MLBTR Originals Rumors

MLBTR Originals

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

  • MLB Trade Rumors Podcast featured host Jeff Todd and MLBTR’s Steve Adams looking back at the notable Hot Stove moves and looking forward to what the 2015 season may hold. A new edition of MLB Trade Rumors Podcast drops every Thursday and can be accessed on iTunesSoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Evan Gattis spoke with Zach Links about his trade from the Braves to the Astros. “I wasn’t really actually bummed about the trade. I was just more surprised than anything. I just didn’t think it would happen. I’m always the type to focus on my own business and I just worry about what I need to do to play.
  • The 2014-15 Offseason In Review series continued with a rundown of the Brewers (by Charlie Wilmoth), Blue Jays (by Mark Polishuk), and Marlins (by Jeff).
  • Steve was the first to report right-hander Juan Gutierrez decided not to opt out of his minor league deal with Giants and will remain in the organization.
  • MLBTR was the first to learn left-hander Scott Downs, recently released by the Indians, is only interested in MLB offers.
  • MLBTR also learned right-hander Freddy Garcia has joined the Praver/Shapiro agency.
  • Jeff asked MLBTR readers which extension given to a pre-arbitration outfielder was best. Nearly 42% of you believe the Marlins’ seven year, $49.57MM deal with Christian Yelich will provide the most value.
  • Steve hosted this week’s chat.
  • Zach compiled the latest edition of Baseball Blogs Weigh In.

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Offseason In Review: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays shored up their batting order with two of the winter’s biggest transactions, and they’re counting on a mix of veterans and rookies throughout the roster to help them grab that elusive playoff berth.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Going into the offseason, the Jays were expected to address a long-standing hole at second base either by acquiring a full-time player for the keystone or by acquiring a third baseman and then shifting Brett Lawrie to second.  Instead, Toronto used Lawrie to obtain that third baseman, bringing Josh Donaldson to the Rogers Centre for a package of Lawrie, shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto and young pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman.

While Oakland received some promise back in that blockbuster trade, the Jays did well to hang onto their top-tier prospects while landing four years of control over one of the game’s best third basemen.  The relationship between Donaldson and the Jays got off to a less-than-ideal start as the two sides went to an arbitration hearing, yet there were apparently no hard feelings, and winning the hearing helps the Jays establish a lower baseline for Donaldson’s salaries through his three remaining arb years.  (Though as MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently explained, there might not be enough common ground between Donaldson and the Jays to work out an extension.)MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays added another significant right-handed bat to their lineup by inking Russell Martin to the most expensive free agent signing in franchise history.  While Martin did hit .290/.402/.430 for the Pirates last season, he posted only a .702 OPS in his five previous seasons, and the Jays have spoken less about Martin’s bat than what he’s expected to contribute as a clubhouse leader and with his outstanding defense.

Melky Cabrera‘s departure created a hole in left field that was filled with the acquisition of Michael Saunders from the Mariners.  Unfortunately for Saunders, however, he suffered a torn meniscus after a fluke accident in Spring Training camp, and he had the meniscus removed entirely in order to cut his time on the DL from midseason to only mid-April.  While this quick recovery is great for Saunders and the Blue Jays in the short term, it remains to be seen how his knee will hold up over the season, particularly playing on an artificial surface.

The Jays did make a move to address second base by trading Anthony Gose to the Tigers in exchange for prospect Devon Travis, who will start at the keystone on Opening Day.  While Travis was a Baseball America top-100 prospect headed into 2014 and he had an impressive year at Double-A last season, he wasn’t expected to be a factor in the bigs quite so soon given that he hasn’t even played a game at the Triple-A level.  Injuries to Maicer Izturis and Ramon Santiago, however, created an opportunity for Travis and he seized his chance with a big Spring Training performance.

Adam Lind was traded to the Brewers in exchange for righty Marco Estrada, a move that will free up more DH time for Edwin EncarnacionDanny Valencia and the newly-acquired Justin Smoak are expected to see most of the action at first when Encarnacion is DH’ing, and Smoak could be another ex-Mariner who could benefit away from Safeco Field.  Estrada is currently ticketed for a bullpen role though his starting experience makes him a decent depth option as a swingman.

Questions Remaining

While Donaldson and Martin are undoubtedly big upgrades over Lawrie and Dioner Navarro, the Blue Jays spent a lot of money and trade capital on two positions that weren’t really big problems in 2014.  The bullpen and second base were areas of need as the offseason began and they’re still question marks now, barring several young players stepping up as reliable contributors.  If Travis isn’t yet ready for the big leagues, that will leave the Jays with the same combination of Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson, and Munenori Kawasaki that underwhelmed last season.  Izturis will be in the mix once he recovers from his groin injury, though he had so many issues staying healthy and then performing when healthy that he is almost a wild card option at this point.

Aside from Estrada, the team did little of note to address a bullpen that underachieved in 2014 and lost key personnel to free agency in the form of long-time Blue Jays Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan.  GM Alex Anthopoulos certainly explored his options, as the team checked in on the likes of Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Phil Coke, while also discussing a trade with the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon.  The closer himself has expressed interest in becoming a Blue Jay, and Anthopoulos personally watched Papelbon throw during a recent Spring Training outing.  Papelbon is owed $13MM this season and has a $13MM vesting option for 2016, however, so that might be too high a price for Toronto to pay.

Barring a further move, Brett Cecil will be the Blue Jays’ closer.  While he has posted very good numbers over the last two seasons, Cecil has only six career saves to his name and has been bothered by shoulder problems this spring.  The most intriguing story coming out of the Jays’ camp has been the emergence of 20-year-old right-handers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, both of whom are expected to be in the bullpen on Opening Day.  While both have looked dominant in spring action, neither young hurler has pitched above the high-A level before, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll adjust to the Majors.

