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Yesterday, for the first time in nearly 15 years, five pitchers threw at least seven innings and allowed two hits or fewer, notes MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson, Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez, Boston’s Joe Kelly, and Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer turned the trick. Bartolo Colon was one of the quintet from 2000 (then with the Indians) and was the Mets’ starting pitcher today and drove in a run for the first time since 2005. Time marches slowly in our national pastime.
In other hurler news from around baseball:
- The Rockies have placed reliever John Axford on the family medical emergency list to tend to his two-year-old son, reports Nick Groke of The Denver Post. Doctors have had to remove all the tissue and skin at the spot of a rattlesnake bite Jameson Axford suffered last month (the incident is detailed by Groke), down to the tendon and bone. To replace Axford on the roster, the Rockies selected the contract of right-hander Scott Oberg and created a spot on the 40-man roster for the 25-year-old rookie, who will make his MLB debut, by moving infielder Charlie Culberson to the 60-day disabled list.
- The Braves‘ Mike Minor has suffered a setback while rehabbing his left shoulder, but surgery is not under consideration for now, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. “He’s experienced some discomfort as he’s started to stretch himself out,” Braves Director of Baseball Operations John Hart said. “So, we’ve brought him up here to have…our medical people take a look at what is going on. We don’t have any recommendation yet. At the moment, he’ll return to Florida to continue the rehab. But there’s obviously some level of concern because the discomfort came back.“
- Former closer Carlos Marmol held a showcase in the Dominican Republic today and displayed velocity in the mid-90s with a new arm slot, tweets MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Marmol was released by the Reds last November, but has been pitching in the Dominican and Venezuela this winter. Over a nine-year MLB career with the Cubs, Dodgers, and Marlins, Marmol has a 3.57 ERA, 11.6 K/9, and 6.2 BB/9 mark in 577 innings with 117 saves.
- Cuban right-hander Jorge Hernandez auditioned for 20 teams in the Dominican Republic and struck out 11 of the 18 hitters he faced, according to Sanchez in a separate tweet. The Twins did not have a presence at either the Marmol or Hernandez showcase, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.
Other teams asked Major League Baseball about the Rockies‘ decision to add John Axford to their roster so early in the spring, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Axford signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies in early February, but the team added him to its roster March 1, effectively turning a minor-league deal into a big-league one. To clear space on their roster, they moved Tyler Chatwood to the 60-day DL, a move they were not allowed to make in the offseason. The idea is that the team might have effectively agreed to a big-league deal with Axford but signed him to a minor-league deal purely to manipulate its roster. The Rockies, of course, could plausibly claim that they were impressed by Axford early in the spring and wanted to roster him so that he couldn’t exercise his out clause later in the month, perhaps making the decision early as a vote of confidence in Axford and in their team. Here are more highlights from Rosenthal’s latest notes column.
- Scouts have doubts about Stephen Drew as the Yankees‘ second baseman, Rosenthal writes. The Yankees signed Drew for $5MM in the offseason with the idea that he would provide veteran stability in the middle infield, given that they’re going with youngster Didi Gregorius at shortstop and their backup plans at second, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, are also inexperienced.
- The Padres are reportedly among the teams most interested in Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, but Rosenthal reports that they are unlikely to pay more than the $70MM Olivera expects to get.
- Teams interested in starting pitching depth could turn to the Braves‘ collection of minor-league signees, including Eric Stults, Chien-Ming Wang and Wandy Rodriguez. Stults can opt out of his deal April 3, while Wang can opt out July 1. Whether Rodriguez has an out, and when, is unknown.
Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:
- The Rockies have selected the contract of reliever John Axford and moved pitcher Tyler Chatwood to the 60-day disabled list, according to MLB.com’s transactions page. That the Rockies would add Axford isn’t surprising — when they signed Axford to a minor-league deal last month, MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted that it was likely Axford would make the team. Axford’s addition to the 40-man is significant, given that he’s set to make $2.6MM in the Majors, with the possibility of making up to $1.5MM more with incentives. Axford posted a 3.95 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9 in 54 2/3 innings with the Indians and Pirates last season, offering his usual blend of strikeout stuff and control troubles.
- The Rangers have signed right-hander Mark Rogers to a minor league contract, tweets EPSN’s Jerry Crasnick. Rogers, the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Brewers and a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2005 and 2006, has seen his career derailed by shoulder injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. The 29-year-old made two appearances last year for the Mariners‘ Triple-A affiliate before being released. He then hooked on with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League making 18 starts with a line of 4.17 ERA, 4.6 K/9, and 6.2 BB/9 in 86 1/3 innings. Rogers’ last MLB action came in 2012 with the Brewers.
