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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tells the emotional story of Rays reliever Grant Balfour and his father David, who is battling pancreatic cancer. Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame will induct the younger Balfour even before his playing career is over so that his father — a notable figure in the Australian game — can be there to participate. The piece is well worth your time.
Here are the latest reports on the international scene:
- The Diamondbacks are among the teams expected to watch touted young Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada later this week, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports. Arizona has already gone well over its international bonus pool and has been one of the most active teams on the international market. The Cubs, too, will take a look at him (as have many other, previously-reported teams), though they would be unable to offer him more than a $250K bonus unless he waits until after July 2 to sign.
- Hector Olivera drew hundreds of scouts to his final public showcase, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports on Twitter, and seemingly did not disappoint. Per Badler, the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, and Padres were well-represented in attendance. You’ll want to read through Badler’s Twitter feed (some earlier portion of which was compiled here by Baseball America) for more information on Olivera’s impressive display as well as some other notes from the international showcase.
- Right-hander Yadier Alvarez, just 18, is the latest Cuban citizen drawing buzz. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted recently that he is pushing a high-90s fastball, and today Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports (Twitter links) that his buzz “checks out.” Not only does the young righty work in the mid-90s and touch even higher, he has a “more than usable” change to go with it. That will likely result in a big payday, per McDaniel, who also notes in a tweet that it may take a month or two for him to be cleared to sign.
- Former KBO superstar and current Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang might just be capable of putting up huge numbers in the big leagues, according to the analysis of Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs. Farnsworth breaks down Kang’s “upper-echelon swing” and compares it to some notable MLB power bats, concluding that the Korean ballplayer could break out with a .280+ batting average and 25 or more home runs in his first MLB season.
Baseball Prospectus has released its top-100 (+1) prospects list, and it has some fairly significant differences of opinion at the top from other compilations. Most notably, BP lists Cubs standout Kris Bryant fifth overall, preferring the more well-rounded skillsets of the Twins‘ Byron Buxton (No. 1) and three shortstop prospects to Bryant’s immense power potential. Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis list their favorite sleeper prospects, with Mayo choosing Mets farmhand Gabriel Ynoa at the top of his board and Callis giving the nod to Astros outfielder Brett Phillips.
- With much of the winter’s business conducted, it is time for observers to pronounce winners and losers. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs rightly points out, in assessing a club’s hot stove season, some tend only to focus on clubs that have done the most trading of future assets for present expected production.
- While this year’s free agent crop had plenty of question marks, that may have driven a memorable offseason of swaps, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. Ben notes that some deals seemingly came about in part due to weakness in areas of the free agent market, to say nothing of the fact that clubs were obviously interested in buying up shorter-term commitments by dealing for pending free agents (twenty of whom changed hands).
- The anecdotal evidence of bias against foreign players in Japan’s NPB remains largely unclear after applying available statistical methods, Eno Sarris writes in a piece for FOX Sports. While there is “some evidence of systematic differences,” differences in approach and styles of play could be the root cause, rather than some systemic disfavoring of non-native players.
- The Shields camp made a strategic error by shooting too high, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes. After initially asking for a contract in the realm of five to six years at $120MM to $125MM, his team did not move down off that ask soon enough in the wake of Jon Lester‘s signing, says Passan. I do think it worth adding that four years and $75MM at a preferred geographical spot is far from a terrible downside scenario — even in the context of the modern free agent world — and that ultimate price could well have justified an aggressive strategy, depending upon Shields’s own particular preferences and risk tolerance.
- Quality, durable arms of the relatively recent past provide at least some insight into how Shields might produce over the term of his deal, as Ben Lindbergh of Grantland writes. Among pitchers with age 29-32 seasons similar to those Shields just put up, the outcomes over the next four years ranged from 900+ innings of Greg Maddux to less than 300 frames of Frank Viola. On the whole, the (rather small) group lost one-third of its total innings while putting up less than half the total wins above replacement as against the previous four-year run. Though there is obviously plenty of risk, Lindbergh concludes that, in Shields’s case at least, it seems a reasonable-enough outlook to warrant the commitment.
