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In the first trade of the offseason, the Braves shed $5MM of payroll when they shipped Derek Lowe to the Indians and agreed to pick up $10MM of his $15MM salary for 2012. It was a deal that gave GM Frank Wren & Co. some much needed breathing room, and one that couldn't have been made without a good deal of pitching depth.
Even without Lowe in the mix, Atlanta still has a rotation headlined by Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens. There are plenty of young hurlers available in support, including Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado , Arodys Vizcaino, Brandon Beachy, and Tommy Hanson. While Atlanta would certainly like to avoid rushing their young pitchers into taking on major workloads, they might be better served by turning their pitching wealth into offense in 2012.
Wren claims to be content with his stockpile of arms and even though interest in Jurrjens is high, the GM is reportedly asking for a Zack Greinke-like return for the oft-injured 25-year-old. While the Braves could come away with a solid package for Jurrjens, it's overly optimistic to put the youngster's value on a par with Greinke's.
The Braves are looking to make a few upgrades in their lineup and would like to move on from shortstop Alex Gonzalez if they can. They'd also like to land themselves a young center fielder as insurance if they can't retain Michael Bourn when he hits the open market after next season. Wren would obviously love to keep Jurrjens as part of the starting five, but he can absolutely afford to flip him in order to improve elsewhere.
A week ago I kicked off a discussion among MLBTR writers about how many true ace starting pitchers there are in baseball. I was surprised to find that my own off-the-cuff list totaled 18, with another eight falling into my "borderline" group. My list of aces, in no particular order:
My borderline group:
I didn't crunch any numbers here – just good old-fashioned gut feelings. But could there really be almost 20 ace starters in MLB? Let's see your list in the comments.
Recently, there was a great deal of speculation as to how the Marlins would take care of the third base job as prospect Matt Dominguez was demoted to the minors to improve his offense. However, Larry Beinfest seemed to put that talk to rest when he said that the trade front was rather quiet, leaving Donnie Murphy as the club's Opening Day starting third baseman.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, Dominguez suffered a slight fracture to his left elbow yesterday and Murphy was struck on his surgically-repaired right hand by a pitch in the seventh inning of tonight's contest against the Mets. Dominguez should be back in action in 4-6 weeks but there is no word on Murphy's condition just yet. If the Fish find themselves without Murphy's services for an extended period of time, they can refer back to their shortlist of third base candidates from just weeks ago. We could hear names like Michael Young rehashed again, but with a $16MM annual salary, it's not likely that the Marlins and Rangers can match up. Fortunately for the Marlins, a couple of the more affordable options are newly available.
The Marlins flirted with the idea of bringing in Royals veteran Pedro Feliz in March. On Sunday, Feliz asked for, and was granted, his release. Though it was said at the time at the Marlins weren't likely to sign the 35-year-old, circumstances may bring about a change of heart in the Florida front office. Former Marlin Luis Castillo has also re-entered the open market after being cut loose by the Phillies. Castillo could theoretically be put at his preferred position, second base, with Omar Infante being moved over to third. Even though neither player would represent an earth-shattering signing, either player would be able to keep the spot at third warm until Dominguez recovers and gets his bat up to speed.
It's also quite possible that the Marlins would once again fill the void at third base internally. After all, as Beinfest said, whoever they would acquire to play the position would be nothing more than a "placeholder".
Recently, after learning of Jason Castro's season-ending injury, Astros owner Drayton McLane reportedly decided that the club could allocate extra money to find a backstop for 2011. It remains to be seen exactly how much funding the team is willing to put towards the catcher position, especially since Houston doesn't seem poised to contend this season and whoever they acquire will be simply keeping the spot warm for Castro.
There are plenty of catchers on the block, such as Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit. Doumit could fit the bill as a one-year solution, though he will take in $5.6MM on the year when including the $500K buyout of his remaining years. The Astros' first choice to step in for Castro was Twins catcher Drew Butera, but they were quickly rebuffed. Nationals backstop Jesus Flores reportedly drew interest from GM Ed Wade but the club is said to have cooled on him in recent days. The 26-year-old has appeared healthy in Spring Training but Houston is still wary of his surgically repaired right shoulder.
While it seems that Wade won't take advantage of the Nats' glut at the catcher position, he could look elsewhere to find a club with a backstop to spare. We've yet to hear of the Astros reaching out to the Angels about one of their catchers, but it would make an awful lot of sense for them to make an inquiry.
