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We looked yesterday at the latest on the slowly-moving Yoan Moncada signing eligibility process. Today, there’s an update to that story as well as some more interesting info on the always-intriguing Cuban market:
- It is Major League Baseball, not the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), that is currently holding up Moncada’s freedom to sign, reports Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Though MLB has already declared him a free agent, and Moncada has met the standards for a “general license” that would leave him free to sign (“unblocked”) in OFAC’s eyes, the league is not permitting Moncada (and others) to reach eligibility based on that general license. Instead, per Badler, MLB has required players since Yasiel Puig to apply for and receive a “specific license,” creating up to a six-month delay. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez adds (via Twitter) that OFAC changed its rules four years ago, with the additional step (presumably, the specific license) being added at some intervening point.
- As Badler explains, if the process drags on long enough, it could create some intrigue, as teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will face a two-year international signing ban (for all but sub-$300K bonus amounts) beginning on June 15 of this year.
- Fellow second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, among other players, are awaiting their specific licenses, like Moncada, Badler notes.
- Olivera, of course, is more of a plug-and-play option than the other, young Cuban middle infielders. Baseball America passes on some video of Olivera, who cuts rather an imposing figure for a second baseman. Badler wrote up Olivera’s efforts yesterday, noting that the Padres, Giants, Athletics, and Braves had significant presences in the stands.
The Braves have inked veteran backstop John Buck to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp this spring, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Buck is expected to open the year at Triple-A, Bowman adds.
Atlanta now appears to be set with veteran options behind the dish to supplement youngster Christian Bethancourt. The club already brought in A.J. Pierzynski, and will now slot Buck in behind that major league duo.
Buck 34, has seen action in parts of eleven big league seasons. Over 4,009 total plate appearances, he owns a .234/.301/.398 slash with 134 home runs. He spent last year with the Mariners and Angels, receiving just 97 big league turns at bat and putting up a meager .570 OPS, though he did hit well in his time at Triple-A. Despite poor framing ratings, Buck has been valued as a good defensive catcher in the recent past. But Seattle reportedly let him go last year in part due to concerns with his abilities behind the dish.
Given Buck’s high standing as a good clubhouse presence, the Braves will surely hope for the best on the field and look to benefit from his presence with their top minor league affiliate.
The Orioles‘ reported asking price of right-hander Jeff Hoffman (and others) from the Blue Jays in exchange for executive vice president/GM Dan Duquette seemingly ended those negotiations, but Jeff Blair of Sportsnet reports that the Orioles weren’t the only club to try to acquire Hoffman from Toronto this winter. According to Blair, the Braves also asked the Blue Jays for Hoffman when the two sides discussed a trade involving Justin Upton. Toronto’s answer, Blair says, was an emphatic “no.” Coincidentally, the Braves wound up acquiring another high-upside, former first-round pitcher that’s recovering from Tommy John — Max Fried — as the centerpiece in their trade of Upton to San Diego. Meanwhile, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Blair that Hoffman, who was selected ninth overall in 2014 despite his surgery, is expected to get stretched back out in April, with an eye on activating him with a minor league club in May.
A few more notes pertaining to the game’s Eastern divisions before the northeast portion of the country is buried in snow…
- The Phillies never presented the Brewers with a firm financial offer in their trade talks regarding Jonathan Papelbon, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Those talks appear to be largely dead at this point, and the Phillies may end up hanging on to Papelbon to begin the season, based on Rosenthal’s writings. He adds that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. isn’t under pressure from ownership to move Papelbon and will only trade him if the move is to the team’s benefit.
- The acquisition of Alejandro De Aza last summer could end up being a key factor in the Orioles‘ 2015 season, as the former White Sox outfielder now looks to be a big piece of the roster, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. With Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis gone and no external replacements brought in, De Aza figures to be the team’s primary left fielder and leadoff hitter. Though that may seem an underwhelming option to some, Kubatko points out that De Aza’s career OBP mark (.330) would be a nice boost over last season’s team OBP of .311.
- Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel takes a look at the Yankees‘ new glut of international prospects in his ranking of the team’s minor leaguers, with colleague Dave Cameron noting in an introduction that the team’s philosophical shift could pay off in spades a few years down the line. While the Yankees have always been known for spending significantly on free agency, they instead opted to go on a spending spree and blow past their allotted international bonus pool this year while exercising what some consider to be surprising restraint in terms of big league free agents.
