Author Archives: Jeff Todd

Latest On Twins’ Managerial Search

As the Twins continue to seek a replacement for longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire, here are the latest news and rumors:

OCTOBER 20:

  • Still in the running for the post, according to Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter), are Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Torey Lovullo.
  • The Twins have told Alomar that he is no longer under consideration, tweets Wolfson. Hale has also been advised that he will not get the position, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Star (h/t Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press).

OCTOBER 17:

  • Wolfson tweets that McEwing has been ruled out for the position, meaning that the team could be inching closer to making a decision.

OCTOBER 16:

  • Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the Twins have also interviewed Blue Jays bench coach Demarlo Hale (Twitter link). Hale’s name had been mentioned speculatively previously, but this appears to be the first report of his concrete candidacy, let alone an interview.

OCTOBER 11:

OCTOBER 9:

  • Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will also interview for the position, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets.

(more…)


Quick Hits: Braves Outfielders, Romo, Hudson

Here are a few stray notes from around the game …

  • As I recently explored in my breakdown of the Braves‘ offseason-to-come, Atlanta faces some decisions in the outfield. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes into more detail on the situations of the disappointing B.J. Upton and corner outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, both of whom will become free agents at season’s end. The Braves “seem prepared” to take a bath on the elder Upton’s long-term deal to move him off the roster, according to O’Brien, and if the can manage it would probably utilize Heyward or a stop-gap in center. Dealing one of the other two players while trying to extend the other has long been discussed as a plausible option, and O’Brien indicates that it is a realistic option to slide Evan Gattis into a corner role to fill any resulting void.
  • As far as extensions go, O’Brien says the Braves talked with Heyward’s representatives about a deal last winter. The team was interested in something that would have fallen well shy of Freddie Freeman‘s $135MM pact, says O’Brien, and Heyward’s asking price was well out of Atlanta’s comfort zone. His number has, in all likelihood, only gone up in the meantime, as Heyward just turned 25 and continues to rack up production — even though he has not returned to the offensive power ceiling he showed earlier in his career.
  • The Royals passed on a chance to sign Sergio Romo for a meager $1K bonus before the Giants eventually took a chance on the reliever, ESPN.com’s Keith Law tweets. While Kansas City certainly cannot be faulted for leaving the then-unheralded Romo behind, it surely would have been nice to have added him from the team’s perspective.
  • On the other hand, the Royals were willing to pay righty Tim Hudson, who said that K.C. made him a “very good offer” of two years this past offseason, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter. Like Romo, the veteran ended up with the Giants — in his case, by choice — and will square off against the Royals in the World Series.

Phillies Outright Andres Blanco

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • The Phillies have outrighted Andres Blanco off the team’s 40-man roster, Philadelphia announced. Blanco, a 30-year-old utility infielder, saw just 53 plate appearances on the year in his first MLB action since 2011. He has seen time in seven big league seasons, but never made more than 185 plate appearances in one year. Blanco owns a composite .257/.301/.342 slash across 707 plate appearances.


Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Braves

Last year’s offseason was dedicated in large part to the future, with a series of extensions and key financial moves, but the Braves were well-stocked with talent at the major league level and looked promising to start the 2014 season. After weathering significant pitching injuries early on, however, Atlanta faded badly down the stretch and is now staring at front office changes, a tight budget, difficult decisions, and rising competition in the division.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

Other Obligations

Every organization responds differently when it feels that change is needed, and for the Braves, the sense seems to be that a restoration is in order. John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox are still the most powerful figures in the organization, and Frank Wren’s departure will apparently not be met with a broad search for fresh blood in the GM seat. Interim GM John Hart was offered the post full-time, but it still remains unclear whether that is in the cards. Otherwise, the Braves will seemingly look first (and possibly only) at familiar faces such as assistant GM John Coppolella and former assistant GM (and current Royals GM) Dayton Moore. (Recently-resigned Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, Hart’s former AGM with the Indians, has also been mentioned as a possibility, though MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that he does not see O’Dowd as a candidate.) The organization has already set out to get the band back together in the scouting arena, bringing back figures such as Roy Clark and Dave Trembley.

