Baltimore Orioles Rumors

Ervin Santana’s Asking Price Not Dropping

Ervin Santana isn't lowering his asking price as Opening Day inches closer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Executives from teams with interest in the right-hander tell Heyman that despite the onset of Spring Training, Santana is still seeking something in the range of $50MM over four years — the same contract signed by Ubaldo Jimenez with the Orioles and Matt Garza with the Brewers, and $1MM more than Ricky Nolasco got from the Twins.

Heyman adds that Santana has been seeking four years "for a while now," and that won't change no based on the calendar or fellow draft-pick free agent Nelson Cruz settling for a surprising one-year, $8MM deal. According to Heyman, the Orioles, Mariners, Rangers and Rockies are looking at Santana right now, and the Blue Jays are believed by some to still be a possibility.

Colorado's interest in Santana could be tied to the fate of right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who underwent an MRI due to shoulder pain. Fresh off a 3.47 ERA in 197 1/3 innings for the Rockies last season, the 26-year-old entered Spring Training as a lock for the club's rotation. However, the team announced today (on Twitter) that Chacin has a strained right shoulder with inflammation and will not be able to throw for at least a week.

It's logical to assume that a serious setback for Chacin would heighten Colorado's interest, but Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes that even with the somewhat negative news from today's MRI, the team isn't interested in Santana at four years and $50MM. Renck has written previously that the club is turned off by Santana's history of fly balls and homer problems, though it's worth noting that Santana's fly-ball rate has drastically declined over the past three seasons as his ground-ball rate has risen.

Heyman closes by saying that Santana is said to be willing to wait for the right deal to present itself and could consider waiting until after the June Draft to sign, which would rid him of the draft pick compensation attached to his name. Earlier today, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes looked at which pick each of the 30 teams would have to surrender to sign Santana (or Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales). While not all of those teams are logical fits at this time, it takes just one major injury for a new suitor to emerge.


Poll: Four-Year, $50MM Starting Pitcher Investments

It is not often that things line up quite so cleanly as this, but after a roller-coaster offseason, three of the market's top starters all landed quite similar overall guarantees. It would be too much, perhaps, to argue that the market valued them identically; after all, each signed at different points in an always-changing market, agreed to various terms that impact the overall value of their contracts, and had differing situations with regard to qualifying offers. Nevertheless, it seems fair to suggest that Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez were each valued in rough proportion to one another. 

Yet each pitcher brings a very different set of risks and benefits to their new deals. (Player name links are to MLBTR's Free Agent profile series; deal links are to reported signing, which includes contract details.)

Ricky Nolasco (age 31; received four years, $49MM from Twins) — Nolasco is durable and solid, having made at least 31 starts in each of the last three regular seasons while consistently maintaining a walk rate hovering just above 2.0 BB/9. While his overall results have been less than stellar, Nolasco has tended to post much better ratings by advanced metrics than ERA, and finally saw the results to match last year. Has he been unlucky, or does he just give up a lot of solid contact? Either way, Minnesota has put its money into a pitcher who has about as good a record of durability as could be hoped.

RISK: disconnect between advanced metrics and results

BENEFIT: durability

Matt Garza (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Brewers) — Garza has been consistently above-average … when healthy. Striking out batters consistenly in the range of about eight per nine, and holding down walks to less than three per nine since maturing as a pitcher, Garza's results are hard to argue with. (He has not ended a season with an ERA above 4.00 since his rookie year.) But a string of injuries held him to 103 2/3 innings in 2012 and 155 1/3 in 2012. If healthy, there is every reason to believe that Garza will continue to be an excellent (albeit not dominant) starter, but therein lies the rub.

RISK: health

BENEFIT: reliably above-average performance

Ubaldo Jimenez (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Orioles) — Unlike either of the previous two hurlers, Jimenez has at times been amongst the most dominant starters in the game. He has been an unquestioned ace over complete seasons (earlier in his career, with Colorado) and parts of seasons (the second half of last year, with Cleveland). In between, however, Jimenez has posted some genuinely unsightly stat lines. While his 2011 campaign may have taken a downturn due to some bad luck, he was terrible in most respects over the entirety of 2012, as he lost both his control and his ability to register strikeouts. Like Nolasco, Jimenez has been supremely durable. But if his new club can count on at least 180 innings, of what quality will they be? Jimenez showed flashes of both good and bad last year, and it remains to be seen which side defines his tenure in Baltimore. [Note: Orioles also gave up a first-round draft choice to sign Jimenez.]

RISK: inconsistency

BENEFIT: durability, upside

So, MLBTR readers: putting aside the particulars of their new teams' situations, which of these three similarly-priced investments do you think was money best spent?



