Andruw Jones Drawing Interest

After two seasons in Japan, Andruw Jones could be headed back to major league baseball.  Agent Scott Boras tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that there are at least two teams with interest in the veteran as a DH and/or right-handed platoon player.

The 37-year-old (38 in April) last appeared in the Majors with the Yankees in 2011-12. After a strong .247/.356/.495 batting line in his first season with the Bombers, Jones slipped to .197/.294/.408 in 2012, prompting him to sign in NPB the following offseason. In parts of 17 Major League seasons, Jones batted .254/.337/.486 with 434 home runs and won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1998-2007.

Over the last two seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Jones has slashed .232/.392/.441 with 50 homers combined.  This past season Jones managed to tamper down his strikeout rate a tad (27.2% to 24.1%) while improving his already solid walk rate (17.3% to 20.3%).

In parts of 17 Major League seasons, Jones batted .254/.337/.486 with 434 home runs and won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1998-2007.


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AL East Notes: Rays, Britton, Red Sox

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked numerous times over the weekend about the club’s vacant leadoff spot, but he didn’t have much in the way of answers, as Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun writes.  “Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I’ll bet you,’’ Showalter said. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve said many times, take your best hitter and hit him first and give him more at-bats.”  Here’s more from the AL East..

  • Most of the heavy lifting is done, but the Rays would still like to make some improvements as spring training approaches.  “Maybe now this is the time for ‘tweaking’ of the roster,” baseball ops president Matt Silverman said, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “As we get closer to camp, we have a good sense of the depth that we have as well as a couple areas of potential need. Hopefully we can find ways to line up with other clubs to improve ourselves, but it’s not a necessity.”  The biggest priority seems to be adding another middle infielder, preferably a defensively-strong shortstop, though there aren’t many options on the open market.  Tampa Bay may also seek an experienced catcher to support Rene Rivera and another experienced reliever.
  • Reliever Zach Britton doesn’t seem to think that he and the Orioles are right on the verge of a pre-arbitration agreement, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.  “I’m not sure,” said Britton. “Where we are right now, we’re still negotiating. There’s been a lot of dialogue the last couple of days, but right now there’s really nothing to update other than we’re just talking.”
  • The advanced metrics are bullish on the Red Sox‘s improved offense in 2015, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.
  • Orioles center fielder Adam Jones spoke with reporters, including Kubatko, about a wide range of topics, including the loss of Nick Markakis and the Dan Duquette-to-Toronto rumors that dominated much of the offseason.
  • New Red Sox starter Rick Porcello has the skills to be the ace of Boston’s staff, writes Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Taylor, Snider, Achter

On this date in 1913, Jim Thorpe signed with the New York (baseball) Giants, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes.  The legendary athlete went on to compile a lifetime .252 batting average during his six seasons in the major leagues.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.



Quick Hits: Workman, Ogando, Rockies, Loria

Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is the top prospect in baseball, per MLB.com’s top 100 prospects. The Cubs have two prospects in the top five – Kris Bryant (second) and Addison Russell (fifth). The Dodgers have three in the top 13 – Corey Seager (seventh), Julio Urias (eighth), and Joc Pederson (13th). The Cubs and Twins are the two teams with five prospects in the top 50. Here’s more news from around the league.


NL East Notes: Freeman, Olivera, Shields

With the Braves in the throes of a rapid rebuilding effort, first baseman Freddie Freeman is now the longest tenured player on the roster, writes Mark Bowman of MLB.com. While Freeman is optimistic about the 2015 season, it’s worth noting that Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis represented 51 percent of the club’s home runs in 2014. Losing the three biggest bashers from an otherwise moribund offense could be seen as a major issue. Freeman hopes a greater emphasis on contact will help to counteract the loss of power.

  • The Braves held a private workout for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. In attendance to watch the 29-year-old were manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant GM John Coppolella. Olivera is likely to sign as a second or third baseman – both positions the Braves could improve upon. Current candidates for both positions include Chris Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, Jace Peterson, and Phil Gosselin. The Padres and Giants have also been tied to Olivera per Baseball America.
  • The Marlins should consider a “Hail Mary” offer for free agent pitcher James Shields, suggests Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. A two-year, $35MM proposal might represent the limit for what the club can afford. Since Shields rejected a qualifying offer, he’ll cost a draft pick to sign in addition to the financial considerations. Such an offer represents a long shot for both sides. The Marlins are thought to be up against their payroll limit, so an addition would require the approval of owner Jeffrey Loria. From Shields perspective, he’s thought to be seeking at least four years and $70MM.

