- Duquette On Blue Jays, Snider, Reimold
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So far this offseason, an unusual amount of free agent spending has been made by teams that were less successful in 2014, Sam Miller writes for FOX Sports. While Miller acknowledges the possibility of a short-sample blip, he notes that last year showed a similar trend. And, as he explains, factors such as the addition of a second Wild Card suggest a reasonable explanation for a real shift in strategies. Those interested in broader market movement will certainly want to give this thoughtful piece a complete read.
Here’s the latest on the current market:
- Second-time Tommy John patient Brandon Beachy remains available, unlike similarly-situated former teammate Kris Medlen and most other high-upside rebound candidates. Recent reports suggest his market is reaching maturation, and the Braves remain interested and involved, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). After checking in on the 28-year-old, however, the Rangers are out of the pursuit, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.
- The Blue Jays have joined the Marlins and Orioles in expressing interest in outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. For what it’s worth, the left-handed-hitting Ichiro’s historically neutral splits have skewed toward a significant reverse platoon advantage in recent seasons, though he has seen fairly limited action against southpaws.
- Toronto’s strongest AL East competition could come from the Red Sox, who like their Canadian rivals are still in the hunt for bullpen upgrades, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. GM Ben Cherington says that he is “still working” to build out the Boston relief corps.
Randy Johnson, who was elected to the Hall of Fame with more than 97 percent of the vote, will join the Diamondbacks‘ front office as a special assistant to GM Dave Stewart, the team announced yesterday. As MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert writes, Johnson will participate in community initiatives, weigh in on baseball operations decisions and, most excitingly to Johnson himself, work with minor league pitchers. “I don’t see myself being a coach,” Johnson said, “but I do see myself going around to the Minor Leagues and I think that’s where I can best help.” Johnson won’t specialize in discussing pitching mechanics with the D-Backs’ prospects, but rather on the mental side of the game, such as the mindset and work ethic needed to be successful. Meanwhile, D-Backs CEO Derrick Hall indicated that Johnson’s No. 51 will be retired this season or next — an honor which Johnson wanted to delay until he received the call to Cooperstown.
Elsewhere in the NL West…
- Dan Haren‘s preference to end up back on the West Coast is common knowledge at this point, and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Giants checked in with the Marlins on Haren earlier this offseason (Twitter links). However, Morosi adds that those talks came before the Giants re-signed Jake Peavy. It doesn’t seem that the Giants are pursuing rotation help any longer based on comments made by assistant GM Bobby Evans on Tuesday in the wake of Tim Hudson‘s ankle surgery, though Morosi notes that Haren would likely welcome the opportunity to pitch in San Francisco — a West Coast club with a pitcher-friendly park.
- It’s looking more and more like the Padres will hang onto Will Venable rather than trade him, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. As Lin notes, Venable is a left-handed bat on a right-leaning roster and can back up all three outfield spots. He’s also earning a relatively modest $4.25MM next season, so the price isn’t prohibitive. I’ve previously speculated that the Marlins could have interest, as they’re looking for left-handed-hitting backup outfielders, but Lin’s report suggests there’s not much of a match there.
- Lin also spoke with manager Bud Black today regarding Carlos Quentin, who appears to be the odd man out in the outfield mix (Twitter link). Black simply told Lin that the Padres were going to have to see how Quentin’s knees are in Spring Training before proceeding, indicating that even if he is ultimately moved, it may not happen until March.
- In addition to Black, Lin spoke to GM A.J. Preller today, who cautioned that Padres fans shouldn’t necessarily expect any more large splashes. Any remaining moves from San Diego would be “more likely something around the edges, to continue to add to the depth of what we’re building,” according to Preller.
- MLB.com’s Corey Brock tweets that we shouldn’t be surprised if the Padres add a veteran catcher who can back up Derek Norris between now and Spring Training. The Friars do have Tim Federowicz on their roster after acquiring him in the Matt Kemp trade, but they may prefer a backup with more big league experience.
