Newsstand Rumors

Mets Nearing Extension With Juan Lagares

10:37am: Lagares will be guaranteed $23MM, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. The option is for $9.5MM and comes with a $500K buyout.

10:22am: The deal is done pending a physical, Bowden tweets.

10:10am: Lagares acknowledges that the deal is under negotiations but says he has not yet signed a contract, Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News tweets.

9:17am: The Mets have agreed to terms on a four-year extension with center fielder Juan Lagares that includes a club option, Jim Bowden of reports on Twitter. The deal is expected to guarantee Lagares over $20MM, per Bowden. Lagares, 26, is represented by ACES.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Mets

The deal will not start until 2016, Bowden tweets, meaning that New York has locked in salaries for all of Lagares’s arbitration years while picking up a club option over his first season of free agent eligibility. Lagares entered the offseason with 1.160 years of service, meaning he’d almost certainly have qualified for Super Two eligibility next year. All told, New York will stand to gain control over Lagares through his age-31 season.

Lagares established himself last year with an outstanding campaign in the field and solid effort at the plate. There is no doubt that his primary value comes with the glove: Lagares led all qualifying outfielders with 25.3 UZR/150, with Defensive Runs Saved and scouting reports concurring in his excellence.

Of course, Lagares had already showed that kind of capability in center. What last year did more than anything was show his capacity on the offensive side of the equation. Lagares slashed .281/.321/.382 over 452 plate appearances, an approximately league average line, while contributing four home runs and 13 stolen bases.

There may not be much upside left in the bat given his age, but the aggregate package has obvious appeal. Lagares was worth 4 fWAR and an even more impressive 5.5 rWAR last year, making him the type of well-above-average player that any team hopes to be able to lock in up the middle.

In terms of the payday, which is yet to be reported precisely, Lagares obviously had some reasonably anticipated caps on his earning capacity since his skillset is presently not valued highly in arbitration. The most obvious comp for this deal is the recent Adam Eaton extension — a five-year, $23.5MM pact (plus two club options) for a center fielder who had one less year of club control but who was on track to qualify for arbitration just three times. Eaton is also 26, and both players have missed some time due to injuries over the last few years. While they profile differently, and appear to have agreed to differently-structured deals, the overall value of the two players is arguably fairly similar.

Another way of looking at it, though, would be to compare this agreement to the Andrelton Simmons extension from last winter. Simmons, of course, is also an elite defender whose bat is slightly below average to average. The Braves cornerstone, then 24, got seven years and $58MM in exchange for his age-24 through age-31 seasons. With this deal, the Mets appear set to control Lagares through his age-31 season with a more modest annual guarantee and lower overall risk.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Mariners, Rays Swap Erasmo Ramirez For Mike Montgomery

The Mariners announced that they have traded right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays in exchange for left-hander Mike Montgomery.

Ramirez, 24, enjoyed an excellent rookie season with the Mariners in 2012 when he worked to a 3.36 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 40.4 percent ground-ball rate in 59 innings, making eight starts and eight relief appearances. While stats like FIP, xFIP and SIERA all pegged him for a slightly higher mark — in the 3.55 to 3.75 range — it was a promising debut for a player that had ranked as the organization’s No. 13 prospect (per Baseball America) in the previous offseason.

However, Ramirez has fallen on hard times since that impressive debut; over the past two seasons, he’s recorded just a 5.12 ERA that unfortunately lines up nearly exactly with his 5.11 FIP. Ramirez’s strikeout and ground-ball rates have remained similar, but he’s seen his control take a step back, averaging 3.7 walks per nine innings in that time while becoming increasingly homer-prone.

Ramirez was out of Minor League options, meaning he would have been required to clear waivers before the Mariners could send him outright to Triple-A. The Rays then appear likely to keep him on the 25-man roster and hope for better results from Ramirez at the back of an injury-plagued rotation. In addition to Matt Moore, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Rays will also open the season without Drew Smyly at full strength. Alex Cobb and Alex Colome have both been slowed by injuries this spring as well, which has led to a well-known search for rotation depth in Tampa.

