Latest On Yoan Moncada

The international market provides opportunities to make (mostly) open-market purchases of the rights to the types of players who rarely can be acquired in that manner. Recent years have brought early-prime starters (Masahiro Tanaka, Hyun-jin Ryu), still-youthful sluggers (Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes), and high-upside talents (Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler). Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada certainly fits into that last category, rating as the type of player who would be chosen at or near the top of an amateur draft. In that regard, his ultimate payday (bonus plus ~100% penalty) will provide some fascinating insight into team valuations. But, of course, we are still waiting for the United States Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to establish Moncada’s eligibility to sign. Here’s the latest:

  • The precise hold-up in Moncada’s seemingly overdue OFAC application is not clear, writes Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs. Moncada’s agent indicated that he has not heard from OFAC since President Obama announced changes in the US diplomatic stance toward Cuba, seemingly indicating that higher-level activity is playing a role in Moncada’s situation. As McDaniel explains, MLB is working with the government to determine how to apply new unblocking policies. For what it’s worth, as MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez notes on Twitter, a similar policy appears to have been in place several years back, when Cespedes was preparing to enter the market.
  • One entirely hypothetical reason for the delay with regard to Moncada, apart from the broader diplomatic considerations, is the fact that he was allowed to leave the island legally. Per McDaniel, concern that money could flow from Moncada back to the Cuban government is a possible, but by no means substantiated, factor distinguishing his situation.
  • Of note, fellow top young middle infielder Andy Ibanez is also rumored to have left the island with the blessing of the government. There are rumblings that he could be unblocked soon, however, McDaniel notes.
  • As for another largely-uncertain bit of information, McDaniel adds that the latest chatter has Moncada going for about a $80MM total investment (based on a $40MM bonus).
  • Moncada worked out for the Dodgers this morning, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. Los Angeles has given public indication of its interest, and if impressed with its private look will certainly have to be counted among the most capable suitors.

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Monday

Here are the players who have avoided arbitration today:

  • The Rockies have agreed to terms with righty Adam Ottavino, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports on Twitter. He receives $1.3MM, per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). MLBTR/Matt Swartz projected an even $1MM payday for the 29-year-old, first-time-eligible reliever. The club filed at the projected value, while Ottavino countered at $1.425MM, as MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows. Ottavino has both posted solid results and even better peripherals over the past three seasons, with good strikeout and groundball numbers seemingly making him a nice fit at Coors Field.

Mariners Re-Sign Endy Chavez

TODAY: The deal is official. Chavez will earn $750K if he makes the big league roster and also can achieve $450K in plate appearance bonuses, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter.

YESTERDAY: The Mariners have re-signed outfielder Endy Chavez to a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invitation, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Previous reports had indicated that a reunion between Chavez and the Mariners was likely. Chavez is represented by the Legacy Agency.

Chavez, who turns 37 early next month, collected 258 plate appearances with the Mariners in 2014, hitting .276/.317/.371 while playing all three outfield positions. The 13-year veteran also appeared with Seattle in 2009 and 2013.



Minor Moves: Franklin Gutierrez

We’ll keep tabs on the day’s minor moves here:

  • The Mariners have brought back outfielder Franklin Gutierrez on a minor league pact, the club announced. He will receive an invite to major league camp. Gutierrez inked a big league deal with the Mariners last offseason but was placed on the restricted list when he informed the club that he would sit out the season due to gastrointestinal issues. In his most recent action, back in 2013, Gutierrez slashed .248/.273/.503 and hit ten home runs over just 141 plate appearances.

Blue Jays Announce One-Year Extension Of President/CEO Paul Beeston

The Blue Jays have officially announced that long-time president and CEO Paul Beeston has agreed to an extension that will keep him in his role for 2015.

Reports had suggested that the team was searching for a new top executive. Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette was at the center of attention in that process until talks with Baltimore reportedly came to a halt yesterday.

Beeston has a lengthy history with the Blue Jays, including two stints as president and CEO. His most recent term began in 2009, running to nearly the same starting point as GM Alex Anthopoulos.

The club’s press release (via Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, on Twitter) says that Beeston’s “successor will start when he retires.” It also notes that the organization will not comment on the “succession process or timing.”


