Author Archives: Zach Links

Terry Ryan On Phil Hughes, Eduardo Escobar

Phil Hughes was two years away from free agency but both he and the Twins realized that they wanted to hammer out something for the long term.  In December, Hughes agreed to a three-year extension that will pay him $42MM but also allow him to cash in again at the age of 32.

For both sides, the deal appeared to be a win-win.  The Twins locked up Hughes following his best season to date and Hughes will get to hit the open market roughly at the same age as James Shields when he inked a four-year, $75MM deal with the Padres in February.  In a pre-game scrum with the Twins’ beat writers on Monday, I asked GM Terry Ryan if the club ever pushed for a longer deal with the right-hander.

I think that’s kind of where our comfort level was, he was signed for two and we tacked on more…In essence, I think that’s where we felt pretty comfortable in terms of his age and what he accomplished in his life and all that stuff,” Ryan said.  “We were comfortable with it and so was he.  At the end of the deal he’ll be [32] and that’s getting to an age when you start to have a bit of…concern at that point but then again, that’s how old Ervin Santana is and we signed him to a four-year deal.  He’s a young guy, he’s been around for a long time.  That’s what happens when you sign out of high school and move into the majors quickly.”

Meanwhile, this spring, Eduardo Escobar has presented the Twins with one of those good problems to have.  Escobar’s production at the plate has made some wonder if he could force shortstop Danny Santana back to the outfield, unseating Aaron Hicks.  I asked Ryan about that possibility and he seemed to downplay the chances of that happening.

No, we’re still going with that path, there’s still competition but Santana is certainly playing well at short.  Paul [Molitor] said he’d like him to be there if he plays well and to this point he has.  Escobar has had a fine spring and I’ve stated this many times.  It’s going to be tough to get him out of that position because he played well last year and he played well this spring,” Ryan said.  “I don’t think I’m prepared right now to tell you who is going to play center and I’m not prepared to tell you who is going to play short, but Hicks is certainly in the mix and Santana is in the mix.”

Later, Escobar saw some time in the outfield in an effort to get him comfortable with playing multiple positions off the bench, as Ryan explained to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger and other reporters after the game.


Mike Pelfrey “At Peace” With His Pitching, Mets

In a spring start against the Phillies on Monday, Mike Pelfrey made his final argument for joining the Twins rotation.  Unfortunately for the right-hander, a few bad breaks (including Cody Asche‘s two-run smash early in the afternoon) might have punched his ticket for the bullpen.  The veteran has been in a strange spot this spring; while Pelfrey was fighting hard to make the starting five, he also knew there was a good chance that he would be asked to pitch out of the bullpen instead.  One might see the uncertainty as a potential stumbling block in Pelfrey’s preseason preparation, but he refused to make excuses in a postgame chat with reporters.

It hasn’t been that big of an issue.  It’s all about routine.  I’m not saying I can’t do it, I’ve just never done it.  I’m a competitor, so I’ll make an adjustment if I need to.  At the end of the day, pitching is still pitching,” Pelfrey explained, while adding that he’s “at peace” with what he’s shown over the past few weeks.

Between his seven years with the Mets and his two seasons with the Twins, Pelfrey has made a grand total of four relief appearances.  Of course, during his time in New York, the former No. 9 overall pick had fans dreaming that he would blossom into an ace.  For all we know, Pelfrey could have been on his way to that status in 2012 before he tore his UCL after three solid outings in April.  Later that year, the Mets elected to non-tender Pelfrey rather than wait and see how things would shake out for him after surgery.  I asked Pelfrey if he wishes that he had gotten another chance to put it all together in New York.

I understood the business side of it, when they non-tendered me the GM [Sandy Alderson] actually called me and said that he appreciates everything I did there. I have no problems with that. I get it,” said the 31-year-old. “Then the Twins called and I have some family in Minnesota and I thought, man, this is a good opportunity, and like I said, I came back early [from Tommy John surgery].  Now is probably the best I’ve felt since I’ve been in Minnesota.”

