Author Archives: Zach Links

Evan Gattis Settling In With Astros

Even after watching the Braves ship out key players such as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis wasn’t expecting to be the next one to go.  In January, after weeks of rumors and speculation, Atlanta struck a deal with the upstart Astros to continue their massive overhaul.  Gattis was caught off guard, but it didn’t take him long to come to terms with the move and get comfortable with his new club.

I wasn’t really actually bummed about the trade, I was just more surprised than anything. I just didn’t think it would happen,” Gattis told MLBTR prior to Wednesday’s game against the Phillies. “Other than that, its been a good camp and there’s a really good group of guys here.  I’m just excited and looking forward to the season.”

Gattis understood that major change was coming to the Braves, but he figured that he would be immune to it all since he’s still pre-arbitration eligible for one more season and playing near the league minimum.  Eventually, when it became clear that the Braves were listening on offers for him, he still didn’t panic or personally reach out to anyone in the Atlanta front office.  “I’m always the type to focus on my own business and I just worry about what I need to do to play,” Gattis explained.

With the Braves eyeing 2017 as their year to get back to contention, Gattis sounds legitimately enthused to be with a team that has advanced their own timeline considerably.  In fact, he says he’s okay with being flexible with regards to his exact role this season and isn’t fretting the split he might have between left field, the DH spot, or occasional time behind the plate.  Gattis hasn’t gotten a ton of balls hit his way in left during spring training, but he’s confident that he’ll get comfortable there in time, just as he did with his new club.


Nationals Notes: Uggla, Janssen, Injuries, Strasburg, Zimmermann

Second baseman Dan Uggla has done enough to make the Opening Day roster, but it’s unclear how he’ll be used, writes Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. After a couple dismal seasons, Uggla is in camp as a NRI. He’s hit a solid .278/.422/.500 after undergoing a new vision treatment over the offseason.

His lack of defensive versatility makes him difficult to roster. The club intends to use Yunel Escobar  at second base with Danny Espinosa as a utility infielder. Uggla has an opt out, so he’s unlikely to remain with the organization if he’s assigned to the minors. Per Uggla, he wouldn’t feel comfortable in a reserve role. Once Anthony Rendon returns from injury, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals finding a place to keep Uggla.

  • Reliever Casey Janssen will undergo a MRI on his sore pitching shoulder, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams described the injury as “generally it’s in his lat…it’s not something that’s normal soreness for him.” That’s worrisome because he missed time with a lat injury late last season. He’s also dealt with other shoulder injuries in the past. Janssen signed a one-year, $3.5MM over the winter and is expected to serve as the eighth inning reliever for the Nationals.
  • GM Mike Rizzo won’t be tinkering with the roster much in the coming days. When asked if he could add players before the opener, he told reporters, including Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (on Twitter), “We’re satisfied.  We like the team we have.” The injury bug has bitten multiple Nats player, including Denard Span and Rendon.
  • The Nationals may allow star pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg to walk via free agency, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. The reason has nothing to do with their performance. Both pitchers received Tommy John surgery in the past. Per Boswell, the “life expectancy” for the reconstructed elbow is eight years. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs estimates that risk of re-injury increases sharply after just 400 to 600 innings. In either event, the injury history may partially explain the club’s willingness to add Max Scherzer over the offseason.

AL Notes: Wright, Vazquez, Russell, Pelfrey

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News writes Spring Training is broken. Grant suggests reversing the current reporting schedule of players with minor leaguers and non-roster invitees reporting at the beginning of camp and the 40-man roster showing up ten days later. Grant also proposes expanding the roster to 28 for the month of April with 25 designated as active for games. This would allow teams, Grant reasons, to carry more pitching in April, as the hurlers continue to build their durability.

In today’s news and notes from the American League:

  • In a separate article, Grant reports the Rangers have informed Jamey Wright he will not make the team, but the right-hander has decided to remain in camp. “If they change their minds, I’m still here,” said Wright, who is an Article XX(B) free agent. “But, if not, I’m showcasing for all the other teams.” As an Article XX(B) free agent, the Rangers must pay Wright a $100K retention bonus, if they decide to keep him in their organization.
  • Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has an appointment with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday increasing speculation his recent MRI results could lead to Tommy John surgery and the end to his season before it begins, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.
  • Despite the uncertain status of Vazquez, the Red Sox have not engaged the Blue Jays about Dioner Navarro, tweets CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. With Vazquez’s injury, Heyman notes the Red Sox will give prized catching propsect Blake Swihart an extended look during the final week of Spring Training.
  • James Schmehl of MLive.com tweets he wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers take a flyer on James Russell, even though the left-hander has had a terrible spring. The 29-year-old was released by the Braves Sunday morning.
  • The Tigers will only go as far as their veteran stars take them, but there is some important young talent on the roster and their performance could prove pivotal as the franchise bids for its fifth straight AL Central title, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.
  • Twins GM Terry Ryan did not address whether Mike Pelfrey has requested a trade in the wake of the right-hander’s comments yesterday after losing the battle for a rotation spot, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pelfrey threw one inning of perfect relief against the Orioles today needing just eight pitches in lowering his spring ERA to 1.23.
  • Ryan Madson, in camp with the Royals on a minor league contract, calls his comeback from elbow injuries “a challenge” and knows he can pitch again at the MLB level, writes MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. “If it doesn’t happen here, I will see if there’s any other interest and will go from there,” said Madson, who has a May 1st opt-out. “I mean, I came in not knowing whether I could pitch on consecutive days or three times a week, and now I’m past that. I know what I can do and I want to pitch again in the Major Leagues.


Why I Chose My Agency: Cody Asche

Over the years, third baseman Cody Asche has drawn comparisons to Chase Utley from wishful Phillies fans.  However, even though they’re both infielders that bat left-handed, Asche is a different type of player and is still working towards making that major step forward at the big league level.  This spring, Asche has given the Phillies plenty of reason to believe that 2015 could be his year to break out.  Last week against the Twins, Asche took Mike Pelfrey deep for his third homer in just five games.  Prior to his next outing against the Astros on Wednesday, Asche spoke with MLBTR in the team’s Clearwater clubhouse about his representatives at Arland Sports.

On how he first came in contact with his primary agent, Jason Wood:

He was close to one of my summer coaches in high school and he represents one of my good friends, Jake Odorizzi (Odorizzi spoke with MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes back in 2013 about Arland Sports).  We kept in contact a little bit and when it came time in college to find someone, me and my family just felt really comfortable with him.  We didn’t really interview anyone else, we just knew that he was a good guy with the same kind of morals as us so we went with him.

On whether there’s an advantage to being with a smaller agency like Arland Sports:

I think for sure there’s an advantage, just because you get to know him on such a personal level.  I wouldn’t even consider him my agent first, I would consider him my friend first before calling him my agent.  But, being that he’s a smaller agent, only having a couple guys in the big leagues, we get a lot more attention than someone might get at a bigger agency.

On the things his agency does for him outside of baseball:

Anything, you name it.  He’ll help me with restaurant reservations, tickets to games, lots of stuff like that.  A lot of the time I’ll just reach out to him so that I can go to dinner with him.  Obviously, he also helps me line up things like apparel deals.  Also, my wife Angie is a dietician and he’s helped a lot with her startup business, Eleat Sports Nutrition, and getting that off the ground.  Overall, I try not to ask Jason for too much though and I’m not the most demanding guy, so there’s not a ton of stuff I really want.

On whether he’s tried to recruit other players to the agency:

I haven’t done that a lot, I’ve had it more the other way actually.  I’ve had a lot of guys say to me, “If you ever want to talk to [my agent] about making a change you can,” but I think everyone knows that I’m rock solid with Jason and all of Jason’s guys are rock solid and a lot of people in the business know that. Myself, Jake Odorizzi, and David Phelps are the three main guys we have in the big leagues right now, all three of us know what he’s about, we’re loyal, and I couldn’t foresee a situation where any of us would ever want to leave.


Cafardo On Porcello, Chacin, Kimbrel

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checked in with Max Scherzer, who is missing former teammate Rick Porcello.  Scherzer, of course, left the Tigers in free agency to sign with the Nationals in January.  Porcello, meanwhile, was shipped from the Tigers to the Red Sox in December.  Scherzer still texts a lot with Porcello, and they have had conversations about free agency.

He understands the business of the game really well and what teams are trying to accomplish,” said Scherzer. “As most players, he’s motivated by winning as well. What works is going out there and having one motivation and that’s winning. And those things will take care of themselves.”

Cafardo has talked with a few baseball executives who believe Porcello will walk from the Red Sox and do exactly what Scherzer did – go to the highest bidder.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • The Rockies tried to trade Jhoulys Chacin but couldn’t find a buyer, so they released him last week.  The 27-year-old was a victim of Coors Field, where his ERA was 4.21 as opposed to a much more palatable 3.24 on the road.  Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays have been looking for a veteran starter and may be considering him.
  • Braves people insist that they will not entertain a deal for closer Craig Kimbrel, but a few executives expect that Atlanta will be thinking differently if they are out of contention at the trade deadline.  The Braves are eyeing 2017 as their relaunch, so Cafardo doesn’t see the need for them to hang on to a top closer like Kimbrel in the interim.
  • Dan Uggla has an April 1st opt-out on his minor league deal with the Nationals and his play this spring is giving GM Mike Rizzo something to think about, but roster space is an issue.  If Uggla doesn’t make the cut in Washington, Cafardo suggests that the Angels, Braves, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Padres, and Rays could all justify bringing him aboard.

