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Jesse Crain Rumors
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.
4:22pm: There's mutual interest between Morse and the Astros, tweets Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.
4:10pm: MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports that the Astros are interested in outfielder/first baseman/DH Mike Morse as well as right-handers Jesse Crain and Chad Gaudin. Additionally, according to McTaggart, right-hander Jose Veras would like to return to the Astros after being traded to Detroit in July and having his club option declined following the season.
Morse battled significant injuries in 2013 en route to a career-worst .215/.270/.381 batting line with 13 homers between the Mariners and Orioles. He's quite familiar with Astros manager Bo Porter, who was the Nationals' third base coach from 2010-12 when Morse posted a strong .296/.345/.516 batting line with 64 homers in 1298 plate appearances.
Crain, who attended college in Houston, missed the final three months of the 2013 season after posting a historic scoreless streak. The 32-year-old allowed just three earned runs in 36 2/3 innings for the White Sox, averaging 11.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 en route to a pristine 0.74 ERA. Gaudin posted a strong 3.06 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in 97 innings for the Giants, serving as both a reliever and a starter. Based on McTaggart's report, Houston seems to like him as a reliever.
Veras, who spent the first four months of the 2013 season as Houston's closer, he offered high praise for the Astros organization:
"It feels like family there. It’s a young team and they’re hungry to win. I feel part of the team. I doesn’t mater to me if we won or lose. When you play as a team and everybody cares, that’s the best part for me."
Veras posted a 3.02 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 62 2/3 innings between the Astros and Tigers, collecting a career-high 21 saves along the way.
Dave Stewart, Matt Kemp's agent, has a "strong feeling something could happen" involving his client at the Winter Meetings, the former pitcher tells ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes. "This is the first time we've experienced this," Stewart said. "This is the first time we've heard it this much, and the first time we really believe something could happen." The Dodgers have been listening to offers for Kemp, and the Mariners, Rangers and Red Sox have all been linked to the outfielder, plus other teams.
Here's the latest from around the NL West…
- The Rockies are still looking for bullpen help and have maintained their interest in Jose Veras and Jesse Crain, Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports (Twitter links). The club's interest in Crain, of course, hinges on whether he is healthy following the shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season.
- The Rockies had interest in Corey Hart and Mike Morse but both players profiled better as first basemen, Renck notes, a position that Colorado has since addressed by signing Justin Morneau. The Rockies have a hole in left field, with Carlos Gonzalez shifting to center and Michael Cuddyer remaining in right.
- The Padres had some interest in David Murphy and Nate McLouth, MLB.com's Corey Brock tweets. With Murphy and McLouth respectively signed by the Indians and Nationals, however, San Diego's search for a left-handed hitting outfielder may have ended with their trade for Seth Smith.
- Ichiro Suzuki seems relegated to the bench in New York, so John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links) thinks the Giants should try to acquire the veteran address their outfield depth. Shea notes that Suzuki and Giants manager Bruce Bochy share an agent, plus Suzuki could be cheaply acquired from the Yankees. San Francisco had some interest in Ichiro when he was a free agent last winter.
The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to the friends and family of NBA Hall-of-Fame player and coach Bill Sharman, who passed away today at age 87. Sharman is best known for his legendary basketball career but he also played in the Dodgers' minor system from 1950-55, doing well enough to earn a late-season callup in 1951. Sharman was a so-called "phantom ballplayer" (a player who spends time on a Major League roster but didn't actually appear in a game) yet his status afforded him a unique spot in baseball history. The entire Dodgers bench was ejected for arguing a call on September 27, 1951, thus making Sharman the only player to ever be ejected from a Major League game without appearing in one.
Here are some items from around the NL West, starting with Sharman's old team…
- J.P. Howell and Nick Punto are the only two of the Dodgers' free agents who Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles predicts will be back with the team next season. Saxon also predicts the Dodgers will decline Mark Ellis' $5.75MM club option and their side of Chris Capuano's $8MM mutual option.
- Letting that mostly veteran free agent group go is one of Saxon's five ways the Dodgers can reach their stated goal of getting younger in 2014. Other methods include trading Andre Ethier and acquiring David Price and Elvis Andrus.
- The Rockies will explore signing Jesse Crain if he's healthy and will look to re-sign Matt Belisle to a longer-term deal, Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes. Colorado has a $4.25MM option on Belisle for 2014 but Renck says the team will look to lower Belisle's base salary for next season in as part of a new contract.
