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Justin Masterson Rumors
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link) that he’s zeroing in on fixing the starting five before addressing the relief situation. “That’s probably more our priority,” Anthopoulos said. “We could use both, but if I did have to prioritize it I’d say rotation first, bullpen would be next.” Pitcher Aaron Sanchez is expected to join the rotation upon returning from a lat strain, but the GM went on to say that he wouldn’t rule out using Sanchez in the bullpen if he were able to acquire two superior starters via trade. Here’s more out of the AL East..
- It doesn’t sound like we should expect the Blue Jays to pull off any deals anytime soon. “Very few teams are willing to do anything early…Really we might be the only one willing to do anything now,” Anthopoulos said (via SiriusXM on Twitter).
- Red Sox hurler Justin Masterson won’t specifically say that he’ll ask for a trade, but he did acknowledge the possibility, as Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes. “I dont know if it’s in my nature to do that, to say, ‘Beat it guys, trade me or put me in [the rotation],’” he said. “No, I don’t think that’s the time right now. Especially the way I see this team going and the way I believe in this team too.” Masterson, who is signed to a one-year, $9.5MM deal, could conceivably draw interest from a team in need of a starter. For his part, Masterson would much rather start than pitch in relief.
- The Yankees announced that reliever Sergio Santos will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, as Grace Raynor of MLB.com writes. Santos made two appearances with the Yankees after signing a minor league pact earlier this month. Over parts of six MLB seasons, Santos owns a career 3.98 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9.
- Yankees manager Joe Girardi suspects that Ivan Nova‘s next start will be in the big leagues, Ryan Hatch of The Star-Ledger writes. Nova last pitched in the majors in April 2014 and underwent surgery on his elbow shortly afterward.
- Tim Britton of The Providence Journal looked at why the Red Sox have been underperforming their projections despite an active offseason.
David Ortiz has ten-and-five rights and says there’s “no chance” he’d approve a deal to another club, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. There hasn’t been any credible suggestion that Boston would look to move one of team’s best-known players, of course, but it sounds as if that has no chance of becoming a realistic possibility. “This is the team I’ll be with the rest off my career,” said Ortiz.
Here’s more on the Red Sox, who entered play today at ten games under .500:
- Starting pitching prospect Henry Owens has struggled mightily this year at Triple-A, as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes. His walks have skyrocketed even as his strikeout numbers have lagged. Of course, the big southpaw is still just 22, and Pawtucket pitching coach Bob Kipper says there’s still plenty of reason to believe that Owens can be a quality big league starter. That may well be true, but Boston probably hoped Owens would be ready to step in this year or next, and he has some work to do to get back on track.
- As the Red Sox front office gets ready to evaluate the summer trade market, the team could well face tough questions about whether contention is reasonably possible this season. As Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes, GM Ben Cherington did not directly answer the question whether the club could look to the future in structuring its moves. “Get better and be the best team we can be,” he said when asked whether the club would focus on current upgrades. “Not putting a date on it but just be the best team we can be. That’s what we would be geared toward. We haven’t considered anything other than that at this point.”
- Cherington said that he takes responsibility for the team’s sluggish performance to date, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports. One key issue, of course, has been the poor overall work of major signings Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. “Look, we’ve had plenty of examples of guys who, 5 or 10 percent of the way through their contracts, there was an adjustment period and they didn’t take off quite yet and then in time it does,” Cherington said. “I’m not going to make any judgments on any specific decision or player based on that short amount of time. But I will certainly make judgments on myself for the overall performance and the team’s performance. That’s on me. If there’s any single person I’m focused on, it’s more my own decisions in total. If you want to talk about the total performance of the team, it’s got to be about me more than any individual out there.”
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues that Boston needs to do whatever it can — which would, surely, include eating quite a bit of money — to move both Ramirez and Sandoval. That seems a bit hasty, in spite of the obvious problems that have arisen, not least of which because the club would be selling quite low on both players. As John Tomase of WEEI.com writes, many of the team’s big contracts would be quite difficult to move without keeping a big piece of the salary obligations and/or including quality young talent to rid itself of those contracts. All said, from my view, the only course of action at this point is to wait and hope for better — though Cherington & Co. have shown plenty of willingness to jump on opportunities to get out from under bad contracts.
- Of course, the focus early on was on the team’s pitching, and while there have been some signs of improvement, all is not quite well on that front either. Justin Masterson has, of course, struggled after signing a one-year deal that he and the team hoped would coincide with a turnaround. Masterson is coming to the end of a rehab stint, and the team has given him the choice whether to accept a move to the bullpen or take another rehab start to allow more time for evaluation, Mastrodonato reports. That might not be a permanent move, skipper John Farrell emphasized. “If it were in the next 10 days and he was in the bullpen we feel like he’s built up enough pitches that if he didn’t start for five, six days, he could be inserted into the rotation if needed,” Farrell said. “Those are all things being discussed and factored.”
- In a longer-term matter, the Red Sox are increasingly considering whether it makes sense to shift good arms into bullpen roles earlier in their careers, Mastrodonato reports. “In the lower levels obviously we’re trying to get guys as many innings as possible and starting is the easiest way to do that, but there’s an exception,” explained Cherington. “And we’ve been a little more proactive recently at the upper levels of trying to identify guys we think might perform better in that role, move them into that role a tick quicker.” The Boston GM did make clear that starting pitching was the priority, but said that the organization wants to be realistic about how it can get assets onto its major league roster. Then, there are broader market considerations. “Part of it is you’re trying to get players ready for the big leagues,” said Cherington, “but part of it is an acknowledgement of the market. Free agency is treating non-closing major league relievers better than ever.”
Mariners righty Hisashi Iwakuma has been shut down for ten days to two weeks after experiencing continued upper back tightness, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. “He’s going to be pushed back, so to speak,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “His rehab has not gone as well as we thought it would have gone. He’s still experiencing some stiffness.” The longer Iwakuma is delayed, the more it begins to look like another arm might be a trade deadline consideration for Seattle.
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox rotation woes worsened last night with a rough outing for Justin Masterson. As Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports, manager John Farrell indicated that there is cause to believe there is more to be concerned with than the poor results. “The last two times out for Justin have not been anywhere close to what he’s shown this year — set aside prior to the start of 2015,” said Farrell. “Clearly, he’s not right. Whether that’s physical, whether that’s delivery-wise, the ball is not coming out of his hand as he’s shown the better part of the year. We’ve got to gather information, we’ve got to check on him in the morning, get a full workup, get a better assessment of where things are.”
- Of course, it’s far from clear that there is any realistic possibility of an outside addition to the Red Sox staff in the immediate future. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe explains, utilizing the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, history teaches that starters (at least, impactful ones) are rarely dealt in the season’s first two months. Regardless, the club figures to be at or near a breaking point with its current starting five, and it would be surprising if internal replacements — Eduardo Rodriguez, most interesting among them — are not at least given a chance as the summer draws near.
- The Orioles are holding their breath after 20-year-old prospect Hunter Harvey left an outing with elbow tightness, as Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. The rising Harvey, who is coming back from a shin fracture suffered this spring, already was shut down late last year with some elbow concerns and now is set for an MRI. His health and progress is critical to the organization, particularly with Dylan Bundy dealing with his own elbow problems and with the aforementioned Rodriguez shipped out at last year’s trade deadline.
Agent Josh Kusnick, who represents Orioles backstop Steve Clevenger, tells Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com that he’s unsure why the team elected to select Ryan Lavarnway‘s contract and option Clevenger to Triple-A. The sequence has Kusnick questioning Clevenger’s future in Baltimore, and he went so far as to say, “If Steve is going to lose his job to someone with no options remaining, the same age and same position, then it would be great if he could find a major league opportunity somewhere else if it’s not going to work out in Baltimore.” Kusnick says that he and Clevenger haven’t been told of a specific area that Clevenger needs to improve, and he feels that Clevenger has proven himself at the Triple-A level to the point where he should have a chance to stick in the Majors. The 28-year-old Clevenger has a strong .311/.371/.420 batting line at Triple-A (760 plate appearances) and has nearly identical numbers over the life of his Minor League career as a whole. Both the Diamondbacks and Padres have been linked to catchers in the media of late, though the D-Backs have stated that they’re not interested in adding a catcher at this time.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- With Rick Porcello now signed to a four-year extension, Justin Masterson is the only Red Sox starter not signed beyond 2015. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford spoke to Masterson about that reality, but the 30-year-old didn’t seem fazed by pitching in a contract year for the second straight season. Masterson spoke about his decision not to take an extension with Cleveland last spring, noting that he disagreed with naysayers stating that he should’ve taken the two-year offer that was on the table. “No,” said Masterson. “I would have actually felt worse if I had taken it because I knew I wasn’t feeling good. I just think it’s based off the person. But for some people it can make it hard to play.” Masterson had physical issues from the onset of Spring Training in 2014, writes Bradford, but he’s feeling healthier this year and more focused on the season than a contract.
- Fangraphs’ David Laurila looks at the parallels between Hanley Ramirez as a 22-year-old and Xander Bogaerts, who is entering his age-22 season. Laurila interviewed Ramirez as a 22-year-old back in 2004 and sees similarities in Ramirez’s approach as an inexperienced hitter and the one presently utilized by Bogaerts. One key difference, Laurila notes, is that while Bogaerts’ .240/.297/.362 line from last year was disappointing, Ramirez batted just .271/.335/.385 at the Double-A level when he was 21 years of age. Laurila opines that we shouldn’t be surprised to see a Bogaerts breakout this summer.
- Blue Jays prospect Jeff Hoffman spoke with Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel (audio link) about his return from Tommy John surgery and the progress he’s made since college and pitching in the Cape Cod League. Hoffman, the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, feels that his command is all the way back and is looking forward to getting his Minor League career underway. McDaniel also asked Hoffman about whether or not he followed trade talks in the offseason — Hoffman was prominently mentioned in the Orioles-Blue Jays Dan Duquette talks — to which Hoffman replied that he’s aware of trade discussions but tries not to focus on them. “My agent does a good job of making me aware of what can and can’t happen, and what will happen, because a lot of the stuff out there is kind of crazy,” said Hoffman. (McDaniel also spoke to Twins prospect Nick Gordon — another 2014 draftee — about his transition to pro ball, making for a pair of interesting interviews.)
- The myriad transactions of Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos will be put to the test this year in a season that could very well determine his future with the team, writes Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. Davidi tracks much of Anthopoulos’ more notable moves, including how he masterfully manipulated the CBA’s former draft pick compensation system. Anthopoulos turned Marco Scutaro, Rod Barajas, Miguel Olivo, Scott Downs, Frank Francisco, Kevin Gregg, John Buck, Jon Rauch and Jose Molina into Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino, Daniel Norris, Asher Wojciechowski, Jacob Anderson, Dwight Smith, Kevin Comer, Joe Musgrove, Matt Smoral, Mitch Nay and Tyler Gonzales — often by acquiring marginal free-agents-to-be and offering them arbitration in order to stockpile draft picks when they rejected. This year is a blend of both trades and scouting/development, and if the team fails to make the playoffs, “someone else may very well get a chance to push this team over the finish line,” Davidi writes.
Spring Training will always involve unfortunate news of injuries, but it also represents an opportunity for players making a comeback — whether from injury or otherwise — to reestablish themselves. In addition to restoring their own career trajectories (Scott Kazmir, anyone?), such players can deliver immense value to the teams that give them another chance.
Let’s take a look at a few situations from around the league, focusing on pitchers:
- When lefty Clayton Richard signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, everyone’s first thoughts went to the hurlers whose careers have recently been revived in Pittsburgh. (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez being the prime examples.) As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, that is essentially what Richard was thinking about, too. “I was able to talk to [Volquez] a little bit and see what he thought of the organization,” said Richard. “It was positive. Just in talking with [GM] Neal [Huntington], [manager] Clint [Hurdle], and [pitching coach] Ray [Searage], I got a good feel of what they are all about. it made sense for me that this was the place.” The non-roster invitee is said to be hitting the gun in the low-nineties, where he previously has worked, and says he is “loosening up my entire body through my delivery” after having seen his motion limited in the past by shoulder troubles.
- After good vibes at the opening of Red Sox camp, Justin Masterson had a less-than-promising outing yesterday, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. A scout called Masterson’s work “awful,” while manager John Farrell said the righty “started to flash some better stuff into the fourth inning” but lacked “late action” on his pitches from “inconsistencies and when the velocity drops.” That group of issues — i.e., mechanical struggles and waning fastball velocity — were perhaps the two most-cited underlying difficulties that led Masterson to fall from his early perch near the top of this year’s free agent class to a one-year, $9.5MM deal with Boston. Of course, there is still plenty of time for Masterson to rebound this season.
- Brandon Morrow of the Padres also signed a make-good, one-year deal but was guaranteed much less than Masterson. But he is off to a strong opening to his year, having posted nine innings with one earned run and seven strikeouts against two free passes thus far. In post-game comments today to his counterpart, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said that Morrow showed “real stuff” in his four scoreless frames, as MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweets. It seems at this point that the fifth starter’s role is Morrow’s to lose.
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar made his way back to competitive action today, throwing a clean inning, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter links). Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Hochevar nevertheless landed a $10MM guarantee (over two years) to return to Kansas City. He was throwing in the 92 to 93 mph range in his work today, but despite that successful first appearance still seems likely to start the regular season on the DL.
Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija both helped their former Athletics teammate Jon Lester in his decision to sign with the Cubs, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat writes. Of course, Lester was already familiar with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein from their time in Boston. “I think the Theo-Jon bromance was going to happen anyways,” says Hammel. “But [Lester] was definitely interested, and he was picking our brains all the time.” Here are more quick notes from the Central divisions.
- The Reds didn’t attract much attention this week, but they quietly traded two starters (Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos) who didn’t project as well as one might think in 2015 for talent that could help them immediately, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes in a piece for FOX Sports. Shortstop Eugenio Suarez (acquired in the Simon deal) projects to be as good an offensive player as Didi Gregorius next year, and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (acquired in the Latos deal) might turn out to be almost as good next year as Latos anyway.
- Simon could move to the Tigers‘ bullpen if they re-sign Max Scherzer, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press suggests. Publicly, the Tigers won’t say that, Fenech writes, because they would look like they lost if Scherzer signed elsewhere. But it seems possible that the Tigers could be thinking of Simon primarily as a backup plan for their rotation.
- The Indians‘ trade for Brandon Moss was a deal worth making, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Moss is expected to fully recover from offseason surgery, and the cost to get him (minor league second baseman Joey Wendle) wasn’t steep. With Moss in the fold, Pluto writes, the Indians will likely work to trade fellow lefty outfielder David Murphy, who has one year remaining before free agency.
- Pluto also writes that the Indians dodged a bullet when Justin Masterson didn’t accept their three-year, $45MM extension offer last offseason. Masterson, of course, suffered through a year of injury and poor mechanics, and with him under contract, the Indians would have had about half their payroll committed to three players: Masterson, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Masterson agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox this week.
The Red Sox and Justin Masterson believe the righty’s poor year in 2014 was the result of bad health and bad mechanics, and is likely to be the exception rather than the rule, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. “Last year was purely health. We tried to make corrections through mechanical type things because I wasn’t experiencing any pain, but I lost some flexibility and quite honestly a lot of other things,” says Masterson. “I have confidence this will probably be one of the best seasons I’ve ever had.” Heading into 2014, Masterson looked poised to land a big free agent contract, but instead he ended up with one year and $9.5MM, plus up to $2.5MM in incentives, with both he and the Red Sox gambling on a return to form this season. Here are more notes out of Boston.
- In addition to Masterson, the Red Sox added Rick Porcello and Wade Miley this week. GM Ben Cherington is pleased with his team’s starting pitching depth despite giving up Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster in the Miley trade, WEEI.com’s Ryan Hannable writes. “We’ve been able to acquire the three starters that we have this week while still maintaining really what we consider the top end of our young pitching,” says Cherington, adding that the Red Sox “still have what we think is really good young pitching depth besides the five guys that will likely open the season in the rotation.” The Red Sox currently have Porcello, Miley, Masterson, Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly penciled into begin the season, with Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Edwin Escobar, and Eduardo Rodriguez queued up behind them.
- As much depth as the Red Sox have, though, they don’t have anyone who could obviously be considered an ace. “[T]he whole No. 1 starter thing kind of is overrated,” Cherington says, via Britton. As Britton points out, though, to say otherwise right now might be seen as an insult to players like Kelly or Masterson, and by expressing satisfaction with the pitching they have, the Red Sox can take a stronger negotiating position if they want to try to trade for a pitcher like Cole Hamels or Jordan Zimmermann. Britton notes that most World Series winners in the past 20 years at least had a pitcher who had pitched like an ace at one time, although it’s also the case that aces can emerge quickly, like Corey Kluber did last season.
With the Winter Meetings in the books, be sure to check out this interesting piece from Joe Lemire for Medium.com regarding the change wrought on the process by changes in communication technology. Texting has replaced in-person dealmaking and reporting, writes Lemire, which in some ways undermines the purpose of teams gathering in one place. Of course, as we found out this week, the annual meet-up is still capable of supporting a hotbed of transactional movement.
Here’s the latest from the American League:
- The Mariners have made free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera a three-year offer, Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com reports (Spanish language link). Cabrera is looking for at least one more guaranteed year, says Rojas. This news reflects a recent report from Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, who suggested that the sides were at something of a standoff along those lines.
- The Blue Jays are looking at the free agent market for a second baseman but are not interested in guaranteeing more than three years, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. “You won’t see any four or five-year deals,” said GM Alex Anthopoulos.
- Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald (Twitter link) rejects the idea that the Red Sox made a mistake by not landing Jon Lester. That assessment, says Silverman, will depend upon whether the team finds a suitable alternative.
- Justin Masterson says that the Rangers were one of several claims to make him an offer before he signed with the Red Sox, the Herald’s Scott Lauber reports on Twitter. That offer was for $6MM in guaranteed money, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford tweets.
The Red Sox made another addition to their rotation by signing right-hander Justin Masterson to a one-year contract. Masterson will earn a $9.5MM base salary, plus he can earn another $2.5MM in total incentives by reaching certain innings thresholds. He’ll earn another $500K if he hits 185 innings, and then another $500K for every five innings after that, up to 205 innings.
Masterson, 29, fell off significantly last year after a three-year run in which he averaged 205 frames and a 3.86 ERA (that included outstanding campaigns in 2011 and 2013 sandwiched around a dud in 2012). In 2014, he scuffled to a 5.88 ERA in 128 2/3 innings last year, striking out 8.1 and walking 4.8 batters per nine while dealing with a variety of shoulder, knee, and back issues. Masterson lost nearly three ticks on his average fastball velocity last year, though he managed to carry a typically stellar 58.2% groundball rate.
In the aggregate, Masterson presents a classic buy-low opportunity after entering 2014 as a significant extension candidate or future free agent target. He will look to regain his form with the organization that drafted and developed him.
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney was the first to report an agreement between Masterson and the Red Sox. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reported the contract length and value while Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports had the breakdown of Masterson’s incentives.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Justin Masterson is close to a deal with an unknown team, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets. Masterson has most strongly been connected to the Red Sox of late, with the Tigers and a variety of other teams showing interest.
The Red Sox recently made Masterson a one-year offer with the idea of using him as a starter. A one-year deal would give Masterson the opportunity to rebuild his stock after a disappointing and injury-wracked 2014 season and hit the free agent market again next offseason.