Braves Could Make Baseball Operations Changes

It appears the Braves are considering an expanded role for senior advisor John Hart within their front office. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that the Braves could consider having Hart head their baseball operations department, while David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution clarifies that either Hart or John Schuerholz could have an expanded role in baseball operations, regardless of whether the Braves end up keeping or replacing current GM Frank Wren. Peter Gammons wrote earlier this week that the Braves could consider making Hart their president of baseball operations.

The Braves hired Hart in November for his current senior advisor role. Schuerholz is currently the team’s president. Both, of course, have distinguished track records as GMs. Hart presided over the Indians’ very successful run in the 1990s, and Schuerholz was his peer in Atlanta. (Hart also preceded Jon Daniels as the GM of the Rangers before serving as an advisor in Texas.)

The Braves have struggled down the stretch and are now 76-77, on the verge of missing a winning season for only the third time since 1990. They extended Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez in February, but there have since been indications of trouble within the organization. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported earlier this week that former minor league pitching coordinator took a position with the Orioles in part because of disagreements with the front office. Bowman also notes that it was Schuerholz, not Wren, who stepped in to stop pitching coach Roger McDowell from taking a job with the Phillies.


NL Notes: Cubs, Arrieta, Pirates, Revere

The Cubs top the list of teams who could improve substantially in 2015, Richard Justice of Sports On Earth writes. That was probably an easy call, given the amount of young talent the Cubs have on the verge of making an impact. Justice also lists the Mets (who are set to re-introduce Matt Harvey into a strong core of young pitching), Red Sox, Marlins and Astros as teams who could take big steps forward. Here’s more from the National League.

  • The Cubs haven’t had any formal extension discussions with emerging star Jake Arrieta, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Cubs president Theo Epstein says he doesn’t see extending Arrieta as “a pressing matter.” Arrieta, meanwhile, says he doesn’t want an exorbitant amount of money, but expresses confidence that he can continue posting excellent numbers. He’ll also be eligible for arbitration this offseason, so it’s no surprise that, as Wittenmyer notes, Arrieta is in “no rush” to sign a long-term deal.
  • The Pirates‘ 82nd victory in 2013 was an important moment, but on Thursday, the arrival of the Bucs’ second straight winning season felt unimportant, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “Eighty-two no longer should be celebrated at some point in early to mid Sept., it should be an expectation,” Sawchik writes, noting that the Pirates have a strong core of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker and Gregory Polanco (along with Josh Harrison) and one of baseball’s better collections of minor league talent.
  • The Phillies could have a revamped outfield next season, given that they could deal Marlon Byrd and/or give up on Domonic Brown. The team is also hoping for more from Ben Revere next season, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. Revere has hit .309 so far this season, but his minimal walks and power have led to an on-base percentage of .326 and a slugging percentage of .367. Manager Ryne Sandberg hopes Revere will hit for more power. “I think that should be the next thing for him is to hit 35 to 40 doubles in the season, hit in the gaps,” says Sandberg. “[T]here is no reason that shouldn’t translate into games and certain situations with certain pitches.” Revere has been in the big leagues for parts of five seasons and has shown little power-hitting ability, however.

West Notes: Athletics, Nicasio, Rangers

The Athletics recently changed Triple-A affiliations from nearby Sacramento to far-away Nashville, but there are benefits to the move despite the distance, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes. Sacramento is certainly more convenient to the Athletics for travel purposes, but the A’s lately haven’t promoted more players from Triple-A than other teams, and Nashville has a new ballpark opening next season. In the last decade, big-league teams have frequently picked minor-league affiliates that are relatively close by, but judging from this year’s affiliate changes so far, perhaps that’s changing. Here are more notes from the West divisions.

