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Nelson Cruz Rumors
The Orioles announced that they have made a one-year, $15.3MM qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz and also re-instated Manny Machado and Matt Wieters from the 60-day disabled list, bringing the team’s 40-man roster to 33. At this point, it appears that Nick Markakis will not be the recipient of a QO, which should help his stock on the free agent market. Of course, he’s also said to be discussing a four-year deal to remain in Baltimore.
Cruz signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Orioles last winter after seeking as much as $75MM+ despite battling the negative impact of both a QO and a season-ending PED suspension. His 2014 performance indicated that teams needn’t be overly concerned with his power production following the suspension, however, as he hit .271/.333/.525 with Major League leading 40 home runs (plus two more in the postseason).
Cruz is expected to turn down the offer, of course, on the heels of that excellent season in hopes of finding the multi-year deal he wasn’t able to secure last winter. If he signs elsewhere, the O’s will get a comp pick at the end of next year’s first round, and the signing club will forfeit its top unprotected draft pick.
MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker can be used to monitor all players who received a qualifying offer over the next week until the deadline for them to make their decisions, which will be 5pm ET next Monday.
The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.
Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:
- Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
- The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
- Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
- The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.
The Marlins hope to have Giancarlo Stanton signed to a long-term extension before the Winter Meetings, Miami president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link). Hill said that Jose Fernandez‘s rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well but the team is “not going to push anything because he is so valuable to us.” Not included in the audio link, but available via Bowden’s Twitter feed, are Hill’s remarks about wanting to add another starting pitcher and a big bat to the Marlins’ roster this offseason.
Here’s some more from around baseball…
- Ten hitters who the Mariners could pursue via trades or free agency are listed by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Victor Martinez, Michael Cuddyer and Billy Butler seem to be Seattle’s likeliest targets, Dutton believes, while players like Melky Cabrera (desire to play on the East Coast), Nelson Cruz and Yasmany Tomas (salary demands) seem unlikely to join the M’s.
- Alex Rios is likely viewed by the Mariners and other teams as “a fall-back option” if their preferred outfield choices aren’t available, Dutton writes. “Few if any” scouts would sign Rios to a two-year contract, though a one-year deal worth no more than $10MM “could be a reasonable…risk.” MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Rios would find a one-year, $8.5MM deal this winter.
- A number of trends emerged from a study of how the last 46 playoff teams allocated their payroll, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Spreading salaries around seemed to be a key factor — only nine of the 46 teams spent more than 17% of their Opening Day payroll on a single player, and the teams averaged 54.5% on their five most expensive players. Of the 46 teams studied, only two had a highest-paid player who was also their most productive player (according to WAR).
- With offense down, starting pitchers (maybe even the top arms) could see their market diminished in free agency this winter, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only piece. Conversely, this also raises the value of free agent hitters, plus some teams could receive some big returns in trades for quality bats. Olney lists a few hitters that have already been mentioned as possible trade candidates (i.e. Yoenis Cespedes and Cubs‘ middle infielders) as well as longer-shot options as Manny Machado.
- Mike Elias, the Astros‘ director of amateur scouting, discusses Houston’s scouting department, some prospects the difficulty in accurately grading hitting and a number of other topics as part of a wide-ranging interview with Fangraphs’ David Laurila.
Here are some of the highlights from the latest Sunday notes column by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe…
- The White Sox will have “a lot of interest” in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki, Cafardo predicts.
- David Ross was told by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington earlier this week that the club “wanted to see how the roster shook out before making a commitment to” bring back the veteran catcher. Cafardo speculates that Cherington could be keeping his options open in regards to the team’s need for a left-handed hitting bat; if one can’t be found at another position, the Sox could look to add one at catcher.
- Now that Joe Maddon is managing the Cubs, Cafardo wonders if Andrew Friedman will regret sticking with Don Mattingly in Los Angeles and not making a move to bring Maddon to the Dodgers. “I think it will be a case of, ‘Why didn’t I do what the Cubs did?’ ” a baseball executive tells Cafardo. “Joe Maddon seems to be the hot manager out there and guys like that aren’t available very often. When Maddon is out there you don’t need a long, drawn-out managerial search. If you can afford him, you hire him.”
- Rays bench coach Dave Martinez has been mentioned as a prime candidate to become the team’s next manager, and will surely be on the team’s list of interview candidates. That said, “the feeling is that if…[Martinez] was going to get the job, he would have gotten it by now,” Cafardo writes.
- Nelson Cruz‘s free agency “will test the Orioles‘ commitment to winning.” In Cafardo’s opinion, the team has “no excuses” for not re-signing such a key part of their lineup, especially with extra revenues coming in from TV and increased attendance.
