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In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes looks at six teams that badly need some fixing this offseason. The list starts with the Braves, who have been held back in part by B.J. Upton‘s five-year, $75MM deal. The Rangers also need some serious help in the form of two starting pitchers, a right-handed power bat, and possibly a catcher. The Phillies are in the toughest spot of all, Cafardo writes, as they are overloaded with older players on bad contracts. Here are some of the highlights from today’s column..
- As teams start putting together lists of pitchers who could be had in trade this offseason, Jeremy Hellickson’s name has been surfacing. One AL team believes that the Rays could make another Wil Myers-Jake Odorizzi for James Shields-Wade Davis type of deal centering around Hellickson, who is still just 27 and inexpensive.
- It looks more and more like Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will return next season. A Twins executive said he would be “surprised” if Gardenhire didn’t come back based on his young team playing hard and having fun playing the spoiler role down the stretch.
- Even with Alex Rodriguez coming back, Cafardo sees the Yankees as a possibility for Hanley Ramirez if the Dodgers don’t retain him.
- The Red Sox haven’t committed to bringing David Ross back next season but it doesn’t appear he’ll have to worry about finding a job. A few teams have privately discussed Ross as a backup/mentor. If Boston moves on from Ross, there aren’t many clear-cut alternatives on the open market.
- Red Sox vice president of player personnel Allard Baird had a very good interview for the Diamondbacks‘ vacant GM job, but Tony La Russa is still leaning towards Dave Stewart or Gary LaRocque, according to a source. Baird, of course, was the GM of the Royals from 2000-06.
- Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield is beginning to receive more interest as a managerial candidate. Don’t be surprised to see his name mentioned more often for openings, Cafardo writes.
Several MLB clubs have dabbled with neurological training in a bid to improve their hitters’ pitch recognition, as Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Rays have already initiated programs, but more could be on the way. As Boston GM Ben Cherington explains, the purpose of taking this approach is to help young batters develop a stronger mental connection between seeing a pitch and deciding whether or not to swing. Quick reactions — physical and mental — are all the more important given rising fastball velocities around the league. One mark of that: at least 52 minor league hurlers have been clocked at or above 100 mph this year, according to the count of Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.
Here are a few notes of interest from around the league:
- Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer has had an up and down time since becoming a professional, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Most recently, he was claimed by Minnesota over the summer after he failed to live up to a solid 2013 campaign with the Braves. The speedy 28-year-old has put up excellent numbers in his new home: a .298/.365/.386 slash with 15 stolen bases over 131 plate appearances. He will be eligible for arbitration for the second time after the year.
- As the Giants welcome back Michael Morse from injury, other developments could limit his playing time over the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs to come, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. With Brandon Belt returning to the fold and Gregor Blanco having performed well in Morse’s stead, a regular spot may no longer be available. Though Morse rebounded from a mid-year swoon with a strong August, his defensive shortcomings have become more of an issue, according to Baggarly. Morse remains a difficult player to peg as a pending free agent: the 32-year-old has a productive .280/.338/.477 line with 16 home runs over 480 plate appearances, but defensive metrics paint a rough image of his contribution in the field.
- The Reds are still contemplating whether Cuban free agent signee Raisel Iglesias will take the mound competitively over the winter in Puerto Rico, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Iglesias, a 24-year-old righty, has been working on strength and conditioning since inking a seven-year, $27MM deal with Cincinnati, and only just began long-tossing. He is under reserve with the Santurce Cangrejeros, and would throw for that club if he does play winter ball.
Phil Hughes of the Twins has capped off one of the game’s best turnarounds by topping 200 innings on the year after today’s outing. As Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes on Twitter, Hughes picked up a $250K bonus after passing the 195 IP threshold. Needless to say, Minnesota is thrilled that it not only landed Hughes, who just turned 28, but that it did so on a three-year deal that promises him just $24MM in total. As Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register observes (Twitter link), Hughes has struck out 181 batters while issuing a mere 16 walks this year, meaning that he owns an absurd 11.3 K/BB ratio. That is a historically significant mark, and one that would surely have made the righty one of the offseason’s most interesting free agents had he elected to take a one-year pillow contract last year.
- You can count the Yankees among the teams taking a hard look at Yasmani Tomas, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. Of course, they will be far from the only team doing so. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez provides an interesting look at the much-hyped young slugger, who is preparing for an important showcase on Sunday. “It was really difficult to leave Cuba,” said Tomas (translation from Spanish via Sanchez). “It is for all of us who do it. But it’s difficult there with the way the security is and how they control the players. I made an important decision to fulfill my dream and see if I was at the level of major league players. Here I am, and now I go forward.”
- Rangers hurler Colby Lewis says that he was told “maybe” when he asked club GM Jon Daniels about the possibility of a return next year, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star -Telegram reports on Twitter. The 35-year-old righty has only a 5.12 ERA over 158 1/3 innings this year, but then again he had been out since July of 2012 with various injury issues. Lewis owns a 4.33 FIP and has notched 7.0 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 on the season, making him a potentially appealing option for teams looking for a solid innings-eater.
- Twins closer Glen Perkins will be shut down for the rest of the year but ultimately received good news on his left arm, GM Terry Ryan told reporters including Phil Miller of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). Perkins will use a strength and conditioning program to deal with a forearm strain and nerve irritation, and is expected to be at full strength for the spring.
- The Orioles are nearing finalization of a deal with Cuban hurler Lazaro Leyva, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). Leyva has reportedly agreed to terms on a $725K deal to join the Baltimore organization.
As Baseball America’s Josh Leventhal writes, yesterday marked a two-week period where Major League clubs are free to negotiate with available minor league organizations. Major League clubs sign player development contracts with minor league organizations much like players will sign contracts with teams. As such, Leventhal notes that the “affiliation shuffle” is akin to free agency for minor league teams. Leventhal’s article provides more insight behind many of the moves and offers quite a bit of detail for those who are curious to read more about this process.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll see multiple teams sign deals with new affiliates, and MLBTR will keep track of them here for those that are interested …
- The Giants announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Sacramento (formerly occupied by the Athletics).
- The Brewers announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Colorado Spring (formerly occupied by the Rockies)
- Fresno (formerly the Giants’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Astros.
- The Athletics have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Sacramento to Nashville (previously occupied by the Brewers).
- The Dodgers have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City (previously occupied by the Astros).
- The Rockies announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque (previously occupied by the Dodgers).
- The Brewers have announced that their Triple-A affiliation with Nashville has been terminated by the Sounds.
- The Twins announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from New Britain to Chattanooga (previously occupied by the Dodgers) after agreeing to a four-year term.
- The Dodgers announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from Chattanooga to Tulsa (previously occupied by the Rockies).
- New Britain (formerly the Twins’ affiliate) has announced that that it has reached a PDC with the Rockies.
- Daytona (formerly the Cubs’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Reds.
- The Cubs announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Daytona to Myrtle Beach (previously occupied by the Rangers).
- The Indians announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Carolina to Lynchburg (previously occupied by the Braves).
The Nationals have claimed infielder Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Twins, the club announced. This is the move that necessitated the designation of Eury Perez for assignment, which the team also announced.
Florimon, a switch-hitter, slashed .221/.281/.330 over 446 plate appearances in full season action last year for Minnesota. He swiped 15 bases (caught six times) and hit nine home runs. He was worse at the plate in minimal action this year, though did manage a .257/.328/.389 slash in 314 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Florimon’s calling card, of course, is not his bat but his glove. Depending on one’s preferred defensive metric, Florimon has been anywhere from above average (career 3.8 UZR/150) to outstanding (21 defensive runs saved) in the field.
It is not immediately clear why Washington made a claim on Florimon. He will not, of course, be eligible for the postseason, and the club already has the pennant in hand. On the other hand, the 27-year-old shortstop could conceivably be a utility infield option for the team next year, as he can be controlled for the league minimum. The team has been said in the past to be looking for alternative options at short in the event that an extension cannot be reached with Ian Desmond, but it would seem a stretch to believe that Florimon would figure in those plans.
If Danny Espinosa is traded or non-tendered, a bench spot could conceivably go to a player such as Florimon (who, it is worth noting, has a much better track record hitting against righties). It appears that Florimon also comes with an option remaining, as he was added to the 40-man before the 2012 season but did not spend any time in the minors last year.
Here’s the latest out of the game’s central divisions:
- Brewers GM Doug Melvin denied a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that the team had decided to exercise its end of a $14MM mutual option over third baseman Aramis Ramirez for next season. The option, which comes with a $4MM buyout, has yet to be decided on according to Melvin. As MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports, Melvin expressed surprise at hearing the report and indicated that he had not discussed the option with either team owner Mark Attanasio or Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer. Ramirez, 36, has had a solid overall campaign and remains an above-average option at the hot corner. Needless to say, Milwaukee’s decision on his option will have important ramifications for the third base market.
