- The Twins got a first-hand look at Luke Gregerson as he closed out an Astros win over them last night, but Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Minnesota wasn’t far off from seeing quite a bit more of Gregerson. The right-hander tells Berardino that the Twins pursued him heavily as a free agent in the 2014-15 offseason prior to his signing with Houston. Gregerson, of course, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Minnesota’s offer, but he did tell Berardino that the Twins came “pretty close” to Houston’s offer of $18.5MM over a three-year term. The tipping point for Gregerson, it would seem, may have been Houston’s willingness to let him serve as the team’s closer, which he said made their offer “hard to pass up.” Said Gregerson: “I think if the situation was a little different, I think it would have definitely been able to work out. I’m happy where I ended up.”
We learned recently that free agent righty Tim Lincecum is preparing for a long-awaited showcase on Friday. Once one of the best pitchers in the game, Lincecum has been slowed by a variety of injury and performance issues more recently — including, particularly, hip surgery this past September — and is looking to show that he’s back to full health before signing.
Here’s the latest, with links to the Twitter account of MLB Network’s Jon Heyman unless otherwise noted:
- The showcase will be held at Scottsdale Stadium, the Giants’ spring home, per Heyman. While Lincecum has availed himself of his long-time team’s facilities during his ramp-up, it shouldn’t be supposed that a return to San Francisco is particularly likely. As we’ve covered before, the Giants are said to be interested in Lincecum as a bullpen option, while he’s hoping to find a shot as a starter.
- This particular event was always going to draw more fanfare than a typical bullpen session for a free agent who hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2011, but it appears that it could be made into a bigger spectacle than anyone would have foreseen. ESPN may be on hand to broadcast the outing, Heyman tweets, which would certainly lend an interesting combine-esque quality to the proceedings.
- Beyond the Giants, we heard previously that the Orioles, Padres, and Athletics plan to have a scouting presence on hand. The White Sox, too, will be there, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link), as will the Angels, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter). And the Blue Jays will also take a look, John Lott tweets.
- Heyman also adds several more clubs that plant to send eyes (links: 1; 2; 3; 4). The Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, and Marlins will be there from the National League side of things. And American League teams with at least one scout in the stands will include the Rangers and Astros.
- The Astros turned down a trade offer from the Orioles in 2013 that would’ve brought Jake Arrieta to Houston, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com reports. It’s unknown what the O’s wanted back in the deal, though given how Arrieta has emerged as arguably the game’s best pitcher, the Astros may well be kicking themselves over not accepting the deal. The Padres, Twins and Nationals were among the other teams also known to have been interested back when Baltimore was shopping the talented but erratic young righty, and the list is probably a lot longer given how Arrieta was widely known to have excellent stuff. The O’s ended up swapping Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Cubs in July 2013 for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
- Hard-throwing reliever Ken Giles hasn’t come as advertised this year after the Astros gave up a Vincent Velasquez-headlined haul for the ex-Phillie during the offseason, and he told Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle that his issues are related to mechanics. “I’m not the guy I was the past two seasons. I’m somebody completely different on the mound, and I don’t feel comfortable up there. It’s just mechanical work,” he said. Giles was an elite reliever for the Phillies from 2014-15, combining for a 1.56 ERA with an 11.75 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 115 2/3 innings, but this season has been a nightmare for the 25-year-old. Though Giles’ strikeout and walk rates look fine (12.6 and 3.6, respectively), as does his velocity, he has already surrendered four home runs and 10 earned runs in 10 innings. Giles yielded a combined three homers and 20 earned runs during the previous two seasons. Thanks to his struggles, the Astros will “ease the burden of the eighth inning off of him a little bit,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
After giving Sean Manaea his first start tonight, the Athletics will recall right-hander Jesse Hahn from Triple-A Nashville to start tomorrow’s game against the Astros, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The 26-year-old spent much of the 2015 season in Oakland’s rotation after coming over from the Padres in the Derek Norris trade, but his season was cut short by an injured right flexor tendon and a woeful Spring Training landed him in Triple-A. Hahn has recorded a 2.04 ERA in four starts with Nashville this season, though he hasn’t been as dominant as that mark might initially suggest. Hahn has lasted a total of 17 2/3 innings in those four outings with a 13-to-9 K/BB ratio.
- The Astros and Dodgers had the most notable scouting entourages on hand to watch Cuban righty Vladimir Gutierrez in what will likely be his final showcase, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports. There were plenty of other organizations with eyes on Gutierrez, of course, so one shouldn’t read too much into that. Generally, says Badler, the interesting youngster showed a mid-90s fastball and impressive breaking ball, though his fastball command and other offerings still need work.
- Astros righty Lance McCullers Jr. is ready for a sixty to seventy-five pitch outing in his next extended spring work, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports on Twitter. That certainly seems to indicate that he could be nearing a rehab stint, which would be good news for a Houston club that badly misses his high-octane arm in the rotation.
Fantex, Inc. announced today that it has entered into brand contracts with five Major Leaguers: Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, Astros right-hander Collin McHugh, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, Twins right-hander Tyler Duffey and Padres third baseman Yangervis Solarte (as noted on BusinessWire.com).
Fantex offers professional athletes an up-front, one-time payment in exchange for a portion of that player’s future earnings both on and off the field. Fantex then sells “shares” of that player to public investors for a set price (thus covering the up-front payment to the player), allowing those investors to turn a profit if said player crosses a certain threshold in his career earnings. Obviously, that creates risk for the investors, who stand to take a financial loss if the player fails to earn enough money in his career to justify the shareholders’ investment. Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney became the first player to enter into an agreement with Fantex last September, taking a $3.34MM up-front payment in exchange for 10 percent of his future earnings. (Notably, the league and the MLBPA each approved that agreement, and Fantex’s announcement seemingly suggests that the same is true of these five agreements.)
As for the new wave of Fantex additions, Schoop secured the largest sum, agreeing to an up-front payment of $4.91MM. Franco, meanwhile, will earn $4.35MM, while McHugh will take home $3.96MM, Solarte will take home $3.15MM and Duffey will earn $2.23MM. Notably, Solarte’s agreement is for 11 percent of his “brand,” while the other four (and Heaney) signed away 10 percent.
With six big leaguers now on board in addition to 14 athletes from other sports, it stands to reason that the number of professional baseball players willing to enter into such agreements will increase. It’s an interesting proposition for Major Leaguers — not entirely dissimilar from agreeing to an early contract extension; in essence, the players in question are taking a life-changing sum of money early in their career in exchange for limiting their earning capacity once they’ve navigated through their arbitration years and entered their free-agent seasons. Those same principles are all true of players that sign contract extensions, though the extent of the up-front sum and the long-term risk obviously vary.
Beyond the long-term impact on a player’s earnings, it also seems plausible that players who enter into agreements with Fantex could be less likely to sign long-term extensions with their current club. Extensions, after all, are most often signed to provide a player with his first fortune in exchange for giving the club a discount rate on would-be free-agent or arbitration seasons. Heaney, Franco, McHugh, Schoop, Duffey and Solarte, though, have each secured a sizable sum without altering their free agency timelines, thereby creating less urgency to sign an extension. (It should be noted, too, that players like Duffey and Solarte aren’t necessarily obvious extension candidates in the first place.) It seems reasonable to expect that some players and agents will view Fantex as a means of locking in that first payday while preserving the right to get to free agency at a younger age. In a market that places a premium on youth — as evidenced by contracts signed by Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Mike Leake and others — that comes with significant benefit.
The payments from Fantex, of course, are smaller than the sums that we’ve seen players haul in via contract extensions, but the trade-off that Fantex players face early in free agency figures to be more minimal than the trade-off of their peers that sign extensions. For instance, Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner will reach six years of Major League service time this season, but he remains under control for three more seasons; he’s guaranteed $11.5MM in 2017 and has a pair of $12MM club options on each of the two subsequent seasons. Bumgarner’s contract guaranteed him $35MM ($57.5MM if each of those options is exercised), but he’ll earn a maximum of $35.5MM over what would have been his first three free-agent seasons — a fraction of what he could earn were all 30 teams allowed to bid on him. Bumgarner’s open-market annual value could be $25MM or more over the life of a six- or seven-year term. Ten percent of a theoretical $150-175MM contract is a smaller loss for the player than the difference between the free-agent seasons on an extension and the aforementioned market value.
I should note that this isn’t a knock on Bumgarner’s contract by any means — it was a record-setting deal for a pitcher in his service class and comes with the same potential risk/reward that many early extensions carry. Conversely, Jon Singleton locked in $10MM and has yet to see his big league career get off the ground. If Singleton never develops into an MLB-caliber hitter, he’ll receive significantly more than he would have by entering into a Fantex deal. Balancing that risk and reward is likely something with which players and their agents will wrestle if Fantex agreements continue to increase in popularity.
From a more general standpoint, there’s quite a bit we don’t know about the finer details of Fantex. The method by which each player’s up-front valuation is determined, for instance, isn’t known. Accurate reporting of off-field income (e.g. endorsements) would be paramount (and is presumably mandated within the contract agreements), and the unproven model in question seemingly only works if Fantex is able to raise enough investor funding to finance the initial payment to the player. This is all relatively new territory, though, and additional information pertaining to the new opportunity for pro athletes should become increasingly available in the months to come.
- An AL scout tells John Perrotto of TodaysKnuckleball.com that Carlos Gomez’s slow start (and overall lackluster stint with the Astros) could indicate a decline rather than just a slump. “He’s had a lot of leg injuries and I think it’s started to catch up with him,” the scout said. “He doesn’t steal many bases anymore and he doesn’t move as well as he used to in the outfield. I’m not ready to totally write him off but he definitely slipped last year and he’s been worse this year.” Gomez entered today’s play with only a .197/.222/.262 slash line through his first 63 plate appearances, and he’s still looking for his first homer of the season. A down year could cost Gomez a fortune — MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes’ initial 2017 free agent power rankings tabbed Gomez as having the most earning potential of any position player hitting the open market.
- Albert Abreu would be a much-hyped prospect in most farm systems, but he’s something of a hidden gem within the Astros’ deep minor league organization. Baseball America’s Ben Badler profiles Abreu, a 20-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic who signed a $185K international deal in 2013. Abreu has a 5.11 ERA over 12 1/3 innings at high-A ball this season, though with very impressive peripherals (13.9 K/9, 4.75 K/BB rate, no homers allowed).
- In another video from Rosenthal, he notes that the Astros might eventually need to make a trade to add some velocity to their rotation. Houston’s starters entered today with the lowest average velocity (87.8 mph) of any club in baseball, with the Orioles next to last at 90.1 mph. The rotation woes are just one of many problems plaguing the Astros right now as the team is off to a rough 5-12 start.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said Friday that Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo and Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez (then the Rays’ bench coach) were the main runners-up to A.J. Hinch in Houston’s 2014 managerial search, Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald writes. “I think he’s going to be a major league manager in the future, and a good one,” Luhnow said of Lovullo. “He has a great balance of instincts and wisdom from all of his coaching experience, and understanding and appreciation for all of the other elements that are involved.” Lovullo garnered some major league managerial experience last season when he filled in for John Farrell, who was undergoing treatment for lymphoma, and led the Red Sox to a 28-21 record. Hinch, meanwhile, helped the Astros to a playoff berth and finished second in the AL manager of the year voting. This year isn’t going nearly as well so far, however, as the Astros have gone a surprisingly poor 5-12.