Baltimore Orioles Rumors
Earlier today, a report indicated that the Orioles' pursuit of switch-hitting, first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales had picked up steam in recent days. Here are the latest rumblings on both Morales and fellow bat-first free agent Nelson Cruz, a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Though each of the reports appears to be consistent with the idea that the two players' fates are intertwined, they differ somewhat as to where things stand:
- The Orioles are talking with both Morales and Cruz, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. A deal with one of the two "could happen soon," Rosenthal adds.
- Baltimore is divided internally as to which is the better target between Morales and Cruz, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko tweets. Regardless, says Kubatko, nothing is imminent.
- Both the Orioles and Mariners have Morales above Cruz on their target lists, sources tell Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The two clubs are both chatting with the two sluggers, according to Bowden.
- Morales and Cruz both declined qualifying offers, meaning that signing clubs will sacrifice a pick to sign them. But both the O's and M's already decided to part with their top, non-protected pick for other signings. So, if Morales and Cruz were to sign with Baltimore and Seattle -- regardless of which player signs with which team -- the former would give up its second-round choice while the latter would remain neutral. If the Mariners were to sign Morales, they would neither gain nor lose a choice since he turned down their qualifying offer. If they sign Cruz but lose Morales, they would lose each of their two top unprotected picks, which would include the compensation choice otherwise obtained for allowing the latter to walk.
The Orioles have been oft-connected to free agent slugger Kendrys Morales this offseason, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the club's interest in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client has picked up in the past few days.
The reason for Baltimore's heightened interest is twofold, according to Connolly. First, the Orioles' reluctance to part with their first-round pick is no longer a concern, as they forfeited the No. 17 overall selection in order to sign Ubaldo Jimenez earlier this week. Secondly, while Morales had previously been seeking a deal for as many as four or five years in length, Connolly's sources now indicate that Morales and Boras would be willing to settle for a short-term deal with an opt-out clause. Connolly writes that the Orioles may even be able to land Morales on a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first season.
Such a deal is essentially a one-year deal, with a player option tacked on to serve as a safety net in the event that Morales gets hurt or struggles in his first season with Baltimore. Connolly likens the deal to another one-year deal/player option negotiated by Scott Boras -- Adrian Beltre's 2010 contract with the Red Sox. Like Beltre, Morales is looking to leave Seattle's pitcher-friendly environment in hope of demonstrating his power skills in a more hitter-friendly setting.
Should a one-year deal and player option be reached, Baltimore would almost certainly make a qualifying offer to Morales were he to opt out, which could restart this entire draft pick compensation cycle for Morales and Boras (in that instance, he would likely be coming off a season with better numbers, however). As such, Connolly looks at the situation as potentially forfeiting a second-round pick in 2014 (No. 55 overall) to move up a round higher in the 2015 draft by adding an additional pick via Morales' departure.
The 25-year-old Hendriks has been unable to put it together in three Major League stints, as evidenced by his bloated 6.06 ERA in 156 innings. He's averaged 5.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in those 156 frames to go along with a below-average 40.4 percent ground-ball rate.
However, the Australian hurler was once a well-regarded prospect in the Twins system, ranking sixth and seventh on the Baseball America's Top 10 Twins prospects lists from 2010-11. Hendriks has a 3.61 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 254 career innings at Triple-A and a career 2.99 ERA in the minors as a whole. He's been claimed off waivers by the Cubs and Orioles already this offseason, making the Blue Jays his fourth organization since being designated for assignment by Minnesota.
As for Morel, he too is a former AL Central top prospect. Morel cracked Baseball America's Top 100 list as a White Sox farmhand prior to the 2011 season but has slashed just .229/.276/.333 batting line in 669 Major League plate appearances. A bulging disk in his back has played a large part in the offense decline for the 26-year-old, who in 2010 batted .322/.359/.480 across two minor league levels. He's drawn praise for his glove at third base, though Toronto was reportedly going to use him at second base.
12:17pm: Two organizational sources downplayed the possibility of serious talks between Santana and the Orioles to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. She writes that multiple sources have indicated to her that the Orioles' primary focus is on adding a hitter to the lineup at this time.
9:19am: The Orioles made Ubaldo Jimenez the highest-paid free-agent pitcher in franchise history earlier this week by signing him to a four-year, $50MM contract, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports now reports that the Jimenez signing hasn't precluded the Orioles from pursuing Ervin Santana. According to Heyman, Baltimore has maintained a dialogue with Santana and his representatives at Proformance even after adding Jimenez to the fold.
Heyman writes that Santana's asking price remains high, speculating that he could be looking to match or top Jimenez's contract despite the late stage of the offseason. For most teams, the draft pick compensation attached to Santana has been the primary deterrent, but that negative is less significant to the Orioles at this point. Baltimore forfeited the No. 17 overall pick to sign Jimenez, and they traded their Competitive Balance pick to the Astros in last summer's Bud Norris trade. At this point, the top draft pick they would have to cede in order to ink Santana would be No. 55 overall.
