J.P. Howell Rumors

NL West Notes: Dodgers, Belisle, Crain, Giants

The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to the friends and family of NBA Hall-of-Fame player and coach Bill Sharman, who passed away today at age 87.  Sharman is best known for his legendary basketball career but he also played in the Dodgers' minor system from 1950-55, doing well enough to earn a late-season callup in 1951.  Sharman was a so-called "phantom ballplayer" (a player who spends time on a Major League roster but didn't actually appear in a game) yet his status afforded him a unique spot in baseball history.  The entire Dodgers bench was ejected for arguing a call on September 27, 1951, thus making Sharman the only player to ever be ejected from a Major League game without appearing in one.

Here are some items from around the NL West, starting with Sharman's old team…

  • J.P. Howell and Nick Punto are the only two of the Dodgers' free agents who Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles predicts will be back with the team next season.  Saxon also predicts the Dodgers will decline Mark Ellis' $5.75MM club option and their side of Chris Capuano's $8MM mutual option.
  • Letting that mostly veteran free agent group go is one of Saxon's five ways the Dodgers can reach their stated goal of getting younger in 2014.  Other methods include trading Andre Ethier and acquiring David Price and Elvis Andrus.
  • The Rockies will explore signing Jesse Crain if he's healthy and will look to re-sign Matt Belisle to a longer-term deal, Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes.  Colorado has a $4.25MM option on Belisle for 2014 but Renck says the team will look to lower Belisle's base salary for next season in as part of a new contract.
  • Renck also outlines several other Rockies offseason needs and notes that while they couldn't manage to sign Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, the attempt at least showed that the club is trying and is willing to spend this winter.
  • Also from Renck (via Twitter), he is "fascinated" by the Nationals' reported hiring of Matt Williams and notes that the Rockies came close to hiring Williams as manager last year before going with Walt Weiss.
  • Even before their offseason moves have really begun, the Rockies and Giants are two of three teams projected by ESPN's Jared Cross (Insider subscription required) to have the best chance of improving by at least 20 wins in 2014.  Cross also suggests a pair of free agents who could help the two clubs.
  • A number of Padres topics are explored by Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune during a live chat with readers, including whether the Angels' Mark Trumbo would be a realistic trade option for the Friars as they look to add power to their lineup.
  • USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweets that Dave Duncan is a "perfect fit" as the Diamondbacks' pitching coach and that we should "keep an eye on" him as a candidate for the job.  Duncan took a leave of absence from the Cardinals in 2012 and recently said that he isn't interested in serving as a pitching coach again.
  • In other NL West news from earlier today, the Giants officially announced Tim Lincecum's new contract….Lincecum's feelings about re-signing are included as part of a collection of Giants notes….the Padres designated southpaws Colt Hynes and Tommy Layne for assignment….MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote a Free Agent Profile of Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson.

Dodgers Sign J.P. Howell

The Dodgers' offseason spending continues, as they've officially announced the signing of J.P. Howell to a one-year deal. Howell will reportedly earn $2.85MM with an additional $1.2MM worth of incentives built into the contract. The left-hander is a Legacy Sports Group client.

Uspw_6472630Howell, 29, pitched to a 3.04 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 50 1/3 innings for the Rays last season after missing all of 2010 and part of 2011 due to shoulder surgery. He held left-handed batters to a .200/.306/.306 batting line with a 52.4% ground ball rate in 2012. Howell is a soft-tosser, averaging just 87.1 mph with his fastball last year according to PitchFX.

The Dodgers have not been shy about spending over the last eight months or so. They've re-signed Brandon League while adding Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu this offseason, plus they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and others during the season. Howell replaces the departed Randy Choate, who took a three-year deal with the Cardinals last month.

MLBTR's Tim Dierkes did not rank Howell as one of the offseason's Top 50 Free Agents. As our Free Agent Tracker shows, lefty relievers like Will Ohman, J.C. Romero, and Manny Parra remain unsigned.

Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times was the first to report that the two sides were nearing an agreement (on Twitter), and ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the agreement had been reached. Olney also added Howell's base salary (Twitter link), while Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted news of the incentives.

Steve Adams also contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dodgers Moving Towards Deal With J.P. Howell

The Dodgers are moving towards a one-year contract with J.P. Howell, reports Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times (on Twitter). The deal has not been finalized, however. The left-hander is a Legacy Sports Group client.

Howell, 29, pitched to a 3.04 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 50 1/3 innings for the Rays last season after missing all of 2010 and part of 2011 due to shoulder surgery. He held left-handed batters to a .200/.306/.306 batting line with a 52.4% ground ball rate in 2012. Howell is a soft-tosser, averaging just 87.1 mph with his fastball last year according to PitchFX.

The Dodgers have not been shy about spending over the last eight months or so. They've re-signed Brandon League while adding Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu this offseason, plus they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and others during the season. Howell would replace the departed Randy Choate, who took a three-year deal with the Cardinals a few weeks ago.

This post was originally published on January 4th.

Rays Looking For Relief Pitching

The Rays are looking to add another reliever or two, Tampa Bay executive VP Andrew Friedman tells Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.  The Rays have made a few bullpen moves already this winter, such as signing Roberto Hernandez as a free agent, exercising Fernando Rodney's 2013 option and re-signing Joel Peralta.  If another reliever isn't added, internal options like Cesar Ramos or Brandon Gomes could play larger roles in the bullpen, plus the Rays could use whatever starting pitchers don't make the rotation. 

A quick look at the list of remaining free agents reveals a number of solid right-handed relief options still available.  As Smith points out, Friedman has been successful at acquiring relievers over the last several years, especially at finding unheralded arms who deliver big returns for Tampa.

Rodney and Peralta might not be the only Rays relievers bought back next season, as both J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth are "still in the mix to return," writes Smith.  Howell, the top southpaw reliever left on the market, has at least five other suitors.  Farnworth has been targeted by the Brewers this winter, though Milwaukee may have completed its bullpen remodeling after agreeing to sign Mike Gonzalez.

NL East Notes: Howell, LaRoche, Crisp, Marlins

Happy 60th birthday to former Mets third baseman Ray Knight, whose World Series MVP performance in 1986 helped lift the Amazins to their most recent championship.  Here's the latest from the NL East…

  • J.P. Howell is still the Nationals' top choice amongst available left-handed relievers, reports Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com.  Several other teams are known to have interest in Howell besides the Nats, who missed out on another southpaw bullpen option when Mike Gonzalez agreed to sign with the Brewers today.
  • The Nationals and Adam LaRoche are no closer to an agreement, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson.  LaRoche appears to be insistent on a three-year deal while the Nats aren't willing to offer him more than two years.  The Red Sox have also shown interest in LaRoche but not for three years.
  • The Mets showed some interest in Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post tweeted last week, though the "sense is that [Oakland] will keep him." Crisp, 33, hit .259/.325/.418 in 508 PAs with the A's in 2012 and was also 39-for-43 in stolen base attempts.  Crisp is set to earn $7MM in 2013 and the A's have a $7.5MM option on him for 2014 that can be bought out for $1MM, plus he'd receive a $250K bonus if he's traded.
  • The Marlins have spent much of the winter looking for center field help but haven't found a fit, leaving Justin Ruggiano as the favorite to win the job, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes as part of a reader mailbag.  Frisaro believes Miami hasn't been too ardent in looking for a center fielder since prospect Christian Yelich could be ready for the majors by 2014 or even late next season.
  • Also from Frisaro, the Marlins plan to keep Ricky Nolasco "at least for much of the first half of the season."  Nolasco is entering the last year of his contract and has already said he'd prefer a trade out of Miami, so the right-hander is a good bet to be moved before the trade deadline.  The Marlins told teams during the Winter Meetings that Nolasco wasn't available.
  • Even though the Marlins aren't shopping Giancarlo Stanton, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki thinks it's a moot point for the Phillies, who don't have the minor league depth necessary to acquire the slugger even if the Fish did make him available.  I'd also add that the Marlins are unlikely to deal Stanton to another NL East team, though the Fish have been known to deal stars (such as Dan Uggla) within their division if the price is right.
  • From earlier today on MLBTR, the Mets were looking for relief pitching and the Marlins had only very mild interest in Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez.

Olney On Saunders, Hairston, Hanrahan, Howell

In today's column, Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req'd) looks at the best second-tier and third-tier free agents remaining.  Here's a look at the highlights..

  • Joe Saunders is receiving interest from four clubs and the Orioles have ramped up their efforts to retain him.  It seems Saunders would be in position to get more than the two-year, $15MM deal signed by Joe Blanton.
  • Scott Hairston is looking for a significant raise over the $1.1MM he earned last season and he might wind up being too rich for the Mets' blood.  Jonny Gomes is a similar player and got $10MM over two years from the Red Sox.
  • Some teams see the significant increase in walks allowed last season by Joel Hanrahan as a red flag.  After posting a 2.1 BB/9 rate in 2011, Hanrahan jumped to 5.4 in 2012.  There is also some concern among rival evaluators that his diminished control is a sign of an arm issue.  Hanrahan would argue that the control problems may have stemmed from the inconsistent save chances that a Bucs closer gets.
  • Free agent reliever J.P. Howell should sign soon, perhaps with the Nationals.  Other interested clubs include the Phillies, Cubs, Mariners, and Rangers.
  • Travis Hafner would be a classic make-good guy to bring to spring training, but he won't fit all rosters because he can't play a position.
  • Executives have reservations about Lance Berkman, including his health, overall shape, and motivation to play.
  • Some have said that the Cubs overpaid for Edwin Jackson ($52MM over four years), but new financial restraints in the draft and international market have forced clubs to pay more.  In short, the Cubs basically paid the going rate for a 29-year-old healthy pitcher of his caliber.

At Least Five Teams Interested In J.P. Howell

The Nationals, Phillies, Cubs, Mariners and Rangers are all interested in free agent reliever J.P. Howell, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson.  Howell said last month that "a handful" of teams were pursuing him, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times speculated that the Angels could be one of those suitors.  The Brewers were also known to be looking for left-handed relief help, though Howell was not one of the names recently mentioned as targets by Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin.

Howell posted strong numbers out of the Rays' bullpen in 2008-09 before missing the entire 2010 season due to shoulder surgery and struggling to a 6.16 ERA in 30 2/3 innings in 2011.  The southpaw returned to form in 2012, however, posting a 3.04 ERA, 1.91 K/BB ratio, 7.5 K/9 rate and 48.9% groundball rate, though some advanced metrics (4.78 FIP and a .250 BABIP) indicate that Howell benefited from some good fortune. 

The Legacy Sports Group client has held left-handed batters to a .675 OPS in his career, topping that mark in 2012 when lefty hitters managed only a .200/.306/.306 slash line.

NL East Links: Pagnozzi, Haren, Howell, Phils

The NL East has been involved in multiple headlines today, with the Nationals signing Dan Haren to a one-year deal and the Marlins trading Yunel Escobar to the Rays. Here's some more news from around the division…

  • The Braves have signed catcher Matt Pagnozzi to a minor league contract, according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Pagnozzi, who hit .224/.329/.359 for the Indians' Triple-A affiliate last season, will likely serve as the team's big league backup while Brian McCann is out.
  • Haren is the Nationals' 2013 version of Edwin Jackson, writes ESPN's Keith Law (Insider req'd). Haren can provide bulk innings behind the Nats' trio of aces, and carries the same "all-or-nothing" upside that Ben Sheets did when he signed with the Athletics for $10MM in 2010.
  • J.P. Howell has interest in playing for the Nationals, writes MLB.com's Bill Ladson. I can't imagine there are many players who wouldn't want to play for the Nats, given their projected lineup and rotation. The team does have interest in adding another lefty reliever, so Howell could be in luck.
  • The Phillies have made plenty of offers so far, but have nothing to show for it at the Winter Meetings thus far, writes Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly. The team is still pursuing outfield and third base help via free agency and trade. Vance Worley and Trevor May are both on the table in trade talks. Worley is "100 percent" following September elbow surgery, according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
  • We learned earlier that the Marlins are looking to add a third baseman after trading Escobar, who told them he wasn't comfortable playing the hot corner.

Central Notes: Reds, Chicago, Brewers, Pirates, Twins

Here are the latest news and notes from the NL and AL Central divisions:

“Handful” Of Teams Interested In J.P Howell

Free agent left-hander J.P. Howell told Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times that there are "a handful" of teams interested in signing him. The Angels may be one of those teams, and the southpaw didn't have a timeframe for a decision.

Howell, 29, pitched to a 3.04 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 50.1 relief innings for the Rays this year. He had shoulder surgery in 2010 and held left-handed hitters to a .200/.306/.306 batting line this season. Howell did not rank as one of Tim Dierkes' Top 50 Free Agents.