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In a fascinating piece for FOX Sports, former big leaguer C.J. Nitkowski discusses his experiences looking for minor league deals. Nitkowski says that he often took it upon himself to look for the best opportunity, considering all aspects of the possibilities he could unearth to get the best shot at making it onto an active roster.
Here are some more notes from around the game:
- Agency Sosnick Cobbe Sports has announced the addition of agent and general counsel Adam Karon to its nameplate. The firm, which represents big leaguers such as Josh Johnson and Jay Bruce, will now be called Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon.
- In another announcement, the Phillies say they have promoted Michael Stiles to the position of executive VP and CEO. Per the release, Stiles will operate in the business and general administration realm. Stiles had already been said to be in charge of the day-to-day business affairs of the organization back when Pat Gillick had yet to have the interim label removed from his title of president.
- Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has released his list of the game’s top 200 prospects, along with worthwhile breakdowns of the players that made it. Working from that list and applying valuations to the ranked players, colleague Dave Cameron presents a ranking of the most valuable farm systems in the game. Baseball Prospectus has also issued its own organizational rankings in recent days, so be sure to check those out as well. Both sites agree on the top four teams — the Cubs, Twins, Rangers, and Dodgers – though Fangraphs ranks them in that order while BP prefers the Los Angeles farm to that of Texas.
We already took a peek in this morning at the Cuban market, but the news keeps coming. Here’s the latest on the two most touted position players available (or soon to be):
- Two executives who spoke with Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons indicated that the market for Hector Olivera looks rather strong (Twitter link). One predicted that Olivera would attain a $45MM to $50MM guarantee, while the other (from a team with interest) guessed that the 29-year-old infielder would reach the $65MM to $70MM range. We have heard reports of Olivera seeking that kind of guarantee, but it is interesting to see that some big league front office people see it as a likely outcome.
- We heard earlier today that the Dodgers continue to have interest in Olivera and would plan to use him at third if they end up signing him.
- Yoan Moncada remains most likely to sign with the Yankees or Dodgers, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. The Padres are the third most likely landing spot, in Badler’s estimation, with the benefit of having not apparently made commitments that would need to be broken with next year’s July 2 class. Also still in the mix are the Red Sox and Tigers. Of course, the level of interest in the latter two teams, especially, remains unclear. In particular, Detroit is “not that serious” about going after Moncada, per Tony Paul of the Detroit News, who adds via Twitter that the team has not been in contact lately with Moncada’s camp.
- Notably, however, Badler adds that the Cubs and Rangers are “not out of the race” and are being aggressive in their pursuit of Moncada. Both teams would need to convince him to wait until July 2 to sign, which seems unlikely at this point.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is one of ten high-profile free-agents-to-be to watch during the 2015 season, writes Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com. The backstop is working his way back from midseason Tommy John surgery, but he could be available for a designated hitter role by opening day. He was in the midst of a breakout at the plate before he was waylaid by injury. Ringolsby profiles nine other potential free agents including Wieters’ teammate Chris Davis. Here’s more from the AL East:
- Yankees backup catcher Austin Romine has reported to camp 15 pounds lighter, reports Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News. The former prospect will compete with John Ryan Murphy. Last season, it appeared Murphy was above Romine on the team’s depth chart. However, Romine is out of options, which could give him the upper hand in laying claim to the backup job. If not, backup catchers are always in demand around the league.
- Cubs manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays are in a good position to compete, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Maddon says the biggest challenge for new manager Kevin Cash is to form relationships with the club’s veterans. Tampa Bay also has a new look entering 2015 – they made seven trades involving 30 players. Maddon identified the outfield as the biggest question for the franchise.
- Dariel Alvarez could be the first Orioles prospect to reach the majors this season, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The club believes he’s “one of the best-kept secrets in the minors.” Manager Buck Showalter wonders why Alvarez doesn’t appear on prospect lists. The 26-year-old hit .306/.330/.472 with 15 home runs in the upper minors last season.
The expensive costs of youth travel leagues are an obstacle to attracting young talent to baseball, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen writes in a piece for The Players Tribune. The full scholarships provided by college basketball or football make them more appealing sports than the long, usually financially-unrewarding path to the majors that the vast majority of prospects face — McCutchen himself admits that, were it not for an ACL tear when he was 15, he would’ve likely pursued NCAA football and not been a big league star today. He argues that kids from low-income families need more entry points into the game, with one possible solution being a new system similar to the academy program for international prospects.
Here’s the latest from around the NL and AL Central divisions…
- The Indians don’t have interest in signing veteran southpaw Barry Zito, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The Tribe were one of multiple teams who recently saw Zito throw during a workout session.
- Right-hander Matt Albers threw at the same session and the Indians were interested in signing him, Pluto reports, but Albers instead chose a minor league deal with the White Sox.
- David Herndon is happy to finally be healthy and pleased to have signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, the right-hander tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We had dialogue with them throughout the offseason and at the end of the day we got it done. It’s been a long road but we’re going to get back on track this year,” Herndon said. He also mentioned that the Padres were interested in his services, and he threw a workout for San Diego earlier this offseason.
- In less than a year’s time, catcher has gone from a weak spot within the Cubs organization to a position of potentially great depth, CSN Chicago’s Tony Andracki writes. The Cubs have Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo at the big league level, and prospects Victor Caratini, Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis developing in the minors.
- Between the big contracts David Robertson and Andrew Miller earned in free agency and Aroldis Chapman‘s sizable $8.05MM deal for 2015, the Twins‘ extension with Glen Perkins is looking better and better for the club, 1500 ESPN’s Derek Wetmore writes. After earning $4.025 MM for another strong season in 2014, Perkins is owed $18.15MM through the 2017 campaign. It’s worth noting that Perkins was shut down in September with a left forearm strain, though he has said his arm has felt good in offseason workouts.
- The Dodgers signed right-hander B.J. Rosenberg to a minor league contract. The 29-year-old owns a 5.72 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 1.73 K/BB rate over 56 2/3 career innings, all with the Phillies from 2012-14.
- The Dodgers also signed Ramon Troncoso, bringing the right-hander back for a second stint with the club. Troncoso posted a 3.92 ERA, 2.07 K/BB rate and 6.4 K/9 over 197 1/3 relief innings for L.A. from 2008-11, highlighted by a 2009 season that saw him notch a 2.72 ERA over 82 2/3 IP. He last appeared in the bigs with the White Sox in 2013 and Troncoso spent last season with the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate.
- The Orioles re-signed outfielder Julio Borbon to a new minor league deal. After being picked off the Cubs roster in the minor league Rule 5 draft last winter, Borbon hit .288/.342/.356 with 34 steals in 44 chances over 512 plate appearances for Triple-A Norfolk in 2014. Borbon, the 35th overall pick of the 2007 amateur draft, last played in the majors with the Cubs in 2013 and he owns a career .272/.318/.347 slash line over 863 PA with Chicago and Texas.
- The Reds re-signed catcher Lou Marson. The 28-year-old first joined the Reds on a minor league deal last May but was limited to just seven Double-A games due to injuries. Marson slashed .219/.309/.299 over 882 career PA for the Phillies and Indians between 2008-13.
- The Cubs re-signed longtime farmhand Jonathan Mota. The infielder has spent his entire 10-year pro career in Chicago’s farm system, posting a .258/.317/.362 career slash line.
With the crop of six-year service time free agents thinning noticeably, attention has turned to the fascinating group of players readying to sign after leaving their native Cuba. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has been among the most active observers on this still-developing segment of the market, and delivers a host of interesting information in his latest post on the subject.
While I recommend a full read of his work, here are some highlights:
- Hector Olivera is the lone name who figures to have immediate impact. (Fellow middle infielder Jose Fernandez reportedly remains in Cuba after having been thought to have left with intentions of seeking a MLB deal.) McDaniel agrees with Baseball America’s Ben Badler that Olivera has the potential for immediate impact, but says there are significant doubts about his long-term prospects. For one, Olivera’s medical history is not just limited to sports injuries, but includes a significant case of thrombosis. Then, there is the fact that Olivera’s age cannot be confirmed with certainty and even some indications that scouts are questioning why he is “fatigued earlier in workouts than an athlete of his size, strength and age should.”
- Ultimately, McDaniel concurs with Badler that Olivera is seeking and could obtain a $10MM+ annual guarantee. But McDaniel cautions that he expects it to run over just two or three seasons (with an outside chance at a fourth guaranteed year) with options and incentives included.
- The other name making noise at the recent international showcase was Cuban righty Yadier Alvarez, who McDaniel has in the mid-to-upper 90s with a plus slider and promising change. The rest of the package checks out for his age, with McDaniel saying that Alvarez’s raw talent and progress to date is on the same level as the very best high school arms entering the draft. Alvarez expects to have him ready to sign in the next month or two and does not seem inclined to wait for the market to turn over on July 2nd, which would mean the Cubs and Rangers would not be eligible to sign him. (Should he wait to sign, Alvarez would lose the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, D’backs, and Angels as potential suitors.) While this particular market is in the very earliest stages of development, McDaniel says that Alvarez is plainly superior to Yoan Lopez, who just got a $8.25MM bonus from Arizona.
- McDaniel also provides an update on 21-year-old infielder Andy Ibanez, who is seemingly no longer showcasing. That could mean that he is in the process of (or will soon be) sorting through offers. While the demand side of the equation is hard to peg in his case, McDaniel says he expects one of the bonus-busting teams listed above to land him at a potential cost of between $5MM to $12MM.
- The most exciting name out there remains Yoan Moncada. Though there is not much new to pass on in his case, Badler does present some video of Moncada’s past plate appearances against several notable young arms. One executive tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links) that the bidding on Moncada could reach nine figures in terms of total investment (given the near-100% tax for signing him). Rosenthal also says that the Moncada case may be a catalyst for debate on the issue of how amateur rights are secured.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- Righty David Herndon has signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweets. The 29-year-old, who is trying to reach the bigs for the first time since 2012, has been significantly limited by injuries over the last several seasons. Over 117 total MLB frames from 2010-12, Herndon owns a 3.85 ERA with 5.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9.
- Third baseman Josh Bell has signed a minor league deal with the Padres, agent Josh Kusnick announced on Twitter. Formerly a top prospect with the Dodgers and one of the top 40 prospects in baseball (per Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus), Bell spent much of last season in Korea, hitting .267/.345/.433 with the LG Twins. Those numbers are a near-mirror image of his career line at Triple-A, where he’s batted .267/.355/.451 in 1402 plate appearances.
- Right-hander Gonzalez Germen has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Iowa by the Cubs, tweets the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. Germen, who has been designated for assignment a stunning four times this winter, will finally know which organization he will be a part of come Spring Training. He’ll be invited to Major League camp, per Gonzales.
- Reds left-hander Ismael Guillon has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (on Twitter). Guillon was designated for assignment when the team signed Burke Badenhop over the weekend. Guillon, who turns 23 years old today, has been a mainstay on Cincinnati’s Top 30 prospects list (per Baseball America), topping out at No. 9, but he’s struggled to a 4.82 ERA over the past two seasons at multiple Class-A levels. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel recently ranked him 21st among Reds farmhands, noting that one scout called him a “pull your hair out” type of guy due to his wild inconsistencies.
- The Giants have signed lefty specialist Clay Rapada to a minor league contract, reports Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (via Twitter). Yankees blogger Robert Casey first reported the news recently on Twitter. Rapada, 34 in March, has just two Major League innings over the past two seasons but has an excellent track record of dominating left-handed hitters. He’s held opposing lefties to a .164/.255/.231 batting line in 257 big league plate appearances, but righties have tattooed him at a .345/.464/.611 clip. Rapada held lefties to a .639 OPS in Triple-A last season, but righties got to him for a 1.134 OPS.
Third baseman Nick Delmonico, who was released by the Brewers last week, has latched on with the White Sox on a minor league deal, tweets Eddy. If Delmonico’s name looks familiar, it’s because he was the player the Brewers received from the Orioles in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez in 2013. Formerly one of Baltimore’s top prospects, Delmonico was suspended last summer for amphetamine usage. The 22-year-old has yet to climb higher than Class-A Advanced, where he is a .241/.332/.417 hitter in 500 plate appearances.
- Eddy also tweets that the Red Sox have signed right-hander Jess Todd — not to be confused with MLBTR scribe Jeff Todd — to a minor league contract. Todd, originally drafted by the Cardinals, was traded to the Indians alongside Chris Perez in return for Mark DeRosa back in 2009. Now 28 years of age, Todd has little MLB experience (28 1/3 innings) but does boast a strong track record at Triple-A, where he’s worked to a 3.62 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 380 1/3 innings.
- Page Odle, Shields’ agent, discussed his client’s free agent experience with FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, saying that Shields’ market only really started to come into focus over the last three weeks. “I don’t know why it took so long for his market to develop. We had some early conversations with teams. We had one offer early. It didn’t come together. That team moved on,” Odle said. “Then there were teams we were talking to that ended up making trades. And I’m sure that probably changed a few of the scenarios. His market really didn’t start to develop again until after the first of the year, where we started getting calls and started having more sincere discussions with teams.”
- As you might expect, Odle disagreed with some executives’ claims that he “overreached” with his demands for Shields. “There was no set dollar amount that James had to have. Do we think he is one of the better pitchers in the game? Absolutely. If statistics and what you do in your career matter, then James has that on his side,” Odle said.
- Shields was rumored to have received a five-year, $110MM offer from a team earlier this winter, yet Odle said those reports were “completely inaccurate and a fabrication.” The right-hander never insisted on a five-year contract, as “we had scenarios talking to teams in the three-year, four-year and five-year range from the start….We were having all kinds of talks, talks with vesting options, talks about club options. This thing settled into a four-year deal with an option. There was never a demand that it had to be five years.“
- Odle never expected to discuss a six-year contract, and no such deal was proposed in any negotiations.
- The Cubs were the other finalists for Shields’ services, the righty confirmed himself in an interview with on 1080AM radio (hat tip to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune). Shields noted his choice came down to “two great managers” — his new skipper Bud Black and Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who Shields enjoyed playing under when the two were in Tampa Bay.
- While living in nearby Rancho Santa Fe played a part in his decision to sign with the Padres, Shields said he was ultimately impressed by the club’s busy offseason and their desire to get back into contention. “They had that win-now mentality. They want not only to win now but win the next four, five years,” Shields said.
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.