Atlanta Braves Rumors
Addressing his team's sudden and successful entry into the market for starter Ervin Santana, Braves GM Frank Wren said that he did not expect to be in the market for free agent starters, but felt Santana was the best option available going into the offseason. (Video of press conference via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) It was Atlanta's good fortune that Santana remained unsigned when Kris Medlen walked off the mound with an injury on Sunday. Wren immediately made contact, knowing that he had to catch up quickly with other clubs further down the road on talks with Santana. "Once we started talking, we realized that Ervin was very interested in us as well, thought this was a good opportunity for him, and it was a perfect fit for us."
- For Atlanta, the message to the field staff and players was clear. "[The signing] means our GM and our front office want to win," manager Fredi Gonzalez said, as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro tweets.
- The key for Santana was his desire to pitch in the National League, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed, saying that he was told Santana "had a strong desire to pitch in the NL and there was no way to compete with that." (MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm provides a transcript of Anthopoulos's chat with the media today.) The GM also emphasized that he was "very comfortable we did everything we could" to land Santana, who the club "viewed ... as an impact starter." Anthopoulos implied some disappointment with the way things unfolded, declining comment on several questions about reports that a deal was done last Saturday by saying that he was "trying to take the high road here."
- From the Twins' perspective, most talks were "very exploratory," assistant GM Rob Antony told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I think what they were looking at and were looking for was different from what we were thinking," explained Antony. "... We weren't necessarily looking for a one-year guy."
- Meanwhile, the Royals' short run with Santana is now officially over, but the team feels fine about how things worked out, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. "I think Erv's going to do very well," GM Dayton Moore said, "and we're going to get the pick. And it all worked out." Indeed it did: K.C. got a valuable draft choice and excellent season from Santana, all for the low price of $12MM and the rights to minor league lefty Brandon Sisk.
Having seen their rotation come into question due to a host of injuries, the Braves made what would have been a relatively shocking move just one week ago; Atlanta announced this morning that they have signed right-hander Ervin Santana to a one-year deal that is reportedly worth $14.1MM -- the exact amount of the qualifying offer he rejected back in November.
It's been a rocky offseason for Santana to say the least. Coming off one of the finest seasons of his career, the 31-year-old entered free agency with his eyes on a large multi-year contract, but like fellow free agents Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, found that teams preferred to wait out the Masahiro Tanaka signing before turning to that trio of top MLB free agents.
Jimenez and Santana, in particular, found suitors difficult to come by due to the compensatory draft picks attached to their names after rejecting qualifying offers. When Jimenez eventually struck a four-year deal worth $50MM (the same amount Garza was guaranteed), Santana was left as the odd man out on the free agent market. He held out for his four-year deal shortly but ultimately set a new course and targeted a one-year deal with an eye toward signing as quickly as possible. That new goal came with the news that he was splitting from agent Bean Stringfellow of Proformance. However, Santana (and Jose Bautista) stuck with agent Jay Alou, who resigned from Proformance shortly after the news.
Santana posted a 3.24 ERA with 6.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a career-best 46.2 percent ground-ball rate in 211 innings for the Royals last year -- his lone season with Kansas City. Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired him from the Angels last offseason in what amounted to a salary dump after Santana posted an ERA north of 5.00 in 2012 and was rewarded for his faith in a bounce-back campaign. Santana now has a sub-4.00 ERA in three of his past four seasons and has seen his ability to produce ground-balls steadily increase since 2011.
The Braves didn't look like a team that needed a great deal of pitching after a 2013 season in which their starters finished sixth in the Majors with a combined 3.51 ERA, tied for sixth with a 3.58 FIP and also tied for sixth with a 3.65 xFIP. However, the team saw Tim Hudson depart via free agency and sign with the Giants, and more recently, they've been beset by injuries in their rotation. Kris Medlen left his Sunday start and is believed to have ligament damage in his right elbow that could require surgery. Brandon Beachy is experiencing tightness in his biceps after undergoing a pair of elbow surgeries (one of which was Tommy John) in the past two years, and Mike Minor could miss a couple of weeks to open the season after urinary tract surgery this offseason.
By making this signing, the Braves are sacrificing their No. 26 overall selection in the draft, though that loss is lessened somewhat by the fact that they will have the No. 32 overall pick after losing Brian McCann to the Yankees as a free agent. The signing also means that Royals will now gain the No. 28 selection in the 2014 draft, as Yahoo's Jeff Passan tweeted over the weekend. That will give Kansas City four of the first 58 picks in this year's draft.
