Houston Astros Rumors
JAN. 10: Feldman's deal is front-loaded, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The right-hander will earn $12MM in 2014, $10MM in 2015 and $8MM in 2016.
DEC. 6: Though several of their starters turned in a strong finish to the 2013 campaign, the Astros' rotation still ranked 28th in ERA and 27th in innings pitched. Looking to add an experienced arm to help solidify an unstable group of starters, Houston announced a three-year deal for right-hander Scott Feldman that is reportedly worth $30MM. It's been a busy few days for Feldman's agent, Matt Brown, as he also represents Curtis Granderson, who just agreed to a four-year, $60MM deal with the Mets.
Feldman rebounded from a series of injuries with the Rangers to post a solid season between the Cubs and Orioles in 2013. The 30-year-old posted a 3.86 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 49.6 percent ground-ball rate in 181 2/3 innings.
Feldman's contract represents both a significant raise for the pitcher -- he earned $6MM in 2013 -- and a significant change in philosophy for the Astros. Houston trimmed payroll in 2013 to the point where Erik Bedard's $1.15MM salary made him the only Astro with a salary north of $1MM. By signing Feldman and acquiring Dexter Fowler and his $7.35MM salary earlier this week, the Astros are making good on their promise to fans that they will spend money this offseason.
Feldman will join a promising young rotation that includes Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock (who improved significantly in the season's final two months). Houston also has promising prospects on the way in the form of Mike Foltynewicz and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel. Beyond those already impressive names, the Astros will once again pick No. 1 overall in 2014, meaning that another highly touted arm could be added to the mix. North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon currently projects as the consensus No.1 overall pick. Feldman was traded midseason and therefore wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer, meaning the Astros will not surrender a draft pick to land his services.
Feldman's contract is somewhat comparable to that of other mid-tier starters such as Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes. Though he was unable to secure the fourth year that Vargas commanded, Feldman also netted a higher annual value despite a more inconsistent track record. He and Brown were able to top my prediction of two years and a vesting option.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports was the first to report the agreement and terms of the deal (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Could the Athletics be stealth contenders for Masahiro Tanaka? A Major League executive tells Bill Madden of the New York Daily News to "watch out for Oakland" as a suitor for the Japanese right-hander. "They’ve got as much money as any team and they like doing these big international things — as with their signing of (Yoenis) Cespedes and the fact they were second to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman five years ago," the exec said. Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com explores the possibility of Tanaka joining the A's and thinks the executive might've just been speculating, but while he feels it's unlikely the A's can outbid the field for Tanaka, Stiglich notes the A's have already made some surprising moves this winter "so no sort of Tanaka speculation should come as a complete shocker."
Here's some more from the AL West...
- Speaking of Tanaka, ESPN's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required) opines that "he would be absolutely perfect for" the Astros. Tanaka is young enough that he'll be in his prime when Houston will theoretically be able to contend, and the Astros can afford to make a big contract offer since they have so few long-term payroll commitments.
- Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle breaks down the question of whether the Astros should trade or extend catcher Jason Castro. There's clear value to keeping a cost-controlled, power-hitting catcher on one-year deals through arbitration, and yet without an extension, a trade becomes more logical the closer Castro gets to free agency.
- Trading for outfielder Michael Choice "was the best move made by the Rangers this winter," opines MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan as part of a reader mailbag. Sullivan sees Choice as a candidate to help the team in 2014 and take over as Alex Rios' replacement in 2015. Texas acquired Choice as part of the deal that sent Craig Gentry to Oakland last month.
- The Rangers drafted Jameis Winston in the 15th round of the 2012 draft and Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News talks to Texas assistant GM A.J. Preller and other club personnel about how serious Texas was about signing Winston and still letting him play football for Florida State. Winston, of course, is quarterbacking FSU against Auburn in tonight's national championship game and says he aims to be a two-sport star a la Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders. Winston is next eligible for the MLB draft in 2015.
- In other AL West news from earlier today, the Mariners will need approval from ownership before going ahead with any more big moves, and the M's signed catcher Humberto Quintero to a minor league deal.
MLBTR's Zach Links also contributed to this post
The Angels are likely to eclipse the $189MM luxury-tax threshold eventually, despite their efforts to avoid doing so this offseason, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes. Sources tell the columnist that the Angels have between $13MM and $15MM of space left beneath the cap, figures that are much lower than what will be required to sign Masahiro Tanaka. However, extending Mike Trout at, say, $300MM over 10 years would make it difficult to avoid surpassing the threshold anyway, so the Angels may as well do so now, Rosenthal surmises. Here's more from his new column:
- This offseason's big contracts for less-than-durable stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Brian McCann show that position players can earn more as free agents than they would with club-friendly, long-term deals. Meanwhile, clubs appear increasingly willing to move players who resist extensions. For example, sources tell Rosenthal that rival teams have asked about Astros catcher Jason Castro, who could be moved if Houston is unable to ink him long-term.
- Qualifying offers appear to have suppressed the market for players such as Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales, frustrating player representatives. Potential fixes to the system include guaranteeing that free agents receive a qualifying offer only once, or ensuring that teams signing free agents who received qualifying offers lose only draft picks and not their associated bonus-pool amounts. The current system will remain in place for another two offseasons, Rosenthal notes.
- Stephen Drew appears to be a fit for the Mets, rival executives say, despite the club's insistence that it will consider Ruben Tejada for its starting shortstop job.
- The Blue Jays remain among the favorites to sign either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, despite their quiet offseason thus far. The Jays could acquire as many as two starters before the offseason is over, Rosenthal reports. In addition to upgrading through free agency, the club has also discussed trades for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija and other starters.
- The Diamondbacks could trade J.J. Putz after acquiring Addison Reed from the White Sox. Swapping the righty for Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is one potential deal, or Putz could be packaged with other players in a deal for a starter such as Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers.
Pitcher Collin McHugh has published a fascinating chronicle (at ESPN New York) of his year in baseball, which includes stints with the Mets and Rockies. McHugh ended the calendar year by getting claimed by the Astros, and at the end of his article, he lists what seem to be the key differences between the two franchises, at least for someone in his situation. One of the more interesting of those is that the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs is just 45 minutes from Denver, while the Astros' Triple-A team in Oklahoma City is six hours from Houston. That's not something a fan would consider, but it's part of the reality of life on the fringes of the big leagues. Here's more from the West divisions.
- The Astros announced that they've named Kevin Goldstein their Director of Professional Scouting. They also named Stephanie Wilka their Specialist of International Operations and Associate Counsel, and Pete Putila their Coordinator of Baseball Operations. Goldstein, who joined the Astros organization in 2012, was previously a writer for Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.
- The Mariners want to add a top-notch starting pitcher, and the Robinson Cano signing demonstrates a kind of "urgency" or "desperation," so their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka could get wild, Jeff Sullivan of USS Mariner writes. The market for Tanaka could reach the point where paying his price no longer makes sense, though, and if it does, it might be better for the Mariners to sign someone like Ubaldo Jimenez for half of what Tanaka will cost.
- It's unclear whether the Giants might consider signing Brandon Belt to an extension, but if they did, the Anthony Rizzo, Allen Craig, Paul Goldschmidt and Billy Butler deals might provide a basic framework, writes Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles. Belt is a Super Two, which means the Giants control him for the next four years, but at arbitration prices. Brisbee suggests a fair deal for Belt might be something like five years and $42MM, with an option for 2019.
Agent Scott Boras has a quality starting shortstop on his hands in free agent Stephen Drew. Drew, 31 in March, bears the stigma of costing a draft pick to sign. But in 2013 for the Red Sox, he hit .253/.333/.443 in 501 plate appearances and was worth 3.4 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. That tied for eighth-best in baseball among shortstops.
If you are a believer in projection systems, Drew will not be a top ten shortstop in 2014. Using an average of projected 2014 WAR from Steamer, Oliver, and where available, ZiPS (all from FanGraphs), Drew ranks 23rd among starting shortstops with 2.0. Starlin Castro and Jose Iglesias rank below Drew, but they are close enough that he wouldn't be a clear upgrade. We're left with six starting shortstops on whom Drew would be an upgrade, based on these projections: Jonathan Villar of the Astros, Derek Jeter of the Yankees, Ruben Tejada of the Mets, Pedro Florimon of the Twins, Alcides Escobar of the Royals, and Adeiny Hechavarria of the Marlins. Let's look at each situation individually.
