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The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..
- If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays. When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
- Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house. The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option. However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
- The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).
Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…
- The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
- Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
- The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015. Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach. Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
- Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).
Though it’s early in the process, the market for Yasmany Tomas is beginning to develop, tweets MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. To this point, the Rangers, Phillies, Padres, Giants, Mariners and Dodgers have all shown strong interest in the young slugger. Most of those clubs are logical fits, though the Dodgers are a bit surprising given the logjam of outfielders the team already has under contract. The Dodgers are already unable to find regular at-bats for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Scott Van Slyke, so adding another outfielder to the mix would make a semi-surprising addition.
Some more news items from around the league…
- Braves right-hander Garrett Fulenchek and his agent, Craig Rose, have joined MSM Sports, MLBTR has learned. The 18-year-old Fulenchek was selected with the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft and will join the same agency that is home to No. 8 overall pick Kyle Freeland and Josh Harrison of the Pirates.
- The Royals and Orioles have built somewhat unconventional rosters, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, pointing out that their meeting in the ALCS marks the first time in the divisional era (beginning in 1969) that two teams that ranked in the bottom five of the league in walks will meet in an LCS or World Series. Crasnick looks at each team’s emphasis on defense as well as the Orioles’ emphasis on power and aggression and the Royals’ emphasis on speed. Somewhat incredibly, Baltimore ranked first in the Majors in homers and last in steals, while Kansas City ranked last in homers and first in steals. Crasnick spoke with Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and the Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt for the piece, the latter of whom opined that clubs have gone from undervaluing walks to overvaluing them.
- Crasnick’s colleague, Jayson Stark, writes that players feel underrepresented as MLB experiments with new rules to increase the pace of play. No active players were included on the seven-man committee to look into the matter, though MLBPA executive director Tony Clark (a former Major Leaguer himself) is on the committee to serve as a voice for the players, commissioner-elect Rob Manfred explained to Stark via email. Nonetheless, players such as Curtis Granderson, Kevin Slowey and Brad Ziegler all went on the record with Stark, and a number of players who wished to remain anonymous brought up several issues they’ve taken with the endeavor. Some players feel that too much of the blame has been placed on them, when there’s been little talk of shortening commercial breaks or the consequences that an increasingly matchup-based game has brought about (i.e. more pitching changes). More than anything, players hope to have a voice in the matter before changes are implemented, Slowey and Granderson explained.
- Baseball America’s Matt Eddy compiled an “All-Rookie Team” for the 2014 season, highlighting the excellent work of Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Abreu, Mookie Betts, Nick Castellanos, Danny Santana, Billy Hamilton, Kevin Kiermaier, George Springer, Kennys Vargas, Jacob deGrom, Collin McHugh, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka, Yordano Ventura and Dellin Betances. Names such as Matt Shoemaker and David Peralta also earned mentions, and you can read Eddy’s rationale behind his selections in the full article.
Last winter, veteran starter Aaron Harang hooked on with the Indians on a minor league deal and, at the time, he appeared to have a strong chance of being the fifth man in the Tribe’s rotation. In March, when he was informed that he wouldn’t be a part of the Opening Day roster, Harang requested and secured his release. That same day, he agreed to a big league deal with the Braves and he did not disappoint in Atlanta. Now, the 36-year-old is hitting the open market once again and this time around he should only be fielding big league offers.
Harang exceeded all expectations this season as he turned in a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. A lot of pitchers tend to tail off around Harang’s age, but this past year ranks as one of his very best at the big league level. His ERA was the lowest it has ever been (ditto for his identical 3.57 FIP) and his 204.1 innings of work stands as his highest total since 2007. Ultimately, his $1MM deal proved to be one of the better free agent bargains of 2014.
The 36-year-old won’t be held back by a qualifying offer and there’s reason to believe he could continue to deliver a ton of innings for his next team. Harang hasn’t been on the disabled list with an arm-related injury since 2008 and he can hardly be penalized for his late season emergency appendectomy in 2009.