 


NL West Notes: Padres, Greinke, Withrow

The Padres are baseball’s most improved team, opines Jim Duquette of MLB.com. The additions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Derek Norris should revive an offense that has slumbered for years. GM A.J. Preller managed to overhaul the offense without dipping into his starting pitching depth nor by trading the team’s best prospects. For what it’s worth, I’m more impressed by the efforts of the Cubs, who Duquette lists as the fifth most improved club.

  • Dodgers starter Zack Greinke has not decided if he will opt out of his contract following the 2015 season, writes Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. The 31-year-old signed a six-year, $147MM contract prior to the 2013 season, but he can opt out following next season. He’s averaged a 2.67 ERA over the last two seasons, which could set him up for another big, multi-year contract in free agency. In the past, we’ve seen CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez leverage opt outs with the Yankees to gain more guaranteed dollars and years. Greinke may take the same approach with the Dodgers. Per his comments, he seems comfortable in Los Angeles.
  • Greinke doesn’t believe the Dodgers improved via “addition by subtraction” this offseason. Outgoing players like Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, and Brian Wilson weren’t distractions in the clubhouse per Greinke. President Andrew Friedman has admitted the club might lose a little on offense, but the goal is to replace the runs scored with better defense and depth.
  • Reliever Chris Withrow may be a long shot to help the Dodgers this season, reports Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (via Twitter). The righty has pitched well in parts of two seasons with Los Angeles, with a 2.73 ERA, 11.41 K/9, and 4.98 BB/9 in 56 innings. He’s currently recovering from Tommy John and back surgeries. The back issue has slowed the timetable for his Tommy John rehab.

Rays Nearing Minor League Deal With Alexi Casilla

The Rays are likely to sign free agent infielder Alexi Casilla to a minor league deal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). The 30-year-old will compete for a middle infield job. The club may yet acquire a starting shortstop, per Topkin.

The former Twin and Oriole has appeared in parts of nine seasons. He played just one game with Baltimore last season and spent most of his season at the Triple-A level. While neither a defensive wizard nor offensive threat, Casilla has occasionally approached a league average rate of performance. He’s a career .247/.302/.331 hitter in 1,893 plate appearances.

Casilla has experience at second base, shortstop, and third base with most of his time spent at the keystone. Under Joe Maddon, the Rays were known for valuing flexibility. It stands to reason that the club still prefers players with plenty of utility.


Rays Sign Ronald Belisario To Minor League Deal

The Rays have signed free agent reliever Ronald Belisario to a minor league deal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Belisario was recently tied to the Blue Jays, although their reported deal fell through yesterday. Per Topkin (also Twitter), the Rays have been in contact with Belisario for awhile. He will compete for one of two open spots in the bullpen.

The 32-year-old reliever was designated for assignment by the White Sox earlier in the offseason. He was one of several temporary closers for Chicago, although he struggled in the role. Before being cut loose by the White Sox, Belisario was in line to earn $3.9MM via arbitration, according to MLBTR’s Matt Swartz.

While he posted an unsightly 5.56 ERA last season, advanced stats painted a sunnier picture (3.54 FIP, 3.22 SIERA). The righty is a ground ball specialist with a career rate above 60 percent. Belisario dealt with a high .339 BABIP and low 57.5% strand rate last season, which contributed to his ugly ERA.

It’s possible that Tampa offered a better opportunity than Toronto for Belisario. As Topkin points out, the Rays have two open spots in the bullpen. Tropicana field is also substantially more pitcher friendly than the Rogers Centre.

