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B.J. Upton Rumors
Joel Sherman of the New York Post heard yesterday that the Braves were pushing catcher Evan Gattis hard, but the team’s president of baseball operations, John Hart, called the report “absolutely inaccurate.” The latest on the team…
- One strategy for the Braves is to package Gattis with B.J. Upton, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Upton is owed $46.35MM through 2017 after posting two awful years for Atlanta. Rosenthal says most of the Braves’ roster is in play.
- The Braves want to add a left-handed hitter who could possibly platoon with third baseman Chris Johnson, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I doubt the Braves want Juan Francisco back, but the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena could be a fit.
- Hart doesn’t expect to make a trade at the GM Meetings, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Hart explained, “I think you’re going to have conversations. I think the Winter Meetings are a pretty good dance place, because people will have seen what is going on in the free-agent ranks, evaluated the trade market for players they want and done all of the things clubs do to make a deal.” Bowman notes that beyond Gattis, the Braves might trade Justin Upton or Jason Heyward this winter. Each outfielder is scheduled for free agency after 2015.
The Braves today announced five new front office hires as well as a promotion. According to a press release, the Braves have hired D’Backs assistant GM Billy Ryan as director of baseball operations; Red Sox scout Tom Batista as a national crosschecker (marking his second stint with the organization); Astros international crosschecker Marc Russo as director of international operations; Mets international crosschecker Mike Silvestri as director of Latin American scouting; and Angels scout Lebi Ochoa as a senior adviser to the player development department. Additionally, Dixie Keller has been promoted from scouting coordinator to manager of scouting operations after 14 years with the organization.
More on the Braves…
- CEO Terry McGuirk tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the team’s payroll won’t be going down in 2015 (Twitter link). O’Brien expects that payroll will remain around the same $112MM mark that the team saw in 2014. That’s not an insignificant amount, as the Braves stretched their payroll considerably in Spring Training in order to add Ervin Santana on a one-year $14.1MM contract after they learned that both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy would require second Tommy John surgeries. Atlanta’s Opening Day figure of $112MM was the highest in franchise history. The Braves currently have about $79.6MM committed to eight players (plus Dan Uggla) in 2015, and their arbitration class projects to earn $21.4MM (that number would drop by $1.6MM if Jonny Venters is non-tendered). Factoring in the necessary league-minimum players to round out the roster, Atlanta would be looking at a payroll around $106MM by my calculations, so they don’t have a significant amount of flexibility without subtracting from the current roster or receiving an unexpected payroll boost from ownership.
- O’Brien also points out that Jason Heyward‘s 2015 salary has increased from $7.8MM to $8.3MM, as he received $500K in bonuses for winning a Gold Glove and surpassing 502 plate appearances in 2014 (Twitter links). Additionally, Heyward can earn another $250K for finishing 11th through 20th in the upcoming National League MVP voting. Based on the points-based incentives system outlined on Cot’s Contracts, that number would rise to $375K were he to finish in the 6-10 range.
- The trade market figures to be a greater focus for president of baseball operations John Hart and assistant GM John Coppolella than the free agent market this offseason, writes MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Hart and Coppolella figure to spend some of their time at next week’s GM Meetings getting a feel for what type of return they could attain were they to trade Heyward, Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. Additionally, they’ll likely once again try to determine if there’s a creative way to rid themselves of B.J. Upton‘s contract.
Here are a few stray notes from around the game …
- As I recently explored in my breakdown of the Braves‘ offseason-to-come, Atlanta faces some decisions in the outfield. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes into more detail on the situations of the disappointing B.J. Upton and corner outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, both of whom will become free agents at season’s end. The Braves “seem prepared” to take a bath on the elder Upton’s long-term deal to move him off the roster, according to O’Brien, and if the can manage it would probably utilize Heyward or a stop-gap in center. Dealing one of the other two players while trying to extend the other has long been discussed as a plausible option, and O’Brien indicates that it is a realistic option to slide Evan Gattis into a corner role to fill any resulting void.
- As far as extensions go, O’Brien says the Braves talked with Heyward’s representatives about a deal last winter. The team was interested in something that would have fallen well shy of Freddie Freeman‘s $135MM pact, says O’Brien, and Heyward’s asking price was well out of Atlanta’s comfort zone. His number has, in all likelihood, only gone up in the meantime, as Heyward just turned 25 and continues to rack up production — even though he has not returned to the offensive power ceiling he showed earlier in his career.
- The Royals passed on a chance to sign Sergio Romo for a meager $1K bonus before the Giants eventually took a chance on the reliever, ESPN.com’s Keith Law tweets. While Kansas City certainly cannot be faulted for leaving the then-unheralded Romo behind, it surely would have been nice to have added him from the team’s perspective.
- On the other hand, the Royals were willing to pay righty Tim Hudson, who said that K.C. made him a “very good offer” of two years this past offseason, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter. Like Romo, the veteran ended up with the Giants — in his case, by choice — and will square off against the Royals in the World Series.
Talks of a rumored deal that would have sent B.J. Upton to the Cubs (perhaps along with a pitcher or cash) in exchange for Edwin Jackson have been circulating over the past couple weeks, and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it could be because the Braves would like to rekindle those talks in the offseason.
It won’t be easy to trade Upton and the remaining $47MM on his contract, of course, but the Braves could be willing to sweeten the deal by including three years of Mike Minor or by including a significant amount of cash to help offset Upton’s salary. The Braves are not, however, interested in including both Minor and cash in order to facilitate a trade. Regardless of how the ties are severed, O’Brien feels that it is a fait accompli that the elder Upton is dealt by next Spring Training. (Of course, many people felt the same about Dan Uggla, who lingered on Atlanta’s roster well into the summer.)
Minor has struggled for much of the season after opening the year on the disabled list, pitching to a 4.90 ERA with 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 39.3 percent ground-ball rate. Minor’s main problem has been an increased home run rate which, paired with an uptick in his walks, has led to a HR/9 rate of 1.51 — fifth-worst among pitchers with at least 110 innings thrown in 2014. Nonetheless, three years of a pitcher who posted a 3.72 ERA in 466 2/3 innings from 2011-13 (including a stellar 3.21 mark in 204 2/3 innings last year) would have value to pitching-hungry teams.
Perhaps more interesting is the fact that O’Brien also feels there’s “at least a pretty good chance” that Gattis could be traded in the coming offseason. While Atlanta loves Gattis’ bat, it is less enamored with his defensive prowess and isn’t certain how long his 250-pound frame can hold up at the position. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is top prospect Christian Bethancourt, who is known for his strong arm and receiving skills.
As O’Brien points out, Gattis would make for a nice trade target for an American League club, given the fact that he could split time between DH and catcher (and perhaps the outfield on occasion). The 28-year-old is hitting a hefty .276/.331/.520 with 20 homers in 353 plate appearances this season, quieting some skeptics (myself included) who felt that his hot start in 2013 may not have been sustainable.
Gattis will finish the season with exactly two years of Major League service, meaning that a club could potentially gain four years of team control over a 20-30 homer bat, and that would certainly have value on the trade market, especially given the dearth of starting-caliber catchers on the free agent market. Beyond Russell Martin, teams looking for catching help will be left looking at A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto in the second tier of free agent backstops.
While news of Cuban ballplayer Rusney Castillo continues to dominate the news cycle, the human trafficking side of Cuban imports also made headlines. Eliezer Lazo entered a guilty plea in connection to the smuggling of over 1,000 Cubans, including Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, reports Curt Anderson of the Associated Press. The article covers some of the sordid details involved in this human trafficking case.
- In related news, a lawsuit brought against Martin by a Mexican baseball academy associated with Lazo will likely be dropped as a result of the criminal case. The Estrellas baseball academy alleged that Martin agreed to pay them up to 35% of his major league contract, but Martin only paid $1.2MM of his $15.5MM deal.
- The Braves and Cubs discussed a proposal that would have sent Edwin Jackson to Atlanta in return for B.J. Upton, writes Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. The deal would have served as a straight swap of albatross contracts. The sides apparently weren’t close to finalizing a trade but could re-open talks over the offseason. It appears this was probably the rumored trade first reported on August 9.
