Author Archives: Steve Adams

AL West Notes: Astros, Lewis, Rangers, A’s

A federal bankruptcy judge today approved a Chapter 11 reorganization that will allow DirecTV and AT&T to purchase Comcast SportsNet Houston, reports David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The network will be relaunched next month as ROOT Sports Houston and will provide the Houston area with significantly greater accessibility to television coverage of Astros games. The team has issued a statement, via press release, expressing its pleasure with the outcome: “We are very pleased with Judge Isgur’s confirmation of the plan to reorganize the Network under AT&T and DirecTV. Throughout this long process, our main goal has been to provide broad coverage of Astros games for our fans throughout our region. This new Network will allow us to achieve this goal.  There are still a few obstacles that we have to overcome, but today’s decision is a big victory for Astros fans and the City of Houston.”

Here’s more from the AL West…

  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already had discussions with Alan Nero, the agent for free agent righty Colby Lewis, about a return to the organization for Lewis, reports MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers have extended a preliminary offer to Lewis, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports is a Major League offer. There’s mutual interest on both sides, according to the pair of reports, but the process has likely been slowed somewhat by the fact that Nero also represents manager Joe Maddon, who is said to be in line to take over as skipper of the Cubs. Lewis struggled in the first half of the 2014 season but rebounded quite well in the second half, posting a 3.86 ERA over his final 13 starts. His 5.18 ERA on the season was likely inflated by a .339 batting average on balls in play.
  • Also of note from Sullivan, the Rangers are expected to look to make rotation additions beyond Lewis this offseason, however they’re more likely to come via the trade market than via free agency. The Rangers do possess a good deal of middle infield depth. Both Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor both are seen as highly regarded talents, but the Rangers don’t have a place to slot both of them into the starting lineup. (It should be noted that the Profar/Odor speculation is my own, as opposed to something which Sullivan is reporting as likely.)
  • The Athletics today announced the promotions of three coaches (Twitter link). Darren Bush, who previously served as the team’s bullpen coach, will now shift into the role of hitting coach and fill the void left by Chili Davis (who signed on to fill the same role with Boston). Scott Emerson, who had previously served as a minor league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator, was promoted to the role of bullpen coach. Lastly, Marcus Jensen, who has served as a Rookie-league manager and minor league hitting instructor for the A’s, was named assistant hitting coach/catching coach.
  • Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has several updates on the Rangers‘ search to fill out new manager Jeff Banister’s coaching staff, noting that several announcements could come as soon as tomorrow.

D’Backs Exercise Options On Hudson, Reynolds

The Diamondbacks announced that they have exercised their 2015 club options on right-hander Daniel Hudson and left-hander Matt Reynolds. Hudson’s option guarantees him $800K next season, while Reynolds will earn $600K.

Hudson, 27, hasn’t seen regular MLB action since 2012 season due to not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. He looked to have recovered from his first Tommy John operation before re-injuring the elbow early in a rehab stint and requiring a second procedure. Hudson remained determined and worked his way through the rehab process once again, this time reaching the Majors at the tail end of the 2014 season and making three relief appearances. The D’Backs appear likely to use him as a reliever in 2015, and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets that he can earn an additional $300K in roster bonuses.

Originally acquired from the White Sox along with lefty David Holmberg in exchange for Edwin Jackson, Hudson looked to be a key cog for the Diamondbacks’ rotation after a brilliant debut for Arizona. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts for the D’Backs in 2010 and followed that up with a 3.49 mark in 222 innings the following year before injuring his UCL in 2012.

Reynolds, 30, was acquired from the Rockies in a rare intra-division trade that sent Ryan Wheeler to Colorado. Reynolds was enjoying an excellent first season with the D’Backs in 2013, having pitched to a 1.98 ERA with 23 strikeouts against five walks in 27 1/3 innings before his injury. He spent the 2014 season rehabbing and did not take the mound in either the Majors or Minors, though at just $100K over the league minimum, there’s little risk for the Diamondbacks in exercising their option.


Padres Decline Josh Johnson’s Option

The Padres announced that they have declined their $4MM club option on right-hander Josh Johnson. As MLB.com’s Corey Brock tweets, the Friars are said to want to work out a lesser deal with Johnson and his representatives at Sosnick/Cobbe Sports.

