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Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has rejected a position within his old organization and will spend the year away from the game, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger writes. “He’s doing fine, but he’s not going to be participating with us,” says GM Terry Ryan. “I talk to him often. He’s doing pretty good, but he wants to take a year off.” Ryan adds that Gardenhire is interested in continuing to manage. The Twins fired him in September after the team had four straight seasons of 70 wins or fewer. Here’s more from the American League.
- Josh Hamilton could be out for up to 12 weeks after having shoulder surgery earlier this month, but the Angels are not actively looking for an outfielder to replace him, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. “If throughout the spring, if we see something that fits for us, like we do any other spring, we’ll certainly pay attention,” says GM Jerry Dipoto. “But it’s not something we are focused on at this point.” The Angels feel that Matt Joyce, Collin Cowgill and Dan Robertson give them enough options to fill Hamilton’s spot until he returns.
- Fellow Angel Albert Pujols could retire before his contract expires in 2021 if his gymnast daughter, Sophia, makes it to the Olympics, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports. The plan for Sophia is to get to the Olympics by 2020. “That might have to be the year I retire,” says Pujols. “You can put that in the paper, because I don’t want to miss it. … Either that, or they’ll have to put me on the disabled list for two weeks.” Of course, that’s still five years away, and Sophia is only nine and will still be too young to compete in 2020 under current rules, so it might be unwise to read much into Pujols’ comments at this point.
- The Orioles considered a multiyear extension for outfielder Alejandro De Aza before figures were filed for De Aza’s arbitration case, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes. De Aza says he was not aware of those discussions, but that he would consider an extension. “I’m interested in the opportunity,” he says. “I’m excited about the opportunity here, and I want to be here for a long time.” De Aza, who lost his arbitration hearing yesterday, is eligible for free agency after the season.
The Cardinals’ thrilling 5-4 win over the Giants last night tied the NLCS at a game apiece and also made some postseason history. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, the Cards became the first team to ever hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a playoff game. That final homer, of course, was Kolten Wong‘s walkoff solo shot. Here’s some more from St. Louis…
- Oscar Taveras delivered that seventh-inning homer for the Cards last night, though a few issues have made the top prospect no longer “untouchable” in the organization’s eyes, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 over 248 PA in this rookie season and didn’t see much action down the stretch in September or in the playoffs thus far — he has only five PH at-bats during the postseason. Perhaps of greater concern, Taveras put on 20 pounds last offseason and “his work habits have drawn attention from some veterans,” though Strauss notes that the 22-year-old “is not considered a toxic clubhouse presence.” In my opinion, even if he’s not totally “untouchable,” St. Louis would undoubtedly want a massive return if they considered dealing Taveras and it’s a very long shot that the team would so quickly give up on such an elite prospect.
- Strauss figures the Cardinals are likely to trade an outfielder this offseason, with Matt Holliday locked into the left field spot and Taveras, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty all in the mix for the other two outfield spots.
- The Cardinals’ decision to let Albert Pujols leave as a free agent “could go down as one of the wisest in baseball history,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes. Rather than spend $250MM on Pujols as the Angels did, the Cards instead spread that money around and have reached the NLCS in all three seasons since Pujols’ departure. “When we knew we had to look at the next chapter of this organization, it was really about understanding how we could redeploy those resources,” GM John Mozeliak said. “You never know if you’re going to be able to sustain that high a level, but certainly to get close to that level, or back to it, was something we were able to achieve, first with the signing of Carlos Beltran and then [Jhonny] Peralta.”
- Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete is “a very likely possibility” to become the Athletics‘ new bench coach, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links). Aldrete has a very good relationship with A’s manager Bob Melvin and a move to Oakland would allow Aldrete to live closer to his home in Monterey. The A’s have a vacancy at bench coach since Chip Hale has been hired as the Diamondbacks’ new manager.
- It is generally considered a mistake to fix a roster problem by trading from the Major League roster, yet the Cardinals’ young depth has allowed them to twice make such moves, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Cards dealt Colby Rasmus for bullpen help in 2011 and ended up winning the World Series, while this past July saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey. “I understand the risk profile in doing what we did,” Mozeliak said. “But in both situations….I felt we had to do something different — I felt we had to pull from the club to improve.”