Santana also drew heavy interest from the Blue Jays, Orioles (even after the Jimenez signing) and the Twins late in his free agency. Minnesota even offered a three-year deal believed to be worth $30-33MM, but Santana held firm to his desire for a one-year deal, believing himself capable of posting a big season and re-entering the free agent market next offseason. Santana, of course, could find himself in the same situation next year, but the value of next year's qualifying offer could be north of $15MM. As such, he's likely to earn at least $29MM over the next two seasons anyway, meaning Minnesota's offer is just $1-4MM greater over one more year.
Beyond that, the Braves have a tight payroll and had to make a clear exception to sign Santana this season; they may not be able to afford the risk of extending a qualifying offer, even after a solid season. Finally, another strong year would give Santana back-to-back seasons of well above-average performance and four seasons of a sub-4.00 ERA in five tries. That could be enough to persuade teams that were wary of his rough 2012 and/or the medical reports on his elbow to show interest.
MLB.com's Mark Bowman first tweeted that the two sides were nearing completion on a deal, and David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted that the Braves would announce the signing of Santana this morning. Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes confirmed that it was a one-year pact (Spanish Twitter link). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported Santana's salary (via Twitter).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here's the latest on Ervin Santana, whose free agency situation has been the most active in recent days among the three still-unsigned players who declined qualifying offers:
- The Braves are "making [a] legitimate run" to sign Santana, a source tells Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
- Santana could be expanding the search for possible landing spots, reports Ken Rosethal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). An executive from an interested team told Rosenthal that Santana's representatives were "talking to everyone."
- The Orioles are standing by their previously-reported, one-year offer of around $13MM, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. A source tells Encina that the O's had been in touch with Santana's reps late this afternoon, and that Santana is likely to choose a destination within the next day or two.
- The Orioles and Blue Jays still look like the favorites, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Santana's interest in a one-year deal is genuine, reports Heyman, with the righty being motivated to prove himself on the field.
- Indeed, as MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this morning, if Santana signs a one-year pact and throws well enough to earn another qualifying offer, he would stand to make nearly as much in two years as he could on the three-year offers he has reportedly received in the low-$30MM range. Or, he might find the substantial, multi-year deal that has seemingly eluded him to date. It bears recalling that Scott Feldman managed to get three years at a $10MM AAV earlier in the offseason, and that more comparable arms like Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez landed $50MM guarantees over four years. Betting on another good season and a market reset carries risk, but accepting a lesser multi-year deal would pretty much ensure that Santana could not reach his full earning potential.
- Orioles GM Dan Duquette called Santana's market "interesting," with more possible teams seemingly entering the fray as injuries change roster complexions.
- We learned that Braves starter Kris Medlen is getting a second opinion, but his MRI shows ligament damage. Atlanta has definitely been in touch with Santana, the same report provided.
The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options. That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so. I've included players on multiyear deals. This list was compiled through MLBTR's sources. Next, we'll take a look at the NL East.
Carpenter is a lock for a bullpen spot. On Friday, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Varvaro, "Who knows? It's so early. If we had to break Spring Training today or tomorrow to start the season, I'd count on him. He'd be one of the guys in the bullpen," talking to MLB.com's Spencer Fordin. Gearrin is among a host of pitchers competing for two other spots in the pen; he told Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February his shoulder was 100% after being shut down for the final two months of the 2013 season.
Pena will serve as the Braves' primary utility infielder, and Schafer will be the fourth outfielder.
Beyond Steve Cishek, A.J. Ramos, and Dunn, the Marlins' bullpen picture is "extremely muddled," wrote Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald recently. As for the rotation, Turner looks like the team's fourth starter, with Hand, Tom Koehler, Kevin Slowey, and Brian Flynn in the mix for the last spot, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro. Spencer noted that Hand could land in the bullpen if he doesn't crack the rotation.
Jones was signed to be the team's primary first baseman. Bogusevic, acquired from the Cubs for Justin Ruggiano in the offseason, seems to have a leg up to become the team's fourth outfielder.
Young's spot on the team is secure. Tejada is the starting shortstop, though the Mets seem to be considering upgrades such as Stephen Drew or Nick Franklin. In the event they acquire someone, the Mets could entertain trading Tejada or just put him in a reserve role.
