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A group of former minor leaguers has filed a lawsuit protesting that while they were playing, they received less than minimum wage and did not receive overtime, working for tiny monthly salaries to pursue their dream of making it to the Majors. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star traveled to Clinton, Iowa as part of a long exposé on working conditions in the minor leagues. Class A players, for example, only make about $6,300 for an entire season, earning only per diems for instructional leagues and mandatory spring training. NBA and NHL minor leaguers make many times that amount. The extremely low wages for minor league baseball players might not be a hardship for early-round picks who receive six- or seven-figure bonuses, but they’re especially tough on the many players who sign for only a few thousand dollars. Here are more notes from around the game.
- A number of Cardinals players were at Busch Stadium Friday to pack their belongings, with some players not knowing whether they’ll return next season, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. 2014 was “up and down,” says Peter Bourjos, who made $1.2MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. “Inconsistent playing time, inconsistent results — that’s how it goes sometimes. If there’s an opportunity out there, I’d like to play every day.” One player who sounds like he’ll certainly be returning is John Lackey, who says he has “every intention” of playing next season even though the Cardinals have an option on him for the league minimum salary. Also, impending free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski says he’d like to continue playing. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals will re-sign him, however, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz at the catcher position.
- Two years after their last playoff game, the Yankees‘ roster is dramatically different, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog writes. Of the 19 players Yankees who appeared in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, just four — Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — are under contract for 2015.
MLB Trade Rumors is firing up this year’s version of the Free Agent Faceoff series, in which comparable free agents are analyzed side by side. Each post will conclude with a reader vote on the value of the players involved. The first faceoff featured three shortstops. In the second, we’ll look at a pair of starters:
It’s a common consensus this year that the free agent class for starting pitchers has a great deal of separation between the top three starters — Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields — and the rest of the class. While opinions on the ranking of those three vary (perhaps a topic for another installment in this series!), there’s a cloudier picture when it comes to the second tier of free agents. Most of the pitchers in the second tier come with some form of blemish on their record, be it a checkered injury history, the possibility of a qualifying offer, inconsistent year-to-year results or some combination of the above. Today we’ll take a look at a pair of 31-year-old starters who can each try to make a case that he’s the best among the second tier: Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy. (This is, of course, not to say that the “best among the second tier” is specifically limited to these two.)
McCarthy vs. Santana is somewhat of a case of tantalizing upside versus steady and reliable. McCarthy totaled an even 200 innings in 2014 — the first time in his career he’s reached that mark and just the second time in which he’s topped 180 frames. Santana, on the other hand, threw 196 innings and has topped the 200 mark on five occasions in his career. He’s averaged 207 innings per season over the past five years — durability to which McCarthy cannot lay claim.
In four of the aforementioned seasons, Santana has posted an ERA south of 4.00 — bottoming out at 3.24 last season in Kansas City. McCarthy’s best seasons came in 2011-12 with Oakland when he posted a combined 3.29 ERA in 281 1/3 innings. However, those two seasons are the only in which he’s successfully kept his ERA under 4.00.
To this point, the argument seems skewed heavily in Santana’s favor, but McCarthy’s case is certainly not without merit. When looking at the two through a sabermetric lens, McCarthy can be seen as not only the better pitcher, but arguably one of the better pitchers in the league. McCarthy’s 2.86 FIP in 2011 led the league, and a comparison of their marks in ERA (3.81 vs. 3.87), FIP (3.44 vs. 4.19), xFIP (3.43 vs. 3.88) and SIERA (3.60 vs. 3.93) all favor McCarthy. The Yankees were likely drawn to McCarthy’s sabermetric profile this July when trading for him, and that investment paid off handsomely, as McCarthy pitched to a stellar 2.89 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 90 1/3 innings down the stretch.