Johnson, 31 in January, signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Padres last offseason. That deal contained a clause stipulating that if Johnson were to make fewer than seven starts, the team would secure a $4MM club option for the 2015 season. Not only did Johnson fail to make seven starts, he didn’t take the mound at all in San Diego, as he fell victim to Tommy John surgery in April. Brock tweets that Johnson began a throwing program earlier this month and feels that he has “unfinished business” in San Diego.

Johnson’s injury history is lengthy, to put it mildly, but there’s no denying his status as one of baseball’s most talented pitchers when healthy. He owns a lifetime 3.40 ERA, but that number is skewed by some poor performances in injury-plagued seasons. During the best (and healthiest) stretch of his Major League career from 2009-11, Johnson posted a 2.64 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 453 innings with the Marlins. He’s a two-time All-Star that finished fourth in the 2006 Rookie of the Year voting and finished fifth in the 2010 Cy Young voting.



Orioles Exercise Options On Chen, O’Day; Decline Options On Markakis, Hundley

The Orioles announced that they have exercised their club options on left-hander Wei-Yin Chen ($4.75MM) and right-hander Darren O’Day ($4.25MM). Additionally, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that the team has declined its half of Nick Markakis‘ $17.5MM mutual option (in favor of a $2MM buyout) and declined Nick Hundley‘s $5MM option.

The decision to pick up the options on Chen and O’Day was an easy one, as both appear to be bargain rates relative to the level of production of each pitcher. Chen, a 29-year-old left-hander signed out of Taiwan, has been solid in three seasons for the Orioles and enjoyed his best year in 2014. In 185 2/3 innings in the Baltimore rotation, he pitched to a 3.54 ERA with 6.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate. In three years with the O’s, he’s totaled a 3.86 ERA in 515 1/3 innings while playing on a three-year, $11.388MM contract.

O’Day, who turned 32 last week, has been an integral part of the Orioles’ bullpen over the past three seasons but turned in his best work this year. Though he has a 2.05 ERA over 197 2/3 total innings in Baltimore, he pitched to a 1.70 mark this year to go along with 9.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent ground-ball rate.

Markakis has been with the Orioles since being selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft. In nine seasons with Baltimore, he’s posted a cumulative line of .290/.358/.435. This past season, he posted a .276/.342/.386 line with 14 homers and a total of 2.5 fWAR/2.1 rWAR — a solid rebound campaign as he hits the open market for the first time. First, however, the O’s will have to decide whether or not to make him a $15.3MM qualifying offer. (I recently profiled Markakis and pegged him for a four-year deal without a QO and three years if he gets one.)

Hundley, 31, was acquired in exchange for lefty Troy Patton after Matt Wieters went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. In 50 games and 174 plate appearances with the O’s, the former Padre batted .233/.273/.352 with five homers. He caught 19 percent of opposing base-stealers and graded out as a slightly above-average pitch-framer, per Baseball Prospectus.


Dan Haren Exercises Player Option

Dodgers right-hander Dan Haren has exercised his $10MM player option for the 2015 season, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets.

Haren, who turned 34 in September, signed a one-year, $10MM contract with the Dodgers last offseason that contained a $10MM player option that would vest upon reaching 180 innings. Haren ended up totaling 186 innings in Dodger blue, posting a 4.02 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41.5 percent ground-ball rate.

Haren could have hit the open market in search of a larger guarantee, perhaps on a two-year deal, but he’s stated in the past that proximity to his family is of the utmost importance to him, so remaining with them in Los Angeles is likely a key component of this decision. He spoke openly and honestly with Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post in 2013 about how difficult his year with the Nationals was from a personal standpoint, as he had never previously been so far away from his wife and children.

Barring any sort of trade, Haren will return to a rotation that features Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. It won’t be a surprise to see them seek further rotation depth via trades and/or free agency this offseason.


Red Sox Sign Koji Uehara To Two-Year Extension

The Red Sox announced that they have signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension that runs through the 2016 season. Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that it is a two-year, $18MM contract (Twitter link). Uehara is represented by Mark Pieper of Relativity Sports.

Koji Uehara

Uehara, who turns 40 next April, has thrived over the past two seasons in Boston, rising from elite setup man to All-Star closer in short order. Though he finished 2014 on a negative note — he yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings and pitched just five time in September due to arm fatigue — Uehara has overall been nothing short of outstanding in Boston.

