The Diamondbacks have signed infielder Kevin Frandsen to a Minor League contract and assigned him to Triple-A Reno, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (via Twitter). Frandsen is a client of All Bases Covered Sports Management.
Frandsen, 32, spent the 2014 season serving as a utility infield option for the Nationals. In 236 plate appearances with Washington, he batted .259/.299/.309 and appeared at second base, third base, first base and in left field. The Nats tendered a contract to Frandsen this offseason and agreed to a $1MM salary, but the team released him late in Spring Training.
Frandsen can serve as a depth option for the D-Backs, as he has experience at all four infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. With Jake Lamb set to miss a few weeks due to a stress reaction in his foot, it’s possible that Frandsen could find his way onto the big league roster in the near future.
The Brewers are off to a terrible start, and Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello opines that the club might not be able to turn things around given injuries, a lack of starting pitching depth and the few players who are performing well are due for regression. Petriello suggests the team erred by taking one last run at a playoff berth and now they’ll have a tough time rebuilding immediately due to a lack of both quality prospects and obviously tradeable veterans.
The Cubs have been drastically overhauled by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, as Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper illustrates just how starkly different the team’s roster is today than it was just four seasons ago.
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer underwent tests yesterday to confirm that he suffered nothing more severe than a bruise after being struck in the chest by a Matt Garza fastball when squaring to bunt, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer. Jung-ho Kang will again start for the Bucs at shortstop today, and GM Neal Huntington again defended the decision to keep Kang on the roster despite a lack of consistent at-bats. “Ten plate appearances, on top of 30 in Spring Training, is an awfully quick rush to judgment in our mind,” said Huntington. “…There would be nothing gained by having him play in the Minor Leagues. The best way for him to get used to hitting Major League pitching is to hit Major League pitching, albeit in a limited role.
The Cubs have announced that top infield prospect Addison Russell has been promoted to the Majors. To create roster space for the 21-year-old, Arismendy Alcantara has been optioned to Triple-A and Mike Olt has been transferred to the 60-day DL in corresponding moves. Russell, usually a shortstop, will play second base, where the Cubs have struggled this season.
Russell was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Athletics. He hit a combined .295/.350/.508 at the Class A+ and Double-A levels in 2014, spending part of the year in the Athletics’ system before they shipped him to Chicago as the key to the Cubs’ side of the Jeff Samardzija trade. He had been hitting .297/.308/.432 for Triple-A Iowa in a 39 plate appearances this season. Baseball Prospectus ranked Russell the No. 2 prospect in the game heading into the 2015 season, while Baseball America ranked him No. 3. MLB.com placed him at No. 5, praising his offensive game and noting that he’s received comparisons to Barry Larkin and Miguel Tejada.
The Cubs, of course, also recently promoted another top prospect, Kris Bryant, to play third base. The timing of Bryant’s promotion caused controversy due to the perception that the Cubs delayed his arrival so that they could control him for another season. Russell’s promotion could conceivably attract similar criticism, although he has less experience at Triple-A than Bryant and has not been nearly as dominant at that level. If anything, the Cubs could easily have postponed Russell’s promotion until June, which would have prevented him from being a Super Two player. If he sticks in the big leagues now, he will likely receive that designation, becoming arbitration-eligible for the first of four times starting in 2018 before becoming eligible for free agency following the 2021 season.
Nonetheless, Russell gives the Cubs yet another top young talent to go along with Bryant, Jorge Soler, and young veterans Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The Cubs’ future has looked very bright for quite some time, and now, with a team loaded with excellent young players and off to a strong 7-5 start, that future seems to be coming quickly.
The Angels have a tentative plan for Josh Hamilton‘s return, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Hamilton would report to the team’s extended Spring Training camp in Arizona for a 2-3 week stint, then a minor league rehabilitation assignment and then he’d potentially rejoin the Halos in early June. A source tells Shaikin that Hamilton is expected to report “sooner rather than later” to the extended spring camp, though nothing has been officially announced yet.
Angels GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters, including MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, that the club was indeed preparing to get Hamilton ready, though noted that no plans had been finalized and that Hamilton himself hadn’t yet been informed of any details.
As Shaikin notes, the lengthy rehab process still awaiting Hamilton “buys time” for the team and owner Arte Moreno to figure out exactly how they’ll handle the outfielder’s return, given Moreno’s pointed statements about how the Angels might look to enforce clauses in Hamilton’s contract in regards to the use of drugs and alcohol. Hamilton’s 4-5 weeks of rehab time could be long enough to show other teams that he’s healthy and a trade could be worked out, though clearly the Angels would have to cover the majority of Hamilton’s remaining salary in any deal. It’s also still possible that Hamilton could end up back with the Angels if he looks good in the minors, since the team’s offense (particularly from their corner outfielders) has been lacking over the first two weeks of the season.
Here are the latest minor transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post…
The Braves signed southpaw Greg Smith to a minor league deal, as announced by the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett. Smith posted a 4.51 ERA over 40 starts (229 1/3 innings) with the A’s and Rockies from 2008-10, and he has spent the last four seasons with the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Phillies farm systems, plus a short stint with an independent team.
The Mets announced that righty Zack Wheeler has been moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. The move creates a 40-man roster spot for catching prospect Kevin Plawecki, whose contract was officially purchased by the club today. Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in late March and will miss the entire 2015 season.
The Diamondbacks have signed outfielder Trayvon Robinson to a minor league contract, as announced by the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. Robinson signed a minor league deal with the Padres in December but was released on April 2, and he signed his deal with the Ducks just over a week ago. Robinson posted a .602 OPS over 319 plate appearances with the Mariners in 2011-12 and hasn’t been back to the majors since, spending the last two seasons in the Orioles and Dodgers farm systems.
The Marlins have designated left-hander Matt Tracy for assignment, the team announced. Miami has also selected the contract of right-hander Nick Masset from Triple-A while righty Jose Urena has been sent down to Triple-A in corresponding moves.
Tracy has now been DFA’ed by two different teams in a nine-day span. The Yankees designated the southpaw last week and the Marlins claimed him on Saturday. Tracy made his MLB debut this season, tossing two innings for the Yankees and allowing three unearned runs on two walks and two hits. The 26-year-old lefty was a 24th-round draft pick for the Yankees in 2011
Miami signed Masset to a minor league deal during the offseason, released him prior to the Article XX(B) deadline and then re-signed the veteran righty to a new contract earlier this month. Masset posted a 5.80 ERA over 45 relief innings with the Rockies last season, his first taste of MLB action since 2011 thanks to a variety of shoulder problems that threatened to end his career. Over seven seasons and 378 innings with the Rockies, Reds, White Sox and Rangers, Masset has a 4.02 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 1.93 K/BB rate.
Here’s the latest on a few managerial situations that could already be hot seats…
Ron Roenicke is earning $1.3MM to manage the Brewers this season, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitterlinks). Milwaukee exercised its option on Roenicke’s contract for 2016, and while Rosenthal doesn’t know the dollar figure for that extra year, he believes it can’t be too far beyond the $1.3MM figure. With the Brewers off to a terrible start, Rosenthal figures that if the team wants to make a change in the dugout, Roenicke’s guaranteed salary wouldn’t be a major obstacle.
Wally Backman was recently mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Mike Redmond as the Marlins‘ manager, though Backman was reportedly “shocked” to hear it, Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports. Mets GM Sandy Alderson said that the Marlins hadn’t asked for permission to speak with Backman, who is currently managing the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.
Reds manager Bryan Price issued an expletive-filled tirade about the media prior to Monday’s game, a reaction that Joel Sherman of the New York Post believes could be partially inspired by frustration over Cincinnati’s shaky situation. The Reds are considered by many to be closer to a rebuild than they are to contention, and “Price is not just feeling the seat hot beneath him, but is living within a culture with an ugly near future,” Sherman writes. Price apologized for his language today via the Reds’ official Twitter page (hat tip to the SportsCenter Twitter feed), though he stood by the content of his comments.
The Brewers have designated right-hander Brandon Kintzler for assignment, the club announced on Twitter. In a corresponding move, the Brew Crew selected the contract of utilityman Elian Herrera from Triple-A.
Kintzler has spent much of this young season on the minor league disabled list with a finger injury. The righty has posted a 3.26 ERA, 57.3% ground ball rate and 6.6 K/9 over 174 career innings (all out of the bullpen) with Milwaukee since 2010. As you might suspect, that high grounder rate and low strikeout total has led to some variance between his ERA and advanced metrics, such as last season when he posted a 3.24 ERA but a 4.68 FIP, 3.87 xFIP and 3.71 SIERA. Kintzler has displayed reverse-splits tendencies over his career, as right-handed batters have a .733 OPS against him while left-handed hitters have only managed a .624 OPS.
Nippon Professional Baseball’s Yomiuri Giants have announced the signing of third baseman Juan Francisco to a one-year contract, The Japan Times reports. Francisco will receive 140 million yen (or roughly $1.17MM) in the deal.
