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Here’s the latest from out west:
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says that he expects to be aggressive in adding offense to the ballclub while also adding some rotation depth, as Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN reports. “Offense is something we think we need,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “We will explore every opportunity out there. I think we will be reasonably aggressive to try to add an offensive piece or two and you never have enough pitching.”
- Zduriencik added that he believes he’ll have additional cash to work with. “I think the payroll is going to rise,” he said. “What the exact number is I don’t know yet because we haven’t had that meeting, but I am encouraged that number will increase.” Seattle entered the year with about $90MM on its books. Looking forward, the club has nearly $62MM committed next year before accounting for several costly arbitration bumps (especially for Austin Jackson and Kyle Seager).
- The Diamondbacks have started interviewing managerial candidates with in-house options, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Double-A skipper Andy Green had the first chance to make his pitch. Other D’backs staffers who will interiew are hitting coach Turner Ward and Triple-A manager Phil Nevin.
- Meanwhile, the Rangers have announced that they sat down with Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele today as part of their own managerial search, as expected. As with Arizona’s initial batch of candidates, Maddux and Buechele come from within the Texas ranks.
With the Royals playing in the postseason for the first time in nearly three decades, general manager Dayton Moore has been validated, at least in part, writes ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. The small-market club has stayed with the principles he carried into the job. As Moore explains it: “We’ve got to play defense. Power is expensive and power comes later, and our ballpark just isn’t conducive to home runs, anyway. So we asked ourselves, ‘What can we control?’ We said, ‘Let’s get pitchers who can command the fastball, try to have power in the bullpen and play great defense.’ Of course, we’re trying to develop good hitters, but hitting is tough.” Needless to say, that quote is an apt description of the Royals roster that is on the field tonight.
Here’s more from the AL Central:
- The Twins have yet to finalize a payroll but expect it to remain steady with this year’s books, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on Twitter. According to club president Dave St. Peter, he does not “see [payroll] going down significantly” and expects it will be “comparable to 2014.” The club opened this year with about $85MM in guarantees, and already owes nearly $60MM for 2015 before accounting for arb raises to several players, including Trevor Plouffe.
- As the Twins fire up their effort to find a new manager, one possible name to watch is John Russell, tweets Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. Russell managed the Pirates at an inopportune time (2008-10) and has coached with the Orioles since that time.
- Meanwhile, GM Rick Hahn of the White Sox faces an offseason of many possibilities, but has yet to learn exactly how much cash he’ll have to work with, MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reports. Saying he intends to move toward contention as quickly as possible, Hahn emphasized that it is his “goal to address ideally all of what we feel are our needs, before they shift, as quickly as possible.” Though last winter was quite productive for Chicago, Hahn says he is excited to act aggressively again this year. As Merkin notes, Hahn should have some room to maneuver, as Chicago has only about $46MM in 2015 obligations on the books at present.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said today that he believes the club is prepared to compete in the NL Central next year, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports. “I think we’ve proved we can be very competitive in this division,” said Epstein, “and when you have a chance to compete, you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the Central title next year.”
While those words would appear to indicate that Chicago will increasingly be willing to dedicate resources to improve the production of its current roster, Epstein cautioned that the team would not “sell out just for 2015.” It will, however, look to add talent — in particular, some starting pitching, a pen lefty, and new outfield options — through all available mechanisms, including free agency.
Epstein says, unsurprisingly, that the team remains committed to relying on its young talent to drive a resurgence. In spite of his struggles, Javier Baez is expected to open the season as the starter at second. Other less experienced players will presumably keep or expand their roles as well. Epstein specifically addressed relievers Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm, who he said would stay in the pen rather than being stretched out as starters.
Certainly, the Cubs are a fascinating team to watch as free agency approaches. Many of the club’s best prospects have already reached or are nearing the major league level. Future salary obligations are minimal. And long-anticipated Wrigley Field renovations — which have often been connected to payroll capacity by ownership and the front office — are now underway.
Super-utility player Emilio Bonifacio has decided to change agents in advance of his coming free agency, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Bonifacio has moved from Paul Kinzer to Gene Mato, according to Dierkes.
