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Billy Butler Rumors
Though the Royals are coming off their best season in nearly three decades, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the team will soon need to turn its focus to some difficult offseason decisions. Industry expectations, according to Martino, are that the Royals will at least listen to trade offers for its more expensive players — including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — if other teams come calling this winter. Gordon’s case is the most pressing, as he’s only controlled through 2015 at $12.5MM before he has a $12.5MM player option. Gordon has publicly stated that he plans to exercise that option, though it’d be a surprise, to say the least, considering he could be in line for a much more sizable long-term commitment next offseason if he turns it down. Martino also notes that the Royals will have interest in re-signing Nori Aoki this offseason. From my vantage point, the team needn’t feel pressure to move any of the three previously mentioned players, though I’ll cover that at greater length in the upcoming Royals Offseason Outlook.
For the time being, here’s more on the AL Champs and the rest of their division…
- The Royals are expected to decline their $12.5MM option on designated hitter Billy Butler in favor of a $1MM buyout, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The move isn’t exactly unexpected after the down season he had at the plate. However, Heyman adds that the team may look to pursue Torii Hunter, as they did seven years ago, in the event that Aoki signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough also hears that Butler’s option is likely to be declined.
- The Twins‘ front office flew out to Torey Lovullo’s home in California to conduct their second interview with him on Monday this week, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, but there’s still been no decision reached as to who will be the team’s next manager. Lovullo and Paul Molitor are believed to be the favorites.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke candidly to reporters, including Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press, about the team’s lack of financial flexibility this offseason. Said Dombrowski: “We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we’re in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren’t what is common here. … It’s a situation where we’re really in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you’re going to do.”
Over the last three years, the Orioles have consistently walked away with more victories than models would predict (whether based on forecasts or observed game action), but Dave Cameron of Fangraphs argues that random variation is still the most likely explanation. You’ll need to read the full piece, but in essence, Cameron says that the O’s outperforming streak is probably not attributable to some skill or special insight, but is rather an outlier that falls within the expectations of the models that predict win-loss record.
More from around the game:
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer indicated that the team is focused on building out its big league staff in the near term, as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. “We know we have to have balance,” said Hoyer. “That’s going to be our main area of focus.” With several of Chicago’s touted young position players beginning to make an impact at the MLB level, many have suggested that the organization could become a big player on next year’s free agent market — especially to fill out a rotation that is now without Jeff Samardzija.
- Designated hitter Billy Butler reiterated recently that he is still hopeful of remaining with the Royals, Jeffrey Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City reports. In spite of a recent hot streak, his $12.5MM club option for 2015 seems a bit steep. “After the season, we’ll see what happens,” said Butler. “We’ll know five days after the World Series what will happen. But even if they decline, it doesn’t mean they won’t offer me something else. I hope that’s the case.”
- Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg’s comments about Darin Ruf‘s playing time reveal a continued flaw in the organization’s decisionmaking, argues David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News. “The situations he’s been in the last couple of years here, not being able to have a string of at-bats, it’s hard to really get a gauge still,” Sandberg said of Ruf. But while consistent playing time would appear to offer a means of evaluating the outfielder/first baseman, Sandberg said “that’s the tricky part about making lineups and also trying to win a game.” As Murphy opines, this line of thinking suggests that the organization is still focused primarily on winning meaningless games this year, rather than setting up the organization for future success.
The Rangers believe they can be competitive in 2015 and therefore won’t be trading players like Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre or Elvis Andrus, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports. Even with a number of talented young infielders in their system, they don’t want to trade Andrus, who is an important figure in their clubhouse. They will, however, consider dealing Joakim Soria and Alex Rios. The Tigers have shown interest in Soria, and the Mariners, Blue Jays, Giants or Royals could all be fits for Rios. Reliever Neal Cotts could also fetch a nice return for Texas. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Cubs, White Sox, Braves and Giants all have interest in Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes. Sanchez notes that Castillo has received comparisons to Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kenny Lofton. All teams throughout MLB are likely to be represented at Castillo’s showcase next week.
- The Tigers have asked about the availability of reliever Brad Ziegler, but the Diamondbacks are likely to keep him, tweets FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi. Ziegler has pitched well this year and is under contract for $5MM in 2015, with a reasonable option on his services the following year.
