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Rafael Soriano needs 32 more games finished to cause his $14MM club option to vest, but the Nationals closer says that vesting option or not, he wants to return to Washington in 2015, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. Soriano would need to get up to the 62-finish mark (a career high) to make it, though with the Nats in a tight pennant race, they’ll undoubtedly need their closer as much as possible down the stretch.
Here’s some more news and notes from around baseball…
- Scouts for the Indians have been told to focus their attention on Rays minor leaguers, MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo reports, and Cotillo wonders if this could suggest that Cleveland is revisiting talks for David Price. Cleveland and Tampa discussed a Price trade during the offseason, as Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, that involved Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar going to the Rays. (Tampa Bay also had interest in Francisco Lindor but the Indians consider Lindor virtually untouchable in any trade.) A new trade package, Cotillo speculates, could be Santana/Salazar for Price and a couple of Rays prospects, hence the Tribe’s interest in scouting Tampa’s farm system.
- Also from Cotillo, the Angels made the same three-year, $15.75MM offer to both Joe Smith and Edward Mujica this past offseason and told both pitchers that the contract would go to whichever accepted first. Smith took the deal first and is enjoying a strong season, even moving into the Halos’ closing job. Mujica, meanwhile, signed a two-year, $9.5MM deal with the Red Sox and has struggled to a 5.45 ERA in 34 2/3 IP.
- The Giants are still without agreements for five of their top 10 draft picks, a situation Cotillo believes could be due to the club devoting their time and draft pool resources to signing first-rounder Tyler Beede, who couldn’t negotiate until after the College World Series.
- Despite the number of recent stars to come out of Cuba, teams are still relying on very little or no scouting information when signing these players, Danny Knobler writes for Bleacher Report. Knobler’s piece explores the future of the Cuban talent pipeline while also delving into the limited data the White Sox and Dodgers, respectively, had when signing Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig to major contracts.
- While the Royals‘ farm system is still considered strong, it is short on prospects ready to help at the Major League level, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. Thanks to a few thin drafts, the prospect package sent to Tampa Bay in the James Shields trade and the fact that many of their top prospects of recent years are already in the bigs, “between Omaha and their [Double-A] club, there’s nobody that looks like they’re going to jump up soon as a significant piece,” an AL executive said.
SATURDAY: The deal is official, with the club issuing a press release announcing Mujica's signing. As the Red Sox note, the team's 40-man roster is now at full capacity. Mujica's contract includes up to $1MM in incentives based upon games finished, tweets Alex Speier of WEEI.com.
THURSDAY: The Red Sox have agreed to terms on a two-year, $9.5MM contract with right-hander Edward Mujica, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Mujica, who is represented by Octagon, will take a physical today, according to Passan.
Mujica, 29, possesses some of the best command of any pitcher in the Majors. He issued just five walks in 64 2/3 innings this season to go along with 46 strikeouts and a 2.78 ERA. Mujica entered the season buried on St. Louis' bullpen depth chart but ascended to the role of closer. Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery, Mitchell Boggs flopped and the Cardinals elected to deploy rookie Trevor Rosenthal in a setup role. The end result was Mujica notching 37 saves for the Redbirds, though he wilted down the stretch and was a complete non-factor in the playoffs.
Mujica's late-season swoon likely cost him several million dollars, as did a free agent market stuffed with closer types of relievers. Mujica, Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Perez, Kevin Gregg and Jose Veras all saved 20-plus games in 2013. The market also features plenty of former closers in the form of John Axford, Brian Wilson and Andrew Bailey (Axford and Bailey were non-tendered), further presenting teams with late-inning alternatives that helped to suppress Mujica's price tag.
Mujica will join a Red Sox bullpen that figures to be once again anchored by Koji Uehara. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and a presumably healthy Andrew Miller should join Mujica in bridging the gap to Uehara as the BoSox look to capture a second consecutive World Series title.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here's the latest from Fenway Park…
- Edward Mujica will receive a $125K bonus for finishing 20 games, WEEI.com's Alex Speier reports. Mujica will receive the same bonus for every additional five games he finishes, up to 55, leaving the reliever eligible for $2MM in bonus money in each of his two seasons in Boston. Mujica took his physical today and his signing should be officially announced within the next few days.