Tonight is the 87th Academy Awards ceremony and a pre-eminent Oscar prognosticator is Rockies reliever John Axford, who was a perfect 18-for-18 last year and 32-for-33 the past two years. Now, Axford, who graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in Film and Television, is offering predictions in all 24 categories, according to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding and Gemma Kaneko. “I didn’t do all the categories last year, and some people were a little upset by it,” Axford admitted. “This year I’m going all the way, to see what happens. This year, since I got so much stuff last year about it, I did them all.”
And the winner is…
- Axford and the rest of the bullpen will be key to the Rockies‘ 2015 season, opines The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders.
- Brandon McCarthy, who inked a four-year contract with the Dodgers worth $48MM, expected to re-sign with the Yankees during the five-day signing window after the conclusion of the World Series, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. “It’s so stupid, but you feel like an actor,” said McCarthy. “You sound so pretentious and stupid saying it, but you’re like, ‘someone showed me attention.’ You play your whole life for people to say nice things. And one team is being aggressive, and one team is just kind of hemming and hawing about it.” McCarthy added he “certainly would have had a long discussion about” accepting a three-year deal from the Yankees, if one had ever been offered.
- The signing of Yoan Lopez signals the Diamondbacks‘ new emphasis on the Latin American market, according to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. “I do think it’s an area we can impact and continue to get better and grow,” said Arizona’s Senior Vice President De Jon Watson. “It subsidizes your amateur draft. If you’re able to churn out players from the Latin American market, it definitely gives you strength in volume.“
2:53pm: MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports that if Axford makes the Major League roster, he will earn a $2.6MM base salary (Twitter link). That’s a fairly significant base salary for a minor league deal and likely explains why Axford was willing to take a non-guaranteed contract. I’d imagine that so long as Axford remains healthy, he’s a good bet to make the roster, and that guarantee may be larger than some big league deals he discussed with other clubs.
Additionally, per Harding, Axford can earn $1.5MM worth of incentives, meaning his deal can max out at $4.1MM.
2:22pm: The Rockies are in agreement with right-hander John Axford on a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, per the team’s transactions page. Axford is a client of the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Axford, 32 in April, began the 2014 season closing games for the Indians but quickly ceded the job to standout Cody Allen, who took hold of the ninth-inning reins and never looked back. Things weren’t so rosy for Axford, who issued far too many walks and eventually was traded to the Pirates after an August waiver claim. Axford showed slightly better control in Pittsburgh than in Cleveland, and overall the former Brewers stopper pitched to a 3.95 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 5.9 BB/9 and a 53.6 percent ground-ball rate.
While the control numbers are clearly troublesome, Axford’s increase in ground-ball rate would play well in Colorado if he can limit his walks, and he’s never had a problem racking up strikeouts. As I noted earlier this morning, Axford sports (or rather, sported) the best velocity of any remaining free agent reliever, so there’s certainly some upside on this deal.
LaTroy Hawkins figures to man the ninth inning in Denver in what will be his final season, but it’s not out of the question to think that Axford could be in the mix to pick up some saves as well. It’s possible, even, that some ninth-inning work was dangled as an incentive to get him to agree to pitch half of his innings in the hitters’ haven that is Coors Field.
Most of the meat left on the free agent bone belongs to the pitching segment of the market. Indeed, five of the seven players who I listed this morning as intriguing free agents were right-handed pitchers.
Here’s the latest on some arms from around the league:
- There was more cloudy news out of Venezuela regarding Johan Santana‘s comeback attempt, as his agent tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports that he will not attempt to pitch again in the winter league. (Twitter links.) Santana may still aim to take a mound for scouts, but any such plans are “unclear” at this point.
- The Angels are still not interested in chasing James Shields, even if his price may have dropped somewhat, GM Jerry Dipoto tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter).
- For their part, the Twins have no intentions of going after free agent righties John Axford and Alexi Ogando, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweets. As he notes, the market has several attractive right-handed relief arms, though it is not clear whether Minnesota has any interest in adding to its pen. Both Axford and Ogando made my list of interesting players to watch. I consider the pair to be among the remaining free agents who could either break out or break down in 2015.
As it always does, the free agent market contains some fairly noteworthy names entering the final month before Spring Training. A good portion of the value at the top of the leftover market lies in established names who have been reliable, healthy, and good in the recent past: James Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and the like.
