Finding A Landing Spot For Jhoulys Chacin

The Rockies’ release of Jhoulys Chacin caught many by surprise last week, myself included. The 27-year-old has spent the better parts of the past five seasons in Colorado’s rotation and had already agreed to a one-year, $5.5MM contract for the 2015 season.

In a way, the release has the potential to be a blessing in disguise for Chacin. It should come as no shock that Chacin’s ERA away from Coors Field is nearly a full run lower (4.21 vs. 3.24). He can now potentially latch on with a club that doesn’t play half of its games in one of baseball’s most notorious launching pads, and because he has just one year of team control remaining, he could hit the open market next season as a 28-year-old coming off a season in a more friendly pitching environment. Of course, Chacin will need to demonstrate that he is healthy in order to do so, and that’s anything but a given for the talented but oft-injured righty.

Chacin missed the majority of the 2014 season with shoulder inflammation — his second significant period of time missed with that malady — and has also battled back spasms in the past. He’s topped 190 innings in two different seasons but has also failed to reach 70 innings on two occasions and has averaged just 132 innings per season dating back to 2010.

Nevertheless, Chacin has a lifetime 3.78 ERA with 6.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 48.2 percent ground-ball rate. Success at the Major League level has long been expected of the Venezuelan hurler, as he twice ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects before establishing himself in the Colorado rotation at the age of 22. Chacin should be able to latch on elsewhere — four teams are reportedly showing interest already — so let’s run down a few speculative spots that could give him a look late in Spring Training or early on in the regular season…

  • RangersYu Darvish already went down with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery, thinning out the team’s starting options. The Rangers have been discussing starting pitching options and were recently in touch with the Marlins regarding lefty Brad Hand, so it stands to reason that they’d have some interest in picking up Chacin as a potential rotation option. As it is, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Ross Detwiler will pitch in their rotation, with the fifth spot still up for grabs.
  • DodgersHyun-jin Ryu is slated to open the season on the disabled list, and the Dodgers have a pair of injury prone hurlers behind him in their rotation in the form of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. Bringing in Chacin, with whom many Dodgers scouts are likely very familiar, would give the team additional depth.
  • White Sox — The Sox are set to enjoy a dominant top three of Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana, but John Danks and Hector Noesi aren’t an exciting four-five combination. Of course, top prospect Carlos Rodon looms large and could join the rotation early in the season, but Chacin would present them with an alternative, and his ability to limit homers, even when pitching at Coors Field, would likely be appealing to the Sox.
  • Blue JaysMarcus Stroman is out for the season, and the Blue Jays will rely on a combination of Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada to round out their rotation. Adding Chacin would allow one of those arms to pitch out of a precariously thin bullpen, though of course, jumping into the AL East/Rogers Centre may not be Chacin’s top choice when trying to re-establish himself as a credible rotation option.
  • Phillies — The Phillies are clearly in need of rotation help and likely were even before Cliff Lee went down indefinitely with a still-torn flexor tendon. Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan seem likely to fill the first four slots in the rotation, and Chacin has more upside than any non-Hamels internal option.
  • Astros — Houston looked at adding an experienced arm with lesser upside when they engaged Ryan Vogelsong in discussions late in the offseason. Chacin could be a nice lottery ticket, and they lack a defined fifth starter to this point.
  • BravesMike Minor could begin the season on the disabled list, and the Braves’ fifth starter spot was already an open competition between Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Foltynewicz and Cody Martin anyhow.
  • RaysMatt Moore won’t be ready until this summer and Drew Smyly has been dealing with shoulder tendinitis this spring. Chacin would serve as additional depth alongside internal options Nate Karns and Alex Colome.

Minor Moves: Lorick, Lopez, Rockies

Here are the day’s minor transactions from around the league…

  • The Cubs have released left-hander Jeff Lorick, per the team’ transactions page. The 27-year-old Lorick was a 20th-round selection back in the 2009 draft and spent the 2014 campaign (his age-26 season) at Double-A Tennessee, where he worked to a 4.52 ERA in 63 2/3 innings of work. Lorick struggled as a starter in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League in 2011, but he’s always missed a good number of bats when working as a reliever. However, he’s also walked more than four hitters per nine innings and has yet to reach the Triple-A level.
  • The Marlins have released second baseman Alfredo Lopez, also via the team transaction page at MLB.com. The 25-year-old batted .216/.298/.263 at Double-A in 2014 and had spent most of the 2015 spring working in Minor League camp. Lopez has hit well in the lower minors (.300 average, .384 OBP in Class-A Advanced) but stalled in Double-A and has very limited experience at the Triple-A level.
  • The Rockies released outfielders Jared Simon and Brian Humphries as well as infielder Matt Wessinger, per the MLB transaction page. Simon, a 2010 sixth-round pick, and Humphries, a 14th-rounder in 2011, each spent last season with Double-A Tulsa and OPSed south of .700. Wessinger is perhaps the most notable, as he was a fifth-rounder as recently as 2012, but he batted just .214/.278/.295 at Class-A Advanced in 2014.