The Marlins have checked in on Ichiro Suzuki as a possible fourth outfield option, reports Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (on Twitter). Additionally, Nate Schierholtz is also an option for the Marlins in their quest for a backup outfielder, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (also via Twitter).
Ichiro’s name has been most frequently connected to the Orioles in recent weeks, but his market has been otherwise limited. The 41-year-old batted .284/.324/.340 in 385 plate appearances for the Yankees last season. Ichiro is clearly no longer the player he once was, but both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved pegged him as an average defender in right field this season, and he’s still a skilled baserunner, as evidenced in part by his 15-for-18 mark in stolen bases. (Fangraphs valued his baserunning at +2.5 runs on the whole.)
Schierholtz, meanwhile, is coming off a dreadful season in which he batted just .195/.243/.309. Schierholtz’s strikeout rate did jump to 21.9 percent, but that figure isn’t so high that it can completely explain a 60-point dip in his batting average (especially considering the fact that he hit .251 with an 18.7 percent whiff rate a year prior). A portion of Schierholtz’s struggles does appear to be BABIP-driven, as his average on balls in play plummeted to .231 last season despite a career mark of .288. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was unable to sustain a stark increase in his homer-to-flyball rate from 2013 that led to a career-high 21 homers. He’s historically graded out as a solid right fielder and did so again in 2014.
As Frisaro notes, that Miami is looking at Schierholtz and Suzuki suggests that they’re prioritizing a left-handed bat in their search for extra outfielders. If that’s the case, then I’d speculate that free agents such as Andy Dirks, Endy Chavez and Tyler Colvin could also hold some interest in Miami’s eyes. The switch-hitting Eric Young Jr. would be another option as a bench player. As far as the trade market goes, Will Venable and David Murphy strike me as a pair of obvious trade candidates that come without exorbitant salaries.
JAN. 5: Frisaro now reports that there is a market for Haren, and the Marlins will do their best to work out a deal that benefits both parties. He adds that his ultimate expectation is that Haren will indeed be traded.
Meanwhile, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, who reported earlier this morning that Haren had begun a throwing program to get ready for the 2015 season, hears that the Marlins are hopeful of having a resolution soon on Haren’s 2015 plans (Twitter link).
JAN. 3: Dan Haren has told the Marlins he would still like to pitch for a West Coast team, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. It appears, then, that Haren is unlikely to pitch for the Marlins in 2015, although Frisaro notes that it’s still unclear whether Haren will retire.
The Dodgers traded Haren to Miami last month in the Dee Gordon / Andrew Heaney deal and agreed to pay his salary for the coming season, despite Haren’s preference to play in Southern California (where his family lives) and indications that he would retire if traded elsewhere. The Angels have said they’re not interested in dealing for Haren, and the Dodgers already traded him away, limiting his options.
Frisaro writes that Haren’s preference is to pitch “out West” and to have Spring Training in Arizona, noting that the only West division team that doesn’t train in Arizona is the Astros. It’s not clear, however, whether Haren has widened his interest beyond the three Southern California teams.
Reports over the weekend indicated that Dan Haren has informed the Marlins of his desire to pitch for another club, and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports looks at the situation a bit further. Morosi reports that Haren has begun a throwing program and has yet to inform the Marlins that he plans to retire if he’s not traded. While his West Coast preference is very well known, Haren will consider other clubs on a case-by-case basis if the Marlins are able to facilitate a trade elsewhere, he adds. As Morosi notes, the Marlins have little incentive to desperately shop Haren; the Dodgers included $10MM in the trade that Miami will be able to keep even in the event that Haren retires. In a poll conducted by MLBTR’s Brad Johnson, the majority of respondents expect Haren to retire.
