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Mike Trout is taking a more aggressive approach this season, writes Buster Olney for ESPN Insider. The result is a likely improvement to his 26.1% strikeout rate from last year. The new approach is designed to avoid pitchers’ counts. While we can’t draw any statistical conclusions from his 42 plate appearances, he has a 11.9% walk rate and 16.7% strikeout rate.
Olney also included a number of other interesting topics. Those include home runs allowed by Cole Hamels, Curtis Granderson‘s low swinging strike rate, and Mike Moustakas‘ all-field approach. Here’s more from around the league.
- The Rangers own the baseball rights to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and they want him to play, Wilson told HBO’s Bryant Gumble (via Mike Florio of NBC Sports). Wilson, 25, was a two sport athlete in college. He spent a couple seasons in the Rockies minor league system, hitting .229/.354/.356 in 379 plate appearances. A tepid Single-A performance mixed with three years away from the sport isn’t encouraging, but Seahawks GM John Schneider notes Wilson’s off the charts confidence and preparation. It strikes me as unlikely that anything will come of Wilson’s interest in playing two sports. If something were to happen, it’s seemingly too late for the 2015 season.
- The Tigers have done an excellent job remaining consistent while overhauling their roster, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. The team won the AL Central in each of the last four seasons and currently sports the top record in baseball (9-2). Aside from Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and Justin Verlander, most of the roster has turned over since Detroit won the AL pennant in 2012. Much of the credit goes to President and GM Dave Dombrowski who has overseen major trades involving Ian Kinsler, David Price, and Joakim Soria in recent seasons (among others).
Last year, Zach Duke and Pat Neshek both entered Spring Training as non-roster invitees and parlayed their outstanding 2014 seasons into multi-year free agent contracts (three years, $15MM for Duke and two years, $12.5MM for Neshek). Who will be the NRIs to watch this spring? Andrew Simon for Sports on Earth tabs White Sox reliever Jesse Crain as the most intriguing NRI citing positive reports as he recovers from his 2013 biceps surgery, which has forced him to the sidelines for the past 20 months. If Crain can return to the form he showed in his previous stint with the White Sox (2011-13) where he pitched to a 2.10 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 in 150 innings covering 376 games, Simon believes the 33-year-old could assume a prominent role in the White Sox bullpen.
In other news and notes from the AL Central:
- Yoenis Cespedes told reporters, including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links), he can see himself playing for the Tigers long-term. “I would like to be in a Tigers uniform for a lot of years,” Cespedes said through his translator. “This is a good team now and will be for a lot of years to come.” Cespedes added he does not know whether his agent and the Tigers have engaged in extension talks.
- Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, is not concerning himself with the lack of movement on a contract extension, according to Zack Meisel of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “It’s not for me to worry about,” said Kluber, who is slated to earn near the MLB minimum. “I’d rather just talk about pitching and not contract stuff.“
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow last spring with a curveball, but has been throwing the pitch in his bullpen sessions, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. “It’s not like you’re scared when you start spinning curves again,” Hochevar said. “You know your elbow is fixed. But still you think about it. You have to sort of stare down your demons.” Hochevar will face hitters for the first time off a mount tomorrow.
- Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer are two former top prospects who are poised for a breakout 2015, opines MLB.com’s Michael Clair.
- Earlier today, we learned of the passing of White Sox legend Minnie Minoso. Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com and MLB.com’s Phil Rogers both pay tribute to “Mr. White Sox” while Hayes and MLB.com’s Scott Merkin chronicle the reaction of White Sox players.
The Royals should employ “selective memory” regarding their successful 2014 playoff run, writes Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. During the Wild Card game, the Royals were just a few outs from elimination against the Athletics. A series of improbable events led to a remarkable comeback victory. Without that first win, Ned Yost would be a punching bag in the media due to questionable decisions, Mike Moustakas would have entered the offseason with another disappointing season on his resume, and Lorenzo Cain would have failed to gain national acclaim. The postseason success also allowed the Royals to bolster their payroll, which should help in 2015.
- The Reds have two more arbitration players – Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, writes Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. The club continues to talk to agents of both players in an effort to find a middle ground. Per GM Walt Jocketty, “we’re going to keep working on it this weekend and see if we can make some progress.” Both players have fairly substantial differences in their submitted figures. Frazier asked for $5.7MM compared to the club’s offer of $3.9MM in his first season of eligibility. Chapman’s camp submitted for $8.7MM while the Reds countered at $6.65MM. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected a $4.6MM payday for Frazier and $8.3MM for Chapman.
- The Reds are “pretty much done” with free agent signings, reports Sheldon. Cincinnati inked reliever Burke Badenhop earlier today and signed former closer Kevin Gregg to a minor league deal. Jocketty left the door open, saying he’ll see if “something pops up,” but it’s unlikely.
- Patience allowed the Indians to acquire and develop three of their semi-homegrown stars, writes the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto. Michael Brantley was a player to be named later in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade. It took him six seasons to breakout at the major league level. In 2010, Corey Kluber was acquired in a three team trade. As we know, he also took awhile to reach his ceiling. Catcher Yan Gomes is another important trade acquisition for the club. Cleveland sent pitcher Esmil Rogers to Toronto in exchange for Gomes and Mike Aviles. All three players never ranked among the top 100 prospects in the game, and they’re all under club control through at least 2017.
With more than 30 players still needing to settle arbitration situations (as of Tuesday morning, that is), word of agreements should continue to steadily pour in over the weeks. All of the outstanding situations — as well as those that have already been settled — can be monitored using MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. For today’s minor agreements, we’ll keep track of them in this post as well, with all projections coming courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz…
- Miguel Gonzalez has agreed to a $3.275MM contract to avoid arbitration with the Orioles, Heyman tweets. That number lands just $50K over the sides’ filing mid-point, and less than $500K shy of the projected figure. Any way you cut it, it’s a handsome first-year arb-eligible payday for the 30-year-old righty, who took a circuitous path to establishing himself as a solid big league starter. As the arb tracker shows, Baltimore now needs to resolve just two cases: Zach Britton and Alejandro De Aza.
- Also avoiding arbitration with the Royals was outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who will earn $2.725MM next year, according to Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com (Twitter links). Cain can also earn $25K for reaching 505 plate appearances and would pick up $50K with an All-Star selection. Cain had a breakout season last year, putting up about five wins above replacement on the back of a .301/.339/.412 slash, 28 steals, and outstanding center field defense. He had filed at $3.6MM in his first year of arb eligibility, with the club countering at $2MM. MLBTR/Matt Swartz had projected Cain to earn $2.3MM, but he lands slightly above that — aided in part, no doubt, by his quality postseason work.
- The Royals and Mike Moustakas have agreed to a $2.64MM contract for the 2015 season, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Moustakas, who had filed at $3.1MM compared to the team’s $1.85MM filing number, will come in a bit north of the $2.475MM midpoint between those figures. The 26-year-old Moustakas hit just .212/.271/.361 in 2015, though he did manage 15 homers and also tacked on five more in the postseason. His salary will fall just $60K shy of Swartz’s $2.7MM projection, though Heyman tweets that Moustakas can boost his salary a bit, as he’ll earn an extra $10K upon reaching 550 plate appearances.
- As the Arb Tracker shows, the Royals still have four remaining cases: Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince takes a look at some folks around the league who are, in his view, facing make-or-break seasons. He includes some less obvious names, but two players stand out who could conceivably be All-Stars or become non-tender candidate: Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates and Mike Moustakas of the Royals.
Here are some notes from the game’s Central divisions…
- The Indians had the team’s defense in mind when they traded Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, manager Terry Francona explains to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (Twitter link). However, Francona admits that there was some hesitation on Cleveland’s behalf because of how they thought the move would be perceived by fans and the rest of the roster. “…[GM Chris Antonetti] was justifiably concerned about the perception, that we were throwing up the white flag. So we had to kind of decide, ‘OK, look, we believe in what we’re doing and we’ll make sure the players understand that we think we can actually be a better team and get a prospect back.’ I think it took awhile, but once [Jose] Ramirez came up and everybody saw how he played shortstop, they saw why we wanted to make the move. We love Cabby — always will — but we felt we had a chance to get a little bit more athletic at shortstop and you saw the way Jose played.”
- Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets that the Royals are still monitoring James Shields‘ free agency, though he notes it’s likely just due diligence. Said general manager Dayton Moore said to McCullough: “I’m not sure there’s a fit.” As McCullough notes in a followup tweet, the Royals have six starting pitchers under contract (including Kris Medlen), and the team’s payroll is already set to top $110MM — a club record.
- The Reds completed a four-year extension with catcher Devin Mesoraco earlier today that bought out all three of his arbitration seasons and one free agent year, but it doesn’t sound like agreements for the team’s remaining arb-eligible players are close. GM Walt Jocketty told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that the Reds are “a ways apart” with both Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman (Twitter link). It sounds like Cincinnati may have spoken with Frazier’s agents at CAA about an extension as well, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay, but things don’t look promising based on his tweet. Jocketty tells Fay that the Reds talked to Frazier about a new deal, “but we’re not nearly as close as we were with Mesoraco.”
A.J. Burnett will prove to be a bargain for the Pirates, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates have a great record with recent free agents like Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, and Burnett is still a strikeout pitcher. He’ll also be recovered from a hernia issue that dogged him in 2014, and he’ll have a more favorable ballpark and defense than he had in Philadelphia. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Potential offseason extension candidates include NL Central and AL Central players like Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Corey Kluber of the Indians, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Royals, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. It will be awhile before Kluber can really cash in on his AL Cy Young award win, Castrovince notes — he isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018, by which point he’ll be heading into his age-33 season. Extending him now would give the Indians cost certainty through his arbitration seasons. As Castrovince points out, extensions for Harrison, Hosmer and Moustakas don’t appear that likely — the Pirates would probably like to see how Harrison performs in 2015, and Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, who may prefer to see what his players might get in free agency in a few years. Also, neither Hosmer nor Moustakas were nearly as impressive in the regular season as they were in the playoffs.
- GM John Mozeliak says the Cardinals aren’t heavily involved in the market for Asian players right now, Fangraphs’ David Laurila tweets. Mozeliak does add that the Cardinals can’t totally ignore that market, however. The GM’s answer came in response to a question about Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who struck out 179 batters in 155 1/3 innings and threw 101 MPH as a pitcher, as well as hitting .274/.338/.505 as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. Otani is probably many years away from playing in the US, if he ever does, but MLB scouts are keeping an eye on him, for obvious reasons.
Though the Royals are coming off their best season in nearly three decades, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that the team will soon need to turn its focus to some difficult offseason decisions. Industry expectations, according to Martino, are that the Royals will at least listen to trade offers for its more expensive players — including Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — if other teams come calling this winter. Gordon’s case is the most pressing, as he’s only controlled through 2015 at $12.5MM before he has a $12.5MM player option. Gordon has publicly stated that he plans to exercise that option, though it’d be a surprise, to say the least, considering he could be in line for a much more sizable long-term commitment next offseason if he turns it down. Martino also notes that the Royals will have interest in re-signing Nori Aoki this offseason. From my vantage point, the team needn’t feel pressure to move any of the three previously mentioned players, though I’ll cover that at greater length in the upcoming Royals Offseason Outlook.
For the time being, here’s more on the AL Champs and the rest of their division…
- The Royals are expected to decline their $12.5MM option on designated hitter Billy Butler in favor of a $1MM buyout, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The move isn’t exactly unexpected after the down season he had at the plate. However, Heyman adds that the team may look to pursue Torii Hunter, as they did seven years ago, in the event that Aoki signs elsewhere as a free agent. The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough also hears that Butler’s option is likely to be declined.
- The Twins‘ front office flew out to Torey Lovullo’s home in California to conduct their second interview with him on Monday this week, tweets Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, but there’s still been no decision reached as to who will be the team’s next manager. Lovullo and Paul Molitor are believed to be the favorites.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke candidly to reporters, including Matthew Mowery of the Oakland Press, about the team’s lack of financial flexibility this offseason. Said Dombrowski: “We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we’re in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren’t what is common here. … It’s a situation where we’re really in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you’re going to do.”
The Royals announced today that they have optioned struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha. The move marks a significant fall for the former top prospect, who has yet to show any sort of consistency at the Major League level. Royals fans were optimistic when “Moose” hit .269/.314/.425 over his final 78 games last season and posted strong numbers in Spring Training, but the 25-year-old hit just .152/.223/.320 in 40 games this season despite being platooned for much of the year. Moustakas has turned in elite defensive numbers throughout his career, but he’ll need to show more at the plate to ever deliver on his lofty prospect status.
Here are some more items pertaining to baseball’s Central divisions…
- The Tigers today optioned left-hander Robbie Ray to Triple-A Toledo and announced that they will purchase the contract of right-hander Corey Knebel prior to tomorrow’s game. Knebel, a right-handed reliever, will become the second player from the 2013 draft to reach the Major Leagues (Cleveland’s Kyle Crockett debuted on May 16). He’s posted a brilliant 0.90 ERA with 12.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 50 innings across three levels since being selected 39th overall less than one year ago.
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that playing time for Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras could present itself shortly in the Majors, as the team begins a stretch of seven games in AL parks in early June. However, the Cardinals could also recall Randal Grichuk, who has been on an otherwordly tear since being sent back to Triple-A, having slashed .347/.418/.776 with six homers in 12 games. GM John Mozeliak wouldn’t rule out the possibility of either player being promoted when asked by Goold.
- Grantland’s Jonah Keri spoke with Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, ace Adam Wainwright and former Redbird Kyle Lohse about the intricacies of former pitching coach Dave Duncan’s philosophy and approach to the game. Keri writes that Duncan’s influence still runs through the veins of the Cardinals’ organization, which is a driving force behind the team’s extended success. Wainwright said Duncan was “borderline maniacal” in terms of advance scouting and analytics. Keri notes that Duncan never cared much for pitcher-versus-batter data, as such small samples led to misguided decisions.
- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts will submit a revised proposal for renovations to Wrigley Field, writes MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. If approved, they are prepared to move forward with the plans, which include additional seating in the Budweiser Bleachers, new outfield lights to reduce shadows, four additional LED signs of up to 650 square feet and a 2400 square foot video board in right field. Ricketts says negotiations with rooftop business owners have gone nowhere, so “It has to end. It’s time to move forward.” He hopes they can avoid going to court with the rooftop owners.
The title of the game’s most underrated player has gone to the Rays‘ Ben Zobrist in the past, writes Dave Cameron for FOX Sports, but now belongs to Brian Dozier of the Twins, who has exhibited a similar career trajectory to the late-blooming Zobrist. Showing power that he never carried in the minors, Dozier emerged last year. He has only upped his performance in 2014, with an increasing walk rate, strong defense, and good baserunning combining with that newfound pop to make Dozier one of the game’s most valuable second basemen over the last calendar year. Even better for Minnesota, the 27-year-old will not even be eligible for arbitration until 2016. Certainly, he increasingly appears to be an extension candidate — a possibility that the team has previously explored.
Here’s more from around the American League:
- The Red Sox are considering how to proceed with outfielder Grady Sizemore, who ended the evening with a .218/.293/.336 slash in 133 plate appearances, reports Joon Lee of WEEI.com. Manager John Farrell indicated that a move was not out of the question. “There’s ongoing discussion,” he said, “not just today but for some time. We’re trying to get the best read we can on our guys here. That doesn’t suggest there’s any change imminent.” While Sizemore is set to earn just $750K in base salary on his comeback deal, he does get $250K bonuses for every 25th plate appearance between 225 and 500 as well as for his 60th, 90th, 120th, and 150th day on the roster. As those milestones begin to approach, the team will have increasing incentives to consider alternatives.
- For the division-rival Blue Jays, a move up in the standings only highlights the need to add starting pitching, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. While the results from the rotation have actually been pretty solid, Davidi notes that the staff has failed to go deep into games and still lacks a solid, established group of five starters.
- The struggling Rangers should consider marketing star infielders Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus over the summer, opines Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. While the club has attractive infield prospects rising through the ranks, its rotation looks thin after its recent run of devastating injuries. Adding some young pitching and temporarily shedding salary in advance of a pitching-rich free agent market could better align the club’s resources for a run in 2015, says Morosi.
- In the midst of a difficult stretch at the plate, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has been optioned to Triple-A in favor of Jimmy Paredes. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes, the move was not surprising at this point, with the 25-year-old sporting a 152/.223/.320 line. Needless to say, Kansas City will hope that the former top prospect can regain his form with some time in the minors; as Cameron writes on Fangraphs, Moustakas has shown serious contact issues.
- Notably, the demotion comes not long before Moustakas would have passed the key threshold of three years of MLB service (he entered the season with 2.111 to his credit). As occurred last year with Danny Espinosa of the Nationals, Moustakas could see his arbitration and free agent eligibility delayed by a year apiece if he does not make it back to the bigs. The same holds true for Hector Santiago of the Angels, who was recently optioned to the minors after beginning 2014 with 2.024 years of service in the bag.
- With the recent example of Stephen Drew‘s re-signing with the Red Sox, it is time for the Mariners to seriously consider a move to bring back Kendrys Morales, writes Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. The need is now there with Corey Hart joining Logan Morrison on the disabled list, he says, and the club should have the financial flexibility to make it work. Obviously, it is also important to note that the team now has little chance of acquiring a compensatory draft choice arising out of Morales’s decision to decline a qualifying offer. With no obvious alternative suitors for Morales, Seattle should be in a fairly solid position to make a win-win offer.
The Pirates and Cardinals faced off tonight on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, but the matchup meant something different for each team, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes. It was the first time ESPN had hosted the broadcast in Pittsburgh in 1996, and for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, appearing on the show demonstrates that the Pirates are relevant once again. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, though, doesn’t like playing on Sunday nights, especially given the travel headaches it causes when playing on the road. “I don’t think it’s taken into consideration at all that it makes it harder for us,” Matheny says. “You get in at four o’clock in the morning and … if they tell you that playing the next day that’s not going to affect you, I’d say they’re wrong.” Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Reds closer Aroldis Chapman made his first appearance of the season on Sunday after missing the first six weeks after being struck in the face with a line drive in spring training, and he appears he hasn’t missed a beat. Chapman threw 15 fastballs of at least 100 MPH and topped out at 102 MPH while striking out three batters and collecting his first save against the Rockies.
- The Royals are considering demoting infielder Mike Moustakas as they open roster space for a reliever, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. It’s been a disappointing season for Moustakas, who’s hitting just .147/.215/.321. The 2007 second-overall pick has struggled since a strong season in 2012 and has been below replacement level in 2014, even though he’s a skilled defensive third baseman.