J.A. Happ Rumors

AL Notes: Konerko, Happ, Farrell

White Sox great Paul Konerko‘s number will be retired today, as Bruce Levine of CBSChicago.com notes. Since retiring last season, Konerko says, he has watched the White Sox on occasion but hasn’t spent much time watching baseball. He did, however, attend Wayne Gretzky’s fantasy hockey camp, and he has three young children. “A lot of guys I talked to said, ‘Listen, you have to find things to do,'” says Konerko. “When you go home, they said, ‘You can only play so much golf.’ I definitely have a lot of stuff going on to keep me sharp.” Here’s more from the American League.

  • Of all the players who left the Blue Jays last winter, the one who would have helped the team the most is, improbably, J.A. Happ, Brendan Kennedy of TheStar.com writes. The Jays’ rotation has struggled this season, while Happ has produced a 3.61 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 for the Mariners. Happ had frequently been little more than a contingency plan in Toronto. “They must have felt like they had better options,” says Happ. “I just tried to take advantage of the opportunities when I got them, but I was definitely trying to fight for my cause.”
  • The Red Sox should at least consider firing John Farrell, writes Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. Since winning a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013, Farrell has a .441 winning percentage as manager, and this year’s team is filled with expensive but struggling veterans. Nonetheless, the AL East hasn’t been a strong division this year, and the Red Sox could still win it. Smith suggests that might be difficult, though, if the Red Sox don’t dramatically improve or make changes.

NL Notes: D’Backs, Phillies, Hamels, Kimbrel

Though many have argued to the contrary, the Diamondbacks are internally optimistic that their club can ride its young pitching to a surprising campaign, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Piecoro discusses the club’s acquisitions, including a turnaround candidate in Jeremy Hellickson and advanced-level prospects Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray“It’s our belief that with the young pitching we’ve got, we think it’s the right time,” said GM Dave Stewart. “Young pitching doesn’t normally start to show itself until the age that these guys are approaching — they’re not even there yet, they’re just approaching. The scouting reports that we have on each and every last one of the guys we acquired are good reports. Now, it’s just a matter of if they’re ready to move forward.”

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club has made “pretty decent progress” in turning over its club into a “younger and more athletic” unit, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports“We didn’t necessarily expect to make a full transition in a two- or three-month period of time,” said Amaro. “The process doesn’t start on October 1 and it doesn’t end on February 15. It continues. … There’s still a lot of work to be done.” Amaro rejected the idea that his club had set unrealistic price tags on its veterans: “Everybody has an idea of how they should evaluate. We have certain ways we evaluate our players and other players and what’s right for the organization. I think we’re in a better position to make those decisions than others.”
  • Most of the criticism, of course, has targeted the Phillies‘ inability to date to work out a deal for lefty Cole Hamels. Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer opines that Amaro ought to make the best deal he can, now, rather than risking an injury or ineffectiveness.
  • Speaking of Hamels, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has put together another fascinating study of pitch comps. In this one, he notes the incredible similarities between the offerings of Hamels and fellow southpaw (and former Phillies hurler) J.A. Happ. As Sullivan explains, Hamels has vastly outperformed Happ not because he has better stuff, but likely through some combination of superior control, deception, and the like.
  • The division-rival Braves, meanwhile, have not drawn the same kind of widespread scrutiny as have the Phils, even after stating that they were not interested in dealing star closer Craig Kimbrel. The outstanding righty remains entrenched in the ninth, and tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he still expects the team to compete for a championship and has a personal goal of converting every save chance he is given. As O’Brien notes, skeptics have suggested that the club may still hold out some possibility of trading Kimbrel if a truly massive package were dangled, but there have been virtually no reports suggesting any action. It is at least somewhat notable that Atlanta added two former closers in Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, but at this point a hypothetical deal involving Kimbrel seems a topic that — at most — may be worth re-visiting at the trade deadline.

Anthopoulos On Bullpen, Happ, Extensions

The Blue Jays held a “State Of The Franchise” event for season ticket-holders at the Rogers Centre on Thursday, with president Paul Beeston, manager John Gibbons and GM Alex Anthopoulos in attendance to discuss the club’s offseason and future plans. As you would expect, most of the hot stove-related news came from Anthopoulos, and here’s the roundup of his comments from Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi (links are to Davidi’s Twitter feed).

  • The Jays are still concentrating their efforts on bullpen help, though Anthopoulos said they’re looking for depth and not specifically a closer. “We’re not overly concerned about the ninth inning, because we do think there are some guys that can get those last three outs,” Anthopoulos said, referring to Aaron Sanchez and Brett Cecil. “We are concerned about the general depth —” just having enough guys to lead into the ninth.” Toronto has been linked to such notable relief names as Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Phil Coke in recent weeks, though of that group, Coke is the only one who wouldn’t expect to close.
  • While the club is still looking for relievers, Anthopoulos said the Jays could also save their payroll space to make additions at the end of Spring Training or during the season.
  • The Jays are likely set at second base, Anthopoulos said. Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson and Munenori Kawasaki are the internal options at the keystone, with newly-acquired prospect Devon Travis still probably a year away.
  • With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion both entering their last seasons under contract, Anthopoulos said he expects “that at some point we’ll sit down with them and try to work something out” in regards to extensions. The Jays hold club options ($14MM for Bautista, $10MM for Encarnacion) on the two sluggers for 2016 that look like no-brainers to be exercised, so the club has plenty of time to negotiate.
  • The Mariners claimed J.A. Happ off waivers from the Blue Jays last August, Anthopoulos said. The two sides couldn’t agree to a trade at the time and Happ finished the season in Toronto, though they did discuss Michael Saunders during negotiations. The M’s and Jays finally worked out a Saunders-for-Happ trade in December.


Mariners Notes: Happ, Rotation, Outfielders, Montero, Beimel

The Mariners held their yearly pre-Spring Training media luncheon yesterday, and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune has some highlights from sessions with manager Lloyd McClendon and GM Jack Zduriencik…

  • There’s been a bit of speculation that left-hander J.A. Happ, acquired from the Blue Jays in the Michael Saunders trade, would pitch out of the bullpen, but McClendon quickly squashed that chatter. “We didn’t acquire Happ to pitch out of the bullpen,” McClendon said. “We can put all of that to rest. He will be pitching in our rotation.”
  • McClendon added that there will be a competition for only one spot in the rotation, though he declined to specify who on the club’s roster will definitively be joining Happ, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation. Dutton, however, writes that “all signs point” to James Paxton being guaranteed a spot, meaning that the fifth slot in the rotation will be a battle between Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and possibly Erasmo Ramirez.
  • Others could join that competition, as Zduriencik told the media that he’s hopeful of adding another starting pitcher, although further additions would likely come in the form of minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training. The Mariners would like any non-roster invitees to be able to provide depth in the minors, which may be a tough sell, Dutton notes, as veteran starters that will have to settle for minor league deals may prefer to sign with a club that presents a clearer path to a Major League roster spot.
  • The Mariners are likely to sign a veteran outfielder as well, Dutton writes. Zduriencik acknowledged that the team “may do a few little tinkerings” before Spring Training to bring in a veteran player or two that could compete for a job. Seattle has been linked to Endy Chavez on multiple occasions.
  • Seattle is very happy with Jesus Montero‘s offseason conditioning, as the former top prospect has lost roughly 40 pounds and is down to the team’s target weight of 235 pounds. Said Zduriencik of Montero: “He appears to be a guy who, maybe, the lights have gone on for him. He’s going to get a chance in spring training. We’ll see.”
  • Left-hander Joe Beimel is still a “possibility” for the club, Dutton writes. The 37-year-old Beimel (38 in April) posted a 2.20 ERA with 5.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 49.6 percent ground-ball rate in 45 innings for Seattle last season. He also held left-handed hitters to a paltry .188/.217/.288 batting line.
  • Dutton also provides updates on a few of the club’s top prospects and injury updates on Elias, Willie Bloomquist, Danny Hultzen and Dustin Ackley in addition to discussing what is likely to be a Spring battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor to see who will be the Mariners’ everyday shortstop. The entire roundup is worth a look for Mariners fans.

Mariners, Blue Jays Swap Michael Saunders, J.A. Happ

The Mariners have officially acquired lefty J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com first reported on Twitter. Both teams have been aggressive in adding talent early in the offseason, and this move seems to set up additional action for each.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros

In Happ, 32, Seattle has added a left-handed starter who just threw 158 innings of 4.22 ERA ball, striking out 7.6 and walking 2.9 batters per nine. That makes him a reasonably useful pitcher, though he’ll play for $6.7MM this year before hitting free agency. But Happ has never returned to the production he flashed back in 2009, when he notched a 2.93 ERA over 166 frames (while carrying a less-encouraging 4.33 FIP).

