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- Mets Claim Marc Rzepczynski On Revocable Waivers, In Talks With Padres
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Cleveland Indians Rumors
Recently-acquired Royals utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist says that he’s very much open to a return to Kansas City, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports. “Certainly, this had been one of the teams I liked the look of,” he said. “And now, since I’ve been here, it’s a place I want to stay longer. Being here has certainly done nothing but make this [team] go up on my list.” Of course, the versatile and still-productive 34-year-old figures to be as widely pursued on the winter’s free agent market as he was at this year’s trade deadline. Zobrist was already playing well before the trade, but has slashed an outstanding .357/.446/.600 in his first 83 plate appearances with his new club.
Here’s more from Kansas City and the rest of the AL Central:
- The Royals will hand the ball to Kris Medlen for his first start with the club on Monday, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. Medlen, 29, has returned nicely after a long layoff for multiple Tommy John surgeries, tossing 14 1/3 innings of 2.51 ERA ball with 14 strikeouts against five walks. His average fastball velocity is as good as ever. Medlen is owed just $5.5MM next year and can be controlled with a $10MM option ($1MM buyout) in 2017. So far, that’s looking like a nice risk for the Royals.
- Indians president Mark Shapiro declined to comment on recent reports indicating that he could be a candidate to take over the Blue Jays‘ presidency, Zack Meisel of the Plain Dealer reports. The long-time Cleveland executive, still just 48 years old, could conceivably be enticed by the possibility of gaining “power and resources,” the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes writes in an interesting piece.
- There was a creeping sense of suspicion when he was not approached to discuss a new deal over the summer, former Tigers GM (and newly-minted Red Sox president of baseball operations) Dave Dombrowski tells MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (audio link). Dombrowski maintained, however, that he remains unaware what precisely led Detroit to release him from its contract when it did.
- Just-added Tigers lefty Daniel Norris could end up missing the rest of the year with an oblique injury, Chris Iott of MLive.com reports. Manager Brad Ausmus says that Norris is likely to miss at least a month. The 22-year-old, added as the key piece of the David Price trade, figures to be a key piece of the Tigers rotation next year and for the foreseeable future. He recently joined the MLBTR Podcast to discuss that deal and his approach to the game.
The Indians have acquired outfielder Michael Choice from the Rangers, as T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com first reported on Twitter. Cleveland will send cash considerations to complete the deal, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets.
Choice, 25, was designated for assignment recently to clear space for the Rangers’ acquisition of Will Venable. Once a top-100 prospect, Choice has stumbled since heading to Texas in return for Craig Gentry before the 2014 season.
Given a chance at the big league level last year, Choice put up a .182/.250/.320 slash in 280 plate appearances. While he hit well at Triple-A that year, he’s managed only a .244/.309/.399 batting line this season at the highest level of the minors.
Indians president Mark Shapiro has “emerged as a strong candidate” to succeed retiring Blue Jays president/CEO Paul Beeston, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Blue Jays have, in fact, already reached out to Shapiro about the position, Rosenthal continues.
The 48-year-old Shapiro served as the Indians’ general manager for 10 seasons before a promotion to club president that saw longtime lieutenant Chris Antonetti promoted to the GM chair. As Rosenthal notes, Shapiro has overseen renovations at Cleveland’s Progressive Field while serving as president, which would have appeal to the Blue Jays, who are planning on some renovations at the Rogers Centre in the years to come.
Shapiro, or any other president, would have a say in the future of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who, as Rosenthal reports, is signed through Oct. 31. Were Anthopoulos allowed to reach his contract’s expiration date, he’d be able to pursue various other GM openings around the league. While there’s been plenty written about Anthopoulos’ uncertain future over the past year, his team’s success since a number of high-profile acquisitions at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline would, on the surface, appear to have positioned him for a contract extension with Toronto. The Blue Jays are currently two games back from the Yankees in the AL East but are also positioned to make the postseason as a Wild Card team if they do not overtake New York in the standings. The Blue Jays are 21-9 in the second half of the season and 13-4 since Aug. 1. However, a new president could still prefer to bring in their own general manager to help guide the franchise.
