March 2008

Blocked Prospects: Brent Lillibridge

One of the key components of the Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh deal in early 2007 was shortstop Brent Lillibridge, who came over to the Braves along with Mike Gonzalez. Lillibridge, who had a decent shot of making the Braves as a utility player this spring, was one of the team’s final cuts and will start the year in Richmond.

Lillibridge’s instincts have always drawn raves and he’s matured quickly. Many would argue he’s Major League ready now. But for the foreseeable future he’s blocked by Yunel Escobar, himself a newly appointed starter. Lillibridge managed a .400 OBP during two Class-A stops in 2006. In 2007 he hit 10 homers in 87 games at Triple-A Richmond and projects as a 15-20 HR guy in the bigs. He’s got good, but not blazing speed. Yet in 309 minor league games he’s swiped 105 bases, including 28 with an 85% success rate in Richmond. It’s the instincts, man.

However, with Escobar’s fantastic close to the 2007 season there was little doubt who the Braves starting shortstop would be going into 2008. Lillibridge had a shot to make the team as a utility player, and in early March was even given a surprise start at third by manager Bobby Cox despite not having played the position since the 2004 Cape Cod summer league. "He can play, man," said Cox after the game when questioned about the move. Lillibridge also saw time at second and in center (where he spent two seasons in college) during the spring.

The reason he didn’t head north with the team this year was partly because he hit just .224 this spring (and led the team with 18 whiffs), but also because the team would like to get him regular at bats, something that wouldn’t happen if he’d made the team as a bench player. At the very least a late season callup seems in order, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d get some starts in center should Mark Kotsay‘s back flare up.

You get the feeling Cox would like to find a place for Lillibridge. His name often surfaces in trade talks, but that probably has more to do with other GMs coveting him than any willingness to deal on the part of the Braves. Still, it’s fun to think about what an "intangibles" kind of player like Lillibridge might fetch. He could end up being a key piece to the Braves getting a top player for the stretch run.

Aaron Shinsano writes for East Windup Chronicle.

Rangers DFA Tejeda, Cruz

As expected the Rangers DFA’d outfielder Nelson Cruz and pitcher Robinson Tejeda over the weekend. Tejeda is a casualty of the Rangers’ Friday deal for Dustin Nippert, and has been undergoing a thus far unsuccessful transition to the bullpen. He went 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA during the spring, but did manage to run a streak of four scoreless appearances prior to giving up a game-ending RBI triple to Felix Pie last week.

Cruz’s release was expected. There was some light talk of him possibly being moved to Tampa last week, but that evaporated when the Rays acquired former Angels prospect Nathan Haynes. Ironically, according to Lone Star Ball, Haynes was once offered to Texas along with Casey Kotchman in a proposed deal for Mark Teixeira. Sands through the hourglass…

Control problems have always plagued Tejeda (67/60 K/BB in 2007), but he’s got a live fastball that touches the upper 90s and a decent change to compliment it. Plus he owns Orlando Cabrera (1 for 10 lifetime). It seems likely someone might give the 6′ 3" Dominican another shot.

Aaron Shinsano writes for East Windup Chronicle.

Odds And Ends: Quintero, Rios, Pierre

A few random notes from around the MLBiverse…

  • Henry Schulman says the Giants are in need of a backup catcher and a logical choice may be Astros backup Humberto Quintero, whom Bruce Bochy is familiar with from his days with the Padres. He also notes that the Rays have two experienced catchers that were just reassigned to the minor leagues in Josh Paul and Mike DiFelice.
  • The Jays and Alex Rios are closer today to an agreement on a long-term extension than they were yesterday. That according to Rios’ agent, Paul Kinzer. Yesterday it was reported that the Jays had offered a six-year, $65MM deal. No word yet on what any new offers might look like. Kinzer reasserted that a deal needs to be done by tonight or negotiations will be put off until after the season.
  • Bobby Kielty initially accepted his demotion to Pawtucket, but he is now having second-thoughts and will wait a few days to see if any other teams are interested in a switch-hitting outfielder. With all the rumors swirling recently about teams in need of outfield help, I have to believe that Kielty will land a major league gig. PECOTA projects a line of .253/.331/.418 based on 159 plate appearances and Kielty can play all three outfield spots.
  • The Dodgers made it official today, giving Andre Ethier the left field job.   This puts one more nail in the coffin of one of the worst free agent signings in recent memory. The move means that Juan Pierre will be a reserve, one year after signing a five-year, $44MM deal. The Dodgers will certainly look to trade Pierre, but will have to swallow a good portion of the $36.5MM remaining on the deal.
  • A couple of big names have made major league rosters after only earning non-roster spring training invites prior to spring training. The Rockies have given a job to Scott Podsednik, while the Rays did the same with former Rookie-of-the-Year Eric Hinske. In fact, Hinske will start on Opening Day and will be the Rays’ right fielder against right handers to begin the season.
  • Phil Sheriden notes that Adam Eaton was named the Phillies’ fifth starter, but that may not last long as Pat Gillick will certainly be looking for a better option. Sheriden feels that Gillick is much better at making moves in-season than during the offseason.

