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Veteran infielder Nick Punto, who had agreed to a minor league pact and a Spring Training invite with the Diamondbacks, will not report to D-Backs camp and is “shutting it down” for the 2015 season, manager Chip Hale told reporters, including FOX Sports Arizona’s Jody Jackson (Twitter links). Hale stressed that Punto isn’t retiring, but the 37-year-old has decided for the time being that he’d prefer to spend more time with his family.
A gifted defender at second base, third base and shortstop, Punto has never been known for his bat, but he slumped to one of the worst seasons of his career in 2014, hitting .207/.296/.293 in 224 plate appearances for the A’s. He still played enough for a $2.75MM vesting option to trigger, but the Athletics elected to release him when in need of a roster spot in December.
In a 14-year career between the Twins, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox and A’s, the affable Punto is a .245/.323/.323 hitter in 3,734 plate appearances. His best season came with the 2006 Twins, when he hit .290/.352/.373 with excellent defense at all three of the aforementioned infield positions (primarily at third base, however).
Via Jackson’s colleague, Jack Magruder (on Twitter), Hale said the D-Backs have no intention to add another veteran infielder for depth purposes.
Outfielder Mark Trumbo has won his arbitration hearing against the Diamondbacks, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). Trumbo will earn a $6.9MM salary, which is significantly higher than the $5.3MM figure submitted by the club coming off an injury-shortened campaign. Trumbo’s agents at Wasserman Media Group did well to handily top the projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who had pegged him for a $5.7MM salary.
Trumbo, 29, will receive a sizable $2.1MM raise despite missing roughly half the 2014 season. (Conversely, the team’s $5.3MM figure called for a raise of just $500K.) Though his first season with the D-Backs was shortened, he did post solid power numbers, hitting 14 homers and driving in 61 runs in just 88 games (362 plate appearances). While he rated as a sub-replacement-level player due to a .293 OBP and some particularly unsightly grades from defensive metrics, arbitration places greater emphasis on baseball card numbers like homers and RBIs than more modern statistics.
This marks Trumbo’s second trip through the arbitration process, and he’ll look to stay on the field for the entirety of the 2015 season and continue to post strong power numbers in hopes of an even more substantial raise next winter. He’s arbitration eligible one more time before becoming a free agent following the 2016 season. Arizona originally acquired Trumbo in a three-team trade that sent left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and center fielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox.
Former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd has joined the MLB Network as a studio analyst, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. O’Dowd resigned from his post after 15 years at the helm of the Rockies last October and was replaced by understudy Jeff Bridich, who worked with O’Dowd for 10 years prior to the switch.
Here’s more on the Senior Circuit’s Western Division…
- Saunders also conducted a Q&A with Rockies skipper Walt Weiss and discussed, among many things, the club’s offseason and Weiss’ role in constructing the roster. Asked about his role in shaping the roster, Weiss said that he “certainly spent a lot of time” not only with Bridich, but with others in the front office. “I enjoyed it,” Weiss added. “We talked about how passionate we are about certain things, as it relates to our club and the game in general. There was a period there where we worked to build a working foundation for now and the future.” Beyond that, Weiss expressed excitement over Bridich’s sharing of his player development background, which gave the manager an even better grasp of the team’s minor league system and future.
- The Diamondbacks are preparing for an arbitration hearing with outfielder Mark Trumbo, reports MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. Arizona filed at $5.3MM after Trumbo submitted a $6.9MM figure, leaving a fairly substantial gulf. With one more season of eligibility to come, and Trumbo’s 2016 salary built off of whatever base he ends up with this year, the stakes are that much higher.
There’s another middle infielder name to be aware of, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter links) and Ben Badler of Baseball America (via Twitter). Yoilan Serce, 27, will put on a showcase tomorrow in Florida. The second baseman owns an attractive .325/.395/.468 slash in his nine-year run in Cuba, but his power numbers dipped significantly over the past two seasons, with his slugging percentage coming in shy of .400 for the first time in his career. If you want an early look at Serce, check the second link to Sanchez’s Twitter account above to watch a few BP cuts.
