James Russell Rumors

Cubs Designate Blake Parker For Assignment

The Cubs announced today that they have selected the contract of lefty James Russell from Triple-A Iowa and designated right-hander Blake Parker for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Chicago’s press release also notes that outfielder Chris Denorfia has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, and recently claimed righty Anthony Varvaro has been added to the 25-man roster.

The 29-year-old Parker has seen Major League action with the Cubs in each of the past three seasons, working to a 3.68 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 30.6 percent ground-ball rate. Most of that work came in an excellent 2013 season during which he racked up 46 1/3 innings in the Chicago ‘pen. Parker’s velocity dipped from 91.9 mph in 2013 to 90.5 mph last year, however, and his ERA spiked to 5.14 in 21 innings . His K/BB numbers from that season and FIP, xFIP and SIERA all indicate that his ERA was quite misleading, however. Parker had thrown 3 1/3 innings this season at Triple-A but hadn’t appeared since April 15. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets that he has been on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

Russell, of course, recently returned to the Cubs after being released by the Braves in Spring Training. The 29-year-old was traded from Chicago to Atlanta at least year’s trade deadline, alongside teammate Emilio Bonifacio, in exchange for catching prospect Victor Caratini. Aside from that brief appearance in Atlanta, Russell’s entire career has been spent in a Cubs uniform. Over the past three seasons, he’s notched a combined 3.26 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 179 2/3 innings while holding opposing lefties to a .235 average and .289 OBP, though they’ve still slugged .392 against him — good for a .157 ISO.


Cubs To Sign James Russell

The Cubs have signed lefty James Russell, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. Russell was released by the Braves earlier this spring.

Of course, Russell spent much of last season (and all of his career before it) with Chicago. Dealt along with Emilio Bonifacio to Atlanta last summer in exchange for catcher Victor Caratini and cash, Russell put up good numbers down the stretch. He ended the year with a career-low 2.97 ERA over 57 2/3 innings between both clubs.

In spite of his solid results last year, a rough spring led to his departure from the Braves, who will be on the hook for about $600K of salary but were able to avoid paying Russell the full $2.4MM he had agreed upon to avoid arbitration. Because Chicago was able to land him with a minor league deal, Russell will represent a free roll for the team if and when he makes it onto the major league roster.

Interestingly, Russell now joins Jason Hammel, Bonifacio, and Jeff Samardzija as players who were dealt away last summer by the Cubs and are back with Chicago organizations — the latter two with the White Sox.


AL Notes: Wright, Vazquez, Russell, Pelfrey

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News writes Spring Training is broken. Grant suggests reversing the current reporting schedule of players with minor leaguers and non-roster invitees reporting at the beginning of camp and the 40-man roster showing up ten days later. Grant also proposes expanding the roster to 28 for the month of April with 25 designated as active for games. This would allow teams, Grant reasons, to carry more pitching in April, as the hurlers continue to build their durability.

In today’s news and notes from the American League:

  • In a separate article, Grant reports the Rangers have informed Jamey Wright he will not make the team, but the right-hander has decided to remain in camp. “If they change their minds, I’m still here,” said Wright, who is an Article XX(B) free agent. “But, if not, I’m showcasing for all the other teams.” As an Article XX(B) free agent, the Rangers must pay Wright a $100K retention bonus, if they decide to keep him in their organization.
  • Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has an appointment with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday increasing speculation his recent MRI results could lead to Tommy John surgery and the end to his season before it begins, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.
  • Despite the uncertain status of Vazquez, the Red Sox have not engaged the Blue Jays about Dioner Navarro, tweets CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. With Vazquez’s injury, Heyman notes the Red Sox will give prized catching propsect Blake Swihart an extended look during the final week of Spring Training.
  • James Schmehl of MLive.com tweets he wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers take a flyer on James Russell, even though the left-hander has had a terrible spring. The 29-year-old was released by the Braves Sunday morning.
  • The Tigers will only go as far as their veteran stars take them, but there is some important young talent on the roster and their performance could prove pivotal as the franchise bids for its fifth straight AL Central title, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.
  • Twins GM Terry Ryan did not address whether Mike Pelfrey has requested a trade in the wake of the right-hander’s comments yesterday after losing the battle for a rotation spot, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pelfrey threw one inning of perfect relief against the Orioles today needing just eight pitches in lowering his spring ERA to 1.23.
  • Ryan Madson, in camp with the Royals on a minor league contract, calls his comeback from elbow injuries “a challenge” and knows he can pitch again at the MLB level, writes MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. “If it doesn’t happen here, I will see if there’s any other interest and will go from there,” said Madson, who has a May 1st opt-out. “I mean, I came in not knowing whether I could pitch on consecutive days or three times a week, and now I’m past that. I know what I can do and I want to pitch again in the Major Leagues.


Braves Release James Russell

8:15am: The Braves have confirmed the move via press release.

8:05am: The Braves have released left-hander James Russell, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com (via Twitter).  The Braves will owe him roughly $600K.

On Saturday, Bowman indicated that Russell could be released due to his struggles this spring. Meanwhile, Luis Avilan has impressed in recent weeks as Russell faltered and prospect Brady Feigl could also be in line to take his spot on the roster.  Bowman also listed Josh Outman as a lefty reliever that could be in trouble, but his future is not immediately clear in the wake of Russell’s release.

Russell and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.425MM contract back in January.  The 29-year-old posted a combined 2.97 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 57 2/3 innings between Chicago and Atlanta in 2014.

The Braves acquired Russell and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for minor league catcher Victor Caratini and about $1MM in cash.  At that time, Russell had a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate, though he was dealing with significant command issues.  Russell was viewed by some as a non-tender candidate this winter but the Braves elected to retain him at his reasonable ~$2.4MM price tag.


East Notes: Vazquez, Braves, Navarro

Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez says his recent elbow MRI “found something,” but there’s no diagnosis yet, the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier tweets. Vazquez will seek a second opinion. If the Red Sox were to need to replace Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan would be the obvious choice. If Vazquez were to need to miss significant time, there would likely be speculation about the promotion of top prospect Blake Swihart, who the Red Sox optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket last week. Here are more notes from the East divisions.

  • James Russell and Josh Outman have struggled this spring, widening the field of decisions the Braves will have to make as they set their roster, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes. The Braves could release either one and pay only about a quarter of their salaries. Outman, who’s set to make $925K after signing with the Braves in January, could be in particular danger, Bowman suggests. It now looks increasingly likely that Luis Avilan will make the team as one of the Braves’ bullpen lefties, with prospect Brady Feigl as another possibility.
  • There don’t appear to be any trades involving Dioner Navarro in the works, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Navarro, of course, became mostly superfluous to the Jays after they acquired Russell Martin. Navarro’s name had lately been connected to the Diamondbacks, although the D-backs have said they can’t afford his $5MM salary.

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Thursday

As we approach tomorrow’s deadline for exchanging filing numbers, the volume of arb deals will increase. All arb agreements can be monitored using MLBTR’s 2015 Arbitration Tracker, but here are today’s smaller agreements, with all projections referring to those of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:

  • The Indians have avoided arbitration with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM deal, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  It’s a slight bump over Chisenhall’s projected $2.2MM salary.  Chisenhall hit .280/.343/.427 with 13 homers in 533 PA with the Tribe last season.
  • The Indians and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski have agreed to a one-year, $2.4MM contract to avoid arbitration, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link).  Rzepczynski surpassed his projected salary with the contract, as he was pegged to earn $1.9MM next season.  The southpaw posted a 2.74 ERA, 2.42 K/BB rate and an even 46 strikeouts over 46 innings out of Cleveland’s bullpen last season.
  • The Nationals and catcher Jose Lobaton will avoid arbitration after agreeing to a deal, CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman reports.  Lobaton will earn $1.2MM, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets, which exactly matches his projected 2015 salary.  Lobaton hit .234/.287/.304 over 230 PA in backup duty for the Nats last season.
  • The Athletics and outfielder Craig Gentry agreed to a one-year, $1.6MM deal to avoid arbitration, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets.  Gentry was projected to earn $1.5MM.  After posting a .759 OPS over 556 PA in 2012-13, Gentry took a step back at the plate last season, slashing just .254/.319/.289 over 258 plate appearances but still providing tremendous defense (a +16 UZR/150).
  • The Nationals have avoided arbitration with second baseman Danny Espinosa, agreeing to a one-year, $1.8MM contract, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports.  This deal falls below Espinosa’s projected $2.3MM contract, though Espinosa hit .219/.283/.351 in 364 plate appearances for the Nats last season and managed only a .465 OPS in 167 PA in 2013.
  • The Indians agreed to a one-year, $2.337MM deal with right-hander Carlos Carrasco, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter).  This figure is a significant increase over the $1.4MM contract that was projected for Carrasco in his first arb-eligible year.  The righty enjoyed a breakout 2014 season, posting a 2.55 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 4.83 K/BB rate over 134 innings with the Tribe.  Carrasco pitched mostly out of the bullpen but also delivered several quality starts down the stretch.
  • The Dodgers and outfielder Chris Heisey agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.16MM to avoid arbitration, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.  This is slightly less than the $2.2MM Heisey was projected to earn.  Heisey is coming off a .222/.265/.378 slash line over 299 PA with the Reds last season and was dealt to L.A. last month.
  • The Angels inked catcher Drew Butera to a one-year, $987.5K deal to avoid arbitration, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports.  Butera was projected to earn $900K next season.  The catcher posted a .555 OPS in 192 PA with the Dodgers last season and was dealt to the Halos last month.
  • The Nationals agreed to a one-year, $2.25MM contract with Craig Stammen, avoiding arbitration with the right-hander, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter).  This figure slightly tops Stammen’s projected $2.1MM contract.  Stammen posted a 3.84 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and a 4.00 K/BB rate over 72 2/3 innings out of Washington’s bullpen last season.
  • The Cardinals agreed to a one-year, $1.65MM deal with outfielder Peter Bourjos to avoid arbitration, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  Bourjos was projected to earn $1.6MM.  Bourjos displayed his usual top-shelf defense with the Cards last season but only hit .231/.294/.348 over 294 PA.

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Arbitration Notes: Ogando, Moreland, Russell, Parra, Descalso

Tomorrow night (11pm CT) is the deadline for teams to tender or non-tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. MLBTR has previously identified a list of non-tender candidates as well as provided projected salaries for each arbitration eligible player of the offseason (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz). In addition to those resources, you can follow along and keep track of players using our 2015 Non-Tender Tracker. We’ll cover some more of the specifics on non-tendering and arbitration tomorrow (though those who are new to the concept can check out last year’s post on explaining non-tenders), and already took a look at some notes earlier today.

Here’s the latest on the upcoming decisions:

  • Righty Alexi Ogando and first baseman Mitch Moreland are expected to be tendered contracts tomorrow, reports Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Both players have some upside that Texas is surely loath to give up on, though each brings some uncertainty with their projected $2.6MM and $2.8MM arb costs (respectively).
  • As things stand, the Braves‘ only certain tenders are slated for Mike Minor and David Carpenter, writes MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. The team is still unsure exactly how it will proceed with respect to rehabbing starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy as well as pen lefty James Russell. The southpaw, who was added at the trade deadline, projects to earn a fairly meager $2.4MM and seems a decent value at that price tag.
  • Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash indicated that the team intends to tender Gerardo Parra a contract rather than cutting him loose, according to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Parra’s hefty $6.4MM projection is quite a sum for a fourth outfielder, though Ash noted that he has received plenty of playing time as a part-time starter and frequent reserve. And, of course, a trade could still be made.
  • It seems likely that the Cardinals will non-tender utilityman Daniel Descalso, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes. Descalso carries a $1.4MM projected salary but saw a reduced role last year and the organization has added several apparent pieces that would seem to be viable replacements.

Braves Acquire James Russell, Emilio Bonifacio

3:38pm: ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers tweets that the Cubs are sending cash to Atlanta as well. It will be about $1MM going to Atlanta, tweets Wittenmyer.

3:33pm: Wittenymyer tweets that a minor league catcher is headed to Chicago. Peter Gammons tweets that Chicago receives Victor Caratini from Atlanta.

3:24pm: The Braves have acquired left-hander James Russell and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (on Twitter).

James Russell

Russell, 28, has posted a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a career-best 40.9 percent ground-ball rate. While he’s picking up more grounders than ever, Russell has also shown the worst command of his career — a trend he will hope to correct with the Braves. Russell has typically handled left-handed hitters pretty well, but the opposite has been true in 2014; right-handed batters have a meager .364 OPS against Russell, while same-handed batters have an alarming .295/.358/.525 batting line against him. In his career, however, lefties have batted .240/.276/.416 against Russell. He is earning just $1.9MM in 2014 and is controlled through 2015.

The switch-hitting Bonifacio, 29, had a solid debut season for the Cubs before being included in the trade. He’s hitting .279/.318/.373 with a pair of homers and 14 steals (in 20 attempts). Defensive metrics have liked his work at second base, third base and in center field this season, though his career marks aren’t as strong.

Bonifacio had an interesting offseason, as he was tendered a contract by the Royals and agreed to a $3.5MM salary before being released (and subsequently paid only a portion of his still non-guaranteed deal). The speedster latched on with the Cubs in Spring Training and played well, though he’s spent a portion of the year on the disabled list.

As for Caratini, he was a second-round pick by the Braves in 2013 and ranked as the organization’s No. 7 prospect on MLB.com’s midseason top 20 list. The 20-year-old Caratini has batted .279/.352/.406 in 87 games at Class-A this season. He’s a switch-hitting catcher who also plays third base. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com feel that he’s a good enough defender to handle either position, but clearly he would have more value behind the dish. Though Callis and Mayo praise his defense, they feel that his bat is a better tool.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Stark’s Latest: Price, Lee, Lackey, O’s, Yanks, Payroll Limits

Here’s the latest from ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark:

  • The Rays are still holding onto David Price unless and until an offer forces a move. “I’d say they’re kind of where they were all winter,” said a competing executive. “Yeah, they’d trade him. But you’ve got to make it so they can’t say no.”
  • Though both sides explored the possibility, the Cardinals and Phillies did not match up on a potential Cliff Lee deal. With Philly seeking a “major prospect” in return, the Cards ultimately turned elsewhere and added Justin Masterson. While St. Louis seemed the best fit for a pre-deadline deal with Lee, Philadelphia still is looking to see if the lefty can be moved before August.
  • The Red Sox are encountering some skepticism from trade partners that John Lackey will play for the league minimum rate next year, as provided by his contract. Of course, that provision makes up a huge portion of Lackey’s trade value, as he would not only contribute down the stretch in 2014 but looks like a very solid rotation piece at a replacement-level price for 2015.
  • The Orioles seem to be focusing more on adding a reliever at this point than a starter, says Stark. Baltimore has been liked to Neal Cotts of the Rangers and Oliver Perez of the Diamondbacks, neither of whom is a pure LOOGY.
  • In search of bullpen help, the Yankees have inquired into Joaquin Benoit of the Padres, James Russell of the Cubs, and Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies. The club has also checked on outfielders Marlon Byrd of the Phillies and Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox.
  • The Blue JaysBraves, and Royals are telling teams they cannot add significant payroll in a trade, though Kansas City could take on a starter who would slot in place of James Shields next year.

Central Rumors: Russell, Colon, Burnett, Bonifacio, Pirates

The Cubs are a bit lacking in starting pitching depth following the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but lefty reliever James Russell suggested one name to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that could help alleviate the problem: his own name. “There’s still not a doubt in my mind that I could [start],” said Russell, who was drafted as a starter. Russell acknowledged that he may not get the opportunity to start with the Cubs, because they may prefer to keep him in a relief role or because they may trade him this week. He adds that he’s stated his case with the front office multiple times to return to the rotation, and he’d be open to doing so again with another club if they felt he could handle the role.

More from the game’s central divisions …

  • The Royals have at least some interest in both Mets starter Bartolo Colon and Phillies hurler A.J. Burnett, reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Martino had noted yesterday that there was no action on Colon. Though it is not yet clear how serious the interest is, the club likes both righties. One major issue for Kansas City, of course, is payroll, and Martino adds that the club may not be in a position to take on the salary (and significant future obligations) owed to Colon and Burnett. New York is said to be amenable to paying $2MM of Colon’s tab, but he is earning $9MM this year and comes with a guaranteed $11MM salary next year. Burnett, meanwhile, is making $7.5MM this year (in addition to a $7.5MM signing bonus) and comes with an option that will likely turn into a $12.75MM player option.
  • Emilio Bonifacio isn’t letting himself worry about the possibility of being traded by the Cubs, but Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago spoke to one NL official who feels that the utilityman would be a perfect last-minute addition on Thursday before the deadline. Rogers notes that if Bonifacio is traded, it could lead to a much-anticipated call-up for Javier Baez, wish Arismendy Alcantara manning center through season’s end and Baez taking over at the keystone. Currently, Bonifacio splits time between second and center.
  • The Pirates remain on the lookout for a left-handed reliever, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Pittsburgh has been rumored to have interest in severable available southpaws, including Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies and Andrew Miller of the Red Sox.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.