Atlanta Braves Rumors
Braves left-handed setup man Eric O'Flaherty visited Dr. James Andrews today, and it was determined that he will indeed undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery tomorrow, as the team had feared, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The news bears extra significance for O'Flaherty because he's in his final year of team control and will be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. The 28-year-old, who was a lock for a multiyear free agent contract, will almost certainly have to settle for a one-year deal and could end up signing a minor league contract.
Since being selected off waivers from the Mariners prior to the 2009 season, O'Flaherty has been a dominant force coming out of the Atlanta 'pen. He's posted a 1.99 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 to go along with a 54.6 percent ground-ball rate. While he's unquestionably better against left-handed hitters, as one might expect, O'Flaherty has also held right-handed opponents to a sub-.700 OPS four times in the past five seasons.
Lefties Sean Burnett, Javier Lopez and Pedro Feliciano have all signed two-year deals worth $8-9MM in the past few years. O'Flaherty, however, could likely have pushed for a three-year deal in the mold of the contracts signed by Scott Downs ($15MM) or Jeremy Affeldt ($18MM) had he posted another strong season, especially considering his youth relative to the age at which those contracts were signed.
With O'Flaherty's stock plummeting, Downs could once again be the class of the lefty relief market. J.P. Howell and Boone Logan also represent lefties who, like O'Flaherty, will be younger than most of their peers when they hit the free agent market.
After the team's loss of Eric O'Flaherty to injury, the Braves appear likely to trade for a lefty reliever before the trade deadline, writes David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). A trade is unlikely to occur anytime soon, however, since the deadline is more than two months away. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Reid Brignac has mixed feelings about recently being traded to the Yankees, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily news reports. The Rockies designated Brignac for assignment in favor of DJ LeMahieu. "It’s one of those business type things in baseball that happens. I understand some of it, so that’s fine," says Brignac. "But to be traded for by the Yankees is a great experience and I’m very excited to get started and help this team continue winning, because that’s what this team does." The Yankees believe Brignac is better suited to an infield bench job than Alberto Gonzalez, who they designated for assignment to clear space for him.
- The Giants' recent series against Blue Jays was the first time many of Melky Cabrera's former teammates had seen him since the previous August, when he was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, Richard Griffin of The Star writes. At that point, Cabrera left without addressing his teammates. But Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt sounded neither particularly excited nor upset to see Cabrera again. "For me, it didn’t bother me. When you see him . . . I gave him a hug in the weight room. I said, 'Is it good.' He said, 'It’s great, man.' Then we walked away," said Affeldt. "It might have been more awkward for him than it was for us. The reality is that we were out there trying to win a game." Cabrera is hitting .283/.319/.376 after signing a two-year, $16MM contract with the Jays in the offseason.
With one-fourth of the season in the books, let's have a look around some injury situations and how they might impact the developing trade market.
- The Cardinals and Yankees provide an interesting case study as we enter the second quarter of the season. Both have excellent records and lead their division. Both have sizeable payrolls as well as large portions of those payrolls sitting idle on the DL. Both have had to insert players onto their active roster that they did not anticipate. But, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch well explains, the source of those substitute bodies has been drastically different. While the Yankees spent well over $20MM to bring in players like Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells -- all of whom are 34 or older -- the Cards reached into their minor league system. Remarkably, St. Louis has plugged all of its holes with players making league minimum, including young pitchers John Gast, Shelby Miller, and Seth Maness.
- The Goold piece also includes some valuable insight from GM John Mozeliak. According to Mozeliak, amongst the team's Double-A and Triple-A rosters, "there is almost at any one position, if we needed help at the big leagues, someone we could call on from there." He acknowledges that such cheap, youthful depth cannot always be achieved, and says the team is prepared to pursue other markets as necessary. "I don't want us to go down the path where we feel like we've created this functional model and don't utilize a really robust pro scouting model that makes sure we understand the trade market and understand the free agent market. We can't be scared of those." Yet, by looking internally first, the team has managed to retain salary flexibility to add outside impact down the line. "This organization's way now of staying healthy is not being tied to those outside markets to fill needs," says Mozeliak. "Having some young players step up like they are now gives us additional flexibility when we're going to need it."
