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Kris Bryant Rumors
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is said to be “ready to reach out to [Kris] Bryant soon to determine his mindset” on whether or not a grievance should be filed against the Cubs for holding him in Triple-A to start the season, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports in his latest Inside Baseball column. Heyman notes that the union could file a grievance on Bryant’s behalf even without his consent, though that’s unlikely. The issue at hand, of course, would be whether or not Bryant was clearly one of Chicago’s 25 best players and the demotion was made purely for service time implications. (Chicago bought an extra year of control over Bryant by stashing him in the Minors for all of eight games/11 days). Heyman points out that it would be difficult to an arbitrator to rule in Bryant’s favor, as there’s no precedent for this type of grievance. Players in similar situations have historically been hesitant to file a grievance, he adds, because it would be a contentious way to begin a relationship with a team to which a player will be tied for the next six-plus years. A “Cubs connected person” called the notion of a grievance “laughable” when asked by Heyman. However, the points that Bryant was recalled on the first day the team could add him while still delaying free agency and slotted directly into the cleanup spot could make a case that the club had an understanding of his value, Heyman writes. From the union’s perspective, it’s understandable that they’d have interest in preventing this type of situation in the future, even if it’s a long shot.
More highlights from a lengthy Heyman column…
- The Padres don’t yet view Melvin Upton Jr. as a throwaway piece and will use him as an occasional outfielder and pinch-runner, Heyman writes. He also looks back on Upton’s original five-year, $75.2MM pact and notes that it’s one of the worst contracts in recent history, particularly given the fact that the next-highest offer was believed to come from the Phillies at somewhere in the $40MMs.
- The league’s investigation into the Rays‘ allegations of the Cubs‘ tampering in the Joe Maddon saga could come to a close as soon as next week, per Heyman. MLB was still interviewing people as recently as last week, but to this point there “is believed to have been no smoking guns found.”
- The Reds never approached right-hander Mike Leake about a contract extension this offseason, and the free-agent-to-be is said to be a bit hurt not to have been contacted. Leake’s not a front-line starter, but he’ll hit the open market heading into his age-28 season and currently sports a 3.56 ERA in 427 1/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2013. A third straight season of 190+ innings and an ERA in the mid-3.00s should position him for a nice contract, especially considering the fact that half of his starts have come in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
- Multiple teams have worked out Rafael Soriano, and while he’s on the Tigers‘ radar, there’s also been some contact with the Mariners. Heyman adds the Pirates, Indians and Dodgers as “logical suitors,” though I’d imagine the Pirates and Indians in particular would have some payroll constraints, depending on the asking price of agent Scott Boras.
- Heyman echoes ESPN’s Buster Olney in speculating that the Dodgers could make a run at extending Howie Kendrick, noting that the Dodgers love Kendrick both on the field and in the clubhouse. He also notes that the Dodgers are impressed with Alex Guerrero‘s bat and may coming around on him as a passable option at third base or in left field, though the team is already well-stocked at each position.
- The Pirates and Gregory Polanco may have come as close as about $1MM on agreeing to a seven-year contract, Heyman hears. The biggest holdup was over the three club options on the deal, which ranged from $11-13MM, and when the team would have been required to exercise them.
- Though recent reports have indicated that John Lackey hopes the Cardinals will approach him about an extension, Heyman writes that it’s not a likely scenario. St. Louis likes its pitching depth and the young starters in line beyond those in the 2015 rotation.
- The Orioles asked the Blue Jays for both of the team’s first round picks from the 2014 draft — right-hander Jeff Hoffman and catcher Max Pentecost — in exchange for the ability to hire EVP/general manager Dan Duquette as their new president, according to Heyman.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: B.J. Upton | Baltimore Orioles | Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati Reds | Dan Duquette | Detroit Tigers | Gregory Polanco | Howie Kendrick | Jeff Hoffman | Joe Maddon | John Lackey | Kris Bryant | Los Angeles Dodgers | Max Pentecost | Mike Leake | Philadelphia Phillies | Pittsburgh Pirates | Rafael Soriano | San Diego Padres | Seattle Mariners | St. Louis Cardinals | Tampa Bay Rays | Toronto Blue Jays
Indians manager Terry Francona relates an entertaining story about contracts and signing bonuses that goes back two generations, via Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer. Francona’s father, former big-league outfielder Tito, was trying to get a better deal from the Tigers in 1958, telling team GM John McHale he needed more money because his wife was pregnant. “That’s not my problem,” McHale responded. The baby, of course, was Terry, and McHale was president of the Expos 22 years later when they picked him in the first round of the 1980 draft. Tito acted as Terry’s agent and negotiated a $100K bonus. He then called McHale. “Remember when my wife was pregnant and I wanted a raise,” he said. “Well, that baby is Terry and he just cost you $100,000!” Here’s more from the Central divisions.
