Mystery Team Rumors
Under the old player-posting system between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, it was rare to see small-market MLB clubs bid on Japanese stars. You had the occasional case of a small-market team finding an underrated player that exceeded everyone's expectations (i.e. the Brewers' signing of Norichika Aoki) but for the most part, the biggest stars that came to North America from Japan usually ended up with richer MLB teams in recent years. Teams like the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox were generally the only ones who could afford the ever-growing posting fees for Japan's best players, not to mention then being able to sign those players to lucrative contracts.
This issue was one of the reasons why MLB wanted a new deal with NPB, and thus the two leagues' new posting agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations. With posting fees for all players capped at $20MM, more than just the biggest markets are theoretically able to bid on top Japanese stars, such as this offseason's most influential available player, Rakuten Golden Eagles righty Masahiro Tanaka.
Of course, the demand for Tanaka's services has been so fierce that his eventual contract could approach the $100MM threshold, meaning that the usual big-market suspects are often cited as his likeliest suitors. The Yankees are widely known to covet Tanaka, with the Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Mariners also often cited as teams in the mix. I suspect that Tanaka's list of suitors will be much larger than just these clubs, however. I'm not talking about just the ever-popular "mystery team" or two --- the list should, frankly, include almost every team in Major League Baseball.
If a team has scouted Tanaka and has legitimate questions about his ability to make the transition from NPB to North America, then that's obviously a fair reason to stay out of the Tanaka sweepstakes. If a team thinks Tanaka can pitch effectively in MLB and is simply shying away from bidding since they're in a rebuilding phase or thinks they can't afford his eventual contract, that seems like short-sighted thinking. As ESPN's Buster Olney tweets, "for a team to not indicate a willingness to pay a $20 million posting fee on Tanaka is like not running out a grounder; [it] costs nothing to try."
The Cubs' interest in Tanaka is the clearest argument against the "we're rebuilding" excuse. As recently detailed by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, Tanaka's age (25) makes him an attractive prospect for a Cubs team that isn't planning to contend for a couple more seasons, since Tanaka will still be in his prime by the time the Cubs expect to make a move in the NL Central. That same reasoning also makes Tanaka a realistic target for the Astros; The Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich admits that the Astros may be a "long shot" to sign the Japanese right-hander, but they're still expected to check in on Tanaka. It's also worth noting that if Tanaka lives up to the hype and becomes an ace in MLB, a losing team's rebuilding process suddenly becomes much shorter.
The "we can't afford him" argument isn't as potent as it once was given how every team is receiving extra money from MLB's national TV contracts and many clubs are getting a boost from their own local TV deals. As we've seen over the last two years, all sorts of teams in all sorts of markets have made surprising financial expenditures to either lock up their own stars to big extensions or sign pricey free agents.
Would it really be so surprising if the Twins bid on Tanaka and pushed hard to sign him, given how that team has already been very aggressive in upgrading its pitching this winter? The Royals are known to be gunning for the playoffs in 2014 and could make a run at Tanaka as Ervin Santana's replacement. Maybe even the Pirates could capitalize on their revival last season and look to add Tanaka as the final piece of the puzzle to get the team back to the World Series. Even teams like the Cardinals or Red Sox who seemingly have pitching depth to spare could use their financial resources and reputations as quality franchises to sign Tanaka, and then further upgrade their rosters by trading their excess starters.
You could argue that bidding on Tanaka wouldn't be worth a small- or mid-market team's time since they're likely to get outbid by a big-market team...but you never know. Going into the winter, you wouldn't have thought that the Mariners would've been the ones to land Robinson Cano, and while the M's may have had to drastically outbid the Yankees to do it, they ended up one of the game's best players and a transformed franchise.
This is all good news for Casey Close, Tanaka's agent, as a crowded market will naturally drive up Tanaka's asking price. While there's still a very good chance Tanaka will be pitching for a big-market team in 2014, don't be surprised at all to see some unlikely clubs get heavily involved in the sweepstakes. MLBTR readers agree --- of the six teams listed in a recent MLBTR poll as Tanaka's top suitors, the choice of "other" was second in the voting. It could've just been wishful thinking from readers hoping that their own favorite team can acquire a potential ace, or it could be a portent that the changes to the posting system will indeed level the playing field for more than just baseball's richest teams.
FRIDAY: The two sides are nearing resolution on the claim with just minutes remaining until the deadline, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter).
THURSDAY, 11:37am: Rogers tweets that the Rays are the team that has claimed DeJesus.
11:22am: The Braves are not the team that claimed DeJesus, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago (Twitter link).
10:58am: An unknown team has claimed David DeJesus on revocable waivers from the Nationals, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal notes that the deadline to work out a deal is tomorrow at 1pm ET, which would indicate that DeJesus was claimed yesterday afternoon (Twitter links). He also points out that the Nationals could, of course, simply let the claiming team have DeJesus and assume the remaining $2.5MM he's owed (between his 2013 salary and his $1.5MM option buyout).
The Nationals acquired DeJesus on Monday and immediately placed him on revocable waivers. It seemed an odd move, though Rosenthal reported at the time that the Nationals may not have been that interested in acquiring DeJesus when they made their claim. This is my own speculation, but the Nats could have acquired DeJesus for a player to be named later simply to move him to a team with worse waiver priority in hopes of receiving a superior player to the PTBNL they sent to Chicago.
In 320 plate appearances this season, DeJesus is batting .248/.328/.399. Nearly all of his damage has come against right-handed pitching, as evidenced by his .266/.347/.440 batting line against opposite-handed pitching. Ultimate Zone Rating has graded his center field defense as a positive this season (The Fielding Bible has not), which is a rarity, considering his -0.6 career UZR/150 in center. Both metrics suggest that he's a plus corner defender.
FRIDAY: A source involved in the trade talks between the two sides told Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio that the chances of a deal are "smaller than a bread basket."
THURSDAY, 4:51pm: A trade is unlikely to be reached, writes MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. Prior to the deadline, the White Sox were interested in lefty Martin Perez, right-hander Luke Jackson and infielder Rougned Odor, and the Rangers aren't keen on giving up those players in a trade for Rios.
3:29pm: The Rangers and White Sox "weren't even close" on an agreement when discussing Rios prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. Knobler also tweets that Rios was placed on waivers on Monday, and the deadline to work out a deal for him is tomorrow. That would suggest that Rios was claimed earlier in the week, but the news only broke today.
2:45pm: The Rangers are the team that claimed Rios, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter). Grant cautions that claiming Rios and actually striking a deal to acquire the 32-year-old are very different things.
Because he is on revocable waivers, the White Sox have 48 hours to work out a trade with the claiming team or pull him back off waivers. Chicago could also let the claiming team have Rios for nothing and be content to dump his salary -- the very manner in which Chicago acquired Rios from the Blue Jays in 2009 -- but that seems unlikely given his .277/.328/.421 batting line. Rios is controlled through 2014 and owed $12.5MM next season with a $13.5MM club option, though each of those salaries will increase by $500K if he is traded.
It seems likely that an American League team was awarded the claim on Rios, as waiver priority at this point in the season is determined by league and record. All 15 AL teams would have the opportunity to claim Rios before an NL team. The Rangers and Pirates were both connected to Rios prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
- The Twins are receiving lots of calls on Perkins but still telling teams they won't trade him, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The team is also receiving interest in Willingham, despite the fact that he's currently on the DL.
- Berardino writes that Willingham is drawing interest, and one rival talent evaluator told him he could see a scenario where Willingham is dealt. GM Terry Ryan spoke to the media about trade chips last night, adds Berardino. While he didn't mention Willingham's name, he referenced the recent trade of Jesse Crain and a previous trade the Twins had made with injured players: "We did that once with the Dodgers, way back in the day, so it can be done."
- An August trade of Morneau is a more likely outcome than a deadline deal, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Rangers are a long shot to make a run at Morneau, the Orioles have cooled on him and the Pirates have other targets atop their wish list at this time.
- The Pirates, Orioles and two unidentified teams make up the market for Morneau at this time, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Rangers don't appear to be a fit, as they're seeking a right-handed bat, and the Yankees are content with Lyle Overbay as a lefty swinging option at first base.
- Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that the Twins are willing to eat some of the remaining $4.6MM on Morneau's contract if it means receiving a decent return.
- Reports from earlier today stated that Morneau wasn't a fit with the Orioles due to his contract and lack of production.
For a while earlier today, it looked like the top available starting pitcher on the trade market could pack his bags for Texas. The Cubs and Rangers reached the point of exchanging medical information on six players who were apparently ready to change teams, most prominent among them the Cubs' Matt Garza.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein have already been active on the trade front this summer, dealing Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger to the Orioles, sending Scott Hairston to the Nats, swapping Carlos Marmol and an international bonus slot for Matt Guerrier, and sending Ronald Torreyes to the Astros for international bonus money. A Garza deal would be the duo's highest-profile trade of the summer and arguably the highest-profile trade of their tenure with the Cubs. It could also have the most impact of any 2013 trade deadline deal.
With the Cubs now reportedly looking to open talks back up with other clubs, even as they continue to talk with the Rangers, let's take stock of where we're at and track new updates right here:
- The prospective trade broke down over the medicals of one player, tweets Bowden. He says that the clubs are "working hard" to re-formulate the deal with a replacement piece. Quite the opposite is true, according to Sullivan, who writes that "right now there is nothing happening" and that "tonight is not the night."
- The loss of momentum between the Cubs and Rangers occured after the teams had swapped medical information on the players that were to be involved, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. If medical concerns are to blame, Passan says it was likely not an issue with Garza, since the Rangers are apparently continuing to pursue him.
- Some of the deal's apparent urgency may have come from the fact that the Rangers hoped that Garza would pitch for the club tomorrow, explains Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. While the team thought at one point that a deal could have been locked down as early as yesterday, Wilson says that club officials now do not believe an agreement is likely tonight.
- While various trade packages were discussed and reported, the Rangers prospects believed to be potentially in play at this point are third baseman Mike Olt and starters Neil Ramirez and C.J. Edwards. As Passan also reported, the Rangers also inquired about Cubs reliever James Russell, though it is not known whether he was a part of the trade that almost went through. (MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan first reported that the deal under consideration likely included Ramirez, Olt and Edwards.)
- As for other teams that could jump in, we learned earlier of a possible "mystery team" that was rumored to play in the National League. Previous National League clubs that have been connected to Garza include the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Pirates. The Cubs have not re-engaged the Dodgers at this point, however, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
- While the Cardinals have been connected to Garza as well, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets that they are not the unnamed team in the mix. The Nationals also appear to be out of the race, both Wittenmyer and ESPN's Jim Bowden (Twitter link) report. Of course, at this point, it seems that negotiations could pick up with any club -- American or National League -- that has the need and the means for Garza.
Earlier Updates (reverse chronological order)
- Garza's agent (Nez Balelo of CAA Sports) has reportedly been notified by the Cubs that a trade could be coming, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (free registration required). Garza himself confirmed that notification, though he downplayed its significance given his seemingly annual involvement in trade rumors.
- A deal sending Garza to the Rangers "will get done," according to a source of Jim Bowden of ESPN (Twitter link). He says that Neil Ramirez is expected to be the featured piece going back to the Cubs. While Ramirez was reported to have been scratched from his minor league start today, according to a Bowden tweet, Bowden retracted that information shortly thereafter (via Twitter).
- A Cubs source tells Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that a mystery NL team has joined the fray and may intercept Garza (Twitter link). Previous National League clubs that have been connected to Garza include the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Pirates. The Cardinals have been connected to Garza as well, but in a separate tweet, Wittenmyer adds that they are not the unnamed team in the mix.
- MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez points out that both the Rangers and Cubs have committed all of their international signing money, so no bonus slots can be used as a component to this trade (Twitter link).
- MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan writes that the Rangers would like to get a deal completed in time for Garza to start for them tomorrow night against the Orioles. The two sides are discussing Ramirez, Olt and Edwards, but the Rangers are unwilling to part with Martin Perez or Luke Jackson. Their refusal on Perez is nothing new, but this is the first report that they're unwilling to part with Jackson.
- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that Rangers minor league right-hander Neil Ramirez has also been discussed in trade talks.
- The Cubs and Rangers are on the verge of completing a trade that would send Matt Garza to Texas in exchange for "a strong package of prospects," according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The two sides have discussed prospects at multiple levels, including third baseman Mike Olt and right-hander C.J. Edwards, as Rosenthal reported last night. Rosenthal notes that other interested parties such as the Red Sox, Indians, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Cardinals are reluctant to meet the club's asking price for Garza, who is a free agent at the end of the season.
Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar tops MLB.com's list of the top 100 prospects in baseball for 2013. Profar has been the subject of many trade rumors this winter but the Rangers are unwilling to move him, for good reason given his high ceiling. Of the six prospects atop MLB.com's list, two (Wil Myers and Travis d'Arnaud) were dealt to new teams this offseason and another (Taijuan Walker) would have been on the move were it not for Justin Upton's no-trade clause.
Here are some items from around the Majors...
- Joe Saunders has been offered a two-year deal worth roughly $15MM from an unknown team, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports, though his sources aren't directly involved in the negotiations. The Orioles aren't the mystery team, as Baltimore would prefer to sign Saunders to a one-year deal with a team option for the second year. Connolly says the O's are still interested in Saunders despite their recent agreement with Jair Jurrjens. Besides the O's, the Mariners and Twins have also been linked to Saunders this winter, and the Twins have offered Saunders a one-year deal.
- The White Sox are still looking for a left-handed hitter, MLB.com Scott Merkin tweets. Such a player is likely to be a platooner or bench depth at this point in the offseason.
- Paul Konerko tells CSN Chicago's Chuck Garfien that his on-field performance won't be the key factor if he decides to retire after the 2013 season. "Don't look at the numbers, that if things are going well [in 2013], that necessarily means I would play [after this season]. And the reverse of that is true, too," Konerko said. It was almost a year ago that Konerko told Garfien that he was pondering retirement once his contract is up.
- It's hard to find ace-level pitching available in a trade, but Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal cites Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy and Jarrod Parker as pitchers who could be on the block should their teams fall out of contention next season. Parker may seem like a premature trade target but MacPherson notes that "the Athletics have a history of trading young pitchers for even younger pitchers."
- The Rangers have signed the most international prospects that appear in Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook, B-A's Ben Badler writes. Fifteen international players originally signed by the Rangers are ranked either among their own top 30 prospects or in the top-30 lists of other teams, as determined by Baseball America. At the bottom of the list are the Astros, who have just two international signings ranked.
Interest in Farnsworth has intensified recently, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last week. The Meister Sports Management client had multiple offers at that time. Farnsworth, 36, posted a 4.00 ERA with 8.3 K/9, 4.7 BB/9 and a 55.1% ground ball rate in 27 innings for the Rays in 2012. He earned $3.3MM in 2012, up from $2.6MM in 2011.
- Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN in Minneapolis suggests reliever Michael Wuertz will soon sign a minor league deal with a National League team (Twitter link).
- NL East teams such as the Phillies, Marlins, Nationals and Mets are keeping tabs on free agent right-hander Brandon Webb, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).
- The Mets won’t trade Zack Wheeler to acquire Justin Upton from Arizona, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter link). The Mets and Diamondbacks don’t see a fit for a deal involving Upton at this point, Heyman adds. New York does have interest in high-profile outfielders such as Upton.
- The Red Sox have seen all of Javier Vazquez's starts in Puerto Rico, Peter Gammons of MLB Network reports (on Twitter). Many clubs will be watching the free agent right-hander pitch today, Gammons notes. Vazquez, 36, has said he's not in a hurry to sign.
MLBTR’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and Jason Martinez of MLB Depth Charts discussed the R.A. Dickey trade, the Josh Hamilton signing, the Anibal Sanchez deal and the latest rumors on todays’ edition of the Rosters & Rumblings podcast. Click here to listen in, and continue reading for the latest from around the league...
- The Mets are closing in on adding an outfielder, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma's source tells him that the player hasn't previously been linked to the Mets (Twitter links). Puma doesn't specify if the acquisition would come via free agency or trade. New York has previously been linked to Cody Ross, which seems to rule him out.
- Sanchez's agent, Gene Mato, told Anthony Fetch of the Detroit Free Press that Sanchez left a larger offer from an unnamed team on the table at the Winter Meetings. The right-hander didn't want to make his decision based solely on money but also on where he felt comfortable.
- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that his team is interested in Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Gonzalez (Twitter link).
- Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tweets that the Marlins aren't particularly interested in Peter Bourjos because they'd prefer a better hitting outfielder. Earlier today it was reported that the Fish may be interested in Bourjos.
- Some teams aren't convinced that Hiroyuki Nakajima's glove is good enough to play shortstop at the Major League level, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN. The Japanese slugger signed with the Athletics earlier today.
- Former Cubs coach Pat Listach has been hired by the Dodgers as the team's new minor league infield coordinator, according to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune (on Twitter).
THURSDAY, 8:28am: Grilli will decide between the Cubs, Blue Jays, Giants, and Pirates at 10am today, or earlier if one of the teams goes to three years on the 36-year-old, tweets Peter Gammons of MLB Network. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says Grilli will stay in Pittsburgh if no one adds the third year.
WEDNESDAY, 4:38pm: Grilli is still wading through all the offers presented to him, Sheffield told MLB.com's Tom Singer. The Brewers haven't talked with Sheffield this week, GM Doug Melvin told reporters.
12:42pm: If Grilli is close to a deal, it's not with the Brewers, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
10:50am: Jason Grilli's agent, former MLB slugger Gary Sheffield, tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link) that he's nearing a deal for his client. However, Sheffield didn't reveal which team was closing in on Grilli.
As Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes, Grilli is expected to choose from nearly a dozen suitors today, with the Pirates still in the mix. The right-hander figures to land a multiyear contract.