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Condolences go out to the family and friends of Twins Minor League instructor/manager Riccardo Ingram, who as MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger writes, lost a battle with brain cancer yesterday at the age of 48. Ingram spent 17 seasons in the Twins organization as a manager, coach and roving hitting instructor. “It’s very sad news,” said GM Terry Ryan. “…He’s one of those guys where it would be very difficult for me to find somebody who had a bad thing to say about Riccardo Ingram.” Originally diagnosed in 2009, Ingram overcame his first bout with the disease and returned to his post with the Twins through the 2014 season. Said manager Paul Molitor: “I think we were all blessed we were able to get those five or six years with him after the original diagnosis. But it’s not easy.”
Here are a few more items from around the AL Central…
- There’s been “some progress” between the Indians and ace Corey Kluber on an extension, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link), but it remains unclear whether or not the team will strike a deal by the reported Opening Day deadline. Kluber is not yet arbitration-eligible, but a repeat of anything close to his 2014 Cy Young season would make his first price tag in arb enormous, so there’s some benefit for Cleveland to seek cost certainty at this juncture despite the fact that Kluber is a late bloomer and thus older than most extension candidates.
- Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander will open the season on the disabled list due a right triceps strain, writes MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Incredibly, this will mark the first DL stint of Verlander’s exceptional career. Though the injury is not considered serious, it’s an ominous start for the former ace after he led the AL in earned runs allowed in 2014 and struggled to a 5.63 ERA (10 runs in 16 innings) this spring. He’s tentatively slated to come off the DL on April 12.
- Also opening the season on the DL will be flamethrowing righty Bruce Rondon, who is experiencing biceps tendinitis. The injury appears to be unrelated to last year’s Tommy John surgery, but Rondon didn’t throw back-to-back days all spring and won’t be activated until he is able to do so. Manager Brad Ausmus said he doesn’t know when Rondon will throw again, via Iott. The Tigers already have a precariously thin bullpen, and the loss of Rondon for any significant chunk of time would further cloud the outlook.
- The Twins are “kicking the tires” on right-hander Dustin McGowan, who was recently released by the Dodgers, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter). Via Wolfson, the Twins had interest in McGowan back in November, but their interest faded later in the offseason as he remained unsigned. Perhaps disappointing Spring Training efforts from some internal bullpen candidates have rekindled some of that interest. McGowan recorded an uninspiring 4.17 ERA in 82 innings (eight starts, 45 relief appearances) with Toronto last season, but he was much better out of the ‘pen than in the rotation, as he has been throughout his career. McGowan’s 3.79 ERA as a reliever is nearly a full run lower than his 4.78 mark as a starter, though xFIP feels he’s about the same pitcher in either role (4.30 vs. 4.32).
An MRI brought good results for the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, whose shoulder has suffered “no major structural damage,” according to manager Brad Ausmus (via a tweet from Chris Iott of MLive.com). Some relatively minor inflammation was identified, which will require some rest and at least one missed start, but a DL stint is unlikely at this time.
In sum, the news was positive both for the team’s efforts to re-take the AL Central and the long-term return on Verlander’s massive contract. Though he has not been himself this year, with a 4.76 ERA and just 6.7 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 (after yesterday’s brutal one winning of work), Verlander has still been a workhorse with 158 2/3 innings pitched. And Detroit will no doubt be relieved that it can expect to feed him innings rather than relying on unproven youngsters or being forced to go back to the trade market.
Verlander has tossed at least 200 frames a season every year since 2007, avoiding any time on the DL along the way, and it will be remarkable if he can yet again steer clear of going inactive. The absence of structural issues with his shoulder would seem to rule out some of the worst-case scenarios. Performance issues remain, however, as Verlander has not produced the results or peripherals of a pitcher who is guaranteed $140MM after the year.
While many clubs are averse to making trades within their own division, the Twins and Royals showed little hesitation to do so last night when Minnesota traded Josh Willingham to Kansas City in exchange for right-hander Jason Adam. The Twins, in fact, seemingly have little qualms about dealing to division rivals. Within the past five years, they’ve traded Francisco Liriano to the White Sox, Delmon Young to the Tigers and acquired Carl Pavano from the Indians. They also flipped Jim Thome back to Cleveland and Jamey Carroll to the Royals for players to be named later/cash considerations. Of course, most of these are fairly minor trades, but the Pavano trade and the Liriano trade have had lasting effects on the organization (Minnesota acquired Eduardo Escobar in the Liriano deal).
Here’s more on the most recent intra-division trade and the rest of the AL Central…
- Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press spoke with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and second baseman Brian Dozier about Willingham’s departure. Gardenhire said the move was tough for the clubhouse to swallow, while Dozier called Willingham his mentor and best friend. As Berardino points out, Willingham currently has the eighth-most games of any active player that has never made a postseason appearance. Berardino was also among the reporters on hand to speak with Willingham himself in the Twins’ clubhouse following the announcement of his trade (All video links).
- Zack Meisel of the Cleveland Plain Dealer began an excellent series by taking an in-depth examination of the Indians‘ analytics department and the contributions they make to the baseball operations department. Director of analytics Keith Woolner has been with the team since 2007 and has seen the Indians add two other analytics experts to his side based on the value they felt Woolner added. “There’s a lot of conversations out there, most of which never amount to anything,” Woolner said, “but you don’t know which ones are going to come to fruition, so you spend a lot of time evaluating a bunch of possibilities … so that when that one comes along, you have the information in place so that [GM Chris Antonetti] can make the best decision.”
- Justin Verlander tells Chris Iott of MLive.com that he had the “worst” stuff of his career in Monday night’s disastrous one-inning start. Verlander, who will undergo an MRI on his shoulder, said he’s nervous to learn the results, but his shoulder has been bothering him for a while of late. In a second piece, Iott looks at the sudden dearth of pitching for the Tigers, with Verlander ailing and Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria hitting the DL. Iott points out that Detroit, which already has two rookies in its rotation for the time being, will have a pair of double-headers later this month, which could cause them to dip even deeper into a shallow pool of talent. While Iott doesn’t write this, it’d be surprising to me if GM Dave Dombrowski wasn’t actively looking to acquire further bullpen and/or rotation depth.
Let’s take a look at a few injury situations from around the game that could have hot stove implications:
- Tigers starter Justin Verlander lasted only one rough inning today, leaving with right shoulder soreness. The veteran will undergo an MRI tomorrow, reports Chris Iott of MLive.com (Twitter links). “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous,” said Verlander. “I’ve never been through this before.” Indeed, the 31-year-old righty has never been on the disabled list in his excellent career. But there have been signs of trouble this season, as Verlander has worked to an uncharacteristic 4.57 ERA and seen his strikeout numbers plummet (6.6 K/9). Eno Sarris of Fangraphs wrote recently that some indicators suggested Verlander may have been playing hurt, and the hurler confirmed today that the issue “has been lingering for a while,” as John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter. In the immediate term, Verlander’s situation — combined with a DL stint for Anibal Sanchez — creates significant rotation difficulties for the club, which just dropped out of first in the AL Central. Detroit will call up youngsters Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer (who has just two Double-A appearances to his name) to take upcoming starts, but another addition cannot be ruled out at this point. In the long run, of course, questions continue to pile up regarding the outlook for the Tigers’ remaining $140MM commitment to a player who was once considered by many to be the game’s best pitcher.
- Orioles third baseman Manny Machado also left early today after twisting his right knee awkwardly at the plate. A severe injury seemed possible based on replays, but the team has expressed hope that it dodged a bullet after initial X-rays did not reveal any ligament damage, as MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli tweets. But an MRI will be needed for a full assessment, and Machado will have a scan tomorrow morning, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter. Machado missed the early portion of the season due to surgery on his left knee. With Baltimore still fending off competitors from atop the AL East, any significant absence for Machado would be a big blow. Though the team could scan the trade market (with all the usual August complications) for a replacement, if it became necessary, the O’s would perhaps be more likely to turn to in-house options such as Ryan Flaherty and Jimmy Paredes.
- Outfielder Alex Rios of the Rangers received positive news from an MRI on his left ankle, which revealed only a sprain, as Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest reports on Twitter. Rios, who has cleared waivers, may be ready to return to action as soon as tomorrow. He could still hold appeal for clubs looking to add a right-handed-hitting, corner outfield bat to the mix, though one possible suitor likely dissipated today when the Royals acquired Josh Willingham.
- Rockies starter Brett Anderson will undergo surgery to repair a disc in his lower back, reports Thomas Harding of MLB.com. The procedure is expected to come with a five-month recovery period, which would set Anderson on track for Spring Training but will certainly make it difficult for Colorado to justify exercising its $12MM club option over the lefty. While Anderson was strong in limited action this year, and is still just 26 years old, he has not stayed healthy enough to throw over 100 innings since 2010.
Happy birthday to former Tigers outfielder Chet Lemon, who turns 59 years old today. Lemon, the 22nd overall pick of the 1972 draft, spent his first seven seasons with the White Sox before he was traded to Tigers prior to the 1982 season. "Chet The Jet" went on to be a staple in the Detroit outfield for the next nine seasons, hitting a solid .263/.349/.437 with 142 homers in 1203 games as a Tiger and earning himself a ring as part of the 1984 World Series championship team.
Here's the latest from Motown…
- Miguel Cabrera told reporters (including MLB.com's Jason Beck) that he hasn't talked to his agents about contract extension talks with the Tigers, though the two-time AL MVP isn't concerned given that he still has two years remaining on his current deal.
- Catcher Ronny Paulino has been suspended for 100 games after testing positive for exogenous testosterone, Major League Baseball announced. Paulino was originally acquired by the Tigers from the Orioles last August and Detroit re-signed the veteran backstop to a minor league deal in November. This is the second PED suspension for Paulino, who was suspended for 50 games spanning the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He last played in the Majors in 2012, appearing in 20 games with Baltimore.
- Justin Verlander isn't planning on talking fellow ace Max Scherzer into remaining with the Tigers once his contract is up. "Max is his own guy….He’s going to make his own decisions, but I don’t think I need to be a recruiter," Verlander told reporters, including Beck. "I think from what he’s been saying, he’s made it loud and clear that that he wants to stay in Detroit….I think what this organization has done has recruited him — not just the players here. I think he enjoys being part of this team." Verlander also discussed such topics as the Tigers' offseason moves and the rise of salaries across baseball during his chat with the media.
Let's take a look at the latest out of the AL Central:
- Twins star Joe Mauer told reporters, including Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com, today that former teammate Justin Morneau was among those who urged him to make the switch to first base. "He actually told me, 'Joe, you need to move. It's just not worth it,'" Mauer reported. Morneau, of course, suffered a career-altering concussion in 2010.
- Justin Verlander may not be ready to pitch the Tigers' season opener on March 31 after undergoing core muscle surgery earlier this month, GM Dave Dombrowski disclosed Thursday (via Chris Iott of MLive.com). However, Dombrowski added that the ace is "doing great" in his recovery, and if he is out of action at the start of the season, it "would only be a very short time period."
- Alex Avila doesn't expect to go to an arbitration hearing, despite being the Tigers' only arbitration-eligible player to swap contract figures with the club, MLB.com's Jason Beck reports. "Filing numbers just basically gives you more time to negotiate," the catcher commented on Thursday. As the MLBTR Arbitration Tracker shows, Avila filed for $5.35MM, while the Tigers countered with $3.75MM.
Florida State quarterback and pitcher/outfielder Jameis Winston may not ultimately be long for the game of baseball, but he has potential first-round talent, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes in an interesting piece. If Winston were to end up pursuing baseball, he has legitimate ability both as a switch-hitting position player and as a pitcher. But his developmental process may mean he now has more value through his arm, Cooper writes. One scout says that, if he sees enough time on the mound, Winston is a top-20 draft candidate given his low-to-mid-90's fastball and solid slider.
Here are some pitching notes from around the league:
- The Tigers announced today that former American League Cy Young winner Justin Verlander underwent successful core muscle surgery in Philadelphia this morning. Verlander injured himself in late December during his regular offseason conditioning and will undergo rehab for the next six weeks. "We fully anticipate Justin to participate in spring training and be in a position to compete at the beginning of the 2014 season," said GM Dave Dombrowski in the press release. Here's more from around the league…
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that Johan Santana expects to throw off a mound this month and could either sign with a team to complete his rehab or wait until he is healthy to showcase for teams. The two-time Cy Young Award winner is still deciding the best course of action, it seems.
- The Yankees are among several teams keeping an eye on Santana's rehab progress, reports Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger. He may audition for scouts before Spring Training, McCullough adds.
- The Brewers have been running quietly in free agency thus far, but GM Doug Melvin says that the team is talking with several relievers, reports MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, who breaks down the remaining options. On the other hand, Melvin seems content taking his current array of relievers into Spring Training without a significant addition. "Right now, we're just going to [fill the bullpen] internally," said Melvin, "unless that changes."
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland is excited about Justin Verlander's extension and the possibility it could keep Verlander in Detroit his entire career, MLB.com's Adam Berry reports. "I think it was obviously a great situation for him. I think it's a great situation for the organization. I think it's a great situation for the fans," says Leyland. "He's been with the Tigers for going on his eighth year, [and he could stay] conceivably 15 years or maybe 16. That's pretty much a whole career. I think that's got a nice ring to it."
- The Mets should consider promoting top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, and should soon begin thinking about signing him to a long-term deal, David Lennon of Newsday.com argues. Promoting Wheeler to start the season, rather than delaying his service-time clock by starting him off in the minors, might show that the Mets are taking the 2013 season seriously, Lennon suggests. Once Wheeler is in the majors, Lennon argues that the landscape of the game (with teams signing their young stars left and right) suggests that the Mets will consider signing Wheeler long-term.
- Kevin Gregg of the Dodgers is still bothered that he didn't receive a major-league contract this offseason, ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon reports. Gregg posted a 4.95 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 for the Orioles in 2012. "The way last year ended, the way the offseason unfolded, you're not a competitor if you don't have a little fire to show your abilities," says Gregg. Gregg has gotten good results this spring, but the Dodgers have a very crowded pitching staff, and might not have space for him.
Justin Verlander is extremely competitive, and he bested every pitcher in baseball today with his new contract extension. His five-year, $140MM extension with the Tigers has a $28MM average annual value and will keep him in Detroit through the 2019 season. The deal also includes a vesting option for 2020 worth $22MM. Verlander's AAV is the highest ever for a pitcher, unless you count Roger Clemens' pro-rated 2007 salary. Verlander's new contract could be called a seven-year, $180MM deal, since this contract technically replaced the two years and $40MM Verlander was owed for 2013-14 without an increase. In that sense, it tops Felix Hernandez's seven-year, $175MM contract from last month (Felix received $135.5MM in new money, so Verlander wins that comparison as well).
The option for 2020 will vest if the hurler finishes top five in the 2019 Cy Young voting and includes a no-trade clause, though he was three seasons away from obtaining ten-and-five rights anyway. Predictably, the deal also includes performance bonuses for winning MVP and Cy Young awards.
“Justin is one of the premier pitchers in baseball and we are thrilled to keep him in a Tigers uniform for many years to come,” Tigers General Manager David Dombrowski said via press release. “Justin has been a Tiger for his entire career and he is on pace to be one of the greatest pitchers in this illustrious franchise’s history.”
Verlander said recently that he would not engage in contract talks once the season got underway. With little talk of progress between the two sides in recent weeks, it didn't seem likely that a deal would be worked out in time. With Verlander's new pact and deals for Prince Fielder, Anibal Sanchez, and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers now have north of $90MM committed to four players for 2015.
Verlander's last extension was also of the five-year variety and was worth $80MM across the 2010-2014 seasons. The Tigers haven't done much in the way of extensions since then, as MLBTR's Extension Tracker shows. Ryan Raburn's two-year deal prior to the 2011 season was Dombrowski's last.
Even though Verlander bested Hernandez's deal by $5MM, he may not stay atop the mountain for long. His deal likely boosts the value of a deal for Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who is also scheduled for free agency following the 2014 season. Here are MLBTR, we don't consider Verlander's contract anywhere close to $200MM — we prefer to look only at new, guaranteed money. In that sense, C.C. Sabathia's seven-year, $161MM contract signed in December 2008 is still the largest ever given to a pitcher.
Buster Olney of ESPN.com (on Twitter) reported the terms of the deal. Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter) had other details of the contract. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Tim Dierkes contributed to this post.
- With Verlander, Buster Posey and Adam Wainwright all agreeing to extensions with their teams this week, "the age of teams retaining their stars is upon us," MLB.com's Matthew Leach writes. Leach points out that Felix Hernandez, Joey Votto, Cole Hamels, Evan Longoria and Matt Kemp all also fairly recently agreed to huge contracts with their current teams. More money through new TV contracts is partially fueling this trend. "And it becomes somewhat cyclical," Leach writes. "As fewer stars hit free agency, clubs have fewer places to spend that money. So they spend it on their own players, and the cycle continues."
- The string of enormous contracts for players like Verlander should be approached with skepticism, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues. "These $100 million contracts are the price of doing business, no doubt," says Rosenthal. "Whether they qualify as good business is another question entirely." Rosenthal points out that big-money contracts for players like Joe Mauer and Johan Santana have gone sour, and says that while contracts like Verlander's may be exciting when they're announced, they might not seem like such great ideas a few years after the fact.
- The size of Verlander's contract likely makes it impossible for the Rays to keep David Price, ESPN's Buster Olney tweets. An extension for Price would mean yearly salaries that would require an enormous percentage of Tampa Bay's payroll.
- Fellow Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer says that any time he eats dinner with Verlander this year, Verlander is paying for it, MLive.com's Chris Iott reports. "I got a nice little contract this year, but no, he's buying every single dinner this year." Scherzer can afford to buy his own dinner, of course — he's scheduled to make $6.725MM in 2013.