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In today’s Insider-only blog on ESPN.com, Buster Olney discusses some of the remaining relief options on the market, noting that right-hander Joba Chamberlain is expected to make a decision on his 2015 club sometime this week. The Dodgers are among the teams with interest, Olney writes, but there are others involved. Olney also notes that part of the reason Rafael Soriano remains unemployed is that scouts feel that his stuff evaporated late in the 2014 season with the Nationals.
A bit more on what’s left of the relief market…
- The Rangers are still looking for left-handed relievers and are considering both Phil Coke and Joe Beimel, tweets Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. As Wilson notes, the team needn’t worry about a 40-man roster spot, as they can move an injured player to the 60-day disabled list if they accommodate either southpaw with a big league contact.
- The Brewers and Marlins remain in the mix for Francisco Rodriguez, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The two teams have been the most commonly linked clubs to Rodriguez’s market, with reports over the weekend indicating that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has discussed K-Rod with agent Scott Boras. Last week, the Marlins were rumored to be interested in the two-year, $10MM range, but Rodriguez is said to be eyeing a $10MM figure for 2015 alone.
- Right-hander Dustin McGowan, who signed a Major League deal with the Dodgers earlier today, is viewing himself as a reliever at this point in his career, he told reporters (including FOX’s Ken Rosenthal). The Dodgers view McGowan as a relief candidate based on his 95 mph fastball and his splits; McGowan had a 5.08 ERA in the rotation last year compared to a 3.35 mark in the bullpen. His career 3.79 ERA as a reliever is nearly a run lower than his 4.78 mark as a starter.
Much has been made of trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon over the course of the winter, but Chase Utley‘s name has rarely come up due to the veteran’s 10-and-5 rights that allow him to block trades. However, Utley told reporters today, including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, that he’d consider any trade scenario brought to him by GM Ruben Amaro (Twitter link). However, Utley doesn’t sound like a man with an urge to get out of a Phillies uniform. “I want nothing more than to play for this organization as long as I can,” he told the media.
More on the Phillies and the NL East…
- Domonic Brown tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that he’s not sure exactly what the Phillies have in store for him, but he consider’s last year’s struggles a learning experience and believes he can post better numbers. Brown wouldn’t comment on whether or not he was more comfortable playing right field now that Marlon Byrd has been traded to the Reds. As Zolecki notes, another poor showing from Brown could very well mean that the team will search elsewhere for corner outfielders in the future.
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t looked at defensive numbers from 2014, he tells Juan C. Rodriguez of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, because he already knows he didn’t perform up to his expectations. Both Saltalamacchia and manager Marlins Mike Redmond spoke about how the catcher can improve in the second year of a three-year, $21MM pact with Miami. As Rodriguez points out, Saltalamacchia has graded out well in terms of pitch-framing before but ranked as the league’s worst framer in 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus.
- Though the Braves are hopeful that right-hander Michael Foltynewicz, who was acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, is a starter in the long-term, the team hasn’t ruled out opening the year with him in the bullpen, tweets MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Foltynewicz instantly became one of the Braves’ best young arms in that trade, and using his 100mph fastball in the bullpen to get him acclimated to the Majors while going with a veteran such as Eric Stults in the fifth spot of the rotation may have some merit in the team’s eyes.
- Speaking more in depth on those trades, president of baseball operations John Hart tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien that he doesn’t consider the Braves‘ offseason moves to be a full-on rebuild. Rather, according to Hart, the team tried to walk a “parallel path” in which Major League pieces were subtracted to shore up the farm system while other MLB pieces were brought in to help the 2015 team. The Braves’ core players appear to be on board with the moves, Hart adds, saying he’s received “nothing but positive (feedback)” from them.
Mat Latos‘ fascinating interview with FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal offers an unusually honest look at transactions, and team machinations in general, from the perspective of a player. Latos says he received assurances from the Padres that they wouldn’t trade him, and then they traded him eight days later and didn’t tell him. “I woke up, had like 50 text messages,” Latos says. “I called my agent. He said, ‘(GM) Josh Byrnes couldn’t get ahold of you.’ I had zero missed calls from him. I had to call him. Maybe he had the wrong number.” He speaks of “great times” in the Reds organization and says he’s satisfied to be with the Marlins, but questions the Reds for pushing him too aggressively as he returned from injury last year, and expresses lingering bitterness at going through the arbitration process with Miami. “You see it as a business,” he says. “You kind of see how much of a pawn you really are.” Here are more notes on pitchers.
