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Bryce Harper Rumors
The Nationals are clearly in the process of running much of their roster through waivers, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that shortstop Ian Desmond and left-hander Gio Gonzalez have both cleared revocable trade waivers. Ace Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper were both claimed on waivers and subsequently pulled back, Nightengale adds (Twitter links).
That both Desmond and Gonzalez would clear waivers is a bit surprising, although even in the event that they had been claimed, it’s highly unlikely that the contending Nationals would’ve dealt away either key contributor. Desmond, 28, is in the midst of a down season at the plate but has still been valuable. He’s hitting .244/.296/.422 with 19 homers and 13 stolen bases. Defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved are down on his typically strong glovework in 2014, however. Still, as a shortstop with pop that is owed just $1.74MM through season’s end in addition to $11MM in 2015, it wouldn’t have been a surprise for a club to place a claim.
Gonzalez, also 28, has struggled in 2014 as well (by his standards). The lefty has pitched to a 4.00 ERA with 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 44.7 percent ground-ball rate. Though his ERA is higher than normal, ERA estimators such as FIP, xFIP and SIERA all feel that he’s having one of his better years. Gonzalez is controlled through 2016 ($11MM in 2015, $12MM in 2016) with a $12MM club option for 2017 and a $12MM vesting option for 2018. As noted before, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Desmond or Gonzalez being moved this month.
It’s hardly a surprise to see Harper and Strasburg claimed, but it’s even less surprising that the Nats promptly pulled them back. Harper is controlled through the 2018 season, and while he’s having a down season, he possesses a sky-high ceiling and was excellent in 2012-13 despite playing at the ages of 19 and 20. Strasburg is under control through 2016, and while his ERA is higher than normal, he’s sporting a 10.7 K/9 rate and an even 3.00 FIP. Both are Scott Boras clients, so while an extension is unlikely for either, they’re integral part of the Nationals’ plan in the coming seasons.
Both Desmond and Gonzalez will now be added to MLBTR’s growing list of players that have reportedly cleared revocable waivers.
The Marlins announced today that Kevin Gregg‘s season is over, as the 36-year-old right-hander will undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. The Fish inked Gregg to a minor league deal back in early June and guaranteed him a base salary that was roughly equivalent to the value of the Competitive Balance pick they traded to the Pirates for fellow righty Bryan Morris. While the Morris acquisition has paid off in spades — he’s allowed one earned run in 31 1/3 innings — the decision to essentially reallocate that money to Gregg didn’t work out anywhere near as nicely. Gregg allowed 10 runs in nine innings with Miami before hitting the DL last month.
Here’s more on the Marlins and the rest of the NL East…
- The Marlins‘ decision to designate former top prospect Jacob Turner for assignment raised some eyebrows, and MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tries to shed some light on the rationale behind the move. Having tried Turner in both the rotation and the bullpen, Frisaro writes, the Marlins lost patience with his struggles. Wanting to change up their roster with the faint hope of a playoff push still in their minds, the club designated the out-of-options righty to clear roster space for Brian Flynn. However, Frisaro writes that it will likely end up being Brad Penny that takes Turner’s roster spot. While Penny has excelled in five Triple-A starts with the Marlins, it’s tough to buy the idea that a veteran who hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2012 and posted a 5.41 ERA from 2011-12 is a more viable alternative based on 27 2/3 Triple-A innings. Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus give the Marlins a 4.6 percent shot at making the playoffs (via division title or wild card), and the notion that Penny increases those odds enough to justify parting with four years of team control over Turner is a tough sell in my mind.
- Disagreeing with an earlier piece from colleague Rob Neyer, Dave Cameron writes that the Phillies should have traded Cole Hamels prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. While much has been made of the fact that the Phillies don’t need to shed salary, Cameron notes that the salary saved on Hamels could have been reallocated to the free agent market (one that will be filled with high-end pitchers) to acquire immediate help. Those free agents could’ve paired with potential MLB-ready help to improve the club’s immediate future. Cameron also cautions against the notion that Hamels can help the next contending team in Philadelphia, as the club looks to be far away from contention, and there’s little guarantee when it comes to pitchers — even elite ones — sustaining their success into their 30s.
- Nationals manager Matt Williams sounded off to reporters, including MLB.com’s Daniel Popper, expressing his anger over the fact that some had inferred from Williams’ comments on a radio station that Bryce Harper could be sent to the minor leagues. In a Wednesday morning radio appearance, Williams was asked if it was a stupid idea to suggest that Harper could be demoted for a week to fix his swing. Williams responded by saying it wasn’t stupid — as such tactics are often employed with struggling young talent — but quickly followed by saying that Harper’s situation was different because he is a “special young player.” In talking with reporters Wednesday evening, Williams vented a bit, stating: “It [ticks] me off to even think about the fact that somebody would take a comment that I make on the radio and infer that I am thinking one way or another. I’ve had it. … [Harper]‘s a very important part of our team, just like everybody else is. Do we understand each other? It’s not fair to the kid. It’s not fair to the rest of the clubhouse to even think about sending Bryce Harper to the Minor Leagues or to cause a stir. It’s unacceptable. It won’t happen.”
