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Dontrelle Willis Rumors
Left-hander Dontrelle Willis, who was in camp with the Brewers on a minor league deal, has informed the Brewers that he will retire, tweets MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. A neck injury has slowed him this spring, and the former Rookie of the Year had yet to get into a game.
Willis beat out Scott Podsednik and Brandon Webb for the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year Award at the age of 21 and helped the Marlins to their World Series victory that season. In his first four years in the league, the “D-Train” turned in a strong 3.44 ERA with 6.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9. Though he reached the 200-inning mark for a third straight season in 2007, however, Willis’ ERA spiked to 5.17, and he was traded to the Tigers alongside Miguel Cabrera that winter. Willis’ career never got back on track after that point, however, as the southpaw worked just 199 innings over the 2008-11 seasons, pitching to a 6.15 ERA with more walks than strikeouts.
Since the 2011 season — the last that he pitched in the Majors, Willis has pitched for minor league affiliates of the Giants (twice), Reds, Orioles and Angels in addition to a pair of stints in the independent leagues. He’ll retire with a 4.17 ERA in 1221 2/3 Major League innings and over $40MM worth of career earnings, per Baseball-Reference.com. We at MLBTR wish Willis well in his post-playing days.
These are the day’s notable minor moves:
- In announcing the team’s non-roster spring invites, the Marlins revealed a few new minor league signings. Among them are several right-handed relievers who could challenge for a pen spot. Vin Mazzaro, 28, had great results in 2013 for the Pirates but spent most of last year in Triple-A. 29-year-old Ryan Reid had a nice 11-inning run in 2013 but has otherwise spent much of his time in the upper minors. And Pat Misch, 33, will look to return to regular big league action. He last threw in the majors in 2011 and did not play in organized ball last year.
- The Orioles have agreed to terms with righty Steve Johnson on a minor league deal that includes a spring invite, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Johnson, 27, saw 54 innings with the O’s over 2012-13, with a strong first year followed by a rough sophomore effort. Last year saw Johnson scuffle at Triple-A, though a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery may well have been a primary culprit for those difficulties.
- The Brewers have struck a minor league deal with one-time star lefty Dontrelle Willis, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports on Twitter. Willis will receive an invite to big league camp, where he’ll attempt to earn a spot on an active roster for the first time since 2011. Once one of the game’s most exciting young arms, Willis faded quickly and has bounced around the league since a failed stint with the Tigers. Most recently, he has spent time in the Orioles, Angels, and Rangers systems, but has thrown most of his innings in independent ball.
Former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady, who had been trying his hand as a pitcher with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, announced his retirement from baseball today, writes Brett Dolan of CBS Houston. T-Mac totaled just 6 2/3 innings with Sugar Land, and his lone strikeout came against the final hitter he faced. “That is definitely going in the trophy case,” McGrady said after his announcement. He called the opportunity to get to know and learn from his teammates “an honor.”
Here are the rest of the day’s minor moves:
- Dontrelle Willis was briefly considering a career in coaching, but the former Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up will instead pitch for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). The D-Train is familiar with the Atlantic League, as he made 14 starts for the Long Island Ducks (producing a 2.57 ERA) in 2013. His debut will come on Friday.
- Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers have signed former first-rounder Chad James to a minor league deal and assigned him to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. The Marlins selected James 18th overall in 2009, but he never made it past High-A. Now 23 years old, James had been pitching for the Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League. He has a career 4.71 ERA between the minor leagues and indy ball.
- The Portland Sea Dogs (the Red Sox’ Double-A affiliate) announced on Twitter that they have released right-hander Michael Olmsted. The longtime Mets farmhand returned for a second stint in Boston’s farm system when he inked a minor league deal this spring. Olmsted posted a 4.45 ERA with a 37-to-24 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings.
- The White Sox have made a series of transactions at the minor league level, according to a tweet from its Triple-A affiliate Charlotte Knights (h/t to MLB.com’s Scott Merkin). The team has added righty Chien-Ming Wang on a minor league deal. Wang, who has thrown at least 27 MLB innings over each of the last three seasons, was recently let go by the Reds after opting out of his deal.
