Newsstand Rumors

NL East Notes: Hamels, Marlins, Braves, Breslow

ESPN’s Jayson Stark took a look at the Cole Hamels trade market and spoke to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about the possibility of trading the ace. Amaro took a familiar stance, stating that he’s not under any pressure to move Hamels, whom he rightly deemed one of baseball’s best starters. Rival execs tell Stark that Amaro is still asking for two premium prospects plus another piece or two in addition to the acquiring club taking on Hamels’ entire contract. As Stark notes, it’s unfortunate that a rebuilding club’s best chip is an ace in an offseason where free agency and the trade market are both pitching-rich. With next season shaping up to be a buyer’s market for pitching as well, Stark wonders if July will be the best time for Amaro to move Hamels, as few aces are ever available at the deadline. Multiple clubs have told Stark that Amaro is holding out for “the deal of the century,” as Stark terms it.

Two items of particular note from Stark are that the Blue Jays are said to have very strong interest in Hamels and that reports of Hamels’ no-trade clause are not entirely accurate. Hamels can indeed block trades to eight clubs, but previous reports listed the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nats, Braves, Padres, Yankees and Rangers as teams to which Hamels cannot veto a deal. Stark hears that list is outdated, and at least one club has been changed since season’s end.

Some other late-night NL East notes…

  • Reports have indicated that the Marlins are serious about adding pieces to contend in 2015 this offseason, and while the focus has been more on bats for the lineup, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Fish have reached out to the Tigers to inquire on David Price and Rick Porcello. Talks aren’t serious at this time, he adds, but the fact that the Marlins are even kicking the tires on a pair of high-priced arms (Price and Porcello project to earn $18.9MM and $12.2MM next year, respectively) suggests that they’re willing to take on some significant payroll.
  • The Braves are interested in a reunion with backstop David Ross, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien reported yesterday (Twitter link). Ross spent four seasons as Brian McCann‘s backup in Atlanta from 2009-12, enjoying some of the most productive seasons of his career as a Brave. He could serve as an excellent mentor to Christian Bethancourt, who figures to take the reins as Atlanta’s everyday catcher with Evan Gattis moving to the outfield full time.
  • MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports another potential catching target for the Braves, tweeting that they have interest in A.J. Pierzynski. The soon-to-be 38-year-old Pierzynski has never had Ross’ defensive chops, though he’d give the Braves a left-handed bat to insert in the lineup when they prefer to rest Bethancourt against tough right-handers.
  • The Mets are interested in lefty reliever Craig Breslow, tweets Morosi. The Mets are thin on left-handed relief, and Breslow should represent a low-cost option. The 34-year-old picked a poor time to have a career-worst season, pitching to a 5.96 ERA this past season in a contract year. However, he entered the 2014 campaign with a career 2.82 ERA in 402 innings. Breslow doesn’t dominate lefties the way many specialists do (.671 OPS), but he’s also more effective against right-handed hitters than a number of his southpaw brethren (.680 OPS).

Giants Casting Wide Net, Have Contacted Scherzer

After losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants are casting a very wide net and have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding top free Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants appear to be scouring the trade and free agent markets for upgrades, as Heyman reports that they’ve at least initiated talks with free agents Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Chase Headley, Torii Hunter, Justin Masterson and of course Yasmany Tomas (their interest in Tomas has been well-documented). Beyond that, they’ve kicked the tires on Atlanta’s Justin Upton, and their interest in Jon Lester was reported yesterday as Sandoval looked to be on the verge of departure.

San Francisco’s interest in Scherzer isn’t terribly surprising. The team will bring back ace Madison Bumgarner and stable veteran Tim Hudson, but Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum‘s reliability has taken s nose-dive in recent years. Both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy are free agents. Yusmeiro Petit was excellent in 2014 but totaled only 129 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason. He’s certainly done enough to warrant a look in the rotation, but the lack of innings could be cause for concern.

In terms of their offensive targets, Heyman hears that the Giants are more likely to go with a cheaper option to replace Sandoval at third base, instead spending bigger on a replacement in left field for Mike Morse. He notes that they’ve taken a “close look” at Upton and have even reached out to former Giant Melky Cabrera, though one team source described Cabrera’s departure from the Giants as “awkward” to Heyman. (Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 to close out the season as the Giants pushed toward a World Series victory.)

Earlier today I looked at some post-Sandoval options for the Giants, listing several trade and free agent targets that the reigning World Series Champions could pursue.


