Author Archives: Zach Links

Offseason Outlook: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers captured the AL Central crown with a 90-72 record in 2014 before the Orioles made quick work of them in the ALDS.  Now, the Tigers will look to retool a bit this offseason and, once again, there will be an emphasis on fixing the bullpen.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

Free Agents

Other Payroll Obligations

Any discussion of the Tigers’ offseason has to start with pending free agent Max Scherzer.  The 2013 Cy Young Award winner says he’d like to return to Detroit, but it’s not that simple.  The two sides were discussing a possible extension in the spring before things stalled and the Tigers took the unusual step of releasing a statement on the matter.

The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that would have placed him among the highest paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected,” the statement read.

The Tigers reportedly offered a six-year, $144MM extension, identical to the deal Cole Hamels signed with the Phillies in 2012.  The Scott Boras client, meanwhile, may have been seeking an eight-year deal.  Now, Scherzer stands as the top available free agent on the open market after another strong season and it’s feasible that he could exceed that average annual value of $24MM on a six-, seven-, or maybe even an eight-year deal with an opt-out clause in the middle.  That’s probably too rich for the Tigers’ blood.

If Scherzer goes, the Tigers will have a hard time pursuing a comparable replacement.   The market offers appealing alternatives like Jon Lester and James Shields, but the Tigers already have about $151MM tied up between guaranteed contracts, arb raises, the $6MM they owe the Rangers for Prince Fielder and the options on Alex Avila and Joakim Soria.  Shields will require four or five years to sign, and Lester could require six or seven, making the fit unlikely.  Even second-tier options like Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano could prove too expensive, barring a significant boost to 2014’s Opening Day payroll of $163MM.

As such, it’s not a given that they’d sign anyone to fill the void left by a likely Scherzer departure.  In-house options like Robbie Ray, Kyle Ryan, Kyle Lobstein, Drew VerHagen, and Buck Farmer could vie for jobs in the starting five.  That’s not apples-for-apples, of course, but the Tigers could get by with a core four David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, with their fingers crossed for a bounce back from Verlander.

In the bullpen, the Tigers have to decide on whether to exercise Joakim Soria‘s $7MM club option or buy him out for $500K.  In 44 1/3 innings last season, Soria turned in a 3.25 ERA (his 2.73 xFIP gives him more credit) with 9.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.  It’s tough to imagine the Tigers not exercising that option.  For starters, the Tigers gave up two of their best prospects in starter Jake Thompson and reliever Corey Knebel to land Soria in July, and that would be a mighty steep price to pay for a ten-week rental.  Soria wasn’t sharp in his 11 innings of regular season work in Detroit (though in his defense, he was also injured), but that doesn’t mean a ton in the grand scope of things and injuries didn’t help matters.  The Tigers would be wise to keep Soria in their historically shaky bullpen, and recent comments from Dombrowski indicate that they’re going to do that.

Beyond that, Tigers might want to do some tinkering with their bullpen and Dombrowski has said that it will be towards the top of their list.  Joba Chamberlain seemed to be paying back the Tigers’ one-year, $2.5MM investment nicely in the first half of the season but he turned in a 4.01 ERA after the All-Star break and might not be asked back.  Coke, another former Yankee, had a very rough start to the year but improved in the second half, which could leave the door open to a return.  Jim Johnson, who came aboard on a minor league deal after his head-scratching 2014 with the A’s, didn’t fare much better in Detroit and will probably wind up elsewhere.  We know that Soria, Nathan, and Al Alburquerque figure to be in the pen, along with left-hander Blaine Hardy and perhaps Ian Krol, though his first year in Detroit was disappointing.  Flamethrower Bruce Rondon will return at some point, though it’s not clear when, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Beyond that grouping, question marks and injury troubles abound, which should lead to yet another close examination of the team’s bullpen.   As Tim Dierkes recently noted, the Tigers drafted Andrew Miller and almost landed him in July before the O’s beat them to the punch, so they could make a run at him this winter.  However, he’d require a significant investment, possibly a four-year deal, so he could prove a tough fit as well.

