Aaron Hicks Rumors

AL Notes: Correa, Hicks, Angels, Tanaka, Red Sox, Kazmir

Promotions are always interesting to keep an eye on this time of year, as teams look to balance future control and cost with developmental prerogatives and the needs of the MLB roster. One of the most-watched players, shortstop Carlos Correa of the Astros, will make his debut today at Triple-A after destroying the Double-A level at just twenty years of age. The next stop could be Houston, where the big league club playing well but dealing with a significant injury to Jed Lowrie. Meanwhile, the Twins have decided the time is ripe to give another shot at former top prospect Aaron Hicks, still just 25, who has struggled in his time in the majors but forced his way back with a .336/.415/.561 run through the highest level of the minors this year.

Here’s more from the American League:

  • The Angels, who have fielded a somewhat surprisingly unproductive lineup thus far, look in need of a bat, as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register writes. While GM Jerry Dipoto says that he expects at least some of the team’s group of established hitters to return to their usual contributions on offense, Fletcher says that the front office is ready and willing to pursue an acquisition over the summer. Given the team’s struggles against right-handed pitching, Fletcher opines that Brewers first baseman Adam Lind would make for a particularly sensible trade target. He ticks through a few other plausible options as the market begins to take shape.
  • Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka is set to throw his first bullpen today since suffering a forearm strain, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweeted yesterday. At this point, it would seem to rate as a pleasant surprise if Tanaka is able to contribute more quality innings this year, though the club seems determined to give him every opportunity to return before pursuing more drastic options.
  • Indeed, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, the Yankees rotation has plenty of issues but still rates as the most complete outfit in the division. GM Brian Cashman continues to say that he believes Tanaka can stave off a Tommy John procedure. And as Sherman rightly notes, Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova both appear on track to deliver useful arms in the relatively near future. If the club stays in position and has a need, of course, it should have no difficulty finding ways to add quality innings via trade over the summer.
  • The Red Sox staff, meanwhile, has been a source of near-constant hand-wringing and speculation for months. There are reasons to believe in improvement from the peripherals, as MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince explains, though as he notes the biggest reason for hope may lie in the club’s evident ability (and demonstrated willingness) to swing deals to add additional arms.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington continues to emphasize the organization’s commitment to delivering better results from its internal pitching options, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports“We knew we needed good pitching coming into the year to win games, and we still know that,” says Cherington. “I believe we’ll pitch better, and I believe we have a lot of the solutions here already.” Cherington emphasized that he wants to see how things proceed with a new pitching coach (and new backstop duo) now in place. Regardless, as he notes, it would be hard to make a move now. “Not a lot of teams are in that (trade) mode,” said the Red Sox GM, “but there wouldn’t normally be this time of year anyway. We’re not really there yet. There’s not a lot of team-altering moves being discussed this early. Probably need a little bit of time on that.” In Lauber’s estimation, Cherington’s protestations notwithstanding, Boston must and will strike one or more trades and/or promote well-regarded lefty Eduardo Rodriguez for an infusion of talent.
  • One possible trade target for the Red Sox (and, of course, other teams) is Athletics lefty Scott Kazmir, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe opines. Indeed, Kazmir’s strong recent track record and meager remaining commitment, to say nothing of the free-wheeling nature of Oakland GM Billy Beane, frame him as a popular source of trade speculation over the next few months. If the team decides to market him, which seems more and more plausible with each passing day for the 12-22 A’s, it will be fascinating to see what the 31-year-old returns in a trade.

