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Cincinnati Reds Rumors
2:21pm: The Reds have also declined Ludwick’s $9MM option, instead paying him a $4.5MM buyout, Cotillo tweets. The 36-year-old’s down 2014 season made that salary excessive, though the steep buyout tag and Cincinnati’s outfield needs made it a closer call than it might have seemed at first glance.
1:45pm: The Reds have kicked off their offseason with two unsurprising moves, deciding to exercise a $10MM club option over starter Johnny Cueto and decline a $4MM option for utilityman Jack Hannahan, according to Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (Twitter links). Cincinnati will pay Hannahan a $2MM buyout rather than taking him back for 2015.
Both moves were widely expected. Cueto, 28, put up a Cy Young-worthy campaign (243 2/3 innings with a 2.25 ERA) and is an unquestioned bargain at that rate. The only question seems to be whether the club will take a crack at working out another extension or, if that is not an option, will listen to trade offers.
Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Hannahan did not play to expectations with the Reds and saw only 50 plate appearances last year. Across 212 trips to the plate over the previous two seasons, Hannahan slashed an anemic .209/.294/.278.
Cincinnati still has a slightly more difficult decision to make on Ryan Ludwick, whose club option — like Hannahan’s — comes with a buyout that reaches 50% of its value. In his case, the club can either pick him up at $9MM or buy him out for $4.5MM.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the league…
- The Reds have outrighted corner infielder Neftali Soto, per the MLB.com transactions page. Soto, 25, has had two brief big league stints but has spent most of his time since 2011 at the Triple-A level. The third-round pick out of Puerto Rico owns a .270/.323/.410 slash over 1,328 plate appearances at that level.
- In his latest Minor League Transactions roundup, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports that the Reds have outrighted Trevor Bell to Triple-A Louisville, and the right-hander rejected the assignment in favor of free agency. The 28-year-old Bell allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning at the Major League level this season and has a 5.57 ERA in 116 1/3 big league innings between the Reds and Angels. Bell has a lifetime 4.93 ERA in 199 Triple-A frames.
- Perhaps of greater note to Reds fans is that Eddy also notes the signing of Australian catcher Jake Turnbull. As Steve Butler of the West Australian reports, Turnbull, 16, signed for a six-figure bonus and fielded offers from six MLB clubs before signing with Cincinnati. He will play in a pair of Australian leagues this winter, including the professional Australian Baseball League, where he’ll join the Perth Heat — the reigning league champions. Turnbull will then head to the U.S. to begin his pro career next spring.
- Among the other notable names mentioned by Eddy is right-hander Clayton Mortensen, who re-signed with the Royals after posting a 4.74 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 76 innings with Triple-A Omaha this season.
- MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports (via Twitter) that the Brewers will re-sign Taylor Green to a minor league deal. Green, 27, has been with the Brewers since the 2005 draft but hasn’t reached the Majors since receiving a look in 2011-12. He batted .207/.266/.343 in 154 plate appearances with the big league club and owns a career .299/.371/.485 batting line at the Triple-A level.
For Chapman, 26, the move comes at an important time for the contractual side of his career. He earned $5MM this year after opting into arbitration. That will no doubt happen again next year, and Chapman will be in for a significant raise after racking up 36 saves over 54 innings. Though those totals were limited by his DL stint to the start the year, the remainder of Chapman’s numbers — a 2.00 ERA, an absurd 17.7 K/9 (against 4.0 BB/9), and an equally ridiculous 3.5 H/9 — will support a nice new payday.
And that’s only the starting point for the southpaw fireballer, who is currently set up to become a free agent after the 2016 season. While that is a long way off for a reliever, he already has a hefty earning base and will cost a pretty penny to buy out ahead of time. Craig Kimbrel signed a four-year, $42MM deal (including an option year) entering his first arb-eligible season.
Former Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is expected to join the Reds’ front office to work with close friend Walt Jocketty in the near future, sources tell ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link).
The 52-year-old Towers was removed from the role of GM in Arizona and offered a different position within the organization last month, but Towers declined the opportunity in order to seek a different role with another organization. Former player agent and assistant general manager Dave Stewart was named as Towers’ successor, with De Jon Watson jumping from the Dodgers to the D’Backs to serve as senior vice president of baseball operations.
Towers has previously served as general manager of the Padres as well, where he was one of the game’s longest-tenured GMs, occupying that role from 1995 through 2009. Between GM gigs, Towers worked as a special assignment scout in the Yankees front office. He’s known to have a strong scouting background and is described by some as having an old-school approach to the game.
Late last month, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that there were changes coming to Cincinnati’s front office, as assistant GM Bob Miller left the organization, though that split was said to be amicable in nature. A change at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t seem likely in the near future, as Jocketty himself inked a two-year extension in September that runs through the 2016 season.
The Reds took a big step backward in their first season under manager Bryan Price, and they now face a number of worrisome contracts and an uncertain future.
- Joey Votto, 1B: $213MM through 2023
- Homer Bailey, SP: $96MM through 2019
- Brandon Phillips, 2B: $39MM through 2017
- Jay Bruce, OF: $25.5MM through 2016
- Raisel Iglesias, P: ~$20MM through 2020*
- Sean Marshall, RP: $6.5MM through 2015
- Manny Parra, RP: $3.5MM through 2015
- Skip Schumaker, UT: $3MM through 2015
- Sam LeCure, RP: $1.85MM through 2015
- Brayan Pena, C: $1.4MM through 2015
*The exact details of Iglesias’ seven-year, $27MM contract have not been reported, although it reportedly included a large signing bonus.
- Johnny Cueto, P: $10MM club option ($800K buyout)
- Ryan Ludwick, OF: $9MM mutual option ($4.5MM buyout)
- Jack Hannahan, 3B: $4MM club option ($2MM buyout)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Alfredo Simon, SP (5.142): $5.1MM projected salary
- Mat Latos, SP (5.079): $8.4MM
- Mike Leake, SP (5.000): $9.5MM
- Chris Heisey, OF (4.157): $2.2MM
- Logan Ondrusek, RP (4.125): $2.3MM
- Aroldis Chapman, RP (4.034): $8.3MM
- Zack Cozart, SS (3.084): $2.3MM
- Todd Frazier, 3B (3.071): $4.6MM
- Devin Mesoraco, C (3.028): $2.8MM
- Non-tender candidates: Ondrusek
2014 was a disappointing season for the Reds, who followed a 2013 Wild Card appearance with a sub-.500 finish in a year marred by injuries to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and others. Going forward, they’re in a tough spot, and looking at the list of salaries and arbitration cases above, it’s not hard to see why. The Reds are a veteran team. They’re not old, exactly, but many of their stars are reaching, or have reached, that nexus where the Reds have to pay them what they’re worth, or even more than that.
It may be painful for the Reds to decisively address their payroll issue. They owe Votto, Phillips, Bruce and Bailey a total of about $48MM in 2015. In 2016, that number jumps to about $65MM, an enormous figure for a team that has never had an Opening Day payroll over $115MM.
So what can the Reds do? With the guaranteed salaries they already have in place for next season, and the raises they’ll have to pay key arbitration-eligible players like Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be serious bidders for top free agents.
They could make a few minor tweaks, hope for healthier and more productive seasons from their core players, and take one more run at contention. Beyond 2015, though, the Reds’ future becomes murkier, since Cueto, Latos, Leake and Alfredo Simon are all eligible for free agency. The Reds have a fairly good crop of starting pitching prospects led by a very strong one in Robert Stephenson, but replacing all their departing talent will be tough. It’s difficult, then, to see them fielding a competitive team in 2016 without getting very creative or lucky.
Another possible route for them this winter, therefore, might be to get a head start on their tricky 2016 season by trading Cueto for youth. Cueto’s $10MM option is a bargain in 2015, and he ought to be able to fetch a terrific return as a much cheaper and lower-risk alternative to Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. Dealing Cueto for, say, an outfielder and two pitching prospects would allow the Reds to head into 2016 with those prospects supplementing a new-look rotation centered around Stephenson, Bailey, Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani and perhaps one of Latos, Leake and Simon. Judging from the recent returns for pitchers like Jeff Samardzija (who had a year and a half of control before free agency but is a lesser pitcher) and R.A. Dickey (who had a year remaining before free agency and fetched two top prospects), a year of Cueto at a team-friendly salary could return two top-50 prospects or talented young big-leaguers. Another possibility, as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggests (Insider-only), is for the Reds to trade Cueto along with someone like Phillips to give their payroll some breathing room for the next few seasons.
The Reds could consider trades involving other starters as well, and MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently explored those possibilities. Bailey, who finished the year on the disabled list and has five years remaining on his contract, almost surely will not be traded. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently cited Latos as the Reds pitcher most likely to be dealt, although that’s probably much less likely now than it was in August, since Latos missed most of September with an elbow injury. His diminished velocity in 2014 will likely also be an obstacle. Trading Simon, who’s coming off a very strong 2014 season, might provide the Reds with good return value, although it would only do so much to save them money. Dealing Leake, who projects to make $9.5MM in 2014 and doesn’t have a worrisome injury history, might make the most sense.
The Reds already began shedding salary for 2015 when they traded Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers in August, but it’s hard to get a read on their level of interest in more radical moves. GM Walt Jocketty (whose contract the Reds recently extended) told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he still sees his team as a potentially competitive one. “This year is disappointing because of the injuries,” he said. “From the very beginning, we had 11 DL guys and eight were key. … I feel we still have a small window if the guys come back healthy.” While the Reds will keep Jocketty, though, they’re expected to make significant changes to their front office, so it’s hard to say whether Jocketty’s outlook might be swayed by whoever else the Reds end up hiring.
The Reds’ core of position players is mostly set for 2015, if only because most of their starters are either cost effective or difficult to move. The Reds were the worst offensive team in baseball in the second half of the season, hitting a paltry .221/.277/.326 since the All-Star break, with Billy Hamilton, Ryan Ludwick, Bruce, Phillips, Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena all struggling. Hamilton, Bruce and Phillips appear likely to return, however. Hamilton provides most of his value in the field and on the bases, and the Reds probably have little choice but to either stick with Bruce and Phillips or trade them for meager returns.
The Reds are also set at catcher (with Devin Mesoraco posting a breakout season, and Pena signed through 2015), first base (where Votto’s contract will likely be impossible to move) and third base (where Todd Frazier quietly had a terrific year). That leaves shortstop and left field. Shortstop Zack Cozart is an awful hitter, but he provides plenty of value in the field, and he ended up with 1.4 fWAR in 2014 despite a .223/.269/.302 line. It might be possible for the Reds to upgrade at the position, perhaps with someone like Jed Lowrie. But given Cozart’s .256 BABIP this season, it would also be defensible if they hoped for a modest offensive rebound and kept him at shortstop in 2015, particularly given that the free agent market doesn’t have much to offer and Cozart should be fairly cheap in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
In left field, Ryan Ludwick has struggled through his two-year contract, and the Reds probably ought to pass on their end of his $9MM mutual option, even given the steep $4.5MM buyout cost. Chris Heisey can be an effective bench piece, but he probably shouldn’t be considered a starter. The Reds could also move Frazier to left field and pursue a free agent third baseman like Aramis Ramirez, although such a strategy seems like a waste of Frazier’s good glove. The Reds will probably be fairly limited in their ability to sign a left fielder as a free agent, and top outfield prospects Jesse Winker and Phil Ervin are each at least a year away, so the Reds’ best path might be to acquire an outfielder if they trade one of their starting pitchers. A deal with a team like the Red Sox, who have plenty of outfielders and are in need of good starting pitching, might make sense, and someone like Daniel Nava might be a good target as part of a larger deal.
With Heisey, Pena and Kristopher Negron, the Reds have the beginnings of a reasonable bench. They’ll likely decline their option on Jack Hannahan, who didn’t play much in 2014 and didn’t hit at all when he did. But upgrading the bench likely won’t be a big priority for the Reds, particularly given that they already have the light-hitting Schumaker to fill one of the remaining spots.
Other than the extraordinary Chapman, the 2014 bullpen was not a strength, and it became weaker when the Reds shipped Broxton to Milwaukee. The Broxton trade suggests, however, that the Reds understand that when there’s a budget crunch, highly paid relievers ought to be the first luxury item to go. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if they didn’t spend much on bullpen help this offseason, instead sifting through arms they already control, like Manny Parra, J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Curtis Partch, Jumbo Diaz, Pedro Villareal, Carlos Contreras, and Sean Marshall (who will be returning from a shoulder injury). Iglesias might be another possibility. Logan Ondrusek, who had a poor season in 2014, is a non-tender candidate.
One outside-the-box idea might be for the Reds to trade Chapman. He’s so good that it would be difficult to get fair value for him, but it’s worth considering, since he’s only under team control through 2016, and he won’t be cheap by then. The Reds might be able to get a couple potential regulars in return for Chapman, which would dramatically improve them as they build for 2016 and beyond. There haven’t been many rumors yet about a potential Chapman trade, and perhaps there won’t be. But if the Reds make any surprising moves, that’s the kind they’ll likely make, with the big names on the way out of town rather than on the way in.
The Cubs announced their finalized coaching staff for the 2015 season today, which included a pair of new additions: hitting coach John Mallee and first base/outfield coach Doug Dascenzo. Mallee spent the 2010-11 seasons as the Marlins’ hitting coach and the 2013-14 seasons as the hitting coach for the Astros. He also spent eight seasons with the Marlins as a minor league hitting instructor and brings to the table 19 overall years of pro baseball experience. Dascenzo spent the 2014 season as Atlanta’s third base coach and has previously spent 13 seasons in the Padres’ minor league system as a manager or coach. The rest of the coaching staff will return, though first base coach Eric Hinske will shift from first base coach to assistant hitting coach.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Reds lefty Sean Marshall tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he’s progressing well in his rehab from June shoulder surgery. While he still has some range of motion work to do, Marshall says that he feels like he “has a whole new shoulder” and is aiming a return in Spring Training of next year. The 32-year-old has been limited to just 31 appearances over the past two seasons and is entering the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract.
- In a second piece, Sheldon also spoke with Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, who has a $10MM club option this offseason that the team is a lock to exercise. Cueto said that despite the small nature of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, he enjoys pitching there and wants to remain with the Reds. As manager Bryan Price noted to Sheldon, however, it’s unlikely that the team can afford to retain Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon, all of whom are free agents following the 2015 season. As Sheldon points out, Cueto is by far the most attractive trade chip of the bunch, and the Reds may not be able to afford his price tag if they look to go the extension route. They could, of course, also take another shot at contending next season and either trade Cueto in July if they fall out of the race or make a qualifying offer at season’s end if they do contend.
- Top international prospect Gilbert Lara, signed by the Brewers for a $3.2MM bonus this summer, has selected Len Strelitz and Nick Chanock of the Wasserman Media Group as his agents, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).
Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
- The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.
The Tigers and Athletics made noise at the trade deadline when they acquired David Price and Jon Lester, respectively, but now they have little to show for it, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. Instead, some of the most effective moves have been the quieter ones, like the Orioles acquiring dominant lefty reliever Andrew Miller or the Giants dealing for Jake Peavy. Nightengale also notes that the Dodgers made the best move of the trading season by not dealing Matt Kemp, who hit like crazy down the stretch and so far in the postseason. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon can all become free agents after the 2015 season, putting the Reds in a tough spot, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “As much as I think we’d like to be able to keep every single guy and pay them what they deserve, it’s impossible to do it here,” says manager Bryan Price. Rosecrans quotes Cueto, Latos and Leake all saying they would be happy staying in Cincinnati, but the Reds will have a tight budget, with plenty of money already committed to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.
- Victor Martinez doesn’t have a monetary goal in mind when it comes to the contract he’ll sign as a free agent this offseason, but he does know how many years he’d like to receive, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. Martinez won’t say how many years that is, but he does say he doesn’t want to still be playing at 40. He’ll open next season at 36, which might indicate he’s looking for a four-year deal. Martinez is poised to cash in after an outstanding .335/.409/.565 season in Detroit, although Castrovince notes that Martinez’s market will be constrained somewhat because he’s a DH and because the Tigers will almost certainly extend him a qualifying offer.
- Now with the Angels (who were just eliminated from the postseason by the Royals), Huston Street fondly remembers his time as the Padres‘ closer, writes Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “When you leave someplace, you want to miss it as much as I miss San Diego,“ says Street. “Just because that means the time you spent there was meaningful. It was a time in my career that really set me on a very successful path.“
- Not retaining Casey Janssen will probably be the correct decision for the Blue Jays, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star writes. Teams frequently change closers, as a look at playoff teams’ rosters indicates — the only playoff closer who has been in that position with his team for three years is Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Instead of worrying about a closer, Griffin argues, the Jays should address second base and the outfield.
The Reds are prepared to “undergo an overhaul” to their front office, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). Several changes are coming to the organization, the first of which is vice president and assistant GM Bob Miller leaving the team.
Miller’s departure seems to be an amicable one, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets that Miller is leaving to start his own business. Miller, who has been working in baseball for over 30 years, originally joined the Reds in 2006 as the director of baseball administration and was promoted to VP and assistant GM later in the year.
Whatever changes are coming to Cincinnati’s front office, they won’t involve the man in charge, Walt Jocketty. The general manager just signed a two-year extension to continue running the club through the 2016 season.
SATURDAY: The deal is now official, Sheldon tweets. It’s a two-year extension through 2016.
FRIDAY: The Reds have agreed to a contract extension with GM Walt Jocketty for multiple years, Jocketty tells reporters including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (Twitter link). As John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported yesterday, both Jocketty and manager Bryan Price were expected to be retained, though the front office man was working on an expiring contract.
Despite a rough 2014 season, the Reds have generally flourished since Jocketty took the reins early in the 2008 season. Under his watch, Cincinnati has compiled three 90-win campaigns and two division titles. The club has, however, yet to win a playoff series in that stretch.
More importantly, several of the long-term commitments made under Jocketty are beginning to look questionable. The remaining portion of the contracts of first baseman Joey Votto (nine years, $213MM), second baseman Brandon Phillips (three years, $39MM), and starter Homer Bailey (five years, $96MM) all seem problematic looking forward, for various reasons (including injury and performance issues).
Jocketty does have plenty of pieces to work with in re-establishing an upward trajectory, but also faces plenty of challenges. Cincinnati entered last year with a team-record $114MM payroll, and already has $71MM committed to just ten players in 2015 — before accounting for Johnny Cueto‘s $10MM option, obligations to Raisel Iglesias, and some pretty significant arbitration raises. As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently explained, given the possibility of increasing payroll constraints, Jocketty may need to deal from the team’s set of solid rotation pieces who have only one more year of control.