  • Rockies hurler Juan Nicasio will likely be a reliever next season, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. Nicasio has struggled as a starter this season, posting a 5.92 ERA with peripherals to match, but he’s had much more success out of the bullpen, with a significantly higher strikeout rate and many fewer walks. The righty has mostly been a starter in his big-league career, but he’s at little success while trying to survive at Coors Field, posting a 5.06 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in parts of four seasons.
  • The Rangers have won seven straight games, which is great for them, except that they’re doing all that winning with 12 players on the 60-day DL, the Dallas News’ Evan Grant writes. That means they’re winning thanks to contributions from less established players like Jake Smolinski, Adam Rosales and Phil Klein. With so many injured players who will have to be re-added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and with players like Smolinski making a case for future roles with the team, the Rangers have some tough decisions ahead of them.


Week In Review: 9/13/14 – 9/19/14

It wasn’t a particularly active week for transactions, but here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.

Claimed

Designated For Assignment

Outrighted

Released

Elected Free Agency


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Quick Hits: Reaction Time, Schafer, Morse, Iglesias

Several MLB clubs have dabbled with neurological training in a bid to improve their hitters’ pitch recognition, as Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Rays have already initiated programs, but more could be on the way. As Boston GM Ben Cherington explains, the purpose of taking this approach is to help young batters develop a stronger mental connection between seeing a pitch and deciding whether or not to swing. Quick reactions — physical and mental — are all the more important given rising fastball velocities around the league. One mark of that: at least 52 minor league hurlers have been clocked at or above 100 mph this year, according to the count of Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.

Here are a few notes of interest from around the league:

  • Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer has had an up and down time since becoming a professional, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Most recently, he was claimed by Minnesota over the summer after he failed to live up to a solid 2013 campaign with the Braves. The speedy 28-year-old has put up excellent numbers in his new home: a .298/.365/.386 slash with 15 stolen bases over 131 plate appearances. He will be eligible for arbitration for the second time after the year.
  • As the Giants welcome back Michael Morse from injury, other developments could limit his playing time over the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs to come, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. With Brandon Belt returning to the fold and Gregor Blanco having performed well in Morse’s stead, a regular spot may no longer be available. Though Morse rebounded from a mid-year swoon with a strong August, his defensive shortcomings have become more of an issue, according to Baggarly. Morse remains a difficult player to peg as a pending free agent: the 32-year-old has a productive .280/.338/.477 line with 16 home runs over 480 plate appearances, but defensive metrics paint a rough image of his contribution in the field.
  • The Reds are still contemplating whether Cuban free agent signee Raisel Iglesias will take the mound competitively over the winter in Puerto Rico, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Iglesias, a 24-year-old righty, has been working on strength and conditioning since inking a seven-year, $27MM deal with Cincinnati, and only just began long-tossing. He is under reserve with the Santurce Cangrejeros, and would throw for that club if he does play winter ball.

AL Notes: Hughes, Tomas, Lewis, Perkins, Leyva

Phil Hughes of the Twins has capped off one of the game’s best turnarounds by topping 200 innings on the year after today’s outing. As Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes on Twitter, Hughes picked up a $250K bonus after passing the 195 IP threshold. Needless to say, Minnesota is thrilled that it not only landed Hughes, who just turned 28, but that it did so on a three-year deal that promises him just $24MM in total. As Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register observes (Twitter link), Hughes has struck out 181 batters while issuing a mere 16 walks this year, meaning that he owns an absurd 11.3 K/BB ratio. That is a historically significant mark, and one that would surely have made the righty one of the offseason’s most interesting free agents had he elected to take a one-year pillow contract last year.