The bottom line: Atlanta’s leadership does not believe that its player intake and development system is producing, and that determination seems to be the chief driver at this point. But with the organization ramping up for a critical new ballpark opening in 2017, what does it all mean for the big league club?

The key issue at the MLB level is, as ever, resource constraints. While Atlanta’s talent level remains high, the team has needs. And while last year’s run of extensions look like good investments overall, the Chris Johnson deal aside, they do not leave a ton of payroll flexibility moving forward. (Of course, the alternative would have been to pay bigger arbitration dollars while possibly losing key pieces to free agency down the line.) Last year’s franchise-record $112MM Opening Day payroll, which resulted in the team’s first losing season since 2008, seems unlikely to be repeated. How much spending capacity will remain? The club already has just under $80MM on the books for 2015, and could dedicate as much as $21MM+ if it tenders arbitration contracts to all of its eligible players.

Non-tenders and trades could free some dollars, but that means difficult choices are fast approaching. Qualifying offers must be made within five days of the end of the World Series, while decisions on arb-eligible players are due December 2nd.

A new GM will surely have a key role in determining the path forward, but given the timeline, the organization may well largely know already what it will do with players in those contractual situations. Indeed, as Hart has indicated, the general strategy appears to be in place. “We don’t need an overhaul,” said Hart. “It’s not a disaster. But there are certainly some things we need to take a look [at].” Acknowledging the “economic challenges” facing the team in building out its roster, Hart added that larger moves are likelier to come via trade than signing.

Regardless of how the decisions are made, a key set of issues involves the rotation, where several important pieces require action. To begin, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, and Gavin Floyd will be free agents, subject to the qualifying offer process. The former seems a good bet to receive a $15.3MM QO, though that is hardly a clear case given the Braves’ financial limitations. It seems unlikely he would accept, since his downside scenario might be another one-year deal at that level of pay, and Atlanta will surely be tempted by the chance of obtaining draft compensation. The likeliest scenario appears to be that he will receive and reject an offer, and find a new club. Harang, meanwhile, could make sense, but barring a late effort at a new deal he’ll have a chance to test the market. And while another attempt at rehabbing Floyd could in theory take place again in Atlanta, he seems unlikely to open the year in any club’s starting five.

If those three arms move on, the rotation will have just three clear members: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Mike Minor. (In spite of his struggles, Minor has too much ability and makes too much financial sense not to have a clear shot at a role.) David Hale is perhaps the likeliest younger player to be a promotion candidate, though Cody Martin may also get a shot after two solid runs at Triple-A.

Otherwise, the Braves will have to decide how to proceed with the two players whose season-ending injuries led to Santana’s signing last year: Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Both are working back from their second Tommy John procedures, which generally come with longer rehab periods and a lower incidence of successful recovery. Given their 2014 arbitration salaries ($5.8MM and $1.45MM, respectively), a non-tender of the former must at least be considered, though Medlen’s established performance baseline is probably too good to pass up. The team could look to work out a less financially onerous arrangement, possibly including a future option in the manner of the D’backs’ deal with Daniel Hudson. (Note that Medlen would be set to reach free agency after the year.)

Even if Medlen and Beachy have successful rehabs, an Opening Day return seems highly unlikely given that the pair was operated on in mid-March. The team could look at the free agent market for further depth. A Floyd-like bid for Brett Anderson would deliver upside, but may not suit the team’s needs. The likelier outcome, perhaps, would be to bring back Harang (though that could well require a two-year deal) or someone in his mold to bridge the gap and provide depth. Innings-eaters on the market include names like Ryan Vogelsong, Colby Lewis, and Kyle Kendrick.

