Christian Vazquez To Undergo Tommy John Surgery

The Red Sox have announced that catcher Christian Vazquez will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow tomorrow. The surgery, which will be performed by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., will sideline Vazquez for the entire season.

The loss of Vazquez is a significant blow to the Red Sox, who anticipated enjoying the 24-year-old’s presence as their regular catcher in 2015. Vazquez, praised by most as one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball, made his big league debut in 2014 and batted .240/.308/.309 in 201 plate appearances. Despite that lack of offensive production, Vazquez provided quite a bit of value, throwing out an incredible 52 percent of opposing base-stealers and rating as one of the game’s best pitch-framers, per both Statcorner.com and Baseball Prospectus.

Boston was seemingly prepared for this outcome, as they acquired switch-hitting catcher Sandy Leon from the Nationals earlier this week. The out-of-options Leon is excellent at controlling the running game himself, though he lacks the overall upside of Vazquez. Leon will join Ryan Hanigan, whom the Sox had acquired to serve as a backup but will now see regular action, as half of the team’s catching tandem.

Of course, the eyes of all Boston fans will be carefully monitoring the progress of top catching prospect Blake Swihart as he finishes off his Minor League development at the Triple-A level this season. Swihart, one of the game’s top overall prospects, is widely considered to be Boston’s No. 2 prospect, behind Yoan Moncada. The Phillies have repeatedly asked for Swihart in Cole Hamels trade discussions, but the Sox have refused to include him in a deal. With Vazquez now out for the season, one would imagine that the Sox will be even more reluctant to part with Swihart.

Obviously this procedure is more common among pitchers, but there are still position players who have had to undergo the procedure in recent years. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had Tommy John last June and will likely open the 2015 season on the disabled list, while Twins top prospect Miguel Sano underwent the procedure last March and missed the season but has been healthy all spring.


Rule 5 Update: J.R. Graham, Delino DeShields

Earlier today the Braves claimed Rule 5 left-hander Andrew McKirahan off waivers from the Marlins — the second Rule 5 player to be claimed off waivers in the past week (the Padres also claimed Rule 5 righty Jandel Gustave of waivers from the Royals). As teams are setting their 25-man rosters, here are the most recent updates on the players selected in this year’s Rule 5 Draft

  • Right-hander J.R. Graham, selected by the Twins out of the Braves organization, has made Minnesota’s 25-man roster, according to Twins director of baseball communications Dustin Morse (on Twitter). The 25-year-old Graham rated as one of the game’s Top 100 prospects two offseasons ago, per Baseball America (No. 93) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 63) but has been slowed by injuries in recent years. This spring with the Twins, he allowed just three runs in 12 2/3 innings, though he also recorded a rather unsightly 7-to-6 K/BB ratio.
  • Second baseman/outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. has beaten out Carlos Peguero for a spot on the Rangers‘ 25-man roster, tweets Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. DeShields is currently 1-for-3 in today’s game, having boosted his average to .268. DeShields, the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, spent last season with the Astros’ Double-A affiliate, batting .236/.346/.360 with 54 steals. The speedster swiped an incredible 101 bases in 135 games across two Class-A levels in 2012. MLB.com rated DeShields as the game’s No. 66 prospect as recently as last offseason.

Extension Notes: Duda, Harvey, Cueto, Price

The Mets are reportedly set to lock into all of the arbitration-eligible seasons of center fielder Juan Lagares while adding control over another year via club option. But that is not the only possible extension scenario ongoing in New York and elsewhere.

Here’s the latest:

  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson acknowledged that the club has had conversations with both Lagares and first baseman Lucas Duda, as Mike Vorkunov of the Star-Ledger reports (Twitter links). He explained the team’s process as akin to that which led it to sign deals in the past with players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Jon Niese, calling Lagares and Duda “select individuals who we think have real upside.” A new pact for the power-hitting, arb-eligible Duda will likely cost the Mets a fair bit more than the $23MM the team reportedly committed to Lagares.
  • For his part, Duda indicated that he is hopeful of getting a deal done before the presumptive deadline of Opening Day, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets. His agents are still working with the New York front office.
  • Arguably the Mets‘ best player, starter Matt Harvey, tells Puma (Twitter links) that he and agent Scott Boras have not been approached to discuss a deal. Of course, that could be due in large part to the fact that Harvey appears to be in a particularly unlikely extension spot: a Boras-represented ace with nearly-unlimited upside who is preparing to enter his arbitration years after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery. When asked whether he would try to get something done with Harvey, Alderson said that the question was “too far afield for me.” Needless to say, it does not appear that there is anything in the works here.
  • The Reds have made “no progress” on a deal with ace Johnny Cueto, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. That is really not surprising, given that Cincinnati appears to have a lack of future payroll flexibility and Cueto a rather substantial earning potential as a free agent.
  • Morosi also tweets that he does not expect any pending free agents to reach long-term deals barring a surprise, massive offer from the Tigers to David Price, and it is hard to disagree with that assessment. That being said, Price made clear yesterday that he is not putting any timeline on talks about a new deal, as MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. Price also gave some hints as to his mindset, seemingly indicating that Detroit knows his demands and will have to decide whether to meet them. “It wouldn’t be something that would linger on,€” he said. “These guys, they know what they want to do, and so do I. So if we get to that point, then I think once it gets going, it would go quickly. If it doesn’€™t happen, then it just wouldn’t happen. It’s not something that we’d revisit every two weeks. I’€™m sure the Tigers would rather it be either we can get it done or we can’t and leave it alone. We’€™ll see how everything starts shaking out.”€ Price added that he does not necessarily see recent deals for top starting pitchers as setting the salary range that should apply to his next deal: I guess you could say that, but that’s not my thought behind it.”


Mets Place Cesar Puello On Outright Waivers

The Mets have placed young outfielder Cesar Puello on outright waivers, ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin reports. Out of options and a roster spot, Puello has long seemed destined to be headed either to another organization or off of the Mets’ 40-man.

Puello hits the wire on his 24th birthday. He reached Triple-A last year, slashing .252/.355/.393 in 371 plate appearances with seven home runs and 13 stolen bases. Though primarily a corner outfielder, Puello has seen at least some time in center in the minors.

Presumably, the Mets would have worked out a deal if Puello was in high demand, but his low power output in the hitter-friendly environs of Las Vegas — combined with a .265 spring slugging percentage — may have eliminated any serious interest. Of course, Puello has shown some promise in the past and could at least be a credible fourth outfielder, so he figures to draw interest. The question is whether any team will be interested in adding him to their 40-man roster, which would require an Opening Day roster spot at this juncture.


Jarred Cosart Says He Did Not Bet On Baseball

Marlins starter Jarred Cosart briefly addressed the league’s inquiry into a still-obscure, gambling-related issue, telling Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald“I never have, never will bet on baseball.” 

That statement certainly indicates that Cosart does not believe he did anything that would trigger discipline, at least not pursuant to Rule 21(d), which prohibits gambling on baseball games. Cosart added that he hopes the league will wrap up its investigation by Opening Day, which of course is only days away.

Cosart declined comment otherwise. “That’s the only statement I can come out with right now,” he said. “I’m letting MLB security [handle the rest]. They’ve investigated my Twitter. I had to speak to some people from their offices last week, but I’m in a good position on it, I’m confident. Like I said, it’s kind of just in the commissioners hands now and we’ll see what he does with it.”


Michael Matuella To Undergo Tommy John Surgery

Top draft prospect Michael Matuella, a Duke University righty, has torn his ulnar collateral ligament and will undergo Tommy John surgery, Keith Law of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. He had been tabbed as a possible first overall pick.

Matuella joins last year’s number one choice, Brady Aiken, as premium amateur arms requiring UCL replacements this offseason. The news has put a significant damper on a draft class that was already receiving less-than-stellar reviews.

Of course, we have seen some added willingness on the part of teams to take risks on players coming off of a TJ procedure. As Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper notes, last year’s draft included two prominent first-round choices who received big bonuses despite the surgery: Jeff Hoffman, who went 9th overall to the Blue Jays, and Erick Fedde, who went at 18 to the Nationals. And we have seen significant guarantees given to still-rehabbing pitchers, with the Royals along inking Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen.