AL East Notes: Ortiz, Sizemore, Hardy, Price, Tanaka

In his column last night, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe discussed several matters concerning the American League East. From a transactional perspective, Cafardo says not to be surprised if David Ortiz asks the Red Sox to break the $20MM barrier in adding a year to his current contract. Here's more from the AL East:

  • Early returns on Red Sox outfielder Grady Sizemore are positive, reports Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com. Hitting coach Gregg Colbrunn said that his swing has "all the good things you look for" in spite of his long layoff, while manager John Farrell said that Sizmore has been at "full speed" on the bases and in the field. Of course, notes Mastrodonato, the club has maintained that it is mostly focused on gauging whether Sizemore can maintain his health over a draining season. 
  • We heard earlier today that the Orioles have approached J.J. Hardy about opening extension talks. From Hardy's perspective, the shortstop tells ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, he still has not heard much about how things might shape up. "I don't know how that will all play out," Hardy said. "We'll see. I'm actually going to meet with my agent. And we're going to talk a litle bit about what could happen. And he'll kind of fill me in … because I don't really know much."
  • Rays GM Andrew Friedman covered a variety of topics on the MLB Network Hot Stove show (transcript via Cork Gaines of Rays Index). Friedman said that the club still feels it will be tough to hold onto ace David Price for the long haul, but that its "mindset is to enjoy each and every day we have David here and do everything in our power to continue that relationship." The likely ultimate scenario — a trade — could take any form, explained the Tampa GM, whose assessment of the Price situation reflects the franchise's general operating strategy. "[W]e really can't have any hard and fast rules about anything," said Friedman. "So we have to be really prepared and nimble. The more prepared you are, the easier it is for you to react more quickly when things pop up. And that's what we have to do is to remain very fluid and not ever get into a situation where we have to make a certain move. But to continue to kind of assess the market and figure out when things kind of line up in our time horizon of what makes the most sense for us to sustain success."
  • While the Yankees' money surely played a substantial role in landing Masahiro Tanaka, the club did not just rely on making the highest offer, reports Brandon Kuty of the Star-Ledger. With Pacific advisor George Rose leading the charge, the Yanks put together a series of gestures intended to convince him of their longstanding interest in Tanaka and overall experience with Japanese ballplayers.


Orioles Sign Nelson Cruz

The Orioles continued what has been an incredibly busy seven-day span by announcing the signing of slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal. Cruz's contract contains a base salary of $8MM, plus $750K in incentives — a disappointing outcome for a player who declined a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers and at one point reportedly sought a four-year, $75MM deal. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweets that Cruz rejected two- and three-year offers this offseason, although the timeline of those offers is unclear. Cruz is represented by the Wasserman Media Group.

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Cruz, 33, hit .266/.327/.506 in 456 plate appearances in 2013. A 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal shortened his season. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in profiling Cruz in early November, however, that didn't stop Rangers manager Ron Washington from offering praise for Cruz as a teammate and a clubhouse presence.

The Rangers will now receive what is currently the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft as a result of Cruz signing elsewhere. The Orioles, meanwhile, will sacrifice the No. 55 pick. Losing the No. 17 pick when they struck a deal with Ubaldo Jimenez likely made it easier for the Orioles to sign Cruz, since they would no longer have to give up a first-round draft choice in order to do so. In addition to Cruz and Jimenez, the Orioles have also signed Korean righty Suk-min Yoon to a three-year deal in the past week.

The Cruz deal is another win-now move for the Orioles, who are trying to build on an 85-win 2013 season and string together more wins before the potential departures of Chris Davis and Matt Wieters following the 2015 season. Cruz will serve as the Orioles' primary designated hitter, and he will also likely occasionally see time in the outfield. The transition to Camden Yards and the other hitter-friendly parks of the AL East should be a good move for Cruz, whose drastic home/road splits have drawn some criticism this offseason.

Of the remaining free agents, Cruz's pact with the Orioles most obviously affects Kendrys Morales. The Orioles reportedly had interest in Morales, so now the already-small number of interested bidders for Morales appears to be even smaller. Also, Cruz signing for one year and $8MM will likely make it even more difficult for Morales, a similar player, to get a sizeable deal.

The size of the deal will also likely increase skepticism throughout baseball about the qualifying offer process. That Cruz received so little was surely due in part to the fact that he had draft-pick forfeiture attached, and one year and $8MM is by far the smallest contract to which a qualifying offer player has agreed.

Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes first reported that the two sides had reached an agreement after CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that they were closing in on a deal.

Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Orioles Notes: Hardy, Cruz, Chen, Santana

Let's take a look at a few notes out of Orioles camp to start out the day:  …

  • Late last week, Baltimore had an in-person meeting with J.J. Hardy's agent regarding the initiation of extension discussions, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). Though both sides have indicated an interest at keeping the shortstop off of next year's free agent market, Hardy said recently that no talks had taken place.
  • Baltimore is expected to announce later today that Nelson Cruz has signed a one-year deal and passed his physical, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. A press conference is likely to occur tomorrow.
  • Southpaw starter Wei-Yin Chen, who inked a three-year deal out of Taiwan before the 2012 season, is set to become a free agent after either 2014 or 2015, says Kubatko. (His deal contains a $4.75MM club option with a $372K buyout for 2015.) Though Chen's Baseball-Reference page indicates that he would qualify for arbitration beginning next year, and stay under club control through 2017, that is not the case.
  • Multiple sources tell Kubatko that the O's are not in on free agent starter Ervin Santana. The club would need only sacrifice its third-round pick to ink Santana or one of the other remaining free agents tied to draft compensation (Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew), having already given up its first and second to land Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez.

AL East Notes: Cruz, Capuano, Ortiz, Yankees

Nelson Cruz isn't a popular figure in some circles for his PED history, but Nick Markakis won't hold it against him.  "It doesn't change my opinion toward anything,'' the Orioles outfielder said, according to Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun. "I got to be a teammate, and no matter if you disagree or agree with your teammates, they are still your teammates. He’s going to be welcome here and we are going to play as one. That’s for sure."  More out of the AL East..

  • Chris Capuano was nearly traded to the Red Sox three years ago when they were desperate for someone to win a game in the final week of the regular season, writes John Tomase of the Boston Herald.  Ultimately, however, Boston couldn't reach a deal with the Mets.  “(The Mets) actually knew about it earlier, but kind of waited until the last minute to tell me so it wouldn’t be a distraction. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it. It was just a couple-day conversation that didn’t end up happening, but I was excited at the prospect of pitching for the Red Sox," said the veteran.
  • David Ortiz has few precedents when looking at what an extension might look like, writes Alex Speier of WEEI.com.  Speier looked at players who had ten or more seasons in an organization who signed deals that covered at least their age 39 seasons within a year of their free agency.  That short list includes Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, and Mariano Rivera.
  • The Yankees have questions but no major concerns heading into spring training, writes Barry Federovitch of the Star-Ledger.  Among the question marks, however, will be whether Masahiro Tanaka can make the transition to four or five days’ rest.
  • Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger spoke with Yankees reliever Matt Thornton, who inked a two-year, $7MM deal this offseason, about what he expects his role to be with his new team.

Quick Hits: Bonds, Kipnis, Brewers, Zimmermann

Barry Bonds will work with the Giants as a special instructor in spring training next month, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reports. Bonds has not had an official relationship with the Giants since 2007, his last season in the big leagues, so his presence could make quite an impression in Giants camp. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Indians will "soon make a serious push" to extend second baseman Jason Kipnis, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Kipnis is eligible for free agency following the 2017 season, and Pluto notes the Indians would likely try to sign Kipnis to at least a five-year deal, picking up at least one free-agent season. MLBTR recently suggested Kipnis could make $30MM-$35MM over the course of a five-year deal.
  • The Brewers will likely have a team-record payroll, and owner Mark Attanasio expects to win this season, Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel reports. "We’re at the point now where we’re well into the top half of payrolls in the major leagues. We have more pitching depth than we’ve had, really, in 10 years. As I’ve explained to everybody, as investors you wouldn’t make that decision to lose," Attanasio says. "The ownership group felt like this was the year to invest (more) in the team. I think we’re going to surprise people this year." After an offseason that featured the high-profile addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have $86MM committed to 12 players, which could give them a higher payroll than they had in 2012, when their opening-day figure was $101.2MM.
  • The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez has had a dramatic impact on Orioles fans, MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski writes. The Orioles' offseason had been very quiet, but suddenly they've landed Jimenez and now have Nelson Cruz as well.
  • Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is happy with his two-year, $24MM contract, and isn't concerned about the recent Homer Bailey extension, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Zimmermann and the Nationals tried to negotiate a long-term deal, but ultimately couldn't find enough common ground. "They came to us with a two-year deal. Let's get this out of the way, so we don't have to worry about arbitration for the next two years," Zimmermann says. "We felt it was right, and I think it was fair for both sides, and we got the deal done."
  • Arbitration-eligible players received an average raise of 117 percent this offseason, with their average salaries rising from $1.78MM to $3.86MM, the Associated Press reports. The heftiest raise went to Freddie Freeman of the Braves, who went from $560K in 2013 to a multiyear deal with an average salary of $16.875MM.

