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Rafael Soriano needs 32 more games finished to cause his $14MM club option to vest, but the Nationals closer says that vesting option or not, he wants to return to Washington in 2015, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports. Soriano would need to get up to the 62-finish mark (a career high) to make it, though with the Nats in a tight pennant race, they’ll undoubtedly need their closer as much as possible down the stretch.
Here’s some more news and notes from around baseball…
- Scouts for the Indians have been told to focus their attention on Rays minor leaguers, MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo reports, and Cotillo wonders if this could suggest that Cleveland is revisiting talks for David Price. Cleveland and Tampa discussed a Price trade during the offseason, as Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, that involved Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar going to the Rays. (Tampa Bay also had interest in Francisco Lindor but the Indians consider Lindor virtually untouchable in any trade.) A new trade package, Cotillo speculates, could be Santana/Salazar for Price and a couple of Rays prospects, hence the Tribe’s interest in scouting Tampa’s farm system.
- Also from Cotillo, the Angels made the same three-year, $15.75MM offer to both Joe Smith and Edward Mujica this past offseason and told both pitchers that the contract would go to whichever accepted first. Smith took the deal first and is enjoying a strong season, even moving into the Halos’ closing job. Mujica, meanwhile, signed a two-year, $9.5MM deal with the Red Sox and has struggled to a 5.45 ERA in 34 2/3 IP.
- The Giants are still without agreements for five of their top 10 draft picks, a situation Cotillo believes could be due to the club devoting their time and draft pool resources to signing first-rounder Tyler Beede, who couldn’t negotiate until after the College World Series.
- Despite the number of recent stars to come out of Cuba, teams are still relying on very little or no scouting information when signing these players, Danny Knobler writes for Bleacher Report. Knobler’s piece explores the future of the Cuban talent pipeline while also delving into the limited data the White Sox and Dodgers, respectively, had when signing Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig to major contracts.
- While the Royals‘ farm system is still considered strong, it is short on prospects ready to help at the Major League level, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. Thanks to a few thin drafts, the prospect package sent to Tampa Bay in the James Shields trade and the fact that many of their top prospects of recent years are already in the bigs, “between Omaha and their [Double-A] club, there’s nobody that looks like they’re going to jump up soon as a significant piece,” an AL executive said.
Left-hander Brady Aiken and righty Tyler Kolek sit atop Baseball America's list of the top 2014 draft prospects, BA's John Manuel writes. The two high schoolers have supplanted NC State southpaw Carlos Rodon, who was long considered to be the favorite as the first overall pick but hasn't looked great this spring. Six of the top seven prospects on BA's list (and 11 of the top 15) are pitchers, as several young arms have improved their draft stock this spring while several of the most-regarded hitters haven't fared as well.
Here's some more from around baseball as we head into the weekend…
- High-ranking executives from the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Phillies have all recently scouted Kolek's starts, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports. These clubs hold the top four overall picks in June's draft, while the Phillies pick seventh overall. According to Manuel, "Kolek has hit 100 mph repeatedly and has the best pure arm in the draft."
- Joe Smith tells ESPN New York's Adam Rubin (Twitter link) that the Mets were interested in signing him last winter, and "floated" a contract offer similar to the three-year, $15.75MM deal that Smith received from the Angels. Rubin was surprised that the Mets were willing to commit that much to a setup man, though Smith would've added some quality depth to a Mets bullpen that is already hurting thanks to the absence of Bobby Parnell.
- Both Chase Headley and the Padres are off to slow starts, which only further complicates the difficult contract-year situation for the third baseman, MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince writes. With an extension unlikely, Headley could be a midseason trade candidate if the Friars fall out of the race, though if Headley continues to struggle, the Padres could conceivably see him leave for free agency and get nothing in return.
- The Padres parting ways with Headley is "looking [like] the most realistic option," Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune said during an online chat with readers. "Players don't get better with age so much anymore, so regardless of what Headley does this year, it doesn't make financial sense to pay for past production," Sanders writes.
- The Astros made a strong bid for Jose Abreu before the slugger signed with the White Sox, and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow discussed his club's pursuit with MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "We stretched ourselves further than we intended to and we came pretty close. When you factor in the tax advantages of Texas vs. other markets, the gap was really only a couple of million dollars at the end of the day," Luhnow said. "It's one of those things, should we have pushed a little harder? Possibly. When you're in negotiations like that and you're in a bidding war like that, you have to have limits or you'll be the one that overpays. That's one I do think we came close. He's going to be a good player, and that's why we put all that effort into it."
- The Tigers have been extraordinarily successful in trades since Dave Dombrowski joined the organization in 2001, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli writes. Given Dombrowski's impressive with not only the Tigers, but also the Marlins and Expos over his long career, Jazayerli thinks it's too early to write off the much-maligned Doug Fister trade as a mistake for Detroit.
The Diamondbacks announced that they've hired Mike Harkey as their pitching coach and named Mel Stottlemyre Jr. bullpen coach. The 47-year-old Harkey has been coaching for 14 seasons, the past six of which have come with the Yankees on Joe Girardi's staff. Stottlemyre, 49, served as the D-Backs's pitching coach from 2009-10 and has served as the minor league pitching coordinator since. Here's more of the the NL West…
- Peter Gammons of the MLB Network reports that the earliest the Padres would consider trading Chase Headley is next June. The team doesn't want to sell low on Headley coming off a season in which his OPS+ dropped by more than 30 points.
- The Rockies have shopped Mitchell Boggs in trades as they attempt to gauge his value before determining whether or not to tender him a contract tonight, tweets Troy Renck of the Denver Post.
- Renck also reports that the Rockies are expected to tender a contract to right-hander Wilton Lopez, despite the struggles he endured in 2013. Lopez posted a 4.06 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 75 1/3 innings for the Rockies this past season after being acquired from the Astros for Alex White and Alex Gillingham.
- Newly signed Angels reliever Joe Smith told reporters in a conference call that the Dodgers made him an offer on the free agent market but wouldn't guarantee a third year (Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times reporting on Twitter). The Dodgers appear to be seeking right-handed bullpen help, as they were also connected to Jim Johnson in trade talks earlier this morning.
WEDNESDAY, 10:08pm: Smith's salary will be spread in even, $5.25MM annual increments across the life of the deal, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Smith can earn an additonal $250k annually based on games finished, which essentialy means he'd see a bump if he lands in the closer role.
WEDNESDAY, 6:42pm: The Angels confirmed the signing via press release.
SUNDAY, 9:02am: Smith's deal is worth $15.75MM over three years, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter).
Smith, 29, has been with the Indians since 2009 and is a seven-year major league veteran. The righty has a lifetime 2.97 ERA and turned in a 2.29-ERA, 63-inning campaign in 2013. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto had previously indicated that Ernesto Frieri will return as the club's closer in 2014, so Smith is likely to land in a seventh- or eighth-inning role for the Halos.
The right-hander was widely regarded as one of the best setup men available this winter. Smith drew a good amount of interest from clubs in need of a bullpen boost, including the Phillies and Rockies. There was mutual interest between the Indians and Smith in a return, but ultimately Smith wanted more years than the Tribe was willing to offer.
Smith must complete a physical next week before the deal becomes official, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (Twitter link). The reliever is represented by Meister Sports Management, according to the MLBTR Agency Database.
Zach Links contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Angels made the largest relief signing of the offseason so far, committing $15.75MM over three years to right-handed sidearmer Joe Smith. Any sizeable commitment to a reliever will be poorly received with sabermetric analysts, but did the Angels at least get the top setup man Smith's contract suggests?
Smith may have been paid based on his ERAs for the Indians in the past three seasons: 2.01, 2.96, and 2.29. Fangraphs wins above replacement, which uses fielding independent pitching (FIP) in its calculation, does not credit Smith for those ERAs, giving him 2.0 WAR over the three seasons. The main components of FIP are strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, and Smith has excelled in only one of those. Given his strong groundball tendencies, Smith has allowed just ten home runs in 197 innings dating back to 2011. Wins above replacement can also be calculated using runs allowed instead of FIP, and that figure credits Smith for a healthy 4.7 WAR over his last three seasons.
The Angels aren't interested in paying Smith for what he did for the Indians; he's getting $5.25MM per year from the Halos in hopes of continued sub-3.00 ERAs for 2014-16. To see how likely that is, we typically turn to estimators like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, which predict future ERA better than ERA does. Using Smith's 2011-13 peripheral stats, those estimators spit out figures in the 3.33-3.68 range, well above his actual 2.42 mark. The estimators are not crediting Smith for one potential skill, though, and that is his consistently low batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
Smith's BABIPs the last three years were .258, .253, and .282. His career mark is .272. Compare that to the average reliever, who was at .291 this year. Smith seems to be better at keeping his BABIP low than other relievers, which is why he's consistently allowed fewer than eight hits per nine innings since 2008. Smith's career BABIP against right-handed hitters is .259, versus a more normal .298 against left-handed ones. This makes sense: he's a right-handed sidearmer, and he is able to induce weak contact against same-handed hitters. This apparent skill has been magnified by his usage, as Smith has faced right-handed hitters two-thirds of the time in his career.
In 2013, 54 non-closer right-handed relievers pitched at least 60 innings, including Smith. As a group, they faced right-handed hitters about 55% of the time. In addition to the aforementioned low BABIPs, Smith has been adept at getting right-handed hitters to hit groundballs. In 2011, Smith began the transition away from being a full-blown right-handed specialist, but he was still shielded from lefty hitters in 2011-12, magnifying his skills against righties and aiding his ERA. Only in 2013 did Smith graduate from right-handed specialist to general setup man: he faced right-handed hitters only 50.6% of the time. Indians manager Terry Francona let Smith face left-handed hitters 128 times, easily the most in his career. The promotion was overdue, as he hadn't been hit too hard by southpaws since 2010.
$5.25MM a year is setup man money. The Angels invested in Smith after he posted a 2.29 ERA in 63 innings, truly in a setup role for the first time in his career. However, Smith's low ERA was not due to the usual factors, a low BABIP and a high groundball rate. His .282 BABIP was his highest since 2007, and his 49.1% groundball rate was the lowest of his career (the latter owing to his facing more lefties). Instead, a big factor in Smith's 2013 success was his left on base percentage of 86.3%. Among relievers with at least 60 innings, Smith ranked 14th in baseball. Almost everyone ahead of Smith on that list struck out more than 27% of batters faced, while Smith was around average at about 21%. There's no reason to expect Smith to be much better than the relief league average LOB% of 75% going forward.
If ERA alone doesn't convince you Smith is a top setup man, then it's hard to find a particular standout skill he displayed in 2013. He's not a strikeout guy, he doesn't have great control (especially versus left-handed hitters), and his groundball rate and BABIP weren't anything special this year. His ERA was low because he stranded 86% of his baserunners. The Angels probably don't have a reason to expect that to be repeated, so they're left with a guy whose only above average skill might be inducing groundballs from right-handed hitters. They didn't need to spend $15.75MM to find a guy who can do that, with Matt Albers and Jamey Wright also on the free agent market. That's not to suggest Albers and Wright are as good as Smith, but with limited payroll flexibility and a need for two starting pitchers, this signing was a questionable allocation of resources for the Halos.
People in baseball are trying to figure out the team that has not been named yet that could surprise everyone and come away with top free agent Robinson Cano. Some have theorized that the Marlins could be that team to shock everyone, but new Miami GM Dan Jennings threw cold water on that idea when asked by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. “It probably doesn’t fit,” said Jennings, who reportedly offered big bucks to Jose Dariel Abreu before he signed with the White Sox. “We have to know our market and our payroll and our history. And our history is to build around young players and add pieces when it has become very clear that we are ready to win.”
- The Phillies remain in the market for starting pitching and relief help after signing Marlon Byrd earlier today, writes Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Starter Bronson Arroyo and reliever Joe Smith are two pitchers that the Phils have discussed. Meanwhile, they might not be quite done in the outfield and they still have their eye on Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos.
- A source tells Marc Carig of Newsday (on Twitter) that the Mets are showing interest in free agent outfielder Chris Young.
