June 1 (that’s Monday) is a popular opt-out date, with multiple players having the chance to become free agents if not elevated to the big league roster. Chris Cotillo of SB Nation ran down a few of those on Twitter: David Aardsma of the Dodgers, Juan Gutierrez and Kevin Correia of the Giants, Rich Hill of the Nationals, and Brad Penny of the White Sox. (He also lists Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he’s now up with the D’Backs.) As MLBTR’s Steve Adams notes (Twitter links), Aardsma is throwing quite well at Triple-A, and could well end up opting out — making him a nice target for teams in need of an arm.
- One player who is very likely to find a new home is the Giants‘ Correia, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets. Correia will likely be released today, says Crasnick, as the team doesn’t have a need for his services at the big league level. He has been effective thus far at Triple-A, throwing 37 2/3 innings of 3.58 ERA ball over six starts and posting 6.0 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9.
- The upcoming draft is not going to feature two eligible players, as righty/first baseman Luken Baker will head to TCU and center fielder Kevin Collard intends to play at San Diego, per Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (Twitter link). Kiley rated Baker the 40th-best prospect available, noting that he could end up as either a pitcher or position player.
- In a recent chat, Ben Badler of Baseball America addressed the question of how Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez (read more on him here) stacks up against current minor leaguers. Badler says that, while some teams place a higher value on Rodriguez’s skillset (weak bat, good fielding and speed) than do others, he wouldn’t place him within the game’s 200 best prospects.
- Badler also says that he hears the Braves are planning to make a huge push in the international market — not this coming July 2, but next. Atlanta seems to be hoping to take advantage of the fact that several big-spending teams will be restricted from giving out $300K+ bonuses in that market.
- Roc Nation has hired former Excel agent Kyle Thousand to head up its baseball representation operations as managing director, Crasnick tweets.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- Infielder Jeff Bianchi has rejected an outright assignment from the Red Sox after clearing waivers, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal tweets. He is now a free agent. Bianchi enjoyed a proverbial cup of coffee with Boston this year, but spent most of his time in the organization compiling a useful .302/.373/.340 slash at Triple-A. He has seen more extensive time with the Brewers in the past.
- The Diamondbacks have released veteran utility infielder Kevin Frandsen, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports on Twitter. Frandsen, 33, owns a .309/.352/.333 slash over 89 plate appearances for Triple-A Reno. He spent last year with the Nationals, contributing only a .259/.299/.309 batting line in his 236 plate appearances. Since a strong year for the Phillies in 2012, Frandsen — who mostly plays at second and third — has been at or below replacement level.
Movement towards a possible return of Major League Baseball to Montreal continues to build, though important questions like “how?” and “when?” remain to be answered in the future. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre met yesterday with commissioner Rob Manfred, as Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports. Coderre said he hoped to convey the city’s “political will” to land a franchise, calling the meeting “the beginning” of that process. “I think what we need to do is establish a roadmap,” said Coderre. “Our enthusiasm for this project is clear. We love the sport. We’re serious about it. This isn’t just a gesture. … I don’t know about a timeframe, but this is a town for baseball, and we’re keeping the flame.”
- The Mets have weathered the loss of several key relievers fairly well: the unit has combined for the fifth-best pen ERA in baseball. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, New York can look ahead to the addition of Jenrry Mejia, Vic Black, Bobby Parnell, and Jerry Blevins, to say nothing of young starters like Rafael Montero and Steven Matz. While there’s plenty of uncertainty in that group, there is some upside, and Sherman says that could free the team to put its resources toward the acquisition of a hitter over the summer.
- With the mid-season trade market looming, the landscape has changed for the Phillies and ace Cole Hamels, Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes. He looks at the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox as possible landing spots, though certainly those clubs could be in on other arms and would very likely face other competition on Hamels if they choose to pursue him. Things are shaping up rather well for Philadelphia, on the whole: the 31-year-old leads the league with 74 1/3 innings and has produced a 2.91 ERA with 9.2 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- The Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day DL as he continues to deal with neck and back issues, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports (links to Twitter). The team is “perplexed” as to the cause of the problems, per Kolko, particularly since the most recent stiffness has arisen on the opposite side of his body than that which occurred just weeks ago. While the hope is that Strasburg will only miss the minimum fifteen days, it seems time to attempt to identify the root cause.