The Blue Jays felt they had amassed enough starting pitching depth that they could afford to trade Happ, Nolin and Graveman, and also allow Brandon Morrow to leave for free agency.  This decision instantly became second-guessed when Marcus Stroman tore his ACL during a Spring Training drill, leaving the Jays without a pitcher many felt would be the ace of the staff in 2015.

With Stroman out, the Jays went from planning to use Aaron Sanchez as a set-up man to inserting the young righty into the rotation alongside fellow rookie Daniel Norris.  While Norris and Sanchez are the club’s top prospects, it still leaves Toronto with a decided lack of Major League experience at the back of their rotation.  If either of those two falter (or if something happens to Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey or Drew Hutchison), the Blue Jays have a thin cupboard of replacements.  Estrada or Todd Redmond could be stretched out, or the team could turn to veteran minor league acquisitions like Felix Doubront, Jeff Francis, Liam Hendriks or even Johan Santana if the former Cy Young Award winner is healthy.

The injuries to both Stroman and Saunders (before his recovery time was shortened) underscored an overall lack of depth on Toronto’s roster.  While any team would obviously suffer in losing an everyday player or a front-of-the-rotation starter, the Jays already face enough uncertainty at so many positions that stalwarts like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Encarnacion, Buehrle, Dickey and now Martin and Donaldson are being heavily relied upon to carry the team.  If one or more of those players were to miss time, the Jays could see another season scuttled due to injuries, as has been the case in each of the last three years.

Bautista and the rest of the veteran core become even more important given that six rookies are being counted on to play major roles — Sanchez, Norris, Castro, Osuna, Travis and center fielder Dalton Pompey.  While there’s certainly a lot to like about the pedigree of this young talent (Norris, Sanchez and Pompey are all ranked as top-30 prospects by Baseball America), there’s a lot of risk in trying to contend with multiple rookies in key positions, as the 2014 Red Sox could attest.

Deal Of Note

Saunders’ torn meniscus wasn’t a good sign coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season for the outfielder, yet if his borderline miraculous recovery holds up, he could be a quality addition for the Jays.  Despite Saunders’ health issues in recent years, he still posted a 111 OPS+ over the last three seasons for Seattle, including a .273/.341/.450 slash line over 263 plate appearances last year.  A move from Safeco Field to the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre should make his bat even more potent.

Overview

It’s not exactly a make-or-break season for the Blue Jays given all these young talents just starting their careers and the number of notable veterans all under contract (or team options) for 2016 and beyond.  Falling short of the postseason again could spell the end of manager John Gibbons, however, and possibly even Anthopoulos as well given how Jays ownership is already searching for a new club president.  You would imagine that a new president would prefer to have his own baseball operations personnel in place, especially if that president is himself a former general manager like Dan Duquette or Kenny Williams.  That said, the Jays’ search has been so public and so unusually handled thus far that it’s hard to predict how it will play out, so it’s probably a story best explored after the season.

Anthopoulos may not quite be done with his offseason maneuvering, as the GM has hinted that the team could still make bullpen additions at the end of Spring Training or even past Opening Day.  The Jays could also upgrade their depth elsewhere around the diamond by moving Navarro, who has been a subject of trade speculation all winter long and has even voiced a desire to start for another club.  (I examined his Trade Candidate status in February.)  The Tigers and Diamondbacks are among the teams who have reportedly shown interest in Navarro, though D’Backs GM Dave Stewart has denied his team will be making a move for the catcher.

If this collection of Jays ends up being the Opening Day squad, however, it’s still a team to be reckoned with, especially since the other AL East clubs are also dealing with their own share of question marks.  Reyes, Martin, Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson is as good a start to a batting order as any in the league, and the lineup could be even more daunting if Saunders blossoms in Toronto or if Pompey and/or Travis break out.  Hutchison could be ready to take a step forward after making an adjustment to his slider late last season, while Norris and Sanchez are so highly regarded that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either emulate Stroman’s immediate success.

It could be that this injection of fresh blood is just what the Blue Jays need to finally get back to the playoffs.  Stroman’s torn ACL was a huge blow right off the bat, yet if the Jays can avoid any similarly devastating injuries, they should be in the AL East hunt through September.

Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images


Offseason In Review: Miami Marlins

Miami tied its fortunes to star slugger Giancarlo Stanton, kicking off an incredibly busy offseason in which the organization announced its intentions to compete in 2015 and beyond.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

After a somewhat surprisingly promising 2014 campaign, many tabbed the Marlins as a team to watch heading in 2015. Expectations were that Miami would ramp up its competitive timeline somewhat and make a legitimate run at extending Giancarlo Stanton.

The Marlins did that and more by inking Stanton right off the bat, locking up outfield mate Christian Yelich in mid-March, and making a whole host of acquisitions in between. Fulfilling its assurances to Stanton, and using some — but not all — of the salary space that his back-loaded deal opened up, Miami methodically plugged holes all winter.

Michael Morse upgrades Garrett Jones at first for a reasonable price. Ichiro Suzuki provides a veteran fourth outfielder to go with the young trio of Stanton, Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. Re-upping Jeff Mathis as the backup catcher is, perhaps, somewhat questionable given his anemic bat, but at least he’ll be cheap and offers the team rather a different skillset than does starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The biggest move, surely, was the addition of speedy second baseman Dee Gordon. Miami is betting that 2014 was a breakout, not a brief uptick, for Gordon. It sacrificed a good bit of talent (and future flexibility) to do so: top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, interesting utility man Enrique Hernandez, useful reliever Chris Hatcher, and solid catching/utility prospect Austin Barnes.