The 29-year-old switch-hitter delivers much of his value through baserunning and defensive versatility. A consistent threat to swipe thirty bags, Bonifacio ranks 12th in all of baseball since 2011 in the baserunning component of Fangraphs’ WAR calculation. In his eight seasons of MLB action, Bonifacio has seen extensive time at both middle infield spots, center field, and third base.
Bonifacio is somewhat less accomplished with the bat, of course. His 2014 production — .259/.305/.345 over 426 plate appearances — is not far off from his career line of .262/.319/.341, which is approximately 20% below the league average rate. Bonifacio put up a .753 OPS in his best season as a hitter, his 2011 campaign with the Marlins, though that was fueled by a .372 BABIP. (His career mark is .331.)
Mato will face an interesting challenge in finding Bonifacio a new home. In the aggregate, he seems likely to draw wide interest given his age and broad skillset. It is easy to see any number of expected contenders seeking to add Bonifacio as a bench piece, while other clubs may want to move him around as they introduce young players — with the added bonus that he could once more be a summer trade chip.
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The Yankees are working on a contract extension with general manager Brian Cashman, whose current deal expires at the end of October, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney. Reports have previously indicated that the longtime Bombers GM wasn’t in danger of losing his role despite the fact that the Yankees missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season this year.
Cashman, 47, has been the Yankees’ general manager since 1998, but this is the first time in his tenure — and the first time since 1992-93, as Olney points out — that the team has missed the playoffs in successive seasons. Nonetheless, Cashman’s strong standing with the Steinbrenner family and the organization’s overall success under his watch has him in line for a new contract.
The Yankees were derailed by a barrage of injuries to the rotation this season, as CC Sabathia missed most of the season with a knee injury, Ivan Nova underwent Tommy John surgery, Michael Pineda missed much of the year with a shoulder injury and rookie ace Masahiro Tanaka missed nearly three months with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. The Yankees also saw disappointing returns on major free agent investments Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Lesser free agents such as Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan also scuffled. Jacoby Ellsbury, the largest non-pitching acquisition of last offseason, provided a generally strong season, hitting .271/.328/.419 with 16 homers and 39 steals.
The Marlins made a 15-game improvement over last season’s 62 wins, but president of baseball operations Michael Hill explains to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that the team still has work to do, as they’re not one of the 10 teams whose season has yet to end. A busy offseason figures to be ahead, and at the forefront of the action will be an attempt to sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term deal. Marlins president David Samson spoke candidly to Spencer about the team’s hopes, and concretely stated that Stanton will not be traded this offseason:
“He’s on this team [in 2015] either way. I can’t wait until after the season to sit down with Giancarlo and [agent] Joel Wolfe and talk about contract. We’re ready. We want him to be a Marlin well past his arbitration years. We hope that he believes in us and believes in Miami and believes in the direction of this team and recognizes that he has a chance to be the leader of a successful team for many years to come.”
Regardless of whether or not a long-term deal is reached, Stanton’s salary figures to soar after an MVP-worthy campaign in 2014. Before his season came to a frightening end after he was struck in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball, Stanton had compiled an electric .288/.395/.555 batting line with a league-leading 37 homers and a career-best 105 RBIs. That type of production will warrant a sizable raise from his $6.5MM salary in arbitration. Spencer speculates that Stanton’s salary could double to $13MM, which seems entirely plausible; last offseason, Chris Davis earned a record $7MM raise for a second-time arbitration player — the same juncture at which Stanton currently finds himself. Granted, Davis was coming off a 53-homer campaign with a gaudier RBI total — both figures that factor into the arbitration process — but his raise could provide a rough guideline for Stanton this winter.
With that raise in mind, it’s of particular importance that Spencer reports the team’s payroll is expected to clear $60MM this coming season. While that would still represent one of the lowest totals in baseball — if not the lowest — it also will allow the Marlins to accommodate a much larger salary for their prized slugger, as well as arbitration raises to others, such as Steve Cishek (second time), Henderson Alvarez (first time) and Nathan Eovaldi (first time).