Here are a few more notes on the thriving market for Cuban ballplayers:
- Should the Dodgers land infielder Hector Olivera, as some have suggested is likely, the plan would almost certainly be to use him at third base, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports report. Los Angeles would need to figure out a role or a trade for incumbent Juan Uribe in that scenario. The difficulty with stashing Uribe on the bench, of course, is that his value is tied up primarily in his glove at the hot corner. While he probably would have drawn some interest after a strong 2014, it is not clear whether there are many obvious suitors at this point.
- As others have suggested, and Rosenthal explains, there are good reasons to think that the teams that have already blown past their international bonus pool allocations will be the ones to make most of the significant investments in young Cuban talent over the coming months. Alternatively, teams that have yet to incur the significant penalties for going well over their spending allotment are waiting to see if they can land multiple players so as to make it worthwhile.
- The Diamondbacks, for instance, already signed Yoan Lopez and now have interest in second baseman Andy Ibanez, per the report. Sources also tell Rosenthal that Arizona is out of cash, however.
Though many have argued to the contrary, the Diamondbacks are internally optimistic that their club can ride its young pitching to a surprising campaign, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Piecoro discusses the club’s acquisitions, including a turnaround candidate in Jeremy Hellickson and advanced-level prospects Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray. “It’s our belief that with the young pitching we’ve got, we think it’s the right time,” said GM Dave Stewart. “Young pitching doesn’t normally start to show itself until the age that these guys are approaching — they’re not even there yet, they’re just approaching. The scouting reports that we have on each and every last one of the guys we acquired are good reports. Now, it’s just a matter of if they’re ready to move forward.”
Here’s more from the National League:
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club has made “pretty decent progress” in turning over its club into a “younger and more athletic” unit, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. “We didn’t necessarily expect to make a full transition in a two- or three-month period of time,” said Amaro. “The process doesn’t start on October 1 and it doesn’t end on February 15. It continues. … There’s still a lot of work to be done.” Amaro rejected the idea that his club had set unrealistic price tags on its veterans: “Everybody has an idea of how they should evaluate. We have certain ways we evaluate our players and other players and what’s right for the organization. I think we’re in a better position to make those decisions than others.”
- Most of the criticism, of course, has targeted the Phillies‘ inability to date to work out a deal for lefty Cole Hamels. Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer opines that Amaro ought to make the best deal he can, now, rather than risking an injury or ineffectiveness.
- Speaking of Hamels, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has put together another fascinating study of pitch comps. In this one, he notes the incredible similarities between the offerings of Hamels and fellow southpaw (and former Phillies hurler) J.A. Happ. As Sullivan explains, Hamels has vastly outperformed Happ not because he has better stuff, but likely through some combination of superior control, deception, and the like.
- The division-rival Braves, meanwhile, have not drawn the same kind of widespread scrutiny as have the Phils, even after stating that they were not interested in dealing star closer Craig Kimbrel. The outstanding righty remains entrenched in the ninth, and tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he still expects the team to compete for a championship and has a personal goal of converting every save chance he is given. As O’Brien notes, skeptics have suggested that the club may still hold out some possibility of trading Kimbrel if a truly massive package were dangled, but there have been virtually no reports suggesting any action. It is at least somewhat notable that Atlanta added two former closers in Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, but at this point a hypothetical deal involving Kimbrel seems a topic that — at most — may be worth re-visiting at the trade deadline.
Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera and Yadier Alvarez represent the top three names on the Cuban market right now, with Andy Ibanez ranking as perhaps the fourth-most intriguing option from the island. Both Moncada and Ibanez are eligible to sign at any time, while Olivera is still awaiting MLB’s clearance. Alvarez is the furthest from signing, as he’s yet to establish residency in another country, which must be completed before he can begin the process of getting cleared.
There’s been a quite a bit written on each of these four of late, so we’ll look at each on a case-by-case basis within this post. All information is courtesy of this excellent and comprehensive piece from MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez unless otherwise noted.
Moncada has yet to receive a formal offer, Sanchez writes, but he’s worked out privately for the Cubs, D-backs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Brewers, and there could be other private workouts to come. Some scouts are a bit skeptical of Moncada’s ability to hit from the right side of the plate, but the belief is that he won’t require a lengthy stint in the minors before being ready for the big leagues.
