Houston Astros Rumors

Houston Astros trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

West Notes: Tulo, Scutaro, Vogelsong, A’s, Astros

Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki tells The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders he hears the trade rumors, but that isn’t his focus this winter. “I have been talking to the Rockies throughout the process,” Tulowitzki said. “We have respect for each other. But my concentration right now is just on getting healthy.” Tulowitzki, recovering from August hip surgery, has yet to start baseball activites but has begun light running and is continuing a program to increase flexibility in his hips. Here’s the latest from MLB’s West divisions:

  • It cannot be a good sign the Giants‘ training staff is preparing an update this week on Marco Scutaro, opines John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Because of a back injury, Scutaro, who is due $6MM in the final year of his contract, appeared in only five games in 2014 with 13 trips to the plate.
  • In the same article, Shea reports there are no current talks between the Giants and free agent starter Ryan Vogelsong.
  • GM Billy Beane made the A’s better now and in the future with the returns he achieved in the Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris trades, according to SB Nation’s Alex Hall.
  • Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle compares the Astros‘ methodical rebuilding plan with that of the Padres, who reshaped their franchise by making five trades with six teams in a span of two days.

AL Notes: Harrison, Headley, Lowrie, Floyd, Tigers

The Rangers and pitcher Matt Harrison seemingly received positive news yesterday, as the righty, as Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets that an X-ray of Harrison’s back came back clean. He will undergo a CT scan on Wednesday in hopes of being cleared to throw in January.

More from the American League:

Astros, Jacob Nix Settle Before Grievance Proceeding

TUESDAY: Nix was awarded the full $1.5MM that he had agreed to with the Astros, Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons reports (on Twitter).

MONDAY: The Astros have agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement with former fifth-round pick Jacob Nix, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. The sides had been headed toward a grievance proceeding brought by the MLBPA on Nix’s behalf.

Nix had reportedly agreed to a $1.5MM bonus to forego a commitment to UCLA. But that deal fell apart after Houston failed to reach agreement with first overall pick Brady Aiken. Without Aiken’s slot money available to cover the Nix overage, the Astros would have exceeded their bonus allotment and forfeited two future first-round draft picks had they gone through with the Nix signing.

The terms of the deal were not announced, but Houston will not have to face the possibility of an arbitrator ruling that they must sign Nix or otherwise sacrifice picks. Whether there remains any potential league action in that regard remains unreported.

As for Nix, the talented righty is said to be eyeing a one-year stint at a junior college. That would allow him to re-enter the draft next year and steer clear of the possibility of having to deal with NCAA eligibility issues relating to the public nature of his ordeal. So far as has been reported publicly, Aiken has not pursued a grievance action of his own; of course, his situation — the team was said to have been concerned with an MRI showing an abnormally small UCL — is somewhat different from that of Nix.

Astros Designate Gregorio Petit

The Astros have designated shortstop Gregorio Petit for assignment, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports on Twitter. His roster spot goes to the recently-signed Jed Lowrie.

Petit, 30, is a utility infielder who is capable of playing short. He has actually hit quite well in the upper minors in recent years, and last year slashed .278/.300/.423 over 100 plate appearances with the big club. Combined with solid defensive ratings, that made him worth .4 fWAR/.8 rWAR in about one-sixth of a full season. He should have a chance to make a run at a bench slot in another organization.

Minor Moves: Teahen, Pridie, Kelly, Worth, Francisco

Former Royals infielder/outfielder Mark Teahen has retired from baseball, tweets SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. Now 33 years old, Teahen last appeared in the Majors in 2011 and most recently split the 2013 season between the D-Backs’ minor league system and indy ball. Teahen had an outstanding 2006 season in which he batted .290/.357/.517 with 18 homers and 10 steals, but he was never able to repeat that success. Teahen eventually found himself the recipient of a three-year, $14MM extension with the White Sox that provided the bulk of his $21MM career earnings. All told, he will finish his career as a .264/.327/.409 hitter in 3171 plate appearances.

