Kendrys Morales Rumors
After a quiet offseason for the Orioles, the team pounced in mid-February, officially announcing a three-year deal for righty Suk-min Yoon yesterday but more significantly (from a financial standpoint, at least) agreeing to a four-year, $50MM contract with Ubaldo Jimenez. Baltimore surrendered the No. 17 pick in this year's draft to issue the largest contract for a pitcher in franchise history. Some early reactions and fallout in the wake of the Jimenez pact...
- Deep down, the Indians never really wanted Jimenez back in Cleveland, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. While the team admired Jimenez's work ethic and felt he was a positive presence in the clubhouse, they didn't feel his wild performance swings were worth the trouble. Hoynes points out that it's a bonus that Baltimore landed Jimenez, because their forfeiture of the No. 17 pick allows Cleveland to move from No. 22 overall to the No. 21 overall pick in the first round.
- ESPN's Keith Law writes that despite the associated risk, the contract is a win for the Orioles (ESPN Insider required and recommended). He feels the $12.5MM annual value can end up being a bargain for a pitcher that at times shows three pitches which grade as a 60 or better on the 20-80 scale. Additionally, it allows Kevin Gausman to work on the consistency of his slider in the minors, which he will need in order to thrive as a Major League starter.
- Law's colleague Buster Olney reports that the Orioles upped their offer from three to four years under the belief that the Red Sox and Blue Jays were both aggressively pursuing Jimenez. However, his sources indicate that neither club actually made an offer (Insider required). Olney points out some risks, such as Jimenez's struggles in limiting the running game, and he also opines that the O's should be more willing to lose further draft picks by pursuing Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and perhaps even Stephen Drew.
- MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli runs down what the Jimenez signing means for other pitchers in the organization. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are locks (health-permitting), she writes, but Yoon, Bud Norris and out-of-options Zach Britton will battle for the fifth slot. Gausman is almost certainly ticketed for the minors, she writes. Ghiroli also reports that manager Buck Showalter said he prefers an everyday DH and that the best deals often happen in late spring, suggesting that someone such as Morales could be a fit after all.
- The Jimenez signing should help to discredit the feeling that Orioles owner Peter Angelos is not willing to spend to win, writes the Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck.
- The Sun's Eduardo A. Encina writes that the Orioles' recent international signings made it slightly easier for executive vice president Dan Duquette to surrender the No. 17 pick, as he felt the club added some additional high-upside talent with those moves.
- Jimenez turned his career around by relying less on his fastball and more on his offspeed stuff -- most notably his splitter, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. Jimenez entered the 2013 season having thrown his split just three percent of the time over his career but threw it 14 percent of the time in 2013 with a 17 percent swing-and-miss rate, which helped offset his diminished velocity. If that trend continues, the $12.5MM annual value can be a bargain, Sarris concludes.
- The Orioles and Jimenez have been working on this deal for a long time, but things came together quickly yesterday when Baltimore conceded and added a fourth year, writes MASNsport.com's Roch Kubatko.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that with Jimenez and Matt Garza each landing four-year, $50MM contracts, Ervin Santana's agents now have a great deal of pressure in trying to match that figure. Sherman also spoke to an executive who called Jimenez the "ultimate crapshoot," noting that Baltimore could be getting a star or a bust. That same exec wondered if Jimenez will struggle facing more patient lineups in the AL East (Twitter links).
In the wake of reports that the Angels made a four-year, $52MM offer to Matt Garza in December and pulled it before he could respond, Garza himself confirmed to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy that the Halos did make (and quickly pull) an offer. Garza says that he was on vacation with his wife, celebrating their anniversary: "I was on vacation with my wife and I didn’t want to be disturbed, and it was like, ‘Here it is, we’ll pull it in a certain amount of hours.’ I didn’t have a chance to respond, so I just said, ‘Whatever. It is what it is.'" Garza wound up receiving a slightly smaller guarantee from the Brewers ($50MM), though his deal could be worth as much as $67MM if his fifth-year option triggers and he maxes out his contract's incentives. Garza told McCalvy that upon meeting Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, he felt the club genuinely wanted to sign him, and that was a big factor in his decision.