- The Reds have reinstated starter Homer Bailey (elbow) from the disabled list and optioned reliever Pedro Villarreal to Triple-A Louisville, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. Bailey’s start against the Cardinals on Saturday will be his first since last August. Bailey pitched reasonably well in 2014 when he was available, and he’s in the second year of a $105MM contract, so the Reds will depend on him to be productive yet again.
- Cubs Triple-A infielder Chris Valaika is confident Kris Bryant will be successful in the big leagues, although he’s undoubtedly facing a new challenge, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat writes. “Everything’s escalated, the media presence doesn’t go away, and the game is crisper — it’s the big leagues for a reason,” says Valaika. “Those guys are the best of the best. They find a weakness and they exploit it until you close that hole. He will make adjustments, they will find a new one, and he will close it again.”
Cubs fans have been anxiously awaiting the debut of Kris Bryant since he began obliterating the upper levels of the Minor Leagues in 2014. The No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant batted a Herculean .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Unsurprisingly, he ranked as the game’s top prospect according to Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law, while MLB.com ranked him second and Baseball Prospectus ranked him fifth.
Bryant’s video-game-esque 2014 numbers prompted some, including agent Scott Boras, to advocate for a September call-up of the phenom. Bryant wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the time, though, and he never did receive the September call-up. In fact, even after Bryant hit a ridiculous nine home runs in just 40 Spring Training at-bats, he was reassigned to Minor League camp and began the season in Triple-A.
The Cubs maintain that the reasoning was for Bryant to work on his defense, and even today they’ve told reporters that Bryant would not have been recalled were it not for the fact that both Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt are on the disabled list. While that may be the case, it’s impossible to ignore that as of today, there are 171 days of the regular season remaining, which means Bryant will fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service time. In other words, by stashing Bryant in the Minors for the first 12 days of the season, the team has delayed his free agency by one season. Had Bryant broken camp with the club, he’d have been eligible for free agency following the 2020 season, but he’ll now have to wait until after the 2021 campaign.
Of course, it’s not all bad news for Bryant. He’ll now qualify for Super Two status, meaning that he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, rather than three. By the time Bryant is in his final year of arbitration eligibility (his seventh in the Majors), he could be earning more than $20MM, if he lives up to expectations. He may still take home less in the 2021 season than he would have had it been a free agent season, but he won’t be hurting from a financial standpoint. (It should also be noted that Bryant received a $6.7MM signing bonus out of the draft, so he’s already been compensated quite well without so much as an inning in the Majors.)
Boras and many Cubs fans (and baseball fans in general) have denounced the Cubs’ tactics, stating that a team telling its fanbase that it is doing everything it can to win should bring the 25 best players north to open the season, regardless of service time. Others have noted that the Cubs are far from the first team to manipulate service time in this manner, and that there’s certainly something to be said for trading 10 games of Bryant’s rookie season for a full year of control in his prime. Just yesterday, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes examined 11 top prospects who broke camp with their team, finding that by and large, the year-one benefit of roughly 10 extra games almost never outweighed the long-term negative of losing a full year of team control. (Jason Heyward was perhaps one notable exception, Tim found, as the Braves squeaked into the playoffs by just one game, and Heyward had a stellar rookie season.)
Detractors will say that the Cubs will rue the decision if they miss the postseason by a single game, and they can point to the fact that Chicago third baseman have batted a dismal .148/.233/.259 to begin the season. Supporters will point to the long-term gain of controlling Bryant’s age-29 season and the fact that many other clubs have acted in a similar fashion in the past. All of that said, let’s see where MLBTR readers come down on the issue…
The 23-year-old Bryant was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego and entered the season ranked as MLB’s No. 1 prospect according to both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked the third baseman second and fifth overall, respectively.
The timing of Bryant’s promotion isn’t exactly a surprise. Chicago generated some controversy by beginning Bryant in the Minor Leagues this season, but the move made sense for the team in the long term. By keeping Bryant in the Minors for the season’s first 12 days, he’ll fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service this season. While that means he will assuredly qualify as a Super Two player and be eligible for arbitration four times instead of the standard three, it also buys the team an additional year of club control. At the end of the 2020 season, Bryant will have five years, 171 days of Major League service time — assuming he is not optioned back to Triple-A at any point — leaving him a day shy of being eligible for free agency. In simpler terms, the Cubs opted to delay Bryant’s promotion by 12 days in order to extend their control over the phenom for an additional season.
