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Chicago Cubs Rumors
The Mariners were a trendy pick to win big in 2015, but so far they’re off to a weak start. For his part, manager Lloyd McClendon thinks that all of the team’s tough losses will help prepare them for later on in the season.
“Like I told the guys the other day, and this is real important: Everybody’s giving the American League title, the pennant, to the Seattle Mariners, and we’re going to hoist the trophy, we’re going to the World Series. And yeah, that’s great,” McClendon said, according to MLB.com’s Doug Miller. “But in between, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, some heartaches, some adversity that you’ve got to go through, and you’ve got to be built for it. And you’ve got to handle it. And if you’re lucky, in the end you’ll be able to hoist that trophy.”
Here’s more from around the majors..
- Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com spoke with Cubs execs about what went into their decision to draft Kris Bryant No. 2 overall in 2013. “It was clear [that Bryant, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, and Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray] were going to go in the top three. As an organization, we knew we needed pitching but philosophically we felt like taking hitters at the top of the draft was the safer bet. Also, at picking at No. 2 it was hopefully our one shot at picking that high in the draft. Going hitter was safer,” GM Jed Hoyer explained.
- Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com attempted to peg what kind of impact we could see Bryant make in his rookie year for the Cubs. Mayo writes that he’s undoubtedly ready to make his mark at the big league level and, unsurprisingly, scouting directors raved about his overall upside. “He’s an exceptional player and talent,” one director said. “He has the chance to be one of the top hitters in baseball over the next 10 to 15 years.”
- Angels bench coach Dino Ebel and manager Mike Scioscia had dinner with Josh Hamilton on Wednesday night and Ebel told reporters, including Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter), that the meeting “went well.” It remains to be seen how the Hamilton situation will play out in the wake of owner Arte Moreno’s comments.
Cubs fans have been anxiously awaiting the debut of Kris Bryant since he began obliterating the upper levels of the Minor Leagues in 2014. The No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant batted a Herculean .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Unsurprisingly, he ranked as the game’s top prospect according to Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law, while MLB.com ranked him second and Baseball Prospectus ranked him fifth.
Bryant’s video-game-esque 2014 numbers prompted some, including agent Scott Boras, to advocate for a September call-up of the phenom. Bryant wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the time, though, and he never did receive the September call-up. In fact, even after Bryant hit a ridiculous nine home runs in just 40 Spring Training at-bats, he was reassigned to Minor League camp and began the season in Triple-A.
The Cubs maintain that the reasoning was for Bryant to work on his defense, and even today they’ve told reporters that Bryant would not have been recalled were it not for the fact that both Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt are on the disabled list. While that may be the case, it’s impossible to ignore that as of today, there are 171 days of the regular season remaining, which means Bryant will fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service time. In other words, by stashing Bryant in the Minors for the first 12 days of the season, the team has delayed his free agency by one season. Had Bryant broken camp with the club, he’d have been eligible for free agency following the 2020 season, but he’ll now have to wait until after the 2021 campaign.
Of course, it’s not all bad news for Bryant. He’ll now qualify for Super Two status, meaning that he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, rather than three. By the time Bryant is in his final year of arbitration eligibility (his seventh in the Majors), he could be earning more than $20MM, if he lives up to expectations. He may still take home less in the 2021 season than he would have had it been a free agent season, but he won’t be hurting from a financial standpoint. (It should also be noted that Bryant received a $6.7MM signing bonus out of the draft, so he’s already been compensated quite well without so much as an inning in the Majors.)
Boras and many Cubs fans (and baseball fans in general) have denounced the Cubs’ tactics, stating that a team telling its fanbase that it is doing everything it can to win should bring the 25 best players north to open the season, regardless of service time. Others have noted that the Cubs are far from the first team to manipulate service time in this manner, and that there’s certainly something to be said for trading 10 games of Bryant’s rookie season for a full year of control in his prime. Just yesterday, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes examined 11 top prospects who broke camp with their team, finding that by and large, the year-one benefit of roughly 10 extra games almost never outweighed the long-term negative of losing a full year of team control. (Jason Heyward was perhaps one notable exception, Tim found, as the Braves squeaked into the playoffs by just one game, and Heyward had a stellar rookie season.)
Detractors will say that the Cubs will rue the decision if they miss the postseason by a single game, and they can point to the fact that Chicago third baseman have batted a dismal .148/.233/.259 to begin the season. Supporters will point to the long-term gain of controlling Bryant’s age-29 season and the fact that many other clubs have acted in a similar fashion in the past. All of that said, let’s see where MLBTR readers come down on the issue…
The 23-year-old Bryant was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego and entered the season ranked as MLB’s No. 1 prospect according to both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked the third baseman second and fifth overall, respectively.
