Newsstand Rumors

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.


Details On A-Rod’s Home Run Milestones, Representation

The Yankees feel they have a strong case that the team should not be obligated to pay Alex Rodriguez for a series of home run milestone bonuses included in his deal with the club, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Rodriguez’s contract provides that he can earn $6MM for reaching each of five career home run tallies, starting with his 660th, but the club is said to have begun developing a legal strategy to avoid any such pay-outs.

The reason for the club’s confidence is apparent in the new details on those clauses provided in Heyman’s report. Rather than simply promising Rodriguez the sum if and when he hits the necessary home run, the language provides that the club need not “exercise its right to designate” a home run as a milestone if that “decision is made in good faith and in accordance with the intent of the parties.”

As I explained in detail a while back, it already was at least plausible to think that the Yankees could craft an argument that the marketing bonus pay-outs should be invalidated. That the actual deal language seems to contemplate scenarios where a bonus would not be paid would appear to lend significant credence to such an attempt. Of course, Rodriguez is also promised another $61MM for the next three seasons.

Of course, as Heyman notes, this matter is not likely to be resolved quietly unless the sides agree to some sort of settlement. Particularly given the contract’s reference to the “intent of the parties,” any kind of formal dispute would seem quite likely to involve testimony from Rodriguez, his agent at the time of the deal, Scott Boras, and top Yankees brass. Indeed, Heyman indicates that Rodriguez’s camp has already sought to engaged Boras regarding obtaining his testimony, with the super-agent rebuffing those initial advances. And, of course, the MLBPA would again be in a difficult position but would almost certainly seek to uphold the marketing provisions.

Adding to the complexities is the fact that Rodriguez apparently is not currently retaining an agent. Sources tell Heyman that Rodriguez has “parted ways” with Dan Lozano, the representative he had hired to replace Boras.


Josh Hamilton Facing Discipline For Drug Of Abuse

7:21pm: Hamilton’s meeting involves an admission to the league earlier in the offseason that he had used prohibited drugs of abuse, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links). There are no indications that he failed any tests. Hamilton, of course, has a well-documented history of addiction, leading Heyman to characterize the event in question as a relapse.

As Heyman notes, the 33-year-old would seemingly technically qualify only as a first-time offender under the JDA (Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program) since his early-career suspensions occurred before he was in the big leagues. (Though, as MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez notes, Hamilton was on the 40-man at the point of his first failed drug test in 2003.) Were that the case, Hamilton would be handled under the first-time offender protocol. A treatment program would be established, with a 15 to 25 game ban standing by if Hamilton failed to comply with that program.

But as Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links), that will probably not be the case here. Hamilton’s discipline will fall within the discretion of commissioner Rob Manfred, per the report, because his prior failed drug tests take him “outside [the] standard program.” Having been re-admitted to MLB “via Bud Selig’s discretion and terms” back in 2006, says Morosi, Hamilton is now subject to the discretion of Selig’s successor.

The JDA does include provisions for players who have been suspended for one year after more than four violations of their individualized treatment program. It provides that the commissioner may impose discipline “consistent with the concept of progressive discipline,” seemingly suggesting a more advanced punishment than those already levied. Of course, circumstances such as the time that has passed could presumably also factor in to the decisionmaking process, and it is not clear whether those provisions would hold sway in this case.

5:21pm: Angels slugger Josh Hamilton is in New York meeting with MLB officials regarding a possible disciplinary matter, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports. While GM Jerry Dipoto confirmed that Hamilton was in New York for the meeting, he otherwise declined to provide any information on the nature of the issue.

It appears that Hamilton is not facing any accusations of PED use: a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports indicates that some other matter is at play. The executive that Rosenthal spoke with labeled the apparent transgression “worse” than PED use, though of course that is rather an ambiguous label and is open to a range of interpretation.

While it would be wrong to speculate as to the basis for the possible discipline at this point, DiGiovanna does write that Los Angeles is “bracing for possible penalties.” Needless to say, any disciplinary action could have important ramifications for the Angels and Hamilton. The veteran is owed $23MM this year and $60MM over 2016-17 under the free agent deal he signed in December of 2012. Time missed due to suspension would not be compensated.

There is also the matter of potentially replacing Hamilton in the lineup. Though he is coming off of a rough 2014 season and was already set to miss the beginning of the year recovering from shoulder surgery, Hamilton possesses rare talent at the plate. The Halos do have some depth in place already in offseason addition Matt Joyce, who is expected to step in for Hamilton while he recovers from his procedure.


Pirates Willing To Consider Extending Andrew McCutchen

The Pirates are willing to consider a significant second extension for star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. There are no active talks at present, but Biertempfel’s sources tell him that the team would be “willing to go to great lengths” to work out a new contract if they engaged McCutchen, even if that meant going into the range of $25MM annually.

Team owner Bob Nutting acknowledged that he hopes McCutchen is a Pirate “for a long, long time.” For his part, McCutchen said that he is not thinking about that possibility but would “look forward to it” if the team opened negotiations.

Of course, there is no pressing impetus to strike a deal. But for the budget-conscious Bucs and an increasingly underpaid McCutchen, it is easy to see how circumstances could line up to create an opportunity to get something done.

On the one hand, Pittsburgh is sitting pretty with respect to contract status. McCutchen’s current deal gives the club control through 2018 while promising him just $38MM in total. That covers three guaranteed seasons as well as a $1MM buyout of a $14.5MM club option, bringing the max payout to an unquestioned bargain of $51.5MM for four years.

Then again, McCutchen is not without his own leverage. He is still just 28 and has been one of the game’s very best players in recent seasons, racking up a .320/.405/.534 slash with 77 home runs and 65 stolen bases over the last three seasons combined. McCutchen has ended each of those campaigns in the top three of the National League MVP vote and took home the award in 2013. All said, he has been valued at better than seven wins above replacement in each of those years.

The net is, as Biertempfel’s colleague Travis Sawchik rightly observed last year, the parties are in a rather analogous situation to the one that led the Rays to strike a second long-term deal with Evan Longoria. While Longoria’s deal was probably even more slanted in his club’s favor — its four years of control remaining included three cheap options — the essential premise seems sound, though Longoria was a few years younger at the time of his signing.