Marlins Unlikely To Trade Brad Hand

The Marlins have reportedly discussed out-of-options lefty Brad Hand with multiple clubs, including the Rangers, but MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro now reports that the Fish are likely to hang onto the 25-year-old. Hand will start today against the Astros, but Frisaro cautions that it’s not a showcase for interested parties.

Miami values the depth that Hand provides, particularly with Jose Fernandez recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jarred Cosart being investigated by Major League Baseball for a potential gambling-related issue. The team also believes that Hand, who is equipped with a fastball in the mid-90s, is capable of pitching in both the rotation or bullpen. He’s also the lone left-handed rotation option left in Marlins camp (though the fifth slot, as Frisaro notes, is likely going to righty Tom Koehler).

Hand has allowed just two runs in 10 innings this spring, though he’s posted an unsightly 5-to-6 K/BB ratio along the way. Last season, Hand pitched 111 innings in 32 games (16 starts, 16 relief appearances), averaging 5.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 with a 50.3 percent ground-ball rate. The former second-round pick has one year, 92 days of service time, meaning that he’s under control for another five seasons.


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AL Central Notes: Rodon, Nathan, Indians, Robinson

While Kris Bryant‘s situation is grabbing all of the headlines in Chicago (and nationally, for that matter), Jon Morosi of FOX Sports believes that another Chicago phenom — White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon — is making a strong case for the Opening Day roster as well. Morosi argues that the ChiSox are running out of reasons not to bring last year’s No. 3 overall pick north with the team, as the lefty has whiffed 19 hitters in 12 1/3 innings thus far and recently struck out nine of 16 Royals hitters in a four-inning effort. The Sox will need a pitching boost early in the season, he adds, with Chris Sale unavailable for Opening Day and veterans such as John Danks and Brad Penny struggling. Starting Rodon’s service clock early isn’t as problematic as it would be in the case of Bryant (or any position player), Morosi writes, because the Sox could use the All-Star break as a means of limiting his innings and also regaining enough service time to delay his free agency by a year. Rodon could strategically be optioned to Triple-A in advance of his final first-half start, then have his second-half debut delayed as late as possible.

  • Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters, including MLive.com’s James Schmehl, that there’s no competition for the closer job, which firmly belongs to Joe Nathan. The 40-year-old Nathan is coming off perhaps his worst season since becoming a closer and has struggled further this spring, while setup man Joakim Soria has been excellent, but no change is imminent. Soria spoke to Schmehl about pitching in a setup capacity and admitted that he’s “not excited” about not being a closer, though he added that pitching the eighth inning isn’t much different, and he’ll be happy pitching in any role. MLBTR will again be tracking all closer-related situations with our @Closernews Twitter account this season, for those who play fantasy baseball and want to stay current.
  • Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that while most believed Danny Salazar was capable of breaking camp in the Indians’ rotation, the right-hander has done nothing to deserve that spot and should be passed over for Zach McAllister, at least in the short term. McAllister is out of Minor League options and was believed to be ticketed for bullpen duty, but using him in the rotation early on would give Salazar some much-needed time to regroup at Triple-A. Manager Terry Francona voiced disappointment in Salazar’s spring thus far, Pluto writes, noting that his stuff is still electric, but the results and control haven’t been there.
  • Non-roster invitee Shane Robinson has made a good impression on the Twins in camp thus far, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The 30-year-old Robinson is battling for an outfield job with the Twins and has batted .257/.333/.371 in 39 plate appearances. He’d likely only make the team in the event that both Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario were optioned to Triple-A, however, Berardino notes. Robinson tells Berardino that a number of teams called him once he became a Minor League free agent this winter, but a very candid 25-minute phone conversation with GM Terry Ryan and the Twins’ strong early interest led him to select Minnesota. The former Cardinal has an April 2 opt-out date and would earn $550K in the Majors, Berardino reports.