Here’s more from the NL East…
- Little has changed on the Mets‘ shortstop front, writes ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin, who hears from team insiders that Wilmer Flores is still likely to have the Opening Day job. The Mets’ remaining offseason additions could simply come in the form of minor league deals for a few more lefty relievers as the club looks to find a complement to southpaw Josh Edgin. The last significant move could be to move a starter, with Dillon Gee being the most likely name to go. Rubin also notes that the Mets believe continued offseason agility training will help make Flores a passable defender at short. Flores hit .322/.365/.556 with six homers in 25 games (90 at-bats) in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
- The latest from Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello is an attempt to find a new home for Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Petriello points to previous comments made by GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on 97.5 The Fanatic in Phildelphia in which Amaro admits to having told Howard “it would probably bode better for the organization not with him but without him.” As Petriello notes, Howard has always been a better hitter to the opposite field — never more than in 2014. He concludes that three AL clubs whose parks favor power to left more than to right could conceivably fit him in as a DH: the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays. I’d personally wager that the Phillies may have to eat as much as $50MM of the remaining $60MM on Howard’s deal to move him.
- The Marlins like James Shields, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but they (unsurprisingly) aren’t comfortable paying him in the five-year, $110MM range. Last night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Shields is fielding offers in that neighborhood.
James Shields is expected to get at least five years and $100MM, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Two executives tell Rosenthal that Shields already has a $110MM offer in hand. As Rosenthal notes, however, rumors of an $110MM offer don’t mean that Shields will ultimately sign for that much or more. For example, there were rumors of a $65MM offer for Chase Headley, who ultimately settled for less from the Yankees.
It’s still not clear who will sign Shields. The Marlins and Diamondbacks feel Shields is out of their price range, Rosenthal writes, and the Giants, Padres and Red Sox don’t currently seem highly motivated, either. And the Royals, who have spent on several players already this offseason, don’t appear likely to re-sign Shields. It’s possible that one or more of those teams has more interest than it’s letting on, however. Rosenthal also suggests the Tigers, Yankees and Angels as possibilities, although Shields hasn’t been closely connected to any of those teams.
Mark Polishuk recently polled MLBTR readers about Shields’ likely destination, and the results reflect the uncertainty that seems to exist throughout the industry. Less than 20% of you feel the Giants will sign Shields, followed by the Red Sox, Yankees, and “Other,” which got over 10% of the vote, even with 13 teams in the poll.
It’s been a little over two years since the Marlins and Blue Jays completed the mega-trade that sent $163.75MM in major league veterans north of the border for a bundle of prospect joy. The Marlins were roasted for the decision at the time, but it’s looking wiser by the day, writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. Not only did the move clear much needed payroll (since used on Giancarlo Stanton), it also accounts for a lot of the top talent in the organization. In addition to Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Justin Nicolino, the Fish netted seven more players using pieces traced to the original trade with the Jays.
- Brewers prospect Devin Williams is now represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Williams was the Brewers second round pick in 2013, and Heyman adds he’s one of Milwaukee’s top 10 prospects. Williams, 19, pitched to a 4.48 ERA with 8.95 K/9 and 2.71 BB/9 in the rookie level Pioneer League.
- The White Sox are still looking into trading outfielder Dayan Viciedo, writes Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Needs include bullpen and bench depth.
- The ongoing Max Scherzer saga could greatly affect the Tigers in 2015, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Per Beck, the Tigers are likely to let Scherzer walk if another club shows heavy interest. If he continues to float on the market as he is now, there will be increasing pressure to bring him back. Owner Mike Illich is known for his penchant to reward players who have performed well in Detroit.
- Left field is an obvious hole for the Rangers, writes T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. The internal candidates are Michael Choice, Ryan Rua, and Jake Smolinski, but don’t be surprised if additional depth is added. The club is also expected to add a catcher to compete with Robinson Chirinos.
- Shortstop continues to be a glaring flaw on the Mets roster, writes Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. Last year, the club was unsuccessful upgrading over Ruben Tejada. This time, Wilmer Flores is the guy on the hot seat, with Tejada still in the picture too. My own take: unless the Mets can pinch Troy Tulowitzki, they’ll enter the season with Flores and Tejada. In the grand scheme of major league shortstops, neither projects to be terrible. Meanwhile, if they wanted Stephen Drew, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to acquire him over the last 14 months.
