- The Pirates are one of several teams who have shown interest in reliever Daniel Hudson, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. As many as 16 teams have checked in on Hudson, including his former team in Arizona. Hudson posted a 5.22 ERA over 60 1/3 IP with the Diamondbacks last season, though advanced metrics (3.81 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, 3.84 SIERA, 8.65 K/9, 2.64 K/BB rate) hint that the hard-throwing righty had a better season than his ERA would indicate.
- Jorge De La Rosa and Doug Fister have received some “due diligence” check-ins from the Pirates, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (via Twitter). Nothing appears to be in the works between the team and either pitcher at the moment.
- The Pirates have been very successful at turning reclamation projects into successful arms in recent years, though finding such pitchers is becoming more difficult, GM Neal Huntington tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and other reporters. “There doesn’t seem to be as many (pitchers) that we’ve been able to identify,” Huntington said. “The traits we’ve liked in the past, they’ve been more difficult to acquire because teams are paying for them. They recognize we’ve had some ability to return some value on some guys coming off down years or injuries. There is a higher competition level, and supply is down, and as a result cost goes up.” Huntington hinted that the Bucs may have to acquire something other than its preferred target of a ground-ball pitcher in order to land a veteran arm, though the GM said that adding a veteran isn’t a must. “We’d be comfortable adding nobody if it’s just not there,” he said.
News and rumors from around the AL West…
- The Angels checked in with the Phillies about second baseman Cesar Hernandez at the start of the offseason but talks didn’t develop due to the Phils’ high asking price, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. While Hernandez doesn’t look like an option, Fletcher lists several other relatively inexpensive second base possibilities who could be available for the Halos in free agency or in trades.
- One name cited by Fletcher is Chase Utley, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman indeed tweets that the Angels “have emerged” as a potential landing spot for the veteran second baseman. Utley has a clear path to playing time in Anaheim and he would get to stay in his hometown area.
- The Athletics and Royals have a pretty healthy trade history, MLB.com’s Jane Lee notes, and the clubs could work out another deal to land the A’s a center fielder in the form of Jarrod Dyson. Lorenzo Cain is also available, if more expensive and Oakland would have to give quite a bit more to land him. Lee’s piece suggests several names that could be on Oakland’s radar for the center field vacancy, though costs will keep the A’s away from many of the bigger names.
- Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said his club is engaged in talks to acquire a starter, with a trade more likely than a signing, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Dutton speculates that Scott Kazmir or Brandon McCarthy, both of whom are reportedly being shopped by the Dodgers, could be fits in Seattle. On the free agent front, the M’s are still interested in Doug Fister but don’t seem to have much interest in such options as Colby Lewis, Derek Holland or C.J. Wilson.
- New Astros signee Carlos Beltran was introduced to media (including MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart) during his introductory press conference today, and he said the Astros quickly drew his attention in free agency. “They really made an offer early, faster than any other team….The fact they were aggressive and went out there and really showed big-time interest, it wasn’t that difficult to make to make a decision,” Beltran said.
- In other AL West News, the Rangers were covered in a team-centric notes post as well as news about their bigger-ticket outfield targets.
The Braves are reportedly still in the mix for Chris Sale, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Atlanta also made a run at Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray but found Oakland’s asking price to be prohibitive (Twitter link). Oakland did not ask for Dansby Swanson to be included in the deal, but Atlanta still felt the A’s were asking for too much in return.
A few more notes on the market for starting pitchers…
- The Royals are gauging interest in left-hander Danny Duffy, reports MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). Duffy had a breakout campaign this past season, tossing 179 2/3 innings with a 3.51 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 36.4 percent ground-ball rate. As Morosi points out, he could make sense for a team looking to augment its rotation but unwilling to part with the talent required to land someone like Chris Sale or Chris Archer. Duffy, however, is a free agent next winter, so he’d be a short-term upgrade rather than a long-term solution like those other names.
