June 2014

Astros Designate Jerome Williams For Assignment

The Astros have designated swingman Jerome Williams for assignment, tweets Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Houston also optioned shortstop Jonathan Villar to Triple-A.

Williams, a 32-year-old righty, signed a one-year, $2.1MM deal with Houston before the season. He owns a 5.91 ERA through 45 2/3 innings with the club, all in relief. He does own superior peripherals (7.1 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9) than those that he carried as a starter in previous seasons, and some ERA estimators looked more favorably on his work (4.70 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, 3.72 SIERA).

Reds To Sign First-Rounder Nick Howard

The Reds have agreed with first-round choice Nick Howard on a $1,990,500 bonus, reports Jim Callis of MLB.com (Twitter link). That falls just $100K shy of the slot allocation that came with the 19th overall pick.

Howard, a closer in his last season at the University of Virginia, is expected to be given a chance to transition into back into a starting role in the Reds organization. He has two strong offerings: a mid-to-high 90s heater and often-devastating slider. On the back of those pitches, Baseball America (25th) and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis (31st) saw Howard as one of the best arms available.

Howard becomes the last of the team’s choices from the first ten rounds to sign. In total, the club saved $375K on those signings as against its total available pool of just under $7MM, per MLB.com’s signing tracker.

Rosenthal On Aiken, Parra, Dodgers, Benoit, Cubs

In his latest column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reminds everyone why experienced foreigners like Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu are considered eligible for Rookie of the Year awards.  Of course, players like Abreu and Tanaka come with years of professional experience, but they still have to make a significant transition when it comes to the move to MLB, both professionally and culturally.  Here’s more from Rosenthal..

  • High school left-hander (and first overall draft choice) Brady Aiken reportedly arrived in Houston last Monday, which would indicate that an agreement was close, but a week later nothing has been announced and neither side is saying why.  The holdup, Rosenthal says, bears a resemblance to the delays that occasionally occur in free agency when players fail physicals and teams try to rework deals.  If indeed Aiken failed his physical, the Astros would have the right to offer him 40 percent of his signing bonus value, according to the new draft rules that were negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement in 2011.  Of course, this is just speculation on Rosenthal’s part and only the parties involved know whether there is any kind of issue with Aiken’s physical.
  • D’Backs outfielder and fan favorite Gerardo Parra might be among the least likely in Arizona to be traded. With  A.J. Pollock and Mark Trumbo on the disabled list, a trade of the 27-year-old would leave the club short on experienced outfielders.  It’s also unclear how much Parra would bring back in a trade.  Parra is making $4.85MM in his third year of arbitration and amounts to little more than a platoon player, given his career .586 OPS against left-handers. Third baseman Martin Prado, earning $11MM per season through 2016, is another player the D’Backs might opt to keep, even though he has struggled at the plate as well.  Second baseman Aaron Hill, meanwhile, is expendable given their surplus of middle infielders.
  • It would be surprising if the Dodgers traded an outfielder considering the recent injury woes of Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Andre Ethier.
  • The Tigers didn’t re-sign Joaquin Benoit last winter because they didn’t want to pay him closer money, but he still makes sense for them as a mid-season pickup.  The Padres reliever, who turns 37 in July, is owed about $3MM this season and $8MM next season with an $8MM team option or $1.5MM buyout for 2016.
  • Jake Arrieta probably has the best stuff of any Cubs starter right now but, of course, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are more likely to be traded since Arrieta is under club control through 2017.  Lefty Travis Wood, meanwhile, could be an extension candidate once the Cubs complete their rotation selloff.

Reds Sign Second-Rounder Taylor Sparks

The Reds have agreed to a $972.8K bonus with second-round (58th overall) choice Taylor Sparks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). That represents the assigned value of the pick.

Sparks is a third baseman out of UC Irvine. He was the 56th overall prospect in the view of MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who write that he is strong, athletic, and delivers hard contact at the plate. He is expected to develop some power and be able to stick at the hot corner. ESPN.com’s Keith Law rated him at the 72nd spot, while Baseball America had him as the 87th best player available.

According to the MLB.com signings tracker, Cincinnati has now locked up all of its picks from the first ten rounds with the exception of its first selection (19th overall): Nick Howard, the University of Virginia closer, who just completed play at the College World Series.

Infield Prospect Yoan Moncada Leaves Cuba

Well-regarded young infielder Yoan Moncada has left Cuba with apparent intentions of qualifying for MLB free agency, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The 19-year-old switch-hitter would be subject to international spending limits, making for an interesting wrinkle in the soon-to-launch July 2 signing period.

Moncada was able to make his departure from his home nation through legal means, according to Sanchez, and must now secure residency in another country before petitioning MLB for free agency and receiving clearance from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. As Obstructedview.net explained back in May, Moncada — once a teammate of Jose Abreu and Erisbel Arruebarrena with Cienfuegos — had sought government permission to leave his club and country.

