Author Archives: Jeff Todd

NL Notes: Liz, Urena, Anderson

The Pirates hope they’ll be able to keep the just-designated Radhames Liz in the organization, manager Clint Hurdle tells Adam Berry of MLB.com (Twitter link). Nevertheless, Hurdle says that he expects another club to claim the live-armed righty. As MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth explained earlier today, Liz has continued to be unable to limit the free passes in his latest run in the majors. His $1MM salary, too, may cause other teams to hesitate to place a waiver claim.

  • The Marlins will bring up Jose Urena tomorrow to make his first big league start, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. Urena entered the year rated as Miami’s fourth-best overall prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, which praised his mid-90s fastball and quality change. The issue, per BA, is whether Urena’s breaking ball can play well enough to keep him in the rotation. The 23-year-old righty made two relief appearances in the big leagues last year, but only reached the Triple-A level to start the 2015 season. Thus far, he owns a 1.21 ERA over 37 1/3 innings (5.3 K/9 vs. 2.9 BB/9) at the highest level of the minors. Miami was in need of new blood, both as a general matter and because both Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos were recently placed on the disabled list (joining Jarred Cosart and Jose Fernandez on the DL).
  • While it’s of historical interest only at this point, manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the Braves attempted to sign lefty Brett Anderson over the winter, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter link). Anderson ultimately signed with the Dodgers, of course, and had another successful outing tonight against Atlanta. Of course, the major question with Anderson has been health, and he experienced some back stiffness tonight. It doesn’t appear to be cause for much concern at this point, but Los Angeles can ill afford any missed time from its top three starters.

Braves Working On Alberto Callaspo Trade

The Braves are attempting to deal infielder Alberto Callaspo, manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (Twitter link). That explains why the veteran was held out of tonight’s just-concluded ballgame.

It’s obviously unusual to hear a manager divulge such information when a transaction has (apparently) yet to be formalized, which would seem to suggest that a roster move is all but inevitable at this point. Presumably, Atlanta is looking to find a taker for some portion of Callaspo’s remaining salary.

Callaspo, 32, signed a one-year, $3MM deal to join the Braves this offseason. He has seen plenty of action, most of it at third base. But the results have not been there: over 123 plate appearances, Callaspo has slashed just .206/.293/.252 with one home run. That continues a rough stretch dating back to the start of 2014, though Callaspo has maintained his outstanding plate discipline and ability to make contact.

Of course, the switch-hitter does have a deeper history of producing approximately league-average results while providing some versatility around the infield. It has been a while now, but back in 2011-12, Callaspo combined solid offensive production with sterling defensive ratings to grade out at better than three wins above replacement annually.


NL West Notes: Dodgers, Gaudin, JJ, Morrow, Myers

Here’s the latest out of the NL West, with a focus on several injury situations and how they impact two expected division contenders:

  • It’s no surprise to hear that the Dodgers rotation is thin at the back end, but as MLB.com’s Steve Bourbon writes, the recent bombing of Carlos Frias brings the matter into focus. (Of course, Mike Bolsinger remains a surprising success story thus far.) While bigger moves are probably still months away, the immediate need for depth is evident. Joe Wieland is one internal option, says Bourbon, while the club will also hope for continued progress from the rehabbing Erik Bedard and Brandon Beachy.
  • While he has been more a swingman than a regular starter over most of his career, righty Chad Gaudin could also be a possibility for the Dodgers as a spot starter or pen piece. As MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports, Gaudin is about a month away from beginning to throw after undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery on his pitching wrist.
  • Another rehabbing starter, Josh Johnson of the Padres, is experiencing nerve issues in his neck and will put his throwing program on hold, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The issue “doesn’t sound serious,” per Brock. Johnson has gone nearly two years since his last MLB appearance, and a scuffling San Diego outfit would surely welcome a chance to put a vintage JJ on the rubber.
  • The Padres are also hoping for a return from Brandon Morrow, who was pitching well before shoulder issues put him down. Brock says that Morrow is set to throw a sim game later this week. It seems that Morrow is on track with his recovery, though he surely still has a number of boxes to check before returning to action.
  • Of even greater concern for the Padres, in the long run at least, is the status of Wil Myers and his injured left wrist. As Brock reports, Myers has yet to be cleared to take swings and will obviously not be ready to come off the DL when first eligible tomorrow. Instead, he is headed back for another look at the wrist to see how it is healing.


Free Agent Stock Watch: Howie Kendrick

Howie Kendrick seems something of an underappreciated player, perhaps because he has not racked up eye-popping counting stats in recent seasons. But we already know that teams value him rather highly.

