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Happy birthday to the legendary Yogi Berra, who turns 89 years old today. Arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history, Berra won three AL MVP Awards and 10 World Series titles in 18 seasons with the Yankees, plus he added three more Series rings as a coach with the Yankees and Mets. Here’s the latest from around the AL East…
- There’s still time for the Rays to turn things around, but if their early-season struggles continue, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi wonders if the club will be forced to trade David Price. Beyond just adding some needed minor league talent to the Rays’ system, a Price trade could have an even larger impact on the franchise as Morosi wonders if owner Stuart Sternberg would explore selling the team if faced with going through a rebuilding phase.
- At age 30, Jon Lester is on pace for the best season of his career, which WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford notes is another example of how ace pitchers often take years to fully master their craft. As such, it could take years for any of the young arms in the Red Sox farm system to be able to replace Lester should the southpaw leave Boston in free agency this winter.
- Masahiro Tanaka has been an instant hit as a Yankee, which even came as a bit of a surprise to Brian Cashman, the general manager told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. “I would have expected a transition to some degree. You always expect a transition period coming to New York, even if it’s just coming from another city (in MLB). Here, he’s coming from Japan, where they have a different pitching schedule and different travel,” Cashman said. Tanaka has exceeded expectations thus far in his first exposure to American baseball, as Cashman noted that the Yankees only projected Tanaka as “a solid No. 3” starter who could possibly be a No. 2.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders why Red Sox fans have been heading for the exits early this season. Cafardo surveyed his Twitter followers for the answer and got a wide range of excuses, but winter weather was the No. 1 overall answer. More from today’s column..
- One major league source indicated the Yankees may change their thinking on whether to sign Stephen Drew if they find Derek Jeter can’t endure a full season at shortstop. The Yankees, according to the source, don’t want the Red Sox to get a draft pick, so they’d wait at least through the June draft so there would be no compensation. Ken Rosenthal theorized yesterday that it might make sense for the Red Sox to re-sign Drew if only to keep him away from the Yankees. If Boston wanted to, they could theoretically move Xander Bogaerts to third base in order to make room.
- This winter’s free agent class includes Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Justin Masterson, but one National League General Manager sees Jon Lester as the top available pitcher. “Lester is the most appealing,” said the GM. “He’s left-handed, a bulldog, big-game experience, and just 30. Will he get six or seven years? I’d say he will.”
- Brewers GM Doug Melvin acknowledged that Kendrys Morales’ name came up in the team’s first base discussions, but, “there are just a pool of players we can’t consider because of the National League-American League dynamic. That’s why I’m hoping we’re all playing by the same set of rules someday. It’s a reason we had to let Corey Hart go because we play 36 day games and it’s tough to come back after a night game.”
Homer Bailey‘s six-year, $105MM extension with the Reds has “shift[ed] perceptions in the market” and “ratcheted up … expectations” for players and their representatives, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Bailey, of course, lacked a consistent track record of top-level production when he inked his new deal.
Indeed, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote in the immediate aftermath of the signing, the Bailey deal does not fit the traditional parameters of high-end pitching contracts. Though Bailey had put up two quite productive seasons in a row — he had a cumulative 3.58 ERA in 417 innings over 2012-13 — his prior work was underwhelming and he had never carried ace-like numbers. Instead, Steve explained, the deal was a prime example of a club “betting on trends, skill-set, and age.”
For the rest of the market, however, the notion of comparable contracts — driven, in large part, by past performance — is still a powerful factor (at least in shaping demands and expectations). The reported $70MM offer made by the Red Sox to Jon Lester looked somewhat paltry by comparison to the Bailey contract. And Olney writes that the deal could play a key role in prompting the Cubs to trade away staff ace Jeff Samardzija, who will presumably look to match or top that kind of money. (Though the Cubs insist an extension is still in play, that seems increasingly unlikely; in either event, they probably know the price, which is only going up with the Bailey guarantee and Samardzija’s early season work.)
For his part, Bailey made clear in comments this week that he was quite cognizant of the broader market implications when putting pen to paper. As Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reports, Bailey said that he was continuing a tradition of players maximizing their contracts to raise the bar for their contemporaries and successors. “Obviously the general public and media can say, ‘These guys are making a lot of money,’ but so are the owners,” Bailey said. “How do we divide the pie?” Interestingly, Bailey said that he waited until another player (pretty clearly, Justin Masterson) had finalized his arbitration situation before his own deal was announced, out of fear that the 2014 salary included in his extension would have a negative impact.