- The Astros are more likely to trade for rotation help than they are to pursue the remaining free agents on the market, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney. Houston isn’t in on right-hander Ivan Nova and likely considers him to be too expensive, per Olney. The Astros are reportedly open to moving either Collin McHugh or Mike Fiers as they seek to create some roster/payroll flexibility, as Olney’s colleague, Jayson Stark, reported earlier today.
- Pirates officials are set to meet with free agent lefty Derek Holland at some point this week at the Winter Meetings, reports Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). The Bucs have been linked to H0lland on multiple occasions this winter as the former Ranger looks to rebuild his stock with a healthy 2017 campaign.
- The Marlins are showing some interest in right-hander Doug Fister, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman, but adding an established closer is the team’s No. 1 priority at the moment. This isn’t the first time Miami has been connected to Fister, but that fact that they’re still interested after adding Edinson Volquez to the mix is notable.
- While domestic violence charges against Mets closer Jeurys Familia may soon be dropped, that doesn’t mean he won’t face league discipline. That possibility must be considered by the organization as it charts its offseason, GM Sandy Alderson says, as ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin reports. Of course, it still seems unlikely that the club will be motivated to spend big on a new late-inning arm, particularly with Addison Reed capable of filling in for the ninth inning after an excellent 2016 season. It’s possible that a reliever, or perhaps some array of young talent, could end up moving to New York if (or, more likely, when) the team deals one of its left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. The Mets’ strong preference is still to trade Jay Bruce rather than Curtis Granderson; it seems that the latter player may be expected to share time in center with Juan Lagares.
- Alderson also said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio today (Twitter link) that he’d be “surprised” if the Mets got involved with a top-level center fielder in free agency due not only to the draft pick they’d have to forfeit (referring to Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond) and also due to the fact that the team has other needs on the roster. Following the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets are looking to move an outfielder, with reports indicating that Jay Bruce is the name they hope to shed. However, Curtis Granderson is reportedly drawing more interest, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the Orioles are among the teams with interest in Granderson (Twitter link). Baltimore doesn’t appear to have much interest in Bruce, however, he adds.
- The Braves put in a strong pursuit of righty Edinson Volquez before he went to the Marlins, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted yesterday. The team’s interest in Volquez came after it had already landed both R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, but the Braves have been said to be focused on acquiring short-term assets in the rotation or front-of-the-rotation arms that would require enormous trade packages. As such, it’s possible that Atlanta only had interest in Volquez on a one-year deal, but he received two years and $22MM from the Marlins. Atlanta acted quickly to grab another short-term rotation commodity with tonight’s Garcia trade.
- The Marlins, too, still appear to be shopping for arms, as Heyman reports that they have potential interest in free-agent right-handers Jason Hammel and Doug Fister. The Fish are also looking for bullpen help, Heyman notes, which has been a priority in Miami for much of the offseason. Tim Healey of the Miami Sun-Sentinel writes that Miami is hoping to keep right-hander David Phelps in the bullpen following his dominance in that role in 2016. “Ideally, if we can keep a deep bullpen, we can keep him as that multi-inning effective bridge to the back-end guys,” said president of baseball ops Michael Hill to Healey. “He impacts more games for us that way. But we know he has the versatility if he has to move into the rotation to do that seamlessly and not miss a beat.”
- The Nationals are still looking for a closer, tweets Heyman, but it’s likely that they consider Aroldis Chapman to be too expensive. The Nats are interested in a reunion with Mark Melancon, however, he notes, adding that Washington “loved” Melancon’s clubhouse presence in his short stint with the team following a trade-deadline rental this past summer.