Scherzer isn’t the only significant Tigers free agent hitting the open market, of course.  There’s mutual interest in a return between Detroit and designated hitter Victor Martinez, but he’ll have a number of suitors offering significant money.  Martinez turned in a .335/.409/.565 slash line last season and, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote recently, he’ll be seeking out a four-year deal.  The Tigers will surely attach the qualifying offer to him, but the soon-to-be 36-year-old might price himself out of Detroit, especially if he’s married to the idea of a four-year pact.  If Martinez goes, the Tigers could to the trade market with an eye on Adam Lind, though they’d probably want to find a platoon partner to go with him.  It’s also conceivable that Ryan Howard‘s left-handed bat could be a fit for them if the Phillies absorb the vast majority of his remaining salary.

At shortstop, Dombrowski says that the prognosis on Jose Iglesias is positive and he will be expected to take the full-time job if “he returns to the form of the past.”  The Tigers could turn to Eugenio Suarez to fill the gap if Iglesias isn’t 100%, but they also might want to explore adding a depth option on a minor league deal.

The Tigers would love to have a healthy Andy Dirks back in 2015 for his projected salary of $1.63MM, but it’s far from a given that he can stay on the field after missing all of 2014 thanks to back problems.  Utility man Don Kelly (.245/.332/.288 in 95 games) is also arbitration-eligible and likely on the bubble.  As Dombrowski recently indicated, the Tigers could look to put Rajai Davis back in the corner outfield (his natural position) and slot J.D. Martinez on the opposite side and find a center fielder elsewhere.

Colby Rasmus is on the open market and, as recently noted by MLBTR’s Jeff Todd, guys like Dexter Fowler, Drew Stubbs, Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos, and maybe Desmond Jennings could be available via trade.  Jeff recently pointed out a few potential left-handed-hitting trade possibilities that could make sense alongside Davis, such as Matt Joyce or David DeJesus, Alejandro De Aza or David Lough, Shane Victorino, Michael Saunders, and Ben Revere.  This is all speculative, of course, but there should be plenty of full-time or part-time options available on the trade market for Detroit. Speaking of the outfield, Torii Hunter sounds like he wants to continue playing and would like to re-sign with the Tigers, but he’s not sure if he could accept a reduced role.

In the long term, the Tigers have a great deal of guaranteed money locked up in aging players.  Meanwhile, they have shipped out a great deal of young talent including Willy Adames, Drew Smyly, and the aforementioned Thompson and Knebel.  At some point, one has to wonder if the Tigers will be left with an over-the-hill core and an over-harvested farm system.

The Tigers have shown a willingness to spend in the past, but last year’s two major trades — Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler and the Doug Fister swap — seem to indicate that ownership is still conscious of the bottom line.  With only so much wiggle room, the Tigers will have to be creative in addressing their needs and wants this winter.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Free Agent Profile: Edinson Volquez

Last year, the Pirates gave Edinson Volquez a one-year, $5MM deal and he wound up making that look like a smart investment.  This year, we should see more interest in the right-hander, resulting in a more lucrative deal coming his way.

Strengths/Pros  

Volquez did a good job of rebuilding his value in a contract year. The 31-year-old pitched to a 3.04 ERA — his best figure ever, topping even his breakout 2008 campaign.  Volquez also turned in a career-low walk rate of 3.3 BB/9, which was his first sub-4.0 effort.  His 192 2/3 innings of work was his second-best career total, topped only by his 196 innings in the aforementioned 2008 season.  Volquez threw his fastball at 93.1 mph in 2014, right in line with his career average of 93.4 mph and the 93.6 mph at which he was clocked in ’08.  Plenty has changed about Volquez the last six years, but he has aged well in those departments.  "<strong

Throughout his career, Volquez has been able to induce ground balls more often than your average hurler.  His career ground ball percentage of 48.5% is strong and his 50.4% rate in 2014, against a league average of 44.8%, was even better.  As a result, Volquez isn’t terribly home run-prone.  He has a career 0.94 HR/9 rate with a sharper 0.79 HR/9 showing this past season.