Torres is a lock for the Mets' bullpen, wrote Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com a week ago.
Detwiler will be on the Nationals' pitching staff in some capacity, either as the fifth starter or a member of the bullpen. Lobaton, Blevins, and Clippard are secure.
Mayberry and Frandsen were given guaranteed arbitration contracts, noted Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer in February, giving them a leg up on bench jobs. Yesterday, Gelb wrote that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. "continues to dangle Mayberry this spring in trade talks." Mayberry is competing with Darin Ruf for a bench spot. A week ago, Chris Branch of The News Journal took a look at the Phillies' backup infield situation. Freddy Galvis is a near lock to make the team, with Frandsen battling Ronny Cedeno, Andres Blanco, Cesar Hernandez, and Reid Brignac for the one remaining spot.
Five days ago, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News termed Lincoln to be "likely a favorite" for a bullpen spot, because of his option situation as well as past big league success.
The Braves are indeed very interested, with financial concerns the main limitation. Meanwhile, the Royals have put in a call on Santana. The Blue Jays and Orioles have standing offers out, Rojas adds.
2:21pm: O'Brien hears from a person connected to the Royals that the Braves may now be making a run at Santana (Twitter link). In addition to Medlen's injury, Brandon Beachy left today's Spring Training start with biceps tightness.
10:17am: The Braves haven't completely ruled out Santana in the event of a serious Medlen injury, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, but the financial and draft pick costs are definite factors. Atlanta would very much like to strengthen its crop of top prospects, and sacrificing the No. 26 selection in the draft would go against that thinking.
9:19am: Over the weekend it was reported that Ervin Santana has completely changed course and is now seeking a one-year deal with an eye toward a lucrative multi-year deal next offseason. With one-year offers of $13MM plus incentives and $14MM without incentives from the Orioles and Blue Jays, respectively, there appear to be a pair of clear favorites for Santana.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provides some updates on the Santana sweepstakes this morning, noting that the Blue Jays' players are lobbying for Santana to come to Toroto. Santana has many friends on the club, including countrymen Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes. One source told Rosenthal that several Jays players got together and texted Santana a picture of themselves holding a poster that read, "Come to Toronto."
One potentially game-changing factor to the Santana market could be the severity of the injury to Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who left Sunday's Spring Training game with a forearm strain. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution touched on the topic this morning, wondering if the Braves could consider expanding their budget to bring him into the fold. Rosenthal writes that the Braves will get the results of an MRI on Medlen today. The draft pick loss wouldn't be as big for the Braves as some teams around the league, as Atlanta would surrender the No. 26 selection after already having received the No. 32 selection for losing Brian McCann to free agency. That forfeiture, however, would be the most significant of the specific teams mentioned in Rosenthal's piece.
Rosenthal also has some specifics on recent offers made to Santana; the Orioles' last three-year offer was believed to be in the $27MM range, while the three-year offer from the Twins was in the $30-33MM range. That offer was still on the table as of last night. However, as Rosenthal notes, Santana could earn nearly that much over the next two seasons by taking $14MM or so in 2014 and receiving a qualifying offer following the season, as next year's QO could jump to the $15-16MM range.
As the Braves await the results of today's MRI on Kris Medlen's right forearm, many have speculated that the team could turn to Ervin Santana in the event that Medlen is out for a significant period of time. However, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes that he doesn't expect Atlanta to make a panicked move in the event of a serious injury to Medlen. If Medlen is on the DL, O'Brien expects Atlanta to open the season with Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale, with Mike Minor stepping into one spot once he's ready to go in mid-April, and Gavin Floyd eventually taking another. He adds that Josh Beckett's name "does nothing" for any member of the Braves organization to whom O'Brien has mentioned it. Here's more on their rotation and the NL East...
- As if Medlen's injury wasn't enough, Beachy left his start for the Braves today due to tightness in his right biceps, writes O'Brien. Beachy described the injury as "dull tightness" and has experienced it in his other two Spring Training starts. However, it got better as he threw harder in his last start, and today he says it worsened. Braves doctors told Beachy before the game that it was ok to try to pitch through the tightness. He wouldn't commit to being ready for Opening Day when asked by O'Brien, but said he thought the tightness was normal following a pair of surgeries. Following the rough start, Beachy told FOX Sports' Jon Morosi that he tried to throw harder again today but wasn't able to increase his velocity (Twitter link).