The Marlins have “signaled that they might be willing to trade” closer A.J. Ramos, reports ESPN’s Jayson Stark (via Twitter). On the one hand, the news isn’t all that surprising, as Ramos projects to earn a relatively hefty $6.8MM in 2017 and is only controllable for another two seasons, so Miami could market him as it looks to add more stability to its rotation. On the other hand, there have been reports that the Marlins are weighing a run at right-hander Kenley Jansen to beef up the bullpen and shorten the game for their starters due to the lack of available rotation help. Moving Ramos would go against the stated goal of deepening the relief corps with high-end talent, although perhaps the team could look to add some rotation help by moving Ramos and replace him with a free-agent arm. Ramos, 30, posted a terrific 2.81 ERA with 10.3 K/9 but also averaged 4.9 BB/9 and posted a career-worst 36.4 percent ground-ball rate in 64 innings with Miami last year.
A few more notes on the Fish…
- There’s been “little to no dialogue” between the Marlins and other teams about outfielder Marcell Ozuna, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Many clubs are taking a patient approach to see how the pitching market develops before they determine whether they can part with an arm in a trade to address the outfield, Frisaro writes, and there isn’t much internal traction regarding the idea of dealing Ozuna. With Edinson Volquez on board, the Marlins may look further to the free-agent market rather than seeking trades to bolster the staff.
- Also from Frisaro, the Marlins have had internal discussions regarding Doug Fister, C.J. Wilson and Jon Niese. Previous reports have linked Miami to the latter two names, but this appears to be the first definitive link between the Marlins and Fister, who posted a 4.64 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 45.3 percent ground-ball rate in 180 1/3 innings for the Astros last season. That marked a second consecutive weak showing for Fister, who was previously one of the more underrated starters in baseball while pitching for the Tigers. Fister’s strikeout rate has plummeted in recent years, though, and while he’s never thrown hard, his once 89-90 mph fastball is now more in the 86-87 mph range. David Phelps is also a candidate to step into the rotation, but the Marlins prefer that he remains at the back of the bullpen, Frisaro adds.
- Also of note from Frisaro’s piece on the team’s free-agent hunt, he lists Jansen and Aroldis Chapman as assets that are probably too expensive for the Marlins but lists right-handers Mark Melancon and Daniel Hudson as more affordable options that could be realistic targets.
- Meanwhile, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins have reached out to the representatives for right-hander Dillon Gee, who became a free agent when he was cut loose by the Royals after the season. Gee is no stranger to the NL East, having spent the bulk of his career with the Mets, and he delivered 125 innings with a 4.68 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate for Kansas City last year. However, Gee’s season came to an end when he required surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training, though, and would give the Marlins a veteran arm who could function in a swingman capacity, making some starts as needed but also providing a relief arm capable of throwing multiple innings.
As the Mariners look to bolster their rotation, free agent righty Doug Fister is a “name of interest” to the organization, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Already a plausible pursuer of starting pitching, the M’s now appear clearly in need of another arm after dealing Taijuan Walker.
Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has acknowledged that the club would look to add to the rotation, explaining that he’s hopeful of finding “major-league established starting pitching.” The team has a variety of depth pieces, and added a few more yesterday, but could certainly stand to add to the back of the rotation alongside options such as Ariel Miranda and Nate Karns. “The idea now is to plug in someone who gets a little closer to the middle of the rotation than the back,” said Dipoto.
Whether Fister would really meet that need is somewhat in question after his one-year stint with the Astros. He started well, but faltered over the second half and ended with a career-worst 4.64 ERA over 180 1/3 innings, with 5.7 K/9 and a personal-high 3.1 BB/9. Typically a strong groundball pitcher, Fister has also hovered in the 45% range in groundball induction over the past two years, which is right at league average.
Certainly, the Mariners do not appear to be locked in on Fister. Per the report, the club has its eye on other possibilities — including via trade — and may not see the veteran as their “top preference.” Dipoto has also made clear that he’s in no rush to fill the need, perhaps reflecting an interest in finding value rather than targeting a specific player.
