Newsstand Rumors

Blue Jays Making Strong Push To Sign Ronald Belisario

The Blue Jays are “making a strong push” to get a deal done with right-hander Ronald Belisario, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Toronto has long been said to be looking at pen upgrades, with reports last night suggesting that the team was looking hard at the free agent market.

Belisario, 32, was designated back in November by the White Sox to make way for the claim of Onelki Garcia. He was one of several players to slot in at closer last year in Chicago, but failed to grab hold of the job. Belisario was ultimately charged with an unsightly 5.56 ERA on the year.

Though the results weren’t pretty, Belisario’s peripherals are decidedly better. With 6.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and a stellar 59.3% groundball rate, Belisario drew marks from ERA estimators in the low-to-mid three earned-per-nine range. His ballooned run tallies may well have been the result of a very low 57.7% strand rate and .339 BABIP.

Belisario had been projected by MLBTR/Matt Swartz to earn $3.9MM in arbitration before losing his roster spot in advance of the non-tender deadline. Toronto saw former closer Casey Janssen lured away with a total $5MM guarantee, though the club is said to have about that much in remaining payroll space.


Latest On Blue Jays’ Search For Relief Pitching

The Blue Jays are “in contact” with the representatives of multiple top free agent relievers, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. Among them are righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Burke Badenhop.

With former Jays closer Casey Janssen now headed to the Nationals, Toronto officially must look elsewhere to build out its pen. The three names listed above are arguably the top three arms remaining, though several other options remain as well.

GM Alex Anthopoulos said earlier today that he is looking for many different ways to add talent to the relief corps, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. As things stand, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are perhaps the top two candidates to hold down the ninth inning, and Toronto is not sending signals that it feels an established closer is a necessity.

Payroll may be the driving factor at this point, writes Nicholson-Smith. With perhaps $5MM to $6MM in 2015 spending capacity remaining, that makes trade candidate Jonathan Papelbon a questionable fit. “When you see us linked to a player for days and days and back and forth, I’d say 9.9 times out of 10 there probably isn’t anything to it,” Anthopoulos said. “I can say we’re not going to be in the market for relievers making $10-plus million or more.”

Otherwise, Anthopoulos indicated that the team was in an opportunistic mode after getting a lot of work done earlier in the winter. “Most times the later you get in to the winter there’s potential for the prices to change on some of these guys,” he noted. One internal wild card, catcher Dioner Navarro, remains available in trade but seems destined to remain with the Jays unless a suitable offer comes in.


Giants Release Marco Scutaro

JANUARY 28: Scutaro has been released, according to the MLB.com transactions page.

JANUARY 21: The Giants have designated infielder Marco Scutaro for assignment, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Twitter links). His roster spot will go to the recently-signed Nori Aoki.

San Francisco expects to retain Scutaro once he clears outright waivers, which seems a virtual certainty given his injury status and the $6MM left on his deal. Per Schulman, the team still hopes that the 39-year-old veteran will be able to return from his back issues (which included surgery in December).

When Scutaro went in for fusion surgery last month, it was reported that it would take four to six months before his future on the diamond can even be assessed. Needless to say, the odds of a return at this point appear to be low.

The 13-year big league veteran signed for three years and $20MM as a free agent after originally joining the team in the middle of 2012 and playing a major role in a World Series victory. He has only made 560 plate appearances under that contract due to injury, though he was as productive as hoped for when on the field in 2013.



Angels Avoid Arbitration With David Freese

The Angels have avoided arbitration with third baseman David Freese, Mike Perchick of WAPT tweets. Freese will earn $6.425MM in his final season of arbitration eligibility, MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez reports on Twitter.

That settlement amount represents the exact mid-point between the player and team filing points. Freese, a client of CAA Sports, ultimately lands just $125K over the projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. His signing leaves the Halos with two players — Matt Joyce and Garrett Richards — with open arbitration cases.

