Here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.
Designated For Assignment
Key Minor League Signings
Here’s a look back at this week at MLBTR.
Designated For Assignment
Key Minor League Signings
On the third episode of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast, Jeff Todd runs down the transactional news from the week (1:20) before being joined by Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak (2:07), who talks about the state of the Halos as they look to supplement a 98-win team while remaining cognizant of the future. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes also joins the line (24:05) to talk through upcoming qualifying offer decisions around the league and predict whether or not this will be the year that a QO is finally accepted.
The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.
*MLBTR apologizes for the delay in posting this episode, which was the result of technical difficulties.
Cabrera’s operation isn’t entirely surprising, but doctors also discovered a stress fracture in the navicular bone near the top of his right foot, Beck writes. That injury requires a longer rehab process and required screws to be inserted into Cabrera’s foot, according to Beck.
Cabrera will be re-evaluated in three months’ time, and GM Dave Dombrowski said the former AL MVP will be “pretty much inactive” until that point. Dombrowski wouldn’t comment on whether or not Cabrera would be ready for Spring Training, but it seems possible that he’ll be getting a late start to his 2015 campaign at this point. Dombrowski said the team would provide further updates once Cabrera is re-evaluted in January, but missing an offseason of workouts does bring his status for Opening Day in 2015 into question. Needless to say, the onset of injuries is troubling for both Tigers fans and the team itself, as Cabrera is owed an enormous sum of $240MM through the 2024 season.
Shifting to Wainwright, the team has since confirmed the news, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided further details. Wainwright had some cartilage “trimmed” in the back of his elbow in order to avoid irritation in that area, an official tells Goold. The Cardinals have said Wainwright will resume a throwing program in eight weeks, and the surgery is not expected to impact his 2015 season, Goold writes.
Clearly, the eight-week timeframe for Wainwright is less troubling than Cabrera’s outlook, although it doesn’t leave a large amount of room for setbacks. That schedule would allow Wainwright to resume throwing in mid-to-late December. The right-hander is owed $78MM over the remaining four years of his five-year, $97.5MM contract.
Joe Maddon shocked many people by opting out of his contract with the Rays today and has now become the most coveted managerial free agent in recent history. While early speculation was that he’d follow former GM Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, Friedman and the Dodgers have issued a statement backing Don Mattingly as their manager, definitively stating that Mattingly will manage the Dodgers next season.
There’s been plenty of other Maddon chatter, however, so we’ll keep track of the latest on his situation here…
Hendriks, 25, threw 19 1/3 frames for Kansas City after being acquired from the Blue Jays in a mid-season deal. On the year, Hendriks tossed 32 2/3 innings if 5.23 ERA ball, striking out 6.3 and walking 1.9 batters per nine and posting a more favorable 3.84 FIP.
Over parts of four seasons in the bigs, Hendriks has worked to cumulative 5.92 ERA over 188 2/3 total innings. In nearly 400 Triple-A innings in his career, however, Hendriks has allowed 3.19 earned per nine.
Victor Martinez is coming off perhaps the finest season of his career at age 35, but age won’t stop the designated hitter from pursuing a four-year contract on the open market, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Martinez implied earlier in the month to Anthony Castrovince that he’d like to play another four years, though not specifically all on one contract.
Martinez will decline a qualifying offer from the Tigers and seek a contract that covers the same term that his previous four-year, $50MM contract with Detroit. However, it can be reasonably assumed, in my estimation, that the guarantee on a new four-year deal would exceed that total. The Tigers would love to have Martinez back, Heyman writes, but a four-year deal could be a sticking point for the team.
Martinez ranked sixth on the final in-season edition of MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings and will undoubtedly be looked upon favorably in MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agent Rankings following the conclusion of the World Series. The veteran DH (and occasional first baseman/catcher) put up an excellent .335/.409/.565 batting line with 32 homers this season, leading the American Legaue in OBP and leading all of Major League Baseball in OPS (.974).
