Kris Bryant Rumors

NL Central Notes: Maholm, Bucs, Bryant, EJax, Ricketts

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.

MLBPA Issues Statement On Bryant, Prospect Promotions

The MLB Player’s Association has released a sternly worded statement (links to Twitter) regarding the Cubs’ decision to option super-prospect Kris Bryant to start the year.

“Today is a bad day for baseball. We all know that if @KrisBryant_23 were a combination of the greatest Players to play our great game, and perhaps he will be before it’s all said and done, the @Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.”

There are several items in this statement to unpack, of course. For starters, it seems difficult to disagree with the sentiment that it is unfortunate for the game as a whole that Bryant will not start the year in the big leagues. While imagining a mutually agreeable rule tweak to make that happen in the future will not be easy, it certainly seems a worthy pursuit.

Then, there is the interesting second sentence, which seems to draw attention away from the Cubs’ particular decision and focus it instead on the set of incentives that seemingly made it inevitable. Certainly, those words strike a somewhat different posture than that adopted by Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras.

Finally, and most ominously, the union fired a parting shot suggesting that “litigation” could be a method employed in “address[ing]” the Bryant decision and others like it. Presumably, that refers to the possibility of pursuing grievance proceedings under the CBA, rather than some kind of action in open court, but it is interesting regardless because it suggests the union may seek to argue that weighing service time at the start of a player’s career violates the current iteration of the CBA.

Of course, the statement also notes that collective bargaining may be the route pursued to deal with the issue, and regardless of the MLBPA’s actual intentions, the union clearly wishes to put the league on notice that the promotion timeline of top prospects will be at or near the top of the labor agenda in the next round of bargaining. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has recently come out strongly in favor of some form of international draft, and both sides increasingly appear to be lining up their positions. Negotiations are expected to launch in earnest next winter.


Kris Bryant To Begin Season In Minors

The Cubs announced today that wunderkind Kris Bryant has been assigned to Minor League camp, indicating that he will not make the team’s Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. Second baseman Javier Baez was also optioned to Triple-A today.

The Bryant decision was widely expected, as the Cubs’ long-term benefit by optioning Bryant is almost impossible to ignore. Keeping Bryant in the Minors for even 12 days will leave him with 171 days of Major League service time this season, or one day shy of a full year. In other words, rather than controlling Bryant from 2015-20, the Cubs would gain an extra year of control and have the rights to Bryant through the 2021 season.

Oftentimes, teams will be willing to bring a player north to open the season because they plan on trying to negotiate a long-term deal eventually anyhow. The Cubs may well have interest in extending Bryant — why wouldn’t they? — but Bryant is also a client of agent Scott Boras, who traditionally encourages his players to go year-to-year through arbitration and test the free agent market as early as possible. While there are exceptions — Carlos Gomez, Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez each come to mind — the Cubs have to know that their odds of buying out any of Bryant’s free agent years in advance are considerably thinner than they would be if Bryant had different representation.

Boras has been very vocal on the matter, which has been one of the most oft-discussed storylines this Spring Training. Boras told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that the Cubs had to make a choice regarding Bryant: “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” Boras would go on to argue that Bryant should have been promoted last September when the rosters expanded.

While it’s not surprising to see an agent advocating for the promotion of his player, it’s also hard to dismiss Boras’ comments as those of a biased party. Bryant batted a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he crushed nine homers in just 44 spring plate appearances while slashing .425/.477/1.175. Ranked by several outlets as the game’s top prospect, Bryant has certainly made a case that he belongs at the Major League level, and it’s difficult to compose an argument that he is not ready for the Majors, from a baseball standpoint.

The Cubs, of course, will not indicate that service time plays an issue in the decision. (Doing so would open the door for a grievance.) However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pointed out to reporters that he has never once taken a prospect north to open the season if it meant making his Major League debut, as he feels that Opening Day is a difficult time for a young player to debut. He also cited a belief that it’s good for players to be in a rhythm when called up to the Majors for the first time.