The Nationals have been plagued by injuries in 2014, and ESPN’s Keith Law reports that their luck isn’t getting any better. Multiple sources tell Law that Bryce Harper will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb and be sidelined until “at least early July.” Harper injured the thumb while sliding into third base against the Padres on Friday night.
Harper’s injury is just the latest on a long list of DL-related woes for the 2014 Nationals. Offseason acquisition Doug Fister opened the season on the disabled list, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is on the shelf through late May with a broken thumb of his own, and Wilson Ramos is also on the disabled list after undergoing surgery to repair the hamate bone in his left wrist. Washington has also already seen Denard Span miss a chunk of games as well, as he spent just over a week on the seven-day DL with a concussion.
Harper’s injury is the same injury that sidelined Josh Hamilton earlier in the month and the same injury that led to offseason surgery for Dustin Pedroia, and as Law points out, all three players suffered the injury while sliding into a base. Harper’s injury likely means that offseason acquisition Nate McLouth, who signed a two-year, $10.75MM contract with the Nats, will see a significant increase in playing time.
We just saw one bit of news from the Nats, as the club released Yunesky Maya. Though the move was hardly surprising and will not have any substantial impact going forward, it is a final conclusion to the saga of a player who President and GM Mike Rizzo had heralded as the Nats' "first major international signing." Fortunately, Rizzo has also acquired and developed other talent that more than makes up for the failed Maya experiment. Some of those players were covered in Rizzo's interesting discussion with MLB.com's Bill Ladson:
- Addressing lefty Ross Detwiler, Rizzo said that he "could bolster our bullpen and give us some depth as a starter." Rizzo proceeded to emphasize again that the club is enthusiastic about young starters Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, and Nate Karns, each of whom, he said, "should be able to help us next season."
- It is somewhat of a surprise for Rizzo to have referred to Detwiler as rotation depth, as he had generally been expected to slot in the rotation, where he has been effective. There are, however, valid reasons to prefer Detwiler in the pen, including his slight build, injury history, and primarily two-pitch repertoire. Certainly, it is hard to imagine the Nats handing both the fourth and fifth starter roles to unproven arms. If Rizzo does indeed intend to use Detwiler in relief, there are two important takeaways: first, the club would have a much less pressing need for a premium southpaw setup man; and second, it would have a roughly proportional increase in its need for a new starter.
- Rizzo also talked about possible extensions for two of the team's best players: shortstop Ian Desmond and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, each of whom has long been discussed as an extension candidate. "We certainly have an interest in getting it done," Rizzo said in reference to extensions for both players. "But I don't know if we'll get it done before Spring Training. We've made overtures and we haven't had a deal done yet."
- As I noted in my offseason outlook for the Nats, starting pitching and new deals for Desmond and Zimmermann are probably the best ways for Rizzo to add value to the club over the coming off-season. But those things won't come cheap. Starters are coming off the board with substantial numbers. And MLBTR's TIm Dierkes reasons that Desmond could cost nine figures to extend, with Zimmermann warranting $85MM.
- On the revelation that the club has contract issues to work out with star youngster Bryce Harper, Rizzo told Ladson that the club "ha[s] Bryce under contract for the foreseeable future" and "want him around for a long time." The organization was, of course, aware that Harper's arbitration opt out eligibility could become an issue. Said Rizzo: "It was a contract of a drafted player that we negotiated and agreed upon. That's as far as I can go with it."
- Pressed by Ladson as to whether Anthony Rendon would man second for the Nats in 2014, Rizzo would not commit but did say that "he will be a National." "I don't know where he is going to play or what he is going to do," continued Rizzo, while also praising Rendon's "high ceiling" and noting that he "can play many positions." It is hardly surprising that Rizzo would hesitate to hand the starting gig to Rendon before the spring, and the GM's comments were, as usual, rather oblique. That makes it difficult to ascribe any particular relevance to these statements with respect to the club's free agent shopping plans or Rendon's possible availability in a major trade.
The five-year major league deal signed by Bryce Harper with the Nationals did not resolve a potentially important issue, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. When time came to iron out the details of Harper's signing-deadline deal, a stalemate emerged over whether or not Harper would be able to opt out if he became eligible for arbitration during the life of the deal. Unable to resolve the issue, the club agreed with agent Scott Boras to a side letter agreement providing that, if it arose, the matter would be resolved by a grievance hearing.
With 1.159 years of service, Harper is not eligible for arbitration this year. However, he is a virtual lock to have sufficient service time to be a Super Two player next year. Because his draft deal runs through 2015, the issue that the parties failed to resolve at the time is very much in play now.
One year of salary may not seem to present a major issue at first glance: Harper stands to earn as much as $2MM in 2015 anyway due to roster bonuses, and his free agency timetable is unaffected. But even an average Harper campaign in 2014 should easily support an advance over Eric Hosmer's Super Two projection of $4.1MM, while a big season could blow that number out of the water. More importantly, perhaps, a Super Two payday could play an important role in setting the baseline for his earnings between 2016-18, during which time Harper will be arb-eligible, significantly raising the stakes.
As Kilgore well explains, the sides remain in each others' good graces and there are several possible outcomes at this point. There are two extremes. First, the club could simply acquiesce in actually or effectively treating Harper as a Super Two. Second, it could refuse to pay a dime over the 2015 rate provided in the contract, likely leading to a grievance hearing (as contemplated in the deal). Neither seems the most likely outcome, in Kilgore's estimation, and there are plenty of routes that negotiations could take to avoid the issue on a temporary or permanent basis.
Indeed, as Kilgore mentions, the need to negotiate on Harper's contract could provide additional impetus to broader extension talks. Though it remains unclear whether Harper would have any interest in putting free agent years in play, Boras has (perhaps semi-seriously) floated the idea of a dozen-year extension.
Certainly, if any talks were to occur, Boras would seek something exceptional for a player with Harper's ceiling and early-career production at such a young age. Though he accumulated less WAR in his age-20 season than he had in his rookie campaign, that was driven largely by reduced playing time due to injury and his shift to a corner outfield spot. Harper actually substantially improved at the plate: his .274/.368/.486 slash boosted his 121 wRC+ in 2012 up to a 137 mark that placed in the top-25 in all of baseball (minimum 400 at-bats).
In terms of league-wide impact, this appears to be a one-off issue. First, big league deals are no longer permitted for players signed out of the amateur draft. And so far as has been reported, this is the only example in which the issue was left for future resolution. (Also worth mentioning, as Kilgore notes, is that arbitration opt-out clauses were standard in those major league contracts previously inked by drafted players, at least when the length of the deal made arbitration a realistic possibility.)
The Athletics should consider claiming outfielder Jason Kubel, InsideBayArea.com's John Hickey argues. The Diamondbacks designated Kubel for assignment Tuesday afternoon. After losing Josh Reddick to a wrist injury, the A's are short an outfielder. Their current plan is to slide Brandon Moss to the outfield and have Daric Barton play first base, but Hickey thinks it might be better to keep Moss at first and play Kubel in an outfield spot instead. He notes that exchanging Barton for Kubel would be a defensive downgrade, however, and it's questionable how much more offense Kubel might provide. He hit .220/.288/.324 for the Diamondbacks this year, and would have to make a significant rebound in the direction of his 2012 form to be an upgrade. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- Josh Willingham of the Twins says August waivers are "no big deal," Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (via Twitter). The Twins placed Willingham on recovable trade waivers earlier today, raising the possibility (even if it isn't an incredibly likely one) that Willingham could be dealt. Willingham tells Miller he's in no hurry to leave Minnesota. The outfielder is hitting .214/.348/.393 this season.
- It's still not impossible that the Twins could trade Justin Morneau. But Morneau is a free agent after the season, so even if the Twins dealt him, they could bring him back for 2014. That decision could be based on how often they want Joe Mauer to play first base, 1500ESPN's Phil Mackey argues (on Twitter). Mackey argues that, in any case, the Twins shouldn't consider more than a one-year deal for Morneau, who appears to be past his prime and doesn't stack up particularly well against other first basemen.
- Scott Boras, who represents the Nationals' Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, half-jokingly says he prefers "12-year deals" for his players, MASNsports.com's Dan Kolko reports. "I'm more into 12-year deals for young players," says Boras. "The M.O. is that you want to keep within the franchise, you want him there for a long time and you want to be there for the fans and be a marquee for them. … You're going to have to do something different if you're going to be a team of distinction." Boras was in Washington for the Nationals' game against the Marlins, and he seemed to be talking about Harper, although he did not name him directly.
In the aftermath of a 20-inning loss to the Marlins, the Mets designated Rick Ankiel for assignment and recalled Kirk Nieuwenhuis. However, the team's biggest concern was the health of young ace Matt Harvey, who left the game with stiffness in his lower back. But as Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports, Harvey is apparently fine and will make his next scheduled start on Friday. Here's more news from around MLB's East divisions:
- The Phillies' recent hot streak may have turned the club from sellers to buyers, argues Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brookover notes the discussion just last week was about which top players would be unloaded, whereas now it is about what pieces could be added to the young core.
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo downplayed Bryce Harper's visit to orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion regarding the bursitis in the outfielder's left knee, according to MLB.com's William Ladson. "There's no worry," Rizzo said. "It is our protocol that players get a second opinion on any part of the body that we feel is a disabled list-type of injury. Guys get second opinions all the time here, and every guy that we put on the disabled list has gotten a second opinion." Harper is eligible to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and is expected to rejoin the team then.
- Chris Marrero may be up to stay, although the first baseman is temporarily serving as the Nationals' 26th man for today's doubleheader reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. The former first rounder may help the Nationals' disappointing offense get going, as Marrero has hit for a .306/.355/.502 line in 228 plate appearances.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that the Alex Rodriguez saga hurts Robinson Cano in his negotiations with the Yankees in a way you might not expect. While Rodriguez’s record deal looks like it has soured from a value perspective, Sherman argues that the negative attention the contract has gotten has been even more detrimental. Cano is the top ranked free agent on MLBTR'S 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
Earlier this week, we learned that the Nationals' acquisition of Denard Span indirectly stemmed from maneuverings involving the Upton brothers. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explained that the Nats made a strong attempt to deal for Justin Upton early in the offseason and when they realized that they couldn't land him, they refocused on finding a left-handed hitting center fielder who could bat leadoff. However, they didn't get their man on the open market after B.J. Upton's lucrative five-year, $75MM deal scared them away from free agents. Here's the latest out of Washington..
- General Manager Mike Rizzo says it's too soon to discuss a contract extension for Bryce Harper, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). Rizzo doesn't feel compelled to work on a new deal for Harper just yet since he is a "zero plus" player, meaning that he has less than one full year of service time under his belt.
- While Ryan Zimmerman's throwing struggles have led some pundits to ask if the Nationals need to consider other options at third, Rizzo shot that notion down earlier today, writes Amanda Comak of the Washington Times. “The Nationals do not need a new third baseman,” the GM said. “We’ve got one of the best, if not the best, third basemen in all of baseball. We love the guy. He’s ours. And I’m glad we have him.”
- Rizzo also disclosed that prospect Matt Skole tore the UCL in his left elbow, Comak tweets. Skole, who is ranked No. 4 in the Nats' system by Baseball America, will undergo Tommy John surgery and his recovery should take 3-4 months (link).
The Nationals are keeping their focus on their short-term chances of contending, owner Mark Lerner said during a chat with reporters (including The Washington Times' Amanda Comak) at the team's Spring Training camp. The club's payroll is now over $100MM and while they don't want to go overboard with spending, “this is a special year," Lerner said. "We have obviously incredible talent and there was a couple parts that [general manager Mike Rizzo] wanted and we said, ‘Do what you need to do,’ and that’s basically how it happened." Lerner said the Nats are concerning themselves with the next three seasons and aren't yet concerned about keeping Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in Washington over the long term. The two young stars are team-controlled through the 2016 and 2018 seasons, respectively.
Here are some more items from the Nats' camp…
- Also from Lerner, he said that he and Rizzo would "talk when the time is right" about a contract extension. "I think this is the place where he wants to make his home and we certainly want him to be here, so I’m sure we’ll come to some understanding at some point in time," Lerner said. Rizzo's contract is only guaranteed through this season but the Nationals hold options on the general manager for 2014 and 2015.
- Kurt Suzuki hasn't talked to management about a contract extension but says he'd love to remain with the Nats beyond this season, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports. Washington holds an $8.5MM team option on Suzuki for 2014 that right now seems unlikely to be exercised since Wilson Ramos is waiting in the wings at catcher. It's possible the Nationals could decline the option and still re-sign Suzuki at a lower price.
- Also from Ladson (Twitter link), the Nationals had interest in Chris Young during the 2010-11 offseason but didn't sign him after seeing the MRI results of Young's throwing shoulder. Young had another injury-plagued season with the Mets in 2011 but rebounded to make 20 starts in 2012. The Nats signed Young to a minor league deal today.
Trout becomes the youngest player in league history to become the AL Rookie of the Year and joins Tim Salmon as the only Rookie of the Year winner in Angels history. He batted an incredible .326/.399/.564 with 30 homers and a league-leading 49 stolen bases in his age-20 season. Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Wei-Yin Chen and Jarrod Parker rounded out the ballot (in that order).
The 19-year-old Harper is the second-youngest National League player to ever win the award behind Doc Gooden. He recovered from an extended slump over the summer with a monstrous final month that pushed his season batting line to .270/.340/.477. He also added 22 homers and 18 stolen bases. Wade Miley, Todd Frazier, Wilin Rosario, Norichika Aoki, Yonder Alonso, Matt Carpenter and Jordan Pacheco rounded out the ballot (in that order). Harper finished with 16 of 32 first-place votes. His 112 points gave him a narrow victory over Miley, who finished with 105 points.