Nonetheless, a four-year deal for Martinez would run through his age-39 season, which obviously carries a tremendous amount of risk for any party interested in signing him. A four-year deal at an average annual value he and his representatives deem acceptable could approach or even exceed the $60MM mark — a steep price to pay for a slugger of that age, even coming off such a strong season.
Then again, the free agent market lacks few power bats, so Martinez will have no shortage of interest. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that a team in need of a bat that feels it can contend in 2015-16 ponies up that kind of cash, even if the final years of the deal can be reasonably expected to return diminished results.
Former Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is expected to join the Reds’ front office to work with close friend Walt Jocketty in the near future, sources tell ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link).
The 52-year-old Towers was removed from the role of GM in Arizona and offered a different position within the organization last month, but Towers declined the opportunity in order to seek a different role with another organization. Former player agent and assistant general manager Dave Stewart was named as Towers’ successor, with De Jon Watson jumping from the Dodgers to the D’Backs to serve as senior vice president of baseball operations.
Towers has previously served as general manager of the Padres as well, where he was one of the game’s longest-tenured GMs, occupying that role from 1995 through 2009. Between GM gigs, Towers worked as a special assignment scout in the Yankees front office. He’s known to have a strong scouting background and is described by some as having an old-school approach to the game.
Late last month, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that there were changes coming to Cincinnati’s front office, as assistant GM Bob Miller left the organization, though that split was said to be amicable in nature. A change at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t seem likely in the near future, as Jocketty himself inked a two-year extension in September that runs through the 2016 season.
The Royals have claimed outfielder Moises Sierra off outright waivers from the White Sox, according to MLB.com’s Scott Merkin (Twitter link). Additionally, the Sox have outrighted outfielder Michael Taylor to Triple-A Charlotte.
The move comes at a somewhat unexpected time for the Royals, who are in the midst of the World Series, but Sierra will add to the team’s outfield depth for the 2015 season. The 26-year-old batted .276/.311/.417 with a pair of homers in 135 plate appearances for the White Sox this season after they claimed him on waivers from the Blue Jays. Sierra has played mostly right field in his career, and while defensive metrics didn’t like his work with the Blue Jays, both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating gave him positive reviews in a small 372-inning sample this season. Sierra has less than two years of Major League service and can be controlled through the 2019 season if Kansas City sees fit.
Taylor, 28, at one time ranked as high as the No. 29 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America, but his career stalled after a few promising seasons at the Triple-A level. Taylor was one of three players, along with Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek, traded by the Phillies to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roy Halladay. Toronto traded him to Oakland for Brett Wallace (another top prospect who ultimately did not pan out), who eventually flipped him to the White Sox in a minor deal for right-hander Jake Sanchez. Taylor is a career .167/.254/.216 hitter in 114 big league plate appearances, though he sports a .278/.369/.441 batting line at Triple-A.
With these moves, Chicago’s 40-man roster is down to 37, Merkin notes.
There’s a new man in charge but the mantra remains the same: do more with less. The Rays will trot out the lowest payroll in the AL East once again and after a sub-.500 season Matt Silverman is charged with the task of getting them back to the playoffs.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
Apparently, the Rays’ shakeup will extend beyond the front office. Earlier today we learned that Joe Maddon has decided to opt out of his contract with the Rays. The 60-year-old was quick to tell the world that he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay after Andrew Friedman left to join the Dodgers, but upon learning that his contract contained a two-week opt-out window in the event that Friedman left the organization, he had a change of heart. Maddon is said to be seeking a five-year deal worth around $5MM annually, so it’s not surprising that Tampa shied away from that level of commitment. The Rays now have to add finding a skipper to their to-do list in the coming weeks and months.
After years of working in the Rays baseball ops department, Silverman is well-prepared for his new role. He’ll be joined by the recently promoted Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, both of whom have been named vice presidents of baseball operations. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The Rays set a new franchise high with their $80MM+ payroll last season, but we shouldn’t expect to see that again. Overall spending is “clearly going to be lower,” owner Stuart Sternberg said in September. While Silverman doesn’t have to worry about carving out room for an arbitration raise for David Price or paying Heath Bell‘s salary, it looks like he’ll be restricted in free agency given the long list of arbitration eligible players listed above.