  • You can count the Yankees among the teams taking a hard look at Yasmani Tomas, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. Of course, they will be far from the only team doing so. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez provides an interesting look at the much-hyped young slugger, who is preparing for an important showcase on Sunday. “It was really difficult to leave Cuba,” said Tomas (translation from Spanish via Sanchez). “It is for all of us who do it. But it’s difficult there with the way the security is and how they control the players. I made an important decision to fulfill my dream and see if I was at the level of major league players. Here I am, and now I go forward.”
  • Rangers hurler Colby Lewis says that he was told “maybe” when he asked club GM Jon Daniels about the possibility of a return next year, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star -Telegram reports on Twitter. The 35-year-old righty has only a 5.12 ERA over 158 1/3 innings this year, but then again he had been out since July of 2012 with various injury issues. Lewis owns a 4.33 FIP and has notched 7.0 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 on the season, making him a potentially appealing option for teams looking for a solid innings-eater.
  • Twins closer Glen Perkins will be shut down for the rest of the year but ultimately received good news on his left arm, GM Terry Ryan told reporters including Phil Miller of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). Perkins will use a strength and conditioning program to deal with a forearm strain and nerve irritation, and is expected to be at full strength for the spring.
  • The Orioles are nearing finalization of a deal with Cuban hurler Lazaro Leyva, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). Leyva has reportedly agreed to terms on a $725K deal to join the Baltimore organization.

Minor Moves: Shane Watson

Here are the day’s minor moves …

  • Phillies minor league righty Shane Watson has been suspended for 50 games for a non-PED drug policy violation, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports on Twitter. Watson was taken out of high school with Philadelphia’s first choice (40th overall) in the 2012 amateur draft. Now 21, Watson threw to a 4.75 ERA in 72 innings last year at the low-A level, striking out 6.6 and walking 3.5 batters per nine in his first year of full-season action. He entered the season rated 18th among Phillies prospects by Baseball America, but has battled with a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis and shoulder surgery that took him out for the season. As Gelb reported recently, the Phillies were still monitoring Watson’s progress but believed he would return to the hill from the shoulder issue.

Latest On Diamondacks’ GM Search

Here’s the latest on the Diamondbacks’ search for a new GM following the recent removal of Kevin Towers from that role.

SEPTEMBER 19:

  • The Diamondbacks completed the GM interview process today, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert tweets.

SEPTEMBER 17:

  • Angels pro scouting director Hal Morris did not advance to the second round of interviews, reports Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times (on Twitter).

SEPTEMBER 16:

  • Watson has made it through to the second round and is considered a finalist, Heyman reports. One or two other candidates are expected to join him for final consideration.

SEPTEMBER 14:

  • Dave Stewart will have an interview for the job this week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets. Rosenthal had previously reported that Stewart might be a key candidate for the position, but that Stewart could not demonstrate overt interest in it unless he thought he could get it, since he might risk losing his clients as a player agent.
  • Tony La Russa is nearing a decision on the finalists to replace Towers with the first round of talks possibly ending by the middle of this week, baseball sources tell MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. Discussions have involved ten candidates, who Gilbert lists as: Allard Baird, Larry Beinfest, Billy Eppler, Gary LaRocque, Thad Levine, Ray Montgomery, Hal Morris, Tim Purpura, Dave Stewart and De Jon Watson. 
  • The Diamondbacks requested and received permission from the Yankees to speak with Eppler, but Gilbert reports Eppler declined the opportunity for a formal interview because of his commitment to the Yankees telling La Russa he only interviewed for the Padres’ opening because he is a native of the San Diego area.

Continue reading


2014-15 Free Agent Leaderboards

As I did last year, I’ve taken the liberty to compile Fangraphs leaderboards for the most notable players that will be eligible for free agency following the season. Those who enjoy playing GM — and if you read this site with any regularity, you presumably do — can filter each leaderboard to their liking to see which potential free agents are the best fits with a club’s specific needs.

Fangraphs leaderboards will allow you to sort hitters both by position and by statistics. Everything from basic stats like average and homers, advanced metrics like wRC+ and wOBA, or batted-ball metrics like line-drive rate and HR/FB is available. If you click the “Fielding” tab near the top of the page, you can check out sortable defensive metrics as well. On the pitching side of things, everything from ERA to FIP to swinging-strike rate to fastball velocity can be found. You can also set each leaderboard to include data from previous seasons to increase the sample size.

For the purposes of this post, I’ve created four leaderboards (Note: These are not MLBTR’s rankings of free agents. They are sorted by Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement but can be sorted by any stat under any tab on the leaderboard simply by clicking that stat. MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agent rankings will be published after the season, and the latest version of our Free Agent Power Rankings was published earlier in the month):

It’s also worth noting that I included any player who is eligible to become a free agent following the season. Though club options for players such as Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Hisashi Iwakuma and others are locks to be exercised, I thought it best to simply include all players rather than make judgement calls on more borderline cases. If you’d like any such players removed, you can simply highlight their name under the “Custom Players” section near the bottom of the page and click the X to the right of the column, then generate a new, updated list.

If you see any notable omissions, please, of course, let us know. The cutoff used for these leaderboards is the same that we typically use for our Free Agent list here at MLBTR: 50 plate appearances for hitters or 20 innings pitched for pitchers. These lists also include significant players that did not take the field in 2014 such as Josh Johnson and Luke Hochevar. Their stats will be available if you expand the leaderboards to include seasons prior to 2014.

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for the ease of use that led to creating these leaderboards!


Red Sox Notes: Tomas, Castillo, Uehara, Alvarez

Despite their outfield logjam, the Red Sox will be in attendance for Yasmani Tomas‘ showcase in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford spoke with Boston’s newest outfielder, Rusney Castillo, about his countryman and received strong reviews. “He’s a really high quality baseball player, and a really good person,” said Castillo through an interpreter. “He’s got a ton of power. For his physique, he actually moves pretty well. He’s pretty quick for a big guy.” Castillo agrees with scouting reports that say Tomas isn’t the same athlete that Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes is, but likened his power to that of Jose Abreu.

More from Bradford and some additional pieces on the Red Sox…

  • Red Sox owner John Henry told Bradford, via email, that the team’s near-miss on Abreu fueled the club’s aggressiveness on Castillo. Boston bid just $5MM less than the White Sox did to secure Abreu, prompting Henry to admit: “Yes, the financial aspects were impacted by coming close on Abreu. The White Sox did their homework.” 
  • GM Ben Cherington appeared on the Dennis & Callahan radio show to discuss a number of Red Sox topics, and WEEI’s Jerry Spar has some highlights. Cherington said that while the team doesn’t consider Castillo to be have one elite tool, they feel he’s very good in a lot of categories and should be a quality Major League outfielder. Cherington stopped short, however, of proclaiming Castillo the team’s center fielder in 2015. (The Arizona Fall League announced today that Castillo will play there this offseason, which should give Boston more time to make that evaluation.) He also addressed the Mookie Betts situation, noting that the team most likely projects Betts as an outfielder moving forward and has not discussed playing him at third base.
  • “I think it’s safe to say we would still have interest in keeping him here,” Cherington said in that same appearance when asked about Koji Uehara. Cherington praised Uehara’s accountability during his recent rough patch, and that accountability is an appealing factor when pursuing a new contract. Boston has yet to make an offer or discuss a new contract with Uehara at this time, per Cherington.
  • As John Tomase of the Boston Herald points out, the Red Sox, by some metrics, have had the worst production in the league at third base. As such, they’ll be on the hunt for third basemen with power this offseason, preferably ones that hit left-handed or are switch-hitters in order to balance out a right-leaning lineup. Tomase expects Pedro Alvarez to be on the team’s list, as the club tried desperately to sign him as a 14th-round pick out of high school back in 2005. Boston was willing to offer Alvarez $850K and showed a late willingness to push the number closer to Alvarez’s $1MM asking price, but he instead attended Vanderbilt. The decision paid off, as Alvarez was drafted No. 2 overall and received a $6MM signing bonus from the Pirates three years later. Tomase speculates that a swap of underachieving third basemen — Alvarez and Will Middlebrooks — might make sense for both clubs (presumably, other pieces would be required in such a deal).
  • The right-leaning nature of Boston’s lineup is the focus of the latest from Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe, who notes that the Sox currently project to have just one regular lefty bat in the lineup next season — David Ortiz. While others such as Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley and the switch-hitting Daniel Nava could be worked into the mix, the team cannot afford to have such a glaring deficiency, as other clubs will exploit it, writes Massarotti.

