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Atlanta Braves Rumors
3:45pm: Olivera’s change in representation has expanded the number of teams that have interest, sources tell MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter link). Olivera’s previous representatives had been pushing a $70MM figure, which likely ended the interest of several teams before it began. It’s possible that new agent Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency hasn’t been so aggressive in his initial talks with clubs.
3:28pm: The Padres and Dodgers have also done physicals on Olivera, per Badler and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter).
2:42pm: The Marlins are also interested in Olivera, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Miami is known to like Olivera, though it has not been tied to him much of late — particularly since trading for Dee Gordon and Martin Prado. Though the immediate fit is not clear, Olivera likes the idea of playing in Miami and the team had conversations with his now-former representative, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports.
Atlanta has already done a physical on Olivera, though the team is not alone in that regard, Ben Badler of Baseball America tweets.
8:57am: The message from Braves sources is that Olivera is not a high priority and that the club feels some uncertainty in how his skills will translate in the big leagues, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Twitter links). It remains unclear whether the team is playing coy or Olivera’s camp is pushing Atlanta as a buyer, O’Brien adds.
7:48am: The Braves have made a contract offer to Cuban free agent Hector Olivera, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Reports suggested yesterday that Atlanta was paying plenty of attention to Olivera, though how much the team is willing to spend remains in question.
In the aggregate, it remains unclear whether Atlanta’s rather well-publicized pursuit of Olivera means that the team will challenge at the top of the market for his services or whether it will instead provide only a landing spot if Olivera’s price tag falls. It probably will not take long to find out: Olivera had been expected to sign shortly after being declared a free agent (which occurred late Friday night), and with Opening Day less than a month away will surely not be far off from a decision.
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained yesterday, Olivera looks to be a near-term fit at second and long-term option at third for Atlanta, which figures to give top prospect Jose Peraza a shot at they keystone before long. The club has dealt away talent this offseason but also brought in several veterans as it attempts to reshape its roster without undergoing a full rebuild.
11:15am: While the Yankees did indeed ask about Heyward, along with many other teams, the White Sox and Giants were actually the teams that came closest to landing him before St. Louis pulled the trigger, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link).
That is not necessarily surprising, in the sense that both clubs were obviously in need of corner outfield help. The former ultimately signed Melky Cabrera and the latter added Nori Aoki. While Chicago ought to be set for the foreseeable future in that position, assuming that Avisail Garcia can fix his hold on one corner, San Francisco could be on the market (though it holds a club option over Aoki).
8:11am: The Yankees engaged the Braves this offseason in trade talks regarding outfielder Jason Heyward, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. Atlanta ultimately dealt Heyward to the Cardinals, of course.
While the report does not indicate how serious the interest was or whether any actual offers were submitted, it does suggest that the Yankees are a plausible suitor when Heyward hits free agency. The team already has Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran under contract for 2016, and prospects like Aaron Judge coming up behind them. But New York had a plan to shift Beltran to a DH role if it acquired Heyward, per Martino, and could certainly chart such a course next season.
The other salient takeaway — the item is otherwise largely of historical interest — is that there is increasing evidence that the Yankees are now targeting a certain type of player (young, defensively valuable) that does not quite align with the club’s offseason acquisitions of yore. Indeed, Martino notes that the team also asked the Braves about Andrelton Simmons, although it is far from clear that Atlanta ever engaged on him. New York ultimately traded instead for another fielding-first infielder in Didi Gregorius.
In the course of a broader post, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported several opt-out dates for veteran Braves pitchers in camp on minor league deals. Lefty Eric Stults can exercise his clause on April 3, just prior to Opening Day, while Chien-Ming Wang does not have the right to make himself a free agent until July 1.
Here’s more from Atlanta and the rest of the NL East:
- Though the Braves have had plenty of discussion with the representatives for Hector Olivera, the club is indicating that it will not spend a “huge” amount of money for the free agent infielder, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets.
- The Nationals will face an early-season challenge now that center fielder Denard Span is set to miss significant time after undergoing surgery for a “right core muscle” injury, as Chelsea James of the Washington Post reports. A “league medical official” tells James that the surgery is particularly concerning since it comes right on the heels of a December sports hernia procedure. The immediate effect of the injury is to provide a full-time audition for prospect Michael Taylor. Depending upon how it proceeds, it could impact Washington’s trade deadline needs and Span’s upcoming free agency.
- Yankees starter CC Sabathia tells MLB Network Radio (audio link) that he is at “one hundred percent” health at this point. He expects his next outing to be live game action after throwing a simulated game today. Sabathia is just one of several high-variable starting pitchers in the New York stable. His ability to bounce back this year will go a long way not only towards determining the club’s short-term success, but also toward assessing the value the team can hope to return out of the $30MM in guaranteed money (and potential for $20MM more through a vesting clause) left on Sabathia’s deal.
