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Joe Nathan Rumors
Injuries remain perhaps the largest driver of needs in the early part of the season — a topic that MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes and I explored in today’s podcast with respect to starting pitching. Let’s have a look at some key injury situations around the game:
- Rehabbing Royals starter Kris Medlen is headed to extended Spring Training to begin throwing against live batters, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports. That leaves him on track for a rehab assignment in May. Kansas City has $8.5MM riding on the righty’s ability to return to form after his second Tommy John surgery.
- The Reds are missing two key cogs in backstop Devin Mesoraco and righty Homer Bailey. As Michael Hunt reports for MLB.com, manager Bryan Price says that Mesoraco — still not on the DL despite a 17-game absence from his usual catching duties — is still not ready “to try it out just yet,” adding that Mesoraco is “coming along slowly.” There are longer-term concerns with regard to Bailey, of course, and surgery is said to be on the table. “We’re probably going to know in the next one-to-two days what our plans are with Homer,” Price said. “You spend a lot of time when you make a diagnosis, fact-finding and making sure everything you see is as it appears. That’s been the time consumer, making sure it is what we think it is and finding the best way to treat it.”
- Marlins starter Jose Fernandez is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, of course, and recently faced hitters in a live BP session for the first time. You can check out the video of his outing, courtesy of FOX Sports Florida.
- After a pause in his rehab, Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon is preparing for another Double-A appearance in the coming days, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. The issue has not been with his knee, which caused him to hit the DL to start the year, but with tightness in his side. That’s good news for the club, obviously, as is the fact that reliever Casey Janssen appeared in an extended spring game. He is set to begin his own run up through the minors in short order, per Ladson.
- Injured Tigers starter Justin Verlander is set for a third MRI on his right triceps area early next week, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports (Twitter links). Meanwhile, reliever Joe Nathan underwent his Tommy John procedure yesterday, Fenech tweets, with Nathan saying that it went well. It figures to be a long road back for the 40-year-old, but indications are that he’ll try to return to the big leagues.
10:38am: Nathan doesn’t appear to be considering retirement at this time, telling reporters (including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press) that “I am preparing myself to be a major league player again. That is my goal.”
9:02am: Tigers righty Joe Nathan has torn the ulnar collateral ligament as well as a tendon in his right elbow, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. He will undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season, the team announced.
Nathan, 40, opened the year as Detroit’s closer despite a challenging 2014 season in which he posted a 4.81 ERA. He struck out just 8.4 batters per nine while walking 4.5 per nine, both of which were the worst marks of his career since he moved to the pen.
That was obviously not the output that the Tigers hoped for when they promised Nathan $20MM over two years through free agency. The club does hold a $10MM option for next season, but seems highly likely to instead pay a $1MM buyout at this juncture.
Nathan will undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career, this time with the added complication of the tendon damage to account for. While it may be an uphill road at his age, that news seemingly indicates that there is at least some possibility that Nathan will attempt to resume his career.
Detroit probably did not expect Nathan to resume his once-dominant form in the closer’s role this year, but surely hoped he would at least be a valuable contributor and presence in the pen. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained in his review of the club’s offseason, the relief corps was a major question mark entering the year for the Tigers, and the team is certainly shaping up as a future acquirer of bullpen arms in the season’s early going.
Righty Jason Frasor was offered a one-year deal by the Twins this winter but decided to go back to the Royals when Kansas City got involved, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. The 37-year-old also added an interesting take on the process of free agency: “When you become a free agent and you’re a 37-year-old middle reliever, there’s not as many teams that come calling as you would think or hope. But that’s all right. I just needed one team.”
- Veteran Tigers reliever Joe Nathan suffered a setback in a Triple-A rehab appearance today, as James Schmehl of MLive.com reports. Nathan came out after experiencing severe pain after the tenth pitch of his outing. Both Nathan and the club have stayed quiet this evening as to whether any more has been learned, but at a minimum it seems unlikely that he will join the team as quickly as had been expected.