Cork Gaines writes for Rays Index and can be reached here.

Orioles Release Jay Gibbons

The Orioles today released their second longest tenured player, Jay Gibbons. In doing so, the O’s must eat the remaining $11.9MM in salary.

Gibbons batted .230-6-28 in only 84 games last season. His 62 OPS+ was only the second time in his career that he posted a number below 100. Injuries have hampered Gibbons who has only played 100 games once in the past four years. His best season came in 2005 when he hit .277-26-79 with an OPS+ of 118.

Gibbons is still facing a 15-game suspension for use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. The suspension was recently postponed as the league negotiates stiffer penalties with the players’ union. It is widely believed that Gibbons will have his suspension lifted as part of the agreement.

Cork Gaines writes for Rays Index and can be reached here.

Rosenthal’s Latest: DeWitt, Murton, Vargas, Hatteberg, Pena, Baek, Piazza

Ken Rosenthal has his latest column up at As usual he is not shy about stirring up rumors. Let’s take a look at what the rumor-guru has to say:

  • Rosenthal notes that the Dodgers will go with Blake DeWitt at third base who has never played a game above AA. This comes after the Dodgers failed to acquire either the Astros’ Mark Loretta, who was unavailable and the Royals’ Esteban German, who was too expensive. The Royals were asking for the Dodgers’ third best prospect, shortstop Chin-Lung Hu.
  • He indicates that the Padres and the Rays are pursuing Matt Murton but the Cubs are holding out for a top pitching prospect in return, knowing Murton will be a starter on another club. Rosenthal quotes one GM as saying that the price "is way too high as of now". As many as five teams have shown interest in Murton.
  • The Mets are among a dozen teams that have inquired about Brewers pitcher Claudio Vargas, who will not be in the rotation to begin the season. [Update: Sorry about this one. I had forgotten that the Brewers released Vargas earlier this week]
  • The Reds have put Ryan Freel on the market, but more teams appear to be interested in Scott Hatteberg. However, Rosenthal indicates that it is unlikely for the Red to trade Hatteberg even if Joey Votto is named the starter.
  • The Tigers, Reds and Orioles all tried to acquire backup catcher Brayan Pena from the Braves, but the Braves do not appear interested in letting him go
  • Rosenthal says that Pat Gillick’s history in Seattle may have played a part in the Phillies inability to land M’s reliever Cha Seung Baek, who is out of options but made the roster as a reliever.
  • Finally, Rosenthal notes that Mike Piazza is still working out with hopes of landing a gig at some point in ’08. Rosenthal thinks that Piazza may have to come to the realization soon that his career may be over.

Cork Gaines writes for Rays Index and can be reached here.

Rockies Want De La Rosa As PTBNL

Last Wednesday, the Royals acquired Ramon Ramirez from the Rockies for a player to be named later. Well, later appears to be now as the Rockies have expressed interest in Jorge De La Rosa assuming he clears waivers and accepts the assignment.  For more clarity, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star breaks down why it wasn’t just a straight trade of Ramirez for De La Rosa:

"Any club claiming De La Rosa on waivers would be on the hook for his $1.025 million salary. He can choose to become a free agent if he clears waivers but would forfeit his salary if he does so. If De La Rosa clears waivers and accepts the assignment, he can be traded as a minor-league player. A player to be determined later can’t be a player on a club’s 40-man roster."

De La Rosa started strong this spring but ended with an 8.03 ERA.  After posting optimistic k/9 rates of 8.9 and 9.2 in ’05 and ’06 respectively, De La Rosa has struggled in his move from Milwaukee to the Royals.  He throws hard and may find more success in the NL with some more work in minors.

By Nat Boyle

K-Rod Won’t Negotiate During Season

The Daily News LA has a brief update on the Angels and their attempt to re-sign Francisco Rodriguez.  Apparently neither party has made much headway on getting a deal done before the season and now that Spring Training is ending K-Rod and his agent, Paul Kinzer, won’t negotiate during the season.

"…Kinzer said he has ‘absolutely not’ given the Angels a deadline or ultimatum to sign Rodriguez before the season starts or watch him leave as a free agent next fall.

