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Author Archives: Zach Links
In a draft class that featured several high-quality pitchers at the top, LSU ace Aaron Nola was viewed as one of the very best and universally regarded as the most major league ready of any of them. Scouts were impressed by Nola’s poise, maturity, and (perhaps most importantly) his pinpoint accuracy and multiple teams in the top ten were connected to the hurler, but the Phillies were the club that pounced at No. 7. Back in June, Nola spoke with MLBTR as a part of of our Draft Prospect Q&A series. Recently, we checked in with Nola as he was gearing up for the 2015, a season that could see his big league debut.
Zach Links: When the Phillies drafted you last summer, there was immediately talk of you quickly making a path to the big leagues since you were so polished. Did the Phillies indicate to you last summer that you could be bumped up to the majors rather quickly?
Aaron Nola: They didn’t really say exactly that. They didn’t really say much in terms of that. For me, the way I look at it is, whenever they want me up, its their call. Wherever they put me, my focus is going to be where I am and play to to the best of my ability.
ZL: Some folks were surprised that the Phillies didn’t have you in major league camp for the entirety of the spring. Were you expecting to be in big league camp for the whole thing, as opposed to just a bit at the end?
AN: They just told me that they were going to send me to minor league camp and I was okay with that. I had fun, I had a good time.
I knew a lot of guys there and there’s a good group of guys there and it was pretty cool pitching against the Yankees that one time. I was around guys in the clubhouse and getting to watch what they do and how they play the game, it was a really good and really educational experience.
ZL: Alex Rodriguez offered up some really high praise after facing you in spring training, telling reporters (including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News), that you had a “good arm” and “a bright future” that “the Phillies should be very excited” about. [Nola allowed a single to Rodriguez in their first meeting, but struck him out with a changeup the next time around.] What was your reaction to that?
AN: I was just thinking that was pretty cool. We all know what he’s done in his career, he’s an unbelievable player and just watching him step in the box and the battle going on, it was surreal. Growing up we were just watching that guy on TV all the time and I was always hoping that one day I would pitch against him, so that was pretty cool.
ZL: Did you have any jitters when he stepped into the box?
AN: Maybe a little bit. I wasn’t too nervous coming in because it wasn’t the first time I pitched in front of a crowd like that. We pitched in front of some huge crowds at LSU. If there were any butterflies, they went away when I stepped on the mound because everything felt normal for me. I think some minor jitters sometimes are good, in a way.
ZL: The Phillies landed you at No. 7 but there were a number of teams connected to you, including the Twins at No. 5. Did you see the Phillies as your most likely landing spot on draft week, or did you see anyone else as the frontrunner?
AN: I just kind of told myself at that point that I was focused on my season at LSU and the games we were playing at that time. At that point, I was blessed and honored to be in that situation, to know that I’d probably be called in the first round wherever I go. I couldn’t control any of that, and I didn’t know where I’d end up when I was watching on TV.
It was an honor that the Phillies picked me, that day is something that I’ll always cherish and remember.
ZL: How has your daily preparation changed from this time last year to today? What kinds of things do the Phillies have you doing differently?
AN: I’m not doing anything different, really. What the Phillies have me doing is pretty much what I’ve done before. The only difference I’m pitching more often. I’m getting out on the mound more and more and I’m pretty accustomed to that at this point.
ZL: When we spoke last year, there were some scouting reports questioning your 3/4 arm slot. Have the Phillies tinkered with that at all?
AN: No they have not. It’s the same slot I’ve always done. I’ve never thrown a pitch another way and always thrown in that arm slot.
ZL: The Phillies were zeroed in on their veterans for a long time and playing for the here and now, but they seem to be focused on building on younger talent now. Are you excited to be part of the youth movement in Philly?
AN: Everyone there, they’re all great guys and I got to know them really well, or at least have good relationships with them. I’ve been hanging out with them a lot this year and I can tell you that they play the game the right way and work really hard.
I think those guys are great and their stars have been at the top of the game for years. They have had unbelievable careers and I don’t know what is going to happen but they’re working so hard this spring. I’m excited to work my way up to that level and play alongside them.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
On this date in 1999, Cal Ripken Jr. landed on the disabled list for the first time in what was, at that point, a 19-year career, due to a back injury. Ripken had already voluntarily ended his likely unbreakable streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, though the DL trip served as evidence that baseball’s Iron Man was at least mortal. Ripken would eventually become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, of course, appearing on 98.53 percent of ballots after a career that saw him hit .276/.340/.447 with 431 home runs, a Rookie of the Year Award, two MVPs, eight Silver Sluggers, a pair of Gold Gloves and 19 consecutive All-Star nods. We’ll stick with an Orioles theme to kick off this week’s look at the baseball blogosphere…
- Camden Depot looked at the link between the 2018 All-Star Game and the MASN suit.
