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Though not available to MLB clubs at present, righty Chihiro Kaneko could become a virtual free agent (in the same manner as Masahiro Tanaka last year) if he is posted by the Orix Buffaloes. The 31-year-old has signed on with agent Arn Tellem of Wasserman, according to a tweet from Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal.
- While we wait to see whether Kaneko shakes up the market, let’s look at the latest of one top arm who is already free to sign with any club. The Marlins still have ongoing interest in James Shields, according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Meanwhile, Rosenthal writes that the Diamondbacks at least like Shields, though it remains from clear that the club will be able to clear the salary it needs to make a legitimate run at him. As these reports would indicate, and Rosenthal notes, the market is quiet right now for the veteran righty.
- The Cubs are among five teams to have shown legitimate interest in outfielder Jonny Gomes, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (Twitter links). The right-handed-hitting Gomes, 33, will surely market himself as a bench or platoon bat in the corner outfield. Though he had a rather rough go of things in 2014, he still managed a .743 OPS against lefties.
- Fellow lefty-masher Josh Willingham has yet to decide whether he’ll play, agent Matt Sosnick tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Willingham, 35, will surely be intrigued by the possibility of entering a market that just paid Michael Cuddyer $21MM over two years (along with the sacrifice of draft compensation).
- As we continue ticking through the veteran outfielders, the Royals and Twins are the clubs most aggressively courting outfielder Torii Hunter, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. That comes as little surprise, as those AL Central rivals have long been said to be competitors for Hunter, whose market is now wide open with the Tigers saying they do not expect to bring him back.
The Braves, Cubs, Giants, Red Sox, Royals and Twins are six of the teams thought to have asked for Justin Masterson’s medicals or otherwise checked in on the right-hander, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter links). Though Masterson is coming off an injury-plagued season, he is drawing significant interest and could find a two-year deal on the open market. The Indians, Masterson’s former club, are also reportedly in the mix for the 29-year-old.
It’s no surprise that Masterson is generating this much free agent buzz, as the righty averaged 199 IP from 2010-13 and was one of the game’s best starters during the 2013 season. As MLBTR’s Zach Links noted in his Free Agent Profile of Masterson, a team could be in for a major bargain if the righty regains his old form. Whether he signs for one year or two, Masterson seems destined for a short-term deal as he’s banking on that return to form and the opportunity to set himself up for a more expensive multiyear deal next winter or after the 2016 season.
The six teams Crasnick lists present an interesting array of suitors, incorporating the two pennant winners, three teams looking to return to contention in 2015 and the rebuilding Twins, who can offer Masterson a pitcher-friendly ballpark to help rebuild his value. Team defense is also undoubtedly a big factor for Masterson, an extreme ground ball pitcher with a 56.6% career grounder rate.
The Pirates had the inside track on signing A.J. Burnett, as agent Derek Braunecker told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s the only place he wanted to play in 2015. He instructed me to negotiate exclusively with the Pirates and thankfully there was mutual interest,” Braunecker said. Burnett enjoyed his previous stint in Pittsburgh and rejoined the Bucs on a one-year, $8.5MM deal. Here’s some more from around the NL Central…
- Mutual interest exists between the Cubs and free agent righty Jason Hammel, CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports. Hammel pitched well during his three months as a Cub in 2014 prior to being traded to the A’s, and Mooney points out yet another connection between the two sides — Hammel played under Joe Maddon in Tampa in 2008. At least nine teams and as many as 12 teams have reportedly shown interest in Hammel this offseason, including the Astros and Yankees.
- The Cubs‘ trade for Tommy La Stella “wasn’t a precursor to anything,” GM Jed Hoyer told reporters (including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers). “Sometimes you have to acquire guys that can get on-base. It’s something we needed.” The La Stella deal seemed curious given how the Cubs already have a surplus of young middle infielders, though Hoyer said his team had tried to trade for La Stella “several times in the past.”
- It’s an open question as to whether or not the Reds will sign Johnny Cueto to a new contract, though an extension shouldn’t be ruled out on purely financial reasons, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer opines. Though Fay thinks extending Cueto would cost “probably north of $150MM,” the Reds will be seeing a revenue increase over the next few years thanks to a new TV deal. If Cueto will take a back-loaded deal, that would lessen the burden on the Reds’ payroll until Brandon Phillips‘ contract is off the books following the 2017 campaign.
- Fay thinks there is a “close to zero” chance that the Reds would trade Cueto this winter, since “owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale. Period. He thinks this team can win and he wants to win badly.” While Cincinnati seems likely to deal a starting pitcher this offseason, recent rumors suggest that Cueto will stay put.
- The Cardinals should jump at the chance to acquire a power-hitting outfielder and not worry about blocking their young OF prospects, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opines. Miklasz feels the Cardinals have some long-term questions in their outfield since Jon Jay is “a year-to-year” player who almost lost his job last offseason, right field prospects Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are unproven and veteran Matt Holliday is only under contract for two more seasons.
In 2013, Travis Wood was a bright spot on a miserable Cubs team, posting a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings. That led to a $3.9MM payout in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2014. A year later, he’s coming off a 5.03 ERA season, and he could be a non-tender candidate. So what changed?
Actually, not much. Or, at least, not much Wood could have controlled. In 2013, Wood’s xFIP was 4.50. In 2014, it was 4.51. By far the most important cause of his two-run jump in ERA was a 72-point increase in his batting average on balls in play, from .248 to .320. Wood walked batters at a significantly higher rate (4.0 BB/9 vs. 3.0) in 2014, but he struck out more of them, too, and slightly increased his ground ball percentage, although he remained a fly ball pitcher. His command was worse, but not so much so that it represented a fundamental change. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two seasons was Wood’s cut fastball, which was lost a mile an hour in velocity and was far less effective in 2014. In general, though, the best way to explain the difference between the two seasons is that Wood wasn’t nearly as good as his 2013 ERA, nor as bad as his ERA last year.
Wood’s team has changed as well. Even if Wood hadn’t had a strong-looking 2013 season, he would have had utility on the 2014 Cubs, which looked poised to unload veteran starters like Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and (if he had pitched well) Edwin Jackson. Having an innings eater like Wood makes sense when facing that kind of upheaval, and if Wood had somehow repeated his 2013 performance, he would have had trade value himself.
2015 is different. Jake Arrieta emerged during the 2014 season as a top young starter, and Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada had unexpectedly strong seasons as well. The Cubs are likely to continue to give chances to Jacob Turner, and Jackson is also still under contract. There’s also Eric Jokisch, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily as potential rotation candidates. And then, of course, the Cubs are expected to be major players for free agent pitching and could perhaps add two hurlers this offseason. Despite the wide variance in Wood’s ERAs, he’s essentially a back-end lefty who can soak up innings. That makes him useful, but perhaps not for the 2015 Cubs, who will have plenty of options who are either better or who have more upside.
Then, of course, there’s Wood’s salary. The Frontline client’s strong 2013 numbers set a relatively high baseline for his salaries during his arbitration years, and he’s projected to make $5.5MM in 2015. Many teams would likely see $5.5MM as more than Wood is worth, so it’s doubtful he has much trade value. Teams like the Braves, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers, Twins or White Sox could have interest in Wood, but perhaps not so much that they’re willing to give up $5.5MM and trade talent to get him, particularly not so early in the offseason.
One factor working against Wood is that the free agent market for pitching is rather strong, particularly in comparison with the rest of the market. The non-tender deadline is December 2, and plenty of higher-upside arms will surely remain on the free agent market then. The most likely outcome, therefore, might be that the Cubs non-tender Wood, and he signs elsewhere later in the offseason.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
9:59pm: Rosenthal tweets that the Blue Jays could also be seriously involved in the pursuit for Martin. The Tigers worried that the Jays would outbid them for Victor Martinez, Rosenthal writes, seemingly implying that the Jays have the funds needed to land Martin, who looks like he might end up signing a similar contract.
8:43pm: Executives involved in negotiations with free agent catcher Russell Martin believe the Cubs are the leading bidders, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Rosenthal further suggests that the negotiations are heading toward a deal in the range of four years and $64MM, a bit less than the five years and $72.5MM MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently projected for Martin.
The other teams most strongly connected to Martin have been the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Pirates, although the Pirates recently traded for Francisco Cervelli, a possible indication that they feel it’s unlikely they can re-sign their catcher. They extended Martin a qualifying offer, which he declined. The Cubs’ top pick (No. 9 overall) is protected, so they’ll only have to give up their second-round pick if they sign Martin.
A report early in November indicated that the Cubs intended to pursue Martin. The team intends to be a major bidder for top free agents this offseason, and Martin represents a significant offensive upgrade over incumbent Welington Castillo. Also, Martin excels at framing and has gotten excellent marks for his work with pitchers, two good traits for a team aiming to develop young pitching.
The Cubs have announced they have acquired infielder Tommy La Stella from the Braves for right-hander Arodys Vizcaino. The two teams also traded 2014-15 international bonus slots: the Cubs receiving the Braves’ number four slot ($142K) in exchange for Chicago’s second ($458K), third ($309.3K), and fourth ($206.7K) slots (figures courtesy of Baseball America’s Ben Badler). The Braves will net $832K in the swap of bonus slots.
La Stella made his MLB debut for the Braves in 2014 and slashed .251/.328/.317 in 319 plate appearances while leading all National League rookies with his .328 OBP and 36 walks. La Stella, who will turn 26 in January, joins a crowded Cubs second base picture with Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Logan Watkins seeing time there last year. Third baseman Luis Valbuena also saw over 150 innings at second base, as well. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal opines La Stella is not an ideal positional fit, although the Cubs like his bat and ability to make contact and have tried to obtain him for a while. In a series of tweets, Rosenthal feels this trade could be a precursor to other moves and, while not necessarily because of La Stella’s addition, Starlin Castro may be the odd man out (I, II, III).
With La Stella being moved, Ramiro Pena and Philip Gosselin are the only second basemen on the Braves’ 40-man roster. Top prospect Jose Peraza could still be a year away after having split 2014 between Class A-Advanced and Double-A. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets the Braves may give Peraza a look during Spring Training, but he expects they will sign a bridge second baseman on a one-year deal.
Vizcaino, who the Cubs acquired two years ago from the Braves in the Paul Maholm trade, only made five appearances during his Chicago career, all this past September (three earned runs over five innings), as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old spent the bulk of 2014 across three levels of the Cubs’ organization posting a combined 3.51 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9 in 41 innings of work during 40 relief outings.
Here’s the latest from around the league as we wait for somebody to throw more wood in the hot stove.
- Closer Seung-Hwan Oh of the NPB’s Hanshin Tigers is still eyeing the majors, reports Hyun-Woo Nam of the Korea Times. The 32-year-old reliever is under contract with the Tigers for one more season after making the transition from Korea to Japan this year. Per MLBTR’s report last offseason, Oh works between 94-96 mph with a splitter. At the time, the Yankees were said to have expressed interest.
- Teams with depth could play a “big role” in the shape of the offseason, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Frequent readers of MLBTR will recognize the Cubs (position players), Dodgers (outfielders), and Red Sox (outfielders) as frequent sources of rumors. Sherman also highlights the White Sox who have a different sort of depth – three stars signed to fantastic contracts.
- Earlier tonight, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune answered fan tweets on a number of Mariners subjects. Two may interest MLBTR readers. Dutton hears (tweet) that the Mariners have “some interest” in Melky Cabrera, but the outfielder prefers to remain in the East or Midwest. Meanwhile, he’s heard (also Twitter) nothing to suggest Seattle will check in on expensive free agent pitchers. This jives with other reports that cite a focus on offense.
Payroll parity has improved throughout baseball, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. A combination of TV deals and luxury taxes have contributed to evening the playing field between the big earners and the laggards. As Mets GM Sandy Anderson points out, “there are outliers in both directions.” Yet we’ve also seen traditionally cautious clubs like the Reds sign Joey Votto to a large contract and outbid the Yankees on two Cuban players. The advantage may cycle back to large market clubs as they hire the best talent away from smaller market. We’ve seen the Dodgers snap up key personnel from the Rays and A’s this offseason which also allowed the Cubs to snag former Rays manager Joe Maddon. Brewers GM Doug Melvin isn’t concerned, saying “more (front office personnel) doesn’t mean better.”
- The Cubs and Red Sox will meet with Jon Lester this week, tweets Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons. The Yankees could play the role of dark horse. While other sources have reported that Lester is willing to sign quickly, Gammons suggests the process may last into December.
- Pitcher Josh Johnson is talking with five to six clubs, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Padres remain the righty hurler’s first choice, although nothing is imminent. My own thoughts: I’m not sure I see San Diego as a fit unless they trade from their current stock of starters. While pitcher friendly Petco Park is a good destination for Johnson as he seeks to reestablish himself, the Padres appear to have five starters and at least four depth pieces. Surely, another club can offer Johnson an easier path to starts.
- Yoan Moncada‘s expected $30MM to $40MM price tag (reported on Nov. 12) isn’t the only impediment for interested clubs, writes Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Teams routinely reach handshake agreements with the next crop of international free agents well in advance of the July 2nd signing period. Any club who signs Moncada will not be able to sign an international player for over $300K, which would force many teams to rescind existing agreements. While that may not sound like a big issue, Badler describes Latin American scouting as a “small world.” A misstep could alienate the small cadre of influential trainers in the region. Moncada achieved free agency earlier today, although he has not yet been cleared by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Twins GM Terry Ryan is “doing well” after his bout with throat cancer, writes MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. The 61-year-old still is experiencing various forms of discomfort, but has completed radiation and is back at full force in the Minnesota front office.
Here’s more out of the American League:
- The Tigers will not pursue Torii Hunter after inking Victor Martinez and trading for Anthony Gose, GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters today, including George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. “I called and said it just didn’t look like it was going to fit the way the club was getting put together,” Dombrowski said. “Thanked him for everything. Absolutely love him. If something changes where we make some changes for one reason or another, that we’re not anticipating, we would still be open. It’s just probably not much of a fit right now.” Hunter indicated in an Instagram post that he still intends to play in 2015.
- The Blue Jays recently met with free agent lefty Andrew Miller, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Miller figures to be a highly sought-after relief weapon. Toronto has definite pen needs, as Nicholson-Smith’s colleague, Shi Davidi, told me on this week’s podcast, and as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk wrote in previewing the club’s offseason.
- Free agent utility man Emilio Bonifacio is receiving interest from his former teams, including the Blue Jays and Royals, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets. (Cotillo also lists the Cubs as a team with possible interest.) Bonifacio should have his pick of situations given his versatility and place on the market.
- The Red Sox have promoted Mike Rikard to become the team’s scouting director, according to a tweet from Clint Longenecker, formerly of Baseball America. He replaces Amiel Sawdaye, who will be promoted to a vice president role, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via Twitter). Longenecker himself is moving on to join the Indians, Baseball America’s John Manuel tweets.
Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is expected to receive a bonus that will absolutely shatter the previous record for an amateur player — international or domestic — and intrigue surrounding him only figures to grow in the coming months. Here’s the latest on the 19-year-old phenom…
- Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel has an outstanding breakdown of not only Moncada’s showcase in Guatemala yesterday, but of the puzzling, seemingly inexplicable way in which he came to leave Cuba. McDaniel writes that Moncada was seemingly granted permission by the Cuban government to leave the country for Guatemala and is free to return and leave again as he wishes (a bizarre phenomenon also noted earlier this month by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez). Beyond that, Moncada is being represented by a CPA from St. Petersburg who has never negotiated a baseball contract before and will not enlist the help of any veteran MLB agents. In fact, two agents from the Boras Corporation attempted to attend Moncada’s showcase and were not only denied access, but escorted off the premises by armed guards, McDaniel reports. Moncada’s agent has no desire to make this a story about himself and therefore was not named, McDaniel adds.
- McDaniel, too, has spoken to several executives who expect Moncada’s bonus to land in the $30-40MM range, which would result in a 100 percent luxury tax on all overages, which could lead to a total commitment upwards of $80MM. McDaniel writes that were Moncada not subject to international spending limitations, he’d probably clear $100MM with relative ease. Some scouts, he notes, feel Moncada is more talented than Jose Abreu, Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas. He adds that there are already rumors that the Cubs are looking to again blow way past their bonus pool in 2015, so if Moncada isn’t declared a free agent until after June 15, 2015, Chicago figures to be heavily involved. As it stands, the Cubs and Rangers aren’t eligible to sign a player for more than $250K after blowing past their bonus pools in the 2013-14 spending period.
- The Orioles scouted Moncada at yesterday’s showcase but consider the infielder too expensive, reports Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. As Encina notes, Baltimore’s international bonus pool was roughly $2.253MM, meaning that in order to sign Moncada for $30MM, they’d have to invest more than $57MM once luxury tax is accounted for. Encina’s source for his article said he expects Moncada to sign for “at least” a $25MM bonus.
- MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets that the Angels definitely like Moncada but consider him to be out of their price range. The Halos currently hold the record for a Cuban amateur, having recently given Roberto Baldoquin an $8MM bonus. (Others, such as Abreu and Castillo, were not considered amateurs by the collective bargaining agreement.)