May 2012

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Quick Hits: Hamels, Hernandez, Bourn, Jurrjens

It was on this day in 1869 that professional baseball had its first rainout, as a game between the Red Stockings and the Antioch Nine was postponed due to poor weather.  While some teams can guarantee games will always be played thanks to retractable roofs or domed stadiums, the rainout is still a common element of baseball, welcomed by nobody except fans of the 1948 Boston Braves.

Some news from around the majors as we head into June...

  • The Phillies and Cole Hamels haven't made any progress in contract negotiations, reports ESPN's Buster Olney.  Some baseball executives expect Hamels to hit free agency this winter, with one NL official telling Olney, "Unless the Phillies give him one of the top deals in history, why wouldn't he test [the market]?  He's so close to free agency."
  • Roberto Hernandez could be back in the Major Leagues by the All-Star Break, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Hernandez, a.k.a. Fausto Carmona, isn't expected to receive an eight-week suspension for identity fraud like Juan Carlos Oviedo, as his restructured contract with the Indians is expected to be seen as sufficient penalty.
  • David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) predicts Braves outfielder Michael Bourn will look for a five- or six-year contract with an average annual value of around $15MM when he hits free agency after this season.  The Braves were known to be looking for young center field talent last winter since they weren't keen on paying Bourn such a large contract, though his strong performance thus far in 2012 could change the team's mind.
  • Jair Jurrjens "is a guy that other clubs need to get back on," says a scout who has seen Jurrjens pitch in Triple-A, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.  The Braves dangled Jurrjens as trade bait during the offseason, though if he really was back on form, you would think Atlanta would want him to help its own struggling pitching rotation.  Jurrjens has a 4.85 ERA and a 2.63 K/BB ratio in six minor league starts this season, pitching very well in four outings but getting rocked in two others.
  • "There might be no team further away from success than the Minnesota Twins," writes Jonah Keri for Grantland in a piece that outlines how the Twins have become one of baseball's worst clubs.
  • Ernesto Frieri has been a boon to the Angels' bullpen, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.  Since being acquired from the Padres four weeks ago, Frieri has yet to allow a run or even a hit in 12 innings for the Angels, though he has recorded 10 walks.



The Best Extensions From Two Offseasons Ago

Back in January, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes looked at the extensions from the 2009-10 offseason that are already looking like (or have proven to be) mistakes.  While some teams rue those deals, other teams have benefited.  While the jury is still out on a few of the longer-term contracts (i.e. Roy Halladay, Denard Span, Justin Upton), a few extensions signed between October 1, 2009 and April 5, 2010 are already clear wins for teams.