Moncada has spent most of his time at second base, though he reportedly is also capable of playing short or third. Sanchez lists him at 6’2″ tall and 205 lb. Moncada’s Serie Nacional statistics and a highlight video can also be found at Obstructedview.net. In 367 total plate appearances over the last two years — all before he turned 19 — he owns a .277/.388/.380 line with four long balls and 21 stolen bases (against 11 times caught stealing).

With teams already well along in lining up commitments to July 2 prospects, it will be interesting to see how they react to Moncada’s potential entry. Though he could still be months away from being able to sign, he would likely become eligible in the upcoming period if all goes smoothly. Unlike most of the players who may command significant bonuses, Moncada is a more developed player who has spent some time against higher-level competition.

Several clubs — most notably, the Yankees — are already said to be prepared to exceed their bonus allotments. The penalty for exceeding the cap includes a 100% tax on the overage and varying caps on future bonuses, depending upon how much the spending goes over the cap. The maximum penalty, which attaches when a team exceeds its pool by 15% or more, precludes a club signing any player for more than $300K during each of the next two signing periods.

Rangers Willing To Listen On All Players

JUNE 30: Daniels cannot imagine a scenario in which either Darvish or Beltre would be dealt, he said in an appearance today on Sirius XM MLB Network Radio (via a tweet from host Jim Bowden).

JUNE 25: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports hears from rival GMs and executives around the game that the Rangers will listen to trade proposals for anyone. Beltre and Darvish, however, are “on another level” from the rest of the team, and executives that have spoken to Heyman can’t envision either being traded. One big reason for that reluctance is that the Rangers expect to be good next year when Prince Fielder, Derek Holland, Jurickson ProfarMartin Perez and others have returned to health.

One GM tells Heyman that he thinks Andrus makes much more sense as a trade chip than most people realize. Andrus, of course, is guaranteed $15MM annually from 2015-20 and $14MM annually in 2021-22. He can opt out of his contract following the 2018 or 2019 season if he wishes.

Soria, Heyman notes, could be the star of the bullpen market, and Rios is likely to be sought after as well. He adds that the Rangers aren’t intent on trading too many players, but they seem intent on making some deals. As one GM tells Heyman: “They are open to anything with the vet core.”

JUNE 23: GM Jon Daniels has begun putting out feelers to assess the trade value of the club’s “core-type” players, a source tells Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Having fallen 11-and-a-half back in the division and staring at a tough stretch of games ahead, the Rangers appear to be preparing for the possibility of selling one or more significant pieces over the summer.

Of course, it remains quite early, and any number of factors could still result in Texas standing pat. Unsurprisingly, Daniels has not varied his public stance. “We’ve grown accustomed the last couple of years to being in the pole position or near it,” he said. “You adjust your point of view based on the standings. But you consider a lot of different things. There is no rule you have to make a major change before the deadline.”

While the report did not include any specific information regarding particular players, Grant did go on to discuss some of the players who might fall under the “core-type” label. He lists Elvis Andrus, whose value is held down by his contract, and Alex Rios, whose contract has somewhat surprisingly turned into something of an asset, along with Joakim Soria, Adrian Beltre, and ace Yu Darvish. Needless to say, it would be a stunning development were Texas even to listen on Darvish; while Grant does not suggest that is under consideration, he does note that the club was willing to part with Mark Teixeira back in 2007.

Astros’ Trade Discussion Notes Leaked

4:30pm: The Astros have issued the following statement regarding the leaked notes:

“Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on Astros’ servers and in Astros’ applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI.  Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to the determine the party, or parties, responsible.  This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent.

“It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that an outside source has illegally obtained confidential information.  While it does appear that some of the content released was based on trade conversations, a portion of the material was embellished or completely fabricated.”

2:29pm: Extensive trade discussion notes, apparently logged by Astros executives about their talks with other teams, have been leaked onto the site AnonBin here and here, with Deadspin breaking the story and Yahoo’s Jeff Passan verifying the authenticity of the logs.  The earliest notes are from June 2013, and the latest are from March of this year.  The Astros have yet to comment on the leak, which provides unprecedented detail into how the team values players and approaches trade discussions.  According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Astros have been reaching out to people around baseball apologizing for the leaks, and plan to issue a statement soon.

A March feature by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle outlines Ground Control, the Astros’ confidential internal database from which the trade discussion notes were likely taken.  At this time, it’s unclear whether the information reached the Internet via a rogue employee of the team, or by some kind of security vulnerability in Ground Control.  The trade discussion information, mostly from last summer and offseason, is somewhat dated in the fast-moving baseball hot stove world.  The larger ramification is the breach of trust experienced by the many non-Astros executives cited in the notes.  It’s unlikely any team would rule out the Astros as a trading partner based on this breach, but some teams could approach talks with added caution.  Additionally, I imagine the many other teams with such highly sensitive material online are doubling down on security right now.

The Astros’ trade notes from last summer and offseason range from the blockbuster to the mundane; here are some highlights.

  • On November 15th, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow expressed interest with Marlins GM Dan Jennings in slugger Giancarlo Stanton.  From the notes: “[Jennings] said he doesn’t think he’ll trade Stanton and the only deal he could think of from us that would work would be [George] Springer and [Carlos] Correa. [Luhnow] said that would not work. [Luhnow] posited a deal around [Jarred] Cosart and [Delino] DeShields.”  It’s not a big surprise that Luhnow rejected Jennings’ proposal out of hand, as Correa and Springer were ranked #4 and #19 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list for ESPN, and are major building blocks for Houston.  That Luhnow didn’t appear to offer either player suggests he was mostly gauging Stanton’s price after an off-year with three years of control remaining.  UPDATE: Jennings has commented to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, saying it’s fabricated that they ever offered Stanton to the Astros or any other team, also using the word “laughable.”
  • Interest in Astros catcher Jason Castro was strong last offseason, with a few surprising suitors.  The Blue Jays and Rangers reached out in mid-October to gauge Castro’s price, the White Sox had “definite high interest,” and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told Luhnow in November that he was getting calls from other teams asking if he could get Castro from the Astros for those teams.  Zduriencik offered Dustin Ackley and was turned down.
  • Notes for the Astros’ summer trade discussions begin at June 17th, 2013.  The team ultimately went on to acquire Ronald Torreyes from the Cubs in June, and also dealt veterans Jose Veras, Bud Norris, and Justin Maxwell near the July deadline.  The Astros did not end up acquiring any top 100-type prospects, but they sure did ask for the moon.  For Norris, the Astros sought Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn from the Giants, Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman from the Orioles, Marcus Stroman and more from the Blue Jays, Xander Bogaerts, Allen Webster, Jackie Bradley Jr., or Garin Cecchini from the Red Sox, and Tyler Glasnow plus Luis Heredia or Nick Kingham from the Pirates.  The Red Sox offered Ryan Lavarnway or Deven Marrero for Norris and were turned down.  In the end, the Astros traded Norris and an international draft slot to the Orioles for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick.
  • When Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called to express interest in middling Astros starting pitcher Lucas Harrell, who had a 5.17 ERA at the time and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, “[Luhnow] told him we would still need a headliner like [Lucas] Giolito because we still value Harrell highly. Rizzo did not respond immediately.”
    Harrell was designated for assignment, outrighted, and traded for a pittance nine months later, so the Astros might have overplayed their hand.
  • “Untouchable” players from other teams were revealed through conversations with their executives.  White Sox GM Rick Hahn wouldn’t consider trading Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, or Avisail Garcia.  Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos considered Brett Lawrie off-limits.  Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco came up as well, in that GM Neal Huntington wouldn’t include him in any Norris deal.  In December talks regarding Harrell, the Giants said they would not discuss Brandon Belt.
  • More random notes: Mets executive Paul DePodesta asked Luhnow if the Astros would consider trading shortstop Jonathan Villar in a Daniel Murphy deal in December…the Marlins expressed interest in Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, and others in December.

Rays Designate Angel Sanchez For Assignment

To make room for the newly-acquired Cory Burns on the 40-man roster, the Rays have designated right-hander Angel Sanchez for assignment, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter).

Sanchez was claimed off waivers from the Marlins earlier this month.  The 24-year-old was one of three pitchers that Miami acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for Ricky Nolasco and cash last season.  In 12 starts at Double-A Jacksonville this season, Sanchez posted a 6.88 ERA with 5.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 52 1/3 innings.  He then made two starts for the Rays’ Double-A affiliate this season.

Marlins Acquire Donnie Joseph

The Royals announced that they have traded Donnie Joseph to the Marlins for cash considerations.  Joseph was designated for assignment on June 24th.

Joseph has made seven appearances for KC over the last two years, amounting to a grand total of 6 innings and change.  His lone 2014 outing took place earlier this month and he allowed six runs to the Tigers in the ninth inning which cost them the win.  Looking past that small sample size, Joseph has done better at the Triple-A level.  In parts of three seasons at Triple-A Omaha, Joseph owns a 3.76 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 6.2 BB/9.

To make room on the roster for Joseph, Miami designated Brent Keys for assignment.  Keys, a 23-year-old outfielder, has slashed .238/.371/.265 in 40 Double-A games this year.

Rays Claim Cory Burns Off Waivers From Rangers

The Rays have claimed Cory Burns off waivers from the Rangers, according to MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes (via Twitter).  The right-hander has spent parts of the last two seasons in the majors but has been with Texas’ Triple-A affiliate for 2014.

Burns, 26, owns a 7.44 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 19 relief appearances and one start this season.  In a combined 27 appearances for the Padres and Rangers between 2012 and 2013, Burns posted a 4.60 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 5.2 BB/9.