Minor Moves: Mike Zagurski, Enrique Burgos

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • Southpaw reliever Mike Zagurski has signed on with Nippon’s Hiroshima Carp, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. The 31-year-old had his way with Triple-A competition last year, posting a cumulative 2.08 ERA over 60 2/3 frames with 12.3 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9. But he has yet to see those numbers translate at the MLB level, and did not see any action in the bigs last year for the first time since 2009.
  • The Diamondbacks have added right-hander Enrique Burgos to the 40-man roster, tweets Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Burgos, 23, had a nice year at High-A (2.47 ERA, 13.7 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings) in his seventh year in the Arizona system.

Phillies Extend Jerome Williams For 2015

The Phillies have signed righty Jerome Williams to a one-year, $2.5MM contract extension that will keep him off the free agent market in advance of the 2015 season, the club announced. The contract includes incentives that could boost its value to $4MM, per Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter).

Williams, who is nearing his 33rd birthday, was quite productive in a short stint with the Phillies this year. Over nine starts for Philadelphia, he logged 57 1/3 frames of 2.83 ERA ball. Of course, that was his third MLB club on the year, and Williams did not put up very attractive numbers in his first two stops with the Astros and Rangers, combining for a 6.71 ERA over 57 2/3 frames.

All said, Williams finished 2014 with 6.4 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9, while posting a cumulative 4.16 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, and 4.03 SIERA. Those numbers provide some reason for optimism, though the Phillies may hope that five better rotation arms emerge from the spring, allowing them to stash Williams as a long man.


Free Agent Profile: Adam LaRoche

Though he’s not technically a lock to hit the open market due to a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout), Adam LaRoche is a near certainty to be a free agent due to the rarity of such options being picked up by both sides of the agreement. The soon-to-be 35-year-old first baseman should represent one of the few steady power bats on the free agent market.

Strengths/Pros

Power is on the decline league-wide, but LaRoche remains a steady source of home runs from the left side of the dish. He’s averaged 26 homers per season over the past three years (the same number he totaled in 2014), and excluding a 2011 season that was ruined by injuries (more on that below), he’s averaged 25 homers per season dating back to 2005. He’s cleared the 30-homer plateau twice — most recently in 2012 when he went deep 33 times.

Adam LaRoche

Early in his career, LaRoche walked at a decent clip, but he’s taken that ability to new heights since joining the Nationals in 2011. His walk rate in a Nats uniform has been a hefty 12.3 percent, and this past season it ballooned to 14 percent — far and away the best mark he’s posted in a full season.

Correspondingly, LaRoche’s strikeout rate dipped to 18.4 percent — the second-lowest total of his career and the best mark he’s posted since 2005 when he whiffed just 17.3 percent of the time. His 14 percent walk rate this year is almost double the 7.8 percent mark he posted in ’05, however, so it seems fair to say that LaRoche has matured as a hitter. LaRoche chased out-of-zone pitches at just a 25 percent clip this year, which is well below the league average of 31.3 percent. It’s not surprising, then, to see that he averaged 4.04 pitches per plate appearances, which ranked 30th among qualified hitters and tied him with Chase Headley for tops among free agent hitters (Victor Martinez was a close second at 4.03).

LaRoche has a good defensive reputation, and he hasn’t had a negative mark in Defensive Runs Saved since 2009. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him slightly below average over the past two seasons. Scouts around the league will have their own opinions, of course, but it seems unlikely that any would place his defense as a significant negative.

Weaknesses/Cons

I did a midseason assessment of LaRoche’s free agent stock back in June and noted that while he’s typically shown a platoon split, he had held his own against southpaws with a low average but a .381 on-base percentage. That trend regressed significantly, as LaRoche finished the season with just a .204/.284/.336 line against southpaws. He drew 15 walks in 155 plate appearances against same–handed pitching, but he also whiffed at a 27.7 percent clip against lefties, compared to just 15 percent against righties. There may be some teams that simply don’t want to give LaRoche everyday at-bats given the increased struggles he’s shown against lefties over the past two seasons. (He hit .198/.254/.313 against lefties last year.)

As I referenced previously LaRoche has been durable but he does come with a history of some shoulder issues. He missed about a month of his rookie season due to a separated AC joint in his left shoulder, and he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in that same shoulder in 2011. I’d imagine that he and agent Mike Milchin of Relativity Sports will simply point to the fact that LaRoche hit 33 homers the following season and has averaged 149 games over the following three campaigns as proof that it needn’t be a concern, but it may be something that teams want to look at more closely before agreeing to a multi-year deal. He missed a couple of weeks this season with a strained quad, as well, but that appears to be an isolated incident.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 35-year-old first baseman doesn’t exactly have a gleaming baserunning reputation. Fangraphs pegged him at 5.5 runs below average on the basepaths this season. Among free agents, that figure was sandwiched between the marks posted by Billy Butler and Michael Morse, which should give an indication of what to expect from LaRoche’s running. Additionally, age will be a consideration, as this next contract will carry LaRoche into his late 30s.

