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Jesse Crain Rumors
1:14pm: The MLB.com site is incorrect: Crain is still with the team and has only been reassigned, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com tweets.
Crain, an Article XX(B) free agent, was in line for a $100K retention bonus, which the team had reportedly decided to pay. While it remains unclear precisely what transpired, it obviously would not make sense for the White Sox to have committed to the bonus before dropping him the very next day.
The 33-year-old has been trying to return to action from shoulder surgery. He was one of the game’s very best relievers in 2013, but has yet to return to full game action since his shoulder issues cropped up.
Per the latest iteration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with six years of service time who finished the 2014 season on a 40-man roster or on the 60-day DL but signed Minor League deals over the offseason are entitled to a $100K retention bonus if their new team wishes to assign them to the Minor Leagues. Otherwise, they must be added to the MLB roster or Major League disabled list. Players who do receive the retention bonus are also given June 1 opt-out dates in their Minor League pacts.
MLBTR’s Jeff Todd ran down a list of this year’s Article XX(B) free agents earlier in the month, and we’re now arriving at the juncture of Spring Training where decisions must be made on these players — the deadline will come at 11am CT tomorrow. Many such players have already been released or granted their release today (some will re-sign with the teams that released them, as Chris Perez did in Milwaukee), but here are updates on players who were paid this bonus or learned that they’ve made their respective teams…
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweets that utility man Kelly Johnson has made the Braves‘ 25-man roster. Johnson inked a Minor League pact that included a yet-unreported base salary. His versatility, the organization’s familiarity with him and the fact that the 32-year-old slashed a hefty .273/.396/.523 with a pair of homers in 54 plate appearances this spring likely all factored into the decision.
- The Nationals will pay left-hander Rich Hill the $100K retention bonus, tweets James Wagner of the Washington Post. The 35-year-old yielded a pair of runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring and will give the Nats some left-handed relief depth. Of course, the Nats also just traded away some lefty relief by dealing out-of-options southpaw Jerry Blevins and his $2.4MM salary to the Mets.
- Padres catcher Wil Nieves has received a $100K retention bonus, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nieves is still in the running for the team’s backup catching slot, Lin adds. Tim Federowicz was slated to be the team’s backup, but knee surgery has sidelined him for the next several months. The team must make a final call by this Sunday.
- The D-Backs and catcher Gerald Laird and agreed to a five-day extension that will allow him to remain in big league camp, reports Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (on Twitter). Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic adds some clarity, noting that Laird still received the $100K retention bonus but will have the opportunity to fight for a roster spot (Twitter link). The five days will give the Snakes a bit more time to determine whether or not they want to take the veteran Laird north with them to open the season.
- The Blue Jays have paid the $100K retention bonus to both Johan Santana and Munenori Kawasaki, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Both players were on Minor League deals, but Santana didn’t get into a game with the big league club as he continued to rehab from injury. Kawasaki hit .333/.481/.571 in 27 plate appearances but didn’t make the big league roster. He’ll head to Triple-A and wait for a call to the Majors in an organization with which he is quite familiar and where he is quite popular among the coaches and his teammates.
- Right-handers Brad Penny and Jesse Crain both received retention bonuses from the White Sox, Passan also reports (on Twitter). The duo will remain in the Minors in the hopes of a spot opening with the big league club. Penny struggled to a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this spring, though little can be gleaned from such a small sample, and he did issue only four walks along the way. Crain, like his former Twins teammate Santana in Toronto, didn’t pitch in a big league game as he continued to rehab from injuries that cost him the entire 2014 season in Houston.
- Both Geovany Soto and Matt Albers, on the other hand, have made the White Sox‘ roster and will be added to the 40-man, Passan reports in the aforementioned tweet. Presumably, Soto will be in the mix for everyday at-bats behind the plate following a strong spring performance. Albers will slot into the bullpen and bring an experienced arm to serve as a right-handed setup option. Soto’s base salary is an unknown, wheres Albers stands to reportedly receive a $1.5MM base for making the club.
Last year, Zach Duke and Pat Neshek both entered Spring Training as non-roster invitees and parlayed their outstanding 2014 seasons into multi-year free agent contracts (three years, $15MM for Duke and two years, $12.5MM for Neshek). Who will be the NRIs to watch this spring? Andrew Simon for Sports on Earth tabs White Sox reliever Jesse Crain as the most intriguing NRI citing positive reports as he recovers from his 2013 biceps surgery, which has forced him to the sidelines for the past 20 months. If Crain can return to the form he showed in his previous stint with the White Sox (2011-13) where he pitched to a 2.10 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 in 150 innings covering 376 games, Simon believes the 33-year-old could assume a prominent role in the White Sox bullpen.
