AL Notes: Defensive Value, White Sox, Astros, Fuld

As defensive metrics gain precision and acceptance, we can expect an increasing move toward player contracts that better reflect the contributions of premier glovework, writes Doug Mittler for ESPN The Magazine (Insider link). "The market is established by offense because defensive numbers are difficult to ascertain,"  said Mets GM Sandy Alderson. Mittler says that current bargains, like Alex Gordon of the Royals and Ryan Hanigan of the Rays, may be harder to find in coming seasons. (I would suggest that some recent extensions of defense-first players -- including those of Andrelton Simmons of the Braves and Elvis Andrus of the Rangers -- may reflect just that kind of movement in the market.) 

Here's the latest out of the American League:

  • It is early, of course, but the White Sox look like a very different club on the offensive side of the ledger, writes Grantland's Jonah Keri. The preliminary results have put a shine on an offseason that, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes described, brought significant MLB-ready talent into the South Side. Like Dierkes, Keri advises caution for the prospects this season but foresees a bright future for some of the team's young position players. 
  • An alternative method of rebuilding -- the Astros' total strip-down of MLB talent and payroll -- took another important step forward with the debut of George Springer. In an interesting interview with Drew Fairservice of TheScore.com, club GM Jeff Luhnow said that he hopes the club's pool of prospect talent will "have an expectation to win" after experiencing success together at the minor league level. And he made clear that Houston will look to take full advantage of its substantial amateur spending dollars. Looking ahead, Luhnow explained that the club is already thinking about how to manage inevitable payroll increases: "With so many young players coming through the pipeline, we’re not going to be able to lock them all up. Just keeping them all through arbitration is going to get expensive and we also want to dip into the free agent market so we’ll have to be wise about how we spend the dollars. Our flexibility gives us the opportunity to make the right investments at the right time."
  • As noted earlier, recently-designated Athletics outfielder Sam Fuld is expected to draw interest from several clubs, according to a report from Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). The Twins and Angels are among the teams that are likely to be involved on Fuld, says Slusser.




NL Notes: Hamels, Morse, Diamondbacks, Walker

There was some great news out of New Jersey today, as venerable Hinchliffe Stadium was designated a National Historic Landmark. As MLB.com's Mark Newman reports, the Art Deco structure is one of just a few still standing to have hosted Negro League action. 

Here are some notes out of the National League:

  • The Phillies are close to welcoming back Cole Hamels from the DL, reports CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank. Assistant GM Scott Proefrock said that the lefty may return as soon as next week. Needless to say, a healthy Hamels is absolutely critical if Philly has any hope of contending -- and avoiding the need for a possible sell-off of veteran pieces -- in 2014.
  • Michael Morse has looked to be an excellent addition for the Giants in the early part of the season, writes Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. The hot start for Morse has answered the question whether he could return to health, and validated manager Bruce Bochy's internal push for the slugger. For his part, Morse says he was guided to San Francisco by former Giant Mark DeRosa and 49er running back Frank Gore. While Morse is never going to look good in the outfield or on the basepaths, Bochy has managed that issue by frequently replacing the lumbering 32-year-old late in games. Morse will re-enter the open market after playing out his one-year, $6MM deal, and should be an interesting player to watch as the season goes on.
  • Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says it is too early to throw around blame for the team's rough start, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Hall said that "it's far too early to say" that either GM Kevin Towers or manager Kirk Gibson are in danger of losing their jobs. "I wouldn't say anybody's in trouble at this point." The tandem was extended over the offseason, but nevertheless could face hot seats if Arizona cannot turn around a 4-14 start that has left them already 7 games back in the division.
  • Pirates second baseman Neil Walker has seen promising returns on his offseason work to revamp his swing from the right-handed side of the plate, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though he has just a few regular season plate appearances so far, the switch-hitting 28-year-old has continued the solid work he did off of southpaws during Spring Training. For his career, Walker has touched righties for a .799 OPS, but has only notched a .665 mark against lefties. Set to reach free agency after the 2016 season, Walker could significantly increase his utility, value, and potentially his extension candidacy if he can up his production from the right side.




Kole Calhoun To Miss Four To Six Weeks

Kole Calhoun will join fellow Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton on a lengthy DL stint, reports Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter). An ugly-looking ankle turn last night resulted in a bad ligament sprain that will put Calhoun on the shelf for four to six weeks, according to manager Mike Scioscia.

