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Houston Astros Rumors
Looking to get some more insight into the trade that sent Brandon Moss from Oakland to Cleveland, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer spoke with Athletics assistant GM David Forst and manager Bob Melvin about the swap (Oakland received second base prospect Joe Wendle in exchange). Though Wendle has never ranked as a Top 100 prospect according to outlets such as Baseball America, ESPN, etc., Forst said that the A’s don’t concern themselves with prospect rankings. Rather, the A’s have been enamored with Wendle for more than a year and tried to trade for him in the past. “He is a high-contact hitter. He plays good defense. He has an outstanding makeup. We like him,” Forst explained. Melvin explained that the A’s very much like Moss, but were hoping to get a bit younger. Candidly, the Forst told Pluto that the A’s feel Ike Davis can replace Moss’ bat at a cheaper price.
A bit more from Pluto’s interview and the rest of the AL West…
- Forst told Pluto that the Athletics never discussed Josh Donaldson with the Indians. Oakland targeted a few select teams, and the Blue Jays were at the top of their list of potential trade candidates, he added. Meanwhile, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star chimed in on that same trade (via Twitter), noting that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said that his initial hope was to acquire Donaldson and move Brett Lawrie to second base, but it eventually became clear that Lawrie had to be included in the return to obtain Donaldson.
- The Rangers offered Joba Chamberlain more than the $1MM base salary he received on his new deal with the Tigers, but Chamberlain elected to return to Detroit, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Earlier this morning, GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters that Chamberlain had received more lucrative offers elsewhere but “really wanted” to be a Tiger again.
- Also from Heyman (on Twitter), infielder Elliot Johnson will receive a $900K base salary if he makes the Rangers‘ big league roster. Johnson signed a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite yesterday, the team announced.
- Drew Butera‘s Major League experience and the fact that he’s out of options make him the favorite to win the Angels‘ backup catcher job, writes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. However, Fletcher does quote manager Mike Scioscia, who says he’s also been impressed by candidates Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy. “All of these guys have shown on the defensive side they are ready for the challenge,” said Scioscia.
- Astros catcher Jason Castro recently spoke to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle about the feeling of seeing his name floated in trade rumors for much of the offseason. “I think if you focus too much on it, you kind of drive yourself crazy,” said Castro, who called trade rumors “part of the offseason.” The White Sox and Rangers were among the teams with interest in Castro, per Drellich. Castro’s spot with the Astros became secure again once the team dealt Carlos Corporan to the Rangers. Castro and Hank Conger will see the bulk of the time behind the plate for Houston.
Mat Latos‘ fascinating interview with FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal offers an unusually honest look at transactions, and team machinations in general, from the perspective of a player. Latos says he received assurances from the Padres that they wouldn’t trade him, and then they traded him eight days later and didn’t tell him. “I woke up, had like 50 text messages,” Latos says. “I called my agent. He said, ‘(GM) Josh Byrnes couldn’t get ahold of you.’ I had zero missed calls from him. I had to call him. Maybe he had the wrong number.” He speaks of “great times” in the Reds organization and says he’s satisfied to be with the Marlins, but questions the Reds for pushing him too aggressively as he returned from injury last year, and expresses lingering bitterness at going through the arbitration process with Miami. “You see it as a business,” he says. “You kind of see how much of a pawn you really are.” Here are more notes on pitchers.
- Cuban pitchers Vladimir Gutierrez and Yadier Alvares won’t be able to sign until July 2, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Any international free agent born later than September 1, 1995 must register with Major League Baseball to be able to sign, and Gutierrez and Alvares aren’t registered. (The rule is designed to help MLB keep track of young international free agents and prevent identity fraud, although Badler notes that the rule is tough on Cuban players, who can’t register while they’re in Cuba. The rule does not apply to Yoan Moncada, who was born in May 1995.) The two pitchers must register by May 15 to sign beginning in July. Gutierrez won Serie Nacional’s 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award, and Alvares is an interesting young pitcher who can throw 97 MPH.
- Veteran reliever Chad Qualls is happy about the talent the Astros have added this winter, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com writes. “They’re going to contribute a lot to the back end of the bullpen,” says Qualls, referring to Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. “The trades and the signings we made are spot on for our offense,” he adds. Qualls’ perspective on the Astros is different than most, since he spent the first four seasons of his career with the team. In two of those (2004 and 2005), they were an NL powerhouse, advancing to the World Series in ’05. Since then, Qualls has moved around the country, playing for the Diamondbacks, Rays, Padres, Phillies, Yankees, Pirates and Marlins while the Astros eventually became the worst team in the Majors. Now he’s back with them as they’re beginning to show signs of reemerging.
Recently-retired veteran Kevin Youkilis will be joining the Cubs as a special assistant, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. The connection will be obvious for many: Youkilis rose to prominence and made most of his impact on the field playing for former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Here’s more from the central divisions:
- Pirates starter Francisco Liriano held talks with the Red Sox, Twins, Astros, and Royals before re-signing with Pittsburgh, the lefty told Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 The Fan (Twitter links). Kansas City went as high as $36MM over three years, said Liriano, who ultimately took home $39MM from the Pirates. Interestingly, Liriano noted that he felt the qualifying offer did not significantly hinder his market.
- If Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher prove their health this spring, outfielder David Murphy (or another roster candidate) will likely need to be dealt before breaking camp, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It may be hard to find a taker without eating a good bit of Murphy’s $6MM salary, should that come to pass. For now, this remains an interesting story to watch over the coming months.
- While the Tigers do have some worrying signs in their large contracts and low-rated farm, they are not yet facing the kind of difficulties that the Phillies have found, Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. If nothing else, Detroit still looks to be legitimately competitive at present, and has time to prepare for a soft landing when its window does finally begin closing.
Entering 2015, the Royals possess baseball’s best defense, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. With stalwarts like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar, the club can count on preventing dozens of runs next season. On the bench lurks speedy defensive whiz Jarrod Dyson to help track down fly balls. Rounding out Castrovince’s top five defenses are the Orioles, Reds, Yankees, and Cardinals.
- Baseball is fighting for relevance, writes Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic. While football can claim a larger fandom than baseball, it’s not the job of Commissioner Rob Manfred to reverse that trend. Instead, the league needs to improve its relevance with youth. A lot of attention has fixated on minor tweaks to the game like a faster pace of play. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall has some more novel ideas for improving the fan experience. He suggests letting the home team take batting practice second to improve player-fan interactions. He also proposes using pre-game fielding practice as a stage for displays of athleticism.
- The Red Sox have a revamped lineup, new rotation, deeper bullpen, and a $200MM payroll, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. The rotation is viewed as a weakness because nobody stands out as a potential ace. However, manager John Farrell believes the current unit will be sufficient. The lineup should provide plenty of fire power and the defense can also help to bail out the rotation. If the rotation is revealed to be a weakness, the club has plenty of prospects to acquire reinforcements.
- The Astros are looking to win in the present season for the first time in the Jeff Luhnow era, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The club is setting a target for a .500 finish, which does appear to be a viable goal. With several 2014 breakouts and more impactful prospects on the way, Houston appears to be turning the corner on their rebuild. Luhnow points to building chemistry as one important piece of the puzzle. Several roster decisions will be made this spring, most notably in the outfield where Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley will be fighting for jobs.
Happy birthday to A’s right-hander Tyler Clippard, who turns 30 years old today. The newly-acquired bullpen arm received a pretty nice gift earlier this week when he and the Athletics avoided going an arbitration hearing by agreeing to an $8.3MM contract for 2015. Here’s some more from around the AL West…
- The Angels are “not aggressive” in their pursuit of any available Cuban players in the Dominican Republic, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets, though the club has had scouts watching. The Halos have already made one major international acquisition this offseason, signing Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin to an $8MM bonus. Baldoquin’s deal already put the Angels over their signing pool threshold for this international signing period, though I’d argue that since the team is already being penalized for that overage (limited to only $300K signings for each of the next two int’l signing periods), Anaheim might as well make a push to add more international talent before their penalty kicks in on July 2.
- Rickie Weeks could end up playing all over the diamond in a depth role for the Mariners, GM Jack Zduriencik told reporters (including Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune), including both corner infield and outfield positions. Weeks has never played anywhere in the field besides second base over his 11-year career, but said as his free agent market developed, “teams were thinking about me playing other positions, and I just opened up to it, really.”
- Astros owner Jim Crane’s recent divorce settlement won’t have any impact on the club’s payroll or operations, team attorney Giles Kibbe told Evan Drellich and David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. “During our purchase of the Astros, MLB requested that the documents include certain language that would address these types of issues,” Kibbe said. The league’s approach stems from how Frank McCourt’s 2011 divorce proceedings affected the Dodgers, an MLB official confirmed to Drellich and Barron, though Crane’s situation is far different than McCourt’s.
The Astros and left-hander Joe Thatcher are in agreement on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). Thatcher, a client of Platinum Sports, will earn $1MM on the Major League side of the deal and can earn an additional $1.3MM worth of incentives. His contract also contains an opt-out five days before Opening Day.
The 33-year-old Thatcher split last season between the Diamondbacks and Angels, working to a combined 3.86 ERA with 27 strikeouts against four walks in 30 1/3 innings. The Angels acquired Thatcher (and center fielder Tony Campana) from the D-Backs in exchange for minor league outfielder Zach Borenstein and minor league righty Joey Krehbiel in early July. However, after just seven appearances with the Halos, Thatcher badly sprained his ankle and missed nearly six weeks of action. In total, he allowed six runs in 6 1/3 innings with the Angels, working primarily as a lefty specialist. (Only two of his Angels outings lasted a full inning.)
The .289/.317/.447 batting line that Thatcher surrendered to opposing lefties in 2014 wasn’t exactly encouraging, but it came in a small sample of 83 plate appearances. His overall body of work against lefty bats is far more useful, as he’s held same-handed hitters to a .230/.289/.351 triple-slash in 497 plate appearances.
The Astros are interested in Joe Thatcher and a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) that he believes Houston will sign the veteran left-hander to a minor league contract. Another source says no deal is done, though it could be close, as an agreement could be completed “probably [by] tomorrow.”
Over ten teams have shown interest in Thatcher this winter and he’s close to deciding on his new team, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reported earlier today. Houston was cited as one of the teams most interested in Thatcher’s services, along with the Athletics, Rangers and Mets. Given all of this interest, it would be somewhat surprising to see Thatcher settle for a minor league deal given his track record.
Thatcher, 33, posted a 3.34 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.89 K/BB rate over 207 2/3 innings with the Padres and Diamondbacks from 2007-13. He was pitching particularly well for Arizona last season (a 2.63 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and a sterling 8.33 K/BB rate over 30 1/3 IP) before being dealt to the Angels in July, and that’s when Thatcher’s season took a turn for the worse. He struggled to an 8.53 ERA in only 6 1/3 innings for Anaheim as he spent over a month on the DL with a sprained ankle and didn’t even make the Halos’ postseason roster.
Signing Thatcher would further reinforce an Astros bullpen that has already added Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson this winter. The relief corps could be further bolstered by one or several of Houston’s young arms that don’t win the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
2:45pm: The contract includes an opt-out five days prior to Opening Day, and the Major League side of the deal is worth $2.65MM, MLBTR has learned.
2:08pm: The Astros have signed righty Roberto Hernandez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, the team announced. Hernandez is represented by DPX Sports.
Hernandez, 34, posted a 4.10 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, and 49.7% groundball rate for the Phillies and Dodgers last year. He had signed a $4.5MM free agent deal with the Phillies last offseason.
A legitimate chance to make the Astros’ rotation likely weighed in Hernandez’s decision. The agreement between the two sides comes after a one-year pact with Ryan Vogelsong fell through in January. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are locks for the Astros’ rotation after breakout 2014 seasons, and veteran Scott Feldman has a spot secured as well. According to an article from Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle from late January, Brett Oberholtzer is also penciled in. According to Drellich, new acquisition Dan Straily might be the favorite for the fifth spot, with Brad Peacock not expected to be ready for Opening Day after offseason hip surgery. Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski and Sam Deduno are other fifth starter candidates to watch, according to Drellich.
Red Sox starter Rick Porcello figures to present a fascinating free agent case, as Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. The righty will enter free agency in advance of his age-27 campaign and remains a candidate to put up a big year in Boston. Even if he ends up with more typical results than a true breakout, and even accounting for robust market supply, his age could make him a $100MM player, in Petriello’s view.
Here are a few notes on some of the few remaining current free agents:
- Reliever David Aardsma pushed his velocity up to 92 mph in a recent showcase in front of eighteen scouts, MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports (Twitter links). The 33-year-old has not seen MLB action since 2013, but worked to a 1.46 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning last year at Triple-A with the Cardinals organization. He is expected to choose a team in the near future.
- Fellow righty Matt Albers also threw for teams recently, as already reported, and the Indians were among those in attendance, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. Cleveland also had a look at lefty Barry Zito, who threw for observers yesterday.
- Speaking of prior reports on Albers and Zito, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle — who broke the news last night — tweets today that Astros owner Jim Crane says the team could bring in Zito with a spring training invite. Drellich cautions that it still seems unlikely that Zito will land with Houston.
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.