J.P. Howell Rumors

J.P. Howell Attains 2016 Player Option

Dodgers left-hander J.P. Howell made his 52nd appearance of the season in tonight’s game with the Cubs, and also his 120th appearance since the start of the 2014 season.  By reaching this milestone, the $6.5MM option the Dodgers held on Howell’s services for 2016 has now been converted into a player option.  (Hat tip to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.)  Howell’s option will become official provided he doesn’t end the season on the disabled list.

The veteran southpaw signed a two-year, $11.25MM deal with Los Angeles in December 2013 that paid him a $3MM signing bonus and $4MM salaries in each of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.  The $6.25MM team option carried a $250K buyout, though Howell did have some agency if the Dodgers exercised it; Howell would’ve been allowed to opt out of the option if he forfeited the $250K.  Given how well Howell has pitched this season, he likely would’ve given up that $250K anyway in search of a longer-term contract, and the 32-year-old will get plenty of offseason attention from teams looking for bullpen help.

Howell has been a bright spot in a shaky Dodgers bullpen, posting a 1.46 ERA, 2.75 K/BB rate, 59.3% ground ball rate and 33 strikeouts over 37 innings.  Left-handed batters have only managed a .225/.309/.225 batting line against Howell this year.  The lefty has a 2.27 ERA in 198 1/3 innings from 2012-15, and while the peripheral stats indicate that he’s gotten some significant BABIP and strand-rate help over that stretch, Howell’s 2.9 BB/9 this season is on pace to be the lowest of his 10-year career.

Mets Monitoring Dodgers, Rockies In Search For Lefty Relief

4:46pm: The Mets are also intrigued by Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers, writes Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. A team official told Rubin at the Winter Meetings that Brothers was of interest to the Amazins, and that interest is apparently still alive. The 27-year-old Brothers will earn $1.4MM this year after a down season in 2014. Last year, he struggled to a 5.59 ERA as his control spiked and he posted a career-worst 6.2 BB/9 rate.

Brothers was excellent, however, from 2011-13, especially when considering his home park. In that time, he notched a 2.82 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 out of the Colorado ‘pen. He’s had a good Spring Training thus far and is under team control through 2017. Brothers has a career 2.40 ERA on the road compared to a 4.51 mark at Coors Field.

As Rubin notes, the Rox also have southpaw Boone Logan, though his contract seems especially prohibitive for the Mets; Logan is owed $5.5MM this year and $6.25MM in 2016.

4:01pm: The Mets are “keeping an eye on” three Dodgers left-handed relief options — J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Adam Liberatore — in case any of the three become available, reports Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (via Twitter).

The Mets have a known need for a bullpen lefty following Josh Edgin‘s Tommy John surgery and have been connected to Baltimore’s Brian Matusz on multiple occasions this spring. Of course, Matusz sounds to be more available than any of the three Dodger southpaws, based on Saxon’s wording.

Howell would seem to have a spot in the Dodgers’ bullpen locked down, as the former Ray has posted a 2.19 ERA over the past two seasons with Los Angeles and is entering the second season of a two-year, $11.25MM contract signed following a strong first year with the Dodgers. Besides that fact, Howell is slated to earn $4MM this season, and the Mets reportedly aren’t even comfortable with Matusz’s $3.2MM salary, so it’s hard to envision a great fit with Howell.

Rodriguez and Liberatore, however, could conceivably be more available, and neither would cost much more than the Major League minimum in terms of salary. Rodriguez, 23, was the Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2012 and reached the Majors that same season. However, despite a strong 2013 followup to his brief 2012 cameo, (2.32 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9), Rodriguez saw just 14 regular-season innings with the Dodgers last year. Rodriguez struggled to a 4.40 ERA in Triple-A’s hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2014 and was slowed by a strained shoulder muscle as well. With just one year, 120 days of MLB service time, Rodriguez likely wouldn’t be arbitration eligible for another two years, making him an understandably appealing target.

It’s unclear how the new front office views Rodriguez, but the old regime clearly had some concerns over his readiness. The former front office invested significantly in free agent relievers last winter (including Brian Wilson and Chris Perez — neither of whom panned out) and quickly optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A after a rough patch in late April. New president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and VP Josh Byrnes may have more faith in Rodriguez and be reluctant to part with him.