Needless to say, the service time rules that frequently cause teams to stash prospects in the Minors to delay their free agency or to avoid Super Two status figure to be a major talking point in the next collective bargaining agreement. Last year, there was plenty of controversy around the promotion timelines for prospects Gregory Polanco, Jon Singleton and George Springer, among others. MLBPA executive director has called the tactic “unfortunate,” though certain playerss, including Andrew Miller, have voiced an understanding that it’s part of the game.

In the case of Baez, it’s perhaps not surprising to see him begin the year in the Minors. He hit just 169/.227/.324 last season and struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, and this spring he batted .173/.218/.231 with 20 punchouts in 55 PA. Baez racked up 55 days of service time last year, and he’ll need 117 additional days in 2015 to reach one full year of big league service time.



NL Notes: Bryant, Garcia, Villanueva, Nats, Mets

The Cubs‘ impending decision about whether to have Kris Bryant start the season in the minors has players around baseball talking about service-time rules, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes in a story that collects responses to Bryant’s situation from players from several teams. “Hey, we have a chance to make a lot of money in this game, but the rules are the rules,” says Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. “If that works in the Cubs favor, and the Cubs are a better team for that, they’re entitled to (use the rule to their favor). We negotiated that. It’s the reality of what our collective bargaining agreement says.” Here’s more from the National League.

  • Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia will miss his start due to a shoulder issue, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Garcia likely will not be in the team’s Opening Day rotation. Garcia had impressed the team in camp and might well have made the Cardinals’ rotation, particularly since having him start rather than Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez would have been the best way for the Cards to protect their assets — they could have easily just optioned Gonzales to the minors, put Martinez in the bullpen and kept all three pitchers. Instead, it’s yet another injury for Garcia, who’s dealt with plenty of them in the past few seasons. There is, however, reason to hope it won’t be serious — GM John Mozeliak (via Langosch on Twitter) characterizes the injury as fatigue and the missed start as “more of a pause than anything.”
  • Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on a minor-league deal with the Cardinals, can opt out of that deal Monday, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch notes (via Twitter). Villanueva has gotten fairly good results in camp and has a track record of providing solid performances in a swingman role, so the Cardinals could try to find space for him on their roster.
  • Intentionally or not, the Nationals, who have lefty relievers available, gave the lefty-starved Mets a look at Jerry Blevins Saturday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. (Blevins struck out Curtis Granderson but gave up a triple to Lucas Duda.) The Nationals have Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton, and all are out of options, so they could end up trading one.

NL Central Notes: Bryant, Kang, Reds, Cardinals

Cubs president Theo Epstein said yesterday that he’s never taken a Minor Leaguer and put him on an Opening Day roster with zero prior big league experience, but super-prospect Kris Bryant feels like he could be the exception to that rule, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers“I look at it as ‘Why not me?” Bryant said on Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy that can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to come out here and show them that I can.” Bryant, of course, is the talk of Spring Training with nine homers and a ludicrous .406/.472/1.313 batting line in 36 plate appearances. The Cubs, though, can delay his free agency by a full season if they keep him in the Minors for a bit less than two weeks to open the season. While Cubs management and ownership naturally insists that any decision would be baseball-related as opposed to business-related, it seems likely that Bryant would be recalled early in the season once the year of team control is gained.

