Houston Astros Rumors
12:19pm: Hanrahan isn't yet negotiating with anyone but is expected to start taking offers next week, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter). Some teams have requested to see Hanrahan's medicals.
FRIDAY, 11:24am: The Twins aren't one of the teams talking contract with Hanrahan, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets. There is similarly "nothing brewing" between Hanrahan and the Mets, The Record's Matt Ehalt reports. The Astros, meanwhile, weren't at the tryout at all, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (Twitter link).
THURSDAY: Upwards of 20 teams were on-hand today to watch free-agent right-hander Joel Hanrahan's showcase at the University of Tampa today, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (More specifically, ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that there were 16 to 18 clubs on-hand). Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweets that Hanrahan's agents at Reynolds Sports Management are already discussing a contract with multiple clubs after what proved to be a strong audition.
Among the attendees, according to Heyman, were the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Royals, Rockies and Indians. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that the Twins were in attendance as well, while MLB.com's Jason Beck tweets that the Tigers, too, were one of the clubs in attendance. Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com adds (also via Twitter) that the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays were present.
Hanrahan appears to be ahead of schedule, Heyman writes, as he was throwing as hard as 93 mph despite being just 11 months removed from Tommy John/flexor tendon repair surgery. Scouts told Heyman that Hanrahan looked "fit and healthy," while another who attended told Cafardo (Twitter link) that Hanrahan "looked great." Wolfson's tweet also mentions that Hanrahan looked impressive.
A two-time All-Star, Hanrahan posted a 2.59 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 229 1/3 innings with the Pirates from 2009-12 before a trade that sent him to Boston last offseason.
The Astros have made the promotion of George Springer and DFA of Lucas Harrell official by announcing each move via press release. As Houston fans (and fantasy baseball players) eagerly await Springer's big league debut, here's a look around the rest of the division...
- Springer won't be the only highly touted prospect to arrive in the Majors today; the Mariners will recall Nick Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma, reports Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, who expects Logan Morrison to hit the DL in order to clear a 25-man roster spot. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter), Franklin could see some time in the outfield. Franklin, 23, got off to a blistering .395/.469/.744 start in 11 Triple-A games after an offseason loaded with trade speculation.
- Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker was scratched from last night's rehab start after complaining of stiffness in his arm, reports Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune. GM Jack Zduriencik said that Walker -- who is a consensus Top 10 prospect -- will be re-evaluated today. Seattle's rotation has been solid so far, but they've experienced a good deal of poor luck with injuries to Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton.
- Jerry Brewer of Athletics Nation looks at Josh Reddick's struggles this season and tracks the history of pitches he's seen in two-strike counts dating back to 2012. Brewer notes that Reddick has long struggled against good fastballs and curveballs, while feasting on sliders and changeups. Pitchers are hammering Reddick with fastballs and curves thus far, and the result has been a 33 percent strikeout rate to go along with his .098/.196/.098 batting line. The A's are in a clear jam as they decide what to do with Reddick, Brewer writes. Reddick has a minor league option remaining, but he could see as much or even more velocity in Triple-A, which will contain no shortage of up-and-coming power arms.
As I recently discussed, Springer is among the game's near-MLB-ready prospects who has yet to see any MLB time. If he sticks on the big club for the remainder of the year, Springer would accrue 166 days of service -- short of a full season, but more than enough to set himself up to qualify for Super Two status. That means that the Astros will still stand to control him through the 2020 season.
Springer climbed up prospect rating boards after a monster 2013 campaign in which he hit a combined .303/.411/.600, and posted 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases, in 589 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. Entering the 2014 season, analysts rated Springer between 18th (Baseball America) to 21st (MLB.com) among all MLB prospects. The 2011 first-round pick looked well on his way to a repeat of that performance in the season's early going.
Looking ahead, Baseball America says that Springer possesses outstanding bat speed but can be beaten with offspeed offerings given his aggressive approach. With plus or better arm, speed, power, and defense tools, BA says that Springer should be a productive big leaguer even if he struggles somewhat (as many expect he will) to make contact at the MLB level.
Though he is a tall and powerful ballplayer, Springer profiles as a center fielder. But with that position occupied in Houston by offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler, Springer will presumably take over in left field for the optioned Robbie Grossman.
The Astros will designate pitcher Lucas Harrell for assignment, reports Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). With Scott Feldman set to return from bereavement leave on Thursday, Houston apparently decided to remove the out-of-options righty from the active roster.
