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Jonathan Singleton Rumors
The Astros announced today that setup man Chad Qualls has been placed on the 15-day DL (retroactive to June 25) with a pinched nerve in his neck. To fill his spot on the roster, Houston recalled first baseman Jon Singleton.
The 23-year-old Singleton was the subject of a good deal of controversy in 2014, as many felt that the five-year, $10MM extension (plus three club options) that he signed with Houston was far too team-friendly of a deal. At the time, Singleton was a much-ballyhooed prospect who had obliterated Triple-A pitching at a .267/.397/.544 pace.
Singleton, however, struggled tremendously at the Major League level in 2014, hitting just .168/.285/.335 with an alarming 134 strikeouts in 362 trips to the plate (37 percent). The offseason acquisitions of Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus, along with Chris Carter‘s presence on the roster, created a crowded corner outfield/first base/DH scenario on the Astros’ roster in Spring Training, so when Singleton struggled in March, it wasn’t surprising to see him head back to Triple-A.
Singleton’s 2015 season at Triple-A looks an awful lot like his 2014 season at the level. He’s batted .280/.387/.553 with 17 homers and 17 doubles thus far with the Astros’ new Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. Now, Singleton will hope for better results at the Major League level than he experienced last year.
It’s entirely possible that this will merely represent a short-term promotion for Singleton. But, it also seems short-sighted not to consider the possibility that the former Top 30 prospect hits well enough to force Houston to keep him on the roster. Carter, after all, has struggled in terms of hitting for average, though he sports a .321 OBP and plenty of power. And Gattis has seen his already questionable OBP dip to .262, although he, like Carter, is showing excellent pop as well.
As for Qualls, it’s not clear exactly when this injury began ailing him, but in late May, he went into somewhat of a tailspin after a strong start to the season. Qualls had a 2.93 ERA with an 18-to-3 K/BB ratio as recently as May 22. He struggled that evening, however, and since that time has yielded nine runs in 9 1/3 innings, surrendering 15 hits and four walks while striking out just five.
The Astros sent Jon Singleton to Triple-A to begin the season in the wake of his lackluster 2014 numbers and a poor Spring Training, yet the former star prospect is doing his best to earn a return ticket to the bigs. Singleton has 11 homers and an impressive .274/.386/.632 slash line over 140 plate appearances at Triple-A Fresno, highlighted by a two-homer, 10-RBI game last night. While stats in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League have to taken with a grain of salt, Singleton’s production is certainly a positive sign. Here’s some more from Houston…
- The time is now for the Astros to promote Carlos Correa, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal opines. While the Astros’ decision to give Correa more Triple-A seasoning is a reasonable one, Rosenthal argues that if Houston will just promote him in two weeks if he’s tearing up the PCL, the club should just get him to the bigs now. Correa would instantly upgrade the Astros at shortstop and help the team maintain its surprising first-place status.
- Righty Lance McCullers has also been promoted to Triple-A, and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart that McCullers could potentially be in the mix for a Major League call-up this season. “The reality is if he’s pitching the way he’s been pitching, we could probably benefit from having him here. There is a possibility he will be here,” Luhnow said. McCullers was a top-100 ranked prospect by both MLB.com and Baseball America prior to the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but his stock dipped a bit following an unimpressive year at high-A ball last year. The 21-year-old rebounded to post an 0.62 ERA, 13.3 K/9 and 3.91 K/BB rate over 29 innings at the Double-A level this year.
- Colby Rasmus is enjoying his time in Houston, the outfielder tells Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. Rasmus is one of the more experienced players in the young Astros clubhouse, which seems to be a relief for him given how he wasn’t happy playing for the more veteran Blue Jays last season. Rasmus said he felt judged “in the sense of how much (service) time you had, and the pecking order, just feeling comfortable in the clubhouse. I’m not going to go into any details, but I feel more comfortable in this clubhouse and in this environment.”
Indians GM Chris Antonetti declined to comment on the Corey Kluber negotiations with reporters (including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian) today, though he reiterated that the team has “a clear preference” to conclude any contract talks before Opening Day in order to “minimize distractions” for the players. The chances of an extension before Opening Day “are said to be less than great” according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, though FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that “some progress” had been made between the two sides.
