A.J. Pierzynski Rumors

NL Notes: Tulo, Teheran, Braves, Reds, Niese

In an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM, Rockies GM Jeff Bridich said that he is “at least open to considering” a deal involving star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Twitter link). Last we checked in, Tulowitzki said he was not interested in being dealt, and he is believed to have significant sway with club ownership over his status. All said, there remains little reason to believe at present that Tulo is a serious trade candidate.

We already touched upon a series of interesting rumors involving National League clubs earlier today, but here’s the latest out of the NL:

  • Despite recent chatter that the Braves could consider dealing starter Julio Teheran, the young righty is “not being shopped,” David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on Twitter. Given his cheap control, O’Brien says the team would need to be overwhelmed by an offer to consider such a move.
  • Indeed, the Braves are more likely to hold off on deciding whether to part with Teheran or outfielder Cameron Maybin, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. The more likely trade pieces for Atlanta, he suggests, are veterans on one-year deals such as reliever Jim Johnson, utilityman Kelly Johnson, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The Braves have been asked about outfielder Nick Markakis, who still has three years left on his free agent deal, but the team is not making him available. And while Juan Uribe could well be dealt, the club reportedly prefers to attempt to move Chris Johnson first.
  • An executive of a club with interest in adding a hitter says the Reds are giving the impression that they are looking to “save money” wherever possible, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. That seemingly speaks to the availability of outfielder Jay Bruce, who recent reports indicate is very much in play.
  • The Mets are still willing to deal Jon Niese, but are asking for a player with multiple years of control in return, Stark tweets. The southpaw has turned up his performance of late, racking up eight straight quality starts (at least 6 innings pitched, no more than 3 earned runs) since a run of rough outings to end the month of May. He is playing on a $7MM salary this year and represents a $9MM tab for 2016, but can be controlled thereafter through a pair of options ($10MM and $11MM, respectively, each with $500K buyouts). Given New York’s evident budgetary restrictions, it has seemed that moving Niese’s salary could be a way for the club to free resources to allocate to the struggling offense, but it’s not clear whether they’ll have much hope of pulling that off in a single transaction.

Twins Monitoring Market For Catchers

The Twins are “closely monitoring” the market for catchers, including the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Derek Norris, Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Avila, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

It’s not certain at this time how available each of those names might be, but Berardino writes that the Braves are open to trading Pierzynski, which comes as no surprise when considering that he’s a 38-year-old veteran playing on a one-year deal for a club that is seven games back in its division. One can imagine that the Tigers, who as of last night are reportedly planning to be sellers at the trade deadline, would be open to moving free-agent-to-be Avila.

Pierzynski has a $2MM base salary in 2015, of which roughly $841K remains. His contract also contains incentives based on games started behind the plate. To this point, he’s already earned $100K for reaching 60 starts, and he’ll earn an additional $50K for his 65th, 70th, 75th and 80th starts at catcher. He’ll earn $100K every fifth start from 80 through 100, allowing him to max out at $2.7MM. He’s hitting .280/.316/.432 with six homers this season, and it’s also worth noting (as Berardino points out) that the Twins reportedly made Pierzynski a two-year offer to return to Minnesota prior to the 2014 season. He instead chose to sign with Boston.

Minnesota’s plenty familiar with Avila, whom they’ve watched behind the plate for the Tigers dating back to 2009. However, he’s earning a not-insignificant $5.4MM this season and has played in only 34 games, hitting .192/.333/.293. Avila’s career behind the plate has been threatened by concussions, and as a club that is more than familiar with the ill effects of concussions (see: Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Corey Koskie), the Twins may desire more certainty.

Both Norris and Lucroy would represent long-term upgrades over incumbent Kurt Suzuki as opposed to mere rentals. Norris is under club control through 2018 and is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, but he’s also struggled in his transition from Oakland to San Diego. Norris has followed up a .270/.361/.403 line in 2014 with a .231/.278./.401 line in 2015. He’s certainly hitting for more power — he has a 38 point increase in his ISO, and his 11 homers already top last year’s 10 — but his walk rate and average have plummeted. Norris’ line-drive rate is down from 18.7 percent to 12.9 percent, which, paired with an increased strikeout rate, helps to explain the dip in his average.

Lucroy could very well be the prize of the catching market. He’s a premium defender in terms of both controlling the running game and pitch framing, and he’s also produced a .291/.353/.455 batting line dating back to 2012. His production has been slowed this season, in part by a fractured toe sustained earlier in the year. However, he’s hitting .274/.335/.382 dating back to June 1, and two of his three homers this season have come in the past eight games. Lucroy’s contract, though, is perhaps the most appealing part about a potential acquisition; he’s earning $3MM in 2015 before a $4MM payday in 2016 and a $5.25MM club option for the 2017 season.

That Minnesota is seeking an upgrade behind the plate is reasonable, considering the difficulty that Suzuki has had at the plate since signing a two-year, $12MM extension on July 31 last year. Suzuki had an excellent first half in Minnesota, but it was largely BABIP driven, and he closed out the year hitting .248/.290/.366. This year’s been even worse for the former A’s/Nats backstop, as he’s hitting just .227/.283/.303, making him one of the least effective bats in baseball. He’s also caught just 19 percent of attempted base stealers — 13 percent below the league average. The Twins, though, value the comfort that the pitching staff has with Suzuki, his clubhouse presence and his durability.Those positive traits, of course, would still be in play were he to transition to a backup role, even if only for the remainder of the 2015 season.


AL Central Notes: Montas, Twins, Tigers, Almonte

The White Sox will promote highly touted right-hander Frankie Montas as the 26th man in Friday’s double-header, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan first reported (via Twitter). Acquired along with Avisail Garcia in the three-team trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston and Jose Iglesias to Detroit two years ago, Montas’ stock has soared over the past 24 months. MLB.com ranked him as the game’s No. 91 prospect heading into the season, and the hard-throwing Dominican hurler hasn’t disappointed at the Double-A level. He’s posted a 2.47 ERA in 15 starts at the level at the age of 22, averaging 7.6 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. That performance comes on the heels of a 1.44 ERA across three levels in 2014. Montas tossed a seven-inning no-hitter earlier this season and appeared in the Futures Game in Cincinnati during this year’s All-Star festivities. Though his promotion looks to be brief, he’ll give ChiSox fans a glimpse of what the team hopes is a long-term contributor.

More from the AL Central…

  • Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press runs down the Twins‘ three biggest problems as the trade deadline approaches and looks at some possible solutions for the club. Setup relief, catching and shortstop have been the club’s most glaring weaknesses in 2015, writes Berardino. In looking at catchers, he notes that the Twins made contract offers to both A.J. Pierzynski and Dioner Navarro before signing Kurt Suzuki in the 2013-14 offseason, so either backstop could again become a consideration. Both the Braves and Blue Jays figure to be open to dealing their veteran catcher.
  • Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN also examines the Twins‘ needs and speculates that rolling the dice on a Jimmy Rollins acquisition could be worthwhile for Minnesota. Neither Danny Santana nor Eduardo Escobar has played well enough to hold a firm grasp on the club’s starting shortstop role, and the Dodgers may want to clear the way for Corey Seager to jump to the Majors at short. Mackey, of course, notes that Rollins hasn’t played well in 2015. He’s hitting only .213/.266/.338 on the season and is expensive — owed about $4.48MM through year’s end. But, that price tag and those struggles mean he won’t cost much in a trade. Rollins’ track record as a productive player and 2015 BABIP woes make him an intriguing low-risk gamble that could rebound in the second half, Mackey concludes.
  • The next 10 days or so are critical to the Tigers‘ direction at the trade deadline, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Beck writes that the Tigers realize the division crown is a long shot at this point, so the question for Detroit becomes whether or not they feel pursuing a Wild Card berth “as more than a crapshoot.” Contending clubs continue to ask the Tigers what their plan is going to be, Beck writes, but Detroit’s minor league clubs are also still being scouted by potential sellers like the Reds and Padres in the event that they move to add big league help. Even if the Tigers decide to buy at the deadline, payroll will be a factor, according to Beck. He also reminds that while David Price can net a compensatory draft pick this offseason if he signs elsewhere, Yoenis Cespedes cannot, due to a contractual stipulation.
  • The Royals have promoted right-hander Miguel Almonte from Double-A to Triple-A and hope that the top prospect can emerge as a bullpen option in September, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. The 22-year-old Almonte entered the season ranked 84th among prospects by MLB.com and 56th by Baseball Prospectus. His production in the Double-A rotation was a bit underwhelming, as he worked to a 4.03 ERA with 7.4 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. McCullough notes that part of the reason for Almonte’s declined strikeout rate (he averaged 8.7 K/9 from 2013-14) is that he’s been tasked with focusing on improved fastball command and is thus using his above-average changeup less. A lot will change between now and September, but Almonte’s not on the 40-man roster, so the team would need to make a corresponding roster move if he proves worthy of another promotion.


NL East Notes: Hamels, Braves, Pierzynski, Rizzo

Assuming normal rest, Cole Hamels is scheduled to start for the Phillies on July 19, July 25 and July 31, Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes.  That July 31st start is a night game, so Hamels could be scratched if he’s dealt prior to the deadline earlier that afternoon (assuming he hasn’t already been traded before the 31st).  Here’s some more from Philadelphia and elsewhere around the NL East…

  • The Braves had discussed packaging Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson together in trade talks, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports, with the idea that two relievers would bring back a larger return from a bullpen-needy team. That plan was scuttled when Grilli suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear yesterday, though Johnson remains a trade candidate.
  • Bowman’s piece lists several possible trade chips on the Braves roster, including Johnson, Chris Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Cameron Maybin, Juan Uribe and A.J. Pierzynski.  In regards to Pierzynski, Bowman believes Atlanta will try to bring the catcher back in 2016 even if they do trade him this year.
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo broadly discussed his team’s general deadline plans with reporters, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.  The Nats lineup will be boosted by the returns of several stars from the DL, and while Janes feels Washington could use another relief arm, Rizzo praised the job done by current relievers like Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen.
  • It’s only a matter of time before Aaron Nola is promoted to the majors, CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury writes, and he believes the Phillies could call Nola up within “the next couple of weeks, possibly in tandem with a trade deadline move.”  This is just my speculation, but promoting Nola to fill Hamels’ roster spot would be a good the-future-is-now type of move.
  • Several scouts believe former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto would be a good fit as the Phillies‘ next general manager, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets.  Interestingly, Dipoto’s former assistant GM in Anaheim, Matt Klentak, has also been mentioned in connection to a job in the new Andy MacPhail-run Phillies front office.
  • In NL East news from earlier today, the Pirates have interest in Phillies outfielders Ben Revere and Jeff Francoeur.

NL East Notes: Pierzynski, Phillies, Marlins, Mets

Earlier today, MLBTR posted the latest news and notes on the Nationals. Let’s now take a look at the other teams in the NL East:

  • If A.J. Pierzynski‘s Spring Training looks like a continuation of his subpar 2014 season, he may not make the Braves‘ Opening Day roster, writes Fangraphs’ David Laurila in his latest Sunday Notes column. Pierzynski and the Braves agreed to a one-year, $2MM deal on Christmas Eve.
  • The Phillies will spend considerably less on their starting pitching in 2015 and the rotation may actually be better, opines Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com.
  • With the Braves and Phillies prioritizing years beyond 2015, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman surveyed seven baseball executives representing all six MLB divisions whether the Marlins or the Mets will be the Nationals‘ primary challenger this season. A split decision of 4-3 favored the Marlins.

Braves To Sign A.J. Pierzynski

DEC. 26: Pierzynski will earn exactly $2MM, and his contract contains an additional $700K worth of incentives, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

DEC. 24, 2:01pm: Pierzynski is expected to earn around $2MM in the deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

1:50pm: The Braves have reached a one-year deal with free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Financial terms are not yet reported, and the deal will not become official until a physical that will be delayed by the holidays.

Soon to turn 38, Pierzynski played last year for the Red Sox and Cardinals, struggling to the lowest offensive output of his career. The veteran slashed just .251/.288/.337 and hit five home runs in 362 plate appearances. Advanced defensive metrics (via Baseball Prospectus) saw Pierzynski as slightly below average. The net package was below replacement level.

All that being said, Pierzynski has a lengthy history of solid-to-good output for his position. His lifetime slash of .281/.320/.424 is quite productive for a backstop, and he was good for an .827 OPS and 27 home runs as recent as 2012. Pierzynski has also generally been regarded as a sturdy option behind the dish, both in terms of defensive ability and (especially) durability.

It is ultimately not surprising to see the Braves add a veteran of this ilk. The team appears set to move Evan Gattis out from behind the plate (if not to another team altogether), and pairing well-regarded youngster Christian Bethancourt with a more established option makes plenty of sense.

