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- Smyly Will Not Have Surgery, Is Confident He Can Pitch In 2015
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Aaron Harang Rumors
Nationals center fielder Denard Span is something of a wild card on next year’s free agent market. After battling through offseason core muscle surgery, his latest health issue, Span is somewhat quietly producing at a .292/.342/.514 clip. His power output is not likely to continue, of course, but it is good evidence that he is back to full strength and making hard contact. That’s all the more impressive given that Span has as many walks as strikeouts (six apiece) through his first 79 plate appearances. While defensive metrics continue to view Span more as an average center fielder than the very good one he used to be (and still is, in some eyes), he has a good chance of being the most appealing free agent center fielder if he can stay on the field and hit even at more typical rates — particularly since he is already coming off of a very strong 2014 campaign. As things stand, the 31-year-old seems on track to merit a qualifying offer from the Nats, which could potentially give the team four QO players (along with Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Ian Desmond).
- The Phillies player receiving the most concrete trade interest at this point in the season is not staff ace Cole Hamels, but veteran righty Aaron Harang, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince reports. Indeed, Philadelphia looks to have a rather useful trade chip in Harang, who is under contract for just one year and $5MM. While he is probably unlikely to keep his walk rate under 2 per nine for the first time in his career, and may be in line for some BABIP-related regression, Harang has undeniably been excellent: through 45 1/3 innings, he owns a 2.38 ERA. Plenty of teams could use an arm like that at the back of their rotation, and Harang’s low price tag should increase competition for his services — and with it, the return for the Phils.
- Steve Cishek‘s difficulties have led the Marlins to decide on a shake-up of their ninth-inning roles, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club will seemingly use a mix of arms for the time being. Cishek, a 28-year-old sidearmer, inked a $6.65MM deal to avoid arbitration. With two more years of arb eligibility remaining, Cishek has lost over a tick off his average fastball and uncharacteristically walked eight batters in 11 1/3 frames. He does have plenty of time to turn things around, of course, but his hefty starting salary makes a contract tender look questionable even at this early stage.
In last week’s win over the Orioles, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez officially passed Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list. Of course, his home run record is clouded by his history and the Yankees refusing to pay him his milestone bonuses has arguably become the bigger story.
Many former players have spoken out against current players that have used steroids, like Rodriguez. Former major league first baseman David Segui alleges that a few of those scolding players are PED users themselves.
“What bothers me is the hypocrites,” Segui told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. “I see them on TV sometimes criticizing people who took steroids. I say, ‘What a minute . . . maybe the public doesn’t know what you did, but I know what you did.’ Those are the ones that bother me. Just keep your mouth shut.”
Years ago, Segui fessed up to his own PED use, but he refused to turn on fellow players who also used steroids. Here’s more from Cafardo’s Sunday morning column..
- Scott Boras tells Cafardo that he’s getting closer with “a few teams” regarding Rafael Soriano. Late last month it was reported that Twins and Mariners are among the teams interested in Soriano. At the time, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who reported that there were conversations between the M’s and Boras regarding Soriano, also suggested that the Pirates, Indians, and Dodgers could be “logical suitors.” If there is interest for Cleveland and Pittsburgh, one has to wonder if payroll constraints could play a factor.
- A major league source tells Cafardo that teams are already calling on Phillies veteran Aaron Harang and scouting him. One NL scout has been impressed with Harang before and feels that he would be worth a second-level prospect for a contending club. Back in March, MLBTradeRumors spoke with Harang about his experience in free agency and what led him to sign with the Phillies this winter. Harang also told MLBTR that he wasn’t overly concerned about the prospect of being traded midseason by GM Ruben Amaro as the team rebuilds.
