The 36-year-old inked a minor league deal with Houston in February that would have paid him $1.5MM if he made the team’s big league roster. Cotts began the 2015 season with the Brewers before an August trade sent him to the Twins. Between the two clubs, the veteran posted a 3.41 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 63 1/3 innings. Over the course of ten big league seasons, Cotts owns a 3.96 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. The Pro Star Management client held left-handed batters to a .186/.243/.330 slash last year and struggled against right-handers.
The Astros have released lefty Neal Cotts, the club announced. Cotts was in camp on a minor league deal that contained an opt-out for March 26 if he wasn’t on Houston’s MLB roster.
The release is something of an unfortunate birthday present for Cotts, who turns 36 today, though he still has over a week to try and catch on with another club prior to Opening Day. The 10-year veteran posted a 3.41 ERA, 8.2 K/9 and 2.64 K/BB rate over 63 1/3 innings with the Brewers and Twins last season, holding left-handed batters to just a .186/.243/.330 slash line. Cotts has very even lefty/righty splits over his career, though right-handed hit him hard (.867 OPS) in 2015.
Houston also optioned left-hander Kevin Chapman to the minors, so with Chapman and Cotts out of the picture, it’s possible Tony Sipp may be the only southpaw in the Astros bullpen. As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle tweets, veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez still has a chance at the last open spot in the pen, competing with righty Dan Straily.
The Padres very nearly passed on A.J. Preller in the club’s 2014 general manager hiring process, Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. President Mike Dee says he had settled on another candidate — very likely, now-Angels GM Billy Eppler, but took Preller up on his request for a final sit-down “just as a kind of courtesy, because he was so good throughout the process.” Preller obviously made a great final impression, because Dee left the meeting convinced in the young executive and told San Diego chairman Ron Fowler the next morning that he’d “had a change of heart overnight.” The story details how the organization’s current leadership group came together, and is well worth a full read.
Here’s more from out west:
- The Giants plan to meet with representatives of first baseman Brandon Belt this week to discuss a long-term contract, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports. Baggarly takes a deep and excellent look at the complicated matter of valuing the soon-to-be 28-year-old, talking with Belt and GM Bobby Evans about the upcoming talks. For his part, Belt says he hopes to remain in San Francisco but notes: “It’s all going to come down to what’s fair. And, you know, I hate to say it like that, but that’s the reality.” Evans declined to offer any thoughts on what might be fair from the team’s perspective, but said that the organization “believe[s] in his bat, his defense, his character and the continuity that he, if healthy, can add to our lineup.” He went on to note some of the matters that may hold down the team’s bottom-line on price: “Strikeouts are certainly a challenge for him, but he’s also a guy who gets on base at a pretty fair clip. It’s a fair debate in the sense of the different perspectives. But on some level, injuries have been more of an issue than performance.”
- While Angel Pagan is showing well this spring, the Giants are dealing with concerns at the catching position, Baggarly further reports. In particular, presumed backup Andrew Susac is struggling with soreness in his right wrist, which was operated on last fall. While there are options on hand, including veterans George Kottaras and Miguel Olivo, and the younger Trevor Brown, Susac has long been viewed as a legitimate talent and will be looking to play an increasingly important role in support of the great Buster Posey.
- Trevor Story has made a strong case to take over at shortstop for the Rockies this spring, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. GM Jeff Bridich wouldn’t commit to a decision, but praised Story’s ability and approach in camp and certainly suggested he’d continue to have every opportunity to win the job as camp draws to a closer — regardless of service-time considerations. Meanwhile, promising backstop Tom Murphy has been sent down to minor league camp, with expectations that he’ll get plenty of time at Triple-A, but could well find his way to the majors at some point during the season to come.
- Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs will return to competitive action on Thursday for the first time since his Tommy John procedure, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register tweets. The Halos’ rotation hasn’t developed quite as hoped this spring, making Skaggs’ already-important comeback all the more critical. Fletcher suggests he could be ready for regular season action as soon as late April.
- The Astros are getting close to making some decisions in rounding out their bullpen, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart explains. Lefties Wandy Rodriguez and Neal Cotts have opt-out dates of Saturday, per the report, and they are embroiled in competition with a group of other arms — including the out-of-options Dan Straily.
11:18am: Cotts would earn $1.5MM upon making the Major League roster and can earn up to $1.25MM more via incentives, reports Jon Heyman (on Twitter). Additionally, Cotts’ contract contains opt-out dates on March 26 and June 1 if he’s not in the Majors.