With everyone under contract or team control, it would appear that the Rays more or less have their core in place for 2015. Still, they might try to be proactive about improving their offensive production with an emphasis on fixing their recent power outage. In 2014, the Rays hit a total of 117 home runs – their second-lowest total in franchise history – and they probably want to avoid a repeat.
When considering the club’s desire to rediscover the long ball and limited payroll, Matt Joyce appears to be a likely trade candidate. In fact, the 30-year-old even acknowledged at the end of the season that he could be changing addresses this winter. Joyce is projected to earn $4.9MM through arbitration and that $1.2MM pay bump doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Rays given Joyce’s declining power. The corner outfielder slashed .254/.349/.383 in 2014, a notable drop off from his All-Star campaign in 2011 where he posted a batting line of .277/.347/.478. If the Rays can unload Joyce’s salary for something useful in return, they might be able to carve out enough space to go after a difference-maker in free agency or trade for one. Inexpensive power options from around the league include Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Evan Gattis, Dayan Viciedo, and Pedro Alvarez, though their asking prices and availability will vary. Yoenis Cespedes also fits the bill as a power bat, but he’s slated to earn $10.5MM in his walk year.
Alternatively, they could simply pocket that cash as a part of their plan to trim payroll and stick with what they have in-house. If Wil Myers rebounds as many expect him to, the trio of him, Kevin Kiermaier, and Desmond Jennings should be pretty productive. Trading Joyce seems even less painful when you also consider a supporting cast of Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus, part-time help from Ben Zobrist, and prospect Mikie Mahtook waiting in the wings.
The Rays could also tighten up their payroll by trading Zobrist and his $7.5MM salary. Of course, Silverman would want a massive return if he considered such a move and that asking price could be well beyond what another club would give up. The 33-year-old second baseman turned in 5.7 WAR last season, a rating that put him in the top 15 in the majors, and the Rays know how valuable he is. Still, his salary is nothing to sneeze at for the small market Rays and he’ll be a free agent after the coming season. On top of that, the free agent second base market is paper thin with options like Stephen Drew and Asdrubal Cabrera, if they’re not signed to play shortstop, at the top of the heap. Moving Zobrist would allow the Rays to meet their budgetary goals while also replenishing their once strong farm system. Entering this year, Baseball America (No. 20), Keith Law (No. 23), and Baseball Prospectus (No. 26) all put the Rays’ minor league talent near the bottom of the league. The Rays surely have an attachment to Zobrist on a personal and professional level, but as a club committed to player development, they have to get their farm system back on the right track in short order.
One has to imagine that the Rays would like to get out from under Jose Molina‘s $2.75MM contract for 2015 and find a better backup to catcher Ryan Hanigan. Despite his experience behind the dish and solid pitch framing, his .178/.232/.188 makes him a less-than-desirable fill-in for the oft-injured Hanigan. If there’s a trade to be had here, it will probably require the Rays to pick up most of the money owed to Molina. Catcher Curt Casali doesn’t seem ready for the big show just yet, so if they move on from Molina, they’ll have to land a replacement.
It’s tough to gauge what the Rays’ new regime will want to do this offseason, but the starting rotation appears to be set with the likes of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi. In the summertime, Matt Moore will join that group upon completing recovery from Tommy John surgery. In the interim, the Rays could plug Hellickson into the back of the rotation or call upon Alex Colome or Nate Karns. Hellickson, who made just 13 starts last season (4.52 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9), could be seen by some as a trade candidate, but he probably won’t yield a great return at this time. If Hellickson can rebound and look a little more like the pitcher we saw in 2011-12, then he’ll make a deal much more worthwhile for the Rays. If the Rays choose to deal from their pitching surplus this winter it might make more sense to dangle Triple-A Durham notables like Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery.
