Author Archives: Steve Adams

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.


Marlins Notes: LaRoche, Pitching, Payroll, Stanton

Earlier today the Marlins officially announced their 13-year, $325MM extension with Giancarlo Stanton. Here’s the latest on the team following that historic agreement…

  • The Marlins have made a two-year, $20MM offer to Adam LaRoche, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Recent reports have indicated that the Marlins are strongly interested in LaRoche, and Jackson’s report would back that up, though the $20MM may be a bit light to seal the deal. I recently pegged LaRoche for a two-year, $30MM deal, and he just wrapped up a two-year, $24MM pact. LaRoche is also said to be drawing interest from the Padres and White Sox.
  • Also from Jackson, the Marlins have expressed interest in free agents Jason Hammel and Justin Masterson. Miami is said to covet a veteran arm to add to its rotation while ace Jose Fernandez rehabs from Tommy John surgery. James Shields‘ name has also been floated recently, though he’d obviously come at a much higher cost than either of the targets named by Jackson. The Fish are also interested in Wade Miley as a trade target, Jackson writes, but the D’Backs have very little pitching depth as it is, so moving one of their only reliable arms would seem a bit curious.
  • The Marlins say their payroll will top $60MM in 2015, according to Jackson. With Stanton set to earn just $6.5MM in the first year of his extension, the Marlins currently have about $22MM committed to next year’s roster. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects an additional $20.3MM in arb raises, but the Fish should be able to add at least $20MM or so worth of salary this winter. A LaRoche signing, I would think, could lead the team to shop Garrett Jones, which would remove another $5MM from the currently projected commitment.
  • Jackson’s column is rife with excellent quotes from Stanton’s press conference, including quotes from Stanton himself, from agent Joel Wolfe and from team president David Samson. Jackson hears that the Marlins’ first offer to Stanton came shortly after season’s end and was worth roughly $130MM over six years. However, Wolfe says that Stanton told him, “if it’s not a lifetime contract, there’s no point in talking.”
  • The Marlins still won’t be giving out no-trade clauses to other players, according to Samson, but they had no problem giving one to Stanton. The opt-out clause was much trickier, as the Marlins were very resistant. The Marlins wanted the opt-out to be conditional based on team performance, only allowing Stanton to elect free agency if the team lost a certain number of games. Samson explained, however, that Stanton made it very clear he wasn’t interested in opting out to earn more money after that point of the contract, but rather to protect himself from being part of a losing culture. “Once we believed the opt-out clause would be used as a shield and not a sword, we were OK with it,” said Samson. Stanton also comfortable with the idea of earning less money up front in the deal to surround him with better players. A new TV deal could be in the offing for the Marlins soon, which would of course allow them a better payroll.
  • Also of note from Jackson is that owner Jeffrey Loria has no intentions of selling the team. Though Samson says many people place calls with interest in buying, Loria is “in it for the long run because he loves it.”
  • Shifting away from Jackson’s must-read piece — the highlights here are but a fraction of the interesting points within — former MLBTR scribe Cork Gaines writes in a piece for Business Insider that the Stanton extension can be used as leverage in negotiating a new TV deal. Miami currently has the worst local TV deal in all of baseball, paying them $13-18MM annually (the Dodgers’ deal, in contrast, pays them $334MM per year, Gaines writes). Gaines notes that having a legitimate superstar on the team will increase the value of the new TV deal. Gaines speculates that negotiations could begin in 2016 as there appears to be some kind of opt-out on the current contract, which runs through 2020. Indeed, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that they are aiming for a new TV deal to begin in 2017 — which, perhaps not coincidentally, aligns with the first significant spike in Stanton’s salary.
  • In a full column, Rosenthal points out that the Rangers, Tigers and Angels each spent significant money prior to signing their new TV deals so they had a more attractive product in place for negotiations. While history has the skeptics gearing up for a fire sale in the near future, Rosenthal opines that this doesn’t look like a club that’s merely going to tear it all down again in two years.

Free Agent Profile: Jon Lester

Ten months ago, the common belief was that Jon Lester would sign an extension that would keep him in a Red Sox jersey into his late 30s. A lot can change in a few months, however, and Lester soon found himself donning the green and gold of the Oakland A’s following a midseason trade from a surprisingly poor Boston club. Though many Red Sox fans wouldn’t have believed it would come to this, the lefty is now fair game on the open market.

Strengths/Pros

To put things in the simplest of forms, Lester is a true ace at this point in his career. He misses bats, has strong control and piles up innings. Among free agent starters, Lester’s 2.46 ERA last year leads the pack by a long shot, as does his 2.80 FIP. He was worth 6.1 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs’ version of the metric (which is based on FIP), and he was worth 5.8 wins when looking at RA9-WAR, which is based on actual runs allowed. Both metrics were tops among free agent starters. He struck out 220 hitters and walked just 48 in 219 2/3 innings this season (9.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9).