After all, over the winter the Dodgers flipped just-acquired top-100 pitching prospect Andrew Heaney to the Angels to acquire one year of Kendrick — at a very reasonable, but hardly cheap, $9.5MM salary. And Los Angeles cleared out young middle infielder Dee Gordon, the incumbent at second, as part of its multi-faceted strategy.

True, Gordon has been nothing short of spectacular for the Marlins. He does carry an unsustainable .433 BABIP, but he’s also continued to lower his strikeout rate, run like crazy, and put up much-improved defensive metrics.

But the Dodgers also have received what they hoped for out of Kendrick. Over 178 plate appearances on the year, he has slashed .293/.348/.445 — a slight bump up over his career numbers.

If you had stopped the record after 2012, you might view Kendrick as an average hitter who had one big year under his belt (2011). But he has since settled in as a clearly above-average bat, compiling a 117 OPS+ since the start of the 2013 season.

May 1, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Howie  Kendrick (47) throws to first to complete an out in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In that sense, this year has been a continuation. But Kendrick has also showed signs of improvement. After carrying a walk rate of about 5% for much of his career, Kendrick has earned free passes at a better-than-7% clip over the last two seasons, all while maintaining a 16.3% strikeout rate that has improved his overall mark.

Combined, his BB/K rate sits at a career-best .45, just exceeding his prior personal best from last year. Better yet, he’s done that while also managing to push his ISO back up over the .150 mark for the first time since that strong 2011 campaign — a marked improvement on his personal-low .104 ISO from last year.

Kendrick’s .336 BABIP is on the high side, but actually falls just below his historic marks. While Baseball Info Solutions numbers say that he has generated less hard and more soft contact than in recent years, Kendrick nevertheless carries a 28.1% line-drive rate that exceeds any of his end-of-year rates from seasons prior.

It isn’t all good news for Kendrick, of course. After a four-year run of positive UZR metrics, Kendrick has slipped just barely into the negative. And Defensive Runs Saved has him at a more troubling -5 runs saved to date. It’s early, of course, but that certainly bears watching. Likewise, Kendrick is just two-for-four in stolen base attempts this year, though his game has never relied much on the basepaths (he has swiped 14 bags four times, at a 71.9% success rate).

All said, while he hasn’t exactly transformed himself, it’s reasonable to argue that Kendrick has solidified his status as a firmly above-average second baseman in his age-31 season. But how does he stack up against the rest of the expected market?

Advances against his likely free agent competition, it seems, is where Kendrick’s value has increased the most. The most obvious and direct comparison is to Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who is younger (not yet two months removed from his 30th birthday) but carries a below-league-average .263/.316/.381 batting line. There’s plenty of time for that to change — Murphy’s .271 BABIP will probably rise and he has struck out in just 8% of his plate appearances, a market improvement — but Kendrick is gaining ground at present, and has always looked like the surer defensive option of the two.

Other players who teams will weigh alongside Kendrick have also generated some cause for concern in the first quarter of 2015. Ben Zobrist, who turns 34 tomorrow, missed a month with knee surgery and has rated (rather uncharacteristically) as a below-replacement-level player. Once again, it’s far too soon to write him off, and his track record of outstanding overall value speaks for itself. But there’s little question that Zobrist has come back to earth in the early going. Likewise, while Asdrubal Cabrera has suddenly posted excellent UZR ratings at shortstop in a small sample, his offensive production has suffered quite a bit.

Clubs eyeing an upgrade at second will surely look to that group, but it is possible that all — including Kendrick — could factor in at third base as well. While I won’t pretend to know whether he profiles well there defensively, the hot corner market is shaping up to be rather underwhelming with names like David Freese, Juan Uribe, and Casey McGehee leading the way.

In terms of what kind of guarantee we might expect, direct comps are somewhat scarce. But Kendrick seems a good bet to top Omar Infante‘s pre-2014 deal with the Royals. Coming off of a strong platform year, but carrying a history of production clearly inferior to that of Kendrick, Infante took down four years and just over $30MM entering his age-32 campaign. Though it’s far too early to be precise, a contract on the order of Chase Headley‘s (four years and $52MM) seems a reasonable target for Kendrick — though he has some room to build on that as well.

There have been whispers that the Dodgers could look to extend Kendrick, but that has always seemed questionable with the club’s dizzying array of options at second and third. But a qualifying offer is definitely in play, and entering the market weighed down by draft compensation could have some effect on Kendrick’s earning capacity.

Being the most desirable player at a given position has its obvious advantages, and Kendrick ought to have no shortage of theoretical landing spots. His long-time former team, the Angels, could be in play, as might the Yankees, White Sox, Nationals, Mets, and Padres. It is possible to imagine scenarios where other clubs — the Royals, Rangers, Athletics, and Braves come to mind — could consider pursuit.

