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The expensive costs of youth travel leagues are an obstacle to attracting young talent to baseball, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen writes in a piece for The Players Tribune. The full scholarships provided by college basketball or football make them more appealing sports than the long, usually financially-unrewarding path to the majors that the vast majority of prospects face — McCutchen himself admits that, were it not for an ACL tear when he was 15, he would’ve likely pursued NCAA football and not been a big league star today. He argues that kids from low-income families need more entry points into the game, with one possible solution being a new system similar to the academy program for international prospects.
Here’s the latest from around the NL and AL Central divisions…
- The Indians don’t have interest in signing veteran southpaw Barry Zito, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The Tribe were one of multiple teams who recently saw Zito throw during a workout session.
- Right-hander Matt Albers threw at the same session and the Indians were interested in signing him, Pluto reports, but Albers instead chose a minor league deal with the White Sox.
- David Herndon is happy to finally be healthy and pleased to have signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, the right-hander tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We had dialogue with them throughout the offseason and at the end of the day we got it done. It’s been a long road but we’re going to get back on track this year,” Herndon said. He also mentioned that the Padres were interested in his services, and he threw a workout for San Diego earlier this offseason.
- In less than a year’s time, catcher has gone from a weak spot within the Cubs organization to a position of potentially great depth, CSN Chicago’s Tony Andracki writes. The Cubs have Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo at the big league level, and prospects Victor Caratini, Kyle Schwarber and Mark Zagunis developing in the minors.
- Between the big contracts David Robertson and Andrew Miller earned in free agency and Aroldis Chapman‘s sizable $8.05MM deal for 2015, the Twins‘ extension with Glen Perkins is looking better and better for the club, 1500 ESPN’s Derek Wetmore writes. After earning $4.025 MM for another strong season in 2014, Perkins is owed $18.15MM through the 2017 campaign. It’s worth noting that Perkins was shut down in September with a left forearm strain, though he has said his arm has felt good in offseason workouts.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- Righty David Herndon has signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweets. The 29-year-old, who is trying to reach the bigs for the first time since 2012, has been significantly limited by injuries over the last several seasons. Over 117 total MLB frames from 2010-12, Herndon owns a 3.85 ERA with 5.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9.
- Third baseman Josh Bell has signed a minor league deal with the Padres, agent Josh Kusnick announced on Twitter. Formerly a top prospect with the Dodgers and one of the top 40 prospects in baseball (per Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus), Bell spent much of last season in Korea, hitting .267/.345/.433 with the LG Twins. Those numbers are a near-mirror image of his career line at Triple-A, where he’s batted .267/.355/.451 in 1402 plate appearances.
- Right-hander Gonzalez Germen has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Iowa by the Cubs, tweets the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. Germen, who has been designated for assignment a stunning four times this winter, will finally know which organization he will be a part of come Spring Training. He’ll be invited to Major League camp, per Gonzales.
- Reds left-hander Ismael Guillon has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (on Twitter). Guillon was designated for assignment when the team signed Burke Badenhop over the weekend. Guillon, who turns 23 years old today, has been a mainstay on Cincinnati’s Top 30 prospects list (per Baseball America), topping out at No. 9, but he’s struggled to a 4.82 ERA over the past two seasons at multiple Class-A levels. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel recently ranked him 21st among Reds farmhands, noting that one scout called him a “pull your hair out” type of guy due to his wild inconsistencies.
- The Giants have signed lefty specialist Clay Rapada to a minor league contract, reports Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (via Twitter). Yankees blogger Robert Casey first reported the news recently on Twitter. Rapada, 34 in March, has just two Major League innings over the past two seasons but has an excellent track record of dominating left-handed hitters. He’s held opposing lefties to a .164/.255/.231 batting line in 257 big league plate appearances, but righties have tattooed him at a .345/.464/.611 clip. Rapada held lefties to a .639 OPS in Triple-A last season, but righties got to him for a 1.134 OPS.
Third baseman Nick Delmonico, who was released by the Brewers last week, has latched on with the White Sox on a minor league deal, tweets Eddy. If Delmonico’s name looks familiar, it’s because he was the player the Brewers received from the Orioles in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez in 2013. Formerly one of Baltimore’s top prospects, Delmonico was suspended last summer for amphetamine usage. The 22-year-old has yet to climb higher than Class-A Advanced, where he is a .241/.332/.417 hitter in 500 plate appearances.
- Eddy also tweets that the Red Sox have signed right-hander Jess Todd — not to be confused with MLBTR scribe Jeff Todd — to a minor league contract. Todd, originally drafted by the Cardinals, was traded to the Indians alongside Chris Perez in return for Mark DeRosa back in 2009. Now 28 years of age, Todd has little MLB experience (28 1/3 innings) but does boast a strong track record at Triple-A, where he’s worked to a 3.62 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 380 1/3 innings.
Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league…
- The Mariners announced the signing of lefty Rafael Perez to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invitation. Perez posted a 3.64 ERA, 2.29 K/BB rate and 7.3 K/9 over 329 relief innings with the Indians from 2006-12, but he hasn’t since pitched off a big league mound. The southpaw has pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Twins, Pirates and Rangers over the last two seasons.
- The Brewers have signed right-hander Josh Roenicke to a minor league deal, per the club’s transactions page (a Spring Training invite is not mentioned, seemingly indicating that he will head to minor league camp). The 32-year-old Roenicke — the nephew of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke — spent the 2014 season with the Triple-A affiliates for the Nationals and Rockies, pitching to a combined 6.04 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 89 1/3 innings (15 starts, 14 relief appearances). The former Reds prospect brings plenty of big league experience to the table in Milwaukee, as he has 220 1/3 career innings in the Majors. He most recently pitched to a 4.35 ERA in 62 innings with the Twins.
- Right-hander Fernando Cabrera has agreed to a minor league deal with the Giants, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The 33-year-old Cabrera hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2010 and hasn’t logged significant MLB innings since 2008, but he has an excellent track record at Triple-A, where he has compiled a 3.00 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 467 2/3 innings in parts of 10 seasons. Cabrera was considered to be one of the Indians’ best prospects in the early 2000s, but he wasn’t able to fully tap into his potential.
Here’s the latest out of Philadelphia, which houses one of the league’s most interesting rosters to watch this spring. Steve Adams and I discuss that, among other topics, on today’s forthcoming podcast. In the meantime, some notes:
- The Phillies asked the Brewers for a “top prospect” in return for closer Jonathan Papelbon if the club was to pick up a big piece of the remainder of his deal, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (in a piece we cited earlier this morning). In response, Milwaukee broached the idea of sending Jonathan Broxton back to Philadelphia to help balance the cash, a concept that did not gain traction (and which Rosenthal argues made little sense for either club).
- Those talks are now dormant, per Rosenthal. That would appear to take the Brewers out of the picture for Papelbon at this point. As Rosenthal explains, the entire episode also demonstrates the broader difficulty the club is facing in moving Papelbon. While a spring injury could always shake up the market, it increasingly appears (as others have suggested) that waiting until the summer to deal might represent the best option for the Phils.
- The Red Sox have plenty of leverage in their pursuit of Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. That’s because “even the second-best deal [Amaro] can get for Hamels from the Red Sox is likely better than he can get elsewhere,” as Abraham puts it. Even taking on most of the Hamels deal is going to leave plenty of value left to be accounted for in any trade scenario — another topic that Steve and I discuss — but Abraham suggests that the gap might be bridged by a package fronted by lefty Henry Owens and including several other top prospects not named Betts, Swihart, or Rodriguez.
The Brewers announced today that a mild right hamstring strain will cost All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy four to six weeks of action in Spring Training. Obviously, that news brings into question whether or not Lucroy can be ready for Opening Day with the Brewers. As Adam McCalvy of MLB.com writes, however, Lucroy recently had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his hamstring to speed the recovery process and believes he will be ready come Opening Day. The team does have a serviceable backup in Martin Maldonado, should Lucroy’s recovery take longer than expected, but even missing a few weeks of Lucroy’s bat and elite glove could be a significant detriment in what figures to be a highly competitive NL Central Division. (For more on Lucroy’s defense, check out this excellent article by Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus detailing the effect of pitch-framing not only on called strikes but on expanding a hitter’s swing profile.)
Here are a few more notes from the game’s Central divisions…
- Cuban right-hander Raisel Iglesias, signed by the Reds to a seven-year, $27MM contract last summer, has a legitimate chance to end up in Cincinnati’s rotation, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer in looking at 10 pertinent questions facing the Reds as Spring Training approaches. Scouts in the Arizona Fall League and manager Bryan Price all raved to Fay about Iglesias’ AFL performance. “Four pitches with command — that spells out starting pitcher, especially when it’s plus-stuff across the board,” Price said. “He was 93-97, so the velocity is there. The action on his fastball is there, much better changeup than I anticipated seeing and two quality breaking balls and a good feel.” If Iglesias can indeed crack the rotation, that could be a significant boost to a team that saw both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon depart via trade this winter.
- Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN writes that he has been asked by Twins fans, and wondered himself, why Minnesota didn’t go on a Padres-like tear to restructure their roster into a win-now club. While Mackey concedes that Minnesota’s deep farm system makes it possible to have done something similar, he points out that the Padres had a lower payroll to start with than the Twins and even after their flurry of moves are now on par with Minnesota. Additionally, San Diego’s method comes with plenty of risk, as Justin Upton looks to be a one-year rental, and the team has taken the risk that Matt Kemp‘s arthritic hips will hold up, and James Shields‘ productivity will continue through age 36. Mackey looks at recent winter remakes by the 2008 Tigers and Mariners, the 2012 Marlins and 2013 Blue Jays and notes that none have been successful (though Detroit eventually emerged as a perennial contender). Ultimately, he concludes, his preference is for a long-term, sustainable run at success with a deep farm system, such as the one currently possessed by the Twins.
- Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff and several scouts were on hand today to watch Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez in the Dominican Republic, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. Just 18 years old, Alvarez was clocked between 93 and 97 mph and received positive words from Fangraphs prospect/scouting guru Kiley McDaniel earlier today.
- Though the Royals will miss Shields’ arm in their rotation, he gave them exactly what they needed at a time they needed it the most, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. Shields helped instill a winning culture in the Royals’ clubhouse, bringing a “swagger and a level of confidence that we didn’t have before,” GM Dayton Moore explained to Flanagan. Shields created a belief among his teammates that they could win on any given night and orchestrated elaborate victory celebrations. Not only that, but he became a role model for young arms such as Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. “He was a tremendous help to me,” Duffy told Flanagan. “You learn so much just talking to him.” In addition to those intangible benefits, of course, the Royals got two years of excellent production and the No. 33 pick in the 2015 draft.
The White Sox and Brewers have had the best and worst offseasons, respectively, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The White Sox were aggressive but conservative in spending their financial flexibility and did well by not surrendering any top prospects to acquire Jeff Samardzija. The Brewers, meanwhile, are not good enough to compete in the NL Central now or in the near future and should have either made a big play for a free agent like James Shields or turned over the roster on a grander scale than just trading Yovani Gallardo.
Elsewhere in baseball:
- If the Marlins are unable to further upgrade their rotation, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro advocates the club signing Francisco Rodriguez, not to supplant closer Steve Cishek but to solidify the back end of their bullpen. Frisaro tweeted the Marlins could apply their arbitration savings of $1.265MM (achieved with the Mike Dunn extension and in winning the Mat Latos arbitration hearing) towards signing Rodriguez. Earlier today, Frisaro reported the Marlins have contacted K-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras.
- GM Jeff Bridich sees the free agent signing of Kyle Kendrick and the acquisition of David Hale as updgrading the Rockies‘ rotation, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. “I certainly feel like the depth has been addressed to a certain degree,” Bridich said. “We were involved in both free agency and trades. Again, we have a good sense of what Kyle Kendrick is and what he can do. I think he has proven himself. With the acquisition of somebody like Hale … I think there is upside there.“
- MLB.com’s Terence Moore profiles Dusty Baker, who would “like to have another chance to manage, because the only thing lacking in my career is” a World Series ring, but is content if he never receives that opportunity.
- Cuban infielder Alejandro Ortiz has petitioned for free agency and is expected to hit the market soon, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The 24-year-old, who possesses speed and a good glove, played five seasons in Serie Nacional, so he is exempt from counting against a team’s international signing bonus pool.
The remaining free agent market is dominated by arms, and pitchers probably also carry the most intrigue in trade as well. Here’s the latest on some important situations percolating around the game:
- The Brewers feel they have ample leverage against the Phillies in trade talks for Jonathan Papelbon, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Twitter links). Milwaukee believes that it is the primary team with interest, and yesterday’s addition of Chris Perez reduces the urgency to add another late-inning righty.
- Fellow Phillies veteran Cole Hamels should be traded now to maximize his value, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider link). Rival executives tell Olney they believe the Phils should have moved Hamels at last year’s trade deadline, and suggest that the team will have to budge on either the amount of money the team will kick in or the quality of the prospects it will receive. Of course, the Philadelphia brass has understandably rejected the idea in the past that it should lower the ask on Hamels, but it is fair to wonder at what point that attempt to maximize value could harm its own objective.
- The Padres have often been mentioned as a possible destination for the best starters that remain available, and executive chairman Ron Fowler did nothing to dampen the rumors in comments today to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Fowler explained that the club’s payroll could climb above $100MM, saying that “with A.J. [Preller] in the GM seat, things could change quickly” as “he continues to look at options to strengthen the team.” Fowler continued: “The front-loading of the Dodgers’ payment for [Matt] Kemp allowed us to be more aggressive regarding [Justin] Upton and continue to look at other opportunities.”
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Brewers announced earlier this week that utility player Elian Herrera has been outrighted to Triple-A and will be in Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invite. Herrera was designated for assignment after the Brewers added Neal Cotts on a one-year deal. The 30-year-old batted .274/.288/.341 in 140 plate appearances with the Brew Crew in 2014.
- The Giants released the recently designated Chris Dominguez, according to the team’s transactions page. Designated to clear a roster spot for Ryan Vogelsong, the 28-year-old Dominguez made his big league debut in 2014, collecting one hit in 17 at-bats, although the one hit was memorable — a two-run homer. Dominguez hit .274/.307/.460 with 21 homers in Triple-A last season.
- The Phillies signed lefty Anthony Vasquez, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter. Vasquez is still trying to work his way back to the big leagues after remarkably surviving a ruptured blood vessel in his brain that required emergency surgery. He spent last year in the upper minors with the Orioles, working to a 4.95 ERA over 123 2/3 frames (including 19 starts) with 6.7 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9.
- Southpaw reliever Pedro Feliciano is nearing a minor league deal with the Cubs that would include a spring invite and a $700K salary if he makes the big league team, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Heyman adds on Twitter that the deal is done, noting that it includes some incentives. The 38-year-old led the league in appearances for three straight years with the Mets (2008-10), but rotator cuff issues ensued and Feliciano has only tossed 11 1/3 big league frames since. He struggled with preventing runs last year at Triple-A with the Cardinals organization, though he still was able to generate better than eight strikeouts per nine innings.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly cited Heyman as reporting that Vasquez had received a big league camp invite.
FEB. 4: The holdup in talks with the Brewers currently stems from player compensation as opposed to financial compensation, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. As such, Heyman speculates that the two sides may at least be on the same page in terms of how much money the Phillies would need to eat to facilitate a deal. The Brewers are believed to be the favorites to land Papelbon, should he be moved.
The Blue Jays, at this point, are viewed as a “major long shot,” according to Heyman, who cites finances as a significant stumbling block in Toronto’s talks. Heyman adds that, when reached earlier today, Amaro would only say, “We’re still having discussions with clubs.”
FEB. 2: The Phillies are still holding active negotiations regarding closer Jonathan Papelbon, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. “Things are still alive,” said Amaro. “We’re still having discussion — and not just with one club.”
Though Amaro declined to name specific teams, the Phillies have recently been linked to the Brewers to varying degrees in various reports. Salisbury’s sources tell him that Milwaukee is “the most viable trade partner” for Philadelphia. (Indeed, the Brewers have given public indication that a deal is still a possibility.) The Blue Jays have also inquired, though Toronto’s interest is said to be “mild.”
As to whether a deal will get done, Salisbury says that the Phils are not interested in moving such a productive reliever — however pricey — without receiving a “quality prospect.” When asked whether he was optimistic of striking a deal, Amaro hedged: “I’m not sure. We’ll see. It’s complicated. There are a lot of different factors involved.”
6:48pm: Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports (via Twitter) that Perez can top out at $3MM if he hits all of the incentives in his contract. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that $1.5MM of that will be his base salary upon making the club, and the deal has another $1.5MM worth of incentives based on games finished.
6:16pm: The Brewers announced that they have signed right-hander Chris Perez to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league Spring Training. Perez, formerly the closer for the Indians, will compete for a spot in the Milwaukee bullpen.
The 29-year-old Perez spent the 2014 season with the Dodgers, where he worked to a 4.27 ERA in 46 1/3 innings. However, despite moving back to the National League — he originally came up with the Cardinals — Perez posted the second-worst K/9 rate of his career (7.6) as well as his worst BB/9 rate to date (4.9).
Perez has struggled to a 4.31 ERA over the past two seasons — a span of 100 1/3 innings — but he was generally more effective during his 2010-12 peak with Cleveland. In that time, Perez totaled a 2.84 ERA and made a pair of All-Star teams while saving 98 games. As Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes (on Twitter), the Brewers have been looking for a reliever with closer experience, and Perez certainly fits that bill with a low cost of acquisition.
Presumably, the signing of Perez doesn’t preclude the Brewers’ search to add to their 40-man roster, however. Milwaukee has been linked on and off to Jonathan Papelbon over the past two weeks, and they’re also said to be interested in a reunion with Francisco Rodriguez, who has been with Milwaukee for parts of the past four seasons.