Though he wouldn’t comment on the possibility of an offseason reunion, Royals GM Dayton Moore spoke highly of former Kansas City closer Greg Holland last week, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “Greg Holland is one of the very best and most talented relief pitchers that I’ve been around,” said Moore of the free-agent righty. “The success of our bullpen is a direct correlation to his toughness and his competitive spirit. So we admire him as a person and a pitcher.” Holland didn’t sign anywhere this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last October, and Dodd outlines the potential obstacles that stand in the way of a reunion, again mentioning the Royals’ potential payroll crunch as well as uncertainty surrounding Holland’s health. A low-cost one-year deal with Luke Hochevar could also be pursued, Dodd writes, though Hochevar is coming off surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. Dodd also lists young righty Josh Staumont as a potential bullpen darkhorse for the Royals at some point in 2017.
Here are today’s minor moves, with all links to the Twitter feed of Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.
- The Braves have signed lefty Sam Freeman to a minor league pact. Presumably, he’ll have at least some reasonable shot at pushing for a spot in the organization’s bullpen pecking order — if not even a big league job out of camp. The 29-year-old was rather productive from 2013 through 2015, posting a 2.74 ERA over 88 2/3 total innings, though organizations have never full trusted him with a locked-down MLB relief role. And last year was a tough one for Freeman, who not only scuffled at Triple-A (5.20 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 over 55 1/3 innings) but was hit hard in a brief stint at the major league level with the Brewers.
- Another southpaw pen candidate, Onelki Garcia, is headed to the Royals on a minor league arrangement. The 27-year-old has seen only brief MLB action (just three appearances, in fact), and did not spend any time with a major league organization last year. But he did show rather well in the competitive Mexican League, for the Diablos Rojos del Mexico. Over 33 innings, Garcia worked to a 3.82 ERA on 28 hits with 8.2 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9.
- Promising indy ball player Dalton Wheat has had his contract purchased by the Marlins, as his former team, the Kansas City T-Bones, announced recently. According to a gripping story in the Wyandotte Daily, Wheat isn’t just an interesting player who was overlooked after a strong D-II college career, leading Baseball America to name him the top indy ball prospect. He also already has a legitimately unusual, trademark attribute that will make him a fascinating player to watch as he enters the affiliated ranks. Beyond his top-end speed and solid on-base potential, Wheat truly shows up to work — taking his turns at the plate with a pair of standard-issue work gloves rather than typical baseball batting gloves. (Yes, the Wyandotte Daily provides a great photo.) Wheat tells a fan on Twitter that he’ll keep chopping wood in his signature handwear so long as the Marlins allow it.
Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain says that the Grade 2 wrist strain that ended his season won’t require surgery this winter, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. Cain explained that he’s already had a month of recovery under his belt and expects to have a typical offseason, as he usually doesn’t begin his primary hitting program until January anyhow. Cain moved from center field to right field late in the season after returning from a hamstring injury, but Dodd writes that the Royals’ preference is to continue to deploy him in center field, where he’s graded out as one of the game’s premier defensive players over the past few seasons. However, Dodd also notes that the Royals will consider giving Cain more time in right field next season if they believe that will help to keep him healthier.
We’re just a few months away from this winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense to take a look back and see how things shook out from the 2015 selections. Several organizations found useful players, even if the most recent class didn’t include an Odubel Herrera-esque breakout sensation. Some of the most recent draftees have probably locked up MLB jobs again for 2017, though others who stuck on a major league roster all year may head back to the minors for further development. (Once a player’s permanent control rights have been secured, his new organization is free to utilize optional assignments as usual for future years.)
Here’s a roundup of the 2015 draft class with the 2016 season in the books:
- Tyler Goeddel, OF, kept by Phillies from Rays: The 23-year-old struggled with the aggressive move to the big leagues, carrying a .192/.258/.291 batting line in 234 trips to the plate, but showed enough for the rebuilding Phillies to hold onto him all year long.
- Luis Perdomo, RHP, kept by Padres (via Rockies) from Cardinals: It didn’t look good early for Perdomo, but he showed better after moving to the rotation and ended with a rather promising 4.85 ERA over twenty starts. Though he struggled to contain the long ball, and only struck out 6.4 per nine, Perdomo sported a nifty 59.0% groundball rate on the year.
- Joey Rickard, OF, kept by Orioles from Rays: After opening the year with a bang, Rickard faded to a .268/.319/.377 batting line on the year but held his roster spot in Baltimore. He ended the season on the DL with a thumb injury, though, and may end up at Triple-A for some added seasoning.
- Joe Biagini, RHP, kept by Blue Jays from Giants: The only Rule 5 pick to appear in the postseason, Biagini was a great find for Toronto. He ended with 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA pitching, with 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, and now looks like a potential fixture in the Jays’ relief corps.
- Matthew Bowman, RHP, kept by Cardinals from Mets: Bowman rounds out a trio of impressive relievers. He contributed 67 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 6.9 BB/9 against 2.7 BB/9 to go with a monster 61.7% groundball rate.
Retained By Other Means
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, re-signed by Angels (who selected him from Pirates) after being outrighted: Guerra was in an unusual spot since he had previously been outrighted off of the Bucs’ 40-man roster when he was selected, meaning he didn’t need to be offered back. Los Angeles removed him from the major league roster and then brought him back on a minor league deal, ultimately selecting his contract. Though he was later designated and outrighted by the Halos, Guerra again returned and largely thrived at the major league level, contributing 53 1/3 much-needed pen frames with a 3.21 ERA on the back of 6.1 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9.
- Jabari Blash, OF, acquired by Padres (who acquired Rule 5 rights from Athletics) from Mariners: Blash’s intriguing tools weren’t quite ready for the majors, but San Diego struck a deal to hold onto him and was surely impressed with his showing at Triple-A. In his 229 plate appearances there, Blash swatted 11 home runs but — more importantly — carried a .415 OBP with a much-improved 66:41 K/BB ratio.
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B, outrighted by Angels after Orioles declined return: The 25-year-old scuffled in the bigs but was rather impressive at the highest level of the minors, where he walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .346/.434/.527 slash with five home runs in 227 plate appearances.
- Jake Cave, OF, returned from Reds to Yankees: After failing to crack Cinci’s roster out of camp, Cave impressed at Double-A but slowed at the highest level of the minors (.261/.323/.401 in 354 plate appearances) upon his return to the New York organization.
- Evan Rutckyj, LHP, returned from Braves to Yankees: Sent back late in camp, the 24-year-old struggled in limited action on the Yanks’ farm after missing most of the season with elbow issues.
- Josh Martin, RHP, returned from Padres to Indians: In his first attempt at Triple-A, Martin posted 66 frames of 3.55 ERA pitching with 8.2 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, returned from Phillies to Royals: Slowed by a PED suspension, Stumpf was bombed in a brief MLB stint with the Phils but dominated at Double-A upon his return to K.C., posting a 2.11 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings.
- Chris O’Grady, LHP, returned from Reds to Angels: Sent back in late March, O’Grady compiled a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings in the upper minors, though he performed much better as a Double-A starter than he did as a Triple-A reliever.
- Zack Jones, RHP, returned from Brewers to Twins: The 25-year-old was out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, and ended up being sent back to Minnesota in late June, but has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy.
- Blake Smith, RHP, returned from Padres to White Sox: Smith ended up making a brief MLB debut upon his return to Chicago, but spend most of the year pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte, where he ran up a 3.53 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with 9.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- Colin Walsh, INF, returned from Brewers to Athletics: After struggling badly in his major league stint with the Brewers, Walsh went to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and put up a .259/.384/.388 bating line over 245 plate appearances.
In addition to speaking with Orioles manager Buck Showalter about his decision not to deploy ace reliever Zach Britton in the Wild Card game, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag covers a number of notable topics in his most recent column. Among the highlights with a transactional component:
- Unsurprisingly, the Royals will exercise a club option over shortstop Alcides Escobar. It’s just $6.5MM (with a $500K buyout otherwise), and the club doesn’t seem willing yet to trust the job to prospect Raul Mondesi. Still the 29-year-old owns an anemic .259/.293/.335 batting line over the last two seasons; even with his typically strong defense and baserunning included, he has been a below-average regular. Escobar will have plenty to play for with free agency looming.
- It’s even less surprising to hear that the Rangers intend to make a qualifying offer to Ian Desmond, the shortstop-turned-center fielder. Texas remains very high on Desmond despite his fall-off down the stretch, says Heyman, and it seems plausible to imagine a reunion. The $17.2MM QO also appears to be the right move from a market perspective, as Desmond ought to be able to command a strong multi-year deal even after turning it down.
- We’ve heard chatter in the past about prior talks between the Blue Jays and Reds regarding first baseman Joey Votto, and Heyman discusses it further in a separate piece. There’s nothing brewing at present, but Toronto has made clear they’d like to be involved if Cincinnati undertakes any chatter on a player who may be the best hitter in the National League. Reds GM Dick Williams tells Heyman that he’s not looking to shop the superstar and also hasn’t been told that Votto (who possesses full no-trade rights) wants to depart. Even if there is mutual interest, of course, there’s the matter of sorting out the cash and prospects — which will likely be a tall order.
- Williams also tells Heyman that he believes the Reds took positive steps at the major league level in 2016, suggesting that the organization is happy to hang onto a highly popular and productive player despite his massive salary. The situation may be somewhat different with regard to second baseman Brandon Phillips, though, with Heyman writing that the team intends to find a way to get Jose Peraza into the lineup quite a bit. They’ll “make this clear” to Phillips, he says, though it isn’t known whether the veteran will be amenable to waiving his own no-trade protection after demanding an extension to do so in the past. The 35-year-old is down to the final year of his deal, though, after turning in a solid-but-unspectacular .291/.320/.416 batting line. Though metrics soured a bit on his glove, Phillips has a long history of strong defensive work. A $14MM tab on a one-year commitment is hardly unworkable, though hypothetically interested organizations may ask Cinci to kick in some cash.
- Heyman also tackled the Diamondbacks’ front office search. Reported interest in Nationals president and GM Mike Rizzo seems likely to be a non-starter. “I don’t think there’s anything to it,” said Washington owner Mark Lerner, who called it “a totally fabricated story.” The floating of interest in Rizzo could hint that Arizona has its eyes on an exec with experience running a baseball operations department, Heyman suggests, with the team perhaps hoping to return immediately to competitiveness rather than undertaking a rebuild. A general manager with another team suggests that he thinks the D-Backs will need to guarantee a five-year term to draw a strong candidate, given the frequency of front-office turnover in Arizona.
While the expectation surrounding the Royals has been that they’ll have to reduce payroll in 2017 after a franchise-record $140MM mark in 2016 — GM Dayton Moore himself has recently suggested as much, in fact — team owner David Glass tells Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star that he hasn’t made a final determination on the payroll. Glass calls Moore a “very persuasive” general manager and said there’s no way of knowing where the payroll will stand due to the fact that there’s no way of knowing what the offseason will hold.
“I don’t know where we’ll end up,” Glass tells Mellinger. “…[W]hat we actually do depends on the opportunities we have, and none of us, including our general manager, know right now what we can do.” The roster impact of Glass’ apparent openness to continuing to spend at an aggressive level remains to be seen, but Mellinger reports that the Royals, as a franchise, actually lost at least $10MM overall in 2016.
As Mellinger points out, the Royals are facing a payroll increase even if they simply stand pat and let Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales depart via free agency. (Kansas City reportedly plans to buy out Volquez’s $10MM mutual option.) Indeed, the Royals will see a number of built-in contractual raises as well as numerous arbitration raises that will spike payroll. Alex Gordon’s salary jumps from $12MM to $16MM next season, and he’s hardly alone when it comes to escalating salaries. Ian Kennedy ($7.5MM to $13.5MM), Lorenzo Cain ($6.5MM to $11MM), Mike Moustakas ($5.6MM to $8.7MM), Chris Young ($4.25MM to $5.75MM), Joakim Soria ($7MM to $8MM), Salvador Perez ($2MM to $3MM), Mike Minor ($2MM to $4MM) and Yordano Ventura ($1MM to $3.25MM) will all see their guaranteed salaries rise. And, as we projected earlier this week, the Royals also stand to see substantial arbitration raises for Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera and Jarrod Dyson.
Kansas City does have some payroll coming off the books. In addition to Volquez and Morales, the Royals could see Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen depart. And they have some non-tender candidates, including Tony Cruz, Daniel Nava, Tim Collins and Dillon Gee. Those subtractions, though, won’t offset the raises throughout the rest of the roster. That’s likely the reason that there are already rumors about the Royals trading closer Wade Davis, who is set to earn $10MM next year (once his option is picked up). However, Glass’ comments at least curb what appeared t be a foregone conclusion regarding payroll reduction.
As Mellinger writes, one creative way to manage the 2017 payroll to some extent would be to agree to backloaded extensions with Duffy and Herrera. Both the team and Duffy have expressed interest in a long-term deal before, and Mellinger writes that the plan is indeed to talk about an extension this winter. If that’s the case, the Royals could guarantee Duffy significantly less than his $8.2MM arbitration projection in 2017 and pay him at a higher rate in subsequent seasons of the deal — after some combination of Cain, Moustakas, Hosmer and Davis are off the books. A similar approach could be employed with Herrera, whom MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected to receive a healthy bump from $2.55MM to $5.3MM.
One party, in particular, may come away as the beneficiary of a potential payroll crunch in Kansas City, though, as FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports within his latest notes column that the team is unlikely to make a qualifying offer to Morales. The 33-year-old switch-hitter enjoyed a monstrous four-month stretch to close out the season, hitting .296/.357/.531 with 24 homers in 106 games en route to an overall line of .263/.327/.468 (and his first 30-homer season since 2009). However, the Royals believe there’s a good chance that Morales would accept the qualifying offer after rejecting one from the Mariners in 2013 and languishing on the free agent market until the following June.
While Heyman writes that in an ideal world, Kansas City would prefer to keep the slugging DH in 2017 and beyond, the Royals are also intrigued by the idea of a floating DH role that would allow Gordon, Moustakas (who had surgery to repair a torn ACL earlier this year) and Perez to get the occasional breather from the rigors of their daily defensive routines. Perez, in particular, strikes me as someone who stands to gain from that line of thinking, as he’s averaged a staggering 137.5 starts behind the plate per season dating back to 2013.
The Royals have already begun receiving quite a few calls about the availability of closer Wade Davis, per FanRag’s Jon Heyman, and the team appears willing to consider the possibility of a deal, as it was this past July when Davis was a trade candidate prior to landing on the disabled list with a forearm strain.
Kansas City has yet to exercise Davis’ $10MM option for the 2017 season and won’t do so until the completion of the World Series, though it’s a lock that they’ll do so when that decision arrives. While he’s only controlled for one more season before hitting the open market, Davis would represent a considerably more affordable late-inning option (from a financial perspective, anyhow) than free agents such as Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.
Heyman’s report doesn’t list specific teams that have reached out the K.C. general manager Dayton Moore, but the Giants are known to be prioritizing top-tier bullpen arms this winter. Speculatively speaking, the Dodgers could make sense as an eventual trade partner, given president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s familiarity with him (Friedman was the GM in Tampa Bay when Davis was drafted), though certainly Los Angeles has more pressing issues on its hands as it preps for a matchup with the Cubs in the NLCS. The Cubs themselves could also be in the market for a ninth-inning arm this offseason (though they may well try to retain Chapman), while the Yankees and Nationals represent other clubs that could explore opportunities to add high-impact relief help.
Of course, any number of teams could come calling on Davis given his relatively affordable salary and his track record of excellence. Since moving to the bullpen with the Royals following multiple lackluster seasons in the rotation, Davis has transformed into one of the game’s truly elite relievers. Dating back to Opening Day 2014, Davis boasts a comically minuscule 1.18 ERA with 11.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 44.4 percent ground-ball rate. Moore has said that Kansas City will see its payroll “regress” in 2017, and swapping out Davis for some premium minor league talent and/or a cheaper, more controllable young big leaguer could help them work toward that end.
Then again, the 31-year-old Davis isn’t without his red flags. Though his 1.87 ERA in 2016 was once again pristine, his 9.8 K/9 rate was the lowest in any of his seasons as an elite reliever, while his 3.3 BB/9 rate was his highest of any full season in the ’pen. Davis’ velocity was down one full mile per hour over his 2015 average of 95.9, and he also spent a combined five weeks on the disabled list (spread across two different stints) due to forearm troubles. He surrendered three runs across his first three appearances in returning from that second DL stint, though interested parties may be heartened by the fact that he finished the year with seven shutout innings, during which he compiled a very tidy 9-to-1 K/BB ratio.
While it should be stressed that no deal would be reached with the postseason still in full swing, the preliminary talks being held now could ultimately provide the groundwork for more substantial discussions later in the offseason, be they at the GM Meetings in November or the Winter Meetings in early December.
- Royals righty Chris Young underwent surgery to what the team described as his “bilateral core and right-sided adductor,” per a club announcement (via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan; Twitter links). He’s only expected to need eight weeks to recover, meaning that the procedure shouldn’t have much of an impact on his ramp-up next spring.
- Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star explores some potential trade scenarios for the Royals, noting that the team’s desire to shed payroll could result in moving a player who has been central to the team’s previous run of success. However, Dodd also reports that to this point, Kansas City “has shown little inclination to trade one of its central players,” so the listed scenarios are predominately speculative in nature. Among the soon-to-be free agents are Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar — each of whom will hit the open market following the 2017 season.
2:23pm: Bloom has turned down an opportunity to interview with the Diamondbacks, reports Piecoro. Dodgers executive Alex Anthopoulos did the same earlier this week, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman relayed Saturday.
9:58am: Rays VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and Royals’ assistant GM J.J. Picollo are believed to be candidates for the Diamondbacks’ general manager position, league sources tell Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The two executives join a lengthy list of names previously linked to the D’Backs job, including Ned Colletti, Kim Ng, Ray Montgomery, Peter Woodfork and internal candidates Bryan Minniti and Mike Bell.
Both Bloom and Picollo have been connected to multiple front office openings in recent years, even getting consideration for the same job on more than one occasion. Both were interviewed for the Twins GM job just last month, and both were contenders to become the Phillies’ new general manager last offseason before the team hired Matt Klentak. (Picollo was an early favorite for the Philadelphia job, though it was Bloom who ended up making the Phillies’ final three list of candidates for the position, along with Klentak and A’s assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz.) Bloom was also interviewed by the Brewers last offseason before they hired David Stearns as their new general manager.
Unlike the other known candidates, Bloom and Picollo don’t have any previous connection with the D’Backs themselves or other NL West teams, so they would bring a fresh perspective to Arizona’s baseball operations department. Bloom has spent his entire 11-year career in baseball with Tampa Bay, while Picollo has spent the last decade in the Royals’ front office and the previous seven years working for the Braves. Both are also younger executives (Picollo is 45 years old and Bloom is just 33) and thought to be more analytically-minded, which would also represent a change in direction for the D’Backs. The previous front office, led by Tony La Russa and since-fired GM Dave Stewart, was rather openly old-school in their approach, with an analytics department headed by a first-time baseball ops hire.