Luke Gregerson Rumors

West Notes: Hawkins, Ellis, Gregerson, Melky

Veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins announced this morning on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show that the 2015 season will be the last of his lengthy career (h/t: Ken Rosenthal). The soon-to-be 42-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA with 23 saves, 5.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 54 1/3 innings for the Rockies last season. While he may not get the Mariano Rivera farewell tour, Hawkins has appeared in 1000 games (currently 16th all-time) dating back to 1995. Selected by the Twins in the seventh round of the 1991 draft, Hawkins could move into the top 10 of all-time in terms of career appearances with a full, healthy season.

Here are a few more notes from around the game’s Western divisions…

  • The Padres asked the Dodgers about A.J. Ellis in Matt Kemp trade talks but weren’t able to get him in the deal, tweets MLB.com’s Corey Brock. As Brock notes, Clayton Kershaw may not have been pleased to see Ellis traded away, as he prefers throwing to his longtime teammate.
  • An American League club with an established closer was the runner-up to the Astros in the bidding for Luke Gregerson, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The unnamed club also offered a three-year deal. Drellich spoke to Gregerson’s agent, Tom O’Connell, who said that the opportunity to close and Gregerson’s relationship with new Astros manager A.J. Hinch were crucial factors in the deal.
  • Drellich’s article also provides the breakdown of Gregerson’s incentives: he will receive a $250K boost to the next year’s salary for finishing 45, 50, 55 and 57 games in 2015 and 2016. If he finishes a combined 100 games between 2015-16, his 2017 salary jumps another $500K.
  • Robinson Cano has spoken briefly to his close friend, Melky Cabrera, about signing with the Mariners, Cano told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link). Cano also told Divish that he spoke to Nelson Cruz multiple times about coming to Seattle before Cruz inked his own deal with the Mariners.

Astros Sign Luke Gregerson

The Astros have made a significant investment in their 2015 bullpen, announcing a three-year deal with reliever Luke Gregerson on Friday. Houston had been pursuing several angles to add one more more late-inning relievers and reportedly came to an agreement on the $18.5MM pact with Gregerson at this week’s Winter Meetings.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland AthleticsGregerson gets $6MM in 2015 followed by $6.25MM salaries in the next two years of the deal. The deal includes incentives that could boost its value to $21MM for the Tom O’Connell client. Specifically, Gregerson’s 2016 and 2017 salaries will increase by $250K for reaching 45, 50, 55 and 57 games finished the previous season. If he finishes 100 games from 2015-16, his 2017 salary jumps an additional $500K.

The deal may be surprising at first glance, but only if you have not been paying attention to how good Gregerson has been. In a free agent profile of Gregerson, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes pegged him for $20MM over three years, noting that Gregerson’s 2.75 ERA over the last six seasons rates fourth among relievers who have thrown a minimum of 350 frames.

Gregerson, 30, has been both healthy and good for basically his entire career. He gives up few walks, generates plenty of groundballs, and consistently limits opponents to soft contact. Though his strikeout rates dipped somewhat last year, he also posted a career-low 2.12 ERA.

Gregerson has reached those numbers without relying on fastball velocity. Instead, Gregerson has managed to continue dominating with his outstanding slider even as his fastball has dipped into the high-80s.

The move represents a big upgrade for the Astros, whose relief corps combined for a league-worst 4.80 ERA last year. Houston beat out the Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox, Rockies, Cubs, and White Sox, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes, Gregerson could also turn into a useful trade piece for the club depending upon how things shake out. As for the rest of the relief market, Gregerson probably sets the target now with top arms David Robertson and Andrew Miller already off the board.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today first reported the agreement and terms (via Twitter). ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link) and the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich provided details on the incentives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Astros Notes: Clippard, Romo, Gregerson, Hoes

The Astros came up short in their pursuit of David Robertson and Andrew Miller, but they still intend to acquire multiple relievers either in free agency or via trades, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes (via Twitter).  Here are some of the latest notable relief names connected to Houston…

  • The Astros contacted the Nationals about Tyler Clippard though talks “didn’t get far,” Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports.
  • The Astros have spoken to Sergio Romo and Luke Gregerson, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter).
  • Outfielder L.J. Hoes is being made available in trades for relief help, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets.  Hoes has hit .235/.288/.331 over 321 career plate appearances with Baltimore and Houston, receiving playing time off the bench in each of the last two seasons.
  • Astros owner Jim Crane spoke to Evan Drellich today, reiterating that the team has at least $20MM to spend this offseason and potentially more.  “Definitely that money’s available if they need it, and we could stretch a little if we need to and if something came in our direction we felt was the right piece that improved the team,” Crane said.  Also from this piece, Drellich notes that Crane was personally involved in process of trying to recruit Miller.


