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Kendrys Morales Rumors
The Orioles have maintained dialogue with free agent first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales over the last several weeks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. At present, a “fairly significant gap” still separates the two sides.
Notably, according to Heyman, the key issue is not years but dollars. Negotiations between Baltimore and Scott Boras (Morales’s agent) have focused on one-year scenarios. It is worth noting that Morales will only earn a prorated portion of whatever annual salary rate is agreed upon for 2014.
Heyman notes that the Mariners and Brewers continue to look like other possibilities. Seattle seemingly stepped back from Morales after its rough stretch, but Heyman wonders if they could get back involved if the club continues its recent revival. Of course, the closer we get to the June draft, the greater the possibility becomes that the Mariners will lose the supplemental pick they stand to gain should Morales find a new home before that time, which could increase the club’s motivation.
Performance has not been an issue for Milwaukee, of course, and Morales may well be just the kind of mid-season addition needed to cement the team’s status as a contender. As Heyman notes, the Brewers have recently landed fellow Boras clients Kyle Lohse and Francisco Rodriguez.
Athletics right-hander A.J. Griffin‘s elbow hasn’t responded well after being shut down for a month, and the 26-year-old will seek a second opinion from Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff, who performed Tommy John surgery on Oakland’s Fernando Rodriguez, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Griffin has been out with flexor tendinitis, which is often a precursor to Tommy John, Slusser points out. She goes on to write that the loss of both Griffin and Jarrod Parker for the season would likely lead the A’s to actively seeking starting pitching on this summer’s trade market, even if they were merely looking for a back-of-the-rotation innings eater to provide some stability.
More out of the AL West…
- While Griffin is another potential victim of the Tommy John epidemic, Rangers left-hander Pedro Figueroa can definitively add his name to that list. The team told reporters today, including FOX Sports Southwest’s Anthony Andro, that Figueroa has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and damage to his flexor tendon, and he will likely undergo Tommy John within the next week (Twitter link).
- Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune conducted a Q&A in which he answered many of his Twitter followers’ questions, and within the article noted that the Mariners are still looking to add a bat to improve their lineup. The team has “never stopped looking” for a bat, he writes, before cautioning that they don’t appear to have much interest in Kendrys Morales. Dutton also touches on the team’s payroll, Hisashi Iwakuma‘s health status and Abraham Almonte‘s role with the club.
- The San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea compares Sean Doolittle‘s recent five-year contract extension to previous deals of five-plus years for relievers, noting that Doolittle’s contract has little precedent. Shea concludes that the deal works for both sides and doesn’t carry as much risk as other contracts for a pitcher would, as Doolittle is a converted first baseman that has only been pitching for about three years.
Scouting pitching in the Dominican is a challenging endeavor on many levels, writes Ben Badler of Baseball America. Players are incented to light up radar guns (or, for hitters, launch home runs) in non-game situations due to a “showcase mindset” that pervades the baseball environment. Here are more notes from around the game:
- Baseball executives believe it an increasing likelihood that Kendrys Morales will wait to sign until after the June 5-7 amateur draft, reports CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. If he does so, then a signing club would not lose a draft pick and his former club (the Mariners) would not gain a compensatory choice. Morales has had discussions since the start of the season — Heyman says the Orioles are believed to have had “serious talks” – but apparently nothing is close. In addition to Baltimore and Seattle, says Heyman, possible landing spots could hypothetically include the Brewers and even the Athletics.
- Cubs third baseman Mike Olt, 25, has done enough in the early going to earn a chance at additional playing time, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Though his on-base and strikeout numbers are less than promising, Olt has blasted four home runs in 48 plate appearances. Olt, of course, came over in last year’s Matt Garza trade as something of a buy-low prospect, after eye issues contributed to a rough season at Triple-A in 2013 (.201/.303/.381, with 15 home runs and 132 strikeouts, in 432 plate appearances).