Of course, the Cubs won’t acknowledge that as the reason for Bryant opening the year in Triple-A, nor should they. While the motives behind the decision are widely known, coming out and saying it would provide concrete fuel for a grievance from Bryant and agent Scott Boras. As MLBR’s Tim Dierkes noted earlier today, some teams have taken the plunge and allowed top prospects to break camp with the club, but it’s rarely, if ever, worth it for the team from a baseball standpoint. And there are plenty of other prospects who not-so-curiously open the year in Triple-A only to be promoted once enough time has passed to extend the team’s control by a year or to potentially prevent a player from reaching Super Two designation and entering arbitration an extra time.
While in some cases, the whole situation is mitigated by agreeing to a long-term contract that extends into a player’s free agent seasons, that was a highly unlikely outcome with the Boras-represented Bryant. Boras typically encourages his players to go year-to-year through the arbitration process and test free agency as early as possible. While there are a few notable exceptions, including Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez, the Cubs likely knew that their odds of controlling Bryant beyond the 2020 season without ponying up on a sizable free agent contract were slim. Boras outspokenly challenged the Cubs on their spring decision with Bryant, noting that it makes little sense for the team to claim it is trying to win while leaving a young player who could very well be one of the best on the team. In fact, in Boras’ mind, the question was not one of why Bryant may have to begin the season in the Minor Leagues, but rather one of why Bryant wasn’t promoted last September when rosters expanded.
From a statistical standpoint, it’s hard to say that Boras doesn’t have a case. Bryant annihilated Minor League pitching in 2014, hitting a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A. This spring, he batted .425/.477/1.175 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats. And to begin the year in Triple-A, Bryant hit .333/.379/.625 with a pair of homers in 29 plate appearances — and that was before going deep with a three-run homer tonight. The Cubs cited a need to work on his defense, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein accurately noted that he’s never had a prospect break camp out of Spring Training if it meant making his Major League debut on Opening Day. That reasoning appeared questionable at the time and looks transparent when juxtaposed with the convenient timing of his promotion, though the Cubs can point to the fact that both Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella are on the disabled list, creating a need at third base.
Bryant figures to step into an everyday role at third base or, potentially, in a corner outfield spot with the Cubs, hitting in the heart of their order. Few doubt that he’s ready to hit Major League pitching right now, and he adds to the Cubs’ growing young core. The Cubs are hoping that Bryant, along with the likes of Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell, among others, will lead the team back to prominence and break a World Series Championship drought — the Billy Goat curse — that spans more than 100 years. The team spent aggressively this offseason to add Jon Lester to the top of a rapidly improving rotation that also features breakout star Jake Arrieta, and expectations are high already in 2015. Many are expecting the Cubs to make the playoffs this season, and Bryant would be a vital component of a playoff berth. In the unlikely event that the Cubs miss the playoffs by a single game, there will unquestionably be some second-guessing about the decision to hold Bryant in Triple-A to begin the year.
Whether or not one agrees with the Cubs’ tactics, they are not the first, nor will they be the last team to employ this method with a highly regarded prospect. There are clear long-term benefits from a baseball operations standpoint, and it’d be hard to justify having brought Bryant north with the team, in retrospect, at the end of the 2020 season if he were eligible for free agency entering his age-29 campaign.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
While some have suggested that the Cubs preferred Mark Appel to Kris Bryant in the 2013 draft, scouting director Jason McLeod explains to Phil Rogers of MLB.com that that isn’t the case; the Cubs only planned to select Appel if the Astros selected Bryant with the No. 1 overall pick that season. Rogers spoke with McLeod and cross-checker Sam Hughes about the decision to draft Bryant and how he moved up the Cubs’ draft board with a strong performance in his junior year at San Diego. McLeod admitted that the Cubs had concerns about Bryant’s hit tool, but Hughes went to bat strongly for Bryant after watching him and other top draft bats, including Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. Most pundits expected the pitching-hungry Cubs to select on of Appel or Jon Gray — whichever the Astros didn’t draft — but McLeod said the Cubs preferred to take a volume approach to pitching rather than select one of the top arms. “History tells us pitching comes from all different parts of the Draft,” said McLeod. With Bryant’s debut nearing, Rogers notes that perhaps one of the best decisions under the Cubs’ new front office has been defying the widely expected decision to select a pitcher in favor of Bryant’s bat.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Reds GM Walt Jocketty tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that despite the team’s bullpen issues, he hasn’t reached out to agent Scott Boras about Rafael Soriano, and Boras hasn’t contacted the Reds about Soriano (Twitter link). Jocketty feels that Soriano would be too expensive, according to Fay. While Soriano may not be in the mix, the Reds certainly need to pursue some form of upgrade. Kevin Gregg has allowed runs in each of his four outings (two runs in three and one in another), and the team’s collective 4.55 ERA is the fifth-highest in baseball. The group’s FIP is even worse, as no team sports a worse mark than Cincinnati’s 5.10.
