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Chicago Cubs Rumors
The Dodgers are reportedly willing to pay half of Andre Ethier‘s salary in a trade, but it’s still hard to figure out where he might be able to find regular playing time, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes. Ethier is nearly 33 and profiles as a below-average player, and half of the $56MM remaining on his contract is still more than he would likely get on the open market. The Braves are one team who could conceivably use him. The Phillies might work if Ethier weren’t left-handed, and the Rangers could make sense if they didn’t already have so many corner outfield options. Overall, though, there shouldn’t be much of a market. Here’s more from the National League.
- Top Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon is scheduled to face live batters next week for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, only has six career starts at Triple-A, and the Pirates tend to be cautious about promoting their prospects. Health permitting, though, he could make his big-league debut at some point in the second half of the season.
- The signing of Jon Lester helped change the Cubs‘ reputation, Paul Sullivan of the Boston Herald writes. The Cubs will lean heavily on young players this season, but Lester says there’s no reason not to expect those players to win right out of the gate. “Time to grow up sometime,” says Lester. “When I played in Boston we didn’t have time to grow up. You just had to show up and play, and each year you’re expected to win.”
Hector Olivera‘s newly-reported free agency could make for an interesting weekend. While we await further word on his market, let’s have a look at a few stray links to round out the evening:
- The Giants do not appear to have interest in pursuing a trade for Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig to fill in for the injured Hunter Pence, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. While that could change if the asking price is “oddly low,” per Heyman, San Francisco is not inclined to make a move of that magnitude with Pence expected to return around the first of May. While a prior report had suggested the possibility of a Craig acquisition, the team would have no apparent role for him upon Pence’s return.
- Alex Speier of the Boston Globe takes a close look at the evolving ownership and leadership situation with the Red Sox — and, in particular, Fenway Sports Group part-owner and president Michael Gordon. Though some speculated that Gordon was attempting to build his influence over the ballclub as he gained control of the second-largest stake of the FSG umbrella entity, Speier explains that the notion of a power struggle in Boston is just not true.
- Displaced Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is enjoying his “respite” from the decisionmaking seat, as Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times writes in a fascinating look at the former top baseball man in Los Angeles. Now working as a senior advisor to club president Stan Kasten — who actually extended his contract through 2016 — Colletti says that he is enjoying a more grass-roots role than he could ever have hoped to play in the GM position. At the same time, he indicated that he does not intend to slowly ease out of the game. “The song isn’t over,” says Colletti. “It is just a pause.”
- Addressing the facially odd decision of lefty Phil Coke to take a minor league deal with the Cubs rather than a reported MLB deal elsewhere, CJ Nitkowski of FOX Sports says it is all about opportunity. Nitkowski says that he, too, made the decision to take a better opportunity on a non-guaranteed deal, though in his case it did not work out as hoped.
The idea of the Cubs trading catcher Welington Castillo is not a new one: it began to make sense when the team endeavored to sign Russell Martin, became highly plausible when Chicago acquired Miguel Montero, and became an apparent fait accompli when the team added veteran backup David Ross. But over two months have passed since the new backstop tandem was installed, and Castillo remains on the Cubs roster.
True, Castillo says that he hopes to remain with the only professional organization he’s known. And manager Joe Maddon says he could be on the roster, while president of baseball operations Theo Epstein recently insisted that three catchers on the 25-man is a realistic possibility. But the smart money remains on a deal.
After all, Castillo has yet to turn 28 and comes with two more seasons of control through arbitration. (He’ll cost $2.1MM for 2015.) Though he swung the bat at a slightly-below-average rate last year, Castillo is a league-average hitter over his career and slashed a combined .271/.345/.404 over 2012-13.
Castillo does come with some defensive questions. In particular, framing measures are not kind. Then again, he has been slightly above-average at eliminating would-be base-stealers and at handling balls in the dirt, resulting in fairly strong overall ratings in the non-framing departments.
A league-average hitting catcher who can at least hold his own defensively — and could theoretically improve in the receiving department — certainly has value, especially at arbitration rates. (Remember, players like Ross and Nick Hundley commanded two-year deals in free agency.) The primary question, really, is one of market demand. With Spring Training in full swing, most teams have obviously largely settled their budgets and their roster situations.
