Jesse Crain Rumors

NL West Notes: Dodgers, Belisle, Crain, Giants

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.

Free Agent Profile: Jesse Crain

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.

Pros/Strengths

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.  Crain-Jesse

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.

Weaknesses/Cons

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.

Personal

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.

Market

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.

Expected Contract

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.


NL Notes: Cubs, Weiss, Rockies, Manuel

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.



AL East Links: Stanton, Crain, Josh Johnson

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.

Rays Acquire Jesse Crain

5:21pm: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the two sides will negotiate the player/cash combination going from the Rays to the White Sox over the next several weeks. Rosenthal also tweets that the return is not contingent on how much Crain pitches. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that the compensation is likely to be finalized after the season. Scott Merkin of MLB.com adds that the pool of players from which the White Sox can choose has been agreed upon.

4:40pm: The Rays have become the third playoff contender to add a significant piece to their bullpen today, as the team has announced the acquisition of Jesse Crain from the White Sox in exchange for player(s) to be named later or cash considerations. Chicago's return in this deal will reportedly be dependent on Crain's health down the stretch for the Rays. Brandon Gomes has been shifted to the 60-day disabled list to create a 40-man roster spot for Crain. Reports from earlier today stated the ball was in Chicago's court to trade their ace setup man to one of two teams, with the Rays being the favorites.  Crain

The White Sox have also announced the trade, and general manager Rick Hahn issued the following kind words about his former right-hander:

“We cannot say enough about what Jesse has meant to our bullpen, and the positive impact he’s had on our young relievers. "We certainly think he has the ability to influence this year’s pennant race very positively for the Rays.”

The 32-year-old Crain is in the midst of one of the finest seasons for a relief pitcher in recent history. In 36 2/3 innings prior to his shoulder injury, the Toronto native had allowed just three earned runs (0.74 ERA) with 11.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. He has not surrendered a home run this season despite pitching in the cozy confines of U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Crain was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain on July 3.

Crain is in the final season of a three-year, $13MM contract that he signed with the White Sox prior to the 2011 season. His trade to the AL East will bring him out of the only division he's ever known, as he spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Twins after Minnesota selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Because he is a free agent at season's end, Crain is strictly a rental and cannot net the Rays a compensatory draft pick in 2014.

Earlier today the Tigers fortified their bullpen by acquiring Jose Veras from the Astros, and the Braves acquired Scott Downs from the Angels.

ESPN's Buster Olney was the first to tweet that a deal had been struck. Joel Sherman of the New York Post added that the White Sox would receive "future considerations" for Crain, depending on his health (Twitter links). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that the Rays would send players to be named later or cash to the Rays.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Latest On Jesse Crain

3:56pm: The ball is in Chicago's court on a Crain trade, hears Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The Rays are hoping to finalize a deal for the reliever today.

3:24pm: Crain spoke about the White Sox in the past tense and sounds as if he knows he's gone, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, but declined to identify his potential new team.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says the Rays remain hopeful of landing Crain, and the teams continue to talk.  The Rays would not be giving up a player from their big league roster, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

12:58pm: Crain could be traded today to one of two teams, with the Rays as the leading club, tweets Levine.  He notes it's a complicated deal because the compensation could depend on his performance.

11:39am: The deal is not close to done, tweets Yahoo's Jeff Passan.  He adds that the White Sox are exploring multiple avenues for Crain.

10:58am: The White Sox are close to trading reliever Jesse Crain in a complicated deal involving the Rays and a third team, reports Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.  Crain is currently on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, and has not pitched since June 29th.  A bullpen session on Thursday was cancelled due to a slight setback.

Crain, 32, snagged his first All-Star nod this season with a stellar first half: a 0.74 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, no home runs allowed, and a 34.8% groundball rate in 36 2/3 innings.  He'll be a free agent after the season.


Chicago Notes: Crain, Beckham, Russell

A month ago, White Sox reliever Jesse Crain appeared very likely to be traded at the deadline, but now, it looks like it would be tricky for the team to deal him. Crain's shoulder injury, which has kept him out since June 29, is still a problem, and he won't throw until next week, as Toni Ginnetti of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets. ESPN's Buster Olney (via Twitter) has an idea of how a trade might work despite that injury, though — the Sox might ship him to a contender in a conditional deal, with the return predicated upon how much he's able to pitch down the stretch. Here are more notes out of Chicago.

  • The Blue Jays asked the White Sox about trading for second baseman Gordon Beckham earlier this season, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. There is currently no activity on that front, however. The Jays are now 14 games out of the AL East race, and it would be surprising to see them trade for a veteran. Also, the Jays' top infielders are now healthy.
  • "At least five teams" are interested in Cubs lefty reliever James Russell, Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago reports. Russell does not become a free agent until after the 2015 season, however, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says his top priority is trading players who are set to become free agents after the season, like Kevin Gregg. "Potentially, we will be hearing from people on the guys who we don’t control after this year," says Epstein. "It would make more sense moving those guys."
  • The Cubs have already dealt Scott Feldman, Scott Hairston, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, and they're not sure if they're done dealing, MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reports. "There are some things we'd like to explore, and if we can find the right fit and bring value back to the organization, sure, we would be [interested]," says Epstein. Of the veterans still with the Cubs, Gregg and outfielder Nate Schierholtz appear most likely to be traded.

