- While much has been made of the Orioles’ questionable rotation (understandably so), Rosenthal tweets that the O’s are still also looking at right field upgrades. While the team’s preference is to sign an everyday right fielder, they may simply go with a left-handed bat that can serve as a platoon partner for Dariel Alvarez, he notes. (I’ll add that Nolan Reimold, also on the 40-man roster, strikes me as a perhaps better bet to be the other half of a platoon, but either player could capably fill that role.) Rosenthal lists Will Venable and David Murphy as options, both of whom make sense in the scenario he described.
- MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko also examines the Orioles’ right field situation, noting that the team’s focus is indeed on finding a left-handed bat. Per Kubatko, there’s no reason to eliminate Murphy or Venable from the list of possibilities, as Murphy has been someone the O’s have liked for years. Meanwhile, the Orioles actually thought they had a trade for Venable completed before he went to the Rangers this past summer, according to Kubatko. He also lists David DeJesus and Matt Joyce, although those seem more speculative in nature.
- The Orioles have inquired with right-hander Tim Lincecum’s camp about his health, reports Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. While their specific level of interest isn’t known, Encina notes, it stands to reason that the O’s would have some interest in watching Lincecum work out later this month as the team eyes rotation upgrades that could come at a reasonable cost. Encina points out, however, that the Orioles have been comfortable with incentive-laden minor league deals in recent years (e.g. Johan Santana), but Lincecum is seeking a Major League deal.
Here are the latest minor moves of note:
- The White Sox have re-signed righty Maikel Cleto and added outfielder Vinny Rottino, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy. Cleto, 26, has been hit around in his limited MLB experience but has shown the ability to miss bats. He spent last year at Triple-A, working to a 3.00 ERA in 51 frames with 10.8 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9. The 35-year-old Rottino has not seen the majors since 2012. He slashed .266/.346/.390 over 514 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2015.
- The Marlins have added first baseman Zach Lutz, per Eddy. Lutz saw only minimal time in the Mets system last year, but did briefly reach the majors with New York in the 2012-13 seasons.
- Lefty Edgar Ibarra has joined the Phillies on a minors pact, Eddy adds. The 26-year-old cracked the bigs for the first time last year, but only made two appearances. At Triple-A, he worked o a 5.43 ERA over 66 1/3 innings with 9.1 /9 vs. 4.7 BB/9.
- Fellow southpaw Chris Dwyer is going to the Orioles on his own new deal, according to the BA report. He had spent his entire career in the Royals organization, briefly making it up to the show in 2013. Dwyer was a fourth-round pick out of Clemson back in 2009.
- The Braves reached agreement with Blake Lalli, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (via Twitter), and expect to utilize him as one of the team’s catchers at Triple-A. The 32-year-old has served in just that role with the Diamondbacks over the last two seasons.
- As Spring Training draws nearer, it becomes increasingly likely that the Orioles will look internally to fill out their rotation, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Encina notes that a number of free agents remain as possibilities — Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos and Tim Lincecum — but each comes with his own issues (draft pick compensation, character concerns and health, respectively). Encina hears that the Oriols have even considered a reunion with right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, although he characterizes that as an unlikely outcome. Encina goes on to profile the team’s top internal candidates for the back of the rotation, including Vance Worley, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and even Brian Matusz.
The Orioles have yet to address their rotation this offseason despite early offseason claims that it was the team’s top priority, writes MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. While the Orioles were at one point “deep” in negotiations with Yovani Gallardo, they now appear reluctant to part with the No. 14 overall pick to sign Gallardo. As an alternative, Kubatko writes that Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner is a name to watch, as the team has some interest in the free-agent-to-be.
Cashner, 29, was reportedly being shopped by the Padres earlier this offseason, although to this point, San Diego has elected to trade only from its bullpen (Craig Kimbrel, Joaquin Benoit, Marc Rzepczynski) as opposed to parting the three members of its rotation that have been oft-reported as available on the trade market (Cashner, Tyson Ross, James Shields). Cashner pitched a career-best 184 1/3 innings for the Padres in 2015, but he also took notable steps back in ERA (2.55 in 2014, 4.34 in 2015) and walk rate (2.1 BB/9 in 2014, 3.2 in 2015). Last season wasn’t all bad, however, as Cashner’s 8.0 K/9 rate was the highest in any of his full seasons as a starting pitcher, and his fastball velocity actually increased half a mile per hour over its 2014 average — rising from 94.3 to 94.8.