Angels first baseman (and, of late, designated hitter) Albert Pujols sounds optimistic about his injury situation, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reports. The slugger says his injured foot "feel[s] 99.9% healthy," and that it was time for surgery after battling his plantar fasciitis for some nine years. He also noted that he continues to do rehab on his knee to avoid a flare-up. How the 33-year-old returns will be among the most impactful on-the-field storylines in baseball, since the Halos still owe him a hard-to-fathom $212MM over the next eight seasons. Once the best player in the game, Pujols now arguably carries more negative value than anybody due to his age, injuries, and massive contract. Elsewhere in baseball's two western divisions …
- The Mariners have an ambitious off-season wish list, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (via Twitter). Atop the list is a starter to slot in behind Felix Hernandez in the rotation, with Olney speculating that Matt Garza could be a match. Otherwise, the team hopes to add a closer and "two frontline power hitters."
- If Seattle is serious about checking all those boxes, it hardly needs to be said, it will need to open its wallet. The club's payroll has sat in the mid-$80MM range at Opening Day the last two years, but has gone as high as $117MM (2008). Seattle's future salary commitments sit right about at league average, though virtually all of its future obligations are to Hernandez. As Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs figures, the club's 2014 commitments presently sit at under $40MM, leaving ample room to spend.
- Though the Astros have a similar set of needs, according to a report from Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, the club will likely set somewhat more modest goals. WIth payroll capacity up to $60MM, Houston will be chasing an outfielder, veteran starter, and bullpen pieces. Manager Bo Porter indicated that the club has been in contact with some free agent options, but is mostly gathering information and waiting for the market to develop. "As the market starts to shake out," said Porter, "we'll get more aggressive for the guys we believe will really make an impact on our ballclub."
- Looking past 2014, the Astros have just one player under contract in second baseman Jose Altuve. The team will, however, start to see a modest increase in its tab next year as players like J.D. Martinez, Brett Wallace, and Chris Carter reach arbitration eligibility, and Jason Castro gets to his second arb campaign. As with the Mariners, Houston's low 2014 obligations (just $14.4MM, per Thurm's estimate) could leave it with significant room to add salary this coming season.
- The Dodgers want to add a starter, but only on a short-term deal, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Los Angeles is not interested in going past two years or losing a draft pick to ink a new arm, says Rosenthal. The former limitation would seem to take the club out of contention for any top-tier arms, while the latter means that the club is not considering an attempt to lure Hiroki Kuroda back to Chavez Ravine.
- While I will not belabor the point, this news makes sense in light of the fact that the Dodgers have far-and-away the greatest salary commitments in the game both next year and beyond.
It's been a disastrous 2013 for the Angels, who sit 10 games below .500 and 11 games out of first place in the AL West. Angels owner Arte Moreno spoke with Bob Nightengale of USA Today regarding his team's slow start. Here are some highlights from the piece…
- Manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto aren't in immediate danger of losing their jobs, though Moreno notes that he will re-evaluate the team in the offseason. Moreno says that he likes Dipoto's analytical systems and still considers Scioscia an elite manager.
- Moreno says he's never seen anything like the struggles that Josh Hamilton has endured to open the season, however he feels it's too early to judge 32-year-old: "Five years from now, we can sit down, and then ask me about the investment in the man.'' Hamilton, of course, is batting just .207/.262/.378 and has played below replacement level according to both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
- Moreno tells Nightengale that he has no buyer's remorse when it comes to the Albert Pujols deal. The opportunity to bring one of the best hitters in the history of the game to Anaheim was a "treat." Pujols hasn't struggled at Hamilton's level, but his .258/.330/.447 batting line and injury problems don't bode well, considering he's owed $212MM from 2014-21.
- There have yet to be any serious negotiations about Mike Trout, partly because it's so difficult to put a value or dollar amount on his incredible numbers to date.
- The Halos can opt out of their stadium in 2016 to either have the 50-year-old park refurbished or have a new one constructed. Moreno says that the ideal situation would be to remain in the current Angel Stadium.
The Cardinals' selection of Albert Pujols (13th round, 1999) is the best draft pick in MLB history, says Dan Szymborski of ESPN (Insider-only). Szymborski uses a non-linear model to assess the WAR value of each draft pick, then compares actual picks to their expected value over nine years to create a list of the top 100 picks in draft history. Szymborski notes that the fact that Pujols was so good from the very beginning of his career made him particularly valuable as a draft pick, since the Cards didn't have to wait for a few years after his debut for him to become a superstar. Here are more notes on the Redbirds.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak isn't certain how long Michael Wacha, who will make his big-league debut on Thursday, will be with the team, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (on Sulia). Also, Mozeliak wants to make sure the Cardinals protect Wacha's health. "We are going to be very cognizant of pitch counts and innings," Mozeliak says. "When we think about total innings we want to make sure we’re careful of his usage. If there are times when we can protect him, we will do so." Wacha, 21, has thrown 52 2/3 innings in nine minor-league starts so far this year.
- Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals tops Keith Law of ESPN's new list of baseball's top 25 prospects (Insider-only). Wacha is also present at No. 24, and Law notes that Wacha's breaking ball has improved. Jurickson Profar of the Rangers' recent promotion removed him from the list. The Twins, with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, are the only team with two players in the top ten; the Pirates, with Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco, are the only team with three players in the top 25. Be sure to check out the full list.
It is not often, perhaps, that a team improves after losing its best player. But that is precisely what happened to the Cardinals after watching all-time great first baseman Albert Pujols leave town for Anaheim, writes Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal. GM John Mozeliak says he was "down, depressed, disheartened" upon losing Pujols. Since last season, however, the team has received just as much production as Pujols has given the Angels, and at a much lower cost (now and in the future). Meanwhile, money that might otherwise have gone to Pujols was used to ink highly productive players like Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. Of course, the Cards tried to keep Pujols, though they were not willing to exceed the $200MM barrier to do so. Mozeliak recalls conferring with St. Louis owner Bill Dewitt Jr., who declined the opportunity to bid whatever amount necessary to keep the franchise cornerstone. Says Mozeliak: "In the end, it came down to business discipline versus emotionally driven negotiation." Even before Pujols's injury-addled start to 2013, the Cardinals looked smart for sticking to their position.
Here are a few other notes from around the National League:
- Brian McCann has just begun a season that many believe will be his last in a Braves uniform, but he is focused on the present, writes Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While the slugging catcher and his surgically-repaired shoulder are being watched closely by potential new employers, McCann claims that he is not thinking about the future. "I think when you get ahead of yourself is when you get in trouble." For now, McCann says, "I'm worried about playing baseball. … I'm worried about helping this team win. I'm worried about getting my shoulder stronger every day. And I'm in a good place."
- Mets officials appear to be anticipating the call-up of top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler sooner rather than later, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. One official said that Wheeler would arrive in New York by June 1 "at the latest," while another called that date "a little aggressive." Martino says that the team genuinely does not appear to be angling to keep Wheeler from achieving Super Two status, but instead intends to promote him when it feels he is ready.
- Dodgers president Stan Kasten apologized to fans for the team's less-than-inspiring start to the year, but said that the club was planning to stay the course. As Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports, Kasten claims not to be contemplating any immediate, major moves. Kasten did continue to emphasize the Dodgers' seemingly endless, but arguably aimless, payroll flexibility: "We can do whatever we feel makes sense in the long term and short term."
- The Cubs' sabermetric focus has not only trickled down from the front office to the playing field, but according to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune has produced some wise decisions. Specifically, the Cubs look smart for declining to pursue Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Sullivan says the team has been better in the short term, at least for the time being, without the expensive stars. More importantly, the club maintained roster flexibility and youth by choosing to go with the promising Anthony Rizzo at first and a veteran platoon in right field.
The Rockies' decision to designate Aaron Harang for assignment after trading Ramon Hernandez for him shows that Colorado likes the pitchers it already has, MLB.com's Thomas Harding argues. The Rockies will stick with their rotation of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Jeff Francis and Jon Garland. Behind them at Triple-A Colorado Springs, the Rockies have youngsters Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood, along with veteran Aaron Cook. "We're happy with our guys," Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett says. "Whether it was Chacin who missed a lot of time, or De La Rosa who missed a lot of time, or Nicasio who missed a lot of time, there's some ring-rust that comes with a new season and not having a full season last year. At the same time, we're confident in them." Here are more notes from around the majors.
- Indians GM Chris Antonetti and his front office sometimes try to "cram six pounds of smart into a five-pound bag," the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes says. The decision to begin the season short-handed, as they carried Carlos Carrasco on their 25-man roster while he served a suspension, came back to bite the Indians, says Hoynes. The trouble began when Scott Kazmir hurt his ribcage on Monday, which forced the Indians to activate him so they could backdate his stay on the disabled list. That meant they had to option Nick Hagadone, who was supposed to provide bullpen depth in a week in which, as it turns out, they could have used it, as they played an 11-inning game Wednesday and a high-scoring game Thursday. The Indians ultimately had Trevor Bauer start Saturday night, and he walked seven while allowing three runs in five innings.
