Jason Heyward Rumors

Quick Hits: Towles, Braves, Prospects

There have been 23 perfect games in Major League history and 16 instances of a player hitting four home runs in one game, and both of these rare baseball events have taken place on April 30.  White Sox right-hander Charlie Robertson threw a perfecto against the Tigers on this day in 1922; 39 years later, the legendary Willie Mays homered four times as part of a 14-4 Giants rout of the Braves.  Incredibly, there have been two other instances of a four-homer game and a perfect game on the same day — July 18 (Pat Seerey in 1948 and David Cone in 1999) and May 8 (Josh Hamilton in 2012 and Catfish Hunter in 1968).

Here’s some news from around the majors as we head into May…

  • J.R. Towles is fully recovered from a home plate collision that ended his 2013 season and is receiving some interest from Major League teams, MLBTR’s Zach Links reports (Twitter links).  Considered a top-55 prospect headed into the 2008 season, Towles hit .187/.267/.315 in 484 PA with the Astros from 2007-11.  The catcher spent 2012-13 playing for the Triple-A affiliates of the Twins, Dodgers and Cardinals, and is currently hitting well for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish.
  • Three years ago, Jason Heyward was seen as the Braves‘ signature star of the future while Freddie Freeman was projected to have a more modest ceiling, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter writes.  Now, Freeman is emerging as one of the game’s best first basemen while Heyward has yet to truly break through thanks to both injuries and a hole in his swing.  Reflecting how the two players have switched roles, the Braves only locked Heyward up to a two-year commitment during their offseason extension frenzy, while Freeman was given an eight-year, $135MM contract.
  • In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Jim Bowden looks at seven top prospects who could be making their Major League debuts sometime this season.
  • Fortitude is a quality that every scout wants to see in a pitcher, yet it’s one of those intangibles that is hard to both identify or even define, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus writes.

NL Notes: Reds, Heyward, Gonzalez, Rockies

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark doesn't expect the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be reopened before its 2016 expiration to address issues with the qualifying offer system, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "It’s very difficult to open up a CBA," said Clark. "Suffice it to say, if there are issues during the course of any agreement, we continue to have discussions that may not require the CBA be to opened up, making sure that whatever the concerns are, whatever the issues are, and if they can be discussed in some more formal fashion, so be it, but more often than not, come 2016 when we have an opportunity to sit down is when we’ll do so." Last night, Aaron Steen asked MLBTR readers about the qualifying offer and nearly 47% want to tweak the QO while 25% want to eliminate it entirely.

In National League news and notes on Oscar Sunday:  

  • With the ink barely dry on Homer Bailey's six-year, $105MM contract extension, the Reds will be in the same situation with starters Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto next year. Owner Bob Castellini told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay the team wants to retain all three. "We’re going to try to sign all these guys," Castellini said. "Whether we can or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball."
  • Castellini also told Fay he is not pleased with the media's coverage of the Reds' offseason because it has had an adverse affect on the team's revenues. "That season-ticket number is the most important number we can generate," said Castellini. "We knew we wanted to sign Homer. We knew we were going to make some other commitments. It’s not that we didn’t look. It gets written in such a way – 'Well, the Reds aren’t doing anything' – that really does affect people buying season tickets." Castellini provided Fay with details of the club's revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, and the national TV contract adding neither he nor any of the other principal owners or investors have ever taken money out of the franchise.  
  • Last month, the Braves gave Jason Heyward a two-year, $13.3MM contract. In two years, the perfect storm of baseball's economics, Heyward's age, and actions taken by the Braves will set the 24-year-old up for a huge payday on a likely barren free agent market, according to Mike Petriello of ESPN.com in an Insider-only piece (subscription required).
  • With mixed reviews to date, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Spring Training debut yesterday. Phillies GM Ruban Amaro Jr. was upbeat about what he saw, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "He probably threw better with his stuff as far as his velocity and breaking ball since he's been in camp," Amaro said. "I was encouraged that his stuff was better than it had been in his sides. And hopefully it will continue to progress in a positive way." Pitching coach Bob McClure added (as quoted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer), "I saw a very competitive (guy), and that is what I was really hoping for. And he might be one of those guys that’s not the best practice player, but you put him in a game and he competes." Reports surfaced last week Gonzalez could open the season in the minors.
  • Solid pitching will be key to any improvement the Rockies hope to make this season. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick focuses on young starters Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler while the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck examines the Rockies' adherence to pitch counts to protect their starting rotation and the corresponding reliance on their bullpen, which could be called upon to record 10 or 11 outs every game. 

