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Veteran free agents Matt Albers and Barry Zito held separate pitching sessions in Houston on Tuesday, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The Astros were in attendance for Zito’s workout but did not watch Albers throw, he adds.
It’s unclear how many clubs were in attendance for Zito’s Tuesday showing, but Drellich notes that four to five teams have seen him. Previous reports have indicated that the A’s won’t be watching Zito throw, and based on Drellich’s report, Houston won’t be adding the former AL Cy Young Award winner, either. While Houston is interested in adding some veteran rotation depth, Drellich tweets that Zito “has interest elsewhere” and notes within his story that Houston’s a long shot to sign the lefty. The Giants did not watch him throw last week, GM Brian Sabean told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle last week (Twitter link).
Zito sat out the 2014 season after struggling to a 5.74 ERA in his final season with the Giants. Zito’s seven-year, $126MM contract with the Giants was an infamous disappointment, but the durable soft-tosser did soak up 180 or more innings in five of his seven years with San Francisco, and he cleared 190 innings in four of those seasons.
As for Albers, 12 teams were in attendance for his workout, during which he hit 91 mph on the radar gun. A recent MRI showed that the shoulder problems that sidelined Albers for nearly all of the 2014 season have cleared up, and he’s looking to sign with a team before Spring Training begins. Presumably, given the fact that Albers threw just 10 innings last year due to the injury, he’ll land somewhere on a minor league deal.
Such a deal could prove to be a bargain for a signing club, as the 32-year-old Albers has been excellent when healthy over the past three seasons. In that time, he owns a 2.63 ERA with 5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 59.4 percent ground-ball rate. The Twins were made aware of Albers’ showcase last week and are open to adding a bullpen arm, according to a previous reports. Other clubs looking to add to the bullpen are the Blue Jays, Brewers and Marlins. One would think that the Tigers could use additional bullpen depth after their relief corps struggled so greatly in 2014, and the Pirates, with their affinity for ground-ball pitchers, strike me as a possible match as well.
Baseball Prospectus has released its top-100 (+1) prospects list, and it has some fairly significant differences of opinion at the top from other compilations. Most notably, BP lists Cubs standout Kris Bryant fifth overall, preferring the more well-rounded skillsets of the Twins‘ Byron Buxton (No. 1) and three shortstop prospects to Bryant’s immense power potential. Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis list their favorite sleeper prospects, with Mayo choosing Mets farmhand Gabriel Ynoa at the top of his board and Callis giving the nod to Astros outfielder Brett Phillips.
- With much of the winter’s business conducted, it is time for observers to pronounce winners and losers. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs rightly points out, in assessing a club’s hot stove season, some tend only to focus on clubs that have done the most trading of future assets for present expected production.
- While this year’s free agent crop had plenty of question marks, that may have driven a memorable offseason of swaps, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca writes. Ben notes that some deals seemingly came about in part due to weakness in areas of the free agent market, to say nothing of the fact that clubs were obviously interested in buying up shorter-term commitments by dealing for pending free agents (twenty of whom changed hands).
- The anecdotal evidence of bias against foreign players in Japan’s NPB remains largely unclear after applying available statistical methods, Eno Sarris writes in a piece for FOX Sports. While there is “some evidence of systematic differences,” differences in approach and styles of play could be the root cause, rather than some systemic disfavoring of non-native players.
The latest reports on the James Shields front from Thursday had the Padres as the likely favorites to sign the right-hander, with the Cubs and Blue Jays on the periphery of the talks. Shields is reportedly expected to come to a decision by the time this weekend comes to a close, so resolution to his lengthy free agency saga could be nigh. Here’s the latest on the former Royals righty…
- Whether or not the Padres are the favorites to sign Shields, they have not spoken with his camp in over 24 hours, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Agreement does not appear imminent, per the report, though San Diego has discussed numbers with Shields.
- Cubs manager Joe Maddon tells MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) that club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke with him about the prospect of signing the righty. Those comments certainly confirm prior reports that the team has had some internal consideration of the possibility, though of course it remains unclear exactly what level of interest Chicago has (and at what price it might bite).
- Astros owner Jim Crane told Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle that he doesn’t envision his team signing Shields. Some have speculated that Houston could be a sleeper for Shields, with the fruits of their rebuilding efforts on the brink of Major League contribution. However, Crane cited the lack of TV revenue from 2014 and Shields’ age as factors. “With the (local) TV money not coming in last year, that really hurt. That was over $50 million that we did not receive,” said Crane, who also added that he’s not sure the team is quite ready to begin making four-year investments. He did note that the Astros would have to consider the move “if we got a good deal.”
- There’s a growing sense among those involved in Shields talks that he will end up with the Padres, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com.
- The Padres are believed to have a max payroll of about $105MM in 2015, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (Twitter link). As such, Lin feels that an addition of Shields is very possible for the Friars. San Diego currently projects to have a payroll around $84MM, thanks to the $18MM of Matt Kemp‘s 2015 salary that will be picked up by the Dodgers.
News broke earlier today that Victor Martinez will undergo knee surgery on Tuesday, and until the veteran slugger’s procedure is complete, the Tigers have no choice but to play the waiting game. “I don’t know what I need to fill [on the roster],” GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jason Beck). “We’re going to have to wait to do all of that until Tuesday.” If the best-case scenario of a four-to-six week absence is met, Detroit can rely on short-term fill-ins to take Martinez’s place. Mlive.com’s James Schmehl lists several internal options within the organization, and he also opines that free agents Dayan Viciedo and Chris Colabello could also fit as temporary replacements or bench depth.
Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…
- Wade Miley‘s three-year extension with the Red Sox has some positive luxury tax implications for the team, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. By locking Miley up now, he’ll likely cost Boston less against the tax than he would’ve had he gone year-to-year in arbitration. These savings could help the Sox get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold next winter or in 2017.
- In an interview on the MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show (hat tip to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger), Torii Hunter said he wasn’t yet sure if 2015 will be his last season. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m just taking it one year at a time,” Hunter said. The 18-year veteran reportedly turned down some two-year offers before signing a one-year deal with the Twins in December.
- Mariners president Kevin Mather and GM Jack Zduriencik both attended a private workout for Cuban players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, though Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times “wouldn’t overthink” why the two front office figures were present. As Divish notes, Mather and Zduriencik were already in the Dominican Republic for organizational meetings, so while it’s usually rare to see upper management at workouts, it makes sense that the two would check in on the workout during their visit.
- The Blue Jays‘ focus on developing young starting pitching is the backbone of Alex Anthopoulos’ plan to make the club into a consistent contender, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi writes. The Jays have built a very solid offensive core, but if the young arms fail to deliver, the team’s plans over the next few seasons become very uncertain.
- Astros owner Jim Crane likes his team’s offseason moves and tells MLB.com’s Richard Dean that GM Jeff Luhnow has more possible acquisitions in the works. “Jeff’s still working on a few — we’re looking for a couple more players [to see] if we can make a couple more key additions,” Crane said. “But we like the moves we’ve made, and I think the team’s going to be very exciting this year — a lot more competitive.”
Right-hander Jose Veras has made his desire to return to the Astros a known fact this offseason, and the former Houston closer tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that the ‘Stros are indeed one of four clubs to whom he is currently speaking.
Veras excelled as Houston’s closer in 2013, pitching to a 2.93 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 43 first-half innings before being traded to the Tigers that July. Veras pitched reasonably well down the stretch but, to the surprise of some, had his option bought out by the Tigers and again tested the open market.
Last winter, on the heels of his strong 2013, Veras signed a one-year, $4MM contract with the Cubs. However, he struggled tremendously in Chicago, allowing 12 runs in 13 1/3 innings before being released and latching back on with the Astros, where he again pitched quite well. All told, he has a 2.97 ERA with an 81-to-30 K/BB ratio between his two seasons with Houston.
Veras tells Drellich that he made a “mistake” by leaving Houston in the first place, considering how much he enjoyed his time there, and he’s willing to return in any role: “I’m available to do anything. Be it closer, throw the eighth, throw the seventh. I just want to be on the team (where) I feel like a family, like I feel here. That all these guys respect me, I respect them, I love them, even though we don’t win 100 games like we maybe want to do.”
In our 15th episode, Jeff runs down a slower news week in baseball before welcoming Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle on to talk Astros (0:51). Jeff then takes a look back at his prior research on options (see: overall trends; primary option types) as a gateway to sizing up the coming extension season (21:22).
The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.
In an interview with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link), Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said his club had looked at signing Kevin Correia and Kyle Kendrick. Houston’s interest in Correia was reported earlier this week, while Kendrick has been linked to the ‘Stros as another potential fit to fill out the back of their rotation. Luhnow also stated that the Astros had been looking at other similar starters with Major League experience. Here’s some more from both the AL and NL West divisions…
- The Athletics have checked in on free agent outfielder Nolan Reimold, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko tweets. The Indians and Orioles are also known to be interested in Reimold, and Dan Duquette said earlier today that the O’s have extended an offer for Reimold to return to Baltimore.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was non-committal about the idea of his team pursuing any of the top arms available in next year’s free agent market, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez writes. Payroll space could be an issue given how (according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts) the Halos have over $128MM committed to only seven players for the 2016 season.
- With Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson both set for free agency after 2016, Gonzalez wonders if the Angels could sign a major starter and then use Weaver or Wilson as trade bait, similar to how the Nationals signed Max Scherzer and now have the depth to explore trading Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister. There were rumors earlier this winter that the Angels were already shopping Wilson, though Dipoto issued a denial.