In other news and notes from the AL Central:
- Yoenis Cespedes told reporters, including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links), he can see himself playing for the Tigers long-term. “I would like to be in a Tigers uniform for a lot of years,” Cespedes said through his translator. “This is a good team now and will be for a lot of years to come.” Cespedes added he does not know whether his agent and the Tigers have engaged in extension talks.
- Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, is not concerning himself with the lack of movement on a contract extension, according to Zack Meisel of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “It’s not for me to worry about,” said Kluber, who is slated to earn near the MLB minimum. “I’d rather just talk about pitching and not contract stuff.“
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow last spring with a curveball, but has been throwing the pitch in his bullpen sessions, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. “It’s not like you’re scared when you start spinning curves again,” Hochevar said. “You know your elbow is fixed. But still you think about it. You have to sort of stare down your demons.” Hochevar will face hitters for the first time off a mount tomorrow.
- Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer are two former top prospects who are poised for a breakout 2015, opines MLB.com’s Michael Clair.
- Earlier today, we learned of the passing of White Sox legend Minnie Minoso. Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com and MLB.com’s Phil Rogers both pay tribute to “Mr. White Sox” while Hayes and MLB.com’s Scott Merkin chronicle the reaction of White Sox players.
Joe Blanton, who is in Spring Training with the Royals on a minor league deal this year, missed the game more than he thought he would upon briefly retiring in 2014, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Blanton spent his year off with his wife and three children, but he tells Crasnick that he felt he owed it to himself to take one more shot at the game. “It was nice being home with my family,” Blanton explains. “But the window is small. I’ve done this my whole life. I’ve put a lot into it, so why not see what’s left? I felt like it was almost an injustice to myself to just step away like that.” Blanton recognizes that there may not be an immediate path to the Major League roster in Kansas City and is open to pitching at Triple-A. “I didn’t play in 2014, and 2013 was a terrible year,” says Blanton. “That’s two years of basically nothing — no good work or no playing at all. So I’m kind of starting back at square one, really.”
Some more news and notes from Blanton’s new division, the AL Central…
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says that Joba Chamberlain turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs to return to Detroit, according to MLB.com’s Jason Beck (Twitter links). Talks between the two sides picked up over the past few days and came together last night, Beck adds. “He really wanted to come back,” Dombrowski said.
- Non-roster invitees Jesse Crain and Matt Albers could be significant boosts to the White Sox bullpen if healthy, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Crain is already further along than he was in an injury-plagued 2014 season in which he spent the entire year on the disabled list. He tells Merkin that he’s already throwing off a mound with just one day between sessions, which is something he didn’t do at all last year. As for Albers, Merkin interestingly notes that he nearly signed with the White Sox last offseason but instead chose to sign with the Astros, where he missed nearly the entire year after tearing a muscle in his shoulder.
- Glen Perkins called the first day of Spring Training under new Twins manager Paul Molitor the most mentally intensive first day of camp he’s ever had in his career, writes Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN. Molitor worked with pitchers and catchers to outline the ways in which the Twins need to improve on holding runners to help limit the running game, specifically focusing on tendencies throughout the staff that other teams exploited in 2014. Perkins spoke highly of Molitor’s baseball acumen and teaching ability, and Mackey writes that Molitor’s wealth of knowledge and attention to detail could boost the Twins’ on-field product if he’s able to communicate everything effectively.
The 33-year-old Crain was in the midst of an incredible season with the White Sox in 2013 when a shoulder injury sidelined him. While it wasn’t believed to be serious at the time, Crain hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since hitting the disabled list that July. He eventually underwent surgery on his right biceps in order to correct the issue, but recovery from that surgery was slower than expected and he missed all of 2014 after signing with the Astros. (Crain was also traded from Chicago to Tampa while injured in 2013 but didn’t throw a pitch for the Rays, either.)
Crain’s 2013 featured a dominant streak of 29 scoreless appearances, leading to a minuscule 0.74 ERA with 11.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 36 2/3 innings of work. He’s always had plus velocity, dating back to his days with the Twins, but Crain began to rely more heavily on breaking balls upon signing with the White Sox prior to the 2011 season, and the results were favorable. In 150 innings with Chicago, Crain pitched to a 2.10 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. GM Rick Hahn and his staff will hope that the talented setup man can overcome his health woes and rediscover that form on a low-risk deal with the Sox in 2015.
As for Carroll, the 30-year-old made his big league debut for the Sox in 2014 and totaled 129 1/3 innings of work, registering a 4.80 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 19 starts and seven relief appearances. He’ll again serve as rotation depth, though the starting five may be tougher to crack this time around. In addition to Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks, the Sox acquired Jeff Samardzija from the A’s this winter and have 2014 No. 3 overall pick Carlos Rodon waiting in the wings as well. Hector Noesi, who outperformed Carroll in 2014, is expected to fill the fifth slot in the rotation to open the season.