The Rays’ bullpen is currently slated to feature Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Kirby Yates, and Jeff Beliveau as well as right-hander Michael Kohn, who was signed to a major league deal just last week. Joel Peralta, who has a reasonable $2.5MM club option, will probably be back as well. Peralta’s 4.41 ERA looks pretty ugly, but his 3.11 xFIP is far more forgiving. And, while Balfour’s 2014 campaign was pretty bad, Boxberger and McGee project to be solid late-inning options. The Rays could beef up their ‘pen with some of the low cost veteran arms that will be waiting around after the New Year and it’s conceivable that they could find a trade partner for Balfour, though it may require them to eat some of his salary.
The Rays’ flexibility is limited in more ways than one but they have shown year after year that they are unwilling to let their limitations hold them back.
Alex Rios‘ up-and-down career trend continued in 2014, with an ill-timed replacement-level performance. The Rangers declined the outfielder’s club option, putting the 11-year veteran on the free agent market for the first time in his career.
Rios has had a productive career. A first-round pick of the Blue Jays out of Puerto Rico in 1999, Rios finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in ’04. A few seasons later he nabbed back-to-back All-Star appearances, and went on to post seasons worth three or more wins above replacement in 2010, ’12, and ’13. When he’s at his best, Rios has shown 20 home run power as a right-handed hitter and the ability to hit .280 or better.
There were positives in his 2014 season. Rios hit .304/.335/.430 through July, which was a little better than his successful 2013 campaign. For all of 2014 Rios hit .325/.353/.545 against southpaws. Over the 2012-14 seasons, Rios’ .530 slugging percentage against lefties ranks 22nd in baseball.
Rios is also an asset on the basepaths. He’s posted a positive baserunning runs above average figure in every season of his career, and ranks 18th in baseball from 2012-14 with 13.9 BsR. He’s shown the ability to steal bases at a high success rate as recently as 2013, when he swiped 42 bags in 49 tries.
Though he missed most of the final month of the 2014 season, Rios has a track record of durability. From 2007-13, Rios averaged 153 games per season, never dropping below 145. This is a clear advantage over a few other corner outfield types he’ll be competing with in free agency, Mike Morse and Michael Cuddyer. Rios didn’t technically go on the disabled list this year; he hasn’t done so since 2006.
Rios’ season was seemingly spoiled by a pair of injuries. He twisted his ankle on July 19th, and believes he developed a thumb injury as a result of compensating for the ankle. With the bruised thumb at risk for infection, he was officially shut down on September 21st. Explained agent Paul Kinzer to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, “His numbers were down because of the injuries. He stayed in the lineup and tried to do all he could because of what was happening with the team.”
There are concerns independent of Rios’ 2014 injuries. Just looking at the period prior to his ankle injury, Rios hit only three home runs in 297 plate appearances. With 15 doubles and eight triples in that time he still managed to slug .462, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s more of a 10-15 home run guy moving forward.
There’s also the issue of Rios’ defense. He was below average in UZR/150 this year, and has been below average in defensive runs saved in each of the last two campaigns. A right fielder by trade, Rios’ ceiling might now be slightly above-average in the outfield, as opposed to the defensive weapon he once was.
Rios’ terrible performance in August this year still counts, and the result was a season with negative offensive value. Throw in unimpressive defense and it was a replacement level campaign. It’s not the first time — Rios was worth less than one win above replacement in each of the ’05, ’09, and ’11 seasons as well. Rios’ batting average on balls in play seems to lack stability, with low marks in ’09 and ’11.
Rios is not much for the free pass, drawing walks at a 5.9% clip in his career and 4.4% this year. Among those with at least 500 plate appearances this year, only ten players drew walks at a lower rate than Rios.
Rios was born in Coffee, Alabama but grew up and resides with his wife and two children in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. What were Rios’ parents doing in Coffee, Alabama, anyway? “They must have been passing through,” the outfielder told Mike Ulmer of the Toronto Sun a decade ago.
As Rios told Ulmer, as a child growing up in Puerto Rico, he wanted to quit baseball at age 13 to spend more time with his friends. His father, Israel, pushed him to continue playing.
Rios participated in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico in ’06, ’09, and ’13. He told Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times last year, “When you represent your country and the name of your country is across your chest, it really means a lot.”
With Adam Dunn expected to retire, Rios is now the active leader for most games played with no postseason experience. Having earned almost $75MM in his career, it’s possible Rios will prioritize finding a contending club, not that contenders are always easy to predict.