Sanchez notes that any team that signs Moncada would have until July 15 to pay the overage tax on what will be a historic bonus, and that bonus can be paid out in installments over the next three years. So, while shelling out the tax due to the league in one lump sum may be onerous for smaller-market clubs like the Padres, the timeline on that payment is at least pushed back a ways.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently spoke to multiple executives regarding Moncada’s potential bonus, and while one estimated that the bonus alone could reach $50MM, others have expressed some skepticism at the numbers that have been thrown around. Rosenthal spoke to execs that are clearly on both ends of the Moncada spectrum, as one estimated a $30MM maximum bonus, with something in the range of $20MM being more likely. Of course, that would still shatter the current record, held by Yoan Lopez ($8.25MM).
Digging further into the Moncada market, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune spoke with Moncada’s agent, David Hastings, who iterated once again that he hopes to have Moncada in camp for Spring Training. Said Hastings of that goal: “Certainly that’s not all within our power, as we have to wait for teams to make a commitment, and we have to choose the team we think best suits my player. But hopefully we’re down to the final stages of the process and we can begin the contract phase.” Hastings added that he wants to give as many as teams as possible the opportunity to bid on his client, so the volume of private workouts Moncada has attended isn’t exactly surprising. Lin characterizes the Padres as a potentially “unlikely, if not improbable destination” for Moncada. The Dodgers and Yankees remain the favorites, per Sanchez.
The 29-year-old Olivera, who turns 30 in April, is said to be seeking a five- or six-year pact along the lines of the contracts signed by Yasmany Tomas (six years, $68.5MM with a year-four opt-out) and Rusney Castillo (seven years, $72.5MM), Sanchez writes. (Remember that Oliver’s age and professional experience make him exempt from international spending limitations.) A recent report by Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs depicts that as highly unlikely; McDaniel noted that concerns over Olivera’s age and a blood clot disorder (thrombosis) may limit his contract to three years, or potentially four, if multiple clubs become aggressive. He did concede that something around $10MM annually could be possible.
Sanchez writes that the 6’2″ Olivera is in the best shape of his career and has “wowed” in open showcases and private workouts, leading many to believe he could hit 15 to 20 homers annually.
Were Olivera younger, I’d be more inclined to believe that he could command something in the vicinity of the Tomas and Castillo deals, but I personally can’t envision that for a player of his age. Tomas will be younger than Olivera is right now when his six-year contract expires, and Castillo’s deal runs through just his age-32 season. A six-year pact for Olivera would carry through his age-35 campaign, so despite having seemingly impressive power for a second baseman (he can also play third), those goals seem far-fetched.
Lin notes that the Padres also have some interest in Olivera and may turn their sights his way if they’re unable to land Moncada. Padres pro scouting director/senior adviser Logan White attended Olivera’s final showcase in the Dominican Republic last week, per Lin.
Though Olivera isn’t yet cleared to sign, Sanchez hears that he could sign within 24 hours of being declared a free agent. The Mariners, Braves and Dodgers are the most likely landing spots for Olivera, per Sanchez, who also lists the Yankees and Padres as interested clubs. Clearly, Seattle is an odd fit, given the presence of Robinson Cano and the recently extended Kyle Seager. Perhaps, however, the Mariners would have interest in using Olivera in a corner outfield spot or in some form of super utility capacity.
One high-ranking NL official told Sanchez that Alvarez was the best 18-year-old pitcher he’s ever seen following a showcase in which he touched 98 mph on the radar gun and also showed a plus slider and above-average changeup. Scouts to whom Sanchez has spoke believe he could eventually become a No. 2 starter. One international scouting director also told Sanchez that given Alvarez’s age and lower asking price, he prefers the right-hander to Moncada.
The Dodgers, D-Backs, Rockies, Nationals, Blue Jays, Padres, A’s, Cardinals, Twins and Brewers are all interested, per Sanchez, with the D-Backs and Nationals as the likeliest destinations at the moment. However, Alvarez is still early on in the process, so those seem the most likely to change of any of Sanchez’s likely destinations.
Ibanez, 21, has drawn comps to Omar Infante, Howie Kendrick, Miguel Cairo and Placido Polanco from scouts, Sanchez writes, although he’s probably a couple of years away from contributing in the Majors. As other reports have indicated, Ibanez’s tools don’t blow scouts away, but he does have Major League potential. Sanchez lists the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, D-Backs, Brewers, Mariners, and Padres as interested parties, with the Yankees, Dodgers and Padres as the likeliest landing spots.