Volquez threw his fastball at an average of 93.1 mph this year, right in line with his career average of 93.4. That compares favorably to some of the other free agent starters on his tier, including A.J. Burnett (91.7 mph in 2014), Dan Haren (87.6), Aaron Harang (88.8), and Ryan Vogelsong (90.4)

Weaknesses/Cons  

On the surface, Volquez’s ERA indicates that he enjoyed a career renaissance in Pittsburgh this season, perhaps thanks to the tutelage of well-respected pitching coach Ray Searage and the quality pitch framing of catchers Russell Martin and Chris Stewart.  A deeper look shows that while Searage’s sage advice may have given Volquez a boost, his all-around performance was largely the same as the past few years.

Volquez’s walk rate did drop in 2014, but his 6.5 K/9 was a noticeable step back from his previous career average of 8.4 K/9, all but negating the drop in free passes.  His xFIP of 4.20 shows that his ERA was probably lower than it should have been and also indicates that he was largely the same pitcher we knew before but with better fortune.  In each of the previous three seasons, Volquez has posted xFIPs of 4.08, 4.20, and 4.07 while turning in ERAs of 5.71, 4.14, and 5.71.   The veteran’s .263 BABIP tells a similar story and leads one to believe that the Pirates’ defense helped out quite a bit.  You wouldn’t know it from his ERA, but the advanced stats say that Volquez performed about as well this season as he did in 2013, when he was DFA’d by the Padres near the end of the year.

Personal  

Volquez was born in Barahona, Dominican Republic.  Early in his career, you might recall him being billed as “Edison Volquez”.  As Amy K. Nelson of ESPN.com detailed in a 2008 profile, he later discovered that his birth certificate had his name as “Edinson” and asked the Rangers to update his spelling on all of their material.

Volquez earned the nickname of “Pedrito” or “Little Pedro” in the Dominican Republic for his pitching prowess which reminded many of Pedro Martinez, Nelson wrote.  “He’s in love with Pedro,” said former teammate Francisco Cordero. “He sees Pedro like he’s a god.”

Many counted Volquez out after his tumultuous 2013 season, but the Pirates saw a tremendous opportunity in the veteran starter. Prior to the Pirates’ Wild Card game against the Giants this year, manager Clint Hurdle was quick to praise Volquez for his work ethic, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes.

He’s a visual learner, number one,” Hurdle said. “He’s really good when you can tape him and show him. He would grasp on that way. He spent endless hours on reviewing delivery dynamics from every place he’s been.”

Market  

In late September, Volquez stated his desire to re-sign with the Pirates, crediting Bucs coaches with making him a better pitcher.  At the same time, he made it known that he doesn’t want to sign another one-year deal.

You always want to sign for more than one year,” he said, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Especially now that I’m 31 years old, I’d like to sign with someone for two or three years and stay a little bit longer.”

If Volquez finds a lucrative two- or three-year deal on the open market, it’d be tough to imagine the Pirates matching it given their financial limitations and stated desire to try and retain catcher Russell Martin.

MLBTR’s own Brad Johnson recently speculated that a return to the Rangers could be a possibility for Volquez as they could be in the market for veterans to supplement the back end of their rotation.  Jeff Todd, meanwhile, brought up the Marlins as a possibility since Miami probably won’t spend on the top-shelf pitchers.  I would add the Astros, Rockies, Phillies, and D’Backs as clubs that could see Volquez as an affordable addition who can turn in 180-190 innings of work.

Expected Contract

Volquez is one of several mid-level starters available this winter, but his turnaround this year (whether legitimate, perceived, or a mix of both) could make him a preferred option over some of the alternatives.  Volquez won’t be rated on the same tier as the likes of Hiroki Kuroda and Jason Hammel, but he compares favorably to other available back-end starters like Aaron Harang and Ryan Vogelsong, in part due to his age.  I recently predicted that Harang would net a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason and I expect Volquez to top that without much trouble.

