Author Archives: Zach Links

Kyuji Fujikawa Clears Waivers, Now A Free Agent

MAY 24: The Rangers have announced Fujikawa has cleared unconditional waivers and is now a free agent.

MAY 22: The Rangers have placed Fujikawa on unconditional release waivers, tweets John Blake, the club’s executive vice president of communications. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets that Fujikawa wasn’t interested in pitching at Triple-A and was therefore granted his release.

MAY 17: The Rangers have designated Kyuji Fujikawa for assignment, according to John Blake of the Texas Rangers (on Twitter). Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reports the Rangers could not option Fujikawa to the minors without his consent before June 15 and the right-hander had indicated to the team he did not intend to accept such an option.

Fujikawa, 35 in July, has appeared in just two games for Texas this season and didn’t have a great amount of success. In a combined 1 2/3 innings, he allowed three earned runs. He fared a little better better in eleven combined minor-league appearances this season. In 11 outings (ten at Triple-A, one at Double-A), the veteran pitched to a 4.35 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 7.8 BB/9.

The Rangers signed the reliever back in December to a one-year deal worth $1MM plus incentives. The contract also included a club option for $2MM that can be bought out for a modest $100K. Fujikawa threw only 25 innings between 2013 and 2014, with two stints sandwiched around a Tommy John procedure and rehab. The former Cub has never been a strong ERA buy, but he does own career averages of 10.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.

The Rangers now have ten days to trade, release, or outright Fujikawa to the minor leagues. The reliever is now is joined in DFA Limbo by Kevin Gregg, Nick MassetStolmy Pimentel, and Bruce Chen.  You can keep track of everyone’s status using MLBTR’s DFA Tracker.


NL West Notes: Chavez, Weiss, LeMahieu, Uribe

There has been a great deal of trade talk surrounding A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir, but the Dodgers could have interest in another member of Oakland’s rotation, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times writes. The Dodgers could circle back to Jesse Chavez this summer, a right-hander they discussed with Oakland in the offseason. The Dodgers could use pitching reinforcements and the A’s own the worst record in baseball, so there could be a match there between now and the end of July.

Here’s more from the NL West:

  • Some might wonder if Walt Weiss is on the hot seat given the Rockies‘ woes, but GM Jeff Bridich says that’s not the case. “There’s no issue there,” Bridich said, according to Nick Groke of The Denver Post. “Throwing around blame is a very dangerous thing to do. The manager and the coaches don’t step on the field and take a bat and step into the batter’s box, and they don’t take the ball to stand on the mound.” Knowing he has the confidence of his GM, Weiss says he does not feel any heat, “This is my third season, and we haven’t won. And I’m sure people ask about my security here, I’m sure that becomes a topic. But I have to tell you, honestly, I have zero fear of losing my job.” The Rockies enter play today at 16-25, the fourth-worst mark in MLB.
  • One bright spot for the Rockies this season has been the play of second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders is championing to make the NL All-Star team.
  • Juan Uribe could be the odd man out when Hector Olivera is ready to join the Dodgers, according to J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group.
  • The Dodgers‘ best-pitched game of the season didn’t come from one of their high-priced top line starters or one of their multi-millionaire free agent pickups. Instead, it came from Mike Bolsinger, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks by the Dodgers’ new regime in exchange for cash considerations, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register writes.  Through four starts, Bolsinger now boasts a 0.71 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.
  • After a 10-5 start, the Padres have gone 10-18 and former U-T San Diego writer Bill Center (in a piece for MLB.com) wonders if it’s time for San Diego to act with urgency and shake up things.

Cubs Return Anthony Varvaro To Red Sox

The Red Sox announced that pitcher Anthony Varvaro has been returned to the club. The right-hander was designated for assignment by the Red Sox in late April and claimed off waivers by the Cubs days later.

Varvaro, it turns out, has a torn right flexor tendon and will undergo surgery Tuesday ending his season, reports Cormac Gordon of the Staten Island Advance.com.

The tendon is partially torn off the bone, but the elbow is stable otherwise,” the 30-year-old told Gordon. “I was worried I might need another Tommy John surgery. That’s not the case. This is the best possible outcome.

Rehabilitation is expected to last six months, so Varvaro could resume throwing in November. The Red Sox say they were unaware of how severe the injury was, so both clubs agreed that it “would be appropriate to return Varvaro to the Red Sox for placement on the disabled list in accordance with the major league rules.”