Central Notes: Hicks, Pirates, Madson

The Twins have optioned Aaron Hicks to Triple-A Rochester, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes. Heading into Spring Training, Hicks had seemed to be the likely choice for the Twins’ starting center field job. He has struggled this March, however, putting up a .206/.300/.324 line that’s very consistent with his career .201/.293/.313 performance. The demotion is another setback for the former first-round pick, who is still struggling to establish himself at age 25. It appears the team will go with Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson in center field. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred praised the Pirates while visiting with the Bucs and Twins Friday, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “I think the Pirates have tremendously benefited by (owner) Bob Nutting’s presence and leadership,” Manfred said. “For those of you who know the history, you’re not going to be surprised to hear me say I am a huge Frank Coonelly fan. I think he’s done a fantastic job as president of the Pirates, including his selection of (general manager) Neal (Huntington).” Coonelly worked in the commissioner’s office before becoming the Pirates’ president. Manfred added that his controversial comments about banning defensive shifts were only an idea, and that the league isn’t likely to make changes in that area, particularly given the feedback he’s gotten about it.
  • Ryan Madson‘s opt-out with the Royals is May 1, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. The 34-year-old Madson, who’s had a mess of injuries and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011, is attempting a comeback with Kansas City. He’s gotten decent results so far, striking out four batters and walking none in seven spring innings. The Royals have another month to evaluate him, however, which makes sense — one imagines he’ll still need time to prepare to pitch in meaningful games, given all the time off he’s had.

Terry Ryan On Phil Hughes, Eduardo Escobar

Phil Hughes was two years away from free agency but both he and the Twins realized that they wanted to hammer out something for the long term.  In December, Hughes agreed to a three-year extension that will pay him $42MM but also allow him to cash in again at the age of 32.

For both sides, the deal appeared to be a win-win.  The Twins locked up Hughes following his best season to date and Hughes will get to hit the open market roughly at the same age as James Shields when he inked a four-year, $75MM deal with the Padres in February.  In a pre-game scrum with the Twins’ beat writers on Monday, I asked GM Terry Ryan if the club ever pushed for a longer deal with the right-hander.

I think that’s kind of where our comfort level was, he was signed for two and we tacked on more…In essence, I think that’s where we felt pretty comfortable in terms of his age and what he accomplished in his life and all that stuff,” Ryan said.  “We were comfortable with it and so was he.  At the end of the deal he’ll be [32] and that’s getting to an age when you start to have a bit of…concern at that point but then again, that’s how old Ervin Santana is and we signed him to a four-year deal.  He’s a young guy, he’s been around for a long time.  That’s what happens when you sign out of high school and move into the majors quickly.”

Meanwhile, this spring, Eduardo Escobar has presented the Twins with one of those good problems to have.  Escobar’s production at the plate has made some wonder if he could force shortstop Danny Santana back to the outfield, unseating Aaron Hicks.  I asked Ryan about that possibility and he seemed to downplay the chances of that happening.

No, we’re still going with that path, there’s still competition but Santana is certainly playing well at short.  Paul [Molitor] said he’d like him to be there if he plays well and to this point he has.  Escobar has had a fine spring and I’ve stated this many times.  It’s going to be tough to get him out of that position because he played well last year and he played well this spring,” Ryan said.  “I don’t think I’m prepared right now to tell you who is going to play center and I’m not prepared to tell you who is going to play short, but Hicks is certainly in the mix and Santana is in the mix.”

Later, Escobar saw some time in the outfield in an effort to get him comfortable with playing multiple positions off the bench, as Ryan explained to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger and other reporters after the game.



AL Central Notes: Iglesias, Tigers, Hicks, Masterson

Any Tigers fans that were holding out hope for a Jose Iglesias return in late 2014 will have to wait until next year, as GM Dave Dombrowski told Tony Paul of the Detroit News today that the team doesn’t expect the defensive wizard back at any point in 2014. Previous reports had indicated that Iglesias was likely to miss “most” of 2014 with stress fractures in his shins, though most were already operating under the assumption that his season was indeed lost. Detroit has a definite need at short, as the players that have manned the position to this point have combined for an MLB-worst .187/.239/.235 batting line while adding negative defensive contributions according to both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved.