- Outfielder Willy Taveras is eyeing a comeback, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The 32-year-old, who last played in the bigs in 2010, is playing in Mexico at present. Best known for his wheels — he led the league in stolen bases (68) in 2008 — Taveras has swiped seven bags in seven attempts in his first 18 games in the Mexican League, Rosenthal notes. In 279 plate appearances at Triple-A last year with the Royals, Taveras slashed .239/.308/.340 and stole 11 bases.
- With a young staff, the Astros have made the league’s most extensive use of true long relief, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. GM Jeff Luhnow says that the club’s minor league use of a true tandem system is “more of a development thing,” with the big league club’s employment of long men more a “cousin” deployed for “high-pitch count guys.” Looking ahead, though, Luhnow says he “would not be surprised if clubs started to think about some unique solutions to help prevent injuries” noting that “we’re certainly one of them.” Notably, given his organization’s upper-minor tandems, Luhnow observed:“you do it at Triple-A — what’s the difference doing it at the big leagues?” Athletics assistant GM Farhan Zaidi was even more bullish on the possibility of tandem starters appearing in MLB. “I can absolutely see it happening,” he said. “We actually talked about doing it a few years ago when we had pitching depth that wasn’t unlike what the Astros have now. The reason I think it could still happen is overwhelming evidence that limiting the exposure of pitchers to a third time through the lineup is really advantageous.” The full piece includes many more interesting observations from these executives, and is well worth a read.
Kendrys Morales is still without an employer as he and agent Scott Boras appear willing to wait beyond the June draft in order to free a signing team from the burden of having to surrender a draft pick. However, Morales had the opportunity to sign a deal that would've kept him in Seattle through 2017 last summer, according to Todd Dybas of the Tacoma News Tribune. As Dybas writes, general manager Jack Zduriencik recently told fans at a meet-and-greet that the Mariners offered Morales a three-year, $30MM extension after last year's All-Star break.
Reports last summer indicated that talks between the two sides never got serious due to the Mariners' surprise over the asking price from Boras and Morales. Interest in Morales on the open market was clearly never as high as the two had hoped, with the Mariners and Orioles being the teams that were the most frequently connected to the DH/first baseman.
Perhaps shedding the "draft pick compensation" label will aid Morales and get him a deal that is more to his liking, but it's tough to see him landing something north of Seattle's 2013 offer. In a now-controversial piece from ESPN, several executives offered their thoughts on Morales' value, but $8-10MM was as high as any were willing to go in terms of average annual value. (The MLBPA has asked the commissioner's office to investigate that situation, as the anonymous executives' comments are in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.)
The 30-year-old Morales batted .277/.336/.449 with 23 homers last season and earned $5.25MM in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Scott Boras, the agent for unsigned free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, claims his clients have been "damaged" by comments from the anonymous executives quoted in a recent ESPN story, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Boras' remarks come two days after the MLBPA requested the Commissioner's Office to investigate those comments made to ESPN's Buster Olney, which appeared in a column he penned Wednesday.
"It's a clear violation of the CBA," Boras told Heyman. "As many as five executives continue to use ESPN as a conduit to violate the collective bargaining agreement. Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were damaged by these comments."
Boras also warns, "The integrity of the game is challenged when players of this stature have yet to have a negotiation due to the system," adding there needs to be a "remedy" for the pair, which could take the form of monetary damages or relief from a future qualifying offer. Boras points out not only does the CBA disallow negative comments from MLB team officials, which could depress player markets, but also provides for the possibility of monetary damages in such circumstances. Boras says the issue is about the "conduct" of the executives, not the timing suggesting a grievance procedure needs to be implemented where all concerned parties are placed under oath.
MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred disagrees with Boras' assertion the market for Drew and Morales has been damaged by the comments. "It is ludicrous, absurd, that one [Internet] report somehow alters the market for players who have been out there for months," Manfred told Heyman.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark has asked commissioner Bud Selig to conduct an investigation regarding comments made by several anonymous executives to ESPN's Buster Olney for a column penned by Olney this week, the MLBPA announced in a press release. Olney's column featured a number of front office executives stating (on the condition of anonymity) what they would pay free agents Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew on an annual basis. The comments violate baseball's collective bargaining agreement, which has language designed to prevent executives from commenting on specific players and their values/contract goals, as it could depreciate a player's market value. Within the release, Clark issued the following statement:
"I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner's Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement."
Morales and Drew, two of the more prominent free agents on this year's market, each remain unsigned due largely to the fact that each is tied to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year qualifying offer at the end of last season.
This isn't the first instance of this type of investigation in the past year, as Major League Baseball also looked into comments made by Dodgers owner Magic Johnson regarding Robinson Cano. Back in October, Johnson was quoted as saying, "Though I can't talk about it, that other guy in New York is going to get paid. Not by us, but he's going to get paid."
This most recent wave of comments is clearly a bit more telling due to both the number of people who were willing to offer their take to Olney and the specific nature of their responses. At the time of the Cano situation, GMs around the league told Olney that they felt their comments had been monitored more closely in the past year than any time in recent memory.
There was more bad injury news out of Oakland, as top Athletics prospect Addison Russell has torn his right hamstring and will be down for at least a month, according to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Though Russell was not necessarily expected to contribute much at the MLB level this year — he had started his age-20 season at Double-A — a prolonged absence will certainly be unwelcome news for an Athletics club that could hypothetically look to Russell for a late-season boost or audition for 2015. Here are a few more stray notes from the day:
- There is a sense that the free agent market for Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales could be thawing, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Multiple clubs have gone to scout the pair, says Heyman, and Morales in particular seems to be drawing increased activity. Heyman cites the Orioles, Mariners, and Brewers as teams thought to have interest, with the Pirates also a potential landing spot.
- Free agent starter Freddy Garcia has been throwing to Drew and Morales, Heyman adds. Though Garcia has received minor league offers since being cut loose by the Braves, he is holding out in hopes of signing straight into a MLB role.
- The Twins will be among the teams with the most cash to spend through international bonus pools and the amateur draft. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN provides some updates on the club's current direction (Twitter links). Minnesota still has several hundred thousand dollars of uncommitted international cash to work with, and has narrowed its options for the 5th overall pick to eight players (most of whom are pitchers).
- As expected, Braves reliever Cory Gearrin will have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2014 season, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported yesterday (via Twitter). The 27-year-old was a useful arm last year, throwing 31 innings of 3.77 ERA ball after notching 20 innings at a 1.80 ERA clip in 2012. Though the club has already filled in for Gearrin in the immediate term, his loss takes another depth piece away from an organization that has suffered more than its share of recent pitching injuries.
- One reason that Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro may have cleared waivers is simply that he stood to be paid nearly twice the league minimum salary. "Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," a general manager told Olney. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around."
- That same fact has a bearing on the situations of compensation free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. Olney polled executives around the league, finding that none were willing to pay either player at the qualifying offer rate of $14.1MM. The highest figure he heard was $10MM to $12MM AAV for Drew and a $8MM to $10MM rate for Morales on a multi-year deal, with most respondents landing well shy of those amounts. There were many other concerns raised as well, ranging from those players' injury histories to questions about their commitment to a new team (e.g., would they play through a late-season injury?) and worry about "the layoff and need for a modified spring training."
- Turning to the podcast, Olney spoke with Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who said that the team left its playoff run determined to return with focus. Instead, Huntington said that his concern entering the spring was how to keep positive energy flowing after the front office was criticized for its quiet offseason. Huntington said that the team wanted to do more, but that there "wasn't the right move out there" and he felt the organization needed to continue to "stretch when it's appropriate, stay disciplined when it's appropriate." Looking ahead, the GM said that, "if need be we can go outside because of the depth of our player development system."
