Houston Astros Rumors

AL Notes: Rangers, Bailey, Carp, Jays, Smoak, Castro

Now that it's clear Nelson Cruz won't be back, it's unclear who the Rangers will use as their designated hitter against lefties, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. The Rangers still had interest in Cruz, Grant writes, noting that, in addition to the qualifying offer, they made at least one offer that exceeded the $8MM Cruz ended up taking from the Orioles. That leaves them with a variety of options to play DH against lefties, but none manager Ron Washington likes very much: Mitch Moreland is a lefty, Michael Choice doesn't have enough experience for Washington's taste, and Washington would prefer to keep the Rangers' spare catcher (Geovany Soto or J.P. Arencibia, depending on who isn't starting) available on the bench.

  • With Cruz off the market, Grant, in a separate article, believes now is the time for the Rangers to extend manager Ron Washington. Grant also opines players tagged with qualifying offers are going to think more seriously about accepting them in light of Cruz's surprisingly small contract. 
  • Yankees manager Joe Girardi thinks new minor-league signee Andrew Bailey can help them in the late innings, but probably not until September, Jack Curry of the YES Network tweets. The former Athletics and Red Sox closer had labrum surgery last July. 
  • The Red Sox will try Mike Carp out at a new position this spring, Alex Speier of WEEI.com tweets. While Spring Training experiments like these aren't uncommon and often have little long-term impact, a bit of added versatility might change Carp's outlook with the Red Sox, particularly if he can play third, where the Red Sox are less settled than they are elsewhere. Carp hit .296/.362/.523 in 243 plate appearances last season, but the Red Sox already have plenty of talent at first base, left field and DH, which has led to speculation that Carp could be a trade candidate.
  • Scott Boras blames the Blue Jays' lack of activity in the free agent market on its ownership, Rogers Communications, reports FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "There is no one who has the asset base of Rogers," said Boras. "They’re a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign . . . a successful and committed ownership that needs to give their baseball people financial flexibility." GM Alex Anthopoulos denied Boras' assertion telling Rosenthal, "Our ownership has been outstanding and given us all the resources we need." The Blue Jays' payroll is expected to exceed $130MM this season.
  • Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters, including Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, Justin Smoak will be the team's first baseman as long he performs. This means McClendon expects new acquistions Logan Morrison and Corey Hart to man the corner outfield spots and DH. 
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow acknowledged internal discussions about a contract extension for catcher Jason Castro have taken place, reports the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich. No offer, however, has been discussed with Castro. 

Edward Creech contributed to this post.

AL West Notes: Angels’ Stadium, Astros, A’s, Mariners

Angels owner Arte Moreno spoke with Tustin, Calif., officials last week about the possibility of building a new stadium, a team spokesman confirmed today (via Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times). The club is attempting to work out a deal for a new Angel Stadium lease with the city of Anaheim, but talks are "at a stalemate," Moreno comments. Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has hesitated to accept a proposed deal in which the Angels would spend $150MM to renovate the ballpark but receive a 66-year, $1-per-year lease to develop a 155-acre space in the parking lot, according to DiGiovanna. Marie Garvey, a consultant employed by the Angels, said the club's "preference is to remain in Orange County.Here's the latest out of the AL West:

  • Nolan Ryan's new position with the Astros could lead the club to switch its Triple-A team, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. While the Round Rock Express is currently a Rangers affiliate, Ryan is a co-owner of the team. The Astros' deal with their current affiliate will expire after the 2014 season.
  • Athletics reliever Ryan Cook is on track to be ready for Opening Day after being shut down for several weeks with shoulder inflammation, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports. Cook appeared in 71 games for the A's in 2013, posting an ERA of 2.54.
  • Fernando Rodney says the Orioles, Mets and Indians all expressed interest before he agreed to terms with the Mariners, according to Jose M. Romero of The Associated Press. The signing reunites Rodney with manager Lloyd McClendon, who served as bullpen coach in Detroit during Rodney's tenure there.

AL West Notes: Iwakuma, Astros, Cruz, Moreland

Mariners righty Hisashi Iwakuma is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand (Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune has the details on the injury).  While the injury doesn't appear to be too serious, one wonders if it could spur the M's to bolster their rotation with a free agent starter, as the club was already rumored to be asking about Ervin Santana earlier this week.