Astros Notes: Managers, Appel, Martinez, Rasmus

Though the Astros just went through the process of finding a new manager two years ago, GM Jeff Luhnow tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that he expects the list of candidates to be longer, not shorter, this time around. Luhnow wouldn’t put a timeline on the first round of interviews beginning, though he acknowledged that the birth of his son this week pushed the start date back a bit. Drellich writes that veteran managers Manny Acta and A.J. Hinch will be considered for the position. Drellich spoke with catcher Jason Castro about interim manager Tom Lawless’ reception in the clubhouse, and Castro had good things to say about Lawless, though he noted that his managerial style was quite different from that of the departed Bo Porter. “Bo is definitely more of an active manager,” said Castro. “Very involved in different aspects of the game, and intensity level is definitely a lot higher. Tom’s kind of approach is just to observe.”

Here’s more on the Astros…

  • Triple-A manager Tony DeFrancesco tells MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart that he hopes to receive an interview for the managerial vacancy in Houston. DeFrancesco was the club’s interim manager for the final 41 games of the 2012 season following Brad Mills’ dismissal — an experience which he terms “one of the best times in my career.” DeFrancesco’s Oklahoma City Redhawks finished with a 74-70 record this season and a Pacific Coast League leading 82-62 record in 2013.
  • Mark Appel recently worked out at Minute Maid Park with special assistant Doug Brocail and big league pitching coach Brent Strom, both of whom came away with strong impressions, reports Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston (All Twitter links). Brocail said he “saw some thunder” coming out of Appel’s hand, while Strom notes that he saw fastballs that could play at the Major League level immediately. Appel, of course, experienced a dramatic turnaround upon his promotion to Double-A. After struggling greatly with Class-A Advanced Lancaster, he pitched to a 3.69 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 39 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi.
  • The Astros made a clear mistake in letting J.D. Martinez go this spring, writes David Coleman for SB Nation’s Crawfish Boxes, but rather than criticize the front office, he notes that it’s important to see if they can learn from the error. Every team makes mistakes like this, he notes, and the Astros have been on the other end of this same time of misstep recently by coaxing a breakout from Collin McHugh. Coleman speculates that Colby Rasmus could be a buy-low target to make up for the production lost in cutting ties with Martinez. Rasmus was of course drafted by Luhnow and could thrive with a new hitting coach, as he’s had some difficulty with current hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, though Rasmus recently offered praise for Seitzer despite his offensive struggles in 2014.

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Mets Links: Tomas, Payroll, Backman

The Mets will send three scouts to get a first-hand look at Yasmani Tomas for his showcase on Sunday, reports Newsday’s Marc Carig. However, as has been documented recently, the team’s payroll isn’t likely to rise significantly next season, which could make Tomas a stretch, financially speaking. The 23-year-old could top Rusney Castillo‘s $72.5MM guarantee, and a $100MM commitment is certainly possible. Mets VP of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta tells Carig that despite the team’s lack of activity, they’ve been keeping close tabs on the Cuban market: “We have been very diligent about all of the free agents who have come available, there just hasn’t been a fit yet.”