 


Orioles Notes: Payroll, De Aza, Machado, Wieters

We’ve already heard from the Orioles today, but here’s more news as their FanFest continues:

  • Manager Buck Showalter told reporters, including CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff, that the Orioles will have the flexibility to add players during the season. Payroll is currently right around $120MM. The club could also look for spring training additions. Earlier today, we learned the O’s are still searching for relief help.
  • Showalter also said the Orioles’ leadoff hitter is likely on the roster, reports Steve Melewski of MASNSports.comAlejandro De Aza is a possible candidate, although Showalter was noncommittal when asked outright about the lefty. He did seemingly imply that De Aza would bat first or ninth when in the lineup. Asked specifically about De Aza, Showalter said “if you asked what is a more important spot in our order, one or nine, I’d probably say nine.”
  • Third baseman Manny Machado is prepared to return to action by the start of spring training, writes Melewski in a separate article. The 22-year-old is recovering from a partial tear to a ligament in his right knee. He already suffered a similar injury to his left knee earlier in his career.
  • Another injured Oriole, catcher Matt Wieters, believes he’ll be ready by opening day, reports Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com. Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last June. He’ll likely spend more time as a designated hitter this spring as he gets his arm back to full strength. In the final year of club control, Wieters is focused on the long haul. “The main thing is we have to get the arm healthy enough to play the rest of my career.”

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Garrett Richards

Here’s the rundown of players who avoided arbitration today:

  • Starting pitcher Garrett Richards has settled with the Angels for $3.2MM, Mike Perchick of WAPT tweets. Richards, who’s eligible for arbitration for the first time as a Super Two player, was in the midst of a breakout season (with a 2.61 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 168 2/3 innings) when he suffered a season-ending knee injury from which he’s now recovering. He’s set to begin throwing off a mound in the next two weeks. Via MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker, Richards had asked for $3.8MM, and the Angels had countered with $2.4MM, so $3.2MM is a bit above the $3.1MM midpoint. With Richards’ signing, Matt Joyce is the only Angel remaining with a pending arbitration case.

Latest On Signing Eligibility Of Cuban Players

SATURDAY: MLB sent a memo to teams today instructing them not to sign Cuban players, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (all Twitter links). MLB said it hoped to receive advice from OFAC “early next week,” hoping to receive assurances that the league won’t be getting itself into trouble if Cuban players falsify their identities. If it does get those assurances, players like Moncada, Olivera and Ibanez might become eligible to sign right away.

FRIDAY: There has been quite a bit of confusion of late as to how and when a group of high-profile Cuban middle infielders will be freed to sign. The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) — the agency tasked with administering the United States’ now-loosening embargo against Cuba — has now notified Yoan Moncada in writing that it will not consider specific licenses for Cuban players who are already unblocked via the general license, agent David Hastings tells Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs.

Ben Badler of Baseball America explains the distinction here. In essence, the general license requires only residence in a third country, while the specific license carries more stringent standards. This news effectively means that OFAC will not perform any particularized assessment of Cuban players seeking to sign with MLB clubs.

The result is that, in McDaniel’s words, “the onus is now 100% on MLB.” Badler has previously explained the league’s role in this regard, and the OFAC letter to Moncada’s representative appears to remove any room for interpretation.

Simply put, the league must decide whether simply to accept the general license as sufficient for signing eligibility or find some other procedure to replace the OFAC specific license. If MLB decides to allow the general license to suffice, then presumably all Cuban players who have established third-country residence would become eligible to sign — including, presumably, Moncada and fellow top players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez.

As McDaniel goes on to explain, the latest industry speculation holds that the veteran Olivera could land a guarantee of between $20MM to $40MM. The younger Ibanez, meanwhile, is expected to land at or slightly above the range of recent signees Roberto Baldoquin ($8MM) and Yoan Lopez ($8.25MM) while also requiring the signing team to pay a near-100% penalty on that amount.


Padres Have Considered Trade For Luis Sardinas

The Padres have considered trading for Brewers shortstop Luis Sardinas, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes (Twitter links). Rosenthal says the two teams have not talked lately, although the Padres’ interest in Sardinas suggests that their busy offseason might not yet be over.

The Brewers acquired Sardinas from the Rangers in the Yovani Gallardo trade, and Padres GM A.J. Preller worked for the Rangers before taking his current position. The Brewers appear relatively set at their middle infield with Scooter Gennett at second and Jean Segura at shortstop, while the Padres have a more unsettled shortstop picture (with their depth chart currently topped by Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes), so a trade involving Sardinas would appear to make sense for both teams.

