MLBTR Originals Rumors

MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:


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Free Agent Stock Watch: Center Fielders

With more than a fifth of the season in the books, we’ve had an early look (a peek, really) into where things may be headed on next winter’s free agent market. One of the most interesting positions to watch, in my estimation, is center field, where there are several players who had a lot to prove coming into the season.

There figure to be several clubs looking at adding new, mid-term or long-term options. The Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, and Padres all look like fairly good bets to at least dabble in the market at center. Depending upon how things shake out, it is not impossible to imagine that clubs like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Astros, Cardinals, and Giants could be as well.

Looking at MLBTR’s 2016 free agent list, which documents the players currently on track to qualify for the open market, a small group stands out as possible starting-caliber options. The trio is particularly interesting because they were so tightly bunched coming into the season — all looking to be solidly average to above-average performers, depending on one’s particular viewpoint. (Note: I’m not considering Colby Rasmus here because he has spent most of his time in the corner outfield this year. But he could also figure into the mix.)

Let’s see where things stand:

Value up: Denard Span, Nationals.

After missing the spring and early part of the season following core muscle surgery, Span needed more than ever to show that he could repeat last year’s excellent campaign. Things are certainly pointing up in the early going, as he owns a .316/.375/.532 slash over 88 turns at bat.

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While it’s obviously unlikely that he’ll maintain that kind of power output — his current .215 ISO is more than double than his career 108 mark — Span is driving the ball consistently, as he did in 2014, while posting an impeccable strikeout-to-walk ratio. His .310 BABIP actually trails his career levels slightly, so it seems that quality contact is driving the early productivity.

Overall regression is almost certainly in store, but the early returns serve to confirm that Span is a quality top-of-the-order bat and, perhaps more importantly, that he is healthy. Span will need to keep things up in both regards after entering the year with injury questions and as the elder member (31 years of age) of the group considered in this post. Of course, he could stand to see a boost in his somewhat lagging early defensive ratings (which seem to belie the perceptions of some around the game) and his stolen base tallies, but the arrow is pointing up overall and he’s done the most to increase his stock.

Value neutral: Dexter Fowler, Cubs.

While his walks are down somewhat early, Fowlers continues to deliver solid results at the plate with a fairly typical .262/.345/.397 batting line. He has shown more at times, but that lands firmly within expectations. More promisingly, the 29-year-old has swiped eight bags already and is on pace for career highs in that arena, though he has been caught three times as well.

The major talent assessment question with Fowler is his defense in center. He has spent much of his time in tough-to-patrol outfields — Coors Field and Minute Maid Park — and rated terribly at the position last year (tallying negative 20 Defensive Runs Saved and negative 21.8 UZR on the year). That has turned around somewhat in a still-small sample this year in Chicago, with Fowler posting positive UZR marks (10.7 UZR/15) while receiving a less-glowing -3 DRS rating.

All said, the early speed and defense returns rate as good signs for Fowler, and the results at the plate have done nothing to detract from his appeal. You could argue, then, that his value is slightly on the rise. If nothing else, Fowler seems a reasonable target at center, after entering the year with the possibility that he’d be viewed more as a corner option. Some clubs may still end up seeing him that way, of course, especially as it is really too soon to draw much from defensive numbers. All said, Fowler’s value is largely holding steady at the present time.

Value down: Austin Jackson, Mariners.

Jackson looked like a nice get for the Mariners at last year’s trade deadline, but has been a significant disappointment thus far in Seattle. He just turned 28 a few months back, but 2015 has continued a troubling downturn in his overall productivity.

Over 339 plate appearances with the M’s, Jackson has put up a meager .233/.275/.280 line with two home runs. He has added a healthy 16 stolen bases over that stretch, but that’s hardly enough to offset concerns. To be sure, Jackson’s .284 BABIP is due for some positive regression — his career mark sits at .351 and he’s never ended a professional season below last year’s .325 — and his strikeout/walk numbers are in line with career norms. But he is making more weak contact than ever before while hitting more groundballs (50%) this year than is his custom.

Jackson still rates as a solid average center fielder and seems to have the legs to maintain that going forward. His current DL stint with a sprained ankle is probably not cause for any long-term concern, and may even afford him a chance to work on his difficulties if he takes a short rehab stint. But the sub-.100 ISO he has carried over this season and last has significantly reduced his appeal. There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, but Jackson is trending down at present.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Where The Marlins Could Look For Ninth Inning Help

Steve Cishek‘s struggles this season have not only cost him the ninth inning, they’ve caused the Marlins to recently explore the idea of signing veteran stopper Rafael Soriano, who did not sign as a free agent this offseason. The Marlins’ interest in the Scott Boras client appears to have been fleeting, as no sooner than a day after they were rumored to be “very much engaged” in talks with Boras, the team is now said to be out of the Soriano market.

