Dontrelle Willis Rumors
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.
Just one day after Vladimir Guerrero signed a contract to play with the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports that lefty Dontrelle Willis has signed with the Ducks as well (Twitter link).
Willis signed a minor league deal with the Cubs this offseason and was invited to Major League Spring Training with the team. He experienced discomfort in his left shoulder in his first outing, however, and had to leave the game. Willis walked the only batter he faced that day and was cut by the team at the end of March.
The 31-year-old Willis is a former NL Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young runner-up. From 2003-06 he posted a 3.44 ERA, 6.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 817 1/3 innings for the Marlins. His brilliant Rookie of the Year campaign helped propel the Fish to a World Series victory over the Yankees in 2003.
Willis has just a 5.65 ERA in 404 1/3 innings since 2007, having walked 5.4 batters per nine innings and allowed 446 hits in that time. He retired from baseball last July but elected to make a comeback this offseason. Willis is represented by Sosnick & Cobbe.
After recapping the Pirates' offseason, let's take a look at the rest of the NL Central..
- The Collective Bargaining Agreement meant that Kyle Lohse had to wait longer than expected to sign this winter, but he can be a real game changer in the NL Central for the Brewers, writes Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. The veteran will pitch alongside Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada in front of the National League's best offense in 2012.
- Fresh off of signing a five-year, $97.5MM contract extension, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright says that he is ready to be the club's undisputed ace, writes MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. Aside from being an impact player on the mound, Wainwright is also looked up to by the other hurlers on the team.
- The Cubs did some spring cleaning today and made some minor league cuts, including 2010 first-rounder Hayden Simpson and Dontrelle Willis, according to Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune (on Twitter).
It was on this day in 1986 that Rollie Fingers chose his mustache over the Reds. The veteran closer was offered a Spring Training invite by the Reds on the condition that Fingers shave his famous handlebar in order to meet with the team's facial hair policies. Fingers turned the deal down and instead retired, ending his 17-year Major League career and paving the way for his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.
Here's the latest from around the NL Central...
- The Cardinals exchanged figures with Alex Gonzalez this offseason but couldn't come to terms, and the veteran shortstop instead signed with the Brewers, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports. The Cards' best offer was a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $1MM plus another $1MM if Gonzalez made the roster, which couldn't top Gonzalez's deal with Milwaukee. A dozen teams scouted Gonzalez's offseason workout sessions, with the Red Sox and Dodgers showing particular interest in the 36-year-old.
- Steve Hammond, Adam Wainwright's agent, is out of the country for the next 10 days so there won't be any immediate extension talks between Wainwright and the Cardinals, B.J. Rains of St. Louis 1380 AM Radio reports (via Twitter). We heard on Monday that both sides were keeping the lines of communication open about a new contract for the ace right-hander.
- Dontrelle Willis talks to CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney about his career, his short-lived retirement, his controversial exit from the Orioles organization and his return to the Cubs on a minor league contract.
- The Pirates are desperate for success but ESPN's Buster Olney notes that the team must weigh the short-term benefit of a winning season against the long-term costs (both developmentally and financially) of calling up young starters Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith noted earlier today that the Pirates could prevent Cole from gaining Super Two eligibility by delaying his callup until mid-June.
The Cubs have signed Dontrelle Willis according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). The left-hander officially gets an invitation to minor league Spring Training, but could get a look in big league camp if he's throwing well. The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year is a Sosnick/Cobbe client.
Willis, 31 later this month, retired from baseball back in July. He allowed eight runs in 6 1/3 innings with the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate early last season before calling it quits. Willis last appeared in the big leagues with the Reds in 2011, when he pitched to a 5.00 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 75 2/3 innings across 13 starts.
Willis started his professional career with the Cubs, who drafted him in the eighth round of the 2000 draft. Chicago traded him to the Marlins as part of the package for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca two years later.
Here are some of the minor transactions from around the league...
- The Astros have claimed outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin off waivers from the Red Sox, reports MLB.com's Brian McTaggart (Twitter link). Lin made his Major League debut this season, appearing in nine games for Boston before being designated for assignment last week.
- In a corresponding move, the Astros announced that right-hander Enerio Del Rosario has been designated for assignment. Del Rosario posted a 9.00 ERA in 19 relief innings for Houston last season.
- Outfielder Rich Thompson has elected free agency, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Thompson was outrighted to Triple-A by the Rays earlier this week. The 33-year-old appeared in 23 games for the Rays last season, his first taste of Major League action with a six-game stint with the Royals in 2004.
- The Cubs outrighted Joe Mather, Blake Parker and Justin Germano to Triple-A Iowa, tweets MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Manny Corpas was also among Chicago's outright assignments today and the reliever has already chosen to become a free agent.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America recaps the week's minor league transactions, including the news that the Orioles have officially released Dontrelle Willis, who intended to retire back in July.