- The Cards' internal depth will once again be put to use with starter Jaime Garcia now staring at a strong possibility of season-ending shoulder surgery, writes Goold. Even with fellow starter Jake Westbrook also stuck on the DL, the team has multiple options among its current relief corps and Triple-A rotation that make a look outside the organization unlikely. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Garcia's replacement(s) can match his strong start to the year. He had thrown 55 1/3 innings of 3.58 ERA baseball to open the season. Veteran starter Chris Carpenter is increasingly shaping up as a viable mid-season option for the club. But any setback in his surprising recovery, or hiccups among the team's young hurlers, could lead St. Louis to consider eventually utilizing some of its salary reserves and young minor league depth in a trade.
- The Braves are another National League contender dealing with injured arms. As Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder writes, Eric O'Flaherty appears likely to join fellow setup man Jonny Venters as a season-ending Tommy John patient. While the team seems likely to utilize internal options to fill in for the present, the loss of its two late-inning lefties leaves the team with just one southpaw in the pen, Luis Avilan. Ultimately, then, Atlanta could be forced to explore the trade market to re-establish its depth as the season wears on.
- Teams shopping for starters at the trade deadline appear likely to find a limited supply of attractive arms, says ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). Two Cubs pitchers headline the developing market, with Scott Feldman shaping up as the surprise top option at the moment. (Matt Garza, of course, will begin his potential audition on Tuesday.) In addition to several other well-documented trade candidates in Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins and the Astros' Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, Olney pegs the Padres' Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez as likely available. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Cliff Lee of the Phillies could also be dealt, writes Olney, with the A's having other internal options and the Phils still weighing how to proceed with their excellent (but expensive) 35-year-old co-ace.
We'll keep track of today's minor moves here.
- The Padres signed outfielder Mike Wilson to a minor-league deal, according to MLB.com's transactions page. The former Mariners prospect hit .239/.343/.452 for Triple-A Tacoma last year. He has 27 career big-league at bats.
- The Braves have signed lefty reliever Joe Beimel to a minor-league deal, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (on Twitter). Beimel missed 2012 due to injury. He pitched 25 1/3 innings for the Pirates in 2011, posting a 5.33 ERA with 6.04 K/9 and 3.20 BB/9.
- The Twins will sign outfielder Jordan Parraz and assign him to Double-A, MLBTR has learned. Parraz, 28, hit .141/.230/.321 in 78 at bats for the Braves' Triple-A affiliate this season.
- The Marlins have signed infielder Gil Velazquez, Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel reports (on Twitter). Velazquez, 33, has a career .245/.307/.327 line in the minors. He played in the Yankees' farm system earlier in 2013 before being released.
- The Yankees have signed third baseman Josh Bell to a minor-league deal, Chris Cotillo of CLNSRadio.com reports. Bell has hit .195/.223/.265 in 272 career big-league at bats. He received 55 at bats for the White Sox's Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte in 2013 before being released.
Braves lefty Eric O'Flaherty has a torn UCL and will likely need surgery, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (on Twitter). GM Frank Wren tells O'Brien (also via Twitter) that the Braves are unlikely to make an immediate trade to replace O'Flaherty in the bullpen, noting that Wren doesn't expect other teams to trade top relievers this early in the season. Here are more notes from around the East divisions.
- The Mets have not yet discussed the possibility of acquiring first baseman Daric Barton, Joel Sherman of the New York Post says (on Twitter). Sherman writes (also via Twitter) that a Mets employee says the team will likely at least consider Barton, however. The Athletics designated Barton for assignment Saturday afternoon. Mets first baseman Ike Davis has struggled terribly this season, posting a line of .160/.245/.267.
- Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury might be distracted by his impending free agency, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald suggests. Lauber quotes Mike Napoli, who discusses how pressures from friends and family during a contract year can take a player out of his comfort zone. "I could see where guys, because of that free agent year, if you start off rough, it’s like you want to do so good that you’re overdoing it," Napoli says. Shane Victorino says that he hasn't noticed Ellsbury overburdening himself, however. Ellsbury is hitting .247/.312/.346 so far this year.
- Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says this season has been "amazing" so far, Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger reports. "I didn’t but into the doomsday scenario that many people did. Because I knew that we had some good kids at Triple A. But more importantly, I knew that the guys we got in the offseason were veterans," Steinbrenner says. "[T]his is what you expect veterans to do." Newly-acquired veterans Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay have played key roles in the Yankees' 27-16 start.
- Steinbrenner tells McCullough he won't address manager Joe Girardi's contract until after the season, but Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News argues that Girardi deserves a new contract now, given his performance as the team has struggled with injuries.