Their interest in Soriano, however, underscores the fact that the Marlins may not be content to utilize in-house options in the ninth-inning. A.J. Ramos figures to see the bulk of the closing opportunities for now, with Mike Dunn and perhaps Bryan Morris getting occasional looks as well. However, none of the three comes with significant closing experience in the Majors — Ramos does have 83 minor league saves — and the Marlins entered 2015 gunning for a postseason berth after spending big to extend Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich in addition to bringing in Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki this offseason.

With that in mind, it’s worth speculating on a few potential external options that could help Miami patch what could be a ninth-inning hole moving forward. Because speculating on available relievers/relief prospects could be an endless endeavor, I’ll limit the possibilities in this post to those with previous closing experience, though it certainly can’t be ruled out that the Marlins would use Ramos going forward and instead fortify the bridge to the ninth inning with a newly acquired power arm. All that said, a few speculative options…

Francisco Rodriguez/Jonathan Broxton, Brewers: Prior to K-Rod’s two-year deal with the Brewers, the Marlins were the last reported team in the mix for K-Rod, offering him as much as $10MM over a two-year term. Rodriguez landed $13MM to return to a familiar setting in Milwaukee, but things have soured at an unbelievably quick rate at Miller Park. The Brewers have baseball’s second-worst winning percentage, they’ve already dismissed manager Ron Roenicke, and the expectation seems to be that they’ll eventually sell off veteran pieces in an attempt to restock the team with young talent. K-Rod could certainly help them achieve that goal, and we know that the Marlins were interested in him on a two-year deal as recently as three months ago. As for Broxton, he’s earning $9MM and has struggled this season, but he’s notched an elite K/BB ratio and struggled primarily with homers. His 23.1 percent homer-to-flyball ratio figures to regress anyhow, but a move to Marlins Park could accelerate that process.

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: Papelbon’s abrasive personality, diminished velocity and fairly significant contract are no secret. However, none of those three seemingly negative factors have stopped the right-hander from delivering some of the best results of any closer over the past two seasons. Papelbon is owed $13MM in 2015 (of which about $10.3MM remains), and he has a vesting option at the same rate for the 2016 season that would almost certainly kick in if the Marlins installed him in the ninth inning. As such, the Phillies would likely need to eat some of the money owed to Papelbon, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently expressed a willingness to do so in order to move Cole Hamels, so one would think that the same holds true of Papelbon.

Aroldis Chapman, Reds: The Reds are hanging around in the NL Central for the time being, but they’re without Homer Bailey for the entire season and may soon lose Devin Mesoraco for the majority of 2015 as well. That will make it tough for Cincinnati to remain in the thick of things in what should be a highly competitive NL Central that features three clubs with winning records as it is (the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs). Chapman would be a difficult piece to pry from GM Walt Jocketty and his staff, but he’s earning $8.05MM this season and may see that price soar beyond the $11MM mark in his final trip through arbitration this winter. If the Reds end up rebuilding, Chapman’s electric arm does little good on a rebuilding club.

Joaquin Benoit, Padres: It’d be a bit unconventional for the Padres to trade a dominant setup man while the team is striving for an NL West division title or, at the very least, a Wild Card berth. Nothing about A.J. Preller’s tenure as Padres GM has been considered all that conventional, however, and San Diego is rife with power arms — so much so that they had to begin the season with Kevin Quackenbush in the minor leagues. Benoit has plenty of closing experience and isn’t a long-term piece in San Diego, as he is a free agent at season’s end. Benoit is earning $8MM this season and has a club option for the same rate that comes with a $1.5MM buyout.

Addison Reed, D-Backs: Perhaps replacing one struggling closer with another wouldn’t really do the team any good, but the Marlins could look to buy low on Reed, who blew his second save Wednesday night and has an ERA of 7.20 in this season’s small sample of 10 innings. Homers were Reed’s undoing in 2014, but the 26-year-old has maintained good strikeout and walk rates since transitioning to the National League, and Miami’s spacious park could alleviate some of his issues with the long ball. Earning $4.875MM in 2015, Reed is controlled through the 2017 season.

Jason Grilli/Jim Johnson, Braves: Each member of Atlanta’s primary eighth/ninth-inning duo comes with significant experience as a closer, with Grilli currently occupying the role for manager Fredi Gonzalez despite Johnson’s superior numbers. Johnson’s numbers plummeted after his control evaporated in 2014, but he’s pitching well this season, with improved command and strikeout numbers in addition to his typically elite ground-ball tendencies. He’s on a cheap one-year deal and would be affordable for any club, though Grilli is hardly expensive in his own right. Grilli is on a two-year, $8MM contract with the Braves, and though his ERA is an unsightly 5.23, he’s posted a brilliant 17-to-4 K/BB ratio in 10 1/3 innings. Assuming his .391 BABIP regresses, Grilli should be just fine moving forward.

