Author Archives: Mark Polishuk

Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez

8:05pm: Ramirez’s option will vest if he reaches 1050 plate appearances from 2017-18 and does not finish the 2018 season on the disabled list, reports Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (Twitter link).

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports adds (Twitter links) that Ramirez receives a limited no-trade clause in the deal. He will receive $50K bonuses for each All-Star nod, Silver Slugger award and Gold Glove he earns. He can also receive up to $150K each year based on MVP voting and additional bonuses for postseason awards.

5:29pm: On Nov. 24, 2005, the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins in a blockbuster deal, but nine years and a day later, the team has officially announced that Ramirez will return to Boston on a four-year deal.

Hanley  Ramirez

Ramirez, a client of the Wasserman Media Group’s Adam Katz, will reportedly earn $88MM over those four years, and his contract contains a $22MM vesting option for a fifth year.  The contract calls for a $3MM signing bonus, a $19MM salary in 2015 and a $22MM salary from 2016-18.

Ramirez, who hit .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers for the Dodgers last season and owns a .300/.373/.500 slash line for his career, was cited by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes as the top position player available in free agency, though it was “unclear” as to how Ramirez’s market would develop.  While Ramirez’s impact bat was clearly a huge asset in an offense-thin free agent market, he has a notable injury history and is a below-average defensive shortstop, posting negative Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150 totals in seven of his nine full-time seasons.  In order to help his free agent case, Ramirez said he was open to switching positions, though his signing with the Sox opens up a number of possibilities on that front.

The Red Sox announced Ramirez as a left fielder, which should put to rest any questions about his role with the team. Fellow free agent signee Pablo Sandoval will be penciled in as the everyday third baseman, and the promising Xander Bogaerts will look to improve in his second full season in the league.  Ramirez will join Boston’s very crowded outfield mix of Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Daniel Nava.  Cespedes’ name has been mentioned in trade rumors, so he seems like the most probable candidate to be playing elsewhere in 2015, but the Sox seem very likely to move multiple outfielders this winter.

It’s clear that the Red Sox are looking to amass as many top bats as possible in the increasingly pitching-dominated league.  The Sox have been hesitant about signing free agents to long contracts given how several of their recent major signings (i.e. Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez) provided limited returns.  On paper, Ramirez doesn’t fit the model of the safe signing that Boston would prefer given his age (he’ll be 31 on Opening Day), injury history and defensive issues, though given how little payroll space the Sox have tied up in future commitments, the club had plenty of flexibility.

Earlier this month, MLBTR’s Zach Links projected Ramirez would get a six-year, $132MM deal, so the reported total of his pact with Boston lags behind in both years and dollars.  The qualifying offer and the questions about Ramirez’s defense could have played a role, or it could be that Ramirez was simply willing to take less money to play for the organization that originally signed him as an amateur free agent in 2000.  Ramirez developed into one of the game’s top prospects while in the Sox farm system and he played his first two Major League games with the team in 2005.  He was dealt that November to the Marlins as part of the trade package that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

The Dodgers will earn a compensation pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as a result of the signing, as Ramirez turned down the team’s qualifying offer.  Boston’s 2015 first-round pick is protected, so the Sox have surrendered both their second- and third-round picks in order to bring Sandoval and Ramirez aboard.

Christopher Meola first reported that Ramirez would sign with Boston (Twitter link), and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the terms of the deal. The year-to-year breakdown was first reported by WEEI.com’s Alex Speier (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Red Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval

3:30pm: Sandoval will receive limited no-trade protection as well as a variety of annual award incentives, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).

11:29am: Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has officially signed with the Red Sox, kicking off a fascinating offseason for Boston. He’ll earn a guaranteed $95MM over five years, with a club option for a sixth season.

Pablo  Sandoval

Sandoval will receive a $3MM bonus, then earn $17MM annually over 2015-17 before taking home an $18MM salary in both 2018 and 2019. The club option is for $17MM and comes with a $5MM buyout.

Sandoval’s addition immediately addresses Boston’s need for a third baseman in the wake of Will Middlebrooks‘ disappointing 2014 season, and the switch-hitting Sandoval also adds some balance to a predominantly right-handed hitting Red Sox batting order.  While Sandoval never had much trouble hitting at AT&T Park (a career .853 OPS in San Francisco), it stands to reason that the move to hitter-friendly Fenway Park will only help his production.

