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The return of Alex Rodriguez headlines the top ten baseball storylines in 2015, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. With the 39-year-old Rodriguez and his two degenerating hips returning after serving a 162-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Cafardo posits the best-case scenario for the Yankees would be if A-Rod cannot hold up physically or the team and/or MLB come up with more damaging material to keep him out of baseball for good. Also making Cafardo’s list, the start of Rob Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner and Pete Rose testing the waters of reinstatement in the wake of the retirement of Bud Selig, a staunch opponent of allowing the all-time hits leader back into the game.
In other tidbits from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:
- It has been hard to gauge the market for James Shields because his negotiations have been private. However, a MLB source tells Cafardo the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Giants have had discussions or shown interest in the right-hander. Cafardo adds the Giants have cooled on Shields after re-signing Jake Peavy, but remain open-minded.
- The Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs are seriously pursuing Ben Zobrist with the Rays‘ asking price being at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
- Dan Uggla is confident in returning to his former self after being diagnosed with oculomotor dysfunction (poor motion vision when moving the head or body), which was caused by being hit in the head by a pitch on two separate occasions. After a two-week exercise regimen, doctors have declared the second baseman’s motion vision normal. The Nationals, who signed Uggla to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite the day after Christmas, have prior experience in dealing with oculomotor dysfunction, as Denard Span suffered through it in 2013. The Orioles and Rangers also expressed interest in Uggla.
- Despite his less-than-stellar reputation, Cafardo finds it hard to fathom a team would not trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Cafardo notes Papelbon has found a way to keep getting batters out with diminished velocity as evident by his 106 saves over the past three seasons, including 39 (with just four blown saves) for a bad Phillies team last year.
- Clubs are only offering outfielder Nori Aoki two-year deals. The Orioles have definite interest in Aoki, who also has some appeal to the Giants.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Alex Rodriguez | Baltimore Orioles | Ben Zobrist | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Dan Uggla | James Shields | Jonathan Papelbon | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Los Angeles Dodgers | New York Yankees | Norichika Aoki | Philadelphia Phillies | San Francisco Giants | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Toronto Blue Jays | Washington Nationals
For the first time in awhile, the Yankees are showing signs of youth and upside, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Per GM Brian Cashman, the club is deeper, flexible, younger, and more diverse. Rosenthal notes that Cashman is finally operating “from a position of strength,” and “no longer is in a box.” The Yankees have options moving forward besides depending on outspending the competition. Here’s more Yankees notes from Rosenthal’s column.
- The Yankees have the prospect depth to trade for Cole Hamels if they wanted. However, Rosenthal cautions that Cashman may be reluctant to part with the depth he’s so carefully nurtured. A deal for Hamels might also start with newly acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, which would just create a new problem to solve (arguably a more difficult problem in my opinion). The Yankees had the pieces to add Johan Santana back when the the Twins were shopping him, but they kept their prospects and spent on C.C. Sabathia the following offseason. We could be in for some deja vu, especially with next offseason’s free agent market shaping up to be pitching rich.
- While the club can turn to free agency rather than trade for Hamels, Rosenthal thinks they would have re-signed Robinson Cano last offseason if they wanted to make a $200MM investment. For that reason, a pact with Max Scherzer might be unlikely.
- Cashman has three surprising trades this offseason, so guessing his behavior based on history might be misleading. The club could deal from its minor league catching depth, such as John Ryan Murphy or Gary Sanchez. Others such as Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, and Brett Gardner are less likely to be offered in trade talks.
Ubaldo Jimenez‘s first year with the Orioles was a struggle, but with three years left on his contract, the O’s are hoping for better in 2015, Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com writes. Jimenez walked 5.5 batters per nine innings en route to a 4.81 ERA after signing a four-year, $50MM deal last February. The Orioles have tried to trade him, but other teams don’t to take on the rest of his contract. Still, Dubroff notes that Jimenez struck out the side in his last appearance of the year and pitched decently in two starts immediately before that (albeit with too many walks), and Orioles manager Buck Showalter sounds hopeful about Jimenez for next season. “I’m going to be surprised if he doesn’t come in and be ready to pitch like he’s capable of consistently,” says Showalter. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Trading Cole Hamels could result in a Cliff Lee-type trade for the Phillies, but they still need to take the risk, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. The Phillies as currently constituted aren’t strong enough to win with Hamels, so they need to take a chance by trading him for multiple players who can help them win later. Zolecki adds that it’s unlikely the Phillies would deal Domonic Brown or Ben Revere at this point, since the team needs outfielders and both players are relatively young.
- Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller should be able to handle the late innings in the Yankees‘ new-look bullpen, and there are a number of options for middle relief, Mark Townsend of Yahoo! Sports writes. The newly acquired David Carpenter could play a key role in the sixth and seventh innings, with Adam Warren and Justin Wilson also helping out in important spots. (One would think lefty Chasen Shreve, who pitched brilliantly in the Atlanta system last year, could be a good matchup option at some point as well.) All that depth means the Yankees don’t have to lean too hard on reclamation projects Andrew Bailey and Esmil Rogers.
The Yankees are making the right moves to build their bullpen by adding inexpensive depth, ESPN’s Keith Law writes (Insider-only). Chasen Shreve, acquired from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos deal, gives the Yankees another hard-throwing lefty to go with Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson, and David Carpenter, the Yankees’ other acquisition in that deal, should be tough on righties. Miller, of course, was very expensive, but he was one of baseball’s best relievers last season. The Braves, meanwhile, got a project in Banuelos, and they could try to continue developing him as a starter, hoping his velocity rebounds after missing most of 2012 and all of 2013 due to injury. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Yankees are comfortable with their current rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, but they’re still likely to add pitching before Spring Training, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes in a Q+A. The team still says it will not add a big contract by signing Max Scherzer or James Shields, however.
- The Phillies have traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, but their rebuild can’t begin in earnest until Ryan Howard departs, Bob Brookover of the Inquirer writes. Howard blocks top prospect Maikel Franco, who played well down the stretch at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and in winter ball in the Dominican. Having Franco at first and Cody Asche at third makes the most sense for the Phillies going forward, Brookover argues.
It was on this day in 1986 that former White Sox, Indians and St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck passed away at the age of 71. Veeck helped break the American League’s color barrier by signing Larry Doby in 1947 and he was the last owner to bring Cleveland a World Series title, though he is perhaps best remembered today for the wacky promotions he used to draw crowds and entertain fans at the ballpark. My personal favorite was “Grandstand Managers Night,” when over a thousand St. Louis fans used placards to ‘manage’ the Browns to a victory over the A’s (Steve Wulf recently wrote about the promotion for ESPN The Magazine).
Here’s some news from around the league…
- The Red Sox have made an effort to add more regulars between the prime ages of 26-30 over the last several months, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes, as the 2014 team suffered from a mix of too many inexperienced young players and too many 30+ players who had declining seasons. “There’s no question that finding guys in that age range is appealing,” GM Ben Cherington said. “It’s a safer age range to be in if you’re investing in a player. To be clear, it’s not like we didn’t want that last year. It’s just, what were the alternatives? What were the possibilities? If we could build a team every year full of 26- to 30-year-olds, we would.”
- The Padres‘ acquisition of Brandon Maurer could pay even bigger dividends if the team explores turning Maurer back into a starting pitcher, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes for FOXSports.com. As Sullivan notes, Maurer is a decent comparable to Tyson Ross, who has enjoyed great success as a starter since coming to San Diego two years ago.
- In a comparison that surely can’t excite Cincinnati fans, ESPN’s Buster Olney (Insider-only link) writes that “The Reds…are probably where the Phillies were a year ago, although they could use a decisive determination.” Reds owner Bob Castellini is too competitive to commit to a brief rebuild, leaving the team in the difficult position of subtracting salaries (like Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon) but also adding win-now pieces (like Marlon Byrd) at the same time.
- Also from Olney, “recent machinations within the Boston organization” seem to be leading to “less influence” for Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president/CEO.
