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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.
Originally recalled for a two-day period with Darwin Barney on paternity leave, Cubs second baseman Arismendy Alcantara has been informed that he will be with the team at least through the All-Star break, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Alcantara, who ranked 33rd on Baseball America’s midseason list of the game’s Top 50 prospects, says he was surprised by the news. Manager Rick Renteria offered praise for the 22-year-old, who collected his first four Major League hits in today’s contest.
Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…
- Reds right-hander Homer Bailey left today’s game after five innings due to a slight strain in his right knee, but he won’t see his name added to the list of significant injuries that have stricken contending teams today. The Reds have announced that he is expected to make his next start.
- Twins GM Terry Ryan tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he’s glad to see Vance Worley performing well with the Pirates, though he did imply that it’s too early to say that the Twins gave up on Worley too soon: “Give him a little time to see what he does over the course of starts. We’ll talk about that in October. See how it goes. I know he’s done well.”
- The Indians are hopeful that Justin Masterson‘s two weeks on the disabled list will not only give him a chance to heal, but to help him get his mechanics back in line, reports MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway feels that Masterson’s knee has affected the way he’s been able to land during his delivery, which would explain the sharp decrease in velocity Masterson has seen this year.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn would need to receive an offer that knocks his cell phone out of his hands in order to trade Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Avisail Garcia or Jose Abreu, writes Scott Merkin of MLB.com. However, Hahn notes that oftentimes, a trade will come together when a rival club’s initial inquiry is on a player that is unavailable, as it leads to the suggestion of alternative options.
The Red Sox were within $5MM of the final bidding (six years, $68MM) for now-White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, reports Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. Interestingly, Boston felt that Abreu could be used across the diamond at third base. Chicago GM Rick Hahn said that, in learning more about the bidding after landing Abreu, “it turns out there were several teams, not just us and Boston, that were awfully aggressive and pretty close to where we were at the end.” As things stand, it looks like Hahn made the right choice to outbid that dense market.
Here’s more from Boston and the rest of the AL East:
- Prized Yankees hurler Masahiro Tanaka is set to undergo an MRI on his right arm, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. Made available by his Japanese club in December, the righty inked a seven-year, $155MM contract (with an opt-out after four seasons). He has been outstanding, compiling a 2.51 ERA with 9.4 K/9 against just 1.3 BB/9 in 129 1/3 frames, but has recently worked through two rough starts. After his most recent outing, he reported “a little discomfort,” according to a tweet from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
- For now, the situation warrants close attention, though it would be unwise to jump to conclusions. Obviously, a layoff of any significant duration would have critical implications for a New York club that has relied heavily on the 25-year-old, who has notched a league-leading 12 wins. The club has called up outfielder Zoilo Almonte but has yet to announce a corresponding roster move, leading Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News to suggest (via Twitter) that the Yankees could be waiting to learn more about Tanaka’s status before acting.
- The Red Sox are having ongoing “conversations” that may result in a new, increased offer to lefty Jon Lester, reports ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes. Boston should — and probably will — reach an extension with Lester, opines Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. At various points, the on-again/off-again talks have variously made a deal seem close and free agency appear inevitable. Abraham ticks through the reasons that keeping Lester in Boston makes good sense for both sides.
- Meanwhile, the club may be close to making some kind of change behind the plate, according to a tweet from Abraham. Veteran A.J. Pierzynski has scuffled to a .254/.286/.348 line in 274 plate appearances after joining the Red Sox on a one-year, $8.25MM deal. While he might appeal to some contenders, that contract means that Boston would likely need to eat some cash to get any kind of return. Well-regarded prospect Christian Vazquez is waiting in the wings at Triple-A, and could be given a taste of MLB action.
- Mired in last place in the division, Boston is highly likely to sell, but there are many permutations that could take. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal takes a look at the possible chips and names their likeliest suitors. While rumors reached crescendo without a deal yesterday, MacPherson still sees the Cardinals as a good fit for Jake Peavy. He goes on to name several players with potential matches: outfielder Jonny Gomes (Mariners), Pierzynski (Pirates), Koji Uehara (Orioles, Tigers, Angels, Pirates), and shortstop Stephen Drew (Tigers, Brewers) as other possibilities to be flipped.
- In yet another reminder of how quickly things can change, the Blue Jays now seem to have a greater need in their lineup than the rotation, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. A right-handed hitting second or third baseman, right-handed outfield bat, and potentially a catching upgrade all rate as areas to explore, according to Nicholson-Smith. The team could stand to add a starter if an impact arm could be had for a reasonable price, he adds, and may also look to pick up a righty for the pen.
- One possibility for the Blue Jays could be Chase Headley of the Padres, with Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reporting on Twitter that the two clubs have had discussions on the third baseman. Headley is a switch-hitter, which would open up some flexibility for the Jays. On the other hand, he has generally been more successful against righties, reducing the utility of playing him in some form of a platoon with the righty-mashing Juan Francisco.
- The Yankees are going to go for it, but should not gut the farm to do so, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sherman says that the Brandon McCarthy acquisition was a good model, because it did not require the sacrifice of a player with a significant part in the club’s future plans, and that the organization can always utilize its unmatched financial capacity to add talented players on big contracts. But with a roster that looks to have a less-than-even chance to take the division, says Sherman, the organization’s best minor league pieces should not be sacrificed for pure rentals.
- Implicit in the above notes, I would suggest, is that the Orioles may have an unmatched window to make a run at the division. The Rays and Red Sox probably have too much ground to gain, the Yankees don’t look to have the youth or across-the-board talent, and the Blue Jays have faded quickly of late. While the loss of Matt Wieters certainly hurts, the Orioles look like they could be the odds-on favorite. Should the club move to bolster its chances with a mid-season addition or two, it could easily achieve bottom-line impact because it has two positions ripe for upgrade in second base and catcher. Of course, a rotation acquisition may also make sense. While Baltimore will surely be loath to do so, it does have a relative abundance of high-end young pitching to deal from.
2014 looked like a rebuilding year for the White Sox, but with Jose Abreu bursting onto the scene to become a star power bat, could the Pale Hose contend this season? GM Rick Hahn told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes and MLB.com’s Scott Merkin) that “it really is a balancing act. You don’t want to pass on a chance to win. They are sacred. At the same time, this is a long-term proposition we are trying to build here, sustain over an extended period, and we don’t want to hamper our ability to do that.” It’s still too early in the season to make “short-sighted” moves, Hahn said, yet if the Sox are in the race in a couple of months, the team will re-evaluate its goals for the season.
Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…
- White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams talked to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times about his experience scouting Abreu and then his discussions with owner Jerry Reinsdorf about raising the club’s bid for the heavily-courted slugger. It was Reinsdorf, Williams said, who actually endorsed paying more for Abreu. The extra push seems to have paid off, judging by Abreu’s huge April performance.
- The Yankees are interested in Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell, according to media outlet Diario de Cuba (hat tip to Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues). The Yankees scouted Carbonell during a February workout. The switch-hitting 23-year-old is a free agent and can be signed for any price as long as he signs before July 2.
- Astros amateur scouting director Mike Elias discusses his team’s scouting process, current top prospects and the upcoming 2014 amateur draft with Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.
- It looks like Scott Baker will indeed stay with the Rangers‘ Triple-A affiliate, sources tells Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish (Twitter link). Cotillo previously reported that Baker would only use his May 1 opt-out clause if he could find a Major League deal with another team, and the White Sox and Indians had some interest in Baker’s services.
Here’s the latest about both Windy City franchises…
- Jose Abreu “may turn out to be the bargain of the winter,” writes CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. The White Sox signed Abreu to a six-year, $68MM contract in October that carried some risk given Abreu’s lack of experience in American pro ball, yet the Cuban slugger hasn’t had any trouble adapting. Abreu is hitting .262/.330/.631 and leads the majors with 10 homers and 31 RBI, the latter mark getting a new Major League record for most RBIs by a rookie in the month of April. Since the White Sox didn’t outbid other Abreu suitors like the Astros, Red Sox and Rockies by much, these clubs “may be kicking themselves for not kicking in a few more bucks,” Heyman notes.
- Jason Hammel will be made available for a trade this summer if he stays healthy, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi tweets. With Hammel pitching well and signed to only a one-year deal, it has been expected that the Cubs will look to move him as they did Scott Feldman last summer.
- With the Cubs short on pitching, however, could the Northsiders look to sign Hammel to an extension rather than trade him? Hammel dismissed the subject when talking to reporters (including Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune and Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times), saying it’s “crazy to even bring that up right now. It’s April. It’s still very early….Obviously it would be entertained, but I’m not thinking about that.” The right-hander did say that he would like to stay in Chicago and that getting an extension “would be an honor.”