- San Diego has a legitimate abundance of starting pitching and could use it to make a trade, now or over the summer, opines ESPN.com’s Keith Law (Insider post). That flexibility is as important as the upgrade that Shields represents, in Law’s view. Of course, bolstering the MLB roster through trade is not the only hypothetical outcome, and Padres GM A.J. Preller may face an even sterner challenge if the team he has compiled fails to compete, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes.
- That the Cubs made a legitimate, late run at Shields is revealing, ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers writes. It shows that the team has cash to spend, that Shields likely would have been pursued harder if Chicago hadn’t landed Lester, and that the front office is prepared to act boldly when opportunity arises.
- The Dodgers considered a run at Shields but were never going to approach the price range that Shields ultimately commanded, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports on Twitter. Los Angeles “was looking for something more cost effective,” says Olney.
The James Shields saga has finally drawn to a close, with the right-hander agreeing to a four-year deal to pitch near his southern California home as a member of the vastly reshaped Padres. Shields will reportedly take home $75MM, and his contract also contains a club option. Shields rumors have dominated the past week, with multiple teams rumored to be involved. Here are some reactions from around the baseball world as well as some details on other offers that Shields had available…
- Shields did not take the best offer that was presented to him, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link). One team made the right-hander a four-year, $80MM contract offer. Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune backs that up (also on Twitter) by noting that the Padres’ offer was “one of the highest,” adding that he had heard Shields was willing to take a small discount to pitch in San Diego.
- That team wasn’t the Cubs, who topped out at three years and a vesting option, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). Chicago wasn’t willing to guarantee Shields a contract in the mid-$70MM range after spending $175MM on Jon Lester and Jason Hammel already this offseason.
- The Marlins also offered Shields a three-year pact and a vesting option, Heyman tweets.
- The Marlins realized they had to bow out on Saturday afternoon once the bidding exceeded $70MM, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (Twitter links). Miami was concerned not only with blowing up its future payroll but also with forfeiting the No. 12 pick in the draft — the top unprotected pick this year. The Padres, of course surrendered the very next pick in the draft, as they’d been slotted 13th overall. Frisaro adds that Shields monitored the Marlins all winter and was impressed by their direction, but the Padres simply made a stronger offer.
- Olney gets a different sense of the Marlins’ level of involvement, as he tweets that some are of the belief that the Marlins actually made the highest offer to Shields.
- The Cubs‘ guarantee was around $60MM, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. Sherman adds that Shields’ camp pursued the Dodgers far more than the team pursued him, and the Blue Jays hadn’t spoken to Shields in about two weeks when he agreed to terms.
- Also from Sherman’s piece, he opines that while Shields is unquestionably a financial risk — the Friars will be paying him and Kemp roughly $36MM per year beginning in 2016 (the $18MM received from the Dodgers offsets much of the 2015 cost) — he was too good of a deal to pass up. Shields was still cheaper, financially speaking, than Cole Hamels, and he also didn’t cost the prospects Hamels would have required. He also provides leadership and protects them somewhat when Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner hit the open market. And, with Kennedy, Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Will Venable, Joaquin Benoit, Cory Luebke, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson all potentially off the books next winter, the team has some financial flexibility.
- Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes that while the addition of Shields is an unequivocal boost to the Padres’ postseason hopes, their downfall very well could be a patchwork group of infielders. The Padres’ infield projects at just 5.6 WAR, based on the Steamer projection system, and Petriello looks at the past five seasons’ worth of data to see the correlation between infield WAR and overall wins by a team. Unsurprisingly, the outlook is bleak, with only the 2012 Orioles and A’s receiving a lower WAR contribution and still reaching the playoffs. Of course, as Petriello notes, there’s reason to be optimistic for a rebound from Jedd Gyorko, and there’s still some upside in Yonder Alonso and Will Middlebrooks. The shortstop tandem of Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes is likely to be a black hole offensively, however.
- Peter Gammons is a bit skeptical of the Padres’ win-now tactics (Twitter links). As Gammons points out, while the team has created some buzz and bolstered its 2015 hopes, by 2017 they’ll have a 32-year-old Matt Kemp and 36-year-old Shields earning significant salaries, and they’ve either traded away their recent first-round picks or watched them flame out. The Padres have just two of their first rounders from 2009-14 still in the system in Hunter Renfroe and Cory Spangenberg, and they now don’t have a first-rounder in 2015. Trea Turner and Joe Ross were in the Wil Myers trade, Max Fried was used in the Justin Upton trade, Karsten Whitson didn’t sign (Spangenberg was selected as compensation the following year) and Donavan Tate was out of baseball last season. The team does still have some supplemental first-rounders in the system, while seventh-rounder Matt Wisler and second-rounder Austin Hedges have become Top 100 prospects.