As for Liberatore, the Dodgers only acquired him this offseason. The 27-year-old had previously been with the Rays, so it was hardly surprising to see Friedman pull both Liberatore and Joel Peralta from the Rays organization in a trade with his former colleagues. Liberatore is older for a prospect, but he has exceptional numbers at the Triple-A level, where he’s worked to a 2.40 ERA in 146 1/3 innings. His most impressive work came in 2014, when he worked to a 1.66 ERA with 11.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 65 innings.

For what it’s worth, both Liberatore and Rodriguez have had excellent Spring Training campaigns, combining for 13 innings of scoreless relief. That likely doesn’t mean much, and considering the fact that both have Minor League options remaining, there’s no pressure for the Dodgers to move either, even if they don’t break camp in the bullpen. Also to be considered is the fact that relief help is a need for the Dodgers themselves, particularly in the wake of an injury to closer Kenley Jansen that may only sideline him through mid-April but could leave him on the shelf into mid-May. The Dodgers have a number of contracts they’d like to shed (e.g. Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena) but the Mets would hardly seem to be in a financial position to sweeten the pot by taking on some salary in a trade.

Dodgers To Sign J.P. Howell

DEC. 24: The Dodgers officially announced the signing.

DEC. 20: Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Howell will receive a $3MM signing bonus and be paid $4MM in both guaranteed years of the deal. The option is a $6.25MM club option with a $250K buyout, but Howell can void the option when exercised, if he's willing to forfeit the buyout. The option becomes a player option if he pitches 65 games in 2015 or totals 120 games between 2014-15 and is not on the disabled list at the end of the season.

DEC. 17: The Dodgers have agreed to re-sign left-handed reliever J.P. Howell, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). The deal includes two years at a guaranteed $11.25MM, plus a mutual option for 2016 that would convert to a player option if it is "triggered," Heyman reports. (Twitter links.)


Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported earlier this evening that Howell was close to a two-year deal for $11.25MM with a $6.25MM third year option that would vest with 120 appearances over 2014-15. Though final details on the option remain unknown, it could be that the mutual option would vest to become a player option at an appearance threshold.

Howell, 30, gets a significant raise on last year's $2.85MM salary. His $11.25MM guarantee falls shy of those received by Javier Lopez (Giants, $13MM) and Boone Logan (Rockies, $16.5MM), but Howell's representatives at the Legacy Agency secured their client a higher average annual value on his deal. And, if he makes good on the contract, Howell will presumably either trigger the vesting option, have the club pick it up anyway, or hit the market at 32 in good position to land another payday.

Last year, Howell registered a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings for the Dodgers, including 7.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 and just 6.1 hits per nine innings. Advanced metrics were a fan of his work in 2013 as well, with his FIP landing at 2.89 and xFIP at 3.48. 

In spite of Howell's excellent 2013 campaign, there were issues that may have held down his value to some extent. Low HR/9 and BABIP numbers last year drove his stellar results to some extent, and anticipated regression in those areas lead Steamer and Oliver (via Fangraphs) to project Howell's ERA in the mid-3.00 range for 2014. Going further back, moreover, though he managed a 3.04 ERA in 2012, it was accompanied by a 4.78 FIP and 4.17 xFIP. And in 2011, similarly unfavorable analytical marks resulted in a 6.16 ERA. 

MLB.com's Ken Gurnick first reported that the sides were closing in on a two-year, $11.25MM deal with a third-year option.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dodgers Close To Multi-Year Deal With J.P. Howell

The Dodgers are nearing agreement on a multi-year deal with southpaw reliever J.P. Howell, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. According to Gurnick, the deal contemplates a $11.25MM guarantee for two seasons. It would also contain a $6.25MM vesting option for a third year that will become guaranteed with 120 appearances over 2014-15.

Howell, 30, is represented by the Legacy Agency. He played in Los Angeles last year after inking a one-year, $2.85MM deal that included $1.2MM in achievable incentives. He was among the best left-handed relief options on the market this time around. Two other top lefties landed three-year deals, with Javier Lopez obtaining a $13MM guarantee from the Giants and Boone Logan netting $16.5MM from the Rockies. But Howell's deal betters those two in average annual value, and easily eclipses the two-year, $5.5MM commitment that Manny Parra received from the Reds.