But there is little doubt that the added risk will have an impact on the earning capacity of Matuella. Cooper does note on Twitter that at least some clubs actually have greater long-term concern with back issues for the right-hander. BA’s John Manuel and Hudson Belinsky further discussed Matuella’s draft status in an interesting piece.


Royals Re-Sign Rafael Furcal

The Royals have re-signed infielder Rafael Furcal, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. Furcal was released by Kansas City yesterday.

It appears that the move was designed to get Furcal in camp when he signed initially while preventing the Royals from being obligated to him for a $100K Article XX(B) retention bonus. Furcal does not appear on the list of Article XX(B) free agents I compiled recently, because he signed after that list was posted, but he did in fact qualify for free agency pursuant to that provision and therefore was entitled to its built-in protections.


Clayton Richard Declines To Opt Out From Pirates Deal

Lefty Clayton Richard decided to allow his opt-out clause to expire yesterday, despite the fact that he was not added to the Pirates’ 40-man roster, Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reports. Richard’s opt-out was negotiated into his deal; he is not an Article XX(B) free agent and thus lacks the automatic protection provided by that status.

Richard said that he is not sure if and when he can opt out in the future, but noted that his representatives were set to discuss his contract with GM Neal Huntington. The 31-year-old has been effective in spring — he allowed 3 earned runs over 8 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking two — and likely would have drawn interest elsewhere. Instead, he’ll provide a potentially useful depth option for Pittsburgh.

“€œI’m still here,€ Richard tells Williams. “We just thought it would be best to stay here and work some stuff out. I’ve had such a good experience with everyone here. We’re going in the right direction. It seems like the right move to stay here and keep on making that progress.”


$100K MLB Contest At DraftKings

Opening Day is less than a week away, so now is the time to enter the new season’s first fantasy baseball contest from Draft Kings! There is a $100K total pool to be distributed, with a $10K top prize and payouts going to the 7,850 highest point scorers. It costs just $3 to enter, but you can take a free shot at this contest if you are making your first deposit. Click here to enter!

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I set this lineup earlier in the winter and am sticking with it now as camp breaks:

03.11.2015 DraftKings

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Latest On Jesse Crain

1:14pm: The MLB.com site is incorrect: Crain is still with the team and has only been reassigned, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com tweets.

1:01pm: The White Sox have released righty Jesse Crain, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Crain had been reassigned to minor league camp.

Crain, an Article XX(B) free agent, was in line for a $100K retention bonus, which the team had reportedly decided to pay. While it remains unclear precisely what transpired, it obviously would not make sense for the White Sox to have committed to the bonus before dropping him the very next day.

The 33-year-old has been trying to return to action from shoulder surgery. He was one of the game’s very best relievers in 2013, but has yet to return to full game action since his shoulder issues cropped up.


Braves Claim Rule 5 Pick Andrew McKirahan

12:56pm: The Braves have claimed McKirahan, Frisaro tweets.

12:43pm: Rule 5 lefty Andrew McKirahan has been claimed off waivers by an unknown team, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports on Twitter. The Marlins placed him on waivers two days ago.

While it remains to be seen which club will take a chance on McKirahan, the news likely spells the end of any chance he would end up with Miami. The new claiming team will step into the Marlins’ rights regarding the 25-year-old southpaw, meaning that they will need to keep him on the roster all year in order to gain future control over him.

In the event that the new team, too, decides to expose McKirahan to waivers, he would go through the same process again. If he is unclaimed at that point, then his prior club — the Cubs — would stand to reacquire his rights.


Minor Moves: Matt Tuiasosopo

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • The Orioles have released outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter. Tuiasosopo, 26, had been shifted to minor league camp earlier in the month, and will now be permitted to pursue an opportunity with another club. Over 401 career turns at bat in the big leagues, Tuiasosopo has a .207/.290/.356 slash. He hit 13 home runs and slashed .240/.357/.379 in 487 Triple-A plate appearances last year.

Mets Nearing Extension With Juan Lagares

11:30am: Passan now reports the year-to-year breakdown of the contract will be as follows: $2.5MM in 2016, $4.5MM in 2017, $6.5MM in 2018 and $9MM in 2019. As he previously noted, the option is valued at $9.5MM with a $500K buyout.