Braves Sign John Buck To Minor League Deal

The Braves have inked veteran backstop John Buck to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp this spring, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Buck is expected to open the year at Triple-A, Bowman adds.

Atlanta now appears to be set with veteran options behind the dish to supplement youngster Christian Bethancourt. The club already brought in A.J. Pierzynski, and will now slot Buck in behind that major league duo.

Buck 34, has seen action in parts of eleven big league seasons. Over 4,009 total plate appearances, he owns a .234/.301/.398 slash with 134 home runs. He spent last year with the Mariners and Angels, receiving just 97 big league turns at bat and putting up a meager .570 OPS, though he did hit well in his time at Triple-A. Despite poor framing ratings, Buck has been valued as a good defensive catcher in the recent past. But Seattle reportedly let him go last year in part due to concerns with his abilities behind the dish.

Given Buck’s high standing as a good clubhouse presence, the Braves will surely hope for the best on the field and look to benefit from his presence with their top minor league affiliate.


Padres Sign Ramiro Pena To Minor League Deal

The Padres announced their list of non-roster invitees today, and among several previously reported names (e.g. Brett Wallace, Scott Elbert, Jose Valverde, Jason Lane and Marcos Mateo) was the news that the team had signed Ramiro Pena to a minor league deal and invited him to Spring Training.

Pena, 29, has spent the past two seasons with the Braves, batting a combined .258/.315/.385 over the course of 272 plate appearances, although his 2013 numbers were considerably better than his 2014 numbers. Pena, who has also spent parts of four seasons with the Yankees, is experienced at second base, third base and shortstop, having totaled at least 339 big league innings at each of the positions. Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating feel that his best positions are third base and shortstop, where he’s well above-average and average, respectively, though the sample size of his work at all three positions is too small to represent a truly accurate level of his defensive capabilities.

The Padres have a good deal of uncertainty around the infield, and Pena should provide them insurance. Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte will compete at third base, though Middlebrooks will need to prove that he is healthy an can cut down on his strikeouts to cement himself as a regular. Jedd Gyorko figures to man second base, but he’s coming off a dreadful season in which he slumped to a .210/.280/.333 batting line just one season after looking like a Rookie of the Year candidate. At shortstop, Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes are the top in-house options, and neither brings much upside at the plate, though Barmes is an excellent defender.

The Padres also announced that catcher Griff Erickson and right-hander Jay Jackson have been signed to minor league deals and invited to camp. Jackson, a former top prospect with the Cubs, struggled to a 4.93 ERA in 111 innings with the Triple-A affiliates for the Pirates and Brewers in 2014. The 27-year-old struck out 115 batters against 52 walks last year. Erickson, meanwhile, has spent his whole career with the Dodgers and batted an impressive .297/.384/.510 in his first extended taste of Triple-A action last season (60 games), though the standard disclaimer about the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should be applied to those statistics.


Orioles Avoid Arbitration With Bud Norris

Th Orioles have avoided arbitration with right-hander Bud Norris by agreeing to a one-year deal that is worth $8.8MM, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links). Norris, who is represented by Joel Wolfe of the Wasserman Media Group, settled slightly below the $8.875MM midpoint between his asking price of $10.25MM and the team’s counter of $7.5MM, as can be seen in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. His final figure is just $100K off from the projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who pegged Norris at $8.7MM.

Norris’ contract, according to Connolly, also calls for him to receive a $25K bonus for reaching 180 innings pitched and another $50K for reaching 200 innings. He can also receive a $50K bonus for making the All-Star team and a $50K bonus for winning a Gold Glove award. The innings incentives could be problematic for Norris to reach, as he’s topped 180 frames just once in his career (186 in 2011) and has never reached the 200 milestone.

This marks the final trip through the arbitration process for the 29-year-old Norris, who will be eligible for free agency next winter as he heads into his age-31 season (Norris turns 30 in March). The 2014 campaign marked Norris’ first full season with Baltimore and it proved to be the best of his career in terms of ERA, as he worked to a 3.65 mark with 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 42.2 percent ground-ball rate in 165 1/3 innings. The Orioles initially acquired Norris and an international bonus slot from the Astros at the 2013 trade deadline in exchange for left-hander Josh Hader, outfielder L.J. Hoes and a Competitive Balance (Round A) draft pick.