The bottom line is that Kendrick appears increasingly well-positioned for next year’s free agent market. While he will undoubtedly be overshadowed in a deep and talented class, Kendrick stands out among his direct competitors and seems headed for a significant payday.


East Notes: Syndergaard, Duda, Castillo, Red Sox

While neither pitcher toed the rubber in tonight’s tilt, Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett and veteran Phillies starter Aaron Harang played an interesting role in the action by squaring off in a notable pre-game National Anthem stand-off. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post provides a nice account of the duel, which lasted until after the first pitch was thrown and ultimately mirrored the game itself in producing a tightly-fought victory for Washington.

Here are the latest notes from the eastern seaboard:

  • The Mets continue to fall back in the standings, but have at least received solid initial returns on prized righty Noah Syndergaard, who was something of a tough-luck loser tonight but owns a 3.63 ERA with 16 strikeouts and five walks in 17 1/3 innings. As Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports, the team intends to keep Syndergaard on the active roster when righty Dillon Gee is activated this weekend. In fact, the club may utilize a six-man rotation of some kind for a stretch. That’s good news for Syndergaard, who profiles as a likely Super Two qualifier if he can stick in the big leagues the rest of the way.
  • One of the few bright spots for the Mets on the offensive side of the equation is first baseman Lucas Duda, as Craig Edwards of Fangraphs explains. Duda’s big numbers last year came in spite of struggles against left-handed pitching, but Edwards writes that his overall body of work in that area, including excellent early numbers this year, show promise that he can be a strong everyday option at first.
  • Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo told reporters before today’s game that he does not expect to be a savior for the scuffling club, as John Tomase of WEEI.com reports“Obviously, I’m very excited, but right now it’s just important to keep in mind the job at hand and try to keep the same momentum I had at Triple-A,” said Castillo. His first appearance in 2015 was not a memorable one for him or his team, but Castillo does look like he could be an important piece as Boston tries to work a turnaround.
  • While the Red Sox outfield logjam perhaps no longer holds quite the promise of abundance it once did, managing the roster remains a challenge — and a story to watch as the trade market begins to take form. As Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports on Twitter, manager John Farrell says that he plans to rotate Castillo in at both center and right in some kind of time share with Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino. All three hit right-handed, as does left fielder Hanley Ramirez, seemingly leaving at least some role for the switch-hitting Daniel Nava, particularly with Ramirez and Victorino nursing injuries.

Quick Hits: Reds, Meyer, Ryu, Arruebarrena

The game is in need of greater minority representation in its most visible non-playing role, that of manager, says Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Heyman lists twenty excellent candidates who ought to receive strong consideration from those clubs that are in need of new dugout leaders after the season.

  • It’s no secret, of course, that Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman would draw intense interest on the trade market if they are made available. Writing for FOX Sports, Jeff Sullivan analyzes just how much they could bring back this summer. In spite of his excellence, Cueto might most realistically be expected to bring back a very good prospect rather than a great one, says Sullivan, while Chapman probably has somewhat more value given his nearly-unmatched dominance and extra year of control. As Sullivan notes, the possibility of jointly marketing the two in search of more premium talent in less player seems interesting, though perhaps something of a long shot.
  • The Twins have decided to move top-100 pitching prospect Alex Meyer into the Triple-A bullpen, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports. It appears that the team is doing so more with the idea of getting him back on track than preparing him for MLB bullpen work — Meyer has struggled mightily, especially with his control — but it would not be surprising to see him appear as a late-inning arm if he can turn things around and Minnesota can stay in the hunt.
  • Dodgers lefty Hyun-jin Ryu, who is set to miss the rest of the year with shoulder surgery, told reporters that he has been pitching with a labrum tear at least since he signed with the club, as J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group tweets. Ryu says that his MRI back in 2013 revealed the slight tear, which has not worsened — but is apparently now a much greater problem — since that time.
  • Meanwhile, the Dodgers will not attempt to void the contract of infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweets. While the club felt justified in suspending Arruebarrena for the entire rest of the year for disciplinary reasons, Saxon says that the still-unreported transgressions were not considered significant enough to warrant yet more drastic action.

Dodgers Acquire Eric Surkamp From White Sox

The Dodgers have dealt for lefty reliever Eric Surkamp from the White Sox, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. Chicago has acquired righty Blake Smith in the deal, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tweets.

Surkamp, 27, has not found much big league success over the years; he owns a 6.20 ERA with 5.5 K/9 against 5.0 BB/9 over 53 2/3 career innings. That included a middling output last year in the White Sox bullpen, which he joined after spending most of his career as a starter in the Giants organization.

Surkamp passed through waivers this spring, but has been rather excellent since. Over 25 2/3 Triple-A innings (in just 11 appearances, including one start), he has fanned 30 hitters while walking only nine and permitting eight earned runs.