Here are some more items from around the baseball world…
- The Tigers are thought to be more eager to keep David Price on a long-term extension than they were Max Scherzer last year since Price has a better track record of durability, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. Still, three sources tell Heyman that the two sides aren’t close to an agreement that would keep Price in Detroit beyond this season.
- Reliever Mike Adams will not report to Triple-A as planned and has left the Dodgers, Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register reports (Twitter link). Moura suggests that Adams may be on the verge of retirement. After struggling through two injury-plagued seasons, Adams signed a minor league deal with Los Angeles last month.
- Hector Olivera and Jose Millan Fernandez, the Dodgers‘ two recent high-profile Cuban signings, are still awaiting visas and have yet to come to the United States, Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times writes.
- Jon Singleton faced some criticism from fellow players for signing a five-year, $10MM extension (with three club option years) with the Astros before ever appearing in a Major League game. Given the slow start to Singleton’s career, however, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards believes Singleton’s decision is looking better and better. Singleton struggled through his rookie season and will begin 2015 in the minors, yet had he not signed that extension, he would only have earned roughly $540K instead of the $3.5MM he’s guaranteed in 2014-15. There’s also still plenty of time for Singleton to develop into a quality big leaguer and for this deal to become a bargain for Houston.
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels and new manager Jeff Banister talk to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News about what went into Banister’s hiring and how the Rangers view the modern relationship between the front office and the clubhouse.
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a host of interesting topics in an interview with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich published two separate articles, both are worth a full read: one focusing on draft-related issues and the other on various recent contractual matters at the major league level.
Generally, Clark had positive words for Houston, crediting the team with a “tremendous stable of young talent,” which, along with some recent veteran signings, “suggests that there’s a plan in place and a light at the end of this rainbow.” He noted that the team’s relatively new ownership and management group is “continuing to acclimate.”
Here are some more key takeaways:
- We’ll turn first to the well-publicized matter of the Astros failing to sign recent draftees Jacob Nix and Brady Aiken. Drellich reports that the settlement between the club Nix, which avoided a grievance proceeding, was actually for a value in the six-figure range, not the full $1.5MM he had originally agreed upon for a bonus (as had previously been reported). Aiken, meanwhile, has not taken any formal action — either through the grievance proceeding or otherwise. Clark says that the “entire situation was unfortunate,” but declined to criticize the club for manipulating the draft prrocess (as he had previously charged) and indicated that the focus was on ensuring that the players “land on their feet with an opportunity to get drafted again this year.”
- Drellich explains that the settlement avoided a potentially tricky jurisdictional issue in the grievance matter. Even as the team (if not also the league) bore risk of an adverse judgment from an arbitrator, Nix himself could have won a hollow victory by having the better of the substantive argument but not receiving any actual monetary relief. This is because the draft is a subject of collective bargaining, but non-40-man players like Nix are not members of the union. Clark did not tip his hand on the union’s view regarding possible changes to the draft, but did say he has “a feeling it’ll be a topic of discussion when we sit down in ’16.”
- Last year, the Astros (among other teams) came under scrutiny regarding service time considerations, in their case involving two of the team’s best prospects. Outfielder George Springer turned down an extension offer and started the season in the minors. Per the report, “steps that could have eventually led to a grievance hearing were taken on his behalf,” though that process was halted when Springer was ultimately promoted. Because he missed the first couple weeks of the season, Springer will be controlled for an additional season, though he is lined up to qualify for another arbitration year as a Super Two.
- Meanwhile, first baseman Jon Singleton ultimately accepted a $10MM extension and was simultaneously promoted to the big leagues. That deal — the first of its kind — created quite a stir, though as I explained at the time there were certainly good reasons for the youngster to reach agreement. Clark’s comments were fascinating on this point, given the controversy surround the contract. “We are supportive of every opportunity a player has to sign a contract,” Clark said. “All we ever ask is that the player is as educated as he can be on all the different moving pieces that may enter that conversation. But no, we think it’s great, and we also think it’s a testament to how well the industry is doing that clubs are being willing more and more to make those commitments to guys who are younger and younger.” (If you’re interested in the subject, Singleton’s agent, Matt Sosnick, explained the deal from his perspective in a recent MLBTR Podcast episode, at the 10:33 mark.)
Huston Street no longer has an agent and will represent himself for any extension negotiations that take place with the Angels, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports. Street was previously a client of Hendricks Sports Management. GM Jerry Dipoto tells Gonzalez that he does have interest in a new contract with Street but told the closer at the time his option was exercised that no talks would come until Spring Training.
Elsewhere in the AL West…
- MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes that A’s sources downplayed the team’s connection to Stephen Drew and Asdrubal Cabrera. However, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that he again heard Oakland mentioned as possibility for both clubs. Heyman wonders it the A’s would try to sign both, with Drew slated for shortstop duty and Cabrera handling second base.
- Jason Castro‘s name has drawn some attention as a trade target since the Astros acquired Hank Conger, but while Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle feels the ‘Stros would listen on Castros, he’s told that Carlos Corporan is the catcher they’d prefer to move (Twitter link).
- In a second piece from Drellich, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow explained that he wants to give Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez a chance to make next year’s team, but both players will have to earn their spots, as both have minor league options remaining. Adding an insurance policy that is capable of handling both infield corners would be “advantageous,” Luhnow said. Drellich notes that at shortstop, the team will also look for an upgrade, but perhaps only a stopgap with Carlos Correa rising through the system. In general, said the Astros will target infielders on one- or two-year deals, as Correa, Colin Moran and Rio Ruiz can’t be counted on to impact the big league club in 2015. In last month’s Offseason Outlook for the Astros, I speculated that they’d be a fit for Drew for that very reason.
Eyebrows were raised recently when the Astros agreed to an extension with first base prospect Jon Singleton that was reported simultaneously with his first promotion to the big leagues. Extensions have broken new ground in different ways of late, and this deal represented a heretofore unseen foray into long-term guarantees for young players who are completely untested at the MLB level. Let’s take a look …
Framing the Contract
The deal pays Singleton $1.5MM for this season and $2MM annually from 2015 to 2018. It also includes three club option years over 2019-2021, progressing as follows: $2.5MM ($500K buyout), $5MM ($250K buyout), $13MM ($250K buyout). Singleton is assured of earning $10MM for the next five years, would earn up to $30.5MM in base salary if the options are exercised, and could max out the deal with an additional $5MM in incentives.
Since Singleton had zero days of MLB service at the point the contract was agreed upon and was highly unlikely to reach Super Two status, the standard means of describing the contract would be as follows: it pays him an above-minimum MLB salary for his partial first season, guarantees his three pre-arbitration and first arb-eligible campaign, and gives the club options over his final two years of arbitration and first year of free agent eligibility.
But the notion that the deal gives the Astros control over Singleton through to his first free agent year is heavily dependent on a key assumption — namely, that Singleton will stay in the big leagues over the life of the deal. In actuality, it is far from a certainty that Singleton’s play (and/or the team’s impossible-to-predict circumstances) will actually warrant his continued presence on the team’s active roster through to 2021.
Testing the Criticism
Of course, it remains obvious that Singleton has cut off a good chunk of the upside he might have realized through arbitration, and has potentially even delayed his entry to the free agent market by a season. That is the major complaint that has been logged against the deal. Defenders, meanwhile, have generally focused on Singleton’s off-field issues, noting that he may have had valid non-pecuniary motivations for signing.
It strikes me, however, that something basic is being overlooked here. Singleton — a $200K bonus signee out of high school — not only got his cash up front, but has completely avoided the downside scenario. And it is not as if the contract is completely without upside. At worst, Singleton is a bust who walks away with $10MM. At best, he is a top-rate big leaguer who earns over $35MM through his age-22 through age-29 seasons and hits the open market as an attractive commodity at the reasonably youthful age of 30. (That is, if he has not already agreed to a new extension in the meantime.)
Likewise, it has largely been overlooked that the contract is significantly front-loaded. Singleton will earn $7.5MM before reaching arbitration eligibility, which is much greater than he’d expect to bring in at the league minimum rate (this year, $500K). That certainly increases its value.
The real issue, I think, relates to that simple, timeless maxim of which Baseball Prospectus is fond of reminding us: prospects will break your heart. Singleton is every bit a prospect, as he entered the year facing questions about his maturity and ability to hit left-handed pitching. He rose to 27th on Baseball America’s top-100 list last year, only to slide to 82nd before this season. He is a first baseman who will need to hit — a lot — to keep his place in the big leagues.
