Newsstand Rumors

Blue Jays Preparing Offer For Pablo Sandoval

There’s already been some Pablo Sandoval chatter today, with the Red Sox reportedly making an offer and agent Gustavo Vasquez set to chat with the Giants via phone tonight. Vasquez and Sandoval are wrapping up a visit to Boston today, and there’s plenty more on the Kung Fu Panda…

  • The Blue Jays met with Sandoval’s camp at last week’s GM Meetings, writes Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. While the meeting is said to have gone well, no offer has been made at this point.
  • However, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports (via Twitter) that while there’s been no offer to this point, within the next 24 hours, the Blue Jays are indeed expected to make a formal offer to Sandoval. That report adds a third seemingly serious club to the mix. Of course, it’s worth remembering that the Jays do have a team policy against contracts of more than five years, and Sandoval is said to be seeking a six-year deal north of $100MM.

Earlier Updates

  • Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com heard from a source that emphatically denied a rumor out of San Francisco that said the Giants were “out” on Sandoval at this point. The Giants are still “very much” in play for Sandoval, McAdam reports, though he does note that it’s unclear how lengthy of a contract the team is willing to issue.
  • Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle shoots down another portion of the apparently erroneous report to which McAdam referred, noting that Sandoval never asked for a seven-year deal from the Giants, who are still definitely in the mix (Twitter link).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that even if the Giants don’t end up securing Sandoval, they’ll be able to walk away from the situation knowing they made a very strong, very legitimate effort.
  • WEEI.com’s Alex Speier examines why it is the Red Sox prefer Sandoval to Hanley Ramirez, despite the fact that Sandoval is seeking a $100MM+ contract and comes with a significantly lesser offensive track record. Speier lists age, defense, durability and also makeup, which he notes is a concern for the Sox regarding Hanley. While Sandoval’s age and defense are larger factors, his excellent clubhouse reputation is an asset as well.
  • The Red Sox and Giants remain the main players, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but the Padres, White Sox and Blue Jays are all still in the mix. Heyman notes that while the Marlins have been a speculative fit in recent months, there’s been no contact from Miami at this point.

Red Sox Claim Juan Francisco

The Red Sox have claimed Juan Francisco off waivers from the Blue Jays, Boston announced today. Francisco, 27, had been noted as a non-tender candidate by MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk, and obviously was headed in that direction before the move by the Jays to expose him to the wire.

Francisco is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to take home a $2.2MM payday through arbitration. Boston still has time to determine whether it will go down that path, of course, but obviously his power left-handed bat holds enough appeal that the team decided to open the possibility.

Last year, Francisco posted a fairly typical .220/.291/.456 slash over 320 plate appearances for the Jays, swatting 16 home runs in the process. That is rare power in this day and age, especially for a player who is capable of playing third base. But Francisco’s strikeout issues — he was second-worst in the league, 300 PA minimum — have shown no signs of abating. And his defense at the hot corner has generally drawn substandard reviews.

The timing of the move is somewhat interesting, of course, given that Boston is said to be hotly pursuing free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who also hits from the left (and right) side. But the two players profile quite differently, needless to say, and Francisco looks more like a platoon or bench option — particularly given his extremely poor splits against lefties — if the team is unable to consummate a deal with the high-dollar Sandoval.


Athletics Sign Billy Butler

TODAY: The A’s have announced the signing of Butler to a three-year deal.

YESTERDAY: The Athletics have agreed to a three-year, $30MM deal with free agent DH Billy Butler, as first reported via Twitter by Robert Murray. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports that the deal is finalized.

While the contract is a surprise in many respects, its terms were predicted precisely this morning by MLBTR’s Steve Adams. As Adams explained in his profile of the designated hitter, a rough 2014 season reduced his value but certainly could not detract entirely from his solid track record and young age.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

Indeed, Butler is signing on for his age-29 through age-31 seasons, making him a good bit younger than the average free agent. And he brings excellent durability to the table, with a DL-free track  record over the past six seasons.