That deal also left the Fish with a free roll on veteran righty Dan Haren, who will be joined by fellow trade acquisition Mat Latos in an interesting but hard-to-predict rotation. Those two arms are more or less opposites at this point: Haren has been a workhorse of declining quality, while Latos has had injury questions but nothing but quality results when healthy. It took another young arm and catching prospect to add Latos to the mix. Miami was not even sure when it made the deal to add Haren whether he would pitch for the team — he was included, in large part, as a mechanism for the Dodgers to kick in $10MM cash — but his decision to do so provides useful stability at the back of the rotation.

The other major bit of roster orchestration performed by president of baseball ops Michael Hill and GM Dan Jennings was designed to upgrade the team at third. Miami bought low on Martin Prado from the Yankees (who had already bought low on him from the Diamondbacks), in turn selling low on talented-but-unpolished pitcher Nate Eovaldi (who had come to Miami as the crown jewel of the Hanley Ramirez trade). In turn, the team had to move incumbent Casey McGehee, who had an excellent but questionably sustainable comeback in 2014 and will now look to repeat with the Giants.

A host of the other moves listed above filled in smaller gaps and provided the team with some options.

Questions Remaining

In the immediate term, the Fish look like a pretty complete club. The outfield is a reasonable choice as one of the three best outfits in the game, while the infield seems in much better shape than last year. To be sure, the new trio of Gordon, Prado, and Morse has its fair share of questions. But there is good reason to prefer that group to what it replaced, by a fair margin.

The biggest question, perhaps, is at short. Adeiny Hechavarria has struggled at the plate and is not well-loved by defensive metrics. But the team obviously feels good about him, since it explored an extension. Indeed, last year was his best at the plate, he is only entering his age-26 season, and Hech seems to have all the tools to be quite a good defender.

That being said, if the Marlins are contending and Hechavarria is not performing, the possibility of a deal for another option cannot be ruled out. Likewise, the catching position does not presently look to be a strength and could ultimately require a temporary patch while the club awaits J.T. Realmuto‘s final developmental steps. The club has some reasonable options lined up elsewhere on the diamond — players like Donovan Solano, Jeff Baker, Don Kelly, and Jordany Valdespin come to mind — but looks thinner at short and catcher.

It is fair to wonder, too, whether an injury or two could expose some fault lines in the rotation. It is somewhat remarkable, really, that all of Eovaldi, Heaney, DeSclafani, Brian Flynn, and Jacob Turner are gone from the rotation mix, taking a lot of potential innings with them. While second overall pick Tyler Kolek is the new top dog in the system, he remains years away (even as third choice Carlos Rodon nears a big league job with the White Sox).

To be sure, things look solid as camp winds to a close. Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, and Tom Koehler will presumably join Latos and Haren while the team awaits the mid-season return of precocious ace Jose Fernandez. But the rest of the depth chart includes a somewhat questionable mix of swingmen (Brad Hand, David Phelps) and untested prospects (Jose Urena, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley).

There is depth and quality in the pen, led by late-inning arms Steve Cishek, A.J. Ramos, and Mike Dunn. For a second lefty, the club will go with the out-of-options Hand (after waiving Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan). The club went out and added Aaron Crow in hopes that he would bounce back in Miami, giving up Flynn to do so. But with Crow out with a torn UCL, the right-handed pen contingent will be drawn from the returning Bryan Morris and Carter Capps, offseason additions Phelps and Preston Claiborne, and veteran minor league free agents Nick Masset, Vin Mazzaro, Pat Misch, Chris Narveson, and Ryan Reid. We already know that the Fish attempted to bolster this group by pursuing Francisco Rodriguez; with Crow now gone (and a likely non-tender after the year), could they have a look at the still-unsigned Rafael Soriano or other veterans that have recently been set adrift?

Deal of Note

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins

The prevailing notion entering the winter was that the Marlins had to do something to “prove” to Stanton that the franchise was serious about winning, enticing him to commit for the long haul as he entered his second (and second-to-last) season of arbitration eligibility. It was expected, perhaps, that a series of additions earlier in the offseason might, in part, set up a spring extension.

Instead, Miami put the horse before the cart by making a record-setting contract with Stanton its first order of business. His youth and essentially unmatched power (in today’s game) made a huge guarantee an obvious requirement of any deal. But the final structure still managed to shock the industry, in large part due to its remarkable 13-year term, sixth-year opt-out, and backloaded payout.

It remains to be seen how things play out under this contract, of course, but it ensures Stanton will make an astronomical sum even if he is injured or experiences a severe production decline. Though Miami seems quite likely to achieve excellent value if Stanton opts out, there is some frightening downside. (And the deal makes all the more clear how well the Angels did to lock up the historically-excellent Mike Trout without having to dangle a seven-year player option on the deal’s back side.)

Overview

Stanton’s new contract kicked off an offseason of ever-cresting promise which culminated in the long-term signing of Yelich. Expectations are high, the Fish are a confident bunch, and the organization seems out to regain the trust of its fans. But expectations can be dangerous, as Miami knows all too well, and a postseason berth seems far from a certainty.

Then there’s the fact that Miami has sacrificed a good deal of its upper minor league talent in the last eight months. Indeed, five of the team’s six best prospects entering 2014 (per Baseball America) have since been traded. Many other, lesser-regarded young players have also seen their departure. Re-acquiring top-level prospect talent while rebuilding system depth — all while facing increasing arbitration costs and demands for spending at the big league level — will pose a significant challenge.