While Jeff Mathis is in position to be the club's Opening Day catcher, Bobby Wilson is looking good in Spring Training – both literally and figuratively. The soon-to-be 28-year-old dropped 33 pounds at the behest of manager Mike Scioscia and seems likely to take the No. 2 position on the depth chart, in part because he's out-of-options. With youngster Hank Conger waiting in the wings, it would make sense for the Halos to clear a path for the up-and-coming prospect by dealing from a position of strength. Wilson could obviously be had for less than Mathis, but both catchers have affordable contracts and it's unlikely that either one would be termed "untouchable".
Earlier today, the Cardinals confirmed that Adam Wainwright will undergo Tommy John surgery, shelving him for all of 2011. Without last year's Cy Young runner-up, St. Louis will certainly be in the market for a pitching upgrade. They're not the only team that could use a rotation boost, however. The Yankees and Nationals would like to shore up their respective starting fives, as would the Indians, though they likely can't afford a hefty contract.
Despite the need for pitching around the league, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn't expect the club to move any of its starters. Earlier today, Buster Olney noted that the Yankees have not inquired on veteran Tim Hudson but is sure that the club would love to have him. Fellow vet Derek Lowe could also hold some value, but the righty is owed $30MM across the next two seasons.
The rotation is rounded out with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens with Mike Minor, Rodrigo Lopez, Brandon Beachy as fifth-spot candidates, leaving the Braves with plenty of depth. Obviously, if Atlanta were to part with a hurler, they would opt to trade away Kenshin Kawakami, though finding a taker for his $6.67MM salary might be easier said than done. The club has dangled the 35-year-old for quite some time but might have to instead settle for selling him to a Japanese team, which would pick up half of his contract.
If you were in GM Frank Wren's position, would you sacrifice some of your pitching depth to upgrade elsewhere or would you prefer to hang on to your starters as insurance?
On Friday, Jays outfielder Jose Bautista told Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun that he has set a deadline for extension talks with the club. The slugger and the club have an arbitration hearing scheduled for tomorrow and it seems like a safe bet that the meeting will go through as planned. While Bautista would like to sign a multiyear deal with the club, the Blue Jays have yet to put an offer on the table.
Today, Fidlin implores Toronto to lock the 30-year-old up with a multiyear pact. It's possible, he says, that the club is wary of signing another monster deal after having just gotten themselves out from under two monster contracts in the past year-and-a-half. It's also possible that Alex Anthopoulos & Co. are wary of Bautista's shocking and sudden emergence as a primetime player. After hitting .238/.329/.400 from 2004 through 2009, the veteran broke out in 2010, hitting .260/.378/.617 with a staggering 54 home runs – eclipsing his previous watermark of 16.
There remains a considerable gap between the two sides as Bautista seeks $10.5MM while the Blue Jays are offering $7.6MM. Fidlin argues that the outcome of the hearing is rather inconsequential in the scheme of things. The club has a limited time to work out a long-term deal with the Super Two star and must get a deal done while they can. If you were in Anthopoulos' position, what would you do?
Earlier this week, Padres closer Heath Bell told Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he hopes to remain with the club well beyond 2011. Bell, who earned $4MM in 2010 after avoiding arbitration, even went so far as to say that a new multiyear deal in San Diego would be his "dream". However, GM Jed Hoyer was non-committal when asked about Bell's future with the team.
"I'm sure a discussion of a multiyear contract for Heath will come up," Hoyer said. "[Bell's agent] and I have a good working relationship. We've touched on the subject although it's early."
Despite a great deal of speculation to the contrary, the Friars chose not to deal the 33-year-old after sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. The Padres are willing to fork over between $6-7MM in arbitration to Bell this winter but Center writes that a three-year deal would easily top $20MM. It's hard to argue that the right-hander isn't worth the money after turning in a 1.93 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 67 games.
Right now the club is more or less done making moves for 2011 and their payroll sits at just over $40MM. A multiyear deal for Bell would swallow up a significant portion of their budget. Does it make sense for the Padres to give Bell that sort of contract when considering their limited funds?
In December of 2010 (gosh, it seems like so long ago) the Mets lost two left-handed relievers to free agency when Hisanori Takahashi signed with the Angels and Pedro Feliciano hooked on with the Yankees. Since then, as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com notes, the Mets haven't signed any lefty bullpen help to offset those losses. We've heard plenty about the club's plans to search through the bargain bin for a starting pitcher, but what southpaw relief options do the Mets have?