Elsewhere in Mets-related news…

  • Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes that the lack of a payroll increase doesn’t necessarily doom the Mets in 2015, as the team’s surplus of young pitching gives them an inexpensive rotation and the ability to trade for a cost-controlled shortstop if it is eventually deemed necessary. However, he feels that it’s becoming clear that the Mets intend to try to fill the shortstop hole from within, giving Wilmer Flores an opportunity to prove himself. Left field may be the more problematic area of need for New York, and while GM Sandy Alderson would like to fill that void via trade, Madden says, the dearth of power hitters in the game might make it difficult to swing. He suggests Michael Cuddyer as a viable free agent option, which makes some degree of sense for the Mets in my opinion. While Madden doesn’t state it, Cuddyer could start at first base versus left-handed pitching to shield Lucas Duda and jump to the outfield against righties. Madden also rightly notes that payroll doesn’t guarantee success, and a look at this year’s contenders and non-factors proves that.
  • Triple-A manager Wally Backman is joining the coaching staff for the final nine games of September, and a team insider tells Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com that the possibility of adding Backman to the 2015 coaching staff is “under consideration.” Many fans prefer Backman to manager Terry Collins, Rubin notes, but Collins says he views Backman as an ally rather than a threat: “We have a very strong relationship. Wally and I are very good friends. We always have been — for a lot of years. … He brings a lot to the table.”
  • Madden’s colleague, Andy Martino, writes that the Mets shouldn’t have to subtract payroll by trading someone like Bartolo Colon or Daniel Murphy in order to add a free agent such as Cuddyer or another bat. The baseball ops department should be granted what it needs to work with, as Alderson “does not exactly ask for the moon.” He also notes that Alderson and Backman have a good deal of philosophical differences, so if Backman is on next year’s staff, it’ll mean the GM didn’t want to choose that battle or he feels he can keep a better eye on him with the big league club.

NL West Notes: Trumbo, Pennington, Maybin

It’s been a highly disappointing debut season for Mark Trumbo in Arizona, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, who examines whether or not the D’Backs should explore the concept of trading Trumbo this season. Trumbo hasn’t hit much when healthy, and while he hasn’t been charged with any errors in left field, he also displayed poor range when playing there (prior to Paul Goldschmidt‘s injury). However, as Piecoro notes, much of that could be due to a stress fracture in Trumbo’s left foot — an injury that has limited him to just 79 games this year. Trumbo’s price tag could top $6MM in arbitration this season, and he may well be best-suited for an AL team or a team with an opening at first base. However, despite those factors, Piecoro concludes that the Snakes have traded too many players with their value at a low point in recent seasons, and moving Trumbo now would be an instance of history repeating itself. Instead, he feels that even if Arizona decides trading Trumbo is best, it should be done after he has a chance to rebuild some value in 2015.

Here’s more on the D’Backs and the NL West…

  • Cliff Pennington views himself as an everyday player and would like more at-bats, he tells Piecoro, but that doesn’t mean he’s unhappy with the Diamondbacks. Rather, he very much likes his teammates and the atmosphere in Phoenix. Still, given Arizona’s bulk of shortstop candidates — the team has Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed as potential Major League options — Pennington’s future with the team is uncertain. As Piecoro notes, he’ll be due a raise on his $2.75MM salary in his final trip through arbitration. The Diamondbacks are looking to trim payroll, and Pennington could be considered expendable due to his loftier price tag. He’d have little trouble finding work in the event of a non-tender, Piecoro implies, and I’d imagine that there could be clubs in need of infield help that are intrigued by Pennington’s solid defense and his .253/.346/.358 batting line this season.
  • Cameron Maybin feels he can be more productive with everyday at-bats, he tells Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and he’ll play in the Dominican Winter League this offseason to get some reps after an injury- and suspension-shortened season. Maybin says his goal is to help the Padres in an everyday role, though his comments could imply that he feels he might be traded: “For me, I feel like if I’m healthy, I can be somebody’s really good everyday center fielder. …a big part of going to the Dominican Republic is making sure I’m ready for spring training so I can help whoever – mainly the Padres.” The 27-year-old is owed $16MM over the next two seasons, which makes him a difficult trade candidate given his lack of recent production. However, he’s a former No. 10 overall pick and top prospect, so teams may be willing to gamble on a rebound, particularly in a more hitter-friendly environment. Should he bounce back, his contract would actually turn into quite the asset, as he’s owed $7MM in 2015, $8MM in 2016 and has a $9MM option (1MM buyout) for 2017.