Rodriguez conceded Saturday that seems to be the likely outcome.

‘Everything’s headed that way,’ he said. ‘But there’s going to be six long months of the season and I can’t predict what’s going to happen in one week or one month or six months.’"

MLBTR suggests $50MM over 4 years is not unreachable for K-Rod, given Joe Nathan‘s recent $47MM over 4 years.  Still both sides are distant at this point as the Angels best offer has been $34 over 3 years.  K-Rod argued for $12.5 in the arbitration case he eventually lost, so the Angels contract offer falls short of what Rodriguez feels he deserves now in arbitration.  K-Rod is only 26, seven (!) years younger than Nathan, and for that should be able to command a 4+ year deal easily.

By Nat Boyle

Giants Designate Steve Kline

Chris Haft at reports the Giants have designated lefty reliever Steve Kline for assignment.  Adds Haft,

"Dropping Kline… was not completely unexpected. Kline, 35, is coming off his worst season since his rookie year of 1997, having posted a 4.70 ERA and more walks than strikeouts last year. He also allowed left-handed batters to hit .318 off him. This spring, Kline owned a 5.40 ERA in 11 appearances and had yielded 17 hits in 11 2/3 innings."

Lefties who can’t get lefties out aren’t well sought after.  Still, somebody will probably take a flier on Kline.  Any ideas as to who could use him?

By Nat Boyle

Sheets & Sabathia Head Next Year’s Free Agent Class

A couple nice nuggets to confirm what we already suspect regarding a couple big fish on the 2009 Starting Pitcher Free Agents list.

As MLBTR covered here, this should be Ben Sheets‘ last year with the Brewers.  Further affirming the inevitable, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says,

If the 29-year-old right-hander finally has a healthy season and puts up impressive numbers, the Brewers would be hard-pressed to meet his asking price on what has been a runaway pitching market in recent years.  And, should Sheets break down again and turns his four-year, $38.5 million contract into a complete boondoggle, the Brewers would be taken to task for giving him another chance.

And news on an even bigger fish, Patrick McManamon of the Ohio Beacon Journal brings us a quote from Indians GM Mark Shapiro that could lead one to believe that C.C. Sabathia will be voted out of the Tribe:

”We’re forced to confront decisions every year,” Shapiro said. ”We don’t lose much next year. We lose one core player next year . . . maybe not. But then the two years that follow we lose almost no one — and none of our core players.  ‘The biggest challenge that we’ve got over the next four years, the three years that follow this one, is how we handle losing C.C., if we lose him.”

Tim recently put together an excellent breakdown of Sabathia-suitors here.

By Nat Boyle

To Be Dealt: Bay, Nady, Marte, Morris, Wilson

A short but sweet article came out in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette this morning detailing the Pirates’ five main trade candidates.  No new or surprising names appear on the list but it’s a handy roundup for those not up to date on their Bucco news.  As we head into the ’08 season (tonight!) the Pirates may not be contenders, but they could be difference makers.

Jason Bay – $5.75MM in ’08, $7.5MM in ’09 – I was surprised they didn’t deal him in the offseason, but the Pirates are wisely taking a wait and see approach with Bay.  Surely he can’t be as bad as he was last season.  Like the Pirates, PECOTA is predicting a moderate bounce back season, but not quite the elite 30 HR seasons of ’05-’06.

Xavier Nady
– $3.35MM in ’08, arbitration eligible in ’09 – To make room for blocked prospect Steve Pearce, Nady needs to go; however, there’s enough doubt around the league that he can hit righties well enough to justify an everyday position.  The Mets are the only listed suitor as they could use a corner OF/1B.

Damaso Marte – $2MM in ’08 with club option for ’09 – The article’s rhetoric seems to imply Marte is the most likely to be dealt with Yankees and Braves as suitors.  When it comes to crafty, lefty relievers, expect a number of teams to come calling.

Matt Morris – $9.5MM in ’08, $9MM club option in ’09 ($1MM buyout) –  Morris had a nice first half for the Giants last year(3.55 ERA) before regressing to his struggling ways.  His talent should make it hard to trade him out of the NL, and his contract and could make it difficult to deal him to any team not desperate for someone to pickup innings.  The Pirates should be crossing their fingers for another strong first half.

Jack Wilson
– $6.5MM in ’08, $7.25MM in ’09, $8.4 club option for ’10 – The article notes that the Pirates will need a SS in return for someone on this list before they can comfortably deal Wilson as he’s the only everyday SS in their system.  As Tim noted back in August, Wilson just wants out of Pittsburgh and will waive his six team no trade clause.

We’d love to hear from Pirates fans on all of this.

By Nat Boyle