In 138 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, Uehara has pitched to a pristine 1.75 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He was a postseason hero during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors after appearing in five of the six games in that series. Though not a flamethrower, Uehara racks up strikeouts thanks to an exceptional split-finger. This past season, the only pitcher in all of Major League Baseball who posted a higher swinging-strike rate than Uehara’s 18.8 percent was Aroldis Chapman.

Uehara figures to be the first significant signing of what should be an active offseason for the Red Sox, who appear to have no plans to go into rebuilding mode on the heels of a last-place finish in 2014. Rather, the Red Sox prioritized adding MLB-ready help at the trade deadline and are expected to pursue at least one top starting pitcher on the open market in the offseason. Boston has also been connected to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. To that end, Uehara’s contract isn’t a detriment to the team’s long-term outlook. Including Uehara, the Red Sox still have just four contracts on the books for 2016 and only two guaranteed contracts to which they are committed beyond that season. That positions the team well to add at least one significant multi-year pact this winter, if not more.

In my recent free agent profile for Uehara, I pegged him for a one-year, $11MM contract on the open market while noting that I felt he could receive two years at a lower annual value should his preference be for security over the upside of another large one-year deal next offseason. His departure from the free agent market weakens a strong crop of relievers that is headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller but also includes Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and a number of other solid arms.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cardinals Exercise John Lackey’s Option

The Cardinals have exercised their league-minimum option on right-hander John Lackey, per a report from the Associated Press.

The move is little more than a formality, as there was never any real doubt that the Cardinals would exercise the mere $500K option. That option was a large part of the reason that Lackey was so desirable at this year’s trade deadline and a large part of the reason that the club was willing to part with both Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to land him.

Lackey’s original five-year, $82.5MM contract with the Red Sox contained a clause stipulating that if he were to miss a year due to a significant elbow injury, Boston would gain a sixth-year option at the league minimum rate. Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery during the life of that original five-year term, thus triggering the clause. Though the salary is obviously not ideal for Lackey, he has said multiple times that he plans to honor the commitment.

Lackey, who turned 36 last week, pitched to a 3.82 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 198 innings for the Red Sox and Cardinals this season. However, he was markedly better with Boston than he was with St. Louis, as he posted a 3.60 ERA (3.56 FIP) with the Sox compared to a 4.30 ERA (4.27 FIP) with the Cards.


Brewers Exercise Yovani Gallardo’s Option

The Brewers have officially exercised their $13MM club option on right-hander Yovani Gallardo, reports MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes (on Twitter).

Gallardo, 29 in February, has spent his entire career with the Brewers after being selected in the second round of the 2004 draft. In 2014 he totaled 192 1/3 innings of 3.51 ERA ball with 6.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. Though he no longer averages a strikeout per inning as he did from 2009-12 (perhaps, in part, due to slightly diminished fastball velocity), the option was still a relatively easy call for the Brewers. Gallardo’s option contained a $600K buyout, essentially making this a $12.4MM decision for the Brewers.

In parts of eight Major League seasons with Milwaukee, Gallardo has a 3.69 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate. He signed a five-year, $30.1MM contract prior to the 2010 season, and by virtue of this option being exercised, will see that guarantee rise to $43.1MM over a six-year term.


Hisashi Iwakuma’s Option Vests

The Mariners announced that Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option has officially vested based on his on-field performance. The option was widely believed to be a club option, however Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune recently reported that the option vested by virtue of Iwakuma’s on-field performance. The Mariners have now officially announced as much.

Retaining Iwakuma for a mere $7MM would have been a no-brainer regardless, as the 33-year-old again enjoyed another strong season with the Mariners. In his third big league season, the Japanese righty totaled a 3.52 ERA with 7.7. K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 179 innings of work. The somewhat diminished innings total is the result of a strained tendon in his middle finger that kept him on the disabled list through the month of April. He debuted on May 3, however, and made each of his starts for the remainder of the season.

Iwakuma has been an exceptional find for the Mariners, who initially signed him for just $1.5MM one year after the A’s failed to work out a contract with him following their submission of a $19.1MM bid for his exclusive negotiating rights (that sum was returned to Oakland when a deal was not reached). Following a rookie campaign that was  split between the bullpen and the rotation, Iwakuma signed a two-year, $14MM extension which contained this option. He then broke out in 2013 with an elite season that led to a third-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.

