Newsstand Rumors

Michael Saunders To Miss 5-6 Weeks After Knee Surgery

TODAY: Toronto announced that Saunders is only expected to be out five to six weeks after undergoing his procedure. The timetable moved up because the cartilage could only be removed, not replaced, Anthopoulos told reporters, including John Lott of the National Post (Twitter links). While that could lead to some longer-term knee troubles for Saunders, it will allow him to return to action much sooner.

YESTERDAY: Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders will miss approximately the first half of the season after tearing his meniscus, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Saunders was acquired for pitcher J.A. Happ over the offseason.

The news represents a disappointing start to camp for a club that had built plenty of positive momentum over the offseason. Saunders had seemed a solid replacement for outgoing free agent Melky Cabrera. He may yet be, but the club will have to wait for the summer to find out.

GM Alex Anthopoulos says that the club will give its internal options a chance initially to fill the void.  At present, Davidi notes, the group in camp includes just three members of the 40-man (Jose Bautista, Dalton Pompey, and Kevin Pillar) along with non-roster invitees Ezequiel Carrera, Chris Dickerson, and Caleb Gindl. (Twitter links.)

Of course, Toronto will undoubtedly look hard at what is available via trade over the course of the spring. The group that it had compiled was already lacking somewhat in depth, making some kind of addition seem reasonably likely. But Anthopoulos will surely be in no rush, and could also look to work the waiver wire for a solution.


Blue Jays, Athletics Talking With Dayan Viciedo

6:11pm: With Saunders now expected to return much sooner than had been anticipated, the Jays’ impetus to add Viciedo seems to have diminished significantly. Indeed, GM Alex Anthopoulos indicated that the team will likely stick with its internal options, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca writes.

5:16pm: The Blue Jays and Athletics are among the clubs who are in active talks with free agent outfielder Dayan Viciedo, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Previous reports have suggested varying levels of interest from the Indians and Reds.

Viciedo has never reached the performance levels that had once been hoped for, but remains an interesting talent at just 26 years of age. With power to spare and outstanding numbers against lefties, Viciedo has struggled to play serviceable defense and reach base against right-handed pitching. He also can be controlled through 2017 via arbitration.

Toronto is potentially in the market for at least a temporary fix in the corner outfield after losing Michael Saunders for the first half of the season. Though a left-handed bat would probably be the better fit for a right-leaning lineup, pickings are obviously rather slim at this juncture.

As for Oakland, Viciedo would not only make potential sense as a right-handed bench bat/reserve first baseman, but could challenge for a larger role in the corner outfield. The team’s candidates to provide right-handed pop (Nate Freiman and Rule 5 pick Mark Canha) are hardly certainties. And, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, left field is not locked down for Oakland, with slick defenders Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry each coming off of rough campaigns at the plate.


Doug Melvin On Papelbon Trade Talks, K-Rod Signing

Brewers GM Doug Melvin discussed his team’s recent efforts to upgrade the back end of its bullpen in an interview today with Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Milwaukee ultimate reached agreement on a two-year, $13MM contract to bring back 2014 closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The deal with K-Rod came together after ongoing talks with the Phillies regarding Jonathan Papelbon finally “hit a dead end,” per the report. Multiple reports have suggested that Rodriguez hoped for a return to Milwaukee, where he has pitched for most of the last four campaigns, and that factor (not to mention the presence of fellow late-inning man Rafael Soriano on the market) surely transferred leverage to the Brewers on all fronts.

As for Papelbon, Melvin tells Haudricourt that details in the veteran closer’s contract posed significant hurdles in talks. “We did engage them and didn’t come to a comparable deal for both sides,” said Melvin. “We had a lot of conversations. It’s complicated because of next year with the $13MM [vesting option]. Even if you agree to a deal, you have to go to the agent about the no-trade [clause].”

The vesting option was doubly complicated to handle in trade negotiations, per the report, because of the possibility of varying usage by the teams involved. Papelbon will be owed $13MM for 2016 if he finishes 48 games this season. While the Brewers would have expected that to occur had Papelbon been installed in the 9th in Milwaukee, the potential for a mid-season closer switch by the Phillies could at least theoretically allow the team to avoid the obligation. As a result, Haudricourt writes, “how to account for that money was nearly impossible.”

Beyond that, Papelbon’s limited no-trade clause included protection from being dealt to Milwaukee without his blessing. Per the report, it was at least considered a strong possibility that Papelbon would demand his vesting option be guaranteed. And Philadelphia was apparently after “at least one top prospect,” Haudricourt writes.

 



Brewers To Re-Sign Francisco Rodriguez

TODAY, 4:30pm: The deal includes a $2MM buyout on the club option and $2MM deferral, Haudricourt reports. The cost of the option remains unclear, with Haudricourt saying that he has heard both $6MM and $8MM mentioned.

It will take a few days for the deal to be finalized since Rodriguez must first get a work visa and take his physical.

YESTERDAY, 7:44pm: Rodriguez will be paid $3.5MM in 2015 and $5.5MM in 2016, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (via Twitter).  The additional $4MM in guaranteed salary will be deferred.  The Brewers’ 2017 club option for Rodriguez is worth $6MM.

11:59am: The Brewers have reached agreement on a two-year, $13MM deal with reliever Francisco Rodriguez. Milwaukee also holds a club option for the 2017 season over the Boras Corporation client.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals

While the annual breakdown is not yet fully reported, Rodriguez will earn just $3MM in 2015 and $6MM in 2016. The remainder will be deferred in some manner, though it is not clear how much is deferred salary and how much will go toward the option buyout. That will have important ramifications for the deal’s incentives, but the bottom line is that Milwaukee will save on up-front costs.

At $13MM, Rodriguez will land just shy of the $14MM that MLBTR predicted before the start of the offseason, though the option structure had to be agreed upon to achieve that. The deal appears to slot in fairly sensibly among recent contracts for similar-quality relievers. Only the younger Luke Gregerson landed a three year deal (at a $6MM AAV), while Koji Uehara ($18MM — just before hitting the market), Sergio Romo ($15MM), and Pat Neshek ($12.5MM) all got significant guarantees on two-year pacts.

Rodriguez, 33, has spent most of the past four seasons in Milwaukee. All said, he owns a 3.11 ERA over his 193 2/3 frames with the Brewers. He has maintained double-digit strikeout-per-nine rates over the last two years in addition to an excellent K%-BB%. Though FIP has been down on Rodriguez’s work in recent campaigns, other ERA estimators like xFIP and SIERA view him as a 3.00 or better performer.

One potential knock on Rodriguez — the many miles on his otherwise relatively young arm — has a positive side as well. Rodriguez has been exceptionally durable, putting up an average of 69 innings running all the way back to 2003. And he still delivers his fastball in the same general, low-90s range that he has found success with in the past.

In nailing down the closer role in Milwaukee and taking Rodriguez off of the market, the signing goes a long way to clarifying the remaining relief market. For one thing, it leaves Rafael Soriano as the undisputed best free agent still available. For another, it takes away the most obvious trade match for the Phillies and closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the signing, length, and presence of an option (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the total guarantee on Twitter. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweeted the annual breakdown.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Juan Pierre Officially Retires

Veteran outfielder Juan Pierre has officially retired, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tweets. Pierre did not play in 2014, so it comes as little surprise that he’s retiring.

The speedy Pierre racked up 614 stolen bases in parts of 14 seasons in the Majors and rarely struck out, finding ways to annoy opposing pitchers despite his lack of home-run power. He led his league in stolen bases three times and is currently 18th in career steals. (He’s also sixth in caught stealings for his career, with 203.)

For much of his career, Pierre was also a serious on-base threat, with six seasons with on-base percentages above .350. Pierre was a key member of the World Champion 2003 Marlins, swiping 65 bases that season before hitting .333/.481/.429 in the World Series against the Yankees.

Pierre finishes his career with a .295/.343/.361 line with the Rockies, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies, earning at least $57MM in the process, via Baseball Reference. Much of that came from a $44MM deal with the Dodgers signed prior to the 2007 season.


Aramis Ramirez Likely To Retire After 2015 Season

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez is likely to retire after the season is over, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Last offseason, the Brewers and Ramirez exercised his $14MM mutual option, and Ramirez said at the time that he would decide whether he wanted to play beyond that. It appears he is, at least, close to making that decision.

USATSI_7987558_154513410_lowres2015 will be Ramirez’s 18th season in the big leagues, even though he’s only 36 — he made his debut as a 19-year-old with the Pirates in 1998. It took a few more years for him to establish himself as a regular, but he announced his presence boldly with a .300/.350/.536 season in 2001. He struggled in 2002, however, and the Pirates shipped him to the Cubs in a cost-cutting move in 2003.

In Chicago, Ramirez blossomed into a dependable slugger, posting three straight seasons of 31 or more home runs beginning in 2004 and joining Derrek Lee as a key offensive player on a series of good Cubs teams. Ramirez remained with the Cubs through the end of the decade, then signed with the Brewers as a free agent following the 2011 season. He had one of the best years of his career in his first season in Milwaukee, leading the NL in doubles with 50 and posting a .300/.360/.540 line as he finished ninth in MVP balloting.

In spite of that, there were signs that Ramirez might be reaching the end. He’s coming off a solid .285/.330/.427 2014 season, but he missed significant time due to injury in 2013, and his power has slipped since 2012. He is also reportedly highly dedicated to his family, which lives in his native Dominican Republic. “It’s more of a family thing,” Ramirez tells the Journal Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak. “I’ve got three kids, I’ve been playing for a long time, been away for a long time. Sometimes it’s just time to do something else.”

For his career, Ramirez has hit .285/.344/.496 with 369 home runs, and he’ll likely end his career in the top five in that category among third basemen. He has made three All-Star games and been in the top 20 in NL MVP voting five times.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Blue Jays Sign Johan Santana To Minors Deal

FRIDAY: Santana will receive a $2.5MM base salary if he’s in the big leagues, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports (Twitter links). The deal also includes $2.05MM in incentives for games started (up to 25) as well as $2MM in roster bonuses. He has an April 28 opt-out date, and it’s not likely he’ll be ready by Opening Day, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.

THURSDAY: The Blue Jays have signed veteran left-hander Johan Santana to a minor league contract with an invitation to their big league Spring Training camp, according to a team press release.  Santana is represented by Peter Greenberg of the Legacy Agency.

Santana hasn’t pitched in either the majors or minors since 2012, as he has been sidelined by both left shoulder capsule surgery (his second such procedure in three years) and, most recently, a torn Achilles tendon last June while on a minor league deal with the Orioles.  Santana returned to make some appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason and drew interest from multiple teams, including the Padres and Yankees, though his Venezuelan outings were limited by shoulder soreness.

Given his checkered injury history and the fact that Santana turns 36 in March, it’s hard to see this as anything more than a depth signing for Toronto.  It’s worth noting, however, that the last time Santana was healthy (the first few months of the 2012 season), he still gave the Mets several quality starts, including a no-hitter.

The Jays’ rotation depth was thinned by a few offseason trades, leaving rookie top prospect Daniel Norris as the projected fifth starter behind Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marcus Stroman and Drew HutchisonAaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada are likely the two top backup options should Norris struggle, though since the Jays are aiming to have both pitchers in the bullpen, a veteran option like Santana could come in handy.  The Jays have been looking for relief pitching depth as well, though according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (Twitter link), Santana is being looked at by the team as a starter.


Brady Aiken Enrolls At IMG Academy

Last year’s top overall draft choice, young lefty Brady Aiken, has officially enrolled at IMG Academy, the institution announced. He joins fellow unsigned Astros selection Jacob Nix in heading to the Florida academy. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel first tweeted that he’d heard rumors Aiken would enroll there about a month ago.

By choosing the post-high school athletic training facility and prep school, Aiken will be eligible to re-enter the draft next year. He is expected to remain one of the most sought-after players available, though Houston’s pair of top-five draft choices will presumably represent slots that he will not land.

Aiken and Nix were part of a complex, still-somewhat unclear series of events that unfolded as last year’s amateur draft signing deadline approached. (See here and here for background.) The former had reached agreement on a significant bonus with Houston, but the team reportedly sought to re-negotiate the deal after an MRI showed that he had an abnormally small ulnar collateral ligament. As part of the fallout, a pre-existing agreement with Nix was not consummated, leading to a grievance and eventual settlement.


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Francisco Rodriguez Agrees To Terms With Unidentified Team

Veteran reliever Francisco Rodriguez has an agreement in place with an as-yet unidentified team, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. While Rodriguez’s destination is not yet known, it is not the Marlins, per Spencer, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets that the Blue Jays are also not the team that bit.

Rodriguez has lingered on the market, despite his impressive pedigree, as several teams and players sort out the last few pieces of free agency. He has been tied to several possible destinations, none more strongly than the incumbent Brewers, who are also said to be dabbling in the trade market for Jonathan Papelbon.

As I wrote earlier in the offseason, the 33-year-old has been highly durable and rather productive in recent years. While I predicted a two-year, $14MM deal for him at that time, it would be an achievement for agent Scott Boras to find that kind of cash at this stage.


Mark Ellis To Retire

Veteran second baseman Mark Ellis has decided to retire, he tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The 37-year-old played in twelve big league seasons.

Ellis spent his first nine seasons in the bigs with the Athletics, providing a steady presence at the keystone. He was at his most productive in Oakland, slashing .265/.331/.397 and leaning on excellent defense to put up approximately 25 wins above replacement (depending upon one’s favored WAR measure) in that stretch.

After a mid-season trade to the Rockies in 2011, Ellis inked a two-year pact to join the Dodgers and then a one-year pact last year with the Cardinals. Though productive with Los Angeles (in spite of a sub-.700 OPS), Ellis stumbled last year in St. Louis, slashing just .180/.253/.213 in his 202 plate appearances.

With that dozen years of action in the books, Ellis says he is ready to spend more time with his family and enter a new career path. The highly-respected big leaguer should have no problem getting back in the game in another capacity if he so chooses, and A’s GM Billy Beane already indicated that he hopes Ellis will do so for his longtime home club.