Reactions To The Nelson Cruz Deal

Nelson Cruz signing with the Orioles for $8MM highlights the "absurdities" in Major League Baseball's qualifying offer system, notes ESPN's Keith Law (Insider-only). Law writes that MLB seems uniquely adept at "crafting policies that create unintended consequences." A team that loses its first-round pick as a result of signing a player who had rejected a qualifying offer has a greater incentive to sign a second one, since the penalty for signing the second one is reduced. This policy incentivizes spending sprees by richer teams, at the expense of poorer ones. Here are more reactions to the Nelson Cruz deal.

  • Despite his flaws — his age, defensive defiencies, and unimpressive performance away from Arlington — Cruz is a good deal for the Orioles at $8MM, CBS Sports' Dayn Perry writes. It's only a one-year deal, and Cruz fills an obvious hole in Baltimore's lineup. Perry also notes that Cruz is a good fit in Camden Yards.
  • The Mariners had concerns about Cruz's PED history and with how he would perform at Safeco Field, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. They preferred Kendrys Morales to Cruz, Heyman notes.
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson says he's happy to have Chris Young at $7.25MM rather than Cruz at $8MM, reports Newsday's David Lennon (Twitter links). Alderson says that Cruz "brings power to the table … Doesn’t bring the defense. Doesn’t really have our approach, necessarily."

Ervin Santana Has Serious Interest From Three Teams

At least three teams — the Orioles, Rangers and an NL West club — have strong interest in Ervin Santana, ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas tweets. Rojas also notes that the Blue Jays could still be a possibility (although a recent report indicated the Blue Jays would not sign a free-agent starting pitcher). The identity of the NL West team is unclear, although the Rockies have been connected to Santana.

The Orioles have interest despite their recent signing of Ubaldo Jimenez. Santana would still upgrade their rotation, and with their first-round draft pick no longer a factor, there is less disincentive for them to sign a free agent like Santana who has a qualifying offer attached. The Orioles would only have to give up the No. 90 overall pick — their third-rounder — to sign Santana. The Rangers would have to sacrifice the No. 30 overall pick they are about to receive as compensation for Nelson Cruz signing with Baltimore.


Orioles Close To Deal With Nelson Cruz

9:11am: Cruz and the Orioles have mostly been discussing the possibility of a one-year deal, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets.

7:02am: The Orioles are close to a deal with slugger Nelson Cruz, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.  Heyman adds, "There are still a couple issues to be resolved, according to sources, though a deal looks extremely likely."

Cruz was one of 13 players to receive and turn down a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer in November.  Signing such a player requires the forfeiture of a draft pick, which contributed to slow markets for Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and the still-unsigned Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales.  The Orioles signed Jimenez on Monday to a four-year, $50MM contract, a franchise record for a pitcher.  The O's sacrificed the 17th overall pick in the June draft to do so.  At the trade deadline last year, the Orioles dealt their Competitive Balance Lottery Round A pick to the Astros in the Bud Norris deal, currently #33 overall.  That means their next available pick to sacrifice for a qualifying offer free agent is #52, so the penalty to sign Cruz is less pronounced.  The Rangers will receive a supplemental first round pick for their loss.

On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that the Orioles were in talks with both Morales and Cruz, and a deal with one could happen soon.  In Cruz, they'll get a 33-year-old right-handed bat who hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 home runs in 456 plate appearances in 2013.  The overall line is reflective of Cruz's recent body of work: good power, not too many walks.  His home run total ranked second among free agents, even though he was suspended 50 games for a connection to Biogenesis.  Cruz explained in an August statement that a gastrointestinal infection led to "an error in judgment that I deeply regret" weeks before he was to report in spring training 2012.  It appears that the draft pick attached to Cruz affected his market more than the 2013 suspension, with Jhonny Peralta scoring a $53MM contract in November after serving an in-season Biogenesis suspension.

For the Orioles, Cruz could play both left field and designated hitter, as they're not locked into an established or expensive player at either position.  Cruz has played 384 2/3 innings in left in his career, though his defense is generally considered below-average.

Back in November, before the plight of certain qualifying offer free agents was fully established, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a three-year, $39MM contract for Cruz.  He's represented by Adam Katz of Wasserman Media Group.

Clearly, the Orioles signing Cruz would remove a suitor for Morales.  According to Heyman, Morales has been working out for a month at the Boras Sports Training Institute on the campus of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.  Morales could still return to the Mariners, and Boras has pitched him as a potential first baseman for the Pirates.