Francisco hit .220/.291/.456 with 16 homers in 320 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last season, though most of that production came early in the season — Francisco posted a .961 OPS over his first 126 PA and just a .613 OPS in his other 194. He also struck out 116 times in 2014, and his 36.3% strikeout rate was the second-highest of any hitter in baseball with at least 300 PA.
This combination of power and strikeouts has defined Francisco’s career, as he has a .236/.297/.439 slash line, 48 homers and 375 strikeouts over his 1091 career PA with the Jays, Brewers, Braves and Reds. He was claimed off waivers by the Red Sox this offseason, non-tendered and then signed to a minor league deal by the Rays before opting out after he didn’t make their Major League roster.
The Cardinals have designated outfielder Gary Brown for assignment, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports (via Twitter). The move opens up a 40-man roster spot for recently-promoted righty Mitch Harris.
St. Louis claimed Brown off waivers from the Giants earlier this month, and the 26-year-ols has a .352 OPS over 26 plate appearances at Triple-A Memphis. Brown was the 24th overall pick of the 2010 draft and a highly-touted prospect prior to the 2012 season; Baseball Prospectus (18th), Baseball America (38th) and MLB.com (48th) all had Brown ranked amongst the top 50 prospects in the sport. He didn’t produce much at the Triple-A level, however, though he did reach the majors for the first time last season in the form of a seven-game cup of coffee with the Giants.
Tapped by many as the preseason favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals have enough depth on both the Major League and minor league level that their window of contention won’t snap shut if they don’t win it all this year. That said, there is certainly a sense that the window may never be quite as open as it is now, given that four of Washington’s top players are scheduled to hit free agency this winter.
Assuming that Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann all post their usual types of seasons in 2015, all will draw a lot of attention on the open market; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranks Desmond and Zimmerman fourth and sixth, respectively, in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. Between interest from other teams and the Nats’ already-substantial salary commitments (over $84MM committed to just six players on their 2016 roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), we can safely rule out the possibility of the Nationals bringing all four back. Indeed, some of Washington’s offseason moves seem directed at preparing for a future without some of these players, as I’ll explain momentarily.
The question is, however, will the Nationals bring back any of their free agent quartet? Let’s look at the options…
* Desmond. The shortstop reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107MM extension during the 2013-14 offseason, leading the Nats to explore acquiring a young shortstop at last summer’s trade deadline. Washington got that young shortstop in the form of Trea Turner as part of their three-team deal with the Rays and Padres over the winter, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Desmond and the Nats didn’t engage in significant extension talks, or that Desmond’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Mariners and Mets.
With all this in mind, Desmond’s days in Washington seem numbered, even if the Nationals would be letting perhaps the game’s best offensive shortstop leave.
* Zimmermann. The right-hander’s name was also linked to those talks with Seattle, and Boston also engaged the Nationals about Zimmermann’s services. Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal essentially could make Zimmermann expendable, as Washington doesn’t want to ink another starter to another deal in the $200MM range, especially when they’ll also have Stephen Strasburg‘s free agency to deal with after the 2016 season. (Then again, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post recently speculated that the Nats may let both Zimmermann and Strasburg go due to concerns that their arms won’t hold up given their Tommy John histories.)
* Fister. Much of what I wrote about Zimmermann also applies to Fister, though obviously Fister’s free agent price tag will be significantly lower than Zimmerman’s next contract. The Nationals reportedly haven’t discussed an extension with Fister in about a year, so one would think they’re prepared to move on from the 31-year-old righty. That said,
* Span. The team already got a look at life without Span when the veteran outfielder began the season on the DL recovering from core muscle surgery. Top prospect Michael Taylor filled in as Washington’s center fielder and hit .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances, though his defense left something to be desired. Still, Taylor performed well enough that the Nats likely feel as if they have a solid replacement on hand if Span isn’t brought back.
* None of them. As you may notice, I’ve listed several more “won’t be back” reasons than I have reasons for why the Nationals may re-sign any of the quartet. It’s quite possible Washington simply lets all four players go in order to save future payroll space for Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper‘s future extensions. The Nats would also get a boost to their minor league system, as they’d receive at least three draft picks back as compensation if their players signed elsewhere — Desmond, Zimmermann and Fister are locks to receive qualifying offers, while Span could potentially get one too if he has a big season.
