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MLBTR sends our condolences to the family and colleagues of Alison Gordon, who passed away today at age 72. Gordon covered the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star from 1979 to 1983, becoming the first woman to work as a full-time beat writer covering an MLB club, as well as the first female member of the Baseball Writers Association Of America. The Star’s Brendan Kennedy has a fuller examination of Gordon’s career and her influence on countless female sportswriters.
Some news items from around the game…
- GM Jeff Luhnow said the Astros could add “perhaps another reliever but not another starter at this point,” Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter). The Astros added to their rotation depth earlier today by signing Roberto Hernandez, and the team could be closing in on a deal with left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher.
- The Rangers are another team with a “strong interest” in Thatcher, as well as another lefty bullpen arm in Phil Coke, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports (Twitter link). Coke recently threw for Texas.
- The arbitration hearing between Addison Reed and the Diamondbacks is scheduled for Friday unless the two sides can reach an agreement before then, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich discusses the team’s offseason and his own hiring in an interview with Woody Paige and Les Shapiro of the Denver Post’s Sports Show (video link).
- Critics may claim the Phillies haven’t done enough to move their high-priced veterans this offseason, though Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the Phils have a right to be cautious given the scope of their rebuild.
- “Patience,” is how a Phillies executive responded when asked by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal if the club was frustrated by the lack of quality offers for Cole Hamels. Both Rosenthal and the executive feel more trade opportunities could open up as teams’ needs change due to Spring Training injuries.
- The Blue Jays and Indians don’t appear to be in on any of Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden writes. The Tribe has less of a pressing need at the back of their bullpen given Cody Allen‘s emergence last season, while the Jays may also not specifically be looking for closing help, though they are looking at bullpen upgrades.
- The Dodgers‘ hiring of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to run the front office is the top transaction of the 2014-15 offseason, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron opines. Three other Dodgers moves appear in Cameron’s list of the winter’s top 10 moves, and he calls them “probably the scariest organization in baseball” now that their financial resources have been augmented by Friedman/Zaidi’s creative maneuvers.
Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team. It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients. As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”
According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14. I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.
Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract. Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December. In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill. While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.
Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed. The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat. Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.
This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints. While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter. Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins. In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.
Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms. The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.” Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.” Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.
Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer. Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal. Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.
Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency. Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.
James Shields‘s new deal with the Padres is less valuable to him than it might have been had he signed it elsewhere, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes, citing CPA Robert Raiola. Taxes (and agent fees) would have put the Cubs’ reported three-year, $60MM offer in the ballpark (~$4.5MM shy) of the total guarantee Shields actually received — assuming, at least, that Shields would have resided in the home state of either club. Of course, state taxes impact every deal, though it is only on occasion that we stop to consider it. To take but a few examples, the large Mike Trout, Buster Posey, and Clayton Kershaw extensions were signed with clubs playing in high-tax California, while Giancarlo Stanton is locked up for the foreseeable future in Florida, which does not charge income tax.
We’ll save the rest of that expansive topic for another day. Here are a few more free agent notes:
- As Steve Adams and I discuss on today’s podcast (to be released early this afternoon), Cuban infielder Hector Olivera actually seems a somewhat under-hyped story this spring. Ben Badler of Baseball America writes that Olivera has scouts “excited about [his] potential to make an immediate impact on a major league team in 2015.” While still not technically a free agent, Olivera is expected to be declared one shortly. When he does, his market will get very interesting. Badler writes that teams expect Olivera to seek money in the ballpark of that given by the Red Sox to Rusney Castillo ($12MM annually over six years), in AAV if not also years. That is no guarantee he will be paid that way, of course, and Olivera has some health questions. But if those concerns are resolved, Badler says he prefers the veteran to both Castillo and Yasmany Tomas, noting that some teams view him as an above-average big leaguer from the get-go.
- If you want to have a look at Olivera, check out this video of his work yesterday from Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs. McDaniel also has motion footage of live-armed 18-year-old righty Yadier Alvarez, who he labels the “hottest name in baseball.” Alvarez is still rather early in the process of seeking free agency, but should be available to sign before too long.
- Free agent righty Francisco Rodriguez is still looking for a two-year deal Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports in a piece full of several interesting bits of information. Rodriguez is the top-ranked free agent left unsigned, slotting in just ahead of fellow late-inning reliever Rafael Soriano. The Brewers remain interested in a reunion with K-Rod, per the report.
The White Sox and Brewers have had the best and worst offseasons, respectively, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The White Sox were aggressive but conservative in spending their financial flexibility and did well by not surrendering any top prospects to acquire Jeff Samardzija. The Brewers, meanwhile, are not good enough to compete in the NL Central now or in the near future and should have either made a big play for a free agent like James Shields or turned over the roster on a grander scale than just trading Yovani Gallardo.
