Brady Aiken Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

In a self-penned piece for The Players’ Tribune, left-hander Brady Aiken revealed that he underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.  While pitching at IMG Academy last week, Aiken said that “something felt a little wrong” and examination revealed that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The Astros took Aiken with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft but failed to reach an agreement with the then-17-year-old.  Negotiations fell through due to Houston’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, and the club wanted to reduce Aiken’s proposed bonus from $6.5MM to $5MM.  The Astros’ failure to sign Aiken caused a chain reaction that led to fifth-rounder Jacob Nix also going unsigned, which led to an MLBPA grievance since Nix had made a verbal agreement with the team.

Aiken was projected to be one of the top picks in the 2015 draft, and despite his surgery, it’s still possible (if even probable) that he could receive a high selection if his recovery proceeds as planned.  As Aiken noted himself, two pitchers — Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde — who underwent Tommy John surgery last year were taken ninth and 18th overall, respectively.  Aiken’s case could differ, however, due to his small UCL; one of the questions the Astros had about his health was that recovery from possible TJ surgery could be more difficult given his ligament’s size.

If all goes well for Aiken, undergoing the surgery now would mean he would be back throwing in 12-14 months and able to start his minor league career early in the 2016 season.


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Minor Moves: Harris, Lohman, Boggs

Here are the day’s minor transactions, updated as we go:

  • The Rays have released outfielder James Harris, MLBTR has learned. Harris was a supplemental first-round pick in the 2011 draft, taken 60th overall by Tampa and signed for a (then under-slot) bonus of $490K. Drafted as something of a toolsy project out of high school, Harris never got comfortable at the plate during his four pro seasons, hitting only .215/.291/.305 over 898 minor league plate appearances. The 21-year-old topped out at the A-ball level in the Rays’ system last year.
  • The Phillies announced that they have acquired minor league shortstop Devin Lohman from the Reds in exchange for future considerations. Lohman, 25, has spent the past two seasons with Cincinnati’s Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, where he’s batted a combined .240/.307/.339. A third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2010, Lohman’s bat has never come around as a pro, but he’s a well-regarded defender. Baseball America ranked him 25th among Reds farmhands two offseasons ago on the strength of his glove and ranked him as the best infield defender in the organization’s minor league system that winter as well.
  • The Red Sox have released right-handed reliever Mitchell Boggs, the team announced. Boggs, 31, was in camp on a minor league deal. He has not pitched in the big leagues since 2013, but had enjoyed six straight seasons of MLB pen work before that. Over 316 2/3 career frames, Boggs owns a 4.12 ERA with 6.6 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. His best year to date was 2012, when he racked up 73 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA pitching for the Cardinals.

Mets Monitoring Dodgers, Rockies In Search For Lefty Relief

4:46pm: The Mets are also intrigued by Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers, writes Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. A team official told Rubin at the Winter Meetings that Brothers was of interest to the Amazins, and that interest is apparently still alive. The 27-year-old Brothers will earn $1.4MM this year after a down season in 2014. Last year, he struggled to a 5.59 ERA as his control spiked and he posted a career-worst 6.2 BB/9 rate.

Brothers was excellent, however, from 2011-13, especially when considering his home park. In that time, he notched a 2.82 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 out of the Colorado ‘pen. He’s had a good Spring Training thus far and is under team control through 2017. Brothers has a career 2.40 ERA on the road compared to a 4.51 mark at Coors Field.

As Rubin notes, the Rox also have southpaw Boone Logan, though his contract seems especially prohibitive for the Mets; Logan is owed $5.5MM this year and $6.25MM in 2016.

4:01pm: The Mets are “keeping an eye on” three Dodgers left-handed relief options — J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Adam Liberatore — in case any of the three become available, reports Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (via Twitter).

The Mets have a known need for a bullpen lefty following Josh Edgin‘s Tommy John surgery and have been connected to Baltimore’s Brian Matusz on multiple occasions this spring. Of course, Matusz sounds to be more available than any of the three Dodger southpaws, based on Saxon’s wording.

Howell would seem to have a spot in the Dodgers’ bullpen locked down, as the former Ray has posted a 2.19 ERA over the past two seasons with Los Angeles and is entering the second season of a two-year, $11.25MM contract signed following a strong first year with the Dodgers. Besides that fact, Howell is slated to earn $4MM this season, and the Mets reportedly aren’t even comfortable with Matusz’s $3.2MM salary, so it’s hard to envision a great fit with Howell.