Some more links pertaining to the Tigers and their division…

  • James Schmel of MLive.com fielded plenty of interesting questions in his latest Twitter mailbag, including some on Victor Martinez‘s future with the Tigers and the team’s deadline approach. He feels V-Mart will receive a qualifying offer, but the Tigers will be hesitant about a deal of three of more years for their aging DH. He adds that the Tigers likely feel they’re set in the outfield with Andy Dirks on the mend, but it’s not hard to envision them targeting some rotation depth next month.
  • The Twins are continuing to look for a stopgap option in center field so they can option Aaron Hicks to the minors, reports La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One potential option, Sam Fuld, is currently nearing a rehab assignment after sustaining a concussion last month, Neal writes. Hicks recently gave up switch-hitting in favor of what has long been a superior right-handed stroke, but learning to gauge breaking balls from right-handed pitchers as a right-handed hitter at the Major League level is a tall task. Hicks’ .722 OPS as a right-handed hitter in his career dwarfs his .549 mark from the left side.
  • Justin Masterson spoke with WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on the Indians‘ recent trip to Boston about his contract situation. Masterson said he’s following his former teammate Jon Lester‘s lead as the pair approaches free agency, not letting it distract him after failing to reach an extension agreement in Spring Training. “I’m the exact same way. One way or another, something is going to happen. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about it or not.” He added that while he hasn’t tracked the success of other impending free agents, he has kept an eye on Lester’s numbers, but only because the two are friends.

Quick Hits: Abreu, Thornton, Hicks

The Mets have announced that they will promote former star outfielder Bobby Abreu from Triple-A Las Vegas tomorrow. Abreu is 40 and hasn't played in the big leagues since 2012, which he spent with the Angels and Dodgers. But he made a good impression in Vegas, hitting .412/.500/.529 in 40 plate appearances there, and the Mets have space for a left-handed bench player after trading Ike Davis to the Pirates. As Newsday's Marc Carig tweets, that means the Mets' active roster will include Abreu, Bartolo Colon, Kyle Farnsworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jose Valverde. Here are more notes from around baseball.

  • Zack Thornton, the reliever the Mets acquired (along with a PTBNL) in the Davis trade, made his debut in the Mets organization on Sunday, pitching two innings for Las Vegas against El Paso. Thornton allowed a solo homer to Kyle Blanks, but allowed no other runs while striking out one in two innings. The player to be named is reportedly the "key piece" in the deal.
  • The Twins' decision to claim Sam Fuld could impact Aaron Hicks, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Twins assistant GM Rob Antony says the Twins are considering having Hicks get fewer at-bats against righties. If they do, Fuld, a lefty, is a likely candidate to take Hicks' playing time. Hicks is hitting just .179/.299/.214 in 67 plate appearances so far this season.

Rob Antony Talks Twins’ Offseason, Future

For the fourth straight year, Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony sat down with Jesse Lund of SB Nation's Twinkie Town to discuss the state of affairs with his team. Antony and Lund discussed the Twins' offseason at length, ranging from the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere to the Twins' pursuit of starting pitching. Here's a look at some of the highlights, but bear in mind that entire piece is well worth your time…