Harang didn’t magically discover the fountain of youth or go on a hardcore Julio Franco-esque diet this past season. Instead, as he explained to David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle late last month, he has become a craftier pitcher in recent years.
“I threw a lot more four-seamers when I was younger,” Harang said. “I had a coach show me how to throw a two-seamer, and I started doing it, and every year it seems to be more effective. Once you get used to throwing it and realize how key that pitch can be, you make those adjustments.”
Harang made a concerted effort to start throwing more two-seam fastballs in 2009. As Lee notes, in 2008, when he threw 64 percent four-seamers and 8 percent two-seamers, he posted a 4.78 ERA and averaged 1.7 home runs per nine innings. This season, it was much more balanced with Harang throwing 29% two-seamers and 30% four-seamers. Harang’s pitch velocity has faded a bit in recent years, but thanks to a different approach on the mound, he has been able to adjust and age more gracefully than a lot of his contemporaries.
While Harang’s 2014 performance was strong, his 2013 campaign didn’t go quite as smoothly. At the start of the season, the Dodgers traded Harang to the Rockies for Ramon Hernandez before he was quickly DFA’d and flipped to the Mariners just days later. After posting a 5.76 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 22 starts for Seattle, the M’s DFA’d him in August. Harang finished out the year with the Mets, meaning that he had bounced between four clubs all within that year. In total, Harang had a 5.40 ERA – a number his next club doesn’t want to see – with 7.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
This year, while his ERA was solid and his strikeout and walk rates were more or less consistent with his career average, some of the advanced metrics aren’t as crazy about his performance. Both xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) feel that Harang’s ERA should have been a touch higher than 3.57.
Harang is putting less emphasis on his heater than he was earlier in his career, but it’s still hard to ignore his decreasing velocity. Harang threw his fastball at an average of 88.8 MPH, his lowest average in the past eight years that it has been recorded by PITCHf/x. If his velocity continues to lose steam, it’s fair to wonder whether his 6.4% HR/FB ratio from 2014 can be sustained. For his career, Harang has a decidedly less sharp 10.2% HR/FB ratio.
Harang and his wife Jennifer have three children. He knows how important fatherly wisdom can be as he attributes his 2,100+ innings of major league work to sage advice from his dad.
“I would never teach a kid a breaking pitch until age 13,” Harang said, according to Anna McDonald of ESPN.com. “My dad wouldn’t show me one. He didn’t want [my elbow] to blow out. So I didn’t start throwing a curveball until I was 13 years old. I had the karate-chop one, where you just throw it and it spins up there. Your muscles aren’t developed enough, your ligaments aren’t developed enough to withstand it.”
Harang, a San Diego native, told Dan Hayes (then of U-T San Diego) in 2010 that he prefers fish tacos to Skyline Chili, even though he has spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati. He also prefers The Simpsons to Family Guy, which is the right choice in my book.
For his part, Harang told reporters, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, that he would be interested in pitching for Atlanta again. The Braves undoubtedly appreciate his work this year, but they also know that they can’t retain him with another one-year, $1MM deal. In theory, the Braves can trot out a starting five of Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood. However, Medlen and Beachy are recovering from Tommy John surgery with unknown return dates and it would certainly help to have a battle-tested veteran pitcher at the ready.
Still, he may not be in the budget in Atlanta and he may not take a discount to stay put since this could be his last sizable deal. The Pirates are one team that could use a reasonably priced out-of-house addition to their rotation. Harang may also find a match with teams like the Astros and Rockies if he’s not aiming for a likely contender.
Last winter, Bronson Arroyo, also at the age of 36, secured a guaranteed $23.5MM over two years from the Diamondbacks with an $11MM club option. Like Arroyo, Harang fits the profile of a durable innings eater who isn’t dependent on velocity for success and both had strong walk years before hitting the open market. However, not all innings eaters are created equal: before Arroyo’s unfortunate UCL tear this season, he pitched 200 innings or more from 2005 through 2013, with the exception of a 199 inning total in 2011. Also, Harang’s vagabond 2013 might hurt his case for big money.