  • Matt Cain.  Before Cain signed his six-year, $127.5MM extension with the Giants last April, there was talk that the MLBPA was watching the negotiations with interest due to the perception that Cain had already signed two team-friendly extensions in his career.  It's hard to argue that San Francisco got a deal on Cain's three-year, $27.25MM extension from March 2010.  Cain was already owed $4.25MM for 2010 and (on a team option) $6.25MM for 2011, and his new deal gave those numbers a minor bump up to a guaranteed $11.25MM for 2010-11, plus $15MM for what would have been Cain's first free agent year in 2012.  Based on Cain's latest extension, the Giants saved themselves at least $5-6MM by keeping Cain off the market in 2012.  Cain, of course, has greatly outperformed his extension on the field.
  • Todd Helton.  The Rockies' star signed a two-year, $9.9MM extension for the 2012-13 seasons while also saving his team some money in the short term.  Helton was originally set to make $19.1MM in 2011 and faced a $23.6MM club option in 2012 that surely wold've been bought out for $4.6MM.  Instead, he earned $10.6MM in 2011 salary, with $13.1MM converted to deferred payments.  While Helton hasn't played well in 2012 at age 38, I still call this a minor win for the Rockies since they got some short-term salary relief and also made sure their franchise icon would retire in purple.
  • Tim Lincecum.  "The Freak" was coming into his first arbitration-eligible year with unprecedented leverage, having won the NL Cy Young Award in both 2008 and 2009.  Lincecum asked for a record $13MM in 2010, with the Giants countering with an $8MM offer.  Both figures ended up coming into play, as Lincecum signed a two-year extension that paid him $8MM in 2010 and $13MM in 2011, plus a $2MM signing bonus.  It would've been a fascinating "what if?" to see if the arbitrator would've sided with Lincecum, and if he had, Lincecum probably would've been on pace to earn around $30MM in arbitration over those two seasons.  The Giants saved themselves anywhere between $3MM to $7MM on the Lincecum extension.
  • Justin Verlander.  The ace righty isn't even halfway through his five-year, $80MM extension and yet it's already a deal the Tigers would happily do again.  Were it not for the extension, Verlander would've been a free agent last winter in the wake of his MVP-and-Cy Young-winning season.  He could've easily commanded a deal with an average annual value of at least $24MM per season, but Detroit has him locked up at $20MM per season from 2012-14.
  • Carlos Ruiz.  The catcher signed a three-year, $8.85MM extension with the Phillies that covered all three of his arbitration-eligible seasons.  "Chooch" has been a great bargain for the Phillies, hitting .304/.390/.445 over the last three seasons and is currently enjoying his best year in the majors at age 33 --- Ruiz has a whopping 1.038 OPS through 161 plate appearances.  The savings will continue for the Phillies since they hold a $5MM team option on Ruiz for 2013 that looks like a no-brainer pickup.
  • Felix Hernandez.  Like Verlander's contract, Hernandez's extension covered his last two arb years and his first three free agent years, though the Mariners locked up their ace for $78MM, slightly less than what it cost the Tigers to extend Verlander.  Hernandez will earn $58MM from 2012-14, and had he reached free agency, he would've gotten at least $24MM per year on the open market and a return to Seattle would've been next to impossible.  Hernandez's deal is reasonable for a pitcher in his prime and he would net a huge trade return if the Mariners ever decided to deal him. 
  • Shane Victorino.  The Phillies signed Victorino to a three-year, $22MM extension that covered his final two arb years and his first free agent year.  Victorino had a career-best performance in 2011 and would've earned at least $3.5MM more on the free agent market than the $9.5MM Philadelphia is paying him this season.
  • Matt Kemp.  The Dodgers covered Kemp's first two arb-eligible seasons with a two-year, $10.95MM contract that guaranteed him $4MM in 2010 and $6.95MM in 2011.  Obviously it was a bargain performance-wise given Kemp's monster 2011 campaign, but Kemp's disappointing 2010 season would've brought down his 2011 arb number, so the Dodgers probably ended up saving maybe $1MM at most.  Then again, giving Kemp that early security was a sign that the Dodgers were committed to their center fielder, which may have been a factor in Kemp signing his eight-year, $160MM extension last winter despite the fact that the Dodgers hadn't yet solved their ownership problems.
  • Tim Hudson.  Rather than pick up Hudson's $12MM club option for 2012, the Braves instead extended the veteran on a three-year, $28MM contract that includes a $9MM option ($1MM buyout) for 2013.  The Braves took a risk by extending a pitcher who was entering his age-34 season, but Hudson posted a 3.02 ERA and threw 443 2/3 innings in 2010-11.  His numbers are down a bit in 2012, but the Braves have already gotten a very good return on their investment.


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Draft Notes: Indians, Cubs, Royals, Yankees, Orioles

Some items from around the league as baseball prepares for Monday's amateur draft...

  • The Indians could target a pitcher with the 15th overall pick since the organization is thin on top-level hurlers, though Indians' director of amateur scouting Brad Grant tells MLB.com's Jordan Bastian that type of short-term focus can backfire.  "As soon as you start to draft towards needs, I think that's when you can make mistakes," Grand said.  "I think it's important to take the best player available. You take the player that you feel has the most ability rather than concentrating on needs."
  • The Cubs, meanwhile, are targeting power arms, says Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago, though that doesn't necessarily mean Chicago will look to draft a pitcher with their first pick (sixth overall).
  • The Royals have a need for a college pitcher who is close to the Majors, writes Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, which would indicate that K.C. could take one of three right-handers (Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman or Kyle Zimmer) with the fifth overall pick.
  • Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees vice president of amateur scouting, says his team focuses on prospects who can handle the pressure of playing in New York, reports MLB.com's Bryan Hoch.  "We're always looking to get players who can play for the New York Yankees and not just be Major Leaguers," Oppenheimer said. "That is our shopping list, to see who can impact us. It's not easy to be a Yankee, so sometimes we will take a little more risk to find somebody who can fit for us."
  • Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com talks to Gary Rajsich, who is preparing for his first draft as the Orioles' scouting director.
  • The draft is entering a new era due to the changes made by the latest collective bargaining agreement, writes Jerry Crasnick for Baseball America.  Crasnick outlines the new rules in place for this year's draft and how they affect players, teams, scouts and agents.
  • The new draft rules particularly impact the Blue JaysMLB.com's Gregor Chisholm talks to GM Alex Anthopoulos about how the Jays' strategy of gaining compensatory picks and paying over-slot prices for prospects will change.



NL West Notes: Kemp, Montero, Giants, Youkilis

Two of the NL West's biggest stars were sidelined today as Matt Kemp (left hamstring strain) and Troy Tulowitzki (strained left groin) were both placed on the 15-day disabled list.  It's a particularly tough blow for Kemp, who had just returned on Tuesday from a DL stint due to the same injury.

Some other news from around the division....



Cubs Not Moving Castro, Epstein Confirms

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has denied that his team is exploring deals for Starlin Castro, report Doug Padilla and Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago.  "Starlin Castro is the type of player we're looking to build around," Epstein said. "There has been no trade consideration with him whatsoever."

USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported earlier today that the Cubs were open to dealing anyone but Jeff Samardzija from the roster, including Castro, who was reportedly available for the price of "two impact prospects."  Castro, 22, is under team control through 2016 and is arbitration-eligible for the first of four years this winter due to his Super Two status.

Padilla and Levine cite an Epstein quote from earlier in the week, where the executive said that while no player was entirely untouchable, some players "are core pieces that it's almost impossible to foresee moving. You would have to be completely blown away to even contemplate it."  Clearly it would take such a knockout trade offer for the Cubs to swap Castro, who would be the most sought-after trade chip in baseball if Chicago actually put him on the market.  It wouldn't be out of the question for the Cubs to ask for not just two major prospects in exchange, but also for a team to take Alfonso Soriano's big contract (roughly $48MM remaining through 2014) off the Cubs' hands.



Cubs Will Consider Offers For Almost Every Player

6:31pm: Castro is "first on the list of players [the Cubs] won't trade," according to a team that recently spoke to the Cubs, reports Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.  Knobler also says the Cubs have told teams that they will cover as much as $45MM of the approximately $48MM remaining on Soriano's contract if the outfielder is moved (Twitter link).  At least one team has already expressed interest in Dempster, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.

1:45pm: The Cubs are letting teams know that nearly every player except Jeff Samardzija is available in trades, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. Some teams are already calling the 18-32 Cubs about potential deals.

"We're starting to get some early calls now," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Nightengale. "There might be fewer sellers than usual and a lot more buyers. This has a chance to help us. We need core players."

Starlin Castro could be obtained for two impact prospects, according to Nightengale. First baseman Bryan LaHair and starters Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster could also be acquired. The Cubs will contribute cash in a deal involving Alfonso Soriano, who earns $18MM per season through 2014.

Though Epstein's longtime team, the Red Sox, hasn't been a seller for years, Chicago GM Jed Hoyer was trading Major Leaguers for prospects as recently as last summer. He acquired Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin from the Rangers for Mike Adams in 2011 when he was the Padres' GM.



