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Koji Uehara Rumors
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara will miss the rest of the season after being diagnosed with a fractured wrist, the club announced. The team had expressed optimism after the right-hander was struck by a batted ball on Friday night, but further tests apparently revealed a significant injury.
Boston adds that Uehara, 40, “is expected to make a full recovery,” and the team will need him to do just that. He is already under contract for 2016, the back half of the two-year, $18MM deal he signed just before free agency opened following the 2014 campaign.
Despite cracking forty years at the start of the season, and losing about a tick on his average fastball velocity, Uehara has remained one of the league’s most reliably dominant bullpen arms. Through 40 1/3 innings, he owns a 2.23 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9. While that represents a slight decline on the strikeout side and nearly a doubling of the absurdly low walk rate he carried over his first two years with the Red Sox, Uehara still generated a swinging strike rate (18.6%) commensurate with recent seasons.
While the news is disappointing, it seemingly comes at a manageable time. The Red Sox bypassed the chance to trade Uehara at the deadline despite being out of contention, but will have plenty of time to bring him back to health before next season. Of course, it remains to be seen what kind of recovery timeline will be required, not to mention how the somewhat unusual injury could impact the aging-but-excellent veteran.
The Angels were first linked to Ben Revere in trade rumors in May but the rumors almost became a reality. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that the Phillies and Angels came close a few weeks ago on a trade that would’ve sent Revere to Anaheim for right-hander Trevor Gott. The Phils thought the deal was done but the Halos “pulled out of the deal at the last minute and tried to redirect the Phillies toward a starting pitching prospect.” Talks fell through after that. Here’s some more from Cafardo’s weekly notes column, with a particular focus on news from Toronto…
- Ian Kennedy has a 2.31 ERA over his last six starts and the Padres right-hander has begun to generate some trade interest in his services. Kennedy had an ugly 7.15 ERA over his first eight starts and owns a 4.86 ERA for the season, though his peripherals (8.51 K/9, 3.04 K/BB rate, 3.74 xFIP, 3.70 SIERA) are are pretty solid, aside from a 22.1% homer rate that more than double his career average. Kennedy is a free agent this winter and would be a natural trade chip for San Diego if the Friars decided to sell.
- Cole Hamels has publicly said he’s willing to consider deals to any team but is reportedly unlikely to waive his no-trade clause if he’s dealt to the Astros or Blue Jays. Cafardo wonders if Hamels would remain adamant against a move to Houston or Toronto, however, if those were the only deals on the table and his only avenues away from the rebuilding Phillies.
- Attracting free agents north of the border has long been an issue for the Blue Jays, as Cafardo cites higher taxes, customs delays and the Rogers Centre’s artificial surface as factors that can sometimes make Toronto a tough sell. (Josh Donaldson and Jose Reyes both praised their city, though Reyes admitted he isn’t a fan of the turf.) The bigger problem for the Jays, however, is that they have barely contended since their last playoff appearance in 1993. “It just seems GM Alex Anthopoulos has to go through corporate layers to OK big expenditures, slowing the process considerably,” Cafardo writes. “Players always want to know that their ownership is doing all it can to produce a winner.”
- Braves closer Jason Grilli is one of the Blue Jays‘ targets as the team looks for bullpen help. Grilli would cost less in both salary and trade chips than Jonathan Papelbon or Francisco Rodriguez, two closers who have also been connected to the Jays this summer. Atlanta isn’t yet looking to move Grilli, however, as the team is still in the race.
- Other have asked the Blue Jays about several players in trade talks, including young talent like Miguel Castro, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, Aaron Sanchez and Devon Travis.
- “Every indication is that” R.A. Dickey is in his last year with the Blue Jays, as the team will either use their $1MM buyout of Dickey’s $12MM club option for 2016 or Dickey may just retire. The 40-year-old knuckleballer had a tough start today against the Tigers and now owns a 5.02 ERA over 107 2/3 innings this season.