Jon  LesterThe 2014 campaign marked the sixth time in seven seasons that Lester has topped the 200-inning threshold, and he totaled a strong 191 2/3 in the lone season he fell short (2011). His 219 2/3 innings trails only Max Scherzer (220 1/3) and James Shields (227) among fellow free agents. Dating back to 2008, his age-24 season, Lester has averaged 207 innings per season. He’s hit the DL just once in that time, spending a mere 19 days on the shelf with a strained lat in his left shoulder. That minor injury is all that prevented him from seven straight 200-inning seasons.

Lester was a strikeout machine early in his career, but his K/9 numbers dipped in recent seasons, settling in the mid-7.00s before his resurgent 9.0 K/9 in 2014. Lester pounded the strike zone early this season, registering a 61.4 percent first-pitch strike rate — the highest mark of his career. Perhaps being ahead in the count more often than ever improved the effectiveness of his curveball, or perhaps it was the fact that he threw it slower than ever before (75.1 mph average), but Lester’s 18.2 percent whiff rate on his curve was easily the strongest of his career, resulting in the restored strikeout rate.

Most of Lester’s career has come in a large market in the game’s most hitter-friendly division, and he’s thrived in that setting, for the most part. Teams will appreciate that component of his game, and his postseason experience won’t hurt either. Lester has a 2.57 career ERA in 84 postseason innings. He’s a two-time World Series champion that has been on five playoff rosters.

Lester’s main competition this year will be Scherzer, with Shields representing the third-best arm on the market. However, unlike his peers atop this year’s free agent class, Lester does not have a qualifying offer attached to him; he was ineligible to receive one after being traded midseason and can therefore be signed without the forfeiture of a draft pick.

Weaknesses/Cons

Lester was flat out elite this season, much like he was in his first full three seasons, but from 2011-13, he looked more like a good starter than a truly great one. In that time, Lester posted a 4.03 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 7.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 — useful numbers to be sure, but not the type of stats one associates with a pitcher in search of a six- or seven-year contract.

Though he averaged better than 93 mph on his fastball earlier in his career, Lester’s velocity settled into the mid-92 range from 2011-13 and dipped even further in 2014, averaging 91.8 mph. Of course, that’s still plenty of life, especially considering the fact that he’s left-handed.

Lester turns 31 in January, meaning that a six-year deal would run through his age-36 season and a seven-year pact would run through his age-37 campaign. Clearly, that’s a risky commitment, though such is the case with all top-of-the-market free agents. He’s younger than Shields, but Scherzer pitches most of next season at age 30, so his main competitor has age on his side.

Personal

Lester’s battle with cancer early on in his career was well-documented, and in addition to the great comeback story that culminated in him winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, that battle has shaped the work he’s done in the community. Lester partnered with Charity Wines to release his own line of red wine, the proceeds of which benefit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His NVRQT charity sends all of its proceeds to the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, and Lester explained how the charity came about and what it means to him in a guest column for the Boston Globe in 2013.

This past July, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote about the strides Lester has made in terms of maturity both on the mound and with the media after being a bit hot-tempered earlier in his career. (Abraham references glaring at umpires after questionable calls and the infamous chicken-and-beer incident as examples.)

Lester is married and has two sons. The Tacoma, Washington native now resides near Atlanta in the offseason.

Market

Lester is one of the arms referred to as the “Big Three” of this offseason, along with Scherzer and Shields. However, while MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted that a third or more of the teams in the league could have viable interest in Shields, the younger Lester figures to come with a higher price tag that may take him out of the picture for a number of clubs.

Lester stated multiple times that he’d like to return to Boston, and last winter he told reporters that he planned to be with the Red Sox until someone “ripped the jersey off his back.” However, the Red Sox made an initial offer of $70MM over four years, at that point, and while the reported $110-120MM offer they made today might have worked in March, it feels too light to make them a serious contender right now.

The other popular landing spot for Lester is the Cubs, where former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is now president of baseball operations. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer were members of the Boston front office when Lester emerged as a front-line starter, and the team is rich on young hitters without much in the way of high-upside pitching (Jake Arrieta is a notable exception).