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • Outfielder Jason Pridie and right-hander Merrill Kelly have signed with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. The 31-year-old Pridie has received cups of coffee in each of the past three seasons but accrued most of his big league service time with the 2011 Mets when he batted .231/.309/.370 in 236 PA. He’s perhaps best known for being part of the trade that sent Delmon Young to Minnesota and Matt Garza to Tampa. Kelly, on the other hand, has spent his entire career with the Rays organization. He’s posted a career 3.40 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 527 1/3 innings and reached Triple-A for the first time in 2014.
  • Former Tigers infielder Danny Worth has signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks, reports MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Worth received offers from multiple clubs, including one who had interest in him as a pitcher, Iott adds (Worth pitched twice in 2014 and actually throws a decent knuckleball). The 29-year-old Worth is a career .230/.293/.295 hitter with Detroit and a .242/.320/.350 hitter at the Triple-A level.
  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports (via Twitter) that the D-Backs have also signed former big league outfielder Ben Francisco to a minor league deal. Francisco, now 33 years of age, didn’t see big league action in 2014 but has a career .253/.323/.418 batting line in parts of seven big league seasons.
  • Eddy also tweets that the Red Sox have signed right-hander Nestor Molina and catcher Luke Montz to minor league deals. Molina struggled in parts of three seasons in the White Sox’ minor league system after being acquired in the Sergio Santos trade. Montz is a 31-year-old veteran with 56 big league plate appearances and a .232/.318/.456 batting line in parts of four seasons at the Triple-A level.
  • The Royals have signed infielder Gabriel Noriega, tweets Eddy. Noriega is described by Eddy as a slick fielder who made a couple of Royals Top 30 prospects lists. The 27-year-old hit .275/.299/.360 between Double-A and Triple-A in the Mariners organization last year.
  • The Marlins have acquired righty Craig Stem from the Dodgers to complete the Kyle Jensen trade, Miami announced. Stem reached Double-A last year at age 24, but struggled mightily upon his promotion. The Dodgers are now expected to designate Jensen for assignment to clear room for the signing of Brandon McCarthy, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets.
  • First baseman Clint Robinson has joined the Nationals on a minor league pact, Ryan Walton reported on Twitter (and Robinson himself confirmed through a tweet). The 29-year-old has scant MLB experience, but torched the PCL with a .312/.401/.534 line over 499 plate appearances last year.
  • Dan Johnson is set to reach a minor league deal with the Astros, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. Johnson is 35 and has not reached triple-digit MLB plate appearances since 2010 (and 2007 before that), but owns a lifetime .281/.401/.509 slash at the Triple-A level.
  • The White Sox have added lefty Zach Phillips on a minor league deal, Eddy reports on Twitter. As Eddy notes, the South Siders have been loading up on LOOGY depth this offseason. The 28-year-old has seen sporadic big league action, with 15 2/3 innings to his credit over 2011-13, and spent some time last year playing in Japan.
  • The Indians have added catcher Brett Hayes and corner outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands on minor league deals, Eddy tweets. Hayes has appeared in six-straight big league seasons, though he’s never seen more than 144 plate appearances in a season. Sands, 27, has mostly played at the Triple-A level in recent seasons, but did get 227 plate appearances in 2011 (.253/.338/.389).
  • After being non-tendered, Jose Campos (Yankees) and Gus Schlosser (Braves) have returned to their prior organizations, Eddy reports on Twitter. Both righties have moved into swingman roles in their organizations, though Campos has yet even to reach High-A while Schlosser saw 15 games in the big leagues last year.

Astros Sign Jed Lowrie To Three-Year Deal

The Astros announced that they have signed infielder Jed Lowrie to a three-year contract that runs through the 2018 season. Lowrie’s contract reportedly guarantee him $23MM: $8MM in 2015, $7.5MM in 2016 and $6.5MM in 2017 with a $6MM club option ($1MM buyout) for 2018. The team will announce a corresponding roster move on Tuesday.


The 30-year-old Lowrie, a client of CAA Sports, will serve as Houston’s shortstop in the early stages of the contract — presumably until top prospect Carlos Correa is ready to take over the position. At that point, Lowrie could see time at third base (though the Astros also have prospects Colin Moran and Rio Ruiz rising through the system), serve as a super utility player, or potentially have appeal to other clubs in a trade.

In the meantime, the addition of Lowrie isn’t particularly good news for incumbent shortstops Jonathan Villar and Marwin Gonzalez. Villar opened the season as the team’s starting shortstop, and while he possesses game-changing speed, he didn’t hit or get on base enough to take full advantage of that excellent tool. Gonzalez is the better defender of the two internal options, so he is seemingly the more likely of the two to fill a reserve capacity for Houston now that Lowrie is on board.