Personal

In his free time, LaRoche is an avid bow hunter and outdoorsman. LaRoche is one of several famous baseball names featured on the Outdoor Channel’s show Buck Commander (along with Chipper Jones and Ryan Langerhans, among others). He’s also a devout Christian and teamed with Denard Span and Ian Desmond to host Faith Day following one of the team’s games at Nationals Park this season, as Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post wrote back in August.

LaRoche was diagnosed with ADD in high school and has dealt with the disorder throughout his career. He’s been taking Ritalin to combat the issue since 2006, which has at times caused him to struggle to maintain his weight, according to this 2013 piece from Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.

Baseball runs in the LaRoche family veins, as his father, Dave, was a two-time All-Star and enjoyed a 14-year Major League career. Adam’s brother, Andy LaRoche, also played in the Majors. The two were teammates with the Pirates in 2008-09. Adam is married with two children, per his bio on the Buck Commander web site.

Market

Milchin can make a very legitimate case for LaRoche as the best first baseman on the free agent market. Morse is younger but comes with durability concerns, Cuddyer has those same durability concerns (and may wish to play an outfield corner), and Corey Hart had a disastrous season. Butler and Martinez are better suited to serve as designated hitters than full-time first basemen, and the same can be said for Kendrys Morales.

LaRoche’s preference is to finish his career in D.C., but that seems unlikely. Ryan Zimmerman‘s chronic shoulder woes have created a persistent throwing problem that will require shifting him to first base or the outfield (an outfield that is currently occupied by Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth). It’s possible the team could deal Span, move Harper to center and put Zimmerman in left, freeing first base for LaRoche’s return. But the more likely outcome seems to me to be that LaRoche will walk, Zimmerman will slide over to first and the Nats will pursue a second baseman or third baseman, with Anthony Rendon occupying the other spot.

Looking around the league, there are a few teams with clear needs at first base. The Brewers’ Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds platoon was a flop, and there’s no clear-cut in-house alternative. LaRoche could receive some interest from his former club, the Pirates, as they look to improve upon Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez. The Marlins are known to be looking for a bat and could upgrade over Garrett Jones. The Mariners could make some sense, but Logan Morrison did have a strong finish, and their lineup already leans left pretty heavily. I can see the Padres showing interest as well, and I’ll list the Blue Jays as a dark-horse candidate with the caveat that they’d first have to trade Adam Lind to a more cost-conscious club (e.g. the Pirates).

The other thing to consider with LaRoche is whether or not he will receive a qualifying offer. Like nearly any veteran player coming off a strong season, LaRoche will want the security of a multi-year deal. However, he also has stated a strong preference to remain with the Nats, and his return could present somewhat of a defensive logjam for the team. Because of their roster construction and his desire to stay, I can see the Nats being a bit hesitant to risk a QO. My expectation is that they’ll buy out his mutual option, but there are scenarios in which he could end up with a QO.

Expected Contract

LaRoche struggled to find a suitable deal in his last go-around with free agency despite the fact that he was fresh off a 33-homer season. Part of that, of course, was due to the draft pick attached to his name. He also had steeper competition, with Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher representing younger options coming off very strong seasons.

This time around, LaRoche could be free of draft pick compensation and is arguably the best first baseman on the market. I think something like his previous two-year, $24MM contract with a mutual option is the floor for LaRoche this winter. There’s some case to be made for a three-year deal, which I would imagine to be the target for LaRoche’s camp, but that case would be much stronger had his numbers not dipped in 2013. My prediction is that LaRoche will land in that Napoli range and sign a two-year, $30MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



MLBTR Chat Transcript

Click here to read a transcript of this week’s live chat, hosted by MLBTR’s Steve Adams.


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Latest On Twins’ Managerial Search

As the Twins continue to seek a replacement for longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire, here are the latest news and rumors:

OCTOBER 21:

  • Molitor has a one-on-one meeting with GM Terry Ryan today, tweets Wolfson, which could mean a number of things.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets that Lovullo is “very much” still in the mix, and Mackey echoes that sentiment.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that Orioles bench coach John Russell, once a rumored candidate, never heard from the Twins.

OCTOBER 20:

  • Still in the running for the post, according to Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter), are Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Torey Lovullo.
  • The Twins have told Alomar that he is no longer under consideration, tweets Wolfson. Hale has also been advised that he will not get the position, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun (h/t Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press).

OCTOBER 17:

  • Wolfson tweets that McEwing has been ruled out for the position, meaning that the team could be inching closer to making a decision.

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AL East Notes: Yankees, Cespedes, Tazawa, Pearce

The Yankees have promoted pro scout and former hitting coach/player development executive Gary Denbo to senior vice president of baseball operations, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweeted yesterday. In a full article, Feinsand and colleague Bill Madden write that Denbo will take over for the retired Mark Newman as head of the team’s farm system. Pat Roessler, who has served as the team’s director of player development since 1995, will not return to the club, Feinsand adds.  Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has recently expressed displeasure with the lack of position players developed by the Yankees’ farm system.

