Atlanta Braves Rumors
Baseball prospect rankings are always fascinating, but often unsatisfying. Once all of the exciting projecting and future lineup construction has been completed, you are left to wait for the player to develop and reach the bigs. But youthful players more generally -- as distinguished from prospects -- can and often are a thing of the present. So, which teams have the best assemblage of young talent, prospects or otherwise? According to Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus staff, the Cardinals lead the way in a top five that belongs to the National League. The Pirates (#4) also land in that grouping, but the rest is occupied by National League East clubs: the Nationals (#2), Braves (#3), and Marlins (#5).
Here's more from the N.L. East:
- The Mets land at 12th on that list, led of course by a trio of young pitchers. One of those -- 21-year-old Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard -- has always wowed scouts with his stuff, but Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that he has increasingly revealed a competitive personality as he's come out of his shell in New York. Mets brass is reportedly excited not only about Syndergaard's MLB-ready fastball, but also his attitude toward the role of being a starter. Of course, he does not figure to be much of a factor on the big league level this year, though scouts tell Martino that he could retire MLB batters at his current stage of development.
- Speaking of prospects, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America compiled a list of the players who received some consideration for inclusion in the outlet's Top 100. The two most notable names, perhaps, were A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin of the Nationals, who appeared somewhere on every writer's list of the top 150 prospects and peaked at 49th and 51st, respectively. It is worth checking through the names for "just-missed" prospects from other teams.
- Freddy Garcia of the Braves is at quite the opposite side of his career at age 37. As MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, Garcia has started the spring with a strong case for a rotation or pen slot, having now kept opponents off the basepaths entirely in his first five innings. If he ends up not receiving a big league spot, however, Garcia says that he will retire rather than spending time in the minors waiting for another shot.
MONDAY: Bello received a $400K signing bonus and an invite to big league Spring Training, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes (Twitter link).
SATURDAY: The Braves are completing a minor league deal with Cuban catcher Yenier Bello, an industry source tells Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The contract includes a signing bonus and a Spring Training invitation.
Bello has reportedly drawn interest from as many as 20 MLB clubs. Terms of the agreement aren't yet known, but the 29-year-old wasn't expected to command a contract in the same range as recent Cuban signees such as Jose Dariel Abreu and Yasiel Puig. Bello is older than 23 and has more than three years of pro experience, so he won't count against the Braves' international spending limit.
In Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2011, Bello hit .274 and slugged 13 homers over the season's 90-game schedule, so he's expected to bring some power to the backstop position. Sanchez writes that he's likely to begin the season in the minor leagues, however. Evan Gattis currently projects as the starting catcher for the Braves, who also have Gerald Laird under contract for 2014.
In case you missed it over the weekend, the Braves inked Cuban backstop Yenier Bello to a minor league deal and invited him to Spring Training. Bello is likely ticketed to begin his career here in the minors, but he adds some critical catcher depth to the Braves, who of course lost Brian McCann to the Yankees this offseason. More from the NL East to kick off your Monday morning...
- Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters, including Newsday's Marc Carig (Twitter link) that Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan are the favorites to win the fifth spot in his rotation. MLB.com's Marty Noble writes that Collins is still considering Jenrry Mejia, though the youngster is more likely to be used in a long relief role out of Spring Training. Noble writes that the Mets feel that role would allow Mejia to continue to build arm strength and can also serve as a developmental tool.
- ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin writes that Mike Piazza is in Mets camp to serve as a special instructor but says he's not looking to get into coaching on a full-time basis anytime soon. Piazza says he has a seven-month old son, so his focus appears to be on his family. Travis d'Arnaud calls Piazza's tutelage "a dream," as the Long Beach, Calif. native grew up idolizing Piazza as a Dodgers fan.
- New Phillies hurler A.J. Burnett made his Spring Training debut over the weekend, and it came against his former club, the Pirates, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and Burnett himself both told Biertempfel that there was nothing weird about Burnett pitching against the Bucs instead of for them, and neither hinted at any ill will. Hurdle simply called the change "part of the game," and Burnett offered nothing but respect for his former club.
- ESPN's Jayson Stark writes that although the Braves lost Tim Hudson to the Giants via free agency, talk that the club lacks an ace is overblown, as Kris Medlen has developed into that type of pitcher for the team. Assistant GM John Coppolella said of Medlen: "Look, the fact that he’s not 6 feet tall and that fact that he doesn't throw 95 [mph] makes it seem like he’s not a power guy, but he’s very good with what he does. ... He’s a huge part of our staff. And we hope he will be for a long time."
