August 2013

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Union Has Concerns Over Contract Language

The MLBPA has fought hard to secure and maintain guaranteed contracts across the board for its players.  At the same time, teams are looking to reduce their risk in deals and some have taken to adding guarantee language to contracts, which could theoretically void the contract if a player is in violation of conditions in the clause.  It's an issue that has yet to blow up, but it was of enough concern to the MLBPA that they discussed it at length in a New York City summit last year, sources tell Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

At the time, the Cubs, Yankees, and Nationals were among the teams that were putting additional language into their contracts to help protect them against certain off-the-field occurrences.  That doesn't sit well with the union as they would argue that punishment for harmful behaviors is already covered under the collective bargaining agreement.  Ultimately, the union was worried that teams could look to 86 contracts over things like PED use and misrepresentation of age.  While this hasn't really been an issue yet, sources assure Passan that the Yankees have discussed turning to guarantee language to go after Alex Rodriguez

In total, Passan counts four instances of teams attempting to use guarantee language to convert a deal from guaranteed to non-guaranteed in an effort to ostensibly void a deal.  Three of those cases were settled for close to 90 cents on the dollar owed, sources said, before an arbitrator could rule on any grievance.  The other case was when the Padres tried to void LaMarr Hoyt's deal entirely when he was caught smuggling drugs across the Mexican border, but they were unsuccessful.

Passan's article includes a look at the list of prohibited activities under the Cubs' standard guarantee language.  The list is comically lengthy and covers everything ranging from hot air ballooning to bobsledding to participation in a show like the Battle Of The Network Stars, just in case that gets a reboot.  However, agents have asked the Cubs to back off of that language and they have agreed.  The bigger concern for the union is that the Cubs contract calls for a conversion in the event of things such as attempted suicide, contraction of HIV, criminal acts, and PED use.  The MLBPA believed teams were broadening the conversion clause to potentially punish PED users beyond the discipline called for in the joint drug agreement. 

While there is obviously some disagreement between the two sides on this issue, both tend to agree that truly standard guarantee language would go a long way toward fixing the issue.  That was an idea that was brought up during the last CBA talks, but was too far down the priority list and wasn't addressed.  That's something that could change ahead of 2016 when the league will have a new JDA.  At that point, PED penalties will likely increase and the incentive to go after users will be even greater.



West Notes: Hamilton, Dodgers, Volquez, Suzuki

ESPN.com's Jayson Stark turned to executives, scouts, and other baseball people to try and figure out what has gone wrong with Josh Hamilton since he joined the Angels.  While some expressed doubt over whether he can rebound, GM Jerry Dipoto said that he's confident that his sizable investment will pay off.  "I still believe in Josh's physical ability. I still believe in the player. … And we've seen signs, over the last three weeks [as Hamilton has put up a .329/.414/.539 slash line over a 19-game stretch], that he's getting back to doing the things that Josh Hamilton does," the GM said.  Here's more out of the AL and NL West..

  • The Dodgers signed Edinson Volquez shortly after he was cut loose by the Padres, but there were plenty of other suitors.  The pitcher says that he chose L.A. over the Reds, Blue Jays, Orioles, Phillies, and "a couple more" teams, tweets Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.  Volquez added that he's willing to start or relieve for the Dodgers.
  • Ken Gurnick of MLB.com (via Twitter) notes that even though Don Mattingly said that Volquez would come out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, he was seen taking batting practice with the starting pitchers.
  • Kurt Suzuki is glad to be back with the A's and the feeling is mutual within the organization.  Manager Bob Melvin says that one advantage of reacquiring Suzuki is that he won't need a whole lot of time to get acquainted with the Oakland pitching staff as other backstops would, writes Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com.



Rafael Betancourt's Career Could Be Over

FRIDAY, 9:20pm: Betancourt told a Venezuelan radio outlet that he will undergo surgery in an attempt to pitch again, according to a report in Mi Diairo passed along by MLB.com's Ian McCue.

TUESDAY, 11:03am: Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that a Monday MRI revealed the worst-case scenario for Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt: a complete tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament that will likely put an end to his 11-year Major League career.