The timing of Bryant’s promotion isn’t exactly a surprise. Chicago generated some controversy by beginning Bryant in the Minor Leagues this season, but the move made sense for the team in the long term. By keeping Bryant in the Minors for the season’s first 12 days, he’ll fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service this season. While that means he will assuredly qualify as a Super Two player and be eligible for arbitration four times instead of the standard three, it also buys the team an additional year of club control. At the end of the 2020 season, Bryant will have five years, 171 days of Major League service time — assuming he is not optioned back to Triple-A at any point — leaving him a day shy of being eligible for free agency. In simpler terms, the Cubs opted to delay Bryant’s promotion by 12 days in order to extend their control over the phenom for an additional season.
Of course, the Cubs won’t acknowledge that as the reason for Bryant opening the year in Triple-A, nor should they. While the motives behind the decision are widely known, coming out and saying it would provide concrete fuel for a grievance from Bryant and agent Scott Boras. As MLBR’s Tim Dierkes noted earlier today, some teams have taken the plunge and allowed top prospects to break camp with the club, but it’s rarely, if ever, worth it for the team from a baseball standpoint. And there are plenty of other prospects who not-so-curiously open the year in Triple-A only to be promoted once enough time has passed to extend the team’s control by a year or to potentially prevent a player from reaching Super Two designation and entering arbitration an extra time.
While in some cases, the whole situation is mitigated by agreeing to a long-term contract that extends into a player’s free agent seasons, that was a highly unlikely outcome with the Boras-represented Bryant. Boras typically encourages his players to go year-to-year through the arbitration process and test free agency as early as possible. While there are a few notable exceptions, including Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez, the Cubs likely knew that their odds of controlling Bryant beyond the 2020 season without ponying up on a sizable free agent contract were slim. Boras outspokenly challenged the Cubs on their spring decision with Bryant, noting that it makes little sense for the team to claim it is trying to win while leaving a young player who could very well be one of the best on the team. In fact, in Boras’ mind, the question was not one of why Bryant may have to begin the season in the Minor Leagues, but rather one of why Bryant wasn’t promoted last September when rosters expanded.
From a statistical standpoint, it’s hard to say that Boras doesn’t have a case. Bryant annihilated Minor League pitching in 2014, hitting a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A. This spring, he batted .425/.477/1.175 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats. And to begin the year in Triple-A, Bryant hit .333/.379/.625 with a pair of homers in 29 plate appearances — and that was before going deep with a three-run homer tonight. The Cubs cited a need to work on his defense, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein accurately noted that he’s never had a prospect break camp out of Spring Training if it meant making his Major League debut on Opening Day. That reasoning appeared questionable at the time and looks transparent when juxtaposed with the convenient timing of his promotion, though the Cubs can point to the fact that both Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella are on the disabled list, creating a need at third base.
Bryant figures to step into an everyday role at third base or, potentially, in a corner outfield spot with the Cubs, hitting in the heart of their order. Few doubt that he’s ready to hit Major League pitching right now, and he adds to the Cubs’ growing young core. The Cubs are hoping that Bryant, along with the likes of Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell, among others, will lead the team back to prominence and break a World Series Championship drought — the Billy Goat curse — that spans more than 100 years. The team spent aggressively this offseason to add Jon Lester to the top of a rapidly improving rotation that also features breakout star Jake Arrieta, and expectations are high already in 2015. Many are expecting the Cubs to make the playoffs this season, and Bryant would be a vital component of a playoff berth. In the unlikely event that the Cubs miss the playoffs by a single game, there will unquestionably be some second-guessing about the decision to hold Bryant in Triple-A to begin the year.
Whether or not one agrees with the Cubs’ tactics, they are not the first, nor will they be the last team to employ this method with a highly regarded prospect. There are clear long-term benefits from a baseball operations standpoint, and it’d be hard to justify having brought Bryant north with the team, in retrospect, at the end of the 2020 season if he were eligible for free agency entering his age-29 campaign.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
While some have suggested that the Cubs preferred Mark Appel to Kris Bryant in the 2013 draft, scouting director Jason McLeod explains to Phil Rogers of MLB.com that that isn’t the case; the Cubs only planned to select Appel if the Astros selected Bryant with the No. 1 overall pick that season. Rogers spoke with McLeod and cross-checker Sam Hughes about the decision to draft Bryant and how he moved up the Cubs’ draft board with a strong performance in his junior year at San Diego. McLeod admitted that the Cubs had concerns about Bryant’s hit tool, but Hughes went to bat strongly for Bryant after watching him and other top draft bats, including Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. Most pundits expected the pitching-hungry Cubs to select on of Appel or Jon Gray — whichever the Astros didn’t draft — but McLeod said the Cubs preferred to take a volume approach to pitching rather than select one of the top arms. “History tells us pitching comes from all different parts of the Draft,” said McLeod. With Bryant’s debut nearing, Rogers notes that perhaps one of the best decisions under the Cubs’ new front office has been defying the widely expected decision to select a pitcher in favor of Bryant’s bat.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that despite the team’s bullpen issues, he hasn’t reached out to agent Scott Boras about Rafael Soriano, and Boras hasn’t contacted the Reds about Soriano (Twitter link). Jocketty feels that Soriano would be too expensive, according to Fay. While Soriano may not be in the mix, the Reds certainly need to pursue some form of upgrade. Kevin Gregg has allowed runs in each of his four outings (two runs in three and one in another), and the team’s collective 4.55 ERA is the fifth-highest in baseball. The group’s FIP is even worse, as no team sports a worse mark than Cincinnati’s 5.10.
- Carlos Gomez will be placed on the 15-day disabled list with a small defect or tear in his right hamstring, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He has already received a cortisone shot. Earlier today, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy wrote that Gomez was back in Milwaukee for an MRI after feeling a “pop” while running to first base in the ninth inning of last night’s game. The Brewers will need to make a roster move in order to replace Gomez, and as McCalvy notes, Shane Peterson is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster that is not in the Majors.
- Cardinals right-hander John Lackey has every intention of playing in 2015, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “I wouldn’t be pitching this year if I didn’t plan on pitching next year,” Lackey told Nightengale. The veteran Lackey is, of course, playing for the league minimum in 2015 because of a clause in his previous five-year, $82.5MM pact with the Red Sox that added an additional year at that rate in the event of a significant elbow injury. (Lackey had Tommy John surgery midway through that deal.) The Redbirds acquired him from the BoSox last year in exchange for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.
Yesterday, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel looked ahead to the 2015-16 international signing period by looking at several of the top prospects expected to land large bonuses on or after July 2. Today, McDaniel is back with the second part of his piece, this time examining how particular clubs are going to approach this next round of international spending. For reference purposes, here are the 2015-16 international bonus pools for each team, as compiled by Baseball America. If a team exceeds its pool, they have to pay a 100% tax on any overage and are prohibited from spending more than $300K to sign any player in the 2016-17 and 17-18 international periods (provided that the current rules aren’t altered in the next collective bargaining agreement).
Some of the highlights of McDaniel’s latest work, focusing on the teams most likely to exceed their bonus pool and face that two-year penalty…
- The Dodgers are, unsurprisingly, the only team McDaniel lists in the “(almost) anything is possible” category. By not signing Yoan Moncada, the Dodgers retained their ability to spend freely in the 2015-16 market, and it seems the team will go far beyond its $2.02MM bonus pool limit. The Dodgers are rumored to already have agreements in place with Yadier Alvarez (for $16MM), Dominican center fielder Starling Heredia ($3MM) and Dominican shortstop Ronny Brito ($2MM).
- The Cubs‘ previous ban on signings of more than $250K will expire on July 2, and the team is reportedly already planning to again exceed its international budget. McDaniel lists seven players who have deals in place with Chicago, the most expensive of which is a $2MM bonus for Dominican shortstop Aramis Ademan.
- The Rangers are another club coming off a ban, and “they’re at least thinking long and hard about” exceeding their pool limit again, though McDaniel hears from rival scouts that Texas’ international planning may have “got a bit of a late start” due to A.J. Preller and Don Welke leaving for the Padres. Three rumored agreements should put the Rangers roughly at their approximate $4.586MM bonus pool already, and the club is still checking in on other high-priced talent.
- The Royals have a shot at staying under their bonus limit if they trade for some extra space, though it looks like Kansas City will probably slightly exceed their pool (a little over $2.07MM).
- The Blue Jays also seem likely to slightly go over their spending pool (roughly $2.324MM) and it could be entirely for the sake of their much-rumored agreement with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. McDaniel believes Toronto’s agreement with Guerrero is worth $4.4MM and he hasn’t heard any news that the Jays have any other deals lined up with other prospects, though he figures they’ll sign one or two other notable players “to make the most of going over.” While fans now associate exceeding the bonus limit with extreme cases like the Yankees or Red Sox, McDaniel notes that most clubs who exceed their pools are like the Jays, who fit the model of a team who “found a couple players they really like in a year they didn’t have a ton of money to spend.”
- Since they had hoped to sign Moncada and thus be facing a penalty for the 2015-16 signing period, the Padres seemingly don’t have any deals lined up. McDaniel considers them a “wild card” due to Preller’s aggressiveness.
The Nationals relief corps took another blow yesterday when righty Craig Stammen was placed on the 15-day DL with stiffness in his right forearm. Stammen will undergo an MRI soon and he told reporters (including CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman) that he is at least somewhat worried that it could be a more serious elbow injury. Nats GM Mike Rizzo also told the media, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, that the club is going with internal bullpen options for the time being. Rafael Martin and Taylor Jordan were called up to replace Stammen and the recently-designated Xavier Cedeno, and Martin made an impressive MLB debut Wednesday, recording five strikeouts over two innings of work against the Red Sox.
Here are some more bullpen items from around baseball…
- Cubs righty Neil Ramirez could also be facing some bad injury news, as he left Wednesday’s outing after just three pitches with a shoulder problem. Ramirez will undergo an MRI today, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reports. The reliever’s status has a bigger-picture impact on the rumored promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday. If Ramirez needs some DL time, the Cubs could promote a reliever and continue with a 13-man pitching staff rather than call up Bryant and thin out an already heavily-worked bullpen.
- Right-hander Cody Martin is off to a strong start, and the Braves rookie reliever tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that he is partially motivated by the fact that Atlanta didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 Draft last winter. “That was tough, but I knew I belonged [on the roster] and belonged in the big leagues….I took it as a challenge to prove them all wrong, especially all the teams that didn’t pick me in the Rule 5 Draft,” Martin said. “It all worked out pretty good. I’m where I need to be right now.”
- Arquimedes Caminero enjoyed a strong Spring Training and earned a spot in the Pirates bullpen. As Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes, the hard-throwing Caminero might be another reclamation success story for Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage, who encouraged the righty to simplify his delivery. The result has been the fastest average fastball in the game this season, as Caminero is averaging 98.9 mph according to Fangraphs’ measurements.
The Reds received some favorable results on Devin Mesoraco‘s MRI, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. The MRI showed no serious issue in Mesoraco’s sore right hip, and the catcher is expected to avoid a trip to the disabled list, per manager Bryan Pr ice. Mesoraco is rehabbing at the facility of Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek but could be available at some point during the current series with the Cubs or the next series against the Cardinals.
Some more NL Central items as Cincinnati and Chicago square off…
- The Cubs placed Tommy La Stella on the disabled list today and recalled lefty Zac Rosscup from Triple-A in his place. But, as Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago details, the situation is particularly intriguing because of what it could mean for a potential call-up of Kris Bryant. Cubs president Theo Epstein sidestepped a question on how the situation pertains to Bryant, stating that his call-up depends on what’s happening with the Cubs’ roster and with Bryant’s development. Rogers points out that both La Stella and Mike Olt are dealing with injuries now, however, and Friday marks the point at which promoting Bryant will not cost the team a year of club control. The Cubs have made a habit of promoting prospects on the road, Rogers points out, but he wonders if La Stella’s injury will change their thinking in this instance.
- Maddon is pleased with the information and scouting reports he’s receiving from the Cubs‘ baseball operations department, he tells MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. “Our geeks are good,” Maddon joked. Maddon also voiced a comfort in rostering three catchers, referring to David Ross, Miguel Montero and Welington Castillo as the team’s “three-headed catcher.”
- In an infographic piece for FOX Sports, David Golebiewski outlines the reasons that fans should buy into Josh Harrison‘s late emergence as a star. In particular, Golebiewski notes a drastic change in Harrison’s ability to handle inside fastballs and his ability to use the entire field. While Golebiewski points out that Harrison likely won’t maintain last year’s .353 BABIP, his new approach at the dish and defensive prowess make it very likely that he can remain a key component of the Pirates‘ roster.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon has been notably quiet regarding his club in recent season, but expressed cautious optimism in a brief chat with Mike Puma of the New York Post on the occasion of the team’s home opener. “I’m excited about this team and I’m hopeful,” said Wilpon. “One doesn’t know — we’ve all been around a long time — but the fact is I like the guys on this team. I think there is a lot of talent and I think there is a lot of character.”
Here’s more from the National League:
- The Reds do not appear overly concerned with Devin Mesoraco‘s hip injury, with skipper Bryan Price saying that he expects the franchise catcher to return soon, as John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports on Twitter. While the club has already moved to add another backstop to the roster in Kyle Skipworth, it seems that Cincinnati expects it to be a short-term patch.