Earlier today, MLBTR posted the latest news and notes on the Nationals. Let’s now take a look at the other teams in the NL East:
- If A.J. Pierzynski‘s Spring Training looks like a continuation of his subpar 2014 season, he may not make the Braves‘ Opening Day roster, writes Fangraphs’ David Laurila in his latest Sunday Notes column. Pierzynski and the Braves agreed to a one-year, $2MM deal on Christmas Eve.
- The Phillies will spend considerably less on their starting pitching in 2015 and the rotation may actually be better, opines Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com.
- With the Braves and Phillies prioritizing years beyond 2015, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman surveyed seven baseball executives representing all six MLB divisions whether the Marlins or the Mets will be the Nationals‘ primary challenger this season. A split decision of 4-3 favored the Marlins.
Contract length isn’t necessarily a guarantee of job security. Over the years, we’ve seen countless examples of teams who have made surprising management changes in the wake of an unexpected losing season (such as the Braves firing ex-general manager Frank Wren) or simply due to new candidates coming onto the market (such as the Cubs firing Rick Renteria when Joe Maddon became available). Similarly, some managers and GMs aren’t troubled by being a so-called “lame duck” entering their last year under contract. Some have unofficial handshake deals to continue on in their roles as long as they wish, or some actually prefer a one-year deal — i.e. former Tigers skipper Jim Leyland — if they aren’t sure how much longer they want to remain in baseball.
For other executives and bench bosses, however, an expiring contract can indicate that they’re under significant pressure to get results in their last year under contract. Here’s a list of managers and GMs who are believed to be entering the last year of their contracts in 2015. (I say “believed to be” since some clubs keep front office contract terms private, so there could be a few more GMs who are also entering their last guaranteed season, or perhaps some of the names on this list have already been quietly signed to extensions.) As always, a big tip of the cap to Cot’s Baseball Contracts for many of these details.
- Blue Jays: John Gibbons’ rolling contract will guarantee his 2015 team option on New Year’s Day, and also add another club option to his deal that covers the 2016 season. The relationship between Gibbons and GM Alex Anthopoulos is known to be a firm one, though with the Jays so clearly set on contending in 2015, a disappointing record could lead to some questions about Gibbons’ future with the team.
- Braves: Atlanta’s late-season collapse cost Wren his job, though manager Fredi Gonzalez retained his spot in the team’s dugout. This is an interesting situation to monitor given how the Braves’ trades of Justin Upton and Jason Heyward indicate that they’re at least partially rebuilding, though the additions of Shelby Miller and Nick Markakis hint that they intend to stay competitive. All indications are that the Braves plan to contend when they move into their new ballpark in 2017, so if the team will look to somewhat tread water until then, Gonzalez could be safe.
- Brewers: Doug Melvin has been Milwaukee’s general manager since September 2002, taking over a struggling franchise and helming them to two postseason appearances (in 2008 and 2011) during his tenure. Since that most recent playoff berth, the Brewers have posted two winning seasons sandwiched around a poor 2013 season for an overall 239-247 record. The club’s payroll cracked the $100MM threshold last year and projects to do the same in 2015, so the Crew will be expected to rebound from last season’s second-half struggles. Another middling record won’t cut it in the increasingly-competitive NL Central, so it’s possible Melvin could be on the hot seat if the Brewers aren’t in contention. That said, given Melvin’s history with the team, I’d guess he’ll receive a two- or three-year extension to give him a bit more time to get things on track.
- Mets: Terry Collins’ role in his first four seasons as the Mets’ manager has been to act as a teacher and mentor to the club’s young players as the Amazins have been rebuilding. All signs point to 2015, however, as the season when the Mets are looking to again become a factor in the playoff race. If the Mets get off to a slow start, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Collins fired in favor of a manager who can theoretically help the team take that next step.
- Nationals: Matt Williams is technically entering his walk year, though the Nats hold team options on the manager’s services for 2016 and 2017. Barring a total collapse in Washington next year, Williams isn’t going anywhere.