- Jeff Samardzija “may be the first starting pitcher moved ahead of the trading deadline” since “scouts are constantly at his games,” Cafardo writes. The White Sox aren’t ready to start selling yet, but they’ll find a strong market for Samardzija’s services that includes the Royals, Astros and Tigers. (Cafardo cited several more teams in the Samardzija market in his column last week.
- “Nobody knows what the Red Sox are going to do because they don’t know what they’re going to do,” one NL executive said. Boston has played modestly better as of late, winning 10 of its last 16 games, though the Sox are still just 38-45 on the season. Koji Uehara is cited by the executive as one of “a few players teams would want” if the Red Sox decided to start selling. The team is known to be looking for young pitching on the trade market.
Full Story | 22 Comments | Categories: Aaron Sanchez | Atlanta Braves | Ben Revere | Boston Red Sox | Chicago White Sox | Cole Hamels | Dalton Pompey | Daniel Norris | Detroit Tigers | devon travis | Houston Astros | Ian Kennedy | Jason Grilli | Jeff Samardzija | Kansas City Royals | Koji Uehara | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Miguel Castro | Newsstand | Philadelphia Phillies | R.A. Dickey | Roberto Osuna | San Diego Padres | Toronto Blue Jays
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggests ten steps to help fix the Red Sox. The first item on the list is one that has been discussed quite a bit – Boston’s need for a true ace in the rotation. Beyond that, Cafardo would like to see the Sox trade Clay Buchholz, focus on acquiring players who can thrive in their environment, and hire an executive to oversee and question the moves of GM Ben Cherington. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from Cafardo’s Sunday offering..
- White Sox left-hander Chris Sale is on a strikeout tear and teams would surely like to add him this summer. However, team sources tell Cafardo that Sale is not available. Even though the White Sox are in last place, they see him as the cornerstone of their franchise. Sale, 26, has a 2.74 ERA with 12.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 through 13 starts this season.
- There have been conflicting reports on the subject, but Cafardo hears that the Mets have made inquiries on Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez, who turns 37 this week, has hit just .220/.256/.405 in 211 plate appearances this season. However, some feel that a move to a contending club could get him back on track. Cafardo also writes that it wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants or Padres got in the mix on the veteran.
- Teams are watching Red Sox closer Koji Uehara and monitoring him to make sure that he’s free of serious injury concerns. At the same time, his $9MM salary for next season is a deterrent for rival teams. “There’s always going to be a holding of your breath to commit to him, but he’s still very good. Boston would have to pick up some of the salary. But I think teams will definitely inquire and make a push for him,” one AL evaluator told Cafardo.
- Jonathan Papelbon would seem to be a great fit for the the Blue Jays, but money continues to be an issue for Toronto. The Phillies could probably assume a lot of Papelbon’s deal for this year and some of the $13MM vesting option for 2016, but the sense is that Toronto wants to go even cheaper. Also, they don’t want to give up youngster Daniel Norris to find their late-inning solution.
In his weekly Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports begins by taking a look at a messy situation in Philadelphia. Heyman hears the same rumblings that were first reported by CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury — that Andy MacPhail could very well be in line for an executive role with the Phillies. The hiring of MacPhail would bring into question the status of both GM Ruben Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg. While one exec notes that no one could have had much success with the hand Sandberg has been dealt, his calm demeanor hasn’t motivated the team much, and he may have lost the clubhouse at this point. Heyman notes that partial owner John Middleton, who is believed by some to be calling the shots in Philly, may have extra impetus to get a new decision-maker in the door so that a lame-duck GM (Amaro’s contract expires at season’s end) isn’t the primary decision-maker on what could be a franchise-altering Cole Hamels trade. Speaking of Hamels, Heyman notes that interested teams will want to see him pitch at least twice now that he had a start pushed back due to a hamstring strain, thinning the window of opportunity to trade him. As far as Jonathan Papelbon goes, the belief is that he’d approve any trade that sent him to a contending team, though the Cubs might be his preferred fit at this point if he had a say in the matter.
