February 2014

Quick Hits: Myron, Beltre, Trout, Free Agent Values

Chuck Myron, lead writer for our sister site Hoops Rumors and occasional MLBTR contributor, has co-written an excellent book called Hits and Misses in the Baseball Draft. Authors Myron and Alan Maimon have created a must-read for any baseball fan hoping to understand why so many of the best young players fail to make meaningful contributions in The Show, and so many teams make the wrong choices on draft day. Please check out Hits and Misses in the Baseball Draft; we think you'll like it. Note, also, that if you are planning a trip to Florida for Spring Training, you can meet Chuck and Alan at either of two scheduled book signings. The authors will appear at two Barnes & Noble locations in mid-March: in Clearwater on March 14 at 7pm and in Fort Myers on March 15 at 3pm.

Moving on, here are some notes from around the league for your Thursday evening reading…

  • Engel Beltre and Michael Choice will both be fighting for roster spots in Spring Training, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, but Beltre is the favorite to stick due to the fact that he is out of options. The Rangers aren't likely to let him go, and while Choice could help as a right-handed option in a DH platoon, Texas is wary that such a limited role could hinder his development.
  • In an effort to prove Mike Trout's sky-high value without relying on advanced metrics, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs adds the 2013 production of Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo (using standard stats such as singles, doubles, triples, homers, steals, etc.) and subtracts Mike Trout's numbers. Cameron finds that the result is surprisingly similar to Eric Young's 2013 totals. Because Young was acquired for a replacement-level arm, Cameron suggests that acquiring a partner to match the output is nearly free. In the end, he suggests that Trout is worth more than Choo and Ellsbury combined.
  • In a subscription-only piece, R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus looks at how the players he ranked in his Top 50 stacked up to the expected average annual value he laid out prior to the offseason. Anderson concludes that he underestimated the market for back-end starters, setup men and veterans with perceivable upside remaining. Because of that last category, he wonders if names like Asdrubal Cabrera and Chad Billingsley could see larger paydays than many are expecting next winter.
  • Sticking with Baseball Prospectus, Phil Hughes tops a free list of nine players that the minds at B-Pro expect to see show improvement in 2014. Also appearing on the list are Matt CainCC Sabathia and Brett Lawrie, amongst others.
  • WEEI.com's Alex Speier breaks down the numerous Spring Training decisions facing the Red Sox, including homegrown prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. and reclamation project Grady Sizemore fighting for center field (Speier writes that it's Bradley's job to lose). Within the piece, Speier wonders if spring struggles from Middlebrooks would make the Red Sox reconsider their stance on Stephen Drew.

NL East Notes: Niese, Lee, Adams, Marlins, Rivero

Mets fans had a scare yesterday when projected Opening Day starter Jon Niese had to travel to New York to undergo an MRI after experiencing a dead arm. However, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted earlier today that the results of Niese's MRI were positive; doctors said his shoulder looked "perfect," and he will be able to resume throwing as soon as he returns to camp. Elsewhere in the NL East…

  • CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury writes that 2014 could finally be the year that the Phillies trade Cliff Lee if they fall out of contention. Lee says that the concept of trade rumors don't matter to him: "I really don't care. There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you’ve had success and other teams really want you." Lee's contract is guaranteed through the 2015 season and contains a vesting option for 2016.
  • Rehabbing Phillies setup man Mike Adams threw his first bullpen of the spring today and said he felt great afterward, writes MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Adams felt some discomfort when throwing from flat ground on monday, but the Phillies' head trainer assured him it was ok. Adams, set to earn $7MM in 2014 after missing most of 2013, said he threw at about 85 percent intensity today and could be in the Phillies' bullpen sometime in April.
  • Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida spoke to Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill about his wealth of pitching prospects. Beyond Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner, the Marlins also have minor leaguers Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, Brad Hand and Brian Flynn. "Those guys are all starting pitchers, which is an envious position to be in," Hill said. "We're proud of our depth, happy to have it and just hopeful that they all develop into what we think they can be."
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calls recent trade acquisition Felipe Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter," writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. Wagner spoke with Rivero about his transition from the Rays organization to the Nationals.

Latest On Justin Masterson

4:04pm: Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians' most recent offer to Masterson is believed to have been in the three- or four-year range. While that's significant lower than Bailey's six-year deal, also keep in mind that with Masterson's 2014 salary already agreed upon, each of those proposed years is a free agent year, while Bailey's deal sold off five free agent seasons.