Rios’ competition in the market for corner outfielders this winter includes Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis, Mike Morse, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, and Nori Aoki. For a team that misses out on Cabrera or can’t fit him into their budget, Rios should be a palatable alternative. The Orioles, Reds, Tigers, Astros, Royals, Twins, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, and Giants seem like potential fits.
Rios could choose the security of a two-year deal this winter, as Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones did last offseason. However, Rios already has financial security, and seems more likely to bet on himself and take a one-year deal as Corey Hart, Chris Young, and Mike Morse did last year. I’m pegging Rios for one year and $8.5MM.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
1:37pm: Johnson will be a free agent, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets. Baltimore hopes to sign him to a minor league deal, however, while he continues to rehab his shoulder.
1:12pm: The Orioles have outrighted right-hander Steve Johnson, the club announced. With the move, Baltimore has opened a 40-man roster spot.
Johnson, 27, did not see any time at the MLB level this year after receiving brief stints in each of the last two seasons. In total, he owns a 3.67 ERA over 54 big league innings. Johnson struggled mightily this year at Triple-A, allowing 7.11 earned runs per nine over 13 starts (over which he lasted just 38 innings).
Control issues were the primary culprit, as Johnson issued more than seven free passes per nine innings after never coming close to that mark in prior years. Of course, underlying that may well have been the presence of a significant bone spur in his throwing shoulder, which was ultimately removed surgically.
12:29pm: Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, tells Topkin (Twitter link) that he expects Maddon will manage a team in 2015. Friedman tells Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times (via Twitter) that his new team, the Dodgers, will not be among the suitors regardless of Maddon’s newfound availability.
On Tampa’s end, team president Matt Silverman says that the team will pursue a full search for a replacement, considering internal and external candidates, per Topkin (via Twitter).
11:27am: Rays manager Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract with the Rays and will be leaving the team, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. The move comes as a major surprise, as Maddon had said recently that he expected to remain in Tampa.
Maddon represents the second key departure to hit the Rays in recent weeks, as the team lost long-time GM Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers. Indeed, the opt-out clause vested with Friedman’s departure, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.
Speculation immediately began that Maddon could follow Friedman to Los Angeles, though all involved shot that down quickly. Indeed, the Dodgers have stated publicly that they intend to keep skipper Don Mattingly in place heading into 2015. The only open managerial seat at present is the Twins’, though Minnesota appears to be well down the line in its search.
In a statement confirming the news, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says that the club “tried diligently and aggressively to sign [Maddon] to a third contract extension prior to his decision.” Sternberg added that Maddon, whose deal ran through 2015, has “enabled himself to explore opportunities throughout Major League Baseball.”
Maddon had been at the helm of the Rays for nine seasons, during which he established a reputation as one of the game’s most innovative and forward-thinking skippers. After two years in the basement, Maddon helped to oversee a stunning rise to prominence in Tampa. He ran the dugout for two AL East crowns and four total postseason appearances.
Despite that run of success, Maddon tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (links to Twitter) that a combination of financial disagreement and his own curiosity to seek out a new opportunity led to the move. Though a new deal was discussed, Maddon says that the sides “were still too far apart.” Maddon says he hopes to manage next year but has nothing set up at this point.
Fresh off the largest signing in franchise history — and the third largest in MLB history — the Mariners came within one game of a Wild Card playoff berth. They’ll look to improve upon their 87 wins and set their sights closer to the top of the division in the coming offseason.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
The Mariners stayed in the playoff hunt until the very last day of the season, which is more credit than many pundits gave them at the onset of the 2014 campaign. The strong showing led to an extension for general manager Jack Zduriencik this summer. While the exact length of the extension is unknown, it runs through at least 2016, as it was announced as a multi-year deal.