The 31-year-old will enter his second season in Los Angeles coming off of a mixed 2014 campaign. On the one hand, he posted a career-worst .704 OPS (.260/.321/.383) and scored middling-to-poor defensive ratings. On the other hand, that roughly league-average offensive output landed a reasonable sight above replacement level for the hot corner, and Freese’s total worth came out to 1.3 rWAR and 2.1 fWAR.


David Montgomery Named Phillies’ Chairman; Gillick Remains President

The Phillies announced this afternoon that David Montgomery will return as the Chairman of the team. Pat Gillick will continue to fill Montgomery’s former role as president (now with the temporary tag removed), while Bill Giles will serve as the Chairman Emeritus.

Montgomery, formerly the president and CEO of the Phillies, took a leave of absence from the team in August of 2014 to continue treatment on cancer of the jaw, with Gillick, the team’s former GM, taking over as interim president. Today, Montgomery issued the following statement:

“I am fortunate to be healthy enough now to resume some of my previous responsibilities.  I am very appreciative that Pat Gillick is willing and available to remain as the club’s President.  Pat and I have become very close since he joined us in the fall of 2005.  I look forward to returning to work as Phillies Chairman.”

Rumors have swirled since Montgomery took his leave, with one report indicating that Montgomery was “forced out” as minority owner John Middleton made a run at buying up a majority share of the team. Those rumors were adamantly denied by the Phillies, and Middleton himself (who reportedly has a 48 percent ownership share) even noted that Montgomery’s situation would be re-evaluated in January, which has now obviously occurred.


White Sox Sign Gordon Beckham, Designate Dayan Viciedo For Assignment

The White Sox announced that they have signed infielder Gordon Beckham to a one-year, $2MM contract and designated outfielder Dayan Viciedo for assignment in order to clear a space on the 40-man roster. Earlier today, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweeted that a reunion between the Sox and Beckham was a possibility.

Chicago is of course more familiar with Beckham than any other club, having formerly drafted him eighth overall and watched him on their big league roster from 2009 through this past August, when he was traded to the Angels. Beckham never lived up to a strong rookie season and batted a fairly pedestrian .241/.300/.361 from 2010-14. However, the Sox were known to be looking for a utility infielder that can handle left-handed pitching, and Beckham will presumably fill that role with the team.

The White Sox and Viciedo had already agreed to a one-year, $4.4MM contract to avoid arbitration, however that salary is not fully guaranteed. This situation is the same in which Emilio Bonifacio found himself with the Royals last winter, when he was designated after agreeing to a salary. (Coincidentally, Bonifacio had a solid season and signed a $4MM contract to join the White Sox this offseason.) The White Sox are able to cut Viciedo for roughly one sixth of his agreed upon salary at this point, meaning they’ll be on the hook for roughly $733K of that $4.4MM sum, should he ultimately be released. Of course, a team could claim the entirety of Viciedo’s $4.4MM salary on waivers (which seems unlikely) or trade for him, with Chicago kicking in some cash as well.

Viciedo, 26 in March, has never provided much in the way of defensive value and saw his offense slip to a .231/.281/.405 triple-slash in 2014 — his worst full season of production to date. I was a bit surprised to see that the team tendered him a contract, but the Sox likely did so with the intent of flipping him to a club that was still enticed by his right-handed power. However, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets, the Sox tried unsuccessfully to trade Viciedo all offseason. Now, with Melky Cabrera in the fold in left field, Avisail Garcia expected to man right field and Jose Abreu/Adam LaRoche sharing time at first base and DH, there wasn’t a good fit on the roster for Viciedo.

Beckham will join Bonifacio as an option at second base, though he’s also capable of serving as a platoon partner for Conor Gillaspie at third base, shielding Gillaspie from his weakness against southpaws. Should Beckham finally tap into the potential that made him the eighth pick in the 2008 draft, he’d be able to fill in at second base on an everyday basis, with Bonifacio shifting into the role of a super utility player.


Nationals To Sign Casey Janssen

11:40pm: Svrluga adds that Janssen will earn $3.5MM in 2015, and the buyout on his mutual option is valued at $1.5MM (Twitter link).

10:48am: Janssen’s mutual option is valued at $7MM, reports Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post (Twitter link).

9:41am: The Nationals and right-hander Casey Janssen have agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option that will guarantee him a total of $5MM, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Janssen is represented by ACES.

Casey Janssen

The 33-year-old Janssen was one of the best remaining options on the relief market and has spent the bulk of the past three seasons serving as Toronto’s closer. His stats took a tumble in 2014, though some of that decline may have been attributable to a violent case of food poisoning. Janssen reportedly lost eight pounds in a single day as a result of that episode, and he likely rushed back to the mound too soon; Janssen spent two days on an IV to rehydrate his body and the next day began a stretch of five appearances in eight days.

Overall, he posted a 6.26 ERA in the second half that caused his overall mark on the season to balloon to 3.94. Janssen showed his typically excellent command in 2014, walking just 1.4 hitters per nine innings, but his strikeout rate curiously dipped, even during his healthy first half. Janssen averaged just 5.5 K/9 in 2014 — a decline of three strikeouts per nine when compared to his previous four seasons of work.

A rocky 2014 notwithstanding, Janssen’s work dating back to the 2011 season is nothing short of outstanding when judged as a whole. In that time, he’s worked to a 2.77 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate. He saved 83 games for Toronto in that stretch and should give Nationals manager Matt Williams an experienced safety net for closer Drew Storen. However, Storen posted a sensational 1.12 ERA in 2014 and took over the ninth inning late in the season after Rafael Soriano struggled. His ERA and the fact that he closed out the year with a stretch of 20 innings without allowing an earned run likely still makes Storen the favorite for saves in 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Joe Blanton Planning Comeback, Will Audition For Teams Next Week

Right-hander Joe Blanton is planning a comeback and will audition for teams on Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn., MLBTR has learned. Blanton will work out and throw a bullpen for those teams in attendance. Blanton has been on a throwing program in preparation for Spring Training, and as M. Blake Harrison noted (on Twitter) earlier this week, he’s been working out with Zach Duke — his neighbor in the Nashville area. Harrison also pointed out that the A’s are at least a logistical fit in theory, as Blanton has homes in California and Nashville (the new location of Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate).

Having just turned 34 in December, Blanton is perhaps younger than some may expect. He hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2013, when he struggled to a 6.04 ERA over 132 2/3 innings in his lone season with the Angels. Always one to post excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios, Blanton began to be plagued by home run problems in 2009, and those problems peaked in 2013, when more than 19 percent of the fly-balls hit against him left the yard.

However, Blanton was typically a reliable source of innings, clearing the 190 mark in six of his nine full seasons in the Majors. He’s had a relatively clean bill of health over the life of his career to this point, only missing significant time in 2011 due to an impingement in his right elbow. Blanton has a lifetime 4.51 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a  44.2 percent ground-ball rate in 1567 1/3 innings of work between the Athletics, Phillies, Dodgers and Angels.


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Marlins Sign Ichiro Suzuki

JAN. 28: Ichiro’s deal could reach up to $5MM if he receives enough plate appearances, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week (on Twitter). That, of course, is only likely in the event of a significant injury to another outfielder, as Jackson notes.

JAN. 27: The Marlins have officially announced the signing of free agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract that is reportedly wort $2MM.  The 41-year-old Ichiro, a client of John Boggs & Associates, should serve as Miami’s fourth outfielder in 2015.

Ichiro Suzuki

Though his skills have clearly eroded somewhat with age, Ichiro posted a respectable .284/.324/.340 batting line in 385 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2014. He also swiped 15 bases in 18 tries, continuing a career-long trend of pronounced efficiency in that regard. Defensive metrics pegged him as an average right fielder, and he slid over to center field for a brief, 19-inning cameo as well, suggesting that he’s capable of doing so in a pinch should the Marlins require such a move on occasion in 2015.