With Sandoval in the fold and Hanley Ramirez reportedly also close to finalizing a deal, the Red Sox may have landed the two biggest infield bats on the free agency market.  It remains to be seen how the Red Sox will deploy their talent given Xander Bogaerts‘ presence at shortstop, though Sandoval is the obvious choice at third base given that he has posted above-average UZR/150 numbers in three of the last four seasons.

The Red Sox were one of three reported finalists for Sandoval along with the Giants and Padres.  (The Blue Jays and White Sox also showed some interest in Sandoval earlier this winter.)  This interest didn’t result in Sandoval finding his desired six guaranteed years, though if the contract does pay him a $20MM average annual value, it will be the second-highest AAV ever given to a third baseman, topped only by Alex Rodriguez‘s deal with the Yankees. San Francisco assistant GM Bobby Evans tells Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter) that Sandoval informed him he was looking for a “new challenge,” and he apparently found that in Boston.

Sandoval, 28, had spent his entire seven-year Major League career with the Giants, becoming a fan favorite due to his “Kung Fu Panda” persona and his clutch bat.  Sandoval owns a .344/.389/.545 slash line in 167 postseason plate appearances, most notably being named MVP of the 2012 World Series.  Losing Sandoval is a big blow to the Giants, who may be looking to replace his production by signing Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas.  Since Tomas could be deployed as a third baseman, he might end up as a direct replacement for Sandoval should he indeed wind up a Giant.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Giants are interested in Tomas as a left fielder and would likely pursue Chase Headley to fill their third base vacancy if Sandoval went elsewhere.

The Giants offered Sandoval a five-year, $95MM contract and showed some willingness to go to $100MM if necessary, tweets Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com hears the same and adds that there was an understanding that the $95MM wasn’t necessarily a final offer.

San Francisco will now receive a bonus pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as compensation for Sandoval signing elsewhere,  since he rejected the team’s one-year qualifying offer.  Boston’s first round pick (7th overall) is protected, so the Sox will instead give up their second rounder as a result of the signing.

Oscar Prieto Rojas reported direct confirmation of the signing (Twitter links). CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported today that a deal was complete (Twitter link). Jake Wesley tweeted yesterday that Sandoval and the Sox had reached agreement.

The contract breakdown comes from Alex Speier of WEEI.com, on Twitter. Heyman reported the final guaranteed figure, in a tweet. Manolo Hernandez Douen was first to report that the deal included a sixth-year option (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Orioles Interested In Melky Cabrera As “Fallback Option”

If the Orioles can’t re-sign Nick Markakis, the team’s “fallback option” is to pursue free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports.  Markakis and the O’s looked like they were headed towards a reunion earlier this winter when the two sides were seemingly close to a four-year contract, though there hasn’t since been much progress.

Cabrera posted a .301/.351/.458 slash line and a 125 wRC+ in 621 PA last season in comparison to Markakis’ .276/.342/.386 line and 106 wRC+ over 710 PA, though Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies and fewer plate appearances gave him only a slightly higher fWAR (2.6 to 2.5) than Markakis.  MLBTR’s Steve Adams predicted Cabrera for a five-year, $66.25MM deal and Markakis for a four-year, $48MM deal in his Free Agent Profiles of both outfielders, so signing Cabrera would likely be a more expensive proposition for the Orioles and he’d cost them a draft pick due to the qualifying offer.  If Cabrera’s market is depressed by the QO, however, it’s possible the Orioles could try to sign him for a relative bargain, as they did last winter with Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.

The White Sox and Mariners have also shown interest in Cabrera this offseason, with the Royals more loosely linked to the outfielder.  The door also hasn’t fully closed on Cabrera re-signing with the Blue Jays, depending on how his market plays out.



Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton Agree To 13-Year, $325MM Contract

THURSDAY: The deal also includes $1MM annually in assorted award-related performance bonuses, tweets Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs.

TUESDAY, 4:25pm: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets the full breakdown: after earning the previously-reported $30MM total over the first three years of the deal, Stanton will take home annual values of $25MM (2018), $26MM (2019, 2020), $29MM (2021, 2022), $32MM (2023, 2024, 2025), $29MM (2026), and $25MM (2027).