3:41pm: Justin Masterson and the Indians agreed to a one-year, $9.7625MM contract last week to avoid an arbitration hearing at the eleventh hour. Extension talks have continued since that time, and while nothing is imminent, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, Masterson told reporters that he doesn't think this will be his final year in Cleveland (All Twitter links): "I figure that somehow, some way, I'll end up still being here for a few more years," said Masterson. Bastian adds that the two sides spoke earlier this week and plan to do so again over the weekend and in the early portion of next week. MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo writes that the two sides recently exchanged parameters.

Masterson has said in the past that he's willing to continue extension talks into the season, but GM Chris Antonetti is said to prefer a resolution by the end of Spring Training. Masterson compares somewhat favorably to Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (particularly in terms of age and service time), who signed a six-year, $105MM extension last week, though Bailey had the advantage of coming off his two best seasons. Masterson enjoyed his two strongest campaigns in 2011 and 2013 campaign but struggled in 2012.

Cleveland has already extended Michael Brantley this offseason and is said to have approached Jason Kipnis about a long-term deal as well.



D’Backs Asking For Young Catcher In Exchange For Shortstop

The Diamondbacks have a good deal of depth at shortstop, as they feel that both Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings are capable Major League shortstops. In addition, three more names on Baseball America's list of Top 30 Diamonsbacks prospects — Nick Ahmed, Sergio Alcantara and Jose Munoz — are shortstops. This has led to some speculation that the Diamondbacks could trade a shortstop in order to address other needs in the organization, and Marc Carig of Newsday now reports (via Twitter) that the Diamondbacks have targeted young catchers in discussing shortstop trades with the Mets.

However, Carig adds that the Mets aren't a good fit for a trade with the D-Backs. Arizona is said to be seeking a Travis d'Arnaud type of talent in exchange for one of their shortstops and doesn't deem fellow catcher Kevin Plawecki a good enough return. As such, the Mets and D-Backs haven't had recent trade discussions about Arizona's shorstops (Twitter links).

For some context, Plawecki ranked fifth on BA's Top 30 Mets prospects heading into the 2014 season. BA calls him a safe bet to bat around .280 and hit somewhere in the range of a dozen homers at his peak level, and his bat is good enough to profile as a starting catcher, according to their scouting report. He has an average arm and is solid when it comes to blocking pitches, per BA.

The Diamondbacks currently have Miguel Montero installed as their everyday catcher, but the 30-year-old's offense slipped in 2013. After batting .283/.361/.457 from 2009-12, Montero slashed just .230/.318/.344 in 475 plate appearances last season. The decline was rapid and clearly unexpected, as it came in the first season of a five-year, $60MM extension that Montero inked in May 2012. He's set to earn $10MM this coming season, $12MM in 2015 and $14MM in 2016-17.


AL Central Notes: Royals, Hughes, Tigers, Bauer

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet interviewed Royals GM Dayton Moore about the team's playoff hopes, his offseason moves and the difficulty of making trades. Asked about the tough decision to part with Wil Myers, Moore said the focus in trades has to be on what is acquired rather than what is given up: "If you focus on what you’re losing, you’ll never make a deal. You’ll be paralyzed. You have to focus on what you’re getting in return and that’s what we focused on."