Pelfrey would rather be gearing up every fifth game, but he says he’ll do just fine pitching out of the pen and he’s prepared to do whatever is asked of him to help the Twins win. However, one has to wonder if he could be helping another team in need of a starter instead.  A contending club with a hole in its rotation could do a lot worse than adding Pelfrey, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Twins received calls on him once the season starts.


Blaine Boyer And His Personal Entourage

In March, it’s not uncommon to see over-the-hill veterans in camp looking to extend their careers for just one more season.  By the same token you don’t normally see marketable 30-year-old players call it quits, but that’s what reliever Blaine Boyer did three years ago.  Boyer didn’t fall out of love with baseball, but he was decidedly heartsick and missing his family back home.  When the right-hander told his wife Ginsey that he wanted to retire and potentially leave a mountain of money on the table, she understood the way he felt and the reasons behind his decision.

I grew up in a household that was broken early.  My parents divorced when I was three and there was just so much inconsistency there,” Boyer told MLBTR in the Twins’ dugout prior to their afternoon contest against the Phillies.  “I’ve had to live with that for a long time.  I was coming and going and I wasn’t consistently there for my boys and my wife and that brought back a lot of what I went through when I was little, so she understood that.  It wasn’t about me not wanting to play baseball anymore, it was much deeper.

While Boyer’s sabbatical from the game effectively amounted to a boxer’s retirement, he was confident that he was done with baseball for good.  When the pull of the sport was too strong for Boyer to resist, he and his wife came up with an unorthodox game plan: she and their two young sons would travel with Boyer on the road as much as humanly possible throughout the season.

Boyer, 33, feels as though he has found the right balance between being an active parent and doing what he feels he was put on this planet to do professionally.

The boys, they’re 3 and 4 now, they’re at the point where they’re kind of expecting baseball season and they love it.  My wife especially, she loves the atmosphere of the games, she loves sitting back and eating a hot dog, watching the boys and the seventh inning stretch and it’s just so much fun for her to be their mother watching them watch their daddy,” Boyer said.  “For me, I’m able to experience this as their father and my wife always being with me, it’s kind of like the Boyer family adventure and it’s a blessing.”

For the right-hander, traveling with the family entourage means that he doesn’t have to live with regret in the present or in the future.

I feel like God has given me the ability to throw a baseball and he hasn’t given that many people this kind of ability.  So, when I have to answer to him about the gifts he has given me, I don’t want to have to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I wasted that one.’  On top of that, I didn’t want to be 60 years old and thinking what might have been,” Boyer explained.  “So, the whole no regrets mindset and still playing baseball gives me the opportunity stand up and talk about family and talk about God.  Helping people understand my relationship with Jesus Christ is important to me.”

Boyer has taken his family with him all over the map, even internationally in 2013 when he pitched for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers.  Boyer, who bristled at the thought of takoyaki and some of the country’s more adventurous cuisine, experienced a bit of culture shock, but he also fell in love with Japan’s baseball culture and its people.  It also helped that friend Jason Standridge was pitching with Hanshin and, of course, his family was by his side.

For now, the Boyer family adventure has landed the traveling clan in Minnesota, but that could change in a matter of days.  The reliever has a March 30th opt-out clause that can be exercised if he has not been added to the 40-man roster by that time.  Boyer doesn’t know how that will play out yet, but he’ll have his own personal cheering section with him no matter where he winds up.



Justin Smoak Looking Forward To Fresh Start

Entering his fifth major league season, Justin Smoak knows that he hasn’t accomplished everything that he set out to do when he was regarded as a top prospect.  He also believes, however, that it’s not too late to turn on the jets and fulfill his potential.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. I think I’ve had some good few weeks, a good month here and there, but I haven’t been the player that I know I can be and what a lot of people thought I was going to be, so it’s just about getting better and doing what I can day in and day out,” Smoak told MLBTR after the Blue Jays topped the Rays 3-0 in Dunedin. “I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve learned what works for me and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve just got to make it happen.”