This is where the biggest long-term questions factor in: will the team’s on-field performance and popularity enable it to draw and earn, and will owner Jeffrey Loria continue to approve payroll increases? Needless to say, all of these questions are interconnected and remain impossible to predict at this stage.

As for the present season, the most interesting thing about the Fish may not be what they did, but what they might have done. The team was in on K-Rod, James Shields, and Hector Olivera, and will enter the year with the league’s lowest payroll. Miami was fairly aggressive at last year’s trade deadline; if it is in the hunt this year, there could be some fireworks yet to come.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Evan Gattis Settling In With Astros

Even after watching the Braves ship out key players such as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis wasn’t expecting to be the next one to go.  In January, after weeks of rumors and speculation, Atlanta struck a deal with the upstart Astros to continue their massive overhaul.  Gattis was caught off guard, but it didn’t take him long to come to terms with the move and get comfortable with his new club.

I wasn’t really actually bummed about the trade, I was just more surprised than anything. I just didn’t think it would happen,” Gattis told MLBTR prior to Wednesday’s game against the Phillies. “Other than that, its been a good camp and there’s a really good group of guys here.  I’m just excited and looking forward to the season.”

Gattis understood that major change was coming to the Braves, but he figured that he would be immune to it all since he’s still pre-arbitration eligible for one more season and playing near the league minimum.  Eventually, when it became clear that the Braves were listening on offers for him, he still didn’t panic or personally reach out to anyone in the Atlanta front office.  “I’m always the type to focus on my own business and I just worry about what I need to do to play,” Gattis explained.

With the Braves eyeing 2017 as their year to get back to contention, Gattis sounds legitimately enthused to be with a team that has advanced their own timeline considerably.  In fact, he says he’s okay with being flexible with regards to his exact role this season and isn’t fretting the split he might have between left field, the DH spot, or occasional time behind the plate.  Gattis hasn’t gotten a ton of balls hit his way in left during spring training, but he’s confident that he’ll get comfortable there in time, just as he did with his new club.


Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Brewers

Although the Brewers made a few significant moves this offseason, they hold about the same cards they did last year — too strong to fold, too weak to raise.

Major League Signings

Trades And Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Brewers entered the offseason in a precarious place. They fell apart down the stretch in 2014 and didn’t necessarily look like they’d contend in 2015. But they were also too talented to dismiss that possibility entirely, and didn’t appear to have enough minor-league talent to be able to get through a quick rebuild. Their offseason seems to reflect their situation — they made one significant trade to exchange a veteran for young talent, but their other key deal actually added a veteran. They seem to be trying to win as many games as possible in 2015 while still aiming for 2016 and beyond. That is, of course, what many teams are doing — going for it and and rebuilding have both become passé, with organizations trying to position themselves for playoff runs both now and in the future. But the thin line the Brewers are walking is one that makes some degree of sense for them, regardless of what’s happening elsewhere.

The biggest move of the Brewers’ offseason was their trade of Yovani Gallardo and $4MM to Texas, which netted them shortstop Luis Sardinas and pitchers Corey Knebel and Marcos Diplan. None of those players will make the Brewers’ Opening Day roster. Sardinas has significant upside if he can develop offensively, given his speed and excellent defense. Even for a 21-year-old with time to improve, however, that might be a tall order, given what he’s shown so far in the minors: good batting averages, but with no power and few walks. Even if he doesn’t improve much, though, he at least has a future as a utility infielder.

The hard-throwing Knebel was a first-round pick in 2013 who zoomed through the minors with the Tigers and then came to the Rangers organization in the Joakim Soria deal. He’s racked up huge strikeout totals everywhere he’s gone and might eventually become a late-inning option in the big leagues, although his upside is somewhat limited since he’s a reliever. Diplan, meanwhile, is a small Dominican righty with a good fastball who the Rangers gave a $1.3MM bonus in 2013. He’s promising, but he’s 18 and so far from the Majors that it’s impossible to guess what he’ll become.

In the end, then, the Brewers got three interesting pieces. None of them are sure bets, but the Brewers likely didn’t expect to get any blue-chip prospects, given that Gallardo was only one year from free agency. And more broadly, Gallardo gave the Brewers more of something they don’t necessarily need right now: adequacy. Gallardo, whose strikeout rate declined for the second straight year in 2014, has become more of an innings-eater than an ace. As we’ll see below, the Brewers have plenty of players who project to be good, but not enough who project to be more than that, and that goes for their rotation as well as the rest of the team.

The Brewers’ other big move of the offseason was to send Marco Estrada to Toronto for Adam Lind. Lind should solve what’s been a persistent problem at first base, where they haven’t had a reliable regular since Corey Hart in 2012. Lind comes relatively cheap, too, at $7.5MM in 2015 and either an $8MM option or a $500K buyout the following year. To get two years of a hitter who produced a .321/.381/.479 line last season, even if he won’t help much defensively and is likely to take a step backward in 2015, was a coup for Milwaukee, particularly given that Estrada isn’t a high-wattage arm and is only one year away from free agency.

The Brewers also added lefty Neal Cotts for $3MM, a deal roughly in line with his talent. The three-run jump in Cotts’ ERA from 2013 to 2014 suggests an extreme decrease in performance that wasn’t exactly there, but his peripherals did take a step backward, and he’s 35. He isn’t a specialist, however — he’s good against lefties and not bad against righties, so the Brewers will have some flexibility with how they use him. He’s not Zach Duke, the pitcher he’s effectively replacing, but he’ll probably be worth about a half a win above replacement, which makes his deal a reasonable one.