- Shields provides the Padres with some surprisingly much-needed innings, write Mark Simon and Justin Havens of ESPN. Though the Friars are typically thought of as having a strong pitching staff, their rotation has ranked 22nd or 23rd in innings in each of the past three seasons.
FEBRUARY 8TH, 7:52pm: The Padres’ offer to Shields four years and between $72-80MM, tweets FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi.
11:46am: People around baseball think it will wind up somewhere in the $72-$75MM range across four years, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets. The Cubs are still a long shot, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM (on Twitter).
10:45am: Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (on Twitter) expects Shields’ deal to be a four-year deal worth around $72-$80MM.
10:32am: Depending on the number of years, Shields, could sign for an annual average value of a little less than $20MM, according to Lin.
10:10am: The Cubs are seen as the major outside threat as things appear headed toward a resolution between Shields and the Padres, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
Shields isn’t expected to come close to early $100MM projections and at this late juncture, baseball people say they believe he would do well to get anywhere close to $20MM per year. It is believed multiple teams have showed a willingness to extend a three-year offer, and one interested GM said agent Page Odle suggested he had at least one four-year offer.
9:40am: A Padres source that spoke with Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (on Twitter) expressed confidence that San Diego sign Shields.
9:20am: Shields’ decision could come either today (Sunday) or Monday, according to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego (via Twitter). Lin hears that Shields was informed early on Saturday that the Padres has made their final offer. Lin adds (link) that he’d be surprised if another team comes in and steals him away.
FEBRUARY 7TH, 7:04pm: Shields never rejected a five-year, $110 million offer, tweets Nightengale. While not pertinent to the present situation, it’s an interesting revelation. Earlier in the offseason, it was rumored that such an offer had been extended. When Shields didn’t sign, it was widely assumed the deal was rejected.
6:32pm: The outcome of the Padres offer is expected to be known within 24 hours, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
4:20pm: It’s not known which teams remain involved in the bidding, but one involved club was told that a decision is expected soon, tweets Nightengale.
4:07pm: The Padres “badly” want Shields and remain the favorites, but they’re being told that there are other teams still heavily involved in the bidding, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. Meanwhile, Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio tweets that there’s no “impasse” between the two sides, but rather that Shields simply must decide whether or not to accept San Diego’s “last and final offer.”
2:43pm: The Padres and Shields are currently “at an impasse” after several hours of negotiations, tweets Miller. The ball is Shields’ court at this point, he adds.
1:31pm: The Padres are indeed the favorites to sign Shields, “if not a lock already,” reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (on Twitter). Frisaro covers another team, the Marlins, who have been linked to Shields throughout the offseason.
11:15am: Talks between the Padres and James Shields “have heated up and are gaining momentum,” according to Scott Miller of FOX Sports San Diego/Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Shields, a native of Santa Clarita, Calif. (just 150 miles from San Diego), very much likes the idea of pitching in San Diego, Miller adds.
Last night, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that nothing was imminent between the two sides at this point, though he added that things could change quickly. Within his piece, Lin noted that Cole Hamels (a San Diego native himself) could be the team’s top target, but no club had yet come close to matching an asking price that many clubs believe to be exorbitant.
Rumors have been connecting the Padres and Shields for quite some time now. Adding an arm of his caliber to an already-strong rotation would be the icing of the cake, so to speak, on what has been a nearly unfathomably active offseason for first-year general manager A.J. Preller. The former Rangers executive was named GM in August and set out to transform the Padres’ low-scoring offense not with a lengthy rebuild, but by using his farm system to acquire several win-now bats. San Diego has added Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks this winter as well as relievers Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer while keeping the big league roster largely intact. The most notable subtractions from last year’s 25-man roster are Seth Smith, Yasmani Grandal and Jesse Hahn.