- Cody Allen has struggled thus far, but the Indians are not contemplating a closer change, per Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. “Cody is about as trustworthy and dependable as anyone we have,” said manager Terry Francona. The Cleveland pen has been poor by any standard thus far, and is not exactly teeming with alternatives. MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted that the team passed on an opportunity to upgrade there over the offseason, and it will be interesting to see whether that becomes an area to target if the Indians stay in contention over the summer.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski addressed a number of points with the media yesterday, and Jason Beck of MLB.com provides a transcript of his comments. Here are the key takeaways:
- Dombrowski listed the team’s top three priorities. First among them is deciding on an approach in center, which he said could either mean finding a platoon partner for the right-handed hitting Rajai Davis or going with a new, full-time option. Second: improving the bullpen, with some new arms potentially coming from within. And finally, the team wants to add another left-handed bat in some capacity. The GM rejected the notion that the club’s contention window is closing, saying he has confidence in its veteran core.
- Explaining that he is more concerned about Alex Avila‘s concussion issues on a human level than in terms of planning, Dombrowski said that he is confident in the team’s situation behind the plate. He expects Avila to be able to man the position next year, but also likes prospect James McCann as a long-term piece.
- Dombrowski said that he does not know whether Torii Hunter will retire. If he elects to play, the club values his clubhouse presence immensely but has yet to make any decisions as to whether it would pursue him in free agency. Dombrowski also discussed prospect Steven Moya, who could be a long-term replacement for Hunter. “I don’t know if he’s going to be ready or not,” Dombrowski said of Moya. “You can hope and he may be ready, but I’m not really sure. His performance in the Arizona Fall League, then going to winter ball will be important for him.”
- Soon-to-be free agent starter Max Scherzer appears set to test the market, and Dombrowski did nothing to curb the idea that he could be headed for a new team. “Well, we had thorough conversations before the season, and I don’t know that it’s all dictated by us at this point,” said Dombrowski. “I think we made ourselves pretty well known at the time where we stood. … I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year. So I don’t think your odds improve [from] what they were earlier. Why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”
- In terms of a possible replacement in the rotation, Dombrowski said the team has internal options and may not feel the need to add an arm via free agency. “I think we have some young pitchers we feel pretty comfortable with at this point,” said Dombrowski, “… but I feel comfortable staying internal with the four guys we would have at that point. But again, we haven’t made that decision.”
- The prognosis on shortstop Jose Iglesias is positive, says Dombrowski. Though he will allow manager Brad Ausmus a chance to evaluate him in the spring, the GM says that he expects Iglesias to take the everyday job “if he returns to the form of the past.” On the other hand, Dombrowski said the team needs to be prepared if Iglesias is not at full strength.
- Detroit’s closer situation will probably not undergo changes over the offseason, said Dombrowski. Joe Nathan will likely have the ninth inning job going into the year, but will need to “perform up to the capabilities required” to keep it. Elsewhere in the relief corps, young power reliever Bruce Rondon, who underwent Tommy John surgery, is expected to be ready for the year, says Dombrowski.
In signing Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20MM deal this week, the Tigers secured the best reliever on the free agent market at only 77% of the amount I projected in mid-October. There's a significant age difference between the two relievers, but I'd rather have Nathan at two years and $20MM than Joe Smith at three years and $15.75MM. The way Nathan spoke about focusing on the Tigers from the outset of free agency, it's possible they were able to leverage his enthusiasm to get him on a relatively reasonable deal given the typical save-related inflation.
In 2013 the Tigers' bullpen ranked 12th in the AL with a 4.01 ERA. That figure counts guys like Jose Valverde and Jeremy Bonderman, however, and the situation wasn't as dire by season's end as the ERA suggests. In the postseason, the Tigers' key guys were Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras, Al Alburquerque, and Jose Alvarez. They lacked a good second lefty, but the core group of Benoit, Smyly, and Veras was strong in the regular season, as seen here.
The Tigers decided to move starter Doug Fister at what ESPN's Keith Law termed as "about 30 cents on the dollar" to presumably clear payroll space for Nathan (MLBTR's Jeff Todd looked at the Fister trade in depth here). That deal may have weakened the Tigers' rotation and bullpen, as the pen will lose Smyly but he probably won't be as good as Fister was in the rotation. The Tigers added a southpaw in the deal in 22-year-old Ian Krol, who has 31 innings of experience beyond the Double-A level. Lefty Phil Coke will also return to the team's bullpen after an underwhelming year.
In early November the Tigers declined Veras' $4MM club option in favor a $150K buyout, suggesting they did not value him at $3.85MM on a one-year deal. Benoit would be pricey to retain, with an outlay potentially topping Nathan's if he finds a three-year deal again.
