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Cliff Lee Rumors
Several notable players could see their 2016 statuses change depending on whether or not they unlock vesting options in their current contracts. As we enter the All-Star break, let’s check in on the progress each of these players are making towards those getting those options to vest. All stats are current heading into today’s action…
- Chase Utley: The veteran second baseman has a $15MM vesting option for 2016 that becomes guaranteed if he makes 500 plate appearances. (If he doesn’t, it becomes a team option worth between $5MM-$11MM depending on how much time Utley spends on the DL, with a $2MM buyout.) Utley, of course, is on the DL right now recovering from an ankle injury and will be out until late July or early August. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has openly stated that Cesar Hernandez has earned the everyday second base job, leaving Utley’s playing time in question for the remainder of the season. Utley is suffering through by far the worst season of his 13-year career with only a .179/.257/.275 slash line and four homers through his 249 plate appearances. If Utley isn’t back until early August, he’d be hard-pressed to reach 500 PA even in the increasingly unlikely event that he plays every day.
- Jonathan Papelbon: This Phillie‘s march towards his vesting option is going much more smoothly. His $13MM option for 2016 vests if he either finishes 55 games this year, or finishes 100 games combined between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Papelbon finished 52 games last year and has 29 finishes this season, so collecting those last 19 finishes over roughly two and a half months shouldn’t be difficult for the closer if he stays healthy. There’s a chance Papelbon could ask for his option to be guaranteed to facilitate a trade, yet he sounds so eager to get out of Philadelphia and pitch for a contender that he may not bother and instead bet on himself to finish those 19 games.
- David Ortiz: Big Papi has 340 plate appearances, making him a virtual lock to reach the 425 PA he’ll need (plus passing an offseason physical) for his 2016 option to vest. Ortiz will earn at least $11MM in 2016, plus more depending on how many PA past the 425-mark he ends up recording this season.
- Joaquin Benoit: With only seven games finished, Benoit has no shot at the 55 games finished he’s need to turn the Padres‘ $8MM club option into a guarantee for 2016.
- Marlon Byrd: If Byrd has 600 PA this season, or at least 550 PA this season and 1100 PA total between 2014-15, the $8MM club option on his 2016 services will become guaranteed. A DL stint limited Byrd to 262 PA thus far, so it’ll be difficult for Byrd to reach the 550 PA mark unless he stays healthy and the Reds play him virtually every day.
- Santiago Casilla: The Giants righty signed a three-year, $15MM deal in the 2012-13 offseason that contained a vesting option. MLBTR has learned that Casilla’s 2016 option will vest at $6.5MM with 55 games finished during the 2015 season. Casilla’s option could have vested at $7.5MM with 100 games finished between the 2014-15 seasons, including 55 in 2015. The option could also have vested at $8.5MM with 150 games finished from 2013-15, including 55 finished in 2015.
- Nori Aoki: The outfielder was one of the league leaders in plate appearances when he fractured his right fibula, so he already has 291 of the 550 PA he needs to turn the Giants‘ $5.5MM option for 2016 into a mutual option. If Aoki returns around July 24 (as Bruce Bochy estimates) and resumes his everyday spot atop San Francisco’s lineup, he stands a good chance of reaching the vesting point.
- Jonny Gomes: If Gomes receives 325 PA, his $3MM option for 2016 will become guaranteed. He’s just over halfway there with 166 plate appearances, so this one may come right down to the wire.
We already know that Cliff Lee won’t achieve the innings totals required for his 2016 option to vest, as the Phillies southpaw hasn’t pitched all season and is attempting to recover from a torn left flexor tendon without undergoing surgery. Brandon League also hasn’t pitched this season and has been released by the Dodgers, so he won’t reach the games-finished total required to allow his 2016 player option to vest.
The Phillies’ pursuit of longtime baseball exec Andy MacPhail for a position in their front office is “quite real,” a source tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. (CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury first reported Philadelphia’s interest in MacPhail.) Rosenthal writes that adding MacPhail could create an interesting scenario, as it would potentially put MacPhail, who served as the Cubs’ president when Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the Hall of Fame, in position to fire Sandberg as the Phillies’ manager. Rosenthal writes that many within the industry feel that Sandberg is overmatched, but he adds that if current president Pat Gillick were going to dismiss Sandberg, he’d probably have done so by now. As such, the decision may fall to Gillick’s successor, who could make the move himself or hire a new general manager to do so.