Blue Jays Notes: D’Backs, Neshek, Gregerson

Here’s the latest from Toronto…

  • The Blue Jays asked the Diamondbacks about both left-hander Wade Miley and outfielder Mark Trumbo earlier this winter, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports.  Arizona, in turn, asked for some of the Jays’ young pitching in return.  Interestingly, the Jays didn’t plan on keeping Trumbo, but rather flipping him to the Mariners for Michael Saunders, a player Toronto landed anyway by dealing J.A. Happ to Seattle.
  • Also from Elliott, the Jays have looked into signing free agent relievers Pat Neshek and Luke GregersonSportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi also notes that the Astros and Yankees are among the other clubs interested in Gregerson’s services.
  • The Blue Jays are one of three teams who have spoken to veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth, Davidi reports.
  • Munenori Kawasaki has looked into options in Japan and may now be considering returning in North America on a minor league deal, according to Davidi.  The Blue Jays would seem to be natural candidates to bring Kawasaki back, though manager John Gibbons wasn’t sure what was going on between the team and the infielder.

AL West Notes: Gregerson, Astros, Beckham, Wilson

Luke Gregerson could be a sensible addition to the Astros‘ bullpen, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. The former Athletics reliever doesn’t have a significant track record as a closer, but he worked with new Astros manager A.J. Hinch when both were with the Padres, and he might only require a three-year deal, as opposed to four for David Robertson. While Andrew Miller‘s new deal with the Yankees took deals for non-closer relievers, Drellich expects that Gregerson’s contract will be much more manageable. Here’s more on the AL West.

  • The Angels would like for recently non-tendered infielder Gordon Beckham to return next season, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Beckham, however, would like to see if he can find a starting job elsewhere before taking a backup infield job with the Angels.
  • The Angels are expecting a quiet Winter Meetings, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register writes. Their $8MM deal for infielder Roberto Baldoquin figures to be their largest expenditure this offseason. They also traded catcher Hank Conger to the Astros for pitcher Nick Tropeano and catcher Carlos Perez in another low-profile move. “I understand the fan base isn’t thrilled because they never heard of Nick Tropeano, but this time last year, they weren’t thrilled with what we did to shuffle the roster either,” says GM Jerry Dipoto.
  • The Angels do reportedly have C.J. Wilson on the trading block, but don’t expect the Rangers to bring him back, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. C.J. Wilson was a fixture in the Rangers’ bullpen for parts of five seasons before emerging as a top starting pitcher there in 2010 and 2011.

Rosenthal On Clippard, Royals, Romo, Gregerson

The Nationals are “likely” to trade setup man Tyler Clippard, a source tells FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.  MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects Clippard will earn $9.3MM in his final year of arbitration eligibility before hitting the free agent market following the 2015 season, and with closer Drew Storen projected to land a $5.8MM contract as well, moving Clippard would allow the Nats to save some money at the back of their bullpen.

Here’s some more from Rosenthal on the relief market…

  • The Royals have received trade interest in Greg Holland and Wade Davis, and one of the two relief stars could conceivably be moved for a hitter.  Swartz projects Holland to earn $9.3MM in arbitration this winter, while K.C. already picked up their $7MM option on Davis for 2015.  Holland can be a free agent after 2016, the Royals hold two more option years on Davis and Kelvin Herrera is also now arb-eligible, so Kansas City may simply not be able to afford their dominant late-game trio for much longer.
  • Sergio Romo and Luke Gregerson are receiving more interest now that Andrew Miller is off the board.  Neither pitcher has generated much on the rumor mill to date this offseason, though Romo has been cited as one of the Astros’ backup options after Miller signed with the Yankees.
  • The Dodgers are looking for bullpen upgrades but are wary about making any major commitments given how much money they’ve already invested in relief pitching.
  • Speaking of high-priced Dodgers relievers, the team’s new front office “is not enamored with” Brian Wilson.  The righty will earn $9.5MM in 2015 after exercising the player option given to him by previous L.A. general manager Ned Colletti.  Wilson posted a 4.66 ERA, 1.86 K/BB and 5.4 BB/9 over 48 1/3 IP in 2014 while suffering a drop in velocity, though it was his first full season after returning from Tommy John surgery.