Shields, the prize of the remaining crop of free agents, is reportedly expected to make a decision on a destination before the weekend is complete. If signed, he’d join Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy atop a strong group of starters and further the Friars’ chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Prince Fielder is one of several players whose hoped-for return to past production levels will go a long way toward determining the near-term fate of the Rangers. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News provides an interesting profile of Fielder, who says he is recharged, newly appreciative, and raring to go for 2015.
Here are a few more notes from around the league:
- The Orioles are headed toward an arbitration hearing with outfielder Alejandro De Aza, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. Executive VP Dan Duquette explains that the club informed De Aza it had made him its best offer and would take a “file to go” strategy from that point forward. He expressed surprise that the team’s $5MM proposal was not accepted, noting that there had been discussions of a two-year deal as well. De Aza filed at $5.65MM, which actually falls shy of the $5.9MM that MLBTR and Matt Swartz projected. Baltimore’s arbitration strategy was actually the first topic covered by Kubatko in his recent appearance on the MLBTR Podcast.
- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said today that the league’s investigation into possible tampering by the Cubs into then-Rays manager Joe Maddon is still in progress, as ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Maddon’s agent, Alen Nero, have both insisted that nothing untoward occurred, but it appears that MLB will take its time and cover the matter thoroughly before coming to any conclusions.
- Max Scherzer‘s departure from the Tigers appears to have been all but a formality from the point that he rejected the club’s $140MM offer last spring, as the righty explained to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Scherzer said that he wasn’t interested in holding contract talks during the season, and that the club was not interested in negotiating when Scherzer’s camp “reached out” over the offseason. Indeed, Scherzer said that both he and Rick Porcello realized some time ago that the club was likely going to undergo a lot of turnover in the coming years, which has indeed been the case.
- As for his choice of the Nationals, Scherzer gave some further details on how the end game went down: “Of the teams that were really down to the end, the Nationals gave me the best opportunity [to win]. So because of that, that’s the recent why I told Scott [Boras] at the end, ‘Let’s just negotiate with the Nationals.'”
The latest reports on the James Shields front from Thursday had the Padres as the likely favorites to sign the right-hander, with the Cubs and Blue Jays on the periphery of the talks. Shields is reportedly expected to come to a decision by the time this weekend comes to a close, so resolution to his lengthy free agency saga could be nigh. Here’s the latest on the former Royals righty…
- Whether or not the Padres are the favorites to sign Shields, they have not spoken with his camp in over 24 hours, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Agreement does not appear imminent, per the report, though San Diego has discussed numbers with Shields.
- Cubs manager Joe Maddon tells MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) that club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke with him about the prospect of signing the righty. Those comments certainly confirm prior reports that the team has had some internal consideration of the possibility, though of course it remains unclear exactly what level of interest Chicago has (and at what price it might bite).
- Astros owner Jim Crane told Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle that he doesn’t envision his team signing Shields. Some have speculated that Houston could be a sleeper for Shields, with the fruits of their rebuilding efforts on the brink of Major League contribution. However, Crane cited the lack of TV revenue from 2014 and Shields’ age as factors. “With the (local) TV money not coming in last year, that really hurt. That was over $50 million that we did not receive,” said Crane, who also added that he’s not sure the team is quite ready to begin making four-year investments. He did note that the Astros would have to consider the move “if we got a good deal.”
- There’s a growing sense among those involved in Shields talks that he will end up with the Padres, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com.
- The Padres are believed to have a max payroll of about $105MM in 2015, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (Twitter link). As such, Lin feels that an addition of Shields is very possible for the Friars. San Diego currently projects to have a payroll around $84MM, thanks to the $18MM of Matt Kemp‘s 2015 salary that will be picked up by the Dodgers.
The Cubs announced their list of non-roster invitees to big league Spring Training today, and among the list of previously reported minor league deals was the signing of infielder Jonathan Herrera.
The 30-year-old Herrera spent last season with the Red Sox — his only career season not spent in a Rockies uniform. In 104 plate appearances with Boston, Herrera batted .233/.307/.289, though he entered the 2014 campaign as a .265/.325/.332 hitter in 1109 plate appearances. While some may assume he posted stronger numbers at Coors Field than on the road, his production at and away from Coors was largely the same; he’s a career .266/.331/.340 hitter in Denver.
Herrera will provide the Cubs with some versatile infield depth, as he’s logged significant Major League innings at each of second base, third base and shortstop. Following the departure of Luis Valbuena in the Dexter Fowler trade, Herrera should provide the Cubs with an option at three infield positions and give competition to Arismendy Alcantara. He also gives Chicago an alternative to Mike Olt if they wish to open the season with top prospect Kris Bryant in the minors for a three weeks or so in order to delay his free agency by a year.
The Red Sox are likely done adding to their Major League roster for the 2015 season, GM Ben Cherington told reporters, including John Tomase of WEEI.com, yesterday. “I would expect the group we have for spring training is in place and I would be surprised if there were any additions,” said Cherington. “I couldn’t completely rule out a non-roster deal with someone, but we feel good about where we are with our position player and pitching group, so this is probably the group you’ll see when we take the field in Fort Myers.” As Tomase notes, Cherington again ruled out the possibility of signing James Shields or making a significant run at Cole Hamels, as Tomase’s WEEI colleague Rob Bradford noted last month. Boston has added Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley to its rotation this offseason, with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez joining the lineup.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- Masterson told Bradford earlier this week that he was surprised to be completely pain-free in a pre-Spring Training bullpen session. As Masterson explains, after he tore an oblique muscle last winter he did not have any scar tissue removed, which likely resulted in the pain he felt in his early spring bullpens. “I just figured I needed to loosen up, but it never did. Coming in right now compared to last year? It’s huge.” Masterson feels that early pain trickled down into his knee and hips, serving as a significant detriment to his 2014 numbers. Boston gave Masterson a one-year, $9.5MM contract this offseason with the belief that he can bounce back to his 2013 form and help lead their revamped rotation.
- While the Cubs insist that there was no tampering at play in their hiring of manager Joe Maddon, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the Rays insist that they do have evidence to the contrary. Maddon signed a five-year deal with the Cubs in early November, just 10 days after opting out of his deal with the Rays (though word that an agreement had been reached broke just seven days after his opt-out).
- The Orioles and Alejandro De Aza are headed for an arbitration hearing, GM Dan Duquette conceded today in an appearance on 105.7 The Fan radio (h/t: MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko). Duquette said that he felt the team made a “very, very strong” offer to De Aza shortly before figures were exchanged, but no agreement was reached. De Aza filed for a $5.65MM salary, while the team came back with a flat $5MM offer, as can be seen in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker.
The market for James Shields is picking up steam, to say the least, with multiple reports indicating that he could decide upon a team before this weekend comes to a close. As of yesterday, the Marlins were still said to be in talks for Shields, with the Cubs “kicking the tires.” The Padres were indirectly connected to Shields, as reports had them seeking a top-end starter, though Shields was not mentioned by name.
Here are today’s Shields-related items…
- “The Padres…have to be considered favorites for” Shields, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. The fact that Shields lives in San Diego could indeed give the Padres the edge, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes.
- While the Padres are indeed “among the favorites” for Shields, Heyman reports that “a few other teams, including at least one surprise” are in contact with Shields’ camp. A person connected to the Cubs tells Heyman that Chicago could get involved in Shields’ market if his price falls significantly; the Cubs’ interest in Shields was first reported yesterday.
- The Blue Jays are “kicking the tires” on Shields, which is a surprise to Heyman given their payroll limitations. This isn’t the first time Toronto has been linked to Shields, though it remains to be seen if the Jays can create the financial space to sign Shields even at a lowered price tag.
- The Dodgers are currently focused on international stars Yoan Moncada and Hector Olivera and not Shields, tweets Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons. Many have speculated that the Dodgers could make a play based not only on their deep pockets but on the presence of former Rays GM Andrew Friedman atop the new L.A. baseball operations department.
- Multiple sources have told Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that they do not expect the Marlins to sign Shields. One source characterized the chances as “zero percent.” For what it’s worth, others have also reported the chances as “zero,” only to have rumors of talks between the two sides resurface. Ultimately, however, it seems that the Fish are long shots. Shields’ reported desire to play for a team on the West Coast and the Marlins’ limited payroll are both detrimental factors.
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been told by sources in recent weeks that the Cardinals “are not a team with interest.” As Goold outlines, the Cardinals may be wary not only of forfeiting a draft pick but of forfeiting the portion of their draft bonus pool that would go along with it. Based on last year’s slot figures, signing Shields would cost St. Louis 28.3 percent of its bonus pool.