- Baltimore Sports And Life looked at baseball’s true power hitters.
- BlueJaysPlus examines the change in player types in Toronto under Alex Anthopoulos.
- The Point of Pittsburgh delved into how the Pirates are minimizing time on the DL.
- Yankees Unscripted thinks the Yankees will be justifiably patient with Stephen Drew.
- Know Hitter says the Tigers should not sign Rafael Soriano.
- Rumbunter broke down Gerrit Cole‘s not-so-secret weapon.
- AZ Snake Pit looked at the D-Backs’ future.
- Grading on the Curve says the Braves and Yanks don’t line up in a Jose Peraza trade.
- Baseball Hot Corner is checking the clock.
- The Sports Esquires looked at unheralded prospects who are ready to make an impact.
Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.
If the mammoth Giancarlo Stanton deal didn’t totally convince fans that the Marlins were serious about winning, then the Christian Yelich deal was the clincher. After an offseason that included inking Stanton to a 13-year, $325MM deal, signing Michael Morse, and pulling off multiple high-impact trades, the Marlins locked up the talented young outfielder on a $49.75MM, seven-year deal.
The two sides first began discussing parameters for a pact shortly after the 2014 season ended. Once the Marlins took care of their top priority, a new long-term deal for Stanton, they were ready to go full steam ahead with Yelich. At first, the Marlins casually reached out to agent Joe Longo to let him know that they wanted to work towards getting a deal done. Then, some initial figures were thrown out and it was clear that a sizable gap had to be bridged. For starters, Miami pitched a deal that was similar to Starling Marte‘s six-year, $31.5MM extension with the Pirates.
“You arrive at deals different ways. You look at comps and you also think about the player and his skill set and how if you wait year-to-year in arbitration what those years would look like with consistent production,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill told MLBTR. “It made sense to us. That area was where we felt like we would like to try to get something done.”
While Longo could, on some level, understand the comparison between the two players, he felt that Yelich’s future earning potential called for something even more lucrative. What Longo could pretty much agree with, however, was the length of Marte’s contract. As Longo put it, “the framework of the deal was okay, but the numbers didn’t line up for us.”
Both sides were very much on the same page when it came to that length since the Marlins never seriously considered a deal that was shorter or longer. Hill explained that he’s not really a fan of contracts that only go through arbitration years and when it comes to a pre-arbitration player, he feels that a longer deal can always be achieved later on.
For a while, the Marlins were hoping to replicate Marte’s exact contract structure: a total of six seasons with two additional option years. Longo, meanwhile, preferred a six-year deal with one option year, which would have allowed Yelich to explore the open market before the age of 30. Eventually, the two sides reached a compromise on that point when the Marlins proposed that they would guarantee the 2021 season rather than leaving it as an option.
Even though that initial dollar figure was less than what Yelich’s camp was hoping for, Longo says he didn’t come away from that conversation disappointed.
“Negotiations have an ebb and flow to them. Ultimately, Christian was okay with waiting on an extension and waiting to see what could come in future years. Really, it’s a positive thing when your employer likes you and in baseball sometimes just getting an offer of an extension feels good, because that’s a good review of what you’ve been doing,” Longo explained. “I went back to Christian and I told him what the numbers were but I explained that A, They’ve never done anything like this before and B, he’s a unique player and there aren’t a lot of comps out there for him, so we had to be patient and take just the start of the conversation as a positive.”
Early on in the talks, Longo made a point to cite the advanced stats that supported Yelich’s production over the last two years. Yelich’s slash line and Gold Glove award were pretty good indicators of what he can do, but they were reinforced by his tremendous walk rate (10.6% in 2014) and UZR/150 (10.2 in ’14).
The advanced metrics were also very key to the Marlins’ side of things, not just in negotiations but in their overall evaluation of Yelich throughout the process.
“Everything played a part for us,” Hill said. “When you talk commitment you want to make sure it’s the right person, the right player, the right skill set, and the right talent and you want to make sound decisions. I don’t think there was anyone in our office who didn’t believe that this was the right thing to do for Christian.”
