- The Marlins’ offseason maneuverings have succeeded in beginning to change the organizational culture, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Most notably, the hiring of manager Don Mattingly and the addition of special assistant Jim Benedict and farm director Marc DelPiano (both from the Pirates organization) has already had a significant impact. Ace Jose Fernandez tells Jackson that Mattingly is “amazing” and says that he is “in love with this team” in large part due to Mattingly’s demeanor and attention to detail. Jeff Mathis and David Phelps each rave about Mattingly as well. Meanwhile, setup man Kyle Barraclough explains that Benedict took him aside to go over video of his mechanics in the minors and smooth out his delivery, which has yielded positive early returns. The club is spending money on minor league facilities and emphasizing fundamentals throughout the lower ranks in ways in which it never has, Jackson writes, helping to facilitate change from top to bottom.
The Marlins have designated southpaw Craig Breslow for assignment, as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro first reported on Twitter. His roster spot will go to right-hander Dustin McGowan, whose contract was selected from Triple-A.
Breslow, 35, has provided 14 innings to the Miami pen thus far, allowing seven earned runs on 21 hits and four walks while retiring seven batters via strikeout. But Breslow has had several rough outings in which he’s given up multiple runs, including his most recent. And with his 45-day advance consent clause soon due, the Fish obviously decided not to keep his salary on the books for the rest of the season.
As for the 34-year-old McGowan, a fellow minor league signee over the winter, this will represent his second run of the year with the Marlins. He was previously outrighted after 5 1/3 innings. Though he allowed just two earned runs on six hits, McGowan managed only a pair of strikeouts to go with two walks.
Phillies right-hander Hector Neris has rapidly risen through the club’s ranks in the bullpen, pitching in a setup capacity at the moment and with a future as a potential closer, manager Pete Mackanin tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. However, as Salisbury reports, Neris was almost never part of the organization at all. Neris nearly had an agreement with the Royals as an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, but Kansas City backed out of the deal because they doubted the validity of his documentation. It wasn’t until two years later that he was discovered by Phillies scouts, who preempted a scheduled workout with 12 other teams with an offer to sign for what now seems an extreme bargain: a $17K signing bonus. Six years later, Neris is armed with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and a splitter that Mackanin terms an “invisible” pitch and catcher Carlos Ruiz calls one of the best he’s ever seen. Neris has a 1.04 ERA with a 27-to-4 K/BB ratio through 17 1/3 innings this year on the heels of 40 1/3 innings with a 41-to-10 K/BB ratio in 2015.
More from the NL East…
- The allotted time for Josh Edgin’s minor league rehab assignment is nearly complete, but as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo writes, the Mets lefty is likely to be optioned to Triple-A at the completion of that window to continue building back up from 2015 Tommy John surgery. Specifically, DiComo writes that Edgin isn’t yet pitching on back-to-back days, and his velocity, which most recently topped out at 88 mph, is a far cry from the 92-93 mph he could throw prior to undergoing the operation.
- Marlins manager Don Mattingly is making a strong impression in his first year on the job, writes FOX’s Ken Rosenthal in a notes column. The former Dodgers skipper drew nearly identical praise from assistant GM Mike Berger and coach Perry Hill in separate interviews, Rosenthal notes, for the manner in which he commands accountability and his attention to detail. Berger called Mattingly “the right voice at the right time” and added that Mattingly addresses issues that arise “in a way that makes you feel like a million bucks.” The Marlins have had a tumultuous week, with the 80-game suspension of Dee Gordon still looming large over the club, but the club has nonetheless won nine of its past 10 games.
- The Nationals’ decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after 159 1/3 innings in 2012, his first season back from Tommy John surgery, has perhaps helped to pave the way for him to sign with another club this winter, writes MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Strasburg’s arm has held up well since that controversial decision, and he’s now poised to hit the open market this coming winter and break former teammate Jordan Zimmermann’s $110MM record for a post-Tommy-John pitcher. While Morosi doesn’t specifically touch on this, it seems particularly difficult to envision the Nats retaining Strasburg in light of their struggles in signing free agents this past offseason due to their need to include deferred money in each of their contract offers. Morosi speculates that Strasburg could receive more than $150MM over six years, which is perfectly reasonable but strikes me as conservative for Strasburg, who will pitch the majority of next season at the age of 28. As Tim Dierkes noted recently in placing Strasburg atop MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, agent Scott Boras seems likely to target $200MM+, and it’d be a surprise if Strasburg (assuming health) didn’t land an opt-out clause as well.