- A number of Yankees topics are addressed in a fan mailbag piece by Mike Axisa of the River Ave Blues blog, including a prediction by Axisa that New York will “go hard after Doug Fister” when the righty hits free agency next winter. Fister was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2005 and he’d require a smaller salary than other impending free agent starters like Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann.
- Also from Axisa, the Yankees could wait until after 2016 to make another big free agent splurge since the Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran contracts will be off the books. The Yankees’ strategy seems to be to sign several major players in a single offseason (as they did in 2013-14) to sacrifice only one year’s worth of high draft picks, and going on a spending spree in 2014-15 could result in a payroll in the $250MM range.
Hiroki Kuroda was said to be deciding between the Yankees, a return to Japan, and retirement this offseason. That doesn’t mean that another club didn’t try and work their way into things, however. The Padres reportedly made a serious push to sign Kuroda before he ultimately agreed to join the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. While Kuroda would have been a solid addition to San Diego’s starting five, it’s hard to feel bad for the Padres given the major acquisitions they’ve already made this winter. Here’s a look at Kuroda’s former team and more out of the AL East..
- Brendan Kuty of the Star-Ledger looked at the Yankees‘ acquisition of relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. After trading effective right-handed reliever Shawn Kelly to the Padres on Monday, Carpenter comes in as a solid replacement who is also younger and cheaper. While the 31-year-old Kelley will hit the open market next season, the 29-year-old Carpenter can’t until 2018. Shreve, meanwhile, could find a spot as the seventh man in the Yanks’ bullpen. The deal, of course, meant giving up once-promising southpaw Manny Banuelos, who will now look to get on track with the Braves.
- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com looks ahead at what might be in store for the Orioles between now and Opening Day. The O’s figure to add at least one left-handed bat for the outfield and Colby Rasmus appears to be the current favorite for that role. Baltimore executive VP Dan Duquette would also like to add a catcher and a right-handed reliever for the big league club and might make a depth signing by adding a starter in Triple-A Norfolk.
- The Yankees should be excited about pitching coach Larry Rothschild working with the newly-acquired Nathan Eovaldi, Kuty writes. The 24-year-old right hander can bring the heat, but he has yet to make that translate into gaudy strikeout totals. Eovaldi, 25 in February, has a career 6.3 K/9 versus 2.9 BB/9.
Here’s the latest on some of the top international players who seem set to join Major League Baseball in 2015…
- The Athletics, Padres and Yankees are the teams who have been particularly connected to Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, sources tell Baseball America’s Ben Badler. All three teams have a need at second base, and Badler opines that the Nationals could also be a contender for Olivera given their lack of depth at the keystone. The Marlins were also linked to Olivera earlier in the offseason though their subsequent acquisition of Dee Gordon may have solved their need for second base help.
- Also from Badler, he describes Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada as a “potential franchise player” in a clip from a new documentary by Jonathan Miller and Sami Kahn. Badler’s commentary is a continuous stream of praise, which is perhaps unsurprising given the 19-year-old Moncada’s reputation. Moncada is reportedly currently in Florida, waiting to be cleared by the US Office Of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign with a big-league team.
It was just three years ago that Banuelos was considered to be one of baseball’s top prospects and projected as a future cornerstone of the Yankees rotation. His progress, however, was halted by injuries — he pitched only 24 innings in 2012 and missed all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Returning to the mound this past season, Banuelos posted a 4.11 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 2.29 K/BB rate over 76 2/3 minor league innings spread across the high-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Injuries notwithstanding, it’s rather surprising to see New York move on quite so quickly from a pitcher who doesn’t even turn 24 years old until March. Just a few years ago, Banuelos was almost seen as an untouchable for the team, or at least someone the Yankees wouldn’t deal for anything less than an established star player.
If Banuelos regains his health and past form, the Braves may have gained a steal in a controllable young arm who has yet to even reach the bigs. It’s yet another interesting move towards youth for the Braves this offseason, as they’ve added the likes of Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried and Jace Peterson while trading Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, yet Atlanta also isn’t totally rebuilding, as evidenced by the signings of veteran free agents Nick Markakis and Jason Grilli.
Carpenter adds some immediate value to the Yankees, as the righty has posted strong numbers (a 2.63 ERA, 3.92 K/BB rate and 141 strikeouts over 126 2/3 IP) with the Braves over the last two seasons. Brian McCann apparently played a key role in Carpenter’s acquisition, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that McCann gave the Yankees a “strong endorsement” of his former Atlanta teammate. New York recently traded right-handers Shawn Kelley and David Phelps, so Carpenter and his 95mph-fastball brings some right-handed strength back to the Yankees bullpen.
Carpenter was arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and was projected to earn $1.1MM through the arb process by MLBTR’s Matt Swartz. The righty has been involved in some other notable AL East trades in recent years; Carpenter was part of the 10-player deal between the Astros and Blue Jays that brought J.A. Happ to Toronto in July 2012, and Carpenter was also dealt along with then-Jays manager John Farrell to the Red Sox in November 2012.
Shreve, 24, was picked in the 11th round of the 2010 draft and owns a 3.22 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 2.64 K/BB rate over 276 2/3 innings (all in relief) in the Braves’ farm system. He made his Major League debut last season, striking out 15 batters and allowing just one run over 12 1/3 IP. Shreve should also be in the mix to win a spot in the New York bullpen in Spring Training.
The Yankees have quietly shed salary in a series of recent transactions, like the Shawn Kelley, Martin Prado and Francisco Cervelli deals, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues writes. Those small savings could add up to something bigger, like a fraction of the money needed to sign Max Scherzer or James Shields. But Axisa feels it’s more likely the Yankees aren’t saving for any particular move, just working to make certain spots on their roster a bit younger. Here are more notes from around baseball.
- The Rockies‘ resistance to legitimate change is holding them back, Mark Townsend of Yahoo! Sports writes. They have two superstars (Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez) who haven’t stayed healthy lately, and not much else, and they haven’t been a serious contender since 2009. Meanwhile, their biggest move so far this offseason was yesterday’s pact with Nick Hundley, a decent catcher but not a difference-maker. They’ll likely make a couple more small moves (trading Wilin Rosario, adding some starting pitching), but nothing that will make them competitive now or in the future, Townsend argues.
- Former White Sox and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen would be open to returning to baseball, Scott Merkin of MLB.com writes. “Am I waiting, sitting by the phone, waiting for a phone call? No,” Guillen says. “If somebody [thinks] I can help, of course I want to do it. If that comes, that would be awesome. But if not, my life right now is pretty healthy.” Merkin mentions the possibility that Guillen’s lack of filter might be too much risk in an era of social media. If Guillen wants to return to baseball, he might have to take a position as a base coach or minor-league manager to prove he won’t be a distraction.
The Rays are in a tough spot with utility fielder Ben Zobrist, writes Richard Justice of MLB.com. On the one hand, big seasons from a couple key personnel could allow the Rays to compete in the AL East. Tampa Bay is accustomed to competing in a tough environment with under-the-radar talent. However, Zobrist is a free agent after 2015. One of GM Matt Silverman’s top tasks is to buff the farm system, and a Zobrist trade could certainly contribute. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan points to Jason Heyward as a comparable trade piece.
- The Yankees are heading in an odd direction – they’re getting younger, writes FanGraphs’ Drew Fairservice for FOX Sports. While the Bronx Bombers have a history of leaning on established veterans, they’ll turn to a number of relative unknowns in 2015. Among those are shortstop Didi Gregorius, second baseman Rob Refsnyder, and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The result is a highly volatile roster. We could witness an unexpectedly competitive season if the ball bounces the right way, but the Yankees could also end up in the basement. Not everything depends on youngsters. The club could use a “dead cat bounce” from a number of its veterans like Brian McCann, C.C. Sabathia, and Carlos Beltran.
- The Red Sox are beyond the $189MM luxury tax threshold for next season, reports the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber. While owner John Henry said he’d blow past the threshold for Jon Lester, it’s unclear if he’ll do the same for lesser talents. The Sox could still benefit from an ace, so expect GM Ben Cherrington to monitor the markets of Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Phillies trade target Cole Hamels.