Zduriencik will have more to work with from a financial standpoint in the 2015 season, as team president Kevin Mather recently explained in a candid interview on 710 ESPN in Seattle. The Mariners, Mather explained, overshot their allotted player personnel budget by nearly $16MM in 2014. However, ownership had no complaints after seeing the team’s strong performance. Rather than asking how the $16MM would be recouped, they instead asked Mather how the team was going to get six more wins in 2015. The Mariners topped the two-million mark in attendance for the first time since 2010, leading Mather to definitively conclude, “…the answer to that question is ‘yes,'” when asked if payroll would increase.
It makes sense for the M’s to bulk up their spending in 2015 for a number of reasons. In addition to their near-miss of the postseason this year, next season marks the final year of team control over co-ace Hisashi Iwakuma. His $7MM salary is a bargain for the team and allows them to offer a formidable one-two punch that they’re not guaranteed to replicate in 2016. Additionally, Robinson Cano will play next season at age 32, and Felix Hernandez will play it at 29. While each may still have some prime years left, they’re nearing the point where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some decline. Next year also marks Jackson’s final year of team control before hitting the open market.
The potential departures of Jackson and Iwakuma, paired with the waning primes of Cano and (to a lesser extent) Hernandez give Zduriencik plenty of motivation to be aggressive, and the Mariners will likely aim to do so by augmenting an offense that again struggled to put runs on the board, albeit not as badly as in years past. Seattle hit .244/.300/.376 as a team, good for a 93 wRC+ mark, which ranked 19th in the Majors. Their 634 runs scored tied them with the Red Sox for 18th in the Majors and 10th in the American League. At an end-of-season press conference, manager Lloyd McClendon voiced a desire to add a pair of bats to the middle of the order for 2015.
The question, then, is: where can Seattle add offense? Cano is entrenched at second base, and Kyle Seager has emerged as one of the game’s best two-way third basemen. Jackson will man center field, and Dustin Ackley seems ticketed for left field duty after hitting .274/.313/.463 from July 1 through season’s end. First baseman (and occasional corner outfielder) Logan Morrison put together a similar hot streak, slashing .284/.334/.447 over his final 79 games. While Ackley and Morrison aren’t as locked in as Cano, Seager and Jackson, I’d imagine other positions are perceived as bigger areas of need.
Perhaps the clearest weakness was in the team’s DH slot. Seattle designated hitters batted a woeful .206/.276/.335 in 2014 — marks that topped only the Indians in terms of production. They’ve already been connected to Victor Martinez, who would give them a strong middle-of-the-order presence but also come at a likely exorbitant price, as he seems destined to top Carlos Beltran‘s three-year, $45MM contract. The team could also rekindle its interest in Nelson Cruz in the wake of his 40-homer season with Baltimore. Cruz is best-deployed as a DH himself, so it seems unlikely that the M’s would pursue both him and Martinez. A third name to consider, should his option be bought out, is Billy Butler. He’s coming off a down season with the Royals, but he’s been connected to the Mariners many times in recent years and could likely be had at a modest price. That would give the team the chance to upgrade more significantly elsewhere.
Melky Cabrera‘s name is one worth keeping an eye on as well. The switch-hitter is said to be close friends with Cano and represents one of the top corner bats on the market. Though he’s played primarily left field in his career, his defensive marks in an admittedly small 625-inning sample in right are respectable, and his arm has typically graded well, per UZR and DRS. The Mariners are also said to be one of the front-runners for Yasmany Tomas, whose reported 70-grade power would certainly fit into the lineup.
Behind the plate, Mike Zunino‘s .199 average and .254 OBP look like areas for upgrade, but they’re accompanied by a .404 slugging percentage and 22 homers. Zunino’s .205 ISO (slugging minus average) ranked third among catchers with at least 100 PA and 23rd in all of baseball among players with at least 450 PA. He also grades out as one of the very best pitch-framers in baseball and caught 28 percent of base-stealers. Catcher is unlikely to be a priority.
The other hole in the lineup comes at shortstop, where the Mariners combined to hit .239/.295/.344. Each of those collective rate stats ranked in the bottom-third of the league, and their collective wRC+ of 83 ranked 20th. Brad Miller took a step back at the plate, but his solid defensive work still left him as a roughly two-win player in a full-time capacity. Call-up Chris Taylor looked sound late in the season, hitting .287/.347/.346, but that production was propped up by an unsustainable .398 average on balls in play.
