Newsstand Rumors

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.



Offseason Outlook: San Francisco Giants

After missing the playoffs in 2013, the Giants added yet another chapter to the “Even Year” saga by capturing their third World Series victory in the past five seasons. They’ll have plenty to address in the offseason, however, with several key free agents coming off the books and a need in the rotation.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

The early portion of the Giants’ offseason focused largely on the team’s efforts to retain Pablo Sandoval, but the news came in on Monday that Sandoval will sign a five-year pact with the Red Sox, and he won’t be alone. Also going to Boston is one of the primary free agent alternatives to Sandoval — Hanley Ramirez. That leaves the Giants with limited options to address third base on the free agent market and leaves the team with holes in both its lineup and pitching staff.

The Giants have several spots on the diamond figured out; Buster Posey will share time with Andrew Susac behind the dish and also spend some time at first base along with Brandon Belt. The double-play tandem figures to be composed of standout defender Brandon Crawford and sophomore Joe Panik. They’ll form a defensively sound middle infield, though neither brings an overwhelming amount of offensive upside to the table. A healthy Angel Pagan should man center field in San Francisco, and Hunter Pence, of course, will be in right field.

The Giants will have to address third base and look for a new left fielder with Michael Morse a free agent as well. In Morse and Sandoval, San Francisco lost two of its more potent bats, so there should be a great deal of emphasis on replacing that offense. Rumored options in the wake of Sandoval’s departure include Chase Headley and Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas (who has worked out for the Giants at third base but is probably better suited to play left field). Headley would provide shutdown defense at the hot corner and is a familiar option given his extended tenure with the Padres. Tomas, however, carries more offensive upside, as he’s said to possess 70-grade power and could provide 25-homer pop even in the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park. If the Giants are looking for free agent alternatives in the outfield, a reunion with Melky Cabrera could provide some punch to the lineup, and Colby Rasmus brings some pop to the table with the ability to play center field should Pagan struggle with his health again. Of course, Rasmus is coming off a down season, and the Giants may want more certainty as they look to return to the World Series.

The trade market offers a number of alternatives. The Giants probably don’t have the MLB-ready pitching prospects that the Braves are believed to be seeking for Justin Upton, but they could look to Michael Saunders and Matt Joyce as low-cost upgrades. If they care to set their sights a bit higher, Jay Bruce is said to be attainable, though Cincinnati’s asking price will be significant. The Red Sox, of course, have a bounty of outfielders available and could send anyone from a group of Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava to San Fran.

A trade for a third base replacement may be a bit easier to come by, with names like Luis Valbuena, Will Middlebrooks, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee all potentially available. I speculated at one point that Trevor Plouffe could be a trade candidate as well, and one would think that the rebuilding Twins would indeed be willing to listen as his price increases and Miguel Sano looms.

While left field and third base are now obvious holes to be filled, another area of need for the Giants is in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner’s October heroics aside, the Giants have a lack of stability within the rotation. Former aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are wild cards, to varying extents (Lincecum more so than Cain), as Cain is returning from surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, while Lincecum’s past dominance has evaporated (4.76 ERA from 2012-14). Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are free agents, and Tim Hudson will turn 40 next July.

With that level of uncertainty and the loss of one potential cornerstone already in the books, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Giants were recently connected to Jon Lester. The Giants likely have the financial means to pursue any of the “Big Three” starters, with Max Scherzer and James Shields posing legitimate options. However, the second tier of this year’s free agent class runs deep, and a pitcher-friendly ball park pairs well with a 2014 World Championship when it comes to luring free agents. The Giants could look to any of Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano (the cousin of Santiago Casilla) or perhaps Japanese star Kenta Maeda (assuming he is posted). A reunion with Peavy can’t be ruled out after he pitched exceptionally well for them in the regular season following a July trade.

As is the case with the trade markets for both left fielders and third basemen, many names figure to be kicked around by the Giants’ brass. In Cincinnati, a trio of starters is said to be available — Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon — and the Giants are well equipped to absorb the salary of a bigger fish like Cole Hamels. If the two sides can look past the divisional implications, Ian Kennedy is a good fit as well. Other potentially available names such as Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Scott Kazmir may require San Francisco to part with Major League ready help, as their current clubs are clear contenders, making them a trickier fit.

The Giants already possess a strong bullpen, with veterans Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez all coming back into the fold. Jean Machi enjoyed a solid season in the bullpen, and George Kontos was successful in about a half-season’s worth of innings. And, for all of Hunter Strickland‘s postseason struggles, his 100 mph heater figures to be back in the mix as well. The Giants seem likely to take a look at retaining the popular Sergio Romo but could pursue another outside option to solidify the bunch. I’d think another right-handed arm would be on the wish list, with Lopez and Affeldt slinging from the left side, and some potential free agent targets include Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. The team reportedly plans to use Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but a somewhat more creative option raised by Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron in August was to give the ninth inning to Lincecum. As Cameron noted, Lincecum has had prolonged struggles with men on base throughout his career, and giving him the standard “ninth inning only” closer’s role would allow him to enter with a blank slate every outing, when his numbers have been significantly better. That’d also allow manager Bruce Bochy to use his top relievers in higher-leverage situations with the game on the line in other innings — a strategy that served him well in the playoffs this season.

Another somewhat outside-the-box suggestion for the team (though it’s certainly been suggested before) would be to install Susac as the full-time catcher with Posey becoming a full-time first baseman or third baseman, although that could potentially leave Belt without a position. He could, of course, be appealing to other clubs in trades that could help fill a different need, however. Susac does come with starting catcher upside, and a move from behind the plate could help Posey reach new career-highs in plate appearances (currently just 610) and games played (148). Of course, there would be certain defensive questions raised with a slide to third base, but filling an existing hole with current roster members could allow the team to spend bigger on an impact free agent such as Tomas or Lester.

The Giants have many routes they can take now that the Sandoval saga has come to an end. Though they’re the defending World Champions, they’re getting hit hard by free agency and unquestionably have holes to fill. Still, this is a team with a legitimate ace atop its rotation, some strong relief options in place and a perennial MVP candidate in Posey. The Giants had a $149MM payroll to open the 2014 season which only rose with the acquisition of Peavy, and they’re flush with cash following postseason revenues and a World Series victory. They were reportedly prepared to pay Sandoval in the range of $95MM over the next five seasons, and you can be certain that those dollars will be reallocated to address other roster needs.


White Sox Sign Adam LaRoche

The White Sox have officially signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25MM deal, as first reported on Twitter by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. LaRoche, a client of Relativity Sports’ Mike Milchin, will earn $12MM in 2015 and then $13MM in 2016, per a tweet from Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com.

Adam LaRoche

Left-handed power has been a priority for the Sox this offseason, and LaRoche will bring just that to the table, having averaged 26 homers per year over the past three seasons to go along with a solid .256/.346/.458 batting line in that same span. LaRoche will team up with American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu to create a formidable punch in the middle of manager Robin Ventura’s order. He’s regarded as a plus defender at first base, although he may see some more time at designated hitter with Abreu also figuring to log significant innings at first.

LaRoche has spent the past four seasons with the Nationals but will now move to a much more hitter-friendly environment in the form of U.S. Cellular Field, which should only serve to boost his already solid power marks. However, LaRoche does come with a sizable platoon split, having batted just .201/.269/.325 against southpaws over the past two seasons after a more promising line of .268/.319/.506 in his excellent 2012 season, when he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.

The 35-year-old LaRoche reportedly had a two-year, $20MM offer from the Marlins and has also been connected to the Padres, but he’ll instead head to the south side of Chicago where GM Rick Hahn is acting quickly to build a team that has eyes on contention in the near future. (In a free agent profile for LaRoche, I was a bit more bullish, pegging him for $30MM over this same two-year term.) In addition to Abreu, the Sox have a pair of nice young outfielders in Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, and the rotation is fronted by a stellar combination of Chris Sale and Jose QuintanaCarlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, looms as a possible addition to that duo.

LaRoche is the second major free agent signing for Hahn and his lieutenants this week, as the Sox also inked southpaw reliever Zach Duke to a three-year, $15MM contract on the heels of a dominant season that can be largely credited to altering his delivery. Chicago still figures to add at least one more relief arm and could entertain trades for shortstop Alexei Ramirez, as has been rumored of late, but Hahn’s aggressiveness signals a clear goal of putting a contending group on the field in 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Red Sox Designate Ryan Lavarnway

The Red Sox have designated Ryan Lavarnway for assignment to clear roster space for the signing of Pablo Sandoval, the club announced (per a tweet from Alex Speier of WEEI.com).

Lavarnway, a 27-year-old catcher, was once considered one of the game’s top 100 prospects. But he has failed to earn a consistent chance at a big league role despite making appearances on the MLB roster over each of the last four seasons. Since first earning a call-up in 2011, Lavarnway has not demonstrated the kind of power and on-base ability that created such hope for his future.

Of course, that does not mean that other clubs will not be willing to take a shot on a still-young player with Lavarnway’s talent base. He slashed .283/.389/.370 with three long balls last year across 257 plate appearances at Triple-A. While those figures are a far cry from the 30-home-run onslaught he delivered back in 2011, Lavarnway’s ability to reach base and his demonstrated power ceiling remain interesting.


Latest On Jon Lester And Cole Hamels

Earlier today we heard that the Giants have shown interest in Jon Lester, and that interest may now increase with Pablo Sandoval reportedly set to join the Red Sox. San Francisco would make another entrant in a Lester race that has begun to take clearer shape over the past week or so. And, of course, the connection to the Phillies‘ trade market for Cole Hamels cannot be ignored, with several reports suggesting that the two southpaws’ fates are intertwined.