- No surprise here, but Jennings also shot down the notion that the Marlins will trade Giancarlo Stanton. That certainly won't stop other clubs from trying, however.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters, including Mike Puma of the New York Post, that the club likely won't be signing anyone to a $100MM contract. Alderson said that while the Mets broke the $100MM barrier for star third baseman David Wright, he says that those were special circumstances.
- The Mets are known to have interest in Curtis Granderson, but he could very well wind up outside of their price range, writes David Lennon of Newsday. It's possible that a $50MM deal will be too rich for the Mets' blood and a $60MM asking price isn't out of the question.
- The Nationals will likely need to add a more experienced backup catcher this offseason, someone who can step in full-time if Wilson Ramos gets injured again, writes Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com.
Here's the latest from the City of Brotherly Love…
- The Phillies intend to avoid more expensive free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann in favor of "mid-level" free agents, CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury reports. The Phillies are wary of how much it would cost to sign Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson even though they like all three players.
- Also from Salisbury, the Phillies have discussed signing Franklin Gutierrez, Marlon Byrd, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Smith and Bronson Arroyo.
- GM Ruben Amaro told reporters (including Salisbury) that the team could wait to see what kind of a market there is for Roy Halladay's services before deciding whether or not to pursue the former Cy Young Award winner. “We’re keeping our eyes open on him. We’re not sure how the market is going to develop for him. But we haven’t ruled out bringing him back," Amaro said.
- The Phillies have "long-standing interest" in Mike Morse and see Morse as "a potential Jayson Werth-like late bloomer," CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman writes. Despite this interest, Morse could just be a backup plan for the Phillies if they can't sign a more higher-profile hitter.
- Carlos Ruiz could make a decision about his next contract soon, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (Twitter link). We heard earlier this week that the Phillies wanted a quick decision from Ruiz so they could figure out their catching situation.
- If Ruiz doesn't re-sign, Morosi tweets that John Buck could be a more realistic backup plan for the Phillies than A.J. Pierzynski. Not only would Buck be cheaper, Philadelphia is in need of right-handed bats.
- Trading Domonic Brown and bringing back Ryan Madson are two of the topics addressed by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki as part of a Phillies-centric reader mailbag.
The Indians' best free agent pitchers — Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith, and Matt Albers — are all expected to be lured away by better offers to throw elsewhere in spite of the club's interest in retaining them, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Here is Hoynes' take on that group of arms, and other news out of Cleveland:
- Jimenez is expected, unsurprisingly, to reject the Indians' $14.1MM qualifying offer. MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted that Jimenez would be able to find three years and $39MM on the open market, and could possibly even score an Edwin Jackson-like four-and-$50MM+ deal.
- Kazmir and Smith are both seeking more years than the Indians want to give. Cleveland wants to do a one-year deal with the former and would go to two for the latter, but they are seeking at least one additional guaranteed season.
- GM Chris Antonetti feels the club is protected if these pitchers find greener pastures, however, noting that the organization has "seven quality major league alternatives in the starting rotation with Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer." Nevertheless, a veteran starter and pen pieces are definitely on Antonetti's wish list, says Hoynes. The club has already made contact with Tim Hudson, and Hoynes lists a series of other possible targets.
- As for the relief corps, Hoynes says to expect an internal candidate — most likely, Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw — to be tapped as the closer. As MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth has explained, Allen looks to profile as a worthy replacement for outgoing ninth inning man Chris Perez. Antonetti said that the team has "some talented pitchers in the back end of the bullpen." An opportunistic move on one of the closer types that are available in free agency is certainly possible, but seems not to rank atop the club's priorities.
- Indeed, a pricey spend on a closer may not make sense for a club that — according to Hoynes — projects to maintain a payroll in the $80MM range. With about $70MM already wrapped up after consider the team's arb-eligibles, Antonetti doesn't have a ton of room to work with. Though last year's free agent binge was made possible by ownership's TV network sale, Hoynes adds, the anticipated $25MM national broadcasting cash infusion will be enjoyed by every other club as well. It is worth noting, also, that the annual salaries of both of last year's big free agent signees — Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn — take big jumps this year ($4MM and $6.5MM, respectively), which accounts for a substantial part of the increased payroll pressure.
