Minnesota Twins Rumors

Minnesota Twins trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Blue Jays Claim Darin Mastroianni, Designate Kenny Wilson

The Blue Jays have claimed outfielder Darin Mastroianni off waivers from the Twins, the club announced via press release. To make room on the 40-man roster, Toronto designated fellow outfielder Kenny Wilson for assignment.

Mastroianni originally came to Minnesota from the Jays via waiver claim in February of 2012, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes on Twitter. The 28-year-old has not produced much in limited MLB time since,: he possesses a .220/.228/.295 career line, virtually all of which has come with the Twins. Mastroianni is known for his ability to get on base: he has a lifetime .372 OBP at both the Double-A and Triple-A level, having spent parts of four seasons at each.

Wilson, 24, has yet to see time in the bigs or the highest level of the minors. He is off to a slow start at Double-A (.210/.239/.306 in 68 plate appearances) after putting up a .259/.333/.375 line with 16 stolen bases in 242 plate appearances in his first stint at that level last year. Wilson opened the year at the 22nd spot on Baseball America’s list of the team’s prospects. The speedy center fielder is said to have starter upside if he can translate his tools into production.


Twins Still Looking To Improve Bench

The Twins have been active in seeking bench help in the past week or so, acquiring Eduardo Nunez from the Yankees (in exchange for lefty Miguel Sulbaran) and claiming Sam Fuld off waivers from the A’s. It doesn’t sound like the team has any plans to stop actively seeking bench upgrades on the waiver wire, however, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Neal spoke with manager Ron Gardenhire, who expressed a continued emphasis on improvements:

“We aren’t finished. We’re going to get better. We’re going to continue to get better. We’re going to keep changing around until we get what we want and get a feel for what we want off the bench. How we can move people around. And we are still working on it.”

As La Velle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out, Darin Mastroianni was an unfortunate roster casualty following the Fuld claim. The Twins had hoped that Jason Bartlett‘s retirement papers would be processed by the time the Fuld claim became official, but the holiday weekend worked against them and they had to designate Mastroianni. The silver lining for them, he adds, is that there will now be a free spot on the 40-man roster, which will make it easier to make an additional move on the waiver wire or trade market.

Based on Berardino’s writing, it seems as if the Twins will give Nunez a test run as their shortstop based on Pedro Florimon‘s offensive woes. Nunez’s poor defense might lead to further moves down the line, however, as he’s graded out very poorly there per Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved. Gardenhire sounded adamant in insisting that changes should be expected: “We had three years to make adjustments. Now it’s time. Everyone is tired of watching that other stuff. I’m tired of it. You’re tired of it. The fans are tired of it. We see something we like, go get it.”


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Reactions To And Fallout From Ervin Santana Signing

Addressing his team's sudden and successful entry into the market for starter Ervin Santana, Braves GM Frank Wren said that he did not expect to be in the market for free agent starters, but felt Santana was the best option available going into the offseason. (Video of press conference via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) It was Atlanta's good fortune that Santana remained unsigned when Kris Medlen walked off the mound with an injury on Sunday. Wren immediately made contact, knowing that he had to catch up quickly with other clubs further down the road on talks with Santana. "Once we started talking, we realized that Ervin was very interested in us as well, thought this was a good opportunity for him, and it was a perfect fit for us." 

  • For Atlanta, the message to the field staff and players was clear. "[The signing] means our GM and our front office want to win," manager Fredi Gonzalez said, as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro tweets.
  • The key for Santana was his desire to pitch in the National League, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed, saying that he was told Santana "had a strong desire to pitch in the NL and there was no way to compete with that." (MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm provides a transcript of Anthopoulos's chat with the media today.) The GM also emphasized that he was "very comfortable we did everything we could" to land Santana, who the club "viewed … as an impact starter." Anthopoulos implied some disappointment with the way things unfolded, declining comment on several questions about reports that a deal was done last Saturday by saying that he was "trying to take the high road here." 
  • From the Twins' perspective, most talks were "very exploratory," assistant GM Rob Antony told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press"I think what they were looking at and were looking for was different from what we were thinking," explained Antony. "… We weren't necessarily looking for a one-year guy."
  • Meanwhile, the Royals' short run with Santana is now officially over, but the team feels fine about how things worked out, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter"I think Erv's going to do very well," GM Dayton Moore said, "and we're going to get the pick. And it all worked out." Indeed it did: K.C. got a valuable draft choice and excellent season from Santana, all for the low price of $12MM and the rights to minor league lefty Brandon Sisk.


Offseason In Review: Minnesota Twins

The Twins spent more money on free agency this offseason than they ever have in the past, but they received a devastating blow by losing a top prospect for the season as well.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Manager Ron Gardenhire's job security has rarely been in question since he took over the team in the early 2000s, but that was the case — at least among media members — this offseason prior to his signing of a two-year extension. General manager Terry Ryan said there was never any real doubt in his mind that Gardenhire would be back, and while some can speculate that the veteran skipper's connection with players has diminished in recent years, it's impossible to pin the team's struggles on his head. Minnesota has experienced a lack of quality big league talent on the Major League roster for the past few years, and it's shown up with three straight seasons at or near the bottom of the AL Central.

Nolasco-Ricky-Twins

The primary weakness has been pitching, and Ryan and his staff set out to address that issue in a manner never before seen by Twins fans. Owner Jim Pohlad blasted the club's on-field performance in September, calling the product "embarrassing" and plainly stating that he had no problem issuing franchise-record contracts to pitchers in free agency.

While the names the Twins brought in — Ricky Nolasco (pictured), Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey — may not be the flashiest that were on the market, the trio should represent an improvement upon last year's group. While Pelfrey, of course, was a part of that woeful rotation, he's also two full years removed from Tommy John surgery.

However, though Pelfrey saw his average velocity increase over the course of the season, and stats such as FIP and xFIP show that he experienced some poor luck with his 5.19 ERA, I do have to wonder how great an upgrade he'd be over internal options. His addition could push Kyle Gibson to Triple-A in favor of one of Minnesota's three out-of-options starters — Vance Worley, Scott Diamond or Sam Deduno — making the decision to re-sign Pelfrey a questionable one. Could Gibson and Deduno or a healthy Worley have been just as effective as Pelfrey and whoever wins the fifth starter role? It's a definite possibility, but depth is something Minnesota has lacked, and the average annual value of Pelfrey's deal is hardly difficult to justify in terms of performance (Fangraphs' Dave Cameron noted that this offseason, one win on the free agent market is valued right around $6MM).

Minnesota lured in Hughes by gambling on his age with an unexpected three-year deal. Always one to post better numbers on the road, the Twins are hoping a move to a bigger ballpark (really, a division full of bigger ballparks) will aid his overall production. Hughes is still just 27 years of age, so while a $24MM guarantee was surprising based on his recent history, the $8MM annual value will look reasonable if he can provide league-average innings and look like a bargain if he can provide anything more. On the other hand, should his struggles continue, it will be easy to point to the deal as an unnecessary gamble.

Some depth was added via trade as well, as the Twins pulled in former first-rounder Gilmartin in exchange for one year of Doumit. Gilmartin battled injuries in 2013 and was largely ineffective as a result, but he was solid  in 2012. Even though some feel he was a reach in the 2011 first round, he could be a back-end starter at some point, which would be a nice return for one year of the defensively challeneged Doumit.

Ryan and his staff brought in a number of former Twins on minor league deals, but if things had gone their way, they could've had a fourth former Twin on a Major League deal that would have been their second-largest of the offseason. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported last month that the Twins made Matt Garza a three-year, $42MM offer with a vesting $14MM option at one point this offseason. That $14MM annual value certainly trumps Garza's $12.5MM AAV with Milwaukee, but Garza elected for the fourth guaranteed year and a complex option that could result in him earning as much as $67MM.

The Twins also chased a pair of Santanas — former ace Johan Santana and former AL Central division rival Ervin Santana. Minnesota wasn't willing to top Baltimore's rich $3MM base salary on the minor league deal for Johan, and though they made a late three-year, $30-33MM offer to Ervin, his preference was for a one-year deal, which he got earlier this morning with the Braves. The Twins weren't keen on forfeiting a draft pick for a one-year upgrade in what isn't likely to be a contending season.

Joe Mauer's move to first base opened a need at catcher that assistant GM Rob Antony told Berardino last week they hoped would be filled by A.J. Pierzynski. He signed with the Red Sox, however, causing the Twins to turn their attention to the man he replaced — Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty ultimately signed with his hometown Marlins, whose interest put the Twins into an uphill battle for the 28-year-old's services.

The Twins once again moved on, and they were able to reel in their next target in veteran Kurt Suzuki. He should help to take some pressure off impressive prospect Josmil Pinto. The latter's glove has drawn question marks, but his robust production from Double-A to Triple-A to his September call-up in 2013 suggest he's not far from forcing his way into everyday at-bats.

Questions Remaining

The Twins missed on Garza and Santana but still added a trio of free-agent pitchers to help round out a rotation that finished dead last in the Majors with a 5.26 ERA last year. Nolasco, Hughes and a healthier Pelfrey should all be able to help lower that mark, but the rotation still looks to be below average. In 2013, the Cubs finished 15th in the Majors in rotation ERA with a 3.97 mark, and the league average among starting pitchers was a 4.01 ERA. Can Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and one of the team's internal options top those numbers? If everything breaks right, perhaps, but even then it wouldn't be by much. Perhaps Alex Meyer, a consensus Top 40 prospect, can force the Twins to clear room for him by making a trade this summer. Pelfrey and Kevin Correia — a free agent at season's end — both strike me as possible trade candidates if pitching well.

The Twins infield is rife with question marks as well. Trevor Plouffe was thought to be a placeholder for top prospect Miguel Sano this season, but the Twins received crushing news in learning that Sano, the minor leagues' premier slugger, would miss the 2014 campaign to undergo Tommy John surgery. Now the defensively challenged Plouffe, whose power dramatically dropped from 2012 (.220 ISO) to 2013 (.138 ISO), will likely see the lion's share of playing time.

Pedro Florimon's strong glove will once again man shortstop, but he provides little to no offense. Stephen Drew seemed to make sense for the Twins on a multi-year deal, but perhaps they feel that Florimon can provide at least one to two wins per year with his glove, making Drew too expensive for the upgrade he would provide.

Brian Dozier's power, speed and defense from second base outweighed his so-so on-base skills in 2013; can he continue to improve in 2014? Even Mauer's future production is no guarantee, as ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote while examining the shockingly low number of players to transition away from catcher and enjoy lengthy careers at a new position.

Josh Willingham will need to prove his knee is healthy and could be moved with a big first half. The Twins are hopeful that two outfield spots will be manned by Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia in the long-term; however, both former Top 50 prospects (Hicks in particular) will need to show improvement from their 2013 production to cement themselves as regulars going forward. Of course, Byron Buxton, the crown jewel of Minnesota's minor league system and consensus No. 1 overall prospect, is expected to take the reins in center field eventually. That seems unlikely in 2014, as he's yet to even play a game at Double-A.

Deal of Note

Because Minnesota lacked the necessary resources to spend on free agents for much of the 90s and 2000s, Nolasco's deal represents a franchise-record investment, and in fact more than doubles the previous record (Josh Willingham's three-year, $21MM deal). In Nolasco, the Twins add a durable innings eater with some upside. Nolasco's ERA has historically underperformed his FIP and xFIP due to an inability to strand runners at a league-average rate. If the Twins can improve his performance with runners on base, he could give them some seasons with an ERA closer to his 2013 mark than his career mark.

However, the deal now looks questionable in light of the fact that both Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez signed four-year deals worth just $1MM more in guaranteed money. Conventional wisdom says that both Garza and Jimenez have considerably more upside (though they also come with risk) and could have made a bigger impact on a Twins rotation that is starved for quality innings.

While that's true, this offseason was also unique in the way the pitching market played out. Masahiro Tanaka's seemingly ceaseless saga put much of the pitching market on hold and likely played a part on Garza, Jimenez and Ervin Santana all being available in late February. The Twins made an effort to wait out the starting pitching market in 2012-13 and had to settle for modest deals for Correia and Pelfrey. Ryan at one point said that he couldn't give his money away if the targets weren't willing to take it.

As such, Minnesota likely felt a need to be more aggressive on the free agent market this year and paid market value early on for Nolasco, then made the aggressive decision to add Hughes as well. Had they known the market would have collapsed the way it did and that Ervin Santana would be available in mid-March, perhaps they'd have passed on one of the three pitchers they did sign in order to secure his services instead.

Overview

The Twins possesses the game's third-best farm system, according to Baseball America (though Sano's injury is a clear hit), and those minor leaguers are the key to the club's future. This offseason's additions will help to bridge gaps and stop the bleeding, but they're not likely to bring the Twins back to prominence in the American League Central division. The coming year will be critical for names like Arcia, Hicks, Pinto and Gibson as they look to prove that themselves capable of being regular Major Leaguers.

If that can happen, the Twins' 2015 outlook would be brighter. A rotation featuring Meyer, Nolasco, Gibson and Hughes would be an improvement (though not elite), as would an eventual outfield of Arcia, Buxton and Hicks with Mauer and Sano at the infield corners. That sounds promising on paper, but a lot has to go right for such a scenario to become reality. And while it gives Twins fans plenty to dream on for years to come, it does little to assuage the unpleasant likelihood that another difficult season is on the horizon in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL Notes: Kipnis, Sizemore, Mulder

How do teams take players from promise to big league production? Grantland's Jonah Keri takes a look at some different developmental approaches for players approaching MLB readiness, most of them from AL clubs. The Twins, for example, advance players based upon their readiness to fill a need at the MLB level, while the Rays pay close attention to service time in a bid to maximize the value of each player asset. Here's more from the American League:

  • The Indians are still believed to be discussing an extension with second baseman Jason Kipnis, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. With just two years and 69 days of service, Kipnis will not reach arbitration eligibility until next year (though he received a relatively sizeable $554,900 contract from Cleveland for the coming season). As Hoynes notes, there is an interesting comp in the Cardinals' recent six-year, $52MM extension of Matt Carpenter, an older player with less service (and, on the whole, a less impressive overall track record). 
  • Grady Sizemore is an increasingly plausible option not just to break camp with the Red Sox, but to beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the center field job, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. He has shown enough for the club (and, perhaps, Sizemore) to dare to dream, even if manager John Farrell is still preaching caution. But the skipper also joined those offering praise for Sizemore's performance thus far in camp. "The fact that Grady's having encouraging signs in spring training is not a bad thing for Jackie Bradley or for anybody," Farrell said. "It means we've got another good player. Grady gives us the potential to build another talented and deep roster." 
  • Though an achilles tear ended Mark Mulder's comeback bid this year with the Angels, the 36-year-old says that does not mean he is giving up entirely, reports MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez"Barring a setback, or me not being able to pitch with my ankle for some reason, I don't see why not," Mulder said. "My arm's still going to be the same next year."

Central Links: Diaz, Scherzer, Capuano, Indians, Coke

New Cardinals prospect Aledmys Diaz participated in team drills with the club on Monday but will return to Mexico next week to receive a work visa that will allow him to compete in Spring Training games, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. GM John Mozeliak said the club will have Diaz focus on shortstop rather than trying to carve out a utility role. However, asked about the overlap between Diaz's contract and that of fellow offseason signee Jhonny Peralta, Mozeliak simply said, "Jhonny Peralta is our shortstop. We think he's really good."

Here's more from baseball's Central divisions…

  • The Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel writes that the Cardinals were Missouri native Max Scherzer's dream team growing up. Scherzer told Hummel he always envisioned playing for the Cards as a kid, and he had the chance to do so when St. Louis drafted him in the 43rd round out of high school. However, Scherzer honored his commitment to Mizzou and now doesn't think about his old Cardinals aspirations: "The thing is that now I’ve gotten to the big leagues and I’m in this position, it’s really hard to still dream about that when you’ve got this clubhouse and you look around and see Miguel Cabrera. You see the talent here. This clubhouse can win and it’s so much fun. This is my dream now, playing with the Tigers."
  • Left-hander Chris Capuano told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Twins showed some early interest in him, but that interest seemed to dry up after the team re-signed Mike Pelfrey in December (Twitter link).
  • Indians manager Terry Francona spoke with reporters, including Zack Meisel of the Northeat Ohio Media Group, and said that he would be lying if he knew what the team's third base plans were this coming season. Reports have pegged Carlos Santana as uncomfortable at the position to date. Francona also said he thinks David Murphy will be an excellent addition to the team, adding that Cleveland was able to get him due to a down year in 2013: "If he would've had his normal year, he probably wouldn't have been as available."
  • Phil Coke has struggled this spring, and this could be a big week for him, writes MLB.com's Jason Beck. The Tigers can cut ties with Coke this week and only owe him $316K of the $1.9MM the two sides agreed to in arbitration. However, Beck expects Coke to hang around at least until the end of Spring Training; Detroit would only owe him $475K were they to cut him at that point. Detroit made a similar move with Brennan Boesch last spring, and Casey Crosby's return from injury gives the team another left-handed option out of the bullpen. MLive.com's Chris Iott also expects Coke to hang around beyond Wednesday's deadline.

Braves Could Make Run At Ervin Santana

7:26pm: After throwing a 2-inning simulated game today, Santana may still wait a day or two before choosing a destination, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (Twitter links, in Spanish). 

The Braves are indeed very interested, with financial concerns the main limitation. Meanwhile, the Royals have put in a call on Santana. The Blue Jays and Orioles have standing offers out, Rojas adds.

2:21pm: O'Brien hears from a person connected to the Royals that the Braves may now be making a run at Santana (Twitter link). In addition to Medlen's injury, Brandon Beachy left today's Spring Training start with biceps tightness.

10:17am: The Braves haven't completely ruled out Santana in the event of a serious Medlen injury, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, but the financial and draft pick costs are definite factors. Atlanta would very much like to strengthen its crop of top prospects, and sacrificing the No. 26 selection in the draft would go against that thinking.

9:19am: Over the weekend it was reported that Ervin Santana has completely changed course and is now seeking a one-year deal with an eye toward a lucrative multi-year deal next offseason. With one-year offers of $13MM plus incentives and $14MM without incentives from the Orioles and Blue Jays, respectively, there appear to be a pair of clear favorites for Santana.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provides some updates on the Santana sweepstakes this morning, noting that the Blue Jays' players are lobbying for Santana to come to Toroto. Santana has many friends on the club, including countrymen Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes. One source told Rosenthal that several Jays players got together and texted Santana a picture of themselves holding a poster that read, "Come to Toronto."

One potentially game-changing factor to the Santana market could be the severity of the injury to Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who left Sunday's Spring Training game with a forearm strain. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution touched on the topic this morning, wondering if the Braves could consider expanding their budget to bring him into the fold. Rosenthal writes that the Braves will get the results of an MRI on Medlen today. The draft pick loss wouldn't be as big for the Braves as some teams around the league, as Atlanta would surrender the No. 26 selection after already having received the No. 32 selection for losing Brian McCann to free agency. That forfeiture, however, would be the most significant of the specific teams mentioned in Rosenthal's piece.

Rosenthal also has some specifics on recent offers made to Santana; the Orioles' last three-year offer was believed to be in the $27MM range, while the three-year offer from the Twins was in the $30-33MM range. That offer was still on the table as of last night. However, as Rosenthal notes, Santana could earn nearly that much over the next two seasons by taking $14MM or so in 2014 and receiving a qualifying offer following the season, as next year's QO could jump to the $15-16MM range.


Twins Still Have Offer Out To Ervin Santana

The Twins still have an offer out to free agent starting pitcher Ervin Santana, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press writes. It's unclear how much the Twins' offer to Santana is worth. Berardino notes that, earlier in the offseason, the Twins offered Matt Garza three years and $42MM with a vesting option for a fourth year, although 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson tweets that the offer to Santana is significantly less. Earlier on Sunday, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Twins had made a three-year deal to Santana, but that Santana preferred a one-year deal if he could not get a deal in the four-year, $50MM range.

The Twins appear to be continuing to try to upgrade a rotation that struggled in 2013. They've already added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes on multiyear deals this offseason, while re-signing Mike Pelfrey to a two-year deal. The Twins' top 2014 draft choice, No. 5 overall, is protected, so they would only have to give up the No. 46 overall pick if they signed Santana.


Ervin Santana Rumors: Sunday

It was reported yesterday Ervin Santana is weighing one year offers from both the Blue Jays ($14MM) and Orioles ($13MM plus incentives) with two other clubs also expressing interest. Here's the latest on the top ranked free agent remaining on MLBTR's 2014 Top 50 Free Agents list:

  • Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters, including MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko (Twitter), GM Dan Duquette told him nothing is imminent on the Santana front.
  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes the Twins offered Santana a three-year deal, but he prefers a one-year contract unless someone is willing go four years at his asking price.
  • With all this recent action on Santana, Heyman tweets it may take a few days for the situation to resolve itself adding both the Blue Jays and Orioles have made strong one-year proposals. 
  • 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson tweets he's been told Santana isn't coming to Twins with the hangup being length of contract (Santana wants one year and the Twins want three years).

AL Central Notes: Masterson, De Aza, Santana, Tigers

Many have been quick to call Justin Masterson's reported three-year extension proposal to the Indians a bargain, but Dave Cameron of Fangraphs takes a step back and wonders how benevolent Masterson is really being. Cameron admits that he, too, initially considered a three-year, $45MM or four-year, $60MM deal to be a huge value, but he looks at the cognitive bias of "anchoring," in which we subconsciously turn an initial price for one item into an anchor price for others. Cameron argues that rather than comparing Masterson to the statistically similar Homer Bailey, who signed away five free agent years for $95MM, we should look at Masterson's expected value over the next three to four years. Doing so presents the case that Masterson's offer is fair, but hardly a tremendous discount for Cleveland. He adds that the Indians aren't a club that can afford to pay market value for too many wins, so it may not be as much of a no-brainer as many initially believed.

More from the AL Central…

  • While he's yet to determine if the Twins have placed a call, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN knows that White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza has quite a few fans in Minnesota's front office (Twitter link). De Aza would seem a peculiar fit for the Twins in my opinion, given the fact that he has just two years of team control and Minnesota has a number of young outfielders and outfield prospects.
  • Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that while he didn't look like a catcher trying to play third base in practice, that's exactly how Carlos Santana has looked thus far in Cactus League games. Hoynes describes his play as "stiff and uncomfortable," though he notes that Santana has had few chances to this point and could improve by playing consecutive games at the position. For the time being, it appears to be good news for Lonnie Chisenhall, as if Santana doesn't man third, he would DH and serve as a backup at first, catcher and occasionally third.
  • Left-hander Blaine Hardy has gone from being released by the Royals last year to a minor league flier for the Tigers to a leading candidate to join Detroit's bullpen this season, writes James Schmel of MLive.com. Hardy posted a 1.67 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, serving as both a starter and reliever. He's allowed one hit in five innings this spring, catching the eye of manager Brad Ausmus and establishing himself as one of the top candidates to fill a long reliever role at the big league level.