Author Archives: Zach Links

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.


Jerome Williams Feels At Home With The Phillies

Last offseason, Jerome Williams was on the shelf for quite a while as he waited to find out where his next home would be.  The veteran had just turned in a career-high 169 1/3 innings for the Angels in 2013 and even though his core stats weren’t stellar, the advanced metrics indicated that he would have had a much better ERA with some luck on his side.  Ultimately, Williams was left in limbo until February when he signed a one-year deal with the Astros with $2.1MM guaranteed.  All in all, that offseason experience is one that the 33-year-old is glad to have in his rear view mirror.

It was kind of nerve racking.  Going through a season where I was with the Angels and I felt like things would have gotten done earlier, I proved to people that I could [start and pitch out of the bullpen] at that time.  I was the only pitcher that had 25 starts and ten relief appearances, I think I was thinking at that time that people would come out and offer me something and it didn’t happen.  It was kind of nerve racking but we got it done and that’s all that mattered,” Williams told MLBTR in the Phillies’ Clearwater clubhouse.

Even though he was biting his nails a bit, Williams says he wasn’t phoning agent Larry O’Brien to get constant updates.  The Full Circle Sports Management rep has been in the field for more than 30 years and, as Williams put it, “he knows what he’s doing.”  Indeed, O’Brien was relentless in his efforts to find a suitable deal for Williams and eventually he found a solid one-year platform for him to showcase his talents.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in Houston and the next stop in Texas wasn’t fruitful, but he found success with the Phillies when he landed there in August.  In nine starts for Philadelphia, Williams pitched to a 2.83 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 across 57 1/3 frames.  After ending the year on a high note, Williams jumped at the chance to skip the free agent process and stick with the Phillies with a one-year, $2.5MM contract extension.

This was a no-brainer for me,” Williams explained. “Playing with them for the couple months I was with them, it was a no-brainer.  The atmosphere, the guys in the clubhouse, the city, it was a no-brainer to come back.”

Williams credited his Philadelphia battery mates Carlos Ruiz and Wil Nieves for his improved performance to close out the year.  His comfort level with the Phillies also helped matters.  With seven different major league stops over the course of his career, Williams knows what he likes in a clubhouse and what he would rather avoid.

I like being here because everybody treats everybody like family.  When I came in, I was a new guy but I’ve been a long time and I knew a lot of the veteran guys here, so that made the transition a lot easier.  I started talking to Jimmy [Rollins], Chase [Utley], I played with Chase in the [Arizona] Fall League, I played against Marlon [Byrd], I played against A.J. [Burnett], so it’s like, whoa, I know these guys.”

Just seeing the younger guys mature, it was like a family, so that’s what the clubhouse is all about.  This is your domain, this is our family, this is our place.  So if we can be one as a family and as a unit, we can do things together,” Williams said.

Family is a concept that’s hugely important to Williams.  In honor of his late mother who lost her battle to breast cancer in 2001, he’ll once again be donning a multitude of colorful gloves to raise awareness for different forms of cancer.  Williams’ top choice is pink in recognition of his mother, but he’ll also be mixing it up with four different colors to put the spotlight on prostate, pancreatic, liver, and childhood cancers.

After a stress-free winter and a productive spring, Williams is eager to take the mound in April and build on his strong performance at the close of 2014.  If all goes according to plan, Williams won’t find himself waiting around for a call next winter either.


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.