All said, targeting a starter via trade could make sense for the Braves, as Hart suggested. The club is not without options for dealing from its big league roster. I recently explored the possibility of dealing backstop Evan Gattis, with youngster Christian Bethancourt taking over the regular role. Moving the pre-arb Gattis, however, would not deliver any immediate cost savings – indeed, finding a new backup (or re-signing Gerald Laird) would probably add payroll. While Gattis is probably not enough of an asset to bring back a starter who is both cost-controlled and an established producer, the Braves might find enough of those attributes to make a deal attractive.

If Atlanta really wants to add an arm with significant current and future value, it will likely need to consider parting with one of its quality corner outfielders. Both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are entering their final year of control, but are young enough that an acquiring team could place significant value on exclusive rights to negotiate an extension. Of course, that pair accounted for a significant piece of the club’s production last year, so the return would have to be substantial. As others have suggested, it could make sense to explore a long-term deal with one or both while also gauging trade interest in a bid to address other areas of need and possibly add a player with more control. Extending one while dealing the other makes some sense, though the ability to pull off that feat will depend upon other actors (the players and prospective trade partners). One interesting possibility noted by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes would be a swap with the Reds involving Heyward and Johnny Cueto; if both clubs cannot find something else to their liking, such a move might better align with their respective needs in 2015.

Of course, unlike the catching situation, there is no obvious corner outfielder ready to step into a regular role. Among the team’s near-MLB prospects, the best of whom are mostly pitchers, Todd Cunningham is a possibility to take over a slot. But while the 25-year-old improved upon his first go at Triple-A, and is said to be a good defender capable of playing center, he managed only a .287/.347/.406 line with 8 home runs and 19 steals last year at Gwinnett. Other possibilities include a trade of a pitching prospect for an affordable, younger outfielder, a dip into a free agent market that includes names like Norichika Aoki and Alex Rios, or a combination of the above in search of a productive platoon.

Then, there is the fact that the team already has questions in center, where a struggling and expensive B.J. Upton looks nearly immovable. Last we heard, the Braves and Cubs intended to revisit the possibility of a bad-contract swap also involving Edwin Jackson. Otherwise, unless someone like Cunningham delivers a big spring, Atlanta could be forced to put Upton back in the lineup and hope for a turnaround.

The infield, at least, is much more settled. First baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons are perhaps the only names sure to be written into the Opening Day lineup card, though the rest of the diamond will almost certainly be filled internally as well. Third baseman Chris Johnson is likely to have a chance to return to his 2013 levels, given that his extension does not even kick in until this year, though he may soon be challenged by prospect Kyle Kubitza. And at second, the Braves will wait out the tail end of the disappointing Dan Uggla contract — since he was released, there is no longer any hope of saving any cash — while fielding second-year player Tommy La Stella. Of course, the much-hyped 20-year-old Jose Peraza could become a factor if he continues to impress, though he has taken only 195 plate appearances at the Double-A level.

The bullpen, likewise, seems destined to continue in much the same form as last year. Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, and James Russell make up a strong back end. And a series of other arms – Anthony Varvaro, Shae Simmons, Chasen Shreve, and Luis Avilan among them – deliver ample depth. Though none of these arms (Kimbrel excepted) will make a large mark on the balance sheet, it is possible to imagine Atlanta dealing from depth to sweeten the pot in a larger trade while potentially freeing up a little bit of extra spending capacity. The team will likely need to try to work something out to keep Jonny Venters; the outstanding 29-year-old lefty is attempting a rare return from a third Tommy John procedure, and his arb price tag looks steep given that he did not even receive his latest UCL replacement until the end of August.

In the end, the Braves continue to be a team with plenty of talent, and it would not be surprising to see a rebound year. But given the financial constraints, the front office’s own seemingly negative take on the talent pipeline, and the looming free agency of Heyward and Upton, Atlanta will need to balance carefully the present with the future. Though dealing away expiring contracts for prospects holds some facial appeal, and the 2017 ballpark opening looms large from a business perspective, Atlanta has not been known to take that tack in the past. Creativity, then, will be the key; but first the front office situation will need to be decided.