Toronto’s search for a successor to Beeston has been ongoing for quite some time. Last offseason, the team reportedly showed interest in Orioles GM Dan Duquette, Twins GM Terry Ryan and White Sox president Kenny Williams to fill the role. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported earlier this week that the Blue Jays made a strong run at Dombrowski, and their interest pushed the Red Sox to give Dombrowski full decision-making authority.
Specific details of Shapiro’s contract aren’t clear, although if he’s under contract beyond the 2015 season, the Indians could be in for some form of compensation. Last winter, when talks with the Blue Jays were said to have gained traction, the two teams were reportedly discussed player compensation that would’ve gone from Toronto to Baltimore due to the fact that Duquette is signed through the 2018 season.
Baseball has experienced intense turnover in its front offices of late, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today notes in a column today, and there could be more to come. Nightengale cites Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies, Jack Zduriencik of the Mariners, and Walt Jocketty of the Reds as candidates for dismissal. The frequency of change represents a “new state of the game,” argues Nightengale.
- The Mariners could end up bringing in White Sox president Kenny Williams to head its front office, Nighengale reports. But Williams may also be in the running to become the new president of the Blue Jays. Reds special assistant Kevin Towers also increasingly seems to be an option for Seattle, Nightengale adds on Twitter.
- Zduriencik says that he pays no heed to the rumor mill, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Though he’s aware that there is chatter that he could be vulnerable, the Mariners general manager explains that he can’t let that affect his work. “I’ve got eyes,” said the seven-year veteran GM. “I can see what’s going on here. I know what has not worked and what should be working and isn’t. For me to focus on any outside distractions (is non-productive).” Zduriencik stressed that he still believes in the talent base he’s compiled, explaining: “I think when you start to piece it together, there are things we need to do going forward, but I do think that there are some really solid pieces there.”
- Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs provides an overhauled, mid-season look at the game’s best prospects. He breaks down a series of different prospect classes. One of those is his list of the game’s premium pre-MLB players, which is made up of the 26 names who separated themselves from the pack. The usual suspects sit atop that list, but there are some quick-rising players as well, including shortstops Orlando Arcia (Brewers, #8), Franklin Barreto (Athletics, #14), and Trea Turner (Nationals, #15), outfielders Bradley Zimmer (Indians, #21) and Gleyber Torres (Cubs, #23), and Rays lefty Blake Snell, who shot all the way up to the 16th slot. McDaniel also lists the year’s newly-emerging prospects, the newly-professional crop of players added over the summer, and the impressive list of young players who no longer qualify as prospects.
- Ben Badler of Baseball America takes a closer look at one such swiftly-rising prospect, Nationals outfielder Victor Robles. The 18-year-old drew the attention of the organization because of his quick-twitch athleticism and high energy, and the club’s $225K bonus has paid out amply so far. It’s a lengthy piece, but well worth a read for any prospect hounds or Nats fans.
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Trevor Plouffe‘s agent (Nez Balelo at CAA) has been in Minnesota recently, but Plouffe and the Twins haven’t been discussing an extension, 1500ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets. Plouffe can become eligible for free agency following the 2017 season. Wolfson describes him as an extension candidate, and maybe he is, since the Twins are frequently loyal to their players. The Twins do have another potential long-term answer at third base in Miguel Sano, however, and Sano is younger and cheaper, as well as being an outstanding hitter. Trading Plouffe might ultimately make more sense. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The Twins also had interest in Edwin Jackson before Jackson signed with the Braves, Wolfson tweets. The Braves were prepared to offer a big-league deal, however, and the Twins apparently were not.
