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The firing of Astros manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley was a clash of old-school baseball versus the new-school of analytics and old-school lost, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. For that reason, Cafardo opines GM Jeff Luhnow’s next hires will need to be data savvy, know their way around a laptop, put numbers ahead of traditional baseball, and accept daily interference. Trembley, who found out he was fired from the ESPN news ticker, wasn’t surprised by the dismissals because there was a disconnect with the front office from “the computer leaks to the draft and the Mark Appel situation where the manager wasn’t told (top prospect) Appel was coming up to throw. I think (owner) Jim Crane nailed it when he said that there was a personality clash and sometimes people just don’t get along.“
In other items from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:
- There is a financial component to placing Yu Darvish on the disabled list. The Rangers can deduct $5,228.75 per day in bonuses over 30 days on the DL and, since the right-hander has been moved to the 60-day disabled list, the savings realized will be nearly $136k on Darvish’s $800K roster bonus.
- Justin Verlander‘s struggles this year should give teams pause about giving large contracts to older pitchers. Cafardo, however, doesn’t see this cautionary tale dampening the market for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields because there are franchises which cannot resist the temptation and feel it’s the cost of doing business.
- Cafardo views the Red Sox as players for the services of free agents Jason Grilli and Justin Masterson this offseason.
- There is some debate within the Brewers organization about exercising Yovani Gallardo‘s $13MM option for 2015 with some feeling the money might be better spent elsewhere.
- Expect the Rangers to engage the Blue Jays in trade talks for Jose Bautista, but Cafardo notes Texas may not have the pitching prospects to pry the All-Star slugger away from Toronto.
- Joel Hanrahan, who suffered a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, will not need another operation and will attempt to continue his comeback in 2015. Hanrahan had signed a $1MM deal with the Tigers in May, but never pitched an inning for the organization.
- Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang will be posted this winter and should be in line for a substantial contract given the lack of available impact power hitters. The 27-year-old, who measures six feet and 180 pounds, hit 38 home runs and drove home 107 runs in 107 games for Nexen of the KBO. Cafardo notes the Cardinals have shown interest in Kang previously, but a few more teams (not named by Cafardo) are now in the mix.
In a video interview with ESPN’s Jim Bowden, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto discussed the recent trades his team has made. Regarding the team’s swap of Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli, Dipoto tells Bowden that he received a text message from Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington, and the discussions took “about seven minutes” from start to agreement. The Halos’ interest in Grilli dates all the way back to his most recent run as a free agent, says Dipoto, who adds that the team discussed similar deals to this trade before making the move.
More from Dipoto’s chat with Bowden and the rest of the AL West below…
- Regarding his acquisition of lefty Joe Thatcher, Dipoto notes “that’s one we’d been looking at for quite a long time.” Dipoto adds that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers had made his interest in Zach Borenstein, who went to Arizona in the deal, known in the past. Perhaps most interestingly, Dipoto implies that the negotiations on the trade took place with Towers. Previous reports have indicated that some organizations weren’t sure about Arizona’s front office hierarchy now that Tony La Russa is in the mix.
- Asked by Bowden if the Angels were done shopping, Dipoto replied, “We’ll continue to try to find ways to make the team better. Particularly, I’ve talked about the idea that if we can find one more piece for that bullpen.” Dipoto makes sure to qualify that he’s very pleased with the current mix of relievers but remains open to possible improvements at the back of the ‘pen.
- Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle spoke with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who said he’s hopeful the team can reach an agreement with top pick Brady Aiken, but he won’t handicap it either way (Twitter link). Earlier today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that a ligament issue in Aiken’s elbow has held up negotiations and caused the Astros to drop their bonus offer from $6.5MM to $5MM. Drellich talked to Aiken’s trainer, who claims that the lefty is healthy.
- With the Twins in Seattle, Kendrys Morales spoke through an interpreter to the Seattle media (including Bob Candotta of the Seattle Times) about his offseason discussions with his former club. Morales said there was a bit of discussion with the Mariners, but as his interpreter says: “…in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot. He was taking his chances to see maybe something would get better.”