We expect the Levinson brothers to readily bring up Arroyo’s name, but Harang probably won’t match his deal. I predict Harang will land a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton projects to land a $13MM payday in his second run through arbitration, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz (via MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes). That figure would be double Stanton’s salary from last year, and sets the table nicely for the 24-year-old as the team prepares to open extension negotiations.
Here are the latest front office moves from the NL East:
- The Phillies will hire Johnny Almaraz as their new head of scouting, tweets Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Almaraz had served as the Braves‘ director of international scouting. He will take over for the departed Marti Wolever.
- Also, the Phillies announced that they have hired Rafael Chaves away from the Dodgers to serve as their new minor league pitching coordinator. Chaves filled the same role with L.A. from 2009-13 before serving as a special assistant of player personnel this past season.
- The Braves have announced a series of front office shifts, most of which were already reported. Gordon Blakely and Roy Clark were named special assistants to the general manager, Brian Bridges was promoted to scouting director, and Dave Trembley has been hired as director of player development. Trembley’s assistant will be Jonathan Schuerholz, the son of club president John. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recaps the action amongst the Atlanta brass.
Winning a postseason series might be its own reward, but for players, coaches and team personnel, there are financial rewards as well, David Waldstein of the New York Times notes. Postseason series wins mean bonuses, and while those bonuses aren’t significant for a star like Miguel Cabrera (a full share for a World Series win in 2013 was $307K, compared to Cabrera’s 2014 salary of $22MM), they can make a huge difference for coaches and less highly paid players. “Our coach Brian Butterfield, when he was with the Red Sox, he gave his house to his son and his grandkids and moved into a new house,” says infielder Kelly Johnson, now an Oriole. “It changes lives. Guys are paying off college loans, house payments and cars. You can’t beat that.” Here’s more from around the big leagues.
- The Braves will replace scouting coordinator Tony DeMacio with crosschecker Brian Bridges, John Manuel of Baseball America writes, citing a tweet by Peter Gammons. Former scouting director Roy Clark will return to the organization as a special assistant to the general manager. DeMacio presided over drafts that included players like Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, but the Braves’ current farm system is not highly regarded. Still, the timing of these changes is somewhat odd, since the Braves don’t have a permanent general manager right now, just an interim GM in John Hart, who stepped up when the Braves fired Frank Wren. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets that these moves suggest the Braves may simply keep Hart as their GM and have him groom assistant GM John Coppolella to eventually replace him.
- The Padres have hired Chris Kemp as director of international scouting, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. Kemp had previously been an area scout with the Rangers, for whom new Padres GM A.J. Preller also worked. Preller’s own key interest is international scouting, so it’s not surprising that he would hire someone with whom he’s familiar to direct that department. MLB.com’s Corey Brock notes (via Twitter) that the Padres’ hiring of Kemp does not violate the Padres and Rangers’ agreement that Preller not take staff with him from Texas, because Kemp is being promoted.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tackled a variety of topics in a two-part interview with MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Looking back to the last offseason, he said that the team identified Pat Neshek as an option because he offered a different look from the club’s other relievers, and said that the David Freese-for-Peter Bourjos trade would not have been made without the inclusion of prospect Randal Grichuk.
Here’s the latest out of the National League …
- The Mets have, as expected, decided not to bring back hitting coach Lamar Johnson and assistant Luis Natera in those roles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Johnson stepped in mid-season after his predecessor, Dave Hudgen, was fired. Meanwhile, Triple-A skipper Wally Backman will not be elevated to the big league staff, but will be offered the chance to keep his position.
- As the Braves continue to make their own staff changes, scouting director Tony DeMacio has been re-assigned, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Atlanta is still waiting to hear whether interim GM John Hart will take the job full-time, Nightengale adds.
- If the Pirates are unable to bring back catcher Russell Martin, another impactful transaction that could have PR benefits would be a Neil Walker extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With a $5.75MM arbitration salary to build off of over his next two seasons of eligibility, and coming off of a .271/.342/.467 slash with 23 home runs, he will not be cheap.
