Jose Lobaton Rumors

NL Notes: Nationals, Burnett, Bastardo, Marshall

Major League Baseball is dealing with several employment issues not relating to big league players. As Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday, MLB owners voted in January to permit teams the authority to take away pension plans from any employees that do not wear a uniform. (The effect would be prospective only.) MLB COO Rob Manfred noted that the vote does not require such a course of action and said no team has cut pension benefits, while asserting defined contribution plans are a reasonable alternative retirement structure. Though Rubin reports that some clubs appear primed to make reductions, Manfred disputed that it was inevitable. Meanwhile, as Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs details, MLB is now defending multiple lawsuits filed by interns, volunteers, and, most recently, minor league ballplayers. 

Here are some notes from the National League …

  • After today's trade for catcher Jose Lobaton and a pair of prospects, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo explained his reasoning, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was among those to report. RIzzo said that Lobaton "fit the criteria we were looking for" due to his switch-hitting abilities and solid pitch-framing ratings, the latter of which Rizzo labeled "key" to the deal. "Switch hitting is certainly a bonus," said Rizzo. "Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing." Rizzo said that he was particularly high on Felipe Rivero, indicating that he felt like he took the place of fellow 22-year-old southpaw Robbie Ray, who was shipped out in the Doug Fister deal. The Washington GM labeled Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter."
  • The Pirates' inability to reel back A.J. Burnett is based, at root, in a decision not to allocate all of the club's free payroll space to one arm, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though Pittsburgh ultimately made a $12MM offer to Burnett, the club went into the off-season hoping to spread approximately $17MM to $19MM among multiple acquisitions, and came close to landing both Josh Johnson and James Loney. That explains much of the team's decision not to make Burnett a qualifying offer, says Sawchik, though he opines that the offer likely would have been declined. "It's always easy to look in hindsight," said GM Neal Huntington. "If [Burnett had] accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. … It would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had [a] crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different."
  • Even after inking Burnett to a $16MM deal that reportedly pushes the Phillies player contract tab right up to (if not over) the $189MM luxury tax line, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that the club's payroll remains flexible, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
  • Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo will look to return from a 50-game PED suspension last year arising out of the Biogenesis scandal. In addition to expressing contrition today, he said that he faced a 100-game ban had he appealed, tweets Nightengale.
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty explained how his club came to claim Cubs righty Brett Marshall off of waivers, as MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports"I talked to him and he sounded like a good kid," said Jocketty. "We had good reports on him. He had one of the best changeups in the Yankees organization. He's a sinkerballer with a good slider. He's got a couple of options left."

Nationals Acquire Jose Lobaton For Nate Karns

The Nationals have officially acquired catcher Jose Lobaton and two prospects from the Rays in exchange for pitcher Nate Karns. Along with Lobaton, the Nationals will pick up a pair of 22-year-olds that played at the High-A level last year: lefty Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Washington placed Erik Davis on the 60-day DL (right elbow strain) to clear 40-man roster space for Rivero.

Lobaton

Lobaton is a 29-year-old backstop who figures to slot in behind Nats' incumbent Wilson Ramos on the depth chart. A switch-hitter, Lobaton will presumably see much of his time against righties. Indeed, that has been the case for most of his time in the big leagues, though he has hit from both sides of the plate at roughly the same rate over his career.

Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS that plays nicely from the catching position. In addition to offering a left-handed hitting option, Lobaton appeals due to his affordable $900K salary this year and the fact that he can be controlled for three more seasons through arbitration. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this month, however, the Venezuelan native's defensive metrics provide cause for some concern.

The 26-year-old Karns underwent shoulder surgery early in his career and just reached the big leagues for three starts last year. Throwing 132 2/3 innings at the Double-A level last year, he put up a 3.26 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9.