- Cuban pitchers Vladimir Gutierrez and Yadier Alvares won’t be able to sign until July 2, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Any international free agent born later than September 1, 1995 must register with Major League Baseball to be able to sign, and Gutierrez and Alvares aren’t registered. (The rule is designed to help MLB keep track of young international free agents and prevent identity fraud, although Badler notes that the rule is tough on Cuban players, who can’t register while they’re in Cuba. The rule does not apply to Yoan Moncada, who was born in May 1995.) The two pitchers must register by May 15 to sign beginning in July. Gutierrez won Serie Nacional’s 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award, and Alvares is an interesting young pitcher who can throw 97 MPH.
- Veteran reliever Chad Qualls is happy about the talent the Astros have added this winter, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com writes. “They’re going to contribute a lot to the back end of the bullpen,” says Qualls, referring to Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. “The trades and the signings we made are spot on for our offense,” he adds. Qualls’ perspective on the Astros is different than most, since he spent the first four seasons of his career with the team. In two of those (2004 and 2005), they were an NL powerhouse, advancing to the World Series in ’05. Since then, Qualls has moved around the country, playing for the Diamondbacks, Rays, Padres, Phillies, Yankees, Pirates and Marlins while the Astros eventually became the worst team in the Majors. Now he’s back with them as they’re beginning to show signs of reemerging.
If a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, does a baseball player by any other name peform better? B.J. Upton will answer that question this season as he will go by his given name of Melvin Upton Jr. and, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, will have “Jr.” on the back of his uniform for the first time in his professional career. Upton has struggled since his arrival in Atlanta after signing a five-year, $75.25MM free agent contract in November 2012 slashing .198/.279/.314 with 21 home runs and 61 RBIs in those two years. John Hart, Braves president of baseball operations, first tipped Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz to the name change (Twitter links). For those wondering, B.J. is short for Bossman Jr., his father’s nickname.
In other news from the NL East:
- Nationals centerfielder Denard Span is one of the team’s seven impending free agents and is looking forward to that opportunity, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. “I’ve worked my whole career to get to this point, to be a free agent,” Span said. “But at the same time, I’m concentrating on trying to do the best that I can to help this ball club win. I feel like if I do my job and we do our jobs collectively I’ll get compensated and everything will fall into place.” Wagner adds the Nationals have not approached Span about a contract extension.
- With the increasing likelihood of Ryan Howard opening the season in Philadelphia, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is making amends for the comments he made about the Phillies being better off without the first baseman, reports Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. “Frankly, I apologized for those comments that I made that were public,” said Amaro. “And I think he appreciated that. Other than that, I want to keep the conversation private. It was a good talk.” Despite a willingness to eat a substantial portion of the $60MM remaining on Howard’s contract, no market has developed for the 35-year-old.
- Speaking publicly for the first time since being dealt from the Yankees in December, recent Marlins addition Martin Prado told reporters, including Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald he “couldn’t be happier when I found out I was going to play with [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Jose] Fernandez and young kids coming up. Very happy to be here. Couldn’t be more excited. They have a good mix of young guys and veteran guys. I hope we can build a team around [Stanton] and take some pressure [off] him.”
- The Marlins believe the signing of Ichiro Suzuki already is paying off and he hasn’t even arrived from his native Japan yet, according to Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. Over the weekend, President David Samson said at least 90 Marlins games will be televised in Japan. The 41-year-old won’t be play every day, but the $2MM deal is already paying dividends for Miami.
Free agency is fun for those of us on the outside to follow, but that’s not necessarily the case for the players themselves. Tim Britton of The Providence Journal kept tabs on now two former members of the Red Sox throughout their free agent process, David Ross and Burke Badenhop. While Ross found a home with the Cubs before Christmas, Badenhop had to wait a little while longer for his deal with the Reds. More from the AL East..
- The most likely scenario in the Cubs/Joe Maddon tampering case is that no evidence will be found to support the Rays‘ claims, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes.