Saunders, meanwhile, is a 28-year-old outfielder who brings plenty of talent with him to Toronto and fills a need for the Jays. He has had three straight above-average offensive seasons, including a .273/.341/.450 slash over 263 plate appearances in an injury-limited 2014 campaign. Though advanced metrics have not always been in love with his defensive work, particularly in center, he posted solid numbers last year and is generally viewed as a good fielder. Projected to earn $2.9MM in arbitration, Saunders comes with an additional season of non-guaranteed control as well.

Though the Jays are left without a sturdy rotation option, the team does have young arms to fill in with upside to spare. And Saunders makes an excellent fit for a club that has an opening in the corner outfield and is relying on youngsters in center. Even better, the nearly $3MM in cost savings will open up more flexibility as the club looks to build out its pen and address other areas of need.

The move certainly makes sense of last night’s non-tender decisions. With Saunders in the fold, the Jays seem unlikely to continue pursuing Melky Cabrera. Indeed, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that to be the case on Twitter. The club’s extra payroll space will also create opportunities to add back to the team’s big league rotation.

It is somewhat more difficult to understand the logic from the Mariners’ perspective. Though Saunders and the team squabbled earlier in the offseason, and he was part of a generally lefty-heavy lineup, the fact remains that he is a valuable young contributor. While Happ will add some stability to the rotation, that was not exactly a pressing area of need, and one cannot help but wonder whether a slightly more substantial return might have been possible.

Of course, if another move for an outfielder is in the works, then the moving pieces could begin to line up. And GM Jack Zduriencik gave the impression to reporters, including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) that he intends to do just that.


AL East Notes: Robertson, Headley, Happ, Tomas

In a text message to George A. King III of the New York Post, David Robertson says things are “quiet on the front” in terms of a multiyear contract with the Yankees or receiving a qualifying offer from the team.  The Yankees are expected to extend the QO to Robertson and the closer is very likely to reject it given the interest in his services.  At least six clubs are interested in Robertson this winter, a league source tells Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

Here’s more from around the AL East…

  • The Yankees have begun talks with Chase Headley, CBSSports.com’ Jon Heyman reports.  New York has exclusive negotiating rights with Headley until 11pm CT tonight, though it would be quite surprising to see a deal reached before Headley has had a chance to test the thin free agent market.
  • Blue Jays southpaw J.A. Happ is “generating lots of interest” in trades, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports.  Happ enjoyed a solid 2014 season and had his $6.7MM option for 2015 exercised by the Jays on Friday.  With the newly-acquired Marco Estrada now in the rotation mix, Happ could be expendable.
  • Earlier today, Sportsnet.ca’s Jeff Blair reported that the Blue Jays have had internal discussions about Russell Martin.  In that same item, Blair notes that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos might look to act quickly this offseason rather than wait for deals to develop.  The latter strategy left the Jays largely empty-handed last winter.  Toronto has already dealt Adam Lind to Milwaukee, a trade that Blair feels doesn’t make much sense for the Jays unless a follow-up move is forthcoming.
  • The Orioles don’t seem to have interest in trading or non-tendering Chris Davis, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski reports, though the first baseman will have much to atone for in Baltimore following his disappointing 2014 season.
  • Though the Orioles currently have six legitimate rotation candidates on the roster, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko expects the club to add pitching depth by signing at least one veteran to a minor league deal.
  • Jay Alou, Yasmany Tomas‘ agent, tweeted that his client worked out at the Red Sox academy in the Dominican Republic over the weekend.  While the Sox have had some interest in Tomas in the past, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford hears that the workout was arranged “partly out of convenience, with Tomas needing a place in the area to continue his preparation.”  It would be a surprise to see Boston sign Tomas given that the Sox already have an outfield surplus.
  • The Red Sox are in need of a top left-hander for the bullpen, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.  Bringing back Andrew Miller would be the best option, though he’ll be heavily courted by several teams and the Sox may not be able to win a bidding war.
  • Silverman thinks the Red Sox and Burke Badenhop could quickly come to terms on a new contract.  The righty reliever posted a 2.29 ERA in 70 2/3 IP with Boston in 2014.

Blue Jays To Exercise J.A. Happ’s Option

The Blue Jays will exercise their team option on lefty starter J.A. Happ, paying $6.7MM rather than a $200K buyout, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Prior to the 2013 season, the Jays signed Happ to a one-year, $5.4MM extension for 2014 that included the option they’re exercising now. He can become a free agent after the coming season.

Happ pitched 158 innings for the Jays in 2014, with a 4.22 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 that marked a significant improvement over his 2013 mark of 4.4. Happ also increased his average fastball velocity from 91.1 MPH to a career-high 92.7, perhaps an indication that he can continue to be helpful. He looks likely to be in the Jays’ rotation again in 2015.