It has been very surprising to see the Tigers take multiple cost-cutting measures. Were they not faced with this apparent restriction, they could have picked up Veras' option for the depth he provides, retained Fister, allowing Smyly to remain in the bullpen, and signed Nathan. Nathan would be replacing Benoit, a reasonable measure, and then GM Dave Dombrowski could have gone bullpen bargain shopping in January.
Keep in mind that the Tigers also saved $76MM in the Prince Fielder trade. Though we haven't seen this in recent years from the Tigers, it seems clear that most of this offseason's moves were driven by financial constraints. As surprising as that is, I can accept that no team has an unlimited amount of money to spend. But if you decide Fister is the piece you're going to move, and your bullpen needs tons of work, how do you trade him and not get back even one established, controllable reliever? As it stands, the Tigers do not have anyone reliable to slot in after Nathan, so Dombrowski will likely continue tinkering with his bullpen.
THURSDAY: Nathan's contract contains a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to five clubs, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish (Twitter link).
WEDNESDAY, 4:02pm: Nathan signed a two-year, $20MM contract with a $10MM option for 2016, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Nathan will earn $9MM in 2014, $10MM in 2015 and has a $1MM buyout on his option.
2:38pm: There won't be a repeat of 2013's early-season closer carousel for the Tigers in 2014. Detroit officially announced today that it has signed one of baseball's elite closers — Joe Nathan — to a two-year contract with a club option for a third year. The contract is reportedly in the $20MM range. Nathan is represented by agent Dave Pepe of Pro Agents, Inc.
The 39-year-old Nathan is coming off one of the finest seasons of his storied career, having pitched to a 1.39 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 64 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2013. Nathan added 43 more saves to his resume, tying him for 10th all-time with the legendary Rollie Fingers at 341. In his free agent profile of Nathan six weeks ago, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted that the active Major League saves leader would and a two-year deal worth $26MM.
Nathan will fill a void that the Tigers were unable to fill early in the 2013 season when Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde were unable to solidify the ninth inning. Though this year's free agent market is rife with closer types — Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Edward Mujica, Jose Veras, Kevin Gregg, Chris Perez all saved 20 or more games — Nathan appears to be the first domino to fall. Former Giants closer Brian Wilson is also reportedly nearing a deal to return to the Dodgers, suggesting that the relief market could pick up in the near future.
It's already been a highly active offseason for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. In addition to the Nathan deal, he's pulled off a blockbuster trade by flipping Prince Fielder (and $30MM) to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, and he's also traded Doug Fister to the Nationals for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports first reported that a deal was close (on Twitter). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the two sides were in agreement on a two-year deal (Twitter link), and Rosenthal added that it was in the $20MM range (on Twitter).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The 39-year-old Nathan is coming off one of the finest seasons of his storied career, having pitched to a 1.39 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 64 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2013. Nathan added 43 more saves to his resume, tying him for 10th all-time with the legendary Rollie Fingers at 341. Not surprisingly, he is the active Major League leader in saves.
The Tigers elected not to add a closer last offseason and saw an early carousel that included the likes of Phil Coke, Bruce Rondon and a returning Jose Valverde before Joaquin Benoit finally solidified the position.
The early struggles by Detroit's bullpen and the unit's postseason tribulations led many to predict that they'd sign one of the top free agents available, and Nathan is arguably the best available on the market. Detroit has also been linked to Brian Wilson recently.
For his latest Rumblings & Grumblings piece, ESPN's Jayson Stark spoke with several executives about the ultimate destination of Robinson Cano. One NL executive said: "I keep hearing there's no interest. I don't believe it." Stark agrees and hypothesizes that the lack of a market for Cano has been well-crafted by the Yankees leaking their own seven-year, $168MM offer in reaction to Cano's $310MM demand. One AL exec told Stark: "If you had a situation where everyone remained objective and everyone played it smart and you had teams that thought they could sign Robinson Cano for $120 million, you'd probably have five or six teams in on it. Then you'd set $120 million as the starting point and start the bidding, and see how much higher it gets." Stark feels that by starting the bar high, the Yankees have set the early market to a market of one. The same NL exec who didn't buy the lack of interest said that eventually teams who are chasing Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann will say, "Wait a second. Cano's a much better player than those guys," and change direction. Stark runs down some possible late-emerging suitors. Here's more from his excellent piece…
- Stark reports an unknown wrinkle in the David Price trade saga. Price signed a one-year, $10.1125MM contract to avoid arbitration last January, but $5MM of that sum comes in the form of a signing bonus that is deferred to next year. While it was presented as a tax-related issue at the time, Stark notes that the Rays can use it as leverage in a trade, agreeing to take a slightly lesser package if the acquiring team pays that additional $5MM.