The Red Sox designated Varvaro for assignment on April 29th and the Cubs claimed him off waivers on May 3rd.  Three days later, the Cubs DFA’d Varvaro and subsequently outrighted him.

Varvaro posted a 2.74 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a ground-ball rate near 48 percent with the Braves from 2012-13. With the Red Sox this year, Varvaro appeared in nine games and totaled 11 innings. The five runs he surrendered aren’t particularly concerning, but his velocity was down from an average of 92.5 mph in 2014 to 91.1 mph in 2015. That, combined with the 14 hits and six walks he yielded in his 11 innings, likely aided in his swift exit from the Boston organization.  Now, for the time being, he’s back in Boston.



Reds Pitcher Making Ends Meet With Second Job

When you think of the lifestyle of a professional baseball player, you think of big houses and Olympic-sized swimming pools.  You rarely think of those players building pools in someone’s backyard.  Reds pitcher Josh Smith has had to do just that to make ends meet as he chases his big league dream.

Players taken in the early rounds of the draft typically get sizable signing bonuses and don’t have to moonlight at a second job.  Smith’s journey to the minors, however, was decidedly different.

The right-hander cut his teeth at Lipscomb University as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation next to ace Rex Brothers.  Brothers, the Friday night pitcher, would go out and throw in front of scores of major league scouts.  By Saturday, when Smith would take the mound, the scouts were off to check out their next prospect.  Smith may not have had the same upside as Brothers, but he was a very strong pitcher in his own right and deserved far more attention from scouts, in the estimation of agent Alex Esteban.  Brothers became a first round selection of the Rockies while Smith wound being selected in the 21st round by Cincinnati in 2010.  Brothers got a signing bonus just shy of seven figures upon signing his deal.  Smith got roughly $1K.

Bonuses for later round picks are extremely low and the minors don’t pay very well from year-to-year either.  Smith, who earns less than $10K per year in salary, quickly figured out that he needed to take on a full-time job in the offseason.  Longtime pitching coach Tracy Valentine, a former minor leaguer himself, also ran a pool construction business and had a need for a physically strong employee who could haul bulky, cumbersome bags of cement from the truck to backyards.  That position, while greatly appreciated by the pitcher, didn’t give Smith the hours or pay that he needed to make ends meet.

I don’t need side cash,” Smith told Valentine. “I need a job.

With that, Smith began actually building the pools and earning a bit more cash.  To line his pockets further, Smith also helped coach some of Valentine’s pupils, including Diamondbacks 2014 first-round choice Touki Toussaint.

He came to us when he was like 14 or 15 and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?,‘” Smith said. “Back then he was a shortstop and I asked him if he ever thought about pitching and he said no. I told him, if you ever change your mind, let me know. I told him that he needed to be a pitcher because he had a cannon.”

Smith still helps to guide young arms and build pools in the offseason, even though he has reached Triple-A and is knocking on the door of the Reds’ major league roster.  His particular offseason job might be unique, but it’s a lifestyle that is not at all uncommon for minor leaguers, Smith says.

My old college teammate Caleb Joseph is in the bigs now with the Orioles, but when he was in the minors, he would come home and work at the local country club as a caddy and a waiter.  Some guys do construction, some work in restaurants.  Everyone does what they need to do in the offseason to make ends meet,” Smith explained.

In April, it became evident that Smith’s hard work both on and off the field was paying off as the Reds called him up to the majors.

My manager, Delino DeShields, called me and said, ‘Pack your stuff, you’re meeting the Reds in Chicago.’  I didn’t believe him, but he told me he’d never pull a joke like that and that he wished he could see my face when I heard the news,” Smith said. “I was actually playing Call Of Duty with a bunch of my Louisville teammates and I told them on the headsets that I had to go and get myself packed.”

The funny thing is,” Esteban added. “He was playing with like 100 other teenagers who had no idea what any of them were talking about.”

When Smith landed in Chicago, Esteban was there to pick him up from the airport and drive him to meet the team.  The right-hander had a million things going through his mind on his way to the hotel.  What’s it going to be like to pitch in a big league game?  How will I adjust to playing in front of tens of thousands of people in the stands?  But, there was one pressing concern that stood out above the others.

I was wondering,” Smith said to Esteban. “Do you think they’ll put me in the video game?