If the Mariners are not comfortable letting Miller and Taylor battle it out this spring, they could conceivably look for a veteran. Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew are each on the market, but none of the three are a clear upgrade at short. Lowrie and Cabrera have defensive question marks (Seattle shortstops did field quite well in 2014), and Drew’s bat is a wild card. One all-in possibility would be a pursuit of Hanley Ramirez, whose bat would be an unequivocal upgrade to the Mariners’ lineup. However, doing so would also mean that the M’s would need to put up with Ramirez’s poor defense, and they’d need to commit to him well into the future on a likely five-year commitment, if not more. There wouldn’t be a possibility of moving him to third anytime soon, either, with Seager looking very much like a cornerstone player.
A long-term commitment is something the Mariners are well-positioned to tackle, though. Seattle has just two players — Cano and Hernandez — on guaranteed contracts beyond the 2015 season. While the annual commitment on each of those contracts is enormous, it does allow Seattle the luxury of adding another significant AAV to the mix, especially if payroll is going to continue increasing after this season’s eventual mark of $107MM.
Of course, they could look to the rotation to spend if there is again a difficulty in luring free agent hitters to Safeco Field. It may not be a necessity for the team, but some additional certainty could be a benefit. Hernandez and Iwakuma form one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball, and that duo figures to be backed up by a pair of highly touted young arms in James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. Roenis Elias seems a capable fifth starter, and there’s been talk of moving Tom Wilhelmsen to the rotation as well. However, the team could rekindle the interest it showed in Ervin Santana last offseason, and names like Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano represent mid-tier options with high ceilings.
The bullpen isn’t necessarily a significant need either, but it could be an area for Zduriencik to make an addition. Fernando Rodney will again own the ninth inning. Danny Farquhar has emerged as a bullpen weapon over the past two seasons and will be joined by standout rookie Dominic Leone in bridging the gap to Rodney. Additionally, a move to the bullpen appears to have ignited Brandon Maurer‘s career, as the struggling starter became a lights-out reliever upon making the switch (2.17 ERA, 1.85 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 1.2 BB/9 in 37 1/3 innings). Charlie Furbush represents a strong option from the left side, though the club could look to add a second bullpen piece with Joe Beimel departing. Beimel has said he’d like to return, but names like Neal Cotts, Zach Duke and Joe Thatcher are also on the market, to say nothing of the electric Andrew Miller. There’s also room for perhaps a veteran right-handed addition. Pat Neshek and Jason Grilli are attractive setup options, while Luke Hochevar and Kyuji Fujikawa present high-upside options that come with a bit of risk, as neither is all that far removed from Tommy John surgery.
One final thing to consider for the M’s will be whether it’s time to move on from some players that were formerly believed to be core components. The team does have a number of trade and non-tender candidates, with Justin Smoak certainly being one. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently wrote that it’s a near certainty that Smoak’s option will be bought out and the first baseman will be non-tendered, though it’s possible that Zduriencik will try to gauge his trade value first. Even if he’s able to move Smoak, the return would be meager at best.
Jesus Montero, too, could be on thin ice with the organization. The catcher-turned-DH/first baseman did hit well in 97 Triple-A games this season, but his conditioning has been questioned in the past and he finished the season on the suspended list after getting into a bizarre altercation with a since-fired scout. Once touted by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com and ESPN as one of baseball’s top prospects, Montero’s star has dimmed considerably. Another club may have interest, but again, the return on a trade would be a letdown.
Finally there is the case of Michael Saunders. The outfielder’s agent, Michael McCann, recently expressed disappointment in the Mariners organization after Zduriencik made a comment at the end-of-season press conference that McCann felt called his client’s work ethic into question. Zduriencik clarified shortly after that his message — which urged Saunders to reassess his offseason maintenance to better prepare himself to stay healthy for a full season — was a general message that could be applied to any young player. Zduriencik said the organization is not giving up on Saunders, but with McCann expressing frustration on his client’s behalf, it’s worth wondering if a change of scenery will be explored for Saunders — especially if Seattle does add a right field bat.