Heyman notes that if Baltimore were to successfully sign Santana, the aforementioned Norris could transition to the closer's role for manager Buck Showalter -- a role that some have speculated in the past may suit him better than the rotation.
The Orioles clearly don't view Jimenez as the final piece to their offseason, as they're reportedly still interested in sluggers Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales and are one of two teams said to have maintained interest in Ike Davis earlier this week. With Chris Davis and Matt Wieters each set to hit free agency following the 2015 campaign and J.J. Hardy set to hit the open market at the end of the 2014 season, the Orioles may feel that this season is their best chance to make a big push for contention.
FRIDAY: Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the year-to-year breakdown of Jimenez's deal: he will earn $11.25MM in 2014, $12.25MM in 2015, $13MM in 2016 and $13.5MM in 2017. Each year of the contract contains $2.25MM in deferred salary without interest. Sherman also reports that Jimenez's pact contains $3.2MM worth of incentives, as he can earn $400K each season for starting 32 games and also for pitching 200 innings (Twitter links).
WEDNESDAY: The Orioles have officially announced the signing of Jimenez.
MONDAY: Looking to add talent at the top of their rotation, the Orioles have agreed to sign free agent starter Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50MM deal, pending a physical. Some of those dollars will be deferred, but Jimenez nevertheless becomes Baltimore's most notable free agent addition in recent memory.
The 30-year-old Jimenez, a client of Relativity Baseball, brings substantial upside along with a somewhat rocky history of production. As MLBTR's Steve Adams detailed in his profile of Jimenez before the start of the off-season, the durable righty has at times been amongst the most valuable starters in the game.
Earlier in his career, Jimenez was one of few pitchers to turn in dominant campaigns while throwing half of his starts in Coors Field, putting up 3.47 and 2.88 ERA seasons for the Rockies in 2009-10. Jimenez struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings last year, the best mark of his career, while tossing 182 2/3 innings of 3.30 ball in his last campaign with the Indians.
Just one year prior, however, Jimenez netted just a 5.40 ERA for Cleveland. He has never managed to limit walks, allowing 4.1 free passes per nine over his career. And Jimenez's stellar early-career ground-ball induction skills have waned of late. Last year, he checked in with a 43.5% ground ball rate, which fell below league average.
To some extent, Jimenez's 2013 season encapsulates his career: at times frustrating, at times immaculate. He sported a 4.56 ERA in the first half of the year, only to turn it on with a sparkling 1.82 mark over the back end. Regardless of performance, Jimenez comes with a strong record of injury-free innings, having notched at least 31 starts and 176 2/3 innings in each of the last six seasons. And though he no longer brings upper-90s heat, Jimenez has been equally successful against batters of both sides, allowing a career .689 OPS to righties and .709 mark to lefties.
For Baltimore, Jimenez represents the second addition to a rotation corps that contained several question marks. The former Indian will slot into of a rotation that projects to include Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. The team also recently inked Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon to a three-year, $5.75MM deal that would escalate significantly in value if he serves as a starter. He could battle with Bud Norris and a host of others for the fifth slot.
Jimenez represents the largest commitment by the O's to date in the 2013-14 free agent period. And for a club that has never promised a free agent starter more than three years, Jimenez perhaps becomes the team's most significant-ever free agent pitching acquisition. Indeed, his $50MM promise lands amongst the highest free agent contracts ever handed out by the club, which previously promised Miguel Tejada $72MM and Albert Belle $65MM on the open market, and the most substantial of recent years. (The club has promised big dollars through extensions to outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.)
Because Jimenez turned down a qualifying offer, the Orioles will part with their first-round choice (17th overall) in the upcoming 2014 amateur draft in order to add him to their roster. Meanwhile, the Indians officially pick up a compensation pick in the sandwich round as compensation.
Adams had predicted a three-year deal for Jimenez before the season, noting that a fourth year was possible. Promising an additional year became necessary, tweets Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, due to interest from multiple other AL East clubs, including the Blue Jays. The Red Sox also had interest, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (via Twitter). Though neither of those clubs made offers, according to Olney, it appears that their presence in talks contributed to the final price tag.
With Jimenez off of the market, only one free agent pitcher (Ervin Santana) remains among the top fifty free agents (per MLBTR's Tim Dierkes). Among the teams still potentially interested in a starter, most have been linked to Jimenez and Santana, leaving the latter to satisfy any desire for a top-tier option. The Blue Jays and Mariners have, perhaps, been the most heavily rumored clubs to be dabbling in this portion of the market, though numerous others are said to have some level of interest.
