Desmond Jennings Rumors
At the moment, the AL Rookie of the Year race seems to be wide open. Right-handers Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Jordan Walden and Jeremy Hellickson all deserve consideration, as do AL West hitters Mark Trumbo and Dustin Ackley. There was a late addition to the Rookie of the Year race though, and that's Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings.
Tampa did not call up the 24-year-old Jennings until late-July, but since arriving he's been one of the very best hitters in baseball. Not just among rookies either, among all players. His batting line sits at .324/.419/.581 in 175 plate appearances, and since coming up he ranks ninth in MLB in OBP, 18th in SLG, 24th in homers (eight), and first in stolen bases (14). FanGraphs places Jennings' value at 2.2 wins above replacement already, which is fourth most among all rookie position players even though he's come to the plate at least 101 fewer times than the three players ahead of him (Danny Espinosa, Ackley, and Wilson Ramos).
Jennings did receive a September call-up last year and it's not hard to connect the dots and suggest that his promotion in 2011 was delayed due to service time. He will finish the season with less than one full year of service time, which isn't exactly when teams start handing out extensions. The Rays have set a bit of a precedent though, famously inking Evan Longoria to a six-year, $17.5MM contract after just six days in the big leagues. James Shields was barely over one year of service time when he signed his four-year, $11.25MM contract. Tampa has shown a willingness to take on risk in exchange for cost control of their best young players, making Jennings a prime extension candidate.
The recent Jose Tabata extension gives us a great idea of the market value for a young outfielder with approximately a year of service time. The Pirates gave their 23-year-old outfielder six years and $15MM guaranteed, though three club options could push the total value of the package to $37.25MM. The Rays love getting those club option years as well; both Longoria's and Shields' contracts contain three option years each while Ben Zobrist's deal includes two. Tabata is just about two years younger than Jennings and his big league sample is much larger (815 PA vs. 199 PA), but he hasn't hit as much as the Tampa outfielder (.286/.349/.385 career) and UZR doesn't like his defense as much either. There's not much of a point in comparing the two players statistically given how long they've been in the show, but remember that teams are paying for what they expect in future, not what they've gotten in the past.
One legitimate reason not to give Jennings a long-term contract is his durability, or lack thereof. He missed the final month of the 2007 season due to knee surgery, played in just 24 games in 2008 due to back and shoulder troubles (surgery on the shoulder), and then battled a wrist issue in 2010. The Rays can't afford to miss on a long-term contract extension, so they'll need to feel confident in his ability to stay on the field before deciding to take the plunge. Baseball America thinks enough of Jennings' talent that they ranked him as the 22nd best prospect in baseball before the season despite those injury concerns, the fourth consecutive year he's earned a spot on their top 100 prospects list. It's also worth noting that Jennings is a Scott Boras client.
It seems likely that Tampa will part ways B.J. Upton at some point within the next year, at which point Jennings will just slide over to center field. They're guaranteed to have him at a salary close to the league minimum for at least another two seasons thanks to the pre-arbitration rules, but it's not out of the question that the Rays may decide to lock Jennings in at a below-market rate before that transition occurs.
Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.
It's the middle of June and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (video link) says that teams aren't sure if they'll be buying or selling as the deadline approaches..
- The Athletics certainly look like sellers but they're not ready to just give players away. Three of their more attractive hitters, David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, and Josh Willingham all make $6MM or less, salaries that are not prohibitive. The A's can keep all of them, offer them arbitration, and then collect draft picks if they go elsewhere. Right now, Willingham is the only one of the trio that projects as a Type A free agent.
- The Rays could sell even while in contention if they believe that they can build something better for the future. B.J. Upton remains a difficult call for the club. Desmond Jennings, their top prospect, wouldn't provide as much of an impact. At the same time, Upton is likely to make more than $6MM next season in arbitration. Tampa Bay could wait until the offseason to move him but they might get more value if they act sooner.
- If the Reds wanted to get creative, they could move one of their catchers for starting pitching and promote prospect Devin Mesoraco. However, the combination of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan is one of their strengths and they might not want to disrupt the chemistry between their pitchers and catchers.
- The Twins are at the bottom of the AL Central but GM Bill Smith says that the team still believes that it's in the race. It also helps that Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Joe Mauer are all expected back soon. Minnesota isn't ready to pack it in just yet, and they're not quite ready to be mid-season sellers.
The Phillies' Domonic Brown became the latest prospect to get the call up to the big leagues today (although he debuted in 2010), but some blue-chippers remain down on the farm. Here's a note about one of them, and some other interesting items ...
- Rays manager Joe Maddon said Desmond Jennings wasn't called up after Dan Johnson was designated for assignment because Tampa wants the speedy outfielder to play every day, tweets Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times. Of course, Maddon was implying that the decision was not related to Jennings' service time.
- The Phillies' signing of 17-year-old Australian catcher Liam Bedford was among last week's notable minors transactions, compiled by Matt Eddy of Baseball America. Another noteworthy move: The Angels have finally signed UC Irvine catcher Francis Larson, their 22nd-round pick in last year's draft.
- The Red Sox have a unique sales pitch for minor league free agents, writes Alex Speier of WEEI.com. Boston has a recent track record of awarding promotions to players like Nick Green and Darnell McDonald, which is appealing to guys like Drew Sutton who are looking to latch onto organizations that will give them a legitimate shot of playing in the Majors.