Cotts, who will turn 36 next month, posted a 3.41 ERA, 8.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 63 1/3 innings split between the Brewers and Twins last season. Along the way, he held left-handed batters to a .573 OPS. The Astros had been hunting for left-handed relief depth, having recently been connected to Randy Choate. Cotts doesn’t have a significant platoon split for his career, which means he isn’t ideally suited to be a LOOGY, but he’s generally effective and can certainly handle left-handed batters as needed.
For his career, Cotts has a 3.96 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in parts of ten seasons. In addition to the Brewers and Twins, he’s appeared with the White Sox, Cubs and Rangers.
The Red Sox have been largely dormant since acquiring Carson Smith and Roenis Elias from the Mariners during the Winter Meetings, but Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the team is considering some of the remaining left-handed relief options on the open market, naming Neal Cotts and former Red Sox hurler Franklin Morales as a pair of the options currently being discussed.
Boston currently has Robbie Ross, Tommy Layne and Elias as left-handed relief options on the 40-man roster. Layne, though, struggled with his control in 2015, and Elias has hasn’t done much in the way of relief work in the Majors or minors (five relief appearances dating back to 2011), so the team may prefer to keep him as a starting pitcher and stash him at Triple-A for depth purposes.
Morales, who turned 30 last month, spent parts of three seasons with the Red Sox from 2011-13, working to a 3.90 ERA in 134 total innings as a member of the Red Sox organization. However, he struggled quite a bit upon being traded back to the Rockies and had to settle for a minor league deal with the Royals last offseason. That proved to be a shrewd pickup by GM Dayton Moore, who was rewarded when Morales turned in 62 1/3 innings of 3.18 ERA ball, averaging 5.9 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings. Most of Morales’ work did come in low-leverage situations, but he nonetheless held left-handed opponents to a paltry .192/.245/.313 batting line with the Royals en route to his second World Series ring in three years.
Cotts, 36 in March, was absent from baseball for three full seasons before a resurgent campaign with the Rangers in 2013. Since his return to the bigs, he has a 3.03 ERA and a 186-to-63 K/BB ratio in 187 innings split between Texas, Milwaukee and Minnesota. He was abnormally homer-prone in 2015, allowing 12 homers in 63 1/3 innings, but still managed a 3.41 ERA with solid strikeout and walk rates while holding opposing lefties to a .178/.243/.330 batting line. Right-handed batters crushed Cotts, though, and his velocity dropped notably from its 2013-14 levels, as he averaged 89.9 mph on his heater after sitting at 91.6 over the previous two-year span.
It’s not clear from Abraham’s report whether the team is consider Major League or minor league contracts in free agency, but we’re at the point of the offseason where some players coming off solid overall seasons will likely need to settle for minor league pacts (in some cases with notable big league base salaries in the event that they land on the 25-man roster at the end of camp). Other names on the free-agent market Craig Breslow (a familiar face in Boston), Manny Parra, Brian Duensing, Matt Thornton and Eric O’Flaherty, who is said to be nearing a decision on where to sign for the 2016 season.
Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette said today that his club is hoping to tie up an agreement with top free agent reliever Darren O’Day in short order, as Rich Dubroff of CSNmidatlantic.com tweets. “We’re continuing to work on that Darren O’Day project,” said Duquette. “We’re going to try to bring that to a head here in the next couple of days.”
Here’s more on an active market for relievers:
- About a dozen teams have “checked in” on free agent righty Steve Cishek, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets. Non-tendered southpaw Cesar Ramos is also drawing wide interest he notes. But the Twins haven’t looked into either of those options. The club is set to meet with the representatives of Fernando Rodney and has some interest in lefty Tony Sipp as well.
- 39-year-old lefty Matt Thornton has drawn interest from six clubs, including the Twins, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter links). Thornton still brings a big fastball, and agent Adam Hubble says his client still hopes to pitch for another three or four seasons despite his advanced age.
- As has previously been reported, and Twins GM Terry Ryan confirmed today, Minnesota has interest in a reunion with lefty Neal Cotts, Berardino tweets. “We still have interest,” said Ryan.
- The Astros “have remained interested” in Yankees closer Andrew Miller, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. It remains far from clear, of course, whether any team will be willing to offer enough to get New York to part with the outstanding lefty, though Houston certainly has the young starting pitching coveted by the Yanks.
