Houston Astros Rumors
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.
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.
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.
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.
1:40pm: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that back at the Winter Meetings, the Angels offered Matt Garza a four-year contract similar to the deal he eventually he inked with the Brewers last week. However, owner Arte Moreno typically wants a quick response to free agent offers, so the Angels didn't leave the offer on the table for long (Twitter links). The Halos have added Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs this offseason and inked a returning Mark Mulder to a minor league deal. Here's more from the West divisions.
- Rangers southpaw Joe Ortiz will miss three months of the season after he was hit by a motorcycle in Venezuela, tweets Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest. Ortiz, who was a pedestrian at the time of the frightening accident, has a broken bone in his left foot.
- The Astros announced that top prospect and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel has had an emergency appendectomy. General manager Jeff Luhnow said in a press release that Appel isn't expected to miss much time: "He will report to camp on time. Once he arrives in Spring Training, we’ll see where he is at health-wise and take it from there. We anticipate that he will either be ready to work out at the start of camp or very close to ready." The Astros also announced that waiver claim Raul Valdes will be out four to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
- Former Dodgers starter Chris Capuano figures to be a bargain this offseason, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. ESPN's Buster Olney recently noted (on Twitter) that Capuano is now only asking for a one-year contract. Sullivan suggests that could make him a better buy than someone like Bronson Arroyo, even though Arroyo is perceived as being more durable. In October, the Dodgers paid Capuano a $1MM buyout rather than picking up an $8MM option, suggesting that they did not believe he was worth $7MM to them. The Steamer projection system, however, projects that Capuano will be approximately as valuable as Arroyo, Tim Hudson or Phil Hughes.
Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.
In his latest ESPN Insider piece (subscription required and recommended), Buster Olney covered some interesting topics. Among them:
- It makes sense for the Braves to roll the dice on winning their upcoming arbitration hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, says Olney, who notes that Kimbrel could otherwise earn more through arbitration than he might get on the open market. The stakes are high for both sides: Kimbrel's $9MM demand would set him up for perhaps a $14-15MM payday next year, while the Braves' $6.55MM counter could hold him to the $10-11MM range in 2015. That could make the difference between whether he is kept in Atlanta or is instead dealt to free up payroll space. And, as Olney notes, the return on Kimbrel in a trade might not be quite what fans would hope for if he is going to be paid like a starter.
- In spite of the MLB rules prohibiting team officials and agents from dispensing certain types of information regarding free agents, says Olney, a "tsunami of disinformation" has hit the rumor mill this offseason.
- Some MLB team executives have told Olney that Kendrys Morales may need to wait to sign until after the June 5-7 amateur draft if he hopes to beat the $14.1MM qualifying offer rate that he previously declined. By rule, a signing team would no longer be required to sacrifice draft pick compensation for Morales at that point. And, Olney notes, injuries and other happenings could increase demand.
- One major issue (among others) with this hypothetical strategy, I would suggest, is that Morales would only be able to earn a prorated portion of whatever 2014 salary he arrives at. For a player who was never really expected to land more than a two-year deal, giving up half-a-year of playing time might be more costly than just signing with the compensation attached.
- If Nolan Ryan joins the Astros organization, reports Olney, he will not be interested in serving as a figurehead and will want to have a voice in player personnel decisions.
MLB.com's Jim Callis has an interesting breakdown of the dollars committed to the game's top prospects. Over $228MM has already been committed by teams to the prospects listed among MLB.com's top 100. Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Keith Law has released his own prospect rankings (Insider links), naming the Astros' system as the game's best and tabbing Byron Buxton of the Twins as the best overall prospect. In his own top 101 prospects list, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus agrees with Buxton as the top choice, which certainly appears to be the consensus. And Baseball America has completed its listing of the ten best prospects by team.
Here are some more links from around the game:
- The Twins are keeping tabs on free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, but are a long shot to land him. Minnesota is probably only interested if Cruz drops his price fairly significantly, Wolfson adds, guessing that the club would probably only be involved at two years with an average annual value at or below the $10MM mark.
- Likewise, the Twins are waiting for the price to fall on South Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon, Wolfson reports (Twitter links). When Wolfson floated the number of two years and $10MM total to his source, he was told that cost was likely too steep for Minnesota.
- Free agent reliever Ryan Madson plans to hold a full public workout on February 7th, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com (Twitter links). The 33-year-old threw yesterday for an unknown club that is reportedly a leading candidate to land him, Crasnick adds.
- Starter Scott Baker chose the Mariners over offers from the Indians, Rangers, and Royals, reports Wolfson (via Twitter). The Twins never had interest in a reunion, Wolfson adds.
- Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers were discussing a deal in the range of $200MM to $205MM over the summer, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. By waiting until he wrapped up a Cy Young campaign, Kershaw was able to secure a deal with a $215MM guarantee.