April 2013

AL Notes: Twins, Gibbons, Reyes, Price, Jackie Bradley

The Twins have devoted only 22.5% of their 2013 payroll to pitching (MLB average is 49.8%) and haven't exceeded the league average since 2005. Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes perhaps no statistic better illustrates the Twins' dry spell in developing pitching prospects. "It’s not by design. It’s not like we said, 'Let’s spend less on pitching and go another way,'" said Twins assistant GM Rob Antony. "When we’ve spent a lot on a contract, more often than not, it’s on players we already have, that we know. We know how they fit in the clubhouse, and we know their health situation. It makes you a little more comfortable with the investment." Miller notes several pitching investments have been wasted because of injuries including this year's highest-paid pitcher Nick Blackburn ($5.5MM), who was removed from the 40-man roster as he recovers from wrist surgery. One investment that does seem to be paying dividends is Kevin Correia, who signed a two-year, $10MM free agent contract last December. The right-hander tossed eight shutout innings and lowered his ERA to 2.31 in the Twins' 5-0 win over the Rangers. In other news and notes from the American League:

  • After a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the seat is becoming hotter for Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman calls this a big test for Gibbons while Keith Law of ESPN.com says it's too early to think about firing the skipper (Twitter links).
  • Before the game, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos met with the media, including Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, and said he doesn't expect Jose Reyes back until the beginning of July "just to make sure that we do this correctly and we don’t have any setbacks." In the meantime, the plan is use Munenori Kawasaki and Maicer Izturis because Anthopoulos said the costs of going outside the organization for a Reyes replacement "don’t line up for us with what our alternatives are."
  • Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg reiterated his team's ability to afford David Price in an interview with WFAN (partial transcript provided by the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin). "We can; I don't know if we'll have any team around him other than him and (Evan) Longoria."
  • In the same interview, Sternberg said he expects the Rays' next TV contract to be "big relative to the size of our attendance" but "mid-sized market" compared to other teams.  
  • The Red Sox prefer to give Shane Victorino some time to work out his back issues rather than trying to bring Jackie Bradley back too soon, tweets the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. Victorino underwent an MRI yesterday, which revealed inflammation in his lower back. Bradley, meanwhile, is 7-for-31 with 10 strikeouts and five walks since being optioned to Triple-A.

Phillies Designate Humberto Quintero For Assignment

2:00pm: Quintero has already agreed to report to Triple-A, if the Phillies are unable to swing a trade and no other team claims him on waivers, according to Gelb

8:18am: The Phillies have designated catcher Humberto Quintero for assignment, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (on Twitter).  The move will allow the club to activate Carlos Ruiz.

Quintero has looked good so far this year, posting a .313/.353/.438 slash line over a tiny sample size of 17 plate appearances.  The 33-year-old was the more logical choice to be DFA'd, however, as fellow backstop Erik Kratz still has an option remaining.  However, Kratz hasn't been terribly sharp as the starting catcher in April, hitting .191/.222/.309 in 72 plate appearances. 

Quintero hooked on with the Phillies in November after finishing out 2012 with the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate.  Prior to that, the Royals released the catcher outright less than four months after acquiring him.

Athletics Designate Casper Wells For Assignment

The Athletics announced that they have designated Casper Wells for assignment.  The move will allow Oakland to reinstate Yoenis Cespedes from the disabled list.

The well-traveled outfielder cost the A's $100K when they picked him up from the Blue Jays but he wound up making just one start for Oakland.  The 28-year-old is capable of playing all three outfield positions and has posted a strong .264/.349/.489 batting line versus left-handed pitching in his career.  Last season with the Mariners, Wells hit .228/.302/.396 in 316 plate appearances.

Cafardo On Aceves, Red Sox, Orioles, Angels

One month doesn't tell the entire story for a team, but clubs are trying to look at April performances and figure out what direction things are going in, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.  The Phillies aren't getting much production out of Ryan Howard and with the Nationals and Braves likely to pick things up soon, they might sell off pieces like Cliff Lee.  The Mariners have been struggling to open 2013 and so far offseason acquisitions Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse aren't helping.  The 10-13 White Sox are also worth watching because there’s always talk that they would part with players such as Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, and maybe even Paul Konerko.  Here's more from today's column..

  • Surprisingly, baseball people have an open mind about acquiring Red Sox right-hander Alfredo Aceves.  Boston won't fetch much for him, but one veteran adviser to a GM said, “You’d be crazy not to take that chance with an arm like that. Change of environment can do wonders for a player who might have had a troubled past. I think you always take that risk if the player has skills, and Aceves has skills.”  Cafardo wouldn't be surprised to see the Angels and Rangers show interest.
  • Scouts who have watched Red Sox minor leaguer Brandon Snyder want him on their team.  The first baseman is off to a hot start for Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .328/.427/.578 with three homers.  Snyder was the O's pick in the first round of the 2005 draft (13th overall), a rich draft in which Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce were taken ahead of him.  One AL scout said that he can't imagine Snyder not being able to help a big league club. 
  • Orioles decision maker Dan Duquette is trying to make adjustments to his roster, perhaps by acquiring a power bat off the bench and another starting pitcher.

Rockies Designate Chris Nelson For Assignment

The Rockies have designated infielder Chris Nelson for assignment, Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports.  Nelson was told about the transaction following the Rockies' 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks on Saturday night.  In a corresponding move, the Rockies have called up Nolan Arenado from Triple-A, according to MLB.com's Thomas Harding (Twitter link).

Nelson had a .242/.282/.318 line over 68 PA as the Rockies' regular third baseman this season.  The 27-year-old was the ninth overall pick of the 2004 draft and owned a career slash line of .284/.327/.427 in 593 PA from 2010-12.  Nelson has played mostly third and second in the majors, and also played shortstop in the minor leagues.  The Athletics and Yankees have been interested in Nelson in the past, Renck notes, so it's possible either club could inquire about the infielder during the 10-day designation period.

It was only a matter of time before the Rockies called up Arenado, the club's top prospect and the 52nd-best prospect in the sport according to Baseball America's preseason rankings.  Arenado, who recently turned 22, has posted an .818 OPS in five minor league seasons, including a 1.059 OPS over 75 PA at Triple-A this season.  His stock somewhat dropped after only an average season at Double-A in 2012 and the Rockies also had questions about Arenado's maturity level, but the third baseman impressed the club both on and off the field during Spring Training.  The right-handed hitting Arenado was a second-round pick for the Rockies in the 2009 draft.

Latest On Robinson Cano

While there is nothing new to report on negotiations (or lack thereof) between Robinson Cano and the Yankees, there is still plenty of chatter surrounding the game's biggest pending free agent. Here are a few notes on Cano and the Yanks: 

  • The Yankees should study history before they make a long contract offer to their star second baseman, writes Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. Madden argues that the last decade has seen a host of ill-advised deals of six years or more given to position players at age 29 or beyond. With only Jim Thome's 2003 pact with the Phillies having worked out in Madden's estimation, he says that the Yanks should only go past five years with Cano via vesting options.
  • Whether or not Madden is correct as to how many years Cano should get, contract discussions are sure to include recent mega-deals that guarantee much more than five years. As MLBTR's Mark Polishuk posted yesterday, he agrees with CBS Sports' Jon Heyman that contracts like those signed by then-28-year-old Joey Votto (ten years, $225M) and then-27-year-old Prince Fielder (nine years, $214MM) are among the most pertinent comparables. Indeed, Heyman pointed to David Wright as a lower bound for a Cano deal. The Mets' third bagger, who is about the same age as Cano, is signed for eight years and $138MM (including seven years and $122MM in new money). He felt he left money on the table compared to what he could have achieved on the open market, particularly as he signed a year in advance of reaching free agency. Of course, Cano is not only closer to free agency with a cleaner injury history, but stands out prominently as the best prospective 2014 free agent. 
  • There is one additional factor that could portend an astronomical deal for Cano. As Madden's Daily News colleague Christian Red points out, Cano is not only the Yankees' best player but may soon be its biggest star. The Yanks certainly appreciate value that goes beyond on-field performance: the team signed living legend Derek Jeter to a deal that the team felt was an overpay at the time, and included terms in Alex Rodriguez's huge contract that set the team up to profit from A-Rod's pursuit of home run milestones. Cano, meanwhile, appears to be angling to elevate his star power beyond the game of baseball, potentially making him that much more valuable as a prospective new franchise face.

Epstein On Cubs Rebuilding Plan

In an interview with Chicago's The McNeil and Spiegel Show earlier this week (hat tip to Bleacher Nation), Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed several pertinent topics. In particular, Epstein sought to answer the question of why the Cubs seem unable to contend while they rebuild.

Epstein's long answer was interesting, even as he largely kept on message about the need to drive new revenue through a renovation of Wrigley Field, new television deals, and the like. He said that, until, the club can generate new revenue, it is placed in an "untenable position": the Cubs are "fighting upstream" against division competitors that get competitive balance draft picks, but are simultaneously unable to increase payroll to keep pace with the top of the division.  

On the question of payroll level, Epstein was seemingly quite revealing. His quote is lengthy, but worth repeating in full (transcription courtesy of Bleacher Nation):

“It’s not a choice. We are not making a fundamental choice to only focus on the future. We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team. We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year. It’s not a choice. It’s not like we’re making a conscious decision to say, ‘Hey, let’s withhold $15-20 million from the 2012 or 2013 payroll because we don’t think we’re quite good enough or it’s not worth it to spend it there. Let’s save it for a rainy day. Or let’s save it so we can get that free agent in 2016.’ The baseball department is spending every dollar that is allocated to baseball operations. Yeah, we’re spending it in the draft and we’re spending it in the minor leagues. There’s only so much you can spend there. We’re also spending every dollar we have available on the Major League payroll."

Of course, read carefully, Epstein's statements only go to the question of whether the Cubs are spending up to the payroll limits the club set. He did not address the core concern that some have raised: i.e., whether management has set a sufficient payroll in the first place. Epstein has previously indicated that revenue would drive payroll growth. But observers like the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer have suggested that more aggressive payroll expansion should be economically feasible now, or at least in the immediate future.

Putting that question aside, Epstein seems right in insisting that the Cubs have stuck to a budget — whether or not that budget is justified — over these last two offseasons. The club's 2012 opening day payroll shows $109.3MM. The 2013 opening day payroll, in turn, stood at $106.8MM, after the club extended Starlin Castro, signed international free agent Jorge Soler, and inked Edwin Jackson. Of course, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted in his review of the Cubs' offseason, the team also agreed to several short-term deals with free agents who provided some performance upside. Those deals held out at least some hope that the team could remain in contention and also provided the possibility of turning into trade chips. In sum, while bearing in mind the limits on the amounts that can be spent on draft or international prospects, the team seems to have spent up to its budget on a mix of players that would deliver some reasonable level of present performance while also paying future dividends.

The signing of Jackson, in particular, is telling. While there were plenty of good reasons for the Cubs to sign him, those reasons seem to apply just as well (or better) the year prior. Before 2012, Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year offer for around $30MM from the Pirates to sign with the Nationals on a one-year deal. (Twitter links.) He had reportedly been seeking in the neighborhood of five years at $12MM a year. Meanwhile, the Cubs were, in Dierkes's estimation, modest players in the free agent market. While there were whispers of the team going after big-ticket players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, that did not materialize. And the Cubs were never apparently in on Jackson.

Fast forward to this past offseason. The Cubs not only seriously pursued Anibal Sanchez, but ultimately signed Jackson to a four-year, $52MM deal. What changed? The Cubs were coming off of an abysmal season, and looked no closer to immediate contention despite some nice development from young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Jackson was now coming off of yet another very Jackson-esque season, with consistently solid, if unspectacular, results. If anything, Jackson's relatively uninspring year with Washington, along with increased age and potentially worrisome velocity decline, should have made him less attractive. 

Most likely, it seems, the thing that changed was simply the fact that the Cubs could fit Jackson under the team's self-imposed salary budget. With Ryan Dempster off of the books, in particular, there was room for the $14MM promised Jackson for 2013 (and beyond). Of course, while Jackson brought both present and future value to the club when he signed this year, it is reasonable to wonder whether he might have provided more value at a cheaper price had the club pursued him before 2012. Jackson's then-agent Scott Boras did say that he "felt it was best for him to do a one-year contract rather than a three-year deal" at that time. But a four-year offer from the Cubs might have allowed the team to control Jackson over a more favorable age band (28-31 rather than 29-32), possibly even at a lower price.

The Jackson question is relevant looking forward because of what it means for the Cubs' future spending plans. Whether or not the team is spending at the levels that it can or should, it appears that Epstein should be taken at his word when he says that "it comes down to revenue." Importantly, he did not say that the club is holding back because it does not believe it is at the right point on the rebuilding curve to make a substantial investment in free agent talent. Instead, he said that the club would do so, "once we generate enough revenue to be able to afford" such a player. "Revenue has to come first," Epstein says, and at the moment the Cubs maintain that they simply "don't have the flexibility to do something like that."

AL Notes: Royals, Garcia, Cervelli, Teagarden

Here are a few notes from around the American League: 

  • The Royals are a legitimate threat to snag a wild card, says ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (Insider sub. req'd), because of the team's offseason focus on pitching. GM Dayton Moore had a seven-year plan to turn around the club through a gradual rebuilding process. While the club has developed what Bowden calls "World Series-winning position players at the major league level," however, the pitching never kept pace. Faced with a limited window to keep the young talent together, Bowden credits Moore for making bold moves to bring in Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields, and Wade Davis to bolster the pitching corps. 
  • The Orioles may be nearing a decision point on Freddy Garcia, as the veteran pitcher will be able to opt out of his contract after his next minor league start, notes MASNSports.com's Roch Kubatko. The 36-year-old has been solid thus far over four starts in Triple-A, where he sports a 2.81 ERA over 25 2/3 innings and has fanned sixteen against just two walks. Baltimore just sent down the struggling Jake Arrieta. His rotation spot went at least temporarily to Josh Stinson, who was bombed by the Blue Jays on Wednesday. 
  • The backup catching market could heat up as injuries mount. One day after the Yankees lost Francisco Cervelli for a significant period of time to a fractured hand, Orioles' backup Taylor Teagarden suffered a dislocated thumb. Both figure to be replaced with internal options for the immediate future. But their substitutes — Austin Romine for New York and Luis Exposito for Baltimore — have, respectively, just twenty and twenty-two largely unsuccessful major league plate appearances.

2014 Vesting Options Update

As we close in on the month of May, let's check in on the players who have vesting options for the 2014 season…

  • Kurt Suzuki, Nationals: $9.25MM option vests with 113 starts in 2013.  Prior to Opening Day, the Nats announced that Suzuki would be in a timeshare with Wilson Ramos behind the plate.  However, Ramos' hamstring has led to Suzuki starting 16 of the club's 23 games so far in 2013. Ramos is scheduled to rejoin the club on Monday, but if he suffers another setback, Suzuki could have a realistic shot at triggering his '14 option.
  • Jamey Carroll, Twins: $2MM option vests with 401 plate appearances.  Carroll has surpassed that mark in each of the last three seasons with 500+ plate appearances in each of the last two years, but he has just 18 PAs as April comes to a close.
  • Wilson Betemit, Orioles: $3.2MM option vests with 324 plate appearances (combined 700 between 2012 and 2013).  Betemit suffered a PCL tear during the last week of Spring Training, keeping him out of action until at least mid-May.  When he returns, he figures to see less action than he did last year thanks to Manny Machado
  • Lance Berkman, Rangers: $13MM option vests with 550 plate appearances.  So far, Berkman has 19 games under his belt with 80 plate appearances.  He'll be within reach as long as he stays healthy.  In 2011, his last full season, Berkman racked up 587 PAs for the Cardinals.
  • Roy Halladay, Phillies: $20MM option vests with 259 innings pitched (combined 415 innings pitched between '12 and '13).  So far, Halladay has logged 28 and 1/3 innings through five April starts but the 259 mark remains a longshot.  However, it's worth nothing that Halladay has come close to that figure twice in the last six years (2008, 246 IP; 2010, 250.2 IP) and surpassed it once in his career (2003, 266 IP).
  • Brett Myers, Indians: $8MM option vests with 200 innings pitched in 2013 and a passed physical after the season.  Myers is expected to miss most of May due to tendinitis and a mild ligament sprain in his right elbow.  So far, the right-hander has 21 and 1/3 innings to his credit in 2013.
  • Barry Zito, Giants: $18MM option vests with 200 innings pitched.  Zito has 23 and 2/3 innings so far through the month of April and will make his fifth start of the year tonight against the Padres.
  • Johan Santana, Mets: His $25MM option could have vested with 215 innings pitched or winning the 2013 Cy Young Award, but he won't have a chance at that thanks to a season-ending tear in his pitching shoulder.

It's also worth noting that Francisco Liriano has a $8MM club option for 2014 with the Pirates, but it can vest at any of three levels, $5MM, $6MM, or $8MM, based on the number of days he is not on the DL this year with a recurrence of his right arm injury.  It's not known how many days the hurler must steer clear of right arm trouble in order to trigger each level of his option, however.  Liriano has yet to take the hill in 2013, but he is expected to make his big league debut on May 10th vs. the Mets.  

Rosenthal On White Sox, Stanton, Price, Collins

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has posted his latest edition of Full Count (video link) and we've got the highlights..

  • If the White Sox fall out of contention, they could be an interesting seller at the deadline.  Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton, and Jesse Crain are among their attractive potential free agents.  Meanwhile, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy are signed only through next season.  However, their pitching means that they should be in the mix for at least the second wild card spot.  According to one team's internal calculations, their staff is currently the most productive in baseball.
  • The Rangers could face a problem if they try to put a deal together for Giancarlo Stanton or David Price.  Texas is thin on high-end pitching in the upper levels farm system, which will hurt them, particularly if they go after Price. 
  • Mets skipper Terry Collins is in the final year of his deal and one team official says he'll likely be judged on how much the team's young talent improves.  So far, so good as Daniel Murphy, Jordany Valdespin, Lucas Duda, and of course Matt Harvey are among the homegrown Mets off to decent starts.  Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, on the other hand, appear to be question marks.  In any case, Collins' status likely won't be decided until the end of the season.
  • There was a lot of talk about Dan Haren's hip after the Cubs backed out of trading for him last November, but the pitcher has heard the talk and thinks its overblown.  He says that his hip is the same as it was when he was in Oakland and says that it hasn't gotten any better or worse since then.  He also noted that he has missed only three starts in ten seasons and doesn't plan to miss any in 2013.