Some more highlights from Heyman’s latest (though there’s more in the column than we can cover here)…
- The Braves have tried to trade Chris Johnson and even offered to substantially pay down the remaining money on his contract, but there’s been little interest. The Johnson deal was widely questioned from the start, and there’s still about $21MM owed to Johnson through the end of the 2017 season. Johnson’s a viable weapon against lefties, but he’s a sub-par hitter against right-handed pitchers and is not well-regarded from a defensive standpoint.
- Rival teams are beginning to wonder if the Red Sox might sell some pieces this summer, with Mike Napoli, Clay Buchholz and Koji Uehara among the possible names listed by Heyman. Napoli isn’t hitting for average but has shown good power and a nice walk rate. Buchholz has improved after a rocky start and Uehara again has strong numbers in the ‘pen.
- The White Sox are beginning to think about selling, Heyman hears, but they’re not quite ready to move their bigger pieces. Emilio Bonifacio might be the first name they make available, but eventually, Jeff Samardzija‘s name could be out there. Heyman writes that while Samardzija isn’t pitching well in 2015, his big arm is so tantalizing to scouts that there will still be interest in him.
- The Reds aren’t expected to sell until after the All-Star Game and would be very open to shedding Brandon Phillips‘ contract, per Heyman, though I have a difficult time envisioning too many teams lining up to take on the remainder of that deal. Phillips is owed about $34.1MM through the end of the 2017 season and has seen his power more or less vanish. Heyman speculates that Everth Cabrera could be a fit in Cincinnati with Zack Cozart out for the year, and there’s some logic to that scenario, though they may first prefer to see what they have in Eugenio Suarez. The Mets aren’t interested in Cabrera, he adds later.
- The Marlins aren’t selling yet, according to GM-turned-manager Dan Jennings. “We’re in it, we’re not jumping off the ship. No doubt about that,” Jennings told Heyman. If their attitude changes, Heyman thinks they’ll find interest in Martin Prado and Mike Dunn.
- The Astros like Aaron Harang but are said to be aiming higher when looking at potential trade targets to bolster their rotation.
- The Dodgers are on the hunt for a top-tier starting pitcher and a late-inning arm to help bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen. In other Dodgers-related news, Heyman hears that No. 35 pick Kyle Funkhouser is strongly considering returning to Louisville. Funkhouser was once looked at as a potential Top 10 pick, but he fell to a slot with a $1.756MM value. He’d have less leverage in 2016 as a senior sign, of course, but he could certainly improve his draft stock and his bonus with a big senior year.
- Yankees chief international officer/executive vice president Felix Lopez is no longer listed on the team’s web site and some indicate that he’s been gone from the organization for three months, Heyman writes. Lopez was said to have angered Yoan Moncada‘s camp after calling to express displeasure with their decision to sign in Boston over New York. The team hasn’t made a statement on his departure.
- The Rays are looking for first base help with James Loney on the disabled list, but Loney’s said to be returning around the All-Star break. Heyman speculates on the possibility of Ryan Howard ending up in Tampa Bay if the Phillies eat some or all of the contract, but I’d think there’d be something of a logjam there once Loney is activated in that scenario.
Full Story | 27 Comments | Categories: Aaron Harang | Andy MacPhail | Atlanta Braves | Boston Red Sox | Brandon Phillips | Chicago Cubs | Chicago White Sox | Chris Johnson | Cincinnati Reds | Clay Buchholz | Cole Hamels | Emilio Bonifacio | Everth Cabrera | Houston Astros | Jeff Samardzija | Jonathan Papelbon | Koji Uehara | Los Angeles Dodgers | Martin Prado | Miami Marlins | Mike Dunn | Mike Napoli | New York Yankees | Philadelphia Phillies | Ryan Howard | Ryne Sandberg | Tampa Bay Rays
The entire AL East has had troubles with starting pitching so far this season, Peter Gammons writes. Heading into play today, the division had only produced 34 quality starts in 90 games. Gammons feels the Yankees‘ strong bullpen and ability to upgrade their roster via the trade market this summer could make them the favorite in the division — they have plenty of Double-A talent they could trade, and they have the ability to afford an additional expensive starting pitcher. Here’s more from the AL East.