Elsewhere in baseball:
- If the Marlins are unable to further upgrade their rotation, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro advocates the club signing Francisco Rodriguez, not to supplant closer Steve Cishek but to solidify the back end of their bullpen. Frisaro tweeted the Marlins could apply their arbitration savings of $1.265MM (achieved with the Mike Dunn extension and in winning the Mat Latos arbitration hearing) towards signing Rodriguez. Earlier today, Frisaro reported the Marlins have contacted K-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras.
- GM Jeff Bridich sees the free agent signing of Kyle Kendrick and the acquisition of David Hale as updgrading the Rockies‘ rotation, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. “I certainly feel like the depth has been addressed to a certain degree,” Bridich said. “We were involved in both free agency and trades. Again, we have a good sense of what Kyle Kendrick is and what he can do. I think he has proven himself. With the acquisition of somebody like Hale … I think there is upside there.“
- MLB.com’s Terence Moore profiles Dusty Baker, who would “like to have another chance to manage, because the only thing lacking in my career is” a World Series ring, but is content if he never receives that opportunity.
- Cuban infielder Alejandro Ortiz has petitioned for free agency and is expected to hit the market soon, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The 24-year-old, who possesses speed and a good glove, played five seasons in Serie Nacional, so he is exempt from counting against a team’s international signing bonus pool.
The Marlins have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding Francisco Rodriguez, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com (on Twitter). Nothing is imminent on that front, but the club could circle back to K-Rod at some point as they look to bolster their bullpen.
It has been speculated for some time that Miami could go after Rodriguez and earlier today, GM Dan Jennings hinted to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM that he is considering the veteran. Miami isn’t alone in that pursuit, however, as the Blue Jays, Phillies, and Brewers are among the clubs that have been connected to him.
The Brewers are looking at Rodriguez as a fallback if they cannot work out a trade with the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon. Rodriguez pitched to a 3.11 ERA with 9.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 57 saves in 193 2/3 innings for Milwaukee. The 33-year-old arguably stands as the best closing option available on the open market, but things have yet to come together for him. His fate seems to be tied somewhat to the outcome of the Papelbon situation – the Brewers view him as their Plan B and the Phillies seem likely to pursue K-Rod if Papelbon is moved.
The price tag on James Shields may be dropping to the point where it makes too much sense for the Yankees to ignore, opines Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. Shields has never made sense for the Yankees at or in the vicinity of $100MM, Castrovince writes, but if his price tag is trending closer to that of Ervin Santana (four years, $55MM) than that $100MM plateau, the uncertainty and lack of stability in New York’s rotation makes them a logical destination. As Castrovince notes, the Yanks dished out four years and $52MM to Chase Headley shows that the team is still willing to spend on veterans at a price level with which they are comfortable, and Shields’ work ethic, leadership and durability make him a desirable rotation candidate in the Bronx.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- The Yankees have a pair of very viable closer candidates in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch envisions Betances eventually locking down the closer role, with Miller likely ticketed to be the team’s top setup man. Hoch spoke with manager Joe Girardi, who did say that he’d like to have a set closer by the end of Spring Training. “I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi. Using Betances in the ninth inning would cause his arbitration price to soar, although arbitration awards holds, strikeouts and ERA as well, so Betances looks like he’ll eventually be an expensive reliever regardless of his role.
- As Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun details, Delmon Young said at the Orioles‘ Fan Festival over the weekend that he entertained the idea of signing elsewhere and had the opportunity to do so, but his desire was always to return to Baltimore. “…my first goal was to come back here just because I like just being in a place where you’re guaranteed to have an opportunity to defend a division title,” said Young. “It could have been cool going to a different place and trying to win another one, but it’s always a lot better to defend what you earned the year before.” Young continued, explaining that he’s excited to have a larger role this year following the departure of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, also adding that he’s much more comfortable in right field than left field.
- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons spoke with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio yesterday and acknowledged that the team has indeed talked about Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano (Twitter link). Gibbons said GM Alex Anthopoulos has been in touch with Scott Boras regarding the two free agents, as well as Philadelphia counterpart Ruben Amaro Jr. regarding Papelbon. However, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet notes (Twitter link), the Jays aim to be thorough in their search, so it makes sense that they’d explore all avenues.
Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.
Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:
- The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
- After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
- A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.
The Blue Jays are “in contact” with the representatives of multiple top free agent relievers, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. Among them are righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Burke Badenhop.
With former Jays closer Casey Janssen now headed to the Nationals, Toronto officially must look elsewhere to build out its pen. The three names listed above are arguably the top three arms remaining, though several other options remain as well.
GM Alex Anthopoulos said earlier today that he is looking for many different ways to add talent to the relief corps, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. As things stand, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are perhaps the top two candidates to hold down the ninth inning, and Toronto is not sending signals that it feels an established closer is a necessity.