Early in his second season of substantial MLB action at the age of 26, Calhoun was off to a .250/.297/.500 start in 64 plate appearances, with three home runs and two stolen bases to his credit. Last year, Calhoun provided to be a nice surprise in Los Angeles, providing a .282/.347/.462 line in 222 plate appearances while knocking eight long balls and swiping two bags. Though defensive metrics saw him as slightly below average at the corner outfield last year, Calhoun has graded out quite well in a small sample thus far in 2014. With 130 days of MLB service to his name entering the year, Calhoun could qualify for Super Two status after the 2015 season.

Replacing Calhoun on the MLB roster in the immediate term is minor league free agent Brennan Boesch, who was called up today with Calhoun hitting the 15-day DL. Boesch will join J.B. Shuck and Collin Cowgill as outfield options to flank star Mike Trout while Calhoun and Hamilton are on the shelf. The Halos could be one of several teams with interest in adding Sam Fuld, who is still in DFA limbo after being designated by Oakland on Saturday, according to a tweet from Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. It is difficult to see the team making a more impactful move unless one or both of its injured regulars fall off track in their recovery.






Minor Moves: Giants Release Dontrelle Willis

Here are the day's minor moves:

  • The Giants have released veteran pitcher Dontrelle Willis, according to the International League transactions page. Willis, 32, has not seen MLB time since 2011, but had several outstanding seasons early in his career with the Marlins. He had thrown just 2/3 of an inning in two appearances for the Giants' Triple-A affiliate, though he uncorked three wild pitches in that span. More importantly, Willis reportedly suffered what appeared to be a serious arm injury during his outing Sunday.
  • As reflected on the MLBTR DFA Tracker, two fairly interesting players -- Lucas Harrell (Astros) and Sam Fuld (Athletics) -- remain in DFA limbo. 




Padres Notes: Gyorko, Headley, Cashner

Here are a few notes on the Padres, who opened the day a full three games back of the division-leading Dodgers and Giants in the National League West:

  • The Pads have been one of the few MLB teams to have been burned by early-career extensions in recent years, notes Dave Cameron in a piece for FOX Sports. One issue -- putting aside the injury and performance issues that have cropped up -- is that San Diego has made several of its bets on players whose expected future market value (through arbitration and free agency) was simply not that high. That, in turn, limited the amount of upside (in terms of cost savings) that the team could realize through those contracts. The team's recent extension of Jedd Gyorko, Cameron argues, is of the same ilk: he is not a high-average hitter or stolen base threat, and his power is less impressive if he plays at third in the future. Cameron opines that, while the deal is not necessarily a bad contract, the team still took on significant risk without getting a real chance at landing a "huge bargain."  
  • Current third baseman Chase Headley, meanwhile, reportedly turned down his chance at a new deal, and looks destined for the open market at the end of the season. MLB.com's Corey Brock noted that Headley had told him late in the spring that he "just [didn't] think it was ever the right time" to strike an extension. "There's enough ground in between us to where it wasn't going to work out right now," Headley said. "We just couldn't find that common ground." As Brock explains, the likely options now for San Diego look to be a trade, qualifying offer after the year, or another run at a contract. Headley addressed the QO himself with Brock: "We weighed that [in discussions with the team] and it's not a great system for the player. You have to play six full seasons just to get to free agency. ... When you get to that point in your career, I don't think it's necessarily fair to have this one shot at free agency affected by that. At some point, someone is going to take one of those." Of course, Headley added that accepting the QO is "not a bad way to go" because "that's a pretty big number for one year."
  • Staff ace Andrew Cashner is showing signs that he could be developing into a true ace, writes Scott Miller for FOX Sports San Diego. Acquired from the Cubs in exchange for young slugger Anthony Rizzo, in what was a bold trade for both clubs, the 27-year-old has made clear that he wants and expects to be a dominant force. "I definitely want a no-hitter," said Cashner, calling it "one of my goals." Indeed, he has looked capable of that recently. Cashner has allowed just 10 hits and three earned runs through his first 21 innings (over three starts) in 2014, striking out 9.4 against 3.0 free passes per nine while holding opposing hitters to a .363 OPS. After re-discovering his slider last year, Cashner worked to a 2.14 ERA in the second half. As he plays out his first arb-eligible season, the big righty looks like a prime extension candidate in his own right.