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark doesn't expect the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be reopened before its 2016 expiration to address issues with the qualifying offer system, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "It’s very difficult to open up a CBA," said Clark. "Suffice it to say, if there are issues during the course of any agreement, we continue to have discussions that may not require the CBA be to opened up, making sure that whatever the concerns are, whatever the issues are, and if they can be discussed in some more formal fashion, so be it, but more often than not, come 2016 when we have an opportunity to sit down is when we’ll do so." Last night, Aaron Steen asked MLBTR readers about the qualifying offer and nearly 47% want to tweak the QO while 25% want to eliminate it entirely.
In National League news and notes on Oscar Sunday:
- With the ink barely dry on Homer Bailey's six-year, $105MM contract extension, the Reds will be in the same situation with starters Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto next year. Owner Bob Castellini told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay the team wants to retain all three. "We’re going to try to sign all these guys," Castellini said. "Whether we can or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball."
- Castellini also told Fay he is not pleased with the media's coverage of the Reds' offseason because it has had an adverse affect on the team's revenues. "That season-ticket number is the most important number we can generate," said Castellini. "We knew we wanted to sign Homer. We knew we were going to make some other commitments. It’s not that we didn’t look. It gets written in such a way – 'Well, the Reds aren’t doing anything' – that really does affect people buying season tickets." Castellini provided Fay with details of the club's revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, and the national TV contract adding neither he nor any of the other principal owners or investors have ever taken money out of the franchise.
- Last month, the Braves gave Jason Heyward a two-year, $13.3MM contract. In two years, the perfect storm of baseball's economics, Heyward's age, and actions taken by the Braves will set the 24-year-old up for a huge payday on a likely barren free agent market, according to Mike Petriello of ESPN.com in an Insider-only piece (subscription required).
- With mixed reviews to date, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Spring Training debut yesterday. Phillies GM Ruban Amaro Jr. was upbeat about what he saw, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "He probably threw better with his stuff as far as his velocity and breaking ball since he's been in camp," Amaro said. "I was encouraged that his stuff was better than it had been in his sides. And hopefully it will continue to progress in a positive way." Pitching coach Bob McClure added (as quoted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer), "I saw a very competitive (guy), and that is what I was really hoping for. And he might be one of those guys that’s not the best practice player, but you put him in a game and he competes." Reports surfaced last week Gonzalez could open the season in the minors.
- Solid pitching will be key to any improvement the Rockies hope to make this season. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick focuses on young starters Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler while the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck examines the Rockies' adherence to pitch counts to protect their starting rotation and the corresponding reliance on their bullpen, which could be called upon to record 10 or 11 outs every game.
Between Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson and former NBA star Tracy McGrady, MLB has an excellent opportunity to generate more interest in baseball among young African-Americans, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Winston closes for Florida State University's baseball team, while Wilson will be in Rangers camp this week after being picked in the Rule Five draft in December. McGrady, of course, is trying to catch on with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher. MLB should handle the situation differently than it did Michael Jordan's foray into professional baseball two decades ago, which was viewed with hostility by many in the game at the time, Sherman says. Here are more late-night links from around the majors:
- The Pirates' ability to "fix" Edinson Volquez is likely to have a big impact on their playoff hopes, David Golebiewski of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says.
- Braves outfielder B.J. Upton sought help from no one during his lost 2013 season, The Associated Press reports.
- Despite 2014 being a must-win season for Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes that the executive didn't set out this offseason to acquire veterans who could provide a short-term band-aid for the club. "That's not in my DNA," he said. "The best representation of the job you do over time is what you leave behind." Dipoto also feels that the club has "a lot of veteran players in that 29 to 31 zone. That is when you win."
- Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are competing for the Rangers' closer job, but the former hasn't impressed early in camp, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. "Feliz was not sharp in his intrasquad game and I’m told his mechanics are still kind of out of whack," Grant notes.
The Braves top a ranking of baseball's best bullpens over at MLB.com's Outside Pitch blog. Craig Kimbrel is a big part of that choice, but the presence of Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and David Carpenter also make the Atlanta relief corps one of MLB's deepest, according to Outside Pitch's Shawn Ferris. Completing the list are the Red Sox, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. Here's more from around baseball's Eastern divisions:
- Braves second base prospect Tommy La Stella has been turning heads early in camp, Carroll Rogers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, though the club still plans on starting the season with veteran Dan Uggla at the keystone.