As the talks progressed, the discussions of stats became a little less pronounced and the two sides began to come a little bit closer on the dollar figure. Early on, Yelich was hopeful that a deal could be worked out, but he was also mentally prepared to continue on the arbitration path, at the advice of Longo. As Longo chatted with Hill and David Samson, the proposal of a $31.5MM guarantee slowly climbed up into the $40MM range. That was still shy of what Yelich was hoping for, but at that stage he felt that he had to at least consider what they were pitching in order to gain financial security for himself and for his family. The outfielder wanted to see where things would go, but he also asked that the talks cease before Opening Day to avoid any distractions.
Towards the end of spring training, the two sides shook hands on a sizable deal that will keep Yelich in Miami through 2021 and, possibly, 2022. The $49.75MM guarantee isn’t surprising to anyone who paid attention to what the 23-year-old did last season, but it’s the kind of money that was once reserved mostly for power hitters. In fact, Yelich’s deal is the second-biggest deal ever for someone in his service class, topping the likes of Ryan Braun and Anthony Rizzo. Hill is familiar with the precedent there, but that didn’t mean much to him when it came to Yelich.
“We totally understand the marketplace and how these young players have been compensated historically. We just believe that he’s a great talent and a complete talent. When you look at what he can do now offensively and what we think he’ll grow into as he matures as a hitter, the deal made sense to us,” explained Hill.
Of course, Yelich is not the first player without a major power bat to land a big deal in recent years. Around this time last year, the Braves signed defensive-minded shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year extension with $58MM in guaranteed money. And, just recently, Josh Harrison and Juan Lagares both got significant guarantees, albeit not on the same tier as Yelich and Simmons. Longo saw Yelich’s deal as yet another indication that teams across the majors, not just the Marlins, are putting emphasis back on defense and other areas of the game that might have been a bit undervalued.
Yelich’s well-rounded skill set, upside, and age gave the Marlins plenty of reason to want to tack on additional years of control. As Longo stressed during the talks, Yelich carries himself with tremendous poise for someone his age – not just on the field, but off the field as well. While some players choose to sit back and let their agent handle all of the back-and-forth contract talks, the 23-year-old took an active role in discussions with the Marlins’ front office.
“I think it was very unique for a player at his age,” the agent said. “Usually, the older they get, the more they participate in the process. Certainly when you get a guy who has been through an arbitration year, it causes a client to learn more about the business of baseball. But, the fact that he’s never been through the arbitration process and participated as much as he did, that was very impressive at 23 and I think that was part of the reason the Marlins targeted him. His level of maturity, how smart he is, how well he understands the game, and the business of the game all played a role.”
In the days leading up to the agreement, Yelich met a few times with Samson to discuss his long-term future with the franchise. The Marlins already knew that they were dealing with an older soul in the young outfielder, but he reminded them of his all-around maturity over the course of the spring.
“His plate awareness and strike zone awareness is definitely beyond his years. You look at his natural feel for the strike zone and his knowledge of the game and he’s been that way as a person from the day we drafted him in 2010,” Hill said. “He’s quiet, he’s focused, and he has a desire to excel at his craft to play in baseball. He’s not about flair, he’s not about the limelight, he just goes out and gets the job done.”
Now, with his deal in hand, the understated Yelich can focus on what he does best without having to think about his contract situation for several years.
The Mariners were a trendy pick to win big in 2015, but so far they’re off to a weak start. For his part, manager Lloyd McClendon thinks that all of the team’s tough losses will help prepare them for later on in the season.
“Like I told the guys the other day, and this is real important: Everybody’s giving the American League title, the pennant, to the Seattle Mariners, and we’re going to hoist the trophy, we’re going to the World Series. And yeah, that’s great,” McClendon said, according to MLB.com’s Doug Miller. “But in between, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, some heartaches, some adversity that you’ve got to go through, and you’ve got to be built for it. And you’ve got to handle it. And if you’re lucky, in the end you’ll be able to hoist that trophy.”
Here’s more from around the majors..
- Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com spoke with Cubs execs about what went into their decision to draft Kris Bryant No. 2 overall in 2013. “It was clear [that Bryant, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, and Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray] were going to go in the top three. As an organization, we knew we needed pitching but philosophically we felt like taking hitters at the top of the draft was the safer bet. Also, at picking at No. 2 it was hopefully our one shot at picking that high in the draft. Going hitter was safer,” GM Jed Hoyer explained.
- Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com attempted to peg what kind of impact we could see Bryant make in his rookie year for the Cubs. Mayo writes that he’s undoubtedly ready to make his mark at the big league level and, unsurprisingly, scouting directors raved about his overall upside. “He’s an exceptional player and talent,” one director said. “He has the chance to be one of the top hitters in baseball over the next 10 to 15 years.”