More from the NL Central…

  • Jung-ho Kang has struggled to a .111 average in Spring Training thus far, but Pirates GM Neal Huntington is still planning on bringing the Korean infielder north with the club to open the season, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’ve seen some really good things,” Huntington told Biertempfel in regard to Kang.
  • Chris Dominguez, Brennan Boesch, Ivan De Jesus and Irving Falu are all competing for the Reds‘ final bench spots, writes MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, and each has performed well in Spring Training. Manager Bryan Price also noted that the rotation isn’t yet settled. Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias are all in the mix for the final two spots, and Price explained how his club is looking beyond statistics to determine who will fill those roles. In general, he spoke very highly of DeSclafani, so it seems likely that he’ll be in the rotation to open the year.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak spoke with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (subscription required/recommended) about his tendency to hang onto young pitching and his deviation from that process by trading players such as Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to land John Lackey and Jason Heyward“Believe it or not, even though in these deals it appears like we’re giving up the control factor, we felt they were fair deals for both sides,” said Mozeliak. “Put it this way: We understand the risk.” Mozeliak went on to discuss the increased importance teams now place on prospects as opposed to the 1990s and early 2000s, noting that cost control has become an increasingly large factor in trades. The Cardinals, Goold writes, have an in-house algorithm and scouting process to assign dollar values to players, which they use in free agency and in trades. Said Chairman Bill Dewitt, Jr.: “Our model is value-based, and what we want to do is get value back for value given. Because there is always opportunity to use resources to acquire talent.”

Ricketts, Epstein Defend Handling Of Kris Bryant

Scott Boras’ recent comments regarding the likelihood that the Cubs will not promote his client Kris Bryant for Opening Day have added fuel to a debate that has gone on for years about when top prospects should be promoted, and how (or whether) clubs should weight service-time issues. (Bryant, of course, has added fuel of his own by hitting nine home runs in 32 Spring Training appearances.) Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein both commented on Bryant and Boras today.

  • Ricketts spoke at a luncheon in Chicago Wednesday and defended his team’s right to promote players at its discretion, writes Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune. Boras, Ricketts said, has “the right as a fan to express his opinions. He has the right as an agent to represent his client. But we have the right as a team to make the player personnel decisions.”
  • President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that promoting players for the first time at the start of a season isn’t his usual approach regardless of service-time questions, via David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com. “I can say this: This is my 13th time putting a team together at the end of spring training and I have never once put a young prospect on an Opening Day roster when he had to make his major league debut,” said Epstein, who added that his approach with young players when he was GM of the Red Sox was to allow them to start their season in the minors and “get in a good rhythm” there before being promoted. Epstein suggested that the timing of a player’s big-league debut is important, and that having a player debut on Opening Day, when bad weather and lots of press attention are significant factors, might hurt the player.

NL Central Links: Bryant, Martinez, Pirates

If the Cubs keep Kris Bryant at Triple-A to begin the season, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes the MLBPA should file a grievance as a matter of principle.  It would be a mostly symbolic gesture (“The case law overwhelmingly favors the clubs,” according to one of Rosenthal’s sources) yet it would indicate that the players’ union is serious about addressing this service-time loophole when the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated next year.  It would also be a big-picture show of strength by the union, as some player agents feel that the MLBPA has a bit too lenient on some recent issues.

Here’s more from around the NL Central…

  • The Braves initially asked for Carlos Martinez when they began discussing the Jason Heyward trade with the Cardinals, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  The Cards refused, just as they’ve steadfastly turned down other trade offers for Martinez in recent years, yet Miklasz wonders why the club is so committed to keeping Martinez but is hesitant to give him a regular rotation job.  Miklasz argues that if the Cardinals have any doubts about Martinez, they might be better served by dealing him now while his stock is still high.
  • Arquimedes Caminero has been impressed scouts this spring, and the Pirates may be forced to put the out-of-options righty on the roster in order to keep him, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.  Keeping Caminero in the bullpen could force John Holdzkom to start the year at Triple-A, as while Holdzkom has pitched well himself in camp, he still has minor league options.
  • Speaking of the Pirates‘ roster crunch, GM Neal Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a move could possibly be made to address the Bucs’ several out-of-options players.  “We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said.  “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level.”
  • The Reds have told veteran southpaw Paul Maholm that he won’t be earning a rotation job, though Maholm isn’t yet considering opting out of his minor league deal with the club, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes.  “We still have some time left in camp,” Maholm said.  “I’m trying to pitch and get ready for the season. Those are decisions we have to make at the date that’s set up. Until then, I’m just going to pitch.”  The Reds would have to pay Maholm $100K to retain his services if he’s not going to make their Major League roster, as per his status as an Article XX(B) player.