- Padres: Bud Black is the rare manager who has lasted in his position through both an ownership change and four different general managers. Though Black has only posted two winning records in his eight seasons as San Diego’s manager, he is still regarded by many as one of the game’s better skippers, and it’s indeed hard to fault Black given the Padres’ front office instability and sub-par rosters during his tenure. 2015 will be a different story, as new GM A.J. Preller has made several major acquisitions to help revamp the Padres’ lineup. Black has said he’s not worried about not having an extension in place, and while he probably has reason to feel secure given how long he’s lasted in San Diego already, another losing season could convince the new-look Padres to make a change on the bench.
- Phillies: The Jimmy Rollins trade indicates that the Phillies are finally embarking on a much-needed rebuild, and it appears that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. will be the one to oversee it as he enters the last year of his contract. You’d think the Phils would’ve already made a change if they wanted a new face to usher in this new era for the team, though it’s worth noting that the Phillies’ upper management situation is also in flux as general owner David Montgomery is on leave while undergoing cancer treatments. (Former GM Pat Gillick is filling in for Montgomery in the interim.) It could be that Amaro’s future in Philadelphia won’t be addressed until his contract is actually up, or when Montgomery has recovered enough to resume his duties.
- Royals: Ned Yost could hardly have made a better argument for a new deal by leading Kansas City to within a game of a World Series title. Royals GM Dayton Moore hinted that Yost’s contract would be addressed later in the offseason, so it’s probably just a matter of time before Yost is extended beyond 2015.
- Tigers: Dave Dombrowski is entering the last year of his contract as Detroit’s general manager, president and CEO. Given his track record with the Tigers, it’s safe to assume that Dombrowski is one of those “has the job for as long as he wants” executives and he’ll get an extension sooner rather than later.
The original version of this post incorrectly indicated that Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill and GM Dan Jennings were heading into the final years of their contracts. In fact, both are already under contract through 2018. Hat tip to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro.
Here’s a roundup of some recent minor league transactions from around baseball, with the newest moves at the top of the post. All moves are from Matt Eddy of Baseball America, unless credited otherwise.
- The Reds have signed southpaw Jose Mijares and right-hander Michael Bowden to minor league deals. Mijares posted strong numbers (3.23 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.22 K/BB rate) over 259 relief innings with the Twins, Royals and Giants from 2008-13 but didn’t pitch in 2014 after he opted out of his minor league deal with the Red Sox last March. Bowden was drafted 47th overall by the Red Sox in the 2005 draft and was considered a top prospect during his stint in Boston’s minor league system. He couldn’t manage that same success in the majors, posting a 4.51 ERA over 133 2/3 innings with the Red Sox and Cubs from 2008-13. Bowden pitched in Japan in 2014.
- The Diamondbacks signed left-hander Dan Runzler to a minor league contract. Runzler posted a 3.86 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 over 72 1/3 IP with San Francisco from 2009-12 and was released by the Giants’ Triple-A team last July so he could pitch in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes.
- The Marlins inked outfielder Vinny Rottino to a minor league deal. Rottino, 34, is returning to North American baseball for the first time since 2012 after playing in Korea and Japan over the last two seasons. This is Rottino’s second stint in Miami, as he played for the Marlins, Mets, Indians and Brewers while collecting 110 career Major League plate appearances.
- The Rangers signed infielder Tommy Field to a minor league contract. Field received 81 plate appearances with the Rockies and Angels from 2011-13 and he spent last season at the Triple-A level in the Angels and Pirates organizations.
- The Royals outrighted outfielder Moises Sierra and right-hander Casey Coleman to Triple-A, the team announced via Twitter. The two players were both designated for assignment last week to create roster spots for the recently-signed Kendrys Morales and Yohan Pino, respectively.
- The Blue Jays announced the signing of left-hander Andrew Albers to a minor league deal that includes a Spring Training invite. Albers posted a 5.89 ERA over 28 starts for Hanwha of the (very hitter-friendly) Korean Baseball Organization in 2014. His Major League experience consists of a 4.05 ERA, 3.8 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB rate over 60 innings with the Twins in 2013.