- Angels bench coach Dino Ebel and manager Mike Scioscia had dinner with Josh Hamilton on Wednesday night and Ebel told reporters, including Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter), that the meeting “went well.” It remains to be seen how the Hamilton situation will play out in the wake of owner Arte Moreno’s comments.
Bartolo Colon did it all to help lead the Mets past the Marlins for their sixth straight win, Howie Rumberg of The Associated Press writes. Colon not only pitched the Mets past Miami, he hit a tying sac fly for his second RBI in two starts. Here’s more from the NL East..
- Braves assistant GM John Coppolella made it clear that he has no interest in moving top prospect Jose Peraza, despite the Yankees’ apparent interest, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes. “We have no interest whatsoever in trading Jose Peraza,” Coppolella said. “Teams scout top prospects all the time, as we do other team’s top prospects. It was just a case where one of their scouts was sent to watch one of our guys.” The soon-to-be 21-year-old has steadily climbed through Atlanta’s farm system and broke out with a .339/.364/.441 performance over 499 combined minor league plate appearances in 2014.
- The Mets are still eager to trade Dillon Gee, and they view Rafael Montero as likely to take Gee’s spot, according to major league sources that spoke with Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Gee could be moved at anytime if a need arises elsewhere. If they can’t move him, Montero will take his spot in the rotation, barring injury or regression. According to sources, there is no debate that Montero will get the first opportunity, before prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.
- Luis Garcia, who was out of baseball three years ago, has become one of the steadiest arms in the Phillies bullpen, writes Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The 28-year-old has allowed two hits and two walks in his five innings this season.
James Shields didn’t have his best performance today, but the Padres were still able to top the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday, as Corey Brock of MLB.com writes. “I didn’t have the greatest stuff today. I wasn’t locating as well as I wanted to; I was behind in the count all day,” Shields said. In the end, San Diego managed to win 5-4 anyway, thanks to Wil Myers‘ three-run homer in the seventh inning. More from the National League West..
- The Giants offered Nelson Cruz a deal worth upwards of $40MM this offseason, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). The Mariners, meanwhile, landed Cruz on a four-year, $57MM contract. Cruz, 35 in July, led the Majors in home runs in 2014 (40) while putting together an excellent .271/.333/.525 batting line.
- Craig Edwards of Fangraphs looked at the Diamondbacks‘ decision to promote Yasmany Tomas to the varsity squad this week. Arizona generated a good amount of excitement by promoting Tomas, but their $68MM investment was apparently brought aboard to sit on the bench. As Edwards shows, a difficult numbers crunch led Arizona to promote Tomas rather than Double-A prospects like Brandon Drury and Socrates Brito who are not quite ready for primetime.
- The Dodgers have been kept afloat by young relievers Yimi Garcia and Pedro Baez, as Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes. The previous regime put emphasis on experience in building the bullpen, but the new front office gave jobs to Baez and Garcia rather than the veterans they had in camp. The Dodgers bounced Dustin McGowan, told Mike Adams (who later retired) that he wouldn’t make the team, and sent Sergio Santos and David Aardsma to Triple-A.
Here’s a look at today’s minor moves..
- The White Sox signed right-hander Euclides Leyer, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America (on Twitter). The White Sox had Leyer in their system for five years before losing him to the Reds in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. In 34 appearances for the team’s Advanced-A team, Leyer pitched to a 4.53 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9.
- The Indians signed minor league pitcher Perci Garner, according to Eddy (link). Garner, 26, was a former second-round choice of the Phillies but was never able to produce consistently in their farm system.
On this date in 1972 (as can be seen on Leo Panetta’s NationalPastime.com), salary arbitration was born, as the owners agreed to add the arbitration process to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, ending a 13-day strike in which 86 games were missed. The arbitration process has become an integral part of the MLB offseason, influencing many trades and roster decisions in addition to providing many players with their first opportunity at nine-figure paydays. Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere…
- A’s Farm spoke with Oakland talent evaluator Grady Fuson.
- Pinstripe Pundits isn’t sweating Masahiro Tanaka‘s velocity.
- Clutchlings compared the development of Tyler Beede and Daniel Norris.
- Rays Colored Glasses broke down Chris Archer‘s Opening Day.
- Wahoo’s On First is thrilled about the Corey Kluber deal.
- Royals Blue looked at Alex Gordon‘s contract situation.
- AZ Snake Pit reflected on the Trevor Cahill era in Arizona.
- Know Hitter isn’t counting the Tigers out even though are trendier picks in the Central.
