Juan Cruz Rumors

The Latest On The Unsigned Relief Pitchers

After looking at the latest updates on the remaining unsigned starting pitchers and position players, we have one more group to examine: the relievers. Earlier in April, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes named some relief pitchers who could be dealt this season, and that list is certainly more intriguing than the current free agent market. But for teams looking to take an inexpensive gamble, there are a handful of recognizable, if not overly exciting, names available. Here are a few:

  • Juan Cruz: After a disappointing stint in Kansas City, the 31-year-old was released by the Royals a week ago. Now that clubs won't have to assume the $3.25MM figure he's owed this season, the right-hander certainly looks more like a risk worth taking. In 2007 and 2008, Cruz appeared in 110 games for the Diamondbacks, posting a 2.88 ERA and striking out 12.6 batters per nine innings. It's unlikely he'd regain that form this year, but he could be a bargain at a league-minimum salary. The Diamondbacks don't appear interested in bringing him back though, and the Marlins, often willing to take on cheap bullpen reclamation projects, probably won't take the plunge either.
  • Russ Ortiz: The veteran righty elected free agency last week after being designated for assignment by the Dodgers. Although he pitched poorly for Los Angeles this April, allowing eight runs in seven innings, his career numbers as a reliever (3.33 ERA over 78.1 IP) are respectable. While there hasn't been any reported interest in him yet and he won't be an integral part of anyone's bullpen, he'll probably be able to land a minor league contract soon.
  • Russ Springer: We know Springer would like to pitch this year, preferably for the Cardinals, but we haven't heard much more than that lately. The right-hander was extremely effective in two seasons in St. Louis, posting a 2.24 ERA and 8.6 K/9 in 146 appearances in 2007 and 2008. His ERA rose to 4.11 last season, but his ratios were still excellent. Even at 41, Springer could be a worthy addition to quite a few bullpens around the league, but perhaps he's holding out for an offer from the Cards.
  • David Weathers: Like Springer, Weathers was reasonably effective in 2009 (3.92 ERA), despite turning 40 last September. However, his peripherals declined and there hasn't been a whole lot of reported interest in the righty this spring. The last we heard, Weathers was still open to pitching this season for a contender, though he'll probably retire if the right situation doesn't arise.

Other familiar unsigned bullpen arms include left-handers Eddie Guardado, Glendon Rusch, and Jamie Walker. Check out our complete list here.

D’Backs, Marlins Unlikely To Pursue Juan Cruz

The Diamondbacks don't appear to have interest in bringing back reliever Juan Cruz, tweets MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, while Juan C. Rodriguez of The Sun Sentinel says not to look for the Marlins to have interest either. They'll be getting Brian Sanches back from the disabled list soon, and Florida hopes he can shore up their setup corps.

The Royals released the disappointing Cruz last week as part of a bullpen makeover, eating the $3.25MM he's owed this year plus the $500K buyout for his 2011 option. Any team can sign Cruz for the pro-rated portion of the Major League minimum. The 31-year-old posted a 5.50 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 in 55.2 innings for Kansas City.

Olney’s Latest: Lowe, Cruz, Atkins, Rangers

Buster Olney's latest blog entry at ESPN.com focuses on Ryan Braun, who Olney thinks could eventually take over Albert Pujols' title of the National League's best hitter. The article also includes a few hot-stove notes….

  • Olney hears from talent evaluators that the trade market for starting pitching probably won't really develop for at least another month or two. Unless they can dump salary, teams likely won't be looking to move any starters quite yet. Derek Lowe and his $15MM price tag are mentioned as a potential salary dump.
  • The Royals haven't put Juan Cruz on waivers yet, meaning he'll probably be placed there Monday and clear on Wednesday. Olney speculates that the Cubs, in need of a setup man, could kick the tires on Cruz.
  • As the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly suggested last night, Garrett Atkins' job could already be in jeopardy after Rhyne Hughes' promotion. When MLBTR talked to baseball execs in March about offseason moves, the Orioles' signing of Atkins was nominated as one of the worst.
  • Olney says the perception around the league is that owner Tom Hicks is creating roadblocks for the sale of the Rangers in the hopes of securing more cash. Because of complications with the sale, baseball's other owners will likely have to throw in more money.

Odds & Ends: Washburn, Bell, Padres, Angels

A few notes from around the majors to end the work week….

