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Joe Thatcher Rumors
The Astros announced tonight (on Twitter) that they’ve re-signed lefty reliever Joe Thatcher to a minor league contract. Thatcher, a client of Platinum Sports, had elected free agency after being designated for assignment late last month. He’ll head to Triple-A Fresno, according to the Astros.
The 33-year-old Thatcher signed a minor league deal with Houston in the offseason but made the team out of Spring Training and has enjoyed generally successful results in his first year with the Astros. He’s posted a 3.79 ERA and averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, though he’s also battled his command, yielding 5.2 walks per nine frames as well.
Typically a strong performer against left-handed hitters, Thatcher’s struggled in that department this season, yielding a .267/.389/.356 batting line across 55 plate appearances. He’ll hope to get back on track in Triple-A and resurface with Houston later this season. A strong track record suggests that’s a plausible outcome for the veteran Thatcher, who has a 3.04 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 210 1/3 innings dating back to the 2009 season.
JULY 28: The Astros announced today that Thatcher cleared waivers and elected free agency. He and his representatives at Platinum Sports are now free to seek a deal with interested parties.
JULY 21: The Astros have designated left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher for assignment in order to clear room on the active roster for Vincent Velasquez, reports MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (via Twitter).
Thatcher signed a minor league deal with Houston in the offseason but made the team out of Spring Training and has enjoyed generally successful results in his first year with the Astros. He’s posted a 3.79 ERA and averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, though he’s also battled his command, yielding 5.2 walks per nine frames as well.
Thatcher is typically an effective weapon versus left-handed hitters, but that wasn’t the case in 2015. In fact, opponents as a whole batted .292/.376/.389 versus the 33-year-old. However, Thatcher did have his share of poor luck on balls in play; over the life of his career, opponents have notched a .321 BABIP versus Thatcher, but that number soared to .377 this season in Houston. He did have his share of good fortune as well, as both his strand rate and homer-to-flyball rate were a bit more favorable than his career norms.
Thatcher’s minor league deal had a $1MM base salary and called for up to $1.3MM worth of additional incentives, so his financial cost wouldn’t be exorbitant. Given the reasonable dollars and the fact that he has a 3.04 ERA with 10.0 K/9 vs. 3.0 BB/9 dating back to 2009, Thatcher looks to be capable of serving as a useful bullpen cog elsewhere, should the Astros attempt to gauge interest on the trade market. Of course, the return for a player that took a minor league deal in the winter and has since been designated — decent results notwithstanding — would be minimal.
With teams making decisions on the final piece of their Opening Day rosters, especially regarding Article XX(B) players, we’ll keep tabs on the day’s moves to add non-roster invitees to the 40-man.
Right-handed relievers, somewhat unsurprisingly, dominate today’s news in this arena:
- Lefty specialist Joe Thatcher has been added to the Astros‘ 40-man roster, Rosenthal reports on Twitter. The Article XX(B) veteran will receive a $1MM salary and can add an additional $1.3MM through incentives. If he can return to form, Thatcher could be quite a nice addition to a Houston pen that was an area targeted heavily for upgrades this offseason.
- Fellow non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez will also make the club, the Astros have announced. As MLBTR originally reported, Hernandez will earn $2.65MM on the year. The 34-year-old joined the fold in Houston late in the spring, but provides a sturdy and versatile presence as the club seeks to take the next step this year.
- The Twins have announced that righty Blaine Boyer is now a member of the team’s major league roster. Boyer’s deal will pay him $750K at the big league level and includes up to $100K in incentives tied to appearances, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently spoke with Boyer about his interesting professional journey.
- Likewise, right-handed Carlos Villanueva has been added to the Cardinals‘ 40-man roster, the club announced. That means that the veteran swingman will be entitled to a $2MM salary this year with St. Louis. Villanueva, 31, has racked up 863 2/3 MLB innings in 76 starts and over 300 relief appearances. Though he had only a 4.64 ERA last year with the Cubs, Villanueva’s peripherals earned him strong marks from ERA estimators.
- The Indians have informed righty Anthony Swarzak that he will make the pen, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune tweets. Though it does not appear he has been officially added to the 40-man, that will need to occur. The 29-year-old has a 4.48 career ERA in 439 2/3 frames at the major league level, most of them coming from the pen. Swarzak will take home a $900K salary and can earn up to $350K in incentives.
- Similarly, the Cubs have told southpaw Phil Coke that he will be on the club, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Coke had exercised his opt-out clause on Friday when he was not added to the 40-man at that time, says Rosenthal. Now, it appears he will receive the $2.25MM (and up to $900K in bonuses) that his deal allows; indeed, the team has now announced that his contract was selected.
The Astros have listened to trade ideas regarding their surplus of position players, but are not actively looking to deal, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. There’s currently no way to get Jason Castro, Evan Gattis, Jon Singleton, George Springer, Colby Rasmus, Jake Marisnick and Chris Carter in the lineup all at the same time, Drellich points out. But their depth gives them options in case players get hurt or struggle. In particular, Gattis and Rasmus have significant injury histories, while Singleton and Marisnick are unproven. The team could also platoon Gattis and Rasmus in left field. Here’s more from Drellich on the Astros.
- If the Astros were to make a trade this Spring, it might involve a depth player like Alex Presley rather than one of the more regular players mentioned above. Robbie Grossman could beat out Presley for the last outfield spot. Presley is out of options, and there’s at least some possibility the Astros could lose him if they expose him to waivers. From this vantage point, the risk seems minimal, given that Presley didn’t hit well last year and is making above the league minimum (at $1MM). But given the depth he represents, that possibility is at least worth considering.
- Hank Conger has struggled this spring, but he’s still penciled in as Castro’s backup at catcher.
- Three players whose situations are unresolved are minor-league free agent pitchers Joe Thatcher, Roberto Hernandez and first baseman Dan Johnson, Drellich says. Thatcher and Hernandez are Article XX(B) free agents, so before Opening Day, the Astros must decide whether to add them to the active roster, release them, or pay them $100K retention bonuses (and give them June 1 opt-out date). Thatcher is likely to make the team as the Astros’ second bullpen lefty. Johnson, who is not an Article XX(B) free agent, also has an opt-out date, although not until after the start of the regular season.
The Astros and left-hander Joe Thatcher are in agreement on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). Thatcher, a client of Platinum Sports, will earn $1MM on the Major League side of the deal and can earn an additional $1.3MM worth of incentives. His contract also contains an opt-out five days before Opening Day.
The 33-year-old Thatcher split last season between the Diamondbacks and Angels, working to a combined 3.86 ERA with 27 strikeouts against four walks in 30 1/3 innings. The Angels acquired Thatcher (and center fielder Tony Campana) from the D-Backs in exchange for minor league outfielder Zach Borenstein and minor league righty Joey Krehbiel in early July. However, after just seven appearances with the Halos, Thatcher badly sprained his ankle and missed nearly six weeks of action. In total, he allowed six runs in 6 1/3 innings with the Angels, working primarily as a lefty specialist. (Only two of his Angels outings lasted a full inning.)
The .289/.317/.447 batting line that Thatcher surrendered to opposing lefties in 2014 wasn’t exactly encouraging, but it came in a small sample of 83 plate appearances. His overall body of work against lefty bats is far more useful, as he’s held same-handed hitters to a .230/.289/.351 triple-slash in 497 plate appearances.
The Astros are interested in Joe Thatcher and a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) that he believes Houston will sign the veteran left-hander to a minor league contract. Another source says no deal is done, though it could be close, as an agreement could be completed “probably [by] tomorrow.”
Over ten teams have shown interest in Thatcher this winter and he’s close to deciding on his new team, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reported earlier today. Houston was cited as one of the teams most interested in Thatcher’s services, along with the Athletics, Rangers and Mets. Given all of this interest, it would be somewhat surprising to see Thatcher settle for a minor league deal given his track record.
Thatcher, 33, posted a 3.34 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.89 K/BB rate over 207 2/3 innings with the Padres and Diamondbacks from 2007-13. He was pitching particularly well for Arizona last season (a 2.63 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and a sterling 8.33 K/BB rate over 30 1/3 IP) before being dealt to the Angels in July, and that’s when Thatcher’s season took a turn for the worse. He struggled to an 8.53 ERA in only 6 1/3 innings for Anaheim as he spent over a month on the DL with a sprained ankle and didn’t even make the Halos’ postseason roster.
Signing Thatcher would further reinforce an Astros bullpen that has already added Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson this winter. The relief corps could be further bolstered by one or several of Houston’s young arms that don’t win the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.
Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:
- The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
- After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
- A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.
In a video interview with ESPN’s Jim Bowden, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto discussed the recent trades his team has made. Regarding the team’s swap of Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli, Dipoto tells Bowden that he received a text message from Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington, and the discussions took “about seven minutes” from start to agreement. The Halos’ interest in Grilli dates all the way back to his most recent run as a free agent, says Dipoto, who adds that the team discussed similar deals to this trade before making the move.
More from Dipoto’s chat with Bowden and the rest of the AL West below…
- Regarding his acquisition of lefty Joe Thatcher, Dipoto notes “that’s one we’d been looking at for quite a long time.” Dipoto adds that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers had made his interest in Zach Borenstein, who went to Arizona in the deal, known in the past. Perhaps most interestingly, Dipoto implies that the negotiations on the trade took place with Towers. Previous reports have indicated that some organizations weren’t sure about Arizona’s front office hierarchy now that Tony La Russa is in the mix.
- Asked by Bowden if the Angels were done shopping, Dipoto replied, “We’ll continue to try to find ways to make the team better. Particularly, I’ve talked about the idea that if we can find one more piece for that bullpen.” Dipoto makes sure to qualify that he’s very pleased with the current mix of relievers but remains open to possible improvements at the back of the ‘pen.
- Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle spoke with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who said he’s hopeful the team can reach an agreement with top pick Brady Aiken, but he won’t handicap it either way (Twitter link). Earlier today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that a ligament issue in Aiken’s elbow has held up negotiations and caused the Astros to drop their bonus offer from $6.5MM to $5MM. Drellich talked to Aiken’s trainer, who claims that the lefty is healthy.
- With the Twins in Seattle, Kendrys Morales spoke through an interpreter to the Seattle media (including Bob Candotta of the Seattle Times) about his offseason discussions with his former club. Morales said there was a bit of discussion with the Mariners, but as his interpreter says: “…in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot. He was taking his chances to see maybe something would get better.”
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times notes (via Twitter) Borenstein was the Angels’ minor league player of the year in 2013 (.337/.403/.631 at Class A-Advanced Inland Empire). The 23-year-old (the Angels’ 23rd-round selection in 2011), however, hasn’t been able to replicate those numbers this season while bouncing back and forth between Double-A (.266/.338/.440 in 207 plate appearances) and Triple-A (.256/.279/.342 in 123 plate appearances).
Krehbiel is an interesting bullpen arm with a fastball sitting between 92-95 MPH with a good slider, tweets Piecoro. The 21-year-old (taken in the same draft as Borenstein, but in the 12th round) has compiled a 2.00 ERA, 11.5 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9 with five saves in 17 appearances covering 18 innings this season for Class-A Burlington and Class A-Advanced Inland Empire.
10:00am: Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter) heard last night that the Halos would be giving up a minor league second baseball in a Thatcher deal. Either Taylor Lindsey or Alex Yarbrough makes sense, according to Passan.
9:33am: The D’Backs are receiving a prospect and another minor leaguer in the deal, tweets Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
Rosenthal reported late last night that the Angels were on the hunt for a left-handed reliever and Thatcher was high on their wish list. Thatcher, who will be a free agent at season’s end, has a 2.63 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 through 37 appearances this season.
For his career, the 32-year-old owns a 3.26 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 across eight seasons with the Padres and Diamondbacks. Now, he’ll ply his craft for the Halos in what will be his first time outside of the NL West. Thatcher is a rather inexpensive addition for the Halos as they’re on the hook for the prorated portion of his $2.375MM deal.
Campana, 28, hasn’t done much offensively this season, hitting .150/.164/.200 in 61 plate appearances. In four years for the Cubs and D’Backs, Campana has hit .246/.294/.286 in 239 total games. Still, the speedy outfielder has managed to provide value even when he’s not doing much with his bat. He has 66 career stolen bases and a career 14.6 UZR/150 in the outfield.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
The Angels are on the hunt for a left-handed reliever and the Diamondbacks’ Joe Thatcher is on their list, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter) hears that the Halos are close to a deal with major league players and also says that they have their eye on relief pitching, specifically lefties.
The Angels have been hunting for a left-hander for some time now and it would make sense for them to try and land one well in advance of the deadline. Late last month it was reported that the D’Backs were getting ready to sell and Thatcher’s name was amongst those mentioned as possible trade chips. Thatcher, who will be a free agent at season’s end, has a 2.63 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 through 37 appearances this season. Teammate Oliver Perez, who is controlled through 2015, could also be of interest to teams.
Passan (on Twitter) suggests that the Mariners could be a possible match as they’ve been shopping their own relief pitching surplus.