- Renck also outlines several other Rockies offseason needs and notes that while they couldn't manage to sign Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, the attempt at least showed that the club is trying and is willing to spend this winter.
- Also from Renck (via Twitter), he is "fascinated" by the Nationals' reported hiring of Matt Williams and notes that the Rockies came close to hiring Williams as manager last year before going with Walt Weiss.
- Even before their offseason moves have really begun, the Rockies and Giants are two of three teams projected by ESPN's Jared Cross (Insider subscription required) to have the best chance of improving by at least 20 wins in 2014. Cross also suggests a pair of free agents who could help the two clubs.
- A number of Padres topics are explored by Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune during a live chat with readers, including whether the Angels' Mark Trumbo would be a realistic trade option for the Friars as they look to add power to their lineup.
- USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweets that Dave Duncan is a "perfect fit" as the Diamondbacks' pitching coach and that we should "keep an eye on" him as a candidate for the job. Duncan took a leave of absence from the Cardinals in 2012 and recently said that he isn't interested in serving as a pitching coach again.
- In other NL West news from earlier today, the Giants officially announced Tim Lincecum's new contract….Lincecum's feelings about re-signing are included as part of a collection of Giants notes….the Padres designated southpaws Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne for assignment….MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote a Free Agent Profile of Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson.
What was on track to be one of the best relief seasons in history was derailed when Jesse Crain hit the disabled list with a shoulder injury in early July. The 32-year-old right-hander had recently seen a streak of 29 straight scoreless appearances come to an end when he hit the DL, and while it was originally thought that he might be able to return prior to the trade deadline, he didn't throw another pitch in 2013. The Rays acquired Crain in a conditional deal at the deadline with an eye toward bolstering their bullpen down the stretch but don't have the luxury of turning to him in tonight's Wild Card playoff game against the Indians. He'll have to carry injury concerns surrounding his shoulder into free agency this offseason.
If you're looking for strikeouts late in the game — and what team isn't? — Crain delivers. His K/9 rate jumped from 7.5 to 8.2 in his final year with the Twins, then rose to 9.6 in his first year with the White Sox and sat at 11.3 in 2012-13. Crain always had plus velocity, but his strikeouts took off when his slider usage jumped from 22 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2010. This year, he's scaled the usage of his slider back to around 30 percent in favor of his curveball, though PITCHf/x actually gives his curve negative value.
Since increasing his breaking ball usage in 2010, Crain has a 2.39 ERA with 9.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 36.3 percent ground-ball rate. His 3.20 FIP and 3.16 SIERA in that time are both impressive as well. Crain's 3.65 xFIP punishes him by adjusting for a league-average homer-to-flyball ratio, but he's always shown a knack for keeping the ball in the yard, as evidenced by his career 7.4 percent HR/FB ratio.
He's shown the best command of his career in 2013's brief 36 1/3 inning sample size, walking only 11 batters (2.7 per nine innings).
Crain, of course, won't be tied to a qualifying offer, so interested parties won't need to worry about forfeiting a draft pick to sign him.
The obvious red flag with Crain is his health. This isn't the first season in which he's missed significant time with a shoulder injury. Crain missed most of the 2007 season thanks to a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery. He's also had DL trips related to his shoulder in 2009 and 2012.
While the command he's displayed in 2013 is a plus, it's also a pretty major outlier for his career. Crain averaged four walks per nine innings over his past 295 2/3 big league innings (five seasons) before this season, so it's fair to wonder if he can keep that number under 3.0. His pristine ERA is also obviously unsustainable, though he did manage sub-3.00 ERAs in his first two seasons with the ChiSox, so he should still be plenty effective if healthy.
Crain was a three-sport athlete in high school, playing basketball and football in addition to baseball. He and his wife Becky have three children: Hunter, Avery and Caleb. Crain is active within the community each season, particularly with military-related events, per the White Sox media guide. In 2012, he visited veterans at the Walter Reed Medical center, participated in "Lunch with the Military" as part of White Sox charity week and participated in the "True Heroes" program at U.S. Cellular Field.