- Astros: The Astros want to see what Villar, 23 in May, can do over the course of a full season. The Astros viewed the outfield as a place to potentially add a hitter, so they acquired Dexter Fowler in December. They also picked up first baseman/left fielder Jesus Guzman in another trade that month. For the Astros to displace Villar and give up the #33 pick in the draft, Drew would have to come at an extreme bargain. The Astros do not look like a fit, even if Drew would give them an extra win in 2014.
- Yankees: GM Brian Cashman told Peter Gammons in late December his team won't be signing Drew, which is a fairly rare comment on a specific free agent. Drew would only cost the #53 pick in the draft. But even if it makes some sense in a spreadsheet, adding him as insurance for Jeter could be controversial. Plus, the Yankees made a large commitment to Jeter and have more pressing needs right now.
- Mets: One rival GM thinks the Mets are feigning disinterest in Drew, according to Gammons, as he would be an upgrade on Tejada. Drew makes a ton of sense for the Mets, who would only have to surrender the #82 draft pick. The Mets are by far the best match for Drew.
- Twins: The Twins have spent $86.75MM on four free agents so far this winter, with 97% of that going toward pitching. Their draft pick cost would be #43, and I don't see why they wouldn't give Drew serious consideration. However, they seem set with Florimon.
- Royals: The Royals have spent big on free agents Omar Infante and Jason Vargas this winter, but don't seem interested in upgrading on Escobar even if they could afford Drew.
- Marlins: The Marlins have added four position players through free agency this winter, but they seem set with Hechavarria manning shortstop for years to come.
What about Drew's old team, the Red Sox? He may have less than 100 big league plate appearances to his name, but 21-year-old phenom Xander Bogaerts projects to be better than Drew in 2014. Re-signing Drew would mean not receiving a supplemental first round pick for losing him, so there is a cost in that regard. Drew makes sense if the Red Sox are wary of using Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as their starters on the left side of the infield, though.
It seems the Mets and Boras will continue to play chicken regarding Drew, but GM Sandy Alderson does have the upper hand in that no other suitor is emerging. It seems to be the right time for a Mystery Team to step in. One Hail Mary option for Boras could be to market Drew as a potential second or third baseman in 2014, for teams with entrenched shortstops. Once again, Boras is tasked with pulling a rabbit out of his hat on a free agent client.
FRIDAY: Crain's one-year deal with the Astros is worth $3.25MM, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
TUESDAY: The Astros have signed right-hander Jesse Crain to a one-year contract, the team announced in a press release. Terms of the contract weren't disclosed. Crain is represented by Relativity Baseball.
Crain posted a 11.3 K/9, 4.18 K/BB rate and an incredible 0.74 ERA in 36 2/3 relief innings with the White Sox in 2013. These eye-popping numbers put Crain on pace for the best season of his 10-year career, but his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. Crain didn't pitch after June 29, though he was still elected to his first All-Star team. Crain was still acquired by the Rays at the trade deadline with the hopes that he would recover, but the 32-year-old never threw a pitch as a Ray.
Crain's health is still something of a question mark, as Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) that Crain has yet to begin his throwing program following his surgery in October. That said, Crain passed his physical and Luhnow believes Crain is progressing well. "We're not going to rush him but we feel like he's going to be ready to go certainly early in the season if not before," Luhnow said.
As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in his Free Agent Profile of Crain back in October, a one-year deal would help Crain re-establish his value following his shoulder injury and possibly set him up for a more lucrative multiyear contract next winter. While Crain apparently had some two-year offers on the table, he instead chose to just take a single guaranteed year in a familiar locale --- Crain pitched for the University Of Houston. Luhnow said in the press release that the team "targeted [Crain] early in the offseason," so the quick push from his semi-hometown team also might've helped influence Crain's decision. The Cubs and Rockies were two of the other clubs known to be interested in Crain's services.
Astros relievers posted a league-worst 4.92 ERA in 2013, so the bullpen was obviously a major focus for Luhnow this winter. Crain joins Matt Albers and Chad Qualls as relievers the Astros have signed to Major League free agent deals, and Houston has also added Anthony Bass, Raul Valdes, Darin Downs and Peter Moylan in other moves. Luhnow told reporters (including Evan Drellich) that manager Bo Porter will decide who closes games for the club and that Crain will be in the mix, though Crain has never worked as a closer before.
Crain ranked 46th on Tim Dierkes' list of this offseason's top 50 free agents, and Tim correctly predicted that Crain would end up with the Astros.
Photo courtesy of Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports Images
Nelson Cruz's market seems almost non-existent in the eyes of Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan, who goes through every team in baseball to try and find a home for the outfielder. Twenty-nine teams are "stretches" or "not a fit," while only the Orioles are a "decent" candidate, and Kendrys Morales might be a better fit for them. A return to the Rangers would be a "stretch," and GM Jon Daniels recently said that he expects Cruz to sign elsewhere now that Shin-Soo Choo is in the fold. MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth also took a crack at examining Cruz's market a few days ago --- a reader poll pegged the Mariners as the best contender to sign Cruz, though they garnered just over 23% of the vote.
Here's the latest from around the AL West...
- Neftali Feliz wants to be a reliever for the rest of his career and he's intent on regaining his old job as the Rangers' closer, the righty tells MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan via a translator. Feliz said he is "finally" recovered from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for most of 2012 and 2013, cutting short his stint in the Texas rotation at the start of the 2012 season. Feliz has pitched well out of the bullpen in the Dominican Winter League and he'll compete with Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers for the closer's job in 2014.
- The Angels will bring Joe Blanton to Spring Training and if they can't find a trade for the veteran hurler, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez opines (via Twitter), Blanton will simply be released. Blanton posted a career-worst 6.04 ERA in 2013, though the advanced metrics (3.84 xFIP, 3.92 SIERA) indicate that ERA was inflated thanks to an ungainly 19.1% home run rate and a .346 BABIP. The Halos would eat $8.5MM if they released Blanton --- his $7.5MM salary for 2014 and the $1MM buyout of his $8MM 2015 option.
- Gonzalez also tweets that he expects the Angels to sign another free agent pitcher to their rotation.
- Since the Astros have been in full-on rebuilding mode for virtually all of GM Jeff Luhnow's tenure, some player agents told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle this offseason that they were simply weren't that familiar with Luhnow. “All of our current players have representatives, and I’ve dealt with a lot of the agents and agencies through the draft over the years...But yeah, it’s a different position that we’re in this year relative to last year. Remember, in 2011, I was hired in December, and at that point things were fairly far along and there was not a lot of flexibility of doing much except for trades we did," Luhnow said. "To a certain extent, having the position flexibility and financial flexibility to participate in the free-agent market has been a new experience for me as a general manager, and a good one.”
- With all the big moves in the AL West this offseason, Drellich opines that some of the would-be contenders in the division could have already peaked in a couple of seasons' time, when the Astros will be ready to step up and contend themselves.
- In AL West news from earlier today, Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson found a new agent and we got some updates on Mark Mulder's contract with the Angels.
The annual "Black Monday" NFL head coach firing day does not have an analog for baseball GMs, who have enjoyed much better job security than either those coaches or MLB managers, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Since 2011, only Larry Beinfest (the Marlins' former president of baseball operations) has been canned amongst top baseball operations men. Ten GMs have been in place since at least 2006, while only nine of the remaining twenty teams have undergone what Piecoro classifies as "full regime changes." Though several elements -- such as baseball's long player development timeline -- may support this phenomenon, Piecoro says that we could see more front office shakeups in the near future. He lists several GMs who could be on a short leash, many of whom represent western division clubs: Kevin Towers of the Diamondbacks, Dan O'Dowd of the Rockies, Jack Zduriencik of the Mariners, Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies, and Jerry Dipoto of the Angels.
Here's more from the National and American League West:
- D-Backs fans should temper their expectations about the possibility of the club landing Masahiro Tanaka, writes MLB.com's Steve Gilbert. Though Arizona has been prominently connected to the hurler, Gilbert says that the commitment needed to beat the market on Tanaka would be "very tough" to cram into the club's payroll space.
- The Athletics are likely to employ John Jaso as the club's primary designated hitter rather than adding salary to put a new bat in the lineup, says Jane Lee of MLB.com. Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp could also see time in the DH slot to reduce their wear and tear in the outfield, Lee notes. Meanwhile, Lee notes, the club is highly unlikely to trade away Cespedes (unless it gets a huge offer) and does not seem to be in play for free agent Nelson Cruz.