The big move the Brewers made to address their bullpen was to re-sign Francisco Rodriguez for two years and $13MM. The Brewers were already set to pay a former closer, Jonathan Broxton, $9MM in 2015, and they easily could have had Broxton take over the closer’s job and spent the money elsewhere. $13MM for Rodriguez wasn’t a massive overpay, however — in fact, K-Rod’s $13MM total fell $1MM below the contract MLBTR’s Jeff Todd projected at the beginning of the offseason. (Whether the Brewers should have traded for Broxton’s contract in the first place is a different question, although that happened before this offseason. Without Broxton on the books, the Brewers might have found more room to do something really creative this offseason, or to sign someone who projected to be a big bullpen upgrade, like Andrew Miller.)

Anyway, increasingly, even veteran relievers without significant closing experience get contracts in the $10MM-$15MM range, like the lefty Duke (who got three years and $15MM from the White Sox) or righty Pat Neshek (who got two years and $12.5MM from the Astros). The Brewers could perhaps have tried to re-sign Duke rather than re-signing Rodriguez and signing Cotts, but Rodriguez has a much longer track record of success than Duke does and is coming off a perfectly good season in which he posted 9.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 68 innings. If the Brewers paid extra for his ability to get saves, it wasn’t by much. Getting what is effectively a $4MM option for 2017 ($6MM minus a $2MM buyout) was a nice touch, too.

Questions Remaining

The Brewers have options that are at least reasonable at every position throughout their lineup and rotation, but only a few players who are likely to be standouts — Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Ryan Braun, who’s young and talented enough to rebound after having thumb surgery in the offseason to fix a nerve problem that bothered him in 2014. Gomez and Lucroy especially stand out as stars who are both very good and dramatically underpaid.

Beyond that, though, it’s hard to say where the Brewers’ upside will come from, particularly in their lineup. Lind, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez, Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett (who has second base mostly to himself now that the Brewers declined their option on Rickie Weeks) are all capable, but it’s hard to imagine any of them  producing, say, 3 WAR. (Segura might be a possibility, though his performance last season, although it was a year touched by the tragic death of his young son, was probably more in line with the career patterns he established in the minors than his breakout 2013 season was.) This doesn’t mean these players aren’t valuable. Lind, for example, provides a good bat at a position where the Brewers didn’t previously have one. But they’re complementary players on a team that doesn’t have enough stars.

The rotation has similar problems — everyone in it projects to be competent, but no one projects to be a standout. Matt Garza‘s peripherals have declined in the past two seasons, and he isn’t as good as he was with the Cubs. Kyle Lohse has been essentially the same pitcher for the past several seasons, but he’s 36 and isn’t an ace. That leaves Mike Fiers (a 29-year-old soft-tosser who was mysteriously brilliant in 71 2/3 big-league innings last year), Wily Peralta and youngster Jimmy Nelson as the Brewers’ best hopes of providing very high-quality innings. (Fiers had shoulder issues this spring but figures to be fine to start the season.)

The 2015 Brewers figure to have a high floor, then — they have talent, and it’s hard to see them losing, say, 92 games. While predicting how a season will go is a notoriously inexact science, though, it isn’t easy to imagine scenarios where they win 92.

Deal Of Note

USATSI_8011999_154513410_lowresMutual options aren’t often exercised, but Aramis Ramirez and the Brewers each exercised their ends of a mutual option this offseason, and Ramirez is back in Milwaukee for one more year, after which he plans to retire. Personal reasons surely played a role in Ramirez’s decision to stay. “I’m comfortable here,” he told the Journal Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak at the time. Rosiak also quoted Brewers manager Ron Roenicke noting that Ramirez was “set financially.” Ramirez’s decision to accept his end of the option was, therefore, not primarily financially driven.

The structure of the option, however, also made it something close to financially rational for player and team. The $14MM option contained a large buyout of $4MM on the Brewers’ side. So for Ramirez, the option was effectively a decision on a one-year, $14MM contract. The $4MM buyout was a sunk cost for the Brewers, so the decision from their perspective was effectively a one-year, $10MM deal. So even if Ramirez hadn’t been thinking about retiring, it would have made sense for both sides to exercise the option if Ramirez’s market value had been between $10MM and $14MM (and if Ramirez hadn’t expected to get a lucrative multi-year deal if he rejected it). Ramirez produced 1.8 fWAR last year and projects to produce similarly next year. Given the cost of wins on the free-agent market, that puts him near or in that $10MM-$14MM range. Of course, Ramirez probably could have gotten a multi-year deal on the open market, but it’s interesting that, for the price of a single year, the option made good financial sense for both sides.

Overview

The Brewers aren’t particularly old, but they’re still essentially an aging team rather than a dynamic or young one. They’re victims of their own success — they’ve won 80 or more games in seven of the past ten seasons, so they’ve only had one top-ten draft pick since taking Braun fifth overall in 2005. They also haven’t generally been top bidders for international talent. As a result, their farm system, which previously had produced top players like Braun, Lucroy, Gallardo and Prince Fielder, hasn’t been as bountiful lately.

The Brewers did add Dominican infielder Gilbert Lara for $3.2MM last year, though, and also significantly improved their collection of minor-leaguers by drafting Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison and trading for Sardinas, Knebel and Diplan. A minor deal for Kyle Wren (a speedy outfielder who might one day become a useful bench player) also moved the needle a bit too.