Ten years ago today, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS in what has become known as “the bloody sock” game. A retrospective by MLB.com’s Ian Browne chronicles Schilling’s performance with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle and the ingenuity of the Red Sox’s medical team suturing Schilling’s ankle tendon to his skin. Before making the decision to perform the procedure on Schilling, Dr. Bill Morgan first tried it on a cadaver to see if it worked. It did and Schilling and the Red Sox went on to make baseball history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after facing a 3-0 deficit and winning the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.
Flash forward a decade and here’s the latest from the AL East:
- The Orioles need to take advantage of Nelson Cruz‘s warm feelings for the organization while they last and make their best offer to him early, opines the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. The Orioles, Schmuck adds, would like that offer to be a two-year deal with an option worth a guaranteed $30MM.
- Cruz is one of the top ten moves GM Dan Duquette made over the past two years to make the Orioles the AL East champions, writes CSNBaltimore’s Rich Dubroff.
- Despite Andrew Friedman’s departure, the decisions and evaluations that went into constructing the 2014 Rays will be the same decisions and evaluations that go into retooling the team for 2015, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. The operations department will remain the same, but with Matt Silverman at the helm and top assistants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander sharing the mantle of VP of baseball ops.
- The Rays are expected to make a series of transactions over the next few weeks to clear 40-man roster space and protect several rising prospects, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Catcher Justin O’Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and left-hander Adam Liberatore are among those who will be shielded from the Rule 5 draft.
- Defense and leadership are the calling cards the Red Sox hope will make catcher Christian Vazquez their long-term solution behind the plate, according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. The Red Sox feel his offense will develop as future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez compares Vazquez to the Cardinals‘ Yadier Molina and a NL talent evaluator likens the 24-year-old to the Phillies‘ Carlos Ruiz.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette says the team plans to increase its payroll next season, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. Duquette notes that he still needs to meet with team ownership to discuss the payroll, but he expresses confidence that it will rise.
“The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years,” says Duquette. “I expect that we’ll be able to increase our payroll because the fans have responded to our team the last couple of years.”
The Orioles will have to deal with arbitration raises for a number of key players, as well as options for Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day. They are likely to buy out their end of Nick Markakis‘ $17MM mutual option, but they’d like to retain him, Encina writes.
Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Delmon Young will be free agents. The Orioles will likely extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and Cruz has said he would like to stay in Baltimore, but Duquette cautions that it will be tricky to keep him. “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” says Duquette. “Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider.”
As Encina points out, the Orioles had an Opening Day payroll of over $107MM last year, then increased it in-season by adding Miller, Alejandro De Aza, Nick Hundley (whose 2015 option they’ll likely decline) and others. Keeping most of their existing talent (including Markakis) will likely force them to go higher than that $107MM figure. They’ve already agreed to an extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy that will pay him $11.5MM in 2015, and Adam Jones and Ubaldo Jimenez will make even more. Chris Davis, who made $10.35MM in 2014, will top the Orioles’ long list of arbitration-eligible players, which also includes Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton and De Aza.
New Rays president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, that he has no plans to hire a GM (Twitter link). Silverman seems poised to head up the baseball ops department by himself, whereas former GM and new Dodgers president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman is reportedly on the hunt for a GM in a setup that will be similar to that of the Cubs (Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer) and the Marlins (Dan Jennings/Michael Hill). Silverman isn’t expecting further changes to Tampa’s scouting or player development departments, either.
More from the AL East…
- Even after Friedman left for the Dodgers, Maddon voiced his commitment to the Rays to reporters and said he expected to talk about an extension with the club. Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune was among the reporters yesterday to speak to Silverman and hear the newly minted head of baseball ops state that he expects his manager to be with the team in 2015 and beyond. However, Silverman stopped short of saying an extension would be done this winter. “We’ve been comfortable with Joe managing in the final year of his contract. It may not be ideal, but it’s always a possibility,” said Silverman. “…I hope we all wake up one day and you see that Joe’s here even longer than he’s signed for today.”
- Following his team’s exit from the postseason, Nelson Cruz repeated to reporters, including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko (Twitter link), that he wants to return to the Orioles. Cruz said he loves both the organization and the team, but as Kubatko notes, he’s sure to be looking for a sizable free agent deal after leading the Majors in homers this season and having to settle for a one-year, $8MM contract last winter. Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun has a full article with quotes from Cruz on his time in Baltimore.
- Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan examined the Orioles‘ roster and concluded that GM Dan Duquette has done an excellent job in focusing on raising his team’s floor while many clubs are more focused on raising the ceiling. Duquette has prioritized a deep roster, and Sullivan uses negative WAR as a means of illustrating this fact. Over the past three seasons, the Orioles have received the sixth-lowest cumulative negative WAR total, suggesting that while they may not always have a lot of star power, they don’t stock up on expensive stars while punting roster spots at the bottom of their 25-man group. In this season alone, Baltimore gave just 3.2 percent of its innings to negative-WAR pitchers (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 13.4) and 3.2 percent of its plate appearances to negative-WAR position players (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 19.4). Sullivan also notes that Friedman is a master of this (the Rays have the lowest negative WAR total over the past three seasons), making it one way in which the Dodgers, who had the sixth-most negative WAR, can improve quickly.
- Though the Red Sox are known to be in pursuit of elite starting pitching this offseason, Alex Speier of WEEI.com writes that perhaps they should be placing a more significant emphasis on improving the team’s defense. Speier points out how superior both the Royals and Orioles were to the Red Sox in terms of defense and speculates that Shane Victorino‘s tremendous defensive upside is enough that those clamoring to trade him should rethink their stance. He also points out that the third base trio of Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt combined to make 24 fewer plays than a league-average third baseman in 2014 before highlighting the strong defensive reputation of free agents Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley.
The Cruz decision has been evident for quite some time, given the slugger’s MLB-leading 40 homers and strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. Cruz struggled in the wake of a qualifying offer from the Rangers last offseason, ultimately settling for a one-year, $8MM contract with Baltimore. While many contend that the qualifying offer crushed his market — and that’s certainly part of the reason for his struggles — Cruz also hit the open market with sky-high expectations in 2013, reportedly seeking as much as $75MM in the early-going. Had he been open to signing for less, a strong multi-year offer may have been on the table. However, now that he’s coming off such a strong season that put more separation between him and a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he’s a lock to turn down that QO and in a much better position to land a strong multi-year deal.
The Markakis decision could have gone either way, in my mind, but the decision to decline his option seems to indicate that he won’t be on the receiving end of a QO of his own. The Orioles, in theory, could have exercised their half of the option in hopes of Markakis declining his, then made a qualifying offer, assuming that a player at his age and with his track record wouldn’t want to play on a one-year deal. I thought that to be the likely outcome prior to Heyman’s report.
However, declining the option suggests that they’re not interested in paying him $17.5MM, which is nearly the exact amount that the buyout plus a qualifying offer of $15.3MM would total. It’s possible that Baltimore will still extend the QO in order to have saved roughly $200K in the event that Markakis accepts, but that would be a very peculiar route to take with someone who is so respected within the organization. The likely outcome now seems to be that he won’t cost a draft pick this offseason, which should dramatically improve his free agent stock.
The O’s have a large number of arbitration eligible players, including Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Bud Norris, so their arb-eligibles will inflate their payroll substantially. Because of that, it’s possible that the Orioles simply felt that they couldn’t fit both Markakis and Cruz into their 2015 budget, and their preference is to position themselves more strongly to retain Cruz’s power. The 30-year-old Markakis certainly didn’t have a poor season himself, however, as he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers and right-field defense that graded out favorably from a metrics standpoint.
Over at The Hardball Times, Jon Roegele breaks down some interesting data on Tommy John surgeries. The number of UCL replacements was a big story this year, of course. Roegele’s research suggests that, while the overall rate of return for pitchers who have undergone the procedure has not improved much since it was invented, the recovery time has been shortened significantly.
Here’s the latest from out west:
- Referring to a report that Mariners ownership had killed a deal that would have brought in free agent Nelson Cruz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Seattle’s ownership had in fact determined before the offseason that it would not sign any players linked to PED use. The details of the situation remain hazy, but Heyman indicates that Cruz’s Biogenesis-related suspension was the root of the decision.
- The Rangers are looking for a manager in the mold of Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Indeed, every one of the five external candidates under consideration have links to one of those two skippers, as does candidate and interim manager Tim Bogar. Texas is expected to whittle its search down to three finalists in the coming week, says Grant.
- Giants starter Jake Peavy thought at one point that he would be traded to the team he is now facing in the NLCS, the Cardinals, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The veteran righty could still end up in St. Louis next year, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. Peavy speaks very highly of the club and city, and could make some sense for the Cards if the team decides another established arm is needed for 2015.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal. The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him. For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego. Here’s more from today’s column..
- A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
- If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties. The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
- Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding. No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
- First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base. However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield. He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
- While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB. Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing. There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.