- The Astros made a surprising addition to the club's 40-man roster recently, protecting unheralded 23-year-old Luis Cruz from the Rule 5 draft. As Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle writes for Baseball America (subscription required), Cruz exploded last year and caught the attention of GM Jeff Luhnow. "We promoted him to Double-A not really expecting him to do what he did," said Luhnow. "He went out and dominated." Though Cruz threw only 17 innings at that level, he also notched 10.2 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 across 113 1/3 innings in High-A (though his 5.16 ERA was less promising). "The fact is that he is lefthanded, he profiles as a starting pitcher and has dominant stuff," Luhnow explained.
- The American League West race gets its own spot on ESPN.com's Buster Olney's top storylines of 2014 (Insider link). The division features big money additions to the Rangers and Mariners, as well as numerous interesting newcomers to the rosters of the A's, Angels, and Astros. As Olney explains, the results of the division's arm race -- and the fallout for those teams that fail to meet expectations -- promises to be great baseball theater.
In today's press conference to introduce Raul Ibanez, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto declined to comment on whether he's in on Masahiro Tanaka, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. "It's not fair to the player or the organization to openly discuss free agents," said Dipoto (link). Despite that, Fletcher thinks it's still safe to assume they're interested in the Japanese hurler. More out of the AL West..
- Brian McTaggart of MLB.com looked at the Astros' top storylines from 2013, including owner Jim Crane expanding the payroll and the appointment of Ryan Reid as president of business operations.
- Ibanez told reporters, including Fletcher (Twitter link) that he wouldn't still be playing if he didn't think he could do it at a high level. The 41-year-old inked a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $2.75MM that can go as high as $5MM with incentives.
- Ibanez also talks about why he hits well at the Angels' home park, tweets Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. The slugger said the background allows him to see ball well, he benefits from the park's wide open gaps, and he says the ball moves well through the infield. His value is also helped by the fact that he won't have to play the outfield in Anaheim.
In this week's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the Orioles owe it to their fans to take a shot at a championship by bolstering the roster. The O's moved Jim Johnson to save on his expected $10MM salary for 2014 but the nixing of Grant Balfour's deal leaves them without a proven closer. The Orioles, with a few fixes, could be exciting and fun to watch, but they need more if they want to win it all. More from this week's column..
- Cafardo cautions not to sleep on the Red Sox in the Masahiro Tanaka hunt and one AL scout says it’s the perfect time for the Red Sox to strike. “They have veteran pitchers in the final year or two years remaining on their deals,” he said. “They’ll be clearing out a lot of payroll soon. I know they feel they have good young pitching on the horizon, but Tanaka should be a very good No. 2 or No. 3 starter on any staff. I would think with their emphasis on pitching, they would get into it.” The Yankees, Cubs, Rangers, and Dodgers figure to be the most aggressive and the Angels, Phillies, Royals, and Blue Jays are expected to get into it.
- Will the Red Sox's experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka scare them off of Tanaka? “I don’t think that can enter their thinking. I’m sure they would have gone after Yu Darvish in retrospect,” said one National League GM.
- Cafardo recently spoke with a few GMs who feel the Yankees may wind up with Ubaldo Jimenez, even if they land Tanaka. “He had an excellent second half, has great stuff, and he has the type of personality that would fit New York,” one GM said. “He doesn’t let things get to him. He’s good at shrugging off things and turning the page.” If the Yankees ink both pitchers, it's pretty difficult to see them staying under the $189MM mark.
- Nelson Cruz is the best available free agent among position players, but his demand of four years at $75MM has turned off teams. While other PED guys such as Jhonny Peralta have cashed in, teams are worried that Cruz, who more relies on his power is of greater concern for teams who worry that being off the stuff could hurt his power numbers.
- John Lackey’s name has come up consistently this winter, but the Red Sox aren’t motivated to deal him. That could change, but the club is enthused about his $500K option for 2015.
- It'll be interesting to see if the Yankees can move Ichiro Suzuki given their crowded outfield. The Giants remain a possibility, Cafardo writes.
- The Dodgers could still trade from their outfield surplus. When it comes to Matt Kemp, of course, teams want to see how he rebounds from shoulder and ankle surgeries.
- With Brian McCann aboard and Francisco Cervelli as backup, Yankees catcher Austin Romine is very much available.
- Johan Santana is getting closer to making a decision on a minor league deal with a team. There’s been some speculation about the Twins since Santana still resides in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Twins have spring training. A small-market team such as the Astros could also have some interest.