Author Archives: Mark Polishuk

Offseason Outlook: Toronto Blue Jays

On the heels of their first winning season since 2010, the Blue Jays are hoping to take the next step and reach the playoffs, though they may need to get creative with their payroll to make room for roster upgrades.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

Free Agents

With the exception of Dioner Navarro‘s modest two-year, $8MM free agent contract last offseason, the Blue Jays have gone almost two full calendar years without a major transaction.  Granted, the Jays reshaped their roster with some huge moves over last two months of 2012, but the lack of any significant follow-up has raised controversy in Toronto.  Since the Jays led the AL East for over a month and finished only five games out of a wild card spot, fingers were pointed by both fans and some players at GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Rogers Communications ownership group for not making any acquisitions that could’ve put the team over the top.

A weakened Canadian dollar, the hiring of a new Rogers CEO within the last year and Rogers spending $5.2 billion to acquire NHL TV rights over its Sportsnet channels have all been cited as theories for the lack of Blue Jays-related spending.  It could also simply be that the club’s $137MM payroll represents the full budget, so Anthopoulos wasn’t authorized to spend any further.  Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that Anthopoulos will have more than that $137MM figure to work with, and it’s possible the 2015 payroll could be lower.

Certainly, lots of teams would love to have “just” a $137MM budget, though Anthopoulos doesn’t have much room to maneuver given that $96.2MM is committed to only eight players for 2015.  Roughly $11.6MM (as estimated by Matt Swartz for MLBTR) will be paid to their arbitration-eligible players if all are tendered contracts, though Josh Thole‘s contract option can be exercised instead of going through the arb process and Juan Francisco stands out as a non-tender given how little action he saw over the season’s final weeks.  That adds up to at least $104MM for 13 players, plus the Jays figure to pick up at least a few of their outstanding team options lest they create more holes on the roster.

Payroll space is of particular concern in regards to Melky Cabrera, whose solid bounce-back season will net him a significant free agent contract.  Cabrera wants to stay in Toronto and the Blue Jays want him back, yet it remains to be seen if the two sides can match up on a new deal.  The Jays will issue a Cabrera a qualifying offer at the very least, and as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his latest Free Agent Power Rankings, teams could be hesitant to surrender a first-rounder and give an expensive multiyear deal to a player with a below-average glove and a PED suspension on his record.

This being said, Dierkes still ranked Cabrera as the eighth-best player in free agency since quality bats are a rare commodity this offseason.  The Jays might be out of luck if they’re hoping the QO limits Cabrera’s market enough that they can re-sign him at a relative bargain.  In his free agent profile of Cabrera, MLBTR’s Steve Adams made the point that the outfielder might actually be the safest bet among the top available hitters — Cabrera is younger and has more defensive value than Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz, and he is a proven MLB quantity, unlike Yasmany Tomas.

Cabrera could be the litmus test for how tight a payroll crunch Toronto is facing.  Something like Adams’ predicted five-year, $66.25MM contract isn’t an unreasonable sum for a team that has designs on contending and has only one player (Jose Reyes) guaranteed money past the 2015 season.  If Cabrera signs elsewhere for such a deal, it’s a sign the Jays will continue to limit spending.

If Cabrera leaves, the Jays will have two outfield spots to fill since center fielder Colby Rasmus seems as good as gone.  Rasmus had a disappointing season overall and received only 14 plate appearances in September as the Jays instead used younger players in center field.  He seems likely to pursue a one-year deal elsewhere to rebuild his value, leaving the Jays with a combination of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and top prospect Dalton Pompey juggling the center field duties.  That trio and John Mayberry could form platoons in left and center, though you’d imagine that would only be the last-ditch plan if a more established everyday outfielder couldn’t be found to handle one of the two spots.  Top-tier outfield free agents like Tomas and Cruz will be too expensive, so the Jays could pursue a trade for a left fielder and let the youngsters handle center.

Casey Janssen posted a 1.23 ERA in the first half of the season and a 6.46 ERA in the second half, as he was clearly affected by a severe bout of food poisoning during an All-Star break vacation.  That late slump seemed to cinch his departure from the team, and Janssen won’t be the only notable relief arm to leave — Sergio Santos‘ $6MM option will surely be bought out after a rough season and Dustin McGowan‘s $4MM option is a bit pricey for a reliever without a defined role as a closer or setup man.  McGowan still put up solid numbers once he became a full-time relief pitcher, however, so it’s possible the team could decline the option and seek a new contract with its longest-tenured player.

