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In his latest piece for ESPN.com, Jerry Crasnick examines how vital a piece of the Pirates‘ success Russell Martin has become. While his two-year, $17MM deal was initially viewed as an overpay by some after a so-so season in New York, he’s become an indispensable asset. Said GM Neal Huntington: “Russ has put us in a position where we got crushed when we brought him in, and if we let him go out the door, we’re gonna get crushed again.” As Crasnick notes, the Rangers, Rockies, Tigers, Dodgers, Cubs and White Sox could all be players in a thin crop of free agent catchers this offseason. Martin spoke to Crasnick as well, explaining that given the proximity to the end of the season, it simply makes sense to see what his options are in free agency. He did profess a love of playing in Pittsburgh, although Pirates fans may be troubled to hear that a more aggressive approach in Spring Training could have helped to retain their backstop: “If there would have been something done in spring training, it would have been a different story,” Martin told Crasnick. I agree with Crasnick’s take that a contract between Carlos Ruiz‘s three-year, $26.5MM contract and Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $65MM deal seems attainable. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently noted that a $50MM figure seems plausible.
Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…
- MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon opines that the Reds should shut down Joey Votto for the season rather than rush him back for the final week or so of a non-contending season. Even if Votto appeared to be 100 percent, he would still risk re-injury, while the focus should be on making sure he’s fully healthy for 2015, when the team will desperately need him.
- Jason Kipnis tells Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he pressed too hard early in the season as he tried to live up to the expectations set by his contract extension with the Indians. However, he does feel that this is something he can learn from: “I can change,” said Kipnis. “I can come to the realization that I have that in my back pocket and just go out and enjoy myself and play the game.”
- Following the trade of Gordon Beckham to the Angels, second base has become a position of flux for the White Sox, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Top prospect Micah Johnson has been shut down for the year due to an injury, but he’ll be firmly in the mix with Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien, both of whom are getting looks over the season’s final month. Manager Robin Ventura offered high praise for what he’s seen of Sanchez thus far, calling him a smart player and saying that it’s easy to see why the organization was so high on him.
- Twins pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left arm, Mike Beradino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. It’s been a rough year for Minnesota prospects, as Miguel Sano had Tommy John surgery, Byron Buxton missed much of the year with wrist and concussion issues, and Alex Meyer experiencing shoulder discomfort in his final start of the season. The Australian-born Thorpe has soared up Twins prospect rankings since signing, and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the game’s No. 101 prospect prior to the season. He posted a 3.52 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 71 2/3 innings as an 18-year-old at Class A. As Berardino notes in a followup piece, Thorpe isn’t expected to need Tommy John surgery and will rehab in the fall instructional league.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has a lengthy new column up that takes a look at the hot start for the Giants' offense as well as an impressive sweep of the Red Sox by the Brewers this weekend. Beyond that, it has quite a bit of info on the top two remaining free agents and come contract extensions. Here are some highlights from his latest work…
- Scott Boras is telling tems that he could soon land a deal for Kendrys Morales, a source tells Rosenthal. However, some of the interested parties are debating between signing him (and fellow Boras free agent Stephen Drew) now or waiting until after the June draft. Rosenthal points out that this could potentially save a club multiple picks, as the signing team wouldn't have to surrender a 2015 draft pick, and if they offer a multi-year deal, they won't have to forfeit a 2016 pick to fill the hole on the free agent market next offseason.
- The Indians have been trying to extend Jason Kipnis for the past two years, but Kipnis and agent Dan Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council rejected offers in the $15MM range (following Kipnis' two-month debut in 2011) and $24MM range (prior to the 2013 season).
- The main hangup in extension talks between the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez isn't the average annual value but rather the length of the contract, says Rosenthal. Ramirez is likely to receive an AAV in the $22-25MM range, but the length of the contract is a concern for the Dodgers given Ramirez's lengthy injury history.
- Surgery remains an option for Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun as he battles nerve damage in his right thumb, but general manager Doug Melvin said to Rosenthal that going under the knife wouldn't even guarantee that the damage could be repaired. For the time being, Melvin said the team "is not overly concerned" about Braun's injury.
Spring training is time for players to get ready for the season, but it's also a busy time for agents, as agent Joshua Kusnick chronicles in a piece for Baseball Prospectus (subscription-only). This spring, Kusnick saw a number of significant career milestones or disappointments for lesser-known clients — Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto stuck with the White Sox and fellow catcher Steve Clevenger made the Orioles out of camp, while pitcher Bobby Cassevah got released by the Rockies. Meanwhile, other clients headed to the independent Atlantic League. Kusnick's piece is a good remidner that the fortunes of players on the fringes of the big leagues can be fickle, especially in the spring. Kusnick also reveals that Manny Ramirez and Miguel Tejada both recently asked him about the possibility of representing them. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Mike Trout's extension with the Angels angered some players throughout baseball, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post writes. The idea is that Trout, by potentially leaving money on the table, violated a "code" throughout baseball that you don't take an under-market deal, for fear that it will negatively affect other players. Svrluga notes that, for example, Trout's deal could affect potential extensions for Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper of the Nationals.