Just four years ago, Smoak was the centerpiece of a trade package that sent ace Cliff Lee to the Rangers.  Smoak didn’t blossom into the fearsome bopper Seattle hoped he’d become, and last October, the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers.  Soon after, they declined Smoak’s $3.65MM option and non-tendered him, but he knew all along that he was still wanted in Toronto.

Yeah, that was the first conversation I had with them. That was already a known.  I knew that was going to happen, and I’m still arbitration-eligible, so I just tried to come to a deal and it ended up being what it is now,” Smoak said, referring to his one-year, $1MM pact.

Late last year, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet learned from Smoak’s agent that he turned down more money elsewhere to sign with the Blue Jays.  Predictably, Smoak cited playing time as a reason for his decision, but not the only one.

Probably more just the opportunity, you know, the opportunity to play and be in this lineup and be in the American League East and some hitter ballparks, that was probably the number one thing for me,” said the 28-year-old.

Toronto could provide a springboard for Smoak to make that money back and then some, but, above all else, he believes the change of scenery will help him get his career back on track.

In Seattle, I had some good times and I learned a lot, but it’ll be a fresh start in Toronto and, hopefully, I’ll get things going here.”


Daniel Norris Tuning Out Trade Rumors

Long before people were eyeing Daniel Norris as the next spokesman for Dos Equis beer, he was a wanted man around baseball.  When the Cubs were shopping ace Jeff Samardzija last summer, Theo Epstein & Co. were reportedly targeting Norris as a centerpiece in a potential deal with Toronto.  Ultimately, of course, the Blue Jays stood pat and held on to one of the brightest young pitching prospects in baseball.  Through it all, Norris says he didn’t allow the trade talk to be a distraction, but he couldn’t avoid hearing about it on a daily basis.

At first it was like, I would never see it, but I would always get text messages from buddies back home like, ‘Dude, are you getting traded?’ and they’d send me screenshots of MLB Trade Rumors and I’m like, ‘What the heck?’  But, at the end of the day, it’s just about throwing a baseball,” Norris told MLBTR.  Whoever it’s for, whether it’s for the Blue Jays or for the Cubs, whatever, that’s all I can control. It’s not like I can say, ‘Hey, please don’t trade me, I like your organization.’ So you just have to take whatever is given to you.

Even as speculation mounted about the Blue Jays making a play for Samardzija and the potential pieces that could be involved in a swap, no one from the organization approached the young pitcher to let him know a trade was imminent.  His representatives at Excel Sports Management thought enough of the buzz to keep him apprised, but Norris wasn’t exactly waiting by the phone.

I got a call from my agent once when I was in Double-A and he said, ‘Hey, there’s a possibility you might get traded, it’s out there, I wanted to let you know,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, whatever,’ so that’s about the extent of it,” the pitcher explained.

By all accounts, the 21-year-old (22 in April) is the frontrunner to land the final spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation, but he refused to pat himself on the back for what he’s displayed this spring.  With some prodding, he acknowledged that he did well for himself in his Friday night outing when he allowed one run across 5 2/3 innings against the Rays, but he’s determined to improve on his command and delivery as the season draws near.  Norris hopes that if he has everything clicking to start the year, he can direct the conversation away from his fascinating off-field life and back to his pitching.

I don’t think it’ll be long before the focus is back on my playing again,” Norris said.  “I just want to go out there and take care of business.”


Dioner Navarro Addresses Trade Speculation

Dioner Navarro was gearing up for his second season as the Blue Jays’ starting catcher when Toronto decided to make a massive splash by signing Russell Martin in November.  Navarro, an offensively-gifted catcher is his own right, was understandably unhappy with the prospect of seeing less at-bats at a new position.  Navarro asked for a trade days after Martin’s arrival and weeks ago he said that the D’Backs and Tigers were among the teams that have called on him.  For now, however, he’s keeping his focus solely on the field.