- As has seemed apparent all along, the Astros are continuing to cast a wide net after apparently missing on Aroldis Chapman. Per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter), Houston is “looking” not only at Miller but also Mark Melancon of the Pirates. And Drew Storen of the Nationals might feature as a “fallback option,” he adds.
- While the prognosis seems promising, it’s worth noting also that Astros set-up man Pat Neshek just underwent foot surgery, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. Neshek was forced to pitch through the injury last year
- While internal options like Scott Oberg and Jairo Diaz will be considered, the Rockies also intend to check the market for a closer, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports on Twitter. Colorado recently non-tendered John Axford, who held down the 9th after Adam Ottavino was lost to Tommy John surgery.
- The Athletics took a shot at signing righty Mark Lowe before he landed in Detroit, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Oakland has already done quite a bit of work in the bullpen, but it seems that the club could still be eyeing further additions.
- The Tigers are now moving down the line to address the team’s need for a left-handed reliever, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. After already making several pitching additions, Detroit could consider free agents such as Antonio Bastardo, Tony Sipp, and Craig Breslow, says Fenech, though it remains unclear whether the club has specific interest in any of those particular players.
- While the Mets were involved in talks for Chapman over the summer, assistant GM John Ricco said today that the team hasn’t pursued him over the winter, as Tim Rohan of the New York Times reports on Twitter.
- Former Royals minor league lefty Buddy Baumann appears to be quite a hot commodity among minor league free agents, per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). Despite never having thrown an MLB inning, Baumann has already drawn five big league offers this winter. The 27-year-old worked to a 3.04 ERA in 77 frames at Triple-A last year, spending most of his time in the pen, with 9.8 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9.
Slugger Chris Davis is not the “top priority” for Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports on Twitter. A source tells Crasnick that St. Louis’s reported interest in the free agent is “overblown.” Of course, it remains tricky to find a perfect fit for the slugger, whose market still seems to be developing. From an analytical perspective, though, he appears to be a fairly solid match with the Cards. Indeed, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes picked the former Oriole to land there.
Here’s the latest from the rest of the free agent market:
- Top free agent outfielder Jason Heyward looks more like a “secondary option” for the Cubs, Buster Olney of ESPN.com tweets. In other words, Chicago is pursuing other opportunities, but could pivot to chase Heyward if those other possibilities don’t come to fruition.
- The Mets’ interest in Ben Zobrist is real, but that doesn’t mean the team will promise him four years to get a deal done, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports. New York’s pursuit of Zobrist is part of a flexible offseason plan, writes Rubin, in which various types of additions could be considered at the second base position — and elsewhere — as the market dictates.
- Three teams are “in the mix” for free agent middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. He’s expected to ink a deal “within the next week or so,” per Cotillo, which would seem to suggest that the veteran could find his next team by the time the Winter Meetings are wrapped up.
- The Royals have had “encouraging talks” with free agent righty Chris Young about a return, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports. Both the 36-year-old and the team have expressed interest in a continued relationship, though it remains to be seen whether other clubs will make a push for his services — and, if so, whether Kansas City will be willing and able to meet or beat the market.
- Similarly, the Twins have real interest in bringing back lefty reliever Neal Cotts, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports. Minnesota added Cotts in an August waiver trade. Fellow free agent southpaw Brian Duensing, meanwhile, tells Berardino that he hasn’t heard anything yet from the only professional organization he’s ever played for.
The Twins were eliminated from the playoffs earlier today, notes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (video). Heyman looked at possible offseason plans for the club. The lineup is youthful and includes top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and former top prospect Aaron Hicks. Eddie Rosario also had a strong season, and Max Kepler is waiting in the wings for an opportunity. The future may be bright, but experience is an issue. Minnesota may benefit from to re-signing Torii Hunter (more on that in a moment), but may need to look at him as a fourth outfielder.
Here’s more from Minnesota:
- Heyman also highlights the pitching staff as an area that needs improvement. The club will lose Mike Pelfrey to free agency, and he had a deceptively decent season. They’ll hope to get full, healthy seasons out of Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana next year. Another veteran in the Pelfrey mold could make sense. Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them compete for a second tier starter like Mike Leake. The club could look at themselves as the 2016 version of the Cubs. The bullpen also needs work. Glen Perkins is a fine anchor, but he’s missed time at the end of the last two seasons with a neck issue.
