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Hank Conger Rumors
There is nothing imminent for the Astros, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, but GM Jeff Luhnow says he got a “pretty good feel” for price tags and availability for possible targets.
Here’s more out of Houston:
- Luhnow left Drellich with the impression that the organization is ready to be a player on the open market. The GM says that, with two top-five protected picks, draft pick compensation is less of a deterrent. And the club would consider burning all of its open 2015 payroll space on one, premium player in the right circumstances.
- Houston is at least 50-50 on dealing away a catcher after acquiring Hank Conger, Luhnow tells Drellich. “Because we have three major league catchers, I’ve had clubs inquire about all our catchers quite frankly,” said Luhnow. “So we need to figure out some resolution prior to Opening Day. There’s no urgency.”
- An executive with another club said that the asking price is high on Jason Castro. Somewhat interestingly, the GM noted that a Castro-Conger duo presents some platoon issues. “A right-handed hitter complements Jason,” said Luhnow. “Conger’s better from the left side.”
- The Astros are not prioritizing outfield help at the moment, Drellich tweets. Players like Nori Aoki and Ichiro Suzuki do not hold appeal to Houston, according to Luhnow.
Conger, 26, split time with Chris Iannetta in Anaheim this past season but wasn’t a traditional backup catcher, as he received about 40 percent of the club’s plate appearances at the position. A former first-round pick, Conger batted .221/.293/.325 with four homers and is a lifetime .224/.294/.353 hitter in 768 plate appearances. Conger frequented top prospect lists prior to reaching the Majors, twice making Baseball America’s Top 100 (No. 79 and No. 84) and four times appearing on the Top 100 list of Baseball Prospectus (ranging between Nos. 81-89).
Though Conger’s bat hasn’t picked up at the Major League level to match his excellent Triple-A track record (.298/.371/.470), the Astros have plenty to like about his work behind the plate. He caught a slightly below-average 24 percent of base-stealers in 2014, but shined in terms of pitch-framing according to both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.com. Both metrics rated him as one of the four best framing catchers in baseball. The arbitration-eligible Conger is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $1.1MM this season and can be controlled via the arbitration process through 2017.
As for the Angels, they’ll get the type of cost-controlled rotation option they spent much of last offseason searching for during the infancy of the 2014-15 offseason. Tropeano, 24, made his big league debut with the Astros in 2014 and posted a 4.57 ERA with a 13-to-9 K/BB ratio and a 40.3 percent ground-ball rate in four starts (21 2/3 innings).
Baseball America ranked Tropeano as the No. 18 prospect in Houston’s system heading into the 2014 campaign and has praised his outstanding changeup multiple times in the past, grading it the best change in the Astros’ system in 2011-12 as well as the best change in the South Atlantic League in 2012. BA wrote in their scouting report that Tropeano sat 90-92 mph with a plus changeup and fringy slider that needed more work, but they also noted that he projected as a back-of-the-rotation starter or possibly more, depending on that breaking pitch’s development. MLB.com ranked Tropeano 13th among Houston farmhands following the season, also noting that he needed to further refine his slider.
As for Perez, he will give the Angels a near-MLB-ready replacement to back up Iannetta. The 24-year-old Venezuelan spent the past season at the Triple-A level where he batted .259/.323/.385 with six homers. He caught 32 percent of base-stealers last season in the minors and has caught runners at a strong 33 percent clip throughout his minor league career. BA ranked him 28th among Houston prospects prior to 2013, praising his defensive skills by calling him “fluid behind the plate” while noting that he handled velocity well and had quick pop times and a strong arm.
For the Angels, this trade allows them to add MLB-ready rotation depth without sacrificing either of Howie Kendrick or David Freese, both of whom have been rumored to be on the trading block. That the Halos have added a potential rotation piece without spending is significant; GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno have both stated a repeated desire to remain under baseball’s $189MM luxury tax threshold, and the team already has $140MM of guarantees committed toward that gap, to say nothing of arbitration eligible players and league-minimum players to round out the roster.
As for the Astros, their focus on improving the pitching staff will be aided by Conger’s excellent framing abilities. Incumbent catcher Jason Castro is also strong in that department, though it wouldn’t be a shock him and his projected $3.9MM salary shopped in an offseason featuring a free agent market that is painfully thin on catchers. While that’s just my speculation, the Astros could likely get by with a tandem of Conger and Max Stassi behind the plate while addressing other needs by dealing Castro.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
12:22pm: The deal is "getting pretty close," a source tells MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez (Twitter link). Though he was discussed in a separate trade with the White Sox and Angels, Kendrick is not part of this deal, Gonzalez adds.
12:10pm: USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that the three teams are optimistic about their chances of finalizing the trade (Twitter link). Meanwhile, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic agrees with Gilbert's report from below, noting that Arizona would receive one prospect from the Angels and one from the Sox (also on Twitter).
11:38am: MLB.com's Steve Gilbert tweets that Arizona would receive a pair of good prospects in addition to Trumbo.
11:27am: Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago (via Twitter) hears that the talks are definitely ongoing but are still in the preliminary phases. The three sides are making some progress but a deal isn't close at this time, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register agrees (on Twitter).
11:02am: The Angels tried to land Santiago from the White Sox in talks for Howie Kendrick, tweets Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times, but they're now focused on getting him as part of this three-team deal.
10:50am: ESPN's Keith Law reports (via Twitter) that the Mark Trumbo talks between the Diamondbacks and Angels have expanded to include the White Sox, with a potential framework sending Adam Eaton to Chicago and Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs to the Angels.
Parting with Skaggs and Eaton would be a steep price to pay in order to play Trumbo out of position at a corner outfield spot, but reports have indicated that the D-Backs are "determined" to leave Orlando with either Trumbo or Shin-Soo Choo in tow, and the financial commitment required to add Choo would be significant. Adding Skaggs and Santiago would be a tremendous win for Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, who has been in the market for controllable young starters for months.
Catcher is known to be a priority for the Blue Jays this offseason, and Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports that the team is interested in Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger of the Angels. According to Elliott, the Blue Jays have already begun their efforts to acquire one of Anaheim's backstops.
As MLBTR's Mark Polishuk noted in analyzing the Blue Jays' upcoming offseason, the team is set at most offensive positions with the exception of catcher and second base. Mark noted that while incumbent J.P. Arencibia may not be non-tendered, his days as the team's starter are likely over. Toronto's desire to acquire one of the Angels' catchers and their interest in Washington's Wilson Ramos seem to support that line of thinking.
Iannetta, who turns 31 next April, might at first appear to be similar to Arencibia given his low batting averages and escalating strikeout rate (25.1 percent in 2013). However, Iannetta has always been adept at drawing a walk. In fact, he drew nearly as many walks in 399 plate appearances in 2013 (68) as Arencibia has in his entire career (74). Overall, Iannetta batted .225/.358/.372 for the Halos in the first season of a three-year, $15.5MM extension. He'll earn $4.975MM in 2014 and $5.525MM in 2015. In each of those seasons, his contract calls for an additional $100K bonus for starting 90 games at catcher and $125K when he reaches each of 100, 110, 115, 120 and 125 starts behind the dish.
The switch-hitting Conger batted .249/.310/.403 in 2013. He'll turn just 26 years old in January and won't be eligible for arbitration until next offseason. Originally selected by the Angels with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Conger has never gotten a full season's worth of at-bats with the Halos despite a robust .298/.371/.470 slash line in 854 career plate appearances at Triple-A.
As we saw last offseason, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has no problem dealing young talent to fill holes on his big league roster. Though the Blue Jays' farm system was depleted after acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in trades, the team still has plenty of minor league pitchers that would pique the Angels' interest. According to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, the Blue Jays' top six prospects are all pitchers, though a top prospect along the lines of Aaron Sanchez would seem far too steep a price for either of the catchers in question.
If the Blue Jays really want to get aggressive, they could look to structure a deal that would land one of Iannetta or Conger as well as second baseman Howie Kendrick, who is known to be available. While that scenario is purely my speculation, such a trade would address both of the major holes highlighted in Polishuk's outlook. The Blue Jays own two of the first 11 picks in next year's draft, so they would have ample opportunity to add high-end talent to their farm system following another aggressive winter on the trade market.
SUNDAY: The Angels are said to like Chris Snyder and Ramon Hernandez with ex-Angel Bobby Wilson, in camp with the Yankees, an interesting possibility, tweets Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times. MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez adds Rod Barajas and Wil Nieves, both with the Diamondbacks, and Brett Hayes and George Kottaras, both with the Royals, as other possibilities.
FRIDAY: The Angels "have been out looking for a backup catcher," tweets Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.
The team entered the spring hoping that former high-end prospect Hank Conger would lay claim to the back-up spot behind starter Chris Iannetta. As Mike DiGiovanna of The Los Angeles Times explored back in February, the team was also considering two journeymen, John Hester and Luke Carlin. Still young at 25 and offering a natural complement to Iannetta's right-handed bat, Conger seemed the obvious choice if he could move past his history of inconsistency and injury.
Despite Conger's excellent start on the offensive side of the plate this spring, however, he has struggled behind the dish. While manager Mike Scioscia has previously expressed confidence that Conger would rein in his wildness in the throwing game, Conger made three errors with his arm last Sunday. Entering his final option year, the Angels could elect to allow Conger to work out his issues back in Triple-A Salt Lake. For their part, Hester and Carlin have limited track records at the major league level and are sporting anemic batting lines in pre-season action.
If the Halos are unwilling to let Conger test his arm in a real game, the club may be looking at limited options for an upgrade. A glance at MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker reveals Matt Treanor as the lone unsigned, free agent backstop. Barring a more significant trade, the Angels could consider dealing (or scouring the waiver wire) for a more established option as teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies decide which of their veteran catching options will make their opening day rosters.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
The Angels are on the lookout for a backup catcher, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes, confirming an earlier report by Danny Knobler of CBS (on Twitter). Hank Conger is currently slated to back up Chris Iannetta, Gonzalez notes, but Conger has struggled with his throwing this spring. Luke Carlin and John Hester are also technically candidates for the backup job, but both are minor-league veterans with limited big-league experience. The Pirates, Phillies and Rays are also reportedly in the market for catching. Here are more notes from around the AL West.
- The Rangers' Jon Daniels says he doesn't know of Nolan Ryan's plans, but that he "can't eliminate" the possibility that Ryan might leave the organization after its recent front office shakeup clouded his future with the team. Daniels' comments came in an interview with Norm Hitzges on KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket, transcribed by the Dallas Morning News. Daniels says that the Rangers' baseball operations "have a really good thing going," and that he doesn't want Ryan to leave. Speculation about Ryan's role as CEO of the Rangers began when Daniels was promoted to president of baseball operations/GM and Rick George was promoted to president of business operations.
- Scouts have been watching Rangers prospect Mike Olt, who doesn't currently have a position with the Rangers, but that doesn't mean Texas is likely to move him, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan writes. Olt has not hit well this spring, but Sullivan notes that manager Ron Washington has been impressed with Olt's defense in right field. Olt hit .288/.398/.579 for Double-A Frisco in 2012 and had a cameo in the big leagues, but has not yet played at the Triple-A level.
- The Mariners will need to decide what to do with pitcher Jon Garland, who appears to have an out clause in his contract that he can exercise next week, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes. Garland missed much of 2011 and all of 2012 with shoulder trouble.
- Mariners hurler Lucas Luetge is in a different position than he was in 2012 after spending the year in the majors as a Rule 5 draft pick, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. Unlike last year, when Luetge's Rule 5 status meant he had to stay on the Mariners' 25-man roster the entire season, the Mariners have the option of sending Luetge to the minors. Luetge kept his head above water in 2012 despite having never before pitched above Double-A, posting a 3.98 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 5.3 BB/9 in 40.2 big-league innings.
The Rays and Angels have talked about a deal that would send right-handed starter James Shields to Anaheim in exchange for outfielder Peter Bourjos and catcher Hank Conger, and possibly right-hander Ervin Santana, a source tells Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com.
The deal is complex because of the money involved, the source tells Kurkjian, which accounts for Santana's possible inclusion. Santana makes $11.2MM this season with a $13MM club option for 2013. He can become a free agent at season's end with a $1MM buyout.