Ultimately, Bailey chose to stay in Cincinnati because that was the place he wanted to earn his big payday. But he made clear that, even for guys who truly want to stay with a franchise, cash is still the primary factor. “The grass may not always be greener on the other side, despite what the checkbook looks like,” he explained. “Money is obviously the biggest issue. There’s no doubt about that. But happiness — it doesn’t matter how much you’re making if, for six months out of the year, you’re on a last place team, you’re miserable.”
George Digby, a Red Sox scout from 1944 to 1994 and a scouting consultant until 2004, passed away on Friday at age 96. Digby’s long career earned him a spot in the Red Sox Hall Of Fame and his many signings included such notable names as Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell and Jody Reed. An even bigger name, however, eluded Digby through no fault of his own. As ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes relates, Digby pushed the Red Sox to sign Willie Mays in 1949 yet got nowhere thanks to the club’s ban on black players that shamefully existed until 1959. The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to Digby’s family and many friends around baseball.
Here’s the latest from the AL East…
- Jon Lester recorded a career-best 15 strikeouts over eight innings of one-hit ball in a 6-3 Boston win over Oakland today. MLB.com’s Mike Bauman notes that such performances are what makes Lester so valuable to the Red Sox and it only raises the southpaw’s asking price on his next contract. When last we heard about negotiations, Lester and the Sox had reportedly suspended talks until the end of the season.
- Dalier Hinojosa has a 7.15 ERA and 12 walks over his first 11 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket, yet the PawSox coaching staff isn’t yet concerned about the Cuban right-hander, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. This is not only Hinojosa’s first taste of American pro baseball since signing a $4.25MM contract with the Red Sox in October, but it is also his first time pitching in cold weather, which the PawSox coaches believe is affecting his performance.
- Nelson Cruz is off to a hot start and is only under contract through 2014, though MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski opines that the Orioles shouldn’t be in any rush to extend Cruz’s contract. The O’s have other long-term deals for building block players (i.e. Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy) to consider first, plus Baltimore can also extend a qualifying offer to Cruz in the offseason.
- Infielder Pete Orr wanted to sign with the Blue Jays last winter, his agent Blake Corosky tells Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. “Pete made it clear to them that they were his first choice and starting in [Triple-A] Buffalo was fine. But they were equally clear there were better options and that they liked him but not enough,” Corosky said. Orr, born just outside Toronto in nearby Richmond Hill, instead signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
The Astros have loaned massive first baseman Japhet Amador to the Diablos Rojos of the Mexican League, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Amador was signed away from his new club this past August, and appeared at both Triple-A (where he has struggled mightily) and the Arizona Fall League (where he slashed .284/.286/.507). As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle explains (Twitter links), Amador’s contract had a clause that required the team to decide by May 3 whether to purchase his contract, and the team was not going to do so. Nevertheless, Amador’s agent, Oscar Suarez, says that there is some hope that the 27-year-old could return to the Houston organization (possibly with another AFL stint). Here’s more from the American League:
- While talks have been put on hold with the season well underway, the Red Sox seemingly remain quite interested in keeping Jon Lester in the fold, as Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reports on Twitter. “Every effort is going to be made to make sure that Jon remains in a Red Sox uniform,” said manager John Farrell. “We’re hopeful that takes place.”
- The Tigers‘ trade for Alex Gonzalez raised some questions at the time it was made, and that only increased as he struggled and was ultimately released. MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes that the deal was unquestionably a miss, but says that GM Dave Dombrowski took a calculated risk based on the assessments of the same scouts that have supported other risks that worked out for the club. Another stop-gap acquisition at short is unlikely at this point, Beck adds.
Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron provides an interesting look at team age, weighted for anticipated playing time. The unsurprising result is that the oldest current MLB roster belongs to the Yankees. With the Red Sox and Blue Jays also falling in the top five, and the Rays landing in the top half with what Cameron calls a "sneaky old" roster, the American League East would appear to be the most veteran-laden division in the game.
- The loss of pitchers Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson has exposed the fact that the Rays are thin on pitching depth in their system, says Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com (Twitter links). Gammons notes that, despite having five of the first 79 picks in the 2010 draft and a whopping ten of the first 60 choices in 2011, the only major leaguer to have emerged from those additions is infielder Derek Dietrich (who, of course, has since been dealt for fellow infielder Yunel Escobar).
