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Kendrys Morales Rumors
Top pitching prospect Julio Urias, just 17, will start the Dodgers' spring training game today against the Padres, the team has announced. Urias has never pitched above the Class A Midwest League, where the lefty posted a 2.48 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 54 1/3 innings last season. That in itself was an accomplishment, given that it was only Urias' age-16 season, and he was pitching in a full-season league. Baseball America's Prospect Handbook 2014 ranks Urias the Dodgers' third-best prospect, noting that he throws 91-96 MPH, has an advanced approach to pitching, and could make quick progress through the minors. The Dodgers will surely have him start the season in the bush leagues, but even starting a big-league spring training game is quick progress indeed for a 17-year-old. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Mariners are still trying to re-sign DH Kendrys Morales, ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets. They still would like Morales to reduce his price, however. Morales, of course, is still a free agent because the qualifying offer has depressed his market. Bowden also tweets that Felix Hernandez has been in touch with Morales and says that Morales would like to return if the two sides' financial differences can be resolved.
- Veteran Xavier Nady is back with the Padres, the team that drafted him, as an NRI, and he's trying to enjoy all the baseball he has left, writes MLB.com's Corey Brock. "I'm thankful for every day to put this uniform on," says Nady. "I know it doesn't last forever, but it's sure been a lot of fun." Nady also looks back to the beginning of his career, when he signed with the Padres in 2000 as a second-round pick out of UC-Berkeley and was immediately promoted to the Majors, where he went 1-for-1 in his only big-league at-bat before heading to the minors for the first time the following season.
Though Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz have both caved and agreed to one-year deals after their free agent markets were significantly weighed down by their rejection of qualifying offers, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have no such plans to do, agent Scott Boras tells ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Instead, the two plan to continue working out while awaiting multi-year deals, and could hold out until after the June amateur draft to do so (after which the draft compensation will no longer apply).
Boras feels that the qualifying offer system has "basically prevented them from free agency," opining that the system has instead placed both players "in jail." He offers criticism both of the system and of those who feel that his clients simply made a poor decision by not accepting a qualifying offer. Says Boras:
"Everybody talks about these players turning down these (one-year) qualifying offers like they're village idiots. The reason is, they don't want to be in the same position again next year. If I'm a good player, I'm going to take the prospect of free agency. If I'm one of these players, I'm not on the train to free agency — I'm on the ferris wheel of multiple qualifying offers. It is circular. There is no escape hatch to the system."
Whether or not one agrees with Boras' assessment of the system, there's certainly truth to the fact that players coming off strong seasons don't want to sign a one-year deal and find themselves in the same situation a year later. Players want security and stability both for themselves and their families; the prospect of either being separated from your family for a year or continually moving your family around the country does not appeal to many.
From my view, it's rather telling that Jhonny Peralta, who is nearly 11 months older than Drew and coming off a season in which he served a 50-game suspension for PEDs, was able to secure a four-year, $53MM contract while Drew remains unemployed. There's something to be said about contending teams with significant payrolls simply not feeling a need to add a shortstop, but one would imagine that Drew's market would improve significantly were the qualifying offer not attached. That's not to say he'd have received as large a guarantee as Peralta, but a reasonable three-year deal seems like it should have been attainable. A one-year deal, even at a higher rate than the average annual value he might receive on a three- or four-year deal, doesn't seem practical for a 30-year-old shortstop coming off a solid season.
While some believe that Mariners ownership isn't happy with Morales and Boras for turning down their $14.1MM qualifying offer earlier in the offseason, Zduriencik says there are no grudges held. "It strictly has to do with where they're at (in negotiations) and where we're at," Zduriencik told Heyman.
Morales has been connected to his former team all offseason, but the most recent report on him prior to tonight's piece from Heyman stated that the Mariners have "little or no" money left to spend on another free agent. Robinson Cano, he of a ten-year, $240MM contract, has gone on record as stating that the he'd like to see his new club sign Morales and Ervin Santana. However, Santana has since agreed to a deal with the Braves. Morales, for the time being, is working out at the Scott Boras Training Institute in Miami as he waits to find a home for the 2014 campaign.
Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler, a member of the players' association's executive subcommittee, says that Major League Baseball and the players' union are unlikely to address the qualifying offer issue before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports. "The CBA won't be reopened," says Ziegler. "There's no way it's a big enough deal to do that right now. I haven't heard any rumblings that's even realistic."
Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have all struggled to find markets after declining qualifying offers this offseason. Cruz signed a one-year deal with Baltimore that guarantees just $8MM, and Santana appears set to sign a one-year deal in the $14MM range with either Toronto or Baltimore. Morales and Drew remain unsigned well into spring training, and there's little indication that either of them will sign soon.