- Also from Speier, he breaks down how the recent signings of Mujica, Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski affect the Red Sox payroll. The Sox payroll currently projects as roughly $187.95MM for 2014, leaving them just under the $189MM luxury tax threshold. While Speier argues that the club could go over the threshold, any further moves might have to come via trades, most likely from the team's excess of starting pitching.
- The Red Sox "would love to bring back" Stephen Drew but re-signing the shortstop could be difficult due to the aforementioned budget issues, Speier writes.
- The Sox are still looking for a left-handed bat for the left side of the infield as well as a right-handed hitting outfielder, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald tweets. Drew, of course, would fit the bill as that infield bat.
The market for starting pitchers has actually started off at reasonable prices, argues Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com. Running the numbers on the price of a projected win for the starters who have signed to date, he says that a preliminary look shows that early-moving teams look to have achieved solid value. Here's more on the pitching market around the league:
- Even if the Dodgers are willing to spend the huge amount of cash that Masahiro Tanaka's posting and signing is expected to require, says Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com, it is far from clear how the club would sort its rotation out to accomodate him. GM Ned Colletti has said that he is "not going to close the door on any more starters" even after adding Dan Haren on a one-year deal with a vesting option. Saxon notes, however, that it would be more difficult to push aside Josh Beckett and/or Chad Billingsley than it was for the club to do last year with Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. Of course, Tanaka may be good enough that, if the price is right, that problem is one you just deal with as best you can.
- The Giants, on the other hand, seem less likely than their rivals to the south to consider the addition of another starter, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting that the club's rotation is set after re-signing Ryan Vogelsong. As Alex Pavlovic of the Mercury News noted earlier today, the rotation seemed complete upon the return of Vogelsong, given GM Brian Sabean's earlier comments that he would not make the veteran compete for his slot in the spring. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson round out the club's starting five.
- Meanwhile, it could well be that San Francisco could look to add pen pieces given their decision to add veteran arms to the back of its rotation, reasons Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Sulia). It is easier and cheaper to add relief arms, he notes, and the club could look to ease the burden on its starters by following the Dodgers and Cardinals in trotting out multiple arms that can throw quality innings.
- Free agent reliever Edward Mujica of the Cardinals is drawing interest from a variety of teams, according to Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The Angels are probably out after inking Joe Smith, Cotillo notes. But the Orioles, Indians, and Cubs have at least kicked the tires on Mujica, joining the Phillies in pursuit of the 29-year-old.
- Right-handed reliever Luis Ayala, who produced solid results last year at age 35 for the Orioles and Braves, is also in search of a multi-year deal, Cotillo reports. He has not yet seen an offer, but has received interest from the Red Sox and Rays as well as the Dodgers, Giants, O's, and Phils. Meanwhile, the Royals have seemingly stepped away from Ayala after showing initial interest.
- One other arm that could enter the market is Angels righty Jerome Williams. Soon to turn 32, Williams' agent Larry O'Brien tells Cotillo (Twitter link) that he is rooting against a tender from the Halos since "there are many teams he could effectively start for." That statement seems to imply what has long been suspected about Williams, which is that Los Angeles does not intend to use him as a starter. As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes wrote in reporting Matt Swartz's $3.9MM projection for Williams, a non-tender is a very real possibility for the swingman. Of course, as MLBTR's Zach Links has explained, there are few teams with as many projected rotation holes as the Angels.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Cleveland Indians | Edward Mujica | Jerome Williams | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Los Angeles Dodgers | Luis Ayala | Philadelphia Phillies | San Francisco Giants | St. Louis Cardinals | Tampa Bay Rays
Here are some notes out of Philadelphia…
- The Phillies are willing to give a setup man a three-year contract, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter). The club is looking hard for setup help and Edward Mujica is one of the Phillies' targets. Mujica worked in middle relief before stepping up as the Cardinals' closer for most of 2013. MLBTR's Steve Adams projected Mujica would find a three-year, $21MM deal in free agency but you'd think that number would be a bit less in this case since the Phils wouldn't be using him as a closer. Relievers Joaquin Benoit and Joe Smith have also been linked to the Phillies this winter.
- "A Phillies-[Carlos] Ruiz reunion still seems likely," MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes. Zolecki wonders if it was the Phillies who made Ruiz the two-year, $20MM offer the catcher reportedly has on the table. The Phils are known to have put early offers out to several free agents already and GM Ruben Amaro recently made a point of saying that the team wouldn't wait long for Ruiz to decide.
- Amaro may be on the hot seat if the team disappoints again but Amaro tells Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he isn't putting a priority on short-term success to save his job at the expense of the team's future. "My job, our job, is to be contenders every year….That's why young players are important to us. That's why keeping that depth is important to us," Amaro said.
- Marlon Byrd jumped when the Phillies made him a two-year, $16MM offer, the outfielder told reporters (including CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury). “I didn’t want to wait around,” Byrd said. “The Phillies were aggressive with an amazing offer. I didn’t want to wait to see how much money I could get. I have friends on that team, my wife (Andrea) is from there. It’s definitely a blessing.”
- Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer isn't a fan of the Byrd signing, believing that the Phillies made too big a commitment to a player with a PED suspension on his record and whose career seemed virtually over less than a year ago.
Many MLBTR readers will enjoy a read of this short piece, in which Luke Epplin of the New Yorker explores the origins of baseball's status as a thinking man's game, prominently featuring legendary hurler Christy Mathewson. In present day news, here are some links from the game's central divisions:
- Though he seems to have quite a positive attitude, deposed Cardinals closer Edward Mujica has been relegated mostly to a cheerleading role in the post-season, writes MLB.com's Chad Thornburg. While Shelby Miller has also seen his role virtually eliminated, it doesn't figure to have any impact on his earning potential. But for Mujica, who MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted to garner a commitment of over $20MM on the upcoming free agent market, the lack of trust shown by the Cards quite possibly could create doubt amongst other franchises, particularly those looking for a closer.
- The success of St. Louis's young arms is well documented, but Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides an interesting look at the development of the team's current late inning relief duo. Both Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez are hard-throwing converted position players who have settled into bullpen roles in their early twenties. And both could still become impact starters.
- With nine players eligible for arbitration, the Tigers could have a lot of negotiating to do. As MLive.com's Chris Iott explains, it may prove difficult to reach agreement on a salary with starter Max Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, given the righty's outstanding season. The most likely Detroit non-tender, according to Iott, is lefty Phil Coke, with utilityman Don Kelly also a candidate.
Edward Mujica entered the season as a solid middle reliever/setup man but quickly found himself thrust into the closer's role after Jason Motte went down with Tommy John surgery and Mitchell Boggs collapsed as Motte's successor. Many felt the ninth inning should go to flamethrowing 22-year-old Trevor Rosenthal, but Mujica silenced critics for much of the season by thriving in the role and upping his free agent stock accordingly.
Few things in baseball are more frustrating than watching a relief pitcher come in and issue multiple walks; that's something Mujica's managers, teammates and fans virtually never have to worry about. Over the past four seasons, Mujica has allowed 37 walks in 275 2/3 innings (1.21 BB/9), but nine of those were intentional. Mujica will put a batter aboard via an unintentional free pass about once every 10 innings. As such, he has a pristine 1.001 WHIP dating back to 2010. The only "free agent" reliever who really comes close to matching Mujica in control is Mariano Rivera, and he won't be signing anywhere this winter.
Over that same four-year stretch, Mujica has a 47.2 percent ground-ball rate, and opponents are batting just .230 against him. Put simply, Mujica does a better job at keeping hitters off the basepaths than most relievers in the game.
Mujica earned just $3.2MM this season, so a qualifying offer would be a tremendous increase in his salary and is therefore highly unlikely. He won't come tied to draft pick compensation, and at age 29, he's one of the youngest free agent relievers on the market. He's also highly durable, having just one DL stint throughout his big league career; that injury was the result of a broken toe suffered when he was struck by a batted ball.
The average big league reliever has averaged about eight strikeouts per nine innings over the past four seasons. Mujica has, in turn, whiffed 7.4 hitters per nine innings over that four-year stretch and has dropped to 6.4 strikeouts per nine frames in 2013 (while the MLB average for relievers has risen to 8.3). His low punchout total is a bit curious given his well above-average swinging strike rate (12.5 percent in 2013 and 11 percent for his career).
