Quick Hits: Cuba, Tomas, McCutchen

MLBPA president Tony Clark is open to seeing Cuba host spring training games, writes Tom Withers of the Denver Post. Details could not be arranged in time for this season. Cuba was once the home of the Reds‘ Triple-A affiliate, the Havana Sugar Kings. Clark says the players understand the role baseball could play in the healing process between the United States and Cuba.

  • The Diamondbacks will have Yasmany Tomas split time between third base and the outfield this spring, writes Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The club is still expressing optimism about his ability to handle third base, although manager Chip Hale acknowledged it’s a work in progress. Instead, the move is designed to maximize Tomas’ time against competitive pitching. Said Hale, “we’ve told Tomas that if there’s a day when he is not going to play third, we’re going to put him in the outfield just to get at-bats.
  • The Pirates should consider another contract extension for Andrew McCutchen, but it’s not a slam dunk, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. McCutchen is under contract for another four seasons through age 31. Sawchik compares McCutchen to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. He was also four years from free agency when he signed a nine-figure extension to remain with the Rays through the 2022 season. A similar extension for McCutchen is liable to run about $22MM to $25MM per season. As a small market club, it’s reasonable to wonder if the Pirates should pay premium dollars for post-prime seasons.

East Notes: Hart, Hardy, Belisario

John Hart had to be persuaded to take over the Braves GM job, but team president John Schuerholz is excited about the work Hart and likely successor John Coppolella have done so far, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes. “The combination of John Hart and John Coppolella has been dynamic, absolutely dynamic,” says Schuerholz. “The work those two have done, in tandem, has been sensational.” This offseason, Hart and Coppolella have traded Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis in an attempt to add young talent. The timing was right for the Braves to re-tool, Hart says. “The Nationals are in their perfect window right now. The Marlins are getting better. If you’re going to take, if you will, sort of a regroup year, this would be a good one.

  • When J.J. Hardy traded power to remain in the everyday lineup last season, he may have hurt his earning potential. Hardy is unsure if he would have re-signed with the Orioles had he not dealt with a painful back injury last season, writes Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun. Baltimore inked Hardy to a three-year, $40MM extension during the playoffs last year. Hardy was aware of the trials suffered by Stephen Drew and former teammate Nelson Cruz in the previous offseason. Qualifying offers to both players left clubs wary about signing them. Hardy opted to forgo the experience entirely, although he also says he’s happy in Baltimore.
  • Rays non-roster invitee Ronald Belisario injured himself climbing out of a pool earlier in the winter, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The reliever fractured his non-throwing shoulder prior to signing with the Rays a month ago. He didn’t have the injury checked out until he reported to camp. Belisario is on a split contract that would pay $1.5MM if he makes the team. Since he won’t be on the field for at least two weeks, his chances of breaking camp with the team look small. This injury probably explains why his deal with the Blue Jays fell through.

Glenn Flesig On Tommy John Incidence

Injury expert Glenn Flesig discussed the latest Tommy John surgery epidemic at the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, writes Matthew Leach of MLB.com. Flesig, who holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering, is the partner of Dr. James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI). The institute aims to “improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries through research and education.

Flesig presented data on both professional and youth pitchers. At the professional level, 16% of pitchers have had Tommy  John surgery. Flesig found that once pitchers have recovered from the procedure, “they have the typical flexibility and typical mechanics. So they’re back to normal.” Of course, lost time and the potential for complications means that it’s best to avoid the issue in the first place.

Of course, UCL replacement can often impact free agency and the trade market. The increased incidence of the injury last season had some teams reaching for outside help. The Braves were able to call upon Ervin Santana on a one-year deal when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both required a second procedure. Atlanta forfeited a draft pick when they signed Santana. We saw both Medlen and Beachy sign short-term, incentive-laden contracts this winter.

Since the recovery rate is so high, teams are willing to project a return to normality for prospects. Last June, the Blue Jays drafted Jeff Hoffman ninth overall. The Nationals took Erik Fedde with the 18th pick. Both pitchers had Tommy John surgery shortly before the draft.

A study of youth pitchers could reveal the way to decrease the incidence of elbow injury. Flesig offered a few convincing correlations. Youth pitchers who threw over 80 pitches in a game were four times more likely to require surgery. Those who pitched for more than eight months a year were five times more likely.

Pitching when fatigued was the biggest risk indicator. Youth who self-identified as having “often pitched” when fatigued were 36 times more likely to go under the knife. For the parents in the audience, don’t let your kid pitch too often or when fatigued.