Some other Yankees and AL East notes from around the league…

  • In his latest Yankees Inbox piece for MLB.com, Bryan Hoch discusses a number of offseason topics, including the club’s search for starting pitching and a shortstop, as well as its likely inactivity on the market for Cuban players. Hoch won’t be surprised to see the Yankees pursue one of the big three starters (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields), and all indications are that the team will look externally for a shortstop. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Asdrubal Cabrera, noting that he could be a fit for the Bombers at short.
  • Yoenis Cespedes‘ recent agency change does little to change the possibility of the Red Sox signing him to an extension, writes WEEI.com’s Alex Speier. Cespedes is still expected to hit the open market on the heels of past comments with the A’s about looking forward to testing the open market. While he did take a bit more ambiguous stance when asked by Boston reporters late in the year — “€œI’€™m still not sure if I want to sign an extension or if I want to be a free agent. It’s too soon.” – Speier feels that a new contract for the Roc Nation Sports client is unlikely.
  • David Laurila of Fangraphs spoke with Red Sox setup man Junichi Tazawa at the end of the season about his role with the team and his level of satisfaction with his 2014 results. Tazawa explained, through an interpreter, that he feels he proved his endurance out of the bullpen and is happy to fill whatever role Boston asks of him, especially after they stuck with him through his previous Tommy John surgery. However, Laurila cites a Japanese source in reporting that Tazawa’s preference would be to pitch as a starter. Tazawa wouldn’t comment on any preference when asked directly about the role change, though he did note that he feels he could build up that level of endurance again. The 28-year-old made four starts for the Sox in 2009 and made 28 more in the minor leagues before settling into the big league bullpen.
  • Steve Pearce‘s role on the 2015 Orioles is a bit nebulous at this point, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, as it’s somewhat contingent on how the rest of the roster shapes up. The O’s will potentially lose Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency, and it’s not a given that they’ll tender Alejandro De Aza a contract. Pearce himself is due a large raise in arbitration after his outstanding 2014 season, but Baltimore will happily pay him whatever he is ultimately owed, writes Kubatko. He looks back at the series of events which saw Pearce released and claimed by the Blue Jays. Pearce, of course, was able to refuse the claim due to the nature of release waivers, and he did so knowing that the O’s would soon try to bring him back. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has one year of team control remaining before free agency and earned just $700K in each of the past two seasons.

Quick Hits: Braves Outfielders, Romo, Hudson

Here are a few stray notes from around the game …

  • As I recently explored in my breakdown of the Braves‘ offseason-to-come, Atlanta faces some decisions in the outfield. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes into more detail on the situations of the disappointing B.J. Upton and corner outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, both of whom will become free agents at season’s end. The Braves “seem prepared” to take a bath on the elder Upton’s long-term deal to move him off the roster, according to O’Brien, and if the can manage it would probably utilize Heyward or a stop-gap in center. Dealing one of the other two players while trying to extend the other has long been discussed as a plausible option, and O’Brien indicates that it is a realistic option to slide Evan Gattis into a corner role to fill any resulting void.
  • As far as extensions go, O’Brien says the Braves talked with Heyward’s representatives about a deal last winter. The team was interested in something that would have fallen well shy of Freddie Freeman‘s $135MM pact, says O’Brien, and Heyward’s asking price was well out of Atlanta’s comfort zone. His number has, in all likelihood, only gone up in the meantime, as Heyward just turned 25 and continues to rack up production — even though he has not returned to the offensive power ceiling he showed earlier in his career.
  • The Royals passed on a chance to sign Sergio Romo for a meager $1K bonus before the Giants eventually took a chance on the reliever, ESPN.com’s Keith Law tweets. While Kansas City certainly cannot be faulted for leaving the then-unheralded Romo behind, it surely would have been nice to have added him from the team’s perspective.
  • On the other hand, the Royals were willing to pay righty Tim Hudson, who said that K.C. made him a “very good offer” of two years this past offseason, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter. Like Romo, the veteran ended up with the Giants — in his case, by choice — and will square off against the Royals in the World Series.

Mozeliak On Jay, Taveras, Choate, Arb Eligibles

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny conducted their end-of-season meeting with the media today, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has several highlights from the talk. Here are some of the main items that are relevant to MLBTR readers, but interested parties should check out the full transcript for additional insight into the team…