Advanced metrics like FIP (3.71), xFIP (3.53) and SIERA (3.25) don't necessarily back up Mujica's 2.78 ERA. His .263 BABIP is unusually low, although it's fair to wonder if it's actually a sustainable mark; he's had a BABIP south of .270 in each of the past four seasons. If that's the case, then it's likely that sabermetric stats undervalue him, as they measure him against the league average rather than his own career norms.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Mujica is his poor finish to the season. He carried a 1.73 ERA into September but crumbled in the season's final month, allowing nine runs on 18 hits and a pair of walks over his final 7 1/3 innings. That prolonged meltdown knocked him out of the team's closer spot will likely be brought up in contract discussions this offseason.
Mujica and his wife, Erika, reside in Yagua, Venezuela, per the Cardinals's media guide. The couple welcomed their first child, Brianna, into the world in July 2012. Mujica is often described as fun-loving, doing things like making custom t-shirts for his teammates with the Marlins to keep the clubhouse light (per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro).
Many teams will be on the lookout for bullpen help this winter, and Mujica is one of the handful of available relievers that will come with ninth inning experience. While many maintain that ninth inning experience isn't a prerequisite for closers ("closers are made, not born"), Mujica's agent, Wil Polidor of Octagon, can boast that his client racked up 37 saves in his first season as a closer and should be compensated for that big number.
Teams don't pay for saves quite as much as they did a few years ago, but there are still old-school general managers and front offices that want to hand the ball to a guy who's "been there before" in the ninth inning. The Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Yankees, A's and Cubs will all lose their closers to free agency or retirement this winter. Other teams like the Mariners, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Indians have seen great uncertainty in their late-inning situations this season. The Cardinals could also express interest in retaining Mujica, though with Motte on the mend and Rosenthal pitching well of late, he may not have an opportunity to regain the closer role in St. Louis.
Of course, there will also be plenty of teams with closers in place who will look to Mujica as a reliable, durable setup man.
Mujica is the same age that Brandon League was when he signed his three-year, $22.5MM contract with the Dodgers last offseason. While that's proven to be an overpay, that didn't deter the Reds from giving another under-30 reliever, Jonathan Broxton, a similar three-year, $21MM contract a few months later. Neither of those relievers boasted lofty strikeout rates in their walk seasons, and I imagine that will be Polidor's target for Mujica, while the three-year, $16.5MM deal that Joaquin Benoit signed prior to the 2011 season will be the floor.
Back in May, I looked at Mujica's free agent stock and noted that a strong season in the ninth inning couls land him a deal similar to Broxton's. Despite his slide at the end of the season, I believe that a three-year, $21MM deal remains a reasonable expectation given his youth, durability, elite command and strong track record.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal has a new video up outlining potential hot stove moves this offseason. Let's take a look:
- The Rockies' ownership doesn't have much interest in trading Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki, though Gonzalez would be more likely to be traded if the club does decide to make a move. The Rangers, with their stocks of young pitching and middle infielders, could be a partner. If on offer in such a deal, Jurickson Profar could handle second base for the Rockies, and could shift to shortstop if the team eventually moves Tulo off of the position. We heard last week that the Mets have interest in CarGo.
- The Dodgers are expected to trade one of their "big four" – Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier or Yasiel Puig – according to rival executives speaking with Rosenthal. Puig is, of course, the least likely to be moved.
- The Rays are expected to consider trading David Price over the winter, with Rosenthal again suggesting the Rangers as a team to keep an eye on, noting that Texas had two scouts on hand to watch a recent Price start in Minnesota. The Cubs could also be interested, though their farm system is stronger in position players than it is in pitchers.
- One major league exec suggests that the pressures of impending free agency and closing for a contender have affected the Cardinals' Edward Mujica. A longtime setup man, Mujica was suddenly positioned on the verge of a "major payday" after taking on the Cards' closer role, Rosenthal says.
The Pirates' record sits at 33-20, and while Fangraphs' Dave Cameron doesn't think the Bucs will keep playing .623 ball for the rest of the season, the team's expected regression shouldn't be enough to keep them from playoff contention, or at the very least their first winning record since 1992. Of course, last year's Pirates also looked good before completely falling apart after the All-Star break, so Pittsburgh fans shouldn't count their chickens until their club actually posts that 82nd victory.