Karns is a well-regarded prospect with a big arm, but questions remain whether he will stick in the rotation. Baseball America placed him at the ninth spot among the Nationals' top ten prospects. He had been expected to have an outside chance at earning a rotation spot in D.C., but otherwise would likely have served as minor league depth. Instead, he will presumably find himself facing a similar proposition in Tampa, whose fifth-starter options are perhaps led by 23-year-old prospect Jake Odorizzi.

The prospect return to Washington surely plays an important role in this deal. The southpaw Rivero, who landed at 17th on the BA list this year and 20th last year, threw to a 3.40 ERA in 127 innings at High-A last year, posting 6.4 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Rivero has a slight build but reportedly delivers a fastball that touches the mid-90s and carries mid-rotation upside. He occupied a 40-man slot in Tampa. The Nationals had success with a similarly youthful lefty acquired via trade last year, getting some production out of Ian Krol before flipping him in the Doug Fister trade.

Vettleson — the 42nd overall choice in the 2010 draft — also placed amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Gaining the 11th overall slot last year, he fell to 20th on this year's version after a .274/.331/.388 campaign at High-A. He knocked just four home runs a year after hitting 15 at the low-A level in 2012, and also swiped only five bases after netting 20 over the prior campaign. Vettleson profiles as a right fielder, with decent legs and a good arm. Baseball America says that, if his power develops as he fills out, and he improves his jumps on the bases and defensive routes, the left-handed hitter could end up with a solid all-around tool set.

The deal shapes up to be a swap of somewhat redundant assets. For Tampa, Lobaton had no obvious role going forward after the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan from the Reds earlier in the off-season. Meanwhile, the club learned that starter Jeremy Hellickson would miss the early part of the year due to injury. Though Rivero could potentially have a similar ceiling to Karns, the latter is certainly a more established player who is much closer to making a contribution at the MLB level. Even if he does not earn a rotation slot, he could contribute in the pen sooner rather than later.

From the Nationals' perspective, the price was likely easier to bear given presence of other young, MLB-ready starting options (including Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, in addition to the more established Ross Detwiler) as well as several other solid arms moving through the system. (To say nothing of the fact that the team already has a strong, young, current MLB rotation that is under control for at least two years.) Though Washington had already traded one well-regarded young starter earlier in the off-season when it sent Robbie Ray (among others) to the Tigers for Fister, Karns did not have a clear place on the big league club and was something of a wasting asset in the minors given his age. By picking up younger talent in the deal, the club managed to maintain a reasonable portion of its talent base while shifting its promotion timeline in a potentially beneficial manner, all while adding a solid piece to the MLB roster.

MLB.com's Bill Ladson first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the structure of the deal in its negotiating phase on Twitter. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported (via Twitter) that Karns had been told he was traded to the Rays. Topkin first reported that two minor leaguers would also head to the Nats (via Twitter), and Kilgore tweeted that those names were amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first reported on Twitter that Rivero was included in the deal.


Rays, Nats Discussing Trade Involving Lobaton, Karns

THURSDAY: The potential deal includes at least two other players, possibly minor leaguers that would head to Washington, reports Topkin. As of last night, however, Lobaton told Topkin that he had yet to hear anything and was planning to report for the spring with the Rays on Friday.

WEDNESDAY: The Rays and Nationals are again discussing a trade of catcher Jose Lobaton, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with righty Nate Karns being contemplated as the return for the backstop. Topkin says that the deal could involve other players as well.

Lobaton, 29, has reportedly generated interest amongst multiple clubs, especially a Nationals team that would still like to add an established backup catcher. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has seen about twice as many plate appearances against righties than against lefties, maintaining fairly even splits from both sides of the plate. He is a fairly attractive asset, particularly given that he is owed just $900K this year and comes with three more years of control through arbitration. While Lobaton's contract profile makes him a fit for Tampa's general approach to roster-construction, he became expendable when the team picked up Ryan Hanigan from the Reds. Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS. 

