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Chicago Cubs Rumors
The Cubs have agreed to a two-year, $5MM deal with catcher David Ross, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Reports emerged earlier today suggesting that the veteran was headed to the Padres, but indications are that he is in fact set to join former teammate Jon Lester in Chicago.
Ross, a client of Sports One Athlete Management client, will add yet more veteran leadership behind the plate for the Cubs. He will slot in alongside the recently-acquired Miguel Montero, providing a right-handed-hitting complement. Chicago also added another former Red Sox backstop today in Ryan Lavarnway, who was added via waiver claim.
Before joining the Red Sox in 2013, Ross spent four years as the reserve option for the Braves. He slashed a robust .269/.353/.463, but never made more than 200 plate appearances in a given season. Ross has fallen back to a .650 OPS over the last two seasons in Boston, over 287 plate appearances. Defensively, Baseball Prospectus did not value Ross’s work very highly last year.
In the aggregate, then, there are plenty of questions about Ross’s abilities moving forward. But he does have a rather high established ceiling for a backup catcher, and obviously is one of the game’s most respected elder statesmen at this stage of his career.
2:05pm: The Cubs announced that they have also claimed Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Dodgers. To make room on the 40-man roster for the pair of moves, right-handed pitcher Donn Roach and infielder Logan Watkins were designated for assignment.
The 27-year-old Lavarnway .283/.389/.370 in 257 plate appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2014. He has a strong minor league track record as a hitter, with a .375 career minor league on-base percentage, and could potentially help a team in need of a right-handed bat for its bench. His stint with the Dodgers was brief and he has traveled quite a bit in the last month. Lavarnway was DFA’d by the Red Sox just prior to his cup of coffee with Los Angeles.
Here are today’s minor transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post…
- The Cubs have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander Anthony Carter, MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports (Twitter link). The deal contains an invitation to the team’s Spring Training camp. Carter, 28, has a 4.59 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 2.61 K/BB rate over 680 1/3 career IP in the Padres, Red Sox and White Sox farm systems. He spent most of the 2014 season in Japan, posting a 3.97 ERA over 45 1/3 relief innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
- The Mariners announced the signings of right-hander Mark Lowe and infielder Carlos Rivero to minor league contracts. Lowe originally pitched for Seattle from 2006-10 and the veteran spent 2014 in the Indians’ organization, a season that included an outright assignment to Triple-A and a 3.86 ERA over seven Major League innings. Rivero was originally claimed by Seattle off waivers from the Red Sox in November, and he’s rejoining the M’s after being non-tendered by the club earlier this month. Rivero made his Major League debut last season, appearing in eight games with Boston.
The White Sox, Yankees and Astros have spent heavily on relief help this offseason, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wonders if they’ll end up regretting their expensive contracts for veteran relievers. “In the last couple of years we’ve lost a lot of games late in the eighth and ninth inning,” says White Sox manager Ventura. “After a while you sit there and think, ‘We have to have somebody who can come in and do this.’ Everything has its risks — and this is one of them — but we’re pretty confident we got a guy [David Robertson] who we can put in the bullpen and be a leader.” The reason for all the spending on players like Robertson, Zach Duke, Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek isn’t so much that teams are trying to emulate the Royals‘ ferocious 2014 bullpen, Crasnick suggests. Rather, it’s more that teams are loaded with cash and pitchers like Robertson and Miller are very good. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- The Braves continue to explore potential trades involving Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter links). The Braves have spoken about Upton and Gattis with five teams Wednesday, and continued to consider ways to include B.J. Upton or Chris Johnson in trades involving Justin Upton or Gattis. The Padres had previously looked like a potential destination for Justin Upton, but it would appear that their agreement to acquire Wil Myers today rules them out as a potential trade partner, at least for now.
- Free agent catcher David Ross is deciding between the Red Sox, Cubs and Padres, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes. Meanwhile, lefty reliever Craig Breslow has spoken to the Red Sox and Cubs. Ross has played for the Red Sox, of course, and has a history with Jon Lester and Theo Epstein of the Cubs (although his signing with the Cubs would likely result in, or come as the result of, a trade of Welington Castillo). The Padres are in the process of trading both Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, but are also in the process of acquiring Ryan Hanigan and Tim Federowicz, so it’s unclear where Ross would fit in.
- Asdrubal Cabrera has drawn interest from the Giants, Athletics, Mets, Cardinals and Twins, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Heyman writes that Cabrera could play second base or third base as well as shortstop, although there have been rumblings that Cabrera prefers to play shortstop or second base only, and not third. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle would be surprised if the A’s are interested, as they’ve never shown interest in Cabrera in past years despite up-the-middle needs (Twitter links).
- Those same five teams have asked about Korean middle infielder Jung-ho Kang, although the Athletics and Mets are downplaying their interest, Heyman tweets. A’s GM Billy Beane has stated on the record that reports of his club’s interest in Kang are inaccurate. Kang was posted earlier this week.
- Heyman lists the Orioles, Reds and Mariners as possibilities for Nori Aoki, with the veteran outfielder potentially receiving two to three years at $7MM-$8MM per year. Aoki had previously been connected to the Orioles and Reds, with the Orioles mostly interested in him as a backup option. Heyman reported last week that Aoki was looking for a three-year deal. Earlier this offseason, we at MLBTR guessed he would receive two years and $16MM.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Atlanta Braves | B.J. Upton | Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Chris Johnson | Cincinnati Reds | Craig Breslow | David Ross | Evan Gattis | Jung-ho Kang | Justin Upton | Kansas City Royals | Minnesota Twins | New York Mets | New York Yankees | Oakland Athletics | San Diego Padres | San Francisco Giants | Seattle Mariners | St. Louis Cardinals
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league.
- The Orioles have announced the signings of outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo and righty Jesse Beal to minor league deals. (They also formally announced the signing of reliever Chaz Roe, which we already noted last week.) Tuiasosopo, 28, was a productive role player with Detroit in 2013, but he spent all of 2014 in the minors, batting .240/.357/.379 in 487 plate appearances for two International League teams. Beal, 24, is re-signing with the Orioles after posting a 3.48 ERA, 7.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 41 1/3 innings for Class A+ Frederick in 2014.
- The Cubs and Athletics have completed the summer’s Jeff Samardzija / Jason Hammel / Addison Russell trade between the clubs with the Athletics sending cash instead of a player to be named later, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets.
- The Giants have signed reliever Curtis Partch to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. The Reds non-tendered the 27-year-old Partch earlier this month after he posted a 4.75 ERA, 10.3 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 47 1/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville last season. Partch’s fastball regularly sat in the mid-90s in parts of two seasons with the Reds, but he’s never had sustained success at the big-league level.
The Blue Jays have announced a minor league deal with outfielder Ryan Kalish. The 26-year-old gets an invitation to big league camp this spring.
Kalish spent most of last year with the Cubs after making the roster out of camp, putting up a .248/.295/.347 line in 130 plate appearances at the major league level. He carried a .726 OPS in 319 Triple-A plate appearances on the year. While neither of those batting lines looks to be a huge endorsement for Kalish’s future prospects, it is important to bear in mind that Kalish was working back from serious shoulder and back surgeries and did prove that he could return to a high level of play.
The Jays will presumably consider Kalish in a reserve outfield role, perhaps expecting that he will ultimately serve as minor league depth.
The Mariners have reached a deal to acquire outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Righty Matt Brazis is going to Chicago in return, the clubs announced. Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports first reported the possible match on Ruggiano.
Though the 32-year-old, right-handed-hitting Ruggiano is not the kind of top-end power option that Seattle was said to be seeking, he is certainly useful in his own right. Last year, he put up a .281/.337/.429 slash in 250 plate appearances, making two of three years in which he has been a solidly above-average bat. He has strong career numbers against left-handed pitching and could be used in a platoon role. MLBTR and Matt Swartz project a $2.5MM arbitration payday for Ruggiano this year.
Brazis, meanwhile, is a 25-year-old righty who reached the Double-A level last year after a solid effort at High-A. At the upper level, he tossed 33 innings of 1.64 ERA ball with 9.3 K/9 versus 2.7 BB/9.
TODAY, 10:34am: The Mariners have discussed Justin Ruggiano with the Cubs, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. The right-handed-hitting 32-year-old had a nice season last year in Chicago, though he would not represent the kind of impact bat that Seattle has been said to be after.
8:06am: If a deal is close, Crasnick says (links to Twitter), it is not for Marlon Byrd of the Phillies, who has not been approached about waiving his no-trade protection against Seattle. Likewise, while the Red Sox have discussed Allen Craig with plenty of other teams, there is “nothing brewing” on him at the moment (and no particular link to the M’s).
YESTERDAY, 10:38pm: A deal involving Desmond is still a possibility, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets.
It remains the case, however, that no reports have directly linked the Mariners to any particular player in this round of rumors.
7:29pm: Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets that he thinks the Mariners will announce a trade within the next two to three days. Crasnick tweets that his sense is that it’s a right-handed hitter who hasn’t been mentioned in much previous speculation, which would rule out Upton.
4:44pm: The Mariners are closing in on a deal to acquire another bat, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). It’s unclear at this time what hitter they’re targeting in this deal, but the Mariners have been linked to several names.
Justin Upton of the Braves has been said to be a possibility in their search for a right field bat, with the club apparently still looking for a right fielder even after signing Nelson Cruz. Seattle has also been linked to Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox and Ian Desmond of the Nationals in recent weeks. I’d imagine that Marlon Byrd could make sense for Seattle as well, and he’s certainly known to be available in trade talks with the Phillies.
DEC. 16: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets the breakdown of the deal: $15MM of the signing bonus is payable on April 1 of the coming year, with the other $15MM apparently being spread out over the life of the deal. Lester will then earn $15MM in 2015, $20MM in 2016-17, $22.5MM in 2018-19 and $15MM in 2020.
DEC. 13: The Cubs have announced that they’ve signed former Red Sox and Athletics ace Jon Lester, with a press conference scheduled for Monday. Lester will receive six years and $155MM. The deal also includes a $25MM option for a seventh year with a $10MM buyout, with the option vesting if Lester pitches 200 innings in 2020 or 400 total innings in 2019 and 2020. The deal includes a $30MM bonus, of which Lester will receive $20MM up front and another $10MM spread over the life of the contract. Lester will receive a full no-trade clause. The annual salary breakdown of the deal remains unreported.
The Red Sox’ final bid for the ACES client was six years and $135MM, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan (on Twitter). It emerged last week that the Giants and Dodgers were no longer contenders to sign Lester.
“It feels like we’ve definitely won the baseball lottery,” said new Cubs manager Joe Maddon upon learning of the Lester news, according to New York Daily News’ Andy Martino (via Twitter).
Lester’s free agent status seemed to be holding up a congested pitching market, but for as long as it took for Lester to agree to terms, the six years and $155MM he will receive is about what should have been expected — MLBTR’s Steve Adams predicted last month that Lester would receive a six-year, $153MM deal. The contract will make Lester one of baseball’s richest pitchers, with an AAV of $25.8MM that ranks just ahead of Justin Verlander‘s $25.7MM and behind only Clayton Kershaw‘s $30.7MM.
In Chicago, Lester will front the rotation of an emerging Cubs team that was on the lookout for top-level pitching to complement their outstanding core of young hitting. The Cubs had agreed to terms with fellow starting pitcher Jason Hammel earlier this week, and they’ve also added Maddon and catcher Miguel Montero this offseason.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, will likely continue to look for top pitching (perhaps turning to another top free agent hurler like James Shields, or to a trade target like Cole Hamels or Jordan Zimmermann) after losing out on their former ace. If they don’t, they could become a target of second-guessing after reportedly proposing a $70MM extension offer to Lester last spring.
Lester, 30, bolstered his free-agent status with an exceptional 2014 season, posting a 2.46 ERA, 9.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 219 2/3 innings. He was strong in 21 starts for Boston and didn’t miss a beat after the Red Sox traded him and Jonny Gomes to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick. Since Lester was traded in-season, he could not be extended a qualifying offer and thus will not cost the Cubs a draft pick.
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was the first to tweet that the two sides had agreed to terms. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that the deal was for six years and $155MM. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported various aspects of the terms of the contract (links to Twitter), and CSN Chicago’s David Kaplan reported that the deal contained a $15MM vesting option. Passan added detail on the terms of Lester’s bonus.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
“It’s not every day the best free agent goes to a team that finished in last place,” Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said today at the press conference announcing starting pitcher Jon Lester‘s new six-year contract. Epstein later explained, “We knew early on that if we signed Jon Lester, it would be about belief. It was because he would believe in us, believe in our future, and believe that winning a World Series with the Cubs was a unique opportunity.”
According to Epstein, the ability to contend for Lester’s services was a culmination of “a pretty quick rebuild” due to the hard work of the Cubs’ scouting and player development people. The Cubs now possess a trove of young position player talent, including Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber. Epstein considers the Lester signing a transition to a point where the team is “clearly very serious about winning a World Series.” Lester agreed, telling the crowd,“I can tell you honestly, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think they were going to win in 2015.”
Lester said the chance of winning a World Series with a team that hasn’t done so since 1908 “just adds that little extra for me.” Questioned on the topic later, Epstein admitted the team’s long history of losing actually helped them sign Lester. “We’re not hiding the ball. The fact that we haven’t won in so long helps define who we are. It adds meaning and resonance to what we’re trying to accomplish here, and I think it attracts players who aren’t afraid of that challenge and want to be here for the right reasons and it definitely attracted Jon Lester.”
The Cubs’ front office and ownership gave Lester the largest contract in franchise history, a reported $155MM deal with a seventh-year vesting option and a full no-trade clause. It didn’t take long for Epstein to concede to the no-trade clause, a rarity for him. “I don’t usually like those, but when you’re talking about a free agent of this caliber who had just gotten traded to Oakland as a result of having a team that relied on some young players and ended up with a disappointing performance, it would have been really hard to sign him without a no-trade given the unique circumstances involved here. In the spirit of the negotiation, it was something that we initially objected to but didn’t keep the fight up too long because it was outside the spirit of the connection that we were trying to make.”
Epstein went up against his and Lester’s former employer, the Red Sox, in negotiations that went down to the wire at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. The Red Sox topped out at a reported $135MM offer, though they didn’t help their cause four months earlier by trading Lester, Jonny Gomes, and cash to the Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick. When Bob Nightengale of USA Today asked Lester whether it would have been a lot harder to leave Boston had he not been traded, the lefty replied, “Yeah, I think so. I think there’s always that unknown when you are traded. Obviously that’s the unknown of going to a whole different coast, a whole different organization, a whole different philosophy. I think going there prepared us for this time. I think if you finish out the year in Boston and you get down to this decision, I think it would be a lot harder. Not to say it wasn’t hard as it was. But I feel like that broke that barrier of, ‘Well, I wonder if I can play for another team.’ And I think we answered those questions.”
Though Lester’s deal with the Cubs was consummated at last week’s Winter Meetings, it was the product of more than a month’s worth of courting. The Cubs sent Lester a 15-minute video on the first day of free agency, talking about the team’s future. Epstein and company experienced a turning point in a mid-November meeting, after which they felt “unmistakable momentum.” That momentum never waned, even through tense late night negotiations with Lester’s agents at ACES.
For his part, Lester said he enjoyed initial meetings with teams, but the second phase of actually making a decision was not fun. Much has been made of Lester’s long relationship with Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, dating back to the pitcher being drafted out of high school in ’02. Both sides agreed that the comfort level and trust helped.
Does the Lester signing mean the Cubs are all-in for 2015? As Epstein described it, “We’re very much all-in for our future, and the future starts in 2015.” Asked whether the team is interested in trade targets with only one year of remaining control, Epstein answered, “Yeah, if they were priced accordingly. Obviously those players carry less value in our minds than players you can control going forward.”
The Cubs have already spent almost $180MM on free agents Lester, Jason Hammel, Jason Motte, and Tsuyoshi Wada, and they also traded for Tommy La Stella and well-paid catcher Miguel Montero. I talked to Hoyer about remaining potential areas for upgrade, and he said the Cubs may attempt to add an outfield bat, given the youth of the team’s current group. Asked if there’s room for another starting pitcher, Hoyer replied, “Potentially. We’re not going to sit here and say we’re done. I think we’re very comfortable going forward right now with what we have, but obviously the winter’s not over yet, there’s a lot of guys out there and we’ll certainly be engaged on some of those guys.”
The Epstein rebuild has taken three years to reach this point, and the team’s president said today that the Cubs’ “incredibly patient” fans “truly deserve a pitcher and a person of this caliber to call their own.” Lofty expectations have been set for Lester, who appears ready for the challenge.