Volquez is gunning for a multi-year deal and I think he’ll be able to find it, even if it’s not in Pittsburgh.  I predict that Volquez will land a two-year, $18MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


NL Notes: Sandoval, Sabean, Martin, Stanton

The World Series continues in San Francisco tonight as the Legend of Panda continues to grow. Here’s the latest on Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the National League:

  • Without an obvious internal replacement at third base, it’s hard to imagine the Giants will let Sandoval leave even if he asks for a deal similar to the one Hunter Pence received, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Pence netted a five-year, $90MM deal from the Giants and they have shown a willingness to pay big dollars in order to keep their most identifiable players.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman also isn’t as quick to dismiss Sandoval returning to San Francisco tweeting money flows more freely when a franchise reaches the World Series.
  • Tyler Kepner of the New York Times profiles Giants GM Brian Sabean, who answers those who label him as espousing an “old school” philosophy. “When they hear ‘old school,’ they don’t understand that ‘old school’ is trying to get any and every edge,” Sabean told Kepner. “We’re all looking for the misfit toys. We’re all looking for the guys we can plug in that were overlooked because sometimes, you know what, that’s what you’re down to because your payroll’s your payroll. There’s not enough players to go around, so you better be creative.
  • The Pirates have a delicate balancing act in weighing whether to re-sign Russell Martin, opines Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates’ dilemma is whether a small-market team should make the financial commitment to retain a signature player and a clubhouse leader or avoid the risk of extending a catcher who might decline significantly over the course of his next contract.
  • Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton provided reporters, including Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown, with an update on his recovery from being hit in the face with a pitch in September. “I feel great,” Stanton said after being honored as the NL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award. “It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be.” Stanton did acknowledge he feels an occasional jab of pain when he chews food and has yet to swing a bat. When he does, will likely wear a face guard.


AL Notes: Rays, Indians, Buehrle, Rangers

In the wake of yesterday’s report Rays ownership has discussed relocating the franchise to Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig paused and then declined to answer whether Tampa Bay is a viable major league market, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Selig did say, however, the team needs a replacement for Tropicana Field. “The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” the commissioner said before Game Four of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.

In other news involving the Rays and the American League:

  • Change is coming to the Rays and the front office and players alike don’t see it as a negative, writes the Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney. “Whoever we bring in here, they’re going to set the scheme and how they want to win games and be a successful organization,” said pitcher Alex Cobb. “When that trickles down to the players, all that is is us playing up to our capabilities, and that doesn’t matter who is in the dugout or the front office.” Mooney notes all coaches are under contract for 2015; but, if the new manager is from outside the organization, there may be changes to the staff.
  • In today’s mailbag, a reader proposed his Indians offseason plan to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer: trade Jason Kipnis and David Murphy for prospects to free up money, then use that money on Victor Martinez. Hoynes doesn’t see the Tribe trading Kipnis so soon after giving him a $50MM+ extension, despite his bad year. The reader’s ambitious plan also calls for Cleveland to have one of their young outfielders form a platoon with Nick Swisher and, given his $15MM salary, Hoynes believes the team wants to see him in the lineup every day.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe identified Mark Buehrle as a trade candidate earlier today and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets the Twins have long been admirers of the Blue Jays hurler. Still, his $19MM salary is too high.
  • If the Jon Daniels-Jeff Banister partnership works in Texas, it will continue a trend in the game of a college educated GM with no professional playing experience working with a baseball lifer as manager, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Cafardo On Shields, Buehrle, Zobrist, Danks

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe details the challenges faced by the Braves and Dodgers this offseason.  John Hart and Andrew Friedman differ in age, style, and substance, but they face similar roadblocks.  Here’s more from Cafardo..

  • Scouts who have seen pending free agent James Shields over his career feel he’s changed from a fastball/changeup pitcher to a fastball/cutter pitcher.  At one time his changeup was unhittable and the cutter, which has now taken over, is hittable at times.  Shields is still effective but there is some bewilderment over his repertoire.
  • Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle will be made available in a trade, though his $19MM contract will be a deterrent unless the Jays are willing to assume part of it.  Still, he seems more tradable than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
  • Cafardo expects Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist to draw a lot of trade interest this offseason.  In fact, new Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman might want to reunite with him in Los Angeles.
  • The White Sox would love to move John Danks, but the $28.5MM owed to him over the next two years will be a deterrent to teams.  Meanwhile, pitching coach Don Cooper still believes Danks, who has lost some of his heat, could become the second coming of Buehrle and pitch effectively in the mid-to-high 80s.
  • The Twins haven’t asked Torey Lovullo for a second interview yet, but he also hasn’t been told he’s out of the hunt.