- The trade that sent Martin Prado and David Phelps from the Yankees to the Marlins looked to be a win for New York as recently as last August, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post, but early 2016 results for those involved serve as a reminder that judging the “winner” of a trade is a long-term (and imperfect) process. Last year, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi had taken some steps forward, while the main components sent to Miami had delivered solid but inferior returns. However, Eovaldi has struggled this season, while Prado is leading the NL in hitting and Phelps has blossomed under the tutelage of pitching guru Jim Benedict (hired by the Marlins from the Pirates this winter). Sherman writes that the Yankees would probably do the trade again even today, as they still believe in Eovaldi’s upside, but Phelps’ emergence and remaining club control (through the 2018 season) bode quite well for the Fish. Phelps has allowed just two runs through 16 innings with a 19-to-7 K/BB ratio and a fastball that is 2.5 miles per hour faster than it was in his New York days. Marlins assistant GM Mike Berger spoke to Sherman about Phelps’ breakout, favorably drawing some parallels with another former Yankee farmhand: Mark Melancon.
We learned recently that free agent righty Tim Lincecum is preparing for a long-awaited showcase on Friday. Once one of the best pitchers in the game, Lincecum has been slowed by a variety of injury and performance issues more recently — including, particularly, hip surgery this past September — and is looking to show that he’s back to full health before signing.
Here’s the latest, with links to the Twitter account of MLB Network’s Jon Heyman unless otherwise noted:
- The showcase will be held at Scottsdale Stadium, the Giants’ spring home, per Heyman. While Lincecum has availed himself of his long-time team’s facilities during his ramp-up, it shouldn’t be supposed that a return to San Francisco is particularly likely. As we’ve covered before, the Giants are said to be interested in Lincecum as a bullpen option, while he’s hoping to find a shot as a starter.
- This particular event was always going to draw more fanfare than a typical bullpen session for a free agent who hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2011, but it appears that it could be made into a bigger spectacle than anyone would have foreseen. ESPN may be on hand to broadcast the outing, Heyman tweets, which would certainly lend an interesting combine-esque quality to the proceedings.
- Beyond the Giants, we heard previously that the Orioles, Padres, and Athletics plan to have a scouting presence on hand. The White Sox, too, will be there, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link), as will the Angels, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter). And the Blue Jays will also take a look, John Lott tweets.
- Heyman also adds several more clubs that plant to send eyes (links: 1; 2; 3; 4). The Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, and Marlins will be there from the National League side of things. And American League teams with at least one scout in the stands will include the Rangers and Astros.
The no-trade protection in Ryan Braun’s contract allows the star outfielder to block a deal to every team besides the Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins and Padres, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). Like most players with partial no-trade clauses, Braun has the ability to change the teams on his no-trade list each year; last season, the Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Nationals and Rays were the only clubs that escaped Braun’s veto power.
Braun is in his first season of a five-year, $105MM extension that he signed way back in 2011, when he still had almost five full years remaining on his previous extension with the Brewers. It’s been a roller-coaster for Braun and the Brewers ever since — superstar seasons in 2011 and 2012, a 65-game suspension in 2013 for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and some recurring injuries, particularly to his thumb.
Braun rebounded for a very productive year in 2015, though his future salary commitments have made him a possible trade chip now that the Brewers are rebuilding. That same contract, as well as Braun’s age (32) and PED history, could also just as easily limit his trade market unless the Brewers ate some salary in a trade or took on another big contract.
There are any number of reasons why a player could include or omit a team on a no-trade list, though in Braun’s case, geography could be a factor. Braun was born and raised in the Los Angeles suburbs and he went to school at the University of Miami, which could explain why the Angels, Dodgers and Marlins didn’t appear on either no-trade list. The Dodgers and Marlins are rather unlikely trade partners, however, given that both teams are already set for corner outfielders. The Angels have a big vacancy in left field, though they may not be a fit for Braun for a variety of other reasons, as Rosenthal explained yesterday.