A few more notes on a Phillies team that seems destined for change on the roster, in the front office and in the dugout in the coming months…
- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters, including MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, that he’s “fully supportive” of Sandberg and expects him to finish out the 2015 season as the team’s manager. Sandberg added that he’s not concerned about potentially being on the hot seat, telling reporters, “I worry about the game today and what has to be done today. That’s the focus and the mindset for me.”
- The Phillies placed Jerome Williams on the disabled list and have yet to announce a starter for Sunday’s contest, but Salisbury writes that it won’t be top prospect Aaron Nola. The No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft, Nola is slated to make his Triple-A debut tomorrow evening and will continue on that schedule. “We have to do what’s right for Aaron Nola and his development and that’s not going to change,” Amaro said of Nola. “And he’s going to be in the big leagues at some point this year. I don’t think there’s any question about that, if he continues to progress the way he’s progressed so far.”
- Within that piece, Salisbury also provides an update on the injured Cliff Lee. Following an exam on Tuesday of this week, it was recommended that Lee hold off from throwing for another three to four weeks. Amaro said that in about a month’s time, the team will have a clearer image of Lee’s future. The former Cy Young winner has been resting a small tear in his flexor tendon in an attempt to avoid a surgical repair that would come with a nine-month recovery timeline.
ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Insider link) lists five spring transactions that ought to occur. Among them are trades involving two veteran Phillies players — Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon. While Papelbon has been discussed quite frequently this offseason, as has fellow hurler Cole Hamels, Utley has scarcely seen his name come up in rumors (and is only just returning to action after suffering a sprained ankle). Bowden also advocates an early-career extension for Christian Yelich of the Marlins
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Injured Mets starter Zack Wheeler dealt with rather significant elbow pain last year, as GM Sandy Alderson has indicated and Andy Martino of the New York Daily News further reports. Per Martino, the team maintains publicly and privately that Wheeler’s UCL never was a matter of concern for the team, but he details some of the developments last year that raised red flags about the young righty’s health. Of course, as Martino is right to explain, there are not only many unknown details but also plenty of medical uncertainties in the world of pitching elbows.
- The Braves are prepared to announce a deal with Comcast involving the team’s new ballpark and mixed-use development, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It appears that the cable company will occupy office space and provide technology services for the controversial new facility.
- Of course, that stadium opening is still years away, and the Braves are still working to resolve numerous roster matters before the start of the upcoming season. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman updates the situation in camp, writing that Jace Peterson appears to have the inside track on a 25-man spot, if not the starting gig at second base. The team has numerous infield and outfield slots still up for grabs.
- The Phillies have insurance on Cliff Lee‘s contract and will have a chance to recover an unknown sum for the time he is expected to miss, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. That will not match the return the team had hoped to be able to achieve if a healthy Lee had turned into an attractive mid-season trade chip, of course. As part of his rest and rehab plan, Lee will not even throw a ball for several months. While the decision not to undergo surgery was announced a mutual one between team and player, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets that all doctors consulted recommended surgery and that it was Lee’s decision not to pursue that option.
- As Lee faces the possibility of retirement, former teammate Roy Halladay says he is interested in pursuing sports psychology as a second act, as Zolecki reports.
The Phillies announced that left-hander Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list. Per the Phillies, surgery has been recommended for Lee, but because that route would end his 2015 season, the sides have mutually agreed to make another attempt to rehabilitate his torn left flexor tendon without surgery. Per the team’s press release:
“…The Phillies and Cliff have mutually decided to try once again to rehabilitate the injury non-operatively, with the hope that Cliff might be able to return to pitch during the 2015 season. Cliff will immediately be shut down from throwing. He will be sent home to rest and will be set up with a rehabilitation program to maintain his overall conditioning. He will be brought to Philadelphia periodically to be evaluated to determine a time at which he might be able to begin a throwing program again.”
This further casts a shadow of doubt that Lee will be able to pitch in the 2015 season. The 37-year-old is owed $25MM this season and has a $27.5MM club/vesting option for the 2015 season with a $12.5MM buyout, meaning that he is guaranteed $37.5MM before his contract expires at season’s end. (The option will not vest, as he obviously won’t reach the necessary 200 innings.)
Lee was thought of as a potential trade candidate this spring if he was able to prove his health, but instead, his elbow again flared up, and an MRI revealed that his torn flexor tendon is still not at 100 percent. Lee has tried to pitch through the pain this spring but repeatedly felt discomfort, leading to the announcement of the shut-down.
Many have speculated that Lee’s injury will hasten the Phillies’ willingness to trade Cole Hamels, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said specifically that the Lee situation will not change the team’s stance on Hamels whatsoever.