Some bullpen improvements are necessary after the Jays’ relief corps posted a collective 4.09 ERA in 2014, the sixth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball.  The Blue Jays will look to upgrade the pen by adding setup relievers rather than pricey free agent closers, and then the setup options would either form a closer committee or one would eventually emerge as the ninth-inning preference.  Top starting prospect Aaron Sanchez was dominant in a relief role in 2014, though the Jays would prefer to stretch him out as rotation depth rather than use him for significant bullpen innings.

The rotation went from a glaring weakness in 2013 to a relative strength in 2014.  Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were their usual solid selves, top prospect Marcus Stroman exploded onto the scene with an impressive rookie season, Drew Hutchison recorded 184 strikeouts over 184 2/3 innings in his first year back after Tommy John surgery and J.A. Happ rebounded from an injury-plagued 2013.  Since Happ pitched well enough for his $6.7MM option to be exercised, Toronto projects to have the same starting five next year, with young arms like Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin providing depth in the minors or the bullpen.  After two injury-shortened seasons, Brandon Morrow‘s $10MM club option is expected to be declined.

Anthopoulos isn’t ruling out the idea of adding another veteran starter in a trade, though I’d be surprised if the likes of Stroman, Hutchison or Sanchez were dealt given how the GM has so often spoken of the importance of young pitching depth.  Could Anthopoulos make a lateral move by trading Buehrle?  The idea has been broached in the Toronto media as a way to open up salary space, as while Buehrle is the definition of a reliable starter, he might not be worth the $19MM he’s owed in the final year of his contract.

I’m not sure dealing any pitching is a wise move given that the Jays would be lucky to replicate the general good health their rotation enjoyed in 2014.  If they do make a move, however, I’d suggest dealing Dickey over Buehrle.  The Jays might well have to eat some of that $19MM to make a deal happen and get a good MLB-ready piece back in return for Buehrle, while Dickey has a more palatable contract ($12MM in 2015, $12MM team option for 2016) to trade partners.  From Toronto’s perspective, Dickey is also over four years older, hasn’t pitched as well as Buehrle in 2013-14 and is a bit more of a question mark simply by dint of being a knuckleballer.

Some of the same logic in trading Buehrle or Dickey to free up payroll space applies to Reyes, who is owed $66MM through 2017.  The larger term and salary makes dealing Reyes a tall order, however, especially considering Reyes’ injury history and his declining defense; he hasn’t posted an above-average UZR/150 since 2008.  Reyes reportedly played through injuries for much of the season so the Jays will have to hope that he’ll be healthy and productive for the remainder of his contract.

Reyes, Navarro, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie hold down everyday positions around the rest of the diamond, though Lawrie’s actual position is up in the air.  The Jays would prefer to see his excellent third base glove remain on the hot corner, though Lawrie saw some time at his old second spot last season and could be moved semi-permanently if the Jays can acquire an everyday third baseman.  Of course, Lawrie isn’t a stable option himself, having spent significant time on the DL in each of the last three seasons.

There aren’t many attractive 2B/3B options within Toronto’s price range in free agency, so a trade might again be the ideal route for an upgrade.  I cited the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena as a trade candidate in my Red Sox offseason outlook piece, and Valbuena (coming off a .249/.341/.435 season with 16 homers in 547 PA) might make even more sense for the Jays since he can play both second and third.  The Marlins, White Sox and Rockies are all teams with second base depth that could be available in trades, and there’s plenty of room for improvement given that Toronto’s second basemen combined for only 0.5 fWAR in 2014.

Right now, Ryan Goins and Steve Tolleson are the top choices to platoon at second base, while Maicer Izturis will be in the mix.  Izturis had a terrible 2013 season and was injured for almost all of 2014, so his three-year, $10MM contract has thus far been a bust for the Jays.  Munenori Kawasaki was outrighted off the Jays’ 40-man roster but there’s a good chance the fan favorite infielder will be brought back as a minor league depth option.

