February 2012

Quick Hits: Playoffs, Giolito, White Sox

MLB will expand the playoffs starting this season and the reaction has generally seemed positive. Here are a few more links to cap off the leap day, starting with reaction to the upcoming postseason format…

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says the changes are good for the game, because they will add excitement with minimal intrusion. Plus, the new format will provide teams with an incentive to win their divisions.
  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says the changes make sense. Commissioner Bud Selig has made the right call, Heyman writes.
  • High school right-hander Lucas Giolito hit 100 mph in a start last night, Baseball America’s Nathan Rode confirms. Giolito is the top high school prospect for the 2012 draft, according to Rode.
  • South Side Sox interviewed Dan Fabian, director of baseball operations for the White Sox, about his role with the team, trades, stats and scouting.

NL West Notes: Diamondbacks, Padres, Fielder

We’ve checked in on the NL East and the NL Central this evening. Let’s complete the tour of the National League with this set of links…

  • GM Kevin Towers says he’s on the lookout for catching depth, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (on Twitter). The Diamondbacks and Miguel Montero tabled extension talks for now and Arizona doesn’t have a frontline catcher in its system.
  • Padres pitching prospects Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland and Andrew Cashner have impressed assistant GM A.J. Hinch early on in Spring Training, Corey Brock of MLB.com reports. 
  • It sounds like the Dodgers were the runner up in the Prince Fielder bidding, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. The Orioles appear to have come in third behind Los Angeles and Detroit. Heyman reported in January that the Dodgers offered Fielder a seven-year deal worth over $160MM.

NL Central Notes: Bedard, Garza, Greinke, Reds

Here are today’s NL Central notes, including thoughts from three of the division’s GMs on a few starting pitchers…

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington said he’s cautiously optimistic about Erik Bedard this season, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. "Not that long ago, Erik was one of the better pitchers in baseball," Huntington said. "We still see good stuff. The challenge is going to be health.”
  • Cubs GM Jed Hoyer joined Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio and said he's hopeful to sign Matt Garza long-term because pitching is such a difficult commodity to obtain.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin told Bowden that he and owner Mark Attanasio plan to discuss an extension with Zack Greinke this spring (Twitter link). In this case, Melvin and Attanasio will be speaking to Greinke without relying on an intermediary. The right-hander is without an agent, unlike the overwhelming majority of players. Melvin recently cited deals in the $80MM range as possibly comparables for Greinke.
  • The Reds are a sleeper team for 2012, one scout told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link).

AL East Notes: Rays, Iglesias, Crawford, Yankees

The American League East may be the toughest division in baseball, so the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays likely welcomed the news that MLB will expand its playoffs in 2012. In theory, three teams from one division could play in the postseason under the new arrangement. Here are the latest links from the AL East…

  • Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Peter Gammons of MLB.com that he gets “tired of hearing the Red Sox are underdogs." As Gammons explains, the Rays could be better in 2012 than they were in ’11.
  • Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he's "pretty certain" the Tampa Bay market can support the team long-term, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Sternberg said he's had encouraging talks with city officials and business leaders about the club. 
  • After a challenging winter, Sternberg is projecting a "very, very good team this year," Topkin writes. Sternberg approved a payroll increase of approximately 50% for 2012.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington joined WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show and said the decision of whether Jose Iglesias breaks camp with the team will be up to manager Bobby Valentine. "In a perfect world, [Iglesias] would probably get some more time in Triple-A," the GM said (via Jerry Spar). 
  • Cherington said on WEEI that he isn't worried about Carl Crawford, who will be looking to increase his production after a disappointing 2011. 
  • Right-handed reliever Chris Carpenter, acquired from the Cubs for Theo Epstein, isn't a lock to make the team, Cherington said. The Red Sox may option him to Triple-A and call him up when a spot opens up.
  • Joe Pawlikowski of River Ave. Blues discusses some Yankees who fell short of expectations in 2011 and could make up for it in 2012.

Napoli Expects To Test Free Agency

There was some talk that Mike Napoli’s breakout performance might earn him a long-term extension with the Rangers, but the catcher says talks of a deal have been “squashed” for the time being. Napoli told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he expects to hit free agency after the 2012 campaign.

“I’d love to be here, but I’ll test the market,” Napoli said. “Every player plays to get to free agency. But it’s not something I’m going to worry about. That’s why I have my agent.”

Brian Grieper of Paragon Sports International represents Napoli, who hit 30 home runs and posted a .320/.414/.631 line in 2011. The 30-year-old will earn $9.4MM on a one-year deal this coming season.

Yadier Molina recently agreed to a five-year extension that appears to be worth $75MM. Napoli offers far more power than Molina, but less defensive value. Victor Martinez, a possible comparable for Napoli, signed a four-year, $50MM deal with the Tigers during the 2010-11 offseason. The 2012-13 free agent class for catchers also includes Miguel Montero, Russell Martin, and Chris Iannetta. It doesn't appear that Montero or Martin will sign extensions before the offseason.

NL East Notes: Marlins, Mets, Swisher

Juan Carlos Oviedo isn’t the only member of the Marlins with a different name for the 2012 season. The slugger known as Mike Stanton said today that he prefers Giancarlo, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). MLBTR will now refer to him as Giancarlo Stanton and our archives reflect the change. On to the latest links from the NL East… 

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says Josh Johnson looms above his teammates as the key figure for the Marlins’ chances in 2012. Rosenthal says the Marlins should contend if Johnson makes 30 starts. 
  • A Mets official said the team doesn’t see free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez as a fit, David Lennon of Newsday tweets. Rodriguez called the Mets about an opportunity, but the club appears to have minimal interest
  • The Mets remain in touch with free agent right-hander Chris Young, according to Newsday’s Ken Davidoff (on Twitter). Young still seeks a Major League deal.
  • The Braves will make Nick Swisher their top free agent target next offseason, according to ESPN's Jim Bowden. Bowden suggests the Yankees could make an all-out push for Andre Ethier if Swisher does head to Atlanta.

Mike Axisa contributed to this post.

AL West Notes: Young, Mariners, A’s, Cantu

The Rangersdeal with Dominican teenager Jairo Beras created a stir today, since MLB and many of its clubs thought the prospect was 16 and therefore ineligible to sign. Here are more notes from the AL West…

  • Michael Young told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan that he embraces his role as a utility player and wants to remain with the Rangers long-term. Young wanted out of Texas a year ago this time, but he had a big season at the plate in 2011 and appears to have settled into his new role. You’ll find him on MLBTR’s newly-released list of 2014 free agents.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. said he told GM Jack Zduriencik that he’d put in a good word for the Mariners if Prince Fielder asked him about Seattle this offseason, according to Larry Stone of the Seattle Times. In the end Fielder didn’t ask and Griffey left him alone. “Prince is his own man,” Griffey said. “You can't jeopardize relationships. If he had asked me about it, I would have talked about it.”
  • The Athletics want to take a real look at Josh Donaldson at third base and are unlikely to explore the free agent market for third basemen any time soon, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. Miguel Tejada has said he’d like the chance to return to Oakland, but a reunion seems unlikely.
  • Jorge Cantu’s contract with the Angels includes a May 1st opt-out date, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com tweets.

Minor Moves: Cortes, Mulvey, Valencia

The latest minor moves from around MLB…

Brewers, Axford Talking Extension

Assistant GM Gord Ash confirmed today that the Brewers have discussed a multiyear contract with closer John Axford, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Adam McCalvy of MLB.com report. Ash said the sides will likely agree to a one-year deal for 2012 by Friday’s renewal deadline for pre-arbitration eligible players before resuming talks. It sounds as though Axford is optimistic about working something out.

“I’d love the security,” he said, according to McCalvy. “I love Milwaukee, I’d love to play there as long as I could. I would love to begin my career there and end my career there, in all honesty.”

The sides have discussed a deal of at least four years in length, according to Haudricourt. Axford will be arbitration eligible as a super two player following the 2012 season and he's under team control through 2016. A four-year deal that begins in 2012 would cover three of Axford’s four arbitration seasons. The Brewers would presumably look to obtain a club option or two in exchange for the long-term security.

Axford led the National League with 46 saves in 2011, posting a 1.95 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 73 2/3 innings. Agent Dan Horwits of Beverly Hills Sports Council represents the 28-year-old.

The New Trade Market

MLB players and owners agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement this offseason and they’re set to announce expanded playoffs starting in 2012. These changes will affect the mid-summer trade market in the following ways:

  • More buyers, fewer sellers – Those who followed this week’s NHL trade deadline know that fewer teams consider themselves truly out of the playoff mix when more spots are up for grabs. It’s already common for MLB teams to wait until they’re clearly out of contention to make players available, and the additional Wild Card spots figure to delay the moment at which teams are comfortable selling while reducing the number of teams willing to part with MLB assets. I won't be surprised if the market develops later than usual this summer. 
  • Prospective free agents traded midseason will no longer be eligible for draft pick compensation – For example, if the Padres trade Carlos Quentin for prospects midseason, his new team wouldn’t be able to obtain a compensatory pick in 2013, even if they make him a qualifying offer when he hits free agency following the season.
  • Increased asking prices for star players – Don’t be surprised if the asking price on available talent rises midseason. Let’s say the Cubs make Matt Garza available in early July, before many teams are truly out of the mix. There would be many buyers at that point and few alternatives in terms of quality starting pitching.
  • New market for non-elite players – Teams could previously hold onto non-elite players such as middle relievers and obtain draft picks by offering arbitration to those who qualified as Type B free agents. The new CBA eliminated the Type A and B classifications, so teams stand to lose players for nothing unless they’re prepared to offer them one-year salaries in the $12.5MM range. Most players aren’t worth that kind of cash, so teams might flip them to buyers for prospects to obtain long-term assets. That said, there’s definite value in fielding a respectable team, so it’s not as though GMs will be handing second-tier players over for nothing.