Author Archives: Brad Johnson

Cubs May Pursue Chase Utley

The Cubs may pursue Phillies second baseman Chase Utley prior to the August trade deadline, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Utley will begin a rehab assignment tomorrow. He would need 251 plate appearances to activate a 2016 option, an exceedingly unlikely event. The former star has struggled this season with a .179/.257/.275 slash. However, a .186 BABIP suggests a rebound is possible. He’s owed about $5MM over the rest of the season. The Cubs would look to have the Phillies cover part of his salary.

An Utley acquisition would provide depth to existing middle infielders like Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. If the club lost patience with Castro, they could opt to use Russell at shortstop with Utley filling in at second base. The interest could also be purely for his veteran leadership. The Angels and at least one other team are also considering Utley per Wittenmyer.


Dodgers Notes: Money, Olivera, Samardzija

This week’s complicated three-way trade looks like a great move for the Dodgers, a mixed bag for the Braves, and another deal for the Marlins which appears to be financially motivated, Keith Law of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req’d) writes.  The Dodgers badly needed another starter given the injuries in their rotation and lack of organizational depth and Law believes that Mat Latos is probably worth two extra wins to L.A. the rest of the way. Here’s more out of L.A.

  • The Dodgers are paying $85.75MM for eight players no longer with the organization, writes Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Hector Olivera‘s $28MM signing bonus is the biggest expenditure on the list. Matt Kemp ($18MM) and Dan Haren ($10MM) round out of the eight figure commitments.
  • In a second piece, Shaikin wonders whether the Dodgers even have a financial limit. GM Farhan Zaidi says yes, then goes on to elaborate that “nobody has ever mentioned a number to us.” The Dodgers are projected to pay a record $43MM in luxury taxes this season. It’s possible that number could increase in August. Zaidi did allude to a time when the Dodgers will field a more typical payroll with the help of cost controlled talent.
  • Also from Shaikin, the Dodgers are currently paying for 25 percent of the Marlins payroll. The players’ union has taken fresh notice of Miami’s penchant to deal talent for financial relief.
  • The Dodgers looked into White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija “some time ago,” tweets Shaikin. Talks did not progress. After a brutal start to the season, the Pale Hose are just two games below .500 and 3.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Undoubtedly, the surging roster affected their willingness to sell Samardzija.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Dodgers, Mets, Hamels, Jays, Astros

An elite starting pitcher was a luxury good for the Dodgers, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That’s why Los Angeles passed on talents like Cole Hamels, David Price, and Johnny Cueto despite possessing the prospect depth to acquire their pick of the litter. Instead, the club flexed its financial might to acquire Mat Latos, Alex Wood, Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan, and Jose Peraza. The biggest piece dealt away by the Dodgers was 30-year-old Cuban infielder Hector Olivera. The utility man has not yet reached the majors after signing a six-year, $62.5MM deal with the Dodgers. A full $28MM of that was in the form of a signing bonus.

Here’s more from Rosenthal:

  • Cynics may find a way to criticize the Mets deadline transactions. Perhaps they didn’t add enough to the payroll or were too small minded? However, the moves for Yoenis Cespedes, Tyler Clippard, Kelly Johnson, and Juan Uribe provided essential upgrades to a roster that was showing signs of stress. GM Sandy Alderson deserves kudos for improving the club while working within tight constraints. To me, this was Rosenthal’s money quote, “Mets fans will not be satisfied –€“ and should not be satisfied –€“ until the team raises its payroll to a level more commensurate with the New York market.
  • Echoing the sentiments of many analysts, both the Phillies and Rangers did well in the Hamels trade. With the Phillies taking on Matt Harrison and chipping in cash, the Rangers will pay Hamels an average of $13MM to $14MM per season if his option vests. They also hung onto top prospects Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara. On Philadelphia’s end, acquiring three quality prospects will do much to bolster their future.
  • The Blue Jays, unlike the Dodgers, are often described as a cash strapped organization. Instead of taking on payroll like L.A., the Blue Jays dealt 11 prospects and Jose Reyes to acquire Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, and LaTroy Hawkins. They’re 6.5 games back in the AL East and 1.5 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card slot.
  • The Astros also spent their prospect chips for major league upgrades. They made the first deadline strike by acquiring Scott Kazmir then paid a princely sum for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Interestingly, mid-market teams like the Astros, Blue Jays, Mets, and Royals used prospects in their search for October baseball. The Yankees and Dodgers opted to use money or stand pat.