A broken foot limited Adam Lind to only 318 PA last year, yet his injury history and inability to hit left-handers don’t offset his value as a righty-smashing bat.  Lind posted a .942 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2014, so expect the Jays to exercise his $7.5MM option and use him in his usual role as a primary DH and part-time first baseman.  Mayberry or Valencia fit as right-handed hitting complements to Lind at DH, or Reyes could even see some action at DH as an effort to keep him fresh.

Anthopoulos has stressed durability as one of his key musts for any new player, which goes towards a general team-wide goal to cut down on injuries and add bench depth.  It’s no coincidence that the Jays’ red-hot stretch in May and early June came when they had almost all of their key performers healthy at the same time.  They lacked the depth to withstand multiple injuries, however, and ultimately fell apart around the time when Encarnacion, Lind and Lawrie’s DL stints overlapped.

With promising young talent and and a very good veteran core, there is a lot to like about the 2015 Blue Jays on paper.  They could be close to being serious contenders, and yet if the youngsters don’t pan out or the veterans start to decline, the Jays’ window of contention could just as easily start closing given how many key talents are only controlled (via team options) through 2016.  The unknown payroll situation and the possibility that team president Paul Beeston could depart also adds to the winter uncertainty.  The Jays have been so mysteriously quiet over the last two years that it’s hard to predict exactly how busy they’ll be before Opening Day, though with so many areas that need addressing, the club can’t get away with another offseason on the sidelines.


Diamondbacks Hire Chip Hale As Manager

5:57pm: Hale’s contract also contains a club option for a third season, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link).

9:04am: The Diamondbacks have announced the hiring of Athletics bench coach Chip Hale as their new manager.  Contract terms weren’t announced, though CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported (via Twitter) that Hale signed a two-year deal to manage the clubThe D’Backs were rumored to be deciding on their new skipper today, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was the first to report that Hale has been hired.

Chip Hale

It is something of a homecoming for the 49-year-old Hale, who played college ball at the University of Arizona and began his coaching career in the D’Backs organization, working both as a minor league manager and as a Major League third base coach.  He has also worked as the Mets’ third base coach and has spent the last three years in Oakland under Bob Melvin.

Hale has been a contender for several open managerial positions over the last few offseasons, and was reportedly a finalist for the Mets (before they hired Terry Collins) and Mariners (before they hired Lloyd McClendon).  Most recently, the Twins sought to interview him during their manager search, though Hale reportedly canceled that interview in order “to see through this chance” at the D’Backs job, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link).

Hale is the first hire for D’Backs GM Dave Stewart and chief baseball officer Tony La Russa as they look to turn around the last-place Snakes and move on from the Kirk Gibson/Kevin Towers era.  The club interviewed at least nine men for the manager’s job and had narrowed the field to Hale, former Rockies manager Jim Tracy, Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and two internal choices in assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and triple-A manager Phil Nevin.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Hunter, Stewart, A’s, Nats

It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series.  The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games.  The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902.  Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?

Here’s some news from around baseball…

  • If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully.  Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck.  Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
  • If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines.  Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer.  Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
  • Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold.  The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
  • On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
  • Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes.  Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year).  Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
  • The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes.  King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.


Cardinals Notes: Taveras, Pujols, Aldrete, Trades

The Cardinals’ thrilling 5-4 win over the Giants last night tied the NLCS at a game apiece and also made some postseason history.  As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, the Cards became the first team to ever hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a playoff game.  That final homer, of course, was Kolten Wong‘s walkoff solo shot.  Here’s some more from St. Louis…