Montgomery, who turns 26 in July, was once one of the crown jewels of a vaunted Royals farm system, but his career stalled upon reaching the Triple-A level. Montgomery posted ERAs of 5.32 and 6.07 in his first two years reaching that level, and he’s struggled at lower levels since. All told, he has a 4.98 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 in parts of four seasons at Triple-A.

The Rays acquired Montgomery from the Royals in the James Shields/Wil Myers blockbuster in hopes of revitalizing his career. However, while his numbers improved a bit — 4.29 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A last year — he’s yet to show the promise that made him the No. 36 overall pick in the 2008 draft and one of the game’s top prospects from 2010-12. In their last scouting report on him, following the 2012 season, BA wrote that Montgomery began experimenting with a lower arm slot that caused his velocity to dip from the 92-93 mph range to the 88-90 mph range, adding that left-handed hitters were too comfortable against him. Montgomery is a reclamation project for the Mariners, but although he’s on the 40-man roster, he, unlike Ramirez, has an option remaining and can therefore hope to rediscover himself in the Minors in 2015.

Dodgers Release Dustin McGowan, Will Pay Mike Adams Roster Bonus

The Dodgers have released righty Dustin McGowan, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Additionally, the Dodgers will pay Mike Adams a $100K roster bonus by starting him off in Triple-A, as’s Ken Gurnick reports on Twitter.

McGowan had been in camp on a big league deal that guaranteed him a league minimum salary and came with a $1MM Opening Day roster bonus. The 33-year-old had strong results last year when working from the pen for the Blue Jays. Though he struggled as a starter, he held opposing hitters to a .215/.284/.405 line and posting a 3.35 ERA in 43 relief innings. But McGowan was not sharp this spring, allowing six earned runs in eight frames.

Adams, of course, has an excellent performance record but comes with shoulder questions. The veteran was knocked around somewhat this spring, but proved late last year that he can still miss bats and get outs at the big league level.

MLBPA Issues Statement On Bryant, Prospect Promotions

The MLB Player’s Association has released a sternly worded statement (links to Twitter) regarding the Cubs’ decision to option super-prospect Kris Bryant to start the year.

“Today is a bad day for baseball. We all know that if @KrisBryant_23 were a combination of the greatest Players to play our great game, and perhaps he will be before it’s all said and done, the @Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.”

There are several items in this statement to unpack, of course. For starters, it seems difficult to disagree with the sentiment that it is unfortunate for the game as a whole that Bryant will not start the year in the big leagues. While imagining a mutually agreeable rule tweak to make that happen in the future will not be easy, it certainly seems a worthy pursuit.

Then, there is the interesting second sentence, which seems to draw attention away from the Cubs’ particular decision and focus it instead on the set of incentives that seemingly made it inevitable. Certainly, those words strike a somewhat different posture than that adopted by Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras.

Finally, and most ominously, the union fired a parting shot suggesting that “litigation” could be a method employed in “address[ing]” the Bryant decision and others like it. Presumably, that refers to the possibility of pursuing grievance proceedings under the CBA, rather than some kind of action in open court, but it is interesting regardless because it suggests the union may seek to argue that weighing service time at the start of a player’s career violates the current iteration of the CBA.

Of course, the statement also notes that collective bargaining may be the route pursued to deal with the issue, and regardless of the MLBPA’s actual intentions, the union clearly wishes to put the league on notice that the promotion timeline of top prospects will be at or near the top of the labor agenda in the next round of bargaining. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has recently come out strongly in favor of some form of international draft, and both sides increasingly appear to be lining up their positions. Negotiations are expected to launch in earnest next winter.

Pirates Discussing Extension With Gregory Polanco

The Pirates and outfielder Gregory Polanco‘s representatives at the Beverly Hills Sports Council have rekindled talks on a long-term contract, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The two sides discussed a seven-year deal last May, which would have been a precedent-setting contract for a young player with no Major League service time. However, Polanco’s camp didn’t bite on the contract, largely due to the fact that it contained three club options with salaries in the low eight-figure range that would’ve maxed out at $50-60MM over its entirety if all three options were exercised. That deal would’ve seemed team-friendly even if Polanco were to develop into an average regular, but many see him destined for stardom.