- Top Braves prospect Jose Peraza, a second baseman by trade, is spending increasing time at center field for the club’s Triple-A affiliate, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. For now, the intent seems only to increase his defensive flexibility. The club has been impressed with young second baseman Jace Peterson, and Bowman explains that the team does not see either as an option at third. Of course, Cameron Maybin has shown new life in Atlanta out in center — a subject that David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discussed with me on last week’s MLBTR podcast — but this move opens new possibilities for Atlanta.
The Rangers have designated infielder Tommy Field for assignment, executive VP of communications John Blake announced on Twitter. As expected, righty Chi Chi Gonzalez has been called up for his first big league action, necessitating the move.
Field, 28, received 45 turns at bat for Texas before the move. The right-handed hitter compiled a .195/.250/.366 line in that span, with two home runs and a stolen base. He appeared mostly at second base, though he is also capable of playing shortstop.
SATURDAY: Balfour tells Topkin (Twitter link) that he is not considering retirement at this time. The veteran righty says he still wants to try to return to the big leagues, and “is considering a few options.”
THURSDAY: Right-hander Grant Balfour is leaning toward retiring after opting out of his minor league contract with the Rays, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The 37-year-old Balfour struggled with the 2014 Rays after having almost latched on with the Orioles on a two-year deal earlier that offseason. Medical concerns caused that deal to fall through, and Balfour eventually returned to the Rays on a different two-year deal later in the winter. However, his velocity was noticeably lower than in recent years, and his BB/9 rate spiked north of 5.0, resulting in a 4.91 ERA over 62 1/3 innings of work. He eventually lost the closer’s role to Jake McGee and appeared poised to pitch in a setup capacity in 2015 as he hoped to rebound.
Instead, Balfour struggled through 4 1/3 innings after missing much of Spring Training to return to his native Australia to be with his ailing father. Upon returning, he surrendered three runs in 4 1/3 innings and was ultimately designated for assignment and released before signing a new minor league deal with Tampa.
Topkin notes that Balfour had relatively encouraging bottom-line results with Triple-A Durham, allowing just three runs in 9 2/3 innings. However, he also allowed nine hits and four walks with velocity that again sat in the 90-91 mph range — a significant departure from the 93.4 mph he averaged as recently as 2013. Rays manager Kevin Cash said that Balfour was “Similar to what he was [in the Majors],” when asked by Topkin. “No regression, but I don’t think he totally felt like he had got back what he was looking for,” Cash continued.
If Balfour’s career is coming to a close, he’ll finish with a 30-23 record, 84 saves and a 3.49 ERA in 539 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing righty averaged 9.5 strikeouts and 4.2 walks per nine innings over a 12-year big league career split between the Twins, Rays, Athletics and Brewers.
TODAY: Soriano has hired Alan Nero and Ulises Cabrera of Octagon Baseball, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports on Twitter. The righty tells Sanchez that he is “working out every day” in preparation “to get back to playing baseball and helping a team win in whatever role I’m asked.”
YESTERDAY: Free agent reliever Rafael Soriano is set to replace agent Scott Boras, according to James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link). It is not clear whether he has chosen a new agent.
Soriano hopes to sign a deal and return to big league action, per the report. He has been inactive for the first two months of the year despite plenty of apparent interest. Presumably, the fact that he has yet to do so had something to do with the parting.
Boras has negotiated Soriano’s contracts since the fall of 2010 — as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times then reported on Twitter — and has done rather well for his now-former client. Soriano has earned a total of $49MM over four years, exercising an opt-out clause negotiated into his deal with the Yankees and overcoming a qualifying offer to find better money over two years with the Nationals (though a significant piece of that was deferred).
Most recently, the Marlins were said to be dabbling in the Soriano market, though no deal was completed and the team apparently no longer has interest. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a complete look at the possible suitors last weekend (with our readers voting the Cubs as the odds-on favorite to bring him in).
The Braves have agreed to a minor league deal with catcher Ryan Lavarnway, Kevin McAlpin of the Braves Radio Network tweets. Lavarnway had elected free agency after being outrighted by the Orioles.
Lavarnway, 27, will join options such as the veteran Wil Nieves at Gwinnett. He could become an option at the major league level if young backstop Christian Bethancourt continues to struggle with Atlanta. Bethancourt has already lost playing time to A.J. Pierzynski, and the team may prefer to give him more regular playing time to re-discover his stroke.
Of course, Lavarnway himself is a former prospect who has yet to reach the lofty ceiling he once seemed to offer. At least on paper, Lavarnway has moved around quite a bit since the end of his tenure with the Red Sox last November, but he’s only appeared in action for the Orioles. In a sporadic 32 big league plate appearances this year, he slashed a meager .107/.219/.143.