Karns, meanwhile, is a 26-year-old who has yet to see substantial MLB action, but has a big arm. Baseball America rates him at the back end of the club's top ten prospects, after several other young arms. But the Nats have already dealt one relatively advanced pitcher from that list in Robbie Ray, and Karns was said to have a shot at competing for the team's fifth rotation spot. (If that failed, Karns would presumably serve as depth, especially with the news that Taylor Jordan could be slow to start the spring after ankle surgery.) In 132 2/3 Double-A innings last year, Karns put up a 3.26 ERA and 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He received three MLB starts last year, struggling to a 7.50 ERA in just 12 innings.

Should a deal go down along the lines suggested by Topkin, it would follow a similar pattern (on a somewhat smaller scale) to other recent deals in which Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has swapped out pitching prospects for relatively youthful, established, cost-controlled big-leaguers. In addition to shipping Ray (and more) to the Tigers for starter Doug Fister, Rizzo sent Alex Meyer to the Twins last year in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. (The Nats also acquired reliever Jerry Blevins in exchange for prospect Billy Burns this off-season.)



AL East Notes: Davis, Yoon, Lobaton, Yankees

It's been a busy day for Orioles news, as so far we've heard that the O's are one of three finalists for Bronson Arroyo, Baltimore signed Jack Cust and Evan Meek to minor league contracts, Grantland's Jonah Keri explored the team's recent spending history and its MASN TV contract, and MLBTR's Steve Adams wrapped up even a few more O's items as part of an East Notes post.  Heck, why stop now?  Here are more Orioles tidbits plus more news from around the AL East…

  • Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135MM extension with the Braves could very well change the parameters for the Orioles' possible extension with Chris Davis, observes MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko.  "If Davis comes close to duplicating his 2013 season, [agent Scott] Boras will view Freeman's salary as chump change," Kubatko writes.  The Braves' deal with Freeman, 24, covered his three remaining arbitration-eligible years and his first five free agent years, while the 28-year-old Davis has just one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before hitting free agency following the 2015 season.
  • Also from Kubatko, he questions if the Orioles would make a multiyear offer to Suk-min Yoon given his shoulder history and how the O's were recently burned by Tsuyoshi Wada's injury history.  With Yoon looking for a two-year commitment and the Rangers, Giants, Cubs and Twins all showing, a one-year offer might not be enough to get it done for the Orioles.
  • The Rays have been talking to the Nationals about a Jose Lobaton trade for at least a month, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reports, though the two sides can't settle on what the Rays would get back in return.  Though the Nats are one of several teams interested in Lobaton, Tampa Bay is in no hurry to deal the catcher and could wait until Spring Training begins to move him.
  • The Yankees' struggles to draft and develop quality minor league talent in recent years is chronicled by ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand.
  • Over at Roto Authority, MLBTR's fantasy baseball-focused sister site, I looked at which of the Orioles' Manny Machado or the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie is the better bet for fantasy success in 2014.

Trade Talks For Jose Lobaton Heating Up

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (via Twitter) that trade talks for Rays catcher Jose Lobaton have begun to heat up. Topkin notes that teams with interest or need at the position include the Diamondbacks, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Mets and Nationals.

The 29-year-old Lobaton slashed a solid .249/.320/.394 with seven homers for the Rays in 2013 and also belted one of the most dramatic and improbable home runs of the postseason. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has historically been better from the right side of the dish than the left, but he bucked that trend and swung the bat better as a lefty (.736 OPS) than as a righty (.653) in 2013.

While Lobaton is a solid, controllable bat — he is a Super Two player that is not eligible for free agency until the 2017-18 offseason — at a thin position, he also comes with some defensive question marks. Lobaton has caught just 16 percent of attempted base stealers in his career and was below average at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2013 (per Fangraphs). While he's not a poor pitch-framer, he also doesn't add significant value in that department, either (per Matthew Carruth's work at StatCorner).