The Nationals announced today that closer Drew Storen underwent surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand (Twitter links). Storen, a right-handed thrower, will be down for about two or three days before resuming his throwing program and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, however, according to the Nats.
A bit more on the Nationals and their division…
- Injured Nationals center fielder Denard Span tells Bill Ladson of MLB.com that he began to feel pain in his abdomen about six to seven weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia in December. However, Span says he had both good days and “so-so” days an expected that the pain would eventually go away. Instead, of course, Span underwent core muscle surgery earlier this week and will now “optimistically” be back in the lineup by May, writes Ladson, indicating a fairly significant DL stint for the free-agent-to-be. However, Span says that he’s more disappointed to be missing part of a season where the Nationals could make a run at the World Series than to be injured in a contract year. “This is probably the last year this ballclub has a chance to be together,” Span tells Ladson. “We have a chance to do something special. That hurts more than the fact that I’m going to be a free agent.” Span and teammates Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister will all be free agents next winter.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post questions the persistent claims of Mets GM Sandy Alderson when he says he has the financial flexibility to make roster moves as needed. As Sherman points out, the Mets didn’t invest any guaranteed money in left-handed relief pitching this winter, and they’re now facing the possibility of losing their top lefty reliever, Josh Edgin, to Tommy John surgery. Alderson told Sherman that the financial requests of the available left-handed relievers this winter didn’t match up with their quality, but he’ll have financial flexibility to add to the roster this season if the Mets are contending.
- Phillies lefty Cliff Lee threw again today and said he still felt discomfort in his left elbow, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Lee is trying to pitch through a torn flexor tendon in his elbow but will have to opt for season-ending surgery if some of the discomfort does not eventually dissipate.
- Meanwhile, Zolecki adds that offseason signee Aaron Harang was scratched from his upcoming start due to lower back discomfort. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he’s not worried and called it a “muscular thing,” but this is the second time Harang has been scratched for a back issue this spring. The Phillies will need a healthy Harang given their thin rotation depth. The veteran signed a one-year, $5MM contract with Philadelphia this offseason.
We have not heard much today on Hector Olivera after a busy run the last few days, but the Braves are still “monitor[ing] his market,” per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Atlanta’s comfort level on cost seems to land in the $30MM to $40MM range, per the report.
Here are a few more notes from the NL East:
- Phillies veteran Cliff Lee did not experience any improvement in his bullpen session today, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. “I got through it,” he said. “There’s still something there. Same as yesterday.” Lee will throw again Thursday, and says he will keep trying to work through the discomfort so long as it does not get worse. The situation has wide-ranging implications, of course, one of them simply on the remainder of the club’s staff. Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News breaks down the latest on some of the team’s next men up, including Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and Miguel Gonzalez.
- Nationals starter Max Scherzer says that there really was a mystery team (other than his former club, the Tigers) that pursued him over the winter, as James Schmehl of MLive.com reports (Twitter links). Scherzer added that he was surprised that Detroit went public regarding the significant extension offer he signed last spring.
6:02pm: ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke extensively with Lee, Amaro and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan about the injury. Lee said he will play comfortably with the injury for as long as he can, but it no longer makes sense to play past the point of severe discomfort “where something bad can potentially happen.” Lee threw lightly today and said he felt “normal,” but he was also able to do that the day after initially reporting the discomfort.
Lee admitted that he’s debated retirement in the wake of this news. “I’ve got a family at home and I’ve been away from them for a long time, so that is part of the equation,” said Lee. “If I were to have the surgery, am I going to go through all that to try to pitch again, or am I going to shut it down? That’s a decision that I’ll have to make once that time comes, if that times comes.” Unsurprisingly, Stark did add, on Twitter, that he can’t envision Lee foregoing the remaining $37.5MM that he is owed.
12:25pm: After a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Cliff Lee will attempt to pitch through a torn flexor tendon for the Phillies, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News (links to Twitter). A surgical option (not Tommy John) would be the next step if Lee experiences discomfort.
Amaro says that the team is “not terribly optimistic” that such a surgical result can be avoided. If he goes under the knife, Lee would be expected to miss six to eight months. Obviously that would mean a lost season, which would presumably also bring an end to his contract with the Phillies. Lee is under control for 2016 through a vesting/club option, but it would not be triggered if he misses the year and the club would be unlikely to pick it up at $27.5MM (against a $12.5MM buyout).