Other teams that figure to enter the mix are the typical names we see assorted with high-end free agents. Though the Yankees maintain that they won’t pursue Lester, Scherzer or Shields,  it’s possible they’ll change their tune if they’re unable to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley. The Dodgers have the cash to pull off a deal, though they’re said to be looking to tone down spending this winter. I still won’t rule them out as a possibility. The Tigers and Angels have high payrolls but cloudy long-term outlooks thanks to existing salary on the books. Neither seems a fit barring trades to create some long-term flexibility.

The rest of Lester’s market will have to consist of dark horses, and agents Seth and Sam Levinson of ACES will likely need to pitch to owners of some unlikely teams that Lester could be a franchise-altering decision. To this point, the Royals have shown some preliminary interest, and Lester is set to meet with the Braves on Thursday. The Cardinals have also been linked to Lester.

Beyond that, a team like the Astros has the long-term payroll freedom to make a move, as do the Marlins, who could feel that adding Lester would be a significant step toward building a perennial contender now that they’ve extended Giancarlo Stanton. The Nationals have plenty of money and are set to lose both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister next winter. Trading one and swapping him out for Lester could is a long shot but not unthinkable. The Giants haven’t spent at this level on the free agent market since their ill-fated Barry Zito deal, but they have rotation needs and are flush with cash following the World Series. The Rangers deserve a mention as a team with a willingness to spend and a need for starters, but GM Jon Daniels has indicated they may not be big spenders on the open market. Could a reunion with his hometown Mariners be in the cards? Seattle’s primary need is offense, but if they again have trouble luring hitters to Safeco Field, GM Jack Zduriencik could double down on an existing strength and look to build an even more imposing rotation.

Expected Contract

As is often the case with big name free agents, it’s easy to look at Lester right now and think that outside of  the traditional big spenders, there’s not much of a market for him if he’s seeking six or seven years at an annual value north of $20MM. With players of this caliber, the market isn’t always quick to reveal itself, but it does eventually materialize, and we typically see the top names get paid.

Lester has said free agency isn’t all about the money, but I’d be surprised if his agents hadn’t at least kicked around the goal of trying to break CC Sabathia‘s $161MM guarantee, which is still the record for a free agent pitcher. (The Yankees did spend $175MM on Masahiro Tanaka, but $20MM of that sum went to Tanaka’s former team in Japan.)

Were Lester coming off a pair of dominant seasons, as Scherzer is, I think there would be a better case for that figure. As it is, however, he showed a significant gap between his two most recent dominant seasons. Also of note is that Sabathia, like fellow high-priced hurlers Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, signed his contract at a significantly younger age than Lester. While we have to account for some inflation, as those deals are now older (and Hamels’, of course, was not an open-market deal), Lester may have a hard time getting the seventh guaranteed season. Looking at the majority of the significant pitching contracts signed in recent history, guarantees typically stop in the age-36 season, if not sooner. If that’s the case, Lester would need to achieve a $27MM annual salary to top Sabathia on a six-year deal, which seems a touch steep.

In the end, I do think Lester can top the marks set by Hamels and Greinke. Lester was the best performer among free agent pitchers in 2014, so I can’t completely rule out him getting a seventh year and/or passing Sabathia’s mark. However, his age and the lack of a consistently dominant track record has me pegging him for a six-year, $153MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Braves Designate Venters, Pena For Assignment

The Braves have designated left-hander Jonny Venters and infielder Ramiro Pena for assignment, according to the team’s transactions page. Additionally, the team has added Brandon Cunniff, Yean Carlos Gil, Kyle Kubitza, Williams Perez, Mauricio Cabrera and top prospect Jose Peraza to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

The 29-year-old Venters was an elite setup man with Atlanta from 2010-12 but underwent Tommy John surgery — the second of his career — that kept him out for all of the 2013 season. Venters rehabbed the injury through August of this season before learning that he had re-torn the ligament. In September, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported that Venters would undergo a third Tommy John and attempt to make a comeback. Venters has a 2.23 ERA in three career seasons to go along with an average of 10.1 strikeouts and 4.3 walks per nine innings pitched.

Pena, 29, batted .245/.304/.347 in 165 plate appearances for the Braves this season — a decline from the .278/.330/.443 line he posted in 107 PA the previous year. Pena has more than four years of big league service as a utility player with the Yankees and Braves. He’s a career .244/.288/.330 hitter in 610 PAs at the big league level.

Both Venters and Pena were arbitration eligible. Venters would have earned either the same $1.6MM he made in 2014 or slightly less, had he gone through arb, while MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Pena to earn $900K.


Blue Jays Preparing Offer For Pablo Sandoval

There’s already been some Pablo Sandoval chatter today, with the Red Sox reportedly making an offer and agent Gustavo Vasquez set to chat with the Giants via phone tonight. Vasquez and Sandoval are wrapping up a visit to Boston today, and there’s plenty more on the Kung Fu Panda…

  • The Blue Jays met with Sandoval’s camp at last week’s GM Meetings, writes Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. While the meeting is said to have gone well, no offer has been made at this point.
  • However, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports (via Twitter) that while there’s been no offer to this point, within the next 24 hours, the Blue Jays are indeed expected to make a formal offer to Sandoval. That report adds a third seemingly serious club to the mix. Of course, it’s worth remembering that the Jays do have a team policy against contracts of more than five years, and Sandoval is said to be seeking a six-year deal north of $100MM.

Earlier Updates

  • Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com heard from a source that emphatically denied a rumor out of San Francisco that said the Giants were “out” on Sandoval at this point. The Giants are still “very much” in play for Sandoval, McAdam reports, though he does note that it’s unclear how lengthy of a contract the team is willing to issue.
  • Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle shoots down another portion of the apparently erroneous report to which McAdam referred, noting that Sandoval never asked for a seven-year deal from the Giants, who are still definitely in the mix (Twitter link).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that even if the Giants don’t end up securing Sandoval, they’ll be able to walk away from the situation knowing they made a very strong, very legitimate effort.
  • WEEI.com’s Alex Speier examines why it is the Red Sox prefer Sandoval to Hanley Ramirez, despite the fact that Sandoval is seeking a $100MM+ contract and comes with a significantly lesser offensive track record. Speier lists age, defense, durability and also makeup, which he notes is a concern for the Sox regarding Hanley. While Sandoval’s age and defense are larger factors, his excellent clubhouse reputation is an asset as well.
  • The Red Sox and Giants remain the main players, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but the Padres, White Sox and Blue Jays are all still in the mix. Heyman notes that while the Marlins have been a speculative fit in recent months, there’s been no contact from Miami at this point.

Minor Moves: Butler, Robinson, Solano, Marcum, Lincoln

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

  • The Cardinals have outrighted right-hander Keith Butler off the team’s 40-man roster, according to the MLB.com transactions page. St. Louis has also released center fielder Shane Robinson. The 25-year-old Butler has yet to establish himself in the bigs, but has been quite good in the upper minors. Robinson, 30, has seen his role reduced and was no longer a valuable piece for a Cardinals club that just picked up Jason Heyward.
  • The Nationals have released catcher Jhonatan Solano, also per MLB.com. Solano, the older brother of Marlins second baseman Donovan Solano, has seen minimal big league time over the past two years and did not have a clear role in the organization moving forward.
  • The Indians announced that they’ve re-signed right-handers Shaun Marcum and Dustin Molleken to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training. Marcum, 33 next month, was of course a fixture in the Blue Jays and Brewers rotations from 2007-12, though he dealt with his share of injuries in that time. Still, he posted a 3.67 ERA in 830 1/3 innings in that span before thoracic outlet syndrome in 2013 required surgery and has kept him on the shelf since. He did make it back to a minor league mound with Cleveland last season, posting a 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 Triple-A innings in August.
  • Molleken, 30, made 54 relief appearances for Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate last season and posted big strikeout numbers but also struggled with his command, to an extent. In 74 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 4.84 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9.
  • The Pirates have signed a familiar name to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training in the form of Brad Lincoln, per the club’s transactions page. Lincoln was selected fourth overall by the Bucs in 2006. He struggled through the early portion of his career but got off to a good start as a reliever in 2012 and was flipped to the Blue Jays for the man who was drafted 10 picks after him in ’06 — Travis Snider. Toronto would eventually deal Lincoln to the Phillies for Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen. Lincoln struggled with Philly but had success in Pittsburgh and Toronto, posting a 3.76 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 119 2/3 innings from 2012-13.
  • The Pirates also announced a host of other signings, including righties Collin Balester, Blake Wood, and Deolis Guerra, lefty Jeremy Bleich, and shortstop Gustavo Nunez.
  • The Twins have re-signed infielder/outfielder Eric Farris to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, reports 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson (on Twitter). The 28-year-old hit .280/.316/.356 with Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate last season, playing primarily center field.

Braves, Cardinals Interested In Jon Lester

4:46pm: The Cardinals are also interested in Lester, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter.

9:14am: The Braves have a meeting with left-hander Jon Lester this week, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last week that Atlanta had briefly touched base with Lester’s representatives at ACES and speculated that more serious interest could materialize if they moved some payroll. Rosenthal tweets that the meeting will take place on Thursday.