Polanco, just 23 years of age, was one of baseball’s top prospects heading into the 2014 season and made his Major League debut in June. Though he got off to a torrid start, Polanco eventually cooled, and his overall batting line checked in at a pedestrian .235/.307/.343 in 312 plate appearances. That production came as a 22-year-old in his first taste of MLB, however, and his Minor League track record — Polanco has batted .325/.385/.495 with seven homers and 17 steals in just 71 Triple-A games — is tantalizing to say the least.

The Bucs already have two-thirds of their brilliant young outfield locked up long-term, as both Andrew McCutchen (six years, $51.5MM) and Starling Marte (six years, $31MM) have signed long-term contracts in recent years. An outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco locked up for the foreseeable future would be enough to make any team envious, but Heyman notes that the chances of a deal being completed before Opening Day are unknown.

Long-term deals for players with fewer than a year of Major League service time have been few and far between, as can be seen in MLBTR’s Extension Tracker. The most recent case was Jon Singleton‘s five-year, $10MM contract with the Astros last spring, but that came when he had zero big league service time. Polanco, who has just 103 days of Major League service, would become the highest-paid player ever in his service class where he to sign the type of deal that Heyman outlined above. Of course, it’s not certain what terms and parameters are being discussed by the two sides at this juncture.

Mets Acquire Jerry Blevins

The Mets announced that they’ve acquired left-hander Jerry Blevins from the Nationals in exchange for outfielder Matt den Dekker (Twitter link). Blevins becomes the second left-handed reliever added to the Mets’ bullpen today, as the team struck a deal to acquire Alex Torres from the Padres in exchange for Minor League righty Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later.

Jerry Blevins

Blevins, 31, had a curious season in his lone year with Washington. Though his strikeout rate soared to a career-best 10.4 K/9, he also posted a 4.87 ERA that was the worst full-season mark of his career. The likely culprit in Blevin’s struggles was a dismal 60.5 percent strand rate that checked in about 13 percent below his career mark. Stats such as FIP (2.77), xFIP (3.25) and SIERA (2.93) all feel that Blevins was particularly unlucky and that his ERA should rebound in 2015.

Perhaps more important in this situation, however, are Blevins’ numbers against left-handed hitters. Torres has proven that he can retire both left- and right-handed hitters and has actually been better against righties, so Blevins could be deployed as more of a specialist, whereas Torres will pitch entire innings. Blevins limited left-handed hitters to a frail .160/.202/.217 batting line in 2014 and has held them to just a .212/.264/.330 batting line throughout his career.

Blevins is set to earn $2.4MM this season after avoiding arbitration for the final time this winter. He’s only controlled for the coming year, so he amounts to a bullpen rental.

Of course, the price paid for Blevins isn’t necessarily steep. The 27-year-old den Dekker has played sparingly for New York over the past few seasons, hitting .238/.325/.310 in 237 plate appearances. More of den Dekker’s value is on the defensive side of the game, as he’s capable of handling all three outfield spots. He boasts a nice Minor League track record as well, having slashed .284/.345/.467 in 903 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Despite that, though, den Dekker was a long shot to make the club. The out-of-options Kirk Nieuwenhuis figures to be the team’s fourth outfielder behind Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, and John Mayberry Jr. will also be in the mix for outfield playing time.

This acquisition does call into question whether or not left-hander Sean Gilmartin, a Rule 5 pick from the Twins, will make the team. Earlier today, reports indicated that Gilmartin was likely to break camp with the team even if the Mets added a left-handed reliever from outside the organization. While adding a pair of southpaws might seem to cloud that situation, manager Terry Collins has indicated that Gilmartin still has a good chance of making the team, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, which could then be bad news for veteran right-hander Buddy Carlyle (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kris Bryant To Begin Season In Minors

The Cubs announced today that wunderkind Kris Bryant has been assigned to Minor League camp, indicating that he will not make the team’s Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. Second baseman Javier Baez was also optioned to Triple-A today.