NL Notes: Cueto, Pagan, Mets Pen, Bryant

Reds GM Walt Jocketty said today that the club has “had some discussions” on an extension with representatives of ace Johnny Cueto in an interview on MLB Network Radio (audio link). Noting that pitching salaries continue to rise, Jocketty said that he could not give “any odds” on how likely a new deal was, though he noted that the team is “still trying” and indicated that both sides hope to continue their relationship. Cueto, of course, is set to hit the free agent market after the season.

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Giants skipper Bruce Bochy says he is “a little concerned” about the injury status of center fielder Angel Pagan, Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com tweets“I think we need to be [concerned],” said Bochy. “I think we need to be. he had back surgery, now he’s hit a bump in the road.” With Hunter Pence already set to miss a good bit of time to start the year, any time missed from Pagan would stretch the club’s outfield depth. That could increase the urgency to make an addition, though a recent report suggests that the team has not been actively searching for another outfielder.
  • Mets manager Terry Collins had some less-than-promising things to say about the state of the club’s bullpen, as Marc Carig of Newsday reports (links to Twitter). The most prominent issue, of course, is the question of matching up against opposing lefties now that Josh Edgin is out for the year. Collins also mentioned concern with Vic Black‘s ability to return from shoulder issues in time for Opening Day, though Black himself evidently does not see it as quite so large an issue. “We’ve been … telling everybody that we didn’t have to rebuild our bullpen,” said Collins. “Right now, we’re in the process of rebuilding it.” In spite of those comments, it would be surprising to see the club do anything to add a new arm other than searching for additional left-handed help.
  • Top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has handled the simmering controversy over his promotion timeline quite professionally, by all appearances. While praising the organization, and his agent, Bryant does say that he feels he’s received “mixed messages,” as Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I’m hearing from my teammates that they want me up and I’m doing well and everybody’s telling me I’m progressing well,” said Bryant. He continued to note that he “took … to heart” the team’s message to players that roster spots could be earned in the spring.
  • Of course, the underlying service time rules at play are the larger issue in the Bryant matter, and it is rather difficult to dream up alternative systems that would really change the analysis for teams in a mutually agreeable way. ESPN.com’s Keith Law weighs in (subscription required) to offer a unique solution: when a team puts a true rookie on the active roster to start the year, and the player then reaches exactly six years of service, that player gets a special one-year form of free agency in which any team may make a single-season offer but his current team gets the choice to match the high bid. Law posits that this approach would encourage teams to go ahead and add their best prospects to the roster, comforted by the knowledge that they can still maximize team control — even if it ultimately comes at a (potentially much) higher cost in the final season. That proposal would obviously create quite an interesting new wrinkle in the market.

Quick Hits: Gardenhire, Bryant, Valverde

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was in attendance as the team his son coaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout took on a Twins rookie team Tuesday, would be thrilled to manage again, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes. “Oh, no. I’ve got a lot left in me in baseball,” says Gardenhire, shown in a photo wearing a T-shirt and smoking a cigar. “If somebody is looking for a manager and I’m a fit, great. I would love to manage again.” After the Twins fired him following last season following the team’s fourth straight season of 92-plus losses, Gardenhire lived for a month in an RV parked near his daughter’s house in Oklahoma while he waited for his first grandchild to be born. Gardenhire turned down a front-office job with the Twins, but says he’s still willing to help his former organization, perhaps with occasional scouting tasks. Here’s more from around the game.