Some of those types of players may be a bit long in the tooth, perhaps, or might lack upside or be coming off of a somewhat down 2014 season. But there are teams with expectations of contending that are interested in signing them and plugging them into important roster slots. This segment of the market contains relative certainty.
But as much as the solid veteran group is useful, it is entirely less interesting than the array of wild cards that also remain to be signed. For another market niche, comparative youth, talent, and/or upside marry with various issues, inconsistency, and/or injury. Some such players will surely flame out, never to be heard from again, but it is likewise possible that one or more will re-establish themselves as quality regulars and deliver immense value to their new teams.
If you are a fan of a team that wants someone to dream on without breaking the bank (or even committing a big league roster spot, in some cases), consider one of these players from the scratch-and-dent market:
- Mike Adams, right-handed pitcher, 36 – Remember when the 6’5 reliever was a really effective set-up man? Wait, he has always been a really effective set-up man — when healthy. He may not have been on the field enough to deliver value to the Phillies on his $12MM free agent contract, but even while battling through injury Adams worked to a 3.50 ERA over 43 2/3 innings. Last year, especially, he was quite good: a 2.89 ERA (supported entirely by sub-3.00 ERA estimator marks) and better than ten punchouts per nine with a 56.3% groundball rate. Sure, it was a small sample (18 2/3) and his shoulder problems were still present. But if you’re going to roll the dice, it may as well be for a nice potential return.
- John Axford, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Axford still pumps gas and still logs double-digit strikeout rates. Sure, he walked nearly six batters per nine last year and ERA estimators have been increasingly dubious of his quality over the past three seasons. If he can figure out a way to reign back in the free passes and yield a few fewer long balls, Axford still looks like a late-inning arm. And now, teams can take a chance on a return to form without the high salaries that he carried more recently.
- Brandon Beachy, right-handed pitcher, 28 – The former Brave owns a lifetime 3.23 ERA over 46 big league starts, with a 3.34 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, and 3.39 SIERA. He has averaged better than nine strikeouts and less than three walks per nine innings. He also is on his second replacement UCL, this one installed last spring. In each of the above-referenced statistics, Beachy is entirely not-unlike fellow former Atlanta hurler Kris Medlen. Yet Beachy — who is one year younger — remains unsigned while Medlen has already secured an $8.5MM guarantee. He also can be controlled for an additional year through arbitration, with a low salary base to work from.
- Chad Billingsley, right-handed pitcher, 30 – As with Beachy, Billingsley was once an effective starter who has struggled for some time now to return from Tommy John surgery. What the latter lacks in dominating upside, he makes up for in the lengthy run of reliable innings he provided before succumbing to elbow troubles. From the time he became a full-time starter in 2008 through the 2011 season (the one before his elbow troubles began), Billingsley averaged 194 frames of 3.73 ERA pitching.
- Everth Cabrera, shortstop, 28 – Were it not for his off-field issues, it seems likely the Padres would have tendered the former starting shortstop and given him a chance to regain his 2013 form. The year before last, Cabrera registered a 114 wRC+ while swiping 37 bags (down from 44 in the season prior) and playing the best-rated defense of his career. That was a 3.1 fWAR player, even in a season cut short due to suspension. The 2014 version of Cabrera was not, even when on the field instead of nursing an injury. There are issues aplenty here, but his abilities stand out in a market that hurt for middle infield talent from the start. And it does not hurt that he comes with a year of arb control remaining.
- Alexi Ogando, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Flipping back and forth between starting and relief, Ogando and his mid-90s heater have long been a storyline. And until last year’s dud, he had never been anything but effective. Even after putting up 25 innings at double the allowed runs rate that he had generally permitted, Ogando sits with a lifetime 3.35 earned run mark. The track record of arm trouble remains a concern, but Ogando’s velocity was just fine last year and he could easily be on the rise with a normal spring.
- Rickie Weeks, second base, 32 – Once one of the game’s better keystone options, Weeks has stumbled backward in all areas of the game since 2012. But last year was a bit different; while his defensive metrics continued to lag behind his earlier work, Weeks did put up a .274/.357/.452 slash in 286 plate appearances that brought to mind better days. True, Weeks inflicted much of his damage against lefties, with his solid line against right-handers propped up by a .420 BABIP. But given his track record, a revived spurt of production at least raises the possibility of a late-career renaissance.
The Padres are still involved in some chatter involving Phillies ace Cole Hamels, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Prior reports had indicated that a hypothetical deal could include recently-acquired, high-upside outfielder Wil Myers, but Heyman says that recently-discussed trade scenarios have been based around San Diego prospects. That being said, the report stresses that nothing is close and that other clubs are still involved. And, of course, GM A.J. Preller said recently that he does not expect any more truly significant deals.