If Pierzynski returns to his prior form, he could help lead a surprise run for a team that many have written off. Or, he could turn into July trade fodder. Of course, there may be some added risk given the frequent chatter about issues with Pierzynski’s personality. But that likely figured into the price tag, and he delivers scarce upside in a largely barren catching market.

Aaron Lunsford first tweeted news of Pierzynski’s agreement.


NL East Notes: Hamels, Marlins, Braves, Breslow

ESPN’s Jayson Stark took a look at the Cole Hamels trade market and spoke to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about the possibility of trading the ace. Amaro took a familiar stance, stating that he’s not under any pressure to move Hamels, whom he rightly deemed one of baseball’s best starters. Rival execs tell Stark that Amaro is still asking for two premium prospects plus another piece or two in addition to the acquiring club taking on Hamels’ entire contract. As Stark notes, it’s unfortunate that a rebuilding club’s best chip is an ace in an offseason where free agency and the trade market are both pitching-rich. With next season shaping up to be a buyer’s market for pitching as well, Stark wonders if July will be the best time for Amaro to move Hamels, as few aces are ever available at the deadline. Multiple clubs have told Stark that Amaro is holding out for “the deal of the century,” as Stark terms it.

Two items of particular note from Stark are that the Blue Jays are said to have very strong interest in Hamels and that reports of Hamels’ no-trade clause are not entirely accurate. Hamels can indeed block trades to eight clubs, but previous reports listed the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nats, Braves, Padres, Yankees and Rangers as teams to which Hamels cannot veto a deal. Stark hears that list is outdated, and at least one club has been changed since season’s end.

Some other late-night NL East notes…

  • Reports have indicated that the Marlins are serious about adding pieces to contend in 2015 this offseason, and while the focus has been more on bats for the lineup, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Fish have reached out to the Tigers to inquire on David Price and Rick Porcello. Talks aren’t serious at this time, he adds, but the fact that the Marlins are even kicking the tires on a pair of high-priced arms (Price and Porcello project to earn $18.9MM and $12.2MM next year, respectively) suggests that they’re willing to take on some significant payroll.
  • The Braves are interested in a reunion with backstop David Ross, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien reported yesterday (Twitter link). Ross spent four seasons as Brian McCann‘s backup in Atlanta from 2009-12, enjoying some of the most productive seasons of his career as a Brave. He could serve as an excellent mentor to Christian Bethancourt, who figures to take the reins as Atlanta’s everyday catcher with Evan Gattis moving to the outfield full time.
  • MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports another potential catching target for the Braves, tweeting that they have interest in A.J. Pierzynski. The soon-to-be 38-year-old Pierzynski has never had Ross’ defensive chops, though he’d give the Braves a left-handed bat to insert in the lineup when they prefer to rest Bethancourt against tough right-handers.
  • The Mets are interested in lefty reliever Craig Breslow, tweets Morosi. The Mets are thin on left-handed relief, and Breslow should represent a low-cost option. The 34-year-old picked a poor time to have a career-worst season, pitching to a 5.96 ERA this past season in a contract year. However, he entered the 2014 campaign with a career 2.82 ERA in 402 innings. Breslow doesn’t dominate lefties the way many specialists do (.671 OPS), but he’s also more effective against right-handed hitters than a number of his southpaw brethren (.680 OPS).

West Notes: Kapler, Gasparino, Tomas, Rangers, Angels

The Dodgers‘ front office shakeup isn’t over yet. As Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles reported first, the Dodgers announced that they have hired Gabe Kapler as their farm director and Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino as their new director of amateur scouting (All Twitter links). Additionally, the team will hire Red Sox special assignment scout Galen Carr, per Saxon, though his role in the Dodgers’ front office is yet unreported. The Dodgers, of course, have already poached Andrew Friedman from the Rays (president of baseball ops) and Farhan Zaidi from the A’s (GM) in addition to hiring former Padres/D’Backs GM Josh Byrnes as their new senior VP of baseball ops. The new-look group is made up of some of the most respected executives from around the game.

