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Atlanta Braves Rumors
The Braves have made a flurry of trades that are clearly aimed at the future this winter, acquiring Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, Mallex Smith, Manny Banuelos, Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman in exchange for Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Justin Upton, David Carpenter and Evan Gattis. However, despite the departure of so many key players from recent seasons, president of baseball operations John Hart says he plans to hang onto closer Craig Kimbrel, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman.
“We have never entertained trading (Kimbrel) and have had zero conversations with any clubs about Craig,” Hart explains. “I want him finishing out a World Series win.” Hart adds that despite trading away Heyward, Upton, Gattis, Carpenter and Walden, he feels confident about the players that he’s added. Atlanta has inked Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Johnson as free agents this winter, and Miller, acquired in the Heyward/Walden deal, figures to be a key cog in their 2015 rotation.
The Braves may yet add another piece, as they currently project to have Zoilo Almonte starting in left field. Reports since last night have linked them to Nori Aoki, and David DeJesus‘ name has come up in a speculative fashion as well. (I’d also note that both Ichiro Suzuki and Colby Rasmus remain available on the free agent market.)
Still, it seems a long shot that the Braves would contend after shedding so much talent, particularly given the presence of a stacked Nationals team, a much-improved Marlins club and a presumably healthier Mets roster within their division. However, given the large amount of young talent that’s been stockpiled and the fact that the Braves did extend several core players — including Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran — last winter, Atlanta could be in for a quick turnaround.
The free agent market for Max Scherzer has been anything but traditional, writes MLB.com’s Mike Bauman. As Bauman notes, the dearth of clubs that have acknowledged interest in Scherzer is particularly peculiar, as is the fact that there have been little to no leaks of serious interest. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jim Bowden (Insider required) spoke to a number of GMs, assistant GMs, managers, players and agents trying to pin down Scherzer’s market. As Bowden writes, while he often came up empty, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, as Scherzer is an ownership-level decision, and not all owners don’t always keep the front office in the loop. Beyond that, many owners consider Scherzer’s exorbitant price tag a final option of sorts and will only relent once it becomes clear that a potentially more affordable alternative — e.g. a trade for Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto — is not possible. Bowden lists the Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Nationals, Marlins, Giants and Blue Jays as theoretical fits, noting that he doesn’t expect the latter two would make an offer. The Tigers are still the favorites in Bowden’s eyes, while multiple Yankees officials would “love” to have Scherzer (despite the club’s public and private denials). He adds that the Nationals could conceivably sign Scherzer if they move Zimmermann and/or Ian Desmond for younger pieces, knowing each has just one remaining year on his contract and has rebuffed the team’s previous efforts at working out a long-term deal.
Some more free agent notes from around the league…
- In addition to the Braves and Orioles, the Giants are also a potential fit for outfielder Nori Aoki, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. To this point, the Giants have yet to address their left field hole and have had a largely quiet offseason — though not for lack of trying. The Giants made serious pursuits of both Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester, but after missing out on each have acquired Casey McGehee via trade and re-signed Jake Peavy.
- Speaking of the Giants‘ quiet offseason, MLB.com’s Chris Haft points out that history has shown the team is capable of adding help even as late in the offseason as mid-January. As Haft points out, both Aubrey Huff and Bengie Molina were mid-January signs back in 2010. He opines that a reunion with Ryan Vogelsong — whom Haft notes very much wants to return to San Francisco — makes so much sense that it’s surprising it hasn’t happened at this point. Though there’s some understandable frustration from Giants fans, Haft notes, there’s plenty of time for an addition or two.
- The Athletics will be among the clubs to watch Hector Olivera‘s upcoming showcase in the Dominican Republic, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who finds a matchup between the two sides very plausible. Adding Olivera to the fold would allow the team to play Ben Zobrist in the outfield, with Marcus Semien manning shortstop and Olivera at second. Olivera, 29, still needs clearance from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and Major League Baseball before he can sign.
- Everth Cabrera was scheduled for a readiness hearing Wednesday of this week, but his attorney has requested a continuance until March 23 due to pending trial matters in another case, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. As such, Cabrera’s jury trial is now set for April 13 (depending on the outcome of the readiness hearing). Cabrera faces up to a year in jail time if he is convicted with a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. The delay in the hearing is particularly poor news for Cabrera, who had hoped to ink a big league deal at some point this offseason.