The Bryant decision was widely expected, as the Cubs’ long-term benefit by optioning Bryant is almost impossible to ignore. Keeping Bryant in the Minors for even 12 days will leave him with 171 days of Major League service time this season, or one day shy of a full year. In other words, rather than controlling Bryant from 2015-20, the Cubs would gain an extra year of control and have the rights to Bryant through the 2021 season.

Oftentimes, teams will be willing to bring a player north to open the season because they plan on trying to negotiate a long-term deal eventually anyhow. The Cubs may well have interest in extending Bryant — why wouldn’t they? — but Bryant is also a client of agent Scott Boras, who traditionally encourages his players to go year-to-year through arbitration and test the free agent market as early as possible. While there are exceptions — Carlos Gomez, Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez each come to mind — the Cubs have to know that their odds of buying out any of Bryant’s free agent years in advance are considerably thinner than they would be if Bryant had different representation.

Boras has been very vocal on the matter, which has been one of the most oft-discussed storylines this Spring Training. Boras told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that the Cubs had to make a choice regarding Bryant: “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” Boras would go on to argue that Bryant should have been promoted last September when the rosters expanded.

While it’s not surprising to see an agent advocating for the promotion of his player, it’s also hard to dismiss Boras’ comments as those of a biased party. Bryant batted a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he crushed nine homers in just 44 spring plate appearances while slashing .425/.477/1.175. Ranked by several outlets as the game’s top prospect, Bryant has certainly made a case that he belongs at the Major League level, and it’s difficult to compose an argument that he is not ready for the Majors, from a baseball standpoint.

The Cubs, of course, will not indicate that service time plays an issue in the decision. (Doing so would open the door for a grievance.) However, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pointed out to reporters that he has never once taken a prospect north to open the season if it meant making his Major League debut, as he feels that Opening Day is a difficult time for a young player to debut. He also cited a belief that it’s good for players to be in a rhythm when called up to the Majors for the first time.

Needless to say, the service time rules that frequently cause teams to stash prospects in the Minors to delay their free agency or to avoid Super Two status figure to be a major talking point in the next collective bargaining agreement. Last year, there was plenty of controversy around the promotion timelines for prospects Gregory Polanco, Jon Singleton and George Springer, among others. MLBPA executive director has called the tactic “unfortunate,” though certain playerss, including Andrew Miller, have voiced an understanding that it’s part of the game.

In the case of Baez, it’s perhaps not surprising to see him begin the year in the Minors. He hit just 169/.227/.324 last season and struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, and this spring he batted .173/.218/.231 with 20 punchouts in 55 PA. Baez racked up 55 days of service time last year, and he’ll need 117 additional days in 2015 to reach one full year of big league service time.

Mets Acquire Alex Torres

The Mets announced that they have acquired left-handed reliever Alex Torres from the Padres in exchange for Minor League right-hander Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later.

Alex Torres

Torres, 27, will give the Mets a much-needed left-handed option in the bullpen. Josh Edgin, who had projected to be New York’s top southpaw reliever, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month, leaving the team precariously thin in this department. Since that time, rumors have circulated about potential matches for the Mets, who have been linked to Baltimore’s Brian Matusz as well as J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Adam Liberatore of the Dodgers. Colorado’s Rex Brothers was also suggested as a fit.

In Torres, New York receives a pitcher that has posted a 2.49 ERA with 9.1 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 44.7 percent ground-ball rate over the past two seasons. Torres has benefited from a perhaps unsustainbly low homer-to-flyball ratio of just 3.1 percent, though Citi Field’s generally pitcher-friendly dimensions may help him to sustain an above-average rate in that regard.

Torres does come with some control issues, as he averaged 5.5 walks per nine innings pitched in 2014. That, combined with some correction for his good fortune on home runs, leads sabermetric ERA estimators to peg him for an ERA in the mid-3.00s rather than to sustain his sub-3.00 mark.