All told, Iwakuma owns a stellar 3.07 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate in 524 big league innings since leaving the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball for the Major Leagues. Fangraphs pegs his career value at 7.7 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference (11.5) and RA9-WAR (12.3) are significantly more bullish.


Offseason Outlook: Oakland Athletics

After spending much of the season in first place and making the biggest splash of any team in July trades, the A’s scuffled with an ailing offense and were eliminated by the Royals in a one-game Wild Card playoff. They’ll have to deal with a number of escalating contracts as they look to retool and return to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year in 2015.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

  • None

Free Agents

The Athletics suffered a surprising postseason exit in the Wild Card round after aggressively adding Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and, to a lesser extent, Sam Fuld in July trades. While the narrative that the absence of Yoenis Cespedes derailed the offense was powerful, there’s little to actually support that thinking. Cespedes’ offense actually declined upon his move to the more hitter-friendly AL East. Meanwhile, Brandon Moss was dealing with a hip injury that required offseason surgery, Coco Crisp was playing through neck injuries, John Jaso was out with a concussion and the previously hot-hitting Stephen Vogt quite literally limped to the finish on a bad ankle. Josh Donaldson’s bat went cold in September as well, though it’d be a stretch (to say the least) to pin that on the absence of Cespedes.

All of this is meant to say that while the offense should probably be addressed this offseason, it isn’t for the reasons that many would initially believe. A healthy Moss at first base will go a long ways toward reviving the offense, and Blanks provides an affordable and able platoon partner, assuming his own health rebounds. Donaldson provides a potential 30-homer bat at the hot corner. In center field, Crisp will reprise his role, and Reddick seems likely to again man right field following a strong finish (he hit .299/.337/.533 in 200 PA following a return from the disabled list). The A’s can deploy a defensively gifted platoon of Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld in left field should they wish, and some combination of Derek Norris, Jaso and Vogt will be entrusted with catching duties.

The obvious hole for the A’s is in the middle infield. Top prospect Addison Russell is no longer a consideration after heading to the Cubs in the Samardzija/Hammel deal. Jed Lowrie is hitting the open market, and the team never had a reliable offensive option at second base in 2014. A reunion with Lowrie (at either position) is certainly a possibility, and other options include Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Emilio Bonifacio. GM Billy Beane may need to get creative, as top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson has yet to play at Double-A (though he was excellent at Class-A Advanced in 2014). One option on the trade market could be Luis Valbuena, who drew interest from Oakland at the trade deadline.

Alternatively, the A’s could look to the international market and pursue Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang or one of two Cuban second basemen who will soon hit the market: Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera. However, Kang’s 38 homers aren’t seen as likely to translate to the Majors, and one scouting director to whom MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes spoke made the unfavorable comparison of Kang to Hiroyuki Nakajima. The A’s know all too well that gaudy stats from overseas often don’t translate, as they’ve received no return on the two-year deal they gave Nakajima. And, Nakajima posted those stats in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, which is commonly regarded as a more advanced league than the Korea Baseball Organization. Fernandez and Olivera may come with more upside, but neither is technically a free agent yet, and there’s no telling exactly when they will be cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control and Major League Baseball. So while either Cuban second baseman would make sense, the A’s would probably need to at least solidify shortstop (a one-year deal for Drew, perhaps?) if it’s decided that Fernandez or Olivera is the answer at second.

One possibility that has been bandied about is a trade of Donaldson, though when asked about it, one Oakland official gave Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle a very frank reply: “That would be stupid.” Nonetheless, Donaldson projects to earn $4.5MM and will hit arbitration three more times as a Super Two player, making him an increasingly expensive option for the A’s. I’m of the mind that the A’s are not yet under pressure to move Donaldson. I can’t see the team parting with him for anything short of a massive return that would yield immediate help for the middle infield and possibly a cheaper alternative at third base. (One possibility I’ve envisioned would be a trade sending Mookie Betts and Will Middlebrooks, among others, to Oakland. That, however, is pure speculation, and the Red Sox are said to be loath to trade the highly touted Betts in any deal.) Suffice it to say, while a Donaldson trade is a possibility, it also strikes me as unlikely.