Fister, now 32, began his career in Seattle. He was dealt to the Tigers in an ill-fated swap from the Mariners’ perspective, and was later shipped on to the Nationals. While he is now two years removed from his high-quality 2014 campaign in D.C., Fister was at least able to return to full health in 2016 after struggling with elbow issues in his final year with the Nats.
Angels ace Garrett Richards tossed a simulated inning against live hitters on Wednesday, writes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The injured Halos ace reported that he felt good while warming up and while on the mound, where he threw 20 pitches, including fastballs, curveballs and sliders. Richards was diagnosed with a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament back in May but has been undergoing stem cell treatment in hopes to avoid Tommy John surgery, knowing that if he’d simply undergone TJ back in May, he’d have been a long shot to contribute much in 2017 anyhow. If he’s able to successfully avoid the procedure via the stem cell treatments, then Richards could conceivably contribute to the Halos for much, if not all of the 2017 campaign. Per Fletcher, he’ll head to the instructional league and make three appearances there, building up to 50 pitches before followup testing to determine whether he can have a normal offseason and be expected to pitch next year.
More from the AL West…
- Wednesday likely marked Doug Fister’s last start as a member of the Astros, writes Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle, noting that the impending free agent’s September was a dreadful month. Houston lost each of Fister’s final seven starts, Kaplan points out, and the righty surrendered 30 earned runs across 24 innings in his final month of the year (11.74 ERA). That’s hardly the note on which any pitcher wants to end a season, especially when things had been going fairly well for him for much of the season. Fister carried an ERA in the mid-3.00s throughout the entire summer but will conclude his 2016 campaign with a 4.64 ERA in 180 1/3 innings as he looks to improve upon the one-year, $7MM pact he signed with the ’Stros last winter.
- Rangers manager Jeff Banister said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM earlier today (Twitter link) that Shin-Soo Choo’s rehab has been “accelerated,” and the outfielder could join the club this weekend to get a look prior to determining postseason rosters. Choo has been sidelined since mid-August due to a fractured forearm sustained upon being hit by a pitch.
- Mariners rookie first baseman Dan Vogelbach has already begun seeking out the coaching staff to ask for extra lessons and extra work on his defense, writes Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Vogelbach, considered a bat-first prospect and labeled by some scouting reports as a future designated hitter due to his defensive limitations, candidly acknowledged to Dutton that he’s aware of how much work he needs to on his glove. “It’s definitely something I’m taking seriously, because it’s something I need to improve,” said Vogelbach, who sought out bench coach Tim Bogar for advice on his positioning and footwork. “…I’ve been doing it the wrong way for so long that now I’m making the correct muscle memory. Getting it to be a natural habit.” Vogelbach indicated that he plans to spend the offseason working on improving with the glove and, as Dutton points out, doing so could very well line him up to be Seattle’s first baseman next season, as both Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee are free agents.
While the usual “it’s still early” caveat goes without saying, some teams have already played a third of their schedule. We’re quickly approaching that point when a good start morphs into simply a good season altogether. Looking at the lists of position players and pitchers (big tip of the hat to Fangraphs) who are eligible to hit the open market after the 2016 season, some notable names have already done a lot to position themselves for big multi-year deals this winter. This post won’t focus as much on the upper-tier players who may sit atop the free agent power rankings, but rather the lower- or middle-tier names coming into this season looking to greatly improve their stock.
Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies: A thin starting pitching class became even thinner after Stephen Strasburg signed an extension with the Nationals, which opens the door for several free agent starters to score larger-than-expected contracts. For instance, look at the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year enjoying a strong rebound season in Philadelphia. Hellickson posted a 3.58 ERA, 8.84 K/9 and 4.63 K/9 rate in 37 2/3 IP last month and delivered similar numbers in April. ERA predictors xFIP (3.37) and SIERA (3.39) actually have an even brighter view of the righty’s season, in a reversal of Hellickson’s early seasons with Tampa Bay when he was posting low ERAs but worrisome peripherals. Hellickson is on pace for career-bests in strikeout and walk rates, and he’s performing well despite an ungainly 16.4% home run rate. You wouldn’t have pegged Hellickson as a qualifying offer candidate prior to the season, though now it’s not out of the realm of possibility…unless, of course, he gets traded, though that could depend on whether or not the surprisingly competitive Phillies decide to take a run at a wild card.