That said, it would also be somewhat surprising to see a team with such clear designs on winning a championship soon let four big pieces walk. While Washington has an enviable amount of starting pitching depth, any rotation would suffer in losing two proven arms like Zimmermann or Fister. Desmond, as noted, would leave a big hole at shortstop, and counting on Taylor to replace Span might be putting a lot of pressure on a youngster. Re-signing even two of the four could be a tall order, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Nationals bring back one of the four.
One more wrinkle: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently speculated that the Nats could explore trading Zimmermann or Fister this summer in order to fill any other holes on the roster. Theoretically, this would open the door for Washington to add talent at midseason to bolster their postseason hopes, and then also allow them to possibly sign either traded pitcher in the offseason. As Jon Lester and the Red Sox might tell you, however, it’s very rare to see such a scenario play out with the traded ace immediately return to the club that dealt him away.
MLBTR readers, let’s see how you feel about whether or not Desmond, Fister, Span or Zimmermann will be back in the D.C. red in 2016 and beyond…
The Dodgersreleased closer Brian Wilson back in December, but he’s apparently kept himself busy, recently playing Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in a live reading of Major League as the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art. Grantland’s Dave Schilling reports that the flamboyant Wilson dressed for the event in an ’80s Indians uniform and imitated Charlie Sheen’s delivery while reading for the part. Here are more quick notes from around baseball.
Agent Scott Boras was critical of the Cubs for their handling of the timing of Kris Bryant‘s promotion, but he has no such complaints about the White Sox promoting Carlos Rodon at a similar point in the season, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com writes. Of course, the two situations are different — Bryant had a full year in the minors after being drafted and had significant time in Triple-A before reaching the Majors, whereas Rodon, who the White Sox picked third overall last June, had neither. And Boras says that he likes that the White Sox plan to be conservative with Rodon’s innings. “The Bryant situation and Carlos’ situation are very different because of the innings issue,” says Boras. “Because of the idea that frankly, you really want this process to get a foundation to it for a pitcher rather than building — because there’s no repetition in amateur baseball that prepares you for what Major League pitchers have to go through.” The White Sox are having Rodon begin his big-league career in the bullpen, much as they did with Chris Sale.
Ross Detwiler has struggled to a 10.95 ERA through his first three starts with the Rangers, but manager Jeff Banister plans to stick with the slumping southpaw, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Detwiler feels he’s found a flaw in his delivery while watching video of Sunday’s start that will allow him to return to form. The Rangers picked up Detwiler in a trade that sent Chris Bostick and Abel De Los Santos to the Nationals this offseason, but his initial results are clearly not what the team expected.
The Cardinals are set to promote righty reliever Mitch Harris on Tuesday, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets. When Harris makes his first pitch with the Cardinals, he’ll become the first graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy to pitch in the big leagues in nearly a century, as Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote last month. The Cardinals drafted the 29-year-old Harris in the 13th round all the way back in 2008, but Harris spent several years honoring his commitment to the Navy, traveling the world as a weapons officer. The Navy didn’t allow him to join the Cardinals organization until the 2013 season. Once he did, though, the Cards moved him quickly through the minors, and after a handful of innings at Triple-A Memphis, he appears set to make his big-league debut. Perhaps that will come in Washington, where the Cardinals play tomorrow through Thursday. Here are two more quick notes from the Central divisions.
Justin Verlander‘s MRI last Thursday confirmed the Tigers‘ initial diagnosis that he has a strained right triceps, James Schmehl of MLive.com writes. He won’t throw anymore until his arm stops feeling sore. Schmehl notes that Verlander is currently on the disabled list for the first time in his ten-year career. He has not yet pitched this season.
In other injury news, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy is headed to the disabled list with a broken left toe, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy tweets. The loss of one of their superstars is an awful blow to a Brewers team that’s already in a 2-10 hole this season. Lucroy was hitting .167/.250/.214 in 48 plate appearances in 2015. Martin Maldonado will, presumably, handle the bulk of the Brewers’ catching duties in his place.
Already, in late April, there are rumors surrounding Marlins manager Mike Redmond, whose job could be in jeopardy after the team’s 3-10 start. April sounds awfully early in the season to fire a manager, and in fact it is — in the past ten seasons, there have been no manager firings in the month of April. There have been plenty of firings in the first halves of seasons, however. Here’s a look at the nine firings in the past decade that took place before a team had finished 81 games in a season, and a brief glimpse at what happened in the next few years after each dismissal. As we’ll see, the outcomes of these firings run the gamut of possible outcomes, making it difficult to say whether replacing a manager early in a given season is a good idea.