  • The Cardinals view Jon Jay as their starting center fielder heading into the 2015 season after the 29-year-old hit .302/.372/.378 in 140 games. Mozeliak revealed that Jay will have his wrist scoped this week to clear out some damage that has been lingering since July.
  • Mozeliak expects Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk to compete for the starting right field job next season and echoed recent comments that he expects Taveras to be with the club in 2015. Taveras has received specific instructions to work on his conditioning and speed this winter.
  • The entire coaching staff has been asked to return for the 2015 season. Bench coach Mike Aldrete is expected to be pursued by at least one other team, Goold reports, but Mozeliak said to this point no team has gone through the protocol of asking to interview Aldrete.
  • The Cards will be on the hunt for power to add to their lineup and possibly a right-handed power bat to add to the bench or pair with Matt Adams at first base. Still, Mozeliak said that he and Matheny see Adams as a potential 600-plate-appearance player.
  • St. Louis will shop Randy Choate this offseason, Goold writes, following comments from Mozeliak on the “specialized” nature of Choate’s current role. Said the GM: “I think we both feel that if we can upgrade there or have an additional arm to choose from, that makes sense. We’re certainly not ruling out [Kevin] Siegrist. I think in Choate’s case, for us, he’s fairly one-dimensional. That makes it difficult for us to use him, particularly during a long season.” Choate is owed $3MM next season and held southpaw hitters to a .093/.205/.147 batting line.
  • Mozeliak expects to offer contracts to all of the team’s arbitration eligible players, including Peter Bourjos and Daniel Descalso. However, Goold writes that the team could gauge interest in both on the trade market. Bourjos strikes me as a particularly appealing candidate, given his elite glove in center field. I speculated that he’d be a good fit for the Twins as a starer in my recent Offseason Outlook, and he could make sense for a number of teams, in my mind. Goold’s colleague, Joe Strauss, tweets that he got a “strong sense” that at least one outfielder would be moved.
  • Both Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales will come to Spring Training as starters, Mozeliak said, but the clearer openings for each are in the bullpen at this time. Elsewhere in the bullpen, Mozeliak noted that the team won’t rule out re-signing Pat Neshek or Jason Motte.

Free Agent Profile: Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller was drafted sixth overall in 2006, one spot ahead of Clayton Kershaw.  He didn’t find success as a starting pitcher, but developed into a shutdown reliever in recent years.  Miller’s stock rose dramatically in 2014, to the point where he’s the second-best free agent reliever this winter.  The 29-year-old 6’7″ lefty could score a surprisingly large multiyear deal.

Strengths/Pros

Armed with a 94-97 mile per hour four-seam fastball and one of the game’s nastiest sliders, Miller strikes out batters in droves.  Among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched, Miller’s 14.87 K/9 ranked second in baseball, behind only Aroldis ChapmanUsing linear weights, Miller had the most valuable slider in baseball in 2014.  And he’s no lefty specialist, either, with righties also unable to touch him.

Andrew Miller

Miller posted a sparkling 2.02 ERA this year, which ranked 22nd among MLB relievers and second among free agent relievers.  Miller ranked sixth among MLB relievers with 2.3 wins above replacement, and second with a 1.21 SIERA.  In short, Miller’s skills more than back up his performance.

Miller showed the best control of his career this year, walking only 2.5 batters per nine innings.  He was traded to the Orioles at the July deadline and was especially stingy with the free pass in the ensuing 20 innings, walking only 1.8 per nine.

Miller allowed less than one baserunner per inning this year, in part because he was extremely difficult to hit.  Only six MLB relievers allowed fewer than Miller’s 4.76 hits per nine innings.  Since 2012, Miller has allowed 5.8 hits per nine.  We’re building a near-perfect reliever at this point, but Miller also allowed only three home runs in his 62 1/3 innings this year.

Miller didn’t have an ERA above 2.70 in any month, but he was particularly good in the season’s final three months with a 1.48 mark.  For good measure, he tacked on another 7 1/3 scoreless frames in five postseason appearances, serving as a major weapon for Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Not that a qualifying offer would have been likely, but Miller became ineligible for one upon his midseason trade.  That’s an advantage Miller has over the top available free agent reliever, David Robertson.  He’s also younger than most of his peers in the marketplace, as Miller does not turn 30 until May.

Weaknesses/Cons

Control was a weakness for Miller prior to 2014, as he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings in 136 innings from 2011-13.  70 innings of limiting free passes isn’t enough of a sample to say he has completely eliminated the problem.  Miller posted a 5.0 BB/9 as recently as last year.

2013 was an odd year for Miller in general.  He posted a 2.64 ERA in 30 2/3 innings, but lefties hit .281 off him and he walked 16% of the right-handed batters he faced.  That season ended for Miller on July 6th, when he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.  It was a torn ligament between bones in the middle of the foot, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.

Miller previously hit the 15-day DL in 2007 (hamstring strain), ’08 (knee inflammation), ’09 (oblique strain), and ’12 (hamstring strain).  One point in his favor is that none of these injuries involved his left arm.  Miller fell an out shy of 70 innings this year including the playoffs, but only tallied 53 1/3 frames in 2012 and 30 2/3 last year.  It may not be predictive, but in Miller’s three full seasons as a reliever, this is the only year in which he didn’t miss 26 games or more.

