Brandon Morrow Rumors

AL East Notes: July 2 Spending, Blue Jays, Jeter

The American League East is about as tightly clustered as possible at this point, with just 1.5 games separating the field. With plenty of interesting situations developing in the division’s five organizations, it should (as usual) be a fascinating race to watch — both on the field and in the transactional rumor mill. Here’s the latest:

  • In a preview — or, in some respects, a roundup — of the July 2 prospect signing period, Ben Badler of Baseball America says that the American League East figures to lead the way in spending. We have already heard about the Yankees‘ plans to blow well past their bonus limits on this year’s international prospect market, but Badler says that the division-rival Rays and Red Sox also appear poised to incur the maximum penalties for going beyond their pool allocations. (In an earlier report, Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel reported upon many of the verbal agreements and rumored matches that form the basis of Badler’s piece.) If that holds true, then each of those three AL East competitors — and, potentially, the Brewers – would not only pay a 100% tax on any over-bonus spending, but would also sacrifice the right to sign any July 2 player to more than a $300K bonus next year.
  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke today about several current topics involving his club, with MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm among those present (links to Twitter). Anthopoulos made clear that there were no active trade discussions taking place at present with rival front offices, which is surely unsurprising at this stage of the season.
  • Anthopoulos also provided new information on two situations that we touched upon last night. First, he said that injured starter Brandon Morrow was expected to avoid surgery and could return around the All-Star break, meaning that he may still contribute in 2014 and could conceivably pitch well enough to entice Toronto to pick up his 2015 club option ($10MM/$1MM buyout). Meanwhile, the GM threw cold water on the idea of permanently transitioning Brett Lawrie to second base to free playing time for Juan Francisco. Of course, that still leaves other possibilities for the Jays to keep Francisco in the fold when Adam Lind returns from injury.
  • With Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan making his way back to the club, manager Joe Girardi will face an increasingly complicated situation, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Of course, Derek Jeter remains entrenched at short for the time being, but the living legend has struggled at the plate and in the field. New York GM Brian Cashman recently confirmed that Girardi has full authority to determine who plays and where they hit in the lineup. And Sherman notes that the manager has made several moves — both with respect to former catcher Jorge Posada and, more recently, involving Jeter himself — that hint he is not afraid to ruffle some feathers if necessary to win. With the division shaping up to go down to the wire, Sherman says that Girardi may need to “play[] bad cop” in dividing playing time going forward.

AL East Notes: Morrow, Francisco, Cruz, Santana, Sabathia

With Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow going to the 60-day DL with a torn tendon sheath, the Star’s Richard Griffin writes that Morrow may well have thrown his last pitch for the club. As Griffin notes, the 29-year-old’s $10MM club option (which comes with a $1MM buyout) seems unlikely to be exercised at this point after yet another significant injury. Here’s more from Toronto and the rest of the AL East:

  • Indications are that the Blue Jays will look to keep power-hitting corner infielder Juan Francisco in the fold after Adam Lind is activated, tweets Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. Discussing the situation, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm writes that Toronto could conceivably drop one of its eight relievers or shift Brett Lawrie into the club’s regular second base role.
  • Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz discussed his difficult last year with MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli, saying that it was hardest on his family. As for the qualifying offer situation, Cruz said he probably would have grabbed it had he known what was in store. “But it’s something that you risk and you trust your instincts,” said Cruz. “In this case, it wasn’t what I expected. But I’m happy with my decision and happy with where I am now. That’s the only thing that matters.” From the O’s perspective, executive VP Dan Duquette said that the deal was made when Cruz’s camp “adjusted what they were looking for in terms of the term” (i.e. length) of the deal. Cruz if off to a hot start, of course, posting a .294/.369/.596 triple-slash with nine home runs in his first 122 plate appearances with Baltimore.
  • A less-consequential decision for the Orioles front office was the low-risk signing of one-time ace Johan Santana, who has been working his way back to full strength on a minor league contract. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter that Santana’s fastball has reached the 88-89 mph range, with his slider in the low-80′s and change in the mid-70′s. While that obviously represents a significant drop from his peak years, Santana posted an average fastball velocity of just 89.6 mph in his 2.98 ERA, 199-inning 2010 season.
  • In a chat today, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick touched upon the situation of Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia. A scout recently told Crasnick that Sabathia’s offerings are “very fringy,” and that he will need impeccable control to be effective going forward. On the other hand, Crasnick opines that Sabathia has actually delivered decent value to New York on his massive contract. For what it’s worth, Sabathia’s unsightly 5.75 ERA through his first 40 2/3 innings in 2014 is much worse than his 4.16 FIP, 2.95 xFIP, and 2.92 SIERA marks. Indeed, while Sabathia has been hurt by the long ball (21.9% HR/FB rate) and a .361 BABIP, he is sporting 9.74 K/9 against just 1.99 BB/9 while generating a 50.8% ground-ball rate.

Quick Hits: Hoyer, Morrow, Hawkins, Angels

A strong young pitching arm has long been the most valuable commodity in baseball, but as ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only column, some executives are beginning to put a greater premium on young hitters.  Position players may rate higher due to defensive value, not to mention that big bats are becoming a rarer commodity as scoring declines around the game.

Here are some news and notes from around the baseball world…

  • The Cubs are widely expected to be sellers at the trade deadline but GM Jed Hoyer told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney) that trade talks are currently “non-existent” and things won’t get serious for at least a few more weeks.  “I certainly talk to a lot of GMs on a daily or weekly basis,” Hoyer said. “But having a GM call about a specific player? I’m not even sure I fielded one of those yet. Really, that trade talk always dies right at the end of spring training.”
  • The Blue Jays have shifted Brandon Morrow to the 60-day disabled list, the team announced to reporters, including MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm (Twitter links).  The right index finger injury that put Morrow on the 15-day DL earlier today was revealed to be a torn tendon sheath, and if the injury isn’t healed by July, Morrow will have to undergo season-ending surgery.  This looks to be the third time in as many years that Morrow has suffered an injury that cost him at least two months of the season.
  • LaTroy Hawkins‘ presence could’ve greatly helped solve the Mets‘ bullpen issues, which is why Andy Martino of the New York Daily News opines that the team isn’t serious about contending.  Hawkins signed a one-year, $2.5MM deal with the Rockies, a modest contact that Martino feels the Mets should’ve and could’ve easily topped in order to shore up their bullpen’s questionable depth.
  • The Angels‘ struggling bullpen could get a boost from the farm system very soon, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes.  GM Jerry Dipoto said that Double-A right-handers R.J. Alvarez and Cam Bedrosian could both be “a phone call away. They’re doing it against high-level professional hitters. I feel like both can help sooner rather than later.”
  • Indians catcher George Kottaras is likely to be designated for assignment once Yan Gomes returns from the paternity list, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.  Kottaras was just called up today by the Tribe to take Gomes’ place, but he is out of options.  The 30-year-old catcher signed a minor league deal with the Tribe in late March.
  • In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Mike Petriello identifies three early weaknesses plaguing the Cardinals, Dodgers and Tigers in 2014.
  • Ten well-known names ranging from Major League veterans to retired NBA star Tracy McGrady are active in the independent leagues, Zachary Levine writes for FOXSports.com in a brief review of these ten players’ career situations.
  • Giving minor league starting prospects Major League experience as relievers and eventually working them into the rotation is a strategy popularized by Earl Weaver’s Orioles in the 1970′s, and this idea has been one of the cornerstones of the Cardinals‘ success over the last decade, Peter Gammons writes in his latest column for GammonsDaily.com.


AL East Links: Red Sox, Jays, Rays, Rivera, Martin

Who would have guessed that two AL teams would hand out $200MM+ contracts this winter, and neither of them would reside in the AL East? Here's the latest from the only division with three 90-win teams in 2011…

  • The Red Sox have checked in with Edwin Jackson and maintain interest in Roy Oswalt, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). They're also looking at some infielders.
  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm that he doesn't anticipate a move to upgrade the starting rotation before Spring Training (Twitter links). "I wouldn't expect us to do anything else. Maybe adding a reliever is probably the only thing I think we have a chance at doing," said the GM a few hours before signing Francisco Cordero.
  • In an interview with Jim Duquette and Jeff Joyce of MLB Network Radio, Anthopoulos said that Brandon Morrow's work ethic was one reason why the Blue Jays signed him to an extension. "I haven't been doing this very long … but the mistakes we have made, we haven't necessarily put as much stock into someone's character and the work ethic," he said.
  • Anthopoulos also acknowledged that the Blue Jays would be able to support a high payroll down the road, but they're "not there yet right now."
  • Rays president Matt Silverman told Marc Topkin of The Tampa Times that they haven't found a deal to trade one of their excess starters yet, but that doesn't mean they aren't still looking (Twitter link).
  • Yankees closer Mariano Rivera hinted at retirement during Jorge Posada's retirement press conference today, reports MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "[It's] the same thing; just knowing that it's time to go," Rivera said. "You just have to accept that. I mean, I love the game and I have the passion for the game, but when the time comes and you have to go, you have to go."
  • WEEI.com's Alex Speier wrote about the Red Sox in the wake of the Prince Fielder signing, saying they preferred trading for Adrian Gonzalez last offseason to waiting for this year's crop of free agent first baseman.
  • Prior to avoiding arbitration with a one-year deal, the Yankees and Russell Martin discussed a two-year contract according to WFAN's Sweeny Murti (on Twitter).

Blue Jays Extend Brandon Morrow

11:20am: Morrow will earn $4MM in 2012 and $8MM in 2013 and 2014, Mike Wilner of Sportsnet Radio FAN 590 in Toronto tweets. There's a $10MM option with a $1MM buyout in 2015 for a total guarantee of $21MM.

7:30am: The Blue Jays have signed right-hander Brandon Morrow to a three-year, $20MM extension, the team announced. The deal includes a 2015 option for $10MM. The Blue Jays and the Wasserman Media Group client were known to be nearing an agreement last night.

Brandon Morrow - Blue Jays

Morrow, who is arbitration eligible for the second time, had filed for a 2012 salary of $4.2MM, while the Blue Jays had countered at $3.9MM. The contract buys out both of his remaining seasons of arbitration eligibility and at least one free agent season.

The Blue Jays moved Morrow (pictured) to the rotation full time in 2010, soon after acquiring him from the Mariners for for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez. In two seasons as a starter, the 27-year-old owns a 4.62 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 over the course of 325 2/3 innings.

Despite Morrow's ability to overwhelm opposing hitters — he led the American League in K/9 last year — he has posted below-average ERAs since joining the rotation. SIERA (3.31) and xFIP (3.53) suggest his ERA of 4.72 could have been considerably lower in 2011. There's reason for the Blue Jays to expect some improvement in terms of ERA, even if Morrow continues under-performing his peripheral stats. Though he's a fly ball pitcher (36.0% ground ball rate in 2011), he hasn't been particularly homer-prone (21 home runs in 2011).

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk examined Morrow as an extension candidate last August and his prediction (a three-year, $19MM deal with an $11MM option) came extremely close to the actual numbers. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet first reported that the sides were nearing a three-year, $20MM extension.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


Blue Jays Close To Extension With Brandon Morrow

The Blue Jays are close to a three-year, $20MM contract extension with Brandon Morrow, reports Shi Davidi of Rogers Sportsnet (Twitter link).  The deal also contains a $10MM option for 2015 (with a $1MM buyout) and the contract could be announced as soon as tomorrow.

The extension would cover Morrow's remaining two arbitration years and at least his first year of free agency.  Morrow has a 4.62 ERA, a 10.5 K/9 rate and a 2.82 K/BB ratio in two seasons and 56 starts with Toronto, pitching a career-high 179 1/3 innings in 2011.  I examined Morrow as an extension candidate last August and my prediction (a three-year, $19MM deal with an $11MM option) came quite close to the actual numbers.


Arbitration Filing Numbers

Many players avoided arbitration today, but dozens of others exchanged figures with their teams in anticipation of hearings. Most cases won't go to arbitration hearings, but teams such as the Rays, Nationals, Marlins, White Sox, Blue Jays and Braves have stuck to 'file and trial' policies in the past. 

MLBTR's arbitration tracker will keep you up to date on every one of the filing numbers from around the game, but here are the highlights — players who filed for $4MM or more. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com had most of the info with MLBTR and others also contributing:


Extension Candidate: Brandon Morrow

Brandon Morrow hasn't quite taken the big step towards ace-hood that the Blue Jays were hoping he would take this season, but the right-hander has still has a very solid 2011 campaign.  Morrow has a league-leading 10.5 K/9 ratio, a 3.16 K/BB rate and a somewhat misleading 4.51 ERA (his xFIP is just 3.24) in 20 starts for the Jays.

With Jose Bautista, Ricky Romero, Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar all locked up in multiyear deals, it stands to reason that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos may turn to Morrow as the next key part of the Jays' future to receive a contract extension.  Morrow, who turned 27 last month, earned $2.3MM this year and has two more arbitration years before being eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.

Morrow's unusual career path could be a factor in helping the Jays get a relative bargain in an extension.  He was primarily used as a reliever in Seattle for the first three years of his career, which depresses his career numbers in the eyes of an arbiter.  Also hurting Morrow is the fact that as of today, his career record (26-25) is barely over the .500 mark and his career high in innings pitched is the 146 1/3 frames he posted last year. 

Combine this with his injury history (a few minor arm-related stints on the DL) and the Blue Jays hold all the cards in extension negotiations.  In fact, all of these factors might even convince the Jays to wait another year to see what they really have in the right-hander.  The club could be content to sign Morrow to a one-year deal for 2012 worth between $4-4.5MM and then look into an extension if he blossoms in 2013.

If an extension did happen this winter, however, a fair number would be a three-year deal worth $19MM, broken down as $4MM in 2012, $6MM in 2013 and $9MM to cover Morrow's first free agent year in 2014.  Knowing Anthopoulos' history, such an extension would certainly include at least one option year, perhaps an $11MM team option for 2015.  Provided that option year was picked up, Morrow would be a free agent at age 31 — still young enough to score a big contract on the open market.

It was one year ago today that Morrow delivered his 17-strikeout, near no-hitter against the Rays.  Given the hype and promise that surrounded Morrow after that masterpiece, a three-year/$19MM extension seems a bit low for a pitcher with his potential.  Morrow himself might prefer to take the risk and only look for a long-term deal once he's established himself as a reliable, upper-tier pitcher.  Then again, given Anthopoulos' already-impressive history of making team-friendly deals, it wouldn't be a surprise if Toronto struck while it had the advantage and ended up with a future ace at a discount price.


Starting Pitchers Linked Entering 2011

Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Garza, Chad Billingsley and John Danks all went to arbitration for the first time before last season and all settled for contracts in the $3-4MM range. The four pitchers went to arbitration again this offseason and settled for contracts within the $5.75-$6.3MM range. A year from now, they will become points of reference for the class of pitchers just behind them (those currently entering their first seasons as arbitration eligible players). Here's a list of pitchers who could be compared to the quartet above after the 2011 season:

  • Mike Pelfrey$3.925MM in 2011 - Pelfrey already has a tremendous amount of big league experience and a fourth consecutive season of 30-plus starts could push his 2012 asking price past the $6.28MM Billingsley will earn in 2011, especially considering Pelfrey's high 2011 salary. Pelfrey doesn't have particularly impressive strikeout numbers or ERAs, however, which will help the Mets keep the right-hander's salary in check.
  • Dallas Braden$3.35MM in 2011 - Garza was working from the same base salary in 2010 and he earned a $2.6MM raise after logging 204 2/3 innings of 3.91 ERA ball in the AL East with a 2.4 K/BB ratio. If Braden wants to match Garza's raise, he'll have to earn it with another big year.
  • Jair Jurrjens, $3.25MM in 2011 - Jurrjens is well-positioned to ask for a salary in the $6MM range next year if he returns to his 2008-09 level of productivity.

Guthrie, Garza, Billingsley and Danks all had relatively healthy, productive seasons in 2010, which kept their 2011 salaries within a $600K range. A poor performance would have disrupted the pattern and the same applies to this year's class. They have to pitch well and stay healthy to earn raises to the $6MM range. Meanwhile, others will have the chance to prove they belong in the same discussion as Pelfrey, Jurrjens and Braden if they have big years.

  • Phil Hughes$2.7MM in 2011 - Hughes, who has just one full season as a Major League starter, is starting from a lower base salary than the others, so he'd likely need a standout season to approach $6MM in 2012.
  • Brandon Morrow$2.3MM in 2011 - Morrow doesn't have the bulk numbers his peers do, so he's at a disadvantage. But he has flashed dominant stuff and if he continues pitching the way he did from June on last year, he could justify asking for a larger-than-usual raise.

Other starters, including Edinson Volquez and Kevin Slowey, are also entering their first seasons as arbitration eligible pitchers, but raises to the $6MM range seem extremely improbable given their current salaries and career numbers. The same goes for super two players Armando Galarraga, Kyle Kendrick, Ross Ohlendorf and Luke Hochevar.


Players To Avoid Arbitration: Tuesday

Today is the deadline for players and teams to submit arbitration figures. The sides will then settle on a salary between the team's proposed number and the player's proposed number or go to an arbitration hearing. Arbitration eligible players are under team control, so the clubs don't risk losing them – it's a question of how much the players will earn.

Yesterday, 11 players avoided arbitration. We could see just as many agreements trickle in today and we'll keep you posted on them right here and with our Arb Tracker. The latest updates will be at the top of the post:

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