As the clock ticks down to the start of a new year across North America, here's hoping that all of MLBTR's readers have a safe and happy end to 2013. Here are a few notes from the National League to round out the 2013 hot stove season:
- Though Ryan Zimmerman will begin to see some time at first base in Spring Training, he remains entrenched at the hot corner, writes MASNsports.com's Pete Kerzel. But Anthony Rendon is the organization's only other current big league option with a real track record at third, and he is widely expected to serve as the club's regular second baseman. In the immediate term, Kerzel says that the Nats may look to trade or claim a player who can back up at third. But looking into the future, the expiration of first baseman Adam LaRoche's deal after 2014 (assuming his mutual option is not exercised) will likely require Washington to make more definitive moves towards settling its infield alignment.
- Kendrys Morales could make some "theoretical" sense for the Pirates on a "very team-friendly contract," writes ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). But, says Olney, the club would be loath to part with its first round pick and the slot money that comes with it. I recently took a look at the market for Morales, assuming that an NL team would not be willing to sign him without a DH slot to park his bat. If clubs believe that he could handle a substantial workload at first, however, he may find additional suitors.
- Olney ranks the Bucs as the tenth best team in baseball entering the new year. With a solid roster already in place, Olney posits that the club may wait until next year to make significant new additions. Of course, one major unresolved situation in Pittsburgh is the status of starter A.J. Burnett, who could still be brought back to provide a major boost to the club's rotation in 2014.
Over at Fangraphs, Eno Sarris poses an open question: how can analysts and fans better understand how the dynamics of roster construction -- in particular, depth -- impact wins? Otherwise, it is unsurprisingly a slow night for hot stove news on New Year's Eve. (Though over 6,400 MLBTR readers -- and counting -- have weighed in with their vote for the best transaction of 2013.) Here are a few other notes ...
- Also on Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan explores PNC Park's unique capacity to limit the game's three true outcomes: walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Sullivan wonders whether the Pirates may be able to leverage this fact, which could theoretically occur in the club's player acquisition and/or development approaches. Indeed, as Huntington recently told Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and Bucs Dugout, his organization is always looking for "the next edge."
- While commissioner Bud Selig is proud of the game's financial prosperity, he tells Mike Bauman of MLB.com that his favorite achievement is "competitive balance." Bauman cites revenue sharing and the luxury tax as mechanisms that have, in Selig's words, brought "hope and faith" to more major league fanbases.
Of all the baseball news that broke in 2013, the story of how David Murphy's contract with the Indians became public has to be the most unique. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer relates how Murphy and the Tribe had agreed to terms but were keeping the deal under wraps until it was finalized...only to have Murphy's five-year-old daughter spill the beans to her kindergarten class during a lesson about Thanksgiving. “She was in preschool and they were learning about Pilgrims and Indians,” Murphy told reporters last month. “She spoke up that her dad was going to the Indians. Obviously, the word spreads quickly because of social media. It’s not the best situation, but it’s a good story to tell her when she gets older.”
Here's some more Tribe-related notes from Hoynes, as part of a reader mailbag...
- The Indians don't have any current interest in Jake Westbrook, who pitched in Cleveland from 2001-10. Westbrook hit free agency after the Cardinals bought out his 2014 option but it's been a pretty quiet winter of rumors about the veteran right-hander. Hoynes reported in October that the Tribe would "keep an eye" on Westbrook but nothing seems to have come of that interest. Westbrook, 36, posted a 4.63 ERA in 116 2/3 IP with the Cardinals last season and had trouble missing bats, as he recorded only 44 strikeouts (against 50 walks).
- A right-handed power bat isn't high on the club's priority list as the Indians are focused on adding pitching.
- Hoynes figures the Indians will post a $20MM bid for Masahiro Tanaka since they "have nothing to lose" in doing so, given that only the team that signs Tanaka has to pay the $20MM posting fee. While the Indians may check on the Japanese righty, however, Hoynes thinks larger-market teams will offer Tanaka a much bigger contract offer.
- Hoynes thinks Ubaldo Jimenez will end up signing with the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks or Yankees. The Tanaka signing could affect this prediction as the latter two teams are known to be heavily interested in Tanaka and Toronto will likely be interested as well.
- Francisco Lindor is only likely to see time as a September callup, and that's only if the Indians' star prospect rebounds from a 2013 back injury and impresses in his first taste of Double-A and Triple-A baseball. Lindor's progress will also naturally impact the Tribe's future decision on Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent next winter. Cleveland is known to be listening to trade offers for Cabrera, who is coming off a down year in 2013.