  • Oscar Taveras delivered that seventh-inning homer for the Cards last night, though a few issues have made the top prospect no longer “untouchable” in the organization’s eyes, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.  Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 over 248 PA in this rookie season and didn’t see much action down the stretch in September or in the playoffs thus far — he has only five PH at-bats during the postseason.  Perhaps of greater concern, Taveras put on 20 pounds last offseason and “his work habits have drawn attention from some veterans,” though Strauss notes that the 22-year-old “is not considered a toxic clubhouse presence.”  In my opinion, even if he’s not totally “untouchable,” St. Louis would undoubtedly want a massive return if they considered dealing Taveras and it’s a very long shot that the team would so quickly give up on such an elite prospect.
  • Strauss figures the Cardinals are likely to trade an outfielder this offseason, with Matt Holliday locked into the left field spot and Taveras, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and prospect Stephen Piscotty all in the mix for the other two outfield spots.
  • The Cardinals’ decision to let Albert Pujols leave as a free agent “could go down as one of the wisest in baseball history,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes.  Rather than spend $250MM on Pujols as the Angels did, the Cards instead spread that money around and have reached the NLCS in all three seasons since Pujols’ departure.  “When we knew we had to look at the next chapter of this organization, it was really about understanding how we could redeploy those resources,” GM John Mozeliak said.  “You never know if you’re going to be able to sustain that high a level, but certainly to get close to that level, or back to it, was something we were able to achieve, first with the signing of Carlos Beltran and then [Jhonny] Peralta.”
  • Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete is “a very likely possibility” to become the Athletics‘ new bench coach, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links).  Aldrete has a very good relationship with A’s manager Bob Melvin and a move to Oakland would allow Aldrete to live closer to his home in Monterey.  The A’s have a vacancy at bench coach since Chip Hale has been hired as the Diamondbacks’ new manager.
  • It is generally considered a mistake to fix a roster problem by trading from the Major League roster, yet the Cardinals’ young depth has allowed them to twice make such moves, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Cards dealt Colby Rasmus for bullpen help in 2011 and ended up winning the World Series, while this past July saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey.  “I understand the risk profile in doing what we did,” Mozeliak said. “But in both situations….I felt we had to do something different — I felt we had to pull from the club to improve.”

Dodgers Notes: Pitching, Hanley, Colletti

Here’s the latest from Vin Scully’s team…

  • The Dodgers aren’t likely to sign any starting pitcher that would cost them a draft pick, a source tells ESPN Los Angeles’ Mark Saxon.  This would rule out the likes of Max Scherzer, James Shields or any other free agent arm who will have qualifying offer draft compensation attached to their services.  As Saxon notes, the Dodgers’ primary offseason goal is to inject more youth into their roster, as “they’re terrified of becoming” a team loaded with declining veterans, a la the Phillies or Yankees.
  • Speaking of qualifying offers, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times looks at whether or not the Dodgers would extend a QO to Hanley Ramirez.  The qualifying offer (not to mention his injury history and subpar shortstop defense) could hurt Ramirez’s market, which creates the possibility that he could accept the one-year, $15.3MM offer and stay with a Dodger team that may prefer to move on from Ramirez.  “It seems like a no-brainer,” Dilbeck writes, that L.A. would give Ramirez a QO and I agree — despite Ramirez’s issues, he’ll surely find a multiyear deal on the free agent market and thus there is very little threat of him accepting the qualifying offer.  Even if he did accept, that would hardly be a major problem for the Dodgers since (as Dilbeck notes), Ramirez could then serve as a one-year bridge until prospect Corey Seager is ready at short.
  • Also from Dilbeck, he doesn’t think GM Ned Colletti deserves to be fired for the club’s failure to advance beyond the NLDS.  The Dodgers have been generally successful during Colletti’s tenure and blaming him for the many large and problematic contracts on the payroll isn’t fair since upper management signed off on those deals, Dilbeck writes.
  • While the Dodgers would like to keep A.J. Ellis , the team could non-tender the catcher and then re-sign him at a lower price tag, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick opines.  Ellis made $3.55MM in 2014 and he still has two years of arbitration eligibility left as a Super Two player.  Ellis’ arbitration raise will be a modest one, as he hit only .191/.323/.254 in 347 PA last season, though Ellis’ hitting isn’t as valuable to the club as his defense and relationship with the pitching staff.  According to Gurnick, it seems likely that the Dodgers will acquire another catcher this offseason to compete with Ellis for the starting job.

Quick Hits: Towers, Zimmermann, A-Rod

Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff.  “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.”  Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).

As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…

  • With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
  • Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season.  Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever.  This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
  • First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.”  Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
  • MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
  • The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.

Coaching Notes: Thome, Braves, Yankees

Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…

  • The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports.  Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
  • Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports.  Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
  • The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015.  Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach.  Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
  • Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).