- Juan Francisco‘s minor league deal with the Rays includes an April 5th opt-out and a salary of $2MM (plus incentives) if he makes the team, according to Topkin. Francisco, 28 in June, spent 2014 with the Blue Jays, where he hit .220/.291/.456 with 16 home runs in 320 plate appearances.
- Mitchell Boggs can opt out of his minor league deal with the Red Sox if he isn’t on the big league club by April 4th, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford believes that the former Cardinals closer could wind up not only making the big league roster, but becoming a valuable piece in the pen. Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox signed Boggs with every intention of having him on the varsity squad. “They communicated with me early in the offseason that it was a major league-type opportunity,” Boggs explained. “It wasn’t depth for the entire year. It was a situation where they wanted me to come in and compete and try to make this team. That’s what I care about.”
- Most of the Yankees‘ moves for young power arms, starting with the signing of free agent Andrew Miller, were made to build a deep bullpen. But, the trade of win-now infielder Martin Prado for Nathan Eovaldi signaled a willingness to gamble on the starting rotation as well, John Harper of the New York Daily News writes. If all goes according to plan, the Yankees could have one of the younger starting rotations in baseball with Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova. The question marks about their injuries and inconsistency could have made guys like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields to be solid fits, but the Yanks decided instead to play it smart for the long-term.
- Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley thought for several days that he would be traded to the Marlins or Rangers before he wound up in Boston, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe tweets. Miley first learned that he was headed to the Red Sox when he saw the news on TV.
- With or without permission from St. Petersburg, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he’ll seek a replacement stadium no later than 2022, Stephen Nohlgren of the Tampa Bay Times writes.
While attention remains focused on Cole Hamels, clubs should consider trading for Cliff Lee instead, writes Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com. Lee’s struggles in 2014 can be chalked up to injury and bad luck, so teams should be willing to take a bet on better performance. Cameron thinks the Phillies should bite the bullet and swallow the entire $25MM owed to Lee this season, leaving an acquiring club to cover the $12.5MM buyout or $27.5MM club option for next season. If the Phillies eat enough money, they should receive at least one notable prospect in exchange for the ace. Lee dealt with a recurring elbow injury last season, so rivals are probably playing wait-and-see.
- The Phillies are easing Lee back into regular action, reports Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. Most pitchers are throwing bullpens every other day, but Lee will work from the mound every third day. His health this spring will determine if he is a salable asset. One consideration to keep in mind – Lee’s partial no-trade list includes many of the clubs most likely to acquire him. Meanwhile, Hamels list appears to name places least likely to contend.
- Hamels wants to play for a winner, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. He is comfortable in Philadelphia and hopes the club can be surprise contenders this season. However, he’s also pragmatic. He understands GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to address the big picture, which could include dealing him to greener pastures.
- Mets ace Matt Harvey will pitch within the first five games of the season, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPN. Manager Terry Collins says the club won’t skip any of his starts either. It was previously reported that Harvey will be on a strict innings limit, but they’ve backed off that position in the last day.
- The Marlins continue to consider Francisco Rodriguez, reports Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. We recently learned K-Rod is seeking a one-year, $10MM guarantee. The Marlins appear to be interested in a much lower rate.
While Dan Haren admits that he did consider retirement this offseason, it wasn’t due to the trade that sent him to the Marlins, he told reporters today at Marlins’ camp (via the Miami Sun-Sentinel’s Juan C. Rodriguez). Haren refrained from speaking directly to the media as he weighed his options this winter, and he feels that may have led to some speculation going overboard. Rodriguez quotes Haren: “I think a lot of things were probably overblown, one, because I never really said anything directly to any media at all. I’m here. I’m happy to be here. I had a good talk with [manager] Mike Redmond. I’m ready to get going.” Specifically, Haren adds that he never requested that the Marlins trade him back to a West Coast team. He hopes to continue his 10-season streak of making 30 or more starts — the second-longest active streak in the Majors, behind Mark Buehrle — and said he considers Marlins Park a good fit for him at this stage of his career and is looking forward to being a Marlin. “[W]ho am I to say where I play? I’m not Clayton Kershaw. I respect the game. It’s given me a lot more than I could have every imagined. I’m excited to be here.”