The NL West makes a strong showing on Jim Bowden's list of the offseason's seven most underrated transactions (ESPN Insider account required). The Giants and Dodgers combine for three of the seven moves, while the Diamondbacks find themselves on possibly the wrong end of one of the deals --- Bowden believes the White Sox got the best end of the three-team Sox/D'Backs/Angels trade since Adam Eaton fills a big need in Chicago and Bowden doesn't rate Hector Santiago too highly.
Here are some more items from around the NL West...
- The Rockies didn't push harder for more fifth starter depth since they didn't want to block right-handed pitching prospect Eddie Butler, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (Sulia link). Butler, the 46th overall pick of the 2012 draft, pitched very well last season, including an 0.65 ERA in 27 2/3 Double-A innings. If he continues to progress next year, the Rockies could call Butler up by late May or early June. Juan Nicasio and Jordan Lyles are currently slated to battle for the fifth spot in the Colorado rotation behind Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson, though Anderson's health history will create a need for depth.
- The Rockies added Raul Fernandez to the 40-man roster rather than risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft, as Colorado has been cautious about losing even low A-ball prospects to the Rule 5 draft since the Padres took Everth Cabrera from their roster in 2008. Baseball America's Jack Etkin profiles Fernandez, who owns a 96-mph fastball and projects as a back-end reliever.
- Jamey Wright signed his first Major League contract since 2005 when he agreed to a one-year, $1.8MM deal with the Dodgers last week. Fangraphs' Mike Petriello looks at how Wright has revived his career by adding a cutter to his arsenal, which led to more strikeouts and more success against right-handed batters.
- Right-hander Javy Guerra has become little more than a minor league depth option for the Dodgers, and Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times opines that Guerra could become trade bait. Guerra (who is out of options) emerged as the Dodgers' closer in 2011 but hasn't been nearly as effective since, pitching in just 10 2/3 Major League innings in 2013.
Here's the latest on the Braves from David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution...
- The Braves aren't pursuing Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, O'Brien tweets. Kendrick was thought to be on the trade market earlier this offseason as the Angels were looking to acquire young pitching, though now that the Halos have added Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs by dealing Mark Trumbo, it seems unlikely that they'd unload another regular unless they were trying to create payroll space for another move.
- Of course, Atlanta already has a second baseman in Dan Uggla, though the veteran has struggled badly over the last two seasons and wasn't on the Braves' postseason roster in October. The Braves were known to be exploring an Uggla trade this offseason but O'Brien tweets that he hasn't heard of any teams interested in taking Uggla.
- Right-hander Luis Vasquez was signed to a minor league deal in November and has drawn the attention of several teams due to a standout performance in the Dominican League. At the Winter Meetings, Braves GM Frank Wren said that received several comments and queries about Vasquez from other scouts and executives. Vasquez will fight for a job in Atlanta's bullpen at Spring Training.
- The acquisition of minor league first baseman Mark Hamilton could make Ernesto Mejia more expendable, O'Brien opines. Mejia, 28, has hit 78 homers over his last three seasons and a career .279/.340/.493 slash line in 3492 minor league PA, but he has yet to reach the majors after nine pro seasons. Mejia is defensively limited at first base and records a lot of strikeouts, which is why O'Brien categorizes him as a "Quad-A" type of player.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman says that the club will not sign Stephen Drew, reports Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com (via Twitter). After missing out on Omar Infante, New York had been rumored to be considering a run at the free agent infielder.
As MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth recently explained, Drew is far and away the most attractive middle infielder left on the open market. For New York, then, choosing to pass on his services means that the club will not further supplement its infield mix through a significant free agent signing. A trade may still be possible, but having re-signed Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan while adding Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, the Yanks have already been quite active in adding players who can man short, second, or third.
If the Yankees are indeed out on Drew, relatively dry demand figures to remain the major impediment to a substantial, multi-year deal for the 30-year-old. Last we heard, Drew was still in discussions with the Mets. And, of course, Drew could still fit in Boston. But as Gammons notes, it will be "delicate" for the Red Sox to bring him back on a pillow contract after he turned down the club's qualifying offer.
In a chat yesterday, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered a series of topics with his readers, many of which implicated the hot stove. Here are a few highlights:
- Top prospect Oscar Taveras will have a shot at winning a roster spot in the spring, Goold writes. He may start out coming off of the bench, as Matt Adams did last year, though service time considerations will certainly weigh in the equation. Meanwhile, Carlos Martinez could still begin the year as a starter in Triple-A or as a key part of the big club's bullpen. To hold him in the minors as starting depth, however, the Cards would need to feel confident in another relief option, Goold explains. If injuries do not intervene, big springs from Taveras and Martinez could force other roster moves to clear way.