Heyman On Brewers, Liriano, Castro

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com lists 45 potential trade candidates in anticipation of this summer’s deals. Here are some highlights, starting with a team that could be a buyer, rather than a seller:

  • One GM questions Zack Greinke’s ability to thrive in major markets. Keep in mind that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has a buyer’s mindset as the deadline approaches. Greinke and others on Milwaukee’s roster may not be available.
  • Fellow Brewers starter Shaun Marcum is no better than a fourth starter in the American League, according to a GM. It's worth noting that Marcum posted a 3.85 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in five seasons in the American League East when he pitched for the Blue Jays.
  • An American League executive said Padres starter Edinson Volquez “has good value,” Heyman reports.
  • One person said Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano is worth a short-term look.
  • Royals GM Dayton Moore may like Jeff Francoeur more than any other team does.
  • Jeremy Guthrie will have to string together some quality outings to restore his trade value, one executive said. 
  • Heyman hears from a Cubs official who says the team hasn't mentioned Starlin Castro's name in trade talks (Twitter link). The Cubs appear to be willing to listen on most of their players, including Castro.



Dodgers Asking About Available Position Players

The Dodgers have been making calls in regards to acquiring position players, but thus far haven't had much success, reports ESPN's Buster Olney (Twitter links).  The Dodgers have found "no real match" in what is thus far an "extremely limited market," writes Olney, who notes that the team had been exploring trade opportunities even before Matt Kemp's latest hamstring injury.

With the Dodgers in first place and the Magic Johnson-led ownership group willing to spend, the team has been expected to be active before the trade deadline.  Only right field (Andre Ethier) and catcher (A.J. Ellis) seem like set positions for the Dodgers at this point, as they have been hamstrung by injuries and under-performance almost everywhere else on the diamond.  The Dodgers signed Bobby Abreu earlier this month and called up prospect Alex Castellanos to help fill the void left by Kemp, but GM Ned Colletti is still probably looking for extra outfield depth.  James Loney and Dee Gordon have respectively struggled at first and shortstop, second baseman Mark Ellis is out until August with a sprained MCL and while Jerry Hairston Jr. has played well in limited action at third base, that's probably also a position of need.

The Dodgers also made an offer to Roy Oswalt, though with Ted Lilly's DL stint expected to last not much longer than the minimum 15 days, pitching doesn't appear to be a major concern for the team.



Quick Hits: Cabrera, Escobar, Astros

Links for Thursday, as we await a particularly light schedule of games...

  • Melky Cabrera and the Giants haven’t made progress toward a long-term deal, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports.
  • Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports wonders if the Blue Jays could trade Yunel Escobar when prospect Adeiny Hechavarria gets the call to the Major Leagues. The A’s, Mariners and Pirates could be positioned to trade pitching for Escobar, Morosi writes. Personally, I doubt the Blue Jays trade Escobar in the near future.
  • Houston GM Jeff Luhnow told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick that it'll take more than one draft to add talent throughout the Astros organization. "I feel like there's a lot of pressure to do it in one draft," Luhnow said. "That's not going to happen." The Astros have the first overall selection on Monday.
  • Any bonus that exceeds $100K counts against a team’s bonus limit, even if it goes to a non-drafted free agent, Jim Callis of Baseball America tweets.



Blue Jays Outright Adam Lind To Triple-A

The Blue Jays announced that they outrighted first baseman Adam Lind to Triple-A, removing him from the 40-man roster. They selected the contract of right-hander Robert Coello and optioned left-hander Aaron Laffey to Triple-A in related moves.

It appears that recent reports about Lind's presence on outright waivers were accurate. The 28-year-old posted a .586 OPS in 132 plate appearances with the Blue Jays before being optioned to Triple-A, where he has a 1.112 OPS in 53 plate appearances at Las Vegas. Lind is set to earn $5MM in 2013. The Blue Jays have a $7MM option for 2014 ($2MM buyout) that probably won't be exercised.









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