Quick Hits: Forbes, Yankees, Alvarez, Kluber

“Overall, baseball has never been as big or as profitable” as it is now, Forbes’ Mike Ozanian writes in the magazine’s annual valuation of MLB franchises.  The average value of a Major League team is $1.2 billion, a massive increase from Forbes’ last calculation (of $811MM) just a year ago.  Fifteen teams were valued at least a billion dollars, with the Yankees leading the way at $3.2 billion.  Here’s some more from around baseball…

  • Despite the Yankees‘ incredible value, Hal Steinbrenner said the team is not for sale in an ESPN radio interview with Michael Kay and Don LaGreca (hat tip to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News).  Selling the club is “not enticing in any way shape or form,” Steinbrenner said.  “It’s a family business. Many of us are involved from the family and we know this is what our dad would want, to carry on the tradition.”
  • Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez is drawing “serious interest” from the Nationals, The Washington Post’s James Wagner writes.  “The Nationals like Alvarez’s frame and stuff,” Wagner notes about the 18-year-old Alvarez, who is listed at 6’3″ and 175 pounds.  The Nats and Diamondbacks were cited as the top contenders for Alvarez by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez last month, and if Alvarez will indeed be ineligible to sign until July 2, that will eliminate the D’Backs from contention due to penalties for going over slot in this signing period to land Yoan Lopez.  Even if Arizona is out of the running, however, the Nats will still have to bid against several other interested teams for Alvarez’s services.
  • The MLBPA has been encouraging players to look for other means of achieving guaranteed financial security rather than accept below-market extensions, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports.  One of those means is taking out a “loss-of-value” insurance policy to protect against injury (Max Scherzer took out such a policy last season) and Rosenthal suggests that Corey Kluber could explore doing the same this year to gain some leverage in contract talks with the Indians.  Kluber could cash in by signing an extension now, but waiting even one season to get into his arbitration-eligible years would greatly increase the value of a multi-year deal, Rosenthal argues.  With the loss-of-value policy backing him up, Kluber would have fewer worries about getting hurt this season and missing out on a chance at a big contract.
  • Brady Aiken‘s Tommy John surgery will lower his draft stock and potentially make him a risk for teams picking near the top of the first round, though Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal thinks the Red Sox could take a chance on Aiken with the seventh overall pick.  The addition of a first-round caliber talent in Yoan Moncada and an overall deep minor league system gives Boston the luxury to take a risk on Aiken and hopes that, if he recovers, they’ll have fallen into a future ace.
  • Jake Fox is trying to land a regular minor league job with the Blue Jays, and the veteran talks to Sportsnet.com’s Arden Zwelling about some of the ups and downs of being a baseball journeyman.

AL Notes: Price, Ludwick, Lindstrom, Blue Jays

Academy Award-winning actor, Michigan native and huge Tigers fan J.K. Simmons will throw out the first pitch at the Tigers’ opener on April 6.  Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar last month for his role in Whiplash, and if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll agree that the Tigers should probably hold off on having Simmons give a pep talk to the rookies before the game.  Here’s the latest from around the American League…

  • The Tigers‘ chances of extending David Price aren’t good, Mlive.com’s Chris Iott opines, as there are simply too many reasons for Price to test the free agent market this winter.  Price could potentially find a $200MM+ contract next offseason, so it’s possible Detroit would have to top that level now in order to retain him.
  • The Rangers told outfielder Ryan Ludwick that he wouldn’t make the team, GM Jon Daniels told reporters (including MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan).  Daniels described Ludwick as an “all-world guy” who he believes could help another team’s roster, though in the Rangers’ case, “as we look at it today, we thought other options in camp fit the roster better.”  Ludwick signed a minor league contract with Texas in February and, as an Article XX(B) free agent, would’ve been obligated to receive a $100K bonus if the Rangers wanted to keep him in the organization but not on the 25-man roster.
  • Matt Lindstrom is also an Article XX(B) free agent, and the Angels right-hander’s status could hurt his chances of making the roster since the Halos like to be flexible in sending relievers back and forth to the minors, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez writes.
  • Right-hander Steve Delabar told reporters (including Sportsnet’s Mike Wilner) that “it’s a shock to me” that he won’t be making the Blue Jays‘ Opening Day roster.  Delabar pitched well this spring but apparently lost his spot due to the emergence of Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, both of whom seem very likely to make the team.  Delabar was clearly upset by the demotion, and when asked if he would accept a change of scenery to a new team, he said “it could be considered, but I’m not saying that that’s what I’m asking for or anything like that. But if that was to happen… I feel like I’m a major-league player and I can help a bullpen.”
  • Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders won’t be ready for Opening Day, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm writes, though the reason isn’t due to a setback in his rehab from knee surgery.  The team and Saunders both want to make sure the outfielder is 100 percent when he takes the field, which could be as soon as Toronto’s home opener on April 13.  Saunders had surgery to remove 60 percent of his left meniscus after tearing the cartilage earlier this spring — a decision that accelerated his timeline to take the field from midseason to early April.  Manager John Gibbons has referred to the radically altered timeline as “kind of a miracle,” and Saunders has already been DHing in Minor League games, per Chisholm. However, he’s yet to play outfield defense or run the bases; he’s returned to the dugout rather than running after each at-bat in those games, as the focus is currently just on getting his timing down in a game setting.