East Notes: A-Rod, Sandoval, Petit, Rays

Alex Rodriguez is gearing up to re-join the Yankees in 2015 and Joel Sherman of the New York Post thinks the embattled slugger should take a lesson from Manny Ramirez.  Ramirez hurt his reputation with his own PED troubles but has carved out a second act for himself as a player/coach for the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate.  Still, Sherman is skeptical that A-Rod can earn redemption like Manny has.  Here’s more from the AL and NL East…

  • Pablo Sandoval would be a strong fit for the Red Sox, opines Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald.  Boston is in the market for an upgrade at third base and balance for their right-handed heavy lineup.  The 28-year-old switch hitter turned down a three-year, $40MM extension offer from the Giants earlier this year and right now that appears to have been a smart decision.
  • Years ago, the Mets were unsure of exactly what they had in right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  “We couldn’t get a consensus,” former Mets assistant GM Jim Duquette said. “He is getting everyone out, but doing it with an 88-90 mph fastball. We called it an invisi-ball. Is he a No. 1, a No. 2 or just another guy?”  Petit wound up going to the Marlins in the 2005 Carlos Delgado trade and today he has found a home with the Giants where he is now a postseason hero.
  • Rays GM Matt Silverman is talking with his staff and players to determine the characteristics to look for in the club’s next manager, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “The first step is identifying the type of manager that we want,” Silverman said Saturday. “And from that we will begin generating names we think might match that description.”  Topkin checked in with several Rays players to see what they want in their new skipper.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Markakis, Crisp, Friedman

On this date in 2000, Joe Torre became the fifth manager to win four World Series championships, joining Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Connie Mack, and Walter Alston in the exclusive club.  McCarthy and Stengel sit atop the leaderboard with seven World Series rings, a record that will not be tied or topped for a very long time, if ever.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

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


Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays

There’s a new man in charge but the mantra remains the same: do more with less.  The Rays will trot out the lowest payroll in the AL East once again and after a sub-.500 season Matt Silverman is charged with the task of getting them back to the playoffs.

Guaranteed Contracts

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

Contract Options

Apparently, the Rays’ shakeup will extend beyond the front office.  Earlier today we learned that Joe Maddon has decided to opt out of his contract with the Rays.  The 60-year-old was quick to tell the world that he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay after Andrew Friedman left to join the Dodgers, but upon learning that his contract contained a two-week opt-out window in the event that Friedman left the organization, he had a change of heart.  Maddon is said to be seeking a five-year deal worth around $5MM annually, so it’s not surprising that Tampa shied away from that level of commitment.  The Rays now have to add finding a skipper to their to-do list in the coming weeks and months.

After years of working in the Rays baseball ops department, Silverman is well-prepared for his new role.  He’ll be joined by the recently promoted Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, both of whom have been named vice presidents of baseball operations.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The Rays set a new franchise high with their $80MM+ payroll last season, but we shouldn’t expect to see that again.  Overall spending is “clearly going to be lower,” owner Stuart Sternberg said in September.  While Silverman doesn’t have to worry about carving out room for an arbitration raise for David Price or paying Heath Bell‘s salary, it looks like he’ll be restricted in free agency given the long list of arbitration eligible players listed above.

With everyone under contract or team control, it would appear that the Rays more or less have their core in place for 2015.  Still, they might try to be proactive about improving their offensive production with an emphasis on fixing their recent power outage.  In 2014, the Rays hit a total of 117 home runs – their second-lowest total in franchise history – and they probably want to avoid a repeat.