 


Anthopoulos On Payroll, Cabrera, Pitching, Gibbons

Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos met with the media, including Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi (Twitter links) and the National Post’s John Lott, for 50 minutes today before Toronto’s season finale against Baltimore. Here are the highlights:

  • Anthopoulos declined to put a figure on the team’s 2015 payroll, but expects to have the financial flexibility to make moves and has “some ideas on trades and free agents.”
  • The Blue Jays will make a competitive offer to Melky Cabrera, but Anthopoulos reiterated the club’s policy of limiting contracts to five years “is still firmly in place. That’s not going to change.” 
  • On the Jays’ starting rotation, I wouldn’t feel good going into the season with five,Anthopoulos said. “Philosophically speaking, you want to hoard as much as you can, keep as much depth as you can.” To that end, Anthopoulos hinted J.A. Happ‘s $6.7MM option will be exercised and Aaron Sanchez (“frontline starter potential“) will be stretched out in Spring Training. He will, however, at least consider trade offers for established arms.
  • The Blue Jays will eschew big-name relievers and focus on set-up arms in an effort to rebuild their bullpen. Sanchez may pitch in relief sometime during the course of 2015, but only to manage his innings.
  • Yes,” was Anthopoulos’ reply when asked would he hire John Gibbons if he had a managerial opening next season.
  • Brett Lawrie is slated to play third base next year, but could be moved to second if an impact third baseman is acquired. As for evaluating the other position players, Anthopoulos will place a premium on durability.
  • Nicholson-Smith opines bench upgrades will most likely be accomplished through trades rather than free agency.

Quick Hits: Astros, Papelbon, Happ, Betancourt

As we wind up one of the busiest weeks in the history of baseball transactions, here are a few more notes as we head into the weekend…

  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is happy to have acquired Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman before the Winter Meetings, but Luhnow tells reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) that his club has more on its to-do list.  “To have them both done before the Winter Meetings is a bonus," Luhnow said.  "So now that we can focus on the bullpen and focus on potentially another position player somewhere….We may not be done with starting pitching either.  We’re still actively talking to some other folks.”
  • With the Phillies reportedly shopping closer Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the team will have a tough time given Papelbon's large salary, signs of decline and his possible attitude issues.
  • J.A. Happ could be a trade chip for the Blue Jays if the team needed to free up some payroll space, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  Happ is set to earn $5.2MM in 2014 with a $6.7MM team option for 2015.  The southpaw was limited to 18 starts in 2013 due to head injuries suffered when he was hit in the head with a line drive, as well as a knee injury also stemming from the incident.
  • Also from Nicholson-Smith, nothing is imminent with Yuniesky Betancourt, though a number of teams are still interested in the veteran as infield depth.  The Marlins were linked to Betancourt last month.
  • Erisbel Barbaro Arruebarruena has a good glove at shortstop, is lacking at the plate and is overall not going to provide the impact of recent Cuban signings, a scout tells MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.  "This isn’t like watching Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes. You’re not going to hear from 15 teams. You’ll hear from teams that are hurting a little bit at shortstop," the scout said.  Arruebarruena will showcase his skills for teams this weekend, and the Mets have been identified as one of the attending clubs.

AL Notes: Yankees, Happ, Indians

The Yankees made some last minute moves this week when they traded for Vernon Wells and picked up the recently-released Lyle Overbay.  Both Wells and Overbay have made the club along with Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch, leaving Juan Rivera as the odd man out.  Tbe first baseman/outfielder was cut loose, though he did cash in on a $100K retention bonus for staying on the roster beyond Tuesday's Article XX(B) deadline.  Here's more from the Junior Circuit..

  • It's time for the Yankees to start looking for a replacement for Derek Jeter, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com writes. Eduardo Nunez, who is manning shortstop in Jeter's absence, is not a good solution for the long haul, Matthews argues, and Jeter's age and injury status are both worrisome. Matthews also suggests that the Yankees should have acquired Jose Reyes or Yunel Escobar in the offseason.
  • Having gone in just days from being ticketed for Triple-A to being in the big-league rotation with a new contract extension, Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ is thrilled with his recent streak of good fortune, reports MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm. "It certainly has been a great few days," says Happ. "There was a long time before that where it wasn't quite as easy, but this kind of makes it all worth it."
  • After his team's signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, GM Chris Antonetti hopes the Indians will snag a playoff spot, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The organization felt it needed a splashy offseason to maintain the attention of its fanbase, Pluto writes. "There is risk whenever you make substantial investment," says Antonetti. "But for us, there was even more risk if we didn't."