NL East Notes: Murphy, Braves, Espinosa

Here are a few notes out of the National League East: 

  • Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy says that he would be open to extension talk, but that none have taken place to date, reports MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Explaining that he would leave his contract situation to his agent, Murphy said that he already feels lucky for his situation. "What is comfort? Is it money?" asked Murphy. "I've made an ungodly amount of money. That's the only way to describe it. … You see an organization heading in the direction that we're heading, it's an exciting time. So you always want to be a part of that. However that looks — one-year deals or whatever that looks like — other than playing well, that is a little bit out of my control as well. But I do want to be a part of the solution."
  • The Braves' extension strategy has drawn plenty of recent attention, and the presence of senior advisor John Hart — the former Indians GM who authored the advent of the extension era decades ago — surely played a role. Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus recently engaged Hart in a fascinating interview on the topic of extensions. Hart continued to discuss the moves of his current club with MLB.com's Mark Bowman, focusing in particular on the situation of Jason Heyward, whose two-year deal did not buy out any free agent campaigns. "I never did deals with guys who were arbitration eligible unless I got something back," said Hart. "I didn't want to just take a guy through his arbitration years. But I think in the case of Heyward, it was a phenomenal strategy, and the message was clearly delivered that they really like this guy and they want to keep this guy. Nobody knows where his ceiling is, it hasn't been defined yet because he has had a lot of injuries coming along." 
  • The Nationals chose to give second baseman Danny Espinosa a raise to $540K (during time spent on the MLB roster) in spite of his tough 2013, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Though Espinosa had been on track to qualify for arbitration this year, his demotion (and lack of a September call-up) left him short. That bought the team an extra year of control and another season at just above the league minimum rate. The 26-year-old has drawn significant trade interest from teams looking for a cheap opportunity to return him to form, but the Nationals appear likely to use him as a bench piece and keep his upside in house.


Quick Hits: Buxton, Heyward, Padres, Saunders

Byron Buxton holds the top position in Baseball America's 2014 ranking of the top 100 prospects in the sport.  It's no surprise that Buxton was ranked #1 given that the Twins outfielder was similarly ranked in BA's midseason top 100 last summer.  Red Sox infielder Xander Bogaerts, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (who qualifies for the list despite his long career in Japan) and Cubs shortstop Javier Baez round out the top five.

Here's some more from around baseball….

  • Baseball America's John Manuel picks out some of the best and worst rankings from the past 24 years of BA's Top 100 Prospects lists.
  • The Braves signed long-term extensions with several core players but only extended Jason Heyward through his two remaining arbitration years.  While some believe that this means Heyward's time in Atlanta is limited, MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby writes that "the expectation is that after next season, the Heyward deal can be expanded so that he, too, will be locked up at least through the first year in the new ballpark."  Such a deal would require extending Heyward through at least his first two free agent years, which could get very expensive for the Braves if Heyward finally breaks out into stardom, as many have predicted for the young outfielder.
  • Padres chairman Ron Fowler told reporters (including Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune) that the club is prepared to raise payroll even further beyond the current $87MM+ projection for 2014. 
  • In regards to negotiations with Chase Headley on a multiyear deal, Fowler said, “There has been dialogue and we will continue to have dialogue at the appropriate time through the appropriate sources.”  Headley recently hinted that not much progress was being made and that talks could be tabled until after the season.
  • According to a talent evaluator who has seen Joe Saunders throw, the veteran southpaw could be the "steal of February," the evaluator tells FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).  Saunders posted a rough 5.26 ERA over 183 innings for the Mariners last season.  "No one saying he’s a star, but he’s a major-league pitcher," Rosenthal writes.
  • The Nationals' acquisition of Doug Fister from the Tigers is the best transaction of the 2014 offseason, as judged by Fangraphs' Dave Cameron.  The Fister trade headlines Cameron's list of the winter's top 10 moves.
  • Though Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts denied that his club's profits were going anywhere but back into the team, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders why the Cubs' revenues haven't been reflected in the Major League payroll.
  • NC State left-hander Carlos Rodon stands alone in his own tier atop ESPN's Keith Law's four-tier breakdown of the 2014 draft's top prospects (Insider subscription required).