Given those factors, and Butler’s ultimate price tag, it is perhaps surprising that his former club — the Royals — was not able to find a taker for his $12.5MM option before declining it and setting him onto the open market. Olney tweets that K.C. was only interested in a one-year pact, though apparently the rest of the market saw things differently. Of course this is not the first and will not be the last time that a short-fused option or qualifying offer decision turns out to be (arguably) somewhat short-sighted.

Something will have to give for the A’s, whose roster is already chock full of players who occupy various value niches for the team. Oakland recently added Kyle Blanks to serve as a right-handed power option. And Craig Gentry functions as a right-handed platoon/bench bat capable of playing the corner outfield. It would certainly seem all but impossible for the team to keep each of those players, add Butler, and maintain two left-handed hitting outfield pieces (Josh Reddick and Sam Fuld) on top of three catching/first base/DH options (Derek Norris, John Jaso, and Stephen Vogt) to go with Brandon Moss and a utility infielder on the active roster.

Of course, Butler’s utility to the Athletics would increase significantly if he were capable of manning first base. It is worth noting that he has generally been successful enough against same-handed pitching over his career, posting a 108 wRC+ against righties while mashing lefties to the tune of a 142 wRC+ mark.

Though the O.co Coliseum would not appear to be the kind of park that might lead to a big jump in the long ball category, Butler probably has more in his bat than the mere nine he produced last year. And his low strikeout and high contact numbers probably bode well for the future, the key perhaps will be whether he can create enough solid contact to drive up a .310 BABIP and 6.9% HR/FB from 2014, each of which fell well below his career numbers.



Cuban 2B Andy Ibanez Is In Dominican Republic

NOVEMBER 18: Ibanez is in the Dominican Republic, sources tell Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (Twitter links). There is still no timetable for a showcase, per McDaniel, who says that Ibanez appears to have arrived in the D.R. within the last week. It appears, however, that Ibanez is at least now set to begin the process of making himself available to be signed by MLB clubs.

OCTOBER 27: Andy Ibanez, a 21-year-old second baseman, has left Cuba in pursuit of a Major League contract, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports.  The 5’10”, 183-pound, right-handed hitting Ibanez is believed to have left Cuba sometime before September 21, which was the start of the Serie Nacional season.

Baseball America recently ranked Ibanez eighth on their list of the best prospects still in Cuba, with Badler writing that Ibanez “doesn’t have any premium tools or star upside, but his value lies in being steady in all phases while playing in the middle of the diamond.”  He posted a .267/.377/.435 line over 280 PA last season and won a Gold Glove in his 2011-12 rookie year.  Badler figures that Ibanez would start his Major League career at high-A or Double-A ball.

Since Ibanez has only three seasons of experience in Serie Nacional, he’ll be subject to the 2014-15 international bonus pools.  If Ibanez can get cleared to sign before the 2014-15 signing period ends on June 15, Badler thinks this could give the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays an advantage in signing him since those clubs have already exceeded their pool limits (and thus they don’t have to worry about spending more on new signings).  Those overages will prevent the three teams from signing any bonus pool-eligible players for the next two years, however, so the AL East trio will be out of the running for Ibanez if he isn’t a free agent by that June 15 date.


Athletics Close To Three-Year Deal With Billy Butler

9:24pm: A three-year deal is “quite close,” per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Nightengale tweets that the sides are set to embark upon a three-year pact along the lines of that rumored to be agreed upon per Robert Murray (via Twitter) earlier this evening.

7:59pm: The Athletics are in “serious talks” with free agent designated hitter Billy Butler, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). As Rosenthal notes, he is confirming a report from Cover Those Bases (Twitter link).

MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently predicted a three-year, $30MM deal for the bat-only Butler, who is coming off a sub-optimal walk year but does hit the market at just 28 years of age. My personal take was that Butler would end up settling for a one-year deal since he is such an inflexible player, though the chatter to date seems to indicate that he will have little difficulty getting a multi-year guarantee.

It is unclear, of course, what the A’s interest means. On the one hand, the club would seem unlikely to commit a significant amount of cash over multiple years, given its traditional reliance on a mix-and-match DH spot. On the other, it would appear that Butler is not wanting for suitors.


Braves, Cardinals Interested In Jon Lester

4:46pm: The Cardinals are also interested in Lester, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter.

9:14am: The Braves have a meeting with left-hander Jon Lester this week, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last week that Atlanta had briefly touched base with Lester’s representatives at ACES and speculated that more serious interest could materialize if they moved some payroll. Rosenthal tweets that the meeting will take place on Thursday.

The Braves dealt Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals yesterday in a move that looked to be signaling a brief rebuild. However, one could also look at that move and see more than $11MM in savings on next year’s payroll plus the addition of an arm (Shelby Miller) that can be a significant boost to their rotation in 2015. Despite the cost savings on Walden and Heyward, however, Lester would seem too expensive a target. Atlanta already has about $70MM committed to just seven roster spots, plus perhaps as much as $16MM in arbitration raises. Lester figures to command an annual salary well north of $20MM, possibly around $25MM, making him a financial stretch. Atlanta had a record payroll of $112MM in 2014.

However, it’s possible that the Braves could free up more payroll space that would make a Lester addition more feasible. Atlanta has long been exploring ways to free itself of at least part of the remaining $46.5MM owed to B.J. Upton, and a trade of Justin Upton, who earns $14.5MM next year, hasn’t been entirely ruled out. Atlanta would probably also love to get out from underneath the remaining $23.5MM on Chris Johnson‘s contract, although that figures to be challenging to move as well.

While Lester seems like a stretch in terms of payroll, the Braves have a need for starting pitching. Currently, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Miller are penciled into the rotation, and it’s unknown what the team can expect from Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen as the duo return from their second Tommy John operations. David Hale presents an option but seems better suited for a swingman role similar to the one he filled in 2014.


Marlins Showing Strong Interest In LaRoche; White Sox, Padres Have Also Checked In

3:26pm: The White Sox and Padres have joined Miami in at least checking in on LaRoche, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Still other clubs have him in mind in the event that their needs change due to trades, says Rosenthal.

1:09pm: The Marlins are about to lock up Giancarlo Stanton with a record-setting deal, and the team isn’t stopping there in its quest to get back into contention. ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Fish have shown “aggressive interest” in Adam LaRoche (among others) as it looks to add a power bat to the middle of the order to pair with Stanton.

As Stark reports, Stanton’s contract is heavily backloaded, in part due to Stanton’s desire for the team to have the flexibility to add significant pieces around him in the immediate future. LaRoche’s bat would be an upgrade over the production Miami got out of first base in 2014, as the club received a combined .254/.313/.402 batting line from Garrett Jones, Jeff Baker and Justin Bour. That group also combine for sub-par defense at first base, but LaRoche has long had a reputation as a strong defensive first baseman.

LaRoche, who just turned 35, batted .259/.362/.455 with 26 homers for the Nats in 2014. He’s averaged 26 homers over the past three seasons, though he does come with platoon issues. Miami could use Baker to help mitigate those issues, giving Baker starts against tougher left-handed opponents, or the team could hope for a return to his .268/.319/.506 batting line against southpaws in his excellent 2012 campaign. I profiled LaRoche back in October and pegged him for a two-year deal worth $30MM, although he did lose one primary suitor when the Brewers acquired Adam Lind.


Indians Exploring Nick Swisher Trades

The Indians are exploring a number of trade possibilities, including scenarios in which they could move Nick Swisher and his remaining $30MM for another player with an inflated contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All Twitter links).

Rosenthal lists names like B.J. Upton ($46.35MM through 2017), Ubaldo Jimenez ($38.75MM through 2017) and Ryan Howard ($60MM through 2016) as examples of other inflated contracts while being careful to note that the Indians aren’t necessarily interested in anyone from that grouping. Other players on bloated contracts include Edwin Jackson ($22MM through 2016), John Danks ($28.5MM through 2016), Cody Ross ($10.5MM through 2015) and Ricky Nolasco ($37MM through 2017), to say nothing of Dodgers outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier (though that duo is a particularly difficult fit in Cleveland).