Braun’s southern California roots may also explain why he wouldn’t block a trade to the relatively-nearby D’Backs, Padres or Giants. It generally appears as though Braun would prefer to stay in the National League, as the Angels are the only AL team on his current veto list.
If the Brewers worked out a trade that would send Braun to a team on his no-trade list, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the former NL MVP would choose to remain in Milwaukee. He could decide to join a contender rather than stick it out through the Brewers’ rebuilding process. Like other players with no-trade protection, Braun could ask for more financial incentive in order to allow a deal to be consummated. Braun’s deal contains a $15MM mutual option for the 2021 season that can be bought out for $4MM, so it’s possible he could ask to have that option year guaranteed to allow a trade to happen, though that would be a tough ask to give him another $11MM in his age-37 season.
Brewers star left fielder Ryan Braun can veto a trade to all teams except the Dodgers, Angels, Marlins, Rays and Nationals, but the idea of rebuilding Milwaukee dealing him “is becoming more realistic,” FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (video link). Braun, 32, will have four years and $76MM left on his contract after this season, and Rosenthal believes he’d make plenty of sense as a complement to Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun in the Angels’ outfield. However, the Angels’ dearth of quality prospects and a potential reluctance on owner Arte Moreno’s part to acquire Braun, given his contract and past suspension for PEDs, are factors that could stand in the way of a trade, Rosenthal adds.
Here’s more from Rosenthal:
- The Yankees aren’t known for selling at the trade deadline, but if their woeful April performance drags into the coming months, lights-out relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller could be two of the most appealing players available over the summer, Rosenthal says. Chapman, whose 30-game suspension stemming from domestic violence allegations is almost over, will be a free agent at year’s end. Miller has two years and $18MM left on his deal after this season, and Rosenthal doesn’t expect the Yankees to move him if they intend on competing in 2017. If not, though, they could use the deadline to erase his money from their books and stave off a possible decline in their uniform. Miller, 30, hasn’t shown any negative signs this year, having amassed 15 strikeouts over nine scoreless, walk-less innings.
- Speaking of relievers, the Mets, Giants and Blue Jays will look to fortify their bullpens as the season advances, per Rosenthal. Mets relievers have been outstanding this year, while the other two clubs’ bullpen production has been average or worse. Toronto will get in-house help there eventually in the form of starter Aaron Sanchez, whose innings limit will remove him from the team’s rotation, Rosenthal notes. Sanchez, who has been excellent in a starting role (2.59 ERA, 8.33 K/9, 2.87 BB/9 in 31 1/3 innings), put up a 2.39 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 1/3 frames out of the Jays’ bullpen last season.
- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira could appeal to plenty of teams on a short-term deal if he hits free agency in the offseason, according to Rosenthal. Teixeira’s dedication to fitness might allay some teams’ fears about his age (he’ll turn 37 next April), but he’ll obviously need to stay healthy and compile significant production this season in order to cash in over the winter. Teixeira was terrific last year, slashing .255/.357/.548 with 31 homers in just 111 games to revive his career, but his 89 plate appearances this season haven’t been nearly as promising (.230/.360/.365).
- That a speedy player like Gordon would get busted for PED use might seem surprising, but PED use isn’t just about power, it’s about endurance and maximizing small edges, ESPN’s Doug Glanville writes. Glanville relates that, as a former player, he felt exhausted at the end of a long season, and he adds that other players do as well. A fast singles hitter might feel the temptation to take PEDs in order to get through the grind, according to Glanville.
- That written, some within the game were shocked by Gordon’s suspension, as Glanville’s colleague Jayson Stark notes. The news was particularly surprising given that Gordon had already signed a long-term deal. “This is the single most bizarre case I’ve ever come across, because he tested positive after signing a $50 million contract,” says one team exec. “He could have hit .220 and never stolen another base, and he still would have gotten paid for the next five years.” Stark further notes that the proliferation of PED busts so far this year — Chris Colabello, Abraham Almonte, Jenrry Mejia, and so on — shows that testing is improving.