- Carlos Gomez will be placed on the 15-day disabled list with a small defect or tear in his right hamstring, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He has already received a cortisone shot. Earlier today, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy wrote that Gomez was back in Milwaukee for an MRI after feeling a “pop” while running to first base in the ninth inning of last night’s game. The Brewers will need to make a roster move in order to replace Gomez, and as McCalvy notes, Shane Peterson is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster that is not in the Majors.
- Cardinals right-hander John Lackey has every intention of playing in 2015, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “I wouldn’t be pitching this year if I didn’t plan on pitching next year,” Lackey told Nightengale. The veteran Lackey is, of course, playing for the league minimum in 2015 because of a clause in his previous five-year, $82.5MM pact with the Red Sox that added an additional year at that rate in the event of a significant elbow injury. (Lackey had Tommy John surgery midway through that deal.) The Redbirds acquired him from the BoSox last year in exchange for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.
The Nationals relief corps took another blow yesterday when righty Craig Stammen was placed on the 15-day DL with stiffness in his right forearm. Stammen will undergo an MRI soon and he told reporters (including CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman) that he is at least somewhat worried that it could be a more serious elbow injury. Nats GM Mike Rizzo also told the media, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, that the club is going with internal bullpen options for the time being. Rafael Martin and Taylor Jordan were called up to replace Stammen and the recently-designated Xavier Cedeno, and Martin made an impressive MLB debut Wednesday, recording five strikeouts over two innings of work against the Red Sox.
Here are some more bullpen items from around baseball…
- Cubs righty Neil Ramirez could also be facing some bad injury news, as he left Wednesday’s outing after just three pitches with a shoulder problem. Ramirez will undergo an MRI today, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reports. The reliever’s status has a bigger-picture impact on the rumored promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday. If Ramirez needs some DL time, the Cubs could promote a reliever and continue with a 13-man pitching staff rather than call up Bryant and thin out an already heavily-worked bullpen.
- Right-hander Cody Martin is off to a strong start, and the Braves rookie reliever tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that he is partially motivated by the fact that Atlanta didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 Draft last winter. “That was tough, but I knew I belonged [on the roster] and belonged in the big leagues….I took it as a challenge to prove them all wrong, especially all the teams that didn’t pick me in the Rule 5 Draft,” Martin said. “It all worked out pretty good. I’m where I need to be right now.”
- Arquimedes Caminero enjoyed a strong Spring Training and earned a spot in the Pirates bullpen. As Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes, the hard-throwing Caminero might be another reclamation success story for Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage, who encouraged the righty to simplify his delivery. The result has been the fastest average fastball in the game this season, as Caminero is averaging 98.9 mph according to Fangraphs’ measurements.
The Reds received some favorable results on Devin Mesoraco‘s MRI, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. The MRI showed no serious issue in Mesoraco’s sore right hip, and the catcher is expected to avoid a trip to the disabled list, per manager Bryan Pr ice. Mesoraco is rehabbing at the facility of Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek but could be available at some point during the current series with the Cubs or the next series against the Cardinals.
Some more NL Central items as Cincinnati and Chicago square off…
- The Cubs placed Tommy La Stella on the disabled list today and recalled lefty Zac Rosscup from Triple-A in his place. But, as Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago details, the situation is particularly intriguing because of what it could mean for a potential call-up of Kris Bryant. Cubs president Theo Epstein sidestepped a question on how the situation pertains to Bryant, stating that his call-up depends on what’s happening with the Cubs’ roster and with Bryant’s development. Rogers points out that both La Stella and Mike Olt are dealing with injuries now, however, and Friday marks the point at which promoting Bryant will not cost the team a year of club control. The Cubs have made a habit of promoting prospects on the road, Rogers points out, but he wonders if La Stella’s injury will change their thinking in this instance.
- Maddon is pleased with the information and scouting reports he’s receiving from the Cubs‘ baseball operations department, he tells MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. “Our geeks are good,” Maddon joked. Maddon also voiced a comfort in rostering three catchers, referring to David Ross, Miguel Montero and Welington Castillo as the team’s “three-headed catcher.”