Crain Will Not Be Activated Prior To Trade Deadline

White Sox reliever Jesse Crain could have been a hot commodity on the trade market, but he will not be activated prior to the trade deadline after experiencing what pitching coach Don Cooper called a "slight setback" today.  Today's bullpen session was cancelled, reported Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago and others.

Crain, a free agent after the season, hit the DL on July 3rd with a shoulder strain.  He made the All-Star team with a 0.74 first-half ERA, but was unable to participate.  If Crain recovers, an August trade could be possible, though the White Sox would have to deal only with the team that wins a claim on him.


White Sox Notes: Ramirez, Peavy, Crain

8:04am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that the White Sox did not turn down Martinez for Ramirez, though he wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinals are indeed interested in Chicago's shortstop.

12:29am: The White Sox have as many trade chips as any deadline seller in the majors and they're putting a high price tag on their key players.  According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, the Sox recently turned down a trade offer from the Cardinals that would have sent shortstop Alexei Ramirez to St. Louis in exchange for right-hander Carlos Martinez, one of the many elite prospects in the Cards' minor league system.  Gonzales said the deal was "involving" those two players, so it was likely not a one-for-one swap.

The Cardinals had been relying on Pete Kozma at short ever since Rafael Furcal underwent Tommy John surgery in March, and while Ramirez's production has dropped, he still would've presented a big upgrade.  Ramirez entered Tuesday's play hitting .284/.310/.357 in 408 PA but only one homer and 23 RBI.  Ramirez averaged 17 homers per year from 2008-11 but has just 10 homers total over 1029 PA in 2012-13.  While his power isn't what it used to be, Ramirez has 20 steals (in 26 chances) this year and is one of the game's better defensive shortstops, with an 8.5 UZR/150 this season and a 7.7 UZR/150 for his career.

Ramirez still has value, but he turns 32 in September and is owed roughly $22MM through the end of the 2015 season, plus a $10MM club option for 2016 that can be bought out for $1MM.  By that token it's surprising that the White Sox weren't willing to move the veteran for Martinez, a consensus top-40 prospect controlled through the 2019 season, though as noted, there may have been more to this trade than simply Ramirez for Martinez straight-up.

The 21-year-old Martinez was ranked as the third-best prospect in the St. Louis farm system by Baseball America, and he possesses "a biting curveball" and a changeup and could both become plus pitches. His fastball has touched 100 mph but usually clocks in the 94-98 mph range.  Martinez made his Major League debut this season and has 11 strikeouts in 10 1/3 relief innings.  His 6.10 ERA is largely due to a tough outing last Friday when he allowed three runs in a third of an inning against San Diego.

Also from Gonzales, Jake Peavy and Jesse Crain are drawing a lot of interest and scouts from the Diamondbacks, Reds, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers are expected to be in Chicago through the end of the week to watch one or both men pitch.  Peavy just recently returned from a DL stint while Crain is currently on the DL with a sprained right shoulder but could be activated by Sunday.


Bowden’s Latest: Garza, Rox, Rios, Morneau, Perkins

The trade deadline is just two weeks away, and with the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio writes that the market will pick up rapidly beginning Friday. Here are some highlights from the highly informative article penned by the former GM of the Reds, Expos and Nationals (ESPN Insider required and recommended)…

  • Bowden hears there's an 80 percent chance that Matt Garza will be traded before his next scheduled start (Monday or Tuesday of next week). The Rangers, Red Sox and Diamondbacks are still involved, He describes the D-backs as "dark horses," adding that their odds in the Garza sweepstakes would increase if they were willing to part with left-hander David Holmberg.
  • The Rockies could also be interested in Garza, but they're not clear-cut buyers right now, and the prospective cost is prohibitive to them. If they were to sell, Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle could be had. Michael Cuddyer could be moved, but only if Colorado is "blown away."
  • The White Sox have been "extremely disappointed" with offers for Alex Rios thus far. Bowden feels that offers will improve as the deadline draws closer.
  • The Justin Morneau era in Minnesota is coming to an end, and the Twins are prepared to trade the former MVP, according to Bowden. The Rays, Pirates and Yankees are said by Bowden to be possible destinations for Morneau.
  • The Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers and Braves have all inquired on Twins closer Glen Perkins and been turned away. Those four teams are all monitoring the health of Jesse Crain as well.
  • The Yankees are trying to use Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and catching prospect J.R. Murphy to acquire a bat but have had no luck thus far. None of those players figure to interest the Twins in regards to Morneau, Bowden adds, given the impending free agency of Hughes and Chamberlain and the presence of Joe Mauer behind the plate for the Twins.