Here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.
Signed / Agreed To Terms
- Astros — RHP Yoanis Quiala (link)
- Red Sox — 2B Yoilan Cerse (link)
Top Prospect Promotions
Designated For Assignment
Elected Free Agency / Opted Out
Key Minor League Signings
The Yankees will welcome Masahiro Tanaka back into the rotation on Wednesday, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets. It remains to be seen whether he can return yet again in top form, but at this point it’s hard to count him out. Tommy John surgery seemed inevitable, and could still be the result, yet Tanaka was excellent in his first four starts of the year before suffering the forearm strain that led to his most recent DL stint.
Here’s more on AL East starting pitching:
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox will hand the ball to rookie Eduardo Rodriguez at least once more, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reports on Twitter. While the club will stay with a six-man rotation for now, that certainly indicates that his audition could result in a permanent spot — no surprise after an excellent first outing in which he tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings.
- Of course, the Red Sox rotation still has issues. Rick Porcello‘s struggles are one significant concern, and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently explained that Porcello has shown little sign of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. Boston owes him $82.5MM over the next four years under his recent extension — not exactly “ace” money, but quite a bit — but Porcello is carrying a 5.37 ERA. The good news is that Porcello, still just 26, is producing an 8.5% swinging strike rate (on the high side for him) and has increased his velocity from last year.
- It has been a breakout year for Jake Odorizzi of the Rays, who owns a 2.31 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .210/.248/.327 batting line. If that sounds impressive, it’s not exactly all that Odorizzi is aiming for, as Matt Stein of Sports Talk Florida reports. “That’s my mindset every time,” he said. “Starts with trying to throw a perfect game, move on to a no-hitter, shutout. Just kind of work your way down the line. That’s the mindset I take into every game to be honest with you.” There’s plenty more value for Tampa Bay to tap into, as Odorizzi had just over one year of service time entering the season. All said, it’s beginning to look like it might be time to re-weigh yet again the deal that brought Odorizzi and Wil Myers to the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis.
Here are Friday’s minor moves from around baseball…
- Catcher Ryan Lavarnway has elected free agency rather than taking an outright assignment from the Orioles, the club announced. The 27-year-old received just 32 plate appearances with Baltimore, registering only three hits. He has yet to make good on his former promise, but should have no trouble finding another club interested in giving him a slot at Triple-A to get back on track.
- The White Sox released Jairo Asencio, according to a tweet from its Triple-A affiliate. Asencio, 31, has tossed 55 2/3 big league innings in parts of four years, but has not appeared in the majors since 2013. He worked to a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings at Triple-A, but did rack up an impressive 28 strikeouts against just six walks.
- Both outfielder Engel Beltre and utilityman Jeff Kobernus have signed minor league deals with the Giants, Matt Eddy of Baseball America reports on Twitter. Both have a smattering of big league experience, though neither has hit much in limited action. Beltre was a long-time Rangers farmhand, while Kobernus has only previously appeared professionally in the Nationals organization (though he did spend a spring with the Tigers as a Rule 5 pick before being returned).
- The Blue Jays announced that right-hander Todd Redmond has cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Buffalo. Redmond was designated for assignment a week ago and will have the option to reject the assignment in favor of free agency. He pitched well in more than 70 innings for the Jays in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but he’s struggled in 2015, yielding 11 runs in 8 1/3 innings of work thus far.
- The Astros and Cuban right-hander Yoanis Quiala have agreed to terms on a minor league contract, reports Scout.com’s Max Wildstein. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle tweets that the Astros view Quiala as a starting pitcher, though he did work mostly in relief in his lone pro season in Cuba. The 22-year-old Quiala made 16 appearances (nine in relief, seven from the rotation) in the 2012-13 season in Cuba, totaling 52 2/3 innings with a 2.22 ERA, 5.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald reported (Spanish link) back in November that Quiala had been granted free agency by Major League Baseball, adding that he can run his fastball up into the mid-90s. Given his age and limited experience, Quiala would be subject to international signing limitations. Because the Astros have already spent the vast majority of their 2014-15 budget, it seems unlikely that Quiala received a significant bonus; even $1MM would put Houston well over their allotted pool. Ben Badler of Baseball America ran down all of Houston’s significant expenditures in his April review of their international signings.