- Meanwhile, the Reds have acquired righty Dylan Axelrod from the White Sox for an as-yet unknown return. The 28-year-old threw 128 1/3 innings last year for Chicago, including 20 starts, but managed only a 5.68 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. He currently sports a 4.50 ERA through 88 frames at Triple-A on the year, logging 7.8 K/9 versus 3.7 BB/9.
- The White Sox also released Deunte Heath, a 28-year-old righty who has tossed 9 2/3 MLB innings over the past two seasons. Heath will evidently be signing with a Japanese club after posting generally excellent numbers at the Triple-A level over the past several seasons.
The Braves don't get as much attention as the Cardinals, Athletics or Rays for being well-run teams, but perhaps they should, the New York Post's Joel Sherman suggests. The Braves' relative lack of postseason success may be one factor, says Sherman, but they've made the postseason three times in the past five seasons. Consistency may be one secret to their success. "They have had strikingly little turnover on the baseball side and their philosophy has been consistent throughout," says one NL scout. "They are very clear about the type of player they are looking for and acquire those types." The Braves are off to a great start this season despite losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, and Sherman contrasts the Braves' decision-making heading into the season with that of the Mets. When Medlen and Beachy went down, the Braves acted decisively to replace them, quickly signing Ervin Santana even though he had declined a qualifying offer. The Mets, meanwhile, still have a need at shortstop, and Stephen Drew is still available on the free-agent market. Here are more notes from throughout the National League.
- Cubs GM Theo Epstein will watch NC State pitcher Carlos Rodon pitch on Friday, 670TheScore.com's Bruce Levine tweets. Rodon currently appears highly likely to be the first overall pick in the draft in June, and the Cubs pick fourth. Much can change between now and then, however, and it makes sense for the Cubs to do due diligence.
- Dontrelle Willis, who was recently released by the Giants, is considering becoming a pitching coach, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. That might seem a little surprising, given Willis' own unorthodox mechanics (as MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez joked), but coaching isn't merely teaching what one used to do, so there's no reason a pitcher with an idiosyncratic delivery couldn't teach pitchers whose deliveries are more typical.
Here are the day's minor moves:
- The Giants have released veteran pitcher Dontrelle Willis, according to the International League transactions page. Willis, 32, has not seen MLB time since 2011, but had several outstanding seasons early in his career with the Marlins. He had thrown just 2/3 of an inning in two appearances for the Giants' Triple-A affiliate, though he uncorked three wild pitches in that span. More importantly, Willis reportedly suffered what appeared to be a serious arm injury during his outing Sunday.
- As reflected on the MLBTR DFA Tracker, two fairly interesting players — Lucas Harrell (Astros) and Sam Fuld (Athletics) — remain in DFA limbo.
We'll round up tonight's minor moves here:
- Jeff Clement has retired, The Des Moines Register reports. Originally drafted third overall in 2005 by the Mariners, Clement never caught on in the majors, and ends his career with a .218/.277/.371 Major League line. His last big league appearance came in 2012 with the Pirates. Now a father of four, the 30-year-old tells The Register that he plans to return to school.
- The Orioles have signed Steven Hensley, who was released by the Rockies in March, Baseball America's Matt Eddy reports. The 27-year-old has never appeared in the majors. He worked almost entirely out of the bullpen for upper-level affiliates of the Rockies and Mariners last season, compiling a 4.24 ERA.
- The Dodgers have signed lefty Erick Threets, who was pitching for the independent Long Island Ducks, according to Eddy. Last we heard, Threets was looking for a job in Asia.
- The Marlins have inked infielder Rich Poythress, who was released by the Mariners in March, per Eddy. Poythress, who has yet to reach the majors, was sent to Double-A.
- The A's have signed second baseman Colin Walsh, who was let go by the Cardinals last month, Eddy reports. The 24-year-old reached Double-A for the Cardinals last season.
- Dontrelle Willis was added to the active roster of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Giants' Triple-A club, according to a tweet from the team. D-Train struggled in 21 innings with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in 2013, posting a 6.43 ERA.
- The Nationals have selected the contract of starter Blake Treinen, the International League transactions page shows. Treinen was pitching at Triple-A, and has never appeared in the majors. The right-hander came over in last winter's three-team trade with the Mariners and A's. He's been used almost exclusively as a starter in recent years in the minors, where he owns a 3.73 ERA. Baseball America ranked him as the Nats' 23rd-best prospect this year, but wrote that most evaluators expect him to end up in middle relief.