More items pertaining to the Royals and the AL Central…

  • ESPN's Jerry Crasnick also looks at the Royals' high expectations, talking about the team's acquisition of Shields and the heavy emphasis placed on defense. Moore makes it clear to the club's scouts that he wants players with the discipline to focus for nine innings and the ability to continue to prioritize defense even in the midst of slumps at the plate. Shields and manager Ned Yost both spoke about this emphasis. Crasnick also discussed the turnaround of some of the team's young hitters with last year's interim hitting coach and Hall of Famer George Brett.
  • Phil Hughes tells Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News that he's enjoying his transition to a new team after a "nightmare" season with the Yankees in 2013. Hughes, who has become fast friends with Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, says he enjoys the laid-back atmosphere. Now sporting a beard, Hughes feels that back pain that cost him most of Spring Training last season likely contributed to his struggles. Minnesota, of course, gambled on Hughes' youth and pedigree by signing him to a three-year, $24MM deal this offseason that was far larger than most had expected for the 27-year-old.
  • Chris Iott of MLive.com answered reader questions and offered his take on the chances of Max Scherzer inking an extension prior to Opening Day. Iott pegs the chances of a long-term deal for the 2013 Cy Young winner at about 10 percent, noting that he simply can't envision it realistically happening.
  • Also of note from Iott is that the Tigers are fully committed to using Drew Smyly as a starter. Iott writes that the club won't be making any last-minute additions of a veteran starter and expect the left-handed Smyly to be in their rotation for a long time.
  • Iott also spoke with manager Brad Ausmus about trade acquisition Robbie Ray. Detroit's new skipper told him that Ray, acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade, has a deceptive delivery that allows his fastball to play up a couple of miles per hour. Ausmus anticipates Ray getting a lot of foul balls on fastballs up in the zone, believing that hitters will have a tough time keeping up with the pitch.
  • The Tigers announced that non-roster invitee Eduardo Sanchez suffered an olecranon stress fracture of his right elbow and will miss an extended period of time. The former Cardinals setup man inked a minor league deal with Detroit in January and was vying for a spot in their bullpen.
  • Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Indians know Trevor Bauer probably isn't ready for the Majors, which is what prompted their late signing of Aaron Harang to serve as depth. Bauer has altered his delivery somewhat and got mixed results in yesterday's game against the Reds.

Athletics Acquire Jake Elmore

The Athletics have announced (on Twitter) the acquisition of infielder Jake Elmore from the White Sox in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this morning that the A's may be close to acquiring Elmore after reporting that Andy Parrino had been designated for assignment.

Elmore batted .242/.313/.325 in 136 plate appearances for the Astros in 2013. The highly versatile 26-year-old accomplished a rare feat last season by appearing at all nine positions on the diamond. Even more rare is the fact that he both pitched and caught in the same game on Aug. 19.

A teammate of Oakland's Eric Sogard at Arizona State University, Elmore was selected by the Diamondbacks in the late stages of the 2008 draft (34th round). His minor league numbers to date are strong, as he's a career .291/.387/.394 hitter, including a robust .326/.419/.453 triple-slash in 821 PAs at the Triple-A level. Though he offers little power, he's averaged exactly 30 steals per 162 games in the minors, so he brings some speed to the table.


Athletics To Designate Parrino, May Acquire Elmore

10:14am: Oakland may be acquiring infielder Jake Elmore from the White Sox, tweets Slusser. Elmore was designated by Chicago yesterday.

10:11am: The Athletics will soon announce that utilityman Andy Parrino has been designated for assignment, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. As Slusser notes, that means that a corresponding move is set to take place.

Parrino, 28, has seen 229 MLB plate appearances over the last three years with the A's and Padres. His cumulative line stands at a meager .186/.295/.242. Though he also struggled at the Triple-A level last year with Oakland, he had previously shown an ability to get on base and provide some pop at the upper tiers of the minors. Parrino's primary appeal, however, lies in his versatility: he has appeared at short, second, thirtd, and both corner outfield positions during his short big league tenure.


East Notes: Mets, Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox

Mets GM Sandy Alderson recently told the club's executives and baseball personnel that he believes the team can win 90 games in 2014, reports John Harper of the New York Daily News. Alderson neither denied nor confirmed the report, but his comments implied he had set an ambitious target for the organization. "All I'll say is we have higher expectations than we've had in the past," said the GM. "Because I think it has to be a mind-set. Part of creating a winning environment is setting ambitious goals and working toward them. But it has to be systematic and it can’t be totally unrealistic. I don’t think it is in this case.”

Here are a few more notes from the game's eastern divisions to start the day:

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman says that the last thing he's concerned about is the health of the team's star shortstop and first baseman, reports the New York Post's George A. King III"I am more focused on the bullpen, the rotation and how that will shake out and the infield that is not Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter," he said. We heard yesterday that the Yankees are still keeping an eye on possible additions to the club's infield mix.
  • Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich says that the silver lining of the club losing its top draft choices is that his scouts will be able to drill down harder on the players who are likely to be available to them further down in the order, reports Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com"I think we will try to identify all the players we think will be gone," Rajsich said. "We will focus on second and third-round guys and try to sign an undervalued player there. 