Nats Notes: Cabrera, Zimmermann, Extensions

Ninety years and one day ago, the Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants in Game Seven of the 1924 World Series.  Newsreel footage (YouTube link) of the Senators’ 12-inning walkoff win was recently uncovered by the Library of Congress, giving us a very cool glimpse into how baseball has both changed and stayed the same over nine decades.  (The blunt “President is there” title card is also pretty funny; poor Calvin Coolidge didn’t even merit being named?)  The Senators franchise won two more championships after they moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, but 1924 was the only time Washington D.C. celebrated a World Series title.

It’ll be at least one more year of waiting for D.C. in the wake of the Nationals’ loss in the NLDS but in the meantime, here are some Nats-related links…

  • Asdrubal Cabrera would prefer play shortstop but said he is open to playing second base on a contending team, he tells MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko.  “It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said.  With a fairly thin crop of free agent shortstops, Cabrera could draw a lot of interest this winter, and his market will be further widened if he is willing to play second as well.  It would seem that the Nationals are Cabrera’s first choice given how he stressed how much he enjoyed his brief stint with the club.
  • The Nationals offered Jordan Zimmermann a five-year, $85MM extension last winter, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports.  Zimmermann mentioned that the two sides had discussed a lengthier deal than his eventual two-year, $24MM agreement, though the term and dollar figure of the larger offer weren’t known at the time.  The right-hander will be a free agent after the 2015 season and, if he continues his current form, he’ll be looking at deals in the $130-$140MM range on the open market.
  • Beyond Zimmermann, the Nationals also have to consider extensions for Ian Desmond and Doug Fister this offseason, CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman writes.  All three players will be free agents after 2015.  The Nationals could look to lock up Fister since he’ll command less money than Zimmermann, Zuckerman opines, and he also wonders if a seven-year, $105MM deal would be enough to keep Desmond in the fold.  That would represent a bump from the seven-year, $85-98MM deal that Desmond reportedly rejected last winter.

AL Central Links: Royals, Aviles, Twins

After sharing some White Sox-centric notes, let’s take a look around the rest of the AL Central…

  • The December 2010 trade of Zack Greinke to the Brewers was a major moment in Royals history, and Tyler Kepner of the New York Times revisits that blockbuster deal to see the impact it had on Kansas City’s current ALCS run.  Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are playing big roles for the Royals, while Jake Odorizzi was flipped to the Rays as part of the package that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to K.C. two years later.
  • Mike Aviles‘ $3.5MM club option for 2015 could be a key part of the Indians‘ offseason plans, Zack Meisel of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes.  If the Tribe keeps the veteran utilityman, it could make Jose Ramirez expendable and create a clear path for Francisco Lindor to win the starting shortstop job in Spring Training.  Lindor seems likely to debut in the majors in 2015 and, if he and Ramirez are both around, then $3.5MM might be a bit much for the Indians to pay for a backup like Aviles, despite the depth he provides all over the field.
  • Jack Goin, the Twins‘ manager of baseball research, talks to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily about how the club’s use of analytics has evolved over the years.

White Sox Notes: Payroll, Second Base, Montas

Here’s the latest from the South Side of Chicago…

  • Jose Abreu, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana will combine for (at most) $16.445MM in salary in 2015, a huge bargain for three star players that has left the White Sox with plenty of payroll space, CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes writes.  Quintana and Sale’s contracts, in particular, looks like very shrewd investments for the Sox at this point.  Sale, for his part, has no regrets about signing his extension in March 2013 since it allows the team to acquire more talent.  “With them being able to do that and have pieces of the puzzle and still a little money in the bank, they can kind of assemble guys around us to do the same things,” Sale said.
  • Marcus Semien, Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson will be competing for second base job in the spring, and ESPN’s Doug Padilla doubts all three players will still be with the team by Opening Day.  Padilla figures one of the trio could be dealt for a reliever, or could be part of a package in a larger trade.
  • In a look at notable Arizona Fall League prospects, ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subscription required) praised White Sox righty Francellis Montas, who joined the organization as part of the Jake Peavy trade in July 2013.  Montas, 21, posted a 1.44 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.64 K/BB rate over a combined 81 innings at rookie ball, high-A ball and Double-A in 2014, and Law said Montas’ fastball touched 102 mph in a recent instructional league game.
  • Law also had good things to say about the White Sox farm system in general, saying this is the strongest Chicago’s system has been in the six years he’s been working for ESPN.  Law hinted that four White Sox minor leaguers are slated for his next top-100 prospect list.