- Billy Butler believes the Royals should pick up the $12.5MM 2015 option on his contract, but if they don’t want to, he’s willing to renegotiate so he can stay in Kansas City, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. “My numbers throughout my contract suggest they should (pick it up),” says Butler. “Maybe not the way I’ve necessarily played this year, but that’s the reason you play a full 162 games. … That’s the reason why you have a track record.” Butler has struggled this year, with a .272/.324/.354 line in 383 plate appearances that’s well below his career norms.
Earlier today, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provided an update on the Astros’ talks with Brady Aiken after speaking to GM Jeff Luhnow, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management (Aiken’s adviser), a league official and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. Close feels that the the Astros are acting “with disregard” to the draft’s rules, while an MLB official noted that everything about the process has been within the CBA’s guidelines. Here are a few reactions to that story, and some other notes from around the AL West…
- Jim Callis of Baseball America feels that there’s more than just gamesmanship going on with the Aiken situation (Twitter link). Medical reports are highly subjective, he notes, adding that he can’t see the Astros concocting the concern as part of some plan.
- Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com tweets that the Astros are being demonized for doing something that is allowed within the rules laid out in the last CBA. He feels that Major League Baseball created this problem by leaving a loophole in the rules. McDaniel also notes that this is what more traditional organizations dislike about the Astos; while their moves can be perceived as smart or strategic, they come off as cold and calculating (All Twitter links). Interested parties should also note that McDaniel’s timeline is full of discussion with his followers regarding this very topic.
- Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle looks at last year’s extension for Jose Altuve and provides some detail regarding the negotiations. Luhnow and Altuve’s representatives at Octagon had laid most of the groundwork, but there were some loose ends, so Luhnow had a one-on-one breakfast meeting with Altuve (conducted entirely in Spanish) to address the remaining issues. Drellich spoke to Altuve’s former agent, Scott Boras, who unsurprisingly said that he would’ve advised against taking the four-year, $12.5MM guarantee (which can be worth as much as $25MM if two club options are exercised).
- The Astros’ No. 1 pick from 2013, Mark Appel, recently had a cortisone shot in his wrist, agent Scott Boras told Drellich at yesterday’s All-Star game festivities. While Boras characterized the wrist issue as minor (Twitter links), it’s hard not to wonder how much the wrist has bothered him in 2014. Appel has struggled tremendously, posting a 9.57 ERA in 36 2/3 innings.
- The Mariners are casting a wide net in their search for a bat and have even contacted the Royals about underperforming DH Billy Butler, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Those talks are not new, however, according to a tweet from Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Over the weekend we learned that the M’s have had serious talks on Marlon Byrd, who would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.
- Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, meanwhile hears that the Mariners have shown interest in Ben Zobrist of the Rays (Twitter link). Zobrist could fill a variety of roles for the Mariners (among many other teams), as Seattle could stand to improve its production at shortstop or in the outfield.
- Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN feels that it would be a mistake for the Mariners to pursue David Price, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggested they should do last week. Drayer feels that parting with a package including Nick Franklin, D.J. Peterson and Taijuan Walker too closely resembles the Erik Bedard trade that cost Seattle Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. While trading prospects isn’t necessarily something to shy away from, such a trade would too greatly diminish the team’s hope for sustained success, she opines.
It almost doesn’t seem fathomable, but the Rangers received even more bad news on the injury front today, as MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan writes that Alexi Ogando will be shut down for three weeks and could miss up to two months with inflammation and some minor ligament damage in his right elbow. An MRI showed “wear and tear” on the ligament, but not enough to require surgery, he adds. Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest tweets that the Rangers are officially terming the injury “acute inflammation.”
Here’s more from the American League West…
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports takes an excellent in-depth look at Athletics slugger Brandon Moss, who admits that he almost quit the game on multiple occasions before latching on with the A’s. Moss tells Rosenthal that he initially chose to sign with Oakland because he knew he’d be hitting in the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A after his minor league deal, and he thought that league’s notoriously hitter-friendly environments would boost his power numbers and draw some interest from Japanese teams. Moss adds that he was preparing to become a firefighter in his native Georgia, should his last attempt with the A’s not pan out.
- The Mariners could be a potential landing spot for Billy Butler if the Royals end up moving him, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. The team has long coveted Butler but would need to be convinced that his season-long slump is just that — a slump — rather than the beginning of a decline. Some scouts have told Dutton they don’t see diminished bat speed for Butler, which is a good sign. He adds that Kansas City has shown interest in Nick Franklin, though clearly a Butler-for-Franklin 1-for-1 swap isn’t realistic.