Neftali Feliz, Rangers: The former top prospect and Rookie of the Year is controlled relatively cheaply through the 2016 season — he’s earning $4.1MM in 2015 — and has pitched well in the early stages of the season. Gone is the fastball that averaged 96-97 mph prior to Tommy John surgery, but Feliz’s 93.7 mph average has been enough to get the job done. His strikeout rate is up from 2014, and his fly-ball tendencies figure to play better in Marlins Park than in Arlington’s Globe Life Park. The Rangers have once again been ravaged by injuries, and if they become sellers this summer, Feliz figures to generate interest.

Tyler Clippard, Athletics: As recently noted on Fangraphs, the A’s have been one of baseball’s unluckiest teams, due largely to bullpen deficiencies. Clippard currently sports an aesthetically pleasing ERA, but his strikeout and walk rates have gone in the wrong direction and suggest trouble could be on the horizon. If he turns it around, however, he could hold some appeal for a team in need of a ninth-inning arm. It may seem counterintuitive for Oakland to deal arguably its most talented reliever, but GM Billy Beane showed a willingness to deal from his Major League assets at the trade deadline in 2014. It’s also far from a guarantee that the A’s can climb out of the early hole they’ve dug; they currently trail the Astros by eight-and-a-half games, and given the number of expiring assets on their roster (Clippard, Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist), they may elect to retool this summer if the ship cannot be righted. His $8.3MM salary might be steep for Miami, but Oakland could kick in some money to facilitate the deal.

The Marlins’ farm system ranked 24th in the eyes of ESPN’s Keith Law and 26th in Baseball America’s late-March rankings, so there’s not a ton of elite talent to work with in trades. However, many of the listed options here are either buy-low candidates or some with reasonably high contracts that might limit the potential return for the selling club.

It should also be noted, of course, that Cishek may perform well in lower-leverage settings and eventually reclaim the role. The Marlins, one would think, certainly hope for that to be the case. But Cishek’s velocity is down two miles per hour from the 2014 season and nearly three miles per hour from its peak. He’s also walked eight hitters in 11 1/3 innings this season after previously exhibiting good control in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Perhaps most troubling of all, his once powerful sinker has plummeted from generating 56-60 percent grounders to just 25 percent in 2015. It should be stressed that we’re looking at a sample 11 innings when examining Cishek’s struggles, but there are unquestionably red flags that may override the oft-used “small sample size” caveat at this point.



Trade Candidates: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers showed signs of life this week, going 4-3 after firing manager Ron Roenicke and replacing him with Craig Counsell. At 11-21, though, they’re already 11 1/2 games back in the NL Central, and unless they can sustain and perhaps even accelerate their turnaround, whispers of a full-scale rebuilding could become a reality. Of course, trading season won’t begin in earnest for another month or so, and it might benefit the Brewers to wait awhile anyway, given how poorly some of their key trading chips have played to this point. But if they do start trading, here’s who they might make available.