  • MLBPA head Tony Clark says it’s “unfortunate” that teams delay promotion of top prospects for service-time reasons, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports. “We don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest, and we don’t think it’s in the industry’s best interest, to not have the best players on the field all the time,” says Clark. This has become, of course, a point of discussion every year. This season, top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been the focus of the issue. The Cubs are likely to send him to the minors to start the season even though he’s leading MLB in Spring Training homers with six.
  • One Padres move that didn’t attract much attention in a high-profile winter was their signing of former Diamondbacks, Astros and Tigers closer Jose Valverde to a minor-league deal. Valverde has performed well in camp, however, and now appears to have a good shot to make the team, Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com writes. “I feel like I’m 21 because I’m throwing 98 [mph],” says Valverde. “I’m surprised because I haven’t walked anybody yet.” Bloom suggests Valverde could even be the Padres’ closer. That would be an upset if it came to pass, since Joaquin Benoit performed well in that role last year after the team traded Huston Street.

Boras Challenges Cubs Regarding Kris Bryant

Agent Scott Boras had strong words today for Cubs ownership regarding the timeline of the promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. In the view of Boras, the team — and, in particular, its final decisionmakers — must decide whether to prioritize winning over long-term contractual matters.

At base, the issue revolves around service time and major league readiness. By keeping the 23-year-old Bryant in the minors even for just two weeks to start the 2015 campaign, the club can prevent him from accruing a full year of service and thus delay his free agency by a full season. The controversy over Bryant is not a new one, of course; we saw similar debates last year, for example, involving players such as Gregory Polanco. It is, however, in particularly sharp focus given the player’s massive potential — as exhibited in his outstanding spring performance thus far (six home runs in 23 plate appearances) — and the club’s own emergent competitiveness.

“Cubs ownership has a choice,” said Boras. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” In addressing the issue, Boras compared Bryant to several other top prospects who were allowed to start the year with their clubs in spite of service considerations, often with successful results. He had particular criticism for the team’s decision not to call up Bryant late last year, saying: “I believe the issue with Kris Bryant is not whether he should be on the 2015 team. The issue is, why wasn’t he called up in September of last year when he could have prepared for the 2015 season?” In comments to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Boras was even more strident, saying that holding Bryant down is tantamount to “damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball.”

In response, club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that the decision whether to include Bryant on the active roster to start the year was his alone, upon consultation with his front office team. “Comments from agents, media members, and anybody outside our organization will be ignored,” he said.

Epstein emphasized that there is more at play than contract status. “As I told Kris last September and again at the start of spring training, we view him as nearly big league ready,” Epstein said. “The remaining area for improvement is his defense — something Kris agrees with. Kris is 6-foot-5 and a half and therefore faces obstacles other third baseman don’t face.”

Though Epstein held out the possibility of Bryant heading north with the team, he noted that lingering shoulder soreness was playing a role in the decision:

“More than anything, we want him to get in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his major-league debut. That has not happened yet, in part due to some shoulder fatigue that is not a concern but has limited the amount of game action he’s been able to have at third base. If enough time remains to get Kris into a good rhythm defensively at we may consider putting him on the club. If not, we see nothing wrong with using the early part of the season at Iowa to get him in that rhythm.”

As for the notion that Bryant should have received a September call-up to prepare him to start 2015 in the bigs, Epstein tells Nightengale that the decision was made in part based upon the fact that Bryant had just experienced his first full professional season. “When we talked after the season,” Epstein said, “he was really happy how he held up physically, but he’s an honest kid, and said that he was little mentally drained from the grind of the long season. I think it was the right thing, let a guy go through his first full season, and feel good about the numbers he put up.”

Bryant entered the year as a consensus top-three prospect league wide after destroying the upper minors last year in his first full season as a professional. Over 594 plate appearances split evenly between Double-A and Triple-A, he slashed .325/.438/.661 and hit 43 home runs. Of course, as Epstein notes, observers agree that there remains some polish to be applied to his work at the hot corner.

As for the Cubs roster, one major impediment to significant early playing time for Bryant was removed over the offseason when the team dealt away the solid Luis Valbuena. But Chicago traded for Tommy La Stella as another cheap, youthful option and also has former prospect Mike Olt in camp.