Newsstand Rumors

Brady Aiken Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

In a self-penned piece for The Players’ Tribune, left-hander Brady Aiken revealed that he underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.  While pitching at IMG Academy last week, Aiken said that “something felt a little wrong” and examination revealed that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The Astros took Aiken with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft but failed to reach an agreement with the then-17-year-old.  Negotiations fell through due to Houston’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, and the club wanted to reduce Aiken’s proposed bonus from $6.5MM to $5MM.  The Astros’ failure to sign Aiken caused a chain reaction that led to fifth-rounder Jacob Nix also going unsigned, which led to an MLBPA grievance since Nix had made a verbal agreement with the team.

Aiken was projected to be one of the top picks in the 2015 draft, and despite his surgery, it’s still possible (if even probable) that he could receive a high selection if his recovery proceeds as planned.  As Aiken noted himself, two pitchers — Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde — who underwent Tommy John surgery last year were taken ninth and 18th overall, respectively.  Aiken’s case could differ, however, due to his small UCL; one of the questions the Astros had about his health was that recovery from possible TJ surgery could be more difficult given his ligament’s size.

If all goes well for Aiken, undergoing the surgery now would mean he would be back throwing in 12-14 months and able to start his minor league career early in the 2016 season.


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Chris Tillman, Orioles Begin Extension Discussions

MARCH 26: Tillman told Orioles reporters today, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link), that not much has changed on the extension front since January. He’s open to a long-term deal but is letting his agent handle the situation. MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli tweets that Tillman also said he’d prefer that talks didn’t carry on into the regular season.

MARCH 25: Starting pitcher Chris Tillman and the Orioles have initiated extension talks with a goal of completing a deal by the start of the season, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. The talks have not gotten specific yet in terms of dollar figures, a source tells Heyman.

I profiled Tillman as an extension candidate in January. Tillman has established himself as a workhorse in the past two seasons, pitching over 200 innings with good ERA numbers in both. His peripheral numbers have suggested he’s a somewhat worse pitcher than that, however, and his velocity has fallen in each of the past two seasons, dropping to an average fastball speed of 90.7 MPH last year. He might, however, be able to outperform his peripheral numbers to a degree due to his excellent work controlling the running game. He also pitched very well in the second half last year, and he’ll be 27 next month, an age at which he could take a step forward.

If no extension is reached, Tillman will make $4.315MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility this season. That should set the Beverly Hills Sports Council client up to make $20MM or so in his three arbitration seasons, depending on how he performs this year and next. Any extension discussions for a contract of three or more years would have to begin there, with the ultimate total of the deal dictated by its length. At the long end, Tillman could ask for something like the five years and $55MM Matt Harrison received prior to the 2013 season, although the Orioles might perceive such a contract to be a risk given the underwhelming numbers (6.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.20 xFIP in 2014) beneath Tillman’s ERA.


Tigers, David Price Open Exploratory Discussions

The Tigers have opened a line of communication with agent Bo McKinnis, the representative for ace lefty David Price, regarding the possibility of a new contract, Price tells reporters including MLB.com’s Jason Beck (Twitter link).

Price downplayed the significance of the communications to date after meeting with McKinnis last night. Numbers have not yet been discussed, said Price. “I wouldn’t even call it groundwork,” he explained.

Though it appears that only the most preliminary contact has been established, that obviously at least indicates that both sides have at least some interest in exploring an extension. Detroit gave up a substantial package of big leaguers and prospects to acquire Price last summer, of course, and went on to watch Max Scherzer depart via free agency. In that regard, team interest has always made some sense.

The question, as always is one of cost. Scherzer reportedly declined a $144MM offer from the Tigers entering his walk year, only to land $210MM on the open market. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has listed Price at third on his free agent power rankings, but that is largely a reflection of the upside of the two position players above him and the reality of pitching risk. As Dierkes has noted, Price has a strong case to join Scherzer in topping $200MM — if he puts up a typical year.



Dodgers To Sign Hector Olivera

The Dodgers have reportedly landed yet another high-profile Cuban talent by agreeing to a six-year, $62.5MM contract with infielder Hector Olivera.  The deal contains a $28MM signing bonus and is pending a physical.  Olivera is represented by Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency.

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Olivera reportedly has a slight UCL tear in his right elbow, and the deal provides protection for the team in the event that it proves problematic. Los Angeles would pick up an option for a seventh season at the price of just $1MM in the event that Olivera needs Tommy John surgery at some point during the six guaranteed seasons. That type of clause is, of course, most associated with pitcher John Lackey, whose free agent deal with the Red Sox included a similar provision that ultimately gave the team a valuable additional season of control.

Olivera’s signing process was a long and often controversial one, including an agent change, contested reports of a damaged UCL (which now seem to have had validity) and a wide spectrum of possible contracts ranging from four to six years in length and between $30MM to over $70MM in value. In the end, Olivera and Legacy have to be pleased to have landed an agreement near the highest end of those projected deals.  The Dodgers outbid several teams for Olivera’s services, as the Padres, Marlins, Braves, Giants, Mariners, Yankees, Twins and A’s were said to have varying degrees of interest.

The signing represents the Dodgers’ most expensive dip yet into the Cuban market.  The club has also added Yasiel Puig ($42MM), Alex Guerrero ($28MM), Erisbel Arruebarrena ($25MM) and Pablo Fernandez ($8MM) within the last three years, yet they’ve managed to add this significant international talent without going over their international bonus pool limit.  While clubs like the Red Sox or Diamondbacks are prevented from signing international players for more than $300K until July 2017 for exceeding their pools, the Dodgers have largely targeted players who aren’t pool-eligible, like the 29-year-old Olivera.

Beyond the UCL rumors, some scouts were also concerned that Olivera missed over a season in Cuba recovering from a blood clot in his arm, and he played mostly DH after returning to action in 2013.  Still, MLB scouts were very impressed with Olivera’s right-handed hitting approach, his ability to play at either second or third base, and his potential to contribute right away, as Baseball America’s Ben Badler notes.  In a more detailed scouting report available to BA subscribers, and Badler writes that Olivera “compares favorably to the two top recent Cuban signings who received major league contracts, Yasmany Tomas and Rusney Castillo.”

Olivera still needs to obtain a visa, and as Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan notes, he’ll likely need about a month in the minor leagues, so May is probably the earliest we’d see Olivera in a Dodgers uniform.  L.A. has no need to rush Olivera as they already have Juan Uribe at third and Howie Kendrick at second; ironically, of all Olivera’s suitors, the Dodgers were perhaps the team least in need of immediate infield help.  With Uribe and Kendrick both free agents after the season, however, it seems that Olivera will replace one (probably Uribe, as most feel Olivera is best suited to third) as the Dodgers’ long-term solution.

MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez first reported the signing, while Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted financial details. Robert Murray (via Twitter), Sanchez (via Twitter), and J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group (also on Twitter) reported details of the injury clause.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Twins Extend Brian Dozier

The Twins have gained cost certainty over a key piece of their lineup after announcing a four-year, $20MM extension for second baseman Brian Dozier.  The deal will pay Dozier $2MM this season, $3MM in 2016, $6MM in 2017 and $9MM in 2018.  There isn’t any no-trade protection in the contract, as noted during the club’s press conference (hat tip to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press).  Dozier is represented by Damon Lapa of All Bases Covered Sports Mangaement.

The extension gives Dozier a raise for 2015 (he was already contracted for $590K as a pre-arbitration player) and covers his three years of arbitration eligibility.  There weren’t any option years attached to the deal, so the 27-year-old Dozier is still on track to become a free agent following the 2018 season.MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

Looking at other recent extensions for second basemen with between 2-3 years of service time, Dozier’s deal has fewer years and dollars than the contracts signed by Matt Carpenter and Jason Kipnis within the last 13 months.  Carpenter received six years and $52MM (plus an $18.5MM club option) from the Cardinals while Kipnis received six years/$52.5MM (plus a $16.5MM club option) from the Indians.  If you look at just the first four years of those two contracts, however, both Carpenter and Kipnis received $22MM guaranteed over that span, so Dozier’s deal is a fair comparable.  (It’s also worth noting that Carpenter and Kipnis were both coming off overall stronger seasons prior to their extensions.)

The two sides were known to be discussing an extension earlier this month, and the Twins in fact first explored locking Dozier up last offseason.  “Many scenarios were discussed,” ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson reports, and Wolfson was a little surprised the Twins didn’t look to add at least one option year onto the deal.  On the one hand, if Dozier keeps producing, the Twins now face paying a lot more for his 2019 season and beyond if they want to keep him.  That said, the Twins would obviously be ecstatic if Dozier keeps hitting since it will make their four-year/$20MM commitment look like a bargain, yet the deal is also short enough that it gives Minnesota flexibility if Dozier comes back to earth.  From Dozier’s perspective, he scores one big payday now and still has the freedom to test the open market at age 31.

An eighth-round pick as a shortstop in the 2009 draft, Dozier has produced two solid seconds as Minnesota’s everyday second baseman.  He hit .242/.345/.416 with 23 homers, 21 steals and 112 runs in 2014, posting the fifth-highest fWAR (4.8) of any second baseman in baseball.  Most of that value came with the bat as Dozier is still a bit of a work in progress at second (a -4.4 UZR/150 and no Defensive Runs Saved last year), though it seems to be a tradeoff the Twins are happy to make for 20-20 production from the keystone.  The power is something of a new development for Dozier — he’s already hit 47 home runs over his 1670 Major League plate appearances after hitting only 16 homers over 1613 minor league PA.

Photo courtesy of Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports Images


White Sox Extend Adam Eaton

White Sox GM Rick Hahn announced a five-year, $23.5MM extension with center fielder Adam Eaton today on CSN Chicago. The deal includes two club options, which give the team risk-free control over Eaton for 2020 and 2021. Eaton is a client of Diamond Sports Management.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago White Sox Here’s how the deal breaks out for the 26-year-old, who entered the spring with just over two years of service time and would have been playing for his first of three arbitration deals. Eaton receives $850K for the 2015 campaign, followed by $2.75MM, $4MM, and $6MM salaries for what would have been his arbitration seasons and $8.4MM for his first season of free agent eligibility. The club options are valued at $9.5MM and $10.5MM, respectively, and either can instead be bought out for $1.5MM. The last club option can increase to $12MM if Eaton finishes second or third in MVP balloting any season from 2015 through 2020, and $13MM if he wins the MVP any of those years.

So, what did the White Sox get for their investment? Last year, in his first full run through the bigs, Eaton slashed .300/.362/.401 and swiped 15 bases. While he has no power to speak of, Eaton’s cumulative, park-adjusted work at the plate checked in at about 15% above league average. He draws walks at about a league-average rate while striking out a good bit less than the mean. Eaton’s .359 BABIP is probably not quite sustainable, but Eaton’s speed makes him a candidate to maintain a rather high average on balls in play; indeed, he consistently topped that level as a minor leaguer.

That kind of output will play at most positions, but is especially valuable in an up-the-middle defender. How one views this deal largely swings on how one values Eaton’s defense. He was not considered a sure thing in center as a prospect, but had at least proven he can handle the position heading into last year and unquestionably has the speed required.

The question is: with one full season in the books, which rating system (if any) do you believe? In the estimation of Ultimate Zone Rating (-3.3 last year), Eaton is slightly below average at the position; thus, he checked in at 2.7 fWAR. But by measure of Defensive Runs Saved (12 runs above average), Eaton is an outstanding defender and was worth a staggering 5.2 rWAR last year.

If we split the difference and peg Eaton as an average to slightly above-average performer in center, and assume that he can continue to hit at an average or slightly better rate and provide value on the bases, then you have the makings of a solid 2.5 to 3.5 win player for the foreseeable future. That makes his new contract look rather appealing.

The closest comp for the Eaton deal is probably the 2012 extension between the Padres and Cameron Maybin. That contract went for five years and $25MM, with the team picking up just one option year. Maybin was obviously a high-variance player with bigger counting stats, so San Diego had to pay for his upside. Another obvious comparison point was just set: the $49.57MM Christian Yelich deal with the Marlins, which more than doubles the promise made to Eaton. While Yelich has more power upside, he plays in the corner. And though Yelich is a good bit younger (just 23), he also was one year further away from arbitration and free agency.

Of course, there are other elements weighing down Eaton’s price here. For one, his skillset is unlikely to translate into huge arbitration earnings And then there’s the fact that Eaton has dealt with a series of injury issues in recent seasons. Last year, it oblique and hamstring strains led to DL stints. In 2013, Eaton went down to a UCL sprain in his left elbow. It remains to be seen whether Eaton is uniquely injury prone or has just encountered some bad luck, but that track record certainly increased the deal’s logic from his perspective.

All told, the White Sox are undoubtedly pleased with how things have turned out with Eaton. Chicago was able to add him in exchange for lefty Hector Santiago, serving to facilitate the late 2013 Mark Trumbo deal.

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune first tweeted the news. Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com tweeted the option details. Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune tweeted the annual breakdown, while CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted details about Eaton’s last option season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Rangers Release Joe Beimel

The Rangers have released lefty Joe Beimel, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets. They also reassigned top power-hitting prospect Joey Gallo to the minor leagues and optioned another top prospect, catcher Jorge Alfaro, to Double-A Frisco.

The Rangers signed Beimel to a non-guaranteed $1.5MM MLB deal earlier this month, but he allowed 14 runs in three innings this spring. The reliever had a fine 2014 season with the Mariners, posting a 2.20 ERA with 2.8 BB/9, albeit with an underwhelming 5.0 K/9, in 45 innings. That had been his first year in the big leagues since 2011. The 37-year-old veteran has appeared in 12 MLB seasons with the Pirates, Twins, Dodgers, Nationals and Rockies in addition to the Mariners.

As Grant points out, the move leaves Alex Claudio as the Rangers’ main left-handed option. The team has also been connected in trade rumors to the Marlins’ Mike Dunn, suggesting they might not be finished pursuing left-handed relief help.


Nationals Release Heath Bell

The Nationals have released reliever Heath Bell, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. The Nats signed Bell to a minor-league deal in December. He struck out six batters and walked five while allowing five runs, four earned, in 5 1/3 innings in Spring Training.

The 37-year-old Bell established a strong track record as the Padres’ closer from 2009-2011, but began struggling after signing a three-year deal with the Marlins prior to the 2012 season. Bell headed to the Diamondbacks and then the Rays, for whom he allowed 16 runs in 17 1/3 innings last season while struggling with his velocity. After the Rays released him, he briefly signed on with the Orioles and then the Yankees, but struggled in Triple-A and did not appear in the big leagues with either team.


Dodgers To Sign Cuban Pitcher Pablo Millan Fernandez

The Dodgers have agreed to terms with Cuban righty Pablo Millan Fernandez on a minor-league deal with an $8MM bonus, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports. Fernandez still needs to take a physical for the deal to be complete. Fernandez had established residence in Haiti and was training with Julian Camillo, who scouted Hanley Ramirez when Ramirez was an amateur.

Badler writes that Fernandez previously had thrown in the 86-88 MPH range, but recently increased his velocity and now throws in the low 90s, a somewhat surprising development for a 25-year-old. He also throws a curve, slider and changeup. Badler notes, however, that Fernandez had not generated much excitement among scouts. Fernandez mostly pitched as a reliever in Cuba, posting a 3.59 ERA with 5.3 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in parts of seven seasons there. The Dodgers will develop him as a starter, likely having him begin his U.S. career in the high minors.

Due to Fernandez’s age and experience in Serie Nacional, the signing will not count against the Dodgers’ international bonus pool. They will, however, have to pay 40% luxury tax on his bonus, which does not include any salary he might make in the big leagues.

The deal is the latest in a string of signings of Cuban players for the Dodgers, whose previous management signed outfielder Yasiel Puig to a $42MM deal that now looks like a bargain. They also infielders Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena to deals that have not worked out so far (although it might be somewhat premature to dismiss the Guerrero signing). More recently, the Dodgers have been connected with infielder Hector Olivera, who has yet to sign.


Rockies Release Jhoulys Chacin

The Rockies have granted right-hander Jhoulys Chacin his unconditional release, tweets MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The Rockies and Chacin had agreed to a one-year, $5.5MM deal to avoid arbitration back in January. The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders tweets Colorado will save $4.14MM by releasing Chacin now.

It’s obviously a difficult decision to make,” Rockies GM Jeff Bridich told Root Sports Rocky Mountain (transcript courtesy of MLB.com’s Thomas Harding). “With what has transpired here in camp, and the way things have gone just from a pitching standpoint, a competition standpoint, that looking at it, Jhoulys didn’t have a spot on our club.

The move comes one day after Chacin allowed four runs on seven hits during three innings of work against the Dodgers. “I’m surprised,” Chacin told Nick Groke of The Denver Post. “I didn’t expect it at this time, but now I have a chance to find something else. But my heart will always be with the Rockies.

Chacin, who was battling for a spot in the Rockies rotation, saw his 2014 campaign cut short after only 11 starts and 63 1/3 innings (5.40 ERA, 6.0 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9) because of right shoulder inflammation. It was just two seasons ago the 27-year-old put together a mark of 3.47 ERA, 5.7 K.9, and 2.8 BB/9 while throwing 197 1/3 innings (31 starts) for the Rockies. With teams like the Rays looking for starting pitching reinforcements, it would not be surprising for someone to take a flyer on Chacin even though, as noted in a second Saunders tweet, he is struggling to regain his velocity. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the Rangers will discuss Chacin, but are unlikely to sign him.

David Hale, Jon Gray, Eddie Butler and Christian Bergman are the leading in-house contenders to replace Chacin in the Rockies’ starting rotation.