After going through a number of difficult times with MLB, Rob Manfred is more than ready to take over as commissioner, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. Manfred started working for MLB as an outside counsel in 1994, so he definitely knows what a crisis situation is all about. More from around baseball..
- In a radio interview last week, Matt Harvey reiterated that he is eager to get back to action for the Mets and said he is throwing in the mid-90s in his sessions. Later, manager Terry Collins got in touch with the star hurler. “And I explained to him, I understand that,” Collins said of Harvey’s desire to get back to pitching, according to Newsday’s Marc Carig. “But the process is right now, you’ve got to understand it’s the big picture, and the big picture is 2015. So back off.”
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post explores why the Mets and Cubs, who seem perfectly suited to swing a trade (pitching for a shortstop), have yet to take the leap. A NL executive tells Sherman the Mets “don’t make a lot of trades and that is because they really don’t like to give up what they perceive as their big talent, unless they can convince you to give them $2 for their 35 cents.“
- White Sox manager Robin Ventura told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, he will consider promoting Carlos Rodon (the third overall selection in this year’s draft) when the rosters expand in September. “If he’s doing well enough to come up here, yeah,” Ventura said. “If he’s available and he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. I would like to see it but he’s got to be ready to go.” Rodon, who is not on the White Sox’s 40-man roster, was promoted to Triple-A yesterday.
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (on Twitter) if the club can “find a reliever that can help us late in the games we will consider it.”
- The Astros have decisions to make on a pair of injured right-handed relievers, reports MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Matt Albers (out since April with shoulder tendinitis) has a 2015 club option and Jesse Crain (who has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for biceps tendinitis last October) signed a one-year deal in January and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow would like to see them pitch this season before deciding their fates. “It would be nice to have those two guys in the bullpen in September to help us win some games.” said Luhnow. “I’m sure they want to do that as well so they can establish something going into next year.”
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales are all still free agents, and draft-pick forfeiture is a key reason why, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman writes. Some agents are upset at the way draft picks have affected the market, Heyman reports, but the number of players affected is relatively small, which may prevent the players' union from trying to do much about it before the next CBA expires in 2016. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- The Red Sox (who have six legitimate big-league starters, plus a strong Triple-A rotation) and Cardinals (who keep adding young talent to complement Adam Wainwright) are smart to treasure their starting pitching depth, writes CBS Sports' Dayn Perry. Of last year's playoff teams, only the Tigers avoided giving at least than 15 starts to pitchers who weren't rotation regulars. Four teams — the Pirates, Dodgers, Rays and Cardinals — gave at least 30 starts to pitchers who weren't in their usual top five.
- The Indians feel their biggest loss among their relief pitchers this offseason was not former closer Chris Perez, but setup man Joe Smith, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Smith signed as a free agent with the Angels. The Indians' revamped bullpen will now feature John Axford in the closer's role, with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen also pitching in the late innings.
- David Ortiz of the Red Sox deserves a contract extension through 2015, and he deserves a raise to $20MM for the coming season, writes Heyman. Ortiz is set to make $15MM in the final year of a two-year deal in 2014. The Red Sox ought to pay him more than the market for him would dictate, Heyman argues, based on what he means to the Red Sox and to Boston.
- Jesse Crain of the Astros doubts he'll be ready for the start of the 2014 season, Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes. "I’m not planning on that. I would be surprised if I was ready by then," says Crain, who had biceps surgery in October. Crain hopes to only miss a couple weeks of play. The Astros signed Crain to a one-year, $3.25MM deal in December.
- Emilio Bonifacio could make sense for the Mets if they do not add another shortstop, Michael Baron of MetsBlog writes. The Mets currently plan on going with Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada in their middle infield, and if they don't sign Stephen Drew or add a starting shortstop through some other means, they could use depth behind Tejada.
- In the next five days, the Dodgers will likely sign a utility infielder to a minor-league deal, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tweets.
FRIDAY: Crain's one-year deal with the Astros is worth $3.25MM, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
TUESDAY: The Astros have signed right-hander Jesse Crain to a one-year contract, the team announced in a press release. Terms of the contract weren't disclosed. Crain is represented by Relativity Baseball.
Crain posted a 11.3 K/9, 4.18 K/BB rate and an incredible 0.74 ERA in 36 2/3 relief innings with the White Sox in 2013. These eye-popping numbers put Crain on pace for the best season of his 10-year career, but his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. Crain didn't pitch after June 29, though he was still elected to his first All-Star team. Crain was still acquired by the Rays at the trade deadline with the hopes that he would recover, but the 32-year-old never threw a pitch as a Ray.