Three more Cuban players — first baseman Lazaro Alonso, infielder/outfielder Osniel Madera, and catcher Yoel Rojas — have left the country, reports Baseball America’s Ben Badler. The 19-year-old Alonso and the 29-year-old Madera should draw interest from MLB teams, according to Badler. Alonso was hitting .299/.436/.494 in 110 plate appearances with more walks (20) than strikeouts (19) at the time he defected. Madera has played both corner outfield positions as well as third base and second base in his career, and he was hitting .319/.390/.469 in 187 PA this season.
Some more notes from around the league…
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post looks at the Padres‘ offseason and wonders if the team has added star power while sacrificing the cohesion that is typically necessary to for a roster to succeed. Though the team has right-handed power in spades, the Padres lean far too much to the right, with only two left-handed bats projected in their lineup, neither of whom brings much with the bat (Alexi Amarista and Yonder Alonso). The team also lacks a logical lead-off hitter and will field not just a questionable outfield defense but also take a significant step back in pitch-framing, going from a combo of Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera to Derek Norris and a yet-undetermined backup. So much focus has been placed on San Diego’s remade offense, Sherman writes, that few have pointed out the fact that the Padres also allowed their fewest runs ever in 2014 — a feat that won’t likely repeat given the factors laid out here.
- Designated hitter/outfielder Luke Scott worked out for clubs in southern California last week, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweeted. The former Orioles/Astros/Rays slugger spent some time in the Korea Baseball Organization last year and enjoyed success in 130 plate appearances, hitting .267/.392/.505. Scott, 36, is a career .258/.340/.481 hitter and is eyeing a return to the Majors. While a minor league deal is almost certainly all that would be in the cards at this stage, he’s always shown respectable power and could be a reasonable add for a team looking for some left-handed pop off the bench.
- Outfielder Andy Dirks, who signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays this offseason, will report to the team’s minor league Spring Training camp instead of Major League camp, writes Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (the Dirks note gets a brief mention at the bottom of the story). Dirks, who missed all of 2014 recovering from back surgery, is still rehabbing and has again been delayed in his recovery. A healthy Dirks could be a nice addition to the Toronto bench, as he’s an able defender in left field and a lifetime .276/.332/.413 hitter.
- In similar fashion, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic notes at the end of an article on Addison Reed that the D-Backs watched right-hander Chad Gaudin throw a bullpen session last week. The 31-year-old Gaudin didn’t pitch in 2014 as he recovered from neck surgery, though the swingman has a career 4.44 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate. Gaudin’s last big league action came with the 2013 Giants, and he pitched quite well, notching a 3.06 ERA (3.34 FIP, 4.00 xFIP) in 97 innings. He made a dozen starts and 18 relief appearances that season. GM Dave Stewart tells Piecoro that Gaudin is a consideration in the team’s search for pitching depth.
Entering 2015, the Royals possess baseball’s best defense, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. With stalwarts like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar, the club can count on preventing dozens of runs next season. On the bench lurks speedy defensive whiz Jarrod Dyson to help track down fly balls. Rounding out Castrovince’s top five defenses are the Orioles, Reds, Yankees, and Cardinals.
- Baseball is fighting for relevance, writes Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic. While football can claim a larger fandom than baseball, it’s not the job of Commissioner Rob Manfred to reverse that trend. Instead, the league needs to improve its relevance with youth. A lot of attention has fixated on minor tweaks to the game like a faster pace of play. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall has some more novel ideas for improving the fan experience. He suggests letting the home team take batting practice second to improve player-fan interactions. He also proposes using pre-game fielding practice as a stage for displays of athleticism.
- The Red Sox have a revamped lineup, new rotation, deeper bullpen, and a $200MM payroll, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. The rotation is viewed as a weakness because nobody stands out as a potential ace. However, manager John Farrell believes the current unit will be sufficient. The lineup should provide plenty of fire power and the defense can also help to bail out the rotation. If the rotation is revealed to be a weakness, the club has plenty of prospects to acquire reinforcements.