Somewhat curiously, most of Torres’ control problems come against left-handed hitters. Right-handers have batted a meager .175/.260/.251 against Torres dating back to 2013, while lefties have exploited his lack of control and gotten on base at a .341 clip against Torres. Of course, they’ve also batted just .213 and slugged .276, so if he can rein in his control, he could post dominant overall numbers.

With one year and 141 days of service time under his belt, Torres can be controlled via arbitration through the 2019 season. However, because he’ll end up with two years, 141 days next offseason (assuming a full year of service time is accrued, as one would expect), he’s a likely Super Two player, meaning he will be arbitration-eligible four times as opposed to three.

The 25-year-old Mazzoni was New York’s second-round pick back in 2011 and is generally ranked as the Mets’ 15th-20th best prospect, per Baseball America, and Fangraphs. Mazzoni split the 2014 campaign across four levels, spending the bulk of his time at Triple-A where he worked to a 4.67 ERA with 49 strikeouts against just 12 walks in 52 innings. Mazzoni has spent much of his career as a starter, but most feel that he’s likely destined for relief work if he surfaces in the Majors, where his low 90s fastball will instead reach the mid-90s, serving as a complement to an above-average slider.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported (via Twitter) that the Mets had acquired Torres.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Red Sox Acquire Sandy Leon; Christian Vazquez Placed On 60-Day DL

9:05am: The Red Sox announced that they have acquired Leon from the Nationals in exchange for cash considerations. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, Vazquez has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained right elbow.

7:05am: Catcher Sandy Leon tells James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link) that he has been traded to the Red Sox. The 26-year-old Leon was out of options and unlikely to break camp with the Nationals, and the Sox have a need behind the plate with Christian Vazquez‘s immediate future uncertain as he deals with an elbow injury.

Leon, a switch-hitter, has played sparingly over the past three seasons, totaling 107 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and hitting just .189/.280/.253 in that extremely small sample. Leon’s track record in Triple-A — a .257/.358/.414 triple slash — is more impressive, but it, too, has come in a small sample of just 257 PA. Overall, Leon is a .236/.324/.329 hitter in the Minors, but he’s been a dominant force behind the plate when protecting against the running game, as he’s gunned down 45 percent of base stealers in his Minor League career.

Vazquez is slated to meet with Dr. James Andrews this week after an MRI has led to speculation that he could require Tommy John surgery. The move would be a significant blow to the Sox and devastating news for Vazquez, who was in line to see significant time behind the plate this year. Boston has already acquired Ryan Hanigan this winter, and he figures to receive the bulk of the playing time behind the dish.

The wild card in Boston’s catching situation is top prospect Blake Swihart, whose name has continually surfaced in Cole Hamels trade rumors. However, the Sox have steadfastly refused to consider trading Swihart, who is regarded as a Top 20 prospect in the game. Swihart batted a combined .293/.341/.469 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he’s had an excellent spring, hitting .296/.345/.444. Some have speculated that the 23-year-old could break camp with the club if Vazquez has a serious enough injury, but the addition of Leon gives the Red Sox the ability to give Swihart a bit more time to develop in the Minors if they wish. Swihart played just 18 games at the Triple-A level last season, so it would be understandable if Boston was yet uncertain about rushing their prized prospect to the Major Leagues.

Rangers Release Ryan Ludwick

The Rangers have released Ryan Ludwick from his minor league contract, tweets Rangers EVP of Communications John Blake. He was informed earlier this week that he would not make the Opening Day roster.

The 36-year-old outfielder scuffled over the last two seasons with the Reds. In 400 plate appearances, he hit .244/.308/.375 with nine home runs. Ludwick got a late start to his major league career, finally breaking out with the Cardinals in his age 29 season. His last successful season came in 2012, when he blasted 26 home runs with a .275/.346/.531 line. He hit just .200/.188/.300 in 30 plate appearances this spring.