Justin Smoak Rumors

AL East Notes: Jeter, Morse, Red Sox, Duquette

The Yankees could have another tricky negotiation with Derek Jeter on the horizon, writes Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York.  Jeter is entering the last guaranteed year of his current deal and he holds a 2014 player option worth $9.5MM ($8MM in base salary plus $1.5MM that Jeter has thus far earned in incentives).  If Jeter comes back from offseason ankle surgery and continues to hit well, the Yankee icon will surely be looking for a longer commitment beyond 2014.  Knowing the Yankees' stance on extensions, however, I'd expect the team to not discuss another deal with Jeter until after the 2014 season, when Jeter will be 40 years old and the Bombers will have a better idea if their captain is worth another multiyear contract.

Here are the latest items from around the AL East…

  • The Yankees have "nothing alive" with the Nationals in regards to a deal for Michael Morse, reports Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees blog (Twitter link).  New York was one of several teams interested in Morse, who has been on the trade block since the Nats re-signed Adam LaRoche.
  • In an interview on WEEI radio's Hot Stove Show (partial transcription from WEEI.com's Kirk Minihane), Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said that there is no news about the team and Mike Napoli.  The Sox are continuing to talk with Napoli while also exploring other options at first base.
  • Speaking of those first base options, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that the Red Sox "have explored" signing Casey Kotchman and Nick Johnson and also checked in with the Mariners about a trade for Justin Smoak.
  • The Orioles are looking for pitching depth as they head into Spring Training, executive VP Dan Duquette tells MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli.  Though the O's haven't made any major transactions this winter, Duquette believes his team has improved itself, though he did vaguely mention a few deals that didn't happen.  "We looked around the industry for that middle-of-the-order bat," Duquette said. "There was one free agent that was a significant player. There have been some other players available in a trade that I'm not sure they were better than what we had, and the cost of the acquisition has been a little pricey for us."

AL East Notes: Pedroia, LaRoche, Smoak, Thome

In an appearance on WEEI radio's Red Sox Hot Stove show (partial transcript provided by WEEI.com's Alex Speier), Dustin Pedroia said he hadn't heard anything from his agents about any talks with the Red Sox about a possible contract extension.  It was reported in November that Boston was interested in extending its second baseman, and Pedroia is eager to pursue such negotiations should they arise. "Obviously, I want to be a Red Sox my whole career and play in that city, turn this whole thing around to get back to where we were my first couple years there," Pedroia said.

Here's the latest from the AL East…

  • The Red Sox are not only disinclined to give Adam LaRoche a three-year contract, but the club also doesn't want to surrender a draft pick to sign the free agent first baseman, tweets Peter Gammons.  Boston has interest in LaRoche as a backup option if Mike Napoli can't be signed, and signing LaRoche would cost the Sox their second-round draft pick since LaRoche turned down a qualifying offer from the Nationals. 
  • Speaking of that Red Sox draft pick, WEEI.com's Rob Bradford looks at why Boston is hesitant to give up that selection.
  • The Orioles "kicked the tires" on trading for Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak in each of the last two offseasons and also rated Smoak highly in his draft year, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.  Connolly sees Smoak as a good trade target for the O's and wonders if a Smoak-for-Brian Matusz deal would work for both teams.  We heard earlier this week that the Orioles continued to have interest in Smoak, who could be expendable now that Seattle has Kendrys Morales in the fold.
  • Jim Thome is "not an ideal fit" to return to the Orioles, writes MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli, as manager Buck Showalter would prefer to rotate his regulars through the DH spot.  Earlier this month, Thome said he is open to returning in 2013 for his 23rd Major League season.
  • The Rays' strong recent track record of signing veteran bullpen arms augers well for the Roberto Hernandez signing, writes MLB.com's Bill Chastain.  Hernandez signed a one-year, $3.25MM deal with the Rays earlier this month.

Cafardo On Smoak, Orioles, Myers, Twins

A good catcher can take a pitching staff to the next level, and that's why David Ross might be the Red Sox's top addition this year, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.  A catcher like Ross can throw out a runner, block a ball at an opportune time, and get a pitcher straightened out if he’s lost his composure.  In that regard, Ross could give Boston what they missed last season following Jason Varitek's retirement.  Here's more from Cafardo..

  • According to a major league source, the Orioles are said to have some interest in Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak.  Seattle can afford to part with Smoak after acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Angels.  The O's also have been linked to Adam LaRoche, but they are hesitant to give up a draft pick to sign him.
  • While the Twins already have acquired Vance Worley in the Ben Revere deal with the Phillies, and have signed Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Rich Harden, they could still explore a signing of Brett Myers.  We last heard of Minnesota's interest in Myers roughly three weeks ago.  The right-hander should also garner interest from the Padres
  • Lance Berkman would be a nice fit for the Red Sox if his right knee is okay after two knee surgeries last season. The Sox have been looking for a left handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder and the 36-year-old switch-hitter would fit the bill. 


Mariners Interested In Garrett Jones

The Mariners have talked with the Pirates about first baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones in recent weeks, according to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times.  Baker stresses that it was just one of the many conversations the M's have had with clubs, but the discussion went beyond just one phone call and names were batted back-and-forth. 

One proposal had Jones and Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan and possibly another player going to the Mariners in exchange for first baseman Justin Smoak, catcher John Jaso, and starting pitcher Hector Noesi.  The Bucs have let other teams know that Hanrahan is available and were said to be seeking rotation help in return.

Jones, 31, had a .274/.317/.516 batting line with 27 home runs in 515 plate appearances for the Pirates last year.  We saw the first baseman/right fielder on the pages of MLBTR last offseason as the Yankees reportedly had interest in trading for him.

Hanrahan, also 31, posted a 2.72 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9 last season in Pittsburgh.  The closer earned $4.1MM last season and is in line to earn $6.9MM for 2013 in his final year of arbitration.  Jones earned $2.25MM in 2012 after heading to arbitration in his first year of eligibility and is projected to make $4.4MM.  Baker writes that the Pirates may be motivated to make a deal like this in order to ease their payroll burden.


AL West Notes: Ross, Hamilton, Angels, League

Links from the AL West, before the Rangers and Yu Darvish host the Angels and C.J. Wilson in Arlington…

  • The Rangers offered left-hander Robbie Ross to the Mets in a package of players for Carlos Beltran last summer, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter link). The Mets ultimately passed on Ross and obtained Zack Wheeler from the Giants.
  • The Rangers would do well to sign Josh Hamilton to a short-term deal at a high average annual value, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. A four-year $100MM deal could work, Rosenthal suggests. The MLBPA views drug and alcohol-related contract provisions as unenforceable, according to Rosenthal, who offers a short history of related disputes between teams and players.
  • The Angels aren't seeking outside catching help now, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com tweets. They'll rely on internal options such as Bobby Wilson until Chris Iannetta returns from wrist surgery one or two months from now.
  • Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner says the Mariners should shop Brandon League before his value drops because Seattle's bullpen could manage without him and rival teams would be interested in potential trades.
  • Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak was once a top prospect, but ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden says we should adjust our expectations for him and accept that he’s not going to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Quick Hits: Cubs, McCann, Cespedes, Smoak, Broxton

Some links as Tuesday turns into Wednesday…

  • “Like I’ve always said, there is one person responsible for making those decisions, and one person accountable for those results,” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts to reporters (including Paul Sullivan of The Chicago Tribune) when asked about the possibility of signing a player to a mammoth contract. “So if [Theo Epstein] believes strongly that’s what’s in the best interests of the team, then he’s got my support.” Earlier today we heard that the Cubs are pursuing both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
  • Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wonders if the Braves will offer Brian McCann a long-term contract extension soon. The six-time All-Star will make $11.5MM in 2012 and the team holds a $12MM club option for 2013, so there's no urgency to get a deal done at the moment.
  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is currently in the Dominican Republic scouting Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. On Monday we heard that Washington views Cespedes as an alternative to Fielder.
  • The Mariners have interest in Fielder, and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports says (on Twitter) that they would make Justin Smoak available in a trade if they manage to sign the free agent slugger.
  • Before he agreed to join the Royals, the Red Sox expressed interest in Jonathan Broxton according to Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald. Broxton wanted to sign before the winter meetings, and Lauber's source said that was “a little quicker than [the Sox] were comfortable with."
  • There is no more than a "10 percent" chance that Rays GM Andrew Friedman could be convinced to take the Astros GM job according to one executive that spoke to Friedman and ESPN's Jayson Stark (Twitter link).
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman offered a “would not say" to George A. King III of The New York Post when asked if he has any interest in Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The Seibu Lions posted Nakajima on Monday.
  • Kelvim Escobar hopes to pitch in winter ball next month, agent Peter Greenberg told Mike Puma of The New York Post (Twitter link). The 35-year-old righty hopes to get back to MLB despite having pitched in just one game since 2007.

AL West Notes: Angels, DiSarcina, Mariners

Earlier today, we learned that the Angels dismissed assistant GM Ken Forsch and special assistant Gary Sutherland.  This comes after the Halos parted ways with GM Tony Reagins on Friday.  Here are some notes on their GM search and other items out of the American League West..

  • Today's dismissals make the possibility seem unlikely, but if the Angels decide to fill their GM vacancy from within, two candidates stand out above all the rest, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.  Gary DiSarcina, the former shortstop who is a special assistant to the GM, and Tory Hernandez, the team's manager of baseball operations, would have the best crack at the job.  Meanwhile, Oakland assistant GM David Forst and Chicago White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn are believed to be very interested in the position.
  • The Halos are fighting perception that team is run in total by manager Mike Scioscia, tweets Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.  A competing GM remarked to Heyman that "[Scioscia is] the GM" of the club.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) echoed similar sentiments, wondering aloud if the Angels will hire an actual GM or another figurehead for the position.
  • The Mariners used this past season as a developmental year for their young players, but GM Jack Zduriencik is open to bringing in key veterans to bolster that group next season, writes Greg Johns of MLB.com.  Of course, Zduriencik expects a major boost from within with a healthy return of Franklin Gutierrez and a stronger year from Justin Smoak.

Odds & Ends: Smoak, Giants, McDonald, Orioles

Sunday night linkage..


What’s Next For The Mariners?

The Mariners cashed in their biggest chip yesterday, dealing Cliff Lee to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three prospects. With the team currently 34-52 and 16 games back in the division, it's reasonable to expect GM Jack Zduriencik to continue making moves geared more towards contending in 2011 than righting the ship in 2010.

Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times points out that with Smoak set to man first on an every day basis, the Mariners now have three players (Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, and Michael Saunders) for two roster spots (left field, designated hitter). Bradley's sore knee buys them some time, and Saunders could also be optioned to Triple-A, but flipping Branyan to a contender looking for some pop is very possible.

Saunders was almost sent to Philadelphia in last winter's Lee deal before the Phillies' requested Tyson Gillies instead, and Baker says the Zduriencik regime "hasn't exactly been in love" with holdover prospects from the Bill Bavasi era. Saunders could again find himself on the chopping block.

Backup first baseman Casey Kotchman could go at any time, though it's tough to believe there will be much trade interest in his .208/.292/.344 batting line, regardless of how good his defense is. The same could be said of the currently injured Mike Sweeney, though he was hitting a tolerable .263/.327/.475 before his back flared up.

Jose Lopez is very much available, but Baker doesn't think either Brandon League or David Aardsma will be dealt. Both are under team control for the next two seasons, so the Mariners aren't feeling pressure to move them immediately.

The Lee trade basically represented the white flag, but the Mariners don't have much left to trade away beyond Lopez, some relievers, and possibly Branyan. More than anything, they need to start getting better production out of Chone Figgins (.235/.334/.277) and Bradley (.211/.295/.368) while Jason Vargas (3.09 ERA) and Doug Fister (also a 3.09 ERA) continue to establish themselves as viable starters behind Felix Hernandez.


Rangers Acquire Cliff Lee For Smoak, Prospects

Cliff Lee is joining his fourth team in 12 months and the Rangers are hoping he can lead them to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. The Rangers pried Lee away from the Mariners and multiple suitors today in a blockbuster deal that makes the 50-35 Rangers clear favorites to win the AL West.

They obtained Lee, Mark Lowe (who is out for the season with back surgery) and cash considerations from the Mariners for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Matthew Lawson and Josh Lueke.

Though the Rangers' ownership is uncertain, GM Jon Daniels was able to add Lee and his $9MM salary with some creative deal-making. The Mariners will cover about $2.5MM of the $4.2MM remaining on Lee's salary, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (via Twitter), presumably because the Rangers included an appealing group of prospects. But giving up Lee wasn't easy, even for top young talent.

“This is a bittersweet day for us,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said. “While we are excited about the group of young players we have acquired from the Rangers, it’s never easy to trade a player like Cliff Lee, who has been outstanding here.”

Justin Smoak has yet to stand out at the big league level, but has star potential. Baseball America ranked Smoak second among all Rangers prospects before the season, behind 2010 All-Star Neftali Feliz. The publication suggested Smoak, 23, has "a chance to be a switch-hitting slugger in the Mark Teixeira mold." So far, Smoak's big league performance has been less than Teixeira-esque. He has a .209/.316/.353 line with eight homers in half a season.

Beavan, 21, was the Rangers' first round pick in 2007 and is now pitching at AA. He has a 2.78 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and a Cliff Lee-like 1.0 BB/9. Baseball America ranked Beavan 17th among Rangers prospects before the season, explaining that he could become a back-of-the-rotation innings eater, even if his stuff doesn't improve.

Lawson, a 24-year-old second baseman is hitting .277/.371/.438 at AA, along with Lueke and Beavan. Lueke, 25, has a 3.86 ERA with 12.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 as a reliever this year.

A lot of talent is heading to Seattle, but the Rangers will have the chance to reclaim some young players, even if Lee departs as a free agent after the season. Lee currently ranks as a Type A free agent, so the Rangers can obtain two top picks in the 2011 draft if they offer Lee arbitration and he turns it down to sign elsewhere.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported that a deal was close and first reported that the Rangers had agreed to acquire Lee. Buster Olney, Jon Heyman, Ken Davidoff, Mark Feinsand, Bob Nightengale, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Paul Morosi, Ed Price, Evan Grant, T.R. Sullivan, Frankie Piliere and others added updates and details.

The Rangers outbid the many other clubs connected to Lee, including the Rays, Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers and Reds. Oh yeah, and the Yankees.

So much for the Yankees’ unwillingness to hand over prospects for three month rentals. Brian Cashman & Co. offered Jesus Montero, David Adams and another prospect, possibly Zach McAllister, for Lee and were 'on the brink' of acquiring him earlier today. The Yankees thought they had a deal for the left-hander, according to Rosenthal (Twitter link), but it wasn't the case. The Mariners re-opened discussions with the Rangers, learned that Smoak was available, and the sides reached a deal.

For the deal that sent Lee to the Phillies click here; for the deal that sent Lee to the Mariners click here.