Lowrie, 32 in April, signed a three-year, $23MM contract with the Astros last offseason. He’s been with Oakland or Houston each season dating back to 2012, although the circumstances are certainly unique. The Astros acquired Lowrie in a trade with the Red Sox prior to the 2012 season, and Houston sent him to Oakland that winter in exchange for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. After a nice two years in Oakland, Lowrie signed the three-year deal with Houston last winter, but the emergence of Carlos Correa made him a bit superfluous for the Astros, thus leading to today’s trade.
12:10am: Frisaro tweets that while he hasn’t confirmed anything, he gets the sense that the Marlins covet Walker. However, he adds that the Marlins also aren’t going to give away Ozuna’s potential 30-homer bat in exchange for Elias, thus suggesting that if a trade is ultimately reached, it will be substantial in nature.
10:25pm: Walker “isn’t available,” tweets Crasnick, and Paxton’s health concerns might not great enough that the Marlins wouldn’t part with Ozuna, raising the question of whether or not Elias or Karns would entice Miami.
10:00pm: Frisaro now tweets that the Marlins and Mariners could be aiming to complete a larger deal than just Ozuna for a pitcher. Crasnick tweeted earlier today that many expect Dipoto to trade Mark Trumbo again this winter (he dealt Trumbo from Anaheim to Arizona when he was GM of the Angels), though Trumbo’s lofty arb projection ($9.1MM, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) and the presence of Justin Bour in Miami make Trumbo an imperfect fit for the Fish.
9:48pm: MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweets that the Marlins are “fielding a lot of calls” on Ozuna currently, adding that he’s not sure anything is imminent. MLB.com’s Greg Johns also adds (Twitter link) that it “doesn’t sound like anything is imminent.”
9:20pm: Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald cites multiple sources in reporting that the Marlins could be looking at Elias and/or Karns (Twitter link).
8:55pm: The Mariners and Marlins are working on a trade that would send outfielder Marcell Ozuna from Miami to Seattle, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). If consummated, the move would continue what has been an incredibly active offseason for new Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto.
The 25-year-old Ozuna has been an oft-speculated trade candidate after Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria soured him this season. Miami reportedly has hoped to acquire young pitching in any trade of Ozuna, and the Mariners have plenty of controllable arms that could attract the Marlins’ attention. Left-handers James Paxton and Roenis Elias both have substantial amounts of team control remaining, as does right-hander Taijuan Walker and even the recently acquired Nate Karns. Of course, each of those names is just a speculative fit and any could require additional pieces from either side to change hands. Walker and Paxton probably have the highest ceilings of the bunch, though each has a notable injury history at a young age.
Ozuna enjoyed an excellent 2014 campaign in which he batted .269/.317/.455 with 23 homers in his age-23 season despite his pitcher-friendly home park. However, he slumped out of the gates in 2015 and at one point went through a dismal 1-for-36 slump that earned him a trip to Triple-A. Ozuna hit well in the minors, and the length of his demotion led agent Scott Boras to question the Marlins’ motives, alleging that the team was keeping his client in Triple-A to lessen the likelihood of reaching Super Two status by suppressing his service time. Ozuna ultimately fell shy of Super Two designation by roughly one week of service time. Upon returning, Ozuna likened the demotion to a “jail sentence,” which unsurprisingly didn’t sit well with Loria. I profiled Ozuna as a trade candidate at length shortly after his recall, and it’s worth noting that Ozuna produced a robust .286/.329/.487 line from the time that piece was written through season’s end. He’s controllable for another four seasons and won’t be arb-eligible until next winter.
If the Mariners are to acquire Ozuna, he’d presumably become an option in right field, thereby shifting Nelson Cruz into a primarily designated hitter role. Leonys Martin‘s glove probably makes him the preferred option in center field, while Dipoto has already expressed that he expects Franklin Gutierrez and Seth Smith to platoon in left field.