- One AL GM feels that it’s just a matter of time before the A’s move left-hander Scott Kazmir. “Tick, tick, tick,” the GM said when asked if he thinks Kazmir might be moved before the deadline. “Sure. If Oakland can’t hang in, Billy [Beane] will flip him for prospects. He’s actually an interesting name. All you hear about is [David] Price, [Jordan] Zimmermann, [Johnny] Cueto, but that’s a pretty good name right there.” Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the A’s aren’t yet thinking about trading Kazmir as they still haven’t given up on their hopes of contending. In last place at 12-20 heading into today’s game against the Mariners, I’d imagine that the A’s will have to give some serious thought to moving the 31-year-old if things don’t turn around quickly.
Earlier today, we learned the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright could miss the rest of the season after suffering an Achilles injury in last night’s game against the Brewers. GM John Mozeliak has said he will wait to determine Wainwright’s status until the right-hander has been examined by team doctors tomorrow. However, that hasn’t stopped the speculation from bubbling as to how the Cardinals will replace their ace.
Here’s the latest on those rumors and the rest of the news from the National League:
- With the Cardinals set to host the Phillies for four games beginning tomorrow, Cole Hamels tops the list of external options to fill Wainwright’s void. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets the Cardinals do not have the prospects to satisfy the Phillies, but the Dodgers and Red Sox are lurking.
- Besides Hamels, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz opines the Cardinals could puruse a high-caliber starter entering their walk year like David Price, Jordan Zimmermann or Jeff Samardzija. Miklasz, who does examine the Cardinals’ internal candidates, also suggests signing Paul Maholm or acquiring an under-the-radar pitcher like the Phillies‘ Aaron Harang.
- Hamels trade talks could accelerate in the wake of injuries to Wainwright, the Dodgers‘ Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu, and the struggles of the Red Sox‘s staff, writes Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Speaking of the Dodgers, the new front office’s philosophy of adding depth with low profile transactions was put into place to weather a rash of injuries and those acquisitions will now become more relevant, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Mark Saxon.
- One by-product of Wainwright’s injury could be a renewed push for the NL to adopt the DH, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. “I wouldn’t be opposed,” Max Scherzer told Heyman. “If you look at it from the macro side, who’d people rather see hit — Big Papi or me? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules. We keep searching for offense. This would be the easiest way to add offense.” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, as quoted by MLive.com’s Aaron McMann, puts it more bluntly, “When a pitcher goes down with an injury when he’s hitting, you make people second guess the National League’s style of play.“
There’s been quite a bit written about the Red Sox‘ lack of an ace, but as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe notes, acquiring an ace-caliber pitcher is harder now than ever before. Speier looks back at the top 20 pitchers in terms of WAR from the 2004 season and notes that not only did pitchers remain elite later in their careers, but they were also more readily available in both free agency and trades. The average age of the top 20 pitchers in WAR has dropped from 29.5 to just under 28 in the year 2014, and none of the top 17 were signed as free agents. One talent evaluator noted to Speier that teams simply aren’t trading established aces anymore. The evaluator continued, “Very few come from free-agent signings given that, traditionally, their age was such that when they signed, they’re aces in age but not in [future] performance.”
Here’s more from the East:
- The Red Sox have continued to field a lineup that stresses “grinding” at-bats, but at present have yet to deliver much power, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. That continues something of a trend from last year, says MacPherson, who notes that unearned runs have propped up the team’s run scoring totals.
- Complaints about the Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre turf have been hard to ignore, with Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reporting on Twitter that the Orioles actually considered forfeiting a recent game rather than taking the field. Baltimore has contacted the league, per Encina, though Jeff Blair of Sportsnet.ca tweets that the commissioner’s office has not received any formal complaint.
- Top Phillies prospect Maikel Franco has been on a tear at Triple-A, but the team still does not have immediate plans for a call-up, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Service time remains a factor despite the fact that he saw action at the MLB level last year; as Zolecki explains, by waiting until approximately mid-May, Philadelphia can earn itself an extra year of control. With the big league club seemingly going nowhere and fellow youngster Cody Asche playing well at third, there is little reason for the team to move quickly on Franco.