Last week, Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera had a showcase at the Giants’ facility in the Dominican Republic that reportedly had over 200 scouts in attendance. Ben Badler of Baseball America has some takeaways from that showcase in latest piece; some highlights from Badler’s post and a bit more news on the international front…
- Olivera was clocked at 6.7 to 6.8 seconds in his 60-yard dash and looked to be a steady defender when fielding grounders at second base. He also took grounders at third, but didn’t show off as much arm strength as he had in previous years. Olivera collected three hits in “seven or eight at-bats” against live pitching. While the overall report has a positive undertone, Badler does note that there is still some uncertainty among scouts due to the fact that Olivera missed all of the 2012-13 season with a blood disorder and then spent most of his time at DH upon returning in the 2013-14 season.
- Four teams — the Padres, Giants, A’s and Braves — had the largest contingents at Olivera’s showcase, and all are expected to be in the mix to sign the 29-year-old. Padres GM A.J. Preller was on hand, in fact, and his team has been the most aggressive on Olivera, Badler writes, adding that San Diego may ultimately be his most likely landing place. It’s not known at this time when Olivera will be cleared by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, but Badler speculates that Olivera will be able to sign prior to Opening Day based on the fact that he left Cuba all the way back in September.
- Kiley McDaniel joined Carson Cistulli on the Fangraphs’ podcast over the weekend, and the two spent the early portion of the episode discussing Cuban players. The biggest takeaway from the discussion was an update on highly touted Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez, whom McDaniel hears is now being heavily guarded by police in Cuba. Fernandez was thought to have left the island late in 2014 but was apparently detained in his attempt to do so.
Talks between the Phillies and Brewers concerning closer Jonathan Papelbon are “on life support,” reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Haudricourt reported earlier today that “there was no traction” between the two sides. GM Doug Melvin echoed that sentiment, saying there was no momentum. It is thought that Papelbon’s $13MM option for 2016 is holding up an agreement. Since Papelbon has a limited no trade clause that includes the Brewers, he may ask for the option to be guaranteed before accepting a trade. The ball may be in Philadelphia’s court to find a financial solution to the situation.
- Brandon Beachy has “zeroed in on a new team,” tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN. Beachy and the unknown team are currently working on contractual details. Wolfson adds that the team is not the Twins. Beachy was non-tendered by the Braves earlier in the offseason after undergoing his second Tommy John procedure. If he avoids setbacks, he may return to action mid-season. It’s easy to compare Beachy’s situation with fellow former Brave Kris Medlen, who signed a two-year, $8.5MM deal with an option. Like Beachy, Medlen is also recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
- Cuban infielder Hector Olivera held a public workout in the Dominican Republic last week and over 200 scouts attended, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The Giants, Padres, Rangers, Braves, and Yankees are showing the strongest interest in Olivera.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- Righty Jair Jurrjens has agreed to return to the Rockies on a minor league deal with a big league camp invite, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports. The 28-year-old righty has never regained the form he showed early in his career with the Braves. Last year, he was hit hard in two big league starts and worked to a 4.54 ERA over 81 1/3 Triple-A frames with the Reds and Rockies organizations.
- The Orioles sent cash to the Braves in exchange for lefty Daniel Rodriguez. Baltimore had tried to nab Rodriguez out of Mexico several years ago, says Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). The 30-year-old came to Atlanta from Saltillo before the 2012 campaign and went straight to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he has generally struggled while working as a starter. The team is likely interested in taking a look at Rodriguez out of the pen, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets.
- The Rangers have signed righty Ross Ohlendorf to a minor league deal that includes a spring invite, the club announced. Ohlendorf had a quality 60 1/3 inning run with the Nationals in 2013, working to a 3.28 ERA with 6.7 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9. That earned him a $1.25MM arbitration deal, but injury derailed his entire 2014 campaign.
- Two former Rangers ballplayers are among the recent moves reported by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (links to Twitter). The Dodgers have signed righty Ben Rowen, a 26-year-old righty who cracked the Rangers’ pen last year and who has had solid results in the upper minors. And the White Sox signed center fielder Engel Beltre, a defense-first player who has struggled to produce offensively and missed most of last year with a fractured tibia.
- Also via Eddy, the Braves have inked former Angels reliever David Carpenter — not to be confused with the other right-handed reliever by the same team that Atlanta just traded. Carpenter has struggled in limited MLB exposure, but last year put up a 2.17 ERA over 62 1/3 innings, with 8.3 K/9 against 6.4 BB/9, despite pitching in the notoriously hitter-friendly PCL.
The Braves announced that they have claimed outfielder Eury Perez off waivers from the Yankees. The speedy Perez was designated for assignment by the Yankees in order to clear a spot on the roster for Stephen Drew.
The Yankees claimed Perez off waivers from the Nationals in late September, and the 24-year-old went 2-for-10 with a pair of singles in a brief cameo with the Bombers late in the season. Perez has just 23 big league plate appearances and a .174/.174/.174 batting line to show for it, but he possesses a well-regarded glove and blistering speed in center field. In 844 PAs at the Triple-A level, he’s a career .310/.354/.411 hitter with eight homers and 63 steals (in 79 attempts). Perez will provide the Braves with some outfield depth and a center field alternative should B.J. Upton‘s prolonged struggles continue in 2015.