No not at this point. I really try to stay away from it now [laughs],” Navarro told MLBTR when asked if he’s heard of additional clubs that have interest in acquiring him. “I already said my feelings about it, whatever happens is going to happen.”

Navarro had a chat with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos earlier this offseason where both men were able to explain their positions.  In the weeks that have followed, Navarro said that he hasn’t heard from AA or anyone else in the front office about a potential deal.

No, I just had a conversation early during the offseason and we spoke our piece.  Since Spring Training started he expressed his feelings and I expressed my feelings and we’ll leave it at that.  We don’t need to be saying anything else, we gotta get ready for baseball season.

I think I’m at that point where I don’t even pay attention anymore, whether it’s here or somewhere else. I’m just trying to get ready and let my agent do what he’s got to do. If he gets something done, he’ll let me know,” the 31-year-old said.

In other words, if a trade is merely days away, Navarro doesn’t know about it.  The catcher also told MLBTR that he hasn’t given any thought to where he might potentially be a good fit.  In the interim, his plan is to do whatever is asked of him, even if he’s not all that gung ho about playing primarily in the DH spot.

There’s a little bit that I like about playing DH, but, I mean, I love playing behind the plate.  I love being in there every pitch every play, I love playing behind the plate, and I feel like myself behind the plate.  But, right now I want to help my team win.  In this case, if I stay with the Blue Jays I’d love to help them win and help them be in the postseason this year,” said Navarro.

It remains to be seen whether the Tigers, Diamondbacks, or another team will make a move for the well-traveled veteran, who will be a free agent again after the season.  Even if the outside interest is significant, a deal might not materialize for a while as Anthopoulos knows how valuable Navarro can be for a catching-needy team and is demanding a quality return for him.  In the interim, Navarro says he’s ready to give 100%, even if he’s only doing 50% of what he loves at present.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Minoso, Montero, Wieters

On this date in 1972, the Yankees and Red Sox made a significant trade that redounded to the benefit of the Yanks. While it is still debatable whether reliever Sparky Lyle left a Bambino-like curse when he was shipped to New York in exchange for first baseman Danny Cater, there is little question which side won the deal. Cater was a replacement-level player for three years in Boston, while Lyle racked up a 2.41 ERA over 745 2/3 frames in seven seasons, throwing plenty of important postseason innings along the way.

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


AL Notes: Indians, Price, White Sox, Baldoquin

In today’s mailbag, a reader asked Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer if Gavin Floyd suffering an injury so soon after his signing indicates a broader issue with the Indians‘ ability to evaluate a pitcher’s health risk. There have been hits and misses for the Tribe, Hoynes explains, pointing to successes like their cheap gamble on Scott Kazmir. Over the last 20 years or so, Cleveland has established a good reputation for rehabbing injured hurlers from other organizations, so one bad break doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their feel for it. For more on the Indians’ offseason, check out MLBTR’s Steve Adams in-depth review.

Elsewhere in the American League:

  • The bounty of starting pitchers in the upcoming free agent class will provide enough of a safety net for the Tigers if they fail to extend David Price, opines MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Owner Mike Ilitch is the wild card whether the Tigers make a strong bid to retain Price, who, Iott notes, will match, if not exceed, Max Scherzer‘s deal and without the deferments.
  • Utilityman Don Kelly wanted to return to the Tigers, but signed with the Marlins because they represented a clearer path to the Majors, reports James Schmehl of MLive.com. “Detroit was like a second home for us, so to make that change was tough,” said Kelly. “To be able to bounce around and everything that goes on in a National League game, that was one of the reasons why it was such a good fit. The way the roster was set up at the time, and the way Miami’s was, it just seemed like a better fit to be in the NL and to be here.
  • White Sox GM Rick Hahn focuses on two factors when deciding whether to extend an arbitration-eligible player like Adam Eaton or Avisail Garcia, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. “It’s a combination of feeling, one, that the player is a key part to what we have going here and want to make sure we are able to have him longer than the normal six-year control period,” Hahn said. “And second, probably almost as important if not more important, is the belief that the guaranteed money wouldn’t change the player’s approach to their preparation for the game.
  • Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register chronicles the Angels’ recruitment of Roberto Baldoquin and how the franchise believes their $15MM investment ($8MM signing bonus plus the tax for exceeding their international bonus pool) is justified based on the numerous interactions between the organization and the 19-year-old Cuban prior to his signing.