With his four-year, $50MM deal, Jimenez joins several other arms to score deals of like magnitude. As MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker shows, Matt Garza (four years, $50MM) and Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49MM) both landed at that level this year, while Edwin Jackson (four years, $52MM) did the same one year ago. It would seem fair to characterize all of these starters as having their share of benefits and drawbacks, though it could be that Jimenez offers the greatest upside of any.
MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko first reported that the sides were nearing agreement on a four-year deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the agreement (via Twitter). The total money and deferred payment were first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Ubaldo Jimenez was introduced today by the Orioles, saying that he is looking forward to putting the "nightmare" of past inconsistency in the rearview mirror. Executive VP Dan Duqutte said that Jimenez was attractive to Baltimore because "he's been a proven, solid, dependable pitcher," and explained that he saw potential for new pitching coach Dave Wallace to help Jimenez maintain his form from the second half of last year. MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli has a full transcript from the presser.
Here's more from the AL East:
- Orioles young star Manny Machado is scheduled for a key visit with his doctor in the middle of March which could determine when he'll be ready to suit up, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). If he is cleared to play at that point, the hope is that Machado would be prepared for game action within the first few weeks of the season.
- Machado tells ESPN's Jayson Stark that being ready for Opening Day is last on his list of priorities: "That’s at the bottom of my list. It’s not even on my list, to be honest," says Machado. Instead, Machado and the Orioles are focused on making sure he's 100 percent when he takes the field. Says Machado: "When I’m ready, I’m going to be ready. And everybody’s going to know it. And that’s when I’m going to be out there with the team, whether it’s Opening Day or sometime in April."
- Red Sox DH David Ortiz and agent Fern Cuza met with club oficials today -- including representatives from the ownership group -- to discuss his contract status, reports WEEI.com's Alex Speier.
- Ortiz has not been shy about discussing his contract situation publicly, and the team has likewise consistently indicated a willingness to talk. Speier breaks things down from a baseball perspective, arguing that Ortiz has in fact expressed a willingness to give his team a legitimate discount. The notion of adding another year to his current contract at about the same annual rate ($15MM) is valuable, says Speier, because it keeps him off of an open market that could well pay him more. Though he is aging, Ortiz's bat has shown little sign of slowing, and he would surely draw real interest from a power-sapped free agent market. Even if the slugger takes a step back, says Speier, Boston's payroll situation makes the downside scenario a reasonable risk to bear.
- As for those payroll considerations, Red Sox principal owner John Henry said yesterday that the luxury tax may not be a firm line for the club going forward, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal reports. Though the club has "learned from" its experiences with major deals in the past, Henry said that the team is always looking for ways to leverage its "big-revenue" capabilities. Though he was somewhat unclear as to his reasoning, Henry said that "there's some reason to believe that [staying under the luxury threshold] may not be as important as we thought a couple years ago."
- Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano is considering retiring after the season, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. The 38-year-old said it will all come down to whether he feels healthy, but acknowledged the possibility that he could join teammate Derek Jeter in making this his last go-round. Soriano, who produced a .255/.302/.489 line with 34 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 626 plate appearances last year, will be playing out the final year of the eight-year, $136MM deal he signed with the Cubs back in November of 2006.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
For the last year or two, Nick Markakis has been vocal about how important it would be to spend his entire career with one organization, and the outfielder tells Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun how he hopes his contract year will help carry the Orioles to a championship and, potentially, convince the team to keep him in the fold. "In a perfect world, I'd like to [stay here],'' Markakis said. "A lot of people play this game for the wrong reasons. A lot of people play it where the money is. I get a bigger satisfaction being with the same team your whole career....To be able to do that would be a pretty cool experience. It would be something special to me." The O's have a $17.5MM option on Markakis for 2015 that seems a bit too expensive to exercise even if Markakis does rebound from his career-low numbers last season, though the two sides could work out another multiyear deal.
Here's more from around the AL East...
- Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that while he didn't plan on having a payroll in the $80MM range for the coming season, the opportunity was there for the Rays to sign Grant Balfour and re-sign James Loney.
- Sternberg noted that extending a star like David Price is "more difficult now than it was in the past, given the numbers. There's been inflation.'' That said, Sternberg also "wouldn't say it's likely" that this is Price's last year in Tampa. "You just can't make decisions like that this far in advance, and we're trying to give the team as big of a chance as we can this year without sacrificing our future as well," Sternberg said. "There's the opportuniuty of other players, there's the expense that's involved in it, but we're...a little enamored with the possibilities of what we can do, and what he brings."
- The Blue Jays haven't made many roster moves this winter but GM Alex Anthopoulos tells ESPN's Jayson Stark that he expects the Jays to improve simply by avoiding some of the injuries and misfortune that plagued the club last season. “Sometimes you sit there and say, ‘We won 74 games, when everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong,’” Anthopoulos said. “So this year, what happens if we just have a little bit of luck? I can understand the skepticism about our team, absolutely, coming off the year we’re coming off. But I just don’t think it’s a stretch to expect improvement out of a lot of these guys this year, simply because the floor was so low.”