Orioles Sign Chris Parmelee, Dane De La Rosa

The Orioles announced today that they have signed first baseman/outfielder Chris Parmelee and righties Dane De La Rosa and Steve Johnson to minor league deals with invites to Spring Training.

Parmelee, who turns 27 next month, has the most service time of the three at two years, 58 days. The former first-round pick has built up an impressive track record at the Triple-A level, slashing .295/.395/.530 in 615 plate appearances, but he’s never hit much in the Majors outside of a September call-up with the Twins in 2011. Parmelee was a force that year, slashing .355/.443/.592 with four homers in 88 plate appearances in his big league debut. While that performance was clearly unsustainable, the Twins likely hoped for better than the .238/.304/.371 batting line that Parmelee compiled in 813 plate appearances over the three subsequent seasons. Presumably, he’ll compete for playing time in the outfield and at first base, although his outfield defense leaves quite a bit to be desired.

De La Rosa, who will be 32 next week, underwent knee surgery late in the season but was expected to be ready to go come Spring Training. Though he pitched just 2 1/3 big league innings in 2014, he was a vital cog in the 2013 Angels bullpen, appearing in a hefty 75 games and logging 72 1/3 total innings of 2.86 ERA ball with 8.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 51.3 percent ground-ball rate.


Reds Extend Devin Mesoraco

The Reds have locked up one of their core young pieces, agreeing to a four-year extension with catcher Devin Mesoraco the team has announced.  With three years and 28 days of Major League service, the 26-year-old backstop had been arbitration eligible for 2015 for the first time and had been under team control through 2017.  Mesoraco is a client of Jet Sports Management.

Devin Mesoraco

Mesoraco will receive a $28MM guarantee, MLBTR has learned. He receives a $500K signing bonus and will earn $2.4MM in 2015, $4.9MM in 2016, $7.2MM in 2017 and $13MM in 2018.  The contract also contains an additional $2MM worth of performance bonuses for a max of $30MM over the four-year term.

Mesoraco’s 2018 salary will jump by $400K each time he reaches 502 plate appearances from 2015-17, and he’ll earn $150K for each All-Star nomination, Gold Glove or Silver Slugger he picks up.  Mesoraco can also receive $200K for finishing in the top 5 of the MVP voting, $150K for finishing sixth through 10th, $100K for finishing 11th through 15th and $50K for finishing 16th through 20th.  While there are more than $2MM worth of incentives present in that breakdown, the contract places a $2MM cap on what he can earn.

A first-round pick by the Reds out of high school in ’07, Mesoraco broke out in a big way in 2014.  He hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 home runs in 440 plate appearances, making the All-Star team for the first time and earning a pair of down-ballot MVP votes.  Mesoraco led all catchers in home runs and slugging percentage, and ranked fifth in wins above replacement and on-base percentage.

The Reds cleared a path to more playing time for Mesoraco last offseason by flipping longtime backstop Ryan Hanigan to the Rays in a three-team deal that also netted them lefty David Holmberg from Arizona, and the move looks to have paid off handsomely for both team and player.  The four-year term on Mesoraco’s deal allows him to secure his first fortune by locking in a year of free agent money while still allowing him to hit the open market at the age of 30.

Mesoraco had exchanged arbitration figures with the Reds earlier this month.  The $3.025MM midpoint of those figures exceeded MLBTR’s projection of a $2.8MM salary for Mesoraco in 2015.

MLBTR was the first to report that the two sides were nearing a deal (via Twitter). C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer confirmed that there was an agreement (Twitter link), and Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith first reported the four-year term (on Twitter). MLBTR was the first to report the financial terms (on Twitter) and bonus structure of the contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


East Notes: Hoffman, Upton, Papelbon, De Aza, Yanks

The Orioles‘ reported asking price of right-hander Jeff Hoffman (and others) from the Blue Jays in exchange for executive vice president/GM Dan Duquette seemingly ended those negotiations, but Jeff Blair of Sportsnet reports that the Orioles weren’t the only club to try to acquire Hoffman from Toronto this winter. According to Blair, the Braves also asked the Blue Jays for Hoffman when the two sides discussed a trade involving Justin Upton. Toronto’s answer, Blair says, was an emphatic “no.” Coincidentally, the Braves wound up acquiring another high-upside, former first-round pitcher that’s recovering from Tommy John — Max Fried — as the centerpiece in their trade of Upton to San Diego. Meanwhile, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Blair that Hoffman, who was selected ninth overall in 2014 despite his surgery, is expected to get stretched back out in April, with an eye on activating him with a minor league club in May.