Red Sox Links: Lester, Masterson, Gregerson

Could Jon Lester end up back with the Red Sox after all?  “A well-connected baseball executive who has had conversations on the subject with the Red Sox” predicted to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes that Lester would indeed re-sign with his old team.  The exec thought the Sox could be willing to relax their policy against signing pitchers in their 30’s to long-term contracts by offering Lester a six-year deal worth at least $20MM per season.  Unless Lester is still willing to give the Sox a bit of a discount, I would think it’ll take a lot more than six years/$120MM to outbid the field for Lester’s services — MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Lester would receive, at minimum, a six-year, $147MM contract this winter.  If the Red Sox were willing to give Lester a six/$120MM deal, I would think they would’ve just offered him that deal in extension talks last winter and avoided this entire situation.

Here’s some more from Fenway Park….


Free Agent Profile: Luke Gregerson

Luke Gregerson has been one of baseball’s top setup men since his 2009 rookie season, and he posted a career-best 2.12 ERA this year.  Interest will be strong on the 30-year-old, who will be seeking the first multiyear deal of his career.

Strengths/Pros

Among American League relievers with at least 60 innings, Gregerson’s 2.12 ERA this year ranked 12th.  Among free agents, only Pat Neshek and Andrew Miller did better.  In Gregerson’s six big league seasons, his highest ERA was 3.24 in his rookie campaign.  He’s posted an ERA of 2.75 or lower in each of the past four seasons.  From 2009-14 among relievers with at least 350 innings, Gregerson’s 2.75 ERA ranks fourth in baseball.  He’s been a model of consistent excellence in the late innings, using his slider often to stymie hitters even if they know it’s coming.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland AthleticsIn San Diego, Gregerson paired up with closers Heath Bell and Huston Street for five years, and he’s never received more than 13 save opportunities in a season.  Instead, he racks up holds like no other.  According to MLB.com, a hold is given if “a reliever comes into a game to protect a lead, gets at least one out and leaves without giving up that lead.”  Gregerson led all of baseball from 2009-14 with 154 holds.

Gregerson walked only 5.3% of the batters he faced this year, a career best.  Only 13 relievers showed better control this year, and only Neshek and Koji Uehara are free agents.  Gregerson’s 52.2% groundball rate was also a career-best, and the figure ranked 11th in the AL.  Gregerson has been consistently tough to hit throughout his career, allowing fewer than 7.5 hits per nine innings in every season except 2011.  His career batting average on balls in play of .267 is a big part of his success (more on that later).

Gregerson will not turn 31 until May next year.  Only a handful of Gregerson’s fellow relievers on the free agent market are that young, and none of them have a track record close to his.  One benefit Gregerson should have over free agent reliever David Robertson: he’s not going to receive a qualifying offer.

Gregerson comes with a remarkably clean bill of health, having only hit the DL twice in his career.  He missed 25 games in 2009 for shoulder inflammation and another 25 in 2011 for an oblique strain.  His 419 1/3 relief innings from 2009-14 rank second in baseball, behind only Tyler Clippard.

Weaknesses/Cons

Drafted in the 28th round in 2006 by the Cardinals, velocity has never been Gregerson’s calling card.  He broke in throwing around 91 miles per hour, and now he’s down to 88.4.  Only three relievers threw slower in 2014, and two of them are sidearmers.

Gregerson struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings in 2014, his worst mark aside from his 2011 season, which was marred by an oblique strain.  The average AL reliever this year whiffed 8.3 per nine.  It should also be noted that Gregerson’s success has come in both leagues, but always in pitcher-friendly home parks.  For his career, he has a 2.02 ERA at home and a 3.60 mark on the road.  The key differences are a much higher home run per flyball rate and batting average on balls in play on the road.

Gregerson threw his famed slider about 46% of the time in 2014, a rate topped by only three relievers.  He was the game’s most slider-dependent regular reliever in 2012-13, throwing it 63% of the time.  It’s possible heavy slider usage leads to increased injury risk.  However, Gregerson has a strong track record of health, and noted to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle in March that he turns his wrist less than most pitchers and his elbow has never bothered him.

Personal

Born in Park Ridge, Illinois, Gregerson resides in Chicago in the offseason.  He attended St. Xavier University in Chicago and grew up rooting for the Cubs and White Sox, according to a 2009 interview.  For a look at how the 28th round pick found his way to the Majors, check out Jeff Passan’s article for Yahoo from 2010.