- Though the Indians boast an intriguing group of young starters, GM Chris Antonetti said that the team will look to add more arms in the offseason, as Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. “We’ve seen it first-hand this year,” Antonetti explained. “The five who started the season for us aren’t the same five who are pitching for us right now.” Also on the docket for the fall is an effort to improve the team’s infield defense, said Antonetti. According to Fangraphs’ measurement of defensive value, Cleveland ranks second to last in all of baseball. (Of course, one potentially positive sign is that newly installed shortstop Jose Ramirez has received stellar marks from advanced metrics, quite the opposite of Asdrubal Cabrera, who he replaced after the trade deadline.)
- Twins closer Glen Perkins is set to undergo a “complete look” at his throwing arm, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Fresh off of signing a four-year, extension with just over $14MM in new guarantees before the season, Perkins was strong for much of the year. But things have turned south in the last month, and he has now allowed seven earned runs in his last four outings. Perkins missed time due to neck and shoulder discomfort, and since returning has seen the issue extend to the rest of his arm. “We’re going to give him a test on the left arm, see what’s going on there,” said GM Terry Ryan. “He’s got a little soreness, so we’ll get it looked at. His neck is fine.” Ryan said that the team would wait for an assessment before determining a course of action for the rest of the year, though obviously the future is of greater concern: “[Doctors] are going to give him a complete look, whatever that means. I don’t want to be premature here. If it’s severe, we’ve got issues. If it’s not, then we’ll move forward.”
Eduardo Rodriguez, the pitching prospect the Red Sox acquired from the Orioles for Andrew Miller in July, could end up being a key acquisition, WEEI.com’s Alex Speier writes. “Steal of the trade deadline…I know Miller is doing great in Baltimore, but this kid will make that trade look real bad,” says one evaluator. Rodriguez was dominant for Double-A Portland, posting an 0.96 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 37 1/3 innings there before being promoted to make his debut for Triple-A Pawtucket Friday in the International League Championship Series. Here’s more from around the American League.
- The Twins‘ rainout on Friday could cost Phil Hughes $500K, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Hughes’ start was delayed until today, and now, in order to pitch the Twins’ last game of the season on September 28, he’ll need to pitch on short rest, since the Twins have a day off on September 18. With 187 2/3 innings so far this season, Hughes could, as a result, miss 210 innings, a total that would earn him a $500K bonus.
- Chris Young‘s former Mets manager is happy the outfielder has found success so far with the Yankees, Mike Vorkunov of NJ.com writes. “He came and we were hoping the best and just had a rough go here, but as I told somebody here, he hit big homers here for us too, big ones,” says Terry Collins. “Just didn’t enough. Happy for him and I hope he makes a contribution over there.” The Mets designated Young for assignment and then released him last month after he hit a disappointing .205/.283/.346 in 287 plate appearances there, and he’s now hit three home runs on three straight days (including one in yesterday’s doubleheader) with the Yankees.
Kirk Gibson’s good relationship with chief baseball officer Tony La Russa might help him keep his job with Diamondbacks, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. The Diamondbacks are struggling and are in the process of replacing Kevin Towers as their general manager, but Gibson has proactively sought the advice of La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager. “They communicate a lot, and (La Russa) probably feels Gibby can improve,” notes a source of Heyman’s close to the Diamondbacks. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, however, tweets that there is little support for Gibson within the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse. Here are more notes on managers.
- La Russa says he, and not the Diamondbacks’ next GM, will make the decision on Gibson, Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic writes. A previous report indicated that the next GM would decide whether Gibson would stay.
- Terry Collins is “all but certain” to return to the Mets, Heyman writes. The Mets have won eight of their last ten games, and the team’s ownership appears to back Collins. Also, a number of the team’s younger players, including Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, have had good or fairly good seasons.
- It wouldn’t be a shock if Ron Gardenhire stepped down as manager of the Twins, Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth writes. The Twins will likely give Gardenhire the opportunity to manage in 2015 if he wants, but Gardenhire has been on the job since 2002 and is likely on his way to a fourth straight 90-loss season. If he were to retire, it would be hard to blame him, Castrovince writes.
In his latest piece for ESPN.com, Jerry Crasnick examines how vital a piece of the Pirates‘ success Russell Martin has become. While his two-year, $17MM deal was initially viewed as an overpay by some after a so-so season in New York, he’s become an indispensable asset. Said GM Neal Huntington: “Russ has put us in a position where we got crushed when we brought him in, and if we let him go out the door, we’re gonna get crushed again.” As Crasnick notes, the Rangers, Rockies, Tigers, Dodgers, Cubs and White Sox could all be players in a thin crop of free agent catchers this offseason. Martin spoke to Crasnick as well, explaining that given the proximity to the end of the season, it simply makes sense to see what his options are in free agency. He did profess a love of playing in Pittsburgh, although Pirates fans may be troubled to hear that a more aggressive approach in Spring Training could have helped to retain their backstop: “If there would have been something done in spring training, it would have been a different story,” Martin told Crasnick. I agree with Crasnick’s take that a contract between Carlos Ruiz‘s three-year, $26.5MM contract and Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $65MM deal seems attainable. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently noted that a $50MM figure seems plausible.
Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…
- MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon opines that the Reds should shut down Joey Votto for the season rather than rush him back for the final week or so of a non-contending season. Even if Votto appeared to be 100 percent, he would still risk re-injury, while the focus should be on making sure he’s fully healthy for 2015, when the team will desperately need him.
- Jason Kipnis tells Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he pressed too hard early in the season as he tried to live up to the expectations set by his contract extension with the Indians. However, he does feel that this is something he can learn from: “I can change,” said Kipnis. “I can come to the realization that I have that in my back pocket and just go out and enjoy myself and play the game.”
- Following the trade of Gordon Beckham to the Angels, second base has become a position of flux for the White Sox, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Top prospect Micah Johnson has been shut down for the year due to an injury, but he’ll be firmly in the mix with Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien, both of whom are getting looks over the season’s final month. Manager Robin Ventura offered high praise for what he’s seen of Sanchez thus far, calling him a smart player and saying that it’s easy to see why the organization was so high on him.
- Twins pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left arm, Mike Beradino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. It’s been a rough year for Minnesota prospects, as Miguel Sano had Tommy John surgery, Byron Buxton missed much of the year with wrist and concussion issues, and Alex Meyer experiencing shoulder discomfort in his final start of the season. The Australian-born Thorpe has soared up Twins prospect rankings since signing, and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the game’s No. 101 prospect prior to the season. He posted a 3.52 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 71 2/3 innings as an 18-year-old at Class A. As Berardino notes in a followup piece, Thorpe isn’t expected to need Tommy John surgery and will rehab in the fall instructional league.
The Blue Jays have announced that outfielder Melky Cabrera will be out for the rest of the season with right pinky finger fracture he suffered during Friday’s game, and he’ll have surgery next week. Cabrera is a free agent after the season, which means his career in Toronto could soon be over. As long as he figures to be healthy for the start of next season, though, he could be in for a nice payday in a free agent market that doesn’t feature much hitting. After struggling through the first season of his two-year deal with the Jays, Cabrera has bounced back in 2014, hitting .300/.348/.457 in 619 plate appearances. Cabrera’s injury is a blow to the Jays, who have won five games in a row to cling to their playoff hopes but are still 4 1/2 games back of the last Wild Card spot. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Twins catcher Josmil Pinto says he has no issue with the team signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year extension, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. “It’s good,” says Pinto. “If I play a little more time with him, I’ll get more experience. He’s got like eight years in the big leagues.” Suzuki initially signed a one-year deal with the Twins before the season, and it looked like Pinto might take over once he left. But Suzuki hit well and won the respect of the Twins’ pitchers, and now it looks like Pinto will back him up as Suzuki’s extension kicks in next season.
- The Astros recently fired manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley, and it’s unclear what will happen to their remaining coaches next season. But GM Jeff Luhnow is happy with them, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes. Luhnow points to performances by Chris Carter and Jose Altuve this season as evidence that the team’s hitting instruction has been good, and he says that pitching coach Brent Strom has done “a tremendous job.”
- Tigers third base coach Dave Clark would have interest in returning to Houston to manage the Astros, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. “[I]t’s always intriguing to have your name mentioned as a possible managerial candidate. It’s definitely something I would entertain,” says Clark, a base coach with the Astros until he joined Brad Ausmus’ staff this season.
- Angels infielder John McDonald realizes the 2014 season might be his last, writes MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez. “I don’t want to discount anything, but you’re also realistic about where you are in your career,” says the 39-year-old McDonald. “I’m at  at-bats right now, over the course of a full year, and last year I had the same. I’m also realistic.” McDonald has now played parts of 16 seasons with the Indians, Blue Jays, Tigers, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Phillies, Red Sox and Angels.
- The Yankees‘ performance this year should serve as a wake-up call to the team’s top brass, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues writes. The team’s usual strategy of signing the best free agents doesn’t work as well as it used to, Axisa writes, but the advent of the luxury tax has limited the Yankees’ advantage over other teams — the Yankees’ payroll has stayed roughly static in the last several years, while other teams’ payrolls have risen. And the number of pre-free-agency extensions means fewer players hit free agency during their prime years. The Yankees will need to stop depending so heavily on veteran free agents, Axisa suggests.