Justin Smoak Rumors

Blue Jays Exercise Thole Option, Decline Three Others

The Blue Jays have announced that they’ve exercised their option on catcher Josh Thole and declined their options on first baseman Justin Smoak and righties Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. Smoak is still eligible for arbitration and will remain in the organization. Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet.ca was the first to report on Smoak’s status (via Twitter), while Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish was first on McGowan.

Thole will make $1.75MM next season after hitting .248/.320/.278 in 150 plate appearances last season. He’ll continue to serve as the Jays’ catcher when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is pitching.

The Jays will pay the newly acquired Smoak a $150K buyout rather than picking up his $3.65MM option. They’ll gamble that he’ll make less in arbitration. With Adam Lind headed to Milwaukee, the lefty now has a clearer path to a role with the Jays in 2015.

Morrow will receive a $1MM buyout on his $10MM option after missing much of the season due to a finger injury. He still throws hard, however, and his intriguing track record (including an excellent 9.4 K/9 in a career mostly spent as a starter) will make him a free agent to watch. McGowan, who posted a 4.17 ERA in 82 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen last year, will receive a $500K buyout rather than a $4MM option.


Blue Jays Claim Justin Smoak

The Mariners announced that the Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off waivers.

The waiver claim brings to an end what has to be characterized as a disappointing tenure in Seattle for Smoak, who four years ago was the centerpiece of a trade package that sent ace Cliff Lee from the M’s to the Rangers. Smoak, who turns 28 years old in December, showed flashes of promise in his time with Seattle, but he was unable to consistently string together stretches of productivity and never showed the power that Seattle hoped to be acquiring in that deal. In 1943 plate appearances with the Mariners, Smoak batted .226/.308/.384 with 66 homers.

Smoak avoided arbitration with the Mariners last season by agreeing to a one-year, $2.6375MM deal that contained a $3.65MM club option with a $150K buyout. Should that option be declined, Smoak will be eligible for arbitration. It seems likely then, that Toronto will decline the switch-hitting Smoak’s option and work out a smaller payday for his second trip through the arb process. The Blue Jays can control Smoak through the 2016 season if he turns it around following a change of scenery.

The somewhat surprising transaction further calls into question the future of Adam Lind with the Blue Jays. Toronto is reportedly receiving trade interest in Lind, whose club option for the 2015 season is valued at $7.5MM. Toronto now has another option to pair with Edwin Encarnacion in the first base/DH mix should the team move on from Lind. While Smoak clearly comes with less offensive certainty than Lind, he’ll come at less than half the price of Lind, giving the Blue Jays further resources for the offseason and arguably greater upside at the dish in 2015.


Mariners Notes: Payroll, Roster Analysis

Here’s the latest out of Seattle.

  • The Mariners increased attendance by about 300,000 fans in 2014, and that means there is extra money to spend, writes Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. We learned earlier today that fellow Times writer Geoff Baker believes payroll needs to expand in 2015. GM Jack Zduriencik and team president Kevin Mather have each publicly stated payroll will grow. Divish poses Victor Martinez as an obvious target for the soft-hitting M’s.
  • The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton evaluated the Mariner’s 40 man roster with an eye on 2015. Of interest, Dutton wonders where Erasmo Ramirez fits on the roster. The righty will be out of options and doesn’t appear to have a place in the rotation or bullpen. Ramirez had an ugly 5.26 ERA with poor peripherals. One positive sign is a 10.8% swinging strike rate, which suggests better command and control could reveal a useful asset. This is my speculation, but he seems like a good reclamation project for a club like the Cubs.
  • Justin Smoak is another change of scenery candidate according to Dutton. The switch hitter struggled to a .202/.275/.339 line in 276 plate appearances. Smoak has a $3.25MM club option for 2015 with a $15k buyout. However, if the club declines the option, he will instead enter his second year of arbitration. He’s a potential non-tender candidate if a trade is not worked out.. Other internal first base options like Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero seem to have a better chance to help the club. I wonder if the Brewers would give Smoak a look? Their offense friendly stadium could be a good fit for him.


AL Notes: Donaldson, Tomas, Red Sox, Cabrera, Smoak

In this morning’s Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that he feels a Josh Donaldson trade is likely for the Athletics this offseason. Billy Beane has shown a willingness to trade players at their peak value, Olney writes (citing the Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill trades, among others), and Donaldson’s salary will begin to rise quickly now that he’s hit arbitration. Olney looks at the rest of Oakland’s roster and notes that no other trade candidate has value as high as Donaldson’s, so while Jeff Samardzija would be an attractive chip, Donaldson could help Beane usher in his next roster reconstruction.

Some more news from the American League…

  • The Red Sox won’t hold a private workout for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. The team did attend his showcase in the Dominican Republic and they’re intrigued by his power, but the team’s glut of outfielders and concerns over Tomas’ strikeout rate in Cuba have tempered their interest.
  • Tim Britton of the Providence Journal points to the Pirates’ success in reviving the careers of Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett and points to some similar buy-low candidates that the Red Sox could try for on the free agent market. Of course, as he notes, the Sox are expected to pursue Jon Lester and James Shields, so his suggestions of Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana are intended to be secondary targets.
  • Miguel Cabrera turned down his share of the team’s postseason bonus when the time came to sign the paperwork, reports Paul White of USA Today. Cabrera refused to sign, instead stating that he “just wants the ring.” As White points out, Cabrera could be turning down as much as $300K (though that figure pales in comparison to his salary), and that money could be reallocated to other players as well as Tigers staff such as clubhouse personnel, traveling secretaries, etc.
  • Justin Smoak‘s contract to avoid arbitration last year contained a rare club option, and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes that it’s a virtual lock that the Mariners will buy out his $3.65MM option for $150K and non-tender the first baseman. Smoak, the centerpiece of an ill-fated Cliff Lee trade with the Rangers, hit just .202/.275/.339 and has failed to establish himself as a regular in four seasons with Seattle.
  • Also from Divish’s piece, GM Jack Zduriencik called the decision to pick up Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option a “no-brainer,” which certainly isn’t surprising.

Quick Hits: Schierholtz, Diaz, Smoak, McGrady

In an interesting piece for Sports Illustrated, Richard Deitsch posed a range questions to a group of five outstanding baseball writers — Jay Jaffe of SI.com, La Velle Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle — who represent different aspects of the baseball media sphere. Here are some more links from the day:

  • Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz could be had via trade, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The "progress" of Ryan Kalish makes that a possibility, says Morosi. Schierholtz is owed $5MM this year before qualifying for free agency. As Moroso mentions, the Tigers are a club that could hypothetically be interested in Schierholtz given the injury to Andy Dirks.
  • The Cardinals introduced new infielder Aledmys Diaz today, as the Associated Press reports (via the Boston Herald). Though the Cuban was brought in for a relatively meager $8MM guarantee over four years, Cards GM John Mozeliak says that the team is "very confident that [Diaz] can be an offensive middle infielder, especially a shortstop." Mozeliak said the club would exercise patience with its new addition, who has not played competitively for some time.
  • Though the Mariners' additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison over the offseason raised some questions about incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak, manager Lloyd McClendon says that Smoak will remain the starter, MLB.com's John Schlegel reports. It seemed more recently that things were headed in that direction, but McClendon's statements today would make a trade of Smoak a surprise at this point. "Will other guys play first? Yeah," McClendon said, "But Smoak is my first baseman."
  • The independent Suger Land Skeeters have invited former NBA star Tracy McGrady to their spring camp, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. At 34, McGrady is working to build up arm strength and develop an off-speed offering.

AL Notes: Rangers, Bailey, Carp, Jays, Smoak, Castro

Now that it's clear Nelson Cruz won't be back, it's unclear who the Rangers will use as their designated hitter against lefties, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. The Rangers still had interest in Cruz, Grant writes, noting that, in addition to the qualifying offer, they made at least one offer that exceeded the $8MM Cruz ended up taking from the Orioles. That leaves them with a variety of options to play DH against lefties, but none manager Ron Washington likes very much: Mitch Moreland is a lefty, Michael Choice doesn't have enough experience for Washington's taste, and Washington would prefer to keep the Rangers' spare catcher (Geovany Soto or J.P. Arencibia, depending on who isn't starting) available on the bench.

  • With Cruz off the market, Grant, in a separate article, believes now is the time for the Rangers to extend manager Ron Washington. Grant also opines players tagged with qualifying offers are going to think more seriously about accepting them in light of Cruz's surprisingly small contract. 
  • Yankees manager Joe Girardi thinks new minor-league signee Andrew Bailey can help them in the late innings, but probably not until September, Jack Curry of the YES Network tweets. The former Athletics and Red Sox closer had labrum surgery last July. 
  • The Red Sox will try Mike Carp out at a new position this spring, Alex Speier of WEEI.com tweets. While Spring Training experiments like these aren't uncommon and often have little long-term impact, a bit of added versatility might change Carp's outlook with the Red Sox, particularly if he can play third, where the Red Sox are less settled than they are elsewhere. Carp hit .296/.362/.523 in 243 plate appearances last season, but the Red Sox already have plenty of talent at first base, left field and DH, which has led to speculation that Carp could be a trade candidate.
  • Scott Boras blames the Blue Jays' lack of activity in the free agent market on its ownership, Rogers Communications, reports FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "There is no one who has the asset base of Rogers," said Boras. "They’re a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign . . . a successful and committed ownership that needs to give their baseball people financial flexibility." GM Alex Anthopoulos denied Boras' assertion telling Rosenthal, "Our ownership has been outstanding and given us all the resources we need." The Blue Jays' payroll is expected to exceed $130MM this season.
  • Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters, including Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, Justin Smoak will be the team's first baseman as long he performs. This means McClendon expects new acquistions Logan Morrison and Corey Hart to man the corner outfield spots and DH. 
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow acknowledged internal discussions about a contract extension for catcher Jason Castro have taken place, reports the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich. No offer, however, has been discussed with Castro. 

Edward Creech contributed to this post.


Mariners, Justin Smoak Avoid Arbitration

The Mariners have signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a one-year deal with a 2015 vesting option, Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports (all Twitter links). Smoak will receive $2.6375MM plus a $150K buyout on his $3.65MM option, which becomes a team option if Smoak does not receive at least 525 plate appearances in 2014. Nicholson-Smith also notes that the contract contains escalators, and the option could also vests if Smoak wins certain awards. Smoak had filed for $3.25MM in arbitration, with the Mariners countering at $2.025MM. Smoak is represented by Bledsoe Brothers. 

Smoak hit .234/.338/.412 in 521 plate appearances with the Mariners last season, after which the M's added Corey Hart via free agency and Logan Morrison via trade. Since then, they reportedly made Smoak available in the right deal, although they could also enter the 2014 season rotating Hart, Morrison and Smoak between first base and DH.


West Notes: Darvish, Ubaldo, Hart, Fielder

Last night, the L.A. Times' Dylan Hernandez elaborated on reports that Michael Young is said to be weighing retirement, noting that if Young played in 2014, it can be considered a "safe bet" that it will be for the Dodgers. Young has been connected to a number of teams thus far, but to this point, there's yet to be a concrete indication as to whether or not he will play next season. Here's more out of baseball's Western divisions…

  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels said over the weekend at the team's fan fest that he would approach ace Yu Darvish about an extension "at the right time," writes ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett. Daniels pointed out that Darvish is controlled for four more years, so there's no urgency in getting a new deal worked out. The team's current focus is on getting Darvish, who was unsurprisingly announced as the Opening Day starter, ready to make 33 starts in 2014. As Durrett reminds, Darvish's contract allows him to opt out of the final year if he wins a Cy Young or finishes No. 2-4 in the voting twice from now through 2016.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post has still not heard of any interest from the Rockies in terms of a potential reunion with Ubaldo Jimenez (Sulia link). The relationship between the two sides ended poorly, says Renck, and it wouldn't make sense on Jimenez's behalf to spend the bulk of his career pitching at an altitude.
  • Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes that the Mariners are comfortable using a rotation of Corey Hart, Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison at first base and DH, with Hart eventually getting more time in the outfield as his surgically repaired knees recover. Hart has been doing simulated ground-balls to work on his footwork and agility but has not yet progressed to taking fly-balls, he said at the Mariners' fan fest this weekend. The presence of all three first base/DH-type players led to trade speculation earlier in the offseason.
  • Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News writes that Prince Fielder will hit third ahead of Adrian Beltre in next year's Rangers lineup — a concept that caused Beltre to boldly proclaim that Fielder will win the American League MVP award. Though he's usually been the one in the No. 4 spot (behind Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera), Fielder said he's excited to hit in front of Beltre. New leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo's robust on-base percentage figures to help Fielder's counting stats as well, Fraley points out.

James Loney To Rays Further Thins First Base Market

With Corey Hart and Logan Morrison heading to the Mariners and James Loney agreeing to return to the Rays this week, the Pirates and Brewers remain on the hunt for a first baseman, as MLB.com's Anthony DiComo notes (via Twitter). The Astros could be on the lookout for a first baseman as well. With Mike Napoli (Red Sox) and Justin Morneau (Rockies) also gone, there isn't much left on the free-agent market, which means teams still hoping to acquire a first baseman will probably also consider trades. Here's a look at the main options still available.

  • Matt Adams, Cardinals. Adams is far better than most of the players listed below, but the Cardinals would only be likely to move him in a major deal. It would be very hard for the Pirates or Brewers to pry him away, since they're both NL Central teams, and the Astros likely don't have the big-league talent the Cardinals would need in order to decide to part with him. His .284/.335/.503 line in 2013 would be a valuable addition to any big-league lineup, however.
  • Kendrys Morales, free agent. Morales might be the highest-profile name remaining as a free agent, but after a season in which he hit .277/.336/.449 while playing poor defense (in the 31 games in which he played first base), he declined the Mariners' qualifying offer. It's hard to see many teams, including the Pirates and Brewers, give up a draft pick for the right to sign a defensively-limited player on the wrong side of 30. It appears likely that Morales will end up back with an AL team, as CBS Sports' Mike Axisa recently noted.
  • Ike Davis, Mets. The Mets seem determined to trade either Davis or Lucas Duda. Davis may be the more attractive of the two candidates, due to his power, although he'll also be more expensive than Duda in arbitration this year. The Mets also seem more inclined to trade Davis. With Loney off the market, there's now a clear path for the Mets to deal Davis to either the Brewers or Pirates. There may be a feeling around baseball that they waited too long, however, with Mike Puma of the New York Post recently tweeting that a source recently told him the Mets were going to "sell low" on Davis. The Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough, meanwhile, tweeted, "The Mets' slow, steady march toward trading Ike Davis for something like a right-handed relief prospect is such a drag." In any case, it's hard to see the Mets getting much for Davis, or any team getting particularly excited about installing him at first, after he hit .205/.326/.334 in 2013, even though he batted .286/.449/.505 after the All-Star break. Davis appears set to make about $3.5MM through arbitration in 2014.
  • Justin Smoak, Mariners. With Hart and Morrison both heading to Seattle, Smoak is now available, with the Mariners likely favoring a big-league contributor, rather than a prospect, in return. It remains to be seen how much other teams might want Smoak, however — the former top prospect has hovered around replacement level for his career, and at 27, it may be that his once-highly-regarded bat won't ever carry him. Smoak hit .238/.334/.412 in 2013.
  • Mitch Moreland, Rangers. Moreland's name has appeared in trade rumors since Texas traded for Prince Fielder, but he currently still has a role in Texas at DH. That could change somewhat, however, if the Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo or re-sign Nelson Cruz, but right now, there appears to be no pressing reason for the Rangers to trade Moreland unless they want to. Moreland hit .232/.299/.437 in 2013, but unlike any of the trade candidates mentioned above, he does play plus defense at first base.
  • Adam Lind, Blue Jays. Lind, who batted .288/.357/.497 in 2013, is a well-above-average hitter, but he's not much of a defender at any position. Also, like Moreland, he has a clear role on his current team as a DH. The Pirates recently asked the Jays about Lind, only to have the Jays ask for Neil Walker in return. If the Blue Jays do trade Lind, he probably won't come cheap.
  • Mike Carp, Red Sox. WEEI's Rob Bradford recently tweeted that Carp was receiving plenty of attention on the trade market, which is no surprise — unlike Davis and Smoak, Carp hit well in 2013, and unlike Moreland and Lind, he has no clear starting role with his current team. Carp played mostly first base and outfield in 2013, but with Jackie Bradley Jr. expected to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, and with Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes expected to play in the corner spots, he won't necessarily be needed in the outfield next year. There isn't much room elsewhere, either, with Mike Napoli and David Ortiz returning at first base and DH, respectively. If Carp hits .296/.362/.523 again, the Red Sox can surely find space for him, but if another team approaches them with a nice offer, they could easily deal him, too.
  • Eric Chavez, free agent. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman recently reported that the Pirates were one of several teams to check in on Chavez, and upon inspection, it's easy to see why. The veteran hit .281/.332/.478 in Arizona in 2013, and while he has limited experience at first base and isn't the defensive star he once was at third, it's easy to imagine he would be at least average defensively if he were to move across the diamond. He might also be relatively cheap, since he was a part-time player in 2013. He's an injury risk, but with Pittsburgh, in particular, he wouldn't have to play every day, since Gaby Sanchez would start against lefties.
  • Kevin Youkilis, free agent. Youkilis missed most of the 2013 season due to injury and wasn't good when he played, but he was a valuable asset as recently as 2011. He'll be 35 in March, however, and showed signs of decline in 2012, so it's fair to wonder how much he has left. He also prefers to play on the West Coast, so he may not want to sign with Milwaukee or Pittsburgh.

Mariners Make Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak Available

The Mariners are letting teams know that Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak are available in trade talks, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). The report comes on the heels of the Mariners striking deals to add Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to their lineup.

As our Steve Adams pointed out on Wednesday, the signing of Hart and acquisition of Morrison called Montero's and Smoak's roles into question. While it's not clear exactly what position Seattle would be targeting in trade talks, the club clearly hopes to contend in 2014 and would likely prefer immedate contributors to prospects.

Both Montero and Smoak arrived in Seattle as part of major trades. Montero was acquired from the Yankees in a 2012 swap for Michael Pineda, while Smoak was part of the package the Mariners received from the Rangers in exchanged for Cliff Lee in 2010.

So far, neither player has produced as the M's had anticipated, though Smoak enjoyed the best season of his career in 2013, hitting .238/.334/.412 with 20 homers in 512 plate appearances. Montero had a disastrous campaign, underperforming early in the year before suffering a torn meniscus and then receiving a 50-game suspension as part of the Biogenesis case.