- Sergio Santos will earn $1MM if he makes the Dodgers‘ Major League roster, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports (via Twitter), plus another $3.05MM is available in incentives. Santos signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers last month.
- The Dodgers are committed to rebuilding their minor league system and thus are wary about exceeding their international bonus pool to sign Yoan Moncada, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick writes. While L.A. is very interested in Moncada, any team that wants to sign the Cuban phenom would have to greatly exceed their bonus pool to do so, and thus be limited to international signings of $300K or less for the next two international signing periods, or until July 2017. Of course, several teams have employed the strategy of exceeding the pool limit to load up on premium international talent during one signing period — the Red Sox, Angels, Rays, Yankees and Diamondbacks already face that $300K limit during the 2015-17 international signing market.
- The Diamondbacks hired former slugger Joe Carter as a special assistant to GM Dave Stewart, the team announced. Carter and Stewart were teammates in Toronto in 1993-94, both playing major roles in the Blue Jays’ 1993 World Series title.
The Astros are among the clubs “looking at” righty Kevin Correia, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). Houston is still looking to add depth to the back of its rotation after missing on Ryan Vogelsong, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported yesterday.
Correia’s most recent work does not inspire much confidence. But he does have a track record of logging innings, a fairly clean medical sheet, and the ability to generate groundballs at a league-average or better clip.
The 34-year-old pitched to a 5.44 ERA over 154 frames last year with the Twins and Dodgers. He has put up triple-digit innings tallies annually since 2007, and registered an average of 178 with a 4.19 ERA over 2012-13.
For the Astros, the Evan Gattis deal took away one possible starting piece in Mike Foltynewicz, as did last year’s Jarred Cosart swap. Even with Dan Straily now in the mix, uncertainty over Brad Peacock‘s timetable certainly seems to leave room for another arm.
Of course, there are several other clubs that are in a similar position. While Correia is hardly the most exciting option available, his market is yet another reminder that plausible big league starting pitchers are rather a rare commodity.
News out of the AL and NL West..
- The Astros have had an eventful offseason, but it sounds like most of the heavy lifting has been done already, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. “I don’t know if we’re going to sign anybody on a major league deal, but there’s possibilities we’d bring another pitcher on the NRI (non-roster invitee) basis,” General Manager Jeff Luhnow said.
- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki isn’t stressing out about the constant trade talk surrounding him, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes. “In this game you never get relaxed,” Tulowitzki said. “Anything can happen. I’ve heard a few people say, ‘As soon as I thought that I was going to stay somewhere, that’s when I got traded.’ So I won’t go there. Whatever they do, they do. Whatever happens, happens.” At this stage of the offseason, it seems unlikely that the shortstop will be moved, but he says that he’s prepared for any possibility. Tulowitzki is currently rehabbing a surgically repaired left hip labrum.
- The Padres pulled the trigger on the Matt Kemp blockbuster thanks in large part to Logan White and his knowledge of the player, as Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego writes. “He had some good insight into Matt Kemp — the person, the makeup,” Padres VP of scouting operations Don Welke said of White. “One of the things he does that fits in with what A.J. [Preller] and I do is getting to know the person, background and family — going into all that. He’s very good at that.” White, whose current priorities include filling out his pro scouting staff, likely will have a significant role in the Padres’ international efforts going forward.
“Just because we didn’t win doesn’t mean it didn’t work out,” insisted Bautista. “It helped build a core for our team. And the last two years we’ve added to that core. I think the players really appreciate the commitment that [General Manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] has made to building our team.”
Here’s more from today’s column..
- One prominent baseball official feels that free agent pitcher James Shields has not been marketed properly by his camp. Few doubt Shields’ talent, but some have the notion that he isn’t a strong postseason pitcher. Meanwhile, a few executives suspect that the Blue Jays could become interested in his services if the club can convince Rogers Communications to shell out the money. At present, however, Toronto only has the budget to allow for a bullpen upgrade or two.
- Over the weekend, David Price reiterated that he would “absolutely” consider a long-term deal with the Tigers. Entering his walk year, Price doesn’t want to eliminate a big-market team from contending for his services, Cafardo writes. Still, it’s believed he’ll hit free agency and go elsewhere.
- With the Astros losing out on Ryan Vogelsong, they might turn their sights to comparable free agents such as Chris Young, Kevin Correia, and Kyle Kendrick.
- Recently, Cafardo asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter if he’d be interested in being a GM, which was a tough question for him to answer given that Dan Duquette is still with the O’s. Still, Showalter is already involved in personnel decisions and if Duquette leaves, Cafardo writes that he’d be at the helm along with talent evaluator Brady Anderson and a new GM. Recently it was reported that the O’s have a list of candidates for the job if it opens up and that includes names like Ned Colletti, Kevin Malone, Omar Minaya, and Kevin Towers.