If the Marlins aren’t able to secure Stanton on a multi-year deal, they’ll still look to upgrade elsewhere, most notably targeting upgrades at first base an in the starting rotation, according to Spencer. General manager Dan Jennings said that he would like to cut down on the club’s strikeouts and improve its two-strike approach. The Marlins whiffed at the third-highest rate in Major League Baseball and grounded into more double plays than any club but the Rangers this season.
Marlins first basemen hit a respectable, if unspectacular .254/.313/.402 this season. They’ll have a several names to choose from in a free agent class that will have numerous solid options such as Adam LaRoche, Mike Morse and Michael Cuddyer (who is, might I add, a former teammate of recently extended manager Mike Redmond). Pitching depth is one thing the Marlins already possess with the likes of Jose Fernandez (returning from Tommy John), Alvarez, Eovaldi, Jarred Cosart, Tom Koehler, Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Brian Flynn and Brad Hand, but adding a veteran could allow them the flexibility to move some of those arms in a trade.
The Diamondbacks more or less kicked off their offseason last week when they announced the hiring of Dave Stewart as general manager and De Jon Watson as vice president of baseball operations. That duo, along with chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, will be tasked with righting the ship for a team that lost an MLB-worst 98 games in 2014. Both Nick Piecoro and Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic have authored highly informative columns about how things will shake out this offseason after talking with that group. Here are some highlights from the Republic’s scribes, but each piece is full of lengthier quotes and is well worth reading in its entirety…
- It’s tough to get a read on Stewart at this point, Piecoro writes, as the new GM expressed a desire to add a front-of-the-rotation arm but expressed hesitancy toward the free agent market and toward the trade market. Stewart appears to be more conservative than predecessor Kevin Towers on the trade front, according to Piecoro, and as for free agency, both Stewart and Watson doubted the team would have the resources to pursue Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields.
- A trade of minor league talent to acquire an established pitcher doesn’t seem likely either, Piecoro writes. He quotes Stewart: “We’re going to try to maintain our minor-league system. We’ve got to start putting players back in our system. So the trade market, we’ll look at it if it makes sense, but it’s not likely.”
- La Russa tells Piecoro that when it comes to a manager, the team is looking for a candidate that can “lead and inspire.” Previous managerial experience sounded important to La Russa, who stated, “…when you start managing the game, the more that you’ve pulled the trigger as a manager somewhere, there is an art to that.” Asked specifically about recently dismissed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, La Russa said he is “sure” that Gardenhire’s name will come up during their search.
- La Russa also touched on payroll, though his answer when asked for a specific figure was nebulous; payroll could fall anywhere between $80-110MM, he stated, depending on whether or not there is value to be found, per Piecoro.
- Shifting to Buchanan’s piece, La Russa said that there may not be many changes to the team’s coaching staff beyond the firings of Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell. La Russa offered particularly high praise for first base coach Dave McKay, pitching coach Mike Harkey and bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. — the latter two of whom he feels handled Arizona’s slew of injuries well. Roving pitching instructor Dave Duncan, La Russa’s former pitching coach, will take on a bigger role in the organization but will not return to a coaching position.
- Buchanan spoke with Stewart on the team’s outfield situation. While Towers had expressed the desire to add an outfield bat, Stewart sounds much less inclined to do so. “I think that A.J. (Pollock) in center, (David) Peralta played well, (Mark) Trumbo will probably be in the outfield mix with (Paul) Goldschmidt being at first base and being healthy again,” the GM explained to Buchanan. “It’s a pretty solid outfield, in my opinion.” La Russa spoke on the outfield as well, adding praise for Ender Inciarte.
- The D’Backs have yet to address their desire to incorporate analytics into their front office, but Stewart again repeated that it is a priority for the team. “…We’ve got to go through the process of trying to get the right person in to take over that department for us,” he said.
If he hangs up his spikes, as he is said to be weighing, Red Sox catcher David Ross should have plenty of avenues for non-playing jobs in the game, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com. A former GM tells Mastrodonato that he considers Ross a close friend and would be more than happy to find a position for him.