Here's more from the AL West...
- Don't rule out a return to the Mariners for Kendrys Morales, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Cafardo hears that the Pirates aren't willing to forfeit the draft pick they would need to sign Morales. He also hears that Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette can't get the financial go-ahead from owner Peter Angelos to meet Morales' asking price.
- Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wonders if it would be the best fit for all parties if Nelson Cruz returned to the Rangers on a one-year deal. Grant speculates on some contract specifics that could allow Cruz to earn more than the $14.1MM qualifying offer he rejected, and wonders it the two sides could agree in advance not to go the qualifying offer route next offseason.
- Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis knows the timing of the flexor tendon injury that has shelved him for the last season-and-a-half was horrible (he was three months from free agency), but the 35-year-old is keeping his head up, writes ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett. Rather than lament his misfortune, Lewis instead said that he prefers to count his blessings: "Baseball has given me the opportunity to play and make good money and do it as long as I have."
- Athletics lefty Tommy Milone might appear to be behind Scott Kazmir, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin on the depth chart, but he's been assured by manager Bob Melvin that he's in the running for a rotation spot, tweets John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group. The A's currently have six starters for five rotation spots, but there's been little talk of them trading an arm.
Mets pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. tomorrow. In advance of the official onset of their Spring Training, here is the latest on the Amazins...
- Andy Martino of the New York Daily News cites a Major League source in reporting that there's been some recent talk between the Mets and Nelson Cruz's camp, but the two sides are "highly unlikely" to strike a deal. Still, Cruz and agent Adam Katz seem likely to explore their options as talks between Cruz and the Mariners were said to be on hold as of yesterday (Seattle is currently pursuing starting pitchers).
- Martino also checked in on the Mets' interest in Kendrys Morales, and unsurprisingly was told that there hasn't been much interest since early in the offseason.
- Ike Davis says there was "a little bit of shock that I didn't get traded," writes Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Within Rubin's piece, Davis repeatedly states that offseason trade rumors were "not a big deal," and says he's happy to return to the Mets. Davis has been working on his swing since November and hopes that correcting an unnoticed bad habit involving his back leg can help to improve his production. He also joked, "Who knows? Not changing my swings 65 times might help."
- Rubin tweets that manager Terry Collins has stated Bobby Parnell will be his closer in 2014 despite the additions of former closers Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth. That's good news for Parnell, as the additional saves will help his final arbitration next offseason as he heads into his contract year.
Perhaps the most intriguing "what if?" scenario in recent baseball history is what if Alex Rodriguez has joined the Red Sox (rather than the Yankees) prior to the 2004 season. The Deal, the latest instalment of ESPN's "30 For 30 Shorts" series, explores the near-trade that would've sent Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon McCarthy from the Rangers to the Red Sox in exchange for Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Jon Lester. A-Rod even agreed to restructure his contract and take less money to make the deal work, though this was what eventually scuttled the trade, as the MLBPA wouldn't allow the agreement due to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Only a few weeks later, Texas instead traded Rodriguez to the Yankees and the rest is history.
Here's the latest in a very newsworthy day from around the AL East...
- Derek Jeter's impending retirement underscores the Yankees' lack of shortstop depth, MLB.com's Bryan Hoch writes, as it seems that Jeter's eventual replacement isn't currently on New York's roster. The Yankees could sign one of the quality shortstops available in next winter's free agent class, Hoch notes, or Stephen Drew exists as a current option that could be signed to play second or third for a year and then take over at short in 2015.
- Scott Boras, Drew's agent, has recently been looking to get his client an opt-out clause after the first year of a new deal. While some see Boras' demands as a longshot, Fangraphs' Mike Petriello notes that the opt-out could fit into the Yankees' plans, making Drew an even more obvious upgrade for the club's infield.