- The Astros are looking to win in the present season for the first time in the Jeff Luhnow era, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The club is setting a target for a .500 finish, which does appear to be a viable goal. With several 2014 breakouts and more impactful prospects on the way, Houston appears to be turning the corner on their rebuild. Luhnow points to building chemistry as one important piece of the puzzle. Several roster decisions will be made this spring, most notably in the outfield where Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley will be fighting for jobs.
The Yankees finalized last summer’s trades for Martin Prado, Josh Outman and Jeff Francis with cash rather than minor leaguers, a team official tells Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees blog. All three deals (with the Diamondbacks, Indians and Athletics, respectively) were made with either cash or a player to be named later going back to the other team in return. Here’s some more from around the baseball world…
- In an entry from Buster Olney’s latest Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, he notes that talent is a rarer commodity than money in today’s game, which is why he feels the Phillies should consider eating some of Cole Hamels‘ contract to bring back better prospects in a deal. Looking at the Hamels-to-Boston trade rumors, Olney wonders why the Red Sox would deal top prospects for Hamels now when a number of ace-level pitchers will be available for only cash in free agency next offseason.
- This offseason has already seen eight arbitration hearings and seven more outstanding cases could go to a hearing, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi notes. It’s an unusually high number given that there were only 13 arb hearings in total over the previous four offseasons, though Morosi doesn’t yet think this could be an omen about the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
- Former big leaguer-turned-FOX Sports analyst C.J. Nitkowski is no stranger to minor league contracts, and he details some of the many factors that a player must consider before signing such a deal.
- Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron lists his ten least-favorite moves of the offseason, with the Padres‘ trade for Matt Kemp topping the list. Cameron believes the Padres paid far too heavy a price in both talent and salary to acquire Kemp, whose best days are possibly behind him due to a checkered injury history.
With the crop of six-year service time free agents thinning noticeably, attention has turned to the fascinating group of players readying to sign after leaving their native Cuba. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has been among the most active observers on this still-developing segment of the market, and delivers a host of interesting information in his latest post on the subject.
While I recommend a full read of his work, here are some highlights:
- Hector Olivera is the lone name who figures to have immediate impact. (Fellow middle infielder Jose Fernandez reportedly remains in Cuba after having been thought to have left with intentions of seeking a MLB deal.) McDaniel agrees with Baseball America’s Ben Badler that Olivera has the potential for immediate impact, but says there are significant doubts about his long-term prospects. For one, Olivera’s medical history is not just limited to sports injuries, but includes a significant case of thrombosis. Then, there is the fact that Olivera’s age cannot be confirmed with certainty and even some indications that scouts are questioning why he is “fatigued earlier in workouts than an athlete of his size, strength and age should.”
- Ultimately, McDaniel concurs with Badler that Olivera is seeking and could obtain a $10MM+ annual guarantee. But McDaniel cautions that he expects it to run over just two or three seasons (with an outside chance at a fourth guaranteed year) with options and incentives included.
- The other name making noise at the recent international showcase was Cuban righty Yadier Alvarez, who McDaniel has in the mid-to-upper 90s with a plus slider and promising change. The rest of the package checks out for his age, with McDaniel saying that Alvarez’s raw talent and progress to date is on the same level as the very best high school arms entering the draft. Alvarez expects to have him ready to sign in the next month or two and does not seem inclined to wait for the market to turn over on July 2nd, which would mean the Cubs and Rangers would not be eligible to sign him. (Should he wait to sign, Alvarez would lose the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, D’backs, and Angels as potential suitors.) While this particular market is in the very earliest stages of development, McDaniel says that Alvarez is plainly superior to Yoan Lopez, who just got a $8.25MM bonus from Arizona.
- McDaniel also provides an update on 21-year-old infielder Andy Ibanez, who is seemingly no longer showcasing. That could mean that he is in the process of (or will soon be) sorting through offers. While the demand side of the equation is hard to peg in his case, McDaniel says he expects one of the bonus-busting teams listed above to land him at a potential cost of between $5MM to $12MM.
- The most exciting name out there remains Yoan Moncada. Though there is not much new to pass on in his case, Badler does present some video of Moncada’s past plate appearances against several notable young arms. One executive tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links) that the bidding on Moncada could reach nine figures in terms of total investment (given the near-100% tax for signing him). Rosenthal also says that the Moncada case may be a catalyst for debate on the issue of how amateur rights are secured.