Justin Smoak Rumors
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
- 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.