- Gordon isn’t to be pitied for his actions, but MLB’s culture is perhaps too forgiving of PED users, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Gordon will still receive the bulk of the money his contract promises him. Other players accused of PED use, like Nelson Cruz, have received lengthy contracts later, while still others, like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, have returned as coaches. And — as Stark and Sherman both note — MLB’s brutal, travel-heavy schedules motivate players to take PEDs as well.
- Members of the players union are considering increasing penalties for players who test positive for PEDs, writes John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Gordon and Colabello “are established guys,” says Athletics closer and player rep Sean Doolittle. “These aren’t guys fighting for a spot or going up and down. These are guys who are hitting over .300. We thought we ratcheted (the drug policy) up enough, and apparently we haven’t.” Doolittle adds that the players are considering ways to steepen the financial penalties for busted players — a player who tests positive might lose his salary for an entire year, for example. Doolittle notes, though, that voiding an entire contract might be problematic, in that such a steep penalty could suddenly give a player’s team an immense amount of money to spend, effectively hurting other teams competing for free agent talent.
- MLB and the players union will have “no choice” but to increase PED penalties in the next collective bargaining agreement, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. Perhaps the penalty for a first offense could increase to a full-season ban, with the second offense earning a lifetime ban, Nightengale suggests.
10:39am: Gordon tested positive for the pair of substances in Spring Training, a league source tells ESPN’s Jayson Stark.
12:20am: In a stunning development, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon has been hit with an eighty-game suspension for PEDs, according to a league announcement. He tested positive for the banned substances exogenous testosterone and clostebol.
Needless to say, the news represents a sudden turnaround for a player who had risen to become one of the game’s more celebrated personalities. Gordon, the 28-year-old son of longtime major leaguer Tom Gordon and brother of Twins’ prospect Nick Gordon, inked a five-year, $50MM extension with the Marlins over the winter after an excellent 2015 season.
Gordon will sacrifice about half of his $3MM salary for the present season under that contract. He’ll also obviously miss out on a chance to defend his National League batting and stolen base titles from a year ago. And if Miami manages to right the ship — an even taller order now with Gordon out — he won’t be eligible for postseason play.
It seems likely that the Fish will turn to Derek Dietrich to occupy at least a good portion of the time at the keystone. He has plenty of experience there, though he’s not much of a fielder. The left-handed-swinging 26-year-old is a promising hitter, though. Alternatively, the club could utilize Martin Prado at second while deploying Dietrich and/or Chris Johnson at third base.
Regardless, the overall mix is substantially weakened. Gordon was off to a slow start this year, but he doesn’t need to keep up quite his 2015 pace to be of value. He had already enjoyed a breakout in the season prior before being dealt by the Dodgers, but Gordon stepped up even further in his first year in Miami with a .333/.359/.418 slash, 58 stolen bases, and highly-regarded glovework.
To be sure, Gordon is not the lumbering slugger who is traditionally associated with performance enhancing drugs. But this represents the latest reminder that such substances aren’t reserved for bulking up; they can also improve athletic performance in other ways and, especially, aid in injury recovery.
Quite unlike the situation facing the Blue Jays with regard to Chris Colabello, who was also just suspended, the Marlins are committed to Gordon via the aforementioned contract. Miami will simply need to hope that he’s able to repair his image and maintain his performance on the field upon his return.
That’s the message given by club president David Samson, who said the organization was disappointed but would welcome Gordon back when his suspension ends. (Video via the Miami Herald.) The Marlins did not learn about the suspension until today, per Samson. Miami has obviously have placed high expectations on Gordon to “do whatever is necessary to make it up to our fans, to his teammates, and to this organization.”
Gordon apparently decided to drop his appeal at this time, making the suspension effective after tonight’s game, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports tweets. (Notably, Gordon just finished helping the club to a four-game sweep of his former team.) It’s still not clear precisely when the positive test occurred, though it’s certainly possible that — as with Colabello — it took place at some point during Spring Training.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
What was a rather quiet news Thursday in terms of baseball news culminated with a bombshell, as the league announced at 1:17am Friday morning that reigning NL batting champion and two-time All-Star Dee Gordon has been suspended 80 games for the use of banned substances exogenous testosterone and clostebol. The news was clearly difficult to swallow not only for Gordon’s Marlins but also for the Dodgers, who suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins due in no small part to Gordon’s game-tying hit in last night’s series finale. Gordon signed a five-year, $50MM contract extension this winter and is arguably the highest-profile player to be hit with a PED suspension since the 2013 Biogenesis scandal saw the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun serve penalties. This morning, Gordon issued the following statement, via press release:
“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances. The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization, and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20+ tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this. I made a mistake and I accept the consequences.”