- Dutton adds that Mariners officials dismissed previous reports that have connected the team to Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell. It’s been reported previously that Seattle is one of two finalists for Carbonell’s services. Dutton does note that the Seattle front office’s denial could merely be gamesmanship.
It's strange that a top-flight pitching talent would be traded five times, but that's exactly what happened to Curt Schilling, CBS Sports' Dayn Perry points out. Schilling had been traded three times before his career really got going as a 25-year-old with the Phillies in 1992. As one might imagine, the teams that traded Schilling didn't make out very well — he was dealt with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker, then with Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch for Glenn Davis, then straight-up for Jason Grimsley. By that time the Phillies traded him, he was very valuable, but the Phillies only got Vicente Padilla and change for him, and when the Diamondbacks dealt him, the only players they got who turned out to have value were Jorge De La Rosa and Brandon Lyon. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- The Royals are interested in free agent DH/1B Kendrys Morales, Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio tweets. The Royals already have a similar player in Billy Butler, but Duquette also notes that signing Morales would give the Royals the chance to trade Butler for pitching. The Royals would have to sacrifice their first-round pick, No. 18 overall, if they were to sign Morales, who declined a qualifying offer.
- Scott Podsednik is interested in continuing his career, Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com writes. The outfielder, who will be 38 in March, hit .302/.322/.352 with eight stolen bases in 216 plate appearances with the Red Sox in 2012. He did not play in 2013.
Some say that the big-money closer is becoming extinct, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues that reports of the species' demise might be premature since the supply is overwhelming demand this offseason, depressing some free agent prices. While Grant Balfour's two-year, $15MM was surprisingly low to some, Joe Nathan netted a two-year, $20MM deal at age 39. Here's more from Rosenthal's latest column..
- A trade remains possible for the Red Sox, who are checking in with teams that need starters, sources say. Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster appear the most expendable, but the Sox could get a bigger return if they moved John Lackey or Felix Doubront.
- The Royals seem unlikely to trade designated hitter Billy Butler or any of their relievers after signing free-agent second baseman Omar Infante. Royals GM Dayton Moore wants to pounce after adding Infante, left-hander Jason Vargas and outfielder Norichika Aoki and would love a shot at re-signing free agent Ervin Santana if his market somehow collapses.
- The Rangers do not appear seriously involved in trade discussions for Rays ace David Price at the moment. If they strike out on Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, and Price, they simply would preserve their prospects and financial resources for later moves.
- The Angels seem to be holding off on a DH like as Raul Ibanez until they know how much they will spend on a pitcher. That pitcher could be right-hander Matt Garza as they have heavy interest in him, sources say. That pitcher could also be Tanaka.
- The Rockies got more trade inquiries on Jordan Lyles than any player at the winter meetings and Brandon Barnes was a popular target, too, according to a source.
The Tigers have discussed trading Austin Jackson to the Yankees in exchange for Brett Gardner, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports. Both players have been above-average fielders in center over their careers and have comparable career batting lines, though Gardner is a better base-stealer and Jackson has more doubles pop. Jackson turns 27 in February, is projected to earn $5.3MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility and he'll hit free agency after the 2015 season; the 30-year-old Gardner is projected to earn $4MM and he'll be a free agent next winter. I'm not sure this deal makes sense for the Tigers unless they don't think they can sign Jackson (a Scott Boras client) to an extension, or if they aren't interested in extending Jackson. From the Yankees' side, they like Gardner enough that they probably wouldn't move him for a very similar player, albeit a younger one.
Here are some more items from all five AL Central franchises…
- The Twins have increased the value of their two-year offer to Mike Pelfrey from $10MM to $12MM, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The Rangers and Giants have also shown interest in Pelfrey, Neal reports.
- Also from Neal, the stumbling block between Matt Garza and the Twins seems to be Garza's demands for a four- or five-year contract, as Minnesota isn't willing to make that long a commitment due to injury concerns. That said, Neal isn't counting the Twins out of the Garza race yet as he hears the team is still in the hunt (Twitter links). You can read more about the Twins' hunt for pitching here.
- The Royals could continue to shop Billy Butler since "Before too long, the DH spot has to be a rotating position for us. It really does," a club official tells Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star. For one, the Royals may use Salvador Perez at DH to keep his bat in the lineup when he isn't catching, plus added DH days would help keep Perez healthy. Even if Butler isn't dealt this offseason, Dutton doesn't believe the Royals will sign him to an extension once his current deal is up. It was reported earlier today that Butler's name had come up in trade talks with the Blue Jays.