When considering the club’s desire to rediscover the long ball and limited payroll, Matt Joyce appears to be a likely trade candidate.  In fact, the 30-year-old even acknowledged at the end of the season that he could be changing addresses this winter.  Joyce is projected to earn $4.9MM through arbitration and that $1.2MM pay bump doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Rays given Joyce’s declining power.  The corner outfielder slashed .254/.349/.383 in 2014, a notable drop off from his All-Star campaign in 2011 where he posted a batting line of .277/.347/.478.  If the Rays can unload Joyce’s salary for something useful in return, they might be able to carve out enough space to go after a difference-maker in free agency or trade for one.  Inexpensive power options from around the league include Chris CarterBrandon MossEvan Gattis, Dayan Viciedo, and Pedro Alvarez, though their asking prices and availability will vary.   Yoenis Cespedes also fits the bill as a power bat, but he’s slated to earn $10.5MM in his walk year.

Alternatively, they could simply pocket that cash as a part of their plan to trim payroll and stick with what they have in-house.  If Wil Myers rebounds as many expect him to, the trio of him, Kevin Kiermaier, and Desmond Jennings should be pretty productive.  Trading Joyce seems even less painful when you also consider a supporting cast of Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus, part-time help from Ben Zobrist, and prospect Mikie Mahtook waiting in the wings.

The Rays could also tighten up their payroll by trading Zobrist and his $7.5MM salary.  Of course, Silverman would want a massive return if he considered such a move and that asking price could be well beyond what another club would give up.  The 33-year-old second baseman turned in 5.7 WAR last season, a rating that put him in the top 15 in the majors, and the Rays know how valuable he is.  Still, his salary is nothing to sneeze at for the small market Rays and he’ll be a free agent after the coming season.  On top of that, the free agent second base market is paper thin with options like Stephen Drew and Asdrubal Cabrera, if they’re not signed to play shortstop, at the top of the heap.  Moving Zobrist would allow the Rays to meet their budgetary goals while also replenishing their once strong farm system.  Entering this year, Baseball America (No. 20), Keith Law (No. 23), and Baseball Prospectus (No. 26) all put the Rays’ minor league talent near the bottom of the league.  The Rays surely have an attachment to Zobrist on a personal and professional level, but as a club committed to player development, they have to get their farm system back on the right track in short order.

One has to imagine that the Rays would like to get out from under Jose Molina‘s $2.75MM contract for 2015 and find a better backup to catcher Ryan Hanigan.  Despite his experience behind the dish and solid pitch framing, his .178/.232/.188 makes him a less-than-desirable fill-in for the oft-injured Hanigan.  If there’s a trade to be had here, it will probably require the Rays to pick up most of the money owed to Molina.  Catcher Curt Casali doesn’t seem ready for the big show just yet, so if they move on from Molina, they’ll have to land a replacement.

It’s tough to gauge what the Rays’ new regime will want to do this offseason, but the starting rotation appears to be set with the likes of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi.  In the summertime, Matt Moore will join that group upon completing recovery from Tommy John surgery.  In the interim, the Rays could plug Hellickson into the back of the rotation or call upon Alex Colome or Nate Karns.  Hellickson, who made just 13 starts last season (4.52 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9), could be seen by some as a trade candidate, but he probably won’t yield a great return at this time.  If Hellickson can rebound and look a little more like the pitcher we saw in 2011-12, then he’ll make a deal much more worthwhile for the Rays.  If the Rays choose to deal from their pitching surplus this winter it might make more sense to dangle Triple-A Durham notables like Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery.

The Rays’ bullpen is currently slated to feature Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Kirby Yates, and Jeff Beliveau as well as right-hander Michael Kohn, who was signed to a major league deal just last week.  Joel Peralta, who has a reasonable $2.5MM club option, will probably be back as well.  Peralta’s 4.41 ERA looks pretty ugly, but his 3.11 xFIP is far more forgiving.  And, while Balfour’s 2014 campaign was pretty bad, Boxberger and McGee project to be solid late-inning options.  The Rays could beef up their ‘pen with some of the low cost veteran arms that will be waiting around after the New Year and it’s conceivable that they could find a trade partner for Balfour, though it may require them to eat some of his salary.