- ESPN's Buster Olney covers the Braves' rotation in the intro to his daily blog post (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Olney spoke to one evaluator who said, "It's just impossible to see Atlanta taking on significant money, and they seem to be reluctant to give up any prospects of value..." suggesting that a major acquisition isn't likely. That evaluator wondered if they might be interested in out-of-options hurlers like Zach Britton (Orioles), Vance Worley (Twins), Sam Deduno (Twins) or Franklin Morales (Rockies) should they pursue outside help.
- The Mariners are again doubling down on the number of scouts they have at today's Mets game, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Rubin adds that Seattle's scouts have "been religiously attending Mets games." New York has been said to have interest in displaced Seattle infielder Nick Franklin, so Mariners scouts could be trying to determine a fair asking price.
- Jeff Manship has impressed the Phillies thus far in Spring Training, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia was the only club to call Manship prior to his agreement to a minor league deal in early September, the right-hander told Gelb. Manship says he's enjoying the competition this spring and is excited to have a shot at earning a rotation spot for the first time in his five trips through a big league camp. Manship has allowed one run with six punchouts and one walk through seven Spring Training innings to date.
Stewart spent 2013, his age-26 season, with Chicago's Triple-A affiliate, posting a 4.25 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 167 1/3 innings of work. Originally a third-round pick by the Reds in 2008, the Texas Tech product has found himself included in trades for a number of high-profile players over the past six years. The Reds dealt him to Toronto along with Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Roenicke in 2008 to acquire Scott Rolen. He was then part of the three-team deal that sent Edwin Jackson to the Cardinals in 2011, and he was acquired by the White Sox to the Red Sox in June 2012's Kevin Youkilis deal. Chicago picked him back up on waivers last offseason.
Stewart has 103 Major League innings under his belt, but he's posted a 6.82 ERA in that time. He's whiffed just 5.6 hitters per nine innings, but has also averaged just 1.9 walks per nine to go along with a strong 50 percent ground-ball rate in the bigs. Both xFIP and SIERA feel his ERA to date should be just a shade under 4.00 rather than at its current level.
Atlanta's acquisition of Stewart isn't entirely surprising; the team looks to be adding depth with Kris Medlen's health status up in the air (he'll undergo an MRI on his right forearm today) along with the possibility that Mike Minor could miss a start or two in April. Of course, Atlanta has in-house options such as Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale that would presumably be in line for big league starts before Stewart, who is most likely ticketed for Triple-A. Stewart was not on Chicago's 40-man roster.
The Braves suffered a scare this afternoon when Kris Medlen, likely the team's Opening Day starter, left his start against the Mets (video link) with what is being diagnosed as a forearm strain. He will be evaluated further tomorrow morning. Manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (video link), he's hopeful. "Keep our fingers crossed. But I feel a lot better after talking to our medical people. We might be OK." Medlen, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, has been dominant for the Braves. O'Brien notes the right-hander's ERA since the 2012 All-Star break is second only to Clayton Kershaw among pitchers with at least 250 innings pitched in that period and he's won three of the past eight NL Pitcher of the Month awards while no other pitcher in baseball has won more than one over the same span. O'Brien opines losing Medlen for any significant amount of time could be a blow to the Braves' chances of defending their division title, unless they make a move to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation type of starter mentioning Ervin Santana. If Medlen is sidelined, the Braves could stay in-house and insert both veteran Freddy Garcia and left-hander Alex Wood into the rotation with Gavin Floyd, who has received good reports on his rehab from his own Tommy John surgery, expected to be ready in May.
Elsewhere in the National League on the first day of Daylight Savings Time (except in Arizona):
- New Cubs manager Rick Renteria does not see competing in the NL Central "as a daunting task" despite being the only division to send three teams to the playoffs and his own club coming off four consecutive losing seasons, writes the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. Renteria also sees similarities between the NL Central and the much-praised AL East. "So my thing is, quite frankly, we have a body of players that we’re trying to help form into a team, and that if we can do certain things and take certain actions that we have just as good a chance of competing in our division as some of those teams in the [AL] East have done in the past."
- Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Times examines the players on the bubble of making the Padres' 25-man roster, including recent waiver claim Alex Castellanos.
- The Rockies have renewed the contracts of all their pre-arbitration eligible players, according to the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck (via Sulia). Last month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes reported agents were unhappy with the Rockies' salary formula for these pre-arb players, which spawned a feature article by Zach Links detailing how teams determine salaries for such players.
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.