- The Nats have inked right-hander Paolo Espino, formerly of the Cubs organization, according to Eddy. The right-hander, who works as a swingman, has yet to reach the majors but has significant Triple-A experience.
Willis, who turns 32 on Sunday, initially began the 2013 campaign pitching for the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks but found himself in the Angels' Triple-A rotation to close out the season. Willis posted a 2.57 ERA in 87 2/3 innings for the Ducks but struggled to a 6.43 ERA in a small, 21-inning sample size with the Halos' Triple-A club. He's consistently battled command issues over the past several seasons and did so again last season, walking 14 batters in his 21 Triple-A innings.
"The D-Train" won National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Marlins back in 2003 as a 21-year-old, and two years later he had an NL Cy Young runner-up finish under his belt heading into his age-24 season. Willis regressed a bit in that 2006 campaign, saw his ERA spike over 5.00 in 2007 and was traded to the Tigers that offseason. It's been a struggle for Willis since 2007, as he's posted a 5.65 ERA in 404 1/3 Major League innings in that time.
There's virtually no risk in the signing for the Giants, and the upside with Willis is greater than with many non-roster invitees, even if it's been years since he has succeeded at the big league level. This will be his second minor league run with the Giants, as he inked a similar deal prior to the 2010 season that didn't pan out.
Here are Sunday's minor moves from around MLB:
- The Angels tweeted they have signed left-hander Dontrelle Willis to a minor league contract and have assigned him to Triple-A Salt Lake. The 31-year-old, who last appeared in a MLB game in 2011, has been pitching with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League where he has posted a 2.57 ERA, 5.3 K/9, and 4.4 BB/9 in 14 starts covering 87 2/3 innings.
- The Phillies have tweeted the outright assignment of right-hander J.C. Ramirez to Triple-A after he cleared waivers. The 24-year-old, who made his Major League debut this year, was designated for assignment Friday after allowing 13 runs (11 earned) in his last six outings covering 8 2/3 innings.
- The Orioles have released outfielder Chris Pettit from Double-A Bowie, tweets Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com. Petit, who appeared in one game with the Angels in 2011 and ten in 2009, has a slash line of .125/.253/.219 in 77 plate appearances with the Baysox. The 28-year-old has also spent time in the Twins organization and the Mexican League this year.
Since their inaugural season in 2000, the Long Island Ducks have had a knack for luring notable former major leaguers looking to continue their professional careers and get back to MLB. Earlier this year, the Atlantic League club signed Dontrelle Willis, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ramon Castro all inside of one week. I spoke with club President/General Manager Michael Pfaff about the team's operations and the latest on their current big names.
Vladimir Guerrero is still in the Dominican Republic, will he be joining the team this year?
We've been told that he's dealing with some family issues at this time. He was going to be here from the start of spring training, we signed him, we started the process of getting him here and his representative called and said that he had some family issues to take care of before he left for the summer. He didn't want to leave a situation that he didn't feel was buttoned up open for the summer. He wouldn't have felt comfortable here if he didn't have it all taken care of. We respect that. Family comes first. When Vlad gets here we have a spot for him and he's certainly entitled to do that.
Is there a chance that he might not join the team this year?
I really don't know. I can't speak for him, you'd have to ask him. I've only been told what I've been told by his agent. We've put him on the inactive list and we told his agent that when he arrives he'll have a spot waiting for him.
Why are you able to draw in so many big names to your team?
I think the [Atlantic League] in general has proven of the course over its 15-year history that it is the league of choice for players that are interested in continuing their professional careers at a high level and getting back to major league organizations. They've had the most success here, baseball is a small world, and players discuss amongst each other. Obviously, the players are teammates at some juncture in their careers and they talk about good places to play and the places that help their careers. Usually the Atlantic League is the choice for those guys.
It seems like the Ducks have had more success with signing those types of players though. Is that the case?