- There have been some limited bright spots for the Phillies, of course, and veteran righty Aaron Harang may be chief among them. The 36-year-old righty has tossed 26 1/3 innings of 1.37 ERA baseball, allowing a meager .800 WHIP and striking out 21 batters. Despite an excellent 2014, Harang signed a one-year deal for just $5MM (which he discussed recently with MLBTR’s Zach Links). He is starting to look like a rather appealing summer trade candidate for clubs that need to fill in at the back of their rotation.
Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves. Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA. Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal. Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM. It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.
“The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving. I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida. “The Phillies moved the fastest. I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there. Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”
Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five. He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.
Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal. Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.
“There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall. But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.
Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal. Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him. After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter. Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.
Despite carrying low expectations from the outside, the Braves have had good energy in camp, writes David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who attributes it to a combination of the team’s acquisition of several intense and/or vocal veterans along with the presence of competition all over the roster.
Here’s more from Atlanta and the rest of the NL East:
- The Braves are “still in [the] race” to land Hector Olivera, tweets O’Brien, who adds that the team is unlikely to offer more than five guaranteed years. Of course, a recent report indicated that Olivera might not yet have received a six-year offer, so if Atlanta is willing to move its bid up to the five-year range it could presumably have a shot.
- Meanwhile, the Braves have settled on Wandy Rodriguez for one of their final rotation spots, O’Brien tweets. Atlanta will hope for an Aaron Harang-like rebound from Rodriguez, who inked a minor league deal with the Braves after his agreement fell apart with Harang’s new club, the Phillies, over a failed physical. Rodriguez has looked good this spring, and currently owns a twelve-inning scoreless streak.
- The Nationals are open to dealing out of options outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore, but see him as a quality big leaguer who has a place in the team’s immediate plans, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The 28-year-old may be needed to start the year given the club’s injuries in the outfield, and would probably be the next man up at first base were Ryan Zimmerman to suffer an injury.
- Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla has had a fairly productive spring thus far as he looks to keep his career alive. As MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports, manager Matt Williams sees a legitimate possibility of Uggla impacting the club this year. “We haven’t defined any roles,” said Williams. “What we do know at this point is that he is seeing the ball well and he is playing well. I like his at-bats. … We haven’t defined those roles yet because we just don’t know.” As Williams went on to note, infielders Yunel Escobar and Anthony Rendon have been limited by injuries in camp.
The Nationals announced today that closer Drew Storen underwent surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand (Twitter links). Storen, a right-handed thrower, will be down for about two or three days before resuming his throwing program and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, however, according to the Nats.
A bit more on the Nationals and their division…
- Injured Nationals center fielder Denard Span tells Bill Ladson of MLB.com that he began to feel pain in his abdomen about six to seven weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia in December. However, Span says he had both good days and “so-so” days an expected that the pain would eventually go away. Instead, of course, Span underwent core muscle surgery earlier this week and will now “optimistically” be back in the lineup by May, writes Ladson, indicating a fairly significant DL stint for the free-agent-to-be. However, Span says that he’s more disappointed to be missing part of a season where the Nationals could make a run at the World Series than to be injured in a contract year. “This is probably the last year this ballclub has a chance to be together,” Span tells Ladson. “We have a chance to do something special. That hurts more than the fact that I’m going to be a free agent.” Span and teammates Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister will all be free agents next winter.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post questions the persistent claims of Mets GM Sandy Alderson when he says he has the financial flexibility to make roster moves as needed. As Sherman points out, the Mets didn’t invest any guaranteed money in left-handed relief pitching this winter, and they’re now facing the possibility of losing their top lefty reliever, Josh Edgin, to Tommy John surgery. Alderson told Sherman that the financial requests of the available left-handed relievers this winter didn’t match up with their quality, but he’ll have financial flexibility to add to the roster this season if the Mets are contending.
- Phillies lefty Cliff Lee threw again today and said he still felt discomfort in his left elbow, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Lee is trying to pitch through a torn flexor tendon in his elbow but will have to opt for season-ending surgery if some of the discomfort does not eventually dissipate.