Personal

Miller was born in Gainesville, Florida and attended high school there.  He attended UNC for college and was drafted sixth overall in ’06.  Miller currently resides in Newberry, Florida with his wife and son.  He’s known as a cerebral person, and is one of the game’s most active players union representatives.

Market

Miller has shown he can retire left and right-handed hitters, and has the skills to handle the ninth inning if his team prefers.  Any team would love to have him, and he could anchor a bullpen for the White Sox, Astros, Blue Jays, Mets, Rangers, and Cubs, to name a few.  The Tigers drafted Miller in ’06 and traded him to the Marlins the following year as a major component of the Miguel Cabrera deal.  The Tigers almost brought him back via trade this July, so they should have interest in free agency.  The Brewers, Braves, Pirates, Nationals, and Dodgers were also among those in on him at the trade deadline.  A reunion with Boston also can’t be ruled out, and the Yankees figure to check in.  And certainly the Orioles would like to have Miller back, if they can fit him into their budget while also trying to re-sign Nelson Cruz and others.

Expected Contract

The Red Sox acquired Miller from the Marlins in November 2010, but non-tendered him a few weeks later.  He received strong interest on the free agent market for a few weeks and ultimately turned down three different big league offers to sign a minor league deal to remain with Boston.

Four years later, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says Miller is “a strong union man who believes in the right of a player to seek the best contract for himself when he reaches free agency,” adding that Miller will go to the highest bidder this winter.  Interest in Miller will be widespread, as it was at the trade deadline.  That the Red Sox were able to extract highly-regarded pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in a trade for several months of Miller’s services speaks to the kind of bidding war that occurred.

Brandon League money would be a solid deal for Miller; League received $22.5MM over three years at the end of the 2012 season.  Given just one save on his resume, Miller would be the first non-closing reliever to reach the $20MM mark (though I’ve predicted just that for Luke Gregerson).  Still, with MLBTR’s Steve Adams projecting $52MM over four years for Robertson with a qualifying offer, the League contract feels inadequate for a reliever as coveted as Miller.

We haven’t seen a four-year deal for a non-closing reliever since Scott Linebrink signed with the White Sox seven years ago.  With Miller, I think it’s time.  I’m predicting a four-year, $32MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL Central Notes: Tomas, Tigers, 2014 Draft

SungWoo Lee, the diehard Royals fan from South Korea whose visit to Kansas City earlier this summer made headlines around the sports world, is on his way back to watch his favorite team compete in the World Series.  The Royals have gone 40-20 in the regular season and playoffs since Lee first arrived in the United States on August 5.  Lee’s very first game at Kauffman Stadium was a matchup between the Royals and (talk about karma) the Giants on August 9, which was won by K.C. as part of a three-game sweep.

As Kansas City prepares for its first World Series game since 1985, let’s take a look around the AL Central…

  • The Twins have yet to schedule a private workout for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets, and there have been “no serious talks, just brief ones” between the club and Tomas’ representatives.
  • Emilio Bonifacio, Luke Gregerson, Brandon McCarthy, Andrew Miller and Colby Rasmus are five free agents who could be fits for the Tigers‘ bullpen, center field and No. 5 starter needs this offseason, Mlive.com’s James Schmehl opines.
  • The Indians and Royals top Baseball America’s list of teams who had the best 2014 draft, based on how the prospects selected in June have thus far performed in their young pro careers.  A number of AL Central prospects appear in the follow-up lists based on player performance, with Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan‘s name appearing multiple times — no surprise there, given that Finnegan has already reached the majors and has thrown some key bullpen innings for K.C. during the postseason.

Yoenis Cespedes Switches Agents

Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes has switched agencies and is now being represented by Roc Nation Sports.  The agency welcomed its newest client via the Roc Nation Twitter feed.  CAA’s Brodie Van Wagenen will be handling the baseball side of Cespedes’ representation, WEEI.com’s Alex Speier tweets, similar to other Roc Nation clients like Robinson Cano and Rusney Castillo.

Roc Nation was linked to Cespedes as far back as July 2013, when the agency was rumored to be courting the outfielder.  While the agency founded by Jay Z isn’t even two years old, it already represents a number of major names from the sports world, including Cano, Castillo and C.C. Sabathia.  Under the Roc Nation banner, Cano and Castillo both notably signed contracts that were above industry expectations.

Cespedes only has one year remaining on the four-year, $36MM deal he originally signed with the A’s prior to the 2012 season.  He has reportedly not given much consideration to signing an extension with the Red Sox, which has led to speculation that the Sox could look to trade him this winter.  Whether he stays in Boston or not, Cespedes is clearly looking ahead to a big payday on his next contract.

Cespedes had previously been represented by WMG’s Adam Katz, who has now lost two high-profile clients within the last few weeks after Nelson Cruz joined Relativity Sports.

For agency info on over 1,700 players, check out MLBTR’s oft-updated agency database.  Agents: if you’ve got a 40-man roster player or top prospect whose representation is not correctly noted, we welcome corrections at mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.