The Marlins’ primary outfield will consist of Christian Yelich in left field, Marcell Ozuna in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right — an excellent young trio that will limit Ichiro’s playing time and make it highly unlikely that he reaches the 156 hits he needs to reach 3,000 in his Major League career (he also had 1,278 hits in his Japanese career prior to jumping to MLB). However, there’s been no indication from his camp that this will be the likely Hall of Famer’s final season, so he could yet reach the plateau if he remains reasonably productive and secures another big league deal next offseason.

The addition of Ichiro merely adds to what has been a highly active season for the Marlins. In addition to this move, executives Dan Jennings and Michael Hill have added Mat Latos, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Martin Prado and Aaron Crow via trade while also signing free agent slugger Mike Morse to upgrade the team’s offense at first base.

Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio first reported the agreement (Twitter link). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that there were no options on the deal (Twitter links). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted the guarantee.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Latest On The Phillies’ Papelbon Trade Talks

JAN. 28: Haudricourt now tweets that he gets the sense the Brewers would like to find a way to make a Papelbon trade work, despite the fact that it would be complicated. Failing that outcome, a Francisco Rodriguez reunion is a fallback option for Milwaukee.

JAN. 27: While trade talks between the Brewers and Phillies regarding Jonathan Papelbon have slowed, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki hears from two sources that the Phillies are still talking  to both Milwaukee and Toronto about Papelbon. Zolecki adds that the seriousness of the talks is unclear at this time, though Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears that Toronto’s interest is extremely limited (Twitter link). The Blue Jays would only acquire Papelbon if the financial risk associated with the transaction is “extremely limited,” per Rosenthal.

Additionally, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that the Phillies have been in touch with an unknown AL club regarding Papelbon in the past few days. While that club could certainly be Toronto, it’s also possible that a second American League club could have kicked the tires on Papelbon.

The Blue Jays have repeatedly expressed interest in adding some experience to the back of their bullpen, though Papelbon is an imperfect fit for a number of reasons. For one, the Blue Jays are said to have only about $7MM remaining to improve their 2015 roster, and Papelbon is owed $13MM in 2015. Secondly, as CSN Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported last week, Toronto is one of the team’s on Papelbon’s no-trade clause. Multiple reports indicated that Papelbon would require his $13MM vesting option to be guaranteed in order to approve a deal to a team on his no-trade clause, further muddying the financial situation for the Blue Jays.

As for the Brewers, talks with that team broke down due to financial concerns, and those concerns are still present, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. As he further notes, the ball is in Philadelphia’s court when it comes to a Papelbon trade, but the Phillies are strongly against letting his $13MM vesting option kick in, so it makes little sense for the Phillies to pay that money to facilitate a trade.

That scenario was one of the topics I discussed in today’s MLBTR Chat earlier this afternoon. The Phillies, as it stands, are on the hook for $13MM of Papelbon’s contract. If the team trades him and guarantees Papelbon’s vesting option, the acquiring club would owe the 34-year-old a total of $26MM. In that instance, even if the Phillies ate half of the money owed to Papelbon, they wouldn’t actually be saving anything. In fact, they may actually cost themselves money, as moving Ken Giles, the likely closer-in-waiting, into the ninth inning to open the 2015 season would surely cause his eventual arbitration price to rise.

It’s difficult then, to envision the Phillies paying anywhere close to $13MM of Papelbon’s salary without receiving a return that they feel is a significant upgrade to their farm system. The alternative would be to deal Papelbon to a club that is not on his no-trade list, with the acquiring club deploying him in a setup capacity. That could allow Philadelphia to save some money on Papelbon’s salary without the option coming into play. However, to this point, there haven’t been any indications that any of the 12 teams to which he cannot block a trade — the Red Sox, Rays, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs and Padres — have any significant interest in trading for him.