Lobaton has been connected to the White Sox and Nationals in trade talks so far this offseason, with the Nats being the most recently linked club. A trade would seem to be beneficial for both Lobaton and the Rays; the Rays acquired and extended Ryan Hanigan this offseason in addition to re-signing Jose Molina, leaving Lobaton without a clear path to playing time. Additionally, a trade would save the Rays a bit of cash, as Lobaton avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $900K salary for 2014.


Bowden’s Latest: Free Agency, Scherzer, Drew, Lobaton

Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.

Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM…

  • Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
  • The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
  • The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
  • The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
  • Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles — who still have about $15MM to spend — and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
  • The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.

Quick Hits: Free Agents, Braves, Ortiz, Lester, Rays

The MLBPA has spoken to Major League Baseball COO Rob Manfred about their concerns over team executives talking about whether or not they're negotiating with free agents, which is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports.  Some players are also upset at the slow pace of the free agent pitching market, and while Rosenthal says the union could consider filing a grievance, such an action would be hard to prove given that teams have already spent close to $2 billion on free agents this offseason.

Here's some more from around baseball on Super Bowl Sunday…

  • The Braves will have to make some tough decisions about which of their young core players they want to extend while keeping their payroll in check, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (subscription required).  The experience of many of Atlanta's best young players is another issue, Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh tells Bradley, since "most of them have established themselves. (The Braves) possibly might have already missed the window of getting a good deal.” 
  • The Red Sox are wary about making too long a commitment to 38-year-old David Ortiz given how aging designated hitters can so quickly decline, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes.  Ortiz is under contract through 2014 and recently said he would like another year added to his contract.  While Ortiz's age is a concern, Lauber notes that if the Red Sox don't extend Ortiz and he has another big season, the Sox will then be forced to sign him through at least 2016 to keep him in Boston.
  • Jon Lester is another Red Sox player mentioned in extension rumors, and John Tomase of the Boston Herald looks at the somewhat shaky history of left-handed starters who sign expensive contracts into their 30's.  Since Lester has said he would give the Red Sox a hometown discount, Tomase thinks a five-year, $100MM extension could work for both sides.
  • The Rays are still having talks about trading catcher Jose Lobaton, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.  Lobaton looks like the odd man out behind Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, though Topkin notes that the team could still bring Lobaton to Spring Training in case one of their regulars gets injured.  If another team develops a catching need later in the spring, as well, the Rays can explore moving Lobaton then.
  • Also from Topkin's piece, the Rays have focused on adding depth this offseason to give themselves plenty of roster flexibility and options heading into Spring Training.
  • The Indians believe that Joe Smith was their biggest bullpen loss this winter, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, not former closer Chris Perez.  The Tribe rebuilt their bullpen and hope that John Axford can cinch the closing job, Vinnie Pestano returns to his old form and that young arms Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen continue to deliver quality relief innings.  Pluto notes that the Indians hope Shaw turns into a new Smith, and the club sees Allen as a future closer.
  • Baseball America's Matt Eddy recaps the week's minor league transactions.

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Friday

We'll keep track of today's smaller deals to avoid arbitration in this post. Click here for background on the upcoming arbitration schedule and how MLBTR is covering it. You can also check in on our Arbitration Tracker and look at MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's arbitration projections.

Today's noon CT deadline to exchange arb figures has passed, but negotiations to avoid an arbitration hearing can continue into February. The Braves are the only strict "file and trial" team that did not agree to terms with all of its arb-eligible players, meaning they could be headed for several hearings. The Nats and Indians have also shown a willingness to go to a trial and still have some players unsigned. On to today's contract agreements…