- Looking at the bigger picture for the Rays, the club is still looking for a location to target for a new ballpark, as the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) reports. One possibility is to land in the city after which the club is named. "Tampa is obviously very, very attractive on the list," said club owner Stuart Sternberg, "and we expect to at some point, hopefully sooner, look there as well as some other parts of the region." The organization still needs to undertake "a full-out exploration" of possible sites in the area, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, Sternberg said. Tampa's current lease — at the St. Petersburg-located Tropicana Field — has often been noted as a significant hindrance for the team's spending capacity, and runs through the 2027 season.
- Injuries to the middle infield have not changed the Yankees' stance on Stephen Drew, according to principal owner Hal Steinbrenner. As MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom reports, Steinbrenner said that he is "pretty content with [the Yankees'] infield right now," especially given the early returns on some of the club's lower-profile offseason additions. "I'm happy with a couple of our Minor League free-agent signings — [Yangervis Solarte] and [Dean Anna]. Jeter has been healthy. So far, I'm pretty content with where we are, but I will always analyze options." (Anna was actually acquired via trade, though certainly he was the same type of addition.)
- The Yankees are also enjoying the excellent early showing from Michael Pineda, who was picked up in a rare swap of highly touted young talent. (Jesus Montero, of course, went to Seattle in that deal.) Continuing a strong Spring Training run, in 12 innings over two starts, Pineda has allowed just two earned runs and has struck out 12 batters while walking only two. As Tony Blengino of Fangraphs writes, a full return to form for Pineda would be "basically unprecedented in baseball history," with the one notable exception of another outstanding young pitcher who returned from an early-career shoulder injury to post a Hall-of-Fame career: Jim Palmer.
- Red Sox hurler Jon Lester projects to be worthy of a six-year, $145MM deal in free agency, according to ESPN.com's Dan Szymborski. Other than sticking in Boston, Lester could draw interest from teams like the Cubs, Mariners, Giants, and Tigers, in Szymborski's estimation.
Dr. James Andrews tells MLB Network Radio (via MetsBlog) that a number of factors have contributed to an increase in Tommy John surgeries throughout baseball. One issue is that high school pitchers are throwing too hard, and their ligaments aren’t maturing quickly enough to keep up with their velocity. Year-round baseball is another issue, as is throwing breaking balls at a young age. High school pitchers who throw harder than 80-85 MPH also run the risk of having arm issues. Here are a few notes from around the American League.
- The Indians‘ trade of Shin-Soo Choo was one of GM Chris Antonetti’s best deals, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. The Indians gave up Choo, a player they could not have afforded to keep, and the other players they dealt (Tony Sipp, Lars Anderson and Jason Donald) haven’t proven consequential. The Indians received Trevor Bauer, who had a great first start of the season on Wednesday, and a good bullpen arm in Bryan Shaw. They also got Matt Albers, who pitched reasonably well last season before heading to the Astros as a free agent, and Drew Stubbs, who went to the Rockies for Josh Outman. Outman now joins Shaw in the Indians’ bullpen.
- Sam Fuld isn’t surprised that the Athletics designated him for assignment, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. “I guess the one good thing is that I have been bracing myself for it,” says Fuld. Coco Crisp is now healthy, and Craig Gentry is back from the disabled list, which left little room for Fuld.
- The Red Sox‘ most recent $70MM extension offer to Jon Lester might seem low, but Lester himself is trying to keep it in context, John Tomase of the Boston Herald tweets. “They’re trying to set up their business for the future. They’re weighing risk,” Lester says. “I can’t just stand up and say, ‘Pay me pay me pay me.’”
3:56pm: Lester says that he isn’t ruling out the possibility that he will remain with the Red Sox, Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston tweets. “Why does it mean I’m out of Boston?” Lester says. “Things can definitely change.”
11:59am: The Red Sox’ most recent extension offer to starting pitcher Jon Lester was for four years and $70MM, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports initially reported that the Red Sox had offered between $70MM and $80MM.
Lester is eligible for free agency after the season, and Rosenthal writes that sources tell him that Lester will not negotiate an extension again until the season is over. (The two sides ceased extension talks in late March, but it appeared then that they could continue talking during the season.)
Even an offer of $80MM would appear to be significantly below market for Lester — Homer Bailey received six years and $105MM for the Reds, and Lester, who has a longer track record of success, would figure to make more on the open market. Rosenthal points out that the Red Sox’ offer was below the $82.5MM John Lackey received from the team in 2009. The Red Sox have a “willingness to go higher” than their recent offer, Rosenthal writes, and they’ll likely need to in order to sign Lester.