- Lastly, a pair of minor free agent notes: Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets that the Twins never made an effort to re-sign Anthony Swarzak before he signed with Cleveland today, while MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets that the Tigers did make Andy Dirks an offer after he was non-tendered by Toronto. However, Detroit’s acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes led Dirks to return to the Blue Jays, where he felt he had a better opportunity to make the team and pick up more at-bats.
The Yankees may not have stowed away their checkbook, as MLB.com’s Barry Bloom reports. Owner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters yesterday that time remained for moves. “It’s not over until it’s over,” he said. “We still have a full month before Spring Training. … [W]e’re still the New York Yankees, all you guys know that. We know what the fans expect. We know what the town expects. We’re not going to be afraid to spend money.”
- If the Yankees are still the Yankees, then so too are the Rays still the Rays. As Andrew Astleford of FOX Sports Florida writes, trading away Ben Zobrist is just the latest reminder of the team’s continued strategies. “These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate,” said president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman.
- One other hallmark of the Rays method is early-career extensions, and one area of risk in such deals is injury, especially for pitchers. Lefty Matt Moore, who is controllable through 2019 under just such a contract, lost virtually all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He is in a good physical and mental state, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, and hopes to return to the mound soon while building toward a return to the roster this coming June.
- Topkin also wonders (via Twitter) whether the Braves and Rays could be a match on outfielder David DeJesus. The veteran is owed $5MM this year and a $1MM buyout on a 2016 option, which makes him a reasonably priced target but also does not leave him with a ton of trade value.
- Though Orioles owner Peter Angelos threw cold water yesterday on the idea that momentum was building toward a deal that would result in executive VP Dan Duquette taking over the Blue Jays‘ front office, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says that the possibility still remains. If nothing else, Duquette wants the job in Toronto, per the report, which chalks up the Angelos statement to negotiating tactics.
- The Mets should make a hard push to acquire shortstop Ian Desmond from the Nationals, Rosenthal argues in the same piece. The recently-acquired Yunel Escobar provides an alternative to Desmond in D.C., and Rosenthal suggests that including Daniel Murphy and adding prospect value could make the trade palatable for the Nats. While I would not write off the idea entirely, it would seem likely that the Nationals would demand a particularly significant return to move Desmond to a rising division rival.
- Staying in the division, Rosenthal says that the Braves should deal away closer Craig Kimbrel. The righty is an expensive luxury for a non-contending team, says Rosenthal, who does note that the club might get better value for him at the trade deadline. That may well be, but it would be interesting to see what teams would give up now for one of the game’s most dominant arms; I’m guessing quite a bit. For its part, Atlanta is “optimistic about the coming season” and has no interest in dealing away Kimbrel, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets.
- The ship has sailed at this point, of course, but Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution opines that the Braves may not have been in need of such a dramatic renovation. While the plan to re-build around young pitching obviously makes sense directionally, Bradley argues that the team now looks destined to be rather dreadful for the next season or two and wonders whether a less drastic plan could have been pursued.
It’s been a hectic day in the AL West to say the least, with the Astros acquiring Evan Gattis from the Braves and the Athletics flipping the recently acquired Yunel Escobar to the Nats for Tyler Clippard. However, multiple reports indicated today that the Rangers were heavily interested in Gattis as well, and Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sheds a bit of light on those talks (Twitter link). Per Wilson, the Rangers were in on Gattis but balked at Atlanta’s asking price of right-hander and former first-round pick Alex Gonzalez and/or top outfield prospect Nomar Mazara (who received a hefty $5MM bonus to sign with Texas in 2011 and reached Double-A last year). In the end, the Astros landed Gattis for righty Michael Foltynewicz, right-hander Andrew Thurman and third baseman Rio Ruiz.
Here are a few more notes on Houston and the game’s Western divisions…
- The Astros still have some money to spend, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and the team is currently looking at both the starting pitching market and at corner infielders. Astros fans with visions of elite starters in their minds should temper those thoughts, however, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the club is thinking more along the lines of back-end starters such as Ryan Vogelsong and Kyle Kendrick.
- MLB.com’s Corey Brock spoke with Padres GM A.J. Preller and chairman Ron Fowler about the team’s flurry of moves this offseason. Specifically, Brock and Preller touched on how differently the offseason could have played out had the Friars secured their top target: Pablo Sandoval. “You’ve got to be prepared to move on to Plan B, C, D or F or Z. We don’t have a [front-office] group that dwells on things too long,” Preller told Brock in reference to losing out on Sandoval, who signed with Boston. “…Each decision takes you down a slightly different path. … If we had signed Pablo, it would have changed our course a little bit. That’s just the nature of the offseason.” Fowler told Brock that Preller has often worked on four or five deals at once, and his approach was so tireless that right after acquiring Matt Kemp, Preller said to Fowler, “Let’s go after [Justin] Upton.” The Upton acquisition, Fowler said, was possible due to the fact that the Dodgers front-loaded the money they sent to San Diego in the Kemp deal, sending $18MM of the $32MM right off the bat.