For the time being, Betancourt will receive a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow with the faint hope that it will help to form scar tissue that will allow him to pitch again. Should that method fail, Betancourt is likely to retire rather than undergo Tommy John surgery at this stage of his career.

Betancourt, who will turn 39 next April, has been a force in Colorado's bullpen since coming over from the Indians in a trade back in 2009. With the Rockies, he's tallied a 3.08 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a pristine 1.007 WHIP. He's totaled 646 1/3 innings of 3.19 ERA ball with well over a strikeout per inning in a strong Major League career.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss described Betancourt as a "warrior" after talking with him following the MRI, and Renck writes that he's seen few players prepare harder for each day than Betancourt:

“That’s because I could take nothing for granted. Every day I had to prove myself,” said Betancourt, a converted minor-league infielder. “I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.”

Betancourt's contract contains a $4.25MM mutual option that will obviously be declined, earning him a $250K buyout. Including that buyout, Betancourt will have earned roughly $23.3MM throughout his career when all is said and done.



NL East Notes: Mets, Kendrick, Phillies, Nats

After a week in which the Mets lost Matt Harvey for the season and traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck to the Pirates, GM Sandy Alderson sent out a letter to team season ticket holders.  The letter, which was passed along by Kristie Ackert of the Daily News, re-iterated the club's desire to win as many games as possible in 2013, even though they won't be playoff bound.  "This offseason, we will explore every possible way of improving our club. Trades and free agent signings always seem to get the most attention, but helping our current players also will be a key to improving in 2014 and beyond," Alderson wrote.  Here's more out of the NL East.. 



AL Central Notes: Morneau, Willingham, White Sox

Earlier today, the Orioles found their new bat in the Mariners' Mike Morse after a potential deal for the Twins' Josh Willingham fizzled.  The Twins reportedly asked for top prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in exchange for the outfielder, which was too rich for Baltimore's blood.  Here's more on the Twins and other notes out of the AL Central..

  • A Twins source tells Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (on Twitter) that the club still isn't close on any deal and that includes Justin Morneau.  The Twins may have asked for a lot to part with Willingham, but they have been said to be more eager to deal Morneau, who is a pending free agent.  It was also reported earlier this week that the PIrates had interest in the 2006 AL MVP along with other clubs.
  • Willingham is happy that the two-day window passed without a trade being reached, writes MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger.  “I’m comfortable here so I’d like to stay here,” Willingham said. “The bottom line is I didn’t have any control so I didn’t worry myself with it.”  The 34-year-old is under contract with the Twins through 2014 and he's set to earn $7MM in his walk year.
  • Jake Peavy, who is facing the White Sox tonight for the first time since the Boston deal, says that he doesn't expect his former club to face a lengthy rebuilding process, tweets Scott Merkin of MLB.com.  



Reds Designate Justin Freeman For Assignment

The Reds announced that they have designated Justin Freeman for assignment.  In a corresponding move, the club has promoted Zach Duke to the big league roster.

Freeman, 26, saw just one inning of action for the Reds this season when he faced the Phillies on April 17th.  In six minor league seasons in the Reds system, the right-handed reliever owns a 3.57 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.

You can keep track of every player in DFA limbo using MLBTR's brand new DFA Tracker.



Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Verlander, Kubel, Hunter

On this date in 2006, 48-year-old Julio Franco became the oldest major leaguer in history to drive in five runs as the Mets routed the Nationals 13-0 at RFK Stadium. The first baseman still had some baseball left in him beyond the '06 season, spending 2007 with the Mets and Braves.  Here's this week's look around the baseball blogosphere..

If you have a suggestion for this feature, Zach can be reached at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.  



Pirates Outright Russ Canzler To Triple-A

Russ Canzler has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis after being designated for assignment earlier in the week, MLBTR has learned. He was designated to make room on the roster for Marlon Byrd and John Buck (Kyle McPherson was transferred to the 60-day DL in a related move).