NL West Notes: Tulowitzki, Maxwell, Padres

Here’s the latest from around the NL West…

  • While Carlos Gonzalez specifically stated that he wanted to stay with the Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki somewhat tellingly only said “I want to win here” when asked by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale if he wanted to stay with the club.  The Rockies discussed Tulowitzki with a few teams this winter (including the Mets), a process that GM Jeff Bridich said the star shortstop was kept fully informed about, even though there wasn’t much to discuss. “We had conversations this winter, and Tulo has an understanding what we’re thinking….We talked to teams, but there really is nothing that came close to being done,” Bridich said.
  • Justin Maxwell can opt out of his minor league deal with the Giants if he isn’t on the club’s Major League roster by Tuesday, March 31, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  The 31-year-old Maxwell is battling for a reserve outfield job and said he hasn’t decided what his next step will be if he’s told he isn’t making the roster.
  • While the Padres have come up short in high-profile pursuits of Yasmany Tomas, Hector Olivera and Yoan Moncada, that doesn’t mean the club hasn’t been busy on the international signing front.  In a profile of Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports that the team has signed 12 international players between the ages of 16-19 are close to deals with several others.  Of particular note is right-hander Starlin Cordero, who is already throwing at 94 mph at age 16 and only two months after being converted to pitching from the outfield.
  • Diamondbacks catching prospect Peter O’Brien has played back-to-back games in the outfield, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.  O’Brien was having problems throwing the ball back to the mound in games earlier this month and he since hasn’t been back behind the plate.  Dubbed as the D’Backs’ catcher of the future by GM Dave Stewart and others within the organization, many scouts have questions about O’Brien’s long-term future behind the plate (even aside from his throwing issue).
  • In NL West news from earlier today, Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times discussed the Dodgers with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast…Jeff also asked MLBTR’s readers to rank the Dodgers‘ many notable offseason moves…I profiled Juan Uribe as a possible trade candidate…the Padres claimed righty Jandel Gustave off waivers from the Royals…the Mets are checking in on both the Rockies and Dodgers as part of their search for relief pitching help.

Twins Looking For Relief Pitching

The Twins are looking to add bullpen help, two sources tell La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The club is looking to add at least one and possibly two hurlers to their relief corps, possibly through trades or via waiver wire pickups as teams make roster cuts at the end of Spring Training.

“This bullpen has been a topic of conversation at headquarters,” Neal writes, and it “isn’t surprising” that Minnesota is looking for reinforcements given that their pen has an overall lack of experience and pitchers who can miss bats.  Getting another left-hander could be a specific need, Neal notes.  Besides closer Glen Perkins, the Twins have Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar as their primary lefty bullpen arms.  Southpaw Aaron Thompson has had a good Spring Training and may have gotten himself in the mix, though the 28-year-old has only 15 career Major League innings to his name.

Trevor May, Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey are battling for the fifth starter’s job and Twins GM Terry Ryan recently told MLB.com’s Andrew Simon that any of the trio could also see bullpen duty.

Twins relievers ranked 21st in the league in ERA (3.73), 24th in fWAR (0.9), 29th in xFIP (4.18) and dead last in strikeouts per nine innings (6.66 K/9).  Perhaps the biggest issue facing Minnesota’s bullpen is Perkins’ health, as the star closer has missed most of Spring Training with an oblique injury, though he is back pitching now and is expected to be ready for Opening Day.


