level of production of each pitcher. Chen, a 29-year-old left-hander signed out of Taiwan, has been solid in three seasons for the Orioles and enjoyed his best year in 2014. In 185 2/3 innings in the Baltimore rotation, he pitched to a 3.54 ERA with 6.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate. In three years with the O’s, he’s totaled a 3.86 ERA in 515 1/3 innings while playing on a three-year, $11.388MM contract.

O’Day, who turned 32 last week, has been an integral part of the Orioles’ bullpen over the past three seasons but turned in his best work this year. Though he has a 2.05 ERA over 197 2/3 total innings in Baltimore, he pitched to a 1.70 mark this year to go along with 9.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent ground-ball rate.

Markakis has been with the Orioles since being selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft. In nine seasons with Baltimore, he’s posted a cumulative line of .290/.358/.435. This past season, he posted a .276/.342/.386 line with 14 homers and a total of 2.5 fWAR/2.1 rWAR — a solid rebound campaign as he hits the open market for the first time. First, however, the O’s will have to decide whether or not to make him a $15.3MM qualifying offer. (I recently profiled Markakis and pegged him for a four-year deal without a QO and three years if he gets one.)

Hundley, 31, was acquired in exchange for lefty Troy Patton after Matt Wieters went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. In 50 games and 174 plate appearances with the O’s, the former Padre batted .233/.273/.352 with five homers. He caught 19 percent of opposing base-stealers and graded out as a slightly above-average pitch-framer, per Baseball Prospectus.


Dan Haren Exercises Player Option

Dodgers right-hander Dan Haren has exercised his $10MM player option for the 2015 season, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets.

Haren, who turned 34 in September, signed a one-year, $10MM contract with the Dodgers last offseason that contained a $10MM player option that would vest upon reaching 180 innings. Haren ended up totaling 186 innings in Dodger blue, posting a 4.02 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41.5 percent ground-ball rate.

Haren could have hit the open market in search of a larger guarantee, perhaps on a two-year deal, but he’s stated in the past that proximity to his family is of the utmost importance to him, so remaining with them in Los Angeles is likely a key component of this decision. He spoke openly and honestly with Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post in 2013 about how difficult his year with the Nationals was from a personal standpoint, as he had never previously been so far away from his wife and children.

Barring any sort of trade, Haren will return to a rotation that features Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. It won’t be a surprise to see them seek further rotation depth via trades and/or free agency this offseason.


White Sox To Decline Option On Felipe Paulino

The White Sox have informed righty Felipe Paulino that they will not pick up his $4MM option, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Chicago will instead pay him a $250K buyout.

Paulino, 31, had signed a one-year, $1.75MM deal before the 2013 season. At the time, Paulino was coming off of Tommy John surgery and looked to be an easy high-upside risk to take. That gamble did not pay off, however, as Paulino made just four MLB appearances and was roughed up at all levels this year.

 


Red Sox Sign Koji Uehara To Two-Year Extension

The Red Sox announced that they have signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension that runs through the 2016 season. Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that it is a two-year, $18MM contract (Twitter link). Uehara is represented by Mark Pieper of Relativity Sports.

Koji Uehara

Uehara, who turns 40 next April, has thrived over the past two seasons in Boston, rising from elite setup man to All-Star closer in short order. Though he finished 2014 on a negative note — he yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings and pitched just five time in September due to arm fatigue — Uehara has overall been nothing short of outstanding in Boston.

In 138 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, Uehara has pitched to a pristine 1.75 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He was a postseason hero during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors after appearing in five of the six games in that series. Though not a flamethrower, Uehara racks up strikeouts thanks to an exceptional split-finger. This past season, the only pitcher in all of Major League Baseball who posted a higher swinging-strike rate than Uehara’s 18.8 percent was Aroldis Chapman.

Uehara figures to be the first significant signing of what should be an active offseason for the Red Sox, who appear to have no plans to go into rebuilding mode on the heels of a last-place finish in 2014. Rather, the Red Sox prioritized adding MLB-ready help at the trade deadline and are expected to pursue at least one top starting pitcher on the open market in the offseason. Boston has also been connected to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. To that end, Uehara’s contract isn’t a detriment to the team’s long-term outlook. Including Uehara, the Red Sox still have just four contracts on the books for 2016 and only two guaranteed contracts to which they are committed beyond that season. That positions the team well to add at least one significant multi-year pact this winter, if not more.

In my recent free agent profile for Uehara, I pegged him for a one-year, $11MM contract on the open market while noting that I felt he could receive two years at a lower annual value should his preference be for security over the upside of another large one-year deal next offseason. His departure from the free agent market weakens a strong crop of relievers that is headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller but also includes Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and a number of other solid arms.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cardinals Exercise John Lackey’s Option

The Cardinals have exercised their league-minimum option on right-hander John Lackey, per a report from the Associated Press.

The move is little more than a formality, as there was never any real doubt that the Cardinals would exercise the mere $500K option. That option was a large part of the reason that Lackey was so desirable at this year’s trade deadline and a large part of the reason that the club was willing to part with both Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to land him.

Lackey’s original five-year, $82.5MM contract with the Red Sox contained a clause stipulating that if he were to miss a year due to a significant elbow injury, Boston would gain a sixth-year option at the league minimum rate. Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery during the life of that original five-year term, thus triggering the clause. Though the salary is obviously not ideal for Lackey, he has said multiple times that he plans to honor the commitment.