To call Dipoto “active” thus far would be an understatement. Since taking over as the top baseball operations decision-maker in Seattle, he’s acquired Karns from the Rays in a six-player trade, landed late-inning reliever Joaquin Benoit from the Padres in exchange for a pair of prospects, acquired Martin from the division-rival Rangers and picked up utilityman Luis Sardinas from the Brewers in exchange for a minor league outfielder. Dipoto has also re-signed Gutierrez and brought Chris Iannetta to Seattle on a one-year deal in addition to making a pair of waiver claims in the first month or so of the offseason.
The Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization will post third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang tomorrow, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Major League teams will have one week to submit blind bids on Hwang, and Lotte will then have the right to accept the highest bid or retain Hwang for the 2016 season. Should the team accept a bid, Hwang’s representatives at ACES would have 30 days to negotiate a contract with the winning MLB club.
Hwang, 28, is coming off a breakout year in KBO that saw the right-handed hitter bat .290/.350/.521 with a career-best 26 home runs (plus a solid effort in the Premier 12 Tournament). While some of the uptick in homers is attributable to a recent increase in the number of games in the KBO’s regular season, Hwang’s per-plate-appearance rate still markedly outpaces his previous best. That he won this year’s KBO home run derby is another potential point in favor of his increased power.
Though KBO is a notoriously hitter-friendly environment, Hwang’s output does look to be solid on paper at least. Another factor he has working in his favor is that he’s played in every game dating back to the 2011 season, so his agents will attempt to market him as a durable player in the midst of his physical prime at a time when the domestic free-agent market for third basemen is thin. David Freese represents perhaps the lone option to serve as a regular third baseman, although the trade market bears potential candidates such as Trevor Plouffe, Luis Valbuena, Jed Lowrie and Jedd Gyorko, among others. Hwang is a converted shortstop, but he profiles strictly as a third base option at this point (Those interested in seeing some video footage of Hwang can refer to a pair of recent highlight reels compiled by the folks at Global Sporting Integration).
Hwang will be a true free agent next offseason, which would allow him to pursue a Major League opportunity without the restrictions of the posting system. That figures to add a bit of pressure to the Giants to accept a bid — assuming a reasonable one is submitted — as they’ll be left with no compensation if he enjoys another solid year and jumps to either Major League Baseball or Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball next offseason.
Lotte recently posted outfielder Ah-seop Son, but the 27-year-old didn’t draw a bid from MLB clubs, thereby allowing the team to post Hwang. (KBO only permits teams to post one player at a time and accept a bid on one player per offseason.) The Giants will again have the option of posting him next offseason should it see fit, as Son is not a free agent until after the 2017 campaign.
Passan recently noted that some execs prefer Hwang’s ceiling to Son’s more consistent track record, adding that Hwang bulked up to about 210 pounds from his previously listed weight of 195 pounds last winter, perhaps explaining some of the increase in power. It remains to be seen if that preference will lead to a notable bid on Hwang, though he’s at a much more scarce position than his teammate, Son, who was up against a reasonably well-stocked outfield market. The Braves, Indians, Angels, White Sox and Brewers are among the clubs that could be seeking some long-term help at the hot corner.
Photo courtesy of Ilgan Sports.
The Angels announced that they’ve signed catcher Geovany Soto to a one-year, Major League contract. He’ll presumably pair with young catcher Carlos Perez as the Halos’ primary catching tandem. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweets that Soto will earn $2.8MM in 2016.
Soto, 33 in January, hit .219/.301/.406 in 210 plate appearances with the White Sox in 2015. While his 30 percent strikeout rate limited his batting average and on-base percentage, Soto walked at a healthy 10 percent clip and provided the ChiSox with defensive value as well. The former National League Rookie of the Year (2008) caught 30 percent of attempted base-stealers and rated 5.6 pitch-framing runs above average, per StatCorner.com’s catching report. Soto has never consistently stacked up to the Rookie of the Year production, he’s been a roughly league-average bat dating back to the 2010 season over the course of 1703 plate appearances.
Gonzalez adds (via Twitter) that with Soto’s signing, which comes just one day after former Angels catcher Chris Iannetta signed with the division-rival Mariners, the Angels sit about $20MM south of the luxury tax threshold. Considering the number of holes that new general manager Billy Eppler needs to fill — catcher, third base, second base, left field chief among them — the addition of Soto represents a low-cost upgrade that will allow the club to spend to address other areas on the roster. While the upcoming Dec. 2 non-tender deadline represents an avenue for most teams to save some cost, outfielder Collin Cowgill ($1MM arbitration projection) is the Angels’ only true non-tender candidate. As such, trades figure to be a more plausible means of creating some separation if the Angels do indeed wish to come in beneath the $189MM cutoff.
TODAY: Iannetta can earn up to $1.75MM in performance bonuses in the coming season, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets. The club picks up a 2017 option, at a $4.25MM price tag, which can also vest at $6MM under unspecified circumstances.
YESTERDAY, 6:28pm: The contract guarantees Iannetta $4.25MM and includes incentives, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter.
6:03pm: The deal includes some form of option for 2017, Iannetta indicated to reporters on a conference call to discuss the signing (via MLB.com’s Greg Johns, on Twitter).
A deal was said to be close during the GM Meetings, but it obviously took a bit longer to come together. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto obviously continues to be a fan of the veteran, as he brought him to the Angels when he ran that club.
Iannetta is entering his age-33 season on the heels of a rough 2015 campaign. In his 317 plate appearances last year, Iannetta slashed just .188/.293/.335. He did, however, reach double-digit home runs for the fifth time in his career and maintained a strong 12.9% walk rate. Also, a .225 BABIP may go some way toward explaining the poor overall results.
Of course, there’s also quite a bit of history suggesting that Iannetta can bounce back offensively. He produced at or above the league-average rate for seven of the eight seasons before 2015 and owns a .231/.351/.405 lifetime slash line.
Notably, though he endured a rough campaign at the plate, Iannetta was better than ever behind it. After years of sub-par results, StatCorner rated him the fifth-best framer in baseball last year. And Baseball Prospectus credits him not only with a remarkable turnaround in framing, but also in overall defensive value.
If Iannetta can carry that forward, he and Mike Zunino could make up an outstanding defensive unit. It remains to be seen how the playing time will be allocated between the two, but Iannetta will certainly provide some cover to allow Seattle an opportunity to take some of burden off of the 24-year-old, who limped to a .174/.230/.300 batting line last year.
Hicks, 26, received his first big league call-up last year and recorded just two hits in a tiny sample of 34 plate appearances. Over parts of two seasons at the Triple-A level, the University of Virginia product has slashed .253/.295/.366 and hit eight home runs in 432 plate appearances.
There are five major league clubs in pursuit of Yakult Swallows reliever Tony Barnette, MLBTR has learned. The 32-year-old righty was posted with a $500K release fee, as the club previously announced, with the 30-day negotiation window set to expire on December 6th. (Evan Petzold previously tweeted that Barnette was drawing interest. Click here for the applicable posting rules.)
Barnette went to Japan after spending his early career in the Diamondbacks organization. He reached the Triple-A level in his final season in North America, back in 2009, throwing 164 2/3 innings of 5.79 ERA ball with 6.6 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9.
He began his Yakult career in the rotation, but failed to produce in that role. A move to the bullpen in 2011, though, proved fruitful. Outside of a tough 2013 campaign, Barnette has been a quality — and, at times, dominant — relief arm for the Swallows. Last year, he worked to a 1.29 ERA and locked up 41 saves in 62 2/3 frames. In addition to striking out 8.0 and walking 2.7 batters per nine, Barnette permitted just 37 hits and one home run on the year.
As Barnette explained at the time of his posting to John E. Gibson of One World Sports, he is looking to “get my shot at pitching in the MLB.” He called the posting “a win-win situation,” explaining that he’d have a chance to reach the big leagues while making sure his former club gets some compensation for its investment in him over the years.