A few more notes pertaining to the game’s Eastern divisions before the northeast portion of the country is buried in snow…

  • The Phillies never presented the Brewers with a firm financial offer in their trade talks regarding Jonathan Papelbon, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Those talks appear to be largely dead at this point, and the Phillies may end up hanging on to Papelbon to begin the season, based on Rosenthal’s writings. He adds that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. isn’t under pressure from ownership to move Papelbon and will only trade him if the move is to the team’s benefit.
  • The acquisition of Alejandro De Aza last summer could end up being a key factor in the Orioles‘ 2015 season, as the former White Sox outfielder now looks to be a big piece of the roster, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. With Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis gone and no external replacements brought in, De Aza figures to be the team’s primary left fielder and leadoff hitter. Though that may seem an underwhelming option to some, Kubatko points out that De Aza’s career OBP mark (.330) would be a nice boost over last season’s team OBP of .311.
  • Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel takes a look at the Yankees‘ new glut of international prospects in his ranking of the team’s minor leaguers, with colleague Dave Cameron noting in an introduction that the team’s philosophical shift could pay off in spades a few years down the line. While the Yankees have always been known for spending significantly on free agency, they instead opted to go on a spending spree and blow past their allotted international bonus pool this year while exercising what some consider to be surprising restraint in terms of big league free agents.

International Notes: Olivera, Fernandez

Last week, Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera had a showcase at the Giants’ facility in the Dominican Republic that reportedly had over 200 scouts in attendance. Ben Badler of Baseball America has some takeaways from that showcase in latest piece; some highlights from Badler’s post and a bit more news on the international front…

  • Olivera was clocked at 6.7 to 6.8 seconds in his 60-yard dash and looked to be a steady defender when fielding grounders at second base. He also took grounders at third, but didn’t show off as much arm strength as he had in previous years. Olivera collected three hits in “seven or eight at-bats” against live pitching. While the overall report has a positive undertone, Badler does note that there is still some uncertainty among scouts due to the fact that Olivera missed all of the 2012-13 season with a blood disorder and then spent most of his time at DH upon returning in the 2013-14 season.
  • Four teams — the Padres, Giants, A’s and Braves — had the largest contingents at Olivera’s showcase, and all are expected to be in the mix to sign the 29-year-old. Padres GM A.J. Preller was on hand, in fact, and his team has been the most aggressive on Olivera, Badler writes, adding that San Diego may ultimately be his most likely landing place. It’s not known at this time when Olivera will be cleared by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, but Badler speculates that Olivera will be able to sign prior to Opening Day based on the fact that he left Cuba all the way back in September.
  • Kiley McDaniel joined Carson Cistulli on the Fangraphs’ podcast over the weekend, and the two spent the early portion of the episode discussing Cuban players. The biggest takeaway from the discussion was an update on highly touted Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez, whom McDaniel hears is now being heavily guarded by police in Cuba. Fernandez was thought to have left the island late in 2014 but was apparently detained in his attempt to do so.

Brewers Talking With Francisco Rodriguez

The Brewers are currently talking with right-hander Francisco Rodriguez about a reunion, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (on Twitter). Last week, the Brewers were said to be exploring pitching upgrades via free agency and trade, and over the weekend, owner Mark Attanasio told fans that he’d be surprised if the team didn’t make at least one more free agent signing this offseason.

That signing could very well be K-Rod, who over parts of the past four seasons has pitched to a 3.11 ERA with 9.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 57 saves in 193 2/3 innings for the Brewers. The market for K-Rod hasn’t exactly been robust this offseason, although he has been connected to multiple clubs over the past month. Those teams include the Blue Jays and Rockies, and there was a bit of speculation regarding the Nationals following the trade of Tyler Clippard and signing of Max Scherzer. It’s arguable that he’s the best closing option left on the market; other free agent pitchers with 20 or more saves in 2014 include Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen, while former closers such as John Axford and Brian Wilson have yet to sign this offseason as well.

The Brewers have also been linked to Soriano recently, and of course last week the team was said to be in serious trade discussions regarding Jonathan Papelbon. However, complications regarding the financial compensation required to due to Papelbon’s $13MM vesting option appear to have slowed, if not entirely halted those talks.


AL Notes: Rays, Gutierrez, Mariners, Butler, Royals

The Rays have dramatically improved their farm system since last summer, but they’ve had to do it by trading top talent, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. Steven Souza, who Baseball America deems the system’s best prospect, arrived in the Wil Myers trade, with No. 2 prospect Daniel Robertson joining the system via the Ben Zobrist deal and No. 3 prospect Willy Adames arriving in the David Price trade. The Rays have gotten little talent in the draft lately, so their best young players have come from elsewhere. Souza, Robertson and Adames aren’t the only key prospects in their system they’ve gotten in trades — there’s also Hak-Ju Lee (from the Matt Garza deal), Boog Powell (from the Zobrist trade), Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams (from the Jeremy Hellickson trade) and Jake Bauers and Burch Smith (from the Myers deal). “It was no secret that our minor league system didn’t have the talent that it has had in past years,” says Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. “A number of players have graduated from our system and are on our major league club or have been part of trades that we made, and that left somewhat of a void that we needed to fill during these transactions.” Here’s more from the American League.

  • The Mariners have already bolstered their outfield depth by adding Endy Chavez on a minor-league deal, and they also appear likely to add Franklin Gutierrez, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Gutierrez, who appeared in 41 games with Seattle in 2013, missed last season due to gastrointestinal issues. Mariners sources indicate that he would have to begin the year in Triple-A if he were to sign with the team.
  • Dutton also notes the Mariners appear likely to head to an arbitration hearing with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen has proposed a 2015 salary of $2.2MM, while the Mariners have countered at $1.4MM, and Dutton writes that the Mariners do not want to keep negotiating. After posting a 2.27 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 79 1/3 strong innings in 2014, Wilhelmsen is eligible for the arbitration for the first time.
  • Billy Butler signed a three-year deal with the Athletics earlier this offseason, but he wouldn’t mind returning to the Royals later in his career, Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star writes. “It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms,” Butler said. “I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there.” For now, though, Butler is happy to be with the A’s, who he says told him he was their top priority this offseason.

Central Notes: White Sox, Twins, Baez

Members of the White Sox are excited about GM Rick Hahn’s high-profile offseason, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com writes. “They were busy, worked hard and instilled confidence in the guys that were here,” says Adam Eaton. “It kind of credits (us) that ‘This is a good base, this is the time to stretch it.’” For a 73-89 team, the 2014 White Sox had a lot go right, including excellent performances from starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, along with an exceptional rookie season from Jose Abreu and good contributions from Eaton and Alexei Ramirez. Now they’ve added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke to that talent base. “You go from not expecting anything or not knowing what to expect to now you expect quite a bit and expect success,” says Eaton. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • The Twins believed they had completed two trades that ultimately fell through this offseason, as the players they wanted were traded to other teams, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN reports (Twitter links). Wolfson says he wondered if those trades might have involved Jeremy Hellickson (who went to the Diamondbacks) or J.A. Happ (who headed to the Mariners), but was told no in both cases.
  • New Cubs manager Joe Maddon traveled to Puerto Rico to see Javier Baez play winter ball, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat writes, citing a report from the Puerto Rican paper El Nuevo Dia. “He’s trying way too hard,” says Maddon. “I want him to back off. The last thing I want him to do is try to impress me tonight. … I said, ‘Hit a couple singles and, above all, I want to see you smile.’” The 22-year-old Baez’s underwhelming 2014 debut (.169/.227/.324 in 229 plate appearances) was understandable given his youth, although he’ll probably have to improve his strikeout rate before he can make an impact in the big leagues. He’ll compete for a spot in the Cubs’ infield in Spring Training.