- Koji Uehara‘s struggles Saturday night raise questions about whether the Red Sox made the right move in re-signing Uehara and letting Andrew Miller leave for the Yankees last offseason, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. The Red Sox gave Uehara two years and $18MM, a commitment that Cafardo notes surprised some observers, given Uehara’s injury issues and his play down the stretch last year (and, presumably, given the fact that he’s 40). Miller, meanwhile, got twice that amount from the Yankees and has pitched well so far. It is perhaps worth noting, though, that Uehara has six strikeouts and no walks in 4 1/3 innings thus far this season. Worries about him might be somewhat premature.
- The Rays have been successful so far this season despite serious troubles with injuries, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain writes. Last offseason and the start of this season have been a test for president of baseball operations Matt Silverman, who has now had to deal with losing his manager and with having 12 players (including Drew Smyly and James Loney, who have since returned) on the disabled list at once.
We recently look a look at the Boston outfield situation, noting that the logjam still seemed in need of clearance. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes in response to a fan that the Red Sox need to trade Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, or both. A healthy Victorino, he continues, would likely either be a regular in the outfield or be traded. Cafardo adds that he does not expect a bench role to suit the veteran, although Boston would likely have to eat some of Victorino’s $13MM salary to trade him.
Here are some more notes out of Boston, all via WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford:
- The Red Sox had “numerous discussions” with Scott Boras about Max Scherzer over the offseason, Bradford reports. Boston valued Scherzer on the level of Jon Lester, and eventually came to realize that it was not going to get him at a price the team was willing to pay. Boras never gave any indication that a cut rate might be had for Scherzer, a source tells Bradford, and it seems clear in retrospect that he had good reason for that stance.
- Boston did end up with another talented righty at a much lower cost in Justin Masterson. As Bradford writes, the former Indian bet on himself last year and lost. But he says he has no regrets about failing to reach an extension with Cleveland and settling for a one-year, make-good deal with the Sox. Of course, at a $9.5MM salary, Masterson is receiving quite a nice guarantee while he tries to work through his troubles.
- Another right-handed starter entering a potential contract year for the Red Sox is Clay Buchholz, who Bradford spoke with recently. Suddenly the veteran of the staff, Buchholz’s guaranteed money runs out after this season. The club controls him for two more years through successive options ($13MM and $13.5MM, respectively), but it is far from certain that they will be picked up. Either way, Buchholz is certainly pitching for his next contract, and tells Bradford that he hopes a normal offseason will contribute to a strong 2015.
- Bradford was also among the reporters to speak with Koji Uehara yesterday as Uehara detailed his thought process when it came to re-signing in Boston. “No doubt at all,” said Uehara. “It was the only team I talked to so I was pretty sure if I was going to sign it was going to be with the Red Sox. Since the Red Sox had offers of multiple years that really erased any doubts going into the offseason as a free agent. … Because of my age, it was very important.”
Right-hander Dillon Gee is likely the odd man out and headed to the Mets‘ bullpen this season, and ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin was among the reporters to speak with him today regarding the move (video link). Gee says he is ready to contribute in whatever role he is asked, even though he obviously prefers to stay in the rotation. Though he did not ever speak with anyone in the front office, he relayed that his agent did, and was seemingly left with the impression that a trade was never quite as likely as was believed in some quarters.
Let’s have a look at a few segments of the pitching market where action still seems open:
- It would still be unwise to bet against two other well-known closers — Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano — landing substantial contracts, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Notably, both free agents are represented by Scott Boras, who Rosenthal says not to bet against. As Rosenthal rightly points out, it will be interesting to see whether that pair of big-named arms manages to top the guarantees given to names like Pat Neshek ($12.5MM) and Zach Duke ($15MM).