- The Royals, Indians and Rangers are among the teams interested in Shaun Marcum, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets. Marcum underwent surgery to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome in July and his agent updated MLBTR's Tim Dierkes on the recovery process last month.
- The White Sox are looking to cut their payroll from just under $119MM in 2013 to between $89MM-$99MM range for 2014, ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla writes, with the $99MM figure being the likelier of the two. Despite the cuts on the Major League side, GM Rick Hahn said the club will reinvest the saved money into extra spending on the draft and international signings.
- In other AL Central news from earlier today, the Tigers reached an agreement with Joba Chamberlain and the Indians were battling with the Padres over Joaquin Benoit.
The Royals and Blue Jays have talked about a trade that would send Billy Butler and prospects to Toronto, The Globe & Mail's Jeff Blair reports (Twitter links). No deal is imminent, however, as Blair says the talks haven't "moved beyond [the] discussion stage."
Butler was rumored to be on the shopping block earlier this winter, especially during the Royals' pursuit of Carlos Beltran. Even with Beltran now a Yankee, ESPN's Jayson Stark reported on Tuesday that the Royals could still be looking to move Butler, and would perhaps then attempt to sign Nelson Cruz. The rationale behind a Butler trade would be to free up payroll space and also free up the Royals' DH spot so a defensively-challenged player like Cruz wouldn't be locked into playing the field every day.
Butler will earn $8MM in 2014 and the Royals hold a $12.5MM option (with a $1MM buyout) on his services for 2015. The 27-year-old slugger hit .289/.374/.412 with 15 homers in 668 PA in 2013, solid numbers that nevertheless represented a step back from the .854 OPS and 21 homers that Butler averaged from 2009-12.
It seems that Toronto wouldn't be able to make a move for Butler until they could unload Adam Lind, the team's incumbent designated hitter. Lind outhit Butler (23 homers, .854 OPS) in 147 fewer PA in 2013, but Lind is three years older, posted subpar numbers from 2010-12 and struggles to hit left-handed pitching, whereas Butler has produced against both lefties and righties. The Pirates showed interest in Lind earlier this offseason but trade talks with the Jays didn't develop.
By participating in the three-team Mark Trumbo trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels, the White Sox hindered their cross-town rivals' hopes of dealing Jeff Samardzija, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. The Diamondbacks have been interested in Samardzija since the summer, and one of the players they dealt in the Trumbo deal, pitcher Tyler Skaggs, would have been a key component of any package strong enough for the Cubs to send Samardzija to the desert. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Wittenmyer also reports that the Cubs haven't yet made an offer to Scott Baker, who worked through an elbow injury and made three late-season starts for the Cubs in 2013. They have, however, talked with his agency. Baker is represented by Octagon.
- The Blue Jays are still prefer not to sign players for more than five years, although, as Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently noted (via Twitter), there may be signs that could be softening somewhat. Still, their reluctance removes them from the market for top-tier free agents, who usually sign for longer, MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm points out. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos prefers to trading for high-profile players rather than signing them. "There are some players out there in trade that signed long-term contracts, and then a year or two later, they're already getting moved," he says. "That's pretty telling. I still think five years is a long period of time."
- Chisholm also reports that Anthopoulos says that prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman "come up in every trade talk we probably have," due to their relatively close proximity to the Majors. "If you're trying to get a controllable starter, everyone would prefer to get the talent level that's closest," Anthopoulos says.
- Even though the the Royals didn't sign Carlos Beltran, they haven't ruled out the possibility of trading DH Billy Butler, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets. If they do, they could end up signing Nelson Cruz.
- The Rangers, Mariners and Orioles still appear to have interest in Cruz, Stark tweets, noting that it could still be awhile before Cruz signs.
- The Orioles have also checked in on free agent starting pitcher Bartolo Colon, tweets FOX Sports' Jon Morosi.
- The Yankees, Mets and Padres have asked about Dustin Ackley of the Mariners, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. Ackley, 25, hit .253/.319/.341 in 427 plate appearances in 2013, with his time split between second base and outfield.
- Ten teams are interested in infielder Justin Turner, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes writes (via Twitter). Turner hit .280/.319/.385 in 214 plate appearances and played all four infield position for the Mets in 2013.
- Astros outfielder L.J. Hoes is now represented by MVP Sports Group, Dierkes tweets.