- The KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization have signed first baseman Dan Black, who had been playing with the Triple-A affiliate for the White Sox, Han Lee of Global Sporting Integration reports (on Twitter). Black, 27, is a former 14th-round pick of the White Sox (2009) that was hitting an impressive .324/.457/.568 with six homers in 34 games for Triple-A Charlotte this season. He’ll be paid $300K, according to the Yonhap News Agency, and will be replacing former big league right-hander Andy Sisco on the Wiz’s roster. Sisco, who was recently released by the Wiz (according to the Yonhap), posted a 6.23 ERA with 42 strikeouts but 25 walks in 39 innings of work with the Wiz in what was his only KBO action to this point of his career.
Earlier, we discussed a report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times indicating that the Cubs will be players if Ben Zobrist is marketed. In that piece, he also discusses the team’s need for pitching. Chicago is “in the mix” for Rafael Soriano and could also be interested in Diamondbacks lefty Oliver Perez. Discussing the team’s summer plans, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein hinted that the club will be looking hard at additions — as Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago said he expected on last week’s MLBTR podcast. “We’re trying to balance short- and long-term interests,” said Epstein. “But we’re in a situation [in which] we have a fairly competitive team right now, and we have some needs. So you don’t ignore that. You keep it in mind. But at the same time you can’t just go out and unilaterally add.”
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo indicated that he believes the club can get by with internal options like Michael Taylor and Tyler Moore while Jayson Werth recovers from a fractured wrist, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. The left-handed-hitting Clint Robinson could also see time. My own guess is that another lefty bat could be acquired if the right player becomes available, but that the team will not be aggressive unless the need becomes more apparent. It’s worth recalling, too, that Matt den Dekker is still available at Triple-A, with Nate McLouth still a possible candidate to return later in the year.
- Stephen Strasburg left tonight’s start for the Nationals after just five batters. As Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports (Twitter links), Strasburg is said to have suffered a left trap muscle issue of some kind. The righty, who has struggled uncharacteristically, said that his neck tightened up so much that he had trouble turning his head. While it does not appear that there is any concern with arm issues, Strasburg’s general difficulties and neck and back issues are certainly an increasing problem for him and the club.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak says he does not have any retrospective qualms over his acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Heyward has shown some signs of life after a rough start, but the outstanding early performance of Shelby Miller stands in stark contrast at present. “I think whenever you make those kind of deals, there are reasons behind it,” Mozeliak explained. “And at the time, we felt that we had to do something. Not only looking at how we want this club to be put together, but we did not feel like there might be any other opportunities that would meet the type of criteria we’re looking for.”
- Though he has not yet been evaluated, injured Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch says a radiologist that looked at the MRI on his knee believes he may have a torn ACL, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. Certainly, that would mean a disappointing end to the year for the 31-year-old, who has struggled at the plate in his opportunity at a starting role. Arizona has called up recent signee Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will presumably take a good portion of the time behind the dish.
- Several Giants players have upcoming opt-out dates, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News writes. Righty Kevin Correia can become a free agent on the first of June, while third baseman Casey McGehee can opt out on June 5.
In his latest Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports kicks off by discussing Ryan Howard‘s increased trade value. Howard is hitting .256/.298/.519 with 10 homers this season, and while the OBP is lackluster, he’s performed particularly well of late, hitting .307/.340/.602 with six homers this month (a .389 BABIP on the month, though, is heavily influencing those numbers). The Phils were willing to pay down $35MM or so of Howard’s remaining contract this offseason, and doing so would make him a roughly $10MM player this season and next. While Heyman notes that might be seen as a fair price, he adds that some scouts and executives will want to see more sustained production before considering a move, which strikes me as more than reasonable; I doubt three weeks of hot hitting have transformed him from albatross into hot commodity. The Orioles, Royals and Rays all discussed Howard with the Phillies this offseason but went different directions, and Heyman looks at those three teams as well as five others in determining if there’s a fit to be made. Howard received 10-and-5 rights on May 2, however, allowing him to veto any deal. And while many reports have indicated it won’t get in the way of a trade, Heyman hears that Howard is happier in Philadelphia now than he was over the winter and wonders if he might require some kind of incentive to waive those rights.
Some more highlights from a lengthy column …
- The Orioles never really came close to reaching an extension with starter Chris Tillman this spring, and talks are on hold at present. The 27-year-old has scuffled early this year with a 5.59 ERA over 48 1/3 innings.
