Newsstand Rumors

Padres Decline Josh Johnson’s Option

The Padres announced that they have declined their $4MM club option on right-hander Josh Johnson. As MLB.com’s Corey Brock tweets, the Friars are said to want to work out a lesser deal with Johnson and his representatives at Sosnick/Cobbe Sports.

Johnson, 31 in January, signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Padres last offseason. That deal contained a clause stipulating that if Johnson were to make fewer than seven starts, the team would secure a $4MM club option for the 2015 season. Not only did Johnson fail to make seven starts, he didn’t take the mound at all in San Diego, as he fell victim to Tommy John surgery in April. Brock tweets that Johnson began a throwing program earlier this month and feels that he has “unfinished business” in San Diego.

Johnson’s injury history is lengthy, to put it mildly, but there’s no denying his status as one of baseball’s most talented pitchers when healthy. He owns a lifetime 3.40 ERA, but that number is skewed by some poor performances in injury-plagued seasons. During the best (and healthiest) stretch of his Major League career from 2009-11, Johnson posted a 2.64 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 453 innings with the Marlins. He’s a two-time All-Star that finished fourth in the 2006 Rookie of the Year voting and finished fifth in the 2010 Cy Young voting.


Orioles Exercise Options On Chen, O’Day; Decline Options On Markakis, Hundley

The Orioles announced that they have exercised their club options on left-hander Wei-Yin Chen ($4.75MM) and right-hander Darren O’Day ($4.25MM). Additionally, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that the team has declined its half of Nick Markakis‘ $17.5MM mutual option (in favor of a $2MM buyout) and declined Nick Hundley‘s $5MM option.

The decision to pick up the options on Chen and O’Day was an easy one, as both appear to be bargain rates relative to the level of production of each pitcher. Chen, a 29-year-old left-hander signed out of Taiwan, has been solid in three seasons for the Orioles and enjoyed his best year in 2014. In 185 2/3 innings in the Baltimore rotation, he pitched to a 3.54 ERA with 6.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate. In three years with the O’s, he’s totaled a 3.86 ERA in 515 1/3 innings while playing on a three-year, $11.388MM contract.

O’Day, who turned 32 last week, has been an integral part of the Orioles’ bullpen over the past three seasons but turned in his best work this year. Though he has a 2.05 ERA over 197 2/3 total innings in Baltimore, he pitched to a 1.70 mark this year to go along with 9.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent ground-ball rate.

Markakis has been with the Orioles since being selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft. In nine seasons with Baltimore, he’s posted a cumulative line of .290/.358/.435. This past season, he posted a .276/.342/.386 line with 14 homers and a total of 2.5 fWAR/2.1 rWAR — a solid rebound campaign as he hits the open market for the first time. First, however, the O’s will have to decide whether or not to make him a $15.3MM qualifying offer. (I recently profiled Markakis and pegged him for a four-year deal without a QO and three years if he gets one.)

Hundley, 31, was acquired in exchange for lefty Troy Patton after Matt Wieters went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. In 50 games and 174 plate appearances with the O’s, the former Padre batted .233/.273/.352 with five homers. He caught 19 percent of opposing base-stealers and graded out as a slightly above-average pitch-framer, per Baseball Prospectus.


Dan Haren Exercises Player Option

Dodgers right-hander Dan Haren has exercised his $10MM player option for the 2015 season, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweets.

Haren, who turned 34 in September, signed a one-year, $10MM contract with the Dodgers last offseason that contained a $10MM player option that would vest upon reaching 180 innings. Haren ended up totaling 186 innings in Dodger blue, posting a 4.02 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41.5 percent ground-ball rate.

Haren could have hit the open market in search of a larger guarantee, perhaps on a two-year deal, but he’s stated in the past that proximity to his family is of the utmost importance to him, so remaining with them in Los Angeles is likely a key component of this decision. He spoke openly and honestly with Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post in 2013 about how difficult his year with the Nationals was from a personal standpoint, as he had never previously been so far away from his wife and children.

Barring any sort of trade, Haren will return to a rotation that features Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. It won’t be a surprise to see them seek further rotation depth via trades and/or free agency this offseason.



White Sox To Decline Option On Felipe Paulino

The White Sox have informed righty Felipe Paulino that they will not pick up his $4MM option, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Chicago will instead pay him a $250K buyout.

Paulino, 31, had signed a one-year, $1.75MM deal before the 2013 season. At the time, Paulino was coming off of Tommy John surgery and looked to be an easy high-upside risk to take. That gamble did not pay off, however, as Paulino made just four MLB appearances and was roughed up at all levels this year.

 


Red Sox Sign Koji Uehara To Two-Year Extension

The Red Sox announced that they have signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension that runs through the 2016 season. Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that it is a two-year, $18MM contract (Twitter link). Uehara is represented by Mark Pieper of Relativity Sports.

Koji Uehara

Uehara, who turns 40 next April, has thrived over the past two seasons in Boston, rising from elite setup man to All-Star closer in short order. Though he finished 2014 on a negative note — he yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings and pitched just five time in September due to arm fatigue — Uehara has overall been nothing short of outstanding in Boston.

In 138 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, Uehara has pitched to a pristine 1.75 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He was a postseason hero during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors after appearing in five of the six games in that series. Though not a flamethrower, Uehara racks up strikeouts thanks to an exceptional split-finger. This past season, the only pitcher in all of Major League Baseball who posted a higher swinging-strike rate than Uehara’s 18.8 percent was Aroldis Chapman.