- In an infographic piece for FOX Sports, David Golebiewski outlines the reasons that fans should buy into Josh Harrison‘s late emergence as a star. In particular, Golebiewski notes a drastic change in Harrison’s ability to handle inside fastballs and his ability to use the entire field. While Golebiewski points out that Harrison likely won’t maintain last year’s .353 BABIP, his new approach at the dish and defensive prowess make it very likely that he can remain a key component of the Pirates‘ roster.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon has been notably quiet regarding his club in recent season, but expressed cautious optimism in a brief chat with Mike Puma of the New York Post on the occasion of the team’s home opener. “I’m excited about this team and I’m hopeful,” said Wilpon. “One doesn’t know — we’ve all been around a long time — but the fact is I like the guys on this team. I think there is a lot of talent and I think there is a lot of character.”
Here’s more from the National League:
- The Reds do not appear overly concerned with Devin Mesoraco‘s hip injury, with skipper Bryan Price saying that he expects the franchise catcher to return soon, as John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports on Twitter. While the club has already moved to add another backstop to the roster in Kyle Skipworth, it seems that Cincinnati expects it to be a short-term patch.
- With both Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella dealing with minor injuries, speculation has turned to whether the Cubs will move up Kris Bryant‘s timeline. As Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reports, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the club will continue to “weigh all the factors” in deciding when to bring up the game’s top prospect, noting that the Triple-A season is just underway and that the Cubs want Bryant to establish a “rythm” in the minors. “His development is an important factor as well as the needs of the big league team,” said Epstein. As Rogers notes, Friday is the first day that Bryant can be called up while still preserving an extra season of future control.
Teams have quickly accepted the importance of the mental side of the game, reports the Associated Press in the New York Times. For example, the Cubs view mental skills coach Josh Lifrak as an equal to their hitting and pitching coaches. The article describes part of the process used by the Cubs, Nationals, and Red Sox, although all teams have probably adopted some form of mental skills development.
Here’s more from around the league.
- Padres senior advisor Trevor Hoffman was thrilled by the team’s recent trade for Craig Kimbrel, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. Kimbrel follows Hoffman (the all-time NL leader in saves) in a line of strong Padres closers. “We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a guy at the backend, even before I got here and continuing with Huston (Street) and Joaquin (Benoit),” says Hoffman. “The street cred [Kimbrel has] built in the game over the last four, five years really separates him from the rest of the group as one of the top-echelon closers in the game.”
- The Cubs‘ decision to send Kris Bryant to the minors to start the season led to controversy, but now that he’s there, the team has him working on playing outfield, Gordon Wittenmyer writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). While many assume that Bryant will be activated as soon as next week, the Cubs may legitimately be concerned about finding him a defensive home.
- If the Pirates have money to spend at the trade deadline this year, they could target an ace pitcher, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The payroll is cheap thanks to a number of young players and team friendly extensions. That could make Cole Hamels a potential fit. He, like Andrew McCutchen, has four years remaining on his contract. My thought: it’s at least conceivable that the Phillies would take on a large portion of his contract for the right prospects. To be clear, this is not to say that the Pirates have inquired about Hamels, only that a fit might exist.
Lefty Paul Maholm has a “standing offer” at Triple-A with the Reds, tweets Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. At present, however, Maholm is looking to secure a big league deal if possible. He was released yesterday by Cincinnati.
Here’s more from the NL Central:
- The Pirates have pillaged the Yankees in recent seasons, particularly in the catching department, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Both teams have placed significant value on pitch framing, but Sawchik suggests that perhaps Pittsburgh has remained more willing to commit to its ideas in that area. “I’m not sure if they were ahead of us, we were ahead of them or if we arrived at this way of thinking at the same time. Actually, they were probably first,” said club GM Neal Huntington. “The two clubs evaluate catchers similarly.”
- The agent for Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, Scott Boras, says that starting the season without the game’s top big-league-ready prospect in the majors is tantamount to staging “ersatz baseball,” Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. “MLB is not MLB without the best players,” said Boras.
- Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, himself a former Boras client, is still waiting to learn what his role will be in 2015, as ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers reports. It seems likely that he’s headed to a middle relief spot, in spite of the fact that he’s still owed $22MM by the team.
- Cubs owner Tom Ricketts indicates that his organization is still executing on its plan to build steadily, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. “We knew that if we’re ever going to bring a World Series to Chicago, it’s to be disciplined, and build things the right way,” said Ricketts. “We’ve done that. Now, it’s up to us to deliver that promise.” That goes for the team’s player assets as well as its efforts to rehabilitate Wrigley Field, as Nightengale explains.