Cardinals Notes: Lynn, DeWitt, Matheny

Lance Lynn and the Cardinals have both said they’re open to discussing a contract extension for the righty this winter, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  Lynn will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and he’s built a strong case for himself by posting a 2.74 ERA in 2014 and averaging 194 IP, 8.7 K/9 and a 2.64 K/BB rate over his first three full seasons in the St. Louis rotation.  As Goold notes, Lynn could be the latest in a series of core Cardinals players who the club has extended before hitting their arb years or free agency.

Here’s some more from the 19-time National League champs…

  • Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt tells Goold that the organization plans to increase payroll and is “forecasting fairly significant increases in the next three to five years.”  The spending increase was planned to coincide with several younger players (Lynn, Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, etc.) reaching arbitration eligibility within that same time span.  Additional money could also be spent to bring new talent into the team via trades or free agency, as DeWitt said “we would have the capacity for an additional core player or players depending on their quality, their compensation, and our need.”  The Cardinals’ payroll has ranged from roughly $109MM to $116MM over the last four seasons, and Goold speculates that number could jump to around $130MM in the next few years.
  • GM John Mozeliak made it clear that the team is very happy with Mike Matheny, and Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch considers it “ludicrous” for critics to suggest a change at manager despite some questionable tactical decisions from Matheny during the NLCS.
  • Mozeliak also said that Oscar Taveras isn’t going to be traded, and that the star prospect’s underwhelming first season “is not the end of the world. If anything, it’s a blessing in disguise” since now Taveras knows what is needed to perform at the Major League level.  On the other hand, Miklasz writes that Matheny “isn’t a fan” of Taveras and wonders if the Cardinals might be tempted to explore trades for the outfielder this winter.
  • Also from Miklasz, he feels relief depth, upgrades at the backup catcher and backup middle infielder spots and a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Adams are all logical winter goals for the Cardinals.

Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees

The Yankees will have to make additions while sorting through several high-priced injury question marks on their roster as they try to rebound from consecutive years outside the postseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Masahiro Tanaka, SP: $133MM through 2020 (Tanaka can opt out after 2017)
  • Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: $126.8MM through 2020 ($21MM club option for 2021, $5MM buyout)
  • Brian McCann, C: $68MM through 2018 ($15MM club option for 2019, can vest to become player option)
  • Alex Rodriguez, 3B: $61MM through 2017
  • C.C. Sabathia, SP: $48MM through 2016 ($25MM vesting option for 2017, $5MM buyout otherwise)
  • Brett Gardner, OF: $48MM through 2018 ($12.5MM club option for 2019, $2MM buyout)
  • Mark Teixeira, 1B: $45MM through 2016
  • Carlos Beltran, OF: $30MM through 2016
  • Martin Prado, IF: $22MM through 2016
  • Brendan Ryan, SS: $2MM through 2015 ($2MM club option for 2016, become $1MM player option if declined)

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The emotion of the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera retirement tours over the last two seasons may have softened the blow of missing the playoffs for Yankees fans.  Now that the last of the “Core Four” has retired, eyes are focused on the present and what the Steinbrenner family, the newly-extended Brian Cashman and a revamped baseball operations department will do to get this team back into contention.

When the Bombers missed the playoffs last year, they responded by spending over $500MM on new contracts for free agents and re-signed talent.  It doesn’t seem like the Yankees are prepared for another spending spree, in part because two of last year’s big signings (Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran) underperformed.  Combine those setbacks with a huge swath of injuries that sidelined almost the entire Yankees rotation, and it’s somewhat surprising that the club managed to win even 83 games.

The biggest issue facing the Yankees is that many of their highest-paid players can’t be counted on to stay healthy or play up to their usual standard in 2015.  C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and has already suffered a decline in performance in recent years.  Mark Teixeira managed to play in 123 games last year but his wrist problems will always require a backup option.  McCann and Beltran could’ve just had off-years, or they could possibly be on the decline as well.

And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, returning from his year-long suspension as a complete mystery in terms of what he’ll be able to contribute.  The plan for A-Rod seems to be a rotation between DH, third base and possibly first base, to spell Teixeira.  Until the Yankees know if Rodriguez can handle regular time at third, however, it will somewhat hamstring their other winter plans.  They have an interest in bringing back Chase Headley, though obviously Headley will want to play every day, and limiting Rodriguez to a 1B/DH role will cut down on the DH at-bats that might be needed for another aging players like Beltran or McCann.

One possible solution would be to pencil Martin Prado in as the third baseman and to acquire a stopgap option to play second or give prospect Rob Refsnyder a shot at the job.  If Rodriguez’s body can hold up under regular playing time at the hot corner, then Prado can then primarily play second base, with the occasional game at 3B to spell A-Rod.  Prado’s versatility is a nice tool for the Yankees to have, and since he posted an .877 OPS in 137 PA after joining the club at the trade deadline, his bat may have awoken after a rough first half with the Diamondbacks.