Rodriguez and Liberatore, however, could conceivably be more available, and neither would cost much more than the Major League minimum in terms of salary. Rodriguez, 23, was the Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2012 and reached the Majors that same season. However, despite a strong 2013 followup to his brief 2012 cameo, (2.32 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9), Rodriguez saw just 14 regular-season innings with the Dodgers last year. Rodriguez struggled to a 4.40 ERA in Triple-A’s hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2014 and was slowed by a strained shoulder muscle as well. With just one year, 120 days of MLB service time, Rodriguez likely wouldn’t be arbitration eligible for another two years, making him an understandably appealing target.

It’s unclear how the new front office views Rodriguez, but the old regime clearly had some concerns over his readiness. The former front office invested significantly in free agent relievers last winter (including Brian Wilson and Chris Perez — neither of whom panned out) and quickly optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A after a rough patch in late April. New president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and VP Josh Byrnes may have more faith in Rodriguez and be reluctant to part with him.

As for Liberatore, the Dodgers only acquired him this offseason. The 27-year-old had previously been with the Rays, so it was hardly surprising to see Friedman pull both Liberatore and Joel Peralta from the Rays organization in a trade with his former colleagues. Liberatore is older for a prospect, but he has exceptional numbers at the Triple-A level, where he’s worked to a 2.40 ERA in 146 1/3 innings. His most impressive work came in 2014, when he worked to a 1.66 ERA with 11.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 65 innings.

For what it’s worth, both Liberatore and Rodriguez have had excellent Spring Training campaigns, combining for 13 innings of scoreless relief. That likely doesn’t mean much, and considering the fact that both have Minor League options remaining, there’s no pressure for the Dodgers to move either, even if they don’t break camp in the bullpen. Also to be considered is the fact that relief help is a need for the Dodgers themselves, particularly in the wake of an injury to closer Kenley Jansen that may only sideline him through mid-April but could leave him on the shelf into mid-May. The Dodgers have a number of contracts they’d like to shed (e.g. Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena) but the Mets would hardly seem to be in a financial position to sweeten the pot by taking on some salary in a trade.



Aaron Harang On Signing With Phillies

Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves.  Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA.  Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal.  Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM.  It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.

The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving.  I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida.  “The Phillies moved the fastest.  I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there.  Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”

Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five.  He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.

Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal.  Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.

There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall.  But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.

Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal.  Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him.  After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter.  Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.


Sean Burnett To Throw For Teams In May Or June

Free agent left-hander Sean Burnett is making progress toward a return this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career on June 5 last season, agent Jim Munsey tells MLBTR.

“I actually feel great and have begun throwing off a mound,” said Burnett, via Munsey. “This isn’t my first rodeo so I’ve got a pretty good idea about my progress.” Multiple teams have reached out to Munsey to check in on Burnett, and the agent says his client is currently on track to help a club sometime around the All-Star break or trade deadline in mid-to-late July. Burnett is expected to throw for interested teams in May or June.

Burnett, 32, was limited to just 10 1/3 innings over the life of a two-year, $8MM contract signed with the Angels prior to the 2013 campaign. Nerve irritation and a strained flexor tendon cut short his first season with the Halos before the aforementioned Tommy John wiped out nearly all of his 2014 season.

From 2009-12, though, Burnett was a very strong left-handed option in the bullpen, working to a 2.85 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 234 innings for the Pirates and Nationals. During that time, Burnett unsurprisingly displayed strong numbers against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .213/.279/.336 batting line. However, unlike many lefty relievers, Burnett also tallied strong numbers against right-handed hitters. While hitters with the platoon advantage did post superior numbers to their left-handed counterparts, the .235/.319/.340 batting line they tallied from ’09-’12 is overall a rather weak level of production.


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Yankees Release Jared Burton

The Yankees announced that they’ve released right-hander Jared Burton from his minor league contract. The former Twins and Reds setup man had been vying for a spot in the club’s bullpen and pitched well, throwing four scoreless innings with just two hits and no walks to go along with a pair of strikeouts. Presumably, the 33-year-old righty will look for an opportunity with a club that has a clearer path to a spot in the bullpen.