Quick Hits: Heyward, Masterson, Red Sox, Yankees

The Braves have signed Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel to long-term deals in recent weeks, but don't expect them to do the same with Jason Heyward, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Heyward recently signed a two-year deal with Atlanta that did not delay his free-agency eligilibility, and now it will be difficult for the Braves to get Heyward to commit to a deal that's worth less per year than the $20MM-$22MM Freeman will get at a comparable point in his service-time clock. Here's more from the East divisions.

  • Homer Bailey's negotiations with the Reds could have an impact on Justin Masterson and the Indians, the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes writes. Hoynes broke the news that Bailey and the Reds are in discussions about a six-year deal that could be worth $100MM, and a Bailey deal could set a precedent for an extension for Masterson, who was similarly valuable in 2013 and also is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.
  • The Yankees spent heavily this offseason, but they now have a injury-prone, top-heavy roster and little depth, Joel Sherman of the New York Post argues. That's especially true in their infield, although Sherman notes the situation might have been better if the Yankees had acquired Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante or Logan Forsythe, all of whom they pursued this offseason (Peralta and Infante on the free-agent market, and Forsythe via trade).
  • The Red Sox are making plans now that Ryan Dempster and his salary are out of the equation for 2014, writes CSNNE.com's Sean McAdam. McAdam writes that the Red Sox have known about Dempster's decision for the past two weeks and have been looking for a veteran free agent pitcher, but probably one who would start the season at Triple-A and provide depth. The Red Sox could also save Dempster's salary for a trade-deadline acquisition.
  • Stephen Drew and the Mets still aren't close on a contract, Newsday's Marc Carig reports. Carig also notes that the Mets have interest in former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, who is making his way back from Tommy John surgery. The Mets' level of interest may depend on how well the team does at the beginning of the season. Hanrahan is not expected to be ready to pitch until May.
  • The Phillies still aren't interested in rebuilding, writes USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "We're committed to this core. We want to surround them with the best possible players. In time, hopefully we'll be able to transition to some of younger players," says Phillies president David Montgomery. "But now, we want to give this group every chance to win.'' GM Ruben Amaro Jr., meanwhile, repeats that he expects the Phillies to do better this season because of improved health. "Listen, if Ryan [Howard] is on the field, we are winning games," Amaro says.

Braves Notes: Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Uggla

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at Freddie Freeman's massive eight-year, $135MM extension and concludes that the contract continues the trend of teams paying for youth over track record. Cameron notes that we saw a similar gamble with the Yankees' investment in Masahiro Tanaka — a player with literally no track record in the Majors but the allure of his prime years being for sale. Cameron draws comparisons to Ryan Braun and Shin-Soo Choo (whose contracts run through their mid-30s) in stating that the prime years of a "good-not-great" player are more valuable than the decline years of a superstar who is rewarded for what he has done rather than what he will do in the future. More on Freeman's deal and the Braves…

  • In an Insider-only blog post (subscription recommended), ESPN's Buster Olney writes that the Freeman extension has plenty of meaning for his teammates. For one, Olney feels that the deal all but guarantees that Jason Heyward will be playing elsewhere in 2016. Heyward will likely be too spendy for the Braves as a 26-year-old free agent if he plays well for the next two seasons, as the team won't be able to afford both him and Freeman. If Heyward doesn't play well enough to land a massive free agent deal, the Braves likely won't be interested in retaining him anyhow.
  • Likewise, Olney continues, the Braves are unlikely to be able to afford Craig Kimbrel in the long-term, and the Freeman contract gives the front office with "a greater foundation on which to explain to the fan base that difficult choices have to be made." Olney opines that the Braves would be wise to shop Kimbrel as soon as this summer, even if they are contending, as his value will be at its apex, and history shows that teams pay more for relievers in midseason trades than in offseason trades.
  • David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote earlier in the week (prior to yesterday's extensions) that though the Braves did not make any significant upgrades to their 2014 roster, the team is still well-positioned to contend. O'Brien points out that Atlanta will get a full season of Brandon Beachy to help offset the loss of Tim Hudson, adding that the Braves' rotation already ranked sixth in the Majors in ERA last season. Similarly, the Braves can expect ace setup man Jonny Venters back in May, which should further bolster their pitching staff.
  • O'Brien also addresses the unlikely issue of a Dan Uggla trade, noting that even with a monster Spring Training that had scouts starting to believe, the Braves would need to eat as much as $16-18MM of the remaining $26MM on his contract to facilitate a trade. In the event that they're able to trade Uggla, Atlanta would be content to let Tyler Pastornicky, Tommy La Stella and Ramiro Pena handle second base.

NL East Notes: Braves, Kimbrel, Nationals, Mets

Despite their "file and trial" stance with respect to the arbitration process, the Braves made clear today that the club did not extend its refusal to negotiate after exchanging figures to multi-year talks. After inking a two-year pact with Jason Heyward that did not extend club control, Atlanta promptly locked up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. The Heyward deal, in particular, reveals another benefit of the file-and-trial approach, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. By holding out on seemingly inconsequential portion of Heyward's salary, Atlanta obtained sufficient leverage to add another year (and attendant cost-certainty) to Heyward's contract. Here's more on the Braves' interesting arbitration season and the rest of the NL East:

  • Of course, Heyward's deal also provides security for the oft-DL'ed 24-year-old, though with his talent it is somewhat difficult to imagine any scenario where he would not have been tendered a contract next year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Heyward's representatives at Excel Sports Management approached the front office about a multi-year deal after exchanging figures. Though his spate of injuries (and correspondingly limited statistical production) hindered discussions, says Sherman, the gap was spanned and agreement reached on the value of Heyward's remaining arb-eligible years.
  • In spite of the deals with Heyward and Freeman, Atlanta remains all but certain to face a hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, reports Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). With a substantial gap between Kimbrel's $9MM figure and the club's $6.55MM counter in Kimbrel's first year of arbitration eligibility, the outcome of that hearing (scheduled for February 17th) could go a long way toward determining the outstanding closer's future salary — and, potentially, even what uniform he will wear for the long haul.
  • After losing out on bench bat Jeff Baker, the Nationals are still on the hunt for late-off-season value, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. In particular, says Wagner, the Nats remain very interested in southpaw reliever Oliver Perez, who is reportedly close to choosing a team.
  • The Mets are still saying that a Stephen Drew signing remains a "long shot" for the club, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. We heard earlier today that New York had not made an offer to the free agent shortstop.

Braves Sign Jason Heyward To Two-Year Deal

11:35am: Heyman tweets the financial breakdown of the contract: Heyward receives a $1MM signing bonus, a $4.5MM salary in 2014 and a $7.8MM salary in 2015.

10:34am: David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (via Twitter) that Heyward's deal also contains performance escalators that could boost the value of his contract's second year.

Meanwhile, Wren tells MLB.com's Mark Bowman that the club still has a strict "file and trial" policy, but it doesn't apply to multi-year deals (Twitter link). In other words, they won't continue to negotiate one-year deals with Freeman or Kimbrel from this point forward, but extensions could still be reached. That approach is typical of many file and trial clubs.

10:08am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Heyward's deal will pay him $13.3MM over the next two seasons.

10:00am: The Braves have issued a press release to announce the signing of right fielder Jason Heyward to a two-year contract. The contract, which covers the 2014-15 seasons, prevents Heyward and the Braves from going to an arbitration hearing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Braves.