The deal also includes a $25MM club option for 2028, which comes with a $10MM buyout to make up the remainder of the guaranteed value in the deal.

2:29pm: The highest annual salary in the deal is $32MM, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. As Rosenthal notes, that rate matches the biggest single hit in the Cabrera deal but falls shy of Mike Trout’s highest-paid season.

12:31pm: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that Stanton’s contract is heavily backloaded — a structure which Stanton actually desired in order to leave the front office with flexibility to add significant pieces in order to contend in the immediate future.

Stanton will earn just $6.5MM in 2015, $9MM in 2016 and $14.5MM in 2017 before earning $77MM total over the following three seasons. In other words, should he opt out of his deal, he’ll have received $107MM over six years (an AAV of $17.83MM) and be walking away from seven years and $218MM (an AAV of $31.14MM).

MONDAY, 4:40pm: Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has confirmed the signing of Stanton to a 13-year deal, reports Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald. Loria called this a “landmark day” and noted, “It means everything to the franchise. We have a face of the franchise for the next 13 years.” Loria said he expects Stanton to be a Marlin for the next 13 seasons. “I did this for the city, the fans, for Giancarlo, our team, for myself and for baseball,” Loria told Navarro.

2:18pm: Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports (via Twitter) that the deal has been finalized and a press conference will be held at 11am on Wednesday of this week to announce the extension.

10:27am: The Marlins and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton are in agreement on a 13-year, $325MM contract extension that will set the benchmark as the new largest contract in the history of professional sports, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. While the deal hasn’t yet been made official, Heyman reports that a press conference should be held later this week and “there is a clear understanding the deal will be finalized.” Stanton is a client of the Wasserman Media Group’s Joel Wolfe.

The extension contains a full no-trade clause and Stanton “will be able to opt out not long after he turns 30,” according to Heyman, so it would seem that the opt-out clause can be triggered after the 2019 season, or after 2020 at the very latest.  Stanton just celebrated his 25th birthday on November 8.
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Stanton’s groundbreaking contract will buy out 11 free agent years, valuing each of those seasons in the $26-27MM range, depending on how much he’d have earned in arbitration over the next two seasons (MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had pegged him for a $13MM salary in 2015 alone). The new contract will run through the 2027 season, after which Stanton will be 37 years of age. Of course, that assumes that Stanton does not exercise the opt-out clause, at which point he could be able to seek an even larger annual commitment over a longer term, should he continue to perform as he has to this point in his career.

The runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in this year’s MVP voting, Stanton finished the season with a .288/.395/.555 batting line and 37 home runs — a figure that tied his career best and also led the National League. Still just 25, Stanton has nearly five full seasons under his belt and has authored a .271/.364/.540 batting line with 154 home runs while playing many of his games in the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park. Defensive Runs Saved considers Stanton to be an excellent right fielder, pegging his career at +26 run. Ultimate Zone Rating has him at +14.3 — an average of 3.3 runs saved per 150 games. In total, Baseball-Reference.com values Stanton’s career to date at 21.2 wins above replacement, while Fangraphs has him at 19.5 WAR.

Unlike many players that sign prodigious contracts, however, Stanton is not only being compensated for what he has done, but for what he could do in his prime. That he’s yet to reach his prime is a frightening thought (particularly for Major League pitchers), and it’s reasonable to think that Stanton’s best years may not even have come yet. The Marlins will secure far more of Stanton’s prime than most $200MM+ extensions do, and the team is well-positioned to take on a significant long-term deal, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd highlighted recently.

The question, of course, is how Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria will adjust the team’s payroll going forward. The Marlins have operated on a payroll between $40MM and $60MM in four of the past five seasons, but such a sum won’t be feasible if and when Stanton’s annual commitment approaches or even exceeds $30MM per season. Stanton’s extension appears to be as much a statement to the city of Miami that the Marlins intend to compete as it does a commitment to a clearly elite player.

By adding a no-trade clause, the Marlins have broken a club policy. The team’s previous record contract was that of Jose Reyes, but Reyes was dealt to Toronto just one year after signing his $106MM contract, further fueling widespread skepticism and cynicism toward the organization anytime it signed or acquired a player. That trade also enraged Stanton, who candidly tweeted at the time that he was “pissed off.” However, Stanton will have full say over his future, and it can even be argued that the Reyes/Mark Buehrle/Josh Johnson blockbuster helped set the stage for this extension, as it alleviated long-term payroll commitments for the Marlins and brought in talented, controllable names such as Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Justin Nicolino and Jake Marisnick, the latter of whom was a key component in acquiring Jarred Cosart.