It has been quite a fall from grace for the 28-year-old, who this time last year was being named as a solid trade target for contenders. Indeed, in 2012, he threw to a 3.76 ERA in 193 2/3 innings, with a 57.2% ground ball rate and 6.5 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. But last year was a struggle, as Harrell managed only a 5.86 ERA in 153 2/3 innings, and both struck out and walked 5.2 batters per nine. He has had a rough start to the current season as well.
With less than three years of service on his clock, Harrell will come with future control, which is certainly attractive. One major issue, however, is the fact that he is out of options, meaning that any club that trades for or claims him would need to let him work out his issues at the MLB level.
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Christina Kahrl looks at the difference between Albert Pujols' in 2013 and his hot start in 2014 with a pair of heat maps to demonstrate that Pujols is doing far more damage on pitches in the zone in the early-going than he was able to do last season. While it's a small sample and his .259/.322/.556 triple-slash isn't exactly vintage Pujols, his hot streak since hitting that first homer is a promising sign after a bleak 2013. Kahrl writes that the Angels' biggest need is for Pujols to fend off Father Time for a few more seasons. As "The Machine" closes in on 500 career home runs -- he's currently at 496 -- here are some more AL West links...
- Mariners left-hander Roenis Elias' dream has come true this season, writes MLB.com's Greg Johns. The Cuban defector talked with Johns (via his interpreter) about the excitement of nailing down his first big league win and the inspiration he drew from his son. Elias impressed his manager, teammates and opponents in a win over the Rangers, as Lloyd McClendon and Elvis Andrus both offered high praise. Said McClendon: "I don't think facing Prince Fielder is really going to scare him that much. He was fighting for his life trying to make it to this country. He's shown a lot of poise."
- In an excellent piece from Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, Baker examines the Mariners' payroll in contrast with the team's overall value, noting a large discrepancy. Last year's purchase of a 71 percent stake in ROOT Sports Northwest more than doubled Seattle's TV revenue, and their growing revenue over the past few years was enough that BizofBaseball.com founder Maury Brown estimated to Baker that the Mariners could fetch $1 billion on the open market were ownership to sell. Recent estimates from Bloomberg pegged the club's value at $720MM, but that was prior to the ROOT acquisition. Brown told Baker that there "should be no limits" on the Mariners in free agency despite mammoth commitments to Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez. Baker concludes by calling baseball a "cash-drunk sport with only a vague notion of its financial ceiling" and noting that the Mariners "can't spot their ceiling with a telescope."
- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that two weeks is the "bare minimum" amount of time needed to make evaluations of minor league players, but many other factors are involved. Among them are whether the player has moved up a level, if they played in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball, and what their Spring Training was like. Luhnow said he expects the club's "most famous prospects" -- presumably George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Michael Foltynewicz -- to move quickly. As far as the players themselves are concerned, Springer tells Drellich he's not really sure what Super Two status meant, while Singleton "had an idea."
Left-hander Brady Aiken and righty Tyler Kolek sit atop Baseball America's list of the top 2014 draft prospects, BA's John Manuel writes. The two high schoolers have supplanted NC State southpaw Carlos Rodon, who was long considered to be the favorite as the first overall pick but hasn't looked great this spring. Six of the top seven prospects on BA's list (and 11 of the top 15) are pitchers, as several young arms have improved their draft stock this spring while several of the most-regarded hitters haven't fared as well.
Here's some more from around baseball as we head into the weekend...
- High-ranking executives from the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Phillies have all recently scouted Kolek's starts, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports. These clubs hold the top four overall picks in June's draft, while the Phillies pick seventh overall. According to Manuel, "Kolek has hit 100 mph repeatedly and has the best pure arm in the draft."
- Joe Smith tells ESPN New York's Adam Rubin (Twitter link) that the Mets were interested in signing him last winter, and "floated" a contract offer similar to the three-year, $15.75MM deal that Smith received from the Angels. Rubin was surprised that the Mets were willing to commit that much to a setup man, though Smith would've added some quality depth to a Mets bullpen that is already hurting thanks to the absence of Bobby Parnell.
- Both Chase Headley and the Padres are off to slow starts, which only further complicates the difficult contract-year situation for the third baseman, MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince writes. With an extension unlikely, Headley could be a midseason trade candidate if the Friars fall out of the race, though if Headley continues to struggle, the Padres could conceivably see him leave for free agency and get nothing in return.
- The Padres parting ways with Headley is "looking [like] the most realistic option," Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune said during an online chat with readers. "Players don't get better with age so much anymore, so regardless of what Headley does this year, it doesn't make financial sense to pay for past production," Sanders writes.