Here are some early reactions from around the game (though there surely will be more to follow over the weekend)…
- The Gordon suspension will fuel the fire for debates about greater penalties for first-time offenders, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal penned a column just a week ago in which players such as Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Matt Holliday and Clayton Kershaw all voiced an openness, if not a desire for stronger testing within the game. With the current collective bargaining agreement slated to expire on Dec. 1, the question will arise from recent suspensions of Gordon, Chris Colabello (and, last season, Ervin Santana) is whether there are enough players that have reached their breaking point on PED usage to push the MLBPA to concede to more extreme punishment. Holliday suggested to Rosenthal a two-year ban, though Rosenthal himself wonders if at a certain point the MLBPA will cave and allow some or all of a player’s long-term contract to be voided by PED usage. That, of course, would create plenty of other potential controversy, particularly if, for instance, a player on a decidedly poor contract (from the club’s vantage point) were to test positive for PEDs and then claim to have never taken a banned substance.
- Asked about losing Gordon for 80 games following such a high point (sweeping the Dodgers in L.A.), manager Don Mattingly offered the following comments (video link via Andre Fernandez of the Miami Herald): “Obviously two different ends of the spectrum for us as a team. You would expect our guys to be in there, excited, and then we get this news, so not quite the feeling… but, from there, we’ll support Dee. These guys love Dee. I feel like he’s one of my kids, to be honest with you. I’ve known him for so long, and I love him, and we’re going to move forward. … Definitely shocked and surprised. From there, it just happened so fast, it’s one of those situations where you love your kids, and that’s Dee, for me. That’s one of mine. … As a ball club, it’s a different scene. The story is, we have to move forward. And that’s what happens in professional sports: stuff happens, and you move forward, and you’ve got to find a way to get around it.”
- Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that Derek Dietrich is the most logical alternative for the Marlins with Gordon out for half the season. The club could consider moving Martin Prado back to second base and playing Chris Johnson (or Dietrich) at third base, and there’s an argument to go with the defensive-minded Miguel Rojas at second base as well. However, Dietrich has made nearly half of his Major League starts as a second baseman, and while he’s not a plus defender like Gordon or Rojas, he’s batted a very solid .263/.352/.471 in 321 plate appearances dating back to last season (albeit with the benefit of some fairly heavy platooning to shield him from left-handed pitching).
- Gordon’s suspension is a reminder that there’s no way to reasonably predict who could be using performance enhancing drugs, writes Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, referencing Gordon’s 171-pound frame. Passan also notes that continued suspensions even in the face of increased testing and stronger penalties for first-time offenders lead to collateral damage like Stephen A. Smith’s recent, baseless comments on Jake Arrieta, which can blame the irresponsible speculation on the mere fact that others in the game continue to cheat the system (or at least attempt to do so). Passan opines that regardless of how much pressure is placed on the MLBPA to consider allowing teams to void multi-year deals for PED offenders, the Players Association “understands that’s the sort of Pandora’s Box nobody dare open.”
- ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that Gordon’s suspension serves only as further proof that the potential reward for using PEDs far outweighs the risks. The Marlins don’t know if Gordon was using PEDs during his breakout 2014 with the Dodgers, nor do they know if banned substances contributed to Gordon’s brilliant followup in 2015, when he hit .333/.359/.418 to lead the league in hitting (and also led the NL with 58 steals). The team will owe Gordon roughly $48MM despite the suspension, which will cost him about $1.63MM worth of pay this season. The discrepancy between those two sums is only magnified when juxtaposed with Olney’s stories of his interactions with Gordon early in his career, when he was struggling simply to stay in the Major Leagues after being relegated to the bench and changing positions. That’s not to say that Gordon used PEDs during that time — we have no way of knowing that, and he’s passed dozens of tests prior to his recent transgression — but players in similar situations can certainly look to Gordon’s situation and see the temptation of banned substances.