The Braves dealt Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals yesterday in a move that looked to be signaling a brief rebuild. However, one could also look at that move and see more than $11MM in savings on next year’s payroll plus the addition of an arm (Shelby Miller) that can be a significant boost to their rotation in 2015. Despite the cost savings on Walden and Heyward, however, Lester would seem too expensive a target. Atlanta already has about $70MM committed to just seven roster spots, plus perhaps as much as $16MM in arbitration raises. Lester figures to command an annual salary well north of $20MM, possibly around $25MM, making him a financial stretch. Atlanta had a record payroll of $112MM in 2014.

However, it’s possible that the Braves could free up more payroll space that would make a Lester addition more feasible. Atlanta has long been exploring ways to free itself of at least part of the remaining $46.5MM owed to B.J. Upton, and a trade of Justin Upton, who earns $14.5MM next year, hasn’t been entirely ruled out. Atlanta would probably also love to get out from underneath the remaining $23.5MM on Chris Johnson‘s contract, although that figures to be challenging to move as well.

While Lester seems like a stretch in terms of payroll, the Braves have a need for starting pitching. Currently, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Miller are penciled into the rotation, and it’s unknown what the team can expect from Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen as the duo return from their second Tommy John operations. David Hale presents an option but seems better suited for a swingman role similar to the one he filled in 2014.


Marlins Showing Strong Interest In LaRoche; White Sox, Padres Have Also Checked In

3:26pm: The White Sox and Padres have joined Miami in at least checking in on LaRoche, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Still other clubs have him in mind in the event that their needs change due to trades, says Rosenthal.

1:09pm: The Marlins are about to lock up Giancarlo Stanton with a record-setting deal, and the team isn’t stopping there in its quest to get back into contention. ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Fish have shown “aggressive interest” in Adam LaRoche (among others) as it looks to add a power bat to the middle of the order to pair with Stanton.

As Stark reports, Stanton’s contract is heavily backloaded, in part due to Stanton’s desire for the team to have the flexibility to add significant pieces around him in the immediate future. LaRoche’s bat would be an upgrade over the production Miami got out of first base in 2014, as the club received a combined .254/.313/.402 batting line from Garrett Jones, Jeff Baker and Justin Bour. That group also combine for sub-par defense at first base, but LaRoche has long had a reputation as a strong defensive first baseman.

LaRoche, who just turned 35, batted .259/.362/.455 with 26 homers for the Nats in 2014. He’s averaged 26 homers over the past three seasons, though he does come with platoon issues. Miami could use Baker to help mitigate those issues, giving Baker starts against tougher left-handed opponents, or the team could hope for a return to his .268/.319/.506 batting line against southpaws in his excellent 2012 campaign. I profiled LaRoche back in October and pegged him for a two-year deal worth $30MM, although he did lose one primary suitor when the Brewers acquired Adam Lind.


Indians Exploring Nick Swisher Trades

The Indians are exploring a number of trade possibilities, including scenarios in which they could move Nick Swisher and his remaining $30MM for another player with an inflated contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All Twitter links).

Rosenthal lists names like B.J. Upton ($46.35MM through 2017), Ubaldo Jimenez ($38.75MM through 2017) and Ryan Howard ($60MM through 2016) as examples of other inflated contracts while being careful to note that the Indians aren’t necessarily interested in anyone from that grouping. Other players on bloated contracts include Edwin Jackson ($22MM through 2016), John Danks ($28.5MM through 2016), Cody Ross ($10.5MM through 2015) and Ricky Nolasco ($37MM through 2017), to say nothing of Dodgers outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier (though that duo is a particularly difficult fit in Cleveland).

Swisher, signed to a four-year, $56MM contract heading into the 2013 season, played well in his inaugural campaign in his home state of Ohio, hitting .246/.321/.423 with 22 homers. However, his offense fell off a cliff in 2014, as he batted just .208/.278/.331 while his strikeout rate soared to a career-worst 27.7 percent and his walk rate dropped to a career-worst nine percent.

As I explained in my Indians Offseason Outlook, Cleveland has a bit of financial flexibility heading into 2015, but that flexibility will be gone by 2016 due to arbitration raises to Corey Kluber, Cody Allen and Carlos Carrasco as well as contractual salary increases to the likes of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley. Moving Swisher or Michael Bourn, who is owed $27.5MM over the next two seasons and has also declined, would alleviate that pressure and give the Indians a much more favorable long-term outlook. One option could be to pay a large chunk of Swisher’s 2015 salary, when the team has more payroll flexibility, while only absorbing a small chunk of his 2016 salary (or do the same with Bourn). By doing so, they could still eat around half of his remaining salary but create more 2016 flexibility to accommodate an increasingly expensive core.


MLBTR Chat Transcript

Click here to read a transcript of this week’s live chat, hosted by MLBTR’s Steve Adams.


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