- The Indians‘ contracts for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher didn’t turn out well, but the team would have been in even worse shape had it extended Justin Masterson, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. In Spring Training in 2014, the Indians reportedly offered Masterson about $45MM over three years, which at the time looked like a lowball offer, given Masterson’s impending free agency and excellent 2013 season. Since then, though, Masterson has struggled in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston, ultimately being designated for assignment by the Red Sox last week.
- The Brewers‘ farm system looks significantly improved after last month’s trades and the June draft, Tom Haudricourt writes for Baseball America (subscription only). In trading Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Gerardo Parra, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Broxton, the Brewers got a solid group of prospects that includes Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana and Zach Davies. Many of the players they acquired are in the high minors, too, which now-former Brewers GM Doug Melvin suggested might shorten the amount of time the team needed to rebuild. Davies, who is relatively small and isn’t a hard thrower, doesn’t fit the pitcher type the Brewers usually like, but Melvin says the team’s analytics department lobbied for the Brewers to acquire him in the Parra trade.
There’s been plenty of front office turnover this summer, with Dave Dombrowski’s departure from the Tigers’ front office, the beginning of Doug Melvin’s transition to an advisory role with the Brewers and the abrupt resignation of Angels GM Jerry Dipoto (who has since taken a temporary consulting position with the Red Sox).
Here’s the latest buzz pertaining to executives around the league…
- The Nationals, Blue Jays and Mariners appear to be the most likely landing spots for Dombrowski, tweets USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. The Blue Jays and Mariners were immediately speculated upon landing spots, as Toronto has long been on the hunt for a president to replace the retiring Paul Beeston, and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik’s job security has been questioned in the wake of a disappointing season for the Mariners. The Nationals don’t have an immediate need and seem a somewhat curious fit, given the fact that the well-respected Mike Rizzo currently holds the president of baseball operations title in D.C. The combination of Rizzo and Dombrowski, though, would give Washington a pair of very accomplished baseball minds atop their decision-making pyramid, if the two were to work together.
- “I’ve had a number of people tell me today they think [Indians assistant GM Mike] Chernoff will be the one to beat,” Peter Gammons replied to the MLB Network’s Chris Russo yesterday when asked who will be the new GM of the Brewers (video link, with Brewers talk beginning at about the 4:00 mark). Gammons also lists Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen as a possibility and notes that he believes Melvin could very well remain on board with the Brewers as a club president.
- New Tigers GM Al Avila spoke at length with Tony Paul of the Detroit News about his new position. While Avila didn’t want to get too in-depth about the differences between him and his friend/predecessor, Dombrowski, he did tell Paul that the Tigers’ front office will take more of an analytical approach to roster construction. “One thing I will bring different is expanded analytics,” said Avila. “I will tell you that I feel that we have a ways to go to catch up with the industry. We have been making some strides, but we’ll fast-forward a little bit and add to that department. You’ll see a big difference there.” However, Avila also stressed the importance of maintaining a balance between traditional scouting and the statistical component of player analysis. As Paul notes, the presence of J.D. Martinez on the Tigers can be chalked up to traditional scouting, and Avila played a huge role in bringing Martinez to Detroit.
- Lastly, the Tigers announced three more front office promotions earlier this week. Major League scout Dave Littlefield (the former GM of the Pirates) has been promoted to vice president of player development. Scott Reid has been bumped from special assistant to senior advisor, and Dick Egan is now a special assistant to the executive VP and general manager.
Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…
- Left-hander Troy Patton can opt out of his minor league deal with the Royals on August 15 if he isn’t called up to the MLB roster, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports. Patton served an 80-game suspension after testing positive for amphetamines last November, and has posted a 3.07 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and a 5.5 K/BB rate over 14 2/3 relief innings at Triple-A Omaha. As McCullough notes, the Royals may not be able to find a place for Patton in the already-stacked K.C. bullpen.
- New Tigers GM Al Avila faces a number of pressing questions about the 2016 team, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News writes. Beyond the payroll, young pitcher development and fixing the Tigers bullpen, Henning also speculates on the future of manager Brad Ausmus. “It would be no shocker if Avila” wanted to hire his own manager to run the team, and if a change was made, Henning believes that the Tigers would pursue an experienced skipper, namely Ron Gardenhire.