The St. Louis Cardinals are the class of the National League right now, having won exactly two-thirds of their first 39 games. They're fourth in the league in OBP and ninth in slugging, and third in runs scored per game partially due fantastic work with runners in scoring position. Their rotation has easily been the league's best with a 2.33 ERA, even without Chris Carpenter. While the Jason Motte-less bullpen has an NL-worst 5.00 ERA, it's at 3.27 in May, with most of the damage coming in one Carlos Martinez outing. By measure of FanGraphs WAR, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, and Yadier Molina have been the team MVPs so far. Now let's look at some links from elsewhere around the NL...
- First baseman Anthony Rizzo has a new seven-year, $41MM deal with the Cubs, but pitcher Jeff Samardzija says he isn't ready to talk contract with the club, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Absolutely not," said the pitcher when asked if he's looking to hammer out an extension. "Nope. This is a great team, really coming around right now, playing great baseball. I'm just really looking to keep this going. It's fun to play with these guys." Samardzija, 28, will have four years of Major League service after the season. This is just a theory of mine, but having been lured away from football in '06 with a $10MM contract, Samardzija has more financial security at this point in his career than most players, and continuing to bet on his talent will enable him to maximize his next contract.
- Giants GM Brian Sabean told Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com that he hasn't been in touch with former closer Brian Wilson lately. Sabean says that he doesn't know how Wilson is throwing but has heard The Beard is "working out like a fiend" and is "going to try to showcase himself over the All-Star break or thereabouts."
- The Phillies issued a statement regarding Roy Halladay today: "Roy had successful shoulder surgery yesterday. He had an arthroscopic evaluation and underwent debridement of his labrum and rotator cuff as well as removal of an inflamed bursa. He'll begin a progressive rehabilitation program and if all goes well, he may possibly begin a throwing program in 6-8 weeks." The 36-year-old will be eligible for free agency after the season. Scrambling for depth in the wake of the injuries to Halladay and John Lannan, the Phillies signed Carlos Zambrano to a minor league deal yesterday with a July 1st opt-out date.
- In other NL East injury news, the Braves announced reliever Jonny Venters had the second Tommy John procedure of his career today. The 28-year-old will be arbitration eligible for the second time after the season, with an expected salary similar to this year's $1.625MM.
- A clerical error could have enabled Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to pocket an extra $500K a few years back, but he wasn't willing to pocket the money, reports Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle via Affeldt's book, "To Stir a Movement." Affeldt believes his subsequent contract with the Giants went smoothly partly because of that decision.
Catching depth throughout baseball is thin. When I rolled out my Top 100 Prospects list at FanGraphs in March, I had only four catchers included in that ranking: Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets, Mike Zunino of the Mariners, Austin Hedges of the Padres, and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. Baseball America's list featured the same four backstops. Baseball Prospectus also had that same quartet, followed by two more names in Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers and Christian Bethancourt of the Braves.
As witnessed by the lists, it's an accomplishment for any organization to have one good catching prospect in a minor league system, let alone two. The New York Yankees organization is enviable in that regard. Sanchez, 20, has been a mainstay on the top prospects lists since he signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He showed up as high as 42nd overall on the three lists mentioned above, and no lower than 57th. The offensive-minded catcher has impressive offensive skills, including plus raw power. His ascent through the Yankees system can be best described as slow and steady.
Signed the same year as Sanchez, J.R. Murphy was selected out of the high school ranks in the second round of the amateur draft and he's just beginning to receive the attention he deserves. A front office contact who is familiar with the catching prospect told MLBTR that Murphy "was signed as a player [people] thought would hit and might be able to catch."
The 22-year-old prospect has flashed offensive potential in the past with good control of the strike zone, gap power and the ability to hit for a respectable average -- but inconsistency has been his downfall at the plate. So far this year, the Florida native is hitting .308 with 12 extra base hits, as well as 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 28 games.
During the early stages of his pro career, Murphy struggled with receiving the ball and throwing out runners, while also dabbling with the idea of playing third base. He turned the corner in his development behind the plate in 2012 with his success rate at gunning down base runners jumping to more than 30 percent for the first time. So far in 2013, he's just shy of throwing out 50 percent of baserunners while playing at Double-A, one step ahead of his fellow catching prospect.