- As previously reported, Rodriguez has drawn interest from the Marlins, who have also had discussions about fellow free agent righty Joba Chamberlain, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). And those aren’t the only arms still under consideration in Miami, per Heyman. The club is seemingly casting a wide net — waiting for a good value, perhaps — in adding a final piece before camp.
- Red Sox closer Koji Uehara said today that his mid-season swoon was due in part to injury issues, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports. The trouble was related to Uehara’s lower back, GM Ben Cherington said. Obviously, the club believes that he will be able to return without issue, given the contract it gave the veteran relief ace.
- Breakout Angels starter Garrett Richards threw his first pen session since undergoing knee surgery last year, as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Reports were solid on the 26-year-old righty, whose return — and ability to match his outstanding results from last year — will go a long way toward defining the club. Anything close to his 2014 showing would seemingly make Richards a prime extension target.
The Red Sox announced that they have signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension that runs through the 2016 season. Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that it is a two-year, $18MM contract (Twitter link). Uehara is represented by Mark Pieper of Relativity Sports.
Uehara, who turns 40 next April, has thrived over the past two seasons in Boston, rising from elite setup man to All-Star closer in short order. Though he finished 2014 on a negative note — he yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings and pitched just five time in September due to arm fatigue — Uehara has overall been nothing short of outstanding in Boston.
In 138 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, Uehara has pitched to a pristine 1.75 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He was a postseason hero during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors after appearing in five of the six games in that series. Though not a flamethrower, Uehara racks up strikeouts thanks to an exceptional split-finger. This past season, the only pitcher in all of Major League Baseball who posted a higher swinging-strike rate than Uehara’s 18.8 percent was Aroldis Chapman.
Uehara figures to be the first significant signing of what should be an active offseason for the Red Sox, who appear to have no plans to go into rebuilding mode on the heels of a last-place finish in 2014. Rather, the Red Sox prioritized adding MLB-ready help at the trade deadline and are expected to pursue at least one top starting pitcher on the open market in the offseason. Boston has also been connected to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. To that end, Uehara’s contract isn’t a detriment to the team’s long-term outlook. Including Uehara, the Red Sox still have just four contracts on the books for 2016 and only two guaranteed contracts to which they are committed beyond that season. That positions the team well to add at least one significant multi-year pact this winter, if not more.
In my recent free agent profile for Uehara, I pegged him for a one-year, $11MM contract on the open market while noting that I felt he could receive two years at a lower annual value should his preference be for security over the upside of another large one-year deal next offseason. His departure from the free agent market weakens a strong crop of relievers that is headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller but also includes Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and a number of other solid arms.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Koji Uehara had a meteoric rise to becoming one of the most dominant closers in the game, but the 39-year-old also had a sharp decline at the end of the 2014 season that has seriously clouded his free agent stock.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a relief pitcher — or any pitcher — with definitively better control than Uehara. Since jumping to the Majors in 2009, Uehara has walked 46 batters in 350 1/3 innings, and four of those have been intentional. He’s averaged just 1.2 walks per nine innings over a six-year career, and a dozen of those walks came in his rookie season. He hasn’t walked more than nine batters in any of the past five seasons.
Uehara isn’t just a control artist, however. Armed with a devastating split-finger, Uehara struck out 11.2 hitters per nine innings this season and has averaged 10.6 K/9 in his MLB career. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, his ridiculous 18.8 percent swinging strike rate in 2014 was second only to Aroldis Chapman.
He battled a bit of shoulder soreness early in the year, but Uehara was able to avoid the disabled list for the second straight season. He’s been on the DL just once in the past four seasons, when he missed a little more than two months with a strained right lat. Overall, he’s been durable and highly effective as a late-inning option for the Orioles, Rangers and Red Sox.