  • Carlos Gomez hasn’t played well so far this season and recently missed a few games with a strained hip, but he’s an extremely valuable trade candidate who ought to return at least one top-100 prospect type and possibly two if he can return and play well over the next couple months. He’s still in his prime, he’s signed to a bargain contract that pays him $8MM this year and $9MM in 2016. He’s so cheap, in fact, that his contract shouldn’t be a significant obstacle for any trading partner, even a team with a low payroll. He’s an excellent hitter, and his terrific defense and good speed insulate him against the possibility of rapid decline. The Brewers should be motivated to deal him if they can’t turn their season around — as Tim Dierkes pointed out last week in an article on the MLBTR Newsletter, it will be easier for them to get good value for Gomez if they deal him now, when he has a year and a half remaining on his contract, rather than waiting for his contract year. A return to the Twins doesn’t seem likely for Gomez, but it might make sense if Minnesota can continue to contend. The Giants or Blue Jays could also be possibilities, although it’s unclear whether San Francisco would have the prospects necessary to make a deal.
  • The Brewers are not likely to trade Jean Segura or Jonathan Lucroy, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported last week. That they wouldn’t have interest in dealing Segura makes sense, since he’s young and cost-controlled. Lucroy, who is signed through 2016 with a cheap club option for 2017, is another matter, and he and Gomez would represent the Brewers’ best chances of landing the sort of premium young talent they could build around. Given Lucroy’s age (29 in June) and position, the Brewers might not have a better chance to get good value for him than they will this summer, assuming his broken toe has healed by then. Nonetheless, the Brewers feel that the scarcity of good talent up the middle makes it tough for them to trade Lucroy.
  • First baseman Adam Lind has been easily the Brewers’ best hitter so far, and he’s signed for a reasonable $7.5MM, with an $8MM option or $500K buyout last year. Teams might be reluctant to part with top talent for him, given his defensive limitations and the fact that the Brewers acquired him relatively cheaply this offseason, giving up only swingman Marco Estrada. Looking ahead, Lind could make sense for a team like the Mariners, Marlins or Astros, all of whom have struggled at first base this year.
  • The trade candidacy of Aramis Ramirez (who’s missed time lately due to back issues) is complicated somewhat by his lackluster start and by his limited no-trade clause. Also, the Brewers would likely have to take on part of Ramirez’s remaining salary, including not only his $14MM this year but the $6MM they still owe him in deferred money. If they were to trade Ramirez, the Giants, who have struggled with Casey McGehee at third, would be an obvious fit.
  • Gerardo Parra has hit well in recent weeks and is still just two years removed from a 4.5 fWAR season with the Diamondbacks. He isn’t really a plus hitter (he doesn’t walk enough, and his .280/.300/.480 start in 2015 is partially BABIP-driven), and most teams would likely still view him as a reserve. But he’s a good one, particularly given his strong defense. He’ll be a free agent after the season.
  • Ryan Braun‘s contract will likely be difficult to move unless the Brewers want to package him with an asset like Lucroy or Gomez (although Braun would be much more intriguing as an upside play than the typical player who has an albatross contract). He has over $100MM remaining on his current extension (which technically hasn’t even kicked in yet, although the Brewers have paid his signing bonus). That’s a lot for a 31-year-old who hasn’t produced a 2 WAR season since 2012. Braun needs to hit very well to have much value, since he isn’t a good defender. That won’t be lost on most teams who would otherwise consider dealing for him.
  • It’s possible the Brewers could consider trading Khris Davis or Scooter Gennett, but it’s hard to see the urgency, given that they’re cost-controlled and relatively young starting position players. The Angels would be one possibility if the Brewers were to deal Gennett.
  • It will be difficult for the Brewers to find attractive trades involving their starting pitchers (unless they want to deal Jimmy Nelson, which isn’t likely, since Nelson could easily be part of the next contending Brewers team). Kyle Lohse will be a free agent after the season, but he’s in the midst of a miserable year and wouldn’t be a very inspiring addition for a contender, even though his peripherals suggest he’s been better this season than his ERA indicates. Perhaps the injury-wracked Dodgers could be a fit, as Heyman recently suggested. (Heyman also mentioned the Cardinals and Astros.) Matt Garza isn’t cheap and has just a 1.5 K/BB ratio this year.
  • Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta are somewhat more interesting as under-the-radar types. It’s unclear whether the Brewers would want to deal them, however, since they have plenty of years of control remaining. Which is a shame, since Fiers, in particular, would be a fascinating trade candidate if Milwaukee were to put him on the market. He’ll be 30 in June, but he’s controllable through 2019; he’s striking out a ridiculous 12.7 batters per nine innings this year, but he has a 5.46 ERA, due in part to a HR/FB rate of 18.8%. It would be interesting to see how other teams valued him.
  • The Brewers do have some interesting trade candidates in their bullpen. The problem, of course, is that it’s very hard to get potential building blocks when trading relievers. An excellent season from Francisco Rodriguez is mostly being wasted on a team that’s giving him few save opportunities. The Blue Jays or Marlins could be interesting trade fits, although the list of potential suitors for Rodriguez could change dramatically over the next couple months. Lefty Will Smith is in the midst of a third consecutive good season; he’s controllable through 2019, so there’s no pressing reason for the Brewers to deal him, although they might do fairly well if they did. Neal Cotts is a competent lefty signed to a one-year deal, but he wouldn’t fetch much. Jonathan Broxton‘s contract continues to outstrip his production, although his solid peripherals this season mark him as an interesting flyer for a team potentially willing to take on a few million dollars in salary.

MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:

  • Host Jeff Todd welcomed agent Jim Munsey on the latest installment of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast. Topics included Munsey clients Jarrod Saltalamacchia (recently signed to a minor league contract by the Diamondbacks after being released by the Marlins), injured relievers Sean Burnett and Neil Wagner, and the challenges and rewards of running a smaller agency. A new episode of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast will be released every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunesSoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Charlie Wilmoth revisits the flaws in the DFA/waiver system and proposes granting free agency to any player designated for assignment within 60 days of being claimed (like the now-released Alex Hassan).
  • Tim Dierkes was the first to learn right-hander Joe Blanton has rejected numerous offers to play in Asia to remain in the Royals organization and continue his bid to return to the Majors.
  • Steve Adams was the first to report Cuban second baseman/outfielder Yosvani Garcia has been declared a free agent by MLB.
  • MLBTR broke the news first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp opted out of his minor league deal with the Dodgers.
  • Steve asked MLBTR readers whether the Astros should be involved in the Cole Hamels trade market. Nearly 43% of you believe they should make a play for the prized left-hander.
  • Steve learned left-hander Joseph Ortiz cleared waivers and was outrighted by the Cubs to Triple-A.
  • Zach Links put together the best of the baseball blogosphere in Baseball Blogs Weigh In.
  • Steve hosted the MLBTR live chat this week.