- The Red Sox haven't offered Drew a contract for longer than one year, John Tomase of the Boston Herald reports (via Twitter). Drew would like at least a one-year contract and an option, a source tells Tomase.
- The Orioles continue to be in contact with Kendrys Morales' representatives and are still interested in the free agent slugger, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets.
- It seems as if the Orioles prefer Ervin Santana to Ubaldo Jimenez, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun writes, as he has heard more tying the O's to the former free agent hurler than he has the latter. "I know the Orioles have talked to his people, but I didn’t get a sense that he was atop their list," Connolly says. There were whispers earlier this week that the O's were upping their pursuit of Santana or Jimenez. In the same piece, Connolly answers a number of Orioles-related questions from fans on Twitter.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington says that one reason for the Bucs' relatively quiet offseason is that they didn't want to make moves that would hurt them beyond 2014, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. "We'll see if those situations come back available," says Huntington. "If not, we feel good about this club, we feel good about our core. We've got some guys that are deserving of opportunities and if they can't capitalize on those, then we begin to look elsewhere." After an extremely successful 2013 season, the Pirates' only significant moves this offseason have been signing free agent starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and trading for former Yankees catcher Chris Stewart. A.J. Burnett, one of their top starting pitchers in 2013, remains on the free agent market. Here are more notes on the Pirates.
- Earlier today, one report suggested that, if the price were low enough, the Pirates would have interest in free agent Kendrys Morales to help them at first base. MLB.com's Tom Singer lists the pros and cons of signing Morales -- Morales would help the Pirates at designated hitter in interleague series, Singer says, but his limited ability to play first base regularly is a detriment. Also, of course, there's the fact that Morales would cost the Pirates the No. 25 overall pick in the draft this June.
- The Pirates' current options at first base include Gaby Sanchez (who will almost certainly make the team as a strong option against lefties), Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness. But the Bucs will continue to search for a first baseman to start against right-handers, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review writes. They might not acquire him until the end of spring training, when teams might be more motivated to make trades as they try to set their rosters.
Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio spoke with multiple agents and executives over the weekend and got contradictory takes on the reasons for so many top free agents remaining unsigned (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Agents told Bowden that they (and the MLBPA) feel that the heightened media coverage resulting from social networking has damaged players' market values. Reports from media members about how teams value players and whether or not they've made offers to players could be violations of the CBA, those parties told Bowden. Meanwhile, executives said to Bowden that the market is simply full of players with baggage (draft pick compensation, PED usage, inconsistent performance) and added that agents entered the offseason with unnatural expectations for their clients.
Here are just some of the highlights from a jam-packed column from the former Nationals and Reds GM...
- Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely candidates from next year's crop of free agent starting pitchers to sign an extension, Bowden writes. Despite the fact that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client (Boras prefers his clients to test the open market), Scherzer seems to want to remain loyal to the Tigers. However, Bowden notes that an extension would still need to be somewhere close to Scherzer's market value, which Bowden pegs at a whopping $196MM over seven years.
- The Red Sox have made a two-year offer to Stephen Drew, one source told Bowden. The value of that reported offer is unclear, as is the date on which it was made.
- The Nationals have discussed Jose Lobaton trades with the Rays as they look to add a backup catcher for Wilson Ramos. Lobaton figures to be expendable for the Rays, as they project to have a strong defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina behind the dish. Shedding Lobaton's $950K salary would seem to be more beneficial to the tight-budgeted Rays than most teams, particularly if they don't have a roster spot for him.
- The Dodgers are pushing for an infielder over another starting pitcher and hope to have a deal done within the next 48 hours. Los Angeles isn't likely to bid on any of the remaining free agent starters unless they're willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren did to play near his hometown.
- Kendrys Morales is the most likely free agent to be this year's version of Kyle Lohse, writes Bowden. He notes that the Orioles -- who still have about $15MM to spend -- and Mariners remain interested in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client. Both are still in on Nelson Cruz as well. MLBTR readers seem to agree with the Morales/Lohse comparison; in the poll I conducted earlier this morning asking which Top 50 free agent would be the next to sign, he drew the fewest votes.
- The Royals and Indians are both highly unlikely to be able to lure back their respective free agent pitchers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are a likely landing spot for both pitchers.
In his latest ESPN Insider piece (subscription required and recommended), Buster Olney covered some interesting topics. Among them:
- It makes sense for the Braves to roll the dice on winning their upcoming arbitration hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, says Olney, who notes that Kimbrel could otherwise earn more through arbitration than he might get on the open market. The stakes are high for both sides: Kimbrel's $9MM demand would set him up for perhaps a $14-15MM payday next year, while the Braves' $6.55MM counter could hold him to the $10-11MM range in 2015. That could make the difference between whether he is kept in Atlanta or is instead dealt to free up payroll space. And, as Olney notes, the return on Kimbrel in a trade might not be quite what fans would hope for if he is going to be paid like a starter.
- In spite of the MLB rules prohibiting team officials and agents from dispensing certain types of information regarding free agents, says Olney, a "tsunami of disinformation" has hit the rumor mill this offseason.
- Some MLB team executives have told Olney that Kendrys Morales may need to wait to sign until after the June 5-7 amateur draft if he hopes to beat the $14.1MM qualifying offer rate that he previously declined. By rule, a signing team would no longer be required to sacrifice draft pick compensation for Morales at that point. And, Olney notes, injuries and other happenings could increase demand.
- One major issue (among others) with this hypothetical strategy, I would suggest, is that Morales would only be able to earn a prorated portion of whatever 2014 salary he arrives at. For a player who was never really expected to land more than a two-year deal, giving up half-a-year of playing time might be more costly than just signing with the compensation attached.
- If Nolan Ryan joins the Astros organization, reports Olney, he will not be interested in serving as a figurehead and will want to have a voice in player personnel decisions.
- The Blue Jays are "in the mix" for shortstop Stephen Drew, presumably viewing him as a second base option. Nevertheless, the Red Sox remain the favorites to land him, as they prefer to play Xander Bogaerts at third and appear willing to give Drew multiple years. Boston could dangle an opt-out clause of some kind to sweeten things for Drew, Heyman adds. There was a competing report last night on the Yankees' interest, but Heyman says that the club "seem[s] more interested in Drew than ever" after landing Masahiro Tanaka.
- Toronto, says Heyman, figures to be a major threat to land any of the prominent remaining free agents. As he explained further today, the Jays -- armed with two protected first-round draft picks -- may have made the strategic decision to wait out the market for players that are burdened with draft pick compensation. Likewise, as Heyman wrote today, the Mariners could still figure in on the top of the remaining free agent crop.
- Kendrys Morales is among the players who Heyman says could land with either of those clubs. The Jays like Morales, but presumably would need to deal first baseman/DH Adam Lind to bring him on board. Likewise, the Rangers could potentially be involved, but would likely have to flip Mitch Moreland for a Morales signing to fit. If one of those clubs did land Morales, the Pirates might be a club that could swoop in on the trade market, says Heyman.
- The market for Nelson Cruz is looking thin, Heyman says. Cruz may not want to play in Safeco Field, and other possible landing spots like the Orioles and Rangers are focused on pitching.
- Turning to the mound, Heyman said that Ubaldo Jimenez may now be willing to drop his salary demands and could ultimately land in the three-year, $39MM range. The Blue Jays and Orioles are the most likely clubs to sign Jimenez, according to Heyman, with the O's still concerned about burning a draft pick. Meanwhile, the Indians could still get involved if the price on Jimenez falls even further.
Yesterday, I took a side-by-side look at right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, asking MLBTR readers who they preferred between the prominent early-30s hurlers, as each has seen his free agent stock weighed down by draft pick compensation. Today, let's take a look at another pair of players who are languishing on the free agent market due to their ties to draft pick compensation: Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales.
While Cruz, unlike Morales, is an outfielder by trade, neither is known as a solid defensive player. Rather, each is valued primarily for his bat, and teams/fans can make the case that each is best suited for a DH role at this point in his career (the players and their agents, of course, would strongly disagree).
Cruz, 33, entered the offseason as one of the top right-handed power bats on the open market -- a rare trait among free agents. No remaining free agent, not even Morales, can claim to match Cruz's power. He batted .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in 2013 in just 109 games (446 plate appearances). However, the reason for the shortened campaign wasn't injury, but rather a 50-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis PED scandal. Cruz can argue that he's served his time and state that his violations took place in 2012 (via the L.A. Times' Mike DiGiovanna) as he recovered from a rare illness that caused him to lose roughly 40 pounds, thereby indicating that his 2013 numbers were legitimate. Interested teams don't appear as likely to write off the suspension, however.
Morales comes with his own baggage, though his in the form of injury history. The 30-year-old switch-hitter fractured his leg in 2010 while celebrating a walk-off grand slam and missed the better part of two seasons recovering from that freak accident. Morales has posted solid offensive numbers since returning (.275/.329/.457), but his production hasn't come close to matching that which he showed in 2009-10 (.303/.353/.548 in 203 games) prior to his injury.
Neither player is considered much of a defender, though Morales is limited to first base while Cruz can man a corner outfield spot, even if defensive metrics don't speak highly of his outfield play. Even at his best, Morales' isolated power (slugging minus batting average) from 2009-10 was .246 -- roughly the same as the .241 mark Cruz has averaged over the past six years. However, Morales is a switch-hitter who strikes out far less often and is also three years younger than Cruz. He's also succeeded in pitcher-friendly environments, whereas Cruz's .912 OPS at Rangers Ballpark dwarfs his career road mark of .734.
Clearly, each player has some flaws. Cruz likely offers more power and can be played a more valuable defensive position, but he's older, strikes out more and comes with troubling home/road splits. Morales has yet to prove that he can replicate his monster 2009 season, and he's even more defensively limited than Cruz, as all but 31 of his games last season came as a DH. Either would bolster the majority of Major League lineups, but (assuming both would fit on your team) if you had to choose just one...
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checks in with GMs, players, writers, and scouts to help run down the best coaches in baseball. On his list of bench coaches who are managers in waiting: Brad Mills of the Indians, Torey Luvullo of the Red Sox, Larry Bowa of the Phillies, Tim Flannery of the Giants, and the Brewers' Jerry Narron. More from today's column..
- The Pirates probably won’t go after a pitcher if A.J. Burnett retires. Right now, Pittsburgh is looking for a full-time first baseman and would use the money that would have gone to the veteran toward that end. Cafardo also notes that the Orioles could be a "wild card" in the situation since Burnett lives in Baltimore.
- While the bids of the other teams are still unknown, one GM threw out the following figures in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes: Yankees $155MM, Cubs $120MM, Diamondbacks $120MM, Dodgers $119MM, White Sox $100MM, Astros $100MM.
- The Diamondbacks were head over heels for Tanaka, but the fact they weren’t on one of the coasts and they were in a smaller media market worked against them.
- Scott Boras doesn't represent David Ortiz, but he tells Cafardo that he feels for them. Boras sees some similarities between the Red Sox star and his own client Kendrys Morales. Morales is seen by most clubs as a DH rather than a first baseman which is hurting his value. Boras argues that Ortiz is the featured power hitter in Boston's lineup as a DH and believes that Morales can also provide value in that role.
- There had been some talk that Daisuke Matsuzaka might go back to Japan to pitch, but the possibility of breaking into the Mets’ rotation with Matt Harvey out intrigued Matsuzaka enough to fight for a spot.
- The Giants have been through a lot with Pablo Sandoval and even if he has a good season, this could be Pablo Sandoval's last in San Francisco. Sandoval will be a free agent following the 2014 season.