Swisher, signed to a four-year, $56MM contract heading into the 2013 season, played well in his inaugural campaign in his home state of Ohio, hitting .246/.321/.423 with 22 homers. However, his offense fell off a cliff in 2014, as he batted just .208/.278/.331 while his strikeout rate soared to a career-worst 27.7 percent and his walk rate dropped to a career-worst nine percent.

As I explained in my Indians Offseason Outlook, Cleveland has a bit of financial flexibility heading into 2015, but that flexibility will be gone by 2016 due to arbitration raises to Corey Kluber, Cody Allen and Carlos Carrasco as well as contractual salary increases to the likes of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley. Moving Swisher or Michael Bourn, who is owed $27.5MM over the next two seasons and has also declined, would alleviate that pressure and give the Indians a much more favorable long-term outlook. One option could be to pay a large chunk of Swisher’s 2015 salary, when the team has more payroll flexibility, while only absorbing a small chunk of his 2016 salary (or do the same with Bourn). By doing so, they could still eat around half of his remaining salary but create more 2016 flexibility to accommodate an increasingly expensive core.


Astros, Alex Presley Avoid Arbitration

The Astros and outfielder Alex Presley have agreed to a one-year, $1MM contract to avoid arbitration, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had projected the Sports Pro Services client to earn $1.2MM.

The 29-year-old, left-handed-hitting Presley came to Houston via waiver claim from the Twins late last spring. He put up a .244/.281/.346 line over 271 plate apearances last year with the Astros, his third straight campaign with a sub-.700 OPS. But Presley has always hit in the upper minors and did show promise at the MLB level back in 2011 with the Pirates.


White Sox Sign Zach Duke

12:36pm: The White Sox have announced the signing of Duke to a three-year, $15MM contract. Duke will earn $4.5MM in 2015, $5MM in 2016 and $5.5MM in 2017, according to the team’s release.

11:45am: Duke’s contract is a multi-year deal, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.

11:36am: The White Sox will announce the signing of left-handed reliever Zach Duke later today, reports Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com (Twitter link). The 31-year-old Duke is a client of Relativity Sports.

Zach Duke

Duke quietly had a dominant season in the Brewers’ bullpen in 2014, pitching to an electric 2.45 ERA with 11.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 57.7 percent ground-ball rate. Opposing lefties hit just .198/.267/.302 against Duke last year, though righties couldn’t figure him out either, mustering a mere .242/.288/.298 against the well-traveled lefty.

Duke first surfaced in the Majors with the Pirates in 2005, finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of a sparkling 1.81 ERA in 84 1/3 innings out of the Pirates’ rotation. He made 145 starts for the Bucs over the next five seasons, twice reaching 200 innings, but Duke was never able to replicate that early success and served as an innings eater with Pittsburgh in the rotation, posting a pedestrian 4.80 ERA in 879 2/3 frames.

Following his stint with the Pirates, Duke bounced around from the D’Backs to the Nats to the Reds before landing on his feet with the Brewers and turning in his brilliant season. With Milwaukee, Duke’s velocity stepped up a tick to an average of 89.7 mph, and he began to throw more sliders and more curveballs at the expense of his changeup and four-seam fastball. With the Brewers, he relied primarily on a two-seamer, his slider and his curve, and he also dropped his arm slot to feature more of a sidearm delivery. He’ll look to continue to benefit from those adjustments in a White Sox bullpen that had a strong need for lefty arms.

Duke will slot into manager Robin Ventura’s bullpen and quickly become the top left-handed option, with Scott Snodgress and Eric Surkamp currently representing the only other southpaws on the team’s 40-man roster. He’ll join the returning Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb, Javy Guerra, Zach PutnamNate Jones underwent Tommy John surgery in July. That young group is largely unproven, and reports have indicated that the Sox would be on the lookout for multiple bullpen arms, so it won’t be a surprise to see GM Rick Hahn pursue further bullpen upgrades.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.