Though Howell is slightly older than Logan, he is coming off of a better season. Howell registered a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings for the Dodgers in 2013, striking out 7.8 batters per nine innings while allowing 3.3 walks and 6.1 hits per nine. Advanced metrics were a fan of his work last year as well, with an FIP landing at 2.89 and an xFIP at 3.48. 

On the other hand, those same measures were much less pleased by Howell's 2011-12 campaigns, leaving at least some cause to wonder whether he can repeat his 2013 results. Steamer and Oliver projections, via Fangraphs, both see Howell as likely to regress. Predicting a bump up in his low HR/9 and BABIP numbers from last year, those systems peg him as a mid-3.00 ERA hurler next year.

Rockies Close To Deal With Logan, Talking To Howell

6:59pm: The Rockies are "moving towards [the] finish line" with Logan, Renck reports (Twitter link).  The club still likes Howell, Renck notes, and "talks can shift."

12:21pm: The Rockies have also had "serious" talks with Boone Logan, Renck reports (via Sulia). However, Howell is their "slight" preference between the two. Howell wants a three-year deal, adds Renck, which is likely slowing the negotiation process.

10:12am: The Rockies are targeting left-hander J.P. Howell and have "made real progress" in negotiations, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (on Twitter).

Colorado has been set on adding at least one more arm to the back of its bullpen over the course of the Winter Meetings. Reports have indicated that they showed interest in Joaquin Benoit before backing off due to his price tag, and they were said to be aggressively pursuing a trade for Reds left-hander Sean Marshall earlier in the week. Renck reported yesterday that their preference is to add a left-handed arm, so the focus on Howell makes sense.

Relief Rumors: Lefties, Axford, Papelbon, Benoit, Guerrier, Rays

Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the top left-handed relievers on the market — J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Eric O'Flaherty and Scott Downs — should begin to start coming off the board in the next 24 to 48 hours. It's already been reported that O'Flaherty is in talks with the Braves about a return to Atlanta. Here's the latest on the market for relievers…

  • Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets that there's a sense that the Nationals will land a left-handed reliever today.
  • The Orioles have had talks with John Axford, tweets Morosi. They're also said to be the current favorites for Grant Balfour.
  • A rival executive estimated that the Phillies would have to eat about 40 to 50 percent of Jonathan Papelbon's remaining salary to trade him, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Papelbon is owed $13MM in each of the next two seasons and has a vesting option for a fifth year.
  • The Rockies have had discussions with Joaquin Benoit but are a ways apart in terms of salary, Morosi reports. Talks between the two sides are fading, as Benoit appears likely to seek a more lucrative deal elsewhere (Twitter links).
  • Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweeted yesterday that when the dust settles from the Winter Meetings, Matt Guerrier's name could be a of interest to the Indians.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that even after re-signing Juan Carlos Oviedo and acquiring Heath Bell, the Rays are still looking to improve their bullpen. One option could be injured lefty Jordan Norberto, who underwent Tommy John surgery last season.

Nationals Eyeing J.P. Howell, Scott Downs

J.P. Howell and Scott Downs have both been mentioned as possible targets for the Nationals within the last few days, and it appears that Washington may be narrowing its focus on the pair of southpaws. According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark (Twitter link), if the Nats sign a free agent left-handed reliever, it will likely be either Howell or Downs.

Washington had also been linked to Eric O'Flaherty, but other clubs are getting the sense that O'Flaherty will probably return to the Braves, says Stark. The lefty, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, had indicated earlier today that he'd be open to signing anywhere, including Washington.

Howell, 30, is coming off an excellent season in Los Angeles, where he posted a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings for the Dodgers. Downs, 37, was his usual effective self in 2013 as well, recording a 2.49 ERA in 68 total appearances for the Angels and Braves. It was the seventh straight season that Downs has posted an ERA of 3.15 or better.

Relief Notes: Axford, Downs, O’Flaherty

The market for relievers continues to take shape, as the Tigers yesterday announced a two-year, $20MM contract with Joe Nathan, and the Red Sox and Edward Mujica struck a two-year agreement. Here's the latest on the free agent market for relievers…

  • Agent Dan Horwits received calls from 14 teams regarding client John Axford in the first 36 hours following his non-tender by the Cardinals, he told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. As Nicholson-Smith writes, any team to sign Axford would control him through the 2016 season, making him a potentially more appealing target.
  • One team who figures to be heavily in the mix for Axford is the Orioles, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The O's liked Mujica prior to his signing with the Red Sox, and the fact that he is off the board likely strengthens Baltimore's interest in Axford, Kubatko adds.
  • The Nationals are interested in Scott Downs and have inquired on him at least twice, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. It's not clear what kind of contract Downs is looking for at this time, writes Ladson, who also reports that the Nats are considering using Ross Detwiler out of the bullpen in 2014.
  • The Nationals are also interested in southpaw Eric O'Flaherty, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Though the Nationals have yet to make an offer, they've maintained a constant dialogue with his agent. Washington is one of six teams to have shown interest in O'Flaherty and is also eyeing J.P. Howell and Boone Logan, per Kilgore.

NL East Notes: Logan, Nationals, Mets, Samson

The Braves will be moving into a brand new stadium in time for the 2017 season, the team announced today.  The new ballpark is located in Cobb County, about 14 miles northwest of Turner Field.  The move will end the club's tenure at Turner Field after an even 20 seasons — "the Ted" was originally built as the main venue for the 1996 Olympic Games and then converted into a ballpark for the start of the 1997 season.

Here are some more items from around the NL East…

  • The Nationals are interested in free agent southpaw Boone Logan, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports.  Logan posted strong numbers out of the Yankees bullpen over the last four seasons and is expected to fully recover from recent surgery to remove a bone spur from his throwing elbow. 
  • Kilgore notes that Washington is expected to target left-handed relief this winter and besides Logan, the team could also check in on J.P. Howell or Manny Parra, as the Nats had interest in both pitchers last offseason.
  • Also from Kilgore, an American League executive tells him that the Nationals would likely have to part with Anthony Rendon as the key piece of a David Price trade package.
  • Marlins president David Samson discussed Giancarlo Stanton's contract and the Marlins' policy against no-trade clauses in an appearance on MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on SiriusXM.  Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel has a partial transcript of Samson's comments.
  • If the Marlins are serious about convincing Stanton to stay over the long term, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro says the club needs more stability in the dugout.  Frisaro notes that in Stanton's short career, he has already played under five different managers and five different hitting coaches.
  • Of their two first base options, the Mets would reportedly prefer to trade Ike Davis over Lucas Duda, though Andy Martino of the New York Daily News thinks Davis is a better option for the team going forward.
  • From earlier today on MLBTR, Zach Links shared some more NL East notes, and we also posted team-centric collections of about the Phillies and the Mets.

Olney On Price, Relievers, Colon, Salaries, Red Sox

David Price's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, ESPN's Buster Olney argues, so the Rays may have to quell their competitive instincts and deal the ace southpaw even if they "aren't completely sold" on offers they receive before the year is out.  Olney covers several other topics in his Insider-only piece, such as how quality relievers such as Joe Smith or J.P. Howell could command three-year contracts worth $12MM-$18MM this winter.  Here's more from Olney…

  • Despite Bartolo Colon's good numbers in 2013, Olney says (in a video blog) that there isn't a strong market for his services since executives simply don't know what to expect from the soft-tossing 40-year-old.  Olney thinks Colon will find a one-year, $10MM-$12MM deal for 2014, similar to what MLBTR's Steve Adams predicts.  Despite the mutual interest between Colon and the Athletics, however, Olney predicts Colon will sign with a big-market team.  
  • Some agents believe there will be "a notable spike in salaries this winter," Olney tweets.
  • In an appearance on WEEI Radio's Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday (WEEI.com's Jackson Alexander has a partial transcript), Olney said that if the Red Sox make Brian McCann a competitive offer, McCann would consider taking slightly less money since he's a good fit in their clubhouse atmosphere.
  • Also from the radio interview, Olney thinks "the smart play" for Stephen Drew would be to accept Boston's $14.1MM qualifying offer.  I'm not sure I agree with Olney, as while Drew couldn't find a $14.1MM average annual salary on the open market, he'd surely find a multiyear contract.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes thinks Drew can find a four-year, $48MM deal this winter.
  • Olney also thinks the Mariners will try "to change the conversation" about their franchise by making a major offer to Jacoby Ellsbury.