- Albert Pujols says he won't allow his ten-year, $240MM contract with the Angels to become a burden, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports. "God has given me ability and talent, but the day I feel like I can't compete any more on this level, I'm not going to embarrass myself," says Pujols, who hit "only" .285/.343/.516 in the first year of his contract in 2012. DiGiovanna clarifies that Pujols isn't suggesting he has plans to retire, but rather that pride compels him to play his best and try to prove his critics wrong.
- The Cubs are currently looking at six MLB Draft prospects, says MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Their list includes Stanford pitcher Mark Appel (who is currently generally regarded as the top talent available), along with Georgia high school outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. The Cubs pick second in the draft, which will be held in early June.
The Dominican Republic's exciting 3-1 win over the United States has put the Dominican squad into the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic and left the USA fighting for its tournament life. The States will face Puerto Rico on Friday in an elimination game to decide who will take the last semi-final slot. The Netherlands and two-time defending WBC champion Japan are the other two semi-finalists.
Here is the latest from around baseball tonight…
- Albert Pujols' knee issues this spring could be nothing, but as FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi notes, even the slightest sign of injury is worrisome to the Angels given their remaining $228MM investment in Pujols through the 2021 season.
- Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. is enjoying a big Spring Training, though Rob Bradford and Alex Speier of WEEI.com outline the reasons why Bradley may not be on Boston's Opening Day roster.
- Major League Baseball wants a tougher, zero-tolerance drug policy while the Players Association is looking for a "two-tiered penalty system" that would be less harsh on players who took banned substances unintentionally, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. The dispute could affect (or prevent) any changes to the drug policy when the terms are re-negotiated next offseason.
- Modern front offices are blending both analytical thinking with traditional scouting techniques, MLB.com's Paul Hagen writes.
Congratulations to Buster Posey and Fernando Rodney, who were named MLB.com’s comeback players of the year for their respective leagues. Rodney had a historic season, posting a 0.60 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning in Tampa Bay. Posey had an MVP-caliber year after missing most of the 2011 season with a broken leg and damaged ankle ligaments. Here are today’s links…
- The Cardinals, now just one win away from another World Series appearance, are doing just fine without Albert Pujols, Yahoo's Jeff Passan writes. St. Louis’ roster looks just as scary as it did a year ago thanks to an abundance of homegrown contributors.
- The Cardinals are believed to have offered Pujols a seven-year deal with three player options last offseason, Bill Shaikin of the LA Times reports. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak said Pujols was a "special part" of the organization. "In a normal — or in a more sterile — environment, we wouldn't pursue those types of things," the GM told Shaikin.
- The Nationals' bullpen might be overhauled this offseason, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes. Sean Burnett will likely hit free agency and Tyler Clippard could be traded. The Nationals figure to tender Tom Gorzelanny a contract and should have interest in re-signing Mike Gonzalez. Kilgore wonders if Ryan Madson could be a free agent target for Washington.
- An American League scout suggested to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that no teams would be interested in Alex Rodriguez, who’s owed $114MM plus bonuses over the course of the next five years (Twitter link). For more on the Yankees’ offseason plans check out this collection of links.
A swap of bad contracts may be the Angels' best way to move Vernon Wells, opines MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, who lists a few other players with bloated deals that could be acquired in exchange for the remaining two years (and $42MM) on Wells' contract. Even when taking on the likes of John Lackey, Chone Figgins or Barry Zito, however, the Angels would still have to cover the difference on Wells' deal. Gonzalez addressed some other offseason possibilities for the Halos in a reader mailbag….
- Gonzalez predicts the chances of Torii Hunter re-signing with Los Angeles "lean slightly toward him coming back," though the Rangers and Yankees should be interested in the veteran outfielder. Gonzalez predicts Hunter will end up with a one- or two-year contract worth around $9MM per season.
- If Hunter is re-signed, Peter Bourjos could become expendable and would attract attention from several teams in need of center field help.
- The Angels could be better served finding a closer through the trade market than through free agency, Gonzalez opines. He also thinks the Halos should look to add a left-handed reliever.
- The Angels' 2013 payroll should be $10-$15MM lower than last season's $159MM total.
- "The similarities have long been unmistakable" between Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols' contracts, Gonzalez writes. While Pujols' numbers have been declining over the last few seasons, there are reasons that Pujols (33 next season) could age more gracefully than Rodriguez, whose future as an everyday player for the Yankees is in question at age 37.