The Padres and Cashner agreed to a one-year, $7.15MM salary earlier this month, thus avoiding arbitration for the final time. Cashner is set to become a free agent following the season and as such would be a short-term acquisition for the Orioles (or any other team with trade interest). Baltimore, of course, has parted with a significant amount of its prospect depth in recent seasons, dealing names like Zach Davies, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley, among others, in deadline and offseason trades. That Cashner has just one season remaining and saw a notable jump in his ERA this past season certainly figures to lower the cost of acquisition, but the fact that Padres were said to be “pushing” Cashner in trades at the Winter Meetings but still didn’t make a deal serves as a reminder that they’re probably looking for a notable return.
Trade talks in general have been difficult for the Orioles as they’ve sought to upgrade in the rotation, per Kubatko, as teams have persistently asked Baltimore for Kevin Gausman, who could be the club’s best shot at having a top-of-the-rotation-caliber starter himself. One alternative suggested by Kubatko is right-hander Mat Latos, who could likely be had on a one-year deal as he looks to rebuild his stock coming off a poor and injury-riddled 2015 season. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote a bit about Latos over the weekend, noting that one NL official felt a strong manager such as Buck Showalter (or Bruce Bochy or Dusty Baker) would benefit Latos, who can be “too outspoken for his own good.” Latos was excellent for the Padres and Reds from 2010-14, posting a combined 3.27 ERA across those five seasons, but a knee injury cost him about half of the 2014 season, and his peripheral stats slipped upon return. Last year, his ERA fell off as well, when he worked to a 4.95 ERA in 116 1/3 innings between the Marlins, Dodgers and a brief late cameo with the Angels.
Ramon Ramirez, an infield prospect in the Orioles system, died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday in the Dominican Republic. The 23-year-old Ramirez signed with the O’s in 2014 and played second, third and shortstop in 55 games at the Rookie League and low- and high-A ball levels over the last two seasons. “Our entire organization is deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic death of Ramon Ramirez. As a member of the Orioles organization, Ramon worked tirelessly to make the most of his opportunity to play professional baseball. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, teammates, and coaches as we mourn this unimaginable loss,” Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette said in a statement today. We at MLB Trade Rumors join the Orioles and the baseball world in expressing our condolences to Ramirez’s loved ones.
Some news from around the AL East…
- The Orioles’ acquisition of first baseman/outfielder Efren Navarro adds some depth and gives Baltimore some roster flexibility, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko writes. With Navarro now in the mix as a first base backup behind Chris Davis, the O’s could use young first basemen Christian Walker or Trey Mancini as trade chips. Since Navarro is a well-regarded defender at first, Kubatko also wonders if Davis could see more time in the outfield. Davis said he’s “always open to doing whatever it takes to win,” though noted that he’s much more comfortable in right field than left.
- Now that the Rays have traded Jake McGee, their next move could be to acquire a replacement setup man, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. Alex Colome and Xavier Cedeno form a righty-lefty setup combo at the moment, though Topkin thinks the Rays could sign another veteran bullpen option (though not a big name like Tyler Clippard) or potentially trade for a reliever by dealing from their outfield surplus. Brandon Guyer or Desmond Jennings could be trade chips in that scenario, Topkin opines, though interested teams may need to see that Jennings is healthy in Spring Training following his injury-plagued 2015 season. The Rays still aren’t generating any trade buzz on James Loney, despite their willingness to cover part of his salary.
- The only team yet to sign a Major League free agent this offseason has been, of all teams, the Yankees. While GM Brian Cashman tells Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News that the club “explored all avenues” to upgrade the roster, the Bronx Bombers have been much more focused on trades rather than free agent signings over the last two offseasons. This winter, such major names as Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks joined the team. “There’s a lot of different ways to climb the mountain. This winter took us to trades. We spent money, but it was acquiring contracts through trades. We’ve traded talent from our system to do that,” Cashman said.
- There’s little question that Blue Jays fans want Jose Bautista to sign an extension, as evidenced by a very pro-Bautista response at a recent “Pitch Talks” speaker series event in Toronto. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, one of the speakers at the event, used the response to illustrate the sometimes stark difference in perspective between fans and front offices. While there are solid baseball reasons to keep Bautista (as outlined by Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling at the event), general front office logic would dictate that extending a veteran slugger past his age-35 season isn’t necessarily a wise move. While many fans understand this reasoning, that doesn’t stop the more general sentiment amongst the fanbase that the Jays should keep a player who has been such a huge star for the franchise. I outlined the tricky situation the Jays face with Bautista in an Extension Candidate entry last November.
Signing with the Red Sox and living in the United States has been a series of surprises for Cuban top prospect Yoan Moncada, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes. For example, when Moncada signed, his agent Dave Hastings says he had to explain to his client how taxes worked. “[W]hen he got his check and he knew what he was getting gross because I told him what he was getting. So then the net amount was deposited into his account and he calls my wife up and starts yelling, ’What’s going on?!’ Even though I told him taxes were taken out, he just had no idea,” says Hastings. Moncada has purchased a house down the block from Hastings and his wife, and he’s formed a close bond with them both. Here are a few quick notes from around the East divsions.