After enjoying strong seasons in 2012-13 with the Twins (particularly in 2012), Burton’s K/9 rate dipped to 6.5, and his BB/9 rate ticked up to 3.5. Meanwhile, his ground-ball rate (38.5 percent) and fastball velocity deteriorated (92.9 mph in 2012; 91.5 in 2014). However, Burton still possesses an effective split-finger changeup (which he’s termed a “splangeup” in the past) that has been his best pitch in recent years. If he can rediscover some of his fastball effectiveness and/or some of his control, he could again re-emerge as a successful bullpen arm in a big league bullpen.


Chris Tillman, Orioles Begin Extension Discussions

MARCH 26: Tillman told Orioles reporters today, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link), that not much has changed on the extension front since January. He’s open to a long-term deal but is letting his agent handle the situation. MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli tweets that Tillman also said he’d prefer that talks didn’t carry on into the regular season.

MARCH 25: Starting pitcher Chris Tillman and the Orioles have initiated extension talks with a goal of completing a deal by the start of the season, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. The talks have not gotten specific yet in terms of dollar figures, a source tells Heyman.

I profiled Tillman as an extension candidate in January. Tillman has established himself as a workhorse in the past two seasons, pitching over 200 innings with good ERA numbers in both. His peripheral numbers have suggested he’s a somewhat worse pitcher than that, however, and his velocity has fallen in each of the past two seasons, dropping to an average fastball speed of 90.7 MPH last year. He might, however, be able to outperform his peripheral numbers to a degree due to his excellent work controlling the running game. He also pitched very well in the second half last year, and he’ll be 27 next month, an age at which he could take a step forward.

If no extension is reached, Tillman will make $4.315MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility this season. That should set the Beverly Hills Sports Council client up to make $20MM or so in his three arbitration seasons, depending on how he performs this year and next. Any extension discussions for a contract of three or more years would have to begin there, with the ultimate total of the deal dictated by its length. At the long end, Tillman could ask for something like the five years and $55MM Matt Harrison received prior to the 2013 season, although the Orioles might perceive such a contract to be a risk given the underwhelming numbers (6.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.20 xFIP in 2014) beneath Tillman’s ERA.


Reds Acquire Dan Johnson From Astros

The Reds announced that they’ve acquired veteran first baseman Dan Johnson from the Astros in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The 35-year-old had been with Houston on a minor league contract.

Johnson hasn’t seen much in the way of regular playing time since his tenure with the Athletics ended in 2008, but he’s appeared in the bigs in each season dating back to 2010. His 2014 work came north of the border, as he picked up 48 plate appearances for the Blue Jays and batted .211/.333/.342. The type of plate discipline and strike zone knowledge displayed by Johnson in that small sample is indicative of his career to date. Johnson has a 13.2 percent walk rate in 1604 Major League plate appearances and, perhaps not surprisingly, has walked six times in 25 plate appearances with Houston this spring. He’s also collected just three hits in 19 at-bats, however.

Johnson will report to minor league camp, the Reds have added, making his acquisition one for depth purposes. He reportedly has an opt-out date in his contract, but it does not come until after the season has started. Additionally, Johnson isn’t an Article XX(B) player, so the Reds wouldn’t need to offer him a $100K retention bonus to option him to Triple-A. Johnson had positive things to say about his brief time with the Astros, per the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich.


Padres Claim Jandel Gustave From Royals

The Padres have claimed hard-throwing right-hander Jandel Gustave off waivers from the Royals, reports Josh Vernier of 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City (Twitter link). Gustave had been with the Royals in camp after being selected from the Astros in this year’s Rule 5 Draft, but Kansas City placed him on waivers earlier in the week.

Gustave, 22, is probably a long shot to make the Padres’ roster, considering he’s yet to pitch an inning above Class-A, where he worked to a 5.01 ERA in 79 innings last season. However, he has a fastball that can reach 100 mph and has 199 strikeouts in 196 1/3 Minor League innings, so it isn’t exactly difficult to see why teams are intrigued by his arm. Gustave does also come with command issues; he’s averaged 6.7 walks per nine innings in the Minors.

The Padres have a few options if they wish to retain Gustave. As a Rule 5 pick, he’d have to stick on the team’s 25-man roster all season before he could be optioned to the Minor Leagues. That seems unlikely, so the Padres could simply place him on waivers again and hope that he clears. However, even then, he’d have to be offered back to the Astros, who would likely be happy to reacquire his arm. Perhaps a likelier scenario would be one in which the Padres and Astros discuss a trade that would allow Gustave to remain in the San Diego organization.

San Diego will get a little more than a week to evaluate Gustave before a decision needs to be reached. They’ve placed catcher Tim Federowicz on the 60-day disabled list in order to clear a 40-man spot for Gustave.


MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Dylan Hernandez

This week, Jeff talks Dodgers with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, exploring the team’s changes under new front office leadership and attempting to sort out where the busy organization is headed. Jeff also checks in with MLBTR’s Zach Links about his spring training travels.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.


Poll: Rating The Dodgers’ Offseason Moves

The Dodgers have had an incredibly busy offseason under new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi. Indeed, as MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker shows, the new Los Angeles regime has racked up about thirty deals of some kind or another.

Many of those, of course, were not major moves. But the Dodgers have obviously not been shy about making significant transactions to add and remove veterans from their roster — a topic that I discussed at length with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times for today’s MLBTR Podcast. (Keep an eye out for that to post later today.)

Sticking to the most impactful deals, I thought it would be interesting to get a sense of how the MLBTR readership views the work of the new LA leadership. (We’ll treat the interconnected Kendrick and Gordon deals as one for purposes of this poll.)

Sign infielder Hector Olivera for six years, $62.5MM

Olivera figures in the mix at second or third, but with so many other options there — and given the risk that he brings — was this a wise allocation of resources?

Sign starter Brett Anderson for one year, $10MM

Anderson has always been productive when healthy, but can he stay on the hill?

Sign starter Brandon McCarthy for four years, $48MM

Can McCarthy continue his success from late last year and avoid his own injury woes?

Acquire shortstop Jimmy Rollins from Phillies for minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle

Rollins is still a solid performer despite his age, but will he hit a wall at age 36?

Acquire second baseman Howie Kendrick from Angels for starter Andrew Heaney after acquiring Heaney, infielder/outfielder Enrique Hernandez, reliever Chris Hatcher, and catcher Austin Barnes from Marlins in exchange for middle infielder Dee Gordon, pitcher Dan Haren, infielder Miguel Rojas, and a player to be named 

Giving up Gordon while adding Kendrick upgraded the team in the near term but sacrificed control, and the team passed on a chance to plug a young arm into the back of a rotation that arguably lacks depth.

Acquire catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland, and Eflin from Padres in exchange for outfielder Matt Kemp and $32MM

As Hernandez discusses on today’s podcast, this move has the biggest chance for blowback potential from the fan base; was it a shrewd business move or will the organization regret parting with a prominent star?

(Click here for results.)

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Mario Hollands Likely To Undergo Elbow Surgery

Phillies lefty Mario Hollands appears likely to require season-ending surgery on his left elbow after suffering a torn common flexor tendon, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. That is the same injury that has sidelined teammate Cliff Lee, and surgery would almost certainly cost Hollands the season.

As with Lee, Hollands has experienced a setback following an attempt at resting an rehabbing through the injury. As a result, team physician Michael Ciccotti has recommended surgery. While Hollands is awaiting the results of a second opinion from orthopedist James Andrews, he says that he is leaning towards surgery.

“I wanted to do the PRP and rest because I wanted to help the team this year. I wanted to play,” Hollands said. “That’s still in my head because I want to play so bad, but I am a little worried because it’s the second time so I don’t know if rest or PRP will be the only solution. So surgery, I’m thinking about it pretty hard.”

The 26-year-old debuted with Philadelphia last year, throwing 47 innings and posting a 4.40 ERA with 6.7 K/9 against 4.0 BB/9. He had figured to step in as the club’s second lefty behind Jake Diekman. Now, Rule 5 choice Andy Oliver figures to have an inside track on a pen slot.


MLB Looking Into Gambling-Related Issue Involving Jarred Cosart

TODAY: Cosart briefly addressed the situation today, telling reporters that he was simply following MLB’s protocol, per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (Twitter links). Cosart also said that he was not behind the creation of a new Twitter account, attributed to him, which had figured into some reports on the matter.

YESTERDAY: Major League Baseball is looking into ambiguous gambling-related claims on Twitter involving Marlins starter Jarred Cosart, Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times reports.

To be clear, all that is known at present is that the league is exploring the matter. The league is quick to pursue information regarding any gambling-related issues, and its involvement should not be read to imply any wrongdoing, or even suspicion thereof.

As Elfrink explains, a Twitter user has posted screenshots of purported Direct Messages sent from Cosart’s Twitter account regarding an unspecified betting matter. Cosart’s Twitter account has since been deleted. It is not even yet apparent whether there is any credible suggestion that Cosart has engaged in any gambling-related activities, let alone actions involving the game of baseball in any way.

Given the highly uncertain underlying issue here, and the fact that it is not even clear whether MLB intends to conduct a full investigation, it is far too soon even to speculate whether there are any possible grounds for future discipline. For sake of reference, MLB Rule 21(d) prohibits players from “bet[ting] any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game,” providing a one-year ban if such activities occur with regard to a game in which “the better has no duty to perform” and a lifetime ban in which the bettor does.


John Buck To Retire

Catcher John Buck is retiring in order to spend more time with his family, the Braves announced. The veteran backstop had been in camp with Atlanta but did not figure to make the Opening Day roster.

Buck, 34, has played in eleven big league campaigns, amassing over 4,000 plate appearances and 1,000 games behind the plate. His .234/.301/.398 batting line and 134 career home runs are solid numbers for a catcher. A sturdy defender, Buck was a stabilizing force who saw the majority of the catching reps for his team in eight separate seasons.

After coming up with the Royals, Buck had his biggest season in a one-year stint with the Blue Jays in 2010. That year, Buck slashed .281/.314/.489 and swatted a career-high twenty long balls — excellent production while catching 118 games.

Buck landed a three-year, $18MM pact with the Marlins before the 2011 campaign, but never quite got back to his All-Star form. In addition to the teams already named, Buck ultimately spent time with the Mets, Mariners, Pirates, and Angels


Quick Hits: Venezuela, Rockies, Gregorius

Venezuelan players are having trouble living at home in the offseason due to unrest there, Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today writes. Cubs catcher Miguel Montero tried going to Venezuela this winter but was only able to stay five days. “I would go from the place where I was trying to get my passport to the house and back. That’s it,” Montero said. “There are safety concerns anywhere in the world, but you watch the news about Venezuela and more people have been killed there than in Afghanistan.” Many Venezuelan stars, like Felix Hernandez and Miguel Cabrera, have established permanent homes in the U.S., with others trying to become permanent U.S. residents. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Rockies should consider using a sort of starter platoon system, with some starters pitching in Denver as much as possible and some regularly pitching on the road, to help combat the Coors Field effect, FanGraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. To make the plan work, the Rockies might need a sixth starter, and they would have to frequently shuttle pitchers back and forth from Triple-A. The plan would give a starter like Jorge De La Rosa, the rare pitcher who seems to thrive at Coors Field, more chances to pitch there. Petriello looks through the Rockies’ schedule and comes up with a way to allow De La Rosa to make 20 of 34 starts at home. It now appears likely that De La Rosa will begin the season on the disabled list, so he won’t actually be able to make 34 starts, and the Rockies’ rotation probably has enough immediate concerns heading into the season that it can’t try something this experimental right now. But it’s an interesting idea.
  • Didi Gregorius is earning over-the-top praise in Yankees camp, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. “[Gregorius] has made plays from the hole, from his back foot, throwing the ball 90 mph across the diamond from his back foot. You don’t see that,” says Alex Rodriguez. “It also makes it a lot easier for your third baseman to play third base.” (The rest of the A-Rod quotes alone make Rosenthal’s article worth reading — Rodriguez talks about Gregorius like a scout, complete with repeated references to a variant of the 20-to-80 scouting scale used to evaluate ballplayers. Also check out the sidebar, in which Rodriguez describes how shifts changed the game just in the year he was suspended.) As Derek Jeter‘s replacement, Gregorius has big shoes to fill, but he’s getting great reviews so far, at least defensively.