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Another Look At Flaws In The Waiver System

Yesterday, the Athletics claimed outfielder Alex Hassan from the Rangers, marking the fifth time in the past seven months that Hassan has been claimed. Since November, Hassan has been property of the Red Sox, then the Athletics, then the Orioles, then the Athletics again, then the Rangers, and then the Athletics for a third time.

To outside observers, Hassan’s lengthy recent transaction history is merely a curiosity, but as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote in a lengthy piece that we highlighted earlier today, frequent claims and DFAs can be a significant problem for players, both personally and professionally. MacPherson writes that the MLBPA is likely to address the issue in negotiations for the next CBA, and it’s easy to see why the union is concerned. In recent years, players like Hassan, Adam Rosales, Gonzalez Germen and Alex Castellanos have been designated for assignment several times in short periods. While the waiver loop in which Hassan found himself is a minor problem in the grand scheme, it clearly was not a minor problem to him, and it served little purpose for all the teams that claimed and then designated him.

Some employment uncertainty is a necessary and understandable aspect of playing pro baseball, but players on the fringes of 40-man rosters have a particularly difficult time. Unlike players who are frequently moved back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, players who are frequently designated and claimed often must move from one set of unfamiliar environs to another.

Also, while they’re in DFA limbo, they can’t play. That might not be a big deal for a player who is designated once, but it’s a problem for a player who is repeatedly designated in a short span of time. For example, as I noted in a post on this topic in early 2013, a series of DFAs prevented outfielder Casper Wells from playing in a game in 2013 until late April (April 23, to be exact), even though he was healthy. (Wells got designated for assignment again a week after I wrote that post.) The worst aspect of Wells’ situation was that he was in DFA limbo for a full ten days between when the Mariners designated him March 31 and the Blue Jays claimed him April 10, and another eight between April 14, when the Jays designated him, and April 22, when they finally traded him to the A’s.

One easy fix the MLBPA could consider suggesting, then, is to shorten the maximum DFA limbo period, as an MLBTR reader proposed in the comments to my 2013 piece. The current ten-day wait seems unnecessary and anachronistic. Even waiver periods in fantasy leagues usually only last a day or two. And teams shouldn’t need much time to collect information about a player they’re considering claiming once he’s in DFA limbo, because he’s no longer playing and thus cannot be scouted, except through video.

Unlike Wells, Hassan never had to spend anywhere near the full ten days in limbo. But he still felt behind in his routines, particularly since he bounced around so much since the start of Spring Training. “You’re just behind,” he tells MacPherson. “I’m like, ‘Man, honestly, it’s not my mechanics. It’s not anything like that. I just feel behind.’ The frustrating thing about that is that there’s no real fix for that other than going out and playing and getting the at-bats. … I can’t simulate that.”

This is especially unfortunate for Hassan, since the reason he and players like Wells keep getting designated and claimed is because they’re on the fringes. A series of odd breaks from their routines over the course of a month or two might not sound like an insurmountable obstacle, but for a fringe player, it might make or break his career. Equally problematic, as Hassan points out elsewhere in MacPherson’s article, is the fact that a player in his position must perform well immediately after being claimed, or risk being designated for assignment again.

At its best, the waiver system allows fringe players to find situations for which they’re best suited. A good recent example is that of Stolmy Pimentel, an out-of-options reliever who couldn’t break camp with the Pirates but got claimed by the Rangers, who had greater flexibility in their bullpen than Pittsburgh did. Pimentel has mostly performed well in Texas so far.

At its worst, though, the system is disruptive, and one potential problem is that a team can claim players it has no intention of using on its big-league roster and essentially take a free shot at trying to sneak them through waivers again and use them as minor-league depth. That might have been what the Blue Jays were trying to do with Wells and several other players during that period, and we might be seeing it again with, say, the Dodgers’ recent claims and immediate outrights longtime Reds farmhands Daniel Corcino and Ryan Dennick. The possibility of outrighting Hassan was surely at least part of the reason Hassan got claimed so many times. If it was, the teams who claimed him were behaving rationally, given the rules currently in place. They claimed him and tried to sneak him through waivers; as long as they didn’t mind him occupying a roster spot for a few days or weeks, they didn’t lose anything as a result of having claimed him, and were no worse for wear when their attempts to sneak him through waivers didn’t work.

In my 2013 post, I suggested that a team claiming a player should have keep him on its 40-man roster for 30 days before designating him again. That would have been an improvement over the current system, but upon reflection, it might not have given teams an appropriate amount of flexibility, since injuries can crop up at any time and force teams to change their plans.