- David Robertson could have taken home even more than the $46MM promised to him by the White Sox, says Heyman, as an unnamed team offered him more this winter. That provides yet more reason to believe that plenty of teams are still willing to pay top dollar for premium relievers.
- While the Tigers are very interested in attempting to retain Yoenis Cespedes beyond the current year, Heyman says that all signs point to him reaching free agency. Detroit can, of course, pursue him on the open market, but sources tell Heyman that Cespedes is unlikely to agree to an extension.
- Likewise, the Tigers don’t appear to have much hope of an extension with ace David Price, and Heyman says they “aren’t overwhelmingly confident” that he’ll be back. Detroit’s front office believes that Price will look to top Max Scherzer‘s contract.
- The Astros are sorting through many pitching acquisition possibilities, and Aaron Harang of the Phillies has “at least been discussed” by the club. Fellow Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels may come with too much contract for Houston, but Heyman reports that the club does see Reds free agent-to-be Johnny Cueto as a possibility.
- While Brewers GM Doug Melvin has given signals that he’s ready to sell early, owner Mark Attanasio may prefer the club hold off until at least the upcoming draft. While PR considerations seem to be a factor, that may be the best strategy anyway; the team could still get out ahead of the market, while allowing it to mature somewhat before acting.
- Be sure to check out the piece for more interesting items around the league.
The Cubs are expected to pursue a trade for Ben Zobrist of the Athletics this summer, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Zobrist recently returned to action after missing time for knee surgery.
Zobrist, who just turned 34, has played all over the diamond in his career, registering stellar defensive marks at numerous positions. In recent years, he’s spent most of his time at second base and the corner outfield, though he played at short quite a bit earlier in his career. Of course, Zobrist has also consistently delivered well-above-average production on offense, with a career .264/.354/.429 batting line.
All said, Zobrist has been one of the ten most valuable all-around position players in the game since the start of 2011. He is still a bargain with only a $7.5MM salary this season, though he’ll hit the open market after the year.
A trade would, of course, render Zobrist ineligible for a qualifying offer, and Oakland will surely be looking for a return that exceeds the value of a compensatory draft pick if it decides to move him at the trade deadline. That is no sure thing, as Wittenmyer notes, as Oakland still hopes to get back into contention.
From the Cubs’ perspective, adding Zobrist would make obvious sense, though that can be said of many other teams as well. The veteran thrived under skipper Joe Maddon when both were with the Rays, and he’d offer the team ample flexibility while deepening its lineup. While Chicago has enjoyed strong production at many spots in the everyday lineup, its bench has been underwhelming.
Right-handed reliever Erik Cordier declined an outright assignment with the Giants but re-signed with the club on a minor league deal, Chris Haft of MLB.com tweets. The live-armed hurler had been designated for assignment and cleared waivers.
Cordier, who works in the triple digits with his fastball, struck out nine and walked only two in six MLB innings last year for San Francisco. He has steadily improved over a lengthy minor league career, with his strikeout tallies soaring after moving to a pen role.
The 29-year-old had been on a rehab assignment to start the year. He owns a 1.50 ERA with twenty strikeouts against eight walks over a dozen minor league frames in 2015.
Cordier’s new deal contains several opt-out dates, per Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News, which explains the procedural moves.
6:13pm: Milwaukee announced that it has rescinded the move and instead placed Kinzler on the 15-day DL, with the team apparently learned that Kinzler was suffering from a pre-existing knee issue.
1:23pm: The Brewers announced that they have designated right-handed reliever Brandon Kintzler for assignment in order to clear a roster spot for shortstop Jean Segura, who has been activated from the disabled list. Segura had been on the shelf with a broken pinkie finger.
The 30-year-old Kintzler has allowed five runs in seven innings since being recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs earlier this month, and his 6.35 ERA in 5 2/3 innings at Triple-A this year wasn’t much more inspiring. Still, as Adam McCalvy notes, Kintzler could have simply been optioned to Triple-A but was instead designated for assignment. He becomes the third relatively long-tenured reliever to be designated by the Brewers over the past few weeks, as the team outrighted Rob Wooten to Triple-A last night and did the same with Jim Henderson earlier this month.
Kintzler has been an effective middle relief option for the Brewers over the past two seasons, however. From 2013-14, he notched a 2.93 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 135 1/3 innings of work, thanks in part to a 57.2 percent ground-ball rate. Milwaukee’s 40-man roster drops to 37 with Kintzler no longer on board.