Gregerson is a board member of Struggling Youth Equals Successful Adults, which aids foster kids in transitioning to adulthood.  In September 2012, Gregerson was the Padres’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for all his volunteer efforts.

Market

As a Chicago guy, Gregerson might welcome a chance to pitch for the White Sox if they make a competitive offer.  Sox GM Rick Hahn made it clear in September that he aims to “acquire multiple options” for his pen this winter.  Other speculative suitors: the Tigers, Dodgers, Astros, Rockies, Rangers, Nationals, Yankees, and Red Sox.  It is certainly possible that Gregerson could be signed to take on a closer role.

Aside from Gregerson, the best names on the free agent relief market are David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo, Francisco Rodriguez, Koji Uehara, Casey Janssen, Rafael Soriano, and Pat Neshek.  That’s a lot of competition, and you don’t want to be the reliever left standing in January after the music has stopped.

Expected Contract

From last offseason, three contracts come to mind as comparables for Gregerson: Javier Lopez ($13MM), Joe Smith ($15.75MM), and Boone Logan ($16.5MM).  From the previous offseason, notable deals include Brandon League ($22.5MM), Jeremy Affeldt ($18MM), and Jonathan Broxton ($21MM).  All of those deals were for three years, and that is the expectation for Gregerson.  Five of the six were signed before December, so it would be wise for Gregerson’s agent Tom O’Connell to act early.

You’ll notice that the average annual values from last offseason were about 20% lower than the 2012-13 period, even if we exclude Lopez on account of being older and an extreme lefty specialist.  Some of that may be a function of Broxton and League having 111 and 60 career saves, respectively, but it could be a sign that teams backed off on reliever salaries.  Plus, League isn’t the best example, as that deal was viewed as questionable for the Dodgers before the ink had dried.  On the other hand, Gregerson’s consistent success led to him setting the arbitration market for his ilk, along with Robertson, so it’s possible a team could like him enough to set a new setup man precedent by giving an $8MM AAV or a fourth year.  The four-year deal for setup men seems to have died out with Scott Linebrink and Justin Speier six to seven years ago.

Ultimately, I think Gregerson will sign a three-year, $20MM deal.


A’s Avoid Arbitration With Gregerson, Lowrie

12:01pm: The A's have also avoided arbitration with shortstop/second baseman Jed Lowrie, tweets Sherman. Lowrie will earn a $5.25MM salary in 2014. Lowrie is a client of CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen.

Acquired from the Astros in exchange for Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Brad Peacock prior to the 2013 season, Lowrie is entering his second season with the A's. He's eligible for free agency following this year and had been projected to earn $4.8MM by Swartz.

11:52am: The A's have dodged arbitration with righty Luke Gregerson by agreeing to terms on a one-year deal worth $5.065MM, per the New York Post's Joel Sherman (on Twitter). Gregerson is a client of O'Connell Sports Management.

Gregerson was acquired from the Padres this offseason in a one-for-one swap for Seth Smith. One of the game's premier setup men, he's likely next in line behind Jim Johnson for saves in Oakland. The right-hander was projected to earn $4.9MM, according to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Gregerson is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season.


Padres, A’s Swap Luke Gregerson For Seth Smith

The Athletics announced that they have traded outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres in exchange for right-hander Luke Gregerson in a one-for-one swap.

Smith, 31, batted .253/.329/.391 with eight home runs in 410 plate appearances for Oakland this season. Always a better hitter against right-handed pitching, he continued that trend in 2013, posting a .748 OPS against right-handers and just a .621 mark against lefties. For his career, Smith has mashed right-handers to the tune of a .279/.357/.487 batting line. Smith's defense in left field has consistently graded out as a positive (+7.7 UZR/150, +2 Defensive Runs Saved), but he's limited to a corner position and hasn't received great marks in right field.

MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Smith to earn $4.3MM this offseason in his final round of arbitration. He's eligible for free agency next winter.

Gregerson, 29, is also a free agent following this season and projected to earn a comparable $4.9MM salary, per Swartz. He enjoyed yet another strong season in the Padres' bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.71 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 45.5 percent ground-ball rate. Gregerson is the second high-profile reliever added by the A's in the past 24 hours, as GM Billy Beane also acquired Jim Johnson from the Orioles last night.

The trade was first reported by Oakland-area blogger Chris Kusiolek (on Twitter).