- The Twins got a first-hand look at Luke Gregerson as he closed out an Astros win over them last night, but Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Minnesota wasn’t far off from seeing quite a bit more of Gregerson. The right-hander tells Berardino that the Twins pursued him heavily as a free agent in the 2014-15 offseason prior to his signing with Houston. Gregerson, of course, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Minnesota’s offer, but he did tell Berardino that the Twins came “pretty close” to Houston’s offer of $18.5MM over a three-year term. The tipping point for Gregerson, it would seem, may have been Houston’s willingness to let him serve as the team’s closer, which he said made their offer “hard to pass up.” Said Gregerson: “I think if the situation was a little different, I think it would have definitely been able to work out. I’m happy where I ended up.”
- The Twins have had top international scout Fred Guerrero watching Cuban free agent Jose Miguel Fernandez in the past two days, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. Fernandez, a second baseman/third baseman known for minimal strikeout rates and strong on-base skills, is considered one of the top Cuban players on the market and is believed capable of stepping into a big league lineup in the very near future. It’s not clear how he’d fit with the Twins, so perhaps Minnesota is merely performing due diligence. It should be noted, too, that Fernandez hosted a showcase for clubs from May 2-3, and Wolfson notes that there were “many” scouts in attendance for the 28-year-old’s audition. Fernandez, like Lunar, is exempt from international bonus pools due to his age and the extent of his pro experience in Cuba.
- Twins GM Terry Ryan told reporters, including MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger (Twitter link), that he’s undecided about whether to send a scout to watch Tim Lincecum’s showcase on Friday. The issue, Ryan explained, is that Lincecum wants to start. Minnesota has a number of rotation options in house already, with Ervin Santana slated to return this week to join Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey. Minnesota also has Kyle Gibson on the DL with a shoulder injury, left-hander Tommy Milone in the bullpen (but capable of starting) and righty Alex Meyer, who got the nod in tonight’s contest (where he struggled).
While the Tigers picked up left-hander Justin Wilson in a trade this offseason with the Yankees, they weren’t the only AL Central club to attempt to acquire him. The Twins, too, made what they considered to be an aggressive offer to acquire Wilson and were surprised that their proposal was rejected in favor of Detroit’s package of right-handers Chad Green and Luis Cessa, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Twins GM Terry Ryan wouldn’t offer any details into his club’s pursuit, though he did confirm that he was well aware that Wilson was available prior to his trade. Of course, the Twins’ alternative has worked out quite well for them to date, Berardino notes. Minnesota picked up Fernando Abad on a minor league deal, and an improved changeup (Abad terms it a “super changeup,” as he’ll throw it as slow as 65 mph) has yielded dominant results: zero earned runs, four hits, three walks, 12 strikeouts and a 55 percent ground-ball rate in 9 2/3 innings. Here are more notes on American League pitchers.
Fantex, Inc. announced today that it has entered into brand contracts with five Major Leaguers: Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, Astros right-hander Collin McHugh, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, Twins right-hander Tyler Duffey and Padres third baseman Yangervis Solarte (as noted on BusinessWire.com).
Fantex offers professional athletes an up-front, one-time payment in exchange for a portion of that player’s future earnings both on and off the field. Fantex then sells “shares” of that player to public investors for a set price (thus covering the up-front payment to the player), allowing those investors to turn a profit if said player crosses a certain threshold in his career earnings. Obviously, that creates risk for the investors, who stand to take a financial loss if the player fails to earn enough money in his career to justify the shareholders’ investment. Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney became the first player to enter into an agreement with Fantex last September, taking a $3.34MM up-front payment in exchange for 10 percent of his future earnings. (Notably, the league and the MLBPA each approved that agreement, and Fantex’s announcement seemingly suggests that the same is true of these five agreements.)
As for the new wave of Fantex additions, Schoop secured the largest sum, agreeing to an up-front payment of $4.91MM. Franco, meanwhile, will earn $4.35MM, while McHugh will take home $3.96MM, Solarte will take home $3.15MM and Duffey will earn $2.23MM. Notably, Solarte’s agreement is for 11 percent of his “brand,” while the other four (and Heaney) signed away 10 percent.
With six big leaguers now on board in addition to 14 athletes from other sports, it stands to reason that the number of professional baseball players willing to enter into such agreements will increase. It’s an interesting proposition for Major Leaguers — not entirely dissimilar from agreeing to an early contract extension; in essence, the players in question are taking a life-changing sum of money early in their career in exchange for limiting their earning capacity once they’ve navigated through their arbitration years and entered their free-agent seasons. Those same principles are all true of players that sign contract extensions, though the extent of the up-front sum and the long-term risk obviously vary.
Beyond the long-term impact on a player’s earnings, it also seems plausible that players who enter into agreements with Fantex could be less likely to sign long-term extensions with their current club. Extensions, after all, are most often signed to provide a player with his first fortune in exchange for giving the club a discount rate on would-be free-agent or arbitration seasons. Heaney, Franco, McHugh, Schoop, Duffey and Solarte, though, have each secured a sizable sum without altering their free agency timelines, thereby creating less urgency to sign an extension. (It should be noted, too, that players like Duffey and Solarte aren’t necessarily obvious extension candidates in the first place.) It seems reasonable to expect that some players and agents will view Fantex as a means of locking in that first payday while preserving the right to get to free agency at a younger age. In a market that places a premium on youth — as evidenced by contracts signed by Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Mike Leake and others — that comes with significant benefit.
The payments from Fantex, of course, are smaller than the sums that we’ve seen players haul in via contract extensions, but the trade-off that Fantex players face early in free agency figures to be more minimal than the trade-off of their peers that sign extensions. For instance, Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner will reach six years of Major League service time this season, but he remains under control for three more seasons; he’s guaranteed $11.5MM in 2017 and has a pair of $12MM club options on each of the two subsequent seasons. Bumgarner’s contract guaranteed him $35MM ($57.5MM if each of those options is exercised), but he’ll earn a maximum of $35.5MM over what would have been his first three free-agent seasons — a fraction of what he could earn were all 30 teams allowed to bid on him. Bumgarner’s open-market annual value could be $25MM or more over the life of a six- or seven-year term. Ten percent of a theoretical $150-175MM contract is a smaller loss for the player than the difference between the free-agent seasons on an extension and the aforementioned market value.
I should note that this isn’t a knock on Bumgarner’s contract by any means — it was a record-setting deal for a pitcher in his service class and comes with the same potential risk/reward that many early extensions carry. Conversely, Jon Singleton locked in $10MM and has yet to see his big league career get off the ground. If Singleton never develops into an MLB-caliber hitter, he’ll receive significantly more than he would have by entering into a Fantex deal. Balancing that risk and reward is likely something with which players and their agents will wrestle if Fantex agreements continue to increase in popularity.
From a more general standpoint, there’s quite a bit we don’t know about the finer details of Fantex. The method by which each player’s up-front valuation is determined, for instance, isn’t known. Accurate reporting of off-field income (e.g. endorsements) would be paramount (and is presumably mandated within the contract agreements), and the unproven model in question seemingly only works if Fantex is able to raise enough investor funding to finance the initial payment to the player. This is all relatively new territory, though, and additional information pertaining to the new opportunity for pro athletes should become increasingly available in the months to come.
Albers, 30, was a 10th-round pick of the Padres back in 2008 but wound up pitching on the independent circuit in 2010. The True Gravity client parlayed impressive numbers in the Can-Am Association into a minor league deal with the Twins back in 2011 and rose through the club’s ranks quickly, reaching the Majors and tossing 60 innings for Minnesota in 2013. Albers recorded a 4.05 ERA with a 25-to-7 K/BB ratio in those 60 innings, and he spent the 2014 season pitching in the Korea Baseball Organization before returning to North America to pitch for the Blue Jays. Albers struggled at Triple-A and in a brief MLB stint with the Jays last season and again turned to the independent league over the winter. He made one start for the Atlantic League’s Lancaster BarnStormers and fired seven shutout innings, yielding just a hit and a walk with nine strikeouts before this new agreement.
Minnesota has seen its rotation depth compromised by injuries to Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson, and three members of its Triple-A rotation — Tyler Duffey, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios — are now at the big league level. Albers, it seems, will add an experienced minor league arm to Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate in Rochester for the time being.
6:04pm: The Twins have made Berrios’ promotion official. As MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger tweets, Berrios will start against the Indians tomorrow night. The Twins also promoted Polanco, as expected, and placed starters Kyle Gibson (shoulder strain) and Santana (back strain) on the DL. The Twins believe Gibson’s injury took place during his last start and seem hopeful that it won’t turn out to be serious, via Neal.
“We’re not dealing with anything overly significant that’s going to require any type of procedure,” says manager Paul Molitor. “We’re just going to have to calm that thing down the best we can and try to get his strength back so he can pitch.”
1:25pm: Santana is indeed likely to be placed on the disabled list tomorrow, writes La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. However, Neal notes that the Twins are also recalling infielder (and fellow Top 100 prospect) Jorge Polanco from Rochester for a second time this season, so there’s another roster move in the works for the club as well.
A product of Puerto Rico, Berrios has steadily risen up the prospect rankings over the last several years and is now viewed as one of the best pre-MLB arms in the game. Entering the current season, he rated 16th overall on MLB.com’s list, 26th in the eyes of ESPN.com’s Keith Law, and 28th per Baseball America.
Many clamored for a call-up late last year, as Minnesota made a late (and ultimately unsuccessful) run at the postseason. But the organization ultimately decided to hold off on the move, preferring instead to allow him to finish the season at Triple-A.
It’s safe to say that Berrios has proven all that he needs to at the highest level of the minors. In his 16 starts for Rochester, he owns a 2.82 ERA with 10.0 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 — and that’s including the bombing he suffered in his lone outing at the level in 2014. Berrios has continued to allow less than one base hit per inning, as he’s done rather consistently throughout his minor league career. Though he has allowed a few more walks than usual in his first three starts in 2016, Berrios has permitted only two earned runs in 17 frames in the early going.
Those results reflect the general scouting perspective on the youngster, who’ll turn 22 in late May. He’s considered an excellent athlete with a well-rounded three-pitch mix — the classic blend of a four-seam fastball, curve, and change. Though none of his offerings are expected to be truly exceptional, all are quality options, and he’s said to have the command, makeup, and feel to come with a number two or three starter’s ceiling.
For Minnesota, the move points to an effort to provide a fresh boost to a club that stumbled out of the gate. Ervin Santana’s injury situation could open a rotation spot for the time being, but in the long run the Twins could conceivably drop Kyle Gibson or the out-of-options Tommy Milone. It’s notable that Berrios worked up to 166 1/3 innings over 27 starts last year, suggesting that he ought to be ready to shoulder a more or less full workload this season. By going to Berrios now, Minnesota can receive nearly thirty starts without allowing him to clock a full year of service time.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Twins were making preparations to call up outfielder David Murphy before he advised GM Terry Ryan that he wished to return to his family, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports. Minnesota attempted to pass catcher John Hicks through waivers to clear a roster spot, ultimately losing him to the division-rival Tigers as a result. It certainly appears that the 34-year-old Murphy is headed for retirement, though nothing has been formally announced. Murphy had high praise for the way that Ryan handled things, saying that the veteran executive “showed that he genuinely cared about the situation I was in.”
- Righty Loek Van Mil was released by the Twins, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger tweets. The 31-year-old, who stands at 7’1, was bombed for 14 earned runs in just 5 1/3 innings at Triple-A this year, while issuing six walks against four strikeouts. The Netherlands native has yet to crack the majors, and has struggled in his time at the highest level of the minors. He has, however, been better historically at Double-A, where he owns a 3.01 ERA in 212 frames with 6.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9.
4:42pm: Murphy exercised an opt-out clause and has already formally been released, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger tweets. His future intentions remain unclear.
3:42pm: Outfielder David Murphy has requested his release from the Twins, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (via Twitter). He has already left the club’s Triple-A affiliate, Rochester, to return to his home.
Murphy, who spent camp with the Red Sox and joined Minnesota on a minor league deal, reportedly has an opt-out date of May 1st built into his contract. Obviously, we’re not there yet, but it seems that he could be considering retirement rather than seeking an opportunity with another club.
The Twins could conceivably have used him at the major league level, with Byron Buxton and Max Kepler both going down to Triple-A. But he’d have required a 40-man spot, and if he wasn’t the choice, the move would’ve put a big dent in his playing time at Rochester.
Murphy is off to a slow start, hitting .194/.256/.306 over 39 plate appearances at the Triple-A level in his first taste of the minors since 2007. The 34-year-old had long been a sturdy option against right-handed pitching, but hasn’t met with much interest since reaching the open market this winter.