As the Rangers wait to learn whether ace Yu Darvish will undergo Tommy John surgery, the club is obviously preparing for the worst. As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes, a missed season for Darvish would have wide-ranging roster implications. For one thing, top pitching prospect Alex Gonzalez now has a legitimate chance to earn a rotation role. For another, the added need for long-man innings from the pen could hurt the Opening Day chances of veteran Kyuji Fujikawa and other, younger one-inning arms. The possibility of a run at dealing for Cole Hamels remains unlikely, Grant opines (rightly, in my opinion).
Here are a few notes on other injury situations around the American League:
- Meanwhile, fellow starter Gavin Floyd of the Indians is set to undergo an MRI tomorrow on his right elbow, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets. Floyd, of course, is looking to bounce back after two straight seasons ended early by elbow issues. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explains, Cleveland has plenty of rotation depth even if Floyd misses time, though certainly the club will hope it reaps some return from its only significant free agent addition.
- Twins closer Glen Perkins had to bail out of a bullpen session today with discomfort in his right side, as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports. Though this was the second time in the last few days that the issue arose, Perkins was positive about the situation, explaining that he felt far better than he did after an oblique strain back in 2011. Nevertheless, pen depth already seems a matter of concern in Minnesota, increasing the importance of the health of the team’s best reliever. Perkins, who missed the end of 2014 with nerve issues in his elbow, is owed $4.65MM this year as well as an additional $13.5MM over the remainder of the four-year extension he signed last spring.
- The injury to Mike Minor of the Braves has created a new opportunity for righty Cody Martin, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. He joins a battle with non-roster invitees Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez along with prospects Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, per Bowman, all of whom appear to be gunning for two starting positions to open the season.
The Braves and Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera are having ongoing discussions, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Ben Badler of Baseball America recently listed the Braves among the favorites to sign the 29-year-old Olivera, and Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel called Atlanta the most likely of a group of teams that was “lurking if the price comes down” to sign Olivera.
What the price for Olivera will be is highly debatable. Olivera’s representatives have said they expect a deal worth $70MM or more, and Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons has heard from multiple executives that such a price tag is possible. However, in the linked piece above, McDaniel is exceptionally skeptical that the price will reach such heights, pegging Olivera for something south of $50MM. Concerns over Olivera’s health are well documented, as he reportedly has had blood clot issues that give scouts pause and may or may not have damage to his UCL, giving further reason for trepidation. Olivera’s camp shot down the UCL rumors almost immediately, but if the damage is there, it will almost certainly be revealed on a physical.
The Braves are familiar with Olivera’s trainer, Rudy Santin, as Santin also worked with outfielder Dian Toscano, whom the Braves signed this offseason. Additionally, manager Fredi Gonzalez is of Cuban descent and has had good meetings with Olivera, per McDaniel. The Braves lack an immediate answer at second base, which figures to be manned by some combination of Alberto Callaspo, Jace Peterson and possibly non-roster invitee Kelly Johnson this season.
However, adding Olivera may be a longer-term move than the Braves require. Top prospect Jose Peraza is nearing the point at which he will be Major League ready, and he is widely believed to be the heir apparent at second base. Of course, the Braves could always move Olivera to third base when Peraza is ready, thereby supplanting Chris Johnson, who struggled greatly in 2014. Having “too much” talent at a position is a problem that any club would be glad to have.
If a pact with Olivera is ultimately reached, it would represent the second significant, “win-now” type of free agent investment for Atlanta this winter, as Nick Markakis was signed to a four-year, $44MM deal in late 2014. But, the rest of Atlanta’s moves have looked the part of a rebuilding club. The Braves have traded Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Jordan Walden and David Carpenter for prospects while bringing in several veteran relievers and starters on low-cost Major League deals (Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson) or on minor league pacts with invites to Major League Spring Training (Wandy Rodriguez, Eric Stults, Chien-Ming Wang, Jose Veras).
Olivera is a .323/.407/.505 hitter in 10 pro seasons in Cuba and is believed by many scouts to be capable of stepping into an MLB lineup in short order and delivering strong OBP marks with 15- to 20-homer power.
Other teams asked Major League Baseball about the Rockies‘ decision to add John Axford to their roster so early in the spring, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Axford signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies in early February, but the team added him to its roster March 1, effectively turning a minor-league deal into a big-league one. To clear space on their roster, they moved Tyler Chatwood to the 60-day DL, a move they were not allowed to make in the offseason. The idea is that the team might have effectively agreed to a big-league deal with Axford but signed him to a minor-league deal purely to manipulate its roster. The Rockies, of course, could plausibly claim that they were impressed by Axford early in the spring and wanted to roster him so that he couldn’t exercise his out clause later in the month, perhaps making the decision early as a vote of confidence in Axford and in their team. Here are more highlights from Rosenthal’s latest notes column.