- The Phillies upped the ante and guaranteed Carlos Ruiz a third year because they were convinced that he would sign with the Red Sox if they didn't. The Phils looked hard at alternatives but were highly uncomfortable with the prices on other targets. For that reason, other teams haven't been as critical of the deal, though they've all offered high praise to Ruiz's agent, Marc Kligman.
- The Ruiz contract helps both McCann and particularly Jarrod Saltalamacchia, agents and an AL executive told Stark. Stark has heard that one reason the Red Sox were so interested in Ruiz was that they don't want to commit more than two years to a catcher, suggesting that Saltalamacchia is a goner in Boston.
- The Tigers' search for a closer has begun to lean more in favor of Brian Wilson than Joe Nathan, but Wilson's agent, Dan Lozano, may want to wait out the market, which isn't GM Dave Dombrowski's style, Stark points out.
- Bartolo Colon and agent Adam Katz aren't rushing into one-year contracts as they wait to see if someone will tack on a second guaranteed year in the wake of Tim Hudson's two-year, $23MM deal.
The Mets are currently dealing with sticker shock when looking at free agent demands, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. One example, says Puma, is Jhonny Peralta, whom the Mets initially believed they could land on a two-year deal. Peralta, however, is said to be seeking more than $45MM on at least a three-year deal. Here's more out of the Big Apple…
- The Mets are more interested in Phil Hughes than they are Bronson Arroyo, Puma tweets. That would make sense if they're unhappy with free agent prices, as Arroyo figures to command a healthy two-year deal at minimum and could get to three years.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson said that the 2014 payroll will not be lower than the 2013 mark of $87MM, according to Newsday's Marc Carig (on Twitter).
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweets that the Yankees are interested in Joe Nathan but are addressing their more pressing needs first, such as their pursuit of Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
Joe Nathan agreed with Jim Bowden's suggestions of the Tigers, Angels and Yankees as good fits for his services, the veteran closer told Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. Nathan said that finding a winning team was more important to him than location, he's prepared to be patient and see how his market develops, and he revealed that his old teammate Torii Hunter was trying to recruit him to come to Detroit. Tip of the cap to MLB.com's Jason Beck for providing an audio link to Nathan's interview and a partial transcript.
Here's some more news as we wrap up a busy day around baseball…
- The Phillies have a long-standing interest in Peter Bourjos and would love to have him, but they don't have the young pitching the Angels would want back in a trade, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. The Phils would have to get a third team involved to work out a deal, or forget Bourjos entirely and focus on other outfield candidates; Rosenthal suggests Grady Sizemore as a bench possibility.
- Also from Rosenthal, rival scouts figure the Yankees will make a big push to sign international talent since they're already over the bonus pool limit for international signings and will be penalized anyway. It's worth noting that Joe Pawlikowski of the River Ave Blues blog believes Rosenthal may have miscalculated some figures and is actually saying the Yankees will overspend during the next international signing period, which opens on July 2, 2014.
- MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez lists 10 teams who could possibly be trade partners for the Angels in their search for young, controllable pitching.
- Ruben Tejada's possible grievance against the Mets is just the latest sign of strained relations between the shortstop and the team, and Andy Martino of the New York Daily News figures the two sides are close to parting ways.
- The Rays plan to rotate Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and David DeJesus at DH this season, a move that will help keep the players fresh and also allow the club to save money on signing a designated hitter, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes.
- Five teams have shown interest in Yuniesky Betancourt as a second or third baseman, agent Alex Esteban tells Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter link).
- The White Sox aren't used to picking as high as third overall in the amateur draft, MLB.com's Scott Merkin writes, but the club is hoping to use the high pick and larger draft bonus pool to fuel GM Rick Hahn's plan to restock the farm system.