- With both Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella dealing with minor injuries, speculation has turned to whether the Cubs will move up Kris Bryant‘s timeline. As Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reports, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the club will continue to “weigh all the factors” in deciding when to bring up the game’s top prospect, noting that the Triple-A season is just underway and that the Cubs want Bryant to establish a “rythm” in the minors. “His development is an important factor as well as the needs of the big league team,” said Epstein. As Rogers notes, Friday is the first day that Bryant can be called up while still preserving an extra season of future control.
The Cubs aren’t concerned with Jon Lester‘s issues throwing to first base, writes the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo in his weekly Sunday Notes column. “I think it’s being a little overplayed right now, quite frankly,” said manager Joe Maddon to Cafardo. “…I’d much prefer he worries more about getting his fastball where he wants and his cutter where he wants and all the normal pitching things. … I don’t want to make this an issue, because it’s not for me at all.” Still, Cafardo notes, it is an issue that the Red Sox worked to correct for years with little success. The Cardinals exploited the issue in Lester’s first outing by swiping four bases against him, but as Cafardo notes, not every team will go that route. One AL scout told Cafardo: “I always included in my reports about the throwing, but our team chose not to do anything about it.”
Here’s more from Cafardo’s column…
- Newly minted Giants GM Bobby Evans tells Cafardo that he doesn’t envision his team pursuing another starting pitcher despite early injuries to Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. The Giants feel that Peavy, who avoided the DL and is slated to pitch today, is healthy. The team is also not anticipating that Cain’s elbow injury, which did require a trip to the 15-day DL, will be a major issue.
- Cody Ross was recently released by the D-Backs and signed with the A’s, and Cafardo looks back on Ross’ best season — his 2012 campaign with the Red Sox — and notes that Boston offered Ross a two-year deal to remain with the team. Ross, however, found a three-year, $26MM contract in Arizona. Injuries turned that deal into a bust for the Snakes, but Ross will hope to reestablish himself in green and gold.
- The Rockies will likely have plenty of suitors for Troy Tulowitzki this summer if they slide to the cellar of the NL West, but one AL GM tells Cafardo that it’s difficult to envision a trade: “There would be a lot of work to get that done. The money remaining on his salary [$110 million] and the player acquisition cost. Not as easy as it seems. The Rockies need to get a ton for him and I doubt they’ll pick up the money.”
- Earlier this week, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Tigers have been monitoring Rafael Soriano‘s workouts, and Cafardo hears the same, adding that it “wouldn’t be shocking” if Detroit pulled the trigger on a deal.
- Much like the Giants, the Twins have taken a hit to their rotation early in the year following Ervin Santana‘s suspension and Ricky Nolasco‘s injury, but after talking with their front office personnel, Cafardo gets the impression that they’ll give opportunities to young starters rather than pursue an established upgrade. Trevor May gets the first crack, but Cafardo lists Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios as other candidates.
- The Dodgers are still “all ears” about potential Andre Ethier trades and are willing to eat some of the $56MM on the three years remaining on his contract, but there have been no bites to this point.
Teams have quickly accepted the importance of the mental side of the game, reports the Associated Press in the New York Times. For example, the Cubs view mental skills coach Josh Lifrak as an equal to their hitting and pitching coaches. The article describes part of the process used by the Cubs, Nationals, and Red Sox, although all teams have probably adopted some form of mental skills development.
Here’s more from around the league.
- Padres senior advisor Trevor Hoffman was thrilled by the team’s recent trade for Craig Kimbrel, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. Kimbrel follows Hoffman (the all-time NL leader in saves) in a line of strong Padres closers. “We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a guy at the backend, even before I got here and continuing with Huston (Street) and Joaquin (Benoit),” says Hoffman. “The street cred [Kimbrel has] built in the game over the last four, five years really separates him from the rest of the group as one of the top-echelon closers in the game.”
- The Cubs‘ decision to send Kris Bryant to the minors to start the season led to controversy, but now that he’s there, the team has him working on playing outfield, Gordon Wittenmyer writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). While many assume that Bryant will be activated as soon as next week, the Cubs may legitimately be concerned about finding him a defensive home.
- If the Pirates have money to spend at the trade deadline this year, they could target an ace pitcher, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The payroll is cheap thanks to a number of young players and team friendly extensions. That could make Cole Hamels a potential fit. He, like Andrew McCutchen, has four years remaining on his contract. My thought: it’s at least conceivable that the Phillies would take on a large portion of his contract for the right prospects. To be clear, this is not to say that the Pirates have inquired about Hamels, only that a fit might exist.