Brian Roberts To Retire

Longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who spent last season with the Yankees, will retire after a productive 14-year career. Roberts himself broke the news in an appearance on the Steve Gorman sports show on FOX Sports Radio (audio link; h/t to the BaltimoreSportsReport.com). Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter that Roberts confirmed his intentions to hang up the spikes.

Roberts, who just turned 37, will always be known for his time in Baltimore. After two years as a solid regular, Roberts broke out with a stellar 2005 season in which he posted 7.2 rWAR and 6.6 fWAR on the back of excellent all-around play. Though he never again reached quite those levels, Roberts was an above-average to excellent performer over each of the next four years.

That track record of consistent production led Baltimore to award Roberts with a four-year, $40MM extension that covered the 2010-13 campaigns. Unfortunately, things turned south the moment the contract began to pay out, as a cascade of injuries conspired to wipe out large swaths of each of his next four campaigns. And Roberts never really regained his form when he was on the field, slashing a meager .246/.310/.359 over just 809 plate appearances during that four-year term.

The ending was not, perhaps, quite what Roberts envisioned when he made the difficult decision to join the Yankees on a one-year deal after spending his entire career in one (rival) organization. He logged 348 plate appearances in New York — somewhat remarkably, the highest annual tally he had managed since 2009 — but slashed just .237/.300/.360 with five home runs and seven stolen bases. He was ultimately released to make room for the acquisition of Stephen Drew.

While it is easy to be distracted by his inability to stay on the field after his age-31 season, Roberts was one of the better players in the game at his peak levels of performance. He logged nearly two-thirds of his career 30.3 rWAR and 28.4 fWAR during that 2005-09 run.


Free Agent Profile: Michael Morse

Michael Morse has provided notice that he is still a force at the plate, but his defensive limitations remain a major factor in his market. He made good on the one-year, $6MM deal he signed with the Giants, but what kind of contract will he achieve in his second successive turn at free agency?

Strengths/Pros

You could probably write this section fairly in just one word: bat. Over 482 plate appearances with the Giants, Morse put up a strong .279/.336/.475 slash with 16 home runs. That line does not quite reach the monster figures he tallied in 2011 with the Nationals — .303/.360/.550 with 31 long balls – but nevertheless indicates that his down season in 2013 can be chalked up in large part to a nagging wrist injury that required offseason surgery.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants

Notably, the right-handed-hitting Morse is productive against both righties (121 career wRC+) and lefties (121 career wRC+). Though he may never again be a truly elite power hitter, he has bumped his ISO back to just under the .200 level and could well improve on his career-low 15.1% HR/FB rate with a move to a ballpark that better suits his notable pop to the opposite field gap.

In truth, there is not much to dislike about Morse’s bat. Detractors could point to a slightly rising strikeout rate, but there is no spike that is way out of line with his career numbers. And Morse has had plenty of success with the same general mix of Ks and free passes. Likewise, his numbers in 2014 should arguably be downgraded due to the fact that he carried a sizeable .348 BABIP. (Notably, Morse’s rough 2013 season was driven in part by a .254 average on pitches he put in play.) But despite his lack of speed, Morse has put up three seasons of .330-or-better BABIP figures because, well, he hits the ball really hard. With all of his batted ball, pitch recognition, and contact numbers lining up cleanly with his career norms, Morse seems a good bet to continue to produce at a solidly above-average rate with the bat.