JAN. 23: Brown reports that Gomes’ option can vest at three different amounts, depending on his playing time (Twitter link). The option will vest at $3MM upon reaching 325 plate appearances, $3.5MM if he reaches 425 PAs and $4MM if Gomes reaches 500 PAs.
JAN. 22, 9:03pm: Gomes will earn $4MM in 2015, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter link). The 2016 vesting option is worth $3MM, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets, and it will become a club option if it fails to vest.
7:20pm: The Braves have reached agreement with free agent outfielder Jonny Gomes on a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2016, Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown reports (Twitter links). Gomes is represented by the MVP Sports Group.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported on Tuesday that Atlanta was interested in Gomes as a platoon option in left field, likely as a partner for Zoilo Almonte. The right-handed hitting Gomes has an outstanding .861 OPS over 1494 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching, including a .276/.373/.371 slash line in 204 PA against southpaws in 2014. Gomes hit .234/.327/.330 overall last season over 321 with the Red Sox and A’s, going to Oakland along with Jon Lester in the trade deadline blockbuster that also saw Yoenis Cespedes go to Boston.
Gomes is the latest new piece to join a revamped Braves outfield that will see his platoon with Almonte (or another left-handed hitting outfielder) replace Justin Upton in left field and Nick Markakis replace Jason Heyward in right. Gomes, 34, is also widely regarded as a strong clubhouse presence, which could be helpful in mentoring Almonte and the several other young players acquired by the Braves this winter as they’ve looked to semi-rebuild their roster.
The Mariners, Rangers, Cubs and Orioles are some of the teams also known to have shown interest in Gomes this winter. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that the Braves were worried as late as this afternoon that Gomes would end up signing with the Rangers, so Texas may indeed have been the runner-up suitor.
The Braves have agreed to sign infielder Kelly Johnson to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports on Twitter. The 32-year-old is a client of Relativity Baseball.
Johnson spent his first ten years of professional baseball in the Atlanta organization, including parts of four seasons at the big league level. In the interim, he has played for the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles.
All said, Johnson has produced at an approximately league average rate at the plate, with a career .250/.333/.423 slash at the MLB level. He’ll deliver some much-needed punch to the new-look Atlanta lineup: his 131 lifetime home runs average out to 18 per 162 games, and Johnson owns a .173 ISO over his 4,471 plate appearances.
It is worth noting, however, that a large portion of those numbers are wrapped up in (and before) a big 2010 season. More recent figures are less encouraging, and last year was perhaps Johnson’s worst as a big leaguer. In 297 total plate appearances, he slashed .215/.296/.362 with seven home runs.
On the other side of the scorebook, Johnson has generally graded out as an approximately average performer at second base, where he has spent most of his time. Johnson has also played third, left field, and a touch of first base.
The Braves will presumably give Johnson a chance to earn a super-utility/bench bat role. He should have at least some chance of unseating presumptive starters Alberto Callaspo (2B) and Chris Johnson (3B) at some point during the year, depending upon how things shake out.
Gomes, 34, split the 2014 campaign between the Red Sox and Athletics, posting a combined .234/.327/.330 batting line in 321 trips to the plate. While the average and on-base percentage in that triple-slash line aren’t too far from Gomes’ career marks (.244 and .335, respectively), his slugging percentage was a full 112 points below his career rate.
Power outage notwithstanding, Gomes remained an effective weapon against left-handed pitchers in 2014, batting .276/.373/.371 in 170 plate appearances. That production, paired with a career line of .277/.376/.485 versus southpaws, does indeed seem to make him a nice platoon candidate with Almonte. Though the 25-year-old Almonte is a switch-hitter, he’s shown a significant platoon split over the past two seasons, posting an OPS below .600 as a right-handed hitter between the Majors and Minors combined. However, he did manage a seemingly solid .272/.313/.468 triple-slash with 18 homers as a left-handed hitter between Triple-A and the Yankees. He’s also a more gifted defender than Gomes and would naturally receive the bulk of the playing time in left given his side of the platoon.
Atlanta, of course, has traded an entire starting outfield this offseason, moving Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. The team now projects to have Almonte starting in left field, with B.J. Upton in center field and offseason signee Nick Markakis in right field. Gomes has had a fairly quiet offseason in terms of rumors circulating around his name, but with the majority of the starting options off the market, I’d imagine interest in his more specified skill set could increase.
Other speculative options for Atlanta in left would include free agents Ichiro Suzuki and Eric Young Jr., while the trade market could present names like Charlie Blackmon, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable and Dayan Viciedo.