Aaron Hill, Brewers: After two mediocre seasons in Arizona and a rough April in Milwaukee, it looked like Hill’s career simply might have been winding down in his age-34 season. Then, Hill hit .357/.455/.583 with five homers and 14 runs in 100 PA over a scalding-hot May, posting the same fWAR (+1.4) over the month as the likes of David Ortiz, Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts. No doubt the .385 BABIP helped Hill post those big numbers, though when you’re a mid-30’s veteran, even one excellent month could be the difference between your next contract being a Major League or minor league deal. If Hill even remotely approaches similar production over the next six weeks, he would stand out as a trade deadline chip for contenders looking for infield help.
Steve Pearce, Rays: Speaking of veteran infielders coming off a big month, Pearce has started games at first, second and third for Tampa this season, while crushing seven homers and hitting .317/.406/.622 over 96 PA in May. Pearce hit the open market last winter with a rather hard-to-evaluate stock, though with another strong season under his belt, he should finally be able to command a multi-year deal. Pearce still has lopsided splits (.736 OPS vs. righty pitching, 1.297 OPS vs. lefties) but a player who can provide that kind of power in a ballpark that typically suppresses right-handed power (i.e. Tropicana Field) will turn heads.
Doug Fister, Astros: The right-hander was so bad in April that MLBTR’s Steve Adams cited him as one of the free agents who had hurt their stock with a poor showing in the opening month. Like Hill, however, Fister righted the ship in May, posting a 2.84 ERA and 57.4% grounder rate over 38 innings. ERA indicators weren’t as kind (4.12 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 4.18 SIERA) in May, but even in a couple of his prime seasons, Fister’s low-strikeout, grounder-heavy attack led him to outperform the advanced metrics. Fister still has a couple of warning signs hanging over him, namely a 3.3 BB/9 that would be a career high over a full season and an average fastball that clocks in at 86.4 mph, only a touch higher than his FB velocity during his rough 2015 season. Still, given how poor Fister looked in April, any sort of improvement is welcome.
Logan Morrison, Rays: How bad was Morrison’s April? Put it this way…he posted an astonishing negative-22 wRC+ over 64 PA in April, meaning he created 122% fewer runs than a league-average player. Just as quickly, however, Morrison went from hitting like Bob Friend to hitting like Mike Trout, thanks to a .351/.455/.486 slash line (and a 167 wRC+) over 88 PA in May. The month-to-month gulf was so enormous that it’s somewhat hard to predict what’s next for Morrison, though his big May provides some hope that he can still emerge as a post-hype prospect for Tampa and land a solid contract in the offseason.
Chase Utley, Dodgers: Utley hit .281/.363/.416 with three homers and 18 runs scored over 102 May plate appearances, making it back-to-back solid months for the veteran second baseman. While Utley’s .336 BABIP hints that his revival may not last, he’s still on pace for a big improvement over his poor 2015 campaign. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Mets won’t be bidding on Utley in this winter’s free agent market, though he’ll find plenty of interest amongst the other 29 teams if he chooses to keep playing into his age-38 season.
If the Astros don’t recover from their 17-26 start, they could become interesting sellers as the trade deadline approaches, says FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link). As pending free agents at season’s end, outfielder Colby Rasmus, right-handers Doug Fister and Scott Feldman, and catcher Jason Castro could all be on the move. Center fielder Carlos Gomez’s deal is also set to expire, though his value is close to nonexistent at the moment, according to Rosenthal. Gomez has rapidly fallen from grace since the Astros surrendered a handful of youthful pieces for him and righty Mike Fiers at last year’s deadline. Thanks to both that trade and the offseason acquisition of reliever Ken Giles, the Astros have lost several young players and could replenish their system this summer by moving at least some of the aforementioned veterans.