- Scouts have doubts about Stephen Drew as the Yankees‘ second baseman, Rosenthal writes. The Yankees signed Drew for $5MM in the offseason with the idea that he would provide veteran stability in the middle infield, given that they’re going with youngster Didi Gregorius at shortstop and their backup plans at second, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, are also inexperienced.
- The Padres are reportedly among the teams most interested in Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, but Rosenthal reports that they are unlikely to pay more than the $70MM Olivera expects to get.
- Teams interested in starting pitching depth could turn to the Braves‘ collection of minor-league signees, including Eric Stults, Chien-Ming Wang and Wandy Rodriguez. Stults can opt out of his deal April 3, while Wang can opt out July 1. Whether Rodriguez has an out, and when, is unknown.
A long new article by Baseball America’s Ben Badler assesses the current market for Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, who reportedly is expecting to land a contract of $70MM or more. Badler lists three teams that currently stand out as front-runners to sign Olivera, suggesting that other teams who have been connected to him, like the Yankees, Giants, Mariners and Athletics, now look less likely.
- The Padres have been aggressive in their pursuit of Olivera. Badler writes that Olivera would be an upgrade for the Padres at either second (where the Padres currently have Jedd Gyorko) or third (where they have Yangervis Solarte and Will Middlebrooks). Gyorko is currently signed to a long-term deal, but as Badler notes, GM A.J. Preller is unlikely to feel too attached to a player who was signed under previous management.
- The Braves have scouted Olivera heavily, and are connected to Olivera’s trainer Rudy Santin, who also has worked with recent Braves signee Dian Toscano.
- The problem for the Dodgers is where Olivera would fit in the near term, since they have Howie Kendrick at second base and Juan Uribe at third. Both players are eligible for free agency after the season, however, and the ability to use Olivera (who played most of last season as a DH) in a part-time role might ease concerns about whether he can handle a 162-game season. When top Dodgers brass were present to watch him in workouts, Olivera only played third, perhaps suggesting that’s where they would ultimately use him.
It may seem early, but there is less than a month before teams will need to set their final rosters for the start of the season. We often hear about players with opportunities to win jobs, and that is never more true than in the cases of Rule 5 picks, whose new teams have a unique incentive to keep them to start the year. Last year, for instance, three teams kept players on the roster all year and earned their rights going forward: the White Sox (Adrian Nieto), Rockies (Tommy Kahnle), and Brewers (Wei-Chung Wang). Click here for complete 2014 results.
With that in mind, let’s see how things are shaping up for some of this year’s selections:
- First overall choice Oscar Hernandez still appears to be on track to get a chance as the Diamondbacks‘ backup, as MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. “There are some things to work out,” said manager Chip Hale. “We’re up for the challenge and I think he is, too.”
- Slugger Mark Canha started out ahead of Nate Freiman in the competition for a roster spot given his Rule 5 status, manager Bob Melvin told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle recently (Twitter link). An unfortunate back injury to Freiman only increases Canha’s edge, as MLB.com’s Jane Lee reports. (It probably does not hurt, either, that Canha is off to a four-for-six start at the plate.)
- Righty Jason Garcia has impressed the Orioles thus far with a smooth delivery and easy velocity, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry recently reported. Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons tweets that the preliminary word is that the O’s are looking for ways to fit him on the roster.
- Right-hander J.R. Graham is making an impression with the Twins, as Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports. Graham worked consistently up to 96 mph in two scoreless innings in his first outing, though he did struggle with command in his first frame. “I’m sure he was a little amped up being a Rule 5 guy,” said skipper Paul Molitor. “But he’s got some velocity. It was good to see him get through two clean innings.”
- An early look at right-hander Jandel Gustave and his high-octane stuff had the Royals contemplating an eight-man pen to fit him on the roster, as MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reported a few weeks back. Gustave has a history of command issues, however, and was roughed up pretty badly in his first outing — though he allowed only one baserunner in his most recent chance.
- The Phillies have two Rule 5 picks in converted outfielder Odubel Herrera and lefty Andy Oliver, and Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com recently looked at both players. Herrera is already showing off his tools and would create some valuable flexibility for the team now and in the future, Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley explains.
- Marlins manager Mike Redmond was among those impressed with the first live action from lefty Andrew McKirahan, as Juan Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel writes. McKirahan’s odds increased when the Fish failed to land Phil Coke, though it still seems he’ll have to overcome out-of-options lefty Brad Hand to join Mike Dunn in the bullpen.