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto would like Grilli to establish himself as the Angels’ closer, but that will depend on Grilli’s performance, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. “Whether Jason Grilli returns to the ninth inning will have to be determined by Jason Grilli,” says Dipoto.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington says that Frieri will provide the Pirates with a “high leverage option that may pitch in the middle innings,” reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Travis Sawchik. “Ernesto is a guy we have pursued for a couple of years and haven’t been able to get him,” says Huntington. “He’s been going through a rough stretch but there’s a lot of things our scouts like, that our analysts like. We feel like we’ve had some success with guys like this in the past.”
- While many outside analysts were unimpressed with the deal for both sides, Sawchik notes that the Grilli trade has similarities to the Pirates’ December 2012 trade of closer Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel and two other players. Like Melancon, who was coming off an ugly 6.20 ERA season in Boston, Frieri’s peripherals (11.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9) are significantly better than his ERA. The Pirates have had great success with Melancon in the late innings.
- Catcher Russell Martin, who along with Grilli was a key part of the Pirates’ excellent 2013 season, says he’ll fondly remember Grilli’s tenure with the Bucs, reports Bucs Dugout’s David Manel. “To look back on it can motivate you, it can give you confidence, it can make you believe that what we have here is good,” Martin says. He adds, however, that Grilli struggled after being demoted from the closer’s role. “[J]ust like any athlete, when you’re not doing well and the team’s heading into a different direction, it can leave some sourness,” says Martin “I think Grilli still wanted to be the closer. To have that taken away can be a little frustrating.”
On its face, the deal is a swap of change-of-scenery candidates, and indeed both general managers have described it as such. But context is everything, as always. Frieri is still just shy of 29 years old, and agreed to a $3.8MM salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Meanwhile, Grilli — who is already 37 — is playing out the final year of his two-year pact, under which he is owed $4MM for this season. In sum, while the current salary obligations are a virtual push, the Pirates will also gain the right to control Frieri through arbitration until 2016, if they so choose.
Grilli had served as the Pirates’ primary closing option for most of the past two seasons before being removed from the role recently. The veteran had put together three straight seasons of outstanding pitching in Pittsburgh, tossing a combined 141 1/3 frames of 2.74 ERA ball with 12.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9. But 2014 was a different story, as he is allowing 4.87 earned runs per regulation game, with his strikeouts falling and walks rising (9.3 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9). Some of Grilli’s difficulties can probably be attributed to a susceptibility to the long ball (1.77 HR/9 and 14.3% HR/FB) that may be due for some regression.
Meanwhile, Frieri emerged with the Angels in 2012 after being acquired from the Padres in a rare early-season trade. He went on to put up two good seasons as the Halos’ 9th-inning man, notching a stellar 2.31 ERA in 66 total innings in 2012 before working to a 3.80 mark over 68 2/3 frames last year. As with Grilli, things have gone south quickly: Frieri now sports a 6.39 ERA through 31 innings in 2014. On the other hand, his peripherals (11.0 K/9 vs. 2.6 BB/9 and a 35.3% ground-ball rate that is an improvement over past seasons) suggest at least some hope for a turnaround. Indeed, both xFIP (3.20) and SIERA (2.56) could indicate that Frieri has been somewhat better than his results.
It remains to be seen precisely how the two players will be incorporated into their respective bullpen mixes. Angels manager Mike Scioscia indicated that Grilli will not jump straight into the closer’s role, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter), who notes that the club almost certainly intends to move him there in time. “We’ll see where he fits in,” said Scioscia. Of course, subsequent moves could alter things further, as Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto indicated in a quote (via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, on Twitter): “This is a step toward addressing those [bullpen] needs, but I’d be surprised if it’s the only step.”
On the other side of things, Pittsburgh has deployed Mark Melancon as its closer since moving Grilli out of the role (and, earlier in the season, while Grilli was rehabbing). It would seem more likely that Frieri ends up working in a set-up capacity, unless Melancon falters. Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that Melancon will indeed be the closer, though he also made mention of Frieri’s experience in that role, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Twitter).
It may be a bit early, but Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req'd) grades everyone's offseason to date in the American League. The Yankees get a B+ for holding firm in the Robinson Cano negotiations and the A's get an A for their acquisitions of Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson, and Jim Johnson. Teams like the Indians, Blue Jays, and Orioles, on the other hand, will need to do more if they want better marks from Bowden. Here's this afternoon's look around baseball..
- Pirates closer Jason Grilli says he would like extend his contract, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). Grilli, who inked a two-year, $6.75MM deal with the Bucs last offseason, posted a 2.70 ERA with 13.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 54 appearances last season. The 37-year-old is represented by Gary Sheffield, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.
- Brett Tomko is pitching in the Dominican Republic and throwing 92-94 MPH, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports (on Twitter). The 40-year-old is seeking a minor league deal with big-league invite. Tomko last appeared in the majors in 2011 when he made eight relief appearances for the Rangers.
- R.J. Anderson, Ben Lindbergh and Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus weighed in on the Rays' re-signing of James Loney. The two sides agreed to a three-year, $21MM deal this week.
- The Rockies are optimistic after a productive start to the offseason, writes Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com.
The Cubs continued their trajectory as baseball's most active team on the trade front this morning when they officially traded Alfonso Soriano and $17.7MM to the Yankees in exchange for right-hander Corey Black. The deal saves the Cubs roughly $6.8MM and brings a power arm that was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft into their system. Here's more on Soriano and the rest of the NL Central…
- Soriano told Gordon Wittenymyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that he believes another team would've beaten the eight-year, $136MM contract he signed with the Cubs back in 2006. At least one team told Soriano's agent to give them a chance to beat any offer, but Soriano decided that he wanted the opportunity to join the storied history of the Cubs and bring a championship to Chicago.
- While Brewers GM Doug Melvin recently turned away an inquiry on Kyle Lohse, another Brewers-connected person implied to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Lohse could be had for the right package of prospects.
- Within that same piece, one GM provided a long list of reasons that Yovani Gallardo isn't drawing interest. Gallardo's velocity is down, he's owed $15MM through 2014 and he also comes with off-the-field baggage in the form of a DUI arrest earlier this season.
- The Pirates announced today that Jason Grilli has a flexor strain in his right arm. He is not a candidate for surgery, which is good news for the Bucs, but he will still miss four to eight weeks. Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweets that the Pirates become more active in the bullpen trade market.
- Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com's Mark Sheldon that he has had a lot of conversations but nothing substantial. The Reds would like to add a right-handed bat but feel they can wait until Ryan Ludwick returns from the disabled list. They have a similar stance on waiting for Johnny Cueto, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton.
A pair of top prospects made their big league debuts yesterday, as Allen Webster started the second game of a double-header for the Red Sox and Anthony Rendon made his debut at third base for the Nationals with Ryan Zimmerman on the DL. Here's more on each, as well as some other news from baseball's Eastern divisions…
- Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer chronicles Jason Grilli's ascension from the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate to Pirates closer. In 2011, the Phils called up six relievers instead of Grilli, despite his dominant numbers. Grilli had a clause in his contract stating that if another MLB team wanted him on their 25-man roster, the Phillies had to either call him up or release him. Pittsburgh scouts took notice of Grilli, called the Phillies, and Philadelphia elected to release him so he could sign with the Buccos.
- Sonia Cruz, the spokeswoman for Robinson Cano's foundation, appeared in the latest round of Biogenesis documents, according to TJ Quinn and Mike Fish of ESPN. Cruz's name was only connected to a pair of $300 payments, which she said were for her own weight loss interests. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports that MLB sources told him there was no link between Cano and Biogenesis. When he heard about the latest report, a surprised Cano told reporters, including Feinsand, "It's got nothing to do with me."
- Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal examines the number of starting pitchers needed by the Red Sox in each season over the past decade and notes that the evidence suggests Webster will be back this season. MacPherson also adds that preliminary research indicates this is the earliest the Red Sox have ever turned to seven different starting pitchers in any season.
- The timing of Rendon's call-up suggests that the Nationals may be more willing to let him remain with the club all season than they've let on, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Kilgore points out that Rendon has spent 20 days in the minor leagues, meaning his free agency has been delayed by a full year now.
- Jake Arrieta is at a crossroads with the Orioles, in the mind of the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly. At 27 years of age, Arrieta has passed the "prospect" stage but has yet to find the consistency to convert his above-average repertoire of pitches into consistent success. Connolly notes that it's not wise to trade someone with Arrieta's talent while his value is so low, but moving him to the bullpen hardly maximizes his value.
- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Jay-Z's cerficiation process won't be complete anytime soon (Twitter link). As expected, CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen will handle Robinson Cano's extension talks.
Earlier today the Pirates extended manager Clint Hurdle through the 2014 season. Hurdle's contract contains an option for the 2015 season as well. Here's more news on the Buccos for your Monday reading pleasure…
- Neil Walker could be the next Pirate in line for a contract extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Pirates president Frank Coonelly said an extension for Walker was "absolutely" a possibility and called the second baseman part of the team's core going forward.
- Despite Coonelly's comments, Walker told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that he's not aware of any recent conversations between his agent and the Pirates about a long-term deal (Twitter link). Walker is client of Hendricks Sports, as shown in MLBTR's Agency Database.
- More from Morosi, who tweets that Jason Grilli's final contract decision came down to the Pirates, Blue Jays and Cubs. All three teams offered similar deals, but Grilli elected to return to Pittsburgh on a two-year, $6.75MM contract.
Condolences go out to the family and friends of former Major League utility man Ryan Freel. The 36-year-old was found dead at his home today after taking his own life according to Chad Cushnir of First Coast News and MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. Freel spent most of his career with the Reds, though he also suited up for the Blue Jays, Royals, Cubs, and Orioles.
Here's the latest from around the league as Saturday turns into Sunday…
- Livan Hernandez told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that he plans to play in 2013 (Twitter link). The 37-year-old right-hander posted a 6.42 ERA in 67 1/3 relief innings for the Braves and Brewers last season.
- Jason Grilli will take over as closer for the Pirates following the Joel Hanrahan trade according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). Heyman notes the right-hander does not have any bonuses based on games finished in his new contract.
- Nick Swisher is giving "serious consideration" to the four-year, $52MM offer from the Indians according to ESPN's Jim Bowden (on Twitter). The switch-hitting outfielder prefers the Dodgers, Angels, or Yankees though.
- The Phillies, Braves, Mets, and Yankees are among the teams still in play for Scott Hairston, reports Heyman (on Twitter). Heyman says the Yankees may be at a disadvantage because they already have three starting outfielders.
- In today's Insider-only blog post, ESPN's Buster Olney says the Rangers should not overreact and drastically alter their plan after failing to land several top targets this offseason.
The Pirates announced that they have signed free agent reliever Jason Grilli to a two-year deal. The sides agreed to a two-year, $6.75MM contract, Scott Miller and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported (on Twitter links). Former MLB player Gary Sheffield represents the 36-year-old right-hander.
Grilli enjoyed tremendous success in the Pirates' bullpen from 2011-12. He posted a 2.91 ERA with 13.8 K/9, 3.4 BB.9 and a 30.7% ground ball rate in 58 2/3 innings for Pittsburgh this past season and earned $1.1MM. Grilli ranked 33rd on MLBTR's list of top 50 free agents.
Grilli's fastball averaged 93.6 mph this past season, his top velocity since 2007. He generated swinging strikes 14.4% of the time, a career high. Not surprisingly, Grilli's strikeout rate increased yet again in 2012, when he struck out 90 of the 244 batters he faced.
The Cubs, Blue Jays and Giants were among the finalists for Grilli, Peter Gammons of MLB Network reported last week. The ten-year veteran turned down slightly bigger offers elsewhere to stay in Pittsburgh, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Grilli turned down a more lucrative deal from the Blue Jays, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of US Presswire. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the agreement (on Twitter).