More of the latest rumblings from Rosenthal:
- Athletics lefty Rich Hill, third baseman Danny Valencia and reliever John Axford are all potential deadline chips, reports Rosenthal. The only member of the trio unsigned beyond this season is the 36-year-old Hill, who is on a $6MM salary and has performed like an ace since his red-hot September with Boston in 2015. Valencia is currently making $3.15MM and has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, and he has been quietly spectacular going back to last season. Over his past 475 plate appearances, Valencia has slashed .302/.352/.531 with 24 homers. With third base prospect Matt Chapman waiting in the wings, the A’s could sell high on Valencia, per Rosenthal. Axford, meanwhile, has gotten solid results in 18 2/3 frames this year (2.89 ERA) while recording a career-worst strikeout rate (5.79 per nine) and a personal-best walk rate (1.45). He’s making $4.5MM this season and is set to rake in another $5.5MM in 2017.
- The Indians could try to upgrade their bullpen by acquiring a left-hander or a dominant late-inning arm, but two factors are working against them: Other contenders will be in the hunt for similar help, and the Indians are “notoriously cautious” when discussing trades.
- The Phillies are prepared to deal right-hander Jeremy Hellickson if a solid offer comes along, though they’re also focused on limiting the innings thrown by some of the younger members of their rotation. Thanks to Charlie Morton’s season-ending injury, the 28-year-old Hellickson is now the elder statesman of a Phillies rotation that has been among baseball’s best in 2016. Hellickson, who’s on a $7MM salary and is scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end, has put up a 3.99 ERA to accompany significantly improved strikeout and walk rates (9.06 and 2.36, respectively) in 49 2/3 innings this year.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow addressed a variety of issues today with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. He suggested that the club’s first base mix may not be fully resolved this spring, with the organization remaining open to making changes over the course of the season. He made clear that Houston won’t just be relying on metrics in reaching its decisions, but is paying close attention to how the various contenders look against advanced competition this spring.
- Meanwhile, Luhnow said, the Astros’ back-of-the-rotation competition may result in some bullpen time for one of Doug Fister, Scott Feldman, or Mike Fiers. But he emphasized that he expects “all three guys are going to end up making a lot of starts for us this year.”
- The Angels are hoping that reliever Al Alburquerque will be able to bounce back after a tough 2015, and improved health is one reason for optimism, as MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports. Albuquerque says that he was hobbled for all of the spring and much of the regular season last year after contracting the Chikungunya virus over the winter. His fastball velocity steadily increased over the course of the year, and Albuquerque says he feels “much better” in camp.
- The Red Sox now seem all but certain to go without young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to open the year, as Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports. Though the swelling is down in his right knee, Rodriguez still hasn’t returned to the bump and manager John Farrell says there’s “still no time frame or date to get him on the mound yet.” With the club obviously exercising caution, and a full ramp-up still needed, it would appear to be surprising if he’s able to join the 25-man roster on Opening Day.
- In other Red Sox pitching news, Boston is hoping that the decision to shut down reliever Junichi Tazawa late last year will help him regain his form in 2015, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. Generally a highly reliable pen arm, Tazawa seemingly hit a wall late last year. Now, pitching coach Carl Willis says he sees improved “late action to his pitches,” cleaner mechanics, and better location. The 29-year-old’s ability to bounce back will not only be important to the club, but will also determine his market standing when he qualifies for free agency after the season.
- Reversing its prior stance, the Yankees don’t intend to prepare Starlin Castro to spend any further time at third base this spring, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. He’ll instead focus on settling in at second base and preparing to serve as the reserve shortstop, says manager Joe Girardi. As King notes, that could open up some additional opportunity for Rob Refsnyder to make the team as a utility piece.