With this contract, Lowrie will return to the organization with which he enjoyed a solid but injury-shortened 2012 season. After years of promise in the Red Sox organization, Houston acquired Lowrie (along with Kyle Weiland) in exchange for Mark Melancon three years ago (almost to the day). Lowrie’s original stint with the Astros lasted for just one season, as he and Fernando Rodriguez were flipped to the A’s for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi the following offseason.

Lowrie enjoyed an excellent 2013 season with the A’s in which he batted .290/.344/.446 with 15 homers and a career-best 45 doubles. His bat slipped in 2014, however, as he batted just .249/.321/.355. While defensive metrics suggested that he improved at shortstop in 2014, defense has never been Lowrie’s calling card, and many clubs expressed trepidation over deploying him at short. He drew interest from clubs as a second baseman and a third baseman, but one would imagine that Houston’s promise to give him some time at shortstop, along with the fact that Lowrie resides in Houston in the offseason, gave the Astros a leg up over their competition.

With Lowrie now off the free agent market, Asdrubal Cabrera is likely the best remaining infielder available to teams with a free agent need. However, while clubs had their doubts about Lowrie’s defense, those doubts seem to be even more pronounced in Cabrera’s case.

As for the Astros, this marks the third significant free agent signing for the club in the past week, as they’ve also inked right-handed relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, the latter of whom seems likely to be a closer for new manager A.J. Hinch. Houston could still address its starting rotation on the open market, and while they haven’t given up a draft pick with any of these signings, they showed a willingness to do so with a pursuit of David Robertson.

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle first reported the terms of the agreement (All Twitter links). SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted further details.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cafardo On Hamels, Astros, Howard, Craig

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that teams second guessing themselves is just a regular part of the offseason.  A lot of folks are second guessing the A’s, but manager Bob Melvin has confidence in GM Billy Beane.

We’re looking to get a little bit younger, yet if you want to look back to the end of 2011 and leading into 2012, we traded our last three All-Stars in [Trevor] Cahill[Andrew] Bailey, and [Gio] Gonzalez and we ended up winning the division,” said Melvin. “We’re looking to compete again. This isn’t something where we’re breaking it down and moving in a different direction. The players that we’re getting back we like. There’s always a balance here for us in that we have to look down the road. We lost quite a bit of talent the last couple of years, making some trades. Billy is about as good as it gets as far as being able to handle that balance and keep us competitive currently, yet also having to look down the road for the future.”

More from today’s column..

  • The Astros are a sleeper team in the Cole Hamels chase, Cafardo writes.  The Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, and Rangers are also interested in the Phillies left-hander, but Houston could join the bunch and the Giants may also be in if they can’t land James Shields.
  • The Phillies are trying to get teams interested in Ryan Howard, and a team source indicated to Cafardo that they are willing to pay a great majority of his contract to move him.  Howard is owed $60MM between 2015 and 2017, including a buyout.  The Rays and Orioles have DH needs and he could theoretically fit the bill.
  • Both the Marlins and the Brewers have active interest in Red Sox first baseman Allen Craig.  Craig, 30, had some strong years with the Cardinals before joining the Red Sox at last year’s deadline.
  • Agent John Boggs says that he’s having “discussions with several cubs” about client Ichiro Suzuki, though no deal is imminent at this time.
  • Dan Uggla’s agent, Terry Bross, was trying to market his client for a comeback at the Winter Meetings.  Cafardo hears that a lot of the 34-year-old’s decline may have had to do with an undetected concussion.

West Notes: Hawkins, Ellis, Gregerson, Melky

Veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins announced this morning on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show that the 2015 season will be the last of his lengthy career (h/t: Ken Rosenthal). The soon-to-be 42-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA with 23 saves, 5.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 54 1/3 innings for the Rockies last season. While he may not get the Mariano Rivera farewell tour, Hawkins has appeared in 1000 games (currently 16th all-time) dating back to 1995. Selected by the Twins in the seventh round of the 1991 draft, Hawkins could move into the top 10 of all-time in terms of career appearances with a full, healthy season.