Sardinas, 21, hit .261/.303/.313 in 125 plate appearances with the Rangers in 2014. His youth might account for some of his offensive troubles, although he’s never hit well above Class A and has never shown much power potential. He has excellent speed and good defensive tools.

The Padres remain in touch with the Phillies regarding Cole Hamels, although Rosenthal notes that some sources feel the Padres don’t have the talent to complete the deal. In mid-January, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that the Padres were among the key teams pursuing Hamels.


Minor Moves: Hendrickson, Baxter, Perez

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

  • The Orioles have agreed to terms with Mark Hendrickson on a deal that includes a Spring Training invite, Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com tweets. The deal is presumably of the minor-league variety. The tall lefty last pitched in the big leagues with Baltimore in 2011, and he’s now 40 and has a 5.03 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in parts of 10 big-league seasons. He is, however, coming off a good season with the independent York Revolution, posting a 1.54 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 52 2/3 innings of relief. The O’s also reportedly have interest in hiring Hendrickson as a coach when he’s done playing.
  • The Cubs have signed corner outfielder Mike Baxter, Matt Eddy of Baseball America writes. Baxter, best known for his stints with the Mets in 2012 and 2013, has a career .225/.331/.342 line in parts of five seasons. He spent most of 2014 with the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate, batting .289/.365/.439.
  • The Rangers have signed lefty Juan Perez, Eddy writes. The 36-year-old Perez did not pitch in 2014, but he was effective coming out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen the previous year, posting a 3.69 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 in 31 2/3 innings with a fastball that reached into the mid-90s. Before that, Perez had pitched in brief stints with the Pirates, Phillies and Brewers.

Orioles Notes: Duquette, Garcia, Norris

Here are a few notes from the Orioles’ FanFest convention on Saturday:

  • Executive Dan Duquette says he’s fully committed to helping the O’s win, MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli writes. Duquette had been connected to the Blue Jays’ CEO job (and he admits there was “substance” to those rumors, as Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com tweets). It now appears, however, that Paul Beeston will continue in that role with the Jays, since they’ve extended him through 2015.
  • Duquette reiterated that he’s still looking for relief help, although the O’s are open to having Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia help in the ‘pen, Ghiroli tweets. The 22-year-old Garcia posted a 3.70 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at two levels in the Red Sox farm system in 2014, but has not yet pitched above Class A.
  • The O’s are also on the lookout for utility infield depth at the minor league level, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes (Twitter links).
  • Starter Bud Norris would like to continue as an Oriole beyond this season, but says he has not heard anything about extension talks, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets. Norris, who posted a 3.65 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 165 1/3 innings in 2014, will make $8.8MM in 2015 before becoming eligible for free agency next winter.

Quick Hits: Rockies, Aardsma, Moylan

Despite their recent additions of David Hale and Gus Schlosser, the Rockies are still hunting for established pitching, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports. GM Jeff Bridich says will try to add another pitcher who will be part of the 40-man roster. Bridich says he likes Hale and Schlosser’s abilities to get ground balls, and notes that the Rockies will have both head into Spring Training preparing to be starters. “[W]e will sit down in the early part of spring and figure it out,” says Bridich. “The fact that both of these guys have started in the past was an appealing part of who they are, and of their history.” Here are more notes from throughout the game.

  • Agent Jamie Murphy says client David Aardsma will throw for teams next Monday (Feb. 9) in Arizona, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes (Twitter links). Aardsma hopes to demonstrate increased velocity after making mechanical changes, Murphy adds. The 33-year-old Aardsma had a strong 2014 season for Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals organization, posting a 1.29 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 35 innings. The former closer last appeared in the Majors with the Mets in 2013.
  • Free agent righty Peter Moylan is “feeling great” and is hoping to return to the Majors by midseason after having Tommy John surgery last March, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. “My goal is to be 100 percent by end of spring,” says Moylan. “Probably have to throw for some teams right around the start of spring to gauge interest, but there have already been some nibbles, which is encouraging.” The 36-year-old, a former Braves bullpen mainstay, has pitched fewer than 30 innings in the big leagues since 2010, last appearing in the bigs with the Dodgers in 2013.