 


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Phillies Notes: Rollins, Herrera, Oliver, Aumont

Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins viewed the Dodgers as his number one choice for a new club, writes Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. But if a deal hadn’t been reached, Rollins would have considered a trade to the division rival Mets. Rollins said, “I considered the Mets to be No. 2. They have some arms over there.” Rollins clarified that he’s unsure if he would have ultimately accepted a trade to New York. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York tweets that the Mets inquired about Rollins in November but were told he would not accept a trade.

  • The Phillies are working quickly to evaluate Rule 5 picks Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Herrera will start in the outfield and Oliver will pitch an inning of relief as the Phillies take on the University of Tampa in an exhibition Sunday. Neither Herrera, who posted good on-base percentages in the Rangers system, nor Oliver, a hard-throwing but wild lefty from the Pirates organization, expected to wind up with the Phillies. “This is a good opportunity for me,” says Oliver. “I feel like I’m in a better place than where I came from.”
  • In addition to Oliver, Phillippe Aumont and non-roster invitee Jeanmar Gomez could make the opening day bullpen due to transactional reasons, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. The Phillies acquired Aumont in 2009 as part of the haul from the Mariners for Cliff Lee. He’s the lone remaining asset from that trade and is out of options. If he does not make the club, he’ll be subject to waivers. Gomez, 27, would have to earn a spot on the 40-man roster, but the club isn’t in a position to pass on viable major league pitchers. He has a 3.28 ERA in 78 appearances over the last two seasons, although his peripherals suggest we should expect something closer to a 4.00 ERA.

Blue Jays Sign Dayan Viciedo

The Blue Jays have signed outfielder Dayan Viciedo, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). It is a minor league deal per Rosenthal (also Twitter). Viciedo, a career .254/.298/.424 hitter, was released by the White Sox earlier this winter. Chicago is still on the hook for 30 days termination pay on the $4.4MM owed him via arbitration. Rosenthal confirms that payment is separate from the Blue Jays’ agreement.

With trade acquisition Michael Saunders expected to miss five to six weeks, Viciedo could help to provide outfield depth. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca tweets that the Jays will look to use Viciedo at left field, third base, and first base. He has limited major league experience at either infield position.

Viciedo is known for his power. He’s twice hit at least 20 home runs, and he’s reached that figure twice in the minors too. He’s best against southpaw pitchers with a career .291/.331/.507 line. Advanced metrics and scouting reports dislike his defensive skills, making him a better fit as a platoon designated hitter. If he makes the roster, Toronto can control Viciedo through the 2017 season.


Scherzer On Signing With The Nationals

Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer bet on himself when he rejected the Tigers $144MM extension offer last spring, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The ace discussed the Tigers’ offer, the resultant insurance policy he took out, and his current contract with Rosenthal. Below are the specifics from that article, although it also contains a number of great quotes from Scherzer not included here.

Of interest, Scherzer’s insurance policy would have paid $40MM if an injury forced him to take an offer below the $144MM offered by Detroit. The policy cost $750K and covered every type of injury including elbow and shoulder ailments. Said Scherzer, “once you took the injury-risk factor out of it, and you can just go play baseball and not have to worry about anything . . . I was set.

Ultimately, Scherzer did not need to call upon the policy. He inked a seven-year, $210MM deal with the Nationals in January. Half of the total is deferred until 2022-2028 and will be paid in $15MM yearly installments. The players’ union values the contract at $191.4MM due to the deferrals.

The structure of the deal is actually beneficial to both Scherzer and the Nationals. The signing bonus and deferrals won’t be subject to state income taxes. Washington D.C. doesn’t have an income tax for non-residents. Scherzer has set up residency in Florida, which also does not have an income tax. The deferrals will be paid to him there.

As you might expect, Scherzer wasn’t hoodwinked when taking the deferred money. Nor was another club pushed out of the bidding by the Nationals. “I know finance. I know deferral money. I get all that. But this was the best offer. If another team wanted to make a better offer without a deferment, we never received it. This was the best offer.

In my view, Scherzer’s use of insurance could have implications for other players. Earlier today, we learned about the confidence Andrew McCutchen received from his team friendly contract extension. It’s intuitive, a player who doesn’t have to worry about his financial future can focus on playing his best. Insurance could offer an alternative to an early career contract extension for some athletes – especially those who want to test free agency at the earliest opportunity.