His situation, in other words, is highly variable — perhaps more so than many have acknowledged. Some observers have touched on the implications of this fact. BP’s Zachary Levine tackled the Singleton extension from an economics perspective, applying marginal value concepts and game theory to the deal, explaining how Singleton’s individual value-maximization strategy may not have aligned with that of the collective (i.e., other union members). Likewise, looking at it from a labor perspective, the Economist recently noted that the Astros “acquired all of Mr. Singleton’s upside without taking on any of his downside risk.”
I am not sure I agree with the Economist’s notion that the team has not added downside; if anything, it has done just that, albeit at a manageable level ($10MM and a relatively firm commitment of a roster spot for some time.) To my thinking, the team agreed to take on some risk from Singleton in exchange for some of Singleton’s upside. He can still achieve significant earnings above his guarantee, and Houston could ultimately be enticed to pay more through the options than it would have through arbitration if Singleton has injury or performance questions but still carries enough promise that the team wishes to retain him.
But that still leaves unanswered whether, based on the reasonably possible outcomes that a player in Singleton’s situation might look forward to, the deal represents a fair exchange of risk and upside. To help answer this, I think it worthwhile to look at some actual, real-world scenarios that have played out in the recent past. (more…)
In his latest Notes column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports opines that the Rockies shouldn’t be buyers at this summer’s trade deadline. While the club could make a Wild Card run, he writes that the team isn’t a serious World Series contender. Rosenthal feels that the club should look to move Jhoulys Chacin — who could be a non-tender candidate this offseason — to clear room for one of its top pitching prospects (likely either Jon Gray or Eddie Butler). The bigger, and certainly bolder move posited by Rosenthal is to deal Carlos Gonzalez in order to clear room for everyday at-bats for Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon. With Kyle Parker and a number of other outfield prospects on the horizon, plus Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs as reserve options, the team has plenty of outfield depth. Gonzalez is also owed $53MM following this season. Rosenthal notes that ownership has never shown an inclination to move Gonzalez, however, so the Rockies likely don’t share his point of view on the future of their star outfielder.
More from his latest piece…
- Most agents with whom Rosenthal has spoken feel that Jon Singleton sold himself short by agreeing to a five-year, $10MM contract extension that could reach $30MM with three club options and $35MM if he hits enough performance bonuses. First base prospects are among the safest variety of prospects, and while some bust, Singleton will earn scarcely more than the current MLB average salary, over the life of his deal on an annual basis (assuming all options are exercised).
- Rosenthal feels that the Cardinals should look to add a big-name starting pitcher such as James Shields or David Price at the deadline (should either become available, which is no guarantee, of course). While pitching certainly isn’t a need for the Redbirds, it’s not exactly clear where they’d place another bat upon acquiring one. And, given the team’s wealth of prospects at multiple positions, they could move valuable assets that are essentially spare parts to their own organization.
- Ryan Zimmerman projects to play first base for the Nationals next season, but Rosenthal asks what might happen if Washington instead decides to keep Adam LaRoche. Doing so could push Zimmerman to left field full-time, with Bryce Harper manning center field, Jayson Werth in right field and Denard Span becoming a trade chip. Span has a $9MM club option and a “limited”future with the club given the presence of Michael Taylor (not to be confused with the former A’s prospect of the same name) at Double-A, writes Rosenthal.
TUESDAY: Passan has the year-to-year breakdown of Singleton’s contract (Twitter link). He will earn $1.5MM this season and $2MM per year from 2015-18. He notes that each of the second options have a $250K buyout as well.
MONDAY, 6:19pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports (via Twitter) that Singleton’s options are worth $2.5MM, $5MM and $13MM. Singleton would earn $17MM for his pre-arbitration and arb years, with the $13MM option being for his first year of free agency.
5:30pm: The future of the Houston Astros is getting brighter and brighter, and the latest ray of light will make his Major League debut tomorrow. The Astros announced today that they have not only promoted top prospect Jon Singleton, but also inked him to a historic five-year contract extension with three club options despite the fact that he’s never played a Major League inning. The Sosnick/Cobbe Sports client reportedly receives a $10MM guarantee, and his contract can max out at $35MM if all of the options are exercised and he reaches various performance bonuses.
Singleton will reportedly earn $9.5MM in salary over the five guaranteed years, plus a $500K buyout if the Astros decline their first option. The total value of all three option years is $20MM, with an extra $5MM available in bonuses and awards.