All said, Morse would be quite valuable even in a pure DH role, especially since he does not need a left-handed-hitting platoon mate. But that may still sell short his value somewhat. While Morse is widely acknowledged to be a very poor defensive outfielder (more on that below), he has somewhat surprisingly seen relatively little action at first in his career. Over 1,259 2/3 career innings at that spot, he has rated out as a slightly below-average defender. While that may not seem at first glance to be much of a feather in his cap, that decent performance in sporadic playing time provides hope that Morse could be a more reliable option if he were to open the spring with a first baseman’s mitt and use it steadily over a season. And it bears recalling that Morse started out his career as a shortstop, and even saw 450 big league innings there in his rookie season with the Mariners. Though he’ll never be graceful, it seems plausible to think that Morse could take on a full-time job at first.

Weaknesses/Cons

A hot start, mid-season swoon, and late-year rally is generally not the worst way to hit your walk year. But for Morse, that year all but ended when August flipped to September. Sidelined with a strained oblique, Morse saw just two plate appearances in the season’s final month. And as of this writing, Morse has taken just four trips to the dish during the Giants’ postseason run, though the most recent produced a memorable home run.

That slightly unfortunate, essentially minor injury could probably be forgotten in large part were it not for Morse’s lengthy docket of maladies. The towering slugger has missed significant time over each of the last three seasons – to say nothing of several earlier DL stints – for various aches, pains, and strains. In the aggregate, since that 2011 full-season breakout, Morse has averaged 107 games and 416 plate appearances a year. In particular, acquiring teams that intend to utilize him in the outfield will need to account for the distinct possibility that a full year of production may not result.

Of course, whether to use Morse as a regular outfield option at all is open to question. Among players with at least 1,000 innings in the outfield over the last three years, Morse ranks fifth from the bottom in total negative defensive value by measure of both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. And the eye test tends to support these findings.

Baserunning, likewise, is a clear negative for Morse, who was one of the league’s worst runners this year and probably will be for the rest of his career. He will turn 33 just before the start of the 2015 campaign, though that is still a fair sight younger than several other first base/DH options set to hit the market.

Personal

Morse, who was married in 2012, currently lives within walking distance of AT&T Park, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He grew up in Florida, ultimately being drafted by the White Sox out of high school, but also spent time in Jamaica as a child.

Bearing a nom de guerre of “the Beast,” Morse is one of the most colorful players in the game. Whether performing his “Samurai Cobra Snake” routine before entering the box, spinning “Take On Me” before his third plate appearance of a game, or re-enacting a ghost swing before trotting out a grand slam after a review, Morse is undeniably an entertaining presence at the ballpark.

Market

While the Giants signed him as an outfielder, Morse’s time there in a regular capacity probably should and will come to an end. Though National League teams in need of a first baseman could make a slight roll of the dice on Morse’s defense, the most obvious landing spot remains with an American League club. Lacking platoon splits, he would be an attractive option to share time at first with a more platoon-oriented hitter while taking the rest of his hacks from the DH spot.

Clubs like the Rangers, Mariners, and White Sox seem to be possibilities, and the Royals may be in the market for a Billy Butler replacement. Were Victor Martinez to find a new team, it is possible to imagine the Tigers giving Morse a look to share first base and DH duties with Miguel Cabrera. And several N.L. teams – the Padres, Brewers, Marlins, and possibly the Pirates come to mind – could see merit in installing Morse at first. Should consideration be given to using him in the outfield, it is conceivable that the Giants, Reds, and Mets could get involved. Depending on how the Phillies proceed with their situations at first, third, and the corner outfield, Morse could theoretically land there as well.

As for comps, recent contracts given to Marlon Byrd (2/$16MM), Adam LaRoche (2/$25MM plus loss of a draft pick), and perhaps Mike Napoli (2/$32MM plus sacrifice of potential draft compensation) seem the most relevant points of reference. Byrd’s age and near-past disappearance from relevance certainly had a major impact on his market, though he is a more able defender than Morse. And Napoli’s strong work at the plate and in the field, combined with an age, seem to make his number out of reach. As for LaRoche, it is hard to ignore the fact that he was coming off of a 33-home run year and was generally well-regarded as a defensive first baseman (whatever the metrics may say).