Certainly, Saunders would be appealing to other teams with outfield needs. Though he’s battled shoulder and oblique injuries in recent years, he’s also batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals over the past three seasons (349 games). The Mets, White Sox, Giants, Phillies and Reds are just a few teams I can envision as fits, if Seattle adds a corner bat and decides to market him. One possibility would be to double-down on a current strength by packaging Saunders with a young, MLB-ready rotation piece for Johnny Cueto, whose name has frequented the rumor mill of late.
Ultimately, Seattle seems like a good bet to make a significant addition — if not two or three — between the end of the World Series and Opening Day 2015. The team has plenty of long-term flexibility and an ownership group that is willing to increase payroll to surpass 2014’s total of 87 wins. That’s a recipe for an aggressive approach, so don’t be surprised to see the team connected to some of the top names on the free agent and trade markets this offseason as it looks to end a 13-year playoff drought.
OCTOBER 24: Friedman will earn a record-setting $35MM over a five-year term, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports via Twitter. The contract also includes incentive mechanisms, per Olney.
OCTOBER 14: The Rays and Dodgers have announced the franchise-altering news that Andrew Friedman will be leaving his role as GM of the Rays to become the new president of baseball operations for the Dodgers. Now-former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti will remain in the organization as an adviser to president Stan Kasten, while Rays president Matthew Silverman will now oversee baseball operations in St. Petersburg. Former VP of business operations Brian Auld will now fill Silverman’s former role of president.
“As I embark upon my next journey, I have only thanks and gratitude to the Rays organization and the Tampa Bay region for a wonderful 10 years together. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so special and for the passion and support of this exceptional fan base. The Rays organization is loaded with talent from ownership to players and everyone between. We were able to create together an unbelievable culture that no doubt will continue, and I am absolutely confident that the successes we achieved will continue into the future.”
Clearly, the move comes as a significant blow to the Rays, who will lose one of the most respected baseball executives in the entire game. And, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets, Friedman worked for the Rays without a contract, so there will be no compensation heading to the Rays from the Dodgers. Friedman is considered by many to be a wizard of sorts, turning the low-budget Rays into a perennial contender despite low revenue stemming from attendance issues and a dilapidated stadium. The Rays have only twice had a payroll over $70MM in Friedman’s tenure, so even amid reports that the Dodgers will scale back spending, to an extent, Friedman should have significantly more than double 2014’s Rays franchise-record $76MM payroll.
Friedman’s work with a modest payroll has garnered limitless praise from peers and pundits alike. Some of the 37-year-old Tulane grad’s most recognizable moves include a pair of extensions for Evan Longoria (the most recent of which guarantees him $100MM over six years); acquiring Ben Zobrist for Aubrey Huff and eventually signing him to a four-year, $18MM extension with two club options; the acquisition of Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young; signing Matt Moore to a five-year, $14MM contract with three club options; signing Chris Archer to a five-year, $20MM extension; and acquiring Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. (For a full list of Friedman’s moves while with the Rays, check out MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker.)
Incredibly, Friedman’s hiring and the reassignment of Colletti means that four of the five teams in the National League West have made a GM change in a five-month span. The Padres dismissed Josh Byrnes late in June, and the D’Backs dismissed Kevin Towers in September. Dan O’Dowd resigned from the Rockies last week after declining an extension offer (Jeff Bridich was named the team’s new GM), and now Friedman has a new role in a new organization at Colletti’s expense.
Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times recently noted that Colletti’s job was in peril and reported that Friedman was the team’s top target as a replacement. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the two sides have been talking “for weeks,” adding that negotiations predate the Dodgers’ disappointing exit from the National League Division Series at the hands of the Cardinals.
Topkin first reported that Friedman was leaving and Silverman would oversee Rays baseball operations (Twitter link). Sherman tweeted that Friedman would be the Dodgers’ new GM. ESPN Los Angeles’ Ramona Shelburne reported that Colletti would remain with the Dodgers as an adviser (Twitter link). Topkin tweeted that Auld would be the new Rays president.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
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