Lackey, who turned 36 last week, pitched to a 3.82 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 198 innings for the Red Sox and Cardinals this season. However, he was markedly better with Boston than he was with St. Louis, as he posted a 3.60 ERA (3.56 FIP) with the Sox compared to a 4.30 ERA (4.27 FIP) with the Cards.


Brewers Exercise Yovani Gallardo’s Option

The Brewers have officially exercised their $13MM club option on right-hander Yovani Gallardo, reports MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes (on Twitter).

Gallardo, 29 in February, has spent his entire career with the Brewers after being selected in the second round of the 2004 draft. In 2014 he totaled 192 1/3 innings of 3.51 ERA ball with 6.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. Though he no longer averages a strikeout per inning as he did from 2009-12 (perhaps, in part, due to slightly diminished fastball velocity), the option was still a relatively easy call for the Brewers. Gallardo’s option contained a $600K buyout, essentially making this a $12.4MM decision for the Brewers.

In parts of eight Major League seasons with Milwaukee, Gallardo has a 3.69 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate. He signed a five-year, $30.1MM contract prior to the 2010 season, and by virtue of this option being exercised, will see that guarantee rise to $43.1MM over a six-year term.


Cubs Decline Option On Kyuji Fujikawa

The Cubs have declined a $5.5MM club option over righty Kyuji Fujikawa, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Fujikawa will take home a $500K buyout as he hits the open market.

The 34-year-old struggled with injury issues and was never the pitcher the Cubs hoped when they signed him out of Japan. Across the last two years, he owns a 5.04 ERA over just 25 innings. He does have an impressive 11.2 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in that stretch, but he was rather homer prone this year.

While it will be hard to commit much to Fujikawa given his age and recent Tommy John procedure, that strikeout tally is hard to ignore. And he had a long run of durable success in the NPB before the Cubs brought him to the majors.


Hisashi Iwakuma’s Option Vests

The Mariners announced that Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option has officially vested based on his on-field performance. The option was widely believed to be a club option, however Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune recently reported that the option vested by virtue of Iwakuma’s on-field performance. The Mariners have now officially announced as much.

Retaining Iwakuma for a mere $7MM would have been a no-brainer regardless, as the 33-year-old again enjoyed another strong season with the Mariners. In his third big league season, the Japanese righty totaled a 3.52 ERA with 7.7. K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 179 innings of work. The somewhat diminished innings total is the result of a strained tendon in his middle finger that kept him on the disabled list through the month of April. He debuted on May 3, however, and made each of his starts for the remainder of the season.

Iwakuma has been an exceptional find for the Mariners, who initially signed him for just $1.5MM one year after the A’s failed to work out a contract with him following their submission of a $19.1MM bid for his exclusive negotiating rights (that sum was returned to Oakland when a deal was not reached). Following a rookie campaign that was  split between the bullpen and the rotation, Iwakuma signed a two-year, $14MM extension which contained this option. He then broke out in 2013 with an elite season that led to a third-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.

All told, Iwakuma owns a stellar 3.07 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate in 524 big league innings since leaving the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball for the Major Leagues. Fangraphs pegs his career value at 7.7 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference (11.5) and RA9-WAR (12.3) are significantly more bullish.


Angels Exercise Street Option, Decline Burnett Option, Return Moran To Mariners

The Angels have announced a series of transactions (Twitter links). As expected, the team exercised its $7MM option over closer Huston Street while declining a $4.5MM option over reliever Sean Burnett. The Halos also returned Rule 5 lefty Brian Moran to the Mariners after he cleared waivers.

Street, 31, was an easy decision. He excelled before and after coming to Los Angeles via trade, and a big part of his value came in the ability to control him for 2015. Burnett, on the other hand, struggled with significant shoulder problems during his ill-fated time with the Angels.

The 26-year-old Moran, meanwhile, never had much of a chance to stick with the Angels. Though he was expected to compete for a LOOGY role, Moran underwent Tommy John surgery in early April.


Nationals Exercise Denard Span’s Option; Decline LaRoche, Soriano

3:01pm: The team announced the move on Span while also announcing that it has declined its club option on reliever Rafael Soriano and the team end of a mutual option for first baseman Adam LaRoche.

Neither of those moves surprised, either. Soriano struggled in the second half and lost his closer job, and never was really in contention to have his $14MM tab paid. LaRoche, meanwhile, will get a $2MM buyout. While it may have made sense to exercise the $15MM option in other circumstances, Washington is expected to shift Ryan Zimmerman over to first.

2:26pm: The Nationals have exercised center fielder Denard Span‘s $9MM option, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports on Twitter. Span, 30, will now enter his final season of team control before hitting the market after the year.

This news comes as no surprise, as Span put up an outstanding all-around year in his second campaign with the Nats. He led the league with 184 hits and slashed .302/.355/.416 in 668 turns at bat. Span also contributed a career-best 31 stolen bases.

Even with some defensive metrics looking down on his work in center — which, it should be noted, goes against the views of some observers — he was nearly a 4-win player in the view of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs. By measure of Baseball Prospectus’s WARP figure, Span tallied 5.7 wins above replacement.

Even better for Span and the Nats: since coming over from Minnesota, Span has only missed time sporadically while remaining an everyday presence in the lineup. While a slight step back in production may be expected, it is worth noting that Span produced at this level earlier in his career before concussion issues struck.

Span, of course, was acquired from Minnesota prior to the 2013 season in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Though the Twins are only just preparing to see how their end of the deal that will pay out, the Nationals are surely happy that it was such an easy decision to pick up this option.