Chad Billingsley Rumors

Phillies Notes: Hamels, Howard, Lee, Billingsley

Prompted in part by trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels and also by the recent release of multiple top prospects lists, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs/FOX Sports examined the reasons behind the perceived over-valuing of prospects. As Cameron notes, roughly 70 percent of all prospects to have appeared in Baseball America’s Top 100 lists over the years have failed to produce meaningful careers (that isn’t a knock on BA — rather, just an illustration of the difficulty in projecting minor leaguers). Despite that high failure rate, teams have been reluctant to part with two premium prospects to acquire Cole Hamels. However, Cameron theorizes that the unwillingness to part with prospects isn’t due to overvaluing prospects, but rather to teams looking past the longstanding narrative of “proven veterans” to realize that veteran players carry significant risk as well. Cameron studied the 100 best players from 2009-11 (weighting recent performance more heavily) and looked at the output of those players from 2012-14. Even some of the game’s best talents from that period — Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Mark Teixeira, B.J. Upton and many more — have quickly seen their skills erode or, in Halladay’s case, been forced out of the game. Twenty-five of the 100 players Cameron looked at have failed to outproduce the same line that Cameron set to determine a busted prospect in his study, while another 34 were merely average Major Leaguers.

While Cameron’s piece is only loosely tied to the Phillies, here are a few more items focused directly on the team…

  • Hamels’ candid words to Bob Nightengale of USA Today earlier this afternoon — the left-hander stated that he wanted to pitch for a winning club and knows that won’t happen in Philadelphia — have hurt the Phillies’ bargaining power in trade talks, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond that, however, they’ve made the job of manager Ryne Sandberg more difficult and sent a poor message to his teammates, with whom he may still share a locker room for at least several more months. Between Hamels’ words and Jonathan Papelbon‘s infamous 2013 quote, “I definitely didn’t come here for this,” Sandberg has multiple veterans on the roster who may prefer to be elsewhere, Brookover notes.
  • Brookover’s colleague, Jake Kaplan, also spoke to Sandberg and was told that Ryan Howard is ticketed to be the team’s first baseman and had a “very positive” talk with the manager one month ago. Sandberg did leave open the possibility that Howard will be unseated, but it seems clear that the Phillies recognize that there’s little hope of trading the 35-year-old and won’t release him with $60MM remaining on his contract. Kaplan notes that Howard’s 10-and-5 rights will kick in on May 2 of this year, though he already has a 20-team no-trade clause in his contract as it is, and that certainly hasn’t been the reason that Philadelphia hasn’t been able to find a match.
  • The Phillies obviously will face many questions this spring, and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki took an early look with Sandberg as the club gears up for camp. Per Sandberg, veteran lefty Cliff Lee — a possible summer trade candidate — has been on schedule except for a delay caused by a mild illness. “He’s got no complaints and he’s pretty much where he usually is,” said Sandberg. Fellow starter Chad Billingsley, himself at least a theoretical mid-season flip, has “looked very good,” per the skipper (though Kaplan noted in the piece above that it’s no guarantee that Billingsley will be ready for Opening Day). And Sandberg says that second baseman Chase Utley, who has been surprisingly absent from any significant trade chatter, may get additional rest over the course of the season.

Cafardo On Hamels, Papelbon, Twins

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe ranked every manager in baseball.  Giants skipper Bruce Bochy took the top spot for his ability to get great production of of good, but not great, talent.  After that, Bochy, Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, and Bob Melvin round out Cafardo’s top five.  The bottom of the list doesn’t necessarily feature baseball’s “worst” managers as the first-timers are automatically the lowest ranked.  More from today’s column..

  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said last week that four teams made real offers for Cole Hamels and Cafardo hears from a major league source that one of those clubs was the Red Sox.  From talking with various sources, Cafardo senses that the package Boston offered was heavy on the major league side, trying to avoid giving up any of their top prospects.  Of course, the Phillies are insistent on prospects, and if they don’t get them now they’ll wait until the deadline when teams are a little more desperate.
  • There may be a mystery team out there kicking the tires on Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.  The Phillies are still optimistic that they make a deal happen somewhere, even though the Brewers talks haven’t unfolded as expected.
  • The Twins and Indians are looking for a right-handed bat and Cafardo wonders if Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig could be a fit.  With Shane Victorino in the fold and Bryce Brentz in the minors, Cafardo wonders when Boston will try and clear up the logjam.
  • Chad Billingsley could also be trade bait for the Phillies if he gets off to a good start.  A couple of scouts tell Cafardo that they see Billingsley as an effective 150-160-inning guy at the back end of a rotation.

Phillies Sign Chad Billingsley

6:18pm: If Billingsley reaches all of the performance bonuses in his contract, he can earn another $6.5MM in salary, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.

5:56pm: The Phillies signed right-hander Chad Billingsley to a one-year, $1.5MM contract, the team announced.  The contract also contains performance bonuses.  Billingsley is represented by the Octagon agency.

The two sides were rumored to have a mutual interest in a deal earlier this week, and the signing gives Philadelphia an intriguing buy-low candidate for the rotation.  Billingsley hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since April 15, 2013 due to both Tommy John surgery and another procedure to repair a torn flexor tendon, and he has only thrown seven total minor league innings over the last two seasons.

As has been the case throughout this offseason, we have attempted to create as much starting pitching depth as possible at both the major and minor league levels,” GM Ruben Amaro said in the Phillies’ press release.  “Given Chad’s track record, we feel he is an excellent candidate to bounce back as a productive starting pitcher.”

Chosen 24th overall in the 2003 draft, Billingsley developed into a durable and successful hurler with the Dodgers, posting a 3.65 ERA, 2.27 K/BB rate and 8.2 K/9 over 1073 1/3 IP from 2007-12.  Billingsley is only 30 years old, so if he’s back to full health, the Phillies may have found a strong rotation piece at a bargain price (even counting his contract bonuses).  Several teams reportedly made offers to Billingsley this winter, and the Diamondbacks were also known to have an interest in the righty’s services.



The Open Market’s Most Intriguing Remaining Names

As it always does, the free agent market contains some fairly noteworthy names entering the final month before Spring Training. A good portion of the value at the top of the leftover market lies in established names who have been reliable, healthy, and good in the recent past: James Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and the like.

Some of those types of players may be a bit long in the tooth, perhaps, or might lack upside or be coming off of a somewhat down 2014 season. But there are teams with expectations of contending that are interested in signing them and plugging them into important roster slots. This segment of the market contains relative certainty.

But as much as the solid veteran group is useful, it is entirely less interesting than the array of wild cards that also remain to be signed. For another market niche, comparative youth, talent, and/or upside marry with various issues, inconsistency, and/or injury. Some such players will surely flame out, never to be heard from again, but it is likewise possible that one or more will re-establish themselves as quality regulars and deliver immense value to their new teams.

If you are a fan of a team that wants someone to dream on without breaking the bank (or even committing a big league roster spot, in some cases), consider one of these players from the scratch-and-dent market:

  • Mike Adams, right-handed pitcher, 36 – Remember when the 6’5 reliever was a really effective set-up man? Wait, he has always been a really effective set-up man — when healthy. He may not have been on the field enough to deliver value to the Phillies on his $12MM free agent contract, but even while battling through injury Adams worked to a 3.50 ERA over 43 2/3 innings. Last year, especially, he was quite good: a 2.89 ERA (supported entirely by sub-3.00 ERA estimator marks) and better than ten punchouts per nine with a 56.3% groundball rate. Sure, it was a small sample (18 2/3) and his shoulder problems were still present. But if you’re going to roll the dice, it may as well be for a nice potential return.
  • John Axford, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Axford still pumps gas and still logs double-digit strikeout rates. Sure, he walked nearly six batters per nine last year and ERA estimators have been increasingly dubious of his quality over the past three seasons. If he can figure out a way to reign back in the free passes and yield a few fewer long balls, Axford still looks like a late-inning arm. And now, teams can take a chance on a return to form without the high salaries that he carried more recently.
  • Brandon Beachy, right-handed pitcher, 28 – The former Brave owns a lifetime 3.23 ERA over 46 big league starts, with a 3.34 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, and 3.39 SIERA. He has averaged better than nine strikeouts and less than three walks per nine innings. He also is on his second replacement UCL, this one installed last spring. In each of the above-referenced statistics, Beachy is entirely not-unlike fellow former Atlanta hurler Kris Medlen. Yet Beachy — who is one year younger — remains unsigned while Medlen has already secured an $8.5MM guarantee. He also can be controlled for an additional year through arbitration, with a low salary base to work from.
  • Chad Billingsley, right-handed pitcher, 30 – As with Beachy, Billingsley was once an effective starter who has struggled for some time now to return from Tommy John surgery. What the latter lacks in dominating upside, he makes up for in the lengthy run of reliable innings he provided before succumbing to elbow troubles. From the time he became a full-time starter in 2008 through the 2011 season (the one before his elbow troubles began), Billingsley averaged 194 frames of 3.73 ERA pitching.
  • Everth Cabrera, shortstop, 28 – Were it not for his off-field issues, it seems likely the Padres would have tendered the former starting shortstop and given him a chance to regain his 2013 form. The year before last, Cabrera registered a 114 wRC+ while swiping 37 bags (down from 44 in the season prior) and playing the best-rated defense of his career. That was a 3.1 fWAR player, even in a season cut short due to suspension. The 2014 version of Cabrera was not, even when on the field instead of nursing an injury. There are issues aplenty here, but his abilities stand out in a market that hurt for middle infield talent from the start. And it does not hurt that he comes with a year of arb control remaining.
  • Alexi Ogando, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Flipping back and forth between starting and relief, Ogando and his mid-90s heater have long been a storyline. And until last year’s dud, he had never been anything but effective. Even after putting up 25 innings at double the allowed runs rate that he had generally permitted, Ogando sits with a lifetime 3.35 earned run mark. The track record of arm trouble remains a concern, but Ogando’s velocity was just fine last year and he could easily be on the rise with a normal spring.
  • Rickie Weeks, second base, 32 – Once one of the game’s better keystone options, Weeks has stumbled backward in all areas of the game since 2012. But last year was a bit different; while his defensive metrics continued to lag behind his earlier work, Weeks did put up a .274/.357/.452 slash in 286 plate appearances that brought to mind better days. True, Weeks inflicted much of his damage against lefties, with his solid line against right-handers propped up by a .420 BABIP. But given his track record, a revived spurt of production at least raises the possibility of a late-career renaissance.

Phillies Have Strong Interest In Chad Billingsley

The Phillies are expressing significant interest in right-hander Chad Billingsley, reports Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. According to Salisbury, Billingsley has thrown for the Phillies recently, suggesting that there’s mutual interest in striking a deal. As Salisbury notes, Billingsley lives in the Reading, Pa. area, making Philadelphia a geographically appealing destination.

The 30-year-old Billingsley’s career has stalled over the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery in 2013 and surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in 2014, but he was a key part of the Dodgers’ rotation from 2007-12. In his four best (and healthiest) seasons from 2008-11, Billingsley averaged 194 innings per year, posting a 3.73 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. Though he’s not a ground-ball specialist by any means, he’s registered a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate in his career, which one would think is appealing to the Phillies, given the homer-friendly nature of their home park.

Salisbury also adds that the Phillies have maintained contact with another local arm, Ryan Vogelsong, for much of the winter. However, Vogelsong has more recently been connected to the Astros and Giants, and the Giants appear likely to re-sign him according to the latest reports.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wouldn’t comment on his interest in Billingsley or Vogelsong when asked by Salisbury, but he did note that the club is looking for pitching depth — specifically “low-cost, low-risk, potentially high-reward type of guys.” Billingsley would seem to fit that description, as his asking price following a two-year stretch in which he has totaled just 12 Major League innings surely cannot be high. A one-year deal with a modest base salary and incentives based on innings pitched/games started would be the most logical expectation.


Free Agent Notes: Saunders, Soto, Billingsley

Left-hander Joe Saunders has switched agents and is now being represented by The Legacy Agency, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter link).  Saunders had previously been a Legacy client prior to the 2014 season, when he made the change to Craig Landis of LSW Baseball.  Be sure to check out the MLB Trade Rumors Agency Database for agency info on over 1,700 players.  Agents: if you’ve got a 40-man roster player or top prospect whose representation is not correctly noted, we welcome corrections at mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.

Here’s some more about other veteran free agents on the hunt for their next team…

  • Catcher Geovany Soto is talking to four teams, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.  This number represents a slight narrowing of Soto’s field, as we heard last month that five or six teams were in the mix for his services, including the Rangers, one of his former clubs.
  • Right-hander Chad Billingsley has received multiple offers, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter).  Billingsley has only pitched 12 innings in the majors since the start of the 2013 season due to a number of elbow injuries, plus a recovery from Tommy John surgery.  The Diamondbacks had expressed interest in Billingsley earlier this offseason, which is no surprise given that Arizona GM Dave Stewart is Billingsley’s former agent.
  • Mark Ellis‘ agent Jamie Murphy tells Crasnick (Twitter link) that his client looks to play next season if the right situation emerges.  Ellis, 37, suffered through a tough 2014 campaign with the Cardinals that included a pair of DL stints and a .180/.253/.213 slash line over 202 plate appearances.

D’Backs Notes: Maeda, Billingsley, Montero

The Diamondbacks will be in the hunt for Kenta Maeda if the Japanese righty is made available this winter, GM Dave Stewart told reporters (including MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert).  “I love Maeda,” Stewart said. “I love him. We have a lot of video and film and we have people who have seen him. We think that he’s got a chance to be very successful in Major League Baseball. We’re going to try to be in on the market when he does post, if he does post.”  Here’s some more notes from Stewart and other Snakes-related items…

  • Stewart confirmed the team’s interest in Chad Billingsley, saying the right-hander is “definitely a possibility for us.”  Billingsley has been sidelined for almost two full seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a torn flexor tendon.  Stewart represented Billingsley back when the GM was a player agent.
  • I don’t know how big we’re going to play” for Yasmany Tomas, Stewart said, given the Cuban outfielder’s escalating price tag.  The D’Backs do like Tomas’ potential and they “definitely have to consider being a part of that.”
  • The Diamondbacks want to acquire a starting pitcher, though Stewart won’t pay too much of a prospect cost to do so.  “I’m not trying to put us in a backward position, especially in our Minor League system,” the GM said.
  • Stewart again stressed that he hasn’t “shopped any of our players,” including catcher Miguel Montero, though “all of our players have been asked about.  That’s the best way I can put it.”  Montero has been rumored to be available as Arizona looks to free up some payroll space.  Stewart said he hasn’t spoken to Montero about the trade rumors since “I don’t see any point in raising concerns when there are none.”
  • Montero’s market is examined by Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, who feels that while Montero could be draw attention from teams who fail to sign Russell Martin, the Arizona catcher’s recent poor hitting and hefty contract could be deterrents.  “If [the D’Backs] won’t chew down any dollars, I’d say the return won’t be as good as most think.  It also depends on how motivated the acquiring club is,” a rival executive told Piecoro.
  • Stewart is keeping an open mind about whether to use Daniel Hudson as a starter or a reliever as the right-hander continues his recovery from his second Tommy John surgery, Piecoro reports.  “We had a discussion about that, and we’re not really sure.  We’d like to best utilize him in a way that we can get the most out of him,” Stewart said.  “We’re going to have to have more discussions with our training staff, and I’d like to ask some people externally about what they think of his condition and how we can best utilize him without hurting him.”

D’Backs Notes: Pennington, Billingsley, Shortstops

Not only does new D’Backs GM Dave Stewart have Kevin Towers’ previous job, but the executive tells Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he’s actually living in Towers’ old house (Twitter link). That anecdote has little to do with the Diamondbacks’ future, however, so here are some more pertinent links…

  • The Diamondbacks will definitely tender Cliff Pennington a contract, reports Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (Twitter link). Stewart considers Pennington to be a valuable piece and won’t let him go to save salary. Pennington projects to earn $3.3MM in 2015 and is coming off a .254/.340/.350 batting line with his typically solid defense.
  • The Diamondbacks remain interested in Chad BillingsleyMagruder tweets. Billingsley didn’t pitch in 2014 due to a torn flexor tendon that he suffered while rehabbing from 2013 Tommy John surgery. The interest is hardly surprising, as Billingsley is a former client of Stewart’s from his agency days. Billingsley has since signed on with Octagon’s Steve Hilliard, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted last week.
  • Stewart went on-record with Andy Martino of the New York Daily News to say that if the D’Backs are to move either Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings, it would be to acquire controllable, young pitching (All Twitter links). The Diamondbacks don’t have any interest in names like Jon Niese, Dillon Gee or Bartolo Colon, Stewart stated.

Quick Hits: Epstein, Butler, Billingsley

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told Mully and Hanley of 670 The Score (via Levine) that he is interested in having extension talks with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The 40-year-old executive joined the Cubs just over three years ago on a five-year deal. Here’s more from around the big leagues.

  • The Royals are not ruling out the possibility of bringing back DH Billy Butler, reports Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. While Kansas City obviously did not value him at his $12.5MM option, and had hoped to give some DH time to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, Mellinger says that Butler’s play down the stretch and in the postseason has changed the club’s thinking. Of course, his .770 OPS over the season’s last 62 games was hardly world-beating production for a bat-only player, but it did hint that his previous excellence at the plate may still be found. Mellinger theorizes that Kansas City could be willing to guarantee Butler eight figures on a two-year deal, though the lifetime Royal would probably need to forego better offers to stay — which he did say was a possibility earlier in the year.
  • Free agent righty Chad Billingsley has changed his representation to Octagon’s Steve Hilliard, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). He had been a client of Dave Stewart, who of course has given up the business as part of his new career move. Billingsley, still only 30, has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with multiple elbow surgeries. In spite of his health struggles, Billingsley should draw plenty of interest as a buy-low candidate.

Dodgers Decline Option On Chad Billingsley

The Dodgers have declined their option on starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Given the cost of the option ($14MM minus a $3MM buyout) and Billingsley’s struggles to stay healthy, the move comes as no surprise. Billingsley was once among baseball’s more promising young arms, but he’s pitched only 12 big league innings since September 2012 after a series of elbow injuries and setbacks. He had Tommy John surgery in April 2013, then another elbow surgery in June of this year.

For his career, Billingsley has a 3.65 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in parts of eight seasons in the Majors, but he’s now very far removed from his last productive stretch. The Dodgers took Billingsley in the first round in 2003, and he’s spent his entire career with Los Angeles, but now, at age 30, he’s a free agent.