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Offseason In Review: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox had an active, successful offseason in which they upgraded their pitching staff and imported multiple bats.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Extensions

  • Adam Eaton, CF: five years, $23.5MM.  Includes $9.5MM club option for 2020 with a $1.5MM buyout and $10.5MM club option for 2021 with a $1.5MM buyout.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

With core players Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana signed to affordable contracts, the White Sox were expected to take an aggressive approach to the offseason to fill their needs.  They met with Pablo Sandoval‘s agent at the GM Meetings in November, and had Victor Martinez on their wish list as well.  Around this time GM Rick Hahn also quietly explored trading for Jason Heyward, which wasn’t reported until this month.  Martinez re-signed quickly with the Tigers, however, so Hahn signed Adam LaRoche at less than 40% of the commitment Martinez required.

The price difference between LaRoche and Martinez reflects the fact that Martinez is a better hitter, of course.  Still, the White Sox got their coveted left-handed bat without taking on the risk of Martinez’s age 36-39 seasons.  Plus, bringing in a more capable defensive first baseman in LaRoche should help keep Abreu healthy.

The White Sox continued moving quickly by signing lefty reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM deal in mid-November.  Such a contract would have seemed absurd less than a year prior, as Duke had joined the Brewers on a minor league deal in January.  Duke was quietly dominant for the Brewers in 2014 after making a series of adjustments to his pitch mix and arm slot.  No team likes signing a reliever to a three-year deal, especially one with such a brief track record of success.  Only three other relievers received deals of three or more years this offseason, and one of those was also with the White Sox.  Still, the third year for Duke was the cost of doing business, and waiting until January for bargains is risky in its own way.MLB: Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox

Hahn owned the first night of the Winter Meetings, grabbing headlines by closing in on a trade for Jeff Samardzija and a free agent contract for David Robertson in the course of a few hours.  The Samardzija trade was a big win for the White Sox.  I do see the sneaky value in the players the A’s acquired — lower ceiling players who are mostly considered to be solid-average regulars by Baseball America.  Still, they were all players Chicago could afford to surrender to acquire one year of a potential front-rotation arm (plus perhaps an accompanying draft pick if Samardzija departs via free agency).  The White Sox would have had to take on a lot more risk in the free agent market to bring in a pitcher of Samardzija’s caliber.  In Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana, Hahn has assembled one of the better rotation trios in the game.

In Robertson, the White Sox acquired the offseason’s best available reliever at market price.  It’s interesting to note that Robertson apparently had another team offer even more than $46MM.  As with Duke, the term is not ideal, but it was necessary to sign the elite stopper.  $61MM is a lot to spend on commitments to relievers in one offseason, but the White Sox had very few dollars invested into their bullpen prior to Robertson and Duke.  Spending that much money is kind of a blunt-force way of addressing the team’s biggest problem, but it should work pretty well in the short term.  The Sox also complemented their bullpen by acquiring southpaw Dan Jennings from Miami.

Hahn continued going down his long list of offseason upgrades, signing Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42MM deal to play left field.  (We’ll have more on that signing in the Deal of Note section.)  After Cabrera, free agents Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, and Geovany Soto were added as versatile bench pieces.  Getting Soto on a minor league deal was a plus.  Matt Albers and Jesse Crain were also added on minor league deals.

A five-year, $23.5MM extension for center fielder Adam Eaton capped Chicago’s busy offseason.  The talented 26-year-old missed 124 games due to injuries over the past two seasons, but the White Sox balanced that risk with reasonable salaries and a pair of club options at the end.

Questions Remaining

With top prospect Carlos Rodon a phone call away, maybe rotation depth won’t prove to be a problem for the White Sox.  Still, the rotation looks strong when Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana are pitching, and vulnerable the other 40% of the time with Hector Noesi, John Danks, Rodon, and maybe Brad Penny.  The Sox are still tied up with $28.5MM owed to Danks through 2016.

I raised the question of catching in my Offseason Outlook, and some alternatives and/or backups to Tyler Flowers were added in Soto, Rob Brantly, and George Kottaras.  The Sox did reportedly poke around on the Astros’ Jason Castro and discussed Miguel Montero with the Diamondbacks, so alternatives to Flowers were considered.  Catching still seems like a weak point in both the short and long-term.

There’s also the issue of executive vice president and former GM Ken Williams.  It was revealed in December that the Blue Jays sought to interview Williams to be their president/CEO, but White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf declined to grant them permission, and considered the attempt to be tampering.  Ultimately the Blue Jays retained Paul Beeston for one more year, and Williams doesn’t appear to begrudge Reinsdorf about the situation, perhaps because the Jays’ timing was indeed terrible.  Williams’ future with the White Sox bears watching though.