- The Astros made a strong bid for Jose Abreu before the slugger signed with the White Sox, and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow discussed his club's pursuit with MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "We stretched ourselves further than we intended to and we came pretty close. When you factor in the tax advantages of Texas vs. other markets, the gap was really only a couple of million dollars at the end of the day," Luhnow said. "It's one of those things, should we have pushed a little harder? Possibly. When you're in negotiations like that and you're in a bidding war like that, you have to have limits or you'll be the one that overpays. That's one I do think we came close. He's going to be a good player, and that's why we put all that effort into it."
- The Tigers have been extraordinarily successful in trades since Dave Dombrowski joined the organization in 2001, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli writes. Given Dombrowski's impressive with not only the Tigers, but also the Marlins and Expos over his long career, Jazayerli thinks it's too early to write off the much-maligned Doug Fister trade as a mistake for Detroit.
Though he's arguably already baseball's best player, Mike Trout is working to improve his arm strength, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. Some might say Trout's arm is the weakest of his five tools, which has produced "a little chip on his shoulder," according to Angels bench coach Dino Ebel. While the outfielder was once a fringe-average thrower, he's improved the tool so that it's now average or better, Ebel says. Here are more Saturday night Major League links:
- The Rays are known for aggressively locking up their young stars long term, but the team increasingly shows a willingness to go multiple years with veterans, notes Adam Berry of MLB.com. Today's Yunel Escobar extension the most recent example, but the club has also recently given a two-year deal to David DeJesus and a three-year commitment to catcher Ryan Hanigan. "I think the common denominator is that they're three guys that we like a lot, that fit us well, that will help us win games in the current," GM Andrew Friedman said.
- Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt both signed one-day contracts and officially retired as members of the Astros organization today. Alyson Footer of MLB.com has the details on a pregame ceremony in which the two greats were given personalized rocking chairs and custom Stetson cowboy hats.
The Astros have outrighted reliever Chia-Jen Lo to their Triple-A club after the right-hander cleared waivers, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Lo was already pitching at Triple-A, but the move takes him off Houston's 40-man roster.
Lo tossed 19 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Astros last season, posting an ERA of 4.19. He struck out 7.4 batters per nine innings but allowed a 6.1 BB/9. The 28-year-old has a strong track record of missing bats in the minors, averaging an even 10 strikeouts per 9 over 129 career innings there.
The Astros now have 39 players on their 40-man roster.
As their lengthy rebuild continued, the Astros added several veteran pieces and beefed up a payroll that had just one player earning $1MM or more at the end of the 2013 season.
Major League Signings
- Scott Feldman, RHP: Three years, $30MM.
- Chad Qualls, RHP: Two years, $6MMM.
- Jesse Crain, RHP: One year, $3.25MM.
- Matt Albers, RHP: One year, $2.45MM with a $3MM club option ($200K buyout).
- Jerome Williams, RHP: One year, $2.1MM.
- Total Spend: $43.8MM
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired OF Dexter Fowler from the Rockies in exchange for RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes.
- Acquired 1B/OF Jesus Guzman from the Padres in exchange for SS Ryan Jackson (had been claimed off waivers from the Cardinals).
- Acquired RHP Anthony Bass from the Padres in exchange for Rule 5 LHP Patrick Schuster (Diamondbacks) and a player to be named later.
- Claimed RHP Collin McHugh off waivers from the Rockies.
- Claimed LHP Darin Downs off waivers from the Tigers.
- Claimed OF Alex Presley off waivers from the Twins.
- Jordan Lyles, Brandon Barnes, Erik Bedard, J.D. Martinez, Brett Wallace, Trevor Crowe, Jake Elmore, Hector Ambriz
The Astros have finished with the game's worst record in each of the past three seasons, but despite that gloomy reality, they didn't enter the offseason with as many needs as one would think. Altuve and 2013 breakout catcher Jason Castro are locked into the lineup for the foreseeable future, and Jonathan Villar will get the opportunity to prove himself at shortstop while Houston awaits the arrival of former No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa. At third base, Matt Dominguez is certainly a player that the team likes (more on him in a bit), and a number of top prospects are nearing the Majors.
Houston entered the offseason with a clear need in the rotation, however, as none of its top pitching prospects are MLB-ready at the beginning of 2014. As such, GM Jeff Luhnow made a relatively large splash on the free agent market, adding Feldman on a three-year deal that exceeded my own expectations for the underrated right-hander. Feldman's career has been slowed by injuries -- namely microfracture surgery on his right knee -- but he's posted solid ground-ball rates and walk rates when healthy throughout his career. Paying him $10MM annually for his age-31 to age-33 seasons raised some eyebrows, but Feldman has the talent to make that look like a bargain if he can remain healthy.