The extension sets a new precedent for players who don’t have any Major League service time. Singleton was already under team control through at least the 2020 season, though now the Astros have cost certainty over the slugging first baseman through all of his pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible seasons, not to mention his first free agent season should Houston use all of its team options. The 22-year-old Singleton is now locked up through his age-29 season.
The Astros aggressively pursued extensions with several of their young players over the last few months, pursuing deals with George Springer, Robbie Grossman and Matt Dominguez that would’ve covered all most or all of their arb and pre-arb years and given the team more options years, to boot. Springer’s proposed extension would have also locked him up prior to his ever playing a day in the bigs, the same as Singleton’s contract.
Originally an eighth-round pick of the Phillies in the 2009 draft, Singleton came to the Houston organization as part of the trade package for Hunter Pence in 2011. The left-handed hitting first baseman has been on a tear at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season (hitting .267/.397/.544 and hitting 14 homers over 239 plate appearances), rebounding from a tough 2013 campaign that saw him struggle at Triple-A and serve a 50-game suspension for marijuana use.
Despite his issues last season, Singleton was still ranked among the game’s top prospects in preseason rankings by MLB.com (42nd overall), ESPN’s Keith Law (78th) and Baseball America (82nd). The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook ranked Singleton as the seventh-best prospect in Houston’s system and described him as having “middle-of-the-order potential” and “plus raw power,” whle also praising his bat speed and ability to draw walks. The BA Handbook questioned his consistency against left-handed pitching, though Singleton showed improvement by posting a .919 OPS in 77 PA against southpaws this season at Triple-A.
Photo courtesy of Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports
The Astros have told slugging first baseman Jon Singleton that he will be promoted to the Major Leagues for tomorrow’s game, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter). MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo tweeted earlier today that “all indications” were that Singleton would be promoted as early as this week.
Singleton, universally ranked as a Top 100 prospect, has enjoyed a monster season thus far for Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting .267/.397/.544 with 14 homers through his first 54 games. While service time considerations are often a factor in the timing of promotions — and likely were part of the reason that Singleton remained in Triple-A as long as he did — the Astros won’t be fretting over the amount of team control or the price to retain him through his arbitration years; Houston has reportedly agreed to a five-year, $10MM extension with Singleton that contains three club options, allowing the deal top out at $35MM.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
In July 1963, Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn each pitched all 16 innings of an extra-inning game between the Giants and Braves. They combined to throw over 400 pitches. David Laurila of Fangraphs uses that game to begin discussions of pitch counts with today’s players. “It’s amazing what they did,” says Tigers star Max Scherzer. “Many guys in the past were able to consistently throw 150-160, and they did it in four-man rotations. That seems preposterous in today’s game.” Nonetheless, Scherzer does think that he could condition himself to throw 200 pitches per game, although he admits he would have to throw with less exertion than he does now. R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays says he could throw 200 pitches in a game “fairly easily,” although that’s because he relies on the knuckleball. Dickey adds that he threw 183 pitches in a game for the University of Tennessee in his pre-knuckleball days. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Relievers Dellin Betances and Adam Warren have both pitched brilliantly this season, and they’re both cost-controlled — Betances won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season, and Warren won’t be eligible until after 2015. But Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal asks if the Yankees might be able to get even more value out of the pair by using them as starters. Both have started at the Triple-A level, and the Yankees could certainly use more reliable starting pitching. The problem is that the bullpen has helped both pitchers dominate — relieving allowed Betances to simplify his approach, and Warren to throw harder. The Yankees seem to feel that Warren might still be a candidate to start at some point, though Betances won’t be.
- Astros first baseman Marc Krauss is trying not to worry about the impending arrival of top prospect Jonathan Singleton, writes the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich. “You try not to think about it,” says Krauss. “He’s going to get his turn. I just try to go out and play as hard as I can and hopefully impress the team so that I can find a role when he does come up. … There’s always other teams out there considering, if I’m playing well enough, I can help it out.” Singleton, who’s hitting .270/.393/.540 for Triple-A Oklahoma City, is a likely candidate for promotion sometime this summer. Krauss, who is sharing first base with Jesus Guzman, has hit just .177/.282/.302 in 110 plate appearances so far this season.