The talent evaluator who spoke with MLBTR said the Yankees organization thinks very highly of Murphy. "Due to his diligence, ability and the focused hard work of our coaches, he has become a defensive plus. He is on track to become a quality major league catcher," he said. "He receives the ball well and is an above-average thrower. He has the intelligence and game awareness to manage a game at the major league level."
Currently in his fifth pro season, Murphy will need to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to be protected from the annual Rule 5 draft. If added, he'll be granted three option years that will allow him to be shuttled between the majors and the minors during that time frame.
The 10th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, Jason Castro's career development has been slowed by trips to the disabled list. In fact, he lost the entire 2011 season to a serious knee injury. Perhaps hampered by the lost playing time, the Astros' starting catcher's offense has not developed as hoped. Still just 25, the Stanford alum has time to jump-start his bat, but Houston has accumulated some solid catching depth in the past year.
Acquired last year from Toronto in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and two other pitchers to Toronto, catching prospect Carlos Perez has enjoyed the change of scenery. After spending five years in Rookie ball and Low-A ball with the conservative Blue Jays player development program, the Astros loosened the reins on the young player and he responded favorably. In less than a year, the 22-year-old Venezuela native reached Triple-A and is hitting above .300 while playing steady defense. Houston will almost certainly want to protect him prior to this year's Rule 5 draft at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tyler Heineman flew under the radar a bit as an eighth round draft pick out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. Since signing, though, he's done nothing but hit. The switch-hitter posted a .352 batting average with 26 walks and 12 strikeouts in 55 games during his short-season debut last year. Jumped all the way to High-A to open 2013, Heineman has hit .329 with just eight strikeouts in 23 games.
Not flashy and with below-average power, the catching prospect shares a similar profile to that of seven-year big leaguer Ryan Hanigan of the Reds. The big challenge for the backstop is to continue polishing his defensive skills to meet the high standards set at the big league level. Time is on Heineman's side as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2015 season, which would then buy him three option years.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with the most impressive collection of catching depth in baseball with J.P. Arencibia at the major league level and a plethora of impressive prospects including d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Perez, A.J. Jimenez, and Santiago Nessy. Since midway through the 2012 season, Toronto has traded away d'Arnaud (Mets), Gomes (Indians) and Perez (Astros) in an effort to improve the pitching depth at the big league level.
The two remaining catchers have the talent to be considered among the club's Top 10 best prospects. Unfortunately, both have also been bitten by the injury bug. Jimenez blew out his elbow during the 2012 season and underwent Tommy John surgery. The club has been cautious with him in 2013 and he's already missed a little time after experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired elbow. Nessy received his first full-season assignment in 2013 and was off to a respectable start before suffering a concussion while trying to breakup a double play at second base. He has plus raw power and has made huge strides on the defensive side of his game.
Prospect Tidbits: Seattle's Zunino was considered the cream-of-the-crop when it came to eligible catching prospects in the 2012 amateur draft. Fast forward to 2013 and the University of Florida alum has already reached Triple-A. Two other highly-drafted catchers from 2012 are making names for themselves with solid play so far this season.
Perhaps the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League, the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (drafted 35th overall) is currently hitting .374 through 35 games in Low-A ball. He's also flashed power with 25 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. If he keeps up this pace, a promotion to High-A or Double-A should be in the cards. Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy (third round) has appeared in only 24 games thanks to a brief visit to the disabled list, but he's hitting .357 with 17 of his 30 hits going for extra bases. Like Plawecki, Murphy is probably too advanced at the plate for Low-A ball.
Another 2012 draft pick, Josh Elander, attracted attention as a second- or third-round talent as a college catcher but questions surrounding his ability to stick behind the dish caused him to slide to the sixth round where he was nabbed by the Atlanta Braves. After catching briefly in 2012, the prospect was moved out from behind the plate and has played 31 games in left field in 2013. The move has certainly agreed with his offense, as he's hitting .314 with an above-average power output.
Here are a few notes from around the National League:
- When the Diamondbacks shipped young outfielder Justin Upton to the Braves, the biggest major league piece they got back was utilityman extraordinaire Martin Prado. Now, with the two clubs in the midst of their first series of the year, Prado has reflected on the deal. As MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, Prado says he is happy for his former club: “The thing that makes me feel real good is that you know that you got traded and the [Braves] now look better. I’m happy because all of my ex-teammates can see that they gave up something, but actually got a better team. That’s what [Braves general manager Frank Wren] was looking for. He made a good move.” Having spent his entire career in the Atlanta organization, Prado explained that the shock of the trade took more than a month to wear off.