- Nick Swisher‘s tenure with the Indians is recapped by Zack Meisel of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. While Swisher helped the Tribe earn a wild card slot in 2013, that contribution alone wasn’t worth his $56MM contract with the team. Meisel also hints at a bit of tension between Swisher and some teammates, writing that “his relentless enthusiasm wore on members of the clubhouse” and “when his performance went south…his insistence on being the club’s commander and cheerleader didn’t carry much weight.”
The Indians have a lot of offseason work ahead of them, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, particularly when it comes to upgrading the team’s lineup. The Tribe could use help at several spots around the diamond, and Hoynes intriguingly wonders how much the club could be counting on from Carlos Santana in 2016. Santana entered today hitting .222/.355/.381 with 12 homers and a league-leading 74 walks over 439 plate appearances — still above-average offensive numbers (109 wRC+), though the power dropoff has to be a concern for Cleveland. The Tribe wasn’t interested in dealing him before the deadline and since Santana is owed only $8.25MM in 2016 (plus a $12MM club option for 2017 with a $1.2MM buyout), I’d think he’s enough of a cost-effective asset that it makes more sense for the offense-starved Indians to keep him. Here’s some more from around the AL Central…
- Also from Hoynes’ piece, he doubts the Indians will make any big moves in free agency given how little return they got from Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the Tribe’s last two major steps into the open market.
- Alex Avila‘s pending free agency creates even more of an awkward position for both he and the Tigers now that his father Al is the team’s general manager, Fangraphs’ David Laurila writes. “No one doubts the professionalism of either Avila,” Laurila notes, though the catcher’s concussion history, lack of hitting and James McCann‘s emergence hurts his case to return to Detroit. Though retirement isn’t necessarily in the cards for the younger Avila anytime soon, Laurila notes that Alex has been tabbed by many as a potential future manager or front office member once he calls it a career.
- In other Detroit front office news, Laurila also noted Sam Menzin’s promotion to the Tigers‘ director of baseball operations and calls Menzin “a future GM.”
- Jose Berrios is performing well in Triple-A and, with the Twins‘ rotation struggling, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests that Minnesota could turn to its top pitching prospect. Twins assistant GM Rob Antony didn’t give any hints about a promotion, though he did praise Berrios and noted that the organization had no plans to shut the righty down as he approaches his career high in innings. The Twins picked Berrios 32nd overall in the 2012 draft, and he ranked highly in preseason prospect lists from MLB.com (32nd) and Baseball America (36th), as well as a bump up to 19th on BA’s midseason top 50 prospects list.
- From the Braves’ perspective, one key to the deal was the financial flexibility they’ll add as they open their new stadium in 2017, GM John Hart tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think for us, a part of it was the flexibility we’re going to have going into ’17. That’s going to be extra dollars that we’re going to be able to have then,” says Hart. “And I think for Cleveland, even though they’re paying a significant piece to fill the large gap (in salaries), I think this gives them a little more flexibility to do some things in ’16.” Bourn and Swisher are both likely to become free agents after 2016 (both have options that are unlikely to vest), whereas Johnson doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season.
- The trade provides the Indians with “roster flexibility,” Bud Shaw writes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group. The Indians won’t have roster spots locked down for two players to whom they feel obligated to give chances. The Indians saved a bit of money in the deal too, Shaw notes, but not so much that it’s likely to make them big players in the free agent market this winter.
- In a Q+A addressing a variety of questions about the Indians’ recent moves, the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Paul Hoynes writes that the Indians’ trades are unlikely to make their attendance much worse. Hoynes notes that the Indians’ attendance to this point has been better than only that of the Rays, so it isn’t as if they can fall much further. It might also be worth noting that while the trades of Brandon Moss and David Murphy might hurt the Indians a bit in the short term, the departures of Bourn, Swisher and Marc Rzepczynski should have little negative on-field impact on the team. The Indians have retained most of their core players, like Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Francisco Lindor and Cody Allen.