- Huntington also discussed his team's well-publicized use of defensive shifts, saying that it is all about "maximizing our chances to put balls in play and turn them into outs" and indicating that much of the work is in shading out of the standard alignment. The approach for each situation is developed through what he calls a "multi-tiered process" within the organization.
- Olney also chatted with newly extended Twins closer Glen Perkins, who is under team control through 2018. Perkins said that he made clear to his agent as far back as his first extension that he was happy to take a deal and stay in town rather than "pric[ing] myself out" of the organization. The lefty says that maximizing money is not the most important thing, and saw value in the possibility of a World Series run with his hometown club while providing for his family's future when he had the chance. He kicked things off by suggesting a new deal to his agent, with a deal coming together quickly thereafter.
- Asked for his opinion on the idea of players accepting so-called team-friendly deals, Perkins said that the chances of upside are met (and often exceeded) by the possibility of "blowing your arm out." It becomes somewhat easier to take on risk as a player's earnings rise throughout their career, Perkins noted, but looking for "a little more" is tough when "you're always one pitch away." His ultimate advice to players is hard to disagree with: "get yours while you can."
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has a lengthy new column up that takes a look at the hot start for the Giants' offense as well as an impressive sweep of the Red Sox by the Brewers this weekend. Beyond that, it has quite a bit of info on the top two remaining free agents and come contract extensions. Here are some highlights from his latest work…
- Scott Boras is telling tems that he could soon land a deal for Kendrys Morales, a source tells Rosenthal. However, some of the interested parties are debating between signing him (and fellow Boras free agent Stephen Drew) now or waiting until after the June draft. Rosenthal points out that this could potentially save a club multiple picks, as the signing team wouldn't have to surrender a 2015 draft pick, and if they offer a multi-year deal, they won't have to forfeit a 2016 pick to fill the hole on the free agent market next offseason.
- The Indians have been trying to extend Jason Kipnis for the past two years, but Kipnis and agent Dan Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council rejected offers in the $15MM range (following Kipnis' two-month debut in 2011) and $24MM range (prior to the 2013 season).
- The main hangup in extension talks between the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez isn't the average annual value but rather the length of the contract, says Rosenthal. Ramirez is likely to receive an AAV in the $22-25MM range, but the length of the contract is a concern for the Dodgers given Ramirez's lengthy injury history.
- Surgery remains an option for Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun as he battles nerve damage in his right thumb, but general manager Doug Melvin said to Rosenthal that going under the knife wouldn't even guarantee that the damage could be repaired. For the time being, Melvin said the team "is not overly concerned" about Braun's injury.
The 2014 season is about to get underway in earnest and two of MLBTR's Top 50 free agents remain on the shelf. Stephen Drew (No. 14) and Kendrys Morales (No. 28) are still looking for homes months after rejecting one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offers from their respective teams. The qualifying offer system, now in its second year, appears to be getting quite a bit of criticism from agents and players around baseball, but that's nothing new. Last winter, I asked Adam LaRoche for his thoughts on being linked to a compensatory pick and having to wait until after the holidays to sign.
"I think that it did [affect me]," said LaRoche, who inked a two-year, $24MM deal with a mutual option with the Nationals rather than the three year pact he wanted. "That's coming from people a lot smarter than I am that explained it to me. I think it affected a couple of other players worse than me, there are a lot of solid ballplayers out there still looking for a job. It definitely hindered some teams from going after some guys…I think there were two or three, maybe four teams out there that it did affect as far as teams that were interested me but didn't want to give up that pick."
As you might expect, after conversations with high-level MLB executives, it seems that front offices are short on empathy for the predicament of the Scott Boras duo. Executives recognize that the qualifying offer system favors clubs, but at the end of the day, they feel players and agents are responsible for anticipating demand appropriately before making their decision.
"It's certainly advantageous to the clubs, so I can understand why certain players wouldn't like it," said one National League executive. "No one is forcing them to reject a one-year, $14MM offer which is pretty darn good and see if they can do better. Honestly, that's just their reading of the marketplace telling them what to do and if it doesn't go the way they anticipated then they just misread the marketplace."
That might be a reasonable view for some, but Boras vehemently disagrees, recently telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that he feels as though Morales and Drew are "in jail" rather than true free agents. From Boras' view, the system is having an unforeseen ill effect on the free agency process. From the club's view, everything is going as planned.
"People keep talking about unintended consequences with the new system and I don't think they're unintended at all," one American League exec opined. "I don't understand why anyone went into the current system thinking there weren't going to be lags in the market or thinking that teams wouldn't give second thought to [second tier] free agents."
The AL exec and others were quick to note that the qualifying offer system has not hampered the true cream of the free agent crop. When the Mariners wanted to sign Robinson Cano, for example, their main deliberation was over cost and not the compensatory draft pick they would have to forfeit to the Yankees. While Cano, an elite player at a premium position who was universally considered the top free agent prize of the winter, didn't have to give any thought to accepting the QO, executives argue that someone like Morales should have thought it over. While Morales is an offensively gifted switch-hitter, his possibilities were limited since his appeal is mostly as a DH. Teams would argue that this was all obvious in November and perhaps should have informed Morales and Boras to make a different choice.
Of course, the current qualifying offer system is only a couple of years old but the concept of a restricted MLB free agency has been around for much longer. The current QO construct replaced the widely reviled "Type A/B" system, which placed the better free agents in one of two tiers based on seemingly arbitrary criteria. A team losing a Type A player would receive the signing club's top pick plus a newly-generated supplemental pick in the sandwich round (between rounds 1 and 2). A team losing a Type B player would get a sandwich pick, but nothing from the club signing the player. Agents and players were vocal about their frustrations with that system and executives that spoke with MLBTR expressed similar thoughts. One executive called the formulas used to determine Type A or B (or C, pre-2006/07 offseason) status "antiquated" while another said that the system was "wrought with abuse and handshake offers" to circumvent its consequences. While teams got used to that process over time, executives seem to appreciate the simplicity of the new system. And as one high-ranking executive told MLBTR, the new system helps to "protect the middle reliever." The old system would routinely lump a solid, but not spectacular reliever in the same group as an elite batter or starting pitcher, making free agency a frustrating process. Now, under the current system, no team in their right mind would put a $14MM+ offer on the table for a seventh-inning reliever.
As Drew continues to look for a home, it has been reported that he would take a one-year deal from the Tigers in the neighborhood of the $14.1MM figure that he turned down just months ago. While plugging Drew in for injured shortstop Jose Iglesias has to have some appeal to Detroit, the idea of sacrificing a pick for a one-year rental is surely unpalatable. The execs who spoke with MLBTR said that they would be very unlikely to sign a QO free agent if they were only getting one year out of him, but each of them also conceded that they would consider it under the right circumstances. If their club was right on the cusp of contending and losing a pick – projected to be towards the bottom anyway – made the difference, they would give serious thought to pulling the trigger. This winter, Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz both wound up signing one-year deals while attached to draft compensation, so those execs surely aren't alone in that thinking. Meanwhile, all of the executives said that they would not rule out a player strictly because he was tied to draft compensation.
After watching Ubaldo Jimenez, Santana, Cruz, Morales, and Drew struggle to find homes for 2014, some have assumed that the QO system will be drastically overhauled in the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement. While it's bound to be a high-priority discussion for the union, executives caution that it's far from an automatic to be changed.
"I don't know if it will be changed, but I think if they want it changed, they'll have to give something substantial back," the AL exec said. "Now, whether that's something like an extra year of arbitration, I'm just not sure. I don't think the owners would just give it back to the players, it's something that [the owners] bargained and negotiated for."