  • After exchanging numbers, the Mets and pitcher Dillon Gee have agreed to settle at the midpoint of $3.625MM, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Swartz projected Gee to earn $3.4MM.
  • The Cubs have avoided arbitration with reliever Pedro Strop, president Theo Epstein told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). He will earn $1.325MM next year, according to a tweet from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. It is not immediately apparent whether the deal was reached before the sides exchanged terms.
  • The Angels have reached agreement on a $3.8MM deal with reliever Ernesto Frieri, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (on Twitter). 
  • Mike Minor has agreed to terms on a $3.85MM deal with the Braves to avoid arbitration, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (Twitter links). The deal came before figures were exchanged, Bowman notes.
  • Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the D-Backs and lefty Joe Thatcher have avoided arb with a one-year, $2.375MM deal (Twitter link).
  • Nicholson-Smith tweets that the Angels and Fernando Salas reached an agreement to avoid arbitration. Salas is the first Halos player to avoid arb. Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times tweets that Salas will earn $870K, which beats out his $700K projection.
  • MLB.com's Jason Beck reports (via Twitter) that the Tigers and righty Al Alburquerque have reached agreement on a deal to avoid arb. The hard-throwing righty will earn $837.5K in 2014, tweets Beck.
  • Sherman tweets that the Yankees and Ivan Nova avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.3MM deal.
  • The Pirates and Vin Mazzaro inked a one-year, $950K deal in lieu of an arbitration hearing, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune.
  • The Royals announced that they've avoided arbitration with infielder Emilio Bonifacio. Heyman tweets that Bonifacio will earn $3.5MM in 2014.
  • Sherman reports that the Rays avoided arbitration with Jeremy Hellickson and Sean Rodriguez (Twitter link). Hellickson landed a $3.625MM payday with a $25K bonus if he hits 195 innings pitched. Rodriguez will get $1.475MM with a $25K bump for hitting 300 plate appearances.
  • Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Brian Matusz avoided arb with the Orioles. Sherman adds that he'll earn $2.4MM in 2014.
  • MLB.com's Brian McTaggart tweets that Jason Castro and the Astros have avoided arbitration. McTaggart adds in a second tweet that Jesus Guzman avoided arb as well. Heyman reports that Castro will be paid $2.45MM, while Sherman tweets that Guzman will make $1.3MM.
  • The Indians tweeted that they've avoided arb with lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that he'll earn $1.375MM in 2014. Bastian adds that Scrabble will earn an additional $25K for appearing in 55 games and another $25K for 60 games.
  • The Giants avoided arbitration with Yusmeiro Petit, according to MLBTR's Steve Adams (on Twitter).  He'll earn $845K, according to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith (via Twitter).

(more…)


AL Notes: Rays, Garza, Ibanez, Astros

On this date in 1980, the Yankees made Dave Winfield the highest-paid athlete in all of sports with a ten-year, $16MM contract. In the intervening four decades, a ten-year MLB contract is now worth something in the neighborhood of $240MM (Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols) to $275MM (Alex Rodriguez). Meanwhile, $16MM will only buy you one year of Hiroki Kuroda or two years of Marlon Byrd this offseason, per MLBTR's Transaction Tracker. As you rush out and buy your child a bat, a glove, and every baseball instructional video ever made, here's today's American League news and notes:

  • The Rays feel justified in giving James Loney the most lucrative free agent contract during Andrew Friedman's tenure, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays value Loney's defense, quality at-bats, clubhouse presence, and his left-handed bat which balances a predominantly right-handed lineup.
  • Also from Topkin's article, the Rays will now turn their attention to adding bench and bullpen pieces with catcher Jose Lobaton and outfielder Matt Joyce as possible trade chips.
  • The market for Matt Garza is strong because of his 2013 season, AL East pedigree, and not being attached to draft pick compensation, tweets CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman.
  • The Angels believe they can sign both Garza and Raul Ibanez and still fall below the $189MM luxury tax threshold, writes FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal notes the Angels' interest in Ibanez stems from his career slash line of .349/.407/.522 in 327 plate appearances at Angel Stadium.
  • Also from Rosenthal, the Astros are still in the market for a first baseman and could turn to the Nationals' Tyler Moore.
  • Despite the signing of Joba Chamberlain, the Tigers' preference is to have Bruce Rondon set up closer Joe Nathan, according to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Royals are to be commended not just for signing Omar Infante away from the Yankees, but also strengthening their ballclub immediately at a reasonable cost, opines Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan.