- From the Braves’ perspective, one key to the deal was the financial flexibility they’ll add as they open their new stadium in 2017, GM John Hart tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think for us, a part of it was the flexibility we’re going to have going into ’17. That’s going to be extra dollars that we’re going to be able to have then,” says Hart. “And I think for Cleveland, even though they’re paying a significant piece to fill the large gap (in salaries), I think this gives them a little more flexibility to do some things in ’16.” Bourn and Swisher are both likely to become free agents after 2016 (both have options that are unlikely to vest), whereas Johnson doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season.
- The trade provides the Indians with “roster flexibility,” Bud Shaw writes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group. The Indians won’t have roster spots locked down for two players to whom they feel obligated to give chances. The Indians saved a bit of money in the deal too, Shaw notes, but not so much that it’s likely to make them big players in the free agent market this winter.
- In a Q+A addressing a variety of questions about the Indians’ recent moves, the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Paul Hoynes writes that the Indians’ trades are unlikely to make their attendance much worse. Hoynes notes that the Indians’ attendance to this point has been better than only that of the Rays, so it isn’t as if they can fall much further. It might also be worth noting that while the trades of Brandon Moss and David Murphy might hurt the Indians a bit in the short term, the departures of Bourn, Swisher and Marc Rzepczynski should have little negative on-field impact on the team. The Indians have retained most of their core players, like Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Francisco Lindor and Cody Allen.
Top White Sox prospect Carlos Rodon will make his first career big league start on Saturday. Rodon has pitched from the pen in the early going, but will get a chance to take the hill to open the game due to the five-game suspension of Jeff Samardzija. It remains to be seen what the team’s plans are the rest of the way with their highly-touted rookie, who was taken in last year’s draft out of N.C. State, but there seems to be at least a chance that he could pitch himself into a starting role given the struggles the team has had at the back end of the rotation.
- Speaking of interesting Saturday starters, the Indians will purchase the contract of journeyman lefty Bruce Chen to face the Twins this weekend, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets. Chen inked a minor league deal with Cleveland and chose to stay with the organization rather than opting out when he did not make the Opening Day roster. The team will need to clear space on both its 40-man and 25-man rosters.
- Of broader concern for the Indians, GM Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona are facing their biggest challenge of their combined tenure, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer explains. Expectations were high heading into the year, of course, and the club has roundly struggled thus far. The sense of urgency is evident, says Hoynes, as demonstrated by the team’s decision not to play center fielder Michael Bourn against lefties. As Hoynes rightly points out, the Bourn contract looked like a nice value when it was signed, but has hardly worked out for the Indians. Bourn has not only struggled offensively this year, but is not even providing the anticipated positive contribution in the field and on the bases. (Both UZR and DRS rate him as a negative in center over last year and this season’s early going.)
- Royals skipper Ned Yost says that he hopes outfielder Alex Rios will be back from his hand injury in about two weeks, per ESPN News Services. But the veteran just started swinging a bat again and does not have a precise timeline, per a tweet from Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. His replacements — Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson — have actually been pretty good, at least if you buy into a short sample of defensive metrics. Both fWAR and rWAR value the pair at nearly one combined win above replacement.
The Mariners have unfinished business heading into the new year, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. They’ll need to find a platoon partner for righty Justin Ruggiano in right field, with Seth Smith of the Padres as one possibility. They could also move Brad Miller to the outfield if he loses the shortstop job to Chris Taylor. The M’s could also find a catcher in the Humberto Quintero mold to provide depth at Triple-A Tacoma. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Signing Robinson Cano to a $240MM contract last offseason helped the Mariners press the reset button, Dutton writes. Led by Cano and their pitching staff, the Mariners improved by 16 games in 2014, although they just missed the last AL Wild Card berth.
- The remainder of the offseason could feature plenty of trades for outfielders, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The Phillies, Reds, Rays, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Indians and Angels could all have outfielders available, with about the same number of teams looming as potential buyers. Still, it might take time for the market to resolve itself — the key to the outfield market could be the rumors about the Padres trading a package centered around Wil Myers to the Phillies for Cole Hamels, and that might not be resolved until Max Scherzer and James Shields sign.
- Pirates reliever John Holdzkom has been released “five or six” times, he tells MLB.com’s Tom Singer. Some of those releases were no doubt even more depressing than such transactions usually might be. “I got released without the team even calling me. I looked on the Internet and saw my name next to ‘Transactions’ — five days before I was supposed to report,” says Holdzkom. “Yeah, that was bad.” And that team wasn’t even a Major League organization, but the independent Laredo Lemurs. Holdzkom emerged seemingly from out of nowhere to become a key part of the Pittsburgh bullpen down the stretch in 2014.
- The Indians‘ signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn haven’t worked out so far, at least not from a baseball perspective. But they were still the right moves, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. The signings prevented a big drop in the Indians’ season-ticket sales and helped them increase revenues while also helping make them more relevant. Bourn’s presence also allowed Michael Brantley to move to left field.
- Infielder Rafael Furcal has a torn hamstring and will miss Winter League playoffs in the Dominican, Dionisio Soldevila of ESPNDeportes.com tweets. Furcal had hamstring issues in the 2014 regular seasona and only made 37 plate appearances with the Marlins, so this latest injury could affect his attempt to come back next season.
MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group cleared out their inbox this weekend answering readers’ questions about possible moves for the Indians this offseason. Here are the highlights:
- Bastian downplays a Nick Swisher–Ubaldo Jimenez swap of bad contracts. Cleveland could afford the move (Jimenez is due $38.75MM through 2017 while Swisher is owed $30MM through 2016 with a 2017 vesting option worth $14MM), but Bastian feels the odds of Swisher rebounding in 2015 is a better bet than three years of Jimenez.
- If the Indians are looking to shed a bad contract, Hoynes thinks Michael Bourn would be easier to trade, but adds that doesn’t mean Cleveland wants to deal him.
- Bastian and Hoynes both agree the Indians have interest in Justin Masterson on a one-year pillow contract, but feel the right-hander will find a multi-year pact elsewhere.
- Trading for Cole Hamels is an interesting thought, according to Bastian, because the left-hander is cheaper ($90MM through 2018) than the top free agent rotation arms on the market and the Indians have the type of prospects the Phillies covet. Ultimately, though, Bastian sees Hamels’ annual salary and the potential prospects lost will be too steep of a price for the franchise to pay.
- While noting manager Terry Francona’s penchant for strong bullpens, Hoynes doesn’t see the Indians investing in any of the high profile free agent relievers, especially with Zach McAllister waiting in the wings.
- Does Francona’s new contract extension contain the same opt-out clause allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired? Antonetti did not provide details when asked that question, but Hoynes imagines the opt-out provision is included in the extension.
- Bastian expects right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer to have break out seasons for the Indians in 2015.
The Indians are reportedly open to trading Justin Masterson and have been in contact with the Yankees, but there are reportedly no legs to those talks and Cleveland isn't near a trade of any player. A couple of other Tribe notes…
- General manager Chris Antonetti told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that the Indians would love to have Ubaldo Jimenez back and aren't ruling out a return for the right-hander (Twitter link). Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway is a big factor for Jimenez, Heyman notes.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looks at the Tribe's surplus of outfielders (on Twitter) with Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Raburn all in the fold, noting that something is likely to give. Rosenthal notes that Cleveland is listening on virtually all of its players.
Yesterday it was reported that the Mets are likely to target Shin-Soo Choo as a free agent this offseason. Choo projects as one of the top names available and would serve as a long-term upgrade in right field, should the Mets be able to entice him more than the host of other suitors Choo figures to have. Here's more on Choo and other Mets-related issues…
- General manager Sandy Alderson told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he "certainly [hasn't] ruled out a big-ticket item" on the free agent market this winter, though he didn't mention Choo by name. One Mets-connected person told Heyman, however, that Choo "fits the bill" in terms of what the team is looking for.
- Also in that piece, Heyman adds that Jacoby Ellsbury isn't likely to be a prime target for the Mets because they're pleased with the emergence of Juan Lagares in center. While Lagares' .264/.301/.385 batting line has hardly set the world on fire, he's been worth three wins above replacement, per Fangraphs, due to his incredible center field defense.
- Finally from Heyman's article, one top Mets executive expressed relief that the team didn't end up signing Michael Bourn last offseason. The Mets, of course, pursued Bourn heavily and lobbied to be able to keep their No. 11 overall pick in signing him, but Cleveland swooped in with a four-year, $48MM offer and landed the speedster.
- Ruben Tejada's play for the remainder of the season rest is important, because it might mean one less position that needs to be filled this winter, writes Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog. Yesterday, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com wrote that the Mets are likely to explore external options this winter and they may even shop Tejada.
- Matt Harvey told reporters, including Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, that he's optimistic about his chances to avoid Tommy John surgery. Harvey is slated to receive a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews next week, after which Andrews will confer with Dr. David Altchek on the best course of action for the Mets ace.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
The Rangers have placed Ian Kinsler on the disabled list with an intercostal strain and recalled middle infielder and top prospect Jurickson Profar, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. Profar already had a cup of coffee last September, collecting 17 big-league at-bats. But the promotion of the No. 1 player on recent top prospect listings from Baseball America, Keith Law, and MLB.com is cause for excitement. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook praises Profar's all-around game, particularly his bat speed, plate discipline and defense, noting that "Profar may not have the most power, the most speed or the strongest arm on the field, but he's typically the best player out there."
Profar, 20, has hit .278/.370/.438 for Triple-A Round Rock so far this year. He is already on the 40-man roster. If he sticks in the big leagues, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, and he would be a Super Two player, meaning that he would be arbitration-eligible after the 2015 season. Super Two status would only be an issue if the Rangers kept Profar in the big leagues much of the rest of the season, however, and it remains to be seen what they will do with Profar once Kinsler returns from injury.
Here are more notes from the AL West.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane watched a potential draft pick in Chapel Hill Saturday (likely UNC third baseman Colin Moran), and Luhnow says he's pleased that Crane came along, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. "We don't comment on Draft-eligible players for obvious reasons, but we continue to put in a lot of time against it, and it was great Jim was willing to go out and see a player with his own eyes," says Luhnow. "We might try another couple before it's all said and done."
- The Mariners blew it by missing out on Michael Bourn this winter, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times argues. "[T]he Bourn thing, for me, is a classic example of how this rebuilding process has played out for the Mariners," says Baker. "It’s taken a long time to get where we are and I do think we could have seen some better baseball a bit quicker had the Mariners spent some dough this winter and in prior ones to shore-up where they were lacking." Bourn is hitting .311/.363/.473 and has been a key contributor to one of baseball's best offenses with the Indians, while the Mariners have the worst offense in the American League. The Mariners do have the No. 12 overall pick in the upcoming draft, however, and they would have had to forfeit that pick if they had signed Bourn.
Baseball is seeing the emergence of numerous quality young shortstops at the same time, writes ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required). Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Brandon Crawford, and Starlin Castro are among the young shortstops already making an impact in the big leagues. All play on National League clubs. One of these players (Castro) has already been locked up long-term, while another (Segura) is an early extension target for his club. It will be interesting to see whether and when the rest of this deep group of middle infielders are approached about extensions. Elsewhere in the National League …
- The Cardinals, one of baseball's most storied franchises, are perhaps its best-run present organization, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Prioritizing continuity and foregoing excuses, the Cards are respected in the front office, field staff, and active roster. Sherman explains that the Cardinals' success in acquiring and developing players has been accompanied by a consistent philosophy of professionalism. This has allowed the team to weather significant injuries without missing a beat. As former manager Tony LaRussa describes it: "The Cardinals are winning because they have done things right for years to be in a position to be successful. Don't get me wrong, the Cardinals' talent level is really good, but their team chemistry is off the charts."
- Former Phillies' prospect Michael Bourn fully bloomed after leaving the club, but thought he might return as a free agent this past offseason. As MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes, when Bourn's asking price looked too steep, the Phils went after another center fielder in Ben Revere. By the time Bourn's price had dropped, then, the position was filled, and Bourn signed with the Indians. From his perspective, Bourn says: "I think I might have been on their hit list. I don't know how high or what their target was, or if they were worried about what Scott [Boras] was going to do. There are a lot of teams that say they want you to be part of their organization, but you don't know if they really do. … Yeah, I guess the Phillies were interested a little bit. But that's not how it went down."
- With long-term deals locking up cornerstone infielders Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs could turn their attention to spending on pitching, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Of course, the club intends to fill two rotation spots with Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson for the foreseeable future. While Wittenmyer says that extension talks have not been planned with starter Matt Garza, the soon-to-be free agent says he would be amenable. Garza, of course, has yet to appear this season. Likewise, rotation member Travis Wood says he would love to make his career in Chicago. Though he says "that's out of my hands," Wood has done everything he can this year to lock down a spot going forward. If nothing else, he is setting himself up nicely for his first season of arbitration eligibility. As manager Dale Sveum noted, and Wittenmyer documented, Wood has posted a 3.50 ERA and logged 192 2/3 innings over his last 31 starts (extending into last year).
- The Padres have several players in their minor league system whose contracts contain out clauses that are approaching, Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Pitcher Tim Stauffer can elect free agency on June 1, while fellow righty Sean O'Sullivan's date is June 15. It was previously believed that both pitchers had opt-out dates around June 1. Other players with June 15 opt-out dates are catcher Rene Rivera and outfielder Travis Buck. Each has made a reasonable case in Triple-A that they can contribute. Stauffer has pitched to a 3.16 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. O'Sullivan's ERA is 4.19 across 43 innings, but he has put up 8.2 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. Meanwhile, Rivera has a .375/.430/.477 line in 101 plate appearances, and Buck has hit .275/.321/.480 in 112 appearances.
Indians CEO Paul Dolan explains his team's thought process following a 68-94 season in 2012 and says that a total rebuild was not an option, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. "None of us wanted to think about tearing it down. Our goal is to put together a team to win a World Series. Another goal is to avoid 20 years of losing, which some smaller-market teams have endured." The Indians did trade outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, but rather than also dealing veterans like Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez and Justin Masterson, the team spent heavily on free agents like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Here are more notes from Pluto's interview with Dolan.
- Dolan expresses "a high degree of confidence" in team president Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti, even though the Indians haven't had a winning season since 2007.
- Dolan also confirms that the Indians offered a four-year, $43MM deal to outfielder Shane Victorino, who ended up going to the Red Sox for three years and $39MM.
- Dolan says he didn't want to worry much about the possibility of Bourn's four-year, $48MM deal turning out badly, but the Indians' history with long-term contracts gives him pause. "We've not had good luck with some of our longer deals," he says. That includes pacts with Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood.
- Pluto notes that season-ticket sales are up since the signings of Bourn and Swisher, but Dolan says that the Indians "will lose money" in 2013. Dolan views the team's offseason spending splurge as an investment in its future.
Here's a look at the National League East..
- Michael Bourn did not give serious consideration to the Mets' offer as it would have required him to wait for a verdict on the club's case for keeping their first-round draft choice, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The Mets and Bourn were told that it might take a couple weeks to schedule a hearing on the matter and the outfielder says that he still might be sitting at home if he didn't take the deal from Cleveland instead.
- The winner of the MLB Network's reality show, Josh Booty, is technically property of the Marlins despite being in camp with the Diamondbacks, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Marlins still own his rights after taking him with the fifth pick in the 1994 draft. Miami agreed to release the knuckleballer off of their retired list, but only under the condition that they could reclaim him if Arizona planned to add him to their major league roster at the end of spring training.
- If Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria isn't making personnel moves based on payroll, then Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter) wonders why he didn't go after top free agents like Bourn or Kyle Lohse.
- Chris McShane of Amazin Avenue spoke with Mets vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta. Even though they opted to keep their first-round pick rather than sign Bourn, DePodesta says that the club doesn't have any extra pressure this year to make a strong selection. "I don’t think we look at this one any differently — I don’t think there’s any year where we’re going to be excited about giving up our first-round pick, especially if it’s that part of the draft," said the Mets exec.