Ultimately, even without the qualifying offer penalty, Morse seems likely to land shy of LaRoche’s deal. That is especially so given the fact that he faces relatively steep competition from bat-first players such as LaRoche (now again a likely free agent), Michael Cuddyer, Billy Butler, and (on the high side) Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez.

Expected Contract

Morse’s representatives at ACES will probably ask for three years, but there is sufficient market competition that I see a shorter pact as the likelier outcome. Though a qualifying offer is unlikely to weigh down his value, Morse has his limitations as a player. Ultimately, I predict that he will land a two-year, $22MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


MLB Trade Rumors Podcast: Episode 2

On the second episode of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast, Jeff Todd runs down the week’s transaction news (0:55) and then chats with Diamondbacks beat writer Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (1:48) on topics including the team’s front office changes, middle infield and starting pitching situations, and extension candidates. Jeff is then joined by MLBTR’s Steve Adams to break down upcoming decisions on options around the league (29:47).

Podcast

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! You can download the episode directly with this link.

You can access the podcast via SoundCloud at this link. The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.


Minor Moves: Jonathan Jones

Here are the latest minor moves from around the game:

  • The Marlins have signed outfielder Jonathan Jones to a minor league deal, per the MLB.com transactions page. Jones, 25, had spent his entire career in the Blue Jays system. This year, he put up a .233/.302/.314 slash over 196 plate appearances in his first substantial stretch at the Double-A level.

Rays Sign Michael Kohn To Major League Deal

The Rays have inked right-hander Michael Kohn to a one-year, major league contract, the club announced today. With the move, Tampa’s 40-man roster is now full for the time being.

Kohn, 28, elected free agency after being designated for assignment and outrighted in early September by the Angels. That move was confusing on the surface, as Kohn owns a 3.52 ERA across 76 2/3 frames since the start of 2013 and strikes out batters at a handy 9.2 per-nine clip.

But those numbers are not quite supported by Kohn’s peripherals; ERA estimators suggest that he may have benefited from a low home run-to-flyball rate and a .192 BABIP-against. At root, the concern with Kohn was his badly-slipping control. He ended up issuing 7.6 free passes per nine last year, including a troubling ten over his last 5 1/3 frames. Neither was the problem contained to his MLB time: Kohn walked 27 in his 34 Triple-A innings.


Cuban Second Baseman Jose Fernandez Defects

Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez has defected, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. He will seek a big league contract, says Morosi, though of course he must first qualify for free agency. Ben Badler of Baseball America reported yesterday that Fernandez had not appeared with his club and was potentially attempting to leave Cuba.

Fernandez, Jose 1304 (boyer rode)Not to be confused with the young Marlins pitcher of the same name and Cuban heritage, the 26-year-old Fernandez is considered a legitimate big league prospect who could potentially be signed as an immediate everyday option. He will not be subject to international spending limits given his age and length of service in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.

As Badler wrote back in August, Fernandez is among the three best Cuban ballplayers who are currently unavailable to MLB teams. According to Badler, Fernandez is an on-base machine who hits from the left side with an advanced approach and contact skills. (Remarkably, he struck out only ten times in 314 trips to the plate last year.) You’ll want to read Badler’s full report, of course, for a detailed account. Though a highly developed player, Fernandez does come with some warts, including an unconventional swing, tendency to hit grounders, and below-average speed and power tools. And his defense is described as merely adequate.

In sum, it seems fair to say that Fernandez is less a flashy, toolsy prospect with a wide expected performance bracket than he is a reliable, high-floor target. By way of comparison, fellow recent defector Hector Olivera — also a second baseman — rated sixth on Badler’s list. Though he seems to offer more a somewhat more explosive offensive repertoire, he is also older and comes with an injury history.

As I explained recently with regard to Olivera, Fernandez will not be available to sign immediately. First, he will have to establish residency in another country, be cleared by the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control, and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. For countryman Yasmany Tomas, that process took approximately three and a half months.

Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode.