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Offseason In Review: Kansas City Royals

The Royals snapped a 28-year postseason drought with quite a bit of flair, enjoying a dramatic comeback win over the A’s in the AL Wild Card game. The victory kicked off an eight-game win streak that brought them to the World Series, where they fell just shy of the ultimate prize in a seven-game classic with the Giants. They’ll look to return to the playoffs in 2014, but they’ll do so with a fairly different cast of characters following an active winter.

Major League Signings

  • Edinson Volquez, SP: Two years, $20MM with a $10MM mutual option ($3MM buyout)
  • Kendrys Morales, DH: Two years, $17MM with an $11MM mutual option ($1.5MM buyout)
  • Alex Rios, OF: One year, $11MM with a $12.5MM mutual option ($1.5MM buyout)
  • Luke Hochevar, RP: Two years, $10MM
  • Kris Medlen, SP: Two years, $8.5MM with a $10MM mutual option ($1MM buyout regardless of which side declines)
  • Jason Frasor, RP: One year, $1.25MM with a $2MM mutual option ($550K buyout)
  • Chris Young, SP/RP: One year, $675K
  • Yohan Pino, SP: One year, unknown amount (presumably at or near league minimum)
  • Total Spend: $68.425MM

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Royals entered the 2014-15 offseason with two key free agents — James Shields and Nori Aoki — and a decision to make on Billy Butler’s $12.5MM option. The decision was made to buy out Butler’s option for $1MM, essentially signaling that the Royals didn’t feel he was worth $11.5MM on a one-year deal. As for Shields and Aoki, both were allowed to test the waters of the free agent market, and both signed in the NL West (San Diego and San Francisco, respectively).

Kendrys MoralesNow with three critical spots to fill — right field, DH and a starting pitcher — the Royals opted to diversify their risk by spreading out their offseason budget over the course of several one- and two-year deals. Mutual options — which are almost never exercised by both parties — were used as an apparent accounting tactic by GM Dayton Moore and his staff, as the team handed out five such options, likely in order to defer some money rather than commit to spending the entire $68MM+ over the next two years. The glut of mutual options comes with $7.55MM worth of buyouts that can obviously be delayed until after the 2016 season, somewhat lessening the immediate financial ramifications of Kansas City’s spending.

Structure wasn’t the only similar thread running throughout Kansas City’s offseason contracts, however. The Royals also employed a similar philosophy with many of these contracts. That is to say, they bought low on a surprising number of players. Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios both performed poorly in 2014, while Kris Medlen and Luke Hochevar didn’t throw so much as a pitch in the Majors due to spring Tommy John surgeries.

A healthy Hochevar would both replace and likely outperform the departed Aaron Crow, if Hochevar is able to pitch anywhere near the level he did in 2013. Jason Frasor’s bullpen spot was filled by none other than Jason Frasor, who re-signed and will again contribute to what should be a very strong relief group.

Volquez was signed to fill Shields’ rotation spot, though not necessarily his production. However, it’s worth noting that both rWAR and RA9-WAR value Volquez and Shields similarly, as both produced excellent bottom-line results in 2014. Clearly, Volquez lacks the track record of Shields, and his peripheral stats are far more concerning. However, while Volquez detractors who point out that much of his success was due to Pittsburgh’s excellent defense and expansive home park may have a point, those same claims can be made about the Royals. It’s not unreasonable, then, to think that Volquez could produce another solid ERA mark, if his newfound control can be repeated.

The addition of Pino on a Major League deal was a surprise, and perhaps the Royals wouldn’t have extended that offer had they known that Young would be available for $675K some four months later, but there’s little financial commitment here, and the pair gives Kansas City some rotation depth and a pair of candidates for long relief in the event of an injury to a starter. Cheap rotation depth is never a bad thing, and in Young’s case, the same caveats that applied to Volquez’s success apply to his own 2014 triumphs; it’s difficult to imagine a decisively better landing spot than Kansas City for a fly-ball pitcher with questionable peripherals.

But, perhaps the best lottery ticket purchased by Moore and his staff this offseason was Medlen, who could be ready to join the rotation (or bullpen) by midseason, which gives the Royals an excellent contingency plan in the event that a starter falls to injury. Moreover, with Jeremy Guthrie set to hit the open market following this season, Medlen will have a rotation spot open for him in 2016, when he is presumably back to full strength. A healthy Medlen is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball — career 2.95 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 3.39 xFIP in 512 2/3 innings — and Kansas City’s stellar defense and spacious park should offset the transition from the NL to the AL.

The extensions for Hosmer and Herrera didn’t buy out any free agent years, and both will still be arbitration eligible after those deals are finished, but the club did spare itself some negotiation time next winter and attain a degree of cost certainty, which could be significant if Hosmer puts together a big season.

Questions Remaining

For all of the work the Royals did, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding this team. As noted above, the Royals bought low on a number of players, but they did so by paying a higher price than one might typically expect for bounceback candidates. Morales was one of baseball’s worst hitters in 2014, and while his contract could look like a bargain if he returns to his 2013 form, it could also look disastrous — particularly for a payroll-conscious team like Kansas City — if he cannot improve upon last year’s lack of production. (Also of note on the Morales deal, it’s worth pointing out that despite a putrid 2014 season, he will earn about $24.5MM from 2014-16 — a sum that is not wildly lower than the three-year, $30MM which he was criticized for rejecting in July 2013).

Rios was plagued by a thumb injury in 2014 that may have contributed to the disappearance of his power. Jumping to Kauffman Stadium doesn’t figure to boost his power numbers any, though better health may allow him to reach double-digit homers. Even if his bat bounces back, Ultimate Zone Rating gave him a negative mark in right field last year, and Defensive Runs Saved has given him negative marks in both of the past two seasons. Obviously, his defense could rebound, but Rios is also at the age where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his glove-work begin to deteriorate.

The Royals will also be counting on a rebound from Omar Infante in the second season of his four-year contract, as the 32-year-old’s .252/.295/.337 batting line was his worst since 2005. On the other side of the diamond will be the confounding Mike Moustakas — an elite defender with notable power but feeble numbers versus lefties and a proclivity for infield flies. Moustakas would seem, on the surface, to have the tools of a star-level player, but he’s never hit consistently in the Majors. The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, with Hosmer, who has shown flashes of the elite hitter he was projected to be but has never sustained that production for a full season. The fate of the 2015 Royals lies largely in the hands of their talented but inconsistent corner infielders.

The bullpen, of course, is among the game’s best, thanks to the late-inning triumvirate of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. A return to form for Hochevar would only strengthen that group, and bringing Frasor back was a strong low-cost move. However, the Royals will be without their top lefty, as Tim Collins is out for the year following Tommy John surgery. It’s possible that the injury will open a door for Brandon Finnegan, who was a force out of the bullpen in 2014. However, Finnegan, their top pick from last year’s draft, is viewed as a starter long-term, so the role may yet be given to Brian Flynn or a non-roster invitee like Franklin Morales or Joe Paterson.

Looking to the rotation, there’s no question that the loss of Shields will hurt, and Guthrie’s peripheral stats have indicated that a collapse could be imminent for years (though 2014 was his best season in quite some time). Whether or not Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy can take steps forward will be a critical component for this team.

Deals of Note

For all of the transactions made by Moore and the Royals this winter, the first one they made strikes me as the most curious. Declining Butler’s option seemed understandable from a statistical standpoint, given a two-year offensive decline and lack of defensive value. However, the fact that he signed a three-year, $30MM contract with the A’s seems to suggest that Butler likely would have had some legitimate trade value at one year and $12.5MM.

Oakland’s winning bid indicates that at least one other team had to be willing to pay somewhere in that neighborhood, and his option was valued at just $2.5MM higher than his eventual AAV, but with two fewer years of risk. Perhaps the Royals would only have gotten something of nominal value in return — similar to their own acquisition of Ervin Santana in exchange for Robert Fish two offseasons ago — but it does appear that there may have been an opportunity there.

Overview

As is the case in any offseason, it’s admittedly unfair to look back with the benefit of hindsight, but I can’t help but point out that the Royals spent $11MM on Rios when Aoki signed in San Francisco for a total of $4.7MM on a one-year deal. And, the ~$69MM total spent this offseason is just $6MM shy of the figure for which Shields signed in San Diego.

Clearly, there’s merit to spreading out the risk and shortening its length, as Kansas City did, but the club’s detractors will no doubt wonder if the team would have been better served spending about $80MM to retain Aoki and Shields than rolling the dice on so many uncertainties. While that path may have necessitated taking a minor league flier at the DH position, one could argue that there’s greater upside in taking that type of gamble on Ryan Ludwick or Juan Francisco than in giving Morales $17MM.

But, the risk of the Morales investment is somewhat of a microcosm of the entire Royals offseason. Diversified risk and deferred spending (in the form of backloaded deals and mutual options) characterize this past offseason, and Medlen’s contract in particular was one of the best low-risk signings of the winter in my eyes. If even a couple of the short-term deals issued by the reigning AL Champs pan out, they’ll be well-positioned in what should be a competitive AL Central.


Offseason In Review: New York Yankees

The Yankees rebuilt their infield and bullpen this winter, yet depth could still be an issue given their several veterans with injury histories.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

While there was some question as to whether or not the Yankees would be willing to go to four years to re-sign Chase Headley, the team indeed brought him back on a four-year, $52MM contract to solidify the hot corner.  Headley will provide New York with outstanding third base defense, and the team obviously hopes that playing in Yankee Stadium will get his bat back on track — the .262/.371/.398 slash line and 119 OPS+ that Headley posted over 224 PA as a Yankee last season is a good step in that direction.MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees

In Didi Gregorius, the Yankees have addressed their hole at shortstop while still giving themselves flexibility for a future move should they feel Gregorius isn’t a long-term solution.  Gregorius hasn’t shown all that much either at the plate (career 84 wRC+) or in the field (-3.3 UZR/150 at shortstop) during his brief career, yet it’s important to note that he’s had only 724 MLB plate appearances and he’s entering his age-25 season.  He isn’t even arbitration-eligible until next winter, though assuming he accumulates a full year of Major League service time this season, Gregorius will have an extra year of arbitration eligibility due to him as a Super Two player.

Going into the offseason, the consensus was that the Yankees would address their infield by acquiring an everyday second or third baseman, with the versatile Martin Prado then playing the other position.  Instead, Prado was shipped out to the Marlins as part of the multi-player deal that brought Garrett Jones and Nathan Eovaldi to the Bronx.  Jones has an .811 OPS against right-handed pitching over his career, and with Yankee Stadium’s infamous short right field porch, Jones could provide some nice pop off the bench and also spell Mark Teixeira at first or Carlos Beltran in right field.

Eovaldi injects some youth and, perhaps just as importantly, durability into New York’s rotation, as the 25-year-old righty tossed 199 2/3 innings for Miami last season.  Almost any hurler would be challenged by moving from pitcher-friendly Marlins Park to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, especially one who doesn’t strike out many batters like Eovaldi (career 6.28 K/9), though he’s working on a splitter to try to miss more bats.

With David Robertson off to the White Sox, the Yankees replaced one ace reliever with another as they signed Andrew Miller.  It remains to be seen whether he or Dellin Betances will get the lion’s share of saves (or if they split the job), but however it shakes out, New York owns one of the most imposing one-two bullpen punches in the game.  Miller was the most high-profile of several bullpen acquisitions for the Yankees, as they also added right-hander David Carpenter and lefties Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson in separate deals with the Braves and Pirates.  Between Miller, Shreve and Wilson, the Yankees greatly improved their left-handed relief depth, which has been an issue in recent years.

Questions Remaining

Between Masahiro Tanaka‘s slightly torn UCL, Michael Pineda‘s long history of shoulder problems and C.C. Sabathia‘s recent knee injuries, the Yankees are going into the season crossing their fingers for good health from the top of their rotation.  Compounding the problem, the re-signed Chris Capuano will start the year on the DL, robbing the club of its favorite for the fifth starter role.

Despite all these durability issues, the Yankees did little to address their rotation’s depth.  Eovaldi will essentially serve as a replacement for Shane Greene, who enjoyed a nice breakout year in 2014 but was sent to the Tigers as part of the Gregorius deal.  Swingman David Phelps was traded to Miami, and the Yankees didn’t re-sign either Hiroki Kuroda or Brandon McCarthy (though they looked into bringing McCarthy back, albeit only on a two-year deal).

This isn’t to say, however, that GM Brian Cashman hasn’t been actively looking for rotation upgrades.  The Yankees have seemingly come the closest of any team to acquiring Cole Hamels from the Phillies, though as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman subsequently reported, the two sides weren’t actually very close to working out a deal.  Since the chance remains that any of all of Tanaka/Pineda/Sabathia could be healthy and productive, the Yankees will likely continue to play the waiting game until a move becomes essential.  I would expect the Yankees to eventually aggressively pursue Hamels or any other high-priced aces (especially those who are pending free agents) at midseason in order to fill any clear holes that might emerge in the rotation.

Second base remains an unsettled position for New York, as while Stephen Drew was re-signed on a one-year, $5MM deal, it’s hard to know what to expect from the veteran given his sub-replacement level performance in 2014.  Drew’s lengthy free agent stint and lack of a Spring Training could certainly be extenuating circumstances, yet as Drew enters his age-32 season, it’s unclear to what extent he’ll be able to bounce back.  Drew may not get a lot of time to prove himself, as prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder are waiting in the wings if Drew continues to struggle.  Prado’s trade was something of a surprise given that he hit so well for the Yankees last season and his versatility was a boon on a team with so many injury and depth concerns.  If Drew or the rookies can’t handle second base and/or Eovaldi struggles, questions will be asked about why Prado had to be moved.

Prado’s departure could be an even bigger issue if Headley struggles.  While he did well in his short time in the Bronx, the Yankees have now committed $52MM to a player entering his age-31 season who has battled some recent injuries and been showing signs of decline at the plate.  I can’t be too critical of the Headley deal given his solid track record or the lack of other available third base options this offseason, yet his signing doesn’t exactly make third base a worry-free zone for the team.

Like third base, shortstop is also still far from a certainty.  Gregorius hasn’t been able to hit left-handed pitching at all, and it’s worth noting that two teams (the D-Backs and Reds) have to some extent already passed on Gregorius as their “shortstop of the future.”  If Gregorius doesn’t play well, the Yankees don’t have much depth at short aside from Brendan Ryan, barring a scenario where Drew moves back to shortstop and Pirela or Refsnyder takes over at second.

No discussion of the 2015 Yankees is complete without the obligatory mention of Alex Rodriguez‘s return.  Even if Headley falters, it’s hard to see A-Rod getting significant time back at third given that he’s been slated for (at best) a part-time role as a DH and backup first baseman.  Between Jones and the several full-time veterans the Yankees can rotate through the DH spot on rest days, the team has already protected itself against the possibility that Rodriguez may not be productive given his age, injury history and long absence from the game.

The Yankees signed 10 of Baseball America’s top 28 international prospects from the 2014-15 signing class, far exceeding their signing bonus limit and resulting in a punishment of not being allowed to sign any international prospect for more than a $300K bonus over each of the next two signing periods.  With this looming restriction in mind, it may come back to haunt New York that the club was unable to land two of the higher-profile international prospects of the last few months — Yoan Lopez and Yoan Moncada, who respectively signed with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox.  Missing out on Moncada was particularly hurtful for the Yankees, given that they were one of the finalists for the Cuban phenom and that he signed with their Boston arch-rivals.

Deal Of Note

While Miller will likely end up getting some save opportunities this season, he can still boast about landing the largest contract ever given to a reliever without any closing experience.  It’s no surprise that the Yankees had to go to four years and $36MM to land the southpaw given that he had perhaps the widest market of any free agent this winter — a reported 23 teams showed some degree of interest in Miller’s services.  In fact, the Yankees had only the second-largest deal on the table, as Miller turned down a four-year/$40MM offer from the Astros.

Committing four years to any reliever is a risk, especially since Miller has only been an effective bullpen arm since 2012 (as a lefty specialist) and he’d never posted a BB/9 of less than 4.5 prior to last season.  This said, Miller was so dominant in 2014 that if he has turned the corner, he’s as good as any reliever in baseball.

It could be argued that the Yankees didn’t need to spend so much on a big bullpen arm given Betances’ presence, though Betances himself has less than two seasons as a full-time reliever.  In a way, Betances and Miller are acting as each other’s security blankets; if one takes a step back this season, the Yankees will still have the other to stabilize the closer’s job.

Overview

After spending over $500MM on free agents in the 2013-14 offseason, this winter was a much quieter one for New York (though spending “only” $100MM on free agents counts as quiet only by Yankees standards).  There was speculation that the Yankees would pursue one of the major free agent starters — Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields — this winter, though nothing much developed on that front.

It’s worth noting that signing Scherzer or Shields would’ve cost the Yankees a first round draft pick, and after their free agent splurge last year, the team didn’t seem keen on again limiting its draft pool.  In fact, the Pinstripers are now up an extra pick for the 2015 draft due to the compensatory pick they’ll receive for Robertson signing elsewhere and saw the fourth-largest increase in their draft pool of any team from 2014 to 2015.

In my Yankees Offseason Outlook piece from last October, I predicted the team could be more active on the trade market than in free agency this winter, under the logic that the Yankees could use their financial resources more wisely by acquiring high-priced veterans (i.e. their midseason deals for Prado, McCarthy and Headley last year) from rebuilding teams.  In some ways, that proved to be correct since the team filled more holes via trades than they did via free agents, though most of New York’s trade acquisitions weren’t veterans, but rather younger players like Gregorius, Eovaldi, Wilson, Carpenter and Shreve who all carry several years of team control.

As noted earlier about Gregorius, having controllable players gives the Yankees the flexibility to rather easily move on in the case of a downturn in performance.  These players could also possibly become trade chips themselves should the Bombers pursue more high-profile upgrades later in the season.

These kinds of moves for young talent are necessary given how much money New York has tied up in expensive veterans.  Between Teixeira, Sabathia, Rodriguez, McCann and Beltran, the Yankees will pay $100.125MM in 2015 to five players who combined for 2.7 fWAR in 2014.  Various injuries (and, in A-Rod’s case, his suspension) obviously played a role in that low fWAR total, yet it’s almost impossible to imagine that all five will be totally healthy and productive this season.  The Yankees are accounting for this to some extent, though even they can only plug so many holes; if Tanaka’s UCL issues worsen, or Pineda’s shoulder acts up, or if injuries strike Headley, Drew, Miller, etc., then the season will start to resemble a war of attrition with the disabled list, much like the team’s 2013-14 campaigns.

The lack of a clear favorite in the AL East certainly gives the Yankees a path to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.  They’ll just need to rely on a lot of good health, a few breakout performances and a few returns to form from established players to manage it.

Image courtesy of Andy Marlin/USA Today Sports Images



Out Of Options Players: NL West

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources.  Today, we’ll take a look at the NL West.

Diamondbacks: Randall Delgado

Delgado is competing with many pitchers for a spot in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, helping himself with a strong outing Wednesday.  Earlier this month, Zach Buchanan of The Arizona Republic took a look at Delgado’s situation.  At this point, I would guess Delgado will find his way onto the Opening Day pitching staff, barring a trade.

Rockies: Christian Friedrich, D.J. LeMahieu, Michael McKenry, Tyler Chatwood

Friedrich, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2008, is now 27 years old.  Back in February, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post suggested the lefty has a good shot at making the team’s bullpen.  It is a fairly crowded pen, however, so the situation bears watching.

LeMahieu and McKenry have clear spots on the team, while Chatwood is on the 60-day DL due to July 2014 Tommy John surgery.

Dodgers: A.J. Ellis, Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio

Ellis will be in a job share with new catching addition Yasmani Grandal.  Hatcher and Nicasio are assured spots in the Dodgers’ bullpen, despite lots of competition for the last few jobs.

Padres: Yonder Alonso, Tim Federowicz, Tyson Ross, Dale Thayer, Alex Torres

Everyone here is assured a spot on the team, though Federowicz will start the season on the DL due to knee surgery.

Giants: Erik Cordier, George Kontos, Jean Machi, Ehire Adrianza, Yusmeiro Petit, Gregor Blanco, Travis Ishikawa

The Giants’ “Core Four” of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla is locked in for the bullpen.  Petit and Ryan Vogelsong are also projected to be in the bullpen, as there’s currently no room in the rotation.  That leaves one spot for Machi, Cordier, and Kontos.  In addition to those three out-of-options arms, the Giants have the hard-throwing Hunter Strickland in the mix, but Strickland does have options remaining, which could hurt his chances of making the club.  Right-hander Juan Gutierrez is in camp as a non-roster invitee as well, and he pitched 63 2/3 innings for San Francisco last year.

Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles assessed this situation earlier this month, noting that a trade and/or injury seems likely.  Certainly, teams seeking bullpen depth should be calling the Giants.

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the Giants’ bench situation earlier this month, explaining that Blanco, Joaquin Arias, and a backup catcher will take three of the five spots.  Adrianza and Ishikawa could take the last two, but Juan Perez and Matt Duffy are also in the mix.


Offseason In Review: Detroit Tigers

Another postseason appearance without a World Series victory made for a disappointing finish in the Motor City, and the Tigers will now be relying on a rotation and an outfield that look markedly different than last year’s units.

Major League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Minor League Deals

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Knowing that a reunion with Max Scherzer was highly unlikely after the ace spurned a six-year, $144MM contract offer last year in Spring Training, the Tigers instead made fellow free agent Victor Martinez their top priority. V-Mart didn’t take long to be persuaded, though the price tag — a four-year, $68MM contract — makes that rather unsurprising. Though Martinez had interest from a number of other clubs coming off a monster season, the combination of a contract of that length at his age (36) and a familiar environment appealed enough to get a contract worked out at the GM Meetings. That decision looked perhaps questionable at the time, and naysayers had plenty of fuel for that opinion just a few months later, when Martinez underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He’s expected to be ready for Opening Day, but knee surgery for a 36-year-old catcher-turned-DH is hardly the way team or player would have liked to kick off the new four-year pact.

Yoenis  Cespedes

The Tigers entered the 2014 season with a rotation of Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, but just two of that quintet remain in the Motor City. Scherzer is with the Nationals after inking a seven-year, $210MM deal, while Smyly was sent to Tampa in the David Price trade. Porcello’s departure came this offseason, as he was flipped to the Red Sox in a trade that netted Yoenis Cespedes and a pair of relatively fringy relief prospects. The move found a younger replacement for the departing Torii Hunter and ultimately saved the Tigers a couple million dollars, as Cespedes’ $10.5MM salary is a bit less steep than the $12.5MM Porcello received to avoid arbitration.

Replacing Porcello and Scherzer will be righties Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. In Greene, the Tigers were able to flip Robbie Ray — acquired in the widely panned Doug Fister trade from the 2013-14 offseason — and a well-regarded but low-level infield prospect for a controllable, affordable rotation option. Greene is entering his age-26 season after a nice rookie campaign with the Yankees in which he posted a 3.78 ERA in 78 2/3 innings. He’ll need to prove himself capable of holding down that role in the long run, as Greene has little minor league track record of which to speak and ranked among Baseball America’s Top 30 Tigers prospects just once (No. 16 prior to the 2014 season).

The move to acquire Simon was particularly surprising, in my eyes, not because the Tigers targeted him but because of the steep price Detroit paid for one year of Simon, who is eligible for free agency next winter. Simon fills the fifth slot in the rotation but at the steep price of Eugenio Suarez — at least a serviceable utility infielder, if not something more — and a power-armed prospect, Jonathon Crawford, that could’ve served as a long-term option in Detroit’s perennially questionable bullpen somewhere down the line. (Crawford was their first-round selection in the 2013 draft.)

Having traded Austin Jackson to the Mariners in the three-team Price deal, the Tigers lacked an everyday option in center field, but they addressed that by picking up Anthony Gose in exchange for prospect Devon Travis. Travis was blocked long-term by Ian Kinsler anyhow and has drawn some questionable reviews from some evaluators (others do feel he can be a big league second baseman), so moving him to acquire a defensively-gifted platoon partner for Rajai Davis made some sense. Gose has never hit much in the Majors but he covers quite a bit of ground in center field (+2 DRS and +13.6 UZR/150 in 901 MLB innings) and can hold his own in platoon situations (.241/.316/.350 career vs. RHP).

Joba Chamberlain was re-signed late in the offseason, and the team will hope that his 2015 looks more like last season’s first half than second half. Newcomer Tom Gorzelanny represents the only other addition to the bullpen, although the $7MM option on July acquisition Joakim Soria was exercised as well.

Questions Remaining

Detroit’s bullpen seems to be the team’s biggest flaw every season, and it is again a significant question mark heading into 2015. Joe Nathan endured his worst season since becoming a closer (with the possible exception of 2011 — his first back from Tommy John surgery) and will return along with a $10MM price tag to prove that he still has something left in the tank. Joakim Soria, one of the best setup men available on last year’s summer trade market, was a tremendous letdown with the Tigers, though that was at least partially due to an oblique strain that limited him to 11 unsightly innings with the club.

However, despite a series of bullpen meltdowns that resulted in the team’s exit from the 2014 playoffs, the only real change was swapping Gorzelanny out for the departed Phil Coke (who signed with the Cubs earlier this month). The Tigers are counting on big things from flamethrowing Bruce Rondon in his return from Tommy John surgery, but if he struggles in his first year back — which is highly possible, especially considering the fact that he’s thrown just 28 2/3 Major League innings — the Tigers could be in for a long season full of bullpen-driven headaches.

The rotation, too, is anything but certain. While we know which five starters will comprise the group — Price, Verlander, Sanchez, Greene and Simon — the effectiveness of that group is far from a guarantee. Verlander struggled all season in 2014 after undergoing core muscle surgery. He told ESPN’s Jayson Stark this spring that the residual effect of that operation was pain in his shoulder from an inability to use his core properly, adding that he was well behind schedule to open the year. Greene, as noted above, has little Major League experience and lacks any form of minor league track record. And Simon, who was excellent for the Reds in the first half of 2014, wilted in the second half somewhat predictably. Simon’s first-half dominance in Cincinnati (2.70 ERA in 116 2/3 innings) was driven by a .232 average on balls in play and an 85.1 percent strand rate. He didn’t come close to sustaining either and saw his ERA spike to 4.52 in the second half. Simon entered the 2014 season with just 19 career starts and was somewhat surprisingly able to make 32 last year, but whether or not he can do it again remains to be seen. He also averaged just 5.8 K/9, and a move to the American League isn’t going to help in that regard.

Looking at the rest of the roster, both Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila have some health question marks, while the world will be watching J.D. Martinez intently to see if he can sustain last season’s incredible breakout campaign. If he falters, Steven Moya could get a look this summer. Nick Castellanos was below average at the plate but historically bad from a defensive standpoint, at least per Defensive Runs Saved (-30), so it’s conceivable that third base will eventually be an issue as well. At shortstop, the team is banking on Jose Iglesias return to health after stress fractures in both shins cost him the entire 2014 season. His importance is even more crucial following the trade of Suarez to Cincinnati.

The largest question surrounding the team this spring, however, may have nothing to do with on-field production at all. Rather, all eyes will be on Price, as he’s said on multiple occasions that he is open to an extension with Detroit and expects the team to engage him in talks before he hits free agency. One would imagine that the Tigers may be comfortable offering Price something similar to the six-year, $144MM deal they offered Scherzer last year, but Price and agent Bo McKinnis undoubtedly took notice of the Scherzer contract and have to feel confident that they could at least secure a Jon Lester-like $155MM over six years.

Deal of Note

The acquisition of Cespedes was perhaps more interesting than it appeared on the surface. The Tigers and Red Sox essentially swapped comparably priced, above-average though not-quite-star players who have one year of team control remaining. However, Cespedes, unlike Porcello, is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer at season’s end, so the Tigers also parted with the ability to receive draft pick compensation.

Detroit did save about $2MM in the trade, which is probably in the neighborhood of the slot value the Sox would receive in a 2016 pick, should Porcello reject a qualifying offer and sign elsewhere. (And, one would presume that as a 27-year-old free agent, if he performs well enough to receive a QO, it’ll be a no-brainer to reject it.)

Overview

It’s become almost cliche to say that the Tigers are nearing the end of their window of contention, but that may very well be the case when looking at their long-term payroll. Detroit already has $101MM committed to Verlander, Cabrera, Martinez, Sanchez and Kinsler for the 2017 season, and the first three of that trio will earn a combined $76MM in 2018. On top of that, the team is considered to have one of league’s worst farm systems. Clearly, the Tigers are attempting to win now, perhaps knowing that their core will be more expensive than productive in the not-too-distant future.

The current group is considered by many a favorite in the AL Central, but there’s some very real uncertainty at the back of the rotation, in the bullpen and on the left side of the infield (to say nothing of health concerns for nearly all of the team’s top players).

Still, the star power and talent on this team is undeniable, and if Cabrera, Verlander and Martinez are healthy, it’s tough to envision them falling out of the race in the AL Central. However with Price, Simon and Cespedes among the players currently on pace to hit the open market next winter, it’ll be interesting to see how the team approaches future seasons, especially if the remnants of an already depleted farm system are stripped down even further for trades this summer. Of course, one World Series win would likely make it all worth it for the Tigers and their fans.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Tampa Bay Rays

After watching Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon depart, and then overhauling their roster this offseason, the Rays will rely on a strong young rotation to remain competitive in the AL East.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It was already going to be a transformative winter for the Rays with longtime team executive Matt Silverman taking over for Friedman as the team’s top baseball decision-maker, yet the club’s chain of command was further shaken up when Maddon exercised an out clause in his contract and left to manage the Cubs.  (The Rays’ tampering charge against Chicago is still unsettled.)  After a lengthy search for a new manager, Kevin Cash was hired to lead this new era of Rays history.  Though Cash has only a couple of years as a scout and two years as the Indians’ bullpen coach on his post-playing resume, he was considered by many to be a top managerial prospect, and in fact was almost hired by the Rangers earlier in the offseason.

The 37-year-old Cash is currently the youngest manager/head coach in any of the four major sports, which perhaps exemplifies the Rays’ overall offseason youth movement.  Tampa’s farm system was in need of rebuilding following several years of unproductive drafts, and thus almost all of the Rays’ moves this winter brought them back at least one pre-arbitration prospect in return.  Of all that young talent, Daniel Robertson is probably the best long-term prospect, and he looks to be Tampa Bay’s shortstop of the future.

For 2015, however, the youngster best positioned to help the club immediately is Steven Souza.  Ranked as the 37th-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America, Souza received just 26 plate appearances for the Nationals last season but is best known for his spectacular catch to clinch Jordan Zimmermann‘s no-hitter.  Tampa Bay’s outfield mix includes Desmond Jennings playing mostly in left field, with Souza and Brandon Guyer (both right-handed hitters) sharing time with Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus (both left-handed hitters). Souza and Kiermaier will be given every opportunity to step up as everyday options.

The Rays overhauled their catching situation by releasing Jose Molina (eating his $2.75MM 2015 salary in the process) and trading Ryan Hanigan as part of their big three-team deal with the Padres and Nationals.  The newly-acquired Rene Rivera figures to see much of the time behind the plate, and while the veteran is better known for his excellent pitch-framing than his bat, Rivera posted a .252/.319/.432 line over 329 PAs in San Diego last season.

John Jaso will notably not be an option at catcher due to his concussion history, as the Rays will instead use him mostly at DH with perhaps some time at first base or even in left.  Jaso will essentially replace Matt Joyce‘s role in Tampa’s lineup — the left-handed power source in need of a platoon partner due to struggles against lefties.MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Photo Day

As usual, the Rays weren’t big players in free agency, with Asdrubal Cabrera‘s one-year, $7.5MM deal accounting for almost all of their free agent spending.  He’ll add a veteran presence to the middle infield, though it remains to be seen where he’ll start. Going by his below-average career defensive metrics (-10.6 UZR/150 at shortstop, -2.5 UZR/150 at second base), Cabrera would be a better fit at the keystone.  With Cabrera filling one MI spot, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe will battle for playing time at the other, with two post-hype prospects (Hak-Ju Lee and 2008 first overall pick Tim Beckham) and minor league signee Alexi Casilla also in the hunt for playing time.

Despite losing two very versatile options in Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez, the Rays have retained much of their signature infield flexibility.  Furthermore, with Cabrera only signed for one year, the team has left the door open for its younger infielders to establish themselves going into 2016.

Questions Remaining

Once the Rays underachieved over the first few months of the 2014 season, it was only a matter of time before they pared down last year’s team-record $76.87MM payroll.  David Price, the biggest piece, was moved at last year’s trade deadline. The cost-cutting continued with Yunel Escobar (owed $13MM in 2015-16), Hanigan ($8MM in 2015-16), Zobrist ($7.5MM in 2015), and Joel Peralta ($2.5MM in 2015) all traded along with players like Rodriguez, Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson and Cesar Ramos who were becoming more expensive in arbitration.  The Rays took a chance with an unsustainable payroll in 2014 in order to take a shot at a World Series, and their big bet simply didn’t pay off.

Zobrist’s defensive versatility and still-potent bat made him a 5.7 fWAR player in 2014 — a total topped by only 11 other players in baseball.  Given how 26 other teams outscored the Rays last season, losing Zobrist and Joyce’s lefty power will only make it harder for Tampa Bay to score runs.  While Wil Myers had a major sophomore slump in the wake of his 2013 AL Rookie Of The Year campaign, trading him is a bold move.  Clearly the Rays weren’t totally sold on Myers’ potential, yet given his high ceiling and Tampa’s need for young talent, Myers could eventually turn into a regret if he breaks out in San Diego.

Perhaps the bigger issue for the Rays is that in order to get into contention, they’ll need several players coming off tough seasons to get back on track.  Evan Longoria tops the list, as despite playing in all 162 games and posting 23 homers and 83 runs, he contributed only a .253/.320/.404 slash line and a career-low 107 wRC+.  Longoria already carries an outsized role with the Rays given his big contract and face-of-the-franchise status, and the team is now counting on him to an even greater extent to make up for the lineup’s lack of pop.  If Longoria’s 2014 season was the first hint of a decline phase, his contract could quickly become an albatross for the low-revenue Rays.

Tampa Bay also needs rebound years from James Loney and Grant Balfour, both of whom disappointed after signing expensive multi-year contracts last winter.  Loney produced only 0.9 fWAR over 651 PA, while Balfour struggled to a 4.91 ERA and 5.9 BB/9 and lost the closer’s job in June.  Both players could also be midseason trade candidates if they return to form and the Rays are out of the race.

Deal Of Note

Of all the Rays’ trades this winter, the Joyce-for-Kevin Jepsen swap was the only one that saw Tampa receive only Major League talent back in return.  Jepsen enjoyed the best season of his seven-year career in 2014, posting a 2.63 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.26 K/BB rate over 65 bullpen innings for the Angels.  The right-hander has been a solid relief option in two of the last three years (injuries hampered him in 2013) and at worst, he projects to be a good setup option for the Rays.

I say “at worst” since the back of the Tampa Bay bullpen is somewhat in flux right now, as Jake McGee is sidelined until late April due to elbow surgery.  McGee will certainly figure to get first crack at the closer’s job when he’s healthy given his outstanding 2014 season, and until he’s back, Brad Boxberger is likely the top choice as interim closer.  If McGee has a setback or Boxberger regresses a bit from his own excellent 2014 form (he allowed a .227 BABIP last year), then Jepsen figures to get the call ahead of Balfour, though Jepsen only has five career MLB saves.  All in all, a solid reliever like Jepsen was a good return for the Rays in exchange for a somewhat limited player in Joyce, who brings little defensive value and struggles against southpaws.

Overview

Taken as a whole, Silverman’s very busy offseason almost breaks down as a series of one-for-one replacements.  The Rays have a new veteran middle infielder (Cabrera for Escobar), a slugging lefty bat (Jaso for Joyce), a solid righty reliever (Jepsen for Peralta), a touted young outfielder (Souza for Myers) and a defensive ace at catcher (Rivera for Hanigan/Molina).  The irreplaceable piece is Zobrist, of course, though if Franklin or Forsythe step up at second and Longoria and Loney get hitting again, that will help fill the void.

Another internal replacement should come in the form of Matt Moore, who is slated to return from Tommy John surgery in late June or early July.  With Moore on the way back, the Rays felt comfortable in dealing Hellickson and using Nathan Karns, Burch Smith or Alex Colome as the fifth starter until Moore is healthy.

If Moore is able to rediscover his 2013 form, that will only help a Tampa rotation that could already be the best in the AL East.  Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi comprise the Rays’ top four, and given the limitations on offense, Tampa Bay will need this quartet to live up to their considerable potential to give them a fighting chance of getting back to the postseason.

A lot of things went wrong for the Rays in 2014, but despite their many changes, it wouldn’t be a total shock if they got back over the .500 mark.  There are just so many questions up and down the roster about young players and possibly-declining veterans, however, that it seems 2015 may be more about rebuilding than the beginning of a new stretch of winning Rays baseball.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports Images


Out Of Options Players: AL West

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources.  Today, we’ll take a look at the AL West.

Astros: Chris Carter, Alex Presley, Luis Valbuena, Sam Deduno

Presley is vying for the Astros’ fourth outfielder job, competing with Robbie Grossman.  Grossman is off to a hot start in four games this spring, but he has options.  That and a $1MM contract make Presley the favorite, unless the Astros trade him.

Deduno is competing with Asher Wojciechowski, Roberto Hernandez, and Dan Straily for the Astros’ fifth starter job.  He was knocked around on Friday, but none of the others have distinguished themselves.  Deduno’s lack of options should help him make the team in some capacity, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.  Drellich also noted that Brett Oberholtzer‘s lat strain is a factor.

Angels: Drew Butera, Johnny Giavotella, Cesar Ramos

Butera is expected to serve as the Angels’ backup catcher behind Chris Iannetta.  Giavotella, acquired from the Royals in the offseason, is part of the Angels’ second base competition this spring.  He’s battling with Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, and Taylor Featherston.  According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez last Friday, two or even three of these players will make the team.

Ramos’ spot in the team’s bullpen is secure.

Athletics: Fernando Abad, Jesse Chavez, Sam Fuld, Evan Scribner, Stephen Vogt

Chavez seems guaranteed a spot on the pitching staff, whether in the rotation or as the long man.  Abad seems locked in as well.  Scribner is in the mix for a bullpen spot, which will become a tighter squeeze if Chavez doesn’t make the rotation.  Jeremy F. Koo of Athletics Nation had a strong A’s bullpen breakdown a week ago.

Mariners: Dustin Ackley, Erasmo Ramirez, Justin Ruggiano

Ackley will platoon in left field this year with Rickie Weeks, while Ruggiano is expected to pair up with Seth Smith in right field.

Ramirez is competing with Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, and Kevin Correia for the Mariners’ fifth starter job, and he’s not considered the favorite.

Rangers: None


Offseason In Review: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland entered the offseason with some buzz surrounding a pitching staff that looked dominant for much of the 2014 season and a glut of outfielders to which they added, rather than subtracted.

Major League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It was clearly a quiet offseason for the Indians, and perhaps that shouldn’t be considered a significant surprise. As I noted in previewing the club’s offseason, while there was a bit of financial wiggle room in the 2015 payroll — which has primarily been allocated to Brandon Moss and Gavin Floyd — the 2016 payroll is already tight due to a growing crop of arbitration-eligible players. That group includes names such as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Cody Allen — so the spending won’t be insignificant.

The moves they did make didn’t address obvious areas of need. Adding Moss will give the lineup some extra punch, but he’s likely going to play in right field, where the Indians already have David Murphy, Ryan Raburn and Nick Swisher as options. All three of those players disappointed in 2014, so it’s not surprising to see the team seek an upgrade, but Moss is a relatively expensive alternative, and the club has yet to move any of the three pre-existing options (more on that in a bit).

Gavin  Floyd

Floyd, too, represents a curious fit: Kluber was set to lead a staff that also featured Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and some combination of Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister. A healthy Floyd, of course, would be a bargain at $4MM, but he’s coming off surgery to repair a broken olecranon bone in his elbow and barely pitched in the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery. Indeed, questions about his health have already come up this spring. The additional depth is hardly a bad thing, but it’s at least somewhat puzzling that none of Cleveland’s limited resources went to finding a platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall or upgrading the bullpen.

Questions Remaining

The Indians will likely need to jettison one of their outfielders this spring, and Murphy has already voiced his opinion that he’d prefer a trade to seeing his role slashed to the point where he’d receive just a couple hundred at-bats. He’s still owed $6.5MM and hits left-handed, like Moss, eliminating the possibility of a platoon. Given the exorbitant price tag remaining on Swisher (two years, $30MM) and the fact that Raburn is right-handed (as well as cheaper and more versatile from a defensive standpoint), Murphy does seem the likeliest candidate to be playing elsewhere come Opening Day.

Shifting to the infield, Cleveland will again be giving Lonnie Chisenhall the chance to prove that he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. While Raburn and Mike Aviles present plausible platoon options, neither hit lefties well in 2014. Chisenhall did handle lefties pretty well in 2014, admittedly, though his .369 BABIP against southpaws isn’t likely to be repeated. He also comes with defensive question marks, as Defense Runs Saved pegged him at -14 runs in just 973 innings, while UZR/150 felt he’d cost a team 15 runs over the course of 150 games. Chisenhall notched just a .591 OPS in the second half, so Cleveland is counting on a bounceback of sorts.

While the rotation figures to be a strength, even if it’s not yet known which promising young arm will round out the starting five, the bullpen is decidedly shakier. Allen has emerged as a shutdown option in the ninth inning, and Bryan Shaw appears to be a perfectly serviceable setup man. Marc Rzepczynski is a weapon against lefties, and either Kyle Crockett or Nick Hagadone can join him as a second left-handed option for manager Terry Francona. However, whether or not Scott Atchison can repeat his strong season at age 39 is up for debate, and the occupants of the final two spots are to be determined. Perhaps some of the arms that miss out on the rotation spot could slot into the ‘pen, but the Indians may not be too keen on moving a younger arm that they feel can be a starter into the bullpen for a season. In my eyes, a veteran complement was more needed here than in the rotation.

Additionally, Cleveland will need some bounceback efforts from several regulars around the diamond. Swisher slashed just .208/.278/.311 last season, but the veteran had offseason surgery on both knees and has since said that the pain he experienced in 2014 made it difficult to walk when he would awake in the night. Michael Bourn, the team’s other expensive free agent expenditure from the 2012-13 offseason, hit only .257/.314/.360 and played in just 106 games. And Jason Kipnis, the team’s best player in 2013, slumped to a meager .240/.310/.330 batting line with only six home runs in the first year of his new six-year extension.

Perhaps the greatest question mark, however, will be the team’s defense. Cleveland ranked last in the Majors in both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved in 2014, and they ranked 25th in defensive efficiency. Shedding Asdrubal Cabrera for a combination of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor will be a significant upgrade at shortstop, and if Bourn returns to form and plays a full, healthy season in center, the defensive value of the outfield should see a boost as well. Yan Gomes is among the game’s best and will reprise his role behind the plate.

Still, Chisenhall is not well-regarded at third base, and the team is likely to receive negative value in right field as well from a defensive standpoint. Michael Brantley, curiously in the eyes of some, grades out poorly in left. Carlos Santana will be better at first base than he was in an unsuccessful tryout at third base last year, but he’s still not exactly a gifted defender. Even the bench options — with the possible exception of Ramirez, should he become a reserve to make way for Lindor — appear to be fairly lackluster defenders. The pitching staff is talented enough to make up for some of those deficiencies, but converting balls in play into outs could be the Achilles heel of what looks to be a largely solid team.

Deal Of Note

Though there may not have been a significant need in the rotation, $4MM on Floyd (plus an additional $6MM worth of incentives) could work out to be a nice value play. Floyd worked to a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings with the Braves last year before fracturing his elbow, and he was a key member of the White Sox’ rotation from 2008-12, pitching to a 4.12 ERA (108 ERA+ given his homer-friendly home park there and the increased offense the game several years ago) and averaging 190 innings per season.

Floyd is a nice insurance policy for a team with a young rotation, and he’s the type of arm they could conceivably flip in July, even if they’re still in contention. We saw in 2014 an increase in contending teams trading pieces from their Major League roster, and Floyd gives them enough rotation depth to move him if he’s healthy and effective, which remain significant uncertainties.

Overview

The Indians won 85 games in 2014 based largely on a pitching staff that will return in its entirety. Kluber showed that his brilliant second half in 2013 and ace-like peripherals were no fluke and is now rightly regarded among the game’s best arms. Some feel that Carrasco, who posted a 1.72 ERA in the second half and had a 2.58 SIERA on the season as a whole could do the same in 2015. If Kluber, Allen, Carrasco and Gomes can sustain the progress they showed in their excellent 2014 seasons, that alone could be enough to keep the Indians in contention, assuming no significant declines elsewhere around the diamond. Rebounds from Kipnis, Swisher and Bourn could make the Indians among the AL’s most formidable teams.

GM Chris Antonetti and his staff admittedly did little this offseason, but the rationale may simply have been that they didn’t feel drastic upgrades were needed throughout the roster. This won’t be a pretty team to watch in the field, but it’ll be a fun team to watch on the mound, and they should hit enough to keep pace with the rest of the competition in what figures to be a closely contested American League Central Division.


Out Of Options Players: AL East

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources.  Today, we’ll take a look at the AL East.

Blue Jays: Scott Barnes, Brett Cecil, Josh Donaldson, Kyle Drabek, Liam Hendriks, Todd Redmond, Justin Smoak, Steve Tolleson, Danny Valencia

Cecil is in the mix for the Blue Jays’ closer job, but he’s battling shoulder inflammation and it’s not clear whether he’ll be ready for the start of the season.  That could have a trickle-down effect and make one more bullpen spot available.  Last Thursday before Cecil’s injury surfaced, Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star took a look at the team’s bullpen, calling Redmond a near-lock.  Drabek, one of the big prizes of the 2009 Roy Halladay trade, is on the bubble.  Hendriks and Barnes also could have an uphill battle for one of the seven bullpen spots.

Slugger Edwin Encarnacion will be a regular at first base and DH, with Smoak battling non-roster invitees Daric Barton and Dayan Viciedo for playing time at those positions.  Smoak appears likely to make the team.  Complicating matters is catcher Dioner Navarro, who would join the team’s bench if he’s not traded.  Valencia, who can play both corner infield positions, has a spot on the team.  Tolleson might stick as well, given his ability to play second base and the outfield.

Orioles: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, David Lough, Brian Matusz, Jimmy Paredes, Travis Snider, Chris Tillman

In February, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun wrote that Brach is likely to make the Orioles.  The team does have a crowded bullpen situation, however.

Lough may earn a spot on the team, though that would mean the Orioles might break camp with six players capable of playing the outfield (Lough, Snider, Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones and Steve Pearce).  Young will probably spend time at DH, though, and Pearce can help there and at first base.  If any of that outfield mix goes, if could be Lough, whose defensive skills and solid work against righties would have appeal to other clubs.  He can be controlled through 2019 and isn’t arb eligible until next offseason.

The Orioles added Everth Cabrera to potentially play second base, perhaps pushing Jonathan Schoop into competition with Ryan Flaherty for a utility infield job (both can be optioned to the minors).  That leaves Paredes on the bubble, as it’s hard to see the Orioles optioning both Schoop and Flaherty just to keep him.

Rays: Chris Archer, Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, Alex Colome, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Jake McGee, Rene Rivera, Brandon Guyer

McGee will open the season on the disabled list.  Boxberger, Frieri, Jepsen, and Beliveau have spots in the bullpen.  Colome is in the rotation mix, though he has yet to arrive at camp due to visa issues.  If Drew Smyly has to open the season on DL, that would help Colome’s chances.

Rivera is the starting catcher, and Guyer seems to have a fourth outfielder role locked up.  If that is indeed the case with Guyer, it could lead the team to shop David DeJesus at the end of Spring Training.  The 35-year-old DeJesus is earning $5MM this season and has a $1MM buyout on a $5MM option for the 2016 campaign.

Red Sox: Anthony Varvaro, Daniel Nava

Varvaro seems likely to secure a spot in Boston’s bullpen.  If all the Red Sox first basemen/outfielders are healthy at the beginning of the season, there might not be room for both Nava and Allen Craig.  However, Rusney Castillo is currently battling an oblique strain.  One would think that Nava, earning $1.85MM and controllable through 2017 via arbitration, would have some appeal to other clubs.

Yankees: Austin Romine, Esmil Rogers, Ivan Nova, David Carpenter

The Yankees seem to prefer John Ryan Murphy over Romine for their backup catcher job, which could set up Romine as a spring trade candidate.  The former top prospect is still just 26, is not yet arb eligible and can be controlled through 2018.

Rogers is competing for the Yankees’ fifth starter job but could end up the team’s swing man, according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.

Nova is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and could be ready around June.  He’ll open the season on the 60-day disabled list, so there’s no worry of him losing his spot.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Shawn Camp Announces Retirement

Shawn Camp, who pitched 11 seasons in the Majors, announced his retirement today.  Camp worked in the bullpens of the Royals, Rays, Blue Jays, Cubs, and Phillies, topping 70 innings in four different seasons.  Camp pitched 541 career games in total, including an MLB-leading 80 for the Cubs in 2012.

“I would like to thank all the great organizations I had the privilege to play for during my career,” Camp said through a statement.  “I also had the opportunity to play for some tremendous managers and coaches as well as play alongside some extraordinary teammates. I have been a part of professional baseball for the past 17 years and it’s in my blood. As such, I’ll be looking to pursue other opportunities within major league baseball in the future.  Most importantly, as I transition to the next chapter, I will get to spend more time with my family who has supported me beyond belief over the past 17 years.”

Camp told me his ultimate goal is to be a pitching coach one day, but he’s open-minded to any opportunities that may come in.  He also has interest in working with young players in the minor leagues.