- Jason Kipnis was smart to sign a long-term contract with the Indians, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Kipnis recently turned 27, which means that he's already in his prime. His new contract takes him through age 33, and he previously would have been eligible for free agency heading into 2018, his age-31 season. Pluto suggests, then, that Kipnis was smart to take $52.5MM in guaranteed money now.
Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun is again dealing with a thumb injury that hampered his swing in 2013, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. Braun and the team's doctors thought the extended rest between his suspension and the offseason would heal his thumb. That was the case early in Spring Training, as he was pain-free, but as spring wore on, Braun began to again experience numbness in his right thumb. Because he cannot feel the thumb, he's unable to tell how tightly he is gripping the ball when throwing, leading to bruising and blisters on the digit. The root of the problem appears to be a damaged nerve, which can be corrected via surgery, but Braun says he doesn't want to think about that alternative now, as the recovery would not be quick.
More links pertaining to baseball's Central divisions as we gear up for a weekend of baseball early in the 2014 campaign…
- The Cubs are exploring the idea of selling minority ownership shares as a way to help finance the stadium renovation, multiple sources tell Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com. The team is looking at selling a non-controlling interest, though no official decision has been reached. The potential sale wouldn't impact president of business operations Crane Kenney or president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who are both locked into long-term contracts. While the deal may be perceived negatively by some, Mooney points out that the Giants and Cardinals list 30 principal owners while the Cardinals have 15 investors, and both are considered to be well-run franchises. Any sale would need to be approved by Major League Baseball, Mooney adds.
- Earlier today, the Indians signed second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year, $52.5MM extension. At the press conference, GM Chris Antonetti told reporters that there's no "either/or" situation with Kipnis and Justin Masterson (MLB.com's Jorda Bastian reporting on Twitter). The club still has the financial flexibility to make something happen with Masterson, should talks re-ignite. The similarity between Kipnis' guarantee and Masterson's reported three-year, $51MM proposal may have led to some speculation prior to Antonetti's comments.
- Bastian also tweets that the Indians have been trying to extend Kipnis since he had just 69 days of service time; in other words, Cleveland has been pursuing an extension for their second baseman since the completion of the 2011 season. Kipnis batted .272/.333/.507 with seven homers and five steals in 150 plate appearances in his big league debut that year. The deal was wrapped up on Sunday but not announced until today, he adds.
- Fangraphs' Jason Collette looks at how Yan Gomes went from being "the other guy" in the trade that netted the Indians Mike Aviles to becoming the recipient of a six-year, $23MM extension. Gomes was never afforded a chance to catch everyday in the Blue Jays' minor league system because of their depth at the position. Collette calls the contract the "inverse of all free agent deals" as it rewards Gomes for his future production rather than past laurels. He also wonders if the new rules regarding home-plate collisions made the extension more palatable, as there is now less long-term risk with catcher extensions.
The Indians announced that they have signed second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year extension that runs through the 2019 season and contains a club option for the 2020 campaign. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (via Twitter) that Kipnis is guaranteed $52.5MM over the life of the deal. Hoynes was the first to catch wind of the fact that a deal was close, breaking that news at roughly 3am ET.
According to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian (on Twitter), the Beverly Hills Sports Council client receives a $1MM signing bonus and annual salaries of $2MM (2014), $4MM (2015), $6MM (2016), $9MM (2017), $13.5MM (2018) and $14.5MM (2019). The option, according to Bastain, is worth $16.5MM and contains a $2.5MM buyout.
Kipnis entered the 2014 season with two years, 69 days of service time, meaning he would have been under team control through 2017 without an extension. The new contract buys his final pre-arbitration season, all three arbitration years and a pair of free agent campaigns with an option for a third. His contract is worth $500K more than fellow breakout, All-Star infielder Matt Carpenter, who inked a six-year, $52MM contract with the Cardinals in Spring Training (Carpenter had two years, 12 days of service at the time of his deal). However, if the options are exercised on each deal, Carpenter's $68.5MM would top Kipnis' $66.5MM.
As shown in MLBTR's Extension Tracker, the deal is also comparable to the six-year extensions signed by Andrew McCutchen ($51.5MM), Justin Upton ($51.25MM) and Jay Bruce ($51MM) — each of which came when the player had two to three years of MLB service under his belt.