In, say, two years, the Brewers could have an exciting group of prospects. For now, though, they’re a bit stuck, the result of a farm system that, following the 2013 season, Baseball America had ranked the least likely of any organization to provide high-quality help in the near term. Most of the Brewers’ best prospects are still far from the Majors. As I noted in my preview of their offseason, that makes rebuilding a difficult proposition, and the their big-league team could still contend if it catches some breaks. So what the Brewers did this offseason made sense — they didn’t rebuild, but they also didn’t do anything that would get in the way of rebuilding in the future. For example, they added Lind without giving up anyone likely to help them beyond 2015.

If they get off to a slow start in 2015, however, the Gallardo trade could be a preview of what’s to come, with pitchers like Lohse and Broxton potentially on the block. Again, though, there’s a case that more radical trades don’t make much sense — the Brewers have few payroll commitments beyond 2015 and could find a way to cobble together an interesting 2016 team even without much in the way of reinforcements from their farm system.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


MLBTR Originals

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

 


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Why I Chose My Agency: Cody Asche

Over the years, third baseman Cody Asche has drawn comparisons to Chase Utley from wishful Phillies fans.  However, even though they’re both infielders that bat left-handed, Asche is a different type of player and is still working towards making that major step forward at the big league level.  This spring, Asche has given the Phillies plenty of reason to believe that 2015 could be his year to break out.  Last week against the Twins, Asche took Mike Pelfrey deep for his third homer in just five games.  Prior to his next outing against the Astros on Wednesday, Asche spoke with MLBTR in the team’s Clearwater clubhouse about his representatives at Arland Sports.

On how he first came in contact with his primary agent, Jason Wood:

He was close to one of my summer coaches in high school and he represents one of my good friends, Jake Odorizzi (Odorizzi spoke with MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes back in 2013 about Arland Sports).  We kept in contact a little bit and when it came time in college to find someone, me and my family just felt really comfortable with him.  We didn’t really interview anyone else, we just knew that he was a good guy with the same kind of morals as us so we went with him.

On whether there’s an advantage to being with a smaller agency like Arland Sports:

I think for sure there’s an advantage, just because you get to know him on such a personal level.  I wouldn’t even consider him my agent first, I would consider him my friend first before calling him my agent.  But, being that he’s a smaller agent, only having a couple guys in the big leagues, we get a lot more attention than someone might get at a bigger agency.

On the things his agency does for him outside of baseball:

Anything, you name it.  He’ll help me with restaurant reservations, tickets to games, lots of stuff like that.  A lot of the time I’ll just reach out to him so that I can go to dinner with him.  Obviously, he also helps me line up things like apparel deals.  Also, my wife Angie is a dietician and he’s helped a lot with her startup business, Eleat Sports Nutrition, and getting that off the ground.  Overall, I try not to ask Jason for too much though and I’m not the most demanding guy, so there’s not a ton of stuff I really want.

On whether he’s tried to recruit other players to the agency:

I haven’t done that a lot, I’ve had it more the other way actually.  I’ve had a lot of guys say to me, “If you ever want to talk to [my agent] about making a change you can,” but I think everyone knows that I’m rock solid with Jason and all of Jason’s guys are rock solid and a lot of people in the business know that. Myself, Jake Odorizzi, and David Phelps are the three main guys we have in the big leagues right now, all three of us know what he’s about, we’re loyal, and I couldn’t foresee a situation where any of us would ever want to leave.


Finding A Landing Spot For Jhoulys Chacin

The Rockies’ release of Jhoulys Chacin caught many by surprise last week, myself included. The 27-year-old has spent the better parts of the past five seasons in Colorado’s rotation and had already agreed to a one-year, $5.5MM contract for the 2015 season.

In a way, the release has the potential to be a blessing in disguise for Chacin. It should come as no shock that Chacin’s ERA away from Coors Field is nearly a full run lower (4.21 vs. 3.24). He can now potentially latch on with a club that doesn’t play half of its games in one of baseball’s most notorious launching pads, and because he has just one year of team control remaining, he could hit the open market next season as a 28-year-old coming off a season in a more friendly pitching environment. Of course, Chacin will need to demonstrate that he is healthy in order to do so, and that’s anything but a given for the talented but oft-injured righty.

Chacin missed the majority of the 2014 season with shoulder inflammation — his second significant period of time missed with that malady — and has also battled back spasms in the past. He’s topped 190 innings in two different seasons but has also failed to reach 70 innings on two occasions and has averaged just 132 innings per season dating back to 2010.

Nevertheless, Chacin has a lifetime 3.78 ERA with 6.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 48.2 percent ground-ball rate. Success at the Major League level has long been expected of the Venezuelan hurler, as he twice ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects before establishing himself in the Colorado rotation at the age of 22. Chacin should be able to latch on elsewhere — four teams are reportedly showing interest already — so let’s run down a few speculative spots that could give him a look late in Spring Training or early on in the regular season…