Here are a few more notes from around the game’s Western divisions…

  • The Padres asked the Dodgers about A.J. Ellis in Matt Kemp trade talks but weren’t able to get him in the deal, tweets MLB.com’s Corey Brock. As Brock notes, Clayton Kershaw may not have been pleased to see Ellis traded away, as he prefers throwing to his longtime teammate.
  • An American League club with an established closer was the runner-up to the Astros in the bidding for Luke Gregerson, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The unnamed club also offered a three-year deal. Drellich spoke to Gregerson’s agent, Tom O’Connell, who said that the opportunity to close and Gregerson’s relationship with new Astros manager A.J. Hinch were crucial factors in the deal.
  • Drellich’s article also provides the breakdown of Gregerson’s incentives: he will receive a $250K boost to the next year’s salary for finishing 45, 50, 55 and 57 games in 2015 and 2016. If he finishes a combined 100 games between 2015-16, his 2017 salary jumps another $500K.
  • Robinson Cano has spoken briefly to his close friend, Melky Cabrera, about signing with the Mariners, Cano told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link). Cano also told Divish that he spoke to Nelson Cruz multiple times about coming to Seattle before Cruz inked his own deal with the Mariners.

Astros Sign Pat Neshek

Already having added Luke Gregerson, the Astros announced on Friday the signing of fellow right-handed reliever Pat Neshek. The client of Meister Sports Management receives a $12.5MM guarantee over two years, with an option for a third.

Pat NeshekNeshek will take home $5.5MM next year and $6.5MM in 2015, with a $500K buyout of the club option. The option’s value will land between $6.5MM and $9MM, escalating based upon games finished.

The side-armer was already a great story before his 2014 campaign, but the tale only improved after he dominated the league after joining the Cardinals on a minor league deal. Neshek posted a 1.87 ERA with 9.1 K/9 against a paltry 1.2 BB/9 over 67 1/3 frames in St. Louis.

True, Neshek had logged productive campaigns in the past, at least in terms of results. But the true breakout for the now-34-year-old came in the peripherals. In addition to that sterling K/BB ratio, Neshek registered a 2.37 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, and 2.55 SIERA in 2014, suggesting that his run prevention was no fluke.

Whether he can maintain that level of performance going forward remains to be seen, of course. Most concerning, perhaps, is the fact that Neshek benefited last year from unseasonable HR/FB and BABIP numbers (both against league and his career averages). But that’s a reasonable risk to take given the dominating ceiling he has now established.

MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained his case for a two-year, $10MM prediction in his free agent profile of Neshek back in October. Neshek topped that by a not-insignificant margin, and will surely feel confident that he did not leave any money on the table in his best chance at a big payday.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today had the first report on Twitter. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted that agreement was struck. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the financial terms on Twitter, with Brian McTaggart of MLB.com tweeting that the deal includes an option. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported the full salary breakdown (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Astros Sign Luke Gregerson

The Astros have made a significant investment in their 2015 bullpen, announcing a three-year deal with reliever Luke Gregerson on Friday. Houston had been pursuing several angles to add one more more late-inning relievers and reportedly came to an agreement on the $18.5MM pact with Gregerson at this week’s Winter Meetings.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland AthleticsGregerson gets $6MM in 2015 followed by $6.25MM salaries in the next two years of the deal. The deal includes incentives that could boost its value to $21MM for the Tom O’Connell client. Specifically, Gregerson’s 2016 and 2017 salaries will increase by $250K for reaching 45, 50, 55 and 57 games finished the previous season. If he finishes 100 games from 2015-16, his 2017 salary jumps an additional $500K.

The deal may be surprising at first glance, but only if you have not been paying attention to how good Gregerson has been. In a free agent profile of Gregerson, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes pegged him for $20MM over three years, noting that Gregerson’s 2.75 ERA over the last six seasons rates fourth among relievers who have thrown a minimum of 350 frames.

Gregerson, 30, has been both healthy and good for basically his entire career. He gives up few walks, generates plenty of groundballs, and consistently limits opponents to soft contact. Though his strikeout rates dipped somewhat last year, he also posted a career-low 2.12 ERA.

Gregerson has reached those numbers without relying on fastball velocity. Instead, Gregerson has managed to continue dominating with his outstanding slider even as his fastball has dipped into the high-80s.

The move represents a big upgrade for the Astros, whose relief corps combined for a league-worst 4.80 ERA last year. Houston beat out the Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox, Rockies, Cubs, and White Sox, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes, Gregerson could also turn into a useful trade piece for the club depending upon how things shake out. As for the rest of the relief market, Gregerson probably sets the target now with top arms David Robertson and Andrew Miller already off the board.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today first reported the agreement and terms (via Twitter). ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link) and the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich provided details on the incentives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.