As is the case every offseason, there will be no shortage of teams on the lookout for bullpen help. Crain's injury should limit him to a one-year deal, which would mitigate the risk for contending teams and make him appealing to non-contenders hoping to flip him at the trade deadline. While he hasn't served as a full-time closer to this point in his career (much of which was spent behind Joe Nathan), Crain's dominant season could net him some offers to pitch the ninth inning. That method has been successfully employed by the Astros (Jose Veras) and Pirates (Jason Grilli) recently.
A one-year deal would be beneficial to Crain and would also mitigate risk for a signing team that had some hesitation surrounding his shoulder. Were he to sign a one-year deal with no option and pitch well for a full season, Crain could hit free agency as a 33-year-old next season — the same age at which Joaquin Benoit inked his three-year, $16.5MM contract with Detroit. Crain already has a three-year, $13MM contract under his belt, and another three-year deal wouldn't be out of the question after a strong 2014. Barring a severe setback in his recovery, I expect Crain to sign a one-year, $3.5MM contract with incentives based on innings pitched and perhaps games finished as well.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
On this date in 1961, 40-year-old Warren Spahn became the 13th pitcher in MLB history to win 300 games as he went the distance in the Milwaukee Braves' 2-1 victory over the Cubs. The complete game was the 317th for the left-hander, who also drove in Milwaukee's first run with a sacrifice fly. Spahn was enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 with 363 victories, the most by any left-hander and the most by any pitcher who played his entire career in the live ball era. Here's more from this era's National League:
- Cubs catcher Welington Castillo is having a strong season behind the plate and he's showing the club he can be a valuable piece for the future. The same can't be said for the rest of the catchers in the Chicago farm system and the position is thin enough that GM Jed Hoyer said this weekend the front office plans to make acquiring more backstops a priority this winter, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Walt Weiss signed only a one-year contract to manage the Rockies this season, but he told the Denver Post's Patrick Saunders he wants to return in 2014. "Yes, sure. I knew it wasn't going to be all fun and games," Weiss said. "I have been through enough Major League seasons to understand that you'll get beat up. But I want to be a part of building something special here. That's what drives me."
- The final weeks of the season provide the Rockies a platform for cold-hard analysis, opines Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. The Rockies need more talent and Renck names Giancarlo Stanton and Nelson Cruz as aquisitions who could fill the club's void of a right-handed power bat and Jesse Crain should be a free agent priority as a much needed late-inning arm.
- The Phillies need to provide clarity to their managerial situation, according to Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brookover writes the assumption is Charlie Manuel will step aside for Ryne Sandberg and, if that is the Phillies' desire, the announcement should be made now so Manuel can use the remainder of the season as a well-deseved bow for being the franchise's winningest manager while also giving the players, who will be around when Spring Training opens in February, an idea of what they can expect from their next manager.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
The latest out of the AL East…
- The Red Sox "may be willing to part with whatever it takes" in hopes of acquiring the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, a league source tells MLB.com's Joe Frisaro. Still, the Marlins have pretty much closed the door on trading Stanton for now.
- The Red Sox should trade top prospect Xander Bogaerts and more to get Phillies lefty Cliff Lee, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, while Dave Cameron of FanGraphs gives his take on that idea.
- "The deals we’ve seen so far, teams have gotten a pretty good return," Red Sox Ben Cherington said of this year's trades, according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.
- The Rays acquired reliever Jesse Crain from the White Sox yesterday, with the return to be determined after the season. Crain has been out since late June with a shoulder strain, and the White Sox seemingly tried to rush him back into action. "Hopefully this time we'll take our time and be ready for the rest of the year," Crain said, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
- Josh Johnson accepting a qualifying offer might be an unacceptable risk for the Blue Jays given their limited financial flexibility next year, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. Speaking to Jeff Blair on the Fan 590 on Friday, Johnson's agent Matt Sosnick said he expects the Jays to make a qualifying offer and "hang compensation on" his client, affecting the pitcher's value in the free agent market. Sosnick didn't say it explicitly, but he seemed to imply they would accept a qualifying offer. Sosnick believes we're headed toward "the worst free agent pitching market in the last 10 to 15 years," but Johnson isn't likely to be a part of it.
- The Yankees are in danger of being "a club that isn’t good enough to legitimately contend and not bad enough to completely tear down," writes Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues. Axisa feels the Yankees will have to scrap their plan to keep the payroll under $189MM next year, if they re-sign Robinson Cano. Otherwise, they'll have to rebuild.