An alternate possibility, then, might be to make every player designated for assignment eligible for free agency if he has previously been claimed in a specified time frame — say, the last 60 days. Such a player could also again receive the right to opt for free agency if he’s outrighted as a result of that DFA, even if he’s being outrighted for the first time. That would free the player to sign wherever he liked, as quickly as he liked, and allow him to find the situation and contract that fit him best. It would also disincentivize the practice of claiming a player purely to try to sneak him into the minors.


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MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:


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Early Returns On The Winter’s Minor League Signings

With the month of April in the rearview mirror, we’ve had the chance to see some early results from minor league free agents. Though signed without any financial commitments, many such players have an impact. To take an extreme example, J.D. Martinez signed with the Tigers just before the start of the 2014 season — here’s the story the deal warranted — and has been worth better than four wins above replacement since.

It’s too early to know where it’ll all end up, but let’s have a glance at some of the most impressive performances to date from players who couldn’t find guaranteed money over the winter.

Immediate Impact

These players have put up quality results out of the gates:

John Axford, Rockies – Though he has tossed just five innings after missing time to deal with a frightening episode with his young son, Axford has impressed when available. He’s yet to allow a run while striking out six batters, and still brings mid-90s heat.

Rafael Betancourt, Rockies – The 40-year-old has been nothing short of dominant in his return from Tommy John surgery. Through 9 2/3 innings, he has permitted just two earned runs and five hits while striking out 11 and walking only one batter.

Kelly Johnson, Braves – For a team that needed help at second and third as well as in the run production department, Johnson has brought much-needed pop. He owns a .250/.308/.479 slash and has smacked three long balls in 52 turns at bat.

Ryan Madson, Royals – Madson has fit right in with a dominant Royals pen, striking out better than 10 batters per nine while walking just 2.5 and yielding a 50% ground ball rate. A classic low BABIP/high LOB% combo indicate that some regression is coming, but advanced metrics value his work at a sub-3.00 level.

Justin Maxwell, Giants – Through 57 plate appearances, Maxwell owns a stellar (and non-BABIP-fueled) .255/.333/.510 slash with three home runs. Throw in highly-rated defense from the corner field, and the Hunter Pence fill-in has already racked up nearly a full win above replacement.

Filling A Need

Others have been plenty useful to their clubs and/or look like they could be moving forward:

Anthony Bass, Rangers – For a pitching-needy club, 18 1/3 innings of long relief with a 3.44 ERA is most welcome. That’s just what Bass has delivered, and advanced metrics say that he has if anything been (very slightly) unlucky.

Blaine Boyer, Twins – Boyer has filled up 12 1/3 innings for an underwhelming Minnesota pen. While his 3.65 ERA and slightly lagging peripherals are nothing to get excited about, he’s been a useful piece for Minnesota.

Roberto Hernandez, Astros – When you go hunting on the MiLB free agent market for a fifth starter, you’re hoping for what Hernandez has delivered in Houston: 3.80 earned over 23 2/3 innings in four starts.

Jason Marquis, Reds – The bottom-line results haven’t been there (5.48 ERA), but Marquis has shown surprising promise at age 36. Though he doesn’t even reach 88 mph with his average fastball, Marquis has retired 24 batters by way of strikeout in 23 frames while walking only seven hitters.

Anthony Swarzak, Indians – Though the 4.09 ERA is less than impressive, Swarzak has shown well and carries sub-3.50 metrics. Victimized by a .429 BABIP, Swarzak has K’ed 9.0 while walking just 2.45 per nine innings.

Joe Thatcher, Astros – The 33-year-old was added on a no-risk deal, but has produced quality results at times in the past. He’s been useful as a LOOGY thus far, allowing two earned to cross the plate but striking out five and walking only one over 4 1/3 innings in eight appearances.

Carlos Villanueva, Cardinals – St. Louis reportedly targeted the swingman early and has received a nice return to date, as Villanueva has allowed just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking three. Of course, advanced metrics are far less impressed, as they can see that the righty has benefited from a .048 BABIP and 100% strand rate.

Worth Watching

Some potentially important pieces have yet to see enough MLB time to make much of an assessment. Here are some names to keep an eye on the rest of the way:

Scott Baker, Dodgers – He’s only seen one start, but gave the rotation-needy Dodgers seven innings while allowing just three earned and striking out six. It’s been a while since he was healthy and effective, but Baker has a fairly long history as a solid rotation piece and could help hold down the fort in LA.

Slade Heathcott, Yankees – A former top-100 prospect who had fallen off the radar, the 24-year-old was non-tendered and re-signed by New York. He’s done nothing but impress since, following up on a hot spring in big league camp with a .329/.386/.443 slash in 89 Triple-A plate appearances.

James Russell, Cubs – A sturdy reliever for Chicago for several years, Russell showed well with the Braves last year but was released after a tough spring — due in part to avoid a big piece of his $2.4MM arbitration salary. Since heading to Iowa, Russell has struck out 11 batters in just 7 2/3 frames and has yet to allow a run or walk.

