- Mike Pelfrey Walks Back Trade Comments
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Atlanta Braves Rumors
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checked in with Max Scherzer, who is missing former teammate Rick Porcello. Scherzer, of course, left the Tigers in free agency to sign with the Nationals in January. Porcello, meanwhile, was shipped from the Tigers to the Red Sox in December. Scherzer still texts a lot with Porcello, and they have had conversations about free agency.
“He understands the business of the game really well and what teams are trying to accomplish,” said Scherzer. “As most players, he’s motivated by money as well. What works is going out there and having one motivation and that’s winning. And those things will take care of themselves.”
Cafardo has talked with a few baseball executives who believe Porcello will walk from the Red Sox and do exactly what Scherzer did – go to the highest bidder. Here’s more from today’s column..
- The Rockies tried to trade Jhoulys Chacin but couldn’t find a buyer, so they released him last week. The 27-year-old was a victim of Coors Field, where his ERA was 4.21 as opposed to a much more palatable 3.24 on the road. Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays have been looking for a veteran starter and may be considering him.
- Braves people insist that they will not entertain a deal for closer Craig Kimbrel, but a few executives expect that Atlanta will be thinking differently if they are out of contention at the trade deadline. The Braves are eyeing 2017 as their relaunch, so Cafardo doesn’t see the need for them to hang on to a top closer like Kimbrel in the interim.
- Dan Uggla has an April 1st opt-out on his minor league deal with the Nationals and his play this spring is giving GM Mike Rizzo something to think about, but roster space is an issue. If Uggla doesn’t make the cut in Washington, Cafardo suggests that the Angels, Braves, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Padres, and Rays could all justify bringing him aboard.
8:15am: The Braves have confirmed the move via press release.
On Saturday, Bowman indicated that Russell could be released due to his struggles this spring. Meanwhile, Luis Avilan has impressed in recent weeks as Russell faltered and prospect Brady Feigl could also be in line to take his spot on the roster. Bowman also listed Josh Outman as a lefty reliever that could be in trouble, but his future is not immediately clear in the wake of Russell’s release.
Russell and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.425MM contract back in January. The 29-year-old posted a combined 2.97 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 57 2/3 innings between Chicago and Atlanta in 2014.
The Braves acquired Russell and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for minor league catcher Victor Caratini and about $1MM in cash. At that time, Russell had a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate, though he was dealing with significant command issues. Russell was viewed by some as a non-tender candidate this winter but the Braves elected to retain him at his reasonable ~$2.4MM price tag.
Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez says his recent elbow MRI “found something,” but there’s no diagnosis yet, the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier tweets. Vazquez will seek a second opinion. If the Red Sox were to need to replace Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan would be the obvious choice. If Vazquez were to need to miss significant time, there would likely be speculation about the promotion of top prospect Blake Swihart, who the Red Sox optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket last week. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- James Russell and Josh Outman have struggled this spring, widening the field of decisions the Braves will have to make as they set their roster, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes. The Braves could release either one and pay only about a quarter of their salaries. Outman, who’s set to make $925K after signing with the Braves in January, could be in particular danger, Bowman suggests. It now looks increasingly likely that Luis Avilan will make the team as one of the Braves’ bullpen lefties, with prospect Brady Feigl as another possibility.
- There don’t appear to be any trades involving Dioner Navarro in the works, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Navarro, of course, became mostly superfluous to the Jays after they acquired Russell Martin. Navarro’s name had lately been connected to the Diamondbacks, although the D-backs have said they can’t afford his $5MM salary.
Word in the scouting community is that the Twins made a great Rule 5 pick-up in righty J.R. Graham, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com tweets. Graham was once a top-100 prospect with the Braves, who would receive him if he cannot stick with Minnesota or another club for the duration of the year. He scuffled in his second attempt at Double-A last year, throwing 71 innings (including 19 starts) of 5.58 ERA ball, striking out 6.3 and walking 3.3 batters per nine.