NL Central Links: Cueto, Arrieta, Zarraga, Brewers

In Thursday’s edition of his Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that the Reds should give serious thought to trading ace Johnny Cueto this offseason. Cueto has a no-brainer $10MM club option for 2015, making him a highly affordable and elite talent — an appealing alternative to clubs in win-now mode that don’t want to commit long-term dollars to Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. The Reds will see Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake hit free agency following the 2015 season, with Aroldis Chapman set to do the same the following year. Those losses, coupled with the rising salary of Joey Votto, give the Reds incentive to create some flexibility and add prospect depth. Olney wonders if the Reds could look to pair Cueto with Brandon Phillips in an effort to free themselves of the $36MM remaining on the second baseman’s deal. Of course, even if a team were to take on Phillips, they’d still likely need to surrender notable prospect value.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looks at Jake Arrieta‘s breakout season through a historical lens, noting that he has the sixth-largest season-to-season K-BB% improvement since 1920 (min. 75 IP each season) and the single largest FIP- improvement in that same span. Sullivan looks at how much more effectively Arrieta has repeated his mechanics with the Cubs, and he also points to the fact that Arrieta has doubled the usage of his hard slider/cutter while moving to the third-base side of the rubber. Both David Ross and Ryan Zimmerman noted that Arrieta, who now busts right-handed hitters inside at a much greater rate, often appears to be “throwing behind you” before his ball breaks over the plate. Whether or not Arrieta is a legitimate ace, the trade that sent him and Pedro Strop to Chicago in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger looks like quite the feather in the cap of GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein.
  • The Brewers announced that they have agreed to a new minor league contract with catcher Shawn Zarraga and invited him to 2015 Spring Training. Zarraga, 25, was Milwaukee’s 44th-round pick out of high school in 2007 and enjoyed a strong season at Double-A this year before struggling in his first crack at Triple-A. The Aruban backstop hit .330/.440/.419 in 267 plate appearances with Double-A but just .213/.304/.255 in 57 PA at the top minor league level.
  • In more Brewers news, GM Doug Melvin isn’t happy about the split between his organization and the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. Melvin told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, that he asked the Sounds to let them know if they were considering re-affiliation three weeks ago. The Brewers heard nothing and then saw the Sounds sign a new player development contract with the A’s, which Melvin feels cost the Brewers a chance to pursue an affiliation with what they considered to be an attractive fallback option. The Sounds, McCalvy writes, weren’t pleased with the losing product the Brewers had put on the field in the two seasons prior to 2014.

Multiple Teams Change Minor League Affiliations

As Baseball America’s Josh Leventhal writes, yesterday marked a two-week period where Major League clubs are free to negotiate with available minor league organizations. Major League clubs sign player development contracts with minor league organizations much like players will sign contracts with teams. As such, Leventhal notes that the “affiliation shuffle” is akin to free agency for minor league teams. Leventhal’s article provides more insight behind many of the moves and offers quite a bit of detail for those who are curious to read more about this process.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll see multiple teams sign deals with new affiliates, and MLBTR will keep track of them here for those that are interested …

Triple-A

  • The Giants announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Sacramento (formerly occupied by the Athletics).
  • The Brewers announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Colorado Spring (formerly occupied by the Rockies)

Earlier Announcements

  • Fresno (formerly the Giants’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Astros.
  • The Athletics have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Sacramento to Nashville (previously occupied by the Brewers).
  • The Dodgers have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City (previously occupied by the Astros).
  • The Rockies announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque (previously occupied by the Dodgers).
  • The Brewers have announced that their Triple-A affiliation with Nashville has been terminated by the Sounds.

Double-A

  • The Twins announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from New Britain to Chattanooga (previously occupied by the Dodgers) after agreeing to a four-year term.
  • The Dodgers announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from Chattanooga to Tulsa (previously occupied by the Rockies).
  • New Britain (formerly the Twins’ affiliate) has announced that that it has reached a PDC with the Rockies.

Class-A Advanced

  • Daytona (formerly the Cubs’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Reds.

Earlier Announcements

  • The Cubs announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Daytona to Myrtle Beach (previously occupied by the Rangers).
  • The Indians announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Carolina to Lynchburg (previously occupied by the Braves).