The Mets have been linked to Brian Fuentes who would certainly go a long way to help bolster their 'pen. The tall left-hander turned in a 2.81 ERA last season with 8.8 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in his walk year. However, unless the Mets plan on expanding their budget, they likely won't have room to sign Fuentes and the starter that they're after.
Veterans such as Joe Beimel, Will Ohman, and Ron Mahay could probably be had on the cheap. We know that Dennys Reyes will come at a reasonable price after he almost inked a one-year, $1.1MM deal with the Phillies. Rubin also floats the names of Tim Byrdak and Randy Flores as possibilities. While none of these players would be a particularly flashy acquisition, all of the Mets' in-house options are surrounded with question marks. Trying Oliver Perez in relief is one such option, but his recent play in the Mexican winter league has been less-than-impressive. If you were in Sandy Alderson's position, what direction would you go in?
Yesterday we learned that talks between the Astros and Yankees about Jeff Keppinger didn't get very far. The 30-year-old utility player appeared to be a fine fit for a team in need of bench help, but New York could instead turn to rookie Eduardo Nunez to fill the role. That, however, seems like a Plan B more than anything right now.
If the Yankees want to sift through other options on the open market they'll find that there isn't much left to choose from. Former Yankee prospect Cristian Guzman is still available after posting a less-than-stellar .648 OPS with the Nationals and Rangers. Despite a solid body of work throughout his career, Julio Lugo disappointed in Baltimore last season, hitting .249/.298/.282 in 93 games. Both players offer average defense at shortstop (-0.2 and -0.4 career UZR/150, respectively) but Lugo has more experience playing second base. Those two are essentially the cream of the free agent utility infielder crop.
The Yankees have had trouble signing bench players in recent years in part because no free agent in their right mind would join the Yanks only to sit on the bench behind their impressive cast of regulars. They've had to trade for bench help as a result, grabbing the likes of Wilson Betemit, Jerry Hairston Jr., Eric Hinske, and Austin Kearns at the deadline in recent years. John Hickey of Sportspress Northwest writes that the Mariners need to make a deal if they hope to free up spending cash this winter, so perhaps a deal involving Jack Wilson and the $5MM left on his contract deal could make sense for both sides.
GM Brian Cashman has started each of the last two seasons with young gloveman Ramiro Pena on his bench, so the team could go with him again if they feel Nunez needs more minor league seasoning. The Yankees have money to spend after missing out on Cliff Lee, but quality reserve players are tough to find these days. Overpaying for bench players is a good way to waste money, so don't be surprised if New York starts the season with Pena before making yet another in-season trade. What do MLBTR's readers think the Yankees will do with their bench during before Spring Training?
Mike Axisa contributed to this post.
After shocking the world by signing Jayson Werth, the Nats have been looking to make a second, albeit smaller, splash to fill their first base vacancy. The club has talked extensively with Adam LaRoche but the two sides seem to have hit a wall as the SFX client seeks $21MM over three years. They've also been linked to 35-year-old Derrek Lee who is willing to take a one-year deal. Lee hit just .260/.347/.428 with 19 HRs in 2010 but finished out the year in solid fashion with the Braves. Like LaRoche, Lee is also being looked at by the Orioles.
It seems likely that Washington will end up with either Lee or LaRoche at first base but they do have other options. It has been said that the Nationals could look into signing Casey Kotchman as a Plan B. The M's let the 27-year-old hit free agency back in November after he turned in a .217/.280/.336 slash line in 2010. Kotchman made a shade over $3.5MM last season and can probably be had for less in '11. His bat may be suspect but his career 8.8 UZR/150 at first base helps to offset his recent offensive shortcomings.
Kotchman might not be a real upgrade over Mike Morse at first base but he could be a nice complement to the burly slugger. While Kotchman has always performed better against right-handed pitching, Morse has shown that he has a knack for hitting against lefties. While he only made 99 plate appearances against southpaws in 2010, the 28-year-old impressed by hitting .295/.374/.625 with eight homers.
ESPN's Jason A. Churchhill suggests a different platoon option: ex-National Nick Johnson. The oft-injured 32-year-old missed the bulk of 2010 with a wrist injury and predictably had his '11 option declined. It's hard to say what kind of contract Nicky J will fetch on the open market but it's safe to say it'll be for less than the $5.5MM he made last season. There isn't a great disparity in how Johnson hits against lefties and righties but he tends to hit for a little more power against right-handers.
There's obviously a significant drop-off in talent after LaRoche and Lee in what remains of this year's free agent class but the Nats could fill their gap at first cheaply while addressing other needs.