Latest On Chase Headley

Much of the chatter surrounding Chase Headley this offseason has been that the Yankees are interested in retaining him, but MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince adds a new team to the fold, reporting that the Indians have shown interest in the third baseman. Bastian’s source wouldn’t specify whether an offer has been made. As Bastian notes, a run at Headley would likely first require Cleveland to move the contract of Nick Swisher, who is owed $30MM through 2016. (Cleveland is reportedly exploring possibilities to do just that.)

Cleveland’s interest in Headley isn’t that surprising. While Lonnie Chisenhall had a huge first half, much of that success was driven by an unsustainable average on balls in play, and he’s never graded out as a strong defender. Cleveland’s -19 Defensive Runs Saved and -18.1 UZR/150 at third base last year ranked 28th and 29th in the Majors, respectively. Headley, meanwhile, received respective marks of +13 and +28 in those fields. Both will be tough to repeat, of course, but while Headley’s career averages are lower, they’re still excellent and would represent a sizable upgrade for manager Terry Francona’s squad.

On a highly related note, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that the Yankees may already be priced out of Headley’s market. Sherman hears that the Yankees began the offseason with the hope that Headley could be had on a two-year deal. While that was unlikely to ever be the case, Headley’s stock rose even higher this week when one team signed both of his primary free agent competitors as the Red Sox landed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees, per Sherman, seem unlikely to go beyond three years, and Headley looks headed for a four-year deal, possibly at an even higher rate than the $48MM predicted by Tim Dierkes in early October.

In a second piece, Castrovince takes a speculative look at Headley’s market at this point, opining that the Yankees, Indians, Giants, White Sox, Blue Jays and even the Padres could all enter the picture (the latter option, he admits, is unlikely but not inconceivable).



Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez

8:05pm: Ramirez’s option will vest if he reaches 1050 plate appearances from 2017-18 and does not finish the 2018 season on the disabled list, reports Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (Twitter link).

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports adds (Twitter links) that Ramirez receives a limited no-trade clause in the deal. He will receive $50K bonuses for each All-Star nod, Silver Slugger award and Gold Glove he earns. He can also receive up to $150K each year based on MVP voting and additional bonuses for postseason awards.

5:29pm: On Nov. 24, 2005, the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins in a blockbuster deal, but nine years and a day later, the team has officially announced that Ramirez will return to Boston on a four-year deal.

Hanley  Ramirez

Ramirez, a client of the Wasserman Media Group’s Adam Katz, will reportedly earn $88MM over those four years, and his contract contains a $22MM vesting option for a fifth year.  The contract calls for a $3MM signing bonus, a $19MM salary in 2015 and a $22MM salary from 2016-18.

Ramirez, who hit .283/.369/.448 with 13 homers for the Dodgers last season and owns a .300/.373/.500 slash line for his career, was cited by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes as the top position player available in free agency, though it was “unclear” as to how Ramirez’s market would develop.  While Ramirez’s impact bat was clearly a huge asset in an offense-thin free agent market, he has a notable injury history and is a below-average defensive shortstop, posting negative Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150 totals in seven of his nine full-time seasons.  In order to help his free agent case, Ramirez said he was open to switching positions, though his signing with the Sox opens up a number of possibilities on that front.

The Red Sox announced Ramirez as a left fielder, which should put to rest any questions about his role with the team. Fellow free agent signee Pablo Sandoval will be penciled in as the everyday third baseman, and the promising Xander Bogaerts will look to improve in his second full season in the league.  Ramirez will join Boston’s very crowded outfield mix of Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Daniel Nava.  Cespedes’ name has been mentioned in trade rumors, so he seems like the most probable candidate to be playing elsewhere in 2015, but the Sox seem very likely to move multiple outfielders this winter.

It’s clear that the Red Sox are looking to amass as many top bats as possible in the increasingly pitching-dominated league.  The Sox have been hesitant about signing free agents to long contracts given how several of their recent major signings (i.e. Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez) provided limited returns.  On paper, Ramirez doesn’t fit the model of the safe signing that Boston would prefer given his age (he’ll be 31 on Opening Day), injury history and defensive issues, though given how little payroll space the Sox have tied up in future commitments, the club had plenty of flexibility.

Earlier this month, MLBTR’s Zach Links projected Ramirez would get a six-year, $132MM deal, so the reported total of his pact with Boston lags behind in both years and dollars.  The qualifying offer and the questions about Ramirez’s defense could have played a role, or it could be that Ramirez was simply willing to take less money to play for the organization that originally signed him as an amateur free agent in 2000.  Ramirez developed into one of the game’s top prospects while in the Sox farm system and he played his first two Major League games with the team in 2005.  He was dealt that November to the Marlins as part of the trade package that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

The Dodgers will earn a compensation pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as a result of the signing, as Ramirez turned down the team’s qualifying offer.  Boston’s 2015 first-round pick is protected, so the Sox have surrendered both their second- and third-round picks in order to bring Sandoval and Ramirez aboard.

Christopher Meola first reported that Ramirez would sign with Boston (Twitter link), and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the terms of the deal. The year-to-year breakdown was first reported by WEEI.com’s Alex Speier (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Red Sox Owner Willing To Exceed Luxury Tax Threshold In 2015

At today’s press conference to announce the signing of Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox owner John Henry told reporters, including WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, that his team is willing to exceed the $189MM luxury tax threshold in 2015. “The way it’€™s structured we can blow through one year,” Henry said. “Again for next year we have tremendous flexibility so we could go could through for one year and not overly effect us.”

Henry added that his previous comments about aversion to long-term contracts were overblown and stated, “You can’t win unless you engage in free agency.”  The Red Sox’ early actions this offseason have exemplified that line of thinking, as the team today announced the signing of Ramirez to a four-year, $88MM contract (with a vesting option for a fifth season) and Pablo Sandoval to a five-year $95MM contract. Additionally, they inked Koji Uehara to a two-year, $18MM pact before he even hit the open market.

Boston’s spending doesn’t seem the least bit likely to stop there, as both Henry expressed that he is hopeful of securing a reunion with Jon Lester, who is a well-known target of GM Ben Cherington. Boston is believed to be looking at to add at least two starting pitchers this season and has also been linked to trade target Cole Hamels and free agent James Shields, among others.

The flexibility to which Henry refers is significant; Mike Napoli ($16MM AAV), Shane Victorino ($13MM AAV), Edward Mujica ($4.75MM AAV) and Yoenis Cespedes ($9MM AAV) are all coming off the books following the upcoming season. As Speier examined in depth yesterday, the Red Sox figure to already be within $7-8MM of the $189MM threshold, and that’s without adding a pair of starters as well as perhaps a backup catcher and another bullpen arm. However, the team will also undoubtedly be offloading some significant salary in trades of its outfield surplus. Cespedes has been heavily rumored as a likely trade candidate, and any of Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava could theoretically be moved as well.


Red Sox Designate Juan Francisco For Assignment

The Red Sox announced that they have designated corner infielder Juan Francisco for assignment. The move clears roster space for Hanley Ramirez, whose deal has now been officially announced by the team.

Francisco’s tenure with the BoSox was brief, to put it lightly. Boston claimed the lefty slugger off waivers from the Blue Jays not one week ago, but the addition of Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to the roster left little room for Francisco on the roster.

The 27-year-old Francisco possesses serious pop from the left side of the dish, as evidenced by his lifetime .203 isolated power mark (slugging minus average) and the even more impressive .236 figure that he posted with Toronto in 2014. However, for all of thunder Francisco can bring to a lineup, he’s fanned in more than 34 percent of his career plate appearances, he’s regarded as a below-average defender at third and he’s struggled against lefties throughout his career. Francisco’s .248/.310/.476 batting line against righties is impressive, but those totals drop to just .159/.213/.210 against southpaws.

Francisco was projected to earn $2.2MM in arbitration by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. A team with a need at third base or for a left-handed bench bat could show interest in him, but they’d be on the hook for roughly that projected amount in 2015 should they acquire Francisco via waivers or in a trade with the Red Sox.


Jon Lester Rumors: Tuesday

Yesterday, we took a look at some news and rumors on free agent Jon Lester and the connection of his market to the trade market for Cole Hamels. As things continue to develop for Lester, here’s the latest …

  • Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com hears that the Cubs are very much in on Lester still. The Cubs have been on top of the situation from the beginning, Levine writes, and while his source wouldn’t wager a guess as to where Lester will sign, the source did indicate that an annual salary of $25MM or more.

Earlier Updates

  • The Cubs have made Lester an offer of over $135MM and are willing to go to six years on a deal, according to a report from David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (audio and written version).
  • Kaplan also reports that the Giants‘ interest in Lester is real and significant. The lefty is scheduled for a visit to San Francisco next week, per ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Twitter links).
  • Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters, including Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, that he is “confident that we’re making every attempt internally here and the hope would be to get [Lester] back here.” But things could still take some time to shake out, with Farrell adding that he expects to “get a better read on that in the coming weeks.”

Red Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval

3:30pm: Sandoval will receive limited no-trade protection as well as a variety of annual award incentives, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).

11:29am: Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has officially signed with the Red Sox, kicking off a fascinating offseason for Boston. He’ll earn a guaranteed $95MM over five years, with a club option for a sixth season.

Pablo  Sandoval

Sandoval will receive a $3MM bonus, then earn $17MM annually over 2015-17 before taking home an $18MM salary in both 2018 and 2019. The club option is for $17MM and comes with a $5MM buyout.

Sandoval’s addition immediately addresses Boston’s need for a third baseman in the wake of Will Middlebrooks‘ disappointing 2014 season, and the switch-hitting Sandoval also adds some balance to a predominantly right-handed hitting Red Sox batting order.  While Sandoval never had much trouble hitting at AT&T Park (a career .853 OPS in San Francisco), it stands to reason that the move to hitter-friendly Fenway Park will only help his production.

With Sandoval in the fold and Hanley Ramirez reportedly also close to finalizing a deal, the Red Sox may have landed the two biggest infield bats on the free agency market.  It remains to be seen how the Red Sox will deploy their talent given Xander Bogaerts‘ presence at shortstop, though Sandoval is the obvious choice at third base given that he has posted above-average UZR/150 numbers in three of the last four seasons.

The Red Sox were one of three reported finalists for Sandoval along with the Giants and Padres.  (The Blue Jays and White Sox also showed some interest in Sandoval earlier this winter.)  This interest didn’t result in Sandoval finding his desired six guaranteed years, though if the contract does pay him a $20MM average annual value, it will be the second-highest AAV ever given to a third baseman, topped only by Alex Rodriguez‘s deal with the Yankees. San Francisco assistant GM Bobby Evans tells Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter) that Sandoval informed him he was looking for a “new challenge,” and he apparently found that in Boston.

Sandoval, 28, had spent his entire seven-year Major League career with the Giants, becoming a fan favorite due to his “Kung Fu Panda” persona and his clutch bat.  Sandoval owns a .344/.389/.545 slash line in 167 postseason plate appearances, most notably being named MVP of the 2012 World Series.  Losing Sandoval is a big blow to the Giants, who may be looking to replace his production by signing Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas.  Since Tomas could be deployed as a third baseman, he might end up as a direct replacement for Sandoval should he indeed wind up a Giant.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Giants are interested in Tomas as a left fielder and would likely pursue Chase Headley to fill their third base vacancy if Sandoval went elsewhere.

The Giants offered Sandoval a five-year, $95MM contract and showed some willingness to go to $100MM if necessary, tweets Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com hears the same and adds that there was an understanding that the $95MM wasn’t necessarily a final offer.

San Francisco will now receive a bonus pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft as compensation for Sandoval signing elsewhere,  since he rejected the team’s one-year qualifying offer.  Boston’s first round pick (7th overall) is protected, so the Sox will instead give up their second rounder as a result of the signing.

Oscar Prieto Rojas reported direct confirmation of the signing (Twitter links). CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that a deal was complete (Twitter link).

The contract breakdown comes from Alex Speier of WEEI.com, on Twitter. Heyman reported the final guaranteed figure, in a tweet. Manolo Hernandez Douen was first to report that the deal included a sixth-year option (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Details On Jay Bruce’s No-Trade Clause

We heard recently that the Reds will at least listen to offers on outfielder Jay Bruce. While that still seems to be a long shot, it is worth noting that Bruce has an eight-team no-trade clause that would come into play were he shopped.

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, Bruce can block deals to the Athletics, Blue Jays, D’backs, Marlins, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, and Yankees. That mix of small and large-market teams presumably shields Bruce from destinations he may prefer not to play in while affording him leverage if a big-spending AL East club were to come calling.

Bruce had an off year in 2014, but has been one of the game’s most consistent power threats and is just entering his age-28 season. He is guaranteed $25.5MM over the next two seasons, which includes a buyout for a $13MM club option in 2017.


Latest On Mariners’ Pursuit Of Righty Outfield Bat

2:57pm: Seattle is interested in Upton but intends to take a look at free agent Nelson Cruz first, according to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

11:51am: The Mariners, as expected, are pursuing several trade possibilities in their efforts to find a right-handed-hitting corner outfield bat, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Seattle has long been expected to try to fill its outfield void with a righty power bat, and it appears that is where the team is focused.

Seattle’s front office has had talks on players such as Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Yoenis Cespedes of the Red Sox, and Justin Upton of the Braves. Obviously, each of those options would represent a major addition of a premier source of pop, though their contractual situations are notably different. The latter two are playing out their final year of control at fairly reasonable prices, while Kemp is owed $21MM next year and another $86MM over the four seasons that follow.

The Mariners remain one of the more intriguing teams to watch on the trade market, both because of their aggressive stance and stockpile of interesting talent. Seattle has Brad Miller and Chris Taylor potentially available up the middle, though the team may be more inclined to hold if it does not have an attractive upgrade in mind. The club also possesses interesting, MLB-ready arms like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, each of whom would hold broad appeal.