- When the Astros made Mark Appel the top pick in the 2013 draft, the righty was joining the Houston organization with the big-league team in the midst of an 111-loss season. Since then, though, the Astros’ fortunes have changed quickly. Now, Appel sees something similar unfolding with the Phillies, Jim Salisbury writes for Baseball America (subscription only). “This really reminds me of where the Astros were when I got drafted,” Appel said. “I was able to see the turnaround and how quickly it can happen.” If the Phillies do quickly reemerge, it will probably be due in part to recent deals that have returned players like Appel, Vincent Velasquez, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson and Jorge Alfaro.
- If the Orioles were to sign another free agent who has rejected a qualifying offer, they would lose the No. 14 pick in the upcoming draft. They also have the No. 29 overall pick, for the departure of Wei-Yin Chen; an extra second-round pick, for failing to sign last year’s second-rounder Jonathan Hughes; and a Comp Round B pick. So, theoretically, they could lose the No. 14 overall pick and still have plenty of early-round picks left over. But, as MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski points out, losing the pick would also cut into their bonus pool, leaving them less flexibility to sign players who might require big bonuses. Right now, the Orioles’ projected pool of $10.6MM ranks sixth in the Majors.
Here are the day’s minor league signings and outright assignments from around the league…
- The Twins announced that left-hander Logan Darnell, who was designated for assignment when the club claimed fellow left-hander Mike Strong off waivers from the Marlins, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Rochester. The 26-year-old was a sixth-round pick back in 2010 and reached the Majors in 2014, struggling to a 7.13 ERA with a 22-to-8 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. Darnell has worked as both a starter and a reliever in the minors, spending most of the 2015 campaign in the bullpen, where he logged a 2.78 ERA with 7.6 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in 77 2/3 innings. All told, Darnell has a 3.85 ERA in 687 1/3 minor league innings with the Twins. He’ll head back to Triple-A and serve as rotation and bullpen depth for the Twins in 2016.
- First baseman/outfielder Joey Terdoslavich has cleared waivers after being designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk by the Orioles, the team announced. Once a well-regarded prospect in the Braves organization, the now-27-year-old Terdoslavich has compiled a .221/.296/.324 batting line in 162 Major League plate appearances. He has a solid track record at the Triple-A level, however, highlighted by a .281/.391/.452 performance in 179 PAs with the Gwinnett Braves this past season. Baltimore claimed him off waivers from Atlanta earlier this offseason but designated Terdoslavich for assignment to clear a roster spot for the newly re-signed Chris Davis.
The Orioles were a third team in on outfielder Yoenis Cespedes late last week, joining the Nationals and Mets, Jon Heyman reports on Twitter. Baltimore had a five-year offer on the table, says Heyman, but it was obviously turned down.
It appears, then, that Cespedes rejected two separate five-year concepts to go back to the Mets for three years and $75, with an opt-out after the first season. But it hasn’t been reported what kind of guarantee and payout structure was involved in the O’s offer. And it’s important to bear in mind that recent reporting suggests the Nationals’ five-year deal had extensive deferrals that put a huge dent in its real value.
Aside from the historical interest, this news is chiefly relevant because of what it says about the Orioles’ willingness and capacity to keep spending. Expectations were that the club would not be involved on Cespedes — at least, not to that level — after promising $161MM (with major deferrals) to slugger Chris Davis. In all likelihood, the Cuban star would have followed Davis in topping the team’s prior record for largest guarantee.
Looking ahead, Baltimore still has good reason to pursue another outfielder and at least one additional starter. It seems that the club will have at least the possibility of deploying some rather significant resources to fill those needs. There are options on hand, of course, and it could be that Cespedes was a somewhat unique target. But the news suggests that the O’s have the means to participate in the markets for top remaining players such as Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, and Yovani Gallardo.
There are also some trade possibilities that could be opened up by the presence of salary space. Hypothetical trade targets like Carlos Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Jay Bruce, or even Ryan Braun could, in theory, be made to fit from a payroll perspective. Likewise, pricier arms — say, Tyson Ross or C.J. Wilson — could be considered under various scenarios. (The point here is not to say any of these particular players are being or should be pursued, but rather to provide examples of the range of conceivable options.)
Longer-term payroll developments are an interesting element of the story, too. Baltimore not only added Davis, but also took on a significant obligations this winter to backstop Matt Wieters (via the qualifying offer) and reliever Darren O’Day. The club’s estimated Opening Day spending already tops last year’s ~$118MM mark, and that’s before accounting for the still-undetermined salaries of Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, which figures to cost another $10MM and change. Needless to say, whatever the offer, adding Cespedes would have pushed the payroll well outside the team’s prior spending bounds.