Ryan Webb, Indians – Cleveland added Webb after he was caught up in an early-season salary dumping move by the Orioles and found himself immediately released by the Dodgers. He’s always been a sturdy reliever, and has shown well in limited action thus far.


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7 Notable Transactions From May 2014

May isn’t typically the most action-packed month of the season for the Hot Stove faithful, but it’s also not completely devoid transactions. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd and Tim Dierkes discussed in yesterday’s episode of the MLBTR Podcast, this May could be even more active than usual due to the early rash of pitching injuries perhaps kickstarting the trade market early. Even if that’s not the case, Jarrod Saltalamacchia should find a new home within a matter of days, the Padres are known to be on the hunt for a shortstop, Rafael Soriano remains a free agent, and, if history is any indication, there will be a handful of other significant moves that impact the long-term outlook of a few organizations/players.

Here are the most notable transactions from the month of May in 2014 (with a helping hand from MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker)…

  • Braves sign 3B Chris Johnson to a three-year, $23.5MM extension that includes a $10MM club option for the 2018 season. — The contract was questionable at the time and looked regrettable for the Braves quickly. In hindsight, this move was probably one of several that led to the exit of GM Frank Wren from Atlanta. Johnson would end up hitting just .263/.292/.361 in 2014, and a broken hand suffered last night has sidelined him early in 2015. Johnson was hitting .279/.347/.372 at the time of the injury, though he’s batting just .233/.314/.333 against righties.
  • Red Sox sign SS Stephen Drew to one-year, $14.1MM contract. — Drew sat out all of Spring Training and looked to be waiting for the draft’s conclusion before signing in order to shed the draft pick compensation label he’d picked up after rejecting a qualifying offer, but he signed in May for the pro-rated version of the qualifying offer’s salary. Drew rushed through a brief assignment to Triple-A to try to get up to speed, but he never got his bat going and was ultimately traded to the Yankees, where he also struggled. Drew re-signed a one-year deal with the Yankees to man second base, and while a .179 BABIP is weighing down his average (in part due to a massive increase in fly-balls and a dip in his line-drive rate), he’s showing good power and walking at a 12 percent clip.
  • Tigers sign RHP Joel Hanrahan to one-year, $1MM contract. — Tigers fans spent the entire season hoping that Hanrahan would emerge as a much needed reinforcement for their club’s shaky bullpen, but Hanrahan’s recovery from Tommy John and flexor tendon repair surgery was slow and never completed. He didn’t pitch in 2014 and re-upped with Detroit a Minor League deal this past offseason, but sadly underwent a second Tommy John surgery and was released by the Tigers in Spring Training.
  • Astros sign LHP Tony Sipp to one-year, $700K contract. — The Sipp signing was one of the best and yet most unheralded moves of 2014. Sipp joined Houston with little fanfare, but he wound up firing 50 2/3 excellent innings last year, notching a 3.38 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9. That earned him a boost to $2.4MM in arbitration this winter, and he’s looked to be worth every penny thus far, allowing one run on five hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings in what will be his final season before free agency.
  • Padres sign RHP Odrisamer Despaigne to a $1MM Minor League deal. — Despaigne didn’t land the gaudy type of contract that many of his Cuban countrymen have secured, but he’s been a valuable piece for the Padres. In 117 2/3 innings between 2014-15, the 28-year-old has a 3.29 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 51.8 percent ground-ball rate. Despaigne has served as a starter and reliever in San Diego and could be a nice swingman for the club moving forward. The Friars control him through the 2020 season.
  • Padres tradedNick Hundley to Orioles in exchange for LHP Troy Patton. — The long-term impact on both organizations was minimal, as each player is with a new organization in 2015. However, the trade gave the Orioles another option behind the plate following Matt Wieters‘ Tommy John surgery and gave Hundley an opportunity for more playing time, which likely assisted him landing a two-year, $6.25MM contract from the Rockies this winter.
  • Padres traded 1B/OF Kyle Blanks to A’s in exchange for OF Jake Goebbert and a PTBNL (RHP Ronald Herrera). — Blanks hit the cover off the ball for 21 games with Oakland before a torn muscle in his calf ended his 2014 campaign and led him to sign a Minor League deal with the Rangers this winter. Goebbert struggled through 115 PAs with San Diego and is a depth piece at Triple-A this year, while Herrera has three average to solid-average offerings despite an undersized frame, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel wrote while evaluating the Padres’ prospects. He projects as a possible fifth starter or a reliever.