We've already caught up on the Yankees, but it's now time to check in on a few of the Bronx Bombers' AL East rivals. Here's the latest:
- Joe Beimel is deciding between three teams, according to MLB.com's Evan Drellich. The Red Sox, Orioles and one National League club are the finalists for the lefty's services, agent Joe Sroba says.
- Could Michael Young be a fit in Toronto? Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star thinks so. Nobody asked me, but I don't see the Blue Jays as a possible destination for Young, who happens to be a close friend of Vernon Wells'.
- An MLB executive tells ESPN.com's Buster Olney the Blue Jays “have a chance to be a real power for years to come,” and believes that Alex Anthopoulos & Co. will do a lot with their upcoming draft picks and newfound payroll flexibility.
- A lot of rival executives tell Olney that they consider the Red Sox the best team in baseball on paper, but wonder how much Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will produce behind the plate.
- Some people around the league question whether Rays prospect Desmond Jennings will reach the potential he showed a couple seasons ago.
Desmond Jennings has switched representation from SFX to Scott Boras, MLBTR has learned. Jennings, one of the top prospects in the minors, has a .283/.356/.409 line for the Rays' Triple A club this year. His scorching June has been sandwiched by unimpressive months.
Perhaps the switch to Boras kills any chance of Jennings signing a team-friendly multiyear deal, but it's not worth worrying about before he even makes his big league debut.
Annoyed your favorite team didn't strike a deal with the Mariners for Cliff Lee? At least consider the details of Jack Zduriencik's high asking price, as reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
According to Sherman, the Mariners general manager set out to acquire "an interested organization's best position prospect with less than one year of service." He was offered none better than the Rangers' Justin Smoak. The Yankees' Jesus Montero was apparently the next-best position prospect offered. Zduriencik also targeted players such as Ike Davis of the Mets, Desmond Jennings of the Rays, Domonic Brown of the Phillies, Gordon Beckham of the White Sox, and Brett Lawrie (who would've had to have come from the Brewers in a three-way deal). Sherman notes that the Mets never offered a player better than Fernando Martinez; Jenrry Mejia and Wilmer Flores "were never part of discussions."
Sherman also gets into the failed Yankees-Lee deal like only he can. He gathered that the Yankees and Mariners had a deal in principle, at which point teams expect you to stop talking to other clubs. Sherman expects the bad blood to linger, making the Yanks unwilling to deal with the Mariners in the future. The Yankees were also apparently "rankled" by Seattle's confusingly high asking price for Jarrod Washburn last summer. Another thought: an executive recently wondered aloud to me how Kevin Towers was involved in the Lee trade talks. Towers has a close relationship with both Brian Cashman and Zduriencik.
From the Rangers' point of view, GM Jon Daniels indicated today to The Ticket's Norm Hitzges that he continually had an open dialogue with the Mariners. Daniels felt that the Rangers were in second place Friday morning, until he adjusted his offer.
Some links before Cliff Lee makes his Rangers' debut this evening...
- Toronto has plenty of trade chips heading into the deadline, writes Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.
- FoxSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi says that the Phillies, Dodgers, Reds, White Sox, Angels, and Yankees all had scouts in attendance for last night's Dan Haren-Ricky Nolasco matchup, though it's unclear how many (or if any) were there specifically to watch the righthanders.
- Prospect maven Jim Callis of Baseball America said (via Twitter) that he considers the various packages offered to Seattle for Lee to be "a wash."
- A's GM Billy Beane said that he doesn't anticipate "being that active at the trade deadline," according to John Shea of The San Francisco Chronicle. Ben Sheets (4.89 ERA, 6.6 K/9) hasn't built up the trade value Beane hoped he would when they signed him this winter, but there is always a market for starting pitching.
- Joel Sherman and George A. King III of The New York Post heard that club officials from other teams were "irked" by the Mariners' actions during the Lee trade discussions. They also have info on some other prospects Seattle requested from the Yankees.
- Sherman tweets that the Mariners wanted top outfield prospect Desmond Jennings from the Rays in a deal for Lee.
- Torii Hunter told Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times that he wants to be a GM one day, and he thinks that Seattle broke an unwritten rule by trading Lee within the division.
- Derrek Lee told The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan that he wouldn't ask Cubs' GM Jim Hendry to trade him to a contender.
- Lance Berkman told Bernando Fallas of The Houston Chronicle that it feels different to see the Astros in sell mode.
Talking to Jim Bowden of MLB Home Plate (Twitter link), Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Gerry Hunsicker said it would take extraordinary circumstances for top prospect Desmond Jennings to play in the Majors this year. Jennings is regarded by most as the sixth-best prospect in the game, and it seemed quite possible that he'd muscle his way into the outfield picture this summer. If Jennings is expected to remain in Triple A, perhaps Carl Crawford is less likely to be traded (although maybe a Crawford trade qualifies as an extraordinary circumstance).
Both Crawford and Carlos Pena will be eligible for free agency after the season, and Hunsicker told Bowden it will be very difficult to retain both. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is on record saying, "We're going to do everything we can to make sure [Crawford] stays here longer." And Rays president Matt Silverman said the team is currently focused on Crawford, with talks ongoing. That doesn't necessarily make Pena a midseason trade candidate, as the Rays need his bat to contend. Pena told Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times today that he hopes to stay with the Rays beyond 2010 and is extremely grateful for the opportunity no matter what happens.