The D’Backs present a plausible trade partner, with three young shortstops all more or less ready to contribute in the Majors (Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed), and the Cubs of course have a bevy of middle infielders as well, including Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcantara. It’s unlikely, of course, that the Cubs would consider parting with Russell in any trade to send him back to Oakland. Beane could also rekindle talks for Yunel Escobar. Whatever route he takes, the lack of anything resembling a league-average bat to place at second or shortstop is a clear obstacle for the A’s.

Turning to the rotation, however, things don’t look too bleak. The A’s will be getting both Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin back at some point during the 2015 season, and in the meantime they’re hardly wanting for arms. Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez can all open the season in the rotation, with Chavez perhaps eventually returning to a bullpen role as he did in 2014. Each of those pitchers turned in an ERA of 3.55 or better as a starter.

The A’s will likely add a depth piece or two, perhaps on minor league deals, as Parker and Griffin can’t be counted on immediately next season. We also probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the A’s add a mid-range free agent despite already having a seemingly solid crop of in-house arms from which to draw. They were in a similar situation last offseason but signed Kazmir anyway, and they added Lester, Samardzija and Hammel in July despite a respectable group of starters. Justin Masterson would present a nice buy-low option, while Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy present attractive mid-range possibilities.

Adding a starter would allow the team to shift Chavez or Pomeranz to the bullpen, which is indeed an area that may need some addressing. Gregerson will hit the open market and could land as much as $20MM in Dierkes’ estimation (I’m inclined to agree), leaving a fairly significant hole. Sean Doolittle will return for a second season as closer and be joined by Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Otero, Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad in the ‘pen. Rodriguez will be 31 next June and has yet to establish himself in the bigs, making him a non-tender candidate. Evan Scribner has been outstanding at Triple-A for the past three seasons and could get a longer look, though he’s yet to be a major factor in their plans. He’ll be out of options, which could help him get a look. Even if that’s the case, Oakland still seems to need at least one additional relief arm. Jason Grilli, Joba Chamberlain, Jason Frasor, Luke Hochevar and Jason Motte all strike me as possibilities for Oakland.

Whatever additions the A’s make could have to be creative, as the team currently projects to have a payroll of just under $77MM between its guaranteed contracts, arb-eligibles and league-minimum players needed to round out the roster (assuming a non-tender of Rodriguez). Last year’s Opening Day mark of roughly $83MM was a franchise record, and while it’s possible that Beane and assistant GMs David Forst and Farhan Zaidi will have more money to work with, a significant hike doesn’t sound expected.

It’s that thinking that has likely led to speculation on a trade of Donaldson, but I personally wonder if they’ll be more open to moving a different pair of more expensive players: Samardzija and Kazmir. With Samardzija set to earn nearly $10MM and Kazmir locked in at $13MM, the A’s could theoretically make either available and replace him either via free agency or by acquiring a younger, less expensive arm in that trade. Samardzija will likely seek $100MM+ on the open market following the 2015 season, pricing him out of Oakland’s range (though they will make him a qualifying offer if he remains with the team at that point). Kazmir is more expensive and comes with a troubling injury history. That might make him more difficult to trade, but teams with larger payrolls likely won’t have major trepidation about committing that type of money to a pitcher with a 3.77 ERA and even more encouraging peripheral stats in 348 1/3 innings since returning to the Majors in 2013. He’d be an attractive option for a team looking to bolster its rotation on a short-term commitment rather than committing to a similarly risky starter on a multi-year deal.

The A’s have a number of excellent pieces in place, but some of those pieces are becoming more expensive, which limits Beane’s freedom in crafting next year’s roster. As such, I do expect some pricier veterans to be shopped this winter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a play for an international free agent with a more backloaded contract that becomes more expensive in 2016 once Samardzija, Kazmir, O’Flaherty and possibly Jaso are all off the books.

Oakland faces an increasingly difficult division, with the resurgent Angels, the improving Mariners and a presumably healthier Rangers club all looking like serious competition in 2015 (to say nothing of an Astros club that did make a 19-win improvement in 2014). Next season could be the final shot for this core group to make a deep postseason run before we see another of the significant roster overhauls we’ve come to expect from the Athletics.