Here's the latest from the NL Central…
- Cubs right-hander Scott Feldman could be a major trade chip this summer, ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine writes. An AL scout tells Levine that Feldman is "one of those pitchers that you don't get that excited about unless you watch him over a period of starts. He has really commanded his pitches this season and you see the confidence and consistent outings from him." Feldman signed a one-year, $6MM contract with Chicago last winter and has rebuilt his value by posting a 2.82 ERA, 7.57 K/9, 2.68 K/BB and 50.6% ground ball rate through 10 starts. (The advanced metrics indicate a bit of luck, as Feldman also has a 3.92 FIP, 3.78 xFIP and a .254 BABIP.) The Cubs "may be reluctant" to move Feldman, Levine notes, though they would likely make a trade in exchange for a quality prospect.
- The Cardinals' trade for Edward Mujica last July has turned into a steal, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. The Cards added Mujica as bullpen depth last year and he has surprisingly blossomed into an elite closer after the club's other end-game options all had injury or performance issues. Zack Cox, a 2010 first-round draft pick, was sent to the Marlins for Mujica and is hitting .298/.398/.381 at Double-A Jacksonville. MLBTR's Steve Adams recently looked at how Mujica's performance has greatly enhanced his free agent stock for the coming offseason.
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link) doesn't see the Reds making a play for Juan Francisco now that the third baseman has been designated for assignment by the Braves. Francisco was originally signed by the Reds and played three seasons in Cincinnati before being dealt to Atlanta for J.J. Hoover in April 2012. The left-handed hitting Francisco makes sense on paper as a complement to Todd Frazier, though I'd suspect the Reds would prefer to keep Frazier playing every day.
Edward Mujica wasn't supposed to be the Cardinals' closer. He wasn't even their backup plan or third in line to the closer's throne. However, with Jason Motte down for the year due to Tommy John surgery and early falters from Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal, the ninth inning is precisely where Mujica finds himself. And he's thriving there.
Mujica has been nothing short of brilliant while saving 11 games through a quarter of the season. He's allowed just three runs in 16 innings of work, good for a 1.69 ERA. On top of that, he's given up just eight hits and one walk, and he's punched out 15 hitters along the way. His 43.9 percent ground-ball rate is a tick above the league average for relievers (43.7 percent), as is his 92.1 mph average fastball velocity (league average is 92.0 for relievers).
It may not seem like it, but Mujica, who just turned 29, is already a veteran of four Major League teams (Indians, Padres, Marlins, Cards), and he'll be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. At 29 years of age, the Octagon client is slated to be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
Assuming he continues pitching well, Mujica will have a strong 2013 season and age on his side, but he's got more than that working for him. The Venezuela native has quietly established himself as a very reliable bullpen arm since breaking out with the Padres in 2009. Over his past 320 2/3 innings, he's posted a 3.34 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 44.9 percent ground-ball rate. If ERA isn't your cup of tea, that's ok, because FIP (3.67), xFIP (3.36) and SIERA (3.00) are all big fans of Mujica's work.
He's not only been effective, he's been durable — appearing in at least 59 games and firing at least 65 1/3 innings each year from 2009-12. Mujica has been to the disabled list just once in his career, and it was for a broken pinkie toe last season. He barely missed more than the minumum 15 days.
Free agent relievers aren't getting paid quite like they were when Francisco Cordero and Francisco Rodriguez were landing contracts that paid them $12MM annually, but a succesful reliever with a history of closing out games can still do just fine on the open market. For proof, look no further than Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton. League signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract with the Dodgers last November, and Broxton signed with the Reds for $21MM for that same three-year period.
That type of payday is attainable — perhaps even surpassable — for Mujica if he can finish strongly. He's been more consistent than League and generates more strikeouts with better command, and he doesn't have Broxton's injury history. It's also important to consider the weakness of the closer market next offseason. Rafael Betancourt's $4.25MM option should be exercised. Mariano Rivera is retiring. Joel Hanrahan had Tommy John surgery yesterday. Fernando Rodney has struggled terribly early in the year. Ryan Madson hasn't thrown a pitch yet this season. Carlos Marmol is Carlos Marmol. Grant Balfour and Mujica could be the top "proven" closers on the market, and Mujica is nearly seven years younger.
The Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs are among the deep-pocketed teams that could be in the market for a closer next offseason, depending on their current injury situations and faith in internal alteratives. Barring a complete collapse, the three-year, $16.5MM contract that Joaquin Benoit signed with the Tigers seems like the floor for Mujica.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.