Here’s more on the Marlins and their division…
- Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill told MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden that his team is keeping a finger on the pulse of the available free agent relievers (Twitter link). The Marlins reportedly have interest in Francisco Rodriguez on something in the range of a two-year, $10MM deal, but K-Rod is said to be seeking $10MM for 2015 alone.
- Mike Vurkunov of the Star Ledger tweets that Mets GM Sandy Alderson believes that if his team trades a starting pitcher, it will likely be to acquire prospect depth rather than to supplement the Major League roster. Of course, it is far from clear that a deal will get done at all at this point, though injury situations can always change the demand calculus.
- Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle has been through a rather incredible set of challenges, but says he is back on track entering the spring, as Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Certainly, a healthy and progressing Biddle would go a long way toward boosting perceptions of the club’s farm system.
The Marlins don’t appear likely to make a significant free-agent addition to their bullpen, as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports that the team isn’t expected to add Phil Coke or Joba Chamberlain, and the asking price of Francisco Rodriguez remains too high. Frisaro had previously written that Miami was considering Rodriguez and had its eyes on a minor league deal for Coke.
According to Frisaro, the Marlins are comfortable offering Rodriguez a two-year deal worth roughly $10MM in total. However, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported last night that K-Rod is seeking that same level of financial compensation on a one-year deal. I’d imagine that agent Scott Boras would listen if the Marlins were to expand (though certainly not double) their comfort zone on a two-year deal, but Frisaro gives no indication that such a scenario is likely. He does note that if Rodriguez’s demands drop, he’s the most realistic external option to boost the bullpen. The Marlins don’t have serious interest in Chamberlain, Frisaro adds.
As for Coke, the Marlins remain unwilling to give the former Tiger anything other than a minor league contract. Miami is very interested to see what Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan can do in Spring Training, and adding Coke would likely snuff out that competition before it had a chance to begin, as the team already has a second lefty locked into a bullpen spot in the form of Mike Dunn. Coke, though, is said to be looking for about $2MM on a Major League contract.
Another name that intrigues the Marlins is that of minor league signee Nick Masset, who excelled as a setup man for the Reds from 2009-11 before shoulder problems kept him on the shelf for the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons. Masset returned to the Majors in 2014 but struggled to a 5.80 ERA in 45 innings with the Rockies. However, Masset did still average nearly 93 mph on his fastball with a 51.7 percent ground-ball rate, so there are some elements of his rough season that merit optimism.
3:45pm: Johnson will earn $1.25MM in the Majors and can opt out of his contract on March 29 if he’s not added to the roster, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
3:05pm: The Marlins have agreed to a minor league deal with outfielder Reed Johnson, the club announced. The contract includes an invitation to major league camp.
Now 38, Johnson struggled last year with the Fish, putting up a career-worst .614 OPS (on the back of a .235/.266/.348 slash) over 201 plate appearances. Limited mostly to the corner outfield, that left Johnson as a well-below-replacement-level player.
It looks to be an uphill climb for Johnson this year, as Miami features a trio of talented young options in the outfield and already inked Ichiro Suzuki for the fourth outfielder role. But Johnson will certainly provide a nice veteran presence and depth in camp, if nothing more, and was an average or better hitter as recently as 2011-12.
Lefty Phil Coke is one of relatively few remaining relievers on the free agent market. Last we checked in, we heard that the Marlins are interested and that Coke still has hope of landing a big league deal. Indeed, as I noted in that post, there are some positive indicators for his ability to contribute. And he does seem to be drawing wide interest. Here’s the latest:
- Coke has several minor league offers with camp invites in hand, but is still waiting for that elusive 40-man spot, Jason Beck of MLB.com tweets. A deal could be in place by the end of this week, per Beck, which would allow Coke to avoid missing too much spring time.
- Coke recently threw for the Royals, Beck also reports. Kansas City would look to represent a nice opportunity for Coke: beyond Tim Collins, the club is short on experienced southpaws. And presumably, K.C. will allow Brandon Finnegan to develop as a starter.
- The Rangers could well add Coke, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Texas is still having conversations with Coke’s camp, but it appears that the pitcher is still asking the team to give him a major league deal.