Rangers Outright Daniel McCutchen

WEDNESDAY: McCutchen has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, reports MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. As McCutchen has been outrighted previously, he will have the option of electing free agency.

MONDAY: The Rangers have designated right-hander Daniel McCutchen for assignment in order to clear a 40-man roster spot for fellow righty Colby Lewis, Rangers executive VP of communications John Blake announced (on Twitter).

The 31-year-old McCutchen tossed 2 1/3 innings for the Rangers, allowing a pair of earned runs on four hits (one homer) and a pair of walks without a strikeout. McCutchen, who is of no relation to last year's National League MVP, has a career 4.81 ERA with 4.9 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 191 Major League innings between the Pirates and Rangers. The former 13th round pick has a sound minor league track record, with a 3.75 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 441 frames.

Lewis, 34, will be on the hill tonight for the Rangers after a lengthy rehab process from multiple injuries. The longtime Ranger underwent surgery to repair a torn flexor mass tendon in July 2012 and looked to be on the mend in 2013 before a hip injury led to surgery and sidelined him for the entirety of that season. He last appeared on a Major League mound in 2012 and had pitched to a solid 3.93 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 506 1/3 innings with the Rangers since returning to the big leagues from Japan in 2010.

Texas has seen its rotation devastated by injuries to Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and an early ailment to Yu Darvish (he's since returned), so a healthy Lewis could be a much-needed shot in the arm as they look to prevent the A's from a third consecutive AL West Division Championship.




Athletics Claim Marcus Walden Off Waivers From Blue Jays

The Athletics have claimed righty Marcus Walden off waivers from the Blue Jays and optioned him to Triple-A, the club announced. Walden was designated yesterday, and presumably hit the waiver wire immediately.

Walden, 25, has worked mostly as a starter in the minors, but had been throwing in relief at Triple-A to start the 2014 campaign. At Double-A last year, he worked to a 3.71 ERA in 162 1/3 innings, with 4.9 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9. 

Toronto paid the cost of losing Walden's rights after some odd roster maneuvering. The club opened the year with Jeremy Jeffress on the active roster and then designated him with the intention of calling up Chad Jenkins to take his place. Jenkins was initially announced as being recalled, but that was not possible because he had not yet been on optional assignment for ten days. Walden took Jenkins's place, but that meant that he had to be exposed to waivers when a 40-man spot was needed.




Mets Outright Lannan, Promote Matsuzaka

The Mets have outrighted left-hander John Lannan to Triple-A Las Vegas and purchased the contract of right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, tweets MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Lannan will have the option to reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency. ESPN New York's Adam Rubin tweets that Matsuzaka will work out of the bullpen for now.

Lannan, 29, appeared in five games for the Mets this season, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits and a pair of walks in four innings of work. Of those seven hits, three cleared the fence for a home run. The veteran has never pitched outside of the NL East, but he's donned the uniform of three teams in that division: the Mets, the Phillies and the Nationals. After posting a 4.01 ERA in 783 2/3 innings with the Nationals from 2007-12, Lannan has struggled. With Philadelphia and New York, he's managed a combined 5.86 ERA with a 40-to-29 K:BB ratio in 78 1/3 frames.

Matsuzaka spent some time with the Mets in 2013 after signing a minor league deal midway through the season. He started slow but fared well down the stretch, yielding just four earned runs over his final 26 1/3 innings while striking out 21 and walking nine. Matsuzaka then signed another minor league deal with the Mets this winter. He's allowed two runs and punched out 12 hitters in 12 Triple-A innings this season. Matsuzaka's minor league deal calls for a $1.5MM base salary in the Major Leagues, and he also received a $100K retention bonus at the end of Spring Training after he did not make the Opening Day roster.




AL West Notes: Astros, Franklin, Walker, Reddick

The Astros have made the promotion of George Springer and DFA of Lucas Harrell official by announcing each move via press release. As Houston fans (and fantasy baseball players) eagerly await Springer's big league debut, here's a look around the rest of the division...