As noted, it’s entirely unclear whether Baltimore will pursue other ways of re-deploying the funds that might have gone to Cespedes. Indeed, it’s not impossible to think that adding him might have required the team to shed some other salary. Regardless, the possibility of significant additional payroll space is intriguing to consider moving forward.
The Orioles have acquired first baseman/outfielder Efren Navarro from the Angels in exchange for cash considerations, the teams announced today. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Navarro, Baltimore announced that it has designated outfielder L.J. Hoes for assignment.
Navarro, 29, was designated for assignment last week to clear a roster spot in Anaheim for right-hander Al Alburquerque, who signed as a free agent. Navarro has seen Major League action with the Angels in four of the past five seasons, totaling a .246/.303/.324 batting line in 280 plate appearances. He’s hit just one home run in that time, though he’s shown a bit more pop in the minors, where he is a .316/.378/.449 hitter with 32 home runs in 2344 plate appearances at Triple-A. Navarro hasn’t hit much with the Angels, but he’s posted solid walk and strikeout rates (7.5 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively). He’s also graded out reasonably well in both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved at first base and in left field in his small samples of work at each position.
Navarro will, presumably, join the competition for corner outfield playing time in Baltimore. The Orioles currently have Hyun-Soo Kim as one option (in left field — they’re said not to like his arm in right), with Nolan Reimold, Mark Trumbo, Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty among the other options that could conceivably see some time in right field. Trumbo, of course, is best suited for first base or DH work, but he does have considerable experience in the outfield. As a left-handed bat, Navarro could conceivably pair with Reimold to form a platoon, should not additional outside option be brought in by GM Dan Duquette and his staff. That looks like somewhat of an uninspiring group, on paper, but the Orioles took a piecemeal approach to their corner outfield situation last season, creating some precedent for such measures, and the team has spent heavily in other areas, perhaps limiting its offseason spending capacity.
Hoes has had good success at the upper levels of the minor leagues, including a .299/.388/.399 batting line in parts of four seasons at the Triple-A level. The 25-year-old was originally a third-round pick by Baltimore back in 2008, though the O’s traded him to Houston in the 2013 Bud Norris swap. Hoes was designated for assignment by Houston this offseason, though, and picked up in a trade similar to today’s transaction back in November. In spite of his solid on-base percentage and batting average in Triple-A, Hoes has batted just .237/.289/.329 in 337 Major League plate appearances.
The Nationals have filed an interesting affidavit in their litigation against the Orioles (via MASN) relating to the arbitration on the value of their television rights fees, as James Wagner of the Washington Post notes. Seeking to help convince the judge to order the O’s back to a league-run arbitration panel, Washington owner Ed Cohen said of the lack of market-rate revenue: “[W]ithout this added and steady income, the Nationals cannot bring full economic confidence to investments in multi-year player contracts to keep up with the fierce competition for top players — especially when such control over finances is in the hands of a neighboring club.” It’s interesting to see some insight, however vague, into the team’s thinking on the matter, although it’s hard to know just how much impact there’s been in actuality on the team’s willingness and ability to offer contracts to free agents.
Here are some notes on a few free agents (or those who’ll soon formally join the open market):
- Intriguing young Cuban talent Lazaro Armenteros (aka “Lazarito”) expects to have a deal in place within the next two weeks, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. He’s in negotiations with some teams even as he finishes up workouts with others, says Rosenthal. The 16-year-old is seen as an intriguing athlete, though there have also been some less-than-sterling reviews.
- The showcase for Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell will now take place on February 15th in Mexico City, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. The veteran star is hoping to catch on with a major league organization.
- Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun takes a look at the Orioles’ current possibilities for adding an outfielder. Dexter Fowler doesn’t seem to be an option, given the need to punt the club’s top draft pick, but he wonders whether Austin Jackson or a left-handed-hitting platoon option such as David Murphy or Will Venable could be in the cards. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com does the same with regard to starting pitching, providing an excellent breakdown of the internal possibilities and potential targets.
- Free agent reliever Tommy Hunter is still looking for a second guaranteed year, Rich Dubroff of CSNmidatlantic.com tweets. He’s certainly one of the better names left on a slowing relief market, though it might still be a tall order to reach a multi-year pact. Hunter has largely posted solid results since moving to the pen full-time, but struggled badly with the long ball late last year.
- At this point, the Mets are realistically only looking at relievers on minor league deals, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets. That makes sense, as the club already had to push a solid pitcher in Carlos Torres off of the roster after signing Antonio Bastardo.