Unfortunately, Smith didn’t make it into the video game or the actual game during that stint.  The Reds sent Smith back down to the minors after the three-game set in Chicago without having thrown a pitch.  Still, the experience was a milestone for the 27-year-old and he knows that he’ll get another opportunity when the Reds are in need of a long reliever or spot starter.  Once he gets to the majors and sticks on the roster, he could wind up with a big swimming pool to call his own.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Angels, Melancon, A’s

On this date in 1986, Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels decided to imitate another tyrannical New York boss.  In the show’s season finale, Michaels fired a drunk Billy Martin after he slurred one of his lines (as a part of a sketch, of course), as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes. In retaliation, Martin set fire to Michaels’ dressing room at the end of the show to close out the season.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


Indians Designate Brett Hayes For Assignment

The Indians have designated Brett Hayes for assignment, according to MLB.com’s transactions page.  In a related move, fellow catcher Yan Gomes has been activated from the 15-day disabled list.

As Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer outlined last week, the Indians had to choose between Hayes and Roberto Perez in order to make room for Gomes.  Neither has hit for much in terms of average, but Hayes has shown more power in a smaller sample, whereas Perez has shown more in terms of on-base skills, walking 20 times in 104 plate appearances.

Hayes, 31, appeared in 14 games for the Indians this season.  In a small sample size of 36 games, Hayes slashed .156/.229/.438 and hit three home runs.  Over parts of seven big league seasons with the Marlins, Royals, and Indians, Hayes owns a lifetime .205/.250/.359 slash line.  He has fared better over the years at the Triple-A level, hitting .253/.294/.420, also over a seven season period.

Hayes now joins Erik Cordier, Kyuji Fujikawa, Phil Coke, Todd Redmond, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in DFA limbo. To keep up with the status of every player that gets DFA’d, check out MLBTR’s DFA Tracker.


Hector Olivera Discusses Signing With Dodgers

Hector Olivera is Los Angeles’ newest star, but he easily could have wound up elsewhere given the widespread interest clubs had in him.  On a conference call Tuesday evening, I asked the infielder how many teams he had serious conversations with and whether he was close to signing with any of them.

There were five teams that had interest in me [including] San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami,” Olivera said through a translator.  “But, in the end, I decided to sign with the Dodgers because I know that this is a great organization.”

Hours ago, team president Andrew Friedman told reporters that he is open to different positions for Olivera, who is said to have the ability to play second base, third base, and the corner outfield.  It appears that Olivera and Friedman are in agreement.

My whole career I played second base, but I don’t think I’m in the position to decide where I should play or to say what my preference is,” said the Cuban star when asked what position he is most comfortable playing. “Wherever they put me, I’m going to give my best…Wherever they put me, they’ll see results.”

Friedman was unwilling to put a timetable on Olivera’s Major League debut, but the player doesn’t think it’ll take all that long.  The second baseman told reporters that he’ll probably need “three or four weeks” to get ready before making the leap to L.A.  As he prepares to make the biggest transition of his professional career, he’ll do so unencumbered by any elbow trouble.  For weeks, it has been reported that Olivera was dealing with an issue in his arm, rumored to be a a slight UCL tear in his right elbow.

I don’t know where that rumor came from.  I know that there was a little bit of inflammation in my forearm…It was just fatigue in the muscle, but it wasn’t a serious problem and I don’t know where that rumor started.”


Dodgers President Friedman On Olivera Signing

After months of anticipation, the Dodgers have finalized their agreement with Cuban infielder Hector Olivera.  The two sides first shook hands on a six-year, $62.5MM deal back in March but a few roadblocks – including visa issues – dragged the process out a bit.  Today, the i’s are dotted, the t’s are crossed, and Olivera is at long last an official member of the Dodgers.

There are still lingering questions, however, not the least of which is where Olivera will fit into the Dodgers’ big league picture with plenty of talent already at second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions.  Minutes ago on a conference call, I asked Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman if Olivera’s arrival could open things up for a potential trade down the line.

I think having as many good players as possible helps you not only in constructing your own roster, but it allows you the opportunity to talk with more teams.  If we’re ever complaining about having too much depth then that’s a good problem to have, but we’re certainly not there yet.  Adding someone that has a chance to impact the game is obviously always a good thing,” Friedman said.

Friedman clearly wasn’t looking to discuss specific trade possibilities, but one has to imagine that the Dodgers could parlay their offensive depth into pitching, particularly in the wake of rumblings that pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu could require season-ending shoulder surgery.  There’s no word yet on whether Ryu will have to go under the knife, but Friedman says that he has been bracing for the worst and planning as though he will not have Ryu the rest of the way.  The Dodgers expect to know more about the left-hander’s condition on Wednesday, and that information will shape their approach this summer.