For Los Angeles, the move represents yet another pitching depth move. Presumably, Surkamp will continue in a relief capacity, though his long history as a starter makes him at least a spot option in the rotation.

Smith, also 27, had been working at Double-A for the L.A. organization. Only recently converted from an outfielder to a reliever, Smith has racked up 16 2/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9 this year in Tulsa.


West Notes: Street, Crisp, Athletics, Dodgers

Angels closer Huston Street spoke with Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca about his decision to ink a mid-season extension. Though he ultimately handed off the job of negotiating that deal to agent Alan Hendricks, much of the groundwork was laid by Street himself. He says the process was enjoyable, but noted that he learned from mistakes in how things were relayed to the media this spring. Street spoke at length about the compromises struck to reach the deal, explaining the “interesting crossroad to be fascinated by the money but also to not be driven by it at all.”

  • Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp is still struggling with the same neck issues that bothered him last year, but Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (links to Twitter) that surgery is off the table. Normally, that’s a good thing, but in this case the issue is that a surgical solution would very likely end Crisp’s playing career. Ultimately, Crisp may need another DL stint but is expected to be able to play with the injury.
  • The Athletics are not interested in dealing catcher Stephen Vogt and are not moving now on pitcher Scott Kazmir, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com reports“I’m not trading Vogt,” said GM Billy Beane. “Period.” As for the veteran lefty Kazmir, Gammons writes that Beane and co. had intended to make him a qualifying offer but could ultimately consider a deal — though they’ve not yet had any action in that area.
  • From the same report, Gammons says that the Dodgers are generating plenty of interest in their younger players from clubs that have pitching to deal. The PhilliesReds, and Athletics, among other teams, are “scouring” the Los Angeles farm, per Gammons. The veteran journalist also adds that some other executives think that L.A. could potentially make a run at Cole Hamels by dangling interesting utilityman Enrique Hernandez, pitchers Zach Lee and Chris Anderson, and catcher Julian Leon to Philadelphia. While Gammons does not make clear whether his sources suggest that package would be enough, it certainly seems at face value that Philly would demand a headliner to top things off.

Minor Moves: Josh Elander, Brock Peterson

Here are today’s minor moves of note:

  • The Diamondbacks have released outfielder Josh Elander, Matt Eddy of Baseball America reports on Twitter. Elander, 24, was the player that went to Arizona in the deal that shipped Trevor Cahill to the Braves, meaning that the club really only ended up achieving some salary relief in that swap. Elander had reached the High-A level last year for the Braves, but started out in A ball for the Arizona organization and posted an interesting .244/.382/.289 line over 55 plate appearances.
  • Brock Peterson has been given his release from the Twins, as the organization’s Triple-A affiliate announced. The 31-year-old first baseman and outfielder made a brief big league appearance with the Cardinals back in 2013, but has mostly worked in the upper minors in recent campaigns. Peterson put up a .186/.289/.351 slash with five home runs in his 114 plate appearances at Rochester, well off the .827 OPS he carries over seven years at the highest level of the minors.

Red Sox Promote Rusney Castillo

The Red Sox have made the long awaited move to bring up outfielder Rusney Castillo, according to multiple reports. He will take the roster spot of Jackie Bradley Jr., who has been optioned back to Triple-A, and be in the lineup tonight.

Castillo, 27, received a brief promotion late last year after signing a seven-year, $72.5MM deal with Boston in late August. His first forty MLB plate appearances went well — .333/.400/.528 with two home runs and three stolen bases — but an outfield logjam and minor injury this spring had left Castillo patrolling the grass for Pawtucket in 2015.

Now that he has returned to health and begun putting up solid numbers again at Triple-A, Castillo was the obvious choice to be called upon in hopes of spurring a surprisingly listless offense. Boston’s most robust batting line, that of Hanley Ramirez, does not even crack an .800 OPS, and a number of regulars and reserves have not quite lived up to expectations.

In terms of contract status, the move doesn’t mean as much as it would for other players who lack significant big league experience. Though no public reports seem to confirm the point, it is likely that his deal includes a provision allowing him to reach free agency when it ends, regardless of service time. In any event, the deal gives him the right to opt out after the 2019 season (though he’d have to forego a $13.5MM payday for the following year to do so).

In terms of impact, then, the call-up is notable more for where it could take the Boston front office the rest of the way. If Castillo looks like an everyday player, and Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez aren’t sidetracked by injury, then the status of Shane Victorino and/or Daniel Nava could increasingly be in question. Either player could theoretically be traded, but Victorino is expensive and Nava has not hit at all this year. And, of course, the Red Sox have already dealt with the most significant outfield overcrowding issue by outrighting Allen Craig.