- When it comes time to make those decisions, Cards' GM John Mozeliak will surely utilize the club's value-based approach to comparing players and making personnel decisions. As Goold explains, the team puts a premium not only on years of control, but also the availability of options that allow the club to maintain that control even if a player struggles (or is supplanted) at the big league level. The organization has also ensured depth by holding onto higher-level minor leaguers that appear blocked, rather than flipping them for younger, more speculative talent.
- Mozeliak could always be wooed by an organization like the Rockies, says Goold, but all indications are that he remains committed to St. Louis. Mozeliak has interest in the game's broader business aspects, and could continue to expand his role in that respect with the Cardinals. If Mozeliak were to climb in the organization and move out of a baseball operations role, he has indicated that he would like to have a succession plan in place. Goold notes that several internal candidates to fill his shoes would be assistant GM Michael Girsch, director of player personnel Matt Slater, and director of amateur scouting Dan Kantrovitz.
- Putting aside the Cards, Goold opines that the Nationals are the N.L. club that has made the most improvement over the off-season to date. He views Doug Fister as a "big addition" for D.C.
- The Cardinals figure to join other MLB clubs in expanding the use of defensive shifts next season, Goold advises.
Playing winter ball in Venezuela can help North American ballplayers make ends meet, and Joshua Goodman of the Associated Press provides a fascinating look into what their lives are like as they deal with the wildly different stadium atmosphere there, not to mention the different political atmosphere. Players often make $10K to $20K a month in Venezuela, far more than most of them do in the US minor leagues or in independent ball. They play for large, raucous crowds, unlike some of those in the minors. "I've never played in the big leagues, but I don't think the environment is nearly as fun" as it is in Venezuela, says Jamie Romak, a 28-year-old minor-league veteran who played in the Cardinals system last year and is now playing for La Guaira. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- Masahiro Tanaka's free agent contract will have much to say about the way we value prospects, writes Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. The market might value Tanaka at something like $120MM to $150MM, even though he is generally considered to be a lesser talent than Yu Darvish was before his debut, and Darvish ranked behind several prospects (like Matt Moore and Shelby Miller) on some analysts' lists at the time. So if Tanaka is worth $120MM, how much is Taijuan Walker worth? How much, for that matter, is Xander Bogaerts worth? Estimates might end up somewhere north of $100MM, even though those players haven't yet proven themselves in the big leagues. That's why, Cameron argues, the Royals should not have included Wil Myers in the James Shields trade last year.
- The Angels haven't been known for their farm system in recent years, but MLB.com's Jim Callis writes that their 2009 draft was the best one of the past decade. The Angels had five selections in the first 48 picks, and with the second of those, they landed Mike Trout, currently baseball's best all-around player. They also grabbed Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs (who both went to Arizona in the Dan Haren deal, although Skaggs returned earlier this month as Mark Trumbo went to the desert), outfielder Randal Grichuk (who was part of the David Freese trade) and Garrett Richards.
- Meanwhile, Callis' colleague at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo, argues that the Cardinals' 2009 draft was actually the best. That draft produced Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams and Joe Kelly.
- Even if they sign Tanaka, the Yankees might be able to get below the $189MM luxury-tax threshold for 2014 if they trade high-priced players during the season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post points out. Even that would be tricky, however. Alex Rodriguez would still have to miss a hefty chunk of the season due to his suspension (however his appeal turns out), and the Yankees would have to trade a number of expensive players. Sherman suggests that the Yankees may have missed a better opportunity to try something like this -- with much of their core injured in 2013, they could have dealt free-agents-to-be like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes to get under last year's threshold. Such a move would have reduced their tax burden and allowed them to spend even more heavily this offseason. It would have been unlikely if the Yankees had waved the white flag on 2013, however, because they don't typically behave that way.
- The Braves are still in talks with reliever Eric O'Flaherty, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution tweets. O'Flaherty had Tommy John surgery last May and will likely miss the beginning of the season. He's one of only a handful of lefty relievers remaining on the free agent market, along with Oliver Perez, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Mijares and Rich Hill.
A number of teams have interest in free-agent infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, and there's also a possibility he might start, MLBTR's Zach Links reports. The Marlins, who had previously had contact with Betancourt, are no longer among the interested teams, since they've already added Casey McGehee. Betancourt hopes that he can finalize a deal within the next two weeks (all Twitter links).
Betancourt, 31, hit .212/.240/.355 in 409 plate appearances with the Brewers last season, mostly at the corner infield spots. He has a career. 261/.285/.388 line in nine big-league seasons.
Here are today's minor moves from around baseball.
- The Nationals have re-signed second baseman Will Rhymes to a minor-league deal with a spring training invite, according to his agency, Beverly Hills Sports Council (on Twitter). Rhymes, 30, hit .274/.360/.349 in 530 plate appearances at Triple-A Syracuse last season. He has a .266/.328/.343 line in 449 career big-league plate appearances with the Tigers and Rays.