It’s certainly not a stretch to imagine a team deciding to take a chance on the NPB veteran with a major league contract. There’s precedent, after all. These days, major league deals for minor league free agents are increasingly common. Last winter, for instance, the Pirates gave Radhames Liz a $1MM guarantee after he had rebuilt his career in the KBO — though Liz did have to play for a year in the minors before he landed that contract.
Japanese hurler Kenta Maeda has requested that his Japanese club, the Hiroshima Carp, make him available to major league organizations through the posting process, as Yasuko Yanagita of Hochi Shimbun first reported on Twitter.
Maeda spun 206 1/3 innings of 2.09 ERA pitching last year. While he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher — he’s never topped 8.1 K/9 over a single season — Maeda is no slouch in that department. And he features impeccable control, with an excellent 1.9 BB/9 walk rate for his career.
It remains to be seen whether the NPB organization will make the highly-regarded right-hander available, as Kyodo News reports (paywall link, h/t to MLB.com’s Joey Nowak). Hiroshima’s general manager Kiyoaki Suzuki said that Maeda’s “request might be granted,” indicating that he’d likely “decide on a course of action around the end of next week.”
If the Carp follow the wishes of their staff ace, the rules provide that the posting team must set a release fee of no more than $20MM. Any team willing to meet that price is permitted to negotiate with the player in an attempt to work out a contract within a thirty day window from the date of posting. The release fee is only due if a deal is struck.
The 27-year-old Maeda figures to take up a prominent place in the winter’s starting pitching market if he is made available. With Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka serving as recent examples of the ability of top Japanese starters to transition to the big leagues, there should be no shortage of interest.
It would be surprising if Hiroshima sets the release fee at anything short of the $20MM maximum. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked Maeda 14th on his list of the top fifty free agents, predicting that the Japanese star would command a total commitment (including the fee) of five years and $80MM — putting him right alongside quality MLB starters such as Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, and Wei-Yin Chen in expected earning power.
Korean outfielder Ah-seop Son did not draw any bids after being posted recently by KBO’s Lotte Giants, Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap News reports on Twitter. That means that Lotte will retain his rights, though Yoo tweets that Son could also end up joining a Japanese club.
The news comes as something of a surprise, as it had seemed that the 27-year-old would draw some interest. MLB teams have shown an increased willingness to pay for Korean talent, and Son offers a high-contact, high-OBP bat at a prime age. Over the last five years, he’s averaged a robust .333/.409/.476 slash in the hitter-friendly KBO.
While his situation is interesting in its own right, there are other factors at play here as well. Lotte controls Son for the 2017 season as well as this one, meaning the team might not have been as willing to let him go. He’ll also be eligible for posting again next winter.
Meanwhile, it’s now or never for the team to cash in on another key player: third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang. Because the KBO rule book only allows clubs to take one bid per offseason, only one of those two players — both of whom requested to be posted — could end up moving to North American this year.
Today’s news, then, clears the way for Hwang to test the waters. Lotte is reportedly prepared to do just that. While there’s some disagreement as to which player stands the better chance at a successful transition to the majors, with Hwang’s huge 2015 season standing out somewhat against his overall track record, there appears to be less supply available on the hot corner market.
NOV. 23: The Dodgers have formally announced the hiring. In the press release announcing the move, Friedman issued the following statement:
“We could not have been more impressed with [Roberts] through this process. His energy is infectious and he has the rare ability to make a genuine connection with every person he comes across. He has developed strong leadership qualities and accumulated a breadth of baseball experience over his career as both a player and coach. He is a “baseball man” and “people person” in the truest sense of those words. We feel fully confident that he will effectively lead our team in pursuit of its ultimate goal — bringing a world championship back to the city of Los Angeles.”
NOV. 22: 11:12pm: The official introductory press conference will be held after the Thanksgiving weekend, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports. Roberts will sign a three-year deal, Nightengale reports, and Hernandez adds that the contract also contains a club option on a fourth season. (Both links to Twitter.)
7:28pm: The Dodgers are expected to hire Dave Roberts as the team’s next manager on Monday, sources tell Dylan Hernandez, Bill Plaschke and Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Talks are in the “final stages” according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports the last contractual details are expected to be completed by tonight.
Roberts, 43, has spent the last five seasons on the Padres coaching staff, first acting as a first base coach from 2011-13 and then as the bench coach for the last two years. He wasn’t a candidate for the Padres’ managerial vacancy, though he did interview to be the Mariners’ next manager before Scott Servais was hired. This will be Roberts’ first managerial job at any level of pro baseball, aside from one game last summer as a fill-in for the Padres after Bud Black was fired.
It’s not, however, Roberts’ first time wearing Dodger blue. The Dodgers (2002-04) were one of five clubs Roberts played for during his 10-year Major League career, as he amassed a .266/.342/.366 line over 3092 with the Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, Padres and Giants from 1999-2008. Roberts is probably best known for his brief tenure in Boston, as his steal of second in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS is hailed as the key turn-around moment in that incredible Red Sox comeback (and their eventual march to a curse-breaking World Series title).
Roberts may have also somewhat come from behind in getting the Dodgers job, as director of player development Gabe Kapler was heralded as the early favorite. Team ownership, however, insisted on a thorough search that expanded to include experienced former managers such as Bud Black, Kirk Gibson and Bob Geren, Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, University Of Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad and Dodgers coaches Tim Wallach and Ron Roenicke. According to the latest reports, the search had been narrowed to Roberts and Kapler.
Roberts will jump right into the deep end as a rookie manager, as he will be tasked with leading a star-studded roster with a $200MM+ payroll to its first World Series appearance since 1988. The Dodgers won three straight NL West titles under Don Mattingly’s leadership, though the team only won one playoff round in those three seasons. Mattingly and the Dodgers, of course, mutually parted ways after the team was eliminated by the Mets in this year’s NLDS and Mattingly went on to take over the Marlins’ managerial job.
Roberts is Andrew Friedman’s first managerial hire since taking over as the Dodgers president of baseball operations, and thus it could be argued that Friedman now has all of his ideal personnel in place in both the front office and the dugout. It’s also just the second managerial hire that Friedman has made in a decade as a top executive; as he did in hiring Joe Maddon to manage the Rays in 2006, Friedman has again picked a well-regarded bench coach to become a first-time big league manager.
The Astros are “hell-bent” on acquiring a closer, sources tell ESPN’s Jayson Stark. The Astros have made calls on Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, Andrew Miller of the Yankees, and Brad Boxberger of the Rays, as well as potential free agent possibilities. They’ve also spoken with the Phillies about Ken Giles, as had previously been reported.
Adding a closer would move current closer Luke Gregerson back to the setup role in which he excelled with the Padres and Athletics. A dominant ninth-inning type like Chapman or Miller would also give the Astros not only a terrific ninth-inning option but also enviable depth, with a bullpen that would also feature Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Josh Fields and Will Harris. Also, the bullpen’s 5.63 ERA in September and October and its eighth-inning implosion in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Royals are surely fresh in the organization’s mind, particularly after watching a Royals team with a hard-throwing bullpen win the World Series after beating them. It’s easy, then, to see the appeal of adding a shutdown closer.
Still, overall, the Astros’ bullpen was a key element of the team’s success last season, and Gregerson is a perfectly good ninth-inning man in his own right (although Stark notes that Gregerson’s K/9 was relatively low for a closer, at 8.6). Stark notes that the Astros might not want to pay the prospect cost of acquiring Chapman, Miller or Giles, and therefore could ultimately pursue hard-throwing setup-type relievers instead. Given the potential departures of lefties Tony Sipp and Oliver Perez via free agency, a lefty appears likely to be a priority, whether they add a closer or not.