The Marlins will now field a long-term outfield mix of Stanton in right field, Marcell Ozuna in center field and Christian Yelich in left field — a supremely talented trio that should hit near the top or in the middle of the team’s batting order for the foreseeable future.  Miami also boasts an impressive group of young pitchers, including ace Jose Fernandez (who is recovering from Tommy John surgery), Alvarez, Cosart, and Nathan Eovaldi (to say nothing of top prospects Andrew Heaney and, eventually Tyler Kolek). Additional options that are in or potentially ready to pitch in the Majors include Tom Koehler, Anthony DeSclafani and Brian Flynn. GM Dan Jennings and president of baseball operations Michael Hill will be able to use that pitching talent as they see fit to field a strong rotation and perhaps to acquire young hitters in trades.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, Stanton’s $25MM average annual value certainly isn’t a record, but the length and guarantee on his commitment certainly are. Currently, Miguel Cabrera is owed $292MM over the life of his contract, although that was actually a $248MM extension on top of two guaranteed contract seasons. In terms of the most amount of “new money” ever guaranteed on a contract, Alex Rodriguez‘s 10-year, $275MM contract set the bar prior to this deal. Other examples of $200MM+ contracts include 10-year, $240MM contracts to both Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano, a 10-year, $225MM extension for Joey Votto and a nine-year, $214MM pact for Prince Fielder. (Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215MM extension with the Dodgers last offseason as well.)

Stanton will surpass all of those impressive names in setting a pair of records that don’t figure to be broken in the near future. Though he’s been a fixture among trade rumors for the better part of four years, Stanton will ultimately remain rooted in Miami sports for at least the next several years and within the history books long after his days as a Marlin are done.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal first reported that Stanton and the Marlins were discussing a deal in the 10-year/$300MM range.  Christopher Meola appears to have been the first to learn of the deal’s finalization, as he tweeted the exact terms on Thursday night.


Cuban 2B Andy Ibanez Is In Dominican Republic

NOVEMBER 18: Ibanez is in the Dominican Republic, sources tell Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (Twitter links). There is still no timetable for a showcase, per McDaniel, who says that Ibanez appears to have arrived in the D.R. within the last week. It appears, however, that Ibanez is at least now set to begin the process of making himself available to be signed by MLB clubs.

OCTOBER 27: Andy Ibanez, a 21-year-old second baseman, has left Cuba in pursuit of a Major League contract, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports.  The 5’10”, 183-pound, right-handed hitting Ibanez is believed to have left Cuba sometime before September 21, which was the start of the Serie Nacional season.

Baseball America recently ranked Ibanez eighth on their list of the best prospects still in Cuba, with Badler writing that Ibanez “doesn’t have any premium tools or star upside, but his value lies in being steady in all phases while playing in the middle of the diamond.”  He posted a .267/.377/.435 line over 280 PA last season and won a Gold Glove in his 2011-12 rookie year.  Badler figures that Ibanez would start his Major League career at high-A or Double-A ball.

Since Ibanez has only three seasons of experience in Serie Nacional, he’ll be subject to the 2014-15 international bonus pools.  If Ibanez can get cleared to sign before the 2014-15 signing period ends on June 15, Badler thinks this could give the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays an advantage in signing him since those clubs have already exceeded their pool limits (and thus they don’t have to worry about spending more on new signings).  Those overages will prevent the three teams from signing any bonus pool-eligible players for the next two years, however, so the AL East trio will be out of the running for Ibanez if he isn’t a free agent by that June 15 date.


Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin

Toronto-born Russell Martin is heading home, as the Blue Jays have officially announced a five-year deal with the free agent backstop (in both English and French).  Martin, who is represented by agent Matt Colleran, will reportedly be guaranteed $82MM over the life of the contract, which is said not to have a no-trade clause, as per the Jays’ team policy.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

It was just yesterday that the Cubs were reported as the leading bidders for Martin’s services, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said Chicago was offering a deal in the four-year, $64MM range.  Rosenthal did warn that the Jays were still in the mix and indeed, Toronto ended up sealing the deal by giving Martin what Peter Gammons described as “McCann money” — a contract that fell just shy of the five-year, $85MM pact that Brian McCann received from the Yankees last winter.  Martin will reportedly earn $7MM in 2015, $15MM in 2016 and $20MM annually from 2017-19.

