Here are today's minor league transactions, with the latest moves at the top of the page...
- The Nationals have signed corner infielder Mike Costanzo and right-hander Matt Torra to minor league contracts, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports (via Twitter). Costanzo has a .779 OPS in 3659 minor league plate appearances over eight seasons in the Phillies', Orioles' and Reds' organizations and he made his Major League debut in 2012, receiving 21 PAs with Cincinnati. Torra, 28, was drafted 31st overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2005 amateur draft and has a 4.41 ERA, 5.6 K/9 rate and a 3.08 K/BB ratio in 175 career minor league games (168 of them starts) in the D'Backs' and Rays' systems.
ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine opened up his latest online chat to reader proposals for trades that would send Justin Upton to the Cubs and Jason Kubel to the White Sox, which led to no shortage of creative ideas from fans. Amidst these plausible-to-very implausible trade proposals, Levine also shared a few hot stove items about both of Chicago's teams...
- The Blue Jays and Rangers have been Matt Garza's most ardent trade suitors and could again be interested in acquiring the right-hander if Garza shows he's in good health during Spring Training. I'd think that Texas might still be in the mix but Toronto's rotation seems set unless the Jays don't think Ricky Romero can return to form.
- If the Cubs have concerns that Garza won't be ready for Opening Day, Levine thinks the Cubs could try to sign a free agent starter like Shaun Marcum.
- Before the Cubs and Angels settled on the eventually-abandoned Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade, L.A. turned down the Cubs' offer of Marmol for Peter Bourjos and an infielder.
- The Cubs have "genuine concern about holding [their] fan base" given the team's recent struggles and rebuilding process, which Levine feels may have been the impetus for the Cubs' signing of Edwin Jackson and its pursuit of Anibal Sanchez.
- The Diamondbacks have interest in some White Sox prospects, which could be a hint towards a possible Kubel trade. We heard earlier this week that the Sox and D'Backs had discussed both Kubel and Upton in potential deals, though Kubel is the likelier of the two outfielders to be moved.
- While Gavin Floyd has again been the subject of trade rumors, Levine believes the White Sox won't look to deal Floyd until they're sure that John Danks is healthy.
In an appearance on WEEI radio's Red Sox Hot Stove show (partial transcript provided by WEEI.com's Alex Speier), Dustin Pedroia said he hadn't heard anything from his agents about any talks with the Red Sox about a possible contract extension. It was reported in November that Boston was interested in extending its second baseman, and Pedroia is eager to pursue such negotiations should they arise. "Obviously, I want to be a Red Sox my whole career and play in that city, turn this whole thing around to get back to where we were my first couple years there," Pedroia said.
Here's the latest from the AL East...
- The Red Sox are not only disinclined to give Adam LaRoche a three-year contract, but the club also doesn't want to surrender a draft pick to sign the free agent first baseman, tweets Peter Gammons. Boston has interest in LaRoche as a backup option if Mike Napoli can't be signed, and signing LaRoche would cost the Sox their second-round draft pick since LaRoche turned down a qualifying offer from the Nationals.
- Speaking of that Red Sox draft pick, WEEI.com's Rob Bradford looks at why Boston is hesitant to give up that selection.
- The Orioles "kicked the tires" on trading for Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak in each of the last two offseasons and also rated Smoak highly in his draft year, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Connolly sees Smoak as a good trade target for the O's and wonders if a Smoak-for-Brian Matusz deal would work for both teams. We heard earlier this week that the Orioles continued to have interest in Smoak, who could be expendable now that Seattle has Kendrys Morales in the fold.
- Jim Thome is "not an ideal fit" to return to the Orioles, writes MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli, as manager Buck Showalter would prefer to rotate his regulars through the DH spot. Earlier this month, Thome said he is open to returning in 2013 for his 23rd Major League season.
- The Rays' strong recent track record of signing veteran bullpen arms augers well for the Roberto Hernandez signing, writes MLB.com's Bill Chastain. Hernandez signed a one-year, $3.25MM deal with the Rays earlier this month.
Former Giants closer Brian Wilson is generating plenty of interest this offseason, reports Scott Miller of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The MVP Sports Group client isn't close to signing, but he has narrowed his list down from nine or ten teams to approximately five.
Wilson, 30, made just two appearances this past season before blowing out his elbow and needing a second Tommy John surgery. The Giants non-tendered him last month rather than pay a projected $8.5MM salary in 2013 through arbitration. They'll reportedly stay in touch with Wilson this winter, though the rival Dodgers are said to be kicking around the idea of signing him.
The Mets are scouring the market for relief help, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). Incumbent closer Frank Francisco had minor elbow surgery earlier this month, but he is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training.
There is still plenty of bullpen help available as our Free Agent Tracker shows, including closer candidates like Matt Capps, Jose Valverde, Brian Wilson, and former Met Francisco Rodriguez. At the moment, New York's bullpen is set to feature Francisco, Bobby Parnell, and rookies like Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, and Jeurys Familia.
On this date in 1994, the Padres and Astros completed a 12-player trade. Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, and four others went to San Diego in exchange for Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, and three others. It was the fourth largest trade of the 20th century in terms of the number of players involved. Here's the latest from around the web...