The Reds fired Dave Miley on June 21, 2005, replacing him with Jerry Narron. Narron lasted barely two seasons and was replaced by Dusty Baker, who had two sub-.500 seasons before leading the Reds to three seasons of 90 or more wins in his next four.
The Mariners fired John McLaren on June 19, 2008 after a 25-47 start. After Jim Riggleman finished out the season, the Mariners turned to Don Wakamatsu and Eric Wedge, neither of whom had success, before finally turning to Lloyd McClendon, who had a good first season in 2014.
The Rockies fired Clint Hurdle on May 29, 2009 after they got off to an 18-28 start. Jim Tracy took over and the Rockies went 74-42 the rest of the way, making the playoffs.
The Diamondbacks fired Bob Melvin on June 8, 2009, replacing him with A.J. Hinch, who managed the team for less than a season and a half before being fired himself.
The Royals fired Trey Hillman on May 13, 2010 after a 12-23 start, replacing him with Ned Yost. Yost’s tactical managing gives fans fits, and his first two-plus seasons with the Royals were unsuccessful, but the team has played exceptionally well since then.
The Orioles fired Dave Trembley on June 4, 2010. The team struggled for about two months with interim manager Juan Samuel at the helm, but performed well for the last two months of the season under Buck Showalter, whose hiring has so far been a boon for the franchise.
The Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez on June 23, 2010, replacing him with Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez posted a .500 record the rest of the season, but he resigned during the 2011 season as the team struggled.
The Diamondbacks fired Hinch on July 1, 2010, replacing him with Kirk Gibson. The D-backs had a 94-win season in 2011, but after two .500 seasons and a poor 2014, they fired Gibson, too.
The Athletics fired Bob Geren on June 9, 2011, replacing him with Melvin. The team continued to struggle down the stretch in 2011 but has made the playoffs in three straight seasons since.
The Rockies’ swap of Clint Hurdle for Jim Tracy in 2009 (along with the Marlins’ own Jeff Torborg/Jack McKeon switch in their World Series-winning 2003 campaign) is exactly what a team hopes for when it fires a manager early in the season. The Rockies turned their season around under Tracy and made the playoffs after an amazing stretch run.
But the Hurdle/Tracy swap could also be read as evidence of how difficult it can be to identify or predict a manager’s effect on a team. Tracy had previously managed the Pirates, but was fired after two ugly seasons. He lasted only three more years in Colorado. Meanwhile, Hurdle ultimately took over in Pittsburgh and led the team to its first two winning seasons in two decades, earning praise for his leadership and his integration of sabermetrics into the Pirates’ day-to-day strategy. Perhaps Tracy really was the right manager for the Rockies in 2009, and Hurdle the wrong one. A manager’s job is to lead, and his ability to lead the ever-changing cast of players around him is surely somewhat fluid. But a team’s performance is informed by any number of factors that have little to do with its manager.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the list above. Some teams’ manager swaps appear to have worked well, like that of the Rockies, or the Athletics’ switch of Geren and Melvin. Others didn’t, although that’s not surprising, given that teams who fire their managers tend not to be the best ones.
Perhaps there’s a distinction between firings in April and firings in June and July. In April, it’s hard to be completely out of the race, but in June, it isn’t, and maybe it makes sense for a team to make big changes rather than having a lame-duck manager limp through the rest of the season. There’s also the problem of how best to hire a permanent manager while a season is going on. Many teams on the list above turned to interim managers after firings, and surely that’s not what the Marlins would do if they fired Redmond. It probably isn’t easy to hire a permanent manager in-season. Of the teams on the list above, only two, the Royals (Yost) and the Athletics (Melvin), immediately replaced their outgoing managers with managers who turned out to be real long-term replacements.
Then there’s the lack of stability an early-season firing can betray. As FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal points out, the Marlins’ struggles are due in part to pitchers’ injuries and to Mat Latos‘ ineffectiveness. Those problems have little to do with Redmond, and replacing him would probably do nothing to solve them. Perhaps Redmond isn’t the right manager for the Marlins, but what might be most striking about the list above is the absence of many successful franchises who seem to highly value organizational stability, like the Cardinals, Giants and Tigers. Of course, it’s surely true that those franchises are mostly stable in part because they’re successful, and not the way around. And there are other franchises who are generally stable, like the Rockies and Twins, who haven’t done well lately. But the Marlins have had five managers since 2010 (Gonzalez, Rodriguez, McKeon, Ozzie Guillen and Redmond). One wonders how difficult it must be for players to develop given that many changes of leadership.