SATURDAY: The Indians will send closer to $15MM, not $10MM, to the Braves, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince tweets. Swisher and Bourn are owed about $38MM combined for the remainder of their contracts, while Johnson is owed about $19.5MM, so it appears the Indians will save between $3MM and $4MM total on the deal.
FRIDAY: The Braves and Indians have announced a swap of three bad contracts that will send Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and cash considerations (reportedly about $10MM) to the Braves in exchange for third baseman Chris Johnson.
Both Swisher and Bourn are in the third season of significant four-year pacts ($56MM and $48MM, respectively). Swisher is owed $15MM in 2016, whereas Bourn is owed $14MM next season. Both players have 2017 vesting options, but neither figures to accrue the necessary 550 plate appearances in 2016 to trigger the additional year.
Johnson’s contract calls for him to earn $19.5MM through the end of the 2017 season, so the roughly $10MM included by the Indians will balance out the money on the two contracts.
In this week’s MLBTR Newsletter, I examined the possibility of a Johnson-for-Bourn swap. This expanded iteration of the deal, in essence, boils down to a swap of bad contracts that will allow the Braves to free up some money in 2017 (when they reportedly plan to push for contention in their new stadium, SunTrust Park) and give Cleveland more immediate roster flexibility at the cost of paying some of the remaining salary up front.
Swisher, 34, underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees last August in an effort to correct pain that had caused a rapid decline in his production at the plate. However, Swisher has followed up a .208/.278/.331 campaign in 2014 with a .198/.261/.297 batting line in 30 games this season. Inflammation in his left knee has again landed Swisher on the disabled list, though he was on a rehab assignment at the time of the deal. The Braves’ key motivation in making this deal is to move around some finances, but they’d undoubtedly be pleased if Swisher were able to return to anything resembling the form he showed in 2006-13, when he batted .257/.362/.464 and averaged 26 homers per season.
Though Swisher is on the disabled list, MLBTR has confirmed that players on the disabled list can be sent through revocable trade waivers if their minimum period of inactivity has passed and if they’re healthy and able to play at their accustomed level. Because Swisher has been on the 15-day for more than 15 days and is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A, he was eligible to go on waivers.
Bourn, 32, has seen a similar downturn in his production since signing in Cleveland, as he’s batted just .257/.315/.345 in 1388 plate appearances. Like Swisher, he’s been hampered by injuries, though his have primarily been of the hamstring variety. Bourn underwent surgery on his left hamstring in 2014 and has been sidelined by a strain in that same hamstring this season. The leg injuries have significantly slowed him down, as he’s swiped just 46 bases in 331 games with Cleveland after stealing 42 in his final season before free agency. (A season that he, coincidentally, spent with the Braves.)
As for Johnson, he signed a three-year, $23.5MM contract prior to the 2014 season. Then 29 years old, Johnson was coming off a career year in which he batted .321/.358/.457 with 12 homers. However, much of that production was the result of a .394 batting average on balls in play, and his overall numbers have come back down to Earth as his BABIP regressed to his career norm.
Over the past two seasons, Johnson has batted .257/.288/.352. He’ll probably get a fair chance at playing time in Cleveland, though, as Lonnie Chisenhall has been moved to the outfield after struggling again in 2015, and rookie Giovanny Urshela hasn’t hit much in his debut. Cleveland is lacking in MLB-ready options at the hot corner, so Johnson could find semi-regular at-bats and a chance at redemption. If nothing else, he’s proven to be a useful platoon bat over the course of his career; Johnson is a .313/.349/.439 hitter in 692 plate appearances versus lefties.
Yahoo’s Tim Brown first reported (via Twitter) that Swisher was about to head to Atlanta. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that an agreement was in place. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Bourn and cash considerations would round out the deal (Twitter links). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeted the financial details on the swap.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.