- Hunter remains undecided about retiring, he tells reporters including Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (via Twitter). “This possibly could be my last game. And there’s a really good chance.” Betsy Halfand of MLB.com has more detail. Hunter says he would have announced his retirement months ago if the Twins had suffered through another futile. However, the possibility that they could return to the postseason next year has delayed his decision. He’ll likely wait until after the college football season (both of his sons play) before making an announcement.
- Hunter does say he’s not interested in a part time role, “Eighty one games? I’m not coming back for that.” If the Twins want to re-sign him, they may need to get creative with some of their younger players. The 40-year-old is coming off his first below average offensive campaign since 2003. He did manage to hit 22 home runs over 563 plate appearances. An unusually low .257 BABIP looks like the culprit behind his poor average and on base percentage.
- Reliever Neal Cotts “would love” to return to the Twins next season, writes Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Cotts, 35, signed a one-year, $3MM contract with the Brewers last offseason. The Twins acquired him in mid-August. With Minnesota, he posted a decent 3.95 ERA with 5.93 K/9, and 2.63 BB/9 in 13 and 2/3 innings. Presumably, he would require a similar commitment to re-sign for 2016.
Even with salaries for top executives continuing to rise, Theo Epstein is still a long-term fit for the Cubs, Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago writes. “I am committed to the Cubs and could not be happier,” says Epstein, who is signed through 2016. “As for an extension, there are a lot more important things going on right now in the organization. We just haven’t gotten around to it. I am sure we will at an appropriate time.” Epstein’s Cubs are in good position to win a Wild Card spot, and he’s in the penultimate year of a five-year, $18.5MM contract. That’s a lot for an executive, but perhaps not for one with Epstein’s track record. Andrew Friedman’s contract with the Dodgers, for example, is almost twice as large, at $35MM.
Here’s more from the NL Central:
- Michael Morse headed from the Marlins to the Dodgers and then on to Pittsburgh in an unusual series of transactions last month, but he’s happy to be with the Pirates, Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com writes. “The Dodgers did me a great favor. They told me they had to designate me, but they said they would find a good place for me,” says Morse. “I’m happy to get an opportunity with a team headed in the right direction.” The Dodgers designated Morse for assignment after taking on his contract in the Mat Latos – Alex Wood – Hector Olivera trade, then shipped him to Pittsburgh in exchange for Jose Tabata. Morse is off to a good start with the Bucs, reaching base in 11 of his first 24 plate appearances.
- The Brewers view the trade of Neal Cotts to the Twins as an indirect swap for Cesar Jimenez, tweets Tom Haudricourt of MLB.com. Milwaukee claimed Jimenez from the Phillies about half a day before dealing Cotts to Minnesota. GM Doug Melvin pointed to pointed out that Jimenez, 30, has two additional years of club control. The Brewers will at least receive cash from the Twins if not a player (tweet). The two players are actually reasonably comparable in all ways except major league experience. In 429 and 2/3 innings, Cotts has a 3.96 ERA, 8.63 K/9, and 3.96 BB/9. Jimenez isn’t too far off those rates with a 4.15 ERA, 6.27 K/9, and 3.93 BB/9 in 84 and 2/3 innings.
- Melvin also discussed the possibility of additional waiver trades, writes Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. “My gut feeling is it’s probably tough,” says Melvin of further trading. Milwaukee has put about 20 players through waivers. In most cases, the claiming team doesn’t even engage in a trade discussion – they’re just blocking a deal to another club.
Minnesota was obviously the team that won the waiver claim for Cotts, as was reported earlier today. The 35-year-old bolsters a pen that was already struggling before an injury to closer Glen Perkins further reduced its depth. And Minnesota’s other two pen lefties — Brian Duensing and Ryan O’Rourke — have not been very effective.
Cotts has looked like a pure lefty specialist this year, holding opposing lefties to a .185/.230/.346 slash while being tagged to the tune of a .847 OPS by right-handed hitters. But he’s actually posted very neutral platoon splits over his career, and was significantly better against righties last season.
Adding Cotts to a club that remains in the Wild Card hunt will tack on $721K to the Minnesota payroll this year, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press calculates (Twitter link). For the Brewers, they’ll save that amount, pick up the PTBNL (or additional cash), and open a roster spot for the just-claimed Cesar Jimenez, who may well have been added with a deal in mind.