AL Notes: Rodon, Hamilton, Zito

Top 2014 White Sox draft pick Carlos Rodon could receive more attention in Spring Training with ace Chris Sale out with an avulsion fracture, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Chris Beck, Scott Carroll, Brad Penny and Francellis Montas could also get extra looks. GM Rick Hahn emphasizes, however, that the timing of Rodon’s eventual promotion to the big leagues will be dictated by how ready he is, not by a vacancy in the rotation. After racing through the minor leagues and getting all the way to Triple-A after signing last year, Rodon appears close to being ready, although he only has a total of nine minor-league outings under his belt. Here’s more from the American League.

  • The terms of Josh Hamilton‘s likely suspension following his relapse are, clearly, secondary to the relapse itself, and what’s most important is Hamilton’s recovery. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez notes, though, that the impending suspension could have implications for the Angels‘ payroll. The team will save about $126K for every day Hamilton is suspended. They’ll also save the prorated portion of the Hamilton contract’s $25MM average annual value against the luxury tax threshold. It’s probably too late for them to use any of that money on free agents, but Gonzalez notes that they could spend it on players they add in-season. Gonzalez also writes that Hamilton’s suspension would begin at the start of the season, when he could still be rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
  • Barry Zito will appear in his first game action since 2013 when he faces the Cubs in Cactus League action on Thursday, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes. Zito is in camp on a minor-league deal with the Athletics after taking a year off following the Giants’ decision to decline his 2014 option. “I have a fresh perspective,” he says. “I’ve got my passion back, and I just want to continue to work hard and go out and enjoy competing. I guess you could say I’m competing against all these guys, but for me, it’s more about competing against myself.”

Quick Hits: Japanese Signees, Phillies, McCutchen

This season will mark the first since 1995 that features no new players from Japan, MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby notices. Heading into the offseason, Hiroshima Carp pitcher Kenta Maeda looked like the most likely to make the leap to the Majors, but the Carp decided not to post him. Then infielder Takashi Toritani, who also looked like a candidate to cross the Pacific, re-signed with Hanshin. For the last decade, Japanese players have arrived at a rate of about three per season, with Masahiro Tanaka and Tsuyoshi Wada (who actually signed with the Orioles prior to the 2012 season) making their debuts last year. Here’s more from around the league.

  • Phillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon top the list of players who could be dealt before Opening Day, MLB.com’s Jim Duquette writes. Lee will need to prove he’s healthy after missing time due to an elbow injury last season. Last week, he faced hitters for the first time since July. Duquette lists the Dodgers, Marlins and Blue Jays as possibilities for Papelbon. The reliever has a limited no-trade clause, but last week he expressed interest in pitching for the Blue Jays.
  • Andrew McCutchen‘s current $51.5MM contract with the Pirates, which tops out at a mere $14MM per season before the Bucs get a $14.5MM team option in 2018, is one of the most team-friendly in the game. But that doesn’t mean it’s turned out badly for McCutchen, GM Neal Huntington tells MLB.com’s Tom Singer. “It has worked out well for him. He is a very wealthy young man,” says Huntington. “He has been open about saying that the financial comfort and security freed him up to just go play. He didn’t have to worry about the risk of injury, or the risk of not performing. The contract has been a part of why he became such a great player.” Huntington goes on to point out that teams assume risks when they sign players to long-term deals, and even if a contract results in a player being underpaid, as is the case with McCutchen, he’s free to sign a bigger deal once his contract is over.

Minor Moves: Jesus Pirela

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league.

  • The Rangers have signed righty Jesus Pirela, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy writes. The 25-year-old Pirela spent five seasons in the Phillies organization, then ultimately wound up pitching for Veracruz last season and becoming one of the best relievers in the Mexican League, posting a 1.51 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 over 53 2/3 innings. Eddy notes that the Rangers scouted him in the Mexican Pacific Winter League this offseason.

Central Notes: Sale, Cubs, Floyd

The White Sox have announced that star pitcher Chris Sale has suffered an avulsion fracture in his right foot, sustained Friday in an accident at his home. (GM Rick Hahn says Sale sustained the injury while unloading his truck, according to CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes on Twitter.) Sale is expected to be out three weeks. That means he should return to pitching before the start of the season, although it remains to be seen how the timing of the injury will affect his preparations. The White Sox say they’ll evaluate whether Sale will be ready for Opening Day once he undergoes more tests. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Most of the Cubs‘ top picks from their 2010 draft haven’t panned out, but the team could still get good value from several of their later-round picks, including Matt Szczur, Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch, the Associated Press writes. “I was the first one out of the draft class to be called up, and everyone seemed to follow after that,” says Beeler. “I felt like I got the ball rolling for everybody on that. That was a good feeling.” Beeler and Jokisch got good results in their first exposure to the big leagues last season, although neither are likely to make the team out of Spring Training after the Cubs added pitching talent this offseason.
  • Pitcher Gavin Floyd says he signed with the Indians in part because he felt manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway could help him, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Also, Floyd liked the Indians’ chances of winning and welcomed a return to the AL Central, with which he became familiar as a member of the White Sox from 2007-2013. Floyd has also been limited the past two years due to arm injuries, and the Indians have a fairly good track record of getting the most from bounce-back pitchers like Scott Kazmir and Carl Pavano. After missing much of the 2014 season with a broken bone in his elbow, Floyd has been pitching off a mound in Spring Training.