Deal Of Note

Melky Cabrera entered the offseason as our fourth-ranked free agent hitter, and many of us at MLBTR thought he would get the five-year deal he sought.  While there was reportedly one four-year offer, Cabrera settled for three years from the White Sox.  Even accounting for his 2012 PED suspension, qualifying offer, and below-average defense, it was surprising he didn’t sign for more money in a thin market for bats.  It works very well for the White Sox, who committed less to Cabrera and LaRoche than the Tigers did just to Martinez, diversifying their risk in the process.

Overview

We know “winning the offseason” doesn’t mean much once games start, but the White Sox entered the winter with a long list of needs and filled most of them, finding a few relative bargains along the way.  Hahn has assembled a much more interesting team that should be in contention in 2015.

Photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports Images


Trade Candidate: Juan Uribe

Much is still unknown about how (or if) the pending addition of Hector Olivera will impact the 2015 Dodgers.  The Cuban infielder could struggle in his first taste of American pro ball and require more time in the minors than expected, or Olivera’s slightly-torn UCL in his right elbow could become a major issue and put him on the disabled list.  As the Dodgers already have Juan Uribe and Howie Kendrick manning third and second base, they don’t even have any immediate need for Olivera’s services, and could be planning to only give Olivera significant playing time in 2016.

On the other hand, what if Olivera demolishes Triple-A pitching and forces the Dodgers’ hand for a promotion?  While Olivera is a versatile player, it’s hard to believe he’d see much time at first base given Adrian Gonzalez‘s presence or in left field given how the Dodgers already have an outfielder surplus.  Kendrick over four years younger than Uribe and has a longer track record of consistency and durability, so it would be a big surprise to see Kendrick lose his starting job for any reason other than an injury.MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Workout

If the Dodgers decide to find a place for Olivera, therefore, it will likely be at the hot corner.  Uribe is a free agent after the season, and many have speculated that with Olivera on board, the Dodgers are already planning for a future without the 14-year veteran.  As Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are also both pending free agents, it’s possible the 2016 Dodgers infield could consist of Olivera, Corey Seager and Alex Guerrero, with Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner in super-sub roles.

With all this in mind, could L.A. consider cutting ties with Uribe early and start shopping the 36-year-old on the trade market this summer?  If Uribe starts until Olivera is called up, then Uribe’s first month or two of the season could essentially be an audition for other teams.  Turner and Hernandez could become the top fill-in third base options if Olivera were to struggle; both men hit well in 2014, especially Turner and his .897 OPS over 322 plate appearances.  (Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron recently opined that the Dodgers didn’t need Olivera since they already had a cheaper comparable in Turner.)

Hamstring injuries limited Uribe to 103 games last season, though he still hit .311/.337/.440 with nine homers in 404 plate appearances.  While that slash line was undoubtedly aided by a .368 BABIP, it was Uribe’s second consecutive solid year at the plate (a .769 OPS and 116 OPS+ in 2013), continuing an unlikely career turn-around after his production fell off the table in 2011-12.  While his hitting has yo-yoed over the last four years, however, his defense has been uniformly tremendous.  Since the start of the 2010 season, Uribe’s 41 Defensive Runs Saved are the fifth-most of any third baseman in baseball and he has the best UZR/150 (25.4) of any player who has played at least 2500 innings at third.  Between that stellar glove and his improved bat, Uribe’s 8.6 fWAR over the last two seasons has been topped by only 28 players.

With all this in mind, you could argue that the Dodgers would need to see significant evidence from Olivera before they considered giving up on Uribe.  Even keeping Uribe in a bench role would be a fit for L.A. since they certainly have the payroll capacity to afford a $6.5MM backup, and he plays an “integral” leadership role in the clubhouse.

Still, as we’ve already seen from the Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi regime, no move can be ruled out for the Dodgers’ roster.  If the team’s starting pitching depth becomes tested (i.e. Brandon McCarthy or Brett Anderson‘s significant injury histories, or Hyun-Jin Ryu’s bad shoulder), Uribe could be an intriguing trade chip for a starter.  Or, as the Dodgers are having trouble finding takers for Andre Ethier, they could sweeten the pot by adding Uribe to the mix, though contract size could still be an issue.