  • The Twins never intended to trade both Revere and Span, but the Phillies' offer of Trevor May and Vance Worley was too strong not to pull the trigger. Antony identifies May as someone who could get a September call-up in 2013 if he enjoys a strong season.
  • The Twins had conversations with both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, but were unable to agree to terms with either one. In particular, the Twins sought a club option for Baker, who wanted strictly a one-year deal. Antony said they didn't want 2013 to "be a donation" to Baker in the event that he wasn't healthy and effective for most of the season. That decision looks wise, with Baker on the 60-day disabled list for the Cubs.
  • Mike Pelfrey identified the Twins as a team he wanted to pitch for and was aggressive in working out a deal, according to Antony. The Twins did quite a bit of homework on Pelfrey's recovery from Tommy John surgery in order to ascertain that the right-hander would indeed be ready for Opening Day, as he promised.
  • The Twins made several "competitive offers" to free agent starting pitchers, in some cases making better offers than the ones those pitchers ultimately took. The Twins had conversations with nearly every free agent starting pitcher and spoke with around 15 agents for pitchers at the Winter Meetings in December.
  • Following the Span trade, most teams didn't believe that the team would also trade Revere. Antony says four teams were in the mix for Revere, but the Phillies were the most aggressive and ultimately landed him with the aforementioned offer.
  • The Twins were willing to do a one-for-one swap of Span and Alex Meyer because they believe Meyer is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation candidate who can be a "dominant" strikeout pitcher.
  • The decision to bring Aaron Hicks north as the team's Opening Day center fielder was a result of Hicks' strong play in Spring Training and his poise off the field. The Twins' front office was never overly concerned with delaying Hicks' free agency by a season: "If he's that good of a player we're going to do what we can to sign him long term and none of that's going to matter."
  • Antony, GM Terry Ryan and the rest of the front office prefer to gradually expose their top prospects to the Major Leagues so as not to field a team of all rookies. Additionally, that line of thinking prevents mass arbitration and free agency issues: "If you can bring a couple guys, a couple rookies in each year, it helps infuse that and it helps to spread it out so that not everybody becomes arbitration eligible at the same time or free agents at the same time, all that stuff."
  • The Twins "admire" the Royals' bullpen of power arms and would like to build a similar bullpen. The team prioritized power arms in the 2012 Draft, selecting a number of hard-throwing college relievers.
  • Antony offered a definitive "No," when asked if the team had interest in Aaron Harang prior to his trade to the Mariners. The Twins feel they have a number of similar arms in the organization already.
  • There's been no contact between the Twins and Jim Thome for "a couple of months," and the two were never on the same page. Minnesota had interest in Thome, but they were far apart in discussions.
  • "It would be great if he could be a Twin for life," Antony said of Justin Morneau. "He's a guy who's meant a lot for this organization and we'd love it if he were to play his entire career here, but you just don't know how things are going to work out in the end."
  • Antony feels that too much has been made of the decision not to extend Ron Gardenhire prior to this season. Many have speculated that Gardenhire is on the hot seat following a pair of 90-loss seasons, but Antony said it was intended to be an organization-wide message that they're looking to get better from top to bottom. He adds that he hopes Gardenhire is the Twins' manager for years to come, and that in three years people are surprised there was even a debate.

Quick Hits: Rookies, Rays, Cubs

Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Aaron Hicks of the Twins, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Red Sox are all on their teams' Opening Day rosters, even though that might make them free agents a year earlier, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is rooting for all three of them. Rosenthal says he's tired of watching talented players languish in the minors at the start of each season as their teams attempt to delay their service-time clocks. The best players should be on the field, Rosenthal argues. "The game is so flush with cash, teams are awarding hundred-million dollar extensions like Halloween candy," he says. "I’ll grant that certain low-revenue clubs need to watch their money more carefully than others. The rest of ‘em, no way."

  • "The system" keeps the Rays on a winning path, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that we've been able to remain committed to our plan," says executive vice president Andrew Friedman. "It takes a tremendous amount of discipline because there are times when it is very tempting to deviate from that plan, but I feel very confident that had we done that in '08 or '09 we wouldn't be sitting where we are today." Topkin notes that the Rays haven't been successful in every area — they haven't done well in the draft recently, and they haven't had much success with catchers and designated hitters. But a key area at which they have been successful is in developing their own starting pitching. By developing their own pitching, they're able to not only avoid expensive free-agent commitments, but to trade from their own stockpile, as they did when they sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and prospects.
  • Bud Selig isn't concerned about the Cubs' debt, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reports. The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for $845MM in 2009, and the team still has substantial debt related to that purpose. "The Ricketts family worked closely with our office to develop certain financial structures designed to [ensure] the stability of the franchise at these debt levels," a spokesman for Selig says.