Joe Blanton Nearing Opt Out Date

As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported back in February, Joe Blanton has an April 1st opt out clause in his contract with the Royals.  The pitcher, who is a non-roster invitee with KC, is still in big league camp and throwing well.  Blanton, 34, signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City in February after sitting out the 2014 season.  He has spent almost his entire ten-year big-league career as a starter, but the Royals have been intent on using him exclusively as a reliever.

Blanton took a year off from the game to spend more time with his wife and three children, but over the winter he told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that he felt he owed it to himself to take one more shot at the game.

“It was nice being home with my family,” Blanton explained. “But the window is small. I’ve done this my whole life. I’ve put a lot into it, so why not see what’s left? I felt like it was almost an injustice to myself to just step away like that.”  

At the time of the interview with Crasnick, Blanton indicated that he was open to pitching at Triple-A.  As Blanton continues to impress, it’s conceivable that there could be a big league opportunity for him elsewhere if there’s not a spot for him on KC’s varsity squad.

Blanton has long posted strong strikeout-to-walk numbers and continued that trend even in his difficult 2013 season with the Angels (7.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9).  All told, Blanton has a lifetime 4.51 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 44.2 percent ground-ball rate in 1567 1/3 Major League innings.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Tillman, Rays, Lindor

On this date in 2001, Todd Helton signed a nine-year, $141.5MM contract extension with the Rockies, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes.  That year, Helton would go on to earn yet another All-Star selection, his second in what would be a string of five consecutive seasons.  According to Baseball-Reference, Helton earned upwards of $161MM over the course of his career which spanned 17 seasons in Colorado.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

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


Yankees To Release Scott Baker

The Yankees have released Scott Baker, according to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (via Twitter).  The Yankees signed Baker to a minor league pact back in January.

Baker was a mainstay in the Twins’ rotation during their run at the top of the division, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training of 2012 and has yet to re-establish himself as a reliable rotation cog in the Major Leagues.  The 33-year-old has spent the past two seasons in the Cubs and Rangers organizations, working to a combined 5.17 ERA in 95 2/3 innings of work.

Prior to those struggles and his surgery, however, Baker was a solid, if unspectacular mid-rotation arm for Minnesota.  He averaged 181 innings of 4.11 ERA ball (103 ERA+) from 2008-10 with the Twins before seemingly taking a significant step forward in a 2011 season that was cut short by injury.  Baker notched just 134 2/3 innings that year but had turned in a pristine 3.14 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 prior to being shut down.  Metrics such as his 3.45 FIP and 3.43 SIERA reflected genuine improvement as well.

The former second-round pick had an opportunity to help fill in a questionable Yankees rotation, but he’ll now be seeking employment elsewhere.  Had he made the Bombers’ big league roster, Baker would have earned a $1.5MM salary.


Braves Release James Russell

8:15am: The Braves have confirmed the move via press release.

8:05am: The Braves have released left-hander James Russell, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com (via Twitter).  The Braves will owe him roughly $600K.

On Saturday, Bowman indicated that Russell could be released due to his struggles this spring. Meanwhile, Luis Avilan has impressed in recent weeks as Russell faltered and prospect Brady Feigl could also be in line to take his spot on the roster.  Bowman also listed Josh Outman as a lefty reliever that could be in trouble, but his future is not immediately clear in the wake of Russell’s release.

Russell and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.425MM contract back in January.  The 29-year-old posted a combined 2.97 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 57 2/3 innings between Chicago and Atlanta in 2014.

The Braves acquired Russell and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for minor league catcher Victor Caratini and about $1MM in cash.  At that time, Russell had a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate, though he was dealing with significant command issues.  Russell was viewed by some as a non-tender candidate this winter but the Braves elected to retain him at his reasonable ~$2.4MM price tag.


Aaron Harang On Signing With Phillies

Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves.  Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA.  Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal.  Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM.  It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.

The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving.  I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida.  “The Phillies moved the fastest.  I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there.  Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”

Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five.  He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.

Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal.  Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.

There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall.  But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.

Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal.  Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him.  After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter.  Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.