We've taken as many chances as any team in the league, I'll put it that way. We've provided opportunities for more than our share of big name major leaguers. I think if you look at the rosters of other teams in the league and compare them to the Ducks, you'll see roughly the same amount of former major leaguers over the past five years and 15 years as well, but yes,we've had more than our fair share of the bigger names. Whether it was guys in our past like Carlos Baerga, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, Danny Graves, John Rocker…those experiences are part of our history and more recently we've had guys like Dontrelle Willis and people like him are utilizing this league as a platform. I think its been a win win for everyone really, the fans get get a great product at an affordable price and they can continue to do what they love.
What do you do to help draw MLB attention to the players that you have on your roster?
We have open lines of communication with major league ballclubs, the way that player purchases in this league work are that clubs call the league office and I think that is part of what separates us from other leagues that look to sign players that are free agents. In the Atlantic League, no one from the Yankees is going to call me and say we want your first baseman. They're going to call [Atlantic League Executive Director and former MLB GM] Joe Klein, they're going to call somebody that has no stake in it – not that the Ducks would stand in the way of it – but there's probably a team or two in another league that might. If a team has a vested interest in winning for their own organization, it might be different. In other leagues, teams kind of control the destination of the player.
In the Atlantic League, they call the league office, they call [Klein], he completes the purchase transaction of the contract and sometimes I'm the last to find out. They'll say "go find a new pitcher, or a first baseman, whatever the case may be, so and so got signed." I think that's probably the biggest challenge from a player personnel perspective, you lose your best players and have to fill them in with free agents; we don't have a feeder system in this league.
I think in terms of drawing scouts, the scouts watch this league via the internet as much as anything. When they see teams that are winning and having success, when they're in need of player and over the course of a few weeks they see him having success, they do come out and I think that all of the teams are conveniently located and compared to large major markets, Long Island is as large as it gets. Being part of the New York metropolitan market doesn't hurt us, we're conveniently located, we have a great facility, big league coaching staff, and over the course of 15 years we've shown that we're a great destination.
What are the advantages of signing with an independent ballclub rather than an affiliated one?
We're very very forthright with everyone who is interested in signing here. We have two goals from a player personnel perspective. Number one, we want to win. This is not a developmental league. We're not going to let someone throw 100 pitches because they need to get the work in. If you don't produce, you don't play. Our manager's job is to win with the best nine names in the lineup. Number two, we want to help players with their careers, help them continue their careers, and help them get back to the major leagues and want to help them accomplish their goals and objectives as individuals, but it's team first. We want to win and we also want to make sure that the individuals have success when they perform here.
It's really simple for us and I think that a lot of players have responded to that in a positive fashion because that's refreshing to a lot of guys. A lot of guys have been in minor league organizations, Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, where it is a developmental league and developing talent for the big league teams, its not all about winning…We wont stand in anyone's way, we'll always promote the player and help them achieve their individual goals and objectives too.
When did the Ducks first get into the business of luring in big names?
The team started in 2000, I think there were major leaguers on that very first team, Chuck Carr was there, he was the center fielder from the Marlins. In 2001, Carlos Baerga came and he went back to the majors after playing here and was the perfect example. It was the Ducks' second year, he hit .315 with the Ducks and he was back at the big league level with the Boston Red Sox a year later. He would have been out of baseball without the Ducks and has always spoken highly of the Atlantic League. He was one of those guys who utilized the league and we've had those big league names continue to come here throughout our history.
Has the Ducks' reputation gotten to the point where the club doesn't have to recruit and big names just sort of gravitate to the team?
Its a lot different than it was ten years ago. There's no question In 2013, agents, players, and managers that are with or work with major league organizations know about the Atlantic League at this point. We've had more than 600 players signed to major league deals.
Let's look at it from the perspective of a major league organization. If you're running player development for a big league club, and you have a player that makes, say, 10K a month, and you want to give a younger guy an opportunity to see if he can perform at that level, you would have to keep that guy at 10K a month in Triple-A or spring training or extending spring to give your young guy a shot. Now, if he goes to an Atlantic League club, we really only have major league clubs to purchase our contract to repay the integrity of our contact. It's not to profit from it, its not a big revenue source for us, we make our money from ticket sales and such.
If you're a major league organization, and you go and you spend 4K to purchase that player, two months into the season, you would have paid that player 20K to have him. Not only did you give your younger payer an opportunity to prove himself, you've got 16K to spend elsewhere..Economically, we've benefited major league organizations, they see that using the Atlantic League as a place where they can pluck talent from.