    Every area scout will still scout the top guys in their area, but they will not spend a lot of time on the ones they think are definitely first-round guys. I would say we may be able to eliminate as many as 45 or 50 players." At present, the O's will first select a player with the 90th overall choice.

  • The Red Sox have quickly amassed a nice array of young arms in the upper minors, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. And while most of those arms do not figure to break camp with the big club, GM Ben Cherington said that they will nevertheless be a valuable resource in 2014. “That young group, no matter what, is going to be relied upon in some way at some point during the year,” Cherington said. “You can never have enough.”

Quick Hits: D’Backs, Red Sox, Extensions, Rincon

Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers says he hasn't had many trade talks about a shortstop given that Stephen Drew is still on the market, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.  If Towers did feel compelled to move either Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius, Cliff Pennington or Nick Ahmed in "the right deal," Towers said that the team would likely target either a minor league pitcher who's close to the big leagues or a catcher.  "Our biggest needs in our system are catching," Towers said.  "If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind Miggy [Miguel Montero]. More of an upper-level guy.”  Of the teams known to be looking for shortstop help, the Yankees stand out as a possible trade partner, especially since New York is known to be shopping its catching depth.

Here's some more from around the majors…

  • Also from Piecoro, the Red Sox are "at least monitoring the shortstop market."  The Sox currently aren't in negotiations with Stephen Drew, but it stands to reason they could still be looking for a cheaper infield option to back up Xander Bogaerts.
  • With more and more teams locking up their young stars to long-term extensions, SI.com's Tom Verducci writes that "what we are going to see is a further eroding of the free-agent market as a place of any kind of efficiency. Teams will continue to make bad deals on free agents because it mostly involves paying too long and too much for the decline years of star players."
  • Mike Trout is the most high-profile example yet of a team locking up its young superstar, and Verducci thinks that a seven-year extension (covering four of Trout's free agent years) could cost the Angels $204MM.
  • Juan Rincon is planning to work out for interested teams soon, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman tweets.  The 35-year-old righty posted a 4.03 ERA over 444 games (three of them starts) with the Twins, Indians, Tigers and Rockies from 2001-10, but hasn't appeared in the Majors since, spending the last three years with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate and for independent teams.  In December, we heard Rincon was looking for a minor league deal that would allow him to mentor young pitchers and then eventually turn into a scouting job. 
  • Tomo Ohka talks to the Toronto Star's Brad Lefton about adopting the knuckleball in order to save his career, and how he's hoping for one last crack at the Major Leagues with the Blue Jays.
  • Fangraphs' Wendy Thurm breaks down which teams spend the highest percentage of their payroll on their starting rotation, starting lineup, bullpen and bench, respectively.
  • The Astros (+18 WAR) and Red Sox (-16 WAR) project as the most- and least-improved teams in 2014, according to Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who lists a top ten in each category.  Of course, as Sullivan notes, these totals are respectively skewed by how poorly and how well the two clubs fared last season, as Sullivan still expects Boston to contend and Houston to be one of the league's lesser clubs.

Baer On Spending, Dodgers, Sandoval, A’s

Giants president and CEO Larry Baer spoke to reporters (including Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle) today at the team's Spring Training camp in Scottsdale and discussed a number of topics, including…

  • The Dodgers have drastically outspent the Giants over the last couple of seasons but, while Baer says his team's payroll will remain competitive, he is comfortable with the Giants' strategy of building through the draft and making big signings only when necessary.  "We’re fine with not matching them dollar for dollar because when it comes down to it, it’s an art, not a science, and it comes down to judgments," Baer said.  "Drafting Cain, Lincecum, Posey, Bumgarner, etc…Those were judgment calls, not money calls."
  • The Giants have yet to begin talks with Pablo Sandoval about a multiyear extension.  A deal could still happen before Opening Day, Baer said, though the team feels it has the entire season to work out a deal if it decides Sandoval is worth keeping in the fold.  This is Sandoval's last year under contract with San Francisco and today MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby looked at how the Giants' uncertainty over Sandoval's conditioning and consistency at the plate are the main hurdles to a new contract.
  • Baer said that the Giants could be open to temporarily sharing AT&T Park with the Athletics if the A's are getting a new ballpark built in Oakland.  Of course, Baer stressed that the Giants were more than happy about the A's getting a new stadium "in their territory," as the two franchises are in a dispute over territorial rights to the San Jose area, where the A's want to relocate.