Crain's health is still something of a question mark, as Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told reporters (including Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle) that Crain has yet to begin his throwing program following his surgery in October. That said, Crain passed his physical and Luhnow believes Crain is progressing well. "We're not going to rush him but we feel like he's going to be ready to go certainly early in the season if not before," Luhnow said.
As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in his Free Agent Profile of Crain back in October, a one-year deal would help Crain re-establish his value following his shoulder injury and possibly set him up for a more lucrative multiyear contract next winter. While Crain apparently had some two-year offers on the table, he instead chose to just take a single guaranteed year in a familiar locale — Crain pitched for the University Of Houston. Luhnow said in the press release that the team "targeted [Crain] early in the offseason," so the quick push from his semi-hometown team also might've helped influence Crain's decision. The Cubs and Rockies were two of the other clubs known to be interested in Crain's services.
Astros relievers posted a league-worst 4.92 ERA in 2013, so the bullpen was obviously a major focus for Luhnow this winter. Crain joins Matt Albers and Chad Qualls as relievers the Astros have signed to Major League free agent deals, and Houston has also added Anthony Bass, Raul Valdes, Darin Downs and Peter Moylan in other moves. Luhnow told reporters (including Evan Drellich) that manager Bo Porter will decide who closes games for the club and that Crain will be in the mix, though Crain has never worked as a closer before.
Crain ranked 46th on Tim Dierkes' list of this offseason's top 50 free agents, and Tim correctly predicted that Crain would end up with the Astros.
Photo courtesy of Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports Images
Crain, 32, spent the last three years as a setup man for the Cubs' cross-town rivals. He posted an 0.74 ERA with 11.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 36 2/3 innings for the White Sox in 2013, although he suffered a shoulder injury in June and missed the rest of the season. The White Sox traded him to the Rays in July, but he did not make an appearance for Tampa Bay.
FOX Sports' Jon Morosi tweeted last week that Crain was deciding whether to take a one- or two-year deal. A one-year deal presumably might be attractive to Crain as a way of proving his shoulder is healthy before hitting the free-agent market against next season.
The Astros have reportedly shown interest in Crain, as have the Rockies. The Cubs agreed to a contract with Jose Veras last week with the intention of making him their closer, so Crain would likely continue to work in a setup-type role if the Cubs were to sign him.
Brenda Branswell of the Montreal Gazette reports that a feasability study conducted by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Montreal Baseball Project suggests that a return to Montreal for MLB could be financially viable, given a set of realistic assumptions. Those assumptions include league average ticket prices and local broadcasting deal along with a "modest, but competitive payroll." The study estimated that the project would cost $1.025 billion — $525MM to acquire an existing team and $500MM to build a new stadium. Major League Baseball has deemed moving a team to the old Olympic Stadium to be an unacceptable scenario. Here's more from around the league …
- The Orioles are looking at trade possibilities involving third baseman Danny Valencia, reports Jen Royle of the Boston Herald (via Twitter). Dealing Valencia could free a 40-man slot for a new addition, though he had figured to provide some insurance as Manny Machado recovers from knee surgery. The 29-year-old has seen scattered MLB action since a mediocre stint as the Twins' everyday third bagger in 2011. In 170 plate appearances last year for the Orioles, he had a nice .304/.330/.553 slash line to go with eight long balls.
- As the Giants attempt to clear 40-man roster space for Michael Morse, they're pursuing minor trade ideas, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly tweets. Henry Schulman, meanwhile, tweets that one such minor trade could involve 1B/OF Brett Pill. The Brewers had previously shown interest in Pill, Schulman notes. The Morse signing is likely to become official tomorrow.
- The Braves turned their attention to Gavin Floyd only after ruling out the possibility of trading for Jeff Samardzija, MLB.com's Mark Bowman tweets. In addition to Floyd, the Braves also looked at Edinson Volquez (who eventually went to the Pirates), Chris Capuano, and Bruce Chen.
- Multiple teams have made offers to Jesse Crain, who is deciding if he wants to aim for a one- or two-year deal on the free agent market, reports Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). Presumably, Crain is weighing whether or not to take the security of a two-year deal or gamble on re-establishing his value on a one-year pact.
- With many second base options flying off the board, it's looking more and more like Ryan Goins will get a real chance as the Blue Jays' everyday second baseman in 2014, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Nicholson-Smith runs down some of the remaining keystone options for Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos to pursue.
- Jordany Valdespin has changed agencies, leaving ACES for Metis Sports Management, reports MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (on Twitter).
Steve Adams and Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.