- Nelson Cruz had a successful debut for the Orioles in a matchup with the Blue Jays, walking twice and scoring from first on a Chris Davis double (via Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com). "It doesn’t feel like butterflies or anything," Cruz said. "I feel normal, I guess, as soon as I come out to the field."
- Yankees hurler CC Sabathia wasn't concerned after his fastball topped out at 88 MPH in his first Spring Training outing, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reports. “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t,” Sabathia commented. McCarron writes that the concerns are likely to persist if the lefty's heater doesn't tick up, noting that Sabathia lost a significant amount of weight this offseason.
Spoiler alert! Marlins president David Samson took on a very different role as a cast member in the current season of Survivor, but in tonight's premiere episode, Samson was the very first person voted out of the game by his tribemates. Another notable baseball personality, Jeff Kent, fared much better when he appeared on the long-running reality show in 2012, finishing 10th out of 18 contestants.
Here's the latest from around the division....
- Michael Hill, former Marlins GM and the club's newly-promoted president of baseball operations, speaks to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro about his philosophy in building a franchise, some of Miami's offseason moves and the development of creating a "Marlins Way" of aggressiveness throughout the organization.
- As of a week ago, the Nationals still had interest in free agent reliever Oliver Perez, a source tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Perez was reportedly choosing between four offers, and while Washington was linked to Perez earlier this month, it's unknown if the Nats were one of the clubs who offered the veteran southpaw a contract. Another source tells Ladson that the Nationals could pursue Perez as left-handed bullpen depth if Ross Detwiler keeps his spot in the starting rotation.
- Brock Peterson's 11-year odyssey in the minor leagues finally ended when he appeared in 23 games with the Cardinals last season. Peterson talks to MLB.com's Andrew Simon about his long career and his latest opportunity, as he chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals in the offseason.
- Mike Minor seems likely to be the next Braves player to receive a multiyear extension, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution predicts. O'Brien also thinks that while Kris Medlen is a bit older (28) than the other youngsters being locked up by the club, Medlen's performance is deserving of a long-term commitment from the team. Minor, 26, has three arbitration years remaining as a Super Two player and is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. A Medlen extension would be more expensive for Atlanta, as Medlen is only under team control through the 2015 campaign.
Mike Puma of the New York Post wrote last night that Ike Davis concealed an oblique injury for much of the season prior to Aug. 31, when it worsened and sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Davis took exception to the story and addressed Puma and other reporters today, writes ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin. He quotes the first baseman: "You made it look like an excuse. It’s an excuse. It shouldn’t have been a story anyway. ... I sucked last year because I sucked. It’s not because I had an injury. You always have injuries. And now it just looks bad."
More from the NL East...
- Mets COO Jeff Wilpon has indicated that the team is likely to pick up GM Sandy Alderson's option for the 2015 season, writes Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Alderson's contract expires after the season, and while some have mentioned his name as a possible replacement for retiring commissioner Bud Selig, David Wright thinks Alderson wants to stay with the Mets and complete the rebuild he's begun since taking over as GM. Said Wright: "Everybody is kind of concerned with how they are remembered. ... he wants to be remembered for taking an organization that was struggling and slowly building it up with the system with some good trades and free-agent signings."
- David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines the psychology behind long-term deals for young players, noting that some believe extensions can relieve pressure, while others feel the extensions provide extra pressure, as players feel they must live up to that contract. O'Brien spoke with each of the five players the Braves have signed to multi-year deals in the past three weeks and got their takes on their new contracts.
- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond spoke with Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com and reflected on the decade he's spent with the organization. Desmond is appreciative of GM Mike Rizzo for declining trade offers when he was struggling and also appreciative of managers Davey Johnson and Jim Riggleman for playing him through those struggles.
- Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will make his debut for the Phillies on Thursday this week, giving the club a chance to evaluate the pitcher they signed for $12MM last August, writes CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury. Salisbury writes that Gonzalez has merely looked "so-so" to this point and could end up in the minors to open the season if he doesn't win the fifth starter's job.
Here are a few notes out of the National League East:
- Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy says that he would be open to extension talk, but that none have taken place to date, reports MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Explaining that he would leave his contract situation to his agent, Murphy said that he already feels lucky for his situation. "What is comfort? Is it money?" asked Murphy. "I've made an ungodly amount of money. That's the only way to describe it. ... You see an organization heading in the direction that we're heading, it's an exciting time. So you always want to be a part of that. However that looks -- one-year deals or whatever that looks like -- other than playing well, that is a little bit out of my control as well. But I do want to be a part of the solution."