- The Blue Jays' second base options project to generate only 0.4 WAR in 2014, Fangraphs' Mike Petriello notes, and he explores a few trade possibilities that could upgrade Toronto at the keystone position.
- With the Red Sox enjoying huge revenues and big drops in payroll obligations in 2015 and 2016, ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes argues that the time is right to extend David Ortiz. The slugger's contract negotiations have generated some bad publicity in recent years, so Edes suggests that Ortiz could receive a club option in perpetuity, a la Tim Wakefield's contract with the Sox.
- Red Sox limited partner Michael Gordon isn't a well-known figure to most fans, but WEEI.com's Alex Speier profiles the man who has quietly become a more influential voice within the team's ownership group over the last few years.
The Orioles have designated righty Liam Hendriks for assignment to clear a roster spot for Ubaldo Jimenez, the club announced. The 25-year-old Aussie has bounced around quite a bit already this offseason, moving from the Twins to the Cubs and then on to Baltimore.
Though Hendricks has been seen as a solid prospect in the past, and has a strong minor league track record to back that up, he has struggled in his early-career MLB action. Over 156 total innings pitched, he sports a 6.06 ERA, with 5.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 and a 40.4% ground-ball rate. Last year was particularly ugly, as he surrendered a disconcerting 1.9 HR/9 en route to a 6.46 ERA in 47 1/3 innings for Minnesota.
The latest on the 2013 World Series champs...
- David Ortiz told John Tomase of the Boston Herald that he's sick of the negative public response when he discusses his desire for a new contract (though he did so with far more colorful language, as Tomase notes). As far as how long he wants to continue his career, Big Papi offered the following: "When you put up numbers like I’m putting up, who’s thinking about retiring, know what I’m saying? People keep on asking me, how long do you want to play? When are you going to retire? Dude, look at my numbers. I ain’t planning on retiring right now. When I slow down, then I’ll retire."
- Ortiz told WEEI.com's Alex Speier (Twitter link) that if no deal is done prior to his next venture into free agency following this season: "...then we'll be talking about a real contract."
- Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe outlines many of the reasons that make it logical for the Red Sox to be interested in re-signing Stephen Drew, and then explains why, in spite of those reasons, they should let him walk. Abraham opines that Xander Bogaerts needs to be given a chance to maximize his value at shortstop, that Will Middlebrooks' 2012 and late 2013 flashes of excellence make him worthy of another chance, and that the value of an additional draft pick when Drew signs elsewhere outweigh the benefit of bringing Drew back to Boston.
- Francisco Cordero had interest from both the Orioles and Marlins, but he chose the Red Sox after admiring their 2013 World Series run while watching at home in the Dominican Republic, Speier writes. Cordero, who says he dropped 30 pounds this offseason, doesn't have an opt-out clause in his deal, but Speier writes that he and the team have an understanding where Cordero will be allowed out of his contract if he's not going to make Boston's roster and has an opportunity with another team. Cordero said he felt like a kid again when he put on his Red Sox jersey and feels that he didn't join a team, he joined a family.
Although Mets Spring Training is underway and Ike Davis trade rumors have largely died down as of late, a pair of clubs is still interested in the 26-year-old. ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote yesterday that the Pirates continue to monitor Davis' status in camp, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Orioles are still interested in acquiring Davis to serve primarily in a DH capacity.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Stark yesterday that the team is confident in its internal candidates to serve as a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez -- namely Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa. However, Huntington added:
"That doesn't stop us from looking elsewhere. It’s just that now, our bar has been set a little bit higher, as to 'How do we make the club better?' And 'How do we make the club better at the right situation for us?'"
As for the Orioles, acquiring Davis would allow them to add some more power while preserving the No. 55 pick in the draft -- a selection that would be forfeited should the team go the free-agent route by signing either Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz. Davis would also be significantly cheaper in terms of salary, as he's slated to earn just $3.5MM this season. However, Mets GM Sandy Alderson has made it clear that he will not simply give Davis away. Previous reports indicated that Alderson has asked the Orioles to part with top pitching rospect Eduardo Rodriguez in a Davis trade.
Sherman also reports that at one point this offseason, the Mets and Rays were discussing players that could be added to a Davis-for-Matt Joyce swap before Tampa finally proposed a straight one-for-one trade. The Mets rejected that deal, and Tampa closed the door on talks by signing James Loney to a three-year, $21MM contract.
Davis batted .205/.326/.334 overall last season but fared very well upon his recall from the minor leagues after being sent down in early June. The former first-round pick posted an .872 OPS over his final two months, including a .290/.468/.522 triple-slash in August. An oblique strain cut his strong finish to the season short, sidelining him for the entire month of September.