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Teams have quickly accepted the importance of the mental side of the game, reports the Associated Press in the New York Times. For example, the Cubs view mental skills coach Josh Lifrak as an equal to their hitting and pitching coaches. The article describes part of the process used by the Cubs, Nationals, and Red Sox, although all teams have probably adopted some form of mental skills development.
Here’s more from around the league.
- Padres senior advisor Trevor Hoffman was thrilled by the team’s recent trade for Craig Kimbrel, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. Kimbrel follows Hoffman (the all-time NL leader in saves) in a line of strong Padres closers. “We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a guy at the backend, even before I got here and continuing with Huston (Street) and Joaquin (Benoit),” says Hoffman. “The street cred [Kimbrel has] built in the game over the last four, five years really separates him from the rest of the group as one of the top-echelon closers in the game.”
- The Cubs‘ decision to send Kris Bryant to the minors to start the season led to controversy, but now that he’s there, the team has him working on playing outfield, Gordon Wittenmyer writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). While many assume that Bryant will be activated as soon as next week, the Cubs may legitimately be concerned about finding him a defensive home.
- If the Pirates have money to spend at the trade deadline this year, they could target an ace pitcher, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The payroll is cheap thanks to a number of young players and team friendly extensions. That could make Cole Hamels a potential fit. He, like Andrew McCutchen, has four years remaining on his contract. My thought: it’s at least conceivable that the Phillies would take on a large portion of his contract for the right prospects. To be clear, this is not to say that the Pirates have inquired about Hamels, only that a fit might exist.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has penned a lengthy column that’s chock full of Hot Stove related items as the season gets underway. First and foremost, he chronicles the Braves‘ trade of Craig Kimbrel at length. Heyman spoke to president of baseball ops John Hart, who candidly told Heyman that the team took a hard line of refusing to trade Kimbrel unless Melvin Upton Jr. was involved in the deal. “We were not going to separate Kimbrel and trade him by himself,” Hart told Heyman. Atlanta reached out to the Cubs, Astros, Dodgers and Padres, among others, this winter in an effort to move Upton, and despite the Dodgers’ bullpen needs, they weren’t willing to add Upton’s contract to that of Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, having already shed Matt Kemp‘s contract. The Padres trade didn’t heat up until about four days before it was agreed upon, Heyman writes, with Hart even remaining in Orlando to finish negotiations rather than fly with the team to Miami at the end of Spring Training. Hart credited assistant GM John Coppolella for doing much of the legwork and his creativity in getting the trade finalized.
More highlights from Heyman’s article (though the entire piece is well worth your time)…
- While some reports late in Spring Training indicated that the Phillies would be willing to eat up to $50MM of the remaining $60MM on Ryan Howard‘s contract, two GMs tell Heyman they hadn’t heard that figure. One of those GMs was of the belief that the Phillies’ top offer was to pay about $35MM, which, Heyman speculates, may have been a large reason that the Royals opted to sign Kendrys Morales for two years and $17MM rather than pursue a Howard trade.
- Speaking of the Royals, Heyman hears that the team is open to pursuing a second extension with catcher Salvador Perez and would be happy to make him a Royal for life. Heyman notes that some in the organization even have some sympathy for Perez, whose five-year, $7MM contract is widely considered the most team-friendly deal in all of baseball. Perez’s deal contains three startlingly low club options valued at $3.75MM, $5MM and $6MM for the 2017-19 seasons — two of which would have been free-agent seasons beginning at the age of 28.
- The Marlins tried to trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia this winter after the catcher’s first season on a three-year, $21MM pact was a struggle, but his salary was too great a deterrent. The Marlins presumably feel that top prospect J.T. Realmuto could step into the catcher’s role in the not-too-distant future.
- The Tigers are believed to be at least monitoring Rafael Soriano‘s workouts at the Boras Sports Training Institute in Miami, per Heyman. However, Soriano has seen his stock suffer not only due to ineffective innings late int he 2014 season but also due to perceptions about his personality and negative clubhouse impact. At least one club that was taking a hard look at late-inning relievers ruled out Soriano entirely due to that perception, Heyman reports.
- The Reds felt the odds of extending Johnny Cueto prior to Opening Day were so slim that it’s not even clear if they made a formal offer, writes Heyman. Cueto is seeking a figure in the range of $200MM following Max Scherzer‘s mammoth contract this offseason, he adds. Heyman also opines that David Price would probably be selling himself short if he took much less than $200MM from the Tigers at this point as well.
- Anecdotally, Heyman tells the story of how Cody Ross‘ career began when he was sold to the Marlins from the Reds in exchange for “cash considerations” of precisely one dollar. Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky spoke to Heyman about the deal, explaining that they didn’t have room on the Cincinnati roster back in ’06 but genuinely wanted to get Ross into the best possible position to have a chance at a Major League roster spot. Ross has gone on to earn more than $52MM in the game of baseball.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Atlanta Braves | B.J. Upton | Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati Reds | Cody Ross | Craig Kimbrel | Detroit Tigers | Houston Astros | Jarrod Saltalamacchia | Johnny Cueto | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Dodgers | Miami Marlins | Newsstand | Philadelphia Phillies | Rafael Soriano | Ryan Howard | Salvador Perez | San Diego Padres
Of course, Russell spent much of last season (and all of his career before it) with Chicago. Dealt along with Emilio Bonifacio to Atlanta last summer in exchange for catcher Victor Caratini and cash, Russell put up good numbers down the stretch. He ended the year with a career-low 2.97 ERA over 57 2/3 innings between both clubs.
In spite of his solid results last year, a rough spring led to his departure from the Braves, who will be on the hook for about $600K of salary but were able to avoid paying Russell the full $2.4MM he had agreed upon to avoid arbitration. Because Chicago was able to land him with a minor league deal, Russell will represent a free roll for the team if and when he makes it onto the major league roster.
Interestingly, Russell now joins Jason Hammel, Bonifacio, and Jeff Samardzija as players who were dealt away last summer by the Cubs and are back with Chicago organizations — the latter two with the White Sox.
TUESDAY: Chicago has announced that Sweeney has been released, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets.
SUNDAY: The Cubs have announced they have designated outfielder Ryan Sweeney for assignment. The Cubs also purchased the contract of infielder Jonathan Herrera; but, with the Sweeney DFA, their 40-man roster still has one opening.
The 30-year-old had a .251/.304/.338 slash last year in 226 plate appearances for Chicago. He had shown more promise in the 212 turns at bat he had the prior season, his first with the Cubs, when he slashed .266/.324/.448.
The Padres expressed some mild interest in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon earlier in the offseason, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Obviously, San Diego no longer looks like an even hypothetical landing spot for Papelbon. It seems likely that Papelbon’s greatest appeal will ultimately lie with a club that suffers an injury or wants a chance to add late-inning depth over the summer.
Here’s more from the National League:
- With the Padres having taken on significant salary commitments and given up young talent to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Braves, reactions to the move have been divided somewhat between front office and uniformed personnel, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney writes (Insider link). Atlanta has the backing of most executives, says Olney, while players and coaches have understandably focused on the impact that Kimbrel could have in San Diego.
- The Padres received immediate trade interest in their bullpen after adding Kimbrel, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. “Within minutes, probably, of the (Kimbrel) deal, four or five teams have checked in,” said GM A.J. Preller. “So that’s part of making the deal. Hopefully, you add depth and it may help us in another area down the road.” Of course, that depth could be put to use either to fill in the pen or to shore up another area of need via trade.
- The shortstop position is an obvious area to watch for the Cubs, but Olney says (in the above-linked piece) that it may not all be positive. Starlin Castro has proven he can hit, but Olney says there are real concerns about how committed he is to grinding things out on defense. Chicago informed other teams this winter that it was open to trade scenarios involving the 25-year-old.
Here are today’s minor transactions from around baseball, with the newest moves at the top of the post…
- The Diamondbacks have optioned Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, the team reports via Twitter. The club signed Tomas for $68.5MM over the offseason. He struggled both defensively and offensively this spring. A stint in Triple-A should give him time to adjust to the outfield and improve his plate approach.
- Phillies Rule 5 pick Andy Oliver has elected free agency after he was outrighted, the club announced via Twitter. The hard throwing lefty has struggled with walks throughout his career. That continued this spring with 11 walks and 22 strikeouts in 12 and two-thirds innings. The club also announced on Twitter that they reassigned catcher Rene Garcia, first baseman Russ Canzler, and infielder Cord Phelps to Triple-A.
- Marlins utility infielder Reid Brignac has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A, tweets Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. In 905 major league plate appearances, Brignac has a .222/.266/.314 line.
- Athletics pitcher Barry Zito has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A, tweets Jane Lee of MLB.com. The former star is working his way back from a one-year hiatus. He posted a 4.79 ERA in 20 and two-thirds spring innings. The 37-year-old struck out 14 and walked five. A former ninth overall pick of the A’s, the southpaw struggled after moving across the Bay to San Francisco on a seven-year, $126MM contract. That deal concluded after the 2013 season.
- The Red Sox have released Casey Crosby, Bryan LaHair, and Matt Hoffman per the MLB transactions page. Crosby was once a top prospect with the Tigers, but the 26-year-old lefty has yet to develop command. Lahair, 32, had a nice run with the Cubs in 2012 when he hit .259/.334/.450 with 16 home runs in 380 plate appearances. He spent the 2013 season in Japan and split 2014 between Cleveland’s Double and Triple-A clubs.
- The Phillies have released shortstop Tyler Greene according to the MLB transactions page. Greene, an 11th round pick, was once rated among the Phillies’ best prospects. He missed the entire 2014 season and has never posted a strikeout rate below 33 percent at any level.
- The Giants have released pitcher Edgmer Escalona per the MLB transactions page. Escalona pitched in parts of four seasons for the Rockies, accruing 100 innings. He has a career 4.50 ERA with 6.39 K/9 and 2.88 BB/9.
- The Cubs have released lefty pitcher Francisley Bueno according to the transactions page. The 34-year-old has pitched in parts of four season for the Braves and Royals. The soft tossing lefty has a career 2.98 ERA with 4.92 K/9 and 1.79 BB/9 in 60 innings. He’s a pure platoon pitcher.
- The Braves released former closer Matt Capps per MLB.com. The righty last appeared in the majors in 2012. He has a career 3.52 ERA with 6.53 K/9 and 1.72 BB/9. He’s thrown just 12 minor league innings over the last two seasons – both with the Indians.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Andy Oliver | Arizona Diamondbacks | Atlanta Braves | Barry Zito | Boston Red Sox | Bryan LaHair | Casey Crosby | Chicago Cubs | Cleveland Indians | Colorado Rockies | Cord Phelps | Detroit Tigers | Edgmer Escalona | Francisley Bueno | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Dodgers | Marc Topkin | Matt Capps | Miami Marlins | Minnesota Twins | Oakland Athletics | P.J. Walters | Philadelphia Phillies | Pittsburgh Pirates | Reid Brignac | Russ Canzler | San Francisco Giants | Seattle Mariners | St. Louis Cardinals | Susan Slusser | Tampa Bay Rays | Toronto Blue Jays | Transactions | Tyler Greene
Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka told reporters (including the New York Post’s Dan Martin) that he expects his velocity to drop a bit this season, though this may have as much to do with pitch selection as it does with concerns about his slightly torn UCL. “Because of the fact I’m throwing more two-seamers, that would obviously make the velocity go down a bit,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “As for my pitching style and my mechanics, I’m trying to relax a little bit more when I’m throwing, so that might have something to do with it.” Tanaka averaged 91.2 mph on his fastball last season, as well as 88.9 mph on his cutter and 86.5 mph on his split-fingered fastball.
Here’s some more from the AL East…
- The Orioles are hoping to make at least one trade before Opening Day to move some of their roster excess, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports. Kubatko feels Steve Clevenger has the advantage over T.J. McFarland for the final spot on the Orioles’ roster, though the O’s could also deal Clevenger given their depth at catcher. Nolan Reimold will probably be assigned to Baltimore’s minor league camp to avoid putting the out-of-options outfielder through waivers, as the O’s are worried Reimold would be claimed by another team.
- Speaking of Reimold, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun shares the somewhat unique details of the opt-out clause in Reimold’s minor league deal with the Orioles. If Reimold isn’t on the Orioles’ 25-man roster by July 11, the O’s must send an e-mail to all 29 other teams asking if they’re interested in Reimold. If a team responds in the affirmative, the O’s must either “assign” him to that club in a cash transaction or put him on their 25-man roster themselves. If no team shows interest, Reimold stays with the Orioles.
- Major League Baseball’s investigation of the Rays‘ tampering charge against the Cubs will continue past Opening Day, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports. The Rays accused the Cubs of tampering with Joe Maddon when he was still under contract as Tampa Bay’s manager, and the matter is still unresolved after over five months of investigating.
Britton, 25, was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox this offseason. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer had a natural link to the lefty, given the fact that he was drafted while they were in Boston’s front office.
In 27 2/3 career innings at the Major League level, Britton has a 2.93 ERA with a 21-to-9 K/BB ratio and a 43.2 percent ground-ball rate. Britton long ranked as one of Boston’s top prospects and even cracked the Top 100 list of Baseball America following the 2011 season (No. 97), but he’s struggled in the upper Minors, posting a 6.08 ERA in an admittedly small sample of 63 2/3 innings. Britton has also had some legal troubles, as he was arrested two years ago for driving 111 mph while under the influence of alcohol.
12:56pm: The Braves have claimed McKirahan, Frisaro tweets.
While it remains to be seen which club will take a chance on McKirahan, the news likely spells the end of any chance he would end up with Miami. The new claiming team will step into the Marlins’ rights regarding the 25-year-old southpaw, meaning that they will need to keep him on the roster all year in order to gain future control over him.
In the event that the new team, too, decides to expose McKirahan to waivers, he would go through the same process again. If he is unclaimed at that point, then his prior club — the Cubs — would stand to reacquire his rights.
Lefty Paul Maholm has a “standing offer” at Triple-A with the Reds, tweets Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. At present, however, Maholm is looking to secure a big league deal if possible. He was released yesterday by Cincinnati.
Here’s more from the NL Central:
- The Pirates have pillaged the Yankees in recent seasons, particularly in the catching department, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Both teams have placed significant value on pitch framing, but Sawchik suggests that perhaps Pittsburgh has remained more willing to commit to its ideas in that area. “I’m not sure if they were ahead of us, we were ahead of them or if we arrived at this way of thinking at the same time. Actually, they were probably first,” said club GM Neal Huntington. “The two clubs evaluate catchers similarly.”
- The agent for Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, Scott Boras, says that starting the season without the game’s top big-league-ready prospect in the majors is tantamount to staging “ersatz baseball,” Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. “MLB is not MLB without the best players,” said Boras.
- Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, himself a former Boras client, is still waiting to learn what his role will be in 2015, as ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. It seems likely that he’s headed to a middle relief spot, in spite of the fact that he’s still owed $22MM by the team.
- Cubs owner Tom Ricketts indicates that his organization is still executing on its plan to build steadily, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. “We knew that if we’re ever going to bring a World Series to Chicago, it’s to be disciplined, and build things the right way,” said Ricketts. “We’ve done that. Now, it’s up to us to deliver that promise.” That goes for the team’s player assets as well as its efforts to rehabilitate Wrigley Field, as Nightengale explains.