With Rodriguez likely looking at a healthy share of DH at-bats, Beltran will have to see much more time in right field than the 32 games he played at the position last season.  Beltran’s elbow injury both kept him out of RF and likely played a big role in his struggles at the plate, so if he’s healthy, he could be back to his usual productive self.  For depth’s sake, however, the Yankees will definitely look to add a backup outfielder who could regular playing time or at least would be Beltran’s late-inning defensive replacement.  Someone like Gerardo Parra (who the Brewers could non-tender or look to trade this winter) would be a nice fit in this role.

Replacing Jeter is impossible from a big-picture standpoint, though replacing Jeter’s 2014 on-field production (-0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+) at shortstop shouldn’t be hard.  There will inevitably be a big media spotlight on whichever player becomes Jeter’s successor at short, and the Yankees have a couple of options: they can pursue a young shortstop as a true long-term heir apparent, or they could look for an established veteran (who might be more used to the pressure) to play the position for a few seasons until a younger option can be groomed or acquired.

If New York chooses the veteran route, there are free agent shortstops like Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie available.  Hanley Ramirez is the top free agent shortstop on the market, though if the Yankees are indeed hesitant about giving big money to players over 30 years old, then a player with Ramirez’s injury history and defensive limitations wouldn’t be a good fit.  Stephen Drew could be re-signed at a relative discount price, though it’s hard to see the Yankees handing Drew the starting job coming off his poor 2014 season.  It’s possible the Yankees’ top choice to replace Jeter may already be off the board, as J.J. Hardy signed an extension with the Orioles rather than test free agency.

If the Yankees went for a younger option at short, they could talk trade with the Diamondbacks or Cubs, each of which have a surplus of young shortstops.  Chicago’s surplus, of course, is of a higher pedigree since it involves former All-Star Starlin Castro and blue chip prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez.  As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote in his recent Cubs offseason outlook piece, however, the timing may not be right for the Cubs to trade their middle infield depth.  Plus, even if Chicago was willing to deal, the Yankees may not have the prospect depth to meet the enormous asking price the Cubs would demand for any of those players.  Swinging a deal for one of Arizona’s slightly lesser-regarded young shortstops (Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings) could be a more palatable option.

The Yankees acquired Prado using one piece of their catching surplus in prospect Peter O’Brien, and the club still has John Ryan Murphy, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine all battling for the backup job behind McCann.  Any two of these players could be expendable with top prospect Gary Sanchez on the farm, though Sanchez has yet to play beyond the Double-A level and is at least a season away from getting serious consideration from a big league job.

The biggest trade chip the Yankees have, of course, is their financial might.  Headley, Prado and Brandon McCarthy were all acquired for a fairly negligible prospect return at midseason since New York was simply able to take those contracts off the Padres’ and Diamondbacks’ hands.  Rather than surrender draft picks to sign qualifying offer free agents or deal away what little farm depth they have, the Yankees could pursue more trades with rivals looking to create payroll space.

If the Yankees did want to make a splash in free agency, however, Jon Lester could be an attractive target since (due to the fact that he was traded at midseason) he can be signed without any draft pick compensation.  The Yankees have a particular admiration for Lester, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and the southpaw would bring both quality and much-needed durability to New York’s rotation.  Max Scherzer could also draw interest from the Yankees this winter as another front-of-the-rotation upgrade, not to mention James Shields, who is expected to be available at a lower price than those other two aces.

While adding a top starter could technically give the Yankees a rotation surplus if everyone is healthy, that’s a giant “if” given how many injury-plagued starters are in the rotation.  C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and even if he’s 100 percent health-wise, the lefty has still been on the decline for the last two seasons.  Ivan Nova will be out until May at the earliest as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  Michael Pineda looked dominant when he was on the mound, yet had another injury setback when he missed three months with a bad shoulder.

The most tenuous injury situation involves Masahiro Tanaka, who took MLB by storm in his rookie season before a slight UCL tear caused him to miss 10 weeks.  Tanaka returned to make two starts in late September and reported he was pain-free, so for now, it appears the righty may have dodged the Tommy John bullet.  Any recurrence of the injury, however, could lead to surgery for Tanaka and at least a year on the DL.  Tanaka is yet another high-paid superstar the Yankees don’t know if they can count on in 2015, and his uncertain health status is the club’s strongest argument for making a play for the likes of Scherzer, Lester or Shields.

Shane Greene‘s strong rookie season earned him a spot in the 2015 rotation, so presuming that leaves New York with a tentative starting quartet of Tanaka, Greene, Pineda and Sabathia.  If the Yankees don’t land that ace-level pitcher, they could turn to familiar faces in McCarthy (who is open to a return) or Hiroki Kuroda, who is again weighing retirement or a return to Japan.