Payroll may be the driving factor at this point, writes Nicholson-Smith. With perhaps $5MM to $6MM in 2015 spending capacity remaining, that makes trade candidate Jonathan Papelbon a questionable fit. “When you see us linked to a player for days and days and back and forth, I’d say 9.9 times out of 10 there probably isn’t anything to it,” Anthopoulos said. “I can say we’re not going to be in the market for relievers making $10-plus million or more.”
Otherwise, Anthopoulos indicated that the team was in an opportunistic mode after getting a lot of work done earlier in the winter. “Most times the later you get in to the winter there’s potential for the prices to change on some of these guys,” he noted. One internal wild card, catcher Dioner Navarro, remains available in trade but seems destined to remain with the Jays unless a suitable offer comes in.
JAN. 28: Haudricourt now tweets that he gets the sense the Brewers would like to find a way to make a Papelbon trade work, despite the fact that it would be complicated. Failing that outcome, a Francisco Rodriguez reunion is a fallback option for Milwaukee.
JAN. 27: While trade talks between the Brewers and Phillies regarding Jonathan Papelbon have slowed, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki hears from two sources that the Phillies are still talking to both Milwaukee and Toronto about Papelbon. Zolecki adds that the seriousness of the talks is unclear at this time, though Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears that Toronto’s interest is extremely limited (Twitter link). The Blue Jays would only acquire Papelbon if the financial risk associated with the transaction is “extremely limited,” per Rosenthal.
Additionally, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that the Phillies have been in touch with an unknown AL club regarding Papelbon in the past few days. While that club could certainly be Toronto, it’s also possible that a second American League club could have kicked the tires on Papelbon.
The Blue Jays have repeatedly expressed interest in adding some experience to the back of their bullpen, though Papelbon is an imperfect fit for a number of reasons. For one, the Blue Jays are said to have only about $7MM remaining to improve their 2015 roster, and Papelbon is owed $13MM in 2015. Secondly, as CSN Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported last week, Toronto is one of the team’s on Papelbon’s no-trade clause. Multiple reports indicated that Papelbon would require his $13MM vesting option to be guaranteed in order to approve a deal to a team on his no-trade clause, further muddying the financial situation for the Blue Jays.
As for the Brewers, talks with that team broke down due to financial concerns, and those concerns are still present, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. As he further notes, the ball is in Philadelphia’s court when it comes to a Papelbon trade, but the Phillies are strongly against letting his $13MM vesting option kick in, so it makes little sense for the Phillies to pay that money to facilitate a trade.
That scenario was one of the topics I discussed in today’s MLBTR Chat earlier this afternoon. The Phillies, as it stands, are on the hook for $13MM of Papelbon’s contract. If the team trades him and guarantees Papelbon’s vesting option, the acquiring club would owe the 34-year-old a total of $26MM. In that instance, even if the Phillies ate half of the money owed to Papelbon, they wouldn’t actually be saving anything. In fact, they may actually cost themselves money, as moving Ken Giles, the likely closer-in-waiting, into the ninth inning to open the 2015 season would surely cause his eventual arbitration price to rise.
It’s difficult then, to envision the Phillies paying anywhere close to $13MM of Papelbon’s salary without receiving a return that they feel is a significant upgrade to their farm system. The alternative would be to deal Papelbon to a club that is not on his no-trade list, with the acquiring club deploying him in a setup capacity. That could allow Philadelphia to save some money on Papelbon’s salary without the option coming into play. However, to this point, there haven’t been any indications that any of the 12 teams to which he cannot block a trade — the Red Sox, Rays, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs and Padres — have any significant interest in trading for him.
The Brewers are currently talking with right-hander Francisco Rodriguez about a reunion, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (on Twitter). Last week, the Brewers were said to be exploring pitching upgrades via free agency and trade, and over the weekend, owner Mark Attanasio told fans that he’d be surprised if the team didn’t make at least one more free agent signing this offseason.
That signing could very well be K-Rod, who over parts of the past four seasons has pitched to a 3.11 ERA with 9.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 57 saves in 193 2/3 innings for the Brewers. The market for K-Rod hasn’t exactly been robust this offseason, although he has been connected to multiple clubs over the past month. Those teams include the Blue Jays and Rockies, and there was a bit of speculation regarding the Nationals following the trade of Tyler Clippard and signing of Max Scherzer. It’s arguable that he’s the best closing option left on the market; other free agent pitchers with 20 or more saves in 2014 include Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen, while former closers such as John Axford and Brian Wilson have yet to sign this offseason as well.
The Brewers have also been linked to Soriano recently, and of course last week the team was said to be in serious trade discussions regarding Jonathan Papelbon. However, complications regarding the financial compensation required to due to Papelbon’s $13MM vesting option appear to have slowed, if not entirely halted those talks.