Uehara comes with experience in a setup role and in a closing role. He took over as the closer for the 2013 Red Sox and played a significant role in their World Series victory, posting a 1.09 ERA with 12.2 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in the regular season before firing 13 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the playoffs. He struck out 16 hitters without issuing a walk in the postseason and was named ALCS MVP after appearing in five of the six games. Teams will value the fact that he has thrived in a major market and on the game’s biggest stage.
Uehara will pitch next season at the age of 40, so clubs will inevitably have some reservation about his age.
The bigger concern for interested teams, however, will likely be the precipitous drop-off in his performance at the end of the season. Uehara yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings this past season, leading many to wonder if he had become fatigued after a such heavy workload over the past two years. Uehara pitched only five times in the month of September, as he was shut down for a large portion of the month. Dominant as he’s been, that slide, coupled with his age, is will be seen as a reason for pause.
Uehara has never thrown hard, but his 88.2 mph average fastball last season was the second-slowest of his big league career and represented a noticeable drop from the prior year’s 89.2 mph mark. He also throws more splitters than any reliever in baseball — a pitch that is believed by many to put a high amount of stress on the elbow. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Rays manager Joe Maddon and former Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson all weighed in on the risks of the pitch in this 2011 piece from the Associated Press.
Though a clear language barrier separates Uehara from his teammates, he’s learned enough to get by with teammates since moving to the U.S. and is wildly popular among teammates, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote late last year. Uehara is a master of using impersonations to get a laugh out of teammates; Brian Matusz spoke kindly of a particularly amusing impression of Jim Johnson, MacPherson wrote. Craig Breslow told MacPherson that no one thinks of Uehara as someone from another continent. “They think of him as one of the guys.” Breslow was complimentary of Uehara’s one-liners, stating that because he didn’t speak quite enough English to build up context, “Every time he opens his mouth, it’s a punchline.” Drake Britton called Uehara “one of the coolest people” he’s ever met.
Uehara is married and has one child. In his time with Boston he’s been active in the community by visiting victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, participating in a golf tournament to benefit a South Florida children’s hospital and participating in a baseball camp for children, among many other events/appearances, per the Red Sox media guide.
The Red Sox have made it known that they want Uehara back in 2015, and there’s mutual interest between the two sides. While they’ve taken the ambiguous stance of stating that they’re not sure whether they’ll extend a qualifying offer, I have to imagine that a QO is firmly out of the question after Uehara’s late-season struggles. While most players prefer the security of a multi-year deal and are therefore disinclined to take the QO, the 40-year-old Uehara almost certainly wouldn’t be able to top that mark and would likely accept.
While Uehara certainly has a good relationship with Boston, he said in an interview with the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham this summer that he’s willing to go to any club in free agency: “The experience with the Red Sox has been fun. The World Series and now being selected an All-Star. But I don’t have any specific teams that I want to play for. Any team that wants me the most is fine.”
Any team in need of bullpen help on a short-term deal would be interested in Uehara, though given his age, it seems that he would likely limit himself to contending clubs in hopes off reaching another World Series. In addition to the Red Sox, I’d imagine that the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, Nationals, Cardinals and Giants could all show interest in Uehara.
Uehara hasn’t given any indication that he’s only looking to play one more season, so it seems possible that he could get some offers of both the one- and two-year variety. On a two-year deal, given his age and poor results over his final five weeks or so, I have a difficult time envisioning him signing for a fair AAV.
While Uehara certainly may prefer the security of playing on a multi-year deal after going year-to-year for so long, there might not be much upside for him taking a lower AAV to lock in the second year. If he could find a one-year offer similar to the $10MM deal Mariano Rivera signed prior to the 2013 season, Uehara could eclipse his theoretical ceiling on a two-year guarantee even with a somewhat diminished performance in 2015. Unless he blows out his arm, it seems reasonable that he could expect to find $5-6MM next winter with any sort of reasonable success, and possibly quite a bit more.
This seems to me to be a matter of preference for the player (one-year at a higher AAV or two years with some additional security), but the I’m predicting that Uehara will sign a one-year, $11MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.