McCarthy has generated more ground-balls than Santana since buying into sabermetric principles back in 2009, but he took his ground-ball rate to a new level in 2014 (52.6 percent) while Santana regressed in the same area (42.7 percent). Both pitchers possess strong command and can miss bats, but McCarthy has shown better control over the past four seasons while Santana has bested McCarthy in strikeout rate each year. McCarthy’s strikeout rate did jump in 2014, along with his velocity (career-best 92.9 mph average fastball), but Santana’s strikeout rate rose as well (even against non-pitchers in the NL).
Other factors to consider: Santana will pitch all of next season at age 32, while McCarthy won’t be 32 until July. Additionally, Santana is eligible to receive a qualifying offer, meaning he could again come with draft pick compensation attached to his name; McCarthy is ineligible to receive a QO after being traded midseason.
Each player has been on the receiving end of a Free Agent Profile at MLBTR (McCarthy’s penned by me, Santana’s by Tim Dierkes), which provide even more in-depth looks at the pros and cons of each. Use those as you wish to help formulate an opinion before voting…
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe examines Dan Duquette’s unusual journey to becoming the Orioles‘ GM. A Boston-area native, Duquette realized his dream at 36 years of age when he was named GM of the Red Sox, but that came to an abrupt end in 2002 when he was dismissed by new owners, only to see the Sox — anchored by a number of players he drafted or acquired — win the World Series two years later. Duquette spent 10 years away from the game, coaching his kids’ teams, founding a league in Isarael and running a college summer team, Abraham notes. Duquette revealed to Abraham that he was offered multiple jobs that he turned down — including a position with the Braves and an adviser role with the Red Sox — because he believed he’d get another crack at a GM role. Duquette feels the time away has made him friendlier and put things into perspective; his cousin, Jim Duquette (an analyst for MLB Network), says there are distinct differences between how Dan was with the Red Sox and how he is with the O’s. He isn’t bothered as much by “little things” and is less guarded. “Baltimore isn’t Boston. It isn’t New York. That aspect has been good for him. He doesn’t take himself so seriously,” said Jim.
More from the AL East…
- Mike Napoli has dealt with injuries to his finger, back and toe, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, but despite all of those issues he’ll be undergoing surgery for a different procedure on Nov. 4 . Napoli will undergo Bimaxillary Advancement surgery in an attempt to end a career-long battle with sleep apnea. “I’ve tried numerous things and none of them worked,” Napoli told Bradford via text. “Dental mouth piece, CPAP machine, medicines … It’s just gotten to the point where I have to get this done.”
- The Yankees have had serious dialogue about hiring Padres senior VP of baseball operations and former Mets GM Omar Minaya, multiple sources tell Newsday’s Erik Boland. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweets that the team would be interested in Minaya in a scouting or advisory role — not as a replacement for farm director Mark Newman. As Boland notes, GM Brian Cashman has brought former GMs into the fold before, hiring Kevin Towers as a special assignment scout in 2009 and hiring Jim Hendry to fill the same role since 2012.
- Recently fired Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long is generating quite a bit of interest from other clubs, reports Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter links). To this point, Long has already spoken with the Mets, Braves and Blue Jays, including a meeting with Mets GM Sandy Alderson. The D’Backs, Brewers and Pirates are all possibilities as well, per Feinsand.
It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games. The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902. Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?
Here’s some news from around baseball…
- “If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully. Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
- If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold. The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
- On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
- Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year). Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
- The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.
The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..
- If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays. When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
- Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house. The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option. However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
- The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).
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.
With J.J. Hardy off the market, teams looking for a pure shortstop suddenly lack an obvious potential solution. Sure, Hanley Ramirez still hits like an All-Star corner outfielder, but he also accumulated the second-most negative defensive value of any shortstop in 2014 (per Fangraphs) and has put his 20’s in his rearview. Any club signing him will have to expect a move to third at some point over the life of his deal, if not from the get-go.
Teams that simply want a new field marshal up the middle will have three primary options to choose from, each of whom brings somewhat different strengths, downsides, and expected contract terms.