10:37am: Lagares will be guaranteed $23MM, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. The option is for $9.5MM and comes with a $500K buyout.

10:22am: The deal is done pending a physical, Bowden tweets.

10:10am: Lagares acknowledges that the deal is under negotiations but says he has not yet signed a contract, Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News tweets.

9:17am: The Mets have agreed to terms on a four-year extension with center fielder Juan Lagares that includes a club option, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. The deal is expected to guarantee Lagares over $20MM, per Bowden. Lagares, 26, is represented by ACES.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Mets

The deal will not start until 2016, Bowden tweets, meaning that New York has locked in salaries for all of Lagares’s arbitration years while picking up a club option over his first season of free agent eligibility. Lagares entered the offseason with 1.160 years of service, meaning he’d almost certainly have qualified for Super Two eligibility next year. All told, New York will stand to gain control over Lagares through his age-31 season.

Lagares established himself last year with an outstanding campaign in the field and solid effort at the plate. There is no doubt that his primary value comes with the glove: Lagares led all qualifying outfielders with 25.3 UZR/150, with Defensive Runs Saved and scouting reports concurring in his excellence.

Of course, Lagares had already showed that kind of capability in center. What last year did more than anything was show his capacity on the offensive side of the equation. Lagares slashed .281/.321/.382 over 452 plate appearances, an approximately league average line, while contributing four home runs and 13 stolen bases.

There may not be much upside left in the bat given his age, but the aggregate package has obvious appeal. Lagares was worth 4 fWAR and an even more impressive 5.5 rWAR last year, making him the type of well-above-average player that any team hopes to be able to lock in up the middle.

In terms of the payday, which is yet to be reported precisely, Lagares obviously had some reasonably anticipated caps on his earning capacity since his skillset is presently not valued highly in arbitration. The most obvious comp for this deal is the recent Adam Eaton extension — a five-year, $23.5MM pact (plus two club options) for a center fielder who had one less year of club control but who was on track to qualify for arbitration just three times. Eaton is also 26, and both players have missed some time due to injuries over the last few years. While they profile differently, and appear to have agreed to differently-structured deals, the overall value of the two players is arguably fairly similar.

Another way of looking at it, though, would be to compare this agreement to the Andrelton Simmons extension from last winter. Simmons, of course, is also an elite defender whose bat is slightly below average to average. The Braves cornerstone, then 24, got seven years and $58MM in exchange for his age-24 through age-31 seasons. With this deal, the Mets appear set to control Lagares through his age-31 season with a more modest annual guarantee and lower overall risk.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Phillies Outright Phillippe Aumont, Miguel Gonzalez

The Phillies have outrighted out-of-options righty Phillippe Aumont, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com tweets. Philadelphia also announced that righty Miguel Gonzalez has been outrighted off of the 40-man.

Aumont is, of course, the last remaining piece of the 2009 Cliff Lee trade left in Philadelphia. His exposure to waivers obviously indicates that the club was prepared to lose him, and the fact that he went unclaimed reveals that the rest of the league has little interest in devoting a 40-man spot at this point. Certainly, the same holds for Gonzalez, who has disappointed thus far in Philly.

The pair of righties entered camp with plenty to prove but apparently failed to do so. Aumont, 26, limited the free passes in game action this spring while generating plenty of whiffs, but seemingly gave up a lot of hard contact, including three home runs in 8 2/3 innings. Gonzalez, 28, also could not keep opposing batters off of his pitches. Though he struck out seven and walked only one in 14 1/3 innings, Gonzalez was touched for 25 hits and five long balls in that stretch.


Astros Designate Alex Presley For Assignment

The Astros have designated outfielder Alex Presley for assignment, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports on Twitter. While the club would like to keep him, they may attempt to work out a trade, McTaggart tweets.

Presley saw 271 plate appearances with Houston last year after being claimed off waivers. He slashed just .244/.281/.346 with six home runs and five steals. Playing mostly in the corner outfield, Presley was unable to stay above the replacement line. His work at the plate showed more of the same this spring.

Presley should draw interest from teams looking for some versatility. He is out of options, of course, meaning that a team would have to give him an active roster spot in claiming him. Presley also comes with a $1MM salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility (as a Super Two).