Those may have been the most noteworthy transactions in terms of financial investment and lasting impact on an organization, but there were several more moves made over the course of the month. A more brief rundown…

  • Astros sign RHP Kyle Farnsworth to one-year $1.2MM contract. — Farnsworth’s time with the Astros was limited to 11 2/3 unsightly innings, as he yielded eight runs on 14 hits and nine walks with just eight strikeouts.
  • Marlins sign LHP Randy Wolf to one-year, $1MM contract. — Wolf appeared in six games for the Fish, including four starts, and posted a 5.26 ERA in 25 2/3 innings. A solid 19-to-6 K/BB ratio and his 4.38 FIP indicate that he might’ve been a bit better than his ERA otherwise suggested.
  • Blue Jays acquired OF Melky Mesa, RHP P.J. Walters from Royals in exchange for cash considerations. — The Jays acquired some organizational depth in this swap, though neither appeared in the Majors.
  • Blue Jays acquire LHP Raul Valdes from Astros in exchange for PTBNL or cash considerations. — Valdes served as a bullpen option at the Triple-A level after Toronto’s relief corps struggled in the early-going last year, though he didn’t appear in the Majors with Toronto.
  • Rangers acquire INF Jason Donald from Royals in exchange for cash considerations. — Similar to Toronto’s trades, this was about adding some depth to an injury-plagued Rangers organization, but Donald never appeared with Texas’ big league club.
  • White Sox claimed OF Moises Sierra from Blue Jays.
  • A’s claimed OF Nick Buss from Dodgers.
  • Angels claimed LHP Brooks Raley from Twins.
  • Blue Jays re-claimed OF Kenny Wilson from Twins.
  • A’s claimed LHP Jeff Francis from Reds.
  • Pirates claimed RHP Josh Wall from Angels.
  • Rangers claimed RHP Phil Irwin from Pirates.

Looking back at May 2013 and May 2012 also reveals significant moves, including extensions for Anthony Rizzo, Adam Jones and Miguel Montero in addition to a pair of Roy Oswalt signings. The month of May should also serve as a more telling example of which clubs will be buyers and which will be sellers as we head toward the followup to last year’s trade deadline, which was arguably the most chaotic in history.


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DFAs By The Numbers

“Designated for assignment”: three words that strike fear in the hearts of players and their agents. The function of the DFA, after all, is to remove a player from the 40-man roster. Often, that means that a big league stint is over, and that another may not be forthcoming for some time. For players currently in the minors on optional assignment, the loss of a 40-man spot adds barriers to a call-up.

Of course, not all DFAs end up badly for the player involved. Upon designating a player, a team has ten days to trade, release, or outright him. In the case of an outright, another club can claim the player on waivers; that scenario, along with a trade, results in another 40-man spot on a new team. Sometimes, that means a better opportunity (though it can also mean a lot of logistical headaches). Unless a trade or claim takes place, however, it’s the minors (sans 40-man spot) or free agency.

MLBTR introduced its DFA Tracker back in August of 2013, and has endeavored to keep tabs on every single DFA since. In addition to tracking whether a trade, release, or outright is pursued, the tracker further reflects the fact that an outrighted player can be claimed, can be assigned to the minors with their original team, or (if they have sufficient service time or have been outrighted before) can elect free agency. (It also covers the rare scenarios of the return of a Rule 5 player and when a player is designated off the 25-man roster and then optioned; we’ll leave those to the side during this exercise.) The primary purpose, of course, is to make it easier to keep an eye on the timing once a DFA hits. But it also serves as a historical record.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers. All said, there have been 558 instances of a player being designated since the tracker went live. But so far as the use of the DFA goes, the Rangers have been the kings, with a whopping 38 40-man removals. At the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals, Mets, Nationals, and Twins only used the DFA six times.

DFAs Since 08-2013

None of that really tells us much, of course. The start and end point are essentially random. And teams can dispose of players through other mechanisms, such as simply going right to an outright or release. But it is at least one indicator of roster management style (as well as recent team needs).

Let’s turn, then, to the results of the DFAs. Tallying things up results in the following distribution:

DFA Results

This, again, is not terribly surprising. Most players who have lost their 40-man roster spots are not appealing enough to be claimed, and so make it through waivers and receive outright assignments in their original organizations. The numbers do show that a significant number of players are able to find new 40-man homes — at least temporarily.

At risk of too much excitement in one post, let’s take one more angle for the time being. MLBTR has just one full year — with all the different months covered — in its still-new database. So, here’s a chart of the number of players designated in every month, along with the number of those players who were ultimately successfully outrighted. The first figure gives an idea of when the mechanism is most heavily used, while the latter gives at least some indication of when a club is more likely to be able to hold onto a player that it tries to pass through waivers.

DFA annual results

 

In the end, there is only so much inferring we can do from a dataset limited both by time and the nature of the thing it measures. Perhaps as the DFA Tracker grows, more will be possible. For now, I’ll end with this factoid: in the period of time immediately following the end of the 2013 regular season and running through the end of the 2014 regular season, fully 338 players — that’s more than 11 per team — lost their roster spots by way of the DFA.


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