As we sit here today, the Indian-turned-National Asdrubal Cabrera has yet to turn 29 years old. He has never quite met his promise, but has put up several well-above-average years both at the plate and in overall value. Defensive metrics have never been fans of the glove, but Cabrera is pretty solid at the plate and is a good bet to deliver 15 homers and 10 steals. And while he’s had his share of bumps and bruises, Cabrera has not missed any significant stretches since a forearm fracture back in 2010. But Cabrera was shifted to second after his mid-season trade to the Nationals, and some think that’s where he should stay.
Stephen Drew, most recently of the Yankees, is the oldest of the bunch, and he is coming off of a disastrous, qualifying offer-shortened 2014 season. Drew was worth over one win below replacement, thanks to an abysmal .162/.237/.299 slash over 300 plate appearances. But he has otherwise been pretty good when healthy, and had a good enough 2013 that he spurned the one-year, $14MM QO in hopes of finding a longer deal on the open market. And there’s an argument to be made that Drew is the best defender of this group. Given his depressed value, he could be a popular buy-low candidate.
The Athletics’ Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, is just one year removed from posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. But that was his first season of full-time action, and his age-30 follow-up year was not nearly so sterling (.249/.321/.355, 6 home runs). He did see improved defensive marks, but UZR is much more favorably inclined to his work up the middle than is Defensive Runs Saved, which saw him as a -10 defender. But if you believe he can stay at short, in some ways, Lowrie could end up being the safest bet of this bunch while also delivering a bit of power upside.
Let’s go ahead and take a poll. It will not ask you to pick the best player, or the one who’ll get the largest contract. Rather, it asks for which player — given their likely expected contract situation — is likely to provide the best value. For instance, given his age and durability, Cabrera is the best bet of this bunch for a lengthy deal — but that could make him the most expensive to acquire. And a rebound from Drew could make him an incredible bargain.
Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.” Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).
As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…
- With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
- Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season. Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
- Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever. This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
- First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.” Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
- MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
- The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.
Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…
- The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
- Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
- The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015. Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach. Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
- Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).
The Yankees wouldn’t have been willing to offer J.J. Hardy more than two guaranteed years in free agency, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports. The Bronx Bombers had “mild interest” in Hardy had he reached the open market but their recent underwhelming returns on veteran free agents left the team hesitant about a longer-term deal. Hardy received three years and a vesting option for a fourth in his extension with the Orioles. Madden predicts the Yankees will look to sign Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year pillow contract as both players look to rebuild their value.
Here’s some more from the 27-time World Series champs…
- David Robertson could be the first player to accept a qualifying offer, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post feels the closer will remain with the Yankees for at least the 2015 season. The team figures to issue the $15.3MM, one-year qualifying offer to Robertson as the attached draft pick compensation could hurt his free agent market and make him easier to sign to a long-term deal. From Robertson’s perspective, accepting the QO would ensure he gets at least one big payday in an uncertain free agent closer market and he’d still be in position to land another big deal in an extension with the Yankees or perhaps even another qualifying offer next winter. MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently examined Robertson in a free agent profile and predicted he could receive a four-year, $52MM deal this offseason.
- Now that Brian Cashman has been extended for three years, the general manager will be able to “create a Yankees team in his own image, with his own vision and his own players, and to finally build his own legacy,” ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews writes. This may seem odd given that Cashman has already been the team’s GM since 1998, though Matthews argues that Cashman has never had to truly build a team since the Yankees always had the “Core Four” backbone in place since the Gene Michael/Bob Watson management era.
- In a conference call with reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch), Cashman said that “I think it’s best to assume that we should have contingencies in place” should Alex Rodriguez no longer be able to handle regular third base duties. “Until we get to see it on a daily basis, I think it’s just hard to assume anything,” Cashman said. Joe Girardi recently spoke with Rodriguez about working out at first base, and A-Rod could provide some valuable depth at the position given Mark Teixeira‘s injury history.