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Cliff Lee Rumors
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.
Cliff Lee has been heavily talked about in trade rumors, but now it might be a while before the Phillies can find a deal for him. Earlier today, the Phillies announced to the press that the veteran is once again dealing with a sore elbow.
The Phillies, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com tweets, were probably more motivated to deal Lee than any other player this spring. Now, they’ll have to wait until Lee has a clean bill of health to find a taker.
“It will take a couple of days to get the fluid out of the area from the MRI and Cliff will likely begin to throw again on Monday. He will progress his throwing program as tolerated. He will not make his scheduled start on Tuesday and his next start is TBD,” GM Ruben Amaro said in the release. “In the meantime we will have the MRI read as a second opinion by Dr. James Andrews. He will likely see the images on Monday or Tuesday. We will determine Cliff’s continued progressions accordingly.”
Lee battled elbow soreness last year and made just 13 starts in 2014 as a result. Amaro told reporters, including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (on Twitter), that Lee’s MRI showed an issue with his flexor pronator – previously the culprit of his elbow soreness – and not his UCL. Amaro says that if Lee undergoes surgery for the issue, it will take him out of action for 6-8 months, according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Late last month, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Rangers and Padres were among the teams to at least “kick the tires” on Lee earlier this winter. Since their inquiries, however, the Padres added James Shields and the Rangers also added to their pitching depth. Heyman speculated that Boston could be a logical landing spot for Lee, but there are no indications that the two sides discussed him.
Lee is owed $25MM for the coming season and can be controlled for another year through a $27.5MM option that comes with a hefty $12.5MM buyout. Prior to his elbow acting up in 2014, Lee boasted a streak of six straight seasons with 200+ innings. Over that stretch, he carried a 2.89 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against just 1.3 BB/9. The 36-year-old (37 in August) has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to twenty teams per year.
Ryan Vogelsong seemed to be on the verge of signing with the Astros before he eventually rejoined the Giants, and the righty hinted that there was something unusual about how negotiations broke down with Houston. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the issue was that after agreeing to sign Vogelsong to a one-year, $4MM deal, the Astros wanted to pay Vogelsong less after viewing the results of his physical. Both Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and Vogelsong’s agent Dave Meier declined to comment to Heyman about the situation.
Here’s some more from around the baseball world…
- The Royals are focused on winning now, which could change their handling of prospects Brandon Finnegan and Christian Colon, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. There is “a pretty healthy discussion going on within the Royals’ organization” about Finnegan, who could be a key left-handed bullpen weapon for K.C. this season, though such usage could also hurt his development as a future starter. A similar argument could be made about Colon and whether he’d be better served playing every day at Triple-A or coming off the Royals’ bench as a utilityman.
- Though he has a 2016 option that vests if he pitches 200 innings, Cliff Lee is entering his last guaranteed year under contract. The Phillies southpaw told reporters (including David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News) that he’s hasn’t thought about what lies beyond the coming season. “We’ll see what it brings,” Lee said. “I definitely do not want to go out the way things happened last year, I don’t want that to be the way I finish my career, but at the same time I’m not going to sit there and try to fight that to get it done. I want to go out there and have fun and feel good and make it be a positive thing instead of it be a battle physically.”
- Erasmo Ramirez is facing a roster crunch, as the out-of-options righty doesn’t appear to have a clear path to either a rotation or bullpen role with the Mariners, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. The M’s don’t want to lose Ramirez but Dutton hears from multiple rival officials that Seattle stands little chance of sneaking Ramirez through waivers and down to the minors. The Mariners also don’t stand to get much of a return in a possible trade, as one rival exec rhetorically asks, “How much are you going to give up for a guy who is likely to be on waivers in a few weeks?”
- The Giants will certainly monitor the market for right-handed hitting outfield bats in the wake of Hunter Pence‘s injury, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi writes, though the club won’t jump to make a move.
- Using 2014 attendance figures and Forbes’ evaluations of franchise values, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards calculates each team’s “expected payroll” to see how clubs spend in relation to their markets. The Tigers outspend their market by the most while the Yankees rank last, though Edwards explains that ranking is slightly misleading since luxury tax payments aren’t factored into the equation.
- Besides division rivals or intra-market rivals, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron (writing for FOX Sports) looks at other pairs of teams that rarely seem to make trades with each other.
- Injuries to several relievers could result in one or two young arms getting a shot in the Diamondbacks‘ Opening Day bullpen, Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic writes.
Braves lefty Mike Minor will have his throwing shoulder examined by Dr. James Andrews sometime early next week, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (on Twitter). Minor’s shoulder tightness was noted by Bowman yesterday, with the MLB.com adding that he expected Minor to be unable to claim a rotation spot to open the year due to the issue. The Braves have a number of alternatives in camp, should Minor be unable to open the season with the team. Both Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez were added on minor league deals this winter, and the highly regarded Michael Foltynewicz was sent to the Braves from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade.
Elsewhere in the NL East…
- Dan Haren tells Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that part of the reason for his initial uncertainty about pitching for the Marlins was that he wasn’t sure if the team truly wanted him. The Marlins took on Haren only after the Dodgers agreed to pay all $10MM of his salary, and the main focus of the trade did seem to be acquiring Dee Gordon. Additionally, the Marlins didn’t even require Haren to take a physical prior to the trade — something he’s never experienced in being traded before. In fact, Haren was once nearly traded to the Cubs before a physical caused the deal to fall through. However, he’s now on board with pitching for the Marlins and is ready to compete for “at least” one more year, suggesting that he may not retire after this season, as many believed. And as for whether or not the Marlins wanted Haren, GM Dan Jennings said there is no doubt: “Oh, we wanted the pitcher. He goes to the post every year.”
- Prior to today’s start, Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee told reporters, including Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he’s on a normal spring schedule at this point and feels healthy. Lee has been on a normal throwing program after throwing 15 bullpen sessions at his Arkansas home, and while it’s too early to read anything into his spring results, he did fire two scoreless innings in today’s outing, allowing two hits without a walk (and no strikeouts).
- The Phillies also announced today that they’ve added right-handers Seth Rosin and Mike Nesseth as non-roster invitees to Major League camp. Each was already with the Phils, though to this point they’d been in minor league camp. If Rosin’s name looks a bit familiar, it’s because he was selected by the Mets in last year’s Rule 5 Draft and immediately traded to the Dodgers for cash. The Rangers then claimed him off waivers and held onto him briefly before returning him to Philadelphia.