- Finally, look for the Indians to open discussions with Justin Masterson about an extension, says Hoynes. As he notes in the piece, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes recently opined that it would probably take a five year pact somewhere between the $65MM given John Danks and Jered Weaver's $85MM.
David Price's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, ESPN's Buster Olney argues, so the Rays may have to quell their competitive instincts and deal the ace southpaw even if they "aren't completely sold" on offers they receive before the year is out. Olney covers several other topics in his Insider-only piece, such as how quality relievers such as Joe Smith or J.P. Howell could command three-year contracts worth $12MM-$18MM this winter. Here's more from Olney…
- Despite Bartolo Colon's good numbers in 2013, Olney says (in a video blog) that there isn't a strong market for his services since executives simply don't know what to expect from the soft-tossing 40-year-old. Olney thinks Colon will find a one-year, $10MM-$12MM deal for 2014, similar to what MLBTR's Steve Adams predicts. Despite the mutual interest between Colon and the Athletics, however, Olney predicts Colon will sign with a big-market team.
- Some agents believe there will be "a notable spike in salaries this winter," Olney tweets.
- In an appearance on WEEI Radio's Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday (WEEI.com's Jackson Alexander has a partial transcript), Olney said that if the Red Sox make Brian McCann a competitive offer, McCann would consider taking slightly less money since he's a good fit in their clubhouse atmosphere.
- Also from the radio interview, Olney thinks "the smart play" for Stephen Drew would be to accept Boston's $14.1MM qualifying offer. I'm not sure I agree with Olney, as while Drew couldn't find a $14.1MM average annual salary on the open market, he'd surely find a multiyear contract. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes thinks Drew can find a four-year, $48MM deal this winter.
- Olney also thinks the Mariners will try "to change the conversation" about their franchise by making a major offer to Jacoby Ellsbury.
4:25pm: In addition to Ruiz, Veras and Smith, the Rockies are also pursuing Brian Wilson, Renck reports in a new article. Colorado is prioritizing power arms to serve as a safety net for Rex Brothers or in order to use Brothers in a setup role where he could match up against lefties in tough situations.
Wilson returned on a $1MM contract with the Dodgers late in the season and totaled 19 2/3 innings between the regular season and the playoffs, allowing just one run and posting a 21-to-6 K/BB ratio. Earlier today it was reported that the Rockies are also interest in Grant Balfour.
9:10am: With Matt Belisle back in the fold after both he and the Rockies exercised their half of his $4.25MM option, the Rockies are eyeing right-handers Jose Veras and Joe Smith as pieces to help fix what was the worst bullpen in the NL last season, reports Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Perhaps more interestingly, Renck adds that the Rockies are continuing their pursuit of backstop Carlos Ruiz and plan to offer him a multiyear contract this week.
The Rockies currently have Wilin Rosario at catcher, but bringing in Ruiz would allow them to give Rosario some additional at-bats at first base and perhaps in right field, writes Renck. The team considers Ruiz to be a clear defensive upgrade over Rosario, although one would imagine that Rosario wouldn't exactly be a swift defender in the outfield should be find playing time out there (then again, neither is incumbent Michael Cuddyer).
Smith, who turns 30 next March, is likely appealing to the Rockies due to his career 57.2 percent ground-ball rate. That number dropped much closer to the league average in 2013, checking in at 49.1 percent, but Smith compensated to an extent by topping his career rates in strikeouts (7.7 K/9) and walks (3.2 BB/9). Overall, his ERA sat at 2.29 in 63 innings of work the the Indians.
The 33-year-old Veras posted a career-best 3.02 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 41.2 percent ground-ball rate in 62 2/3 innings between the Astros and Tigers. Detroit made the surprising decision to buy out his club option last week, making an eighth team in nine seasons a very real possibility for Veras.
The Rockies' 4.23 bullpen ERA in 2013 was the worst in the National League and the third-worst in all of Major League Baseball. The team has already lost former closer Rafael Betancourt to Tommy John surgery, and last offseason's acquisition of Wilton Lopez didn't work as planned, as the former Astro pitched to a 4.06 ERA with a career-low 5.7 K/9 rate in 75 1/3 innings. Lopez figures to return along with Belisle, Adam Ottavino and likely closer Rex Brothers.