- SF Giants Rumors interviewed former Giants closer Brian Wilson.
- Over The Monster says there's a problem with the Joel Hanrahan trade for Boston.
- Raise the Jolly Roger isn't blown away by what the Pirates received in the deal.
- Bucs Dugout says Mark Melancon was a good addition for the Pirates.
- Talkin' Sox with Dan wrote about Daniel Bard's role in the Hanrahan trade.
- River Ave. Blues thinks the Yankees could use a Hanrahan trade of their own.
- The Beanball says Hanrahan is not a closer.
- Wahoo's on First calls Nick Swisher a perfect fit for the Indians.
- Bless You Boys says the Tigers should wait for the right deal to trade Rick Porcello.
- Rays Colored Glasses wonders if the Rays will get back in the hunt for Justin Upton.
- Chicken Friars is glad the Padres have not traded prospect Jedd Gyorko.
- Pinstripe Pundits says Russell Martin will be an underrated loss for the Yankees.
- Blue Jays Plus thinks the Blue Jays will experience a defensive decline next season.
- The True Fan's Sports Blog looked at the top three remaining free agents.
- Rising Apple thinks Nyjer Morgan could be a fit for the Mets.
- MLB Reports wrote about the state of the Giants' roster.
- South Side Sox eulogized A.J. Pierzynski.
The Marlins are "lukewarm" at best on Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez, reports Juan C. Rodriguez of The Sun Sentinel. The team is unlikely to attend his showcase on January 5th.
Alvarez, 24, was officially declared a free agent by MLB earlier this month. The right-handed hitter defected last summer and is currently playing in the Vera Cruz winter league in Mexico, where he's hitting .317/.335/.465 with three homers in 49 games. MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported last month that Alvarez stands 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs., and can play all three outfield spots while providing above-average arm strength.
Veteran right-hander Takashi Saito has agreed to a one-year deal worth $350K (plus incentives) with the Rakuten Golden Eagles according to reports passed along by Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker. Saito, who is represented by Nez Balelo at CAA Sports, is returning to his hometown of Sendai, where Rakuten plays its home games.
"We want him to perform well and become a symbol of Tohoku’s recovery, and we expect him to pass his Major League experience on to our young players," said Rakuten team president Yozo Tachibana according to Newman.
Saito, 42, allowed 14 runs in 12 innings with the Diamondbacks last season while battling calf and hamstring issues. Although he came over to MLB with little fanfare seven years ago, Saito almost immediately became a dominant reliever. In 338 MLB innings, he owns a 2.34 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Braves, Brewers, and D'Backs.
Generally speaking, teams prefer pitchers who get ground balls. Ground balls can sneak through the infield for base hits, but they never go over the fence for a homer and need to be well-placed (down the line, typically) to go for extra bases at all. Great pitchers like David Price, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw get both strikeouts and grounders, but few can do both.
The MLB average ground ball rate was 45.1% in 2012, the highest it's been since reliable batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. Trevor Cahill led all qualified pitchers with a 61.2% ground ball rate this past year, and he was the only pitcher over 60%. Phil Hughes had the lowest ground ball rate at 32.4%, making him one of only two pitchers below 35% (Bruce Chen, 32.7%). Here's the short list of unsigned free agent pitchers who posted a better than league average ground ball rate last season (min. 80 IP)...
Kevin Millwood (44.7%) fell just short of a league average ground ball rate while both Erik Bedard (43.3%) and Joe Saunders (43.1%) were a little further behind. Kyle Lohse, the best starting pitcher left on the market, generated a ground ball 40.5% of the time this past season. Shaun Marcum is a big time fly ball pitcher, with a 35.4% grounder rate in 2012 and a sub-41% rate in four of his five full big league seasons.
It's worth noting that Carl Pavano, who didn't pitch much in 2012 due to a shoulder problem, had a 50.6% ground ball rate in 2011. Brett Myers, who is looking for a job as a starter, posted a 47.7% ground ball the last time he was a full-time rotation guy.
The Red Sox are still trying to finalize their contract agreement with Mike Napoli and have also spoken to Adam LaRoche recently, so it's clear they're looking to add a big bat. Assistant GM Brian O'Halloran confirmed first base remains "an area of focus" for the club during an appearance on WEEI's Red Sox Hot Stove Show yesterday.
"I’m not going to be able to address any specific free agents," said O'Halloran. "I will say that [GM Ben Cherington] has been in touch with a number of free agents. First base … is an area of focus. Not the only area of focus -- we’re looking to strengthen our club any way we can. That process never ends. But Ben has certainly been in touch with a number of free agents, ongoing conversations, over the last few weeks."
As our Free Agent Tracker shows, unsigned free agent first basemen include LaRoche, Napoli, Lyle Overbay, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Lee, and Lance Berkman. The Red Sox have Mauro Gomez, who hit .275/.324/.422 in 111 plate appearances last season, on the 40-man roster and could theoretically use David Ortiz at first base as well. He hasn't started more than ten games at the position since 2004, however.
In our poll last night, nearly 10,000 MLBTR readers said they believe Boston's deal with Napoli will fall through and he will wind up signing elsewhere.