Shields, 30, could be locked up through 2014 and is considered quite affordable. He's owed $7MM this year with a $9MM club option for 2013 and an $11MM club option for 2014.
Bourjos, Kurkjian reports, would be a likely replacement for B.J. Upton, whom the Rays plan to allow to walk as a free agent this offseason. Conger, meanwhile, was once a pretty well regarded prospect, and the Rays have been rumored to be seeking a catcher.
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, a free agent after this season, discussed his contract earlier today, intimating that he won't take a hometown discount to remain in Texas. It should make for an interesting season for the All-Star. Here are some other links from around the West divisions …
- Giants pitcher Matt Cain's agents, Landon Williams and Rick Landrum, have joined CAA Sports, according to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal, and are continuing extension negotiations on behalf of the right-hander under that company (Twitter links). As with Hamilton, Cain hinted earlier this month that he's not inclined to accept a club-friendly deal.
- With Chris Iannetta on board as the Angels' starting catcher, it looks like Hank Conger will begin the season in the minors so as to avoid riding the bench in the Majors, writes Mark Saxon of ESPNLA.com. Conger could be expendable, Saxon adds, if Iannetta and the Halos exercise their $5MM mutual option for 2013.
- Athletics starter Brandon McCarthy's transition from a disappointing prospect to a post-hype breakout star in 2011 is documented by Eddie Matz of ESPN The Magazine. McCarthy overhauled his pitching approach after studying up on sabermetrics, parlaying his 2011 success (AL-best 2.86 FIP) into a $4.275MM arbitration reward for 2012 and a shot at a possible long-term extension.
The problem with Mike Napoli, as Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com puts it, is that he "is a 'tweener,' too inconsistent strictly as a hitter, not reliable enough as a catcher." The Angels might not want to give such a "tweener" an arbitration raise above the $3.6MM that Napoli earned this season, which is why there have been rumors that Los Angeles will try to move Napoli over the winter.
Given the dearth of power-hitting catchers, many teams would be willing to overlook Napoli's defensive shortcomings for a catcher who has 92 homers in 1778 career plate appearances and a career .839 OPS. As an everyday player, however, Napoli has his limitations, many of which were on display this season. Napoli has received a career-high 484 plate appearances thanks to his taking over the lion's share of time at first base after Kendry Morales was lost for the season in May.
His power notwithstanding, Napoli has an underwhelming .247/.332/.488 slash line entering Friday's action. These numbers are largely due to the fact that the right-handed hitting Napoli struggles against right-handed pitching; he has a .704 OPS vs. righties this year, as opposed to a whopping 1.082 OPS against southpaws. (Napoli's career OPS splits are .798 against righties and .962 versus lefties.) If put back into his comfort zone of facing primarily left-handed pitching, Napoli can be a force. If a team has a left-handed hitting, defensive-minded platoon partner at catcher, Napoli is an ideal complement.
The catching market is always tough to predict in advance, but here are a few potential trade partners for the Halos…
* Florida. The Marlins are known to be looking for catchers, though Napoli may be too expensive for their liking.
* Chicago. As with the Mets, the White Sox will have a youngster (Tyler Flowers) taking over the starting job. This is presuming the Sox won't bring back A.J. Pierzynski, though Chicago could also maybe have a hole at first depending on if Paul Konerko signs elsewhere or retires.
* Texas. Napoli could finally give the Rangers some stability behind the plate, though it's hard to see L.A. making a deal with their division rivals.
* Baltimore. Speaking of Martinez, Napoli could be the Orioles' catcher/first base/DH backup plan should the team's pursuit of Martinez fall short.
If Napoli was dealt, Los Angeles would be left with Jeff Mathis and rookie Hank Conger behind the plate. Conger, LAA's first-round pick in the 2006 draft, has an .825 OPS in 1705 minor league plate appearances and was rated the 84th overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America's preseason rankings. Mathis is entering his second arbitration year after earning $1.3MM in 2010, but has had an overall poor season (as outlined by Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times). The Angels could go into 2011 with a totally overhauled catching corps should they trade Napoli, non-tender Mathis and acquire a new veteran backstop to play alongside Conger.