Kipnis, who turned 27 yesterday (talk about a birthday present), made his first All-Star team and finished 11th in the American League MVP voting on the heels of a stellar campaign in which he batted .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers and 30 stolen bases in 658 plate appearances. Defensive Runs Saved pegs him as an average defender to this point in his his career, while UZR/150 feels he's been slightly below (-4.2). Both metrics feel that he was above average in 2012.
Kipnis' contract falls a bit shy of Travis Hafner's four-year, $57MM extension, which is the largest in club history. It also marks the third contract extension that Cleveland has been able to strike in the past few months; Michael Brantley signed a four-year, $25MM extension in February, and Yan Gomes inked a six-year, $23MM deal last week. The Kipnis deal will likely lessen blow for some Indians fans who are still stinging over the club's inability to extend top starter Justin Masterson, even after he offered to take a discount of roughly two years and $35MM or three years and $51MM.
Talks between Kipnis and the Indians first surfaced in Spring Training of 2013, but both sides agreed to table the discussions when no deal was close on Opening Day. Talks resumed this spring, and while it looked as if they would once again be placed on hold with the season starting, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently reported that the two sides could continue talking early in the year.
Photo courtesy of Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images.
MARCH 31: Though a deal has not been completed, it is still possible that one could be reached during the season, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter).
MARCH 21: The Indians have reportedly approached All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis about an extension, and the two sides have both agreed to set an Opening Day deadline on the negotiations, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Should Kipnis and his agents at the Beverly Hills Sports Council not be able to find a common ground with the team in the next 10 days, talks won't resume until next offseason.
This same situation played out last Spring Training, and obviously, no deal was agreed to prior to the 2013 season. An extension for Kipnis will likely be far more expensive next offseason than right now, however, as Kipnis will be eligible for arbitration next winter. A second All-Star nod and more MVP votes would serve him well in that process, as would the benefit of another strong season that further extends his growing track record of excellence.
While the Indians were able to successfully negotiate one extension this offseason — a four-year, $25MM contract for Michael Brantley — they've reportedly ended talks with top starter Justin Masterson due to an unwillingness to meet his desire for a $17MM average annual value. The Kipnis discussions could be easier to negotiate, as unlike Masterson's case, the two sides aren't solely discussing free agent years. Therefore, Kipnis' AAV would reflect his arbitration years as well as free agent seasons, perhaps making the near-term commitment more palatable for Cleveland.
Kipnis batted .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers and 30 stolen bases in 2013, delivering somewhere between 4.5 and 5.9 wins above replacement, depending on your preferred version of the metric.
- "Word is there is some early optimism" in contract talks between the Tigers and superstar Miguel Cabrera, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman believes Cabrera should top Alex Rodriguez's $27.5MM average annual value, but probably won't be able to score a ten-year deal. With Cabrera already signed through 2015, a new deal would begin with his age-33 campaign. The Tigers recently broke off talks with pitcher Max Scherzer, who is eligible for free agency after this season.
- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis says everyone on the team was rooting for Justin Masterson to get a deal done, but added, "Everyone in this room, at one point of time, has experienced the business side of this game," talking to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Kipnis offered nothing to reveal the state of his own contract negotiations, which have the typical Opening Day deadline. The Tribe opens their season in Oakland a week from today. Kipnis remains under team control through 2017.
- Infielder Eduardo Escobar and veteran Jason Kubel have made the Twins, tweets La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Escobar is out of options, while Kubel is subject to tomorrow's $100K retention bonus deadline. Neal's colleague Phil Miller has quotes from non-roster invitee Jason Bartlett, who appears to be on the losing end of the team's backup infielder battle.
- Twins second baseman Brian Dozier calls an extension "very unlikely," but he remains open to midseason talks, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Dozier, 27 in May, is already under team control through 2018.
- "For the way we're set up with our finances and our payroll, starting pitching costs a lot of money to maintain, so that's why it's important to develop it," Royals assistant general manager for scouting and player development J.J. Picollo tells MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis. Callis names Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea, and Miguel Almonte as the team's top young arms.
- For the White Sox, "the most recent [roster] cuts stem from the decision to retain a third first baseman based on latent talisman powers," writes Jim Margalus of South Side Sox in reference to the team's decision to bring Paul Konerko back.
- What is it like finding out you've been traded? "I was literally on the field, taking ground balls, when the GM, Jerry (Dipoto) comes running out, pulls me off the field with (manager Mike Scioscia)," new Tigers infielder Andrew Romine tells Dick Scanlon of the Detroit Free Press. He added, "We go in and have a meeting and right away: 'Hey, we’re trading you over to Detroit for a left-handed pitcher.'"