At this point, it is difficult to foresee a way for the Phillies to recover any value for the veteran lefty. A deal this spring is all but unimaginable, of course. And looking ahead to the trade deadline or beyond, the risk may be too great to support a market. Even if Lee can somehow perform at his historical standards and a 200-inning pace — the best case scenario — the vesting clause (it hits at 200 innings pitched) would loom as a potentially massive obligation. Regardless of trades scenarios, it is unfortunate to see as great a player as Lee struggle to stay on the field at this stage of his career.
Left-hander Cliff Lee is disheartened by his recent elbow injury but told reporters, including MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, that he takes solace in knowing that he did everything he possibly could this offseason to prevent a relapse of the injury that ended his 2014 season. Lee is dealing with elbow soreness that he described today as “just what it felt like at the start of when I started feeling it last year.” The Phillies are sending the images from Lee’s ultrasound and MRI to Dr. James Andrews to take a look, and Lee is hoping to hear that it’s merely scar tissue that formed around his old injury, and the pain is normal. However, he’s bracing for surgery that he knows could sideline him for six to eight months. “So basically if I have the surgery this season will be done, possibly my career, I guess,” said Lee.
On that somber note, here are a few more Phillies items…
- Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com was also on hand to speak with Lee and offers an additional quote in which Lee said that Andrews, doctor David Altchek and Phillies team physician all agreed last year that there was something in the vicinity of a 90 percent chance that rest and rehab would heal his elbow as opposed to surgery.
- None of what has transpired with Lee should impact the way the Phillies approach the Cole Hamels situation, opines David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News. Hamels is five years younger and in his physical prime, and even in a worst-case scenario where he blows out his elbow in the first half, he could be back on the mound after Tommy John with two-plus years of his contract remaining at a below-market rate. Murphy disagrees with assessments that Hamels isn’t worth the package sought by Amaro, positing that there’s no true way to define what a player is worth; rather, that is determined by demand and by the utility that a team projects itself to gain from the added wins Hamels will provide. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn’t able to land the package he sought in a market with top-of-the-rotation alternatives, but Murphy implies that the summer trade market may be a better opportunity for the Phillies to sell. I’m inclined to agree; I don’t buy the notion of some fans that the Phils have botched this situation and should merely take the best offer presented. The potential reward of waiting until July to move Hamels is greater than the more minimal risk that he incurs some kind of significant injury in the interim.
- Also from Zolecki, the Phillies have confirmed that former supplemental-round pick Larry Greene (No. 39 overall in 2011) will not be reporting to camp and does not appear to want to play baseball anymore (as first mentioned on the Phoulballz Phillies blog). Greene, now 22, had a solid enough pro debut at short-season Class-A in 2011, but he never advanced beyond the Class-A South Atlantic League and has a .224/.318/.321 batting line in 989 career plate appearances.
Many players grow up as fans of the game, but once they sign with a pro team, the nature of their fandom changes, FanGraphs’ David Laurila writes. “Once you sign a contract, you have a team of your own,” says Orioles reliever T.J. McFarland, who grew up a fan of the White Sox. “My family still roots for the White Sox, but I went from being a fan to an employee – an actual worker – within the profession.” Of course, the associations they had with veteran players they rooted for as kids don’t just disappear. McFarland says he took pride in playing opposite Mark Buehrle and Paul Konerko, and says he found it “surreal” when he faced Derek Jeter. Here’s more from throughout the league.
- Earlier today, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Yankees had come closer than any other team to acquiring Phillies star Cole Hamels. If that’s true, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes, that might mean the Phillies haven’t come close to dealing Hamels to any team, because the two sides have not had discussions recently and never were near a deal. The Phillies are fans of Yankees prospects Luis Severino and Aaron Judge, but the Yankees likely don’t want to trade Severino in a Hamels deal. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have refused to deal Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart for Hamels. The Rangers are another possibility, but they too appear disinclined to trade their top prospects, including Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro.
- Cliff Lee‘s recent bout of elbow soreness demonstrates the risk the Phillies are taking with Hamels, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Each time Hamels pitches, he could get injured, causing his trade value to decrease or simply vanish.
- It’s wise to be skeptical of reports suggesting Cuban infielder Hector Olivera will get $70MM or more, FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel writes. That says more about Olivera’s representative Rudy Santin’s use of the media than about Olivera’s actual market. Finding comparables for a Cuban player with no MLB experience is difficult, so it’s hard for the U.S. media to be appropriately skeptical of reported offers for a player like Olivera, McDaniel argues. McDaniel says he would be surprised if Olivera topped $50MM.