3:50pm: The Orioles confirmed that Willis is retiring, tweets Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com.
2:36pm: Pitcher Dontrelle Willis is considering retirement and is not expected to make next start for the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). The left-hander has been in the O's system since signing a minor league deal in March.
Willis was placed on the restricted list by Baltimore in late April after a difference of opinions between him and the organization. The 30-year-old left Triple-A Norfolk believing that he was going to be granted his release but instead was placed on the restricted list because GM Dan Duquette did not authorize the move. Willis planned on filing a grievance against the Orioles but instead returned to the club's farm system.
The southpaw wound up making just three relief appearances and one start for Triple-A Norfolk after all was said and done. Willis originally signed a one-year, $1MM deal with the Phillies in December of last year but was released in March.
Willis owns a career 4.17 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 for his career and has earned nearly $41MM over the course of his career, according to Baseball-Reference. The pitcher known as D-Train burst on to the scene as a 21-year-old with the Marlins and captured the National League Rookie of the Year award with a brilliant campaign. Two years later, Willis finished second in Cy Young voting to Chris Carpenter, posting 2.63 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.
May 15th: The Orioles removed Willis from the restricted list and assigned him to Class A, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate announced (Twitter link).
May 9th: Willis has agreed to drop his grievance, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports. The Orioles will allow him to start in the minor leagues once he builds up arm strength at extended Spring Training.
April 24th: Left-hander Dontrelle Willis will file a grievance against the Orioles following the club's decision to place him on the restricted list, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports. Willis recently left the Orioles' Triple-A team after a disagreement about his role in the organization.
Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette told CBSSports.com yesterday that Willis left Triple-A Norfolk without permission, but the pitcher's agent, Matt Sosnick, says Willis did obtain permission from the Orioles to leave. Willis can't sign with another club while on the restricted list, so Willis and Sosnick are frustrated.
"We're talking about a minor league player that Baltimore has relatively no financial investment in whatsoever," Sosnick told Crasnick. "It's the dumbest thing ever and a waste of everybody's time. Dan [Duquette] has had a thousand chances to ratchet this down a notch, and all he's done is ratchet it up."
Duquette told Jon Heyman yesterday that he hopes Willis will return and pitch effectively out of the bullpen. However, it sounds as though Willis would prefer to move on.
As if the Phillies didn't already have enough stars on the disabled list, Hunter Pence missed Monday's game due to a shoulder injury suffered diving for a ball Sunday against the Padres. The extent of the injury is yet unknown and Pence is considered day-to-day for the time being.
Some news from Monday in the Major Leagues...
- Dontrelle Willis talks to MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko about the situation that resulted in Willis being placed on the Orioles' restricted list. Willis is "almost dumbfounded" by how things unfolded, as he thought he and the O's had agreed to part ways since he was injured and not adjusting well to relief pitching. "I don't understand what's really going on. I don't know if there's been a miscommunication there," Willis said. "Not with me. I talked to my agent and we talked about it, I talked to the proper representation, I talked to Dan [Duquette] personally....It was face-to-face. I don't know what's going on. And now if I want to sign with another team, I can't."
- Kubatko hears that Willis has drawn interest from a team in South Korea and a team in Japan, but Matt Sosnick, Willis' agent, denies that his client has received any offers.
- The Marlins' signing of Ivan Rodriguez in 2003 was "money well spent," team president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest tells Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Beinfest doesn't regret any of the moves the club made that season (even trading then-prospect Adrian Gonzalez for Ugueth Urbina) because it led to a championship. "You always hate to trade away a talent like Adrian Gonzalez. But you make it every day if you're going to win the World Series," Beinfest said.
- Cubs manager Dale Sveum hopes Rodrigo Lopez will clear waivers and remain with the organization, reports ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla. The right-hander was designated for assignment earlier today as the Cubs added Michael Bowden to the roster.
- Pedro Alvarez's struggles inspired a discussion of the greatest draft busts in history in this mailbag piece from Baseball America's Jim Callis. Alvarez, taken by the Pirates with the second overall pick of the 2008 draft, could be "the biggest waste of hitting talent in draft history" unless he turns himself around, Callis writes.
- Twins President Dave St. Peter told Jim Memolo and Jeff Nelson on MLB Network Radio that his team needs to pitch better to recover from its 5-11 start. St. Peter suggested the Twins could move Francisco Liriano to the bullpen temporarily. “He’s an asset for this franchise and we need to get him back into a situation where he can go deep into ballgames,” St Peter said. The 28-year-old lefty faces a make or break year and it was announced today that Liriano would skip his next start and not pitch until May 1.