- Mets skipper Terry Collins has indicated that prospect Rafael Montero is a long-shot to be added to the pen if fellow starter Dillon Gee ends up there, as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets. DiComo noted then that, should Gee in fact work in relief — which seems rather likely — Rule 5 pick Sean Gilmartin would appear to have an inside track to a pen slot.
- This is not an update, but more a reminder. Braves‘ selection Daniel Winkler is coming off of Tommy John surgery and therefore has quite a unique situation, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America explains.
Braves lefty Mike Minor will have his throwing shoulder examined by Dr. James Andrews sometime early next week, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (on Twitter). Minor’s shoulder tightness was noted by Bowman yesterday, with the MLB.com adding that he expected Minor to be unable to claim a rotation spot to open the year due to the issue. The Braves have a number of alternatives in camp, should Minor be unable to open the season with the team. Both Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez were added on minor league deals this winter, and the highly regarded Michael Foltynewicz was sent to the Braves from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade.
Elsewhere in the NL East…
- Dan Haren tells Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that part of the reason for his initial uncertainty about pitching for the Marlins was that he wasn’t sure if the team truly wanted him. The Marlins took on Haren only after the Dodgers agreed to pay all $10MM of his salary, and the main focus of the trade did seem to be acquiring Dee Gordon. Additionally, the Marlins didn’t even require Haren to take a physical prior to the trade — something he’s never experienced in being traded before. In fact, Haren was once nearly traded to the Cubs before a physical caused the deal to fall through. However, he’s now on board with pitching for the Marlins and is ready to compete for “at least” one more year, suggesting that he may not retire after this season, as many believed. And as for whether or not the Marlins wanted Haren, GM Dan Jennings said there is no doubt: “Oh, we wanted the pitcher. He goes to the post every year.”
- Prior to today’s start, Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee told reporters, including Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he’s on a normal spring schedule at this point and feels healthy. Lee has been on a normal throwing program after throwing 15 bullpen sessions at his Arkansas home, and while it’s too early to read anything into his spring results, he did fire two scoreless innings in today’s outing, allowing two hits without a walk (and no strikeouts).
- The Phillies also announced today that they’ve added right-handers Seth Rosin and Mike Nesseth as non-roster invitees to Major League camp. Each was already with the Phils, though to this point they’d been in minor league camp. If Rosin’s name looks a bit familiar, it’s because he was selected by the Mets in last year’s Rule 5 Draft and immediately traded to the Dodgers for cash. The Rangers then claimed him off waivers and held onto him briefly before returning him to Philadelphia.
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark recently took a look in at an interesting Braves camp. With so much roster turnover, stars Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman each split the cost of t-shirts with “Hi, my name is” labels to help the new teammates get acquainted. Both Kimbrel and Freeman also emphasized that they had no problems with the team’s offseason shuffling and still believed Atlanta would be competitive. Nevertheless, Kimbrel acknowledges the possibility that circumstances could change. “I made a commitment with the organization that I wanted to be here in Atlanta,” he said. “And them not trading me this offseason shows that they want me here as well. But you know, it is a business, so at any time, that can change. I think, as a player, anyone understands that aspect of the game. … So when moves are made, they may not always be what you like. But it may be what’s best for the team that you’re on at the time.”
Here’s more from the NL East:
- The Braves have scratched lefty Mike Minor from his first scheduled spring outing because he is experiencing tightness in his left shoulder, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). According to Bowman, this likely means that Minor will not be ready to take a rotation spot to open the year, as the club will look to avoid another season of ongoing shoulder troubles. The 27-year-old, a key component of the team’s turnaround efforts, is earning $5.6MM this year after defeating Atlanta in arbitration. He comes with two additional seasons of control through arbitration.
- Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez says that he hopes to “convince some people in the front office” to break camp with top prospect Jose Peraza on the roster, as Bowman reports. While his comment was made somewhat in jest, he did note that the coaching staff is split as to whether the speedy 21-year-old is ready for the bigs. Even if he is ready, that may not be enough to sway new president of baseball operations John Hart and top lieutenant John Coppolella. After all, Atlanta has brought in a good number of veteran options to fill out its infield and will surely be loath to sacrifice a year of control given the organization’s current priorities.
- The Marlins‘ best offer to James Shields was for three years and $50MM with a vesting option, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Miami “badly wanted Shields,” says Heyman, but the failure to land him (or fellow free agent target Francisco Rodriguez) has not dampened the enthusiasm of recently-extended superstar Giancarlo Stanton over the team’s busy offseason.