More from the National League West:
- In addition to pursuing free agent starter James Shields, the Diamondbacks are looking at the trade market for a starter and/or catcher, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports. Arizona would be interested in moving an outfield bat, and at least one club (the Orioles) has inquired on David Peralta and Ender Inciarte.
- The Rockies, too, want to add to their rotation, and MLB.com’s Thomas Harding says that the team is increasing its efforts to do so. Mets righty Dillon Gee is said to be a target, of course, though Harding reports that the Rockies have not made an offer. (For what it’s worth, both Harding and Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post suggested the idea of southpaw reliever Boone Logan as a target for the Mets.) Otherwise, Colorado would likely aim for an experienced, back-end right-hander on the free agent market, with Harding saying that names like Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Kendrick, and Kevin Correia represent the range of pitcher being considered.
- In addition to eyeing the rotation market, the Rockies have several former closers on their radar, per Harding. Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and John Axford are among the late-inning arms that Colorado could make a run at, according to the report.
Here’s the latest from around the league as the evening winds down.
- With Ben Zobrist headed west to the Athletics, the Nationals are still trying to solve second base, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Currently, there are five internal options. The most obvious are Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Espinosa has disappointed over the last two seasons while Rendon is expected to start at third base. Prospect Wilmer Difo has yet to play above A-ball, but he’s on the 40-man roster and possesses exciting tools. Other options include veterans Kevin Frandsen and Dan Uggla.
- Free agent John Axford would like to compete for a closer gig, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. As it happens, the Blue Jays have yet to acquire a closer. Left-hander Brett Cecil is penciled into the role. At this point, no offers have been made to Axford, but several teams have shown interest including the Jays. After three consecutive rough seasons, Axford would likely have to earn any high leverage role.
- The market for mid-tier, high leverage relievers has been slow to materialize, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford interviews righty reliever Burke Badenhop who is coming off a career season with a 2.29 ERA in over 70 innings. As Badenhop points out, teams don’t feel any pressure to make the first offer to free agents of his caliber. While five teams may be showing interest, they each know that any firm offer will get passed around to the others for bidding. Relievers like Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano have to exercise patience as prospective buyers first gauge the trade market.
The Blue Jays’ reported minor league contract with outfielder Ryan Kalish has fallen through, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. Kalish will once again be a free agent and is free to sign with any club. Davidi adds that it’s unclear why the deal came unglued, but Kalish was likely headed to Triple-A to serve as depth anyhow, so the move won’t have much of an impact on the big league roster.
A couple more Blue Jays notes as the weekend approaches…
- The market for John Axford is picking up, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and the Blue Jays are one of four clubs believed to be pursuing the former Brewers closer. Axford, 32 in April, is an Ontario native, though it’s unclear if that gives Toronto any sort of edge in their pursuit. The mustachioed flamethrower began last season with the Indians but struggled with his control and eventually gave way to the talented Cody Allen. The Pirates claimed Axford in August, and he showed improved control in an 11-inning sample there. All told, he pitched to a 3.95 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 5.9 BB/9 and a 53.6 percent ground-ball rate in 54 2/3 innings between the two clubs. Toronto has been eyeing relief help for quite some time, though they’re believed to be working with a limited budget at this stage of the offseason.
- MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm looks at the Blue Jays players that are out of minor league options and assesses which are at the greatest risk heading into Spring Training. Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak have nothing to worry about, he writes, and righty Todd Redmond should be back as a long man out of the bullpen. However, left-hander Scott Barnes has two lefties to compete with in Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil, while Steve Tolleson is behind Valencia, Maicer Izturis and Ryan Goins on the depth chart. That pair, along with righty Liam Hendriks, Chisholm believes, could end up exposed to waivers. One of the more interesting names is Kyle Drabek, as the former top prospect’s only chance at making the club looks to be as a reliever.
- Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith runs down some of the recent rumors pertaining to the Blue Jays and wonders if the club’s interest in Ichiro Suzuki may have been overstated. As Nicholson-Smith notes, the Blue Jays make calls on a vast array of free agents, but they typically do their best to keep it under wraps when they’re on the verge of making a move. Also, with only about $5-7MM left to spend and limited playing time in the outfield behind Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey and Jose Bautista, he feels there are multiple reasons to doubt that Toronto is the best fit for Ichiro. Even if he were to take a pay cut, adding Ichiro and a relief arm under the remaining budget could be difficult.