Here’s more from Boston and the rest of the AL East:
- As the offseason begins for the Red Sox, GM Ben Cherington reiterated that the team needs to add depth in the rotation and in the lineup, as MLB.com’s Ian Browne reports. In particular, the club will emphasize left-handed-hitting options around the diamond.
- Apart from Brett Gardner, the Yankees generally lack attractive veteran contracts that could be dealt in a rebuilding scenario, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. But while that makes little sense, neither would it be beneficial to spend top dollar on the high-end free agent market, argues Sherman. Instead, New York should continue to wield its financial muscle to make more incremental gains that maintain financial and roster flexibility — much as the team did on the trade deadline this year.
- One player who could meet that description is starter Brandon McCarthy. As Roger Rubin of the New York Daily news reports, the big righty is very open to a return to New York but is not exactly waiting with bated breath. “When the phone rings we’ll find out for sure,” said McCarthy, who added that he is willing to be aggressive in selling his services. “You don’t have to be the biggest name to be the first domino to fall,” he said. “You could be at the beginning or the end and at some slot in the middle. I’ve been focused on what I am doing, but soon it could be time to weigh what’s going on. I feel if I got the right offer, I’d be willing to sign early in the process.”
- Yankees manager Joe Girardi says that he needs to see how Alex Rodriguez looks on the field before determining his role next year, as George A. King III of the New York Post reports. But Girardi says that his expectation is that Rodriguez will take a regular role at third: “Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely. Do we expect him to play third base? Yes. In fairness you have to see where he is at. I can’t tell you what will happen, but we expect him to be our third baseman.”
- For the Rays, manager Joe Maddon hopes to stay on past 2015 but is in no rush to add onto his contract, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain reports. Meanwhile, both utilityman Ben Zobrist and reliever Joel Peralta hope the team will exercise its options over them for the coming year, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. That is a foregone conclusion for Zobrist, of course, but Peralta ($2.5MM option with no buyout) is a more difficult call as he enters his age-39 season. His 4.41 ERA over 63 1/3 frames does not look very appealing, but Peralta did post a 3.40 FIP, 3.11 xFIP, and 2.54 SIERA on the back of 10.5 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9.
Here’s the latest from the National League:
- Phillies starter A.J. Burnett seems more likely to retire (and forgo his $12.75MM player option) than many people believe, observes Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com in an offseason preview piece. Meanwhile, the club will listen on Cole Hamels but continue to demand a ransom in return, while Philadelphia could be more open to dealing not only veteran Marlon Byrd but also arb-eligible outfielders Domonic Brown and Ben Revere. As Salisbury notes, the rotation has plenty of question marks and openings.
- While Salisbury says he believes the Phillies will ultimately hang onto the 30-year-old Hamels, for better or worse, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki argues that the organization must view Hamels (and his fellow core veterans) from a pure baseball perspective. Attendance is plummeting in spite of the continued presence of numerous pieces of the team’s run of success, he notes, and the only way to rebuild the fan base is through winning.
- Neutral talent evaluators believe that lefty Jon Niese is the Mets‘ best trade chip among the club’s veteran starters, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday. Niese, 27, threw to a 3.40 ERA over 187 2/3 frames in 2014. He is owed $16MM over the next two seasons and has a pair of options ($10MM and $11MM, with respective $500K buyouts) thereafter.
- The Mets are expected to replace hitting coach Lamar Johnson, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. That move is still not official, however, and New York is in the early stages of assessing who they might bring in.
- Padres GM A.J. Preller is about to get his first taste of open market action from the seat of power, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. Preller said that he anticipates a lot of trade attention on the team’s slate of arms, and indicated that he would be open to discussing any players if there’s a way to improve the club.
- One interesting player who remains under the Padres‘ control is starter Josh Johnson, whose injury-shortened year left the club with a $4MM team option. Preller said that he hopes to have Johnson in the fold next year, though left unclear whether the team is interested in a straight exercise of the option. “With Josh, he’s a guy that everyone has a positive feel for,” said Preller. “We’ll try to go down the road with him and try to present something to him that makes sense to him.”