- The Braves' extension strategy has drawn plenty of recent attention, and the presence of senior advisor John Hart -- the former Indians GM who authored the advent of the extension era decades ago -- surely played a role. Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus recently engaged Hart in a fascinating interview on the topic of extensions. Hart continued to discuss the moves of his current club with MLB.com's Mark Bowman, focusing in particular on the situation of Jason Heyward, whose two-year deal did not buy out any free agent campaigns. "I never did deals with guys who were arbitration eligible unless I got something back," said Hart. "I didn't want to just take a guy through his arbitration years. But I think in the case of Heyward, it was a phenomenal strategy, and the message was clearly delivered that they really like this guy and they want to keep this guy. Nobody knows where his ceiling is, it hasn't been defined yet because he has had a lot of injuries coming along."
- The Nationals chose to give second baseman Danny Espinosa a raise to $540K (during time spent on the MLB roster) in spite of his tough 2013, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Though Espinosa had been on track to qualify for arbitration this year, his demotion (and lack of a September call-up) left him short. That bought the team an extra year of control and another season at just above the league minimum rate. The 26-year-old has drawn significant trade interest from teams looking for a cheap opportunity to return him to form, but the Nationals appear likely to use him as a bench piece and keep his upside in house.
Former Indians GM and current Braves senior advisor John Hart discussed the evolution of extensions, as well as Atlanta's recent run of locking down young talent, in a fantastic interview with Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus. The full piece is required reading for anyone interested in understanding this key aspect of the transactional side of the game. Here are some of the many highlights:
- Hart spearheaded the now-widespread use of extensions while running a Cleveland club in the early-1990s that (like Atlanta currently) was loaded with young, impact ballplayers. Operating on a lower revenue, especially before the team opened Jacobs Field, the Indians started locking up players to avoid "run[ning] an entire class through arbitration" and to "demonstrate to our fan base that we were in this for the long haul." At the time, says Hart, his front office "sort of caught the industry by surprise" by locking up multiple players at attractive rates.
- Now, it is somewhat more difficult to get a "steal," Hart said, but teams can still "get a discount for the guarantee." He explained: "You're not always going to be successful on every guy. There's going to be different incentives and different factors in play." Nevertheless, he says, young players with "interest in stability" are still willing to reach deals that buy out free agent years. "With every success story comes with five or six crash and burns," said Hart, "and the players are aware of that. If you present opportunities for these guys at a younger age, you are going to have a willing ear."
- Though signing up lesser players carries "the risk of getting too locked down," Hart says that he expects to see increasing use of extensions for non-core players like back-end starters and relievers as teams continue to look for savings. Likewise, the increasing use of extensions by larger-market clubs, he opined, is merely a recognition that all organizations benefit from maintaining "a quality young core of players."
- In Hart's experience, it is possible to limit the risk that a player will not deal well with having sudden financial security. "These guys ... recognize that there's another bite out of the apple potentially for them," he said. "There's just also the self-pride, the peer pressure, if you will, to want to be as good as you can be. ... [W]e sort of knew what we had and didn't expect too much else. But I never saw anybody crash and burn."
- With regard to the current Braves club, Hart credited GM Frank Wren and president John Schuerholz both with accumulating the Braves' store of talent and with charting an extension strategy. In committing over $280MM in less than three weeks to extend Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran, and Andrelton Simmons -- none of whom has over four years of MLB service -- Atlanta went on a stunning run of securing talent. That effort was aided, in part, by its breadth. "I think that was a little bit of the mindset as to why these players wanted to sign here," he said. "I think Frank did a great job. His strategy was Freeman one, along with Heyward. I think Kimbrel, you read some of his quotes, it was like, 'This makes sense to me because I know who I'm going to be with. ...'" After the front office saw Brian McCann and Tim Hudson walk for large paydays through free agency, said Hart, "I'm sure they looked up and said, 'Nuh-uh, not with this young core.'"
- Hart said that Atlanta -- like any other organization -- had to operate within "the economics of that particular organization" and "their tolerance for risk." In Atlanta's situation, newly expected revenue streams played a major role, according to Hart:
"I think in looking at that dynamic, although the Braves wanted to do these things, that to do the numbers they did, there had to be some level of comfort that there was going to be a revenue stream to support what they're doing. The feeling here is that if we're going to make commitments, ultimately we are going to put revenue back into the club. ... I think that's part of it, the ability to get that new stadium online, to have a potential spike in some of the television revenues. Obviously we're stuck with a deal that is well below the market, but they were able to do some other things with a portion of that."