Here are today’s Lester and Hamels rumors…

  • Two NL GMs told Peter Gammons over the weekend that Lester is nearing a deal with the Red Sox. However, Gammons writes that the info doesn’t appear to be accurate at this time, as Lester is set to meet with the Cardinals sometime next week. According to Gammons, Lester might wish to have a deal in place in advance of the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 7 in San Diego. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford echoes that there’s nothing close between the Red Sox and Lester at this time (Twitter link).
  • Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the Red Sox and Lester are still “very much engaged” and it does appear possible for the Sox to add Lester, Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez (who agreed to a four-year, $88MM pact with Boston earlier today).
  • The Red Sox and Cubs are interested in Hamels, and both could “jump” at the chance to acquire him if they miss on Lester, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Boston has had the “most serious talks” with Philadelphia, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter), with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeting that the Phils are confident in striking a deal if Lester does not return to his former club.
  • The Dodgers are also in on Hamels, according to a tweet from Nightengale. Los Angeles represents a potentially powerful new entrant to that market, of course, and could shake up the pursuit if it decides to commit significant resources to adding a third stellar lefty to its rotation.

Dodgers Acquire Juan Nicasio, Designate Ryan Jackson

The Dodgers announced that they have acquired right-hander Juan Nicasio from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. To make room for Nicasio, who was designated for assignment last week, the Dodgers have designated infielder Ryan Jackson for assignment.

The 28-year-old Nicasio has struggled as an on-and-off member of the Rockies’ rotation for the past four seasons, but he did post a handful of nice innings as a reliever for Colorado last year (3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 frames). Nicasio has averaged about 93 mph on his heater throughout his career, and a look at his velocity chart (courtesy of Fangraphs) from 2014 shows that his fastball jumped to nearly 95 mph when pitching out of the ‘pen late in the season.

Overall, Nicasio has a career ERA of 5.03 with 6.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent ground-ball rate in 381 innings. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected the arb-eligible righty to earn $2.4MM next season, which was likely a large factor in the Rockies removing him from the 40-man roster.

The 26-year-old Jackson has just two hits in 25 career plate appearances in the Majors. He was claimed off waivers from the Padres, and many speculated that former San Diego GM Josh Byrnes, now working in the Dodgers’ front office, had a hand in that decision. A shortstop by trade, Jackson is a career .274/.344/.369 hitter at the Triple-A level. He missed most of the 2014 season recovering from surgery on his right wrist.


Yasmany Tomas Rumors: Monday

Late last week, the Padres and Braves were rumored to be emerging as the favorites for Yasmany Tomas, and on Sunday it was reported that he’s received offers from the Braves, Giants and Padres with the Mariners, Phillies and Diamondbacks still lurking on the periphery of his market. We’ll keep track of Monday’s Tomas reports in this post…

  • Though Peter Gammons tweeted over the weekend that the Braves have made an offer, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was told that no offer has been extended (Twitter link). This may be a case of semantics, as Atlanta could have made its comfort level known without technically extending a formal offer.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Braves are traveling to the Dominican Republic to meet with Tomas again today. He adds that the Padres “just made a big push” for Tomas as well, and feels the Giants‘ interest will increase with Pablo Sandoval likely heading to Boston today. (Sandoval’s agents this morning said that no decision has been made, but one will be reached today. Most believe Boston to be the destination.)

Josh Willingham Announces Retirement

Josh Willingham will officially retire after an 11-year Major League career, the outfielder told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Willingham’s decision comes despite receiving what he termed a “substantial” offer from a contending club this offseason, Crasnick writes. Willingham explained his decision process:

“I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to myself, and more importantly to the team that was paying me a lot of money to perform at a high level, if there was a chance my dedication would waver — particularly as the season got longer. I’m honored to have played for as many years as I have, and I feel even luckier to walk away on my own terms instead of having the decision made for me.”

The 35-year-old Willingham (36 in February) was a late bloomer who didn’t become an MLB regular until his age-27 season with the Marlins. However, once he established himself as a presence in their lineup, he quickly became known for his excellent plate discipline and plus right-handed power. He found himself traded to the Nationals and then to the A’s before reaching free agency for the first time, where he ultimately signed a three-year, $21MM contract with the Twins.

Willingham’s best season came in his first year with the Twins, as he batted .260/.366/.524 with a career-high 35 home runs — earning him a Silver Slugger and making him just the third player in Twins franchise history to hit 35 or more homers in a season (along with Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and former AL Rookie of the Year Bob Allison). In total, Willingham’s career comes to a close with a .253/.358/.465 batting line, 195 homers and 632 RBIs in 1147 games between the Marlins, Nationals, A’s, Twins and Royals. The “Hammer” earned more than $35MM in his playing career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. MLBTR wishes Willingham and his family luck and happiness in his post-playing days and congratulates him on a very nice career.