The Rays’ flexibility is limited in more ways than one but they have shown year after year that they are unwilling to let their limitations hold them back.


NL Notes: Posey, Cabrera, Phillies, Braves, Grandal

With Derek Jeter‘s retirement and the Giants playing in their third World Series in five years, Buster Posey should be the next face of baseball. That’s the theme of separate articles by ESPN’s Jayson Stark and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Starks believes Posey is comparable to Jeter in making his team a perennial World Series contender with an understated, but intently competitive manner, the flowing awards and accolades, and his ability to move merchandise. Sherman theorizes Posey hasn’t already assumed Jeter’s mantle because of the position he plays, the market in which he plays, and a lack of a seminal playoff moment.

Here’s more news and notes from the National League:

  • It will be tough for other teams to copy “the Giants Way” because the Giants themselves can’t explain their success, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s a tough question to answer,” General Manager Brian Sabean said. “Things develop over time.” Time has been on the Giants’ side, notes Shaikin, as Sabean is the longest-tenured GM in baseball and his top lieutenants (Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans, who told Shaikin he has never been interviewed for a GM opening) have been with the organization for two decades.
  • Earlier today, MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted Nationals infielder Asdrubal Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM contract in free agency. CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman posits Cabrera’s best days are possibly behind him, so the Nationals’ interest will be based on whether there are better options available either via free agency or on the trade market.
  • The Phillies should have at least $20MM in payroll space this offseason which should be enough for a major signing or a few mid-level signings, provided they are committed to winning in 2015, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. A.J. Burnett declining his $12.75 option and dealing Antonio Bastardo and/or Domonic Brown could increase that amount, Seidman adds.
  • Braves President John Schuerholz indicated to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (on Twitter) the club’s first choice to be their full-time GM is John Hart; however, he will not force the timeline.
  • The first home run of the Dominican Winter League was hit by the PadresYasmani Grandal. Now a full season away from his 50-game suspension for an elevated testosterone level and knee surgery and possessing excellent plate discipline (13.1% walk rate in 2014), Grandal can become a breakout offensive force for the Padres in 2015, opines the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin.
  • The Dodgers are in good hands with Andrew Friedman aboard, writes Peter Gammons for Gammons Daily.

AL East Notes: Cruz, Rays, Vazquez

Ten years ago today, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS in what has become known as “the bloody sock” game. A retrospective by MLB.com’s Ian Browne chronicles Schilling’s performance with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle and the ingenuity of the Red Sox’s medical team suturing Schilling’s ankle tendon to his skin. Before making the decision to perform the procedure on Schilling, Dr. Bill Morgan first tried it on a cadaver to see if it worked. It did and Schilling and the Red Sox went on to make baseball history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after facing a 3-0 deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.

Flash forward a decade and here’s the latest from the AL East:

  • The Orioles need to take advantage of Nelson Cruz‘s warm feelings for the organization while they last and make their best offer to him early, opines the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. The Orioles, Schmuck adds, would like that offer to be a two-year deal with an option worth a guaranteed $30MM.
  • Cruz is one of the top ten moves GM Dan Duquette made over the past two years to make the Orioles the AL East champions, writes CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff.
  • Despite Andrew Friedman’s departure, the decisions and evaluations that went into constructing the 2014 Rays will be the same decisions and evaluations that go into retooling the team for 2015, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. The operations department will remain the same, but with Matt Silverman at the helm and top assistants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander sharing the mantle of VP of baseball ops.
  • The Rays are expected to make a series of transactions over the next few weeks to clear 40-man roster space and protect several rising prospects, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Catcher Justin O’Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and left-hander Adam Liberatore are among those who will be shielded from the Rule 5 draft.
  • Defense and leadership are the calling cards the Red Sox hope will make catcher Christian Vazquez their long-term solution behind the plate, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. The Red Sox feel his offense will develop as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez compares Vazquez to the CardinalsYadier Molina and a NL talent evaluator likens the 24-year-old to the PhilliesCarlos Ruiz.