  • The Astros' increase in spending this offseason had nothing to do with a statement from MLBPA head Tony Clark that the team was being monitored for its low payroll, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports.  The additions of Scott Feldman, Dexter Fowler, Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and others will boost Houston's payroll to over $40MM in 2014 (according to Cot's Baseball Contracts), not counting several players making the league minimum.  Owner Jim Crane noted that the Astros were willing to spend even more this winter but did not succeed in signing Masahiro Tanaka or Jose Dariel Abreu.
  • Speaking with reporters (including MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan) today, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said that he has kept in touch with Nelson Cruz's representatives but he doesn't think a reunion will happen.  "We check in periodically, but nothing has changed," Daniels said. "My expectation is he will sign elsewhere."  Cruz has been heavily linked to the Mariners within the last week, and Texas only seems interested in re-signing Cruz if his market completely dries up.
  • The Rangers' arbitration case with Mitch Moreland is a week away and Daniels said the two sides are "so close, I would like to think we would avoid it. But until you have a deal, you have to be prepared for anything."  Moreland asked for a $3.25MM contract for 2014 while the Rangers countered with a $2.025MM offer.
  • While the Rangers have been looking for a right-handed bat, Daniels said "We're not talking to anybody" on the free agent market.  The GM hinted that Texas would turn to internal options like Michael Choice as candidates to provide a right-handed hitting balance to Moreland.
  • Darren Oliver will work with the Rangers as a special assistant and will spend a week with the club during Spring Training, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports.  Oliver retired following his 20th Major League season and is now enjoying his first (mostly) free spring in over two and a half decades.  Oliver also shared a few opinions about what his former team, the Blue Jays, needs to do to improve in 2014.
  • The Angels made a number of low-cost moves this offseason, a tactic MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince believes is a nod towards saving money to lock Mike Trout up to a long-term extension.  Trout's future price tag is the biggest question facing the Angels franchise and "the most captivating contractual conundrum in the game today."  We heard earlier today that Trout and the Angels would discuss a multiyear deal this spring.

Astros Outright Brett Wallace

JANUARY 12: Wallace has cleared waivers and been outrighted, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com, who notes that Wallace will take part in big league camp.

JANUARY 6: The Astros have designated Brett Wallace for assignment to make roster space for newly signed pitcher Jerome Williams, the club announced via press release. Once the game's 27th overall prospect, Wallace never found sustained success in Houston.

Playing the corner infield (mostly first base) over four seasons with the Astros, Wallace never earned more than 379 plate appearances in a season and accumulated a .242/.313/.391 slash (including 29 home runs) in 1,077 plate appearances. Last year, he received 285 plate appearances and put up a .221/.284/.431 line, striking out over 100 times while drawing just 18 walks. (His 36.5% strikeout rate was the worst in the league amongst players with at least 150 plate appearances.)

On the other hand, Wallace is still just 27 years of age and has shown the ability to get on base in the upper minors, where his career Triple-A OBP has approached the .400 mark. And Wallace began to translate his power into production at the MLB level, hitting 22 long balls in his last 539 trips to bat over 2012-13. Wallace is out of options, notes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter), which complicates his situation for clubs that might like to take a chance on his upside.

Nolan Ryan Joins Astros As Executive Advisor

Former Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan will join the Astros in an advisory role, reports Mark Berman of Houston's Fox 26 (Twitter links). Ryan's duties will span both the business and baseball operations side of the organization, says Berman.

The club confirmed the report via press release, indicating that Ryan would serve as the team's "Executive Advisor." Though Ryan represents a high-profile addition to the Houston front office, his role will reportedly be limited and somewhat ad hoc. Ryan does not plan to maintain an office or residence in Houston, tweets Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He will primarily perform "special assignments," according to Wilson. 

Ryan previously spent time with the Astros in the front office (in the mid-2000s) and, of course, as a player (1980-88). His son Reid is the club's president of business operations.

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AL West Notes: A’s, Crisp, Astros, Robertson

The A's hosted their annual FanFest yesterday with a sellout crowd of 20,000. GM Billy Beane addressed the gathering and is pleased with the moves the franchise made this winter. "I think we accomplished a lot of what we set out to in the offseason, and maybe a little more," Beane said (as quoted by MLB.com's Jane Lee). "The division itself is better. Texas is always good, and the Angels improved on an explosive club anyway, so I think they'll be a lot better. Houston's only going to get better. The fact is, I think this division, as much as any in the league, has improved itself, and I'd like to think we've been able to replace some of the guys we lost from a good team and maybe added more in addition." Let's take a look at the other news and notes involving the A's and the AL West:

  • Assistant GM David Forst held court with several bloggers, including Athletics Nation, at the A's FanFest. Forst was asked whether the club has an organizational philosophy on making long-term commitments. "I think we've benefited a lot from the flexibility over the last few years," Forst answered. "We don't necessarily want to recreate the team every year because fans like the players who are here and we like the certainty of guys that we know, but that we've given ourselves the ability to (play it year by year) is a huge factor in our success."
  • One long-term commitment made this week was extending Coco Crisp, but Forst isn't concerned the A's are now bound to the center fielder through his age-37 season. "We think Coco is a little bit unique in his body type. Certainly when you get to that end of the spectrum, the track record isn't good in how guys have performed, particularly where we are now in terms of hopefully being beyond (PED use). But you always are taking a risk — I mean, we dealt with it on Bartolo (Colon), dealing with a guy who performed at 39, and 40, how far is he really going to go? So that's a question we really have to take into account every time."
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow knows his grand plan will be on display during Spring Training as several of the team's top prospects are scheduled to take part in their Major League camp, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "I do think for our fans, especially the ones that are going to come out to Kissimmee and ones that are going to listen on the radio and watch on TV, it's fun for them to be able to see, to get a glimpse," Luhnow said.
  • Left-hander Nate Robertson has spoken with several clubs about an opportunity to win a bullpen spot this spring, tweets FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi. Robertson, who hasn't appeared in the Majors since 2010, spent last season with the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate pitching to a 3.04 ERA, 7.2 K/9, and 4.1 BB/9 in 45 relief outings covering 50 1/3 innings.

Astros To Sign Jerome Williams

WEDNESDAY, 7:12pm: Williams gets a $2.1MM guarantee and can make an additional $1MM in incentives, tweets Cotillo.  The incentives are tied to both games pitched and innings pitched, Drellich reports (Twitter links), so Williams has a chance at extra money whether he's a starter or a reliever.

MONDAY, 2:00pm: Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle tweets that the Astros signed Williams to be a starting pitcher.

1:54pm: Cotillo tweets that Williams will take his physical on Wednesday. He received a one-year, incentive-laden Major League deal, Cotillo adds.

1:40pm: The Astros have agreed to terms with right-hander Jerome Williams, pending a physical, according to MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (on Twitter). Williams is a client of Full Circle Sports Management.

Williams, 32, posted a 4.57 ERA in a career-high 169 1/3 innings for the Angels last season. The ground-ball specialist and veteran swingman made a career-high 25 starts, averaging 5.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 while posting a 47.1 percent ground-ball rate — a slight departure from his career mark of 48.6 percent. The Astros will look to improve Williams' bloated home-run rate and struggles to strand baserunners — two areas in which he's been considerably below the league average since making his return to the Majors with the Angels.

The Angels elected to non-tender the big righty rather than pay his projected arbitration salary of $3.9MM. Williams has five year, 49 days of service time, meaning he does not have any years of arbitraion eligibility left and will therefore be a free agent upon completion of his one-year contract with Houston.

The former supplemental-round pick (No. 39 overall by the Giants in 1999) didn't throw a pitch in the Majors from 2008-10 but resurfaced with the Halos in 2011 and has posted a 4.46 ERA in 351 innings in that time. During his hiatus from the Majors, Williams bounced around the minor leagues and found himself pitching in two different independent leagues before finding his way back to a big league mound.

With the Astros, he could serve as a swingman as he has with the Angels for the past three seasons, or he could compete for a spot in Houston's rotation. The Astros figure to have Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock in the rotation, with Dallas Keuchel, Lucas Harrell, Collin McHugh and Alex White among the names competing for the fifth spot (as examined over at SB Nation's Crawfish Boxes earlier this morning). Williams could open the season in the rotation and be shifted back to the bullpen should one of Houston's top prospects (e.g. Mark Appel or Mike Foltynewicz) force his way onto the big league staff.

Quick Hits: Burres, CBA, Int’l, Rangers, Astros

Southpaw Brian Burres will take the hill this Thursday to audition for interested clubs, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com reported yesterday (via Twitter). The 32-year-old spent parts of six seasons in the bigs, with about half of his appearances coming as a starter, but has not seen MLB action since 2011. After throwing for the Taiwanese Lamigo Monkeys last year, Burres will look to effect a comeback. 

Here are a few business notes from around the game:

  • The MLB and MLBPA are working through the annual review of the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA), tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Among other things, the sides are discussing increasing the penalties provided under the program. As I argued in November, creating a more effective set of incentives requires not an enhancement of the poorly functioning existing penalties, but a whole new approach altogether.
  • Matt Holliday spoke in favor of changes to the qualifying offer system in an appearance today on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link). Though he says that compensation to a player's former club is not problematic, requiring signing teams to give up a pick is "not fair" to players who turned down a QO. Holliday explains that teams are valuing draft picks higher as more and more players reach the bigs quickly, and argues that the system "needs to be amended as soon as possible." 
  • Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca explains the effects of the QO system, arguing that its compensatory purposes have turned into a punishment to free agents. Indeed, upper middle class free agents like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and Nelson Cruz have found a market that consists of an unattractive set of potential buyers: teams that have no interest in them regardless; teams that might otherwise want them but will not give up a pick; teams that only want them at a cheap price, because they do not want to sacrifice a pick; and teams that strongly want them but can wait for prices to drop. 
  • International spending is on the rise despite the new bonus pool system, writes Baseball America's Ben Badler. In 2013, the total outlay jumped to $97MM from $84MM the year prior, though Badler says that levels could remain flat for 2014. 
  • The Rangers will hold a press conference tomorrow morning to announce a new naming rights deal for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the team announced today. Details of the sponsorship agreement are not known, but clearly the park will see some modification to its current name.
  • A federal judge has issued an order placing the parent company of Comcast SportsNet Houston under federal bankruptcy protection, David Barron of the Houston Chronicle reports. The Astros had sought dismissal of the case. With the order, the team's TV network will continue to operate while the business partners seek to agree upon a reorganization plan and deliver the entity out of bankruptcy.