The contract is a major commitment to a catcher who will turn 32 years old in February, though MLBTR’s Steve Adams projected Martin would find a five-year deal given both the thin catching market and Martin’s obvious talents.  Martin hit .290/.402/.430 with 11 homers in 460 plate appearances for the Pirates last season, and is one of the game’s best defensive catchers both in terms of pitch-framing and throwing out baserunners.

Martin’s deal is the second-largest contract in Blue Jays team history and easily the biggest deal handed out in Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as general manager.  (Anthopoulos’ previous highs were signing Maicer Izturis for three years and signing Melky Cabrera for $16MM).  Toronto also has a team policy of not issuing contracts for longer than five years, so they went right to the limit of their in-house maximum to clinch the deal.  Between the Martin signing and the trades of Anthony Gose and Adam Lind (for Devon Travis and Marco Estrada, respectively), the Jays have been one of the offseason’s busiest teams, a far cry from their relative inactivity both last winter and at last July’s trade deadline.

The Jays weren’t thought to be in the market for a catching upgrade this winter since they already had Dioner Navarro under contract through the 2015 season. Navarro had a solid 2.0 fWAR in 2014 and could be moved into a platoon DH role, or he could become trade bait.  Backup Josh Thole could also be a trade candidate if Martin or Navarro can adapt to catching R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, as Thole has largely served as Dickey’s personal catcher over his two seasons in Toronto.

In losing Martin, the Pirates lose both a clubhouse leader and a key reason why the team reached the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.  Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Francisco Cervelli seemed like a sign that they had moved on from Martin, as it seemed unlikely that the Bucs would be able to match the high bids for Martin on the open market.

Still, the Pirates are more than satisfied with the return on their original two-year, $17MM investment in Martin and they’ll now receive an extra draft pick as compensation.  Because Martin rejected the Bucs’ qualifying offer, Pittsburgh gets a bonus pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft.  The Blue Jays, meanwhile, will surrender their first-rounder (17th overall).

Peter Gammons (Twitter link) first reported that the Jays had agreed to terms with Martin.  CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the contract length, the lack of a no-trade clause, and the year-to-year breakdown.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was the first to report the $82MM figure.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


John Hart On The Heyward/Miller Trade

During a conference call with reporters, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart discussed several aspects of today’s blockbuster trade that saw Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to go to the Cardinals in exchange for right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.  It was “very difficult” for the Braves to trade a homegrown product like Heyward, Hart said, yet it was a move the team felt it had to make “to help not only in the short term but also in the long term.

With Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang in free agency and Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both recovering from Tommy John surgery, Atlanta entered the offseason with a clear need for starting pitching.  There wasn’t much help coming from the farm, given how Hart described the Braves as “woefully thin [pitching-wise] in our minor league system.”  The St. Louis deal, therefore, checked a couple of boxes for the Braves as they were able to add a quality prospect in Jenkins and a young arm who’d experienced some Major League success in Miller.  The fact that Miller isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season made him especially attractive, Hart said.

Going into this winter we’d lost over 400 innings in our rotation and we didn’t have any players coming up in our system that were ready to provide those types of inningsWe really needed two starting pitchersAs we went through the meetings, we went out there with the idea of how do we acquire starters.  We sampled the waters, we talked to literally every club out there and weren’t looking for a one-year sort of fix.  Shelby Miller was one of the younger pitchers that we had identified as a guy who could step in and help us right now and that we would be able to control for a number of years.”

Miller’s status as a piece for both the present and future gives the Braves “the flexibility to go either way” in deciding if other offseason moves will be geared towards next season’s club or perhaps for a few years down the road.

We’ll take a good look at our competition in our division, take a good look at our club, take a look at what we can do in free agency to allow us to compete and examine other opportunities that might come our way.  I don’t think this trade sets us [in a direction] either way.  It provides us with the opportunity to look at everything independently….It certainly gives us some options for 2015 but there’s certainly a big picture in play.”