Kuroda faced the same choice last offseason and rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer before re-signing with the Yankees on a one-year, $16MM deal.  It stands to reason that Kuroda will receive another QO this winter — if the Yankees were comfortable in issuing him a qualifying offer last year before knowing if he’d return to MLB, they’d probably feel similarly comfortable this year.  Kuroda still posted solid numbers and 199 IP at age 39 last season, and he’ll draw enough interest from teams that I’d suspect he’ll reject this offseason’s $15.3MM qualifying offer to look for another slightly-richer one-year pact.  It’s fair to assume the Yankees have the inside track on Kuroda’s services if he does return, though the Dodgers and Angels are also looking for starting pitching and can offer Kuroda a job closer to his home in southern California.

Dellin Betances‘ phenomenal success as the Yankees’ setup man has led to speculation that he could take over as closer in 2015 and New York could afford to let David Robertson leave in free agency.  The Yankees are one of the few teams who can afford to issue a qualifying offer to a closer, and while it’s possible the QO could scare off some teams who don’t want to give up a first-round pick to sign a one-inning pitcher, MLBTR’s Steve Adams argued that Robertson’s status as the best closer available will still land him a significant deal, possibly in the range of four years and $52MM.  A lockdown bullpen has been such an important part of recent Yankees history that I can see the Bombers re-signing Robertson and re-teaming he and Betances to create a lot of seven-inning games.

With or without Robertson, expect the Yankees to pursue a veteran lefty reliever to fill the hole left by Matt Thornton, who was let go on waivers last summer.  Andrew Miller stands out as the best left-handed option (and one of the best relievers in general) available in free agency, and he could serve as Betances’ setup man.  The Yankees could take a page from the Royals’ book by signing Miller AND re-signing Robertson, sandwiching them around Betances to create a terrifying late-game relief trio.

David Huff, David Phelps, Shawn Kelley and Esmil Rogers are all eligible for arbitration this winter and since all pitched well in 2014 (at least peripheral-wise in Kelley and Rogers’ cases), expect all four to be tendered contracts and brought back into the bullpen mix.  The Yankees could also exercise their inexpensive team option on Andrew Bailey for 2015, though since hasn’t pitched at all since undergoing shoulder surgery in July 2013, Bailey is just a lottery ticket at this point.

The rumor mill inevitably connects the Yankees to virtually every top free agent during the offseason, both because agents like to raise their clients’ asking prices by claiming the league’s big spenders are interested and because the Yankees usually do cast a wide net.  Throwing more money at free agents might leave the club with even more albatross contracts, however, and even the Yankees have a spending limit.  It’s more likely the Yankees will look to fill their roster holes through trades rather than free agency, though expect them to explore all options lest the playoff drought extend to three years.


Minor Moves: Guzman, Abreu, Phelps

Here are the latest minor league transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post.  All moves reported by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy unless cited otherwise.

  • Jesus Guzman elected free agency rather than accept a Triple-A assignment from the Astros, Union Radio’s Pascual Artiles reports (Twitter link).  Houston outrighted Guzman off its 40-man roster earlier this month.  Guzman was acquired from the Padres last December and hit .188/.272/.248 in 184 plate appearances in 2014.
  • Second baseman Tony Abreu has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Giants organization.  Abreu has been with the Giants for the last two seasons, appearing in three games with the team in 2014 and 53 in 2013.  Abreu has 615 PA to his name since debuting in the majors in 2007, posting a career .254/.283/.373 line for the Giants, Royals, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
  • Second baseman Cord Phelps has elected free agency.  Phelps played for the Orioles in 2014, appearing in three Major League games and hitting .259/.361/.388 over 403 PA at Triple-A Norfolk.
  • The Dodgers re-signed left-hander Robert Carson.  The southpaw posted a 5.74 ERA over 62 2/3 IP in the minors with the Angels and Dodgers in 2014, getting released by L.A.’s red team in May and signing with L.A.’s blue team a week later.  Carson threw 33 innings for the Mets in 2012-13, posting a 6.82 ERA in his brief time in the Show.
  • Left-hander Pedro Hernandez has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Rockies.  Hernandez posted a 6.42 ERA in 88 1/3 IP for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2014, and made one start for the Rockies in July.  The southpaw has a career 7.33 ERA over 66 1/3 IP with the Rockies, Twins and White Sox since 2012.
  • The Rockies released and then re-signed right-hander Simon Castro, according to the club’s official transactions page.  He first signed with Colorado in April but didn’t pitch at all in 2014 due to injury.  Castro was ranked as the game’s 58th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season while in the Padres farm system, and was dealt to the White Sox as part of the Carlos Quentin trade package in the 2011-12 offseason.  His Major League experience consists of 6 2/3 IP with Chicago in 2013.
  • Left-hander Cesar Cabral, most recently of the Yankees organization, has elected to become a free agent, Examiner.com’s Dan Pfeiffer reports (Twitter link).  Cabral appeared in four games for the Yankees in 2014, totaling one inning pitched and allowing three earned runs.  His Major League resume also includes 3 2/3 IP for New York in 2013.  The southpaw has a 4.01 ERA, 2.58 K/BB rate and 420 strikeouts over 422 1/3 career minor league innings.