  • Springer won't be the only highly touted prospect to arrive in the Majors today; the Mariners will recall Nick Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma, reports Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, who expects Logan Morrison to hit the DL in order to clear a 25-man roster spot. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter), Franklin could see some time in the outfield. Franklin, 23, got off to a blistering .395/.469/.744 start in 11 Triple-A games after an offseason loaded with trade speculation.
  • Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker was scratched from last night's rehab start after complaining of stiffness in his arm, reports Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune. GM Jack Zduriencik said that Walker -- who is a consensus Top 10 prospect -- will be re-evaluated today. Seattle's rotation has been solid so far, but they've experienced a good deal of poor luck with injuries to Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton.
  • Jerry Brewer of Athletics Nation looks at Josh Reddick's struggles this season and tracks the history of pitches he's seen in two-strike counts dating back to 2012. Brewer notes that Reddick has long struggled against good fastballs and curveballs, while feasting on sliders and changeups. Pitchers are hammering Reddick with fastballs and curves thus far, and the result has been a 33 percent strikeout rate to go along with his .098/.196/.098 batting line. The A's are in a clear jam as they decide what to do with Reddick, Brewer writes. Reddick has a minor league option remaining, but he could see as much or even more velocity in Triple-A, which will contain no shortage of up-and-coming power arms.




Morales Rejected $30MM Extension Last Summer

Kendrys Morales is still without an employer as he and agent Scott Boras appear willing to wait beyond the June draft in order to free a signing team from the burden of having to surrender a draft pick. However, Morales had the opportunity to sign a deal that would've kept him in Seattle through 2017 last summer, according to Todd Dybas of the Tacoma News Tribune. As Dybas writes, general manager Jack Zduriencik recently told fans at a meet-and-greet that the Mariners offered Morales a three-year, $30MM extension after last year's All-Star break.

Reports last summer indicated that talks between the two sides never got serious due to the Mariners' surprise over the asking price from Boras and Morales. Interest in Morales on the open market was clearly never as high as the two had hoped, with the Mariners and Orioles being the teams that were the most frequently connected to the DH/first baseman.

Perhaps shedding the "draft pick compensation" label will aid Morales and get him a deal that is more to his liking, but it's tough to see him landing something north of Seattle's 2013 offer. In a now-controversial piece from ESPN, several executives offered their thoughts on Morales' value, but $8-10MM was as high as any were willing to go in terms of average annual value. (The MLBPA has asked the commissioner's office to investigate that situation, as the anonymous executives' comments are in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.)

The 30-year-old Morales batted .277/.336/.449 with 23 homers last season and earned $5.25MM in his final year of arbitration eligibility.




Astros To Promote George Springer

Top outfield prospect George Springer will join the Astros tomorrow, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). The 24-year-old entered the season as a consensus top-25 prospect.

Springer

As I recently discussed, Springer is among the game's near-MLB-ready prospects who has yet to see any MLB time. If he sticks on the big club for the remainder of the year, Springer would accrue 166 days of service -- short of a full season, but more than enough to set himself up to qualify for Super Two status. That means that the Astros will still stand to control him through the 2020 season. 

Springer climbed up prospect rating boards after a monster 2013 campaign in which he hit a combined .303/.411/.600, and posted 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases, in 589 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. Entering the 2014 season, analysts rated Springer between 18th (Baseball America) to 21st (MLB.com) among all MLB prospects. The 2011 first-round pick looked well on his way to a repeat of that performance in the season's early going.

Looking ahead, Baseball America says that Springer possesses outstanding bat speed but can be beaten with offspeed offerings given his aggressive approach. With plus or better arm, speed, power, and defense tools, BA says that Springer should be a productive big leaguer even if he struggles somewhat (as many expect he will) to make contact at the MLB level.

Though he is a tall and powerful ballplayer, Springer profiles as a center fielder. But with that position occupied in Houston by offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler, Springer will presumably take over in left field for the optioned Robbie Grossman




Astros To Designate Lucas Harrell For Assignment

The Astros will designate pitcher Lucas Harrell for assignment, reports Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). With Scott Feldman set to return from bereavement leave on Thursday, Houston apparently decided to remove the out-of-options righty from the active roster.

It has been quite a fall from grace for the 28-year-old, who this time last year was being named as a solid trade target for contenders. Indeed, in 2012, he threw to a 3.76 ERA in 193 2/3 innings, with a 57.2% ground ball rate and 6.5 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. But last year was a struggle, as Harrell managed only a 5.86 ERA in 153 2/3 innings, and both struck out and walked 5.2 batters per nine. He has had a rough start to the current season as well.