- In what is likely to become an ongoing “will they, won’t they” story, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer speculates about moving on from Ryan Howard. The club currently has Darin Ruf taking the occasional start in left field while Howard blocks his playing time at first base. Philadelphia seemingly needs to decide which of three players possess the higher upside – Howard, Ruf, or left fielder Domonic Brown. Given Howard’s age, 34, and rapidly diminishing numbers – he had a .678 OPS before today’s home run – it’s fair to wonder if Howard should be the odd man out. Corner infield prospect Maikel Franco could also figure in the mix before long.
- We at MLBTR seek to find answers for the pressing questions such as “Does Rusney Castillo know Jay-Z?” Castillo, who is represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports and Brodie Van Wagonen of CAA, does indeed know the mogul, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber.
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Braves explored a trade prior to the deadline that would’ve sent B.J. Upton and a starting pitcher elsewhere. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) has another detail on this scuttled trade, saying that the Braves would’ve taken on “a contract [the] other team [was] looking to shed.” It sounds like it would’ve essentially been a swap of one bad contract (the roughly $50MM owed to Upton through 2017) for another, though if Atlanta was willing to move a starter as well, the other contract was likely for a shorter term. It’ll be interesting to see if the identities of the mystery team and mystery player are revealed in the coming weeks or months but until then, let the guessing game begin!
Here’s some more from around the baseball world…
- Russell Martin‘s plan to take a short-term contract and rebuild his value for a richer, longer-term deal seems to have paid off, MLB.com’s Tom Singer and Stephen Pianovich write. Martin has a .743 OPS over his two seasons with the Pirates and is hitting .290/.417/.391 over 308 PA this year, which makes him easily the most attractive catcher available in this winter’s free agent market. Martin says he loves playing in Pittsburgh, though Singer/Pianovich note that the Bucs are unlikely to be able to afford his asking price and prospect Tony Sanchez is waiting in the wings.
- The 2015 Giants could be improved by moving Buster Posey to third base and Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News opines. Lincecum’s value as a starter is diminishing but (as the 2012 postseason indicated) he could be a dominant force as a reliever or closer. If Pablo Sandoval leaves in free agency, Kawakami argues that Posey could slide to third in order to help him stay healthy and perhaps lead to more production at the plate. Posey already plays a lot of first base and Kawakami doesn’t mention another possibility I think the Giants could consider, which is trading Brandon Belt.
- Speaking of next year’s Giants team, CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly points out that at least $125MM is already committed to a roster that still has a big hole to address at second base and five key free agents (Sandoval, Michael Morse, Sergio Romo, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy) to re-sign or replace. With payroll stretched so thin both this season and next, Baggarly says the team simply doesn’t have the resources to explore replacing struggling players like Lincecum or Brandon Crawford.
- The Astros could return to respectability by adding a few veteran players in an attempt to follow the model of the 2003 Tigers, Grantland’s Jonah Keri opines. Those Tigers responded to an infamous 119-loss season by signing veteran free agents over the next few years, who mixed well with a young core and led the team to an AL pennant by 2006.
The Mets haven’t decided whether they’ll be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, Mike Puma of the New York Post writes. “I think the last 10 games were important because they make the next 10 games relevant to what happens at the [July 31] trade deadline,” said GM Sandy Alderson before Friday’s win over the Padres. “[C]ertainly the last 10 games have to make us a little more optimistic.” The Mets are seven games back in the NL East and 6 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot after taking nine of their last 11. Here are more notes from the NL East.
- Alderson seems to be leaning more towards buying, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets. “Sometimes you’ve gotta believe, right? This is a time,” Alderson says.
- The Braves aren’t actively trying to upgrade their starting rotation right now, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets. That means they probably won’t pursue Rays ace David Price.
- The Braves are desperate to rid themselves of outfielder B.J. Upton, a GM tells Peter Gammons (via Twitter). Upton has hit .215/.277/.343 in 388 plate appearances this season, and the Braves still owe him over $50MM through 2017.
- The Braves will continue to pay recently released infielder Dan Uggla through 2019, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes (via Twitter). Uggla has a deferred signing bonus that means he’ll be paid $250K per year between 2016 and 2019. Of course, they also owe him $13MM in 2015.
- Cliff Lee will rejoin the Phillies‘ rotation Monday night against the Giants, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports. “I feel strong and I feel good and I’m ready to try to help the team win,” says Lee. That will only give Lee two starts before the end of July, but if the Phillies are going to move him, Salisbury points out that they could trade him in August as a waiver deal, or after the season. In any case, Salisbury writes that the Phillies want a serious return for Lee.
- The Marlins say they won’t trade “key pieces,” Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald writes. It’s unclear exactly what that might mean, but the Marlins’ key pieces surely include Giancarlo Stanton. Spencer believes the Marlins are very concerned about avoiding last place, which likely also means that any number of other players could be off-limits as well.
Andrew Bailey is a non-tender candidate for the Red Sox after undergoing shoulder surgery, but the reliever tells Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal that he considers himself a member of the team until he hears otherwise. "Until something is on the table, you try not to think about it," Bailey says. "I'd love to be back with Boston." Here's the latest from the AL East:
- Rich Dubroff of Comcast Sports Net sifts through offseason possibilities for the Orioles, writing that with the Winter Meetings ahead, Baltimore has been more involved in discussions this year than in winters past. Closer Jim Johnson, who's projected to earn $10.8MM in arbitration by MLBTR's Matt Swartz, appears to be a logical trade candidate if the Orioles sign a higher-tier free agent, according to Dubroff.
- Orioles Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette says recent acquisition Johnny Monell could compete for the club's backup catcher job or at DH, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that the O's have four catchers on their 40-man roster after adding Monell.
- The Rays are likely to turn their attention to their first base job after addressing needs at catcher and in the bullpen, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times says. Trade targets such as Ike Davis of the Mets and Mark Trumbo of the Angels remain available, while players like Justin Morneau or Mark Reynolds could be targets in free agency.
- Regarding a potential trade of David Price, Topkin writes that the Rays appear to be comfortable listening to what clubs are saying as they go about addressing other offseason issues.
The Mets have generated most of the division's headlines today thanks to Zack Wheeler's official promotion to the Major Leagues, the signing of second-round draft pick Andrew Church and the news that the team plans to hold onto closer Bobby Parnell through the trade deadline. Here's the latest from elsewhere around the NL East…
- "There’s no indication the Tigers are pursuing Jonathan Papelbon," John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press writes. The Tigers, Cardinals and Red Sox were recently cited by the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo as some of the teams the Phillies believed would form a market for Papelbon at the trade deadline given those clubs' lack of a proven closer. Detroit has the most pressing need for a closer and money has rarely been an object for the club in recent years, though the Tigers may instead pursue a less-expensive bullpen option than Papelbon.
- "I don't do five year plans — other organizations do, I guess," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro told reporters (including David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News) today, though Amaro did describe how long-term planning plays a natural role in his decisions. Murphy opines that Amaro may need to take the long view as the team approaches the trade deadline given that past moves such as the Ryan Howard extension have backfired and left the Phillies a flawed, expensive probable non-contender.
- B.J. Upton is finally hitting (a .946 OPS in 53 June plate appearances) after a horrible first two months. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution talks to the outfielder and several of his Braves teammates about those early-season struggles. Hitting coach Greg Walker noted that other recent major free agent hitters like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Adam Dunn also struggled upon joining new teams on big contracts.
Here's tonight's look around baseball..
- Aramis Ramirez may be a popular name in trade rumors this deadline, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. The Brewers may look to move the veteran third baseman, with the club struggling in last place in the NL Central. Ramirez understands the speculation, saying "It’s part of baseball. When teams don’t perform, you see changes." The 34-year-old is signed through 2014, and has played well despite injuries this season, slashing .305/.387/.512 in 93 plate appearances.
- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters that he has discussed sending major offseason acquisition B.J. Upton to Triple-A to work out if his current struggles, according to an Associated Press report. Gonzalez acknowledges that there may be some obstacles involved, "I think there's some logistics — contractual things and that sort of stuff — that they might not be able to do it that easy."
- In his latest mailbag, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe answered questions about possible trade deadline targets for the Red Sox, as well as Jacoby Ellsbury. Cafardo doesn't feel the club needs to make a deal to improve its pitching, but he did state that Jonathan Papelbon continues to be a likely target. Meanwhile, Cafardo thinks that it would still take a major contract to keep Ellsbury in Boston past this season.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com looks back at the Nationals' decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in light of the young starter’s latest injury scare. Morosi feels that last season may have been the Nationals best shot at a World Series, and wonders what could have been done to best utilize Strasburg’s prized arm.