Looking at contenders with a possible hole at third base, the Indians, Tigers, Royals and White Sox are all going with young players who have yet to prove themselves as surefire contributors.  For these four teams, acquiring Uribe for a pennant race wouldn’t spell the end of, for example, Nick Castellanos or Mike Moustakas as a “third baseman of the future” since Uribe could leave in free agency next winter anyway.  Beyond the AL Central, the Giants are relying on Casey McGehee to repeat his solid 2014 season, though it’s near-impossible to see the Dodgers swing a trade with their arch-rivals.

For the moment, Uribe is staying put in Los Angeles.  If Olivera (or even Turner) starts swinging a hot bat, however, don’t be surprised if the Dodgers start exploring deals.  The Dodgers’ overflow of talent in both the infield and outfield gives them a number of options if they need to patch holes in their rotation or bullpen, and Uribe might be the most realistic trade chip of the bunch.

Photo courtesy of Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports Images


Brady Aiken Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

In a self-penned piece for The Players’ Tribune, left-hander Brady Aiken revealed that he underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.  While pitching at IMG Academy last week, Aiken said that “something felt a little wrong” and examination revealed that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The Astros took Aiken with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft but failed to reach an agreement with the then-17-year-old.  Negotiations fell through due to Houston’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, and the club wanted to reduce Aiken’s proposed bonus from $6.5MM to $5MM.  The Astros’ failure to sign Aiken caused a chain reaction that led to fifth-rounder Jacob Nix also going unsigned, which led to an MLBPA grievance since Nix had made a verbal agreement with the team.

Aiken was projected to be one of the top picks in the 2015 draft, and despite his surgery, it’s still possible (if even probable) that he could receive a high selection if his recovery proceeds as planned.  As Aiken noted himself, two pitchers — Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde — who underwent Tommy John surgery last year were taken ninth and 18th overall, respectively.  Aiken’s case could differ, however, due to his small UCL; one of the questions the Astros had about his health was that recovery from possible TJ surgery could be more difficult given his ligament’s size.

If all goes well for Aiken, undergoing the surgery now would mean he would be back throwing in 12-14 months and able to start his minor league career early in the 2016 season.


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Minor Moves: Harris, Lohman, Boggs

Here are the day’s minor transactions, updated as we go:

  • The Rays have released outfielder James Harris, MLBTR has learned. Harris was a supplemental first-round pick in the 2011 draft, taken 60th overall by Tampa and signed for a (then under-slot) bonus of $490K. Drafted as something of a toolsy project out of high school, Harris never got comfortable at the plate during his four pro seasons, hitting only .215/.291/.305 over 898 minor league plate appearances. The 21-year-old topped out at the A-ball level in the Rays’ system last year.
  • The Phillies announced that they have acquired minor league shortstop Devin Lohman from the Reds in exchange for future considerations. Lohman, 25, has spent the past two seasons with Cincinnati’s Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, where he’s batted a combined .240/.307/.339. A third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2010, Lohman’s bat has never come around as a pro, but he’s a well-regarded defender. Baseball America ranked him 25th among Reds farmhands two offseasons ago on the strength of his glove and ranked him as the best infield defender in the organization’s minor league system that winter as well.
  • The Red Sox have released right-handed reliever Mitchell Boggs, the team announced. Boggs, 31, was in camp on a minor league deal. He has not pitched in the big leagues since 2013, but had enjoyed six straight seasons of MLB pen work before that. Over 316 2/3 career frames, Boggs owns a 4.12 ERA with 6.6 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. His best year to date was 2012, when he racked up 73 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA pitching for the Cardinals.

Mets Monitoring Dodgers, Rockies In Search For Lefty Relief

4:46pm: The Mets are also intrigued by Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers, writes Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. A team official told Rubin at the Winter Meetings that Brothers was of interest to the Amazins, and that interest is apparently still alive. The 27-year-old Brothers will earn $1.4MM this year after a down season in 2014. Last year, he struggled to a 5.59 ERA as his control spiked and he posted a career-worst 6.2 BB/9 rate.

Brothers was excellent, however, from 2011-13, especially when considering his home park. In that time, he notched a 2.82 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 out of the Colorado ‘pen. He’s had a good Spring Training thus far and is under team control through 2017. Brothers has a career 2.40 ERA on the road compared to a 4.51 mark at Coors Field.

As Rubin notes, the Rox also have southpaw Boone Logan, though his contract seems especially prohibitive for the Mets; Logan is owed $5.5MM this year and $6.25MM in 2016.

4:01pm: The Mets are “keeping an eye on” three Dodgers left-handed relief options — J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Adam Liberatore — in case any of the three become available, reports Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (via Twitter).