- The Padres had a private workout today with Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Tomas officially hit the open market yesterday.
Interim Braves GM John Hart announced today that the team will retain Fredi Gonzalez for the 2015 season and hire recently dismissed Astros manager Bo Porter as a third base/outfield and baserunning coach (Twitter links). According to a team press release, assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher will not be returning to the organization in 2015, and Porter will replace former third base coach Doug Dascenzo. Hitting coach Greg Walker already announced his resignation earlier this week. The remainder of the coaching staff will return, according to the Braves.
The news may not sit well with Braves fans, as many called for Gonzalez to suffer the same fate as recently fired GM Frank Wren following the team’s collapse and offensive struggles. Gonzalez, however, will be retained for a fifth season as the Atlanta skipper. To this point, the Braves are 358-290 under Gonzalez, who has also managed the Marlins and owns a lifetime 634-569 record as a Major League manager.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported shortly before the announcement that Porter was expected to join the Braves’ staff (Twitter links). As O’Brien noted, Porter has strong ties to Gonzalez after spending three years with him as a coach for the Marlins and playing for him when Gonzalez managed Triple-A Richmond in 2002.
Longtime Braves executive Jose Martinez has passed away suddenly at the age of 72, writes MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. A special assistant to the GM since being hired by John Schuerholz back in 1995, Martinez was beloved within the front office and by a large number of players whose careers he helped shape when working with Atlanta’s minor leaguers. The Cuban-born Martinez played two seasons with the Pirates in 1969-70 and had a 15-year coaching career with the Cubs and Royals before being hired by the Braves. MLBTR sends its condolences to Martinez’s family and friends, as well as the Braves organization.
Some additional items pertaining to the Braves organization…
- Greg Walker has resigned as the Braves’ hitting coach, Bowman tweets. It will be interesting to see if there are any further changes to the coaching staff once the Braves hire a replacement for the recently fired Frank Wren. Walker’s resignation isn’t surprising, given Atlanta’s offensive struggles over the past two seasons.
- Yankees executive Gordon Blakely has left his post with New York to accept a role as special assistant to the GM in Atlanta, he tells George A. King III of the New York Post. Blakeley, who had been with the Yankees for 21 years (and with the Mariners for seven years prior to that), was instrumental in New York’s signing of Orlando Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Jose Contreras and Hideki Irabu, as well as the decision to draft Phil Hughes, King notes. He has recently worked as a cross checker for the Latin American market but has also held the title of senior VP of baseball operations and president of professional and international scouting.
Super-utility player Emilio Bonifacio has decided to change agents in advance of his coming free agency, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Bonifacio has moved from Paul Kinzer to Gene Mato, according to Dierkes.
The 29-year-old switch-hitter delivers much of his value through baserunning and defensive versatility. A consistent threat to swipe thirty bags, Bonifacio ranks 12th in all of baseball since 2011 in the baserunning component of Fangraphs’ WAR calculation. In his eight seasons of MLB action, Bonifacio has seen extensive time at both middle infield spots, center field, and third base.
Bonifacio is somewhat less accomplished with the bat, of course. His 2014 production — .259/.305/.345 over 426 plate appearances — is not far off from his career line of .262/.319/.341, which is approximately 20% below the league average rate. Bonifacio put up a .753 OPS in his best season as a hitter, his 2011 campaign with the Marlins, though that was fueled by a .372 BABIP. (His career mark is .331.)
Mato will face an interesting challenge in finding Bonifacio a new home. In the aggregate, he seems likely to draw wide interest given his age and broad skillset. It is easy to see any number of expected contenders seeking to add Bonifacio as a bench piece, while other clubs may want to move him around as they introduce young players — with the added bonus that he could once more be a summer trade chip.
As always, be sure to reference MLBTR’s Agency Database for the most up-to-date information on current player representatives. If you see any errors or omissions, please let us know via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.