With less than three years of service on his clock, Harrell will come with future control, which is certainly attractive. One major issue, however, is the fact that he is out of options, meaning that any club that trades for or claims him would need to let him work out his issues at the MLB level.




Minor Moves: Scott Cousins

Here are the day's minor moves:

  • The Rangers have inked outfielder Scott Cousins to a minor league deal, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Cousins, 29, had just joined the independent Camden Riversharks after being released by the Red Sox. He has seen limited MLB action in four seasons, and sports a .179/.230/.285 line in only 193 plate appearances.
  • The MLBTR DFA Tracker shows two players in DFA limbo: Daniel McCutchen (Rangers) and Sam Fuld (Athletics).




NL Notes: Johnson, Cubs, Bradley

ESPN.com's Jim Bowden took a look back (Insider link) at his free agent predictions to see where he hit and missed. Most of his accurate guesses came on players who signed early, while the opposite holds true of those that he was off on. By far the biggest difference among actual and estimated deals came with Ervin Santana, who Bowden had tabbed for a five-year, $75MM deal but ultimately signed for a lower AAV and just one season.

As we join the rest of the game in celebrating the legacy of Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, here's more from the National League:

  • Padres starter Josh Johnson, who is struggling to overcome a right forearm strain, will visit Dr. James Andrews for an assessment, reports MLB.com's Corey Brock. According to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the team is increasingly concerned that Johnson may require his second Tommy John surgery. GM Josh Byrnes said that, at this point, he is "not sure" if Johnson will be able to throw for the club this year, but that the team hopes to "know more next week." Johnson's one-year, $8MM deal with San Diego includes a conditional $4MM club option for next year that is triggered if the righty makes less than seven starts.
  • With a farm system full of top-end talent in the field, the Cubs are focused on adding to a group of arms that may be too lightly regarded, writes Gordon Wittenmyer for Baseball America"Our arms are probably a little bit underrated," said president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "That said, we need at least twice as many of them as we have now. But I think we’ve done a nice job through the last couple drafts and, especially, through some trades adding to that reserve." But that does not mean that Epstein is content with the talent he has brought together. "We need to keep pounding it," he said. "Every trade we make, we try to get an arm. Every time we have a draft pick, we look closely at the best available arm who we can add to the organization."
  • Meanwhile, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said today that the team is focused on upgrading Wrigley Field rather than taking a shot at a suburban ballpark, even if that might be more financially advantageous, the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com). He also said that the club was focusing on the overall development of its international prospects, not just teaching basic English but working to address broader educational needs.
  • Addressing the recent comments by the agent of top pitching prospect Archie BradleyDiamondbacks GM Kevin Towers made clear that he had no intentions of being influenced, as MLB.com's Steve Gilbert reports (Twitter links). "We're going to run our business and not let anybody else dictate how we do our business," said Towers. "I'm a straight shooter, too," he added. "If we felt at the start of the season that this guy was ready he would have been here."




Ryan Zimmerman To Miss Four to Six Weeks

TUESDAY: Zimmerman will not need surgery, which is good news for the long term but does not shorten his timetable to return, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter

SATURDAY: Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has fractured his right thumb and will miss four to six weeks, Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com tweets. Zimmerman left tonight's matchup with the Braves early after injuring the thumb.

The development is a significant blow for the Nationals. Zimmerman was one of the majors' top hitters in the early going, posting a Herculean .355/.382/.613 line in nine games.

Fortunately, the Nats have several talented infielders on hand who should be able to help carry the team in Zimmerman's absence. Anthony Rendon appears likely to shift from second to third, his natural position, as a replacement, while Danny Espinosa could be adequate as a temporary solution at the keystone. Espinosa struggled mightily in 2013, but he's off to a hot start for the Nats this season, triple-slashing .294/.368/.471.

Looking further ahead, the injury may have implications for the third baseman's ability to stay healthy long-term. Zimmerman has managed 145 and 147 games in the previous two seasons, but he's locked into a deal through 2019 and has missed significant time in the past. Zimmerman's shoulder was described as "arthritic," then "degenerative" by manager Matt Williams in recent interviews, and despite 2012 surgery, completing the long throws across the diamond has been a struggle at times. Moving Zimmerman to first base to try and insulate him from nagging injuries could be one solution, but Adam LaRoche occupies that position for the Nationals at present.





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