AL East Notes: Moncada, Beckham, Duquette

The $31.5MM bonus the Red Sox will reportedly pay Yoan Moncada has generated a variety of reactions from players around the league, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe writes. Moncada’s bonus is well beyond what most other 19-year-old prospects might be able to make, since he was able to negotiate with all 30 teams. “It’s not right that a Cuban 19-year-old gets paid [$31.5 million] and the best 19-year-old in the entire USA gets probably 1/6 of that,” wrote Rays pitcher Drew Smyly. “Everyone should have to go through the same process.” An international draft would help standardize the system by which amateurs sign with teams, and new commissioner Rob Manfred seems to favor discussing it in the next round of CBA negotiations. Abraham polls Red Sox players about an international draft, leading to a large range of answers. Here’s Jackie Bradley Jr.’s: “I would have loved to be a free agent in college and made the best deal I could. Maybe I should have moved out of the country. If everybody was a free agent, you’d get what your real value is.” Here are more notes from the AL East.

  • More than six years after being selected first overall in the 2008 draft, shortstop Tim Beckham is competing for a big-league job in Rays camp for the first time, Marc Topkin writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). With Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar now gone, the Rays now have more space in their middle infield. Asdrubal Cabrera will take one of the middle infield starting jobs, but Topkin suggests Beckham could be a reserve infielder or even a starter, particularly if the team decides it would be best if Cabrera played second base. Beckham, now 25, moved slowly through the minors and finally made his big-league debut in 2013 before missing most of last season due to a knee injury.
  • The Blue Jays‘ pursuit of executive Dan Duquette was serious, but Duquette is back to work with the Orioles, writes MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom. Duquette confirms that he could not leave the Orioles for Toronto because the two teams could not agree on a compensation package for him. This offseason, the Orioles made few big moves of their own and lost Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Nick Markakis, although Duquette points out that the O’s should benefit from full seasons from Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.

Team Payroll Restrictions Could Be Issue In Next Round Of CBA Talks

Team spending restrictions could be an issue in negotiations for MLB’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Specifically, the debt structure of the Ricketts family’s heavily financed purchase of the Cubs in 2009 required the team to tie baseball spending to revenues, limiting its ability to spend. Other clubs face similar restrictions.

Cubs aside, larger picture, any time there are contractual obligations or language that affect the way a team functions, against the backdrop of the decisions that they are going to be making, against whatever restrictions are in place, we enter that equation,” says MLBPA head Tony Clark. “Rest assured, we’re interested enough to be involved in the conversation.”

MLB’s current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Wittenmyer suggests that the union’s main issue with team banking restrictions is that teams might use them as excuses not to spend.

The Cubs have operated with dramatically limited payrolls in recent years, with their Opening Day payroll falling from a high of about $144MM in 2010 to about $93MM last season (via Cot’s Contracts). Obviously, the team’s splashier 2014-15 offseason, highlighted by their signing of Jon Lester, will produce a higher payroll in 2015 (and Wittenmyer notes that the team did hold over money budgeted for 2014 to spend this winter). But team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has emphasized that the team’s lower recent payrolls were not purely a function of the fact that the team had been rebuilding.

We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team,” Epstein said in 2013 (via David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com), when the Cubs had an Opening Day payroll about about $107MM. “We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year.”


Week In Review: 2/21/15 – 2/28/15

Here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.

Key Move

Signed / Agreed To Terms

Extensions

  • Red Sox - extended manager John Farrell through 2017, with a club option for 2018

Arbitration

Options

Claimed

Retired

Key Minor League Signings


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Looking At Landing Spots For Rafael Soriano

The last man standing on Tim Dierkes’s Top Fifty Free Agent list is reliever Rafael Soriano. I predicted that he would land two years and $12MM before the offseason started, though I noted that there was a downside scenario where he could earn less. (Check that link for a full write-up of Soriano’s free agent case.)