Quick Hits: Burnett, Wieters, Mets, Ryan

Eno Sarris outlined the rigors of the life of a beat writer in an article for The Hardball Times. While the perks of the job — watching games, interacting with players — make it an envious profession at first glance, the endless travel and strict deadlines mean it's not a lifestyle for everyone, Sarris writes. Veteran Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle emphasizes that time away from one's family is one of the most difficult aspects. “There’s a reason few beat writers reach my age. Most decide they need to quit so they can have a more normal family life,” he says. Let's round up the latest from around the majors:

  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examined the risk that 37-year-old A.J. Burnett presents to suitors. Burnett, who reportedly wants to continue pitching, has seen his velocity fall in recent years. However, he's also enjoyed a career rebound with the Pirates, a trend Dan Brooks of Brooks Baseball attributes to increased use of a two-seam fastball.
  • Matt Wieters told reporters at the Orioles' FanFest this weekend that he's not directly involved in ongoing discussions regarding his 2014 contract, Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com reported. "That's what I have agents for," Wieters commented. The 27-year-old is represented by Scott Boras and is pegged to earn $7.9MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility by MLBTR's Matt Swartz.
  • CBS Sports' Dayn Perry highlighted recent comments from Dodgers Vice President of Ticket Sales David Siegel, who says the team's recent hike in ticket prices is merely a response to increased demand. Fans often incorrectly assume that higher ticket prices are directly connected with rising payrolls, Perry notes.
  • The Mets' newfound financial health, exemplified by a recent report that the club is close to refinancing a loan with a lower interest rate, should provide the team with more flexibility going forward, writes Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Davidoff says the Mets must now avoid signings like the megadeals for Jason Bay and Johan Santana, which hamstrug them in free agency for several seasons.
  • Astros owner Jim Crane is hopeful that Nolan Ryan will join the organization, but says the decision now rests with the Hall of Famer, according to Richard Dean of MLB.com. Envisioning what role he might play, Crane suggested Ryan would likely "advise in all aspects of the business" and confirm some of the decisions of GM Jeff Luhnow.

Quick Hits: Red Sox, Indians, Crain, Mets, Dodgers

Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales are all still free agents, and draft-pick forfeiture is a key reason why, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman writes. Some agents are upset at the way draft picks have affected the market, Heyman reports, but the number of players affected is relatively small, which may prevent the players' union from trying to do much about it before the next CBA expires in 2016. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Red Sox (who have six legitimate big-league starters, plus a strong Triple-A rotation) and Cardinals (who keep adding young talent to complement Adam Wainwright) are smart to treasure their starting pitching depth, writes CBS Sports' Dayn Perry. Of last year's playoff teams, only the Tigers avoided giving at least than 15 starts to pitchers who weren't rotation regulars. Four teams — the Pirates, Dodgers, Rays and Cardinals — gave at least 30 starts to pitchers who weren't in their usual top five.
  • The Indians feel their biggest loss among their relief pitchers this offseason was not former closer Chris Perez, but setup man Joe Smith, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Smith signed as a free agent with the Angels. The Indians' revamped bullpen will now feature John Axford in the closer's role, with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen also pitching in the late innings.
  • David Ortiz of the Red Sox deserves a contract extension through 2015, and he deserves a raise to $20MM for the coming season, writes Heyman. Ortiz is set to make $15MM in the final year of a two-year deal in 2014. The Red Sox ought to pay him more than the market for him would dictate, Heyman argues, based on what he means to the Red Sox and to Boston.
  • Jesse Crain of the Astros doubts he'll be ready for the start of the 2014 season, Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes. "I’m not planning on that. I would be surprised if I was ready by then," says Crain, who had biceps surgery in October. Crain hopes to only miss a couple weeks of play. The Astros signed Crain to a one-year, $3.25MM deal in December.
  • Emilio Bonifacio could make sense for the Mets if they do not add another shortstop, Michael Baron of MetsBlog writes. The Mets currently plan on going with Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada in their middle infield, and if they don't sign Stephen Drew or add a starting shortstop through some other means, they could use depth behind Tejada.
  • In the next five days, the Dodgers will likely sign a utility infielder to a minor-league deal, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tweets.