  • Tom Krasovic of the Inside The Padres blog passes along word (via Twitter) from Scott Boras that Jarrod Washburn has "turned down offers from multiple clubs" and the money isn't the top issue for the veteran left-hander.  We've heard about the Mariners, Royals, Diamondbacks and Indians all having some degree of interest in Washburn.
  • Scott Miller of CBSSports.com reports that the Twins "had what they viewed as a workable deal" for Heath Bell in March, but backed off due to worries about Bell's "character issues."
  • In response to a reader's mailbag question about whether Jon Garland or Chris Young is more likely to be dealt this summer, MLB.com's Corey Brock instead said (unsurprisingly) that San Diego will get the most calls about Bell if teams want a Padre pitcher.  In regards to the Garland/Young choice, you'd have to think that Garland would be the preferred choice of teams looking for a starter.  Garland has been a proven innings-eater for a decade, whereas Young has battled injuries for the last two seasons and is currently on San Diego's DL.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports thinks the Angels might have a tough time sustaining their domination of the AL West.  Should the club win the division again, Rosenthal says "it’s difficult to imagine them advancing in the playoffs unless they make a trade or two."  He notes the Halos might need a right-handed reliever or a slugging third baseman if Scot Shields and/or Brandon Wood, respectively, continue to struggle.
  • R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs can't figure out why the Royals released Juan Cruz.

Royals Release Juan Cruz, DFA Luis Mendoza

The Royals have released Juan Cruz and designated Luis Mendoza for assignment, reports Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star. The moves shake up the team's bullpen and open up roster spots for Brad Thompson and Bruce Chen.

The 31-year-old Cruz has not lived up to expectations since signing a two year, $6MM contract last offseason, posting a 5.50 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 in 55.2 innings for the team. Kansas City still owes him the rest of his $3.25MM salary for this season, plus the $500K buyout for his 2011 option.

Mendoza, 26, was acquired from the Rangers for cash considerations earlier this month. He had allowed 14 baserunners and ten runs in four innings this season. Both Thompson and Chen were signed to minor league deals this offseason and were pitching reasonably well for the Royals' Triple-A affiliate.

Cafardo’s Latest: Downs, Cruz, Dye, Sheffield

In his newest piece for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo discusses Manny Ramirez's Hall of Fame chances, concluding that the slugger's positive test for a banned substance last season may keep him out of Cooperstown. Here are a few other topics that Cafardo's column explores:

  • The Phillies would love to add a left-hander to their bullpen, particularly while J.C. Romero remains on the shelf. They're looking at Scott Downs, but given the Blue Jays' solid start, the team may hang on to him for the time being. When the Jays are ready to sell, Downs should provide a decent return.
  • Juan Cruz is another reliever on the trade market, albeit a less impressive one. He'll earn $3.75MM this year for the Royals, who may have to eat most of that salary to pull off a deal.
  • Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield should sign somewhere soon. When asked his thoughts on Orlando Hudson's insinuation that racism factored into Dye's and Sheffield's unemployment, Sheffield said he appreciated Hudson's concern, but "I'm not going to comment."
  • Cafardo names Jerry Manuel and Dave Trembley as two managers who could be on the hot seat and speculates about who would be next in line to replace the skippers. Cafardo points out that there are plenty of ex-managers available who have history with Orioles president Andy MacPhail, while for the Mets, Bob Melvin might be "the logical successor."

Top Trade Chips: AL Central

Let's continue our look at each club's top trade chips today with the AL Central…

  • Indians: The Tribe have dealt their Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons, and there's a good chance they'll do it again with Jake Westbrook in 2010. The 32-year-old righty will earn $11MM this season, the last one on his contract. After dumping Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez in cost-cutting moves last year, expect them to shop Westbrook around for prospects this summer.
  • Royals: All four of Kansas City's outfielders come off the books after this season (assuming some options are bought out for six figures), so Rick Ankiel, David DeJesus, Scott Podsednik, and even Jose Guillen could be moved in a deal for a young player. The team would obviously have to eat a lot of money to move Guillen. The contracts of relievers Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth also expire after the season, so there might be some interest in them.
  • Tigers: Detroit isn't going to move any of their young power arms, but if they eat a large chunk of salary like they did with Nate Robertson, there might be interest in Jeremy Bonderman and/or Dontrelle Willis. Young backstop Alex Avila could make Gerald Laird expendable as well. The Tigers have four lefty relievers on their 40-man roster (Phil Coke, Fu-Te Ni, Daniel Schlereth, and Brad Thomas), and that demographic is always in demand.
  • Twins: Minnesota has one of the best trade chips in the league, blocked catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Lefty Glen Perkins is pitching in Triple-A and seems to have fallen out of favor with the club after filing a grievance, so he could be made available as well. He has four years of team control left.
  • White Sox: GM Kenny Williams isn't shy about emptying out the farm system in a trade for an established big leaguer, which has left him with little minor league ammo. Their best young prospects are catcher Tyler Flowers and starter Daniel Hudson, who would seem to have a future with the club, but I'm not going to put anything past Williams. Flowers could make A.J. Pierzynski or Ramon Castro expendable, ditto Hudson and Freddy Garcia. Gordon Beckham should be untouchable, obviously.

Relief Trade Candidates

Eleven bullpens currently sport ERAs over 5.00, but it'd be silly to draw conclusions from 25-inning samples.  Still, certain contenders are probably already surveying the field of available relievers.  The Rays, Cubs, and Marlins are three teams that had bullpen concerns heading into the season.  Which relievers might be available a month or two from now?

  • The Blue Jays are riding high, in a first-place tie after their first nine games.  Still, GM Alex Anthopoulos will probably think about the big picture and shop his three priciest relievers: Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor, and Scott Downs.  The Jays would need Gregg's consent to deal him prior to June 15th.
  • The Pirates have the worst bullpen ERA in the NL right now, but most of that can be attributed to Hayden Penn's 2.3 inning stint.  Down the road all the veterans will be fair game – Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Jack Taschner, and Javier Lopez.
  • The Padres have the big prize in closer Heath Bell.  His save total will allow them to demand a premium for him, and he can be retained for 2011 (albeit with a raise upon this year's $4MM).
  • The Nationals may also make a few veterans available: Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, and Tyler Walker would make sense.  The June 15th rule applies to Capps and Walker.  They'll both be arbitration-eligible after the season.
  • The Royals have a couple of contracts to move in Kyle Farnsworth and Juan CruzTracy Ringolsby tweets that the Royals are "looking to unload Cruz and willing to pick up salary."
  • Chad Cordero is a name to consider; the 28-year-old off to a good start for the Mariners' Triple A club.

Rockies Eyeing Juan Cruz

The Rockies are showing interest in Royals reliever Juan Cruz, reports Bob Dutton of the Kansas City StarJoe Beimel was named as a Rockies target as well recently, in the wake of Huston Street's shoulder injury.

Last year the Royals signed Cruz on February 28th, as the hard-throwing reliever was hampered by his Type A status.  The Royals ultimately gave up the #60 pick in the draft and inked Cruz to a two-year, $6MM deal with a club option for 2011.  Though he continued to throw 94 mph in his first season with Kansas City, Cruz's strikeout rate disappeared as he dealt with a shoulder strain.

Cruz has $3.75MM remaining on his contract, so the Royals would presumably have to eat salary to make a deal happen.

The Market For Jose Valverde

Jose Valverde and Juan Cruz have a lot in common. The two relievers were born within months of each other in the same country; they both pile up big strikeout totals; they even anchored Arizona's bullpen together for a couple seasons. Now Valverde's Type A status is limiting interest from potential suitors, just as Cruz's did a year ago.

Valverde has struck out over a batter per inning every year of his major league career, so he'd be a difference maker in any bullpen. The only season in which he has allowed more hits than innings pitched came in 2006 when he surrendered 50 hits in 49.1 innings. His fastball has been extremely effective and consistently hits the upper nineties.

The 31-year-old right-hander is one of the top free agents available, but he hasn't generated much buzz this offseason, partly because he'll cost teams a high draft pick. He could return to the D'Backs, who are keeping an eye on him, and it's too early in the winter to rule out a surprise bidder, but so far the market doesn't appear to have developed.

The Marlins, Pirates and Tigers could use closers, but as ESPN.com's Buster Olney recently pointed out, those three teams seem unlikely to spend big on Valverde or any other reliever. Plus, Valverde would cost the Tigers and Marlins their first round picks and the Pirates would have to give up a second rounder to sign him. The Nationals and Orioles were connected to Valverde earlier in the month, but they've moved on and signed Matt Capps and Mike Gonzalez, respectively.

The market for Valverde doesn't look good now, but there's some hope for him: Cruz did sign a multi-year deal in the end.