MLBPA head Tony Clark has also expressed concern about the qualifying offer, but like Ziegler, he suggested that the CBA would not be reopened. "There's certain criteria that's going to have to be met for a CBA to be opened up (before then) and I'm not sure that's happened," Clark told the Associated Press in February.
As expected, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker both won't be ready for Opening Day, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters (including MLB.com's Greg Johns) yesterday. Iwakuma is dealing with a strained tendon on his right middle finger and will be sidelined until mid-to-late April, while Walker has been shut down for a week with shoulder inflammation. With Seattle's rotation thinned, it will only increase speculation that the M's could increase their interest in Ervin Santana. Here's some more from the M's…
- While the Mariners could still use a pitcher and a right-handed bat, two sources tell CBS Sports' Jon Heyman that the team has "little or no loot left to spend," which GM Jack Zudriencik wouldn't confirm. A lack of payroll space could explain why the Mariners haven't extended offers to Santana or Kendrys Morales, and didn't make an offer to Nelson Cruz (before he signed with the Orioles) despite interest in all three players.
- Missing Iwakuma and Walker early in the season could particularly hurt the Mariners since they play the A's 10 times before May 7. "If Walker and Iwakuma miss the month of April, with our schedule that month it could get ugly," a Mariners source tells Heyman. Robinson Cano and at least one other M's player expressed the opinion that Santana would be a great fit, while Cano would also like to see the switch-hitting Morales brought back. "I'm not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat," Cano said. "We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don't want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters."
- The Mariners have sent scouts to watch young Rays pitchers, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The two clubs recently came close on a trade that would've sent Nick Franklin to Tampa, though Topkin believes that the M's can find a better fit elsewhere for the young infielder.
- Danny Hultzen will miss the entire 2014 season as he recovers from major left shoulder surgery, but the highly-regarded prospect tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that he's optimistic about his recovery and resuming his pro career.
The Orioles introduced new outfielder Nelson Cruz today, and MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli has a transcript of the press conference. Cruz, of course, settled for a one-year, $8MM deal with Baltimore after previously declining a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers. "It was a frustrating process," said Cruz, "but I'm happy for the decisions that I made. I'm really excited for the opportunity." Here are more notes from the O's and the rest of the AL East:
- We learned previously that the Orioles had made a competitive offer for free agent starter Bronson Arroyo before he signed with the Diamondbacks, and now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has the details. Baltimore ultimately offered Arroyo a $21.5MM guarantee over two years, including a third-year option that could have brought the total value to $33MM. The pitcher instead signed with Arizona for a $23.5MM guarantee, but his deal can only max out at $30MM if his option is exercised.
- Though agent Scott Boras softened his strong words towards the Blue Jays in comments today, he continued to implore the team to open its pocketbooks by saying that Toronto has a "rare opportunity" to add impact free agents because of its protected first-round draft picks, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (interview via Jeff Blair of Sportsnet 590 The FAN). In addition to its advantageous draft situation, Boras argued that the Jays have the "flexibility in the long term" to backload contracts.
- Boras said that client Stephen Drew could significantly upgrade the team's second base position, and that Drew would be willing to shift to the other side of the bag "if the club came and made the position a long-term one for him." Meanwhile, Boras argued that the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales would offer a better option against lefties than incumbent DH Adam Lind, who Boras said could be dealt for pitching. Toronto could recoup a future draft choice via qualifying offer when those players' deals end, the agent added.
- In spite of (or, perhaps in part, because of) their success last year, the Red Sox are sticking with their strategy of "caution and strict sensibility," writes MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. "We recognize that our goal is to be as good as we possibly can be in 2014 but also 2015 and 2016 and beyond," explains GM Ben Cherington. "To do what we want to do, year in and year out, there has to be integration of young players. We're not going to force that unless we're reasonably confident those guys can contribute right away."
The calendar will turn to March soon, but our #6, #14, and #28-ranked free agents remain unsigned. The primary factor in the delay for Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales is that signing any one of them requires the new team to forfeit its highest unprotected draft pick and its associated bonus pool money, because these players were among 13 to turn down a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer in November. Earlier draft picks are more valuable, of course, so let's take a look at the pick each team would have to forfeit to sign one of these three free agents. The 2013 slot value for each pick is also provided; those numbers will increase for 2014. 2014 draft order information comes courtesy of River Ave. Blues.
As many have pointed out, the current system provides a major incentive for teams to sign multiple compensation free agents. Now that the Orioles have surrendered their #17 pick for Ubaldo Jimenez and their #52 pick for Nelson Cruz, they could sign Santana, Drew, or Morales with the smallest draft pick cost of any team. In theory, teams at the bottom of this chart should be willing to offer at least several million more than a team near the top, assuming a desire and need for one of the three free agents. It's why Drew makes so much sense for the Mets.