With pitchers and catchers already reporting around the game, it is even more difficult now to peg the contract — all the more so with a report that some scouts felt his stuff went downhill late last year. The similarly-situated Rodriguez just got $13MM over two years, so there’s still some money to be spent. But that came from the Brewers, perhaps the last team that was intent on making an investment in the back of the bullpen.

We haven’t heard much on Soriano’s market all offseason, and even more recent reports have focused on him as a possible backup option to Rodriguez. While there are strong arguments against all the teams listed below, they seem at least the most hypothetically plausible.

Blue Jays – The front office has heavily downplayed the possibility of a big league deal with a reliever, but the closer role remains open and the club has at least considered going after Soriano.

DodgersKenley Jansen is out for a while and the overall relief corps is not that exciting, but the team just signed Dustin McGowan and preliminary reports of possible interest in Soriano have been contested.

Marlins – They are said not to be likely suitors, but did reportedly make a multi-year offer to K-Rod so obviously have some free cash that could be put into the pen.

OriolesZach Britton is left-handed and only has half a year of success in the ninth; Dan Duquette has shown a predilection for jumping on late-market deals.

Rangers – After burning through an unbelievable number of arms last year, Texas is leaning on a relatively recent TJ patient in Neftali Feliz — to say nothing of the less-established arms in camp.

Rockies – With John Axford already joining the fold on a minor league deal as a supplement to LaTroy Hawkins, it doesn’t seem likely, but Colorado could look to make a minor splash if the price is right.

Tigers – Detroit may make eminent sense or none at all, depending on one’s perspective; I find it unlikely but not unimaginable after the signing of Joba Chamberlain.

TwinsGlen Perkins could use some back-up after late-2014 elbow issues, and even if he’s healthy he anchors an otherwise uninspiring unit.

Other – There are other major league teams, as you may know, and all are free to sign Soriano. With plenty of earnings already in his pocket, might Soriano wait for an injury need to open the door to a more significant role?

We may as well take a poll while we’re at it. Which of the above seems most plausible to you?


Minor Moves: Hill, Gillies, Sale, Tigers, Dbacks, Dodgers

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league:

  • Veteran southpaw Rich Hill has agreed to a minor league deal with the Nationals, the club announced. Hill, who has appeared in parts of ten MLB seasons, will receive an invite to big league camp. Soon to turn 35, Hill has long been effective against lefties but rather susceptible to opposite-handed bats, with good strikeout numbers in recent years offset by a hefty accumulation of free passes.
  • Former top Phillies prospect Tyson Gillies has signed a minor league deal with the Padres, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets. Philadelphia released Gillies over the summer while he was in the midst of a tough .214/.270/.289 run at Triple-A. Now 26, the center fielder was a part of the 2009 deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners.
  • The Rays have released former first-round pick Josh Sale, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweets. The outfielder hit .238/.313/.344 in 361 plate appearances for Class A+ Charlotte in 2014 before being suspended in August for drug use. He also received a 50-game suspension for drug use in 2012 and was suspended by the Rays in 2013 following an incident at a strip club.
  • The Tigers have signed righties Ryan Perry and Ross Seaton and first baseman Bobby Borchering to minor-league deals, Eddy tweets. Detroit drafted Perry, 28, in the first round in 2008, and he pitched for three seasons in their bullpen from 2009-2011. He also appeared with the Nationals in 2012 before struggling in Washington’s minor-league system in 2013 and 2014. The 25-year-old Seaton was a third-round pick of the Astros in 2008. He got through the lower levels of Houston’s system fairly quickly despite low strikeout rates, but struggled to establish himself in the Astros’ Triple-A rotation. Borchering, 24, was the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft, and he headed from the Diamondbacks to the Astros in 2012 in the trade that sent Chris Johnson to the desert. He struggled that year at the Double-A level and hasn’t yet made it back yet, hitting .238/.324/.333 in 71 plate appearances at Class A+ Lancaster last season.
  • The Diamondbacks have signed lefties Erick Threets and Trevor Reckling, Eddy tweets. Threets, 33, appeared in parts of three seasons with the Giants and White Sox from 2007 through 2010. He pitched in Mexico last season and last appeared in affiliated ball when he posted a 2.79 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in a 2012 season spent in Triple-A with the Athletics and Dodgers organizations. Reckling, a former Angels draftee, pitched in independent ball in 2013 and did not pitch in 2014.
  • The Dodgers have signed outfielder Travis Witherspoon, Eddy tweets. The athletic Witherspoon was once on the 40-man rosters of the Angels and Mariners. The 25-year-old hit .252/.338/.448 in the friendly hitting environment of Class A+ High Desert in 2014, mostly playing center field.