- Reviewing The Brew wonders if the Brewers’ shortstop depth could help the Padres.
- Blue Jays Plus talked about Toronto pitchers utilizing the change up.
- World Series Dreaming presents Quantum Leap: the Kris Bryant chronicles.
- The Point Of Pittsburgh doesn’t understand the Josh Harrison deal.
- Camden Depot wasn’t wild about the Orioles’ recent trade.
Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.
The Indians have announced yet another extension, this one with righty Carlos Carrasco. The contract guarantees him $22MM over the next four years and includes two club options.
Carrasco will earn $4.5MM next year, $6.5MM in 2017, and $8MM in 2018. The option years are for $9MM and $9.5MM, respectively, and can each be escalated by $4MM based on top-ten Cy Young finishes, bringing the total max value of the contract to $48MM. Those options come with $662.5K in total buyouts. Carrasco was already set to earn $2.337MM in his first of three arbitration years, which the new deal leaves in place — meaning that Carrasco nets just under $20MM in new money.
Carrasco, who just recently celebrated his 28th birthday, posted a 5.29 ERA over his first four seasons (238 1/3 IP) with the Tribe and struggled last April, losing his starting job and even getting designated for assignment last summer. However, he started to turn things around after a stint in the bullpen. As a reliever, he posted a 2.30 ERA with 43 relief innings.
When Carrasco came back to the starting five, he closed out 2014 and in a small sample size of ten games he looked like an absolute superstar. During that span, the hurler posted a 1.30 ERA and 78 strikeouts (against just 11 walks) over 69 innings.
Carrasco, an ACES client, now has financial security going forward despite a rocky career which included a lost 2012 season thanks to Tommy John surgery. Now, with Carrasco and Corey Kluber both under contract, the Indians could have a potent No. 1 and No. 2 locked in for years to come. The Cy Young winner’s deal looks different however as he’ll earn a reported $38.5MM across his guaranteed five seasons while Carrasco will get $22MM across his additional three years. Kluber receives additional years on his deal, but the difference in average annual value is a modest $400K.
Carrasco, in theory, could have rolled the dice with another solid season of pitching. Even though he could have secured a sizable arbitration raise and even more leverage in extension talks by building on his close to 2014, he understandably opted for security.
On Saturday night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the two sides were discussing a deal. Rosenthal tweeted that the deal was done. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links) reported contract details, as did MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (via Twitter) and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
What a difference a year makes. In April 2014, many doubted that Rick Porcello could ever meet the lofty expectations set for him roughly twelve years ago when he was mowing down every high school batter in Central Jersey. Today, Porcello inked an extension with the Red Sox that will net him a guaranteed $82.5MM over four seasons. That’s big bucks any way you slice it, but as Steve Adams noted earlier tonight, Porcello is sacrificing some earning potential by signing a deal at this juncture. On a conference call with reporters, I asked the right-hander if he was hesitant to sign a deal just months away from being able to hit the open market at the age of 27.
“I mean obviously I knew the opportunity that was ahead of me in entering free agency, but when I first got to camp and I saw the way the team was run from the ownership to Ben [Cherington] to the coaching staff and the players that were there, I saw that it was run very well from top to bottom,” Porcello said. “The devotion to win was here and it was something that I wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t a very difficult decision for me.”
Porcello went on to explain that he wasn’t thinking about signing an extension upon his arrival to Boston but he was board once that possibility presented itself. As for the Red Sox, Cherington said that he was impressed with Porcello from the get-go. One might think that a deal of this magnitude was hammered out over months of late nights at the office and bad takeout, but the GM explained that the deal actually came together rather quickly. Cherington had “informal” conversations with agent Jim Murray towards the end of Spring Training and negotiations actually didn’t pick up until the last few days.
“When we made the trade we had interest in at least having a conversation about [an extension], but as Rick alluded to, we respected that he was new to the Red Sox and we wanted to give him an opportunity to get to know us a little more and vice versa,” Cherington said. “It gave us a chance to get to know him too…Aside from the pitcher that he is, which we obviously like, getting to know Rick more over the winter and spring we came to learn that he just has a lot of qualities that we really admire and we felt that he was type of guy that we wanted here and we see him as a very important part of our team going forward for many years.”
There’s already plenty of discussion about the deal, with some believing that Porcello wisely locked in after a career year and others feeling that the Red Sox ace should have tried to build off of his 2014 effort and land an even bigger deal next winter. Porcello, for his part, could do without any of the attention.
“If we could have signed it without announcing it, that would have been fine with me. Today was about our season opener and the Red Sox winning.”