AL East Notes: Cash, Hamels, Swihart, Orioles

The Red Sox have received some impressive performances from non-roster invitees like Mitchell Boggs, Dana Eveland, Dalier Hinojosa, and Noe Ramirez, but they probably won’t crack the 25-man roster due to the numbers crunch, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes.

Here’s more from the AL East:

  • Rays manager Kevin Cash will earn $5MM over the life of his five-year deal, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay TimesJon Heyman of CBSSports.com recently reported Cash’s deal was for a lengthy five years, giving him more security than a lot of other skippers around the majors. The pact ties Cash with current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon for the lengthiest remaining guarantee in the game. Of course, the financial terms aren’t exactly the same as Maddon will earn a reported $25MM over the same length of time.
  • The addition of Cole Hamels would undoubtedly separate the Red Sox from the rest of the AL East, but to what degree the club feels pressure to establish that space is what will determine whether they pull the trigger, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes. Right now, the Phillies are insisting Boston part with Henry Owens and either Blake Swihart or Mookie Betts while taking on Hamels’ monster deal, so the Red Sox feel that they can live without him. Silverman lays out the pros and cons of Boston waiting on a Hamels trade.
  • Swihart started against the Phillies today going 2-for-3, including a RBI single, and found the timing pure coincidence. “I think people are looking into it too much,” he told reporters, including Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “It’s just my turn to catch right now.” Swihart also addressed the interest shown in him by the Phillies. “It’s an honor that other teams think highly of you. Ultimately, I want to be here (Boston) and to play for this team. Anything I can do to help this team is what I want to do.
  • Orioles GM Dan Duquette spoke with MLB Network Radio (audio link) about how the O’s can replace the offensive production of their free agent losses. Baltimore, of course, saw Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller head elsewhere this offseason.

NL East Notes: Mets, Coke, Braves

Scouts have identified Cardinals left-hander Sam Freeman and Nationals left-hander Xavier Cedeno as logical trade candidates for the Mets, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com writes.  Both relievers are out of options and unlikely to make their clubs’ Opening Day rosters, though Rubin stresses that the Mets’ level of interest in either player is unknown.  The Mets could be on the lookout for a lefty reliever in the wake of Josh Edgin‘s decision to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Here’s more on the Mets and other news out of the NL East..

  • The Mets don’t see Phil Coke as someone who can help them, Marc Carig of Newsday tweets.  That has been their internal evaluation for some time and that has not changed in the wake of Edgin’s injury.  Coke signed a minor league deal with the Cubs earlier this month and apparently chose that opportunity over at least one MLB offer.
  • Veteran Wandy Rodriguez has pitched effectively enough to position himself for one of the two vacant spots in the Braves‘ rotation, but the team will still have to decide whether its worth taking a $2MM gamble on a pitcher who has made just 18 starts over the last two years, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes.  The left-hander inked a minor league deal with Atlanta after failing a physical with the Phillies.
  • The Mets have four lefty options in camp in Sean Gilmartin, Dario Alvarez, Jack Leathersich and Scott Rice, but none have shined thus far, as Matt Ehalt of The Bergen Record writes.
  • Meanwhile, the Mets will be keeping their fingers crossed when it comes to starter Zack Wheeler as they’re sending his MRI results to team medical director Dr. David Altchek, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweets.  The Mets, meanwhile, are still saying they’re not concerned about Wheeler’s long-term situation.