  • RangersYu Darvish already went down with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery, thinning out the team’s starting options. The Rangers have been discussing starting pitching options and were recently in touch with the Marlins regarding lefty Brad Hand, so it stands to reason that they’d have some interest in picking up Chacin as a potential rotation option. As it is, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Ross Detwiler will pitch in their rotation, with the fifth spot still up for grabs.
  • DodgersHyun-jin Ryu is slated to open the season on the disabled list, and the Dodgers have a pair of injury prone hurlers behind him in their rotation in the form of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. Bringing in Chacin, with whom many Dodgers scouts are likely very familiar, would give the team additional depth.
  • White Sox — The Sox are set to enjoy a dominant top three of Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana, but John Danks and Hector Noesi aren’t an exciting four-five combination. Of course, top prospect Carlos Rodon looms large and could join the rotation early in the season, but Chacin would present them with an alternative, and his ability to limit homers, even when pitching at Coors Field, would likely be appealing to the Sox.
  • Blue JaysMarcus Stroman is out for the season, and the Blue Jays will rely on a combination of Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada to round out their rotation. Adding Chacin would allow one of those arms to pitch out of a precariously thin bullpen, though of course, jumping into the AL East/Rogers Centre may not be Chacin’s top choice when trying to re-establish himself as a credible rotation option.
  • Phillies — The Phillies are clearly in need of rotation help and likely were even before Cliff Lee went down indefinitely with a still-torn flexor tendon. Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan seem likely to fill the first four slots in the rotation, and Chacin has more upside than any non-Hamels internal option.
  • Astros — Houston looked at adding an experienced arm with lesser upside when they engaged Ryan Vogelsong in discussions late in the offseason. Chacin could be a nice lottery ticket, and they lack a defined fifth starter to this point.
  • BravesMike Minor could begin the season on the disabled list, and the Braves’ fifth starter spot was already an open competition between Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Foltynewicz and Cody Martin anyhow.
  • RaysMatt Moore won’t be ready until this summer and Drew Smyly has been dealing with shoulder tendinitis this spring. Chacin would serve as additional depth alongside internal options Nate Karns and Alex Colome.

Offseason In Review: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox had an active, successful offseason in which they upgraded their pitching staff and imported multiple bats.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Extensions

  • Adam Eaton, CF: five years, $23.5MM.  Includes $9.5MM club option for 2020 with a $1.5MM buyout and $10.5MM club option for 2021 with a $1.5MM buyout.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

With core players Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana signed to affordable contracts, the White Sox were expected to take an aggressive approach to the offseason to fill their needs.  They met with Pablo Sandoval‘s agent at the GM Meetings in November, and had Victor Martinez on their wish list as well.  Around this time GM Rick Hahn also quietly explored trading for Jason Heyward, which wasn’t reported until this month.  Martinez re-signed quickly with the Tigers, however, so Hahn signed Adam LaRoche at less than 40% of the commitment Martinez required.

The price difference between LaRoche and Martinez reflects the fact that Martinez is a better hitter, of course.  Still, the White Sox got their coveted left-handed bat without taking on the risk of Martinez’s age 36-39 seasons.  Plus, bringing in a more capable defensive first baseman in LaRoche should help keep Abreu healthy.

The White Sox continued moving quickly by signing lefty reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM deal in mid-November.  Such a contract would have seemed absurd less than a year prior, as Duke had joined the Brewers on a minor league deal in January.  Duke was quietly dominant for the Brewers in 2014 after making a series of adjustments to his pitch mix and arm slot.  No team likes signing a reliever to a three-year deal, especially one with such a brief track record of success.  Only three other relievers received deals of three or more years this offseason, and one of those was also with the White Sox.  Still, the third year for Duke was the cost of doing business, and waiting until January for bargains is risky in its own way.MLB: Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox

Hahn owned the first night of the Winter Meetings, grabbing headlines by closing in on a trade for Jeff Samardzija and a free agent contract for David Robertson in the course of a few hours.  The Samardzija trade was a big win for the White Sox.  I do see the sneaky value in the players the A’s acquired — lower ceiling players who are mostly considered to be solid-average regulars by Baseball America.  Still, they were all players Chicago could afford to surrender to acquire one year of a potential front-rotation arm (plus perhaps an accompanying draft pick if Samardzija departs via free agency).  The White Sox would have had to take on a lot more risk in the free agent market to bring in a pitcher of Samardzija’s caliber.  In Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana, Hahn has assembled one of the better rotation trios in the game.

In Robertson, the White Sox acquired the offseason’s best available reliever at market price.  It’s interesting to note that Robertson apparently had another team offer even more than $46MM.  As with Duke, the term is not ideal, but it was necessary to sign the elite stopper.  $61MM is a lot to spend on commitments to relievers in one offseason, but the White Sox had very few dollars invested into their bullpen prior to Robertson and Duke.  Spending that much money is kind of a blunt-force way of addressing the team’s biggest problem, but it should work pretty well in the short term.  The Sox also complemented their bullpen by acquiring southpaw Dan Jennings from Miami.

Hahn continued going down his long list of offseason upgrades, signing Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42MM deal to play left field.  (We’ll have more on that signing in the Deal of Note section.)  After Cabrera, free agents Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, and Geovany Soto were added as versatile bench pieces.  Getting Soto on a minor league deal was a plus.  Matt Albers and Jesse Crain were also added on minor league deals.

A five-year, $23.5MM extension for center fielder Adam Eaton capped Chicago’s busy offseason.  The talented 26-year-old missed 124 games due to injuries over the past two seasons, but the White Sox balanced that risk with reasonable salaries and a pair of club options at the end.

Questions Remaining

With top prospect Carlos Rodon a phone call away, maybe rotation depth won’t prove to be a problem for the White Sox.  Still, the rotation looks strong when Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana are pitching, and vulnerable the other 40% of the time with Hector Noesi, John Danks, Rodon, and maybe Brad Penny.  The Sox are still tied up with $28.5MM owed to Danks through 2016.

I raised the question of catching in my Offseason Outlook, and some alternatives and/or backups to Tyler Flowers were added in Soto, Rob Brantly, and George Kottaras.  The Sox did reportedly poke around on the Astros’ Jason Castro and discussed Miguel Montero with the Diamondbacks, so alternatives to Flowers were considered.  Catching still seems like a weak point in both the short and long-term.