- Earlier tonight we noted Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi’s candid acknowledgment of the club’s pursuit of Yoan Moncada when speaking with Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio. The audio clip of that discussion is now available, and within it, Zaidi sidesteps a fairly loaded question about Max Scherzer and James Shields, to an extent, but acknowledges that the L.A. front office won’t close any doors. Said Zaidi: “I’m going to give you the same boring and annoying answer that I give to our local media — and they already love me for it — that we don’t comment on free agents that are out there. I will just say we’re not closing any doors at this point. I get asked a lot, ‘Are you guys done?’ And you’re never done. You’re constantly evaluating new options to improve the team, and we’re still in that phase. And if there’s a guy out there that we think makes us better and is available at the right price, we’ll absolutely consider it.”
The Astros have added more right-handed power to their lineup, acquiring catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis and minor league right-hander James Hoyt from the Braves, the teams announced. In return, Atlanta will acquire a trio of prospects: right-handers Michael Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman as well as third baseman Rio Ruiz.
With the DH role likely going to Chris Carter and four catchers on the 40-man roster, the Astros will use Gattis primarily in left field, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets. He’ll also be used sparingly at catcher and first base, per McTaggart.
By adding Gattis, the Astros are adding another big right-handed bat to a lineup that already features two of them in Carter and George Springer. As I wrote in a profile of Gattis as a trade candidate, the bat-first backstop has limited defensive value (whether behind the dish or in the outfield) but has established himself as a legitimate contributor on offense. After posting a .243/.291/.480 slash with 21 home runs over 382 plate appearances in 2013, Gattis stepped things up with a .263/.317/.493 line and 22 long balls last year in 401 turns at bat.
Of course, Gattis also comes with an attractive contractual situation. He will play at league minimum for the final time this year before qualifying for arbitration in 2016. Though his power numbers should inflate his earnings, Gattis will nevertheless remain an affordable piece for some time.
The 28-year-old Hoyt, meanwhile, is an interesting story. After going undrafted out of Centenary College of Louisiana, he began working on sailboats for a living before an independent league tryout got him back into baseball (via Baseball America’s most recent scouting report on Hoyt [subscription required]). Eventually, he was picked up by Atlanta at age 25. Hoyt rose through Atlanta’s ranks, compiling particularly impressive marks at the Double-A level in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 4.2 BB/9). That earned him the No. 30 ranking on BA’s list of top Braves prospects, with BA praising his 94-96 mph fastball and a slider that could develop into a plus pitch.
Another fact that becomes all the more obvious with this move is that the Braves are not playing for 2015. Atlanta has undergone a significant amount of roster turnover this offseason, with new president of baseball operations John Hart driving the change. The club already dealt away its two star corner outfielders, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, and replaced their expiring contracts with a four-year deal for free agent Nick Markakis.
Without Gattis to plug in left, current options are few. The club could strike a deal for a younger player, make an upside play for someone like Colby Rasmus, or make a run at Nori Aoki — a solid, high-OBP veteran in the general Markakis mold.
The Rangers also expressed heavy interest in Gattis and were even next in line to acquire him, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets. The deal took awhile to get across the finish line, as there was some significant concern as to how Gattis’ back and right knee would look when examined by doctors, per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Those concerns ultimately failed to derail the deal.
As with the Braves’ other moves, young pitching will come in return. Foltynewicz, who briefly reached the bigs last year as a reliever, sat at number three on Baseball America’s list of the best ‘Stros prospects and at fourth on the MLB.com version. He will likely be given a chance to continue his development as a starter, and could even have a shot at a MLB rotation spot this year. Thurman, 23, was taken in the second round in 2013 but has struggled to adapt to pro ball. Last season, pitching at the Class A level, he threw 115 1/3 innings of 5.38 ball with 8.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.