The Mets have a known need for a bullpen lefty following Josh Edgin‘s Tommy John surgery and have been connected to Baltimore’s Brian Matusz on multiple occasions this spring. Of course, Matusz sounds to be more available than any of the three Dodger southpaws, based on Saxon’s wording.

Howell would seem to have a spot in the Dodgers’ bullpen locked down, as the former Ray has posted a 2.19 ERA over the past two seasons with Los Angeles and is entering the second season of a two-year, $11.25MM contract signed following a strong first year with the Dodgers. Besides that fact, Howell is slated to earn $4MM this season, and the Mets reportedly aren’t even comfortable with Matusz’s $3.2MM salary, so it’s hard to envision a great fit with Howell.

Rodriguez and Liberatore, however, could conceivably be more available, and neither would cost much more than the Major League minimum in terms of salary. Rodriguez, 23, was the Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2012 and reached the Majors that same season. However, despite a strong 2013 followup to his brief 2012 cameo, (2.32 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9), Rodriguez saw just 14 regular-season innings with the Dodgers last year. Rodriguez struggled to a 4.40 ERA in Triple-A’s hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2014 and was slowed by a strained shoulder muscle as well. With just one year, 120 days of MLB service time, Rodriguez likely wouldn’t be arbitration eligible for another two years, making him an understandably appealing target.

It’s unclear how the new front office views Rodriguez, but the old regime clearly had some concerns over his readiness. The former front office invested significantly in free agent relievers last winter (including Brian Wilson and Chris Perez — neither of whom panned out) and quickly optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A after a rough patch in late April. New president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and VP Josh Byrnes may have more faith in Rodriguez and be reluctant to part with him.

As for Liberatore, the Dodgers only acquired him this offseason. The 27-year-old had previously been with the Rays, so it was hardly surprising to see Friedman pull both Liberatore and Joel Peralta from the Rays organization in a trade with his former colleagues. Liberatore is older for a prospect, but he has exceptional numbers at the Triple-A level, where he’s worked to a 2.40 ERA in 146 1/3 innings. His most impressive work came in 2014, when he worked to a 1.66 ERA with 11.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 65 innings.

For what it’s worth, both Liberatore and Rodriguez have had excellent Spring Training campaigns, combining for 13 innings of scoreless relief. That likely doesn’t mean much, and considering the fact that both have Minor League options remaining, there’s no pressure for the Dodgers to move either, even if they don’t break camp in the bullpen. Also to be considered is the fact that relief help is a need for the Dodgers themselves, particularly in the wake of an injury to closer Kenley Jansen that may only sideline him through mid-April but could leave him on the shelf into mid-May. The Dodgers have a number of contracts they’d like to shed (e.g. Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena) but the Mets would hardly seem to be in a financial position to sweeten the pot by taking on some salary in a trade.


Aaron Harang On Signing With Phillies

Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves.  Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA.  Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal.  Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM.  It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.

The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving.  I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida.  “The Phillies moved the fastest.  I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there.  Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”

Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five.  He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.

Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal.  Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.

There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall.  But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.

Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal.  Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him.  After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter.  Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.


Sean Burnett To Throw For Teams In May Or June

Free agent left-hander Sean Burnett is making progress toward a return this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career on June 5 last season, agent Jim Munsey tells MLBTR.

“I actually feel great and have begun throwing off a mound,” said Burnett, via Munsey. “This isn’t my first rodeo so I’ve got a pretty good idea about my progress.” Multiple teams have reached out to Munsey to check in on Burnett, and the agent says his client is currently on track to help a club sometime around the All-Star break or trade deadline in mid-to-late July. Burnett is expected to throw for interested teams in May or June.

Burnett, 32, was limited to just 10 1/3 innings over the life of a two-year, $8MM contract signed with the Angels prior to the 2013 campaign. Nerve irritation and a strained flexor tendon cut short his first season with the Halos before the aforementioned Tommy John wiped out nearly all of his 2014 season.

From 2009-12, though, Burnett was a very strong left-handed option in the bullpen, working to a 2.85 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 234 innings for the Pirates and Nationals. During that time, Burnett unsurprisingly displayed strong numbers against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .213/.279/.336 batting line. However, unlike many lefty relievers, Burnett also tallied strong numbers against right-handed hitters. While hitters with the platoon advantage did post superior numbers to their left-handed counterparts, the .235/.319/.340 batting line they tallied from ’09-’12 is overall a rather weak level of production.


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