- Meanwhile, Zolecki adds that offseason signee Aaron Harang was scratched from his upcoming start due to lower back discomfort. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he’s not worried and called it a “muscular thing,” but this is the second time Harang has been scratched for a back issue this spring. The Phillies will need a healthy Harang given their thin rotation depth. The veteran signed a one-year, $5MM contract with Philadelphia this offseason.
In a revealing piece, Medium.com’s Joe Lemire profiles MLB agent Josh Kusnick’s rare birth defect and the life-threatening complications he faces to this day. Kusnick — the agent for Michael Brantley, Jeremy Jeffress, Steve Clevenger and Adrian Nieto, among others — was born with a defect called bladder exstrophy, which has led to 42 surgeries in his life despite the fact that he is just 32 years of age. Though Kusnick faces constant trips to the hospital, he remains in contact with his players while there, Brantley tells Lemire, and he even once negotiated a minor league deal for client Philippe Valiquette from his hospital bed. Lemire writes that Kusnick delayed his 43rd surgery in order to attend the 2014 Winter Meetings. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh at the meetings in San Diego and, along with the rest of MLBTR, would like to wish him the best of luck in his next operation on Wednesday of this week.
Here are some more notes from around the game…
- Though he won’t be eligible to sign until July 2, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already drawn significant interest from the Mets, Blue Jays and Angels, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (on Twitter). His father, of course, is the same Vladimir Guerrero that won an MVP with the Angels in 2004 and made nine All-Star teams in a 16-year career that saw him bat .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs.
- The Braves made a similar offer to the one-year, $5MM contract that Aaron Harang signed with the Phillies early in free agency, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). However, at the time, Atlanta was told that Harang had other offers for more money and more years.
- Former Orioles and Indians GM Hank Peters, who passed away at the age of 90 this weekend, took a big gamble on John Hart, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Peters plucked Hart — then a third base coach with managerial aspirations — off the diamond and gave him a front office gig because he felt strongly about Hart’s ability to evaluate players. Hart discusses the transition with Hoynes as well as his role in architecting the 1989 Joe Carter trade with the Padres. Hart assisted Peters in that deal prior to taking the GM reins himself and insisted that the trade couldn’t be made without acquiring both Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga — two critical components to the Indians’ 1995 World Series appearance.
- The Royals have announced the retirement of longtime assistant general manager Dean Taylor. Taylor’s front office career began with the Royals back in 1981, as he worked his way from administrative assistant to assistant director of scouting. Taylor’s other stops around the game include working as an assistant GM during the Braves’ excellent run in the 1990s as well as Brewers GM from 2000-02. Taylor returned to the Royals in 2006 and spent the final eight seasons of his career there. Josh Vernier of FOX Sports Kansas City tweets that assistant GM J.J. Picollo will assume Taylor’s duties as vice president/assistant GM, and director of player development Scott Sharp has been promoted to assistant GM as well.
The Phillies have added some innings to their rotation, announcing the signing of right-hander Aaron Harang to a one-year, $5MM deal. Harang, a client of ACES, can earn more through performance incentives and awards bonuses, per the team.
The 36-year-old Harang enjoyed a very nice rebound campaign with the Braves in 2014, pitching to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings. Harang’s 3.57 FIP felt that his ERA was a perfect indicator of his skill set, although other metrics such as xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) felt that he was the beneficiary of some good fortune. Interest from Philadelphia was first noted last week by CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury.
For the Phillies, Harang will provide a much-needed stabilizing force in the rotation, and he comes at a price tag that isn’t prohibitive. While the Phillies don’t expect to contend in 2015 — they’ve already traded away Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo — they still need someone to soak up innings in the rotation. Harang can do just that for manager Ryne Sandberg. He’ll join Cliff Lee and possibly Cole Hamels (depending on whether or not he is traded) in an otherwise thin rotation. Jerome Williams figures to lock down one spot, with David Buchanan the likely occupant of another. Beyond that, the fifth spot figures to be a competition between the likes of reported non-roster invitee Wandy Rodriguez, right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and eventually 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola.
Harang’s peak came in the 2006-07 seasons with the Reds when he hurled a combined 466 innings of 3.75 ERA ball in the very hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Harang posted a 124 ERA+ in each of those seasons and even finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2007. He was off to a solid start in 2008, but many Reds fans will point to a four-inning, 63-pitch relief stint on two days’ rest (in an 18-inning marathon game) on May 25 of that season as the day in which things took a turn for the worse for Harang. Though he fired four scoreless innings that day, Harang wound up on the DL with a forearm strain and posted a 5.88 ERA over the remainder of the year. He never fully regained his form as a Red, although he’s had relatively successful stints with the Padres, Dodgers and Mets (in terms of ERA, anyhow) since leaving Cincinnati.
Harang’s contract is affordable enough that the Phillies should be able to flip him at the trade deadline if he’s pitching well. We at MLBTR agreed that a two-year deal could be possible for Harang based on his strong 2014 (as Zach Links mentioned in his free agent profile), but the market for Harang’s services never gained too much steam. The large number of quality arms on both the free agent and trade markets likely prevented that from happening, but Harang still managed to pull in a guarantee five times larger than the $1MM sum paid to him by the Braves a year ago.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported that a deal was in place (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
With another quiet day turning into an even less eventful evening, I thought we’d spice things up with a look at a particularly interesting segment of the free agent market: innings-eating veteran starters.
Sure, I’m joking. Almost by definition, a back-of-the-rotation innings eater is not a very exciting pitcher. But, then again, perhaps there is something to the idea that this corner of the universe has more intrigue than it might seem at first glance.
Targeting top-end players is fairly straightforward, whereas figuring whether to pursue one or another back-end arm involves much more careful parsing to find value. The fact that most such pitchers sign for short-term deals means that clubs must be right on the player in the immediate term; there is no time to fix them for the future. And then there is the fact that the performance of these players matters a great deal; unlike a utility man or reliever, innings-eating arms are expected to occupy full-time roles. Racking up losses because your number 4 and 5 starters are not competitive is a great way to dig a hole in the standings.
The potential impact of this type of player is evidenced by the list of the best durable, veteran starters still available, several of whom played for contenders in 2014 and one of whom even pitched in the World Series. For better or worse, all of the players listed were allowed to throw at least 150 innings last year, creating plenty of opportunity to add or subtract value.
Kevin Correia: The results are not usually that exciting, but Correia has logged at least 100 innings in every season since 2007. He delivered an average of 178 innings of 4.19 ERA pitching over 2012-13 before suffering through a rough 2014.
Aaron Harang: Last year’s shining example of the importance of choosing your innings eaters carefully, Harang put up 204 1/3 frames with a 3.57 ERA. Sure, there’s a lot baked in there other than his pitching, but the bottom line is that Harang rated amongst the game’s fifty best starters in terms of preventing runs and among its 25 best in logging innings.
Roberto Hernandez: The results haven’t been there for Hernandez, and there is not much silver lining given that he has seen a steady decline in fastball velocity. But he is quite a steady groundball inducer, and showed enough that the Dodgers traded for him and gave him nine starts down the stretch.
Kyle Kendrick: At some point, 199 innings is 199 innings, and that’s what Kendrick delivered last season. He is also a fairly youthful 30 years of age, and is not far removed from producing serviceable results.
Ryan Vogelsong: Though his peripherals are somewhat less promising, Vogelsong has posted pretty darned useful bottom-line results in three of the past four seasons. And he had enough in the tank to run his fastball up to the mid-90s in the postseason.
Chris Young: ERA estimators view Young’s 3.65 earned run mark last year as a mirage, but then again he has always outperformed his peripherals. It had been quite some time since the towering righty had handled a full season in a rotation, but Seattle happily converted his 165 innings of work into a 12-9 record in 29 starts.
Before you vote on the player you think will be the best bet for 2015, you might want to check out these custom Fangraphs leaderboards for a sense of their recent statistical achievements: last year; last three years; last five years.