- For a reminder which AL Central players are out of options, check out my post from March 6th.
How do teams take players from promise to big league production? Grantland's Jonah Keri takes a look at some different developmental approaches for players approaching MLB readiness, most of them from AL clubs. The Twins, for example, advance players based upon their readiness to fill a need at the MLB level, while the Rays pay close attention to service time in a bid to maximize the value of each player asset. Here's more from the American League:
- The Indians are still believed to be discussing an extension with second baseman Jason Kipnis, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. With just two years and 69 days of service, Kipnis will not reach arbitration eligibility until next year (though he received a relatively sizeable $554,900 contract from Cleveland for the coming season). As Hoynes notes, there is an interesting comp in the Cardinals' recent six-year, $52MM extension of Matt Carpenter, an older player with less service (and, on the whole, a less impressive overall track record).
- Grady Sizemore is an increasingly plausible option not just to break camp with the Red Sox, but to beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the center field job, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. He has shown enough for the club (and, perhaps, Sizemore) to dare to dream, even if manager John Farrell is still preaching caution. But the skipper also joined those offering praise for Sizemore's performance thus far in camp. "The fact that Grady's having encouraging signs in spring training is not a bad thing for Jackie Bradley or for anybody," Farrell said. "It means we've got another good player. Grady gives us the potential to build another talented and deep roster."
- Though an achilles tear ended Mark Mulder's comeback bid this year with the Angels, the 36-year-old says that does not mean he is giving up entirely, reports MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. "Barring a setback, or me not being able to pitch with my ankle for some reason, I don't see why not," Mulder said. "My arm's still going to be the same next year."
Recent reports have indicated that the Indians will make a push to extend All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, and today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Cleveland's front office has begun the process. Heyman isn't sure how much progress has been made, only that the two sides have begun talking.
The 26-year-old Kipnis slashed .284/.366/.452 in 2013 — his second full season at the Major League level. The Beverly Hills Sports Council client tallied 17 homers and 30 stolen bases as well, helping him earn his first All-Star nod and an 11th-place finish in the American League MVP voting.
As we've seen already in 2014, Spring Training is a time when many clubs hammer out extensions with their key players. However, Cleveland doesn't necessarily need to rush, as Kipnis is not arbitration eligible until next offseason and is under team control through 2017. However, another All-Star season would likely cause his price tag to skyrocket, and he said last April that he didn't want to talk about a new contract once the season started.
MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth recently profiled Kipnis as an extension candidate. Kipnis wouldn't be the only extension for GM Chris Antonetti and his staff, who have already inked Michael Brantley to a four-year, $25MM pact this winter.
Barry Bonds will work with the Giants as a special instructor in spring training next month, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reports. Bonds has not had an official relationship with the Giants since 2007, his last season in the big leagues, so his presence could make quite an impression in Giants camp. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Indians will "soon make a serious push" to extend second baseman Jason Kipnis, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Kipnis is eligible for free agency following the 2017 season, and Pluto notes the Indians would likely try to sign Kipnis to at least a five-year deal, picking up at least one free-agent season. MLBTR recently suggested Kipnis could make $30MM-$35MM over the course of a five-year deal.
- The Brewers will likely have a team-record payroll, and owner Mark Attanasio expects to win this season, Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel reports. "We’re at the point now where we’re well into the top half of payrolls in the major leagues. We have more pitching depth than we’ve had, really, in 10 years. As I’ve explained to everybody, as investors you wouldn’t make that decision to lose," Attanasio says. "The ownership group felt like this was the year to invest (more) in the team. I think we’re going to surprise people this year." After an offseason that featured the high-profile addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have $86MM committed to 12 players, which could give them a higher payroll than they had in 2012, when their opening-day figure was $101.2MM.
- The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez has had a dramatic impact on Orioles fans, MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski writes. The Orioles' offseason had been very quiet, but suddenly they've landed Jimenez and now have Nelson Cruz as well.
- Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is happy with his two-year, $24MM contract, and isn't concerned about the recent Homer Bailey extension, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Zimmermann and the Nationals tried to negotiate a long-term deal, but ultimately couldn't find enough common ground. "They came to us with a two-year deal. Let's get this out of the way, so we don't have to worry about arbitration for the next two years," Zimmermann says. "We felt it was right, and I think it was fair for both sides, and we got the deal done."
- Arbitration-eligible players received an average raise of 117 percent this offseason, with their average salaries rising from $1.78MM to $3.86MM, the Associated Press reports. The heftiest raise went to Freddie Freeman of the Braves, who went from $560K in 2013 to a multiyear deal with an average salary of $16.875MM.