Feldman will be trailed in the rotation by Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell and Dallas Keuchel, but Luhnow and his staff also added some insurance by snatching up Williams after he was somewhat curiously non-tendered by the division-rival Angels. His modest $2.1MM salary wouldn't be detrimental to any club, and Williams can absorb some innings throughout the season as Houston looks to limit the workload of its young quartet of starters. Brad Peacock could also see some starts at some point this season, as he finished the 2013 campaign quite well as a part of the rotation (3.64 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings) and is a former Top 100 prospect with the A's.
The additions of Feldman and Williams should help a revamped bullpen lessen its workload, although the added quality to the relief corps could make the thought of overusing the 'pen in Houston a bit more tolerable. Last season, the Astros had the worst bullpen in the Majors, and no team was particularly close to their collective 4.92 ERA (the Mariners were second-worst at 4.58). If you think that's bad, their 5.09 FIP suggests things could've been even worse, and their 4.64 xFIP was 30 points higher than the next-worst unit (the Cubs). Qualls and Albers add veteran stability and a glut of ground-balls to the mix. Crain was one of baseball's best relievers in 2013 prior to getting hurt and could be a power arm to add to the closer mix when he returns from the DL in late April. Houston also pursued a reunion with former closer Jose Veras, though he ultimately signed with the Cubs. They may not have one of the best bullpens in the league, but there's no question that this group is improved.
Fowler's addition gives the club a productive veteran to slot at the top of an improving lineup, and he'll be controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He's not cheap ($7.35MM in 2014 plus one final arbitration raise next winter), which will lead some to speculate that he could become trade fodder with a solid performance in the season's first half. His career 12.3 percent walk rate and .365 OBP are attractive assets, even if one has to wonder how well he can handle Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park (defensive metrics regularly peg his glove in center as below average).
While the Astros didn't complete any extensions this offseason, it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. Houston is still said to be working on long-term deals for Dominguez as well as left fielder Robbie Grossman, and the team made an eye-popping seven-year, $23MM contract offer to top prospect George Springer before he even set foot on Major League soil. Somewhat controversially, Springer was optioned to Triple-A to open the season, prompting many to criticize baseball's service time structure and prompting Springer's agents to consider a grievance. The question of course being: If Springer is good enough to merit a $23MM contract offer, why then, is he not good enough to open the season with the team? (The obvious answer is to gain additional years of team control by stashing him in the minor leagues, thereby delaying his service clock.)
For a team that accomplished quite a bit this offseason, there are still plenty of questions remaining. Such is the nature of existence as a team that could improve by 11 wins in 2014 and still lose 100 games. Not all of Cosart, Peacock, Harrell, Oberholtzer and Keuchel are going to be long-term fits in Houston's rotation; Mark Appel and Mike Foltynewicz are on the fast track to the Majors, and they'll look to claim two of those rotation spots, possibly as soon as this season. Cosart may have the inside track due to his former prospect status and strong finish in 2013, but the same could be said about Peacock, and Oberholtzer was also impressive down the stretch.
The Astros prioritized first base this winter but came up empty despite making a reportedly solid offer to James Loney, heavily pursuing Jose Abreu and Mike Morse while also expressing interest in names like Mike Carp on the trade market. Instead, the club is going with a patchwork solution at first, using a combination of Guzman, Chris Carter and Marc Krauss. That's not an inspiring trio, but they figure to be merely keeping the seat warm for top prospect Jonathan Singleton. He, however, will have to hit his way to the Majors after slumping in 2013 and struggling with substance abuse issues.
Mid-season extension talks clearly don't bother the Astros, as they hammered out a long-term deal for Altuve last summer. As such, they could look to do the same in 2014, continuing their negotiations with Dominguez, Grossman and Springer. Could they look to lock up Castro before he begins to become too expensive? I'd wager that they're interested in doing so after last year's breakout.
Also of critical importance to the Astros is their failing television deal with Comcast SportsNet Houston. Owner Jim Crane has filed a lawsuit against former owner Drayton McClane, Comcast and NBC, accusing the trio of fraud and civil conspiracy. The lawsuit also accuses McLane of selling "an asset (the network) they knew at the time to be overpriced and broken" and claims that Crane was provided with "knowing misrepresentations" and "falsely inflated subscription rates" prior to agreeing to the purchase. CSN Houston is available to only about 40 percent of Houston-area homes, thereby limiting the earning potential and hampering the Astros' future financial outlook. In February, a federal judge placed CSN Houston's parent company under federal bankruptcy protection.
Deal of Note
The Fowler trade was surprising to a number of people for a number of reasons. For one, it was strange to see a rebuilding team such as the Astros swing a deal for a pricey veteran center fielder with only two years of team control remaining. On the other side of the coin, many felt that the Rockies didn't receive much of a return on Fowler and should've cashed in that trade chip a year earlier with Fowler coming off of a monster 2012 season.
The key piece traded for Fowler was Lyles, a former supplemental-round draft pick that was rushed to the Majors at the age of 20 despite having fewer than 100 innings at Triple-A under his belt. Houston likely felt that it had the pitching depth to move Lyles, especially considering the fact that his strange handling will likely lead to Super Two status. thereby driving up his price tag.
If the Astros trade Fowler fora greater return or sign him to a long-term extension, the deal will make more sense. As it stands, it's a bit curious for a team in their position to trade away controllable assets for two years of an expensive veteran when the team is likely more than two years away from contention. While Lyles' prospect star has clearly fallen from the time when he was Baseball America's No. 42 prospect heading into the 2011 campaign, he's still posted a 2.24 K/BB ratio and 48.8 percent ground-ball rate in his career, and he's also seen his average velocity rise each season in the Majors (his fastball averaged 92.2 mph in 2013).
Overall, the biggest question for the Astros at this point is simply: When do the kids arrive? In Correa, Appel, Springer, Singleton and Foltynewicz (among others), Houston has an enviable crop of prospects that are nearly MLB-ready and could take the Lone Star State by storm in the near future. An arduous rebuild could be drawing close to an end, but while there's a light at the end of the tunnel, the Astros will be hard-pressed to climb out of the cellar in 2014. At the very least, they could be positioned for another No. 1 overall pick in 2015, giving them an unprecedented four consecutive No. 1 picks.
Photo courtesy of Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images.
We'll keep track of the day's minor moves here:
- The Mariners have signed lefty Clay Rapada and added him to the roster at Triple-A Tacoma, according to Rainiers announce Mike Curto (on Twitter). Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune first reported (via Twitter) that Rapada was working out for the team. The left-hander has a 4.06 ERA in 94 big league innings but has never been able to hold down a consistent big league job despite dominant numbers against left-handed hitters; Rapada has held lefties to a minuscule .164/.255/.231 batting line in his career. However, righties have roughed him up at a .345/.464/.611 clip.
- Catcher Chris Gimenez has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock, according to the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant (Twitter link). Gimenez, who has been outrighted previously, has 72 hours to accept or reject the assignment. He was claimed off waivers by the Rangers last week but quickly designated for assignment when the club promoted Daniel McCutchen to the Majors.
- The Cubs have outrighted reliever Alberto Cabrera to Triple-A after he cleared waivers, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). The 25-year-old righty was designated on Saturday.
- Outfielder Michael Taylor has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The 28-year-old will take up residence in Sacramento for the fifth straight year since joining the Oakland organization.
- Brian Bogusevic has accepted an outright assignment from the Marlins, reports Cotillo (via Twitter). Bogusevic, a 30-year-old outfielder who was acquired over the offseason for Justin Ruggiano, could have elected free agency since he has previously been outrighted.
- The Red Sox have released outfielder Scott Cousins, Cotillo also tweets. Cousins, 29, has seen bit action in parts of four MLB seasons. The news was first reported yesterday by Mike Andrews of SoxProspects (via Twitter). According to Andrews, longtime minor leaguer Juan Carlos Linares was also among the players cut loose from the Boston system.
- Pitcher Armando Galarraga is working on securing a visa after receiving an offer from the Taiwanese club Brother Elephants, his agent tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Cotillo tweeted earlier this morning that the former big leaguer was close to a deal to move to Taiwan. In 542 career MLB innings, Galarraga has a 4.78 ERA with 5.7 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9.
- Outfielder Dave Sappelt has been released by the Phillies, tweets Cotillo. Sappelt himself said on Twitter that he appreciates the club carrying him while undergoing offseason surgery. The 27-year-old has seen limited action in three big league seasons.
- The Astros have outrighted reliever Raul Valdes to Triple-A, according to the PCL transactions page. Though he lacks an extensive MLB track record at age 36, Valdes still has an intriguing recent stat line and looks to be a good bet to see time in Houston at some point. His ERA was a ghastly 7.46 last year, but he put up 9.5 K/9 (against just 2.1 BB/9), good for a 3.10 SIERA. Valdes posted numbers more line with those peripherals in 2012 and even during limited action this spring.
- Likewise, Hiroyuki Nakajima has been outrighted to the top affiliate of the Athletics, also via the PCL transactions page. The move is not surprising, given that Nakajima had only been added to the 40-man in the first place to fill it up to allow for the team to designate Taylor for assignment, according to a report from John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group (via Twitter).
Steve Adams contributed to this post.