The immediate plan for Olivera will be to work him up through the minor league system.  The infielder’s first stop will be in Arizona (for “a few days”), followed by a bump up to Oklahoma City.  Given Olivera’s age and the size of his deal, there has been a lot of talk about him making an immediate impact at the major league level.  Still, Friedman wasn’t willing to put a timetable on when the Cuban standout might join the varsity squad.

When Olivera is ready for primetime, Friedman says that the organization is open to different positions for him.  While Olivera worked out at the Dodgers academy, Friedman received reports indicating that he was taking well to both second and third base.  Olivera is also said to have the range to play in the outfield, so that could theoretically be an option for L.A.

Of course, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd outlined a bit earlier this afternoon, that versatility doesn’t exactly make his path to the Majors any clearer.  The Dodgers have Juan Uribe, Alex Guerrero, Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner all, like Olivera, capable of playing multiple infield positions.  And, starting second baseman Howie Kendrick doesn’t figure to be displaced anytime soon (he’s even been mentioned as an extension candidate).  In the outfield, Andre Ethier has looked rejuvenated this season, with Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke, Carl Crawford, Guerrero and Hernandez all serving as options as well (though Puig and Crawford are currently injured).  Versatile as he may be, Olivera joins a crowded mix of players in an intriguing logjam that figures to be addressed at some point down the line.

In addition to Olivera, the Dodgers also completed the signing of Cuban righty Pablo Millan Fernandez to a minor league contract.  Fernandez, who, according to Friedman, has an Orlando Hernandez-type windup that many Cuban pitchers are fond of, will be stretched out to be a starter.


Rockies Notes: Tulowitzki, Bridich, Pitching

Here’s a look at the Rockies..

  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich seems to think that the trade speculation surrounding Troy Tulowitzki is a product of the team’s recent slide.  “My hunch is that if we had a very different two weeks, and we had a record as we had in April, that we wouldn’t be talking about this at all, right now,” the GM said, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. “Funny how none of this came up in April when we were playing very different baseball.”    Bridich spoke with reporters on Friday and tried to make the case that the Tulo trade talk was a product of the media stirring things up.  Of course, the ball got rolling when agent Paul Cohen spoke on the record with Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
  • The Rockies have gotten even worse under Bridich, Woody Paige of The Denver Post opines. The Rockies have now gone 5-18 in the last month and Paige rolls his eyes at the notion put forth by Bridich that the Rockies have not played up to “expectations.” The rotation, he notes, was widely projected as one of the worst in the majors at the outset of the season.  Now, they’re at or near the bottom in league ERA, strikeouts, and walks, which is more or less what Paige expected.
  • It’s time for Bridich to move his star shortstop, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required) opines.  Bowden runs down the five best trade destinations for Tulowitzki, in order of fit, starting with the Mets.  He suggests a package of left-hander Steven Matz, catcher Kevin Plawecki, and right-handed reliever Rafael Montero.  One drawback for the Rockies is that such a haul would call for Colorado to eat $25-30MM of Tulo’s deal, in Bowden’s estimation.

AL East Notes: Ortiz, Porcello, Orioles

After a slow start to the season, many have wondered if it’s about time for Red Sox slugger David Ortiz to retire.  Boston hitting coach Chili Davis doesn’t think that’s necessarily the case, however, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes.  “Throughout my career, there were too many people that were ready to write me off way before I got to 39. And every time they did, I came back with a strong year, and they were like, ‘Well, this may be his last year.’ Nobody tells you when you’re done. You know when you’re done,” Davis said. “If you’re that kind of player — and David is that kind of player — he’ll know when he’s done.” Here’s more from the AL East..

  • Red Sox offseason acquisition Rick Porcello is looking more like a complete pitcher and an ace with every start, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes. So far, Porcello is looking like the kind of pitcher Boston was hoping for when they inked him to a four-year, $82.5MM extension in April.  Through eight starts this season, the 26-year-old has pitched to a 4.26 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.
  • The Orioles‘ farm system used to be pretty barren when it came to quality pitching choices.  Now, there are multiple quality starting pitchers waiting in the wings for 2016, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.  Kubatko identifies Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Zach Davies as rotation possibilities and adds that Steve Johnson could be a bullpen option down the road, provided that the O’s are alright with him being out of options.
  • Catcher Stephen Vogt never got the chance to break out with the Rays but he’s doing it now as he’s behind the plate for the A’s, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes.  Vogt was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay two years ago and traded to Oakland for cash considerations.