Ruiz was set to jockey with trade deadline addition Colin Moran to be Houston’s third baseman of the future, and was ranked by BA right aside Moran at eighth amongst the team’s minor leaguers, with MLB.com placing him ninth. The 20-year-old slashed .293/.387/.436 with 11 home runs in 602 plate appearances at High-A last year. Ruiz fills a gap in the club’s corner infield pipeline created by the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today first reported on Twitter that Gattis was slated for a physical and that there were advanced negotiations with the Astros. Braves blogger Martin Gandy was first to tweet that something might be in the works between the clubs. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first tweeted that the deal was in place, pending the physical. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the return for Gattis (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported the deal’s completion and Hoyte’s inclusion (Twitter links).
The Blue Jays and Orioles have reached the point of discussing compensation if current Baltimore executive VP Dan Duquette were to head to Toronto as the club’s new president, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (links to Twitter). The Orioles are “open to his departure,” says Rosenthal, whose sources tell him that some in the organization want him to leave to resolve what has become an uncomfortable situation. No deal is close at present, per the report.
Here are a few more quick notes from the east:
- The Braves are still talking with clubs regarding catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets. Nothing appears to be imminent, however, according to the report. As things stand, Gattis appears slated to open the season as Atlanta’s left fielder, though the right offer could presumably change that quickly.
- Among the teams interested in veteran southpaw Johan Santana is the Yankees, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post. New York had eyes on Santana in his recent Venezuelan winter league outing and pursued him last year before he launched an unsuccessful comeback bid with the Orioles.
Veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez has failed his physical with the Phillies and instead agreed to a minor league deal with the Braves. Hector Gomez of Listin Diario first tweeted that a deal with Atlanta was close, with Marino Pepen tweeting news of the failed physical and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constution confirming that a deal was done (via Twitter).
Rodriguez will have a chance to earn the fifth starter’s role in Atlanta. If he does make the club, he’ll earn a $2MM salary, per a tweet from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. It appeared that Rodriguez was ticketed for a similar situation in Philadelphia, but he will instead aim to throw for a division rival.
The Braves struck gold last year with veteran Aaron Harang, and will hope for the same in 2015. Harang, of course, is headed to Philadelphia, taking one of the rotation spots that Rodriguez may have been a candidate for.
Of course, it is far from a sure thing that Rodriguez will open the year with a big league job. Soon to turn 36, Rodriguez has struggled with injury and made only 18 largely unsuccessful starts over the past two seasons. On the other hand, he owns a track record of sturdy innings, with 1,471 career frames of 4.06 ERA pitching.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league, with the most recent updates at the top.
- The Royals have signed pitcher Roman Colon, outfielder Brandon Jacobs and third baseman Alex Liddi, and they’ve re-signed outfielder Mitch Maier, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweets. The 26-year-old Liddi, who appeared with the Mariners in the 2011 through 2013 seasons, is perhaps the most interesting of those, although he’s coming off a .207/.286/.355 season at Double-A and Triple-A in the Dodgers and White Sox systems.
- The Royals also outrighted infielder Ryan Jackson to Triple-A Omaha, per the Pacific Coast League transactions page. Kansas City had previously designated Jackson for assignment to clear space for Edinson Volquez. Jackson missed most of last season (which he spent in the Padres organization) with a wrist injury. The 26-year-old has a career minor league line of .268/.338/.363.
- The Braves have signed outfielder Joe Benson and lefty reliever Leyson Septimo, Eddy tweets. Benson, 26, hit .264/.364/.410 with Double-A Jacksonville in the Marlins system in 2014. The 29-year-old Septimo, who appeared in the big leagues with the White Sox in 2012, pitched in 2014 with Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League. There, he issued ten walks in 6 2/3 innings, continuing to have the control problems that have persisted throughout his career.
- The White Sox have re-signed outfielder Michael Taylor and signed third baseman Andy LaRoche, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweets. Chicago acquired Taylor from the Athletics last June, and the 29-year-old hit well for Triple-A Charlotte down the stretch to finish the year with a .275/.371/.437 minor league line in 512 plate appearances. LaRoche, a former top prospect with the Dodgers and Pirates and the brother of current White Sock Adam LaRoche, spent most of the past two seasons with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club in Buffalo, where he hit .248/.309/.396 in 2014. The White Sox also signed first baseman Chris Jacobs, a 26-year-old who played for Class A+ Rancho Cucamonga in the Dodgers system last year.
- The Red Sox have signed outfielder Blake Tekotte, Eddy tweets. The 27-year-old Tekotte, who has appeared in the big leagues in past years with the Padres and White Sox, hit .249/.320/.439 in 340 Triple-A plate appearances last season in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems.
- The Cubs have signed righty Andres Santiago, according to Baseball America’s Minor League Free Agent Tracker (via the Tennessee Smokies’ Andrew Green on Twitter). Santiago, 25, pitched for the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga last season, posting a 4.47 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in 129 innings. Green points out that Santiago no-hit the Cubs’ Smokies team last season.
- The Cubs have also added catcher Taylor Teagarden and righty Jorge De Leon, Eddy tweets. The 31-year-old Teagarden hit .303/.403/.579 in 211 plate appearances with the Mets’ hitter-friendly Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas last season. De Leon, 27, posted a 3.01 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 68 2/3 innings in the Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City bullpens in the Astros system in 2014, also making eight appearances in the big leagues.
4:49pm: The Angels are close to acquiring third base prospect Kyle Kubitza from the Braves, reports MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez (Twitter links). Per Gonzalez, the Halos will land Kubitza without parting with anyone on their Major League roster. Earlier today, Gonzalez reported that the Halos were prioritizing adding a third base prospect in trades.
Kubitza, 24, ranks 10th among Braves prospects, per Baseball America and 16th according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo. In 529 plate appearances at Double-A last season, Kubitza batted .295/.405/.470 with eight homers and 21 stolen bases.
Baseball America describes Kubitza as a “fiery” player with a smooth line-drive stroke, some of the best plate discipline in the Braves organization and one of the strongest infield arms in the game. Both MLB.com and BA note that Kubitza’s swing can get a bit long, which leads to a high strikeout rate and prevents him from fully realizing his power potential in a game setting. His acquisition is significant for the Angels not necessarily for their 2015 club, but for their long-term future, as David Freese is a free agent next offseason and former top prospect Kaleb Cowart‘s development appears to have stalled.
Hyatt, also 24, was a 13th-round pick in 2012 and repeated Class-A Advanced this past season with much-improved results the second time around. After posting a 3.86 ERA with 10.6 K/9 but a troublesome 5.8 BB/9 in 2013, Hyatt dropped his ERA to 2.71 and posted a similar strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) with markedly better control (3.9 BB/9) in 63 innings. He’s a pure reliever, never having started a game as a professional.
In Sanchez, the Braves have acquired a player that ranked second among Halos farmhands, according to BA, but is years away from contributing at the Major League level. Sanchez is just 17 and spent last season pitching in the Arizona Rookie League, posting a 3.49 ERA with a 43-to-22 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings (nine starts, three relief appearances). The Angels signed him for a $580K bonus out of Venezuela in July 2013.
BA and MLB.com both praise Sanchez’s smooth, effortless delivery and note that his curveball is his best pitch, projecting to be a plus offering. Despite his age, Sanchez’s fastball is in the 94 to 95 mph range, and he already appears to have a feel for a changeup, based on the pair of scouting reports. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel tweets that Sanchez has the most future value of any player in this trade and calls it a nice acquisition for an improving Braves farm system.
Sanchez is a high-ceiling acquisition, but his age is yet another indicator that the Braves do indeed appear to be focusing on 2017, when their new Cobb County stadium will open. The Angels, meanwhile, acquire a player in Kubitza that can step into the lineup in 2016, if not sooner in the event of an injury in the infield this season.
So far this offseason, an unusual amount of free agent spending has been made by teams that were less successful in 2014, Sam Miller writes for FOX Sports. While Miller acknowledges the possibility of a short-sample blip, he notes that last year showed a similar trend. And, as he explains, factors such as the addition of a second Wild Card suggest a reasonable explanation for a real shift in strategies. Those interested in broader market movement will certainly want to give this thoughtful piece a complete read.
Here’s the latest on the current market:
- Second-time Tommy John patient Brandon Beachy remains available, unlike similarly-situated former teammate Kris Medlen and most other high-upside rebound candidates. Recent reports suggest his market is reaching maturation, and the Braves remain interested and involved, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). After checking in on the 28-year-old, however, the Rangers are out of the pursuit, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.
- The Blue Jays have joined the Marlins and Orioles in expressing interest in outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. For what it’s worth, the left-handed-hitting Ichiro’s historically neutral splits have skewed toward a significant reverse platoon advantage in recent seasons, though he has seen fairly limited action against southpaws.
- Toronto’s strongest AL East competition could come from the Red Sox, who like their Canadian rivals are still in the hunt for bullpen upgrades, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. GM Ben Cherington says that he is “still working” to build out the Boston relief corps.