One of those big-picture questions involves Justin Upton, who (like Heyward) only has one year remaining on his contract before free agency.  There has been speculation that Atlanta could look to deal both of its corner outfielders this winter, and while Hart said “there is absolutely a legitimate chance” Upton is a Brave in 2015, he also said there hadn’t been any serious discussion of a contract extension.

There’s nothing definitive as we look to go forward, obviously.  We’re going to continue to explore a lot of avenues with what we do with the ballclub.  As we sit here today, there’s certainly a good chance Justin is back with us next year….I’ve had conversations [about an extension] but they have not been anything in depth so it would be unfair for me to comment much on Justin in that regard.  We’ll certainly continue to talk with his agent but I don’t really have a definitive answer as of yet.”

Heyward was guaranteed $8.3MM in 2015, so the trade also frees up some salary space.  This doesn’t mean the Braves will be in the running for the likes of Max Scherzer or James Shields (“We’re not looking to give up draft picks or financially handcuff this club,” Hart said), yet the extra payroll allows the club to explore both the free agent market and the trade market for further upgrades.

Despite Heyward’s pending free agent status after the 2015 season, the Braves “didn’t go out with the idea that Jason was going to be the guy that we used to get our starting pitching,” and that the club “sorted through a lot of different options before” deciding on this deal.  Last winter, Heyward signed a two-year extension that covered his two remaining arbitration-eligible seasons, and this modest contract stood out amidst much longer-term extensions given to Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel.

When I asked Hart if there had been any recent negotiations with Heyward about an extension, Hart gave the impression that there hadn’t been any further talks since last offseason.

He wanted a two-year deal and wasn’t interested in a long-term extension unless the dollars were maybe beyond where the club certainly wanted to goWe had a strong feeling he was going to go on the market.  That’s what he wanted to do.  We wanted to protect ourselves and position ourselves better.  If we elect, next year, to be one of 30 [teams] that compete for Jason on the market then that’s what we’ll do.”


Blue Jays Interested In Jon Lester, Andrew Miller

As if signing Russell Martin wasn’t enough, the Blue Jays are also looking to address their rotation and bullpen.  Toronto is one of the six teams in the market for southpaw Jon Lester, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports.  The Jays have also been “very aggressive” in courting Andrew Miller, Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair (Twitter link) hears from a source on another team in pursuit of the free agent reliever.

As a durable top-of-the-rotation arm with a lot of AL East familiarity, Lester makes sense for the Jays, though they already have six starters (Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada) in play for their 2015 rotation.  Starting pitching isn’t an obvious need, though since the Blue Jays will probably have to move at least one starter to address other needs anyway, they could package two arms in one deal or make multiple trades.  The Martin signing indicates that Toronto is willing to spend and be players in free agency, though meeting Lester’s projected six-year/$150MM price tag would take things to another level for the Jays.

The Red Sox are known to be one of Lester’s other five suitors, and it’s safe to assume that the Cubs are another given how they’re meeting with him this week and have been so often linked in rumors.

Miller recently met with the Jays, and it’s probably no surprise that Toronto is being aggressive given that they’re one of a whopping 22 teams who have reportedly checked in with agent Mark Rodgers about Miller’s services.  Miller is looking for a four-year deal at minimum, and he’ll likely find it with such a healthy market.  The Blue Jays could offer Miller a closing role, as Casey Janssen is likely to depart in free agency and Toronto has no clear in-house replacement for the ninth inning job.


Multiple Teams Interested In Justin Masterson

The Braves, Cubs, Giants, Red Sox, Royals and Twins are six of the teams thought to have asked for Justin Masterson’s medicals or otherwise checked in on the right-hander, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter links).  Though Masterson is coming off an injury-plagued season, he is drawing significant interest and could find a two-year deal on the open market.  The Indians, Masterson’s former club, are also reportedly in the mix for the 29-year-old.

It’s no surprise that Masterson is generating this much free agent buzz, as the righty averaged 199 IP from 2010-13 and was one of the game’s best starters during the 2013 season.  As MLBTR’s Zach Links noted in his Free Agent Profile of Masterson, a team could be in for a major bargain if the righty regains his old form.  Whether he signs for one year or two, Masterson seems destined for a short-term deal as he’s banking on that return to form and the opportunity to set himself up for a more expensive multiyear deal next winter or after the 2016 season.