Heyward, a client of Excel Sports Management, exchanged arbitration figures with the Braves last month. The 24-year-old former All-Star filed for a $5.5MM salary, while the Braves countered at $5.2MM. The gap between the two sides may seem small, but this is extension serves as a reminder that "file and trial" teams such as the Braves may still be open to negotiating multi-year deals after exchanging figures. This gives the Braves and their fans hope that the potential hearings for closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman can be similarly avoided.

"Jason is an important part of our organization and we’re glad that we were able to agree on a multi-year contract," said general manager Frank Wren within the release.

Though Heyward has never matched the on-base skills he displayed in his outstanding rookie season (.277/.393/.456), and his power dipped from 2012 to 2013 (27 homers/.210 ISO vs. 14 homers/.173 ISO), Heyward consistently turns in solid offensive contributions and elite defense in the outfield.

This new contract buys out his final two years of arbitration eligibility, meaning he's on track to become a free agent heading into his age-26 season. Cases such as that are so rare in today's world of extensions, that Heyward is poised to be one of the most coveted free agents in recent history should he stay healthy and not sign a further extension.


Poll: The Braves’ Potential Arbitration Hearings

One of the most notable "file and trial" teams in baseball, the Braves have a team policy that they will not negotiate once arbitration figures are submitted. This is of particular note given the fact that three of their best players — Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward — were unable to come to an agreement in advance of the filing deadline. Now, all three are likely headed for hearings.

The gap between Kimbrel and the Braves is the largest, as he submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM. As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pointed out back in November, Kimbrel's arb case is perhaps the most interesting of the offseason as there is truly no precedent for a closer doing what he's done to this point of his career.

Freeman is fresh off his first All-Star nod and a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting. He's looking at a $1.25MM gap between his $5.75MM figure and the Braves' $4.5MM figure. The gap between the Braves and Heyward is a mere $300K ($5.5MM vs. $5.2MM), which one would think is small enough that an agreement can be worked out.

However, GM Frank Wren flatly said, "We're done," following the exchange of arb figures, indicating that he does indeed plan on heading to trials. It's worth noting that the team did avoid arbitration with Jeff Francoeur the night before his scheduled hearing back in 2009, but the team's strict policy has been adopted since that time. With all this said, let's vote on each case. You can keep track of the results by clicking here.

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Arbitration Links: Hearings, Braves, Duda

Bluebird Banter looks at both the Blue Jays' most recent arbitration hearings and, more importantly for the general MLBTR readership, the most recent arb hearing from each team. The Indians have gone the longest without an arbitration hearing, having not taken a case to court since Jerry Browne and Greg Swindell back in 1991. Anibal Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio are the two most recent players to win arb hearings, both coming against the Marlins in 2012. The whole table is worth checking out, featuring notable names like Kyle Lohse, Andruw Jones, A.J. Pierzynski and Oliver Perez. Here are some more links related to the possible arb cases we could see next month …

  • With several star Braves players (Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward) set to face a hearing, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the effects on the organization could be long-lasting. First of all, if Kimbrel wins the $9MM salary he has requested, he would set himself up for two more massive arb paydays that could force Atlanta to deal him. As for Freeman and Heyward, both of whom are represented by Excel Sports Management, Bowman says that the confrontational hearing process could potentially make it at least marginally harder (or, at least, more expensive) to keep them around for the long haul. 
  • The Mets will continue to negotiate with first baseman/outfielder Lucas Duda after exchanging numbers, reports Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The respective salary submissions ($1.35MM vs. $1.9MM) did not fall among the most difficult-to-bridge gaps, as noted in my roundup of notable arbitration situations from Friday.
  • Club GM Sandy Alderson also said today (courtesy of Rubin) that Duda could see time in the outfield next year, and could conceivably break camp with the Mets alongside Ike Davis. Since Duda has an option remaining, his 2015 arbitration case could suffer from a lack of playing time if he does not force his way onto the active roster for a substantial portion of the coming season.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.