Uehara figures to be the first significant signing of what should be an active offseason for the Red Sox, who appear to have no plans to go into rebuilding mode on the heels of a last-place finish in 2014. Rather, the Red Sox prioritized adding MLB-ready help at the trade deadline and are expected to pursue at least one top starting pitcher on the open market in the offseason. Boston has also been connected to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. To that end, Uehara’s contract isn’t a detriment to the team’s long-term outlook. Including Uehara, the Red Sox still have just four contracts on the books for 2016 and only two guaranteed contracts to which they are committed beyond that season. That positions the team well to add at least one significant multi-year pact this winter, if not more.

In my recent free agent profile for Uehara, I pegged him for a one-year, $11MM contract on the open market while noting that I felt he could receive two years at a lower annual value should his preference be for security over the upside of another large one-year deal next offseason. His departure from the free agent market weakens a strong crop of relievers that is headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller but also includes Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and a number of other solid arms.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cardinals Exercise John Lackey’s Option

The Cardinals have exercised their league-minimum option on right-hander John Lackey, per a report from the Associated Press.

The move is little more than a formality, as there was never any real doubt that the Cardinals would exercise the mere $500K option. That option was a large part of the reason that Lackey was so desirable at this year’s trade deadline and a large part of the reason that the club was willing to part with both Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to land him.

Lackey’s original five-year, $82.5MM contract with the Red Sox contained a clause stipulating that if he were to miss a year due to a significant elbow injury, Boston would gain a sixth-year option at the league minimum rate. Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery during the life of that original five-year term, thus triggering the clause. Though the salary is obviously not ideal for Lackey, he has said multiple times that he plans to honor the commitment.

Lackey, who turned 36 last week, pitched to a 3.82 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 198 innings for the Red Sox and Cardinals this season. However, he was markedly better with Boston than he was with St. Louis, as he posted a 3.60 ERA (3.56 FIP) with the Sox compared to a 4.30 ERA (4.27 FIP) with the Cards.


Brewers Exercise Yovani Gallardo’s Option

The Brewers have officially exercised their $13MM club option on right-hander Yovani Gallardo, reports MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes (on Twitter).

Gallardo, 29 in February, has spent his entire career with the Brewers after being selected in the second round of the 2004 draft. In 2014 he totaled 192 1/3 innings of 3.51 ERA ball with 6.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. Though he no longer averages a strikeout per inning as he did from 2009-12 (perhaps, in part, due to slightly diminished fastball velocity), the option was still a relatively easy call for the Brewers. Gallardo’s option contained a $600K buyout, essentially making this a $12.4MM decision for the Brewers.

In parts of eight Major League seasons with Milwaukee, Gallardo has a 3.69 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate. He signed a five-year, $30.1MM contract prior to the 2010 season, and by virtue of this option being exercised, will see that guarantee rise to $43.1MM over a six-year term.


Cubs Decline Option On Kyuji Fujikawa

The Cubs have declined a $5.5MM club option over righty Kyuji Fujikawa, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Fujikawa will take home a $500K buyout as he hits the open market.

The 34-year-old struggled with injury issues and was never the pitcher the Cubs hoped when they signed him out of Japan. Across the last two years, he owns a 5.04 ERA over just 25 innings. He does have an impressive 11.2 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in that stretch, but he was rather homer prone this year.

While it will be hard to commit much to Fujikawa given his age and recent Tommy John procedure, that strikeout tally is hard to ignore. And he had a long run of durable success in the NPB before the Cubs brought him to the majors.


Hisashi Iwakuma’s Option Vests

The Mariners announced that Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option has officially vested based on his on-field performance. The option was widely believed to be a club option, however Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune recently reported that the option vested by virtue of Iwakuma’s on-field performance. The Mariners have now officially announced as much.

Retaining Iwakuma for a mere $7MM would have been a no-brainer regardless, as the 33-year-old again enjoyed another strong season with the Mariners. In his third big league season, the Japanese righty totaled a 3.52 ERA with 7.7. K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 179 innings of work. The somewhat diminished innings total is the result of a strained tendon in his middle finger that kept him on the disabled list through the month of April. He debuted on May 3, however, and made each of his starts for the remainder of the season.

Iwakuma has been an exceptional find for the Mariners, who initially signed him for just $1.5MM one year after the A’s failed to work out a contract with him following their submission of a $19.1MM bid for his exclusive negotiating rights (that sum was returned to Oakland when a deal was not reached). Following a rookie campaign that was  split between the bullpen and the rotation, Iwakuma signed a two-year, $14MM extension which contained this option. He then broke out in 2013 with an elite season that led to a third-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.

All told, Iwakuma owns a stellar 3.07 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate in 524 big league innings since leaving the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball for the Major Leagues. Fangraphs pegs his career value at 7.7 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference (11.5) and RA9-WAR (12.3) are significantly more bullish.


Angels Exercise Street Option, Decline Burnett Option, Return Moran To Mariners

The Angels have announced a series of transactions (Twitter links). As expected, the team exercised its $7MM option over closer Huston Street while declining a $4.5MM option over reliever Sean Burnett. The Halos also returned Rule 5 lefty Brian Moran to the Mariners after he cleared waivers.

Street, 31, was an easy decision. He excelled before and after coming to Los Angeles via trade, and a big part of his value came in the ability to control him for 2015. Burnett, on the other hand, struggled with significant shoulder problems during his ill-fated time with the Angels.

The 26-year-old Moran, meanwhile, never had much of a chance to stick with the Angels. Though he was expected to compete for a LOOGY role, Moran underwent Tommy John surgery in early April.