The six teams Crasnick lists present an interesting array of suitors, incorporating the two pennant winners, three teams looking to return to contention in 2015 and the rebuilding Twins, who can offer Masterson a pitcher-friendly ballpark to help rebuild his value.  Team defense is also undoubtedly a big factor for Masterson, an extreme ground ball pitcher with a 56.6% career grounder rate.


Braves, Cardinals Trade Jason Heyward For Shelby Miller

The Cardinals have acquired right fielder Jason Heyward and right-hander Jordan Walden from the Braves in exchange for righty Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins, the teams announced.

Jason Heyward

A blockbuster in every sense of the word, the Cardinals will acquire one of the game’s most valuable outfielders in Heyward and an excellent setup man in Walden. Heyward just turned 25 in August yet already has five full Major League seasons under his belt. His offensive game hasn’t developed to the superstar level that many had expected, though he still owns a lifetime .262/.351/.429 batting line. His .269/.335/.479 batting line and 27 homers in 2012 give an idea of the power upside that Heyward brings to the table, however.

Where Heyward truly shines, however, is with the glove, as evidenced by career UZR and DRS marks of +74.1 and +97, respectively (UZR/150 pegs him at +17.6). That excellent glove paired with a solid bat has led Heyward to be valued at 4.3 fWAR and 4.9 rWAR per season throughout his career. There’s little doubt that Heyward is an MVP-caliber talent, although to realize that potential he would likely need to return to his 2012 form at the plate while maintaining his stellar defensive work.

Heyward is only under control for one more season and will earn $7.8MM in 2015, but Walden is a bit more of a long-term asset for the Cardinals, as he can be controlled through the 2016 season. Projected to earn $3MM in 2015, the 27-year-old Walden posted a 2.88 ERA with 11.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and a 45.2 percent ground-ball rate for the Braves last season. Armed with a fastball that averages roughly 96 mph, he should give manager Mike Matheny yet another hard-throwing option to pair with the likes of Trevor Rosenthal at the end of the St. Louis bullpen.

In Miller, the Braves have acquired at least four years of control over a high-upside arm that looked to be on the verge of stardom for much of 2013 before a rough finish to the season and a step backwards in 2014. Miller frequented top prospect lists for his entire minor league career after being selected 19th overall in 2009, with Baseball America ranking him as highly as sixth in the game heading into the 2013 campaign. That season, he posted a brilliant 3.06 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 38.4 percent ground-ball rate in 173 1/3 innings. He saw his strikeouts dip late in the season though and was curiously a non-factor in the 2013 playoffs, leading many to speculate that he was either injured or simply out of gas after posting a career-high in innings pitched.

Miller maintained his velocity in 2014, but he displayed some signs of control issues that caused his ERA to jump to 3.74 (while FIP and SIERA pegged him at 4.54 and 4.60, respectively). For one, Miller’s BB/9 rate jumped to 3.6. But looking beyond that, his first-pitch strike rate dropped about two percent, and his opponent contact rate for pitches in the strike zone jumped from 85.6 percent to 90 percent, suggesting that he struggled to command the ball within the zone. Nonetheless, Miller’s upside is sky-high, and the Braves had a clear need in the rotation with both Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang hitting the free agent market. Both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are recovering from their second Tommy John surgery, leaving Atlanta with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Alex Wood as rotation candidates, perhaps along with swingman David Hale.

Jenkins, 22, isn’t simply a throw-in for the Braves, either. The Cards drafted Jenkins 50th overall in 2010, and the right-hander cracked BA’s Top 100 prospect list following the 2011 season — ranking 94th. Touted for his off-the-charts athleticism, Jenkins has seen his prospect star dim a bit since that time due to shoulder surgery, though he did return midway through 2014 and post a 3.28 ERA in 74 innings in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League. BA ranked him 17th among Cardinals prospects heading into 2014, noting that his fastball sits 93-96 mph when healthy and adding that he features an improved curveball as well.

The trade fills a need for both clubs, although the circumstances in which St. Louis came to have a need for a right fielder are of course tragic. It’s been difficult and felt inappropriate at times to look at the tragic death of Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend through a baseball lens, but many have wondered if is untimely loss would lead the Cardinals to look outside the organization for outfield help. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth noted in his Offseason Outlook for the Cards that such measures could be necessary, and the path that the team has taken will improve the team in 2015, even if the trade is unfortunately linked to tragedy.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.