These three free agents have a good reason not to sign a one-year deal right now, with the season less than a month away, even though Cruz did so recently. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently pointed out, a player must be with his team for the entire season to receive a qualifying offer. Santana could sign a one-year worth $15MM or so and make it official on March 22nd, and not have to worry about being saddled with another qualifying offer after 2014. On the other hand, losing the ability to make a qualifying offer lowers his value to the signing team, to some degree.
If any of the three compensation free agents is willing to wait until June 5th to sign, the draft pick compensation issue goes away and the players can be signed without forfeiture of a pick. The old teams, the Royals, Red Sox, and Mariners, would not gain a supplemental round pick in that scenario. If those teams perceive that threat to be real, it provides an incentive for them to explore deals to bring back Santana, Drew, and Morales, respectively.
The Orioles continued what has been an incredibly busy seven-day span by announcing the signing of slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal. Cruz's contract contains a base salary of $8MM, plus $750K in incentives — a disappointing outcome for a player who declined a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers and at one point reportedly sought a four-year, $75MM deal. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweets that Cruz rejected two- and three-year offers this offseason, although the timeline of those offers is unclear. Cruz is represented by the Wasserman Media Group.
Cruz, 33, hit .266/.327/.506 in 456 plate appearances in 2013. A 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal shortened his season. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in profiling Cruz in early November, however, that didn't stop Rangers manager Ron Washington from offering praise for Cruz as a teammate and a clubhouse presence.
The Rangers will now receive what is currently the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft as a result of Cruz signing elsewhere. The Orioles, meanwhile, will sacrifice the No. 55 pick. Losing the No. 17 pick when they struck a deal with Ubaldo Jimenez likely made it easier for the Orioles to sign Cruz, since they would no longer have to give up a first-round draft choice in order to do so. In addition to Cruz and Jimenez, the Orioles have also signed Korean righty Suk-min Yoon to a three-year deal in the past week.
The Cruz deal is another win-now move for the Orioles, who are trying to build on an 85-win 2013 season and string together more wins before the potential departures of Chris Davis and Matt Wieters following the 2015 season. Cruz will serve as the Orioles' primary designated hitter, and he will also likely occasionally see time in the outfield. The transition to Camden Yards and the other hitter-friendly parks of the AL East should be a good move for Cruz, whose drastic home/road splits have drawn some criticism this offseason.
Of the remaining free agents, Cruz's pact with the Orioles most obviously affects Kendrys Morales. The Orioles reportedly had interest in Morales, so now the already-small number of interested bidders for Morales appears to be even smaller. Also, Cruz signing for one year and $8MM will likely make it even more difficult for Morales, a similar player, to get a sizeable deal.
The size of the deal will also likely increase skepticism throughout baseball about the qualifying offer process. That Cruz received so little was surely due in part to the fact that he had draft-pick forfeiture attached, and one year and $8MM is by far the smallest contract to which a qualifying offer player has agreed.
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times writes that Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says he has "zero expectations" for former top prospect Jesus Montero, who arrived to Spring Training 40 pounds over the team's target weight for him. The Mariners assign each player such a figure prior to each offseason, but sources tell Divish that Montero has yet to meet one since joining the club in a 2012 trade. "After winter ball, all I did was eat," Montero admitted. It's another hurdle the DH will have to conquer after a 2013 season marred by injury and a Biogenesis-related suspension. Here's more out of the AL West:
- The Mariners' interest in Kendrys Morales may depend on the ability of Corey Hart to stick in the outfield, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. Hart has logged time in the outfield in the early days of Spring Training, and if he can handle a job there, it could open up the DH spot for Morales.
- Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News hears that the Rangers aren't pursuing Ervin Santana (Twitter link). A recent report named Texas as one of three clubs with strong interest in the hurler.
- Sam Fuld may face long odds to make the Athletics' roster out of Spring Training, as the team already has four outfielders and probably won't carry another, reports MLB.com's Jane Lee. Fuld agreed to a minor league deal with the A's early this month.
- The Angels may rely heavily on their bullpen in 2014, as they enter the season with major question marks behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the rotation, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes.
MLBPA head Tony Clark is worried about the qualifying offer system that has led Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Ervin Santana to remain on the free agent market into spring training, the Associated Press reports. "The way the free agent market has played itself out over the last couple of years suggests that draft pick compensation and the free agent market in general is a concern that we're paying attention to, obviously," Clark says.
Clark says he plans to make qualifying offers a "topic of discussion." It does not appear, however, that the union will address the issue before the current CBA expires following the 2016 season. "There's certain criteria that's going to have to be met for a CBA to be opened up (before then) and I'm not sure that's happened," Clark says.
The qualifying offer topic is in the news today in part because of of the surprisingly small deal Nelson Cruz received from the Orioles. Cruz, who had rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers before hitting the open market, will receive just $8MM plus a possible $750K in incentives.