Here’s more from the game’s Western divisions…

  • On a conference call with Padres season-ticket holders last night, general manager A.J. Preller spoke candidly about the team’s interest in Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas (Twitter link): “We’ve had the chance to see Yasmany Tomas and we’re in the process of determining his value for the Padres. We’re in the game.” San Diego has been said to be one of the front-runners for Tomas, and he’d certainly provide the team with some much-needed offense if he lives up to the hype surrounding him.
  • The Rangers will be on the lookout for a backup catcher to pair with Robinson Chirinos this offseason, writes MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Sullivan looks at the crop of free agents and notes that A.J. Pierzynski, Gerald Laird and J.P. Arencibia have all played with the Rangers in the past, but he wonders if the team will spend a bit more money on a name like Nick Hundley rather than bringing in familiar faces.
  • The Angels announced today that they have promoted Mike LaCassa to assistant director of player development and promoted Jonathan Strangio to manager of Major League Operations (Twitter link).

Quick Hits: Minor Leaguers, Cardinals, Yankees

A group of former minor leaguers has filed a lawsuit protesting that while they were playing, they received less than minimum wage and did not receive overtime, working for tiny monthly salaries to pursue their dream of making it to the Majors. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star traveled to Clinton, Iowa as part of a long exposé on working conditions in the minor leagues. Class A players, for example, only make about $6,300 for an entire season, earning only per diems for instructional leagues and mandatory spring training. NBA and NHL minor leaguers make many times that amount. The extremely low wages for minor league baseball players might not be a hardship for early-round picks who receive six- or seven-figure bonuses, but they’re especially tough on the many players who sign for only a few thousand dollars. Here are more notes from around the game.

  • A number of Cardinals players were at Busch Stadium Friday to pack their belongings, with some players not knowing whether they’ll return next season, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. 2014 was “up and down,” says Peter Bourjos, who made $1.2MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. “Inconsistent playing time, inconsistent results — that’s how it goes sometimes. If there’s an opportunity out there, I’d like to play every day.” One player who sounds like he’ll certainly be returning is John Lackey, who says he has “every intention” of playing next season even though the Cardinals have an option on him for the league minimum salary. Also, impending free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski says he’d like to continue playing. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals will re-sign him, however, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz at the catcher position.
  • Two years after their last playoff game, the Yankees‘ roster is dramatically different, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog writes. Of the 19 players Yankees who appeared in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, just four — Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — are under contract for 2015.

Central Links: Moore, Royals, Tigers, Cardinals

Though there’s been speculation that Royals GM Dayton Moore could be a possibility to take over the GM slot in Atlanta following Frank Wren’s dismissal, Royals owner David Glass told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Moore is “absolutely” staying with the Royals. Moore’s contract runs through 2016, but as Heyman and others have noted, it’d seem odd to leave town after getting the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years. Glass had nothing but praise for Moore: “He’s done a great job. He’s as good as it gets as far as a general manager.”

More news from baseball’s Central divisions…

  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis breaks down how the Royals constructed their World Series roster, noting that the club has 14 homegrown players (draft or international signing), nine acquired via waivers or trade and only two signed via free agency (Omar Infante and Jason Vargas). One could make the case that Jeremy Guthrie also belongs in the free agent category, as he technically hit the open market for a couple of weeks between the end of the 2012 season and re-signing in Kansas City. However, the most intriguing part of Callis’ piece, for MLBTR readers, may be a comment from Moore on the importance of Jake Odorizzi‘s role in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade: “…he also kept Yordano Ventura out of that deal at that time.”
  • MLive.com’s Chris Iott makes five predictions about the upcoming Tigers offseason in his latest piece, prognosticating that Detroit will not make a serious run at re-signing Max Scherzer, nor will it spend lavishly on its bullpen, perhaps adding one mid-range option at best. As he notes, the combined $17MM owed to Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria is already more than the $15.4MM the club spent on last year’s entire Opening Day bullpen. Iott does, however, foresee a re-signing of Victor Martinez. For his last two predictions, he expects an internal competition for the fifth starter slot and that one (or both) or Andy Dirks and Don Kelly will be non-tendered, based on recent comments from GM Dave Dombrowski. Bottom line: he expects Detroit to spend on retaining Martinez and acquiring a center fielder rather than on the bullpen or rotation.
  • The Cardinals aren’t likely to re-sign any of their five free agents, writes MLB.com’s Jen Langosch. That means that Justin Masterson, A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Ellis and perhaps most notably, lifetime Cardinal Jason Motte and the resurgent Pat Neshek are ticketed for new jerseys. Neshek is probably the most intriguing of the bunch, as the 34-year-old signed a minor league deal last offseason but earned an All-Star nod en route to a final ERA of 1.87 in 67 1/3 innings with 9.1 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.