Minor MLB Transactions: 8/1/15

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league.

  • The Mets have signed pitcher Tim Stauffer to a minor league contract, according to the MLB transactions page. Stauffer was released by the Twins earlier this summer and signed with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in mid-July. He posted a 6.60 ERA in 15 innings with the Twins. Over a 590 inning major league career, he has a 3.94 ERA with 6.73 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9. In his heyday, he worked between 90 and 92 mph. He averaged just 88 mph with his fastball during his stint with Minnesota.
  • The Giants have released pitcher Erik Cordier, tweets Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. MLBTR has learned that Cordier’s deal included opt out clauses on July 1, August 1, and September 7. The 29-year-old righty performed well in the minors. In 34 Triple-A innings, he posted a 1.04 ERA and 11.16 K/9. However, his command and control left something to be desired with 6.49 BB/9.
  • The White Sox have signed outfielder Dayan Viciedo and assigned him to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, the Knights have announced. Viciedo was, of course, a longtime staple of the White Sox outfield, but they released him in February, avoiding paying most of what would have been a $4.4MM arbitration salary. He played briefly this year for Triple-A Nashville in the Athletics system, hitting .221/.282/.336.
  • The Red Sox have outrighted infielder Jemile Weeks and assigned him to Triple-A Pawtucket, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal tweets. The Red Sox designated Weeks for assignment on Wednesday when they added Josh Rutledge to their roster. Weeks has hit .207/.307/.310 in 199 plate appearances for Pawtucket this year.
  • Former Yankees reliever Esmil Rogers is headed to Korea, where he’ll get $1MM to play for the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. In the midst of yesterday’s trade deadline madness, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweeted that the Yankees had released Rogers. The 29-year-old Rogers posted a 6.27 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 33 innings with New York this season.

Red Sox President Larry Lucchino To Be Replaced

The Red Sox will replace president and CEO Larry Lucchino by the end of the season, reports Michael Silverman and Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald. Lucchino’s contract expires at the end of the season. The Red Sox have reportedly been working on a succession plan for some time with rumors of a shake up first reported during spring training.

While executive turnover in baseball can be fraught with drama, it appears that Lucchino and the Red Sox are still on good terms. Chairman Tom Werner spoke about reaching a new agreement with Lucchino, saying “we are hopeful…we will conclude an agreement with Larry going forward where he will continue to be an integral part of upper management.” Werner went on to describe an advisory role.

Lucchino, 70, helped to guide the franchise to three World Series victories since owner John Henry first purchased the club in 2002. He is also known for overseeing the renovation of historic Fenway Park and the acquisition of the Pawtucket Red Sox. He has had a less prominent influence on the team this season in part due to a serious motorcycle accident sustained over the winter.

Executive vice president and COO Sam Kennedy will be promoted to club president. However, unlike Lucchino, Kennedy is not expected to have a role in baseball operations. Kennedy, 42, has worked with Lucchino for 20 years. Per Luchhino, “he’s certainly my choice, as well as that of John and Tom, to be promoted to the position of president.” Kennedy has been slowly taking over Lucchino’s responsibilities throughout the season.


Cubs Attempted To Acquire Carlos Carrasco, Tyson Ross

The Cubs aimed high at the trade deadline but ultimately settled for pitchers Dan Haren and Tommy Hunter, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. According to club president Theo Epstein, “the two main players we focused on late ended up not getting moved.” Epstein went on to say that he was aggressive in offering both quality and quantity for top major league talent.

Sources tell Wittenmyer that the two players the Cubs focused upon were pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Tyson Ross. Neither was traded. It was rumored that the Indians were merely gather information about Carrasco’s value while the Padres have been criticized for not knowing “what they really wanted.”

Since signing a four-year, $22MM extension over the offseason, Carrasco has pitched to a 4.03 ERA with 9.90 K/9 and 1.91 BB/9. ERA estimators believe he should be at least a full run better than his ERA, as evidenced by a 2.84 FIP. The 28-year-old also has two affordable option years. It’s hard to imagine that the Indians don’t view Carrasco as a building block. However, it is pragmatic to entertain offers at his physical peak.

Ross agreed to a $5.25MM contract in his second year of arbitration. As a Super Two player, he’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. Ross has followed up a breakout 2014 with a solid 3.38 ERA, 9.66 K/9, 4.30 BB/9, and a 63 percent ground ball rate.

The Cubs also aggressively shopped shortstop Starlin Castro, but they found few takers. Javier Baez was one of the players discussed as part of a Carrasco package. Meanwhile, the Braves expressed interest in Jorge Soler while discussing Julio Teheran and other young pitchers. Overall, it’s clear that high quality, club controlled pitching is a top priority for Chicago.


Rockies Designate Aaron Laffey

The Rockies have designated reliever Aaron Laffey for assignment, tweets Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. The transaction was part of a series of moves that allowed the club to recall Christian Bergman, Scott Oberg, and Kyle Parker. Pitcher Kyle Kendrick and outfielder Corey Dickerson were placed on the disabled list. The Rockies also designated Laffey on July 11, but he ultimately remained with the team.

The 30-year-old lefty has spent most of the season at the Triple-A level where he’s compiled a 4.78 ERA, 5.86 K/9, and 4.01 BB/9 in 58 innings. He’s tossed just seven and one-third innings in three relief appearances in the majors this year. Laffey checks in around 87 mph. He’s thrown 494 innings over his career with a 4.44 ERA, 4.46 K/9, and 3.62 BB/9.


Cubs Release Edwin Jackson

JULY 27: Jackson has been officially released, tweets MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat.

JULY 19: The Cubs have designated Edwin Jackson for assignment, tweets Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The club has recalled reliever Rafael Soriano in a corresponding move.

Coming off of a four-season run in which he carried a 3.98 ERA over 812 2/3 frames, Jackson signed a four-year, $52MM contract with Chicago prior to the 2013 campaign. That move constituted the first real indication that the Cubs were prepared again to open their wallet.

As things stand now, Jackson hits DFA limbo while still owed the balance of his $11MM salary this season along with $11MM next year. That makes for a total future commitment of $15.63MM, per Wittenmyer.

Rather than serving as a sturdy number three or four option for the now-contending club, as might have been hoped, Jackson entered this year as a marginal roster candidate after posting a 6.33 ERA in 2014. The Cubs moved Jackson to the bullpen, and he has been better in a long relief capacity, carrying a 3.19 ERA and 6.68 K/9 against 3.48 BB/9. His velocity has also jumped back to 94.2 mph.

All said, there’s good reason to believe that Jackson still possesses a major league arm, and he’s likely to get another shot in relatively short order. But he has delivered nothing close to the value his salary demands, and it’s inconceivable that another team will grab him off the wire. Assuming that Jackson clears waivers, rejects an outright assignment, and hits the open market, the Cubs will only be lined up to save (at most) the pro-rated portion of the league minimum salary this year and next.

Chicago, then, is all but certain to remain on the hook for most of the $15MM and change remaining on Jackson’s deal. For the over fifty million invested, the team received a composite contribution of 347 innings of 5.37 ERA pitching (with 7.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9). The empty $11MM hit that Jackson represents for 2016 is hardly crippling, but does represent a notable impediment to an organization that seems likely to be tabbed with big expectations next year.

While the Cubs might otherwise have had cause to hold onto Jackson, the team has also been utilizing another deposed starter — Travis Wood — in a long relief role. Of the two, Wood is younger, cheaper, and has performed better (2.59 ERA in 17 relief appearances). As such, Jackson was viewed as expendable despite solid numbers.

Interestingly, Jackson’s contract has served as something of a template for several starting pitching deals struck in the ensuing offseasons. So far, none of those signings — Ricky Nolasco & Ervin Santana (Twins), Matt Garza (Brewers), Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles), and Brandon McCarthy (Dodgers) — has really worked out as hoped, though there’s plenty of time left for assessment.

Soriano, meanwhile, was signed as a free agent on June 12 for a pro-rated $4.1MM with $4MM in incentives. He’ll serve to further bolster an increasingly deep Cubs bullpen. Jason Motte has filled in as the team’s closer in recent weeks, but it stands to reason that Soriano could factor into the late innings too.

The 35-year-old languished on the market after an up and down 2014 campaign. But he ultimately joined the Cubs last month on a deal that will pay him the pro-rated portion of a $4.1MM annual salary (plus incentives).

Since joining the organization, Soriano has yet to allow an earned run over seven minor league appearances. In 630 career innings, he has racked up 207 saves, a 2.85 ERA, 9.09 K/9, and 2.80 BB/9. Soriano spent most of the 2014 season as the Nationals closer before giving way to Drew Storen late in the season. He has 27 or more saves in five of the last six seasons.


Central Notes: Twins, Benoit, Kelley, Fiers, Cubs, Samardzija

Rumors from MLB’s central divisions:

  • The Twins are in the market for a power reliever, writes Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Minnesota has long been known for their reliance on command and control pitchers. Their bullpen has a league worst 6.08 K/9. The Tigers are next worst with 7.30 K/9. Twins GM Terry Ryan acknowledged the advantage strikeouts can provide in big situations. If somebody’s got the out pitch to be able to get a strikeout, that’s great. Unfortunately there are pitchers that don’t have that capability as much as others, so it makes those sac flies or putting the ball in play with the infield back … it just gives the other offense that advantage.
  • Minnesota has spoken with the Padres about relievers, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Morosi lists Joaquin Benoit and Shawn Kelley as possible fits. I would add that Brandon Maurer fits the power pitching profile. However, Benoit and Kelley could both hit free agency after this season. Kelley is unsigned beyond this season, and Benoit has a $8MM club option ($500K buyout). Maurer comes with four more seasons of club control. As such, he’s probably more difficult to acquire.
  • The Brewers are drawing plenty of interest in starter Mike Fiers, tweets Tom Haudricourt of MLB.com. However, the club presently plans to keep Fiers. They are more open to trading veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Given the performance of both pitchers this season, they’ll have a hard time finding an interested suitor. Garza has a 5.49 ERA in 100 innings while Lohse has scuffled to a 6.29 ERA in 113 innings.
  • Prior to being no-hit by Cole Hamels, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer reiterated a need for pitching and bench depth, tweets Jesse Rogers of ESPN 1000. Hoyer didn’t elaborate about any specific talks. Rogers opines (via Twitter) that the club could seek to make some smaller moves for veterans to bolster depth and balance a young roster. The offense has struggled recently, but the Cubs are still in the thick of the Wild Card race. They’re just 1.5 games behind the Giants for the second slot.
  • The White Sox are increasingly willing to trade starter Jeff Samardzija, writes Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Samardzija has performed below expectations this season with a 3.91 ERA, 6.93 K/9, and 1.67 BB/9. However, he’s posted a strong 2.55 ERA over his last eight starts due to a low HR/FB ratio. While teams may no longer view him as an ace, he has failed to last seven innings in just four of his 20 starts this season. This is my speculation: he could prove to be a valuable innings eater for a club on the bubble like the Orioles or Astros. Hayes also notes that the White Sox have lined up Erik Johnson‘s starts with Samardzija. Johnson is in the midst of a breakout season with a 2.59 ERA, 10.05 K/9, and 2.87 BB/9.
  • The big story tonight is that the Royals nearly acquired Johnny Cueto from the Reds; read all about that here.

Minor MLB Transactions: 7/25/15

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • The Twins have signed pitcher Michael Bowden to a minor league deal, tweets Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. Bowden had previously triggered an opt out from his deal with the Orioles. Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN hears that Bowden can opt out of his new deal on August 22 (via Twitter). Once a prominent Red Sox prospect, Bowden has a 4.51 ERA, 6.73 K/9, and 3.64 BB/9 in 133 major league innings. With the Orioles Triple-A affiliate, he pitched to a shiny 1.91 ERA in 75 innings. However, his 6.21 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9 weren’t particularly exciting.
  • The Rockies have signed pitcher Rudy Owens to a minor league deal, according to the league transactions page. Owens was a prominent component of the trade that sent Wandy Rodriguez from Houston to Pittsburgh in 2012. The 27-year-old appeared briefly with the Astros last season. He pitched at three levels for the Dodgers earlier this season. He was once viewed as a possible back-of-the-rotation starter, but he now seems to lack the necessary velocity and pitch peripherals to consistently succeed in the majors.