The White Sox are off to a solid start to the season with a 7-6 record, and they've already won more games against the division-rival Indians than they did in 2013, writes Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Hayes spoke with Indians GM Chris Antonetti about his division rivals, and Antonetti said he's not surprised to see the Sox looking like an improved club. "Unfortunately for us, I thought [White Sox GM Rick Hahn] and his staff had an exceptional offseason," Antonetti told Hayes. "They’ve positioned themselves not only better for the short term but also for the long term as well and that’s a challenging thing to do. … I thought they made a number of tremendous moves that will not only help them this year but for years to come, unfortunately to our detriment."
Here's more about the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central…
- The White Sox' largest move of the offseason, financially speaking, was the signing of Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68MM contract. CSN Chicago's David Kaplan spoke to former Sox GM and current executive vice president Kenny Williams about the Abreu signing. Williams said he initially told Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he thought Abreu was worth a four-year, $40MM investment, to which Reinsdorf replied, "Why not $50MM?" Williams said he's 100 percent confident in Abreu as well as Reinsdorf and Hahn, who closed the $68MM deal (Twitter link).
- Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks at yesterday's $35MM extension for Jedd Gyorko and examines what that means for the Twins' chances of locking up Brian Dozier. The Twins and Dozier's agent, Damon Lapa, had extension talks this spring that didn't progress beyond the exploratory phase, Berardino writes. He notes that while Gyorko's bat has been superior to Dozier's thus far, Dozier trumps Gyorko in defense, baserunning and overall wins above replacement.
- In the latest edition of his "Hey Hoynsie!" mailbag, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer points out that the Indians are in a familiar situation with Asdrubal Cabrera. Though the club had an affordable option on Omar Vizquel back in 2004, they made no indication of wanting to pick it up and instead let Vizquel walk to make room for Jhonny Peralta. In 2010, the team traded Peralta to the Tigers without showing much interest in retaining him, due to Cabrera's presence in the minors. Now, with Cabrera five-and-a-half months from free agency and Francisco Lindor looming, there's been little to no talk of Cabrera's Cleveland tenure lasting beyond 2014. The bigger question, says Hoynes, is whether or not Cabrera will play well enough to merit a qualifying offer. Given his struggles at the plate over the past year, that seems unlikely at this time.
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.
In an article for ESPN.com, Jayson Stark collects opinions from around baseball on the new wild card game. While the arrangement motivates teams to win their divisions, Braves catcher Brian McCann, a veteran of last year's NL wild card contest, tells Stark that the game doesn't have a playoff atmosphere. "I just feel like, you play 162 games, you win 90-plus, and all of a sudden, it's one game and you're home?" McCann said. Stark's article also covers suggestions on how to address complaints with the one-game format. Here's more links from around the majors:
- For the Rangers, the season is increasingly looking like a troubling repeat of last year's collapse down the stretch. Looking ahead at possible free agent targets, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets that the team could pursue one of the top international free agents — first baseman Jose Abreu and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — but not both. Brian McCann will be the team's primary target, however, Grant predicts in another tweet.
- The Angels' decision to give Friday's start to minor-leaguer Matt Shoemaker isn't an encouraging sign for Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes. Hanson was recalled from Triple-A on Monday, while Blanton has spent the last two months in the bullpen. Though manager Mike Scioscia indicated the club merely wanted to get a look at Shoemaker, DiGiovanna says there's a good chance that Blanton will be released before the 2014 season, while Hanson is a non-tender candidate.
- The Astros' Chris Carter is aware of his high strikeout total this season, which currently sits at 202 and is the highest in the majors, Gene Duffey writes in an article for MLB.com. "Everybody's talking about it, but I just try to have good at-bats," Carter said. "I want to be around .290. I want to be a complete hitter. I've got to get the strikeouts down and the average up." While Carter's batted just .221 this season, he leads the Astros with 67 walks.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn addressed his team's long-term plans in an interview with Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Two of the most significant items in the Sox's budget will be spending in the draft and international market, Hahn says. "Spending to our max in those two areas is important to the long-term sustaining of our success that we are trying to build to," the GM said. "Those will be kind of the first two items, and [they will be] significantly more than the past."
- Cubs righty Scott Baker says he'd like to return to the club next season, Manny Randhawa of MLB.com reports. "I think it's a wonderful place to play," Baker said. "I kind of feel like with these last few starts, there's less of a question mark about me next year than there was going into this year … Hopefully, whether it's the Cubs or other teams, [they] feel the same way." Baker made just three starts for the Cubs in 2013 after spending most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.