Twins Notes: Hicks, Butera, Young, Betancourt, Garcia

The Twins announced yesterday that they will hand the reins in center field over to top prospect Aaron Hicks. The 2008 first-rounder ranked 72nd on Baseball America's Top 100 list and 98th on MLB.com's Top 100. Here's some more on the Twinkies as we draw closer to the end of Spring Training…

  • General manager Terry Ryan told MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger that Hicks won the Opening Day job because he doesn't believe in holding players back for service time reasons: "'Can you imagine if we sent somebody out who did what the kid did?' Ryan said. 'And I had to look at [Josh] Willingham, [Justin] Morneau, [Glen] Perkins, [Joe] Mauer and those guys who are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that.'"
  • Other teams are interested in catcher Drew Butera, who the Twins optioned to Triple-A yesterday, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). However the Twins prefer to keep Butera, who they signed to a $700K contract in order to avoid arbitration this winter. The 29-year-old is just a .183/.232/.265 career hitter but is regarded as a terrific defensive catcher.
  • The Twins contacted Chris Young this offseason and had interest in him at one point according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, but an official tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that the team no longer considers him a fit (Twitter link). Young is set to opt out of his contract with the Nationals.
  • The Twins were approached by representatives for both Yuniesky Betancourt and Freddy Garcia, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, but the team passed on both players (Twitter links).
  • Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, who signed a minor league deal with the Twins, has all but guaranteed himself a spot on the Opening Day roster, tweets MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. A corresponding 40-man roster move will need to be made in the coming days.

AL Central Notes: Tigers, Twins, Hicks, Indians

Here's a look at tonight's news out of the AL Central..

  • Tigers right-hander Bruce Rondon struck out two and did not issue a walk this afternoon in what was his best outing of the Grapefruit League season so far.  In fact, if the rookie had thrown this well in his previous outings, the Tigers would probably feel more confident about their closer situation, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com.  The Tigers are said to be scouring the trade market in search of a proven ninth-inning option.
  • When asked if whether starting the service time clock will play a role in whether prospect Aaron Hicks makes team, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan responded, "Not here," according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (on Twitter).  Recently, our own Ben Nicholson-Smith looked at service time considerations for Hicks and other top prospects across baseball.
  • The pain of a 68-94 season was the Indians' motivating factor in going out and getting Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers, CEO Paul Dolan told Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer.  "We didn't want to go through something like that again," he said. "In some ways, it was a shock we needed."
Twins GM Terry Ryan on whether service time/arbitration will play role in whether Hicks makes team: "Not here."

Sherman’s Latest: Dickey, Wright, Hunter, Upton

Here's the latest from Joel Sherman of The New York Post…

  • The Mets are making progress, albeit slowly, in contract talks with David Wright and R.A. Dickey. The impression is that there is still a substantial gap in talks with Dickey, and they've been gauging his trade value during the GM Meetings. They are not doing the same with Wright, however.
  • The Yankees would not do a two-year deal worth $20MM or so for Torii Hunter since they want to get under the luxury tax threshold next year. They are fixated on one-year contracts this offseason and could fill their right field hole with a low-cost platoon.
  • "The Yankees are not on him," said a source about Justin Upton, in part because they're unsure if he's a good fit for New York (Twitter link). The Rangers and Rays are strongest early players for Upton, and Sherman gets the sense that the D'Backs want to act quickly (Twitter links).
  • The Diamondbacks want high-end, MLB ready players in return for Upton and would love to get Jurickson Profar or (more likely) Elvis Andrus from the Rangers. They don't love Mike Olt, however (Twitter links). GM Kevin Towers likes Yankees prospect Mason Williams, but he is several years away from the show and unlikely to be enough to headline a trade package (all Twitter links).
  • Next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers is weak, which could benefit Zack Greinke since teams won't be able to find a stopgap and reassess next year. Josh Johnson and Tim Lincecum highlight next winter's pitching crop, and both come with question marks.
  • The Mariners, who have young pitching, are said to be talking to the Royals and Twins, who have young hitting. Seattle would love to pry Wil Myers, Aaron Hicks, and/or Ben Revere loose.
  • Jason Bay didn't produce with the Mets, but he lived up to his billing as a hard worker and good teammate. Sherman expects the outfielder to take a low-salary, change of scenery deal (Twitter link).
  • Mets officials think Scott Hairston will get a two-year deal worth between $8-10MM this winter.