- While Prado has hit below his career norms to start the year, one of the players he was traded for -- third baseman Chris Johnson -- is off to a stellar beginning of the season for Atlanta. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets, Johnson says he is excited to be squaring off against his former club: "Any time you get traded, you want to come back to the place you got traded from and show them what they're missing." Johnson, along with platoon partner Juan Francisco, effectively took over for Prado as the replacement for the retired Chipper Jones. Now, Johnson is off to a career-best slash line of .324/.355/.486 over his first 110 plate appearances.
- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly may be the obvious choice to take the fall for his club's rough start, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says there is little to be gained from such a move at this time. For one thing, says Rosenthal, there is no obvious replacement who could get more production from the team. And with several major players seemingly likely to return soon from injury, Mattingly should get a while longer to try and manufacture a turnaround.
- No doubt Mattingly's job security will depend in part on the form of top offseason acquisition Zack Greinke after he recovers from a broken collarbone. Mattingly says that Greinke will return to the mound tomorrow night against the Nationals, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports on Twitter.
- Meanwhile, Los Angeles is continuing to undertake a major change in how it draws players into the organization, tweets Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Shaikin says that the Dodgers have signed 46 amateur ballplayers from Latin America since the new ownership group took over last year. The previous ownership group had "all but killed" the club's Latin America presence, says Shaikin.
We'll keep track of today's minor moves here.
- The Phillies have signed infielder Tommy Mendonca, Chris Cotillo of CLNS Radio notes (on Twitter). Mendonca, a former second-round pick by the Rangers, had been playing in the Atlantic League. The 25-year-old has a career line of .260/.322/.435.
- The Padres have signed pitcher Trevor Holder, according to MLB.com's transactions page. Holder, 26, was a third-round pick by the Nationals in 2009. He made seven appearances at Double-A Harrisburg this season, pitching 18 2/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA, 6.27 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9. The Nationals released him earlier in the week.
- The Braves have signed lefty reliever Juan Cedeno to a minor-league contract, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (on Twitter). Cedeno, 29, pitched for Triple-A Scranton in the Yankees organization in 2012, posting a 2.81 ERA with 8.02 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. He made ten appearances with Scranton in 2013 before being released.
Another day, another gem from a Cardinals starter. Adam Wainwright took a no-hitter through 7 1/3 innings en route to a complete game, two-hit shutout in St. Louis' 3-0 victory over the Rockies. Wainwright's outing was a day after Shelby Miller's complete game one-hitter against Colorado, in the process tying a Major League record for most consecutive batters retired by one team against another. Between Eric Young's leadoff single on Friday and Todd Helton's fifth-inning walk against Wainwright today, the Rockies sent 40 batters to the plate without success.
Here's some news as we head towards a full slate of Mother's Day baseball...
- The Cardinals' pitching depth was one reason they were comfortable letting Kyle Lohse leave in the offseason, the latest case of the Cards saving money and still contending thanks to their constant supply of young talent, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes. “I would say it this way: you don’t want to have a situation where you can’t re-sign your best talent, long term, but there are times when you have to pick and choose where you want to invest it," St. Louis GM John Mozeliak said. "Our model has been, if possible, to have that flexibility within our payroll allocation without going too long and deep.”
- Paul Goldschmidt is hearing unanimous praise from scouts and is being compared to some of the game's elite hitters, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Goldschmidt took a .977 OPS into Saturday's game, and as Piecoro notes, the Diamondbacks' five-year, $32MM extension (with an option on a sixth year) with their first baseman is looking like a major bargain.
- Also from Piecoro, he hears from Justin Upton and Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers that neither side has hard feelings about the big trade that sent Upton to the Braves in January. It has particularly worked out for Upton, who is enjoying an MVP-caliber season for NL East-leading Atlanta.
- Padres backup catcher John Baker could be expendable once Yasmani Grandal returns from his PED suspension. Baker tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he enjoys playing with the Padres but is prepared for whatever happens.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America recaps the week's minor league transactions.
- Advanced statistics are taken with a grain of salt by many players, including several in the Rangers clubhouse, Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Derek Lowe, for one, believes his unimpressive peripheral stats were part of the reason why it took him until March to find a contract with a team. Texas, unlike several Major League clubs, doesn't have a full-time statistical analysis department in their front office though the club uses sabermetrics as part of their player evaluation process.