Newsstand Rumors

2015 Vesting Options Update

The state of next year’s free agent class will be impacted by whether or not players with vesting options in their contracts achieve the necessary playing time to trigger those conditional options. As we near the end of the season, here’s a rundown of these players and their progress toward triggering their options …

  • Nick Punto, Athletics: Punto has a $2.75MM club option that will automatically vest if he spends fewer than 30 days on the disabled list, assistant GM David Forst told reporters at the time of the signing. Though Forst did add that there are other ways for Punto’s option to vest, the health route is no longer available. Punto was only activated yesterday — ten days into the September active roster expansion — after going on the DL on August 3rd. If the option doesn’t vest, the A’s have the choice of picking him up at $2.75MM or buying him out for $250K.
  • Rickie Weeks, Brewers: Weeks has an $11.5MM option that won’t be vesting, as he would have needed to total 600 PA in 2014 or 1,200 PA in 2013-14 and finish the season healthy. He has just 255 PAs on the season, so he’ll fall well shy of that mark. Weeks will also fall shy of reaching 400 PAs, which would have entitled him to a $1MM buyout of his option.
  • Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: Rollins’ option vested earlier this year when he reached 1,100 plate appearances over 2013-14. (He has also made 600 trips to bat in 2014, an independent basis for triggering the provision.) That clause, however, also required that he not finish the year on the disabled list, and Rollins left yesterday’s game with a hamstring injury. Word is that Rollins should be able to return, but with just three weeks left even a minor setback could well end his season. Nevertheless, Philadelphia would need to go out of its way to place him on the DL at this point, with active rosters expanded. And, in any event, the option would still vest if a mutually agreed-upon doctor deemed Rollins ready to start the 2015 season.
  • Dan Haren, Dodgers: Haren needs 180 innings to trigger a $10MM player option for the 2015 season. Heading into his scheduled outing this evening, he has already notched 162 frames. Haren should be in line for at least three more starts (including tonight’s) before the end of the month, and maybe another depending upon how the club approaches the last few games of the year. Having averaged 5.79 innings per start on the year, it will be incumbent on Haren to pitch his way to the option — especially in the midst of a playoff race and backed by a well-stocked bullpen.
  • Mike Adams, Phillies: Adams’ $6MM club option for 2015 would have vested with 60 innings pitched in 2014, but he’s obviously not going to get there with just 17 2/3 innings in the tank. Adams has thrown just 42 2/3 innings in his season-and-a-half with the Phils, and it seems highly unlikely that the team will pick him up at $6MM given his injury troubles. He should, however, be an attractive buy-low candidate given his general success when on the field.
  • Rafael Soriano, Nationals: Soriano’s $14MM club option vests with 120 games finished over 2013-14. While that always seemed a longshot, any realistic hope was snuffed out when Soriano lost his closing gig to Drew Storen, the man he replaced when he signed on with Washington. Whether or not Soriano makes it back into the 9th inning role over the next few weeks, he now sits at 104 games finished over the last two seasons, making it all but impossible for him to trigger the vesting provision. With the Nationals all but certain to decline their club option on Soriano, he should make for an interesting free agent to watch.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs: The Cubs hoped that Fujikawa, one of the best relievers in Japanese history, would help to fortify their bullpen when they signed him to a two-year, $9.5MM contract in the 2012-13 offseason. Instead, both player and team received a hefty dose of bad luck when Fujikawa needed Tommy John surgery after just 12 innings last season. He has a vesting option based on games finished, but the 33-year-old has made it back for only 10 1/3 innings in 2014 and surely won’t be crossing that (unreported) threshold.
  • Sean Burnett, Angels: Burnett’s $4.5MM club option vests if he appears in a total of 110 games between 2013-14, but like Fujikawa, he’s been plagued by injury and has no chance of that happening. Burnett has appeared in just 16 games total over the past two seasons and underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year. The Halos will certainly be paying the $500K buyout on his club option.
  • Scott Downs, White Sox: Downs had a $4MM vesting option that would have vested with 55 appearances, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reported in June (via Twitter). Though he appeared to be headed in that direction earlier in the year, the White Sox cut bait with Downs and his then-6.08 ERA. He owns a 3.55 mark over 12 2/3 innings with the Royals — who signed him to a separate, minor-league deal — and has now thrown in 53 games, but the vesting clause is now a moot point.

Rosenthal On Braves, Martin, McEwing, Smyly

After Braves CEO Terry McGuirk told Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “everyone is accountable” in Atlanta, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders if General Manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez could be in trouble.  Gonzalez oversees an offense that often looks lost and is next-to-last in the National League in runs per game.  Wren, meanwhile, gave contracts to second baseman Dan Uggla (who has since been released) and center fielder B.J. Upton that didn’t pan out.

While anything is possible given their recent struggles, people in the industry would be surprised if the Braves made major changes, unless tension is building underneath the surface that people aren’t aware of.  Wren is close with McGuirk, major league sources say, and Gonzalez was Wren’s hand-picked choice to replace Bobby Cox.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • The Pirates want to keep Russell Martin, but the veteran’s price in free agency could be too rich for their blood.  The 31-year-old will be the best and youngest catcher on the market by far and even though catchers historically don’t cash in in free agency, he won’t be had for another two-year, $17MM bargain.  He won’t garner something like Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $60MM extension but he should at least beat the three-year, $26MM free-agent deal that the Carlos Ruiz signed last winter entering his age 35 season. Pittsburgh could try to keep Martin with a one-year, ~$15MM qualifying offer, but as Rosenthal notes, they didn’t do that with A.J. Burnett last winter.  Martin ranked ninth in Tim Dierkes’ most recent Free Agent Power Rankings for MLBTR.  Dierkes suggested Martin could receive a four-year deal north of $50MM.
  • Rosenthal wouldn’t be surprised if Joe McEwing winds up as the next manager of the Diamondbacks.  Even if he doesn’t land with Arizona, White Sox officials say McEwing’s intelligence and energy will make him a strong candidate for other jobs.
  • Drew Smyly is benefiting from the Rays‘ focus on analytics. Upon joining the team, the Rays gave the 25-year-old some keen instruction and asked him elevate his fastball more.  Those tips have led to some great work by Smyly in Tampa Bay and Rosenthal wonders why the Tigers didn’t pick up on some of the same things.
  • The Orioles lost catcher Matt Wieters, but the makeshift combination of rookie Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley, acquired from the Padres in May, has proven quite adequate.  The two have combined for an OPS right around the American League average at catcher.
  • While the Mets like second baseman Dilson Herrera, Rosenthal says that doesn’t mean they should trade Daniel Murphy.  No team will give the Mets comparable offensive talent for Murphy and the smart move would be to instead sign him to an extension.

Wily Mo Pena Seeks MLB Return For 2015

Slugger Wily Mo Pena is hoping to land an MLB contract for the 2015 season, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. Soon to turn 33, Pena — who last saw MLB action in 2011 — has received interest from at least three clubs to date.

Since leaving North American baseball behind before the 2012 season, Pena has become one of the better power hitters in Japan. After a strong performance in his first season, he struggled in limited action last year. But Pena has rebounded to post a .260/.360/.514 slash with 28 home runs over 472 plate appearances in 2014. More impressively, perhaps, he has brought his strikeout-to-walk ratio (98 K against 56 BB) down to career-best levels.

Pena was said to have had options for playing in the states over the offseason, but chose instead to join Nippon Professional Baseball’s Orix