There’s also the issue of executive vice president and former GM Ken Williams.  It was revealed in December that the Blue Jays sought to interview Williams to be their president/CEO, but White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf declined to grant them permission, and considered the attempt to be tampering.  Ultimately the Blue Jays retained Paul Beeston for one more year, and Williams doesn’t appear to begrudge Reinsdorf about the situation, perhaps because the Jays’ timing was indeed terrible.  Williams’ future with the White Sox bears watching though.

Deal Of Note

Melky Cabrera entered the offseason as our fourth-ranked free agent hitter, and many of us at MLBTR thought he would get the five-year deal he sought.  While there was reportedly one four-year offer, Cabrera settled for three years from the White Sox.  Even accounting for his 2012 PED suspension, qualifying offer, and below-average defense, it was surprising he didn’t sign for more money in a thin market for bats.  It works very well for the White Sox, who committed less to Cabrera and LaRoche than the Tigers did just to Martinez, diversifying their risk in the process.

Overview

We know “winning the offseason” doesn’t mean much once games start, but the White Sox entered the winter with a long list of needs and filled most of them, finding a few relative bargains along the way.  Hahn has assembled a much more interesting team that should be in contention in 2015.

Photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports Images


Trade Candidate: Juan Uribe

Much is still unknown about how (or if) the pending addition of Hector Olivera will impact the 2015 Dodgers.  The Cuban infielder could struggle in his first taste of American pro ball and require more time in the minors than expected, or Olivera’s slightly-torn UCL in his right elbow could become a major issue and put him on the disabled list.  As the Dodgers already have Juan Uribe and Howie Kendrick manning third and second base, they don’t even have any immediate need for Olivera’s services, and could be planning to only give Olivera significant playing time in 2016.

On the other hand, what if Olivera demolishes Triple-A pitching and forces the Dodgers’ hand for a promotion?  While Olivera is a versatile player, it’s hard to believe he’d see much time at first base given Adrian Gonzalez‘s presence or in left field given how the Dodgers already have an outfielder surplus.  Kendrick over four years younger than Uribe and has a longer track record of consistency and durability, so it would be a big surprise to see Kendrick lose his starting job for any reason other than an injury.MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Workout

If the Dodgers decide to find a place for Olivera, therefore, it will likely be at the hot corner.  Uribe is a free agent after the season, and many have speculated that with Olivera on board, the Dodgers are already planning for a future without the 14-year veteran.  As Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are also both pending free agents, it’s possible the 2016 Dodgers infield could consist of Olivera, Corey Seager and Alex Guerrero, with Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner in super-sub roles.

With all this in mind, could L.A. consider cutting ties with Uribe early and start shopping the 36-year-old on the trade market this summer?  If Uribe starts until Olivera is called up, then Uribe’s first month or two of the season could essentially be an audition for other teams.  Turner and Hernandez could become the top fill-in third base options if Olivera were to struggle; both men hit well in 2014, especially Turner and his .897 OPS over 322 plate appearances.  (Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron recently opined that the Dodgers didn’t need Olivera since they already had a cheaper comparable in Turner.)

Hamstring injuries limited Uribe to 103 games last season, though he still hit .311/.337/.440 with nine homers in 404 plate appearances.  While that slash line was undoubtedly aided by a .368 BABIP, it was Uribe’s second consecutive solid year at the plate (a .769 OPS and 116 OPS+ in 2013), continuing an unlikely career turn-around after his production fell off the table in 2011-12.  While his hitting has yo-yoed over the last four years, however, his defense has been uniformly tremendous.  Since the start of the 2010 season, Uribe’s 41 Defensive Runs Saved are the fifth-most of any third baseman in baseball and he has the best UZR/150 (25.4) of any player who has played at least 2500 innings at third.  Between that stellar glove and his improved bat, Uribe’s 8.6 fWAR over the last two seasons has been topped by only 28 players.

With all this in mind, you could argue that the Dodgers would need to see significant evidence from Olivera before they considered giving up on Uribe.  Even keeping Uribe in a bench role would be a fit for L.A. since they certainly have the payroll capacity to afford a $6.5MM backup, and he plays an “integral” leadership role in the clubhouse.

Still, as we’ve already seen from the Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi regime, no move can be ruled out for the Dodgers’ roster.  If the team’s starting pitching depth becomes tested (i.e. Brandon McCarthy or Brett Anderson‘s significant injury histories, or Hyun-Jin Ryu’s bad shoulder), Uribe could be an intriguing trade chip for a starter.  Or, as the Dodgers are having trouble finding takers for Andre Ethier, they could sweeten the pot by adding Uribe to the mix, though contract size could still be an issue.

Looking at contenders with a possible hole at third base, the Indians, Tigers, Royals and White Sox are all going with young players who have yet to prove themselves as surefire contributors.  For these four teams, acquiring Uribe for a pennant race wouldn’t spell the end of, for example, Nick Castellanos or Mike Moustakas as a “third baseman of the future” since Uribe could leave in free agency next winter anyway.  Beyond the AL Central, the Giants are relying on Casey McGehee to repeat his solid 2014 season, though it’s near-impossible to see the Dodgers swing a trade with their arch-rivals.

For the moment, Uribe is staying put in Los Angeles.  If Olivera (or even Turner) starts swinging a hot bat, however, don’t be surprised if the Dodgers start exploring deals.  The Dodgers’ overflow of talent in both the infield and outfield gives them a number of options if they need to patch holes in their rotation or bullpen, and Uribe might be the most realistic trade chip of the bunch.

Photo courtesy of Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports Images