Here’s more from Minnesota and the rest of the AL Central:
- The Twins might benefit from shipping Mike Pelfrey to a team that needs starting depth in exchange for a lefty pen piece, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pelfrey is, however, owed $5.5MM this year, which as Berardino notes would stand to complicate any trade efforts. The 31-year-old righty recently spoke with MLBTR’s Zach Links about his situation, saying that he feels good and is preparing to embrace whatever role he is given.
- The Indians optioned righty Danny Salazar to Triple-A today, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. The 25-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance — in thirty career big league starts, he has struck out more than ten and walked less than three per nine — but has yet to put it all together and struggled badly this spring. With 162 days of service to his name, Salazar will pick up a year of service so long as he spends any real amount of time in the bigs, though a prolonged stint in the minors could jeopardize his ability to qualify as a Super Two down the line. Zach McAllister, T.J. House, and Josh Tomlin are now the three arms in the mix for the club’s final two rotation spots.
- Also headed back to the minors is Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan, as Barry Bloom of MLB.com reports. A draft pick turned late-season star in 2014, Finnegan had a rough go in his first big league camp and will also benefit from the chance to develop as a starter. “We just thought it was better for him to go down,” said manager Ned Yost. “He had a huge workload last year. He hasn’t been real sharp in Spring Training. Just get him back down, get him going again. And have him ready for whenever we need him.” Of course, the club intends to be careful with limiting Finnegan’s workload, so it remains to be seen how much impact he can have at the major league level. Then again, the loss of Tim Collins leaves the club relying on Franklin Morales and Brian Flynn as pen lefties, so it is not hard to imagine a need arising. Finnegan has 28 days of service thus far, so a few months in the minors would likely keep him shy of a full year of credit.
Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves. Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA. Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal. Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM. It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.
“The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving. I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida. “The Phillies moved the fastest. I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there. Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”
Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five. He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.
Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal. Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.
“There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall. But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.
Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal. Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him. After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter. Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.
Catcher John Buck is retiring in order to spend more time with his family, the Braves announced. The veteran backstop had been in camp with Atlanta but did not figure to make the Opening Day roster.
Buck, 34, has played in eleven big league campaigns, amassing over 4,000 plate appearances and 1,000 games behind the plate. His .234/.301/.398 batting line and 134 career home runs are solid numbers for a catcher. A sturdy defender, Buck was a stabilizing force who saw the majority of the catching reps for his team in eight separate seasons.
After coming up with the Royals, Buck had his biggest season in a one-year stint with the Blue Jays in 2010. That year, Buck slashed .281/.314/.489 and swatted a career-high twenty long balls — excellent production while catching 118 games.
Buck landed a three-year, $18MM pact with the Marlins before the 2011 campaign, but never quite got back to his All-Star form. In addition to the teams already named, Buck ultimately spent time with the Mets, Mariners, Pirates, and Angels
Reliever Heath Bell, who just retired after being released by the Nationals, recently spoke to MLB Network Radio (audio link) about the difficulty in having a family while playing in the big leagues. The constant need to travel is a problem, Bell suggests — a ballplayer can have his family travel with him, but that prevents his kids from having long-lasting friendships as they get older. Bell describes watching his kids grow up through videos and photos. Now that his career is over, he’ll finally get to watch them grow up in person. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Rays face several upcoming roster moves, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. Due in part to injuries, they have a number of non-roster players (Everett Teaford, Jake Elmore, Bobby Wilson, and others) seemingly under consideration to break camp with the team. A player like Tim Beckham, who is on the 40-man roster and who has plenty of experience in the upper minors, is a good bet to make the team if only because they won’t have to use an additional spot to clear space for him. The Rays can open one spot on their full 40-man by moving Matt Moore to the 60-day DL, and they could also trade David DeJesus, which would clear another. Nonetheless, they’ll face some tough decisions as they prepare for the start of the season.
- The Braves are happy to have more veteran leadership in their clubhouse this year, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. After losing Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Tim Hudson in recent seasons, the 2014 Braves were low on veterans who could step up, but they believe this year will be different now that they’ve added Jonny Gomes, Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli and A.J. Pierzynski. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton both were serious competitors, but hadn’t been around long enough to be leaders in a big-league clubhouse, Bowman says. “When you see Gomes, you make sure you do the right thing,” says Andrelton Simmons. “He’s scary, but he’s a nice guy.” It is, perhaps, debatable whether someone like Pierzynski, whose clubhouse presence came into question as recently as last season, will provide the sort of veteran leadership the Braves are looking for. But it’s interesting to see Braves players’ responses to what was apparently a deliberate strategy by their front office to acquire more veterans.
- Olivera’s new agent, Greg Genske, says he thinks he and his client will reach a deal with his new team “soon.” (Last Wednesday, Genske told Heyman that Olivera would likely sign by the end of what is now last week, so negotiations have already gone on longer than anticipated.)
- It’s possible there could be a bidding war between the Dodgers and Padres. Those two teams appear to be leading the bidding, although other teams (including the Braves, Athletics and Giants) remain interested. (The Marlins are reportedly out of the bidding.)
- Olivera is reportedly throwing well, perhaps easing concerns over a report that he could have UCL damage.
- Olivera will likely agree to a deal by Wednesday, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweets.
If the Cubs keep Kris Bryant at Triple-A to begin the season, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes the MLBPA should file a grievance as a matter of principle. It would be a mostly symbolic gesture (“The case law overwhelmingly favors the clubs,” according to one of Rosenthal’s sources) yet it would indicate that the players’ union is serious about addressing this service-time loophole when the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated next year. It would also be a big-picture show of strength by the union, as some player agents feel that the MLBPA has a bit too lenient on some recent issues.
Here’s more from around the NL Central…
- The Braves initially asked for Carlos Martinez when they began discussing the Jason Heyward trade with the Cardinals, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Cards refused, just as they’ve steadfastly turned down other trade offers for Martinez in recent years, yet Miklasz wonders why the club is so committed to keeping Martinez but is hesitant to give him a regular rotation job. Miklasz argues that if the Cardinals have any doubts about Martinez, they might be better served by dealing him now while his stock is still high.
- Arquimedes Caminero has been impressed scouts this spring, and the Pirates may be forced to put the out-of-options righty on the roster in order to keep him, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Keeping Caminero in the bullpen could force John Holdzkom to start the year at Triple-A, as while Holdzkom has pitched well himself in camp, he still has minor league options.
- Speaking of the Pirates‘ roster crunch, GM Neal Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a move could possibly be made to address the Bucs’ several out-of-options players. “We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said. “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level.”
- The Reds have told veteran southpaw Paul Maholm that he won’t be earning a rotation job, though Maholm isn’t yet considering opting out of his minor league deal with the club, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “We still have some time left in camp,” Maholm said. “I’m trying to pitch and get ready for the season. Those are decisions we have to make at the date that’s set up. Until then, I’m just going to pitch.” The Reds would have to pay Maholm $100K to retain his services if he’s not going to make their Major League roster, as per his status as an Article XX(B) player.
Confirming an earlier report, the Marlins are discussing Brad Hand with the Rangers, reports Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Hand is not a lock to make the club out of spring training, but the club is also motivated by a need to replenish some minor league depth. The Marlins included minor leaguers in trades for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, and Martin Prado.
- A “host” of clubs have inquired about Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan, per Spencer. The Marlins selected the southpaw reliever from the Cubs. The Marlins don’t have a spot for McKirahan, so they’ll attempt to trade him. It’s expected that another club would claim McKirahan if he were exposed to waivers.
- Miami is shopping left-handed relievers, but they’re not interested in trading Mike Dunn, tweets Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. Dunn is the most established left-handed reliever on the Marlins staff. Last year, the situational lefty pitched to a 3.16 ERA with 10.58 K/9 and 3.47 BB/9.
- Verifying an earlier report, the Braves will not go to six years for Hector Olivera, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We heard earlier last week that Olivera was seeking a sixth year.
- The Braves played against Jason Heyward and the Cardinals for the first time since trading him, observed Paul Hagen of MLB.com. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hears that Heyward has already made an impact in the Cardinals locker room. While trading Heyward was painful for Braves, they acquired a couple important, long term building blocks in Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.