The changing rules and increasing number of extensions in the game are serving as a detriment to the Yankees, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. Tighter rules regarding performance enhancing drugs are preventing players from performing well into their 30s, and many would-be free agents are locked up through their decline years and therefore unavailable to the Yanks in free agency. MacPherson looks at New York's misses in the draft over the years, pointing out that they'll need to turn that trend around if they're to improve a "crumbling foundation … that can't be rebuilt the way it once was." Amazingly, he highlights that among Yankees position players with at least 20 plate appearances, only Yangervis Solarte is under 30 years of age.
Here's more out of the AL East…
- Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel looks at the story of how Yankees right-hander Shane Greene went from an unknown junior college arm to a big league pitcher. Yankees Florida area scout Jeff Deardorff had known Greene's family since Greene was nine years old, having lived down the street from them. Greene underwent Tommy John surgery his freshman year of JuCo, and afterward began asking Deardorff to watch him throw. Deardorff eventually conceded and was shocked to see his arm speed and velocity. He called scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to add Greene to the team's pre-draft workout, and the Yankees selected Greene in the 15th round having seen him throw just twice. McDaniel does an excellent job of telling Greene's story, and I would recommend taking the time to read the entire article.
- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington appeared on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show, and WEEI's Meredith Perri has some highlights. Cherington discussed John Lackey, his outfield and Jon Lester's extension process. Cherington said Lackey is understanding of the clause in his contract that will cause him to earn the Major League minimum next season after a serious arm injury and is one of the most accountable players in the game. Cherington expects Lackey to pitch beyond the 2015 season.
- The GM also said that recent salary hike for free agent pitchers has made the Lester negotiations more difficult, but there's always a chance for a deal to get worked out when both sides have interest — which they do. Cherington does not, however, make it sound like a slam dunk: "…[W]e want Jon Lester to be here. We will work as hard as we can to try to make that work, but there’s things that other teams might do that we just won’t do."
- WEEI's Rob Bradford looks at Koji Uehara's incredible run as the Red Sox' closer, noting that statistically speaking, his time in the ninth inning stacks up with the best runs of the great Mariano Rivera's career. Bradford spoke with Rangers GM Jon Daniels about Uehara, with Daniels saying that Texas made a very similar offer to Boston's following the 2012 season, but Uehara elected for a fresh start in Boston. Daniels, unsurprisingly, calls Uehara a "tremendous bargain" for Boston.
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has been placed on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury, the club announced today. Needless to say, that is not the start to the year that he or the team had hoped for as the 33-year-old works back from wrist surgery. The injury has revealed some roster issues in New York, which will move Kelly Johnson from third to first for the time being and call up catcher Austin Romine to take the open active roster spot. While the team was surely uninterested in carrying three backstops, the move was dictated by 40-man constraints. As Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News notes on Twitter, the Yankees have no infielders among the portion of the MLB roster that is not already active, meaning that the team would have had to remove another player to make room for Russ Canzler or another minor league call-up option. Here's more from the American League:
- Though Jon Lester and the Red Sox have tabled extension talks for the time being, owner John Henry says he remains hopeful that a deal will be struck, WEEI.com's Meredith Perri reports. "It won't be easy to come to a deal," said Henry, "but we're going to work very creatively, both sides, and hopefully there will be a deal." But Henry cautioned that the team would not spend at all costs to keep the 30-year-old lefty. "It's not surprising that given where the market is right now, it's just something we haven't been chasing the market this way," said Henry. "Some teams have. Jon wants to come back. … We're going to do as we did with [Dustin Pedroia] last year — everything we can to bring him back. He's an important part of this club, but we're not going to do what some clubs might do."
- The recent extension of Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is another move towards stability in the team's core, writes MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. Having already locked up Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, but not starter Justin Masterson, Cleveland now has added price certainty and control over that group and maintains control over 16 players on its current 25-man roster through at lest 2016.
- Speaking of Kipnis, I asked MLBTR readers last night how his new deal stacks up to the similar extensions just reached by the Braves with Andrelton Simmons and the Cardinals with Matt Carpenter. As of this moment, Simmons is leading the way with just under 40% of the vote, with Kipnis (32.25%) and Carpenter (28.06%) also getting significant support.