Did you anticipate signing Dontrelle Willis, Ramon Castro, and Vladimir Guerrero in the same week?
Well we signed the nucleus of our ballclub and as we were getting closer to spring training, we were waiting on the catching position. In fact, I got quite a few tweets and emails and inquires like "Hey, are you going to sign a catcher?"…That was by design, we anticipated that a number of very talented catchers would be available late in spring training. Ralph Henriquez is a perfect example, he became available three or four days before we starting spring training and [Castro] was hot on his heels. IT happened quickly but its something we anticipated happening. We know that major league teams were carrying a lot of catchers in spring training and we knew that there would be highly talented catchers out there. Luckily, our patience paid off and Ramon and Ralph both become available late.
Castro obviously has a reputation as a very good player, especially in this market thanks to his time with the Mets. He handles a staff well and is a solid veteran leader but he also can take opposing pitchers deep, which is something that not a lot of catchers do often. So we were excited that he was available and it came together rather quickly once we talked to his representatives.
Dontrelle, I didn't anticipate [signing him]. His agent reached out to me and we discussed where he was and what he was trying to do. While that came together quickly, I was surprised that he didn't stick with a big league club. He's 31, a left-handed pitcher, he's had a tremendous about of success at the major league level. I didn't see him becoming available, but when he did become available, we jumped on it.
As far as [Vladimir Guerrero] goes, that's a situation that I monitored for a couple of months wondering what we he was going to do. If his desire to play was gone or not, his representatives indicated that it was not so I stayed in touch with them. The opportunity came to sign him and that's what we did…the timing of it all was a coincidence.
What players are drawing big league attention right now?
I think that Dontrelle has been an excellent teammate and has been vocal in the clubhouse in a big way…Ramon has done very well with the bat and at the plate. I think any team in need of catching would benefit from either one of our catchers. Ralph Henriquez, I know I mentioned him, he's a young switch-hitting catcher. It's very surprising to me that a team doesn't have room for him in their organization.
Our first baseman, Ryan Strieby, he's a 27-year-old with Triple-A experience…he has hit for power at all stops in his career and I'm surprised that he too doesn't have a spot in an organization. I also think that Dan Lyons is an excellent fielder, has proven himself as a clutch hitter, has a great attitude, and he's guy that goes out there every night and proves himself…I think that all the guys on our club are capable of playing at a high level and playing in affiliated baseball. Otherwise we wouldn't have signed them.
Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo has been hit by an incredible nine pitches already, which, combined with a very discerning eye at the plate, has lead to an MLB-best .523 OBP. SB Nation's Rob Neyer opines that the Reds correctly assessed that the gap between Choo's offense and Drew Stubbs' offense would outweigh the defensive downgrade. While Choo won't keep this pace up, Neyer points out that Reds leadoff men combined for a .254 OBP last season, making the addition of Choo a worthwhile move.
Choo currently ranks third on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, and a career-year in terms of OBP would certainly help keep him near the top of that list. Here's more from around the league…
- MLB.com's Lyle Spencer writes that Miguel Cabrera was nearly traded to the Angels prior to the 2007 trade that sent him to the Tigers. Cabrera himself told Spencer that he thought he was being traded to Anaheim. The Angels and Marlins discussed Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders in the deal as well as young infielders Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood. Ultimately, Cabrera said that he thinks he wound up in Detroit because the Tigers were more willing to take on Dontrelle Willis and his $7MM salary.
- Former Athletics left-hander Dallas Braden implied via Twitter that he could be entertaining a comeback attempt. Braden, now 29 years old, made just three starts in the 2011 season and hasn't pitched since thanks to a pair of shoulder surgeries. Braden famously threw a perfect game against the Rays on May 9, 2010 with his grandmother in attendance.
- The Mariners' offensive woes present the "biggest crisis of the Jack Zduriencik era," writes Larry Stone of the Seattle Times. While he concedes that it's a small sample, Zduriencik made several moves to bolster the lineup this offseason but the Mariners find themselves in 29th place in nearly every offensive category. The collapse of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero — who were supposed to be the team's young core — is a major setback in Zduriencik's blueprint.