While an injury or significant performance could be necessary to drive interest, there are no shortage of clubs that appear even at present to be viable suitors, at least in theory. Some clubs might view Castillo as a legitimate starting option in the near future. For instance:
- For the Phillies, an aging Carlos Ruiz does not have an established reserve mate — or, perhaps more to the point, mid-term replacement.
- In spite of their insistence that they are pleased with their current group and believe that Peter O’Brien can stick behind the dish, the Diamondbacks remain an obvious possibility.
- The Orioles have dabbled in the catching market frequently, and could see some merit to bringing in Castillo as a complement and heir apparent to free agent-to-be Matt Wieters.
And several teams might conceivably consider Castillo as a bench upgrade or frequent platoon mate:
- The resurgent Marlins have received replacement-level work from Jeff Mathis over the past two seasons, and Castillo would create an all-bat, defensively-questionable backstop partnership with Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who struggles against lefties).
- Similarly, the Angels may be comfortable with Drew Butera as a defensive player, but their offensive production would receive a boost with Castillo on board.
- Though Castillo does not look like the prototypical Rays backstop, but Tampa could use another option behind the dish and might go against its own convention if it smells a deal.
- Likewise, the Cardinals seem content with Tony Cruz backing up Yadier Molina but could stand to improve upon the .580 OPS production that he has delivered over the last four seasons.
- The Royals have relied so heavily on Salvador Perez that a stronger second option than Erik Kratz and Francisco Pena might make sense.
- Castillo would not only offer the Mariners protection if Mike Zunino does not continue to progress, but would provide a much stronger hitting backup than Jesus Sucre (career .634 OPS in the minors).
- And it would probably be unwise to discount the Athletics, who could roll with a Stephen Vogt-Josh Phegley pairing but have proven a lack of inhibition in either introducing depth/competition or going with a three-catcher arrangement.
Of course, interest is heavily dependent upon how these teams view both Castillo and their internal options. But the list does demonstrate that it is still exceedingly difficult to find high-quality options to don the mask, making Castillo a valuable commodity (albeit one with potential trade market competition in Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro). How much value Castillo might return to Chicago will be a function of how the spring progresses, but it seems reasonably likely that more than one team could ultimately decide that pursuit is worthwhile.
Francisco Rodriguez still has to pass a physical with the Brewers before he can have his deal officially announced, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. However, Rodriguez is still getting his visa sorted out and is therefore experiencing a delay in the process. The Brewers, of course, re-signed Rodriguez to a two-year, $13MM deal to serve as their closer once again.
Here’s more from the National League Central…
- Luis Jimenez, who is out of options, is competing with Luis Sardinas and Hector Gomez for a utility infield role with the Brewers, writes Haudricourt. Jimenez and Gomez may have the upper hand, but if Sardinas hits and proves himself to be capable at third base, Jimenez could be squeezed out of a roster spot. The Brewers have two bench spots to be filled by these three players, writes Haudricourt, but going with Sardinas would of course lead to the risk of losing Jimenez on waivers at the end of Spring Training.
- Reds reliever Burke Badenhop tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he found the free agent process “nerve-racking” despite being pleased with the results. “I continued to fall back on the point that we knew what was out there,” said Badenhop, “kind of where I fit in the market. It’s kind of a funky spot, not really crystal clear. Nobody that was ahead of me was getting worse deals than I thought I should have got and nobody behind me was getting better deals.”
- The role of Cubs‘ fifth starter is “for all practical purposes” Travis Wood‘s to lose, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers wrote yesterday. The Cubs have Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks in the front four slots, with Wood, Edwin Jackson and Tsuyoshi Wada competing for the fifth slot. Rogers does note that Jackson or Wada could force their way into the role, but it seems likely that at least one of the three candidates for the final spot will be traded this spring, in Rogers’ estimation. I have a difficult time seeing any club agreeing to take on Jackson’s remaining $22MM; a release may be the more likely outcome, though that’s a large chunk of money for any team to swallow. For those wondering, Wood will earn just under $5.7MM in 2015 and is controllable through the 2016 season via arbitration, while Wada is earning $4MM this season on a one-year deal.
2:15pm: Coke’s deal will pay him $2.25MM if he makes the Major League club with the opportunity to earn up to $900K more via incentives, reports MLive.com’s Chris Iott (Twitter links). The incentives kick in beginning with his 35th appearance of the season, Iott adds.
9:08am: The Cubs have agreed to sign left-handed reliever Phil Coke to a minor league deal, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links). Coke turned down at least one MLB offer, per the report.
Coke, 32, will give Chicago another southpaw option to pair with Felix Doubront in the pen. Chicago somewhat surprisingly decided to non-tender Wesley Wright earlier in the offseason, leaving some uncertainty in the depth chart. There are other internal options as well, such as Zac Rosscup and Drake Britton.
In Coke, the Cubs have added a still-live arm with a history of underperforming his peripherals. With the Tigers last year, he worked to a 3.88 ERA with 6.4 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 over 58 frames. Unsurprisingly, Coke was much more effective when he enjoyed the platoon advantage (.691 OPS) than when pitching to right-handed hitters (.871).
Catcher Eli Whiteside has opted to accept a coaching job with the Giants rather than taking one of several offers he had to continue playing, MLB.com’s Chris Haft reports. The veteran played in parts of six MLB seasons, including a three-year run in which he was a significant contributor for San Francisco. He will retire after getting one last short run in the bigs last year with the Cubs.
More from the NL West:
- Padres righty Josh Johnson has progressed to the point that he’ll throw to a catcher on flat ground, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. With his training program currently on track, Johnson is scheduled to throw a pen session for the first time by mid-March with a target of game action by June, if all goes according to plan. Johnson’s deal with San Diego promises him only $1MM but can increase all the way to $7.25MM if he maxes out his incentives.
- Fellow two-time TJ patient Cory Luebke is also hoping to return strong for the Padres, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The story details some of the ups and downs that Luebke has had in dealing with his two procedures. As with Johnson, 2015 is something of a make-good season for the lefty: his early-career extension is up after the season, when San Diego will have to decide whether to exercise a $7.5MM option or pay a $1.75MM buyout.
- The Rockies pursued utilityman Daniel Descalso not only because he would offer a versatile bench option, but because of his big-game experience, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. Skipper Walt Weiss explained that the former Cardinals infielder brought an underappreciated element to the squad. “All of that factored in quite a bit,” said Weiss. “I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that’s a big reason why we brought Danny in here.”
- Alex Guerrero‘s contract and the Dodgers roster situation makes for quite a puzzle, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. On the one hand, Guerrero can refuse an optional assignment and has said he will do just that. On the other, if he is traded he will earn the right to opt out of his deal after the season. Cameron posits that the club could send Guerrero out in exchange for some savings on his 2015 tab, agreeing to remain responsible for post-2015 responsibilities while hoping he will opt out. The Angels, Blue Jays, Rockies, and Rangers all look like reasonable landing spots, in Cameron’s estimation.
The White Sox have announced that star pitcher Chris Sale has suffered an avulsion fracture in his right foot, sustained Friday in an accident at his home. (GM Rick Hahn says Sale sustained the injury while unloading his truck, according to CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes on Twitter.) Sale is expected to be out three weeks. That means he should return to pitching before the start of the season, although it remains to be seen how the timing of the injury will affect his preparations. The White Sox say they’ll evaluate whether Sale will be ready for Opening Day once he undergoes more tests. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Most of the Cubs‘ top picks from their 2010 draft haven’t panned out, but the team could still get good value from several of their later-round picks, including Matt Szczur, Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch, the Associated Press writes. “I was the first one out of the draft class to be called up, and everyone seemed to follow after that,” says Beeler. “I felt like I got the ball rolling for everybody on that. That was a good feeling.” Beeler and Jokisch got good results in their first exposure to the big leagues last season, although neither are likely to make the team out of Spring Training after the Cubs added pitching talent this offseason.
- Pitcher Gavin Floyd says he signed with the Indians in part because he felt manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway could help him, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Also, Floyd liked the Indians’ chances of winning and welcomed a return to the AL Central, with which he became familiar as a member of the White Sox from 2007-2013. Floyd has also been limited the past two years due to arm injuries, and the Indians have a fairly good track record of getting the most from bounce-back pitchers like Scott Kazmir and Carl Pavano. After missing much of the 2014 season with a broken bone in his elbow, Floyd has been pitching off a mound in Spring Training.
Team spending restrictions could be an issue in negotiations for MLB’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Specifically, the debt structure of the Ricketts family’s heavily financed purchase of the Cubs in 2009 required the team to tie baseball spending to revenues, limiting its ability to spend. Other clubs face similar restrictions.
“Cubs aside, larger picture, any time there are contractual obligations or language that affect the way a team functions, against the backdrop of the decisions that they are going to be making, against whatever restrictions are in place, we enter that equation,” says MLBPA head Tony Clark. “Rest assured, we’re interested enough to be involved in the conversation.”
MLB’s current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Wittenmyer suggests that the union’s main issue with team banking restrictions is that teams might use them as excuses not to spend.
The Cubs have operated with dramatically limited payrolls in recent years, with their Opening Day payroll falling from a high of about $144MM in 2010 to about $93MM last season (via Cot’s Contracts). Obviously, the team’s splashier 2014-15 offseason, highlighted by their signing of Jon Lester, will produce a higher payroll in 2015 (and Wittenmyer notes that the team did hold over money budgeted for 2014 to spend this winter). But team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has emphasized that the team’s lower recent payrolls were not purely a function of the fact that the team had been rebuilding.
“We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team,” Epstein said in 2013 (via David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com), when the Cubs had an Opening Day payroll about about $107MM. “We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year.”
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has left the team’s Spring Training complex in Florida and will head to St. Louis after experiencing abdominal pain, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright will see a specialist in St. Louis to diagnose the source of the injury. GM John Mozeliak said it would be incorrect to label the injury a sports hernia at this time. Wainwright said that he’s been feeling better each day, but seeing a specialist will give the team some further clarity.
- The Cubs announced today that they have hired Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant. Ramirez, who spent the 2014 season as a player-coach with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, will work with the Cubs’ Major League and Minor League players on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting, according to a press release from the team.
- Via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the investigation into the Cubs‘ alleged tampering regarding their hiring of Joe Maddon will be resolved by Opening Day (Twitter link). The Cubs agreed to bring Maddon on as their new manager on a five-year deal just 10 days after he opted out of his contract with the Rays.
- Corey Hart had other offers in free agency but welcomed the opportunity to return to the familiar setting of the NL Central when the Pirates made a one-year offer, he tells Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hart admits that he also rushed back to action too quickly in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 season due to surgery on both of his knees. The fact that Pirates have morphed into one of the National League’s best teams over the past few seasons also played a role in his decision to select Pittsburgh’s offer.
- The Pirates are drawing some influence from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in determining how much to rest their stars this offseason, writes ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Manager Clint Hurdle said that an interesting article on how much the Warriors are resting their best players and how the on-court production has improved as a result Seeing the analysis was no accident, however, as GM Neal Huntington tells Stark that the Pirates are constantly studying successful teams in other sports to see if any trends or philosophies can carry over to baseball.
The Pirates are studying the NBA’s Warriors to see if there’s anything they can learn from Golden State’s success, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark writes. “I read an interesting article a while ago on the Golden State Warriors, how they get maximum production with their players,” says manager Clint Hurdle. “They’re actually playing less, and they’re playing better collectively as a group.” A member of the Pirates’ front office recently did a study on the Warriors, with the Pirates trying to determine whether they can glean an advantage by somehow optimizing playing time for their roster. As Stark notes, though, it’s likely tricky to figure out how playing time in the NBA correlates to playing time in the Majors. Here are more notes.
- There were plenty of high-profile starting pitchers available on this year’s free-agent market, but the Yankees‘ main starting pitching acquisition was 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News notes. That’s not the sort of acquisition the Yankees are known for, but Eovaldi feels he fits in well with them. “The Yankees are rebuilding in a way,” he says. “A lot of guys are leaving, and we’re starting to get a lot more of the younger guys coming in here, too.” Eovaldi began working on a splitter near the end of last season, and he and the Yankees hope that pitch can help him boost his strikeout totals, which have been relatively low despite a terrific fastball.
- It’s well known that the Cubs have an outstanding core of hitting prospects, but it’s tough to project how far that core will actually take them. Baseball America’s Matt Eddy aims to figure that out by comparing the Cubs’ top young hitters to other exceptional groups of prospects from the past. Some of those groups (those of the 2006 Diamondbacks, 2011 Royals and 2004 Brewers) didn’t produce obviously exceptional results in wins and losses, although at least the Royals and Brewers would probably argue that they’re happy with how the intervening years unfolded. The other two great prospect groups (the 2007 Rays and 1992 Braves) helped produce great results by any standard, even if the Braves’ subsequent run was fueled largely by pitching that was already in the big leagues at the time.