The 27-year-old Canzler has a .253/.345/.379 batting line with 12 homers in 516 plate appearances between the Orioles' and Pirates' Triple-A affiliates this season. Pittsburgh acquired Canzler from Baltimore in exchange for former top prospect Tim Alderson on July 12. Canzler saw 97 plate appearances at the big league level with the Indians in 2012 and batted .269/.299/.398 with three homers.

In what was a hectic offseason for the utility man, he was claimed off waivers on four separate occasions: the Blue Jays claimed him from the Indians on Dec. 21 only to have the Indians claim him right back on Jan. 2. Two days later, the Yankees claimed him from Cleveland before the Orioles claimed him for the final time on Feb. 5. In parts of three seasons at Triple-A, Canzler has slashed .278/.358/.467 with 52 homers while seeing time at first base, third base and both corner outfield positions.

You can keep track of all DFA statuses with MLBTR's DFA Tracker. At this time, only Aaron Harang of the Mariners remains in DFA limbo.



Phillies Sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

More than a month after the Phillies reportedly agreed to a six-year, $48MM contract for Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the team has officially announced that they have signed him to a drastically reduced three-year, $12MM contract with a vesting option for a fourth season.

Gonzalez's contract covers the 2014-16 seasons and also contains an undisclosed signing bonus and performance incentives. He has been placed directly on the 40-man roster, with John Lannan being transferred to the 60-day disabled list to clear a space. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. offered the following statement regarding the signing:

“We are very pleased to have come to an agreement with Miguel. He is someone our scouts have followed for several years and in our most recent observations of him he showed tremendous stuff.  We are hopeful he will pitch out of our starting rotation for 2014 and beyond.”

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets that the initial contract broke down due to concerns regarding Gonzalez's right elbow. The Phillies have now secured Gonzalez at a bargain rate compared to where the initial bidding began. A few weeks after that initial report, rumors began to circulate that the agreement was in jeopardy. Passan's tweet confirms what was speculated in those reports -- elbow problems did indeed impact negotiations. Elbow troubles aren't exactly new for Gonzalez, as he'd previously had surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow.

Gonzalez drew heavy interest from a number of big league teams, but the Red Sox and Dodgers were said to have been two of the other teams very interested in signing him. Ben Badler of Baseball America offered a scouting report on Gonzalez prior to his initial agreement (subscription required), noting that he features a fastball, splitter, changeup and curveball in his four-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low- to mid-90s, and his splitter and changeup are slightly above-average pitches, according to Badler. Badler also notes that Gonzalez's curve is his weakest offering. Badler adds that while some scouts see him as a No. 3 starter, others see him as a middle reliever because they don't believe his stuff will hold up when facing MLB hitters multiple times in an outing.

With Gonzalez in the fold, the Phillies will now presumably be looking at a top three of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Gonzalez for the foreseeable future, with other candidates such as Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Tyler Cloyd as candidates for the remaining spots. Kyle Kendrick projects as their fourth starter in 2014 but is a free agent after that year.



Extension Talks Between Morales, Mariners Never Got Serious

The Mariners were interested in negotiating a long-term contract extension with first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales as recently as July, but agent Scott Boras' contract suggestions caused the team to balk, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Because of the figures suggested by Boras, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik never even made a formal offer.

Rosenthal writes that Boras plans to market Morales as a player whose production would improve away from the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field. He notes that Adrian Beltre went from averaging 20 homers per season to 30-plus upon leaving Seattle.

Boras' claim figures to be a tough sell for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Mariners altered the dimensions to Safeco Field this past offseason, lessening the advantage to pitchers in the process. Secondly, and more importantly, is the fact that Morales' numbers at Safeco and on the road are nearly identical. In 277 plate appearances at Safeco Field this season, Morales is batting .283/.332/.453, and he's batting .278/.344/.435 in 262 plate appearances on the road. He's actually hitting for more power in Seattle than on the road.

Because the Mariners declined to trade Morales before the deadline and when he was claimed off trade waivers earlier in the week, it seems that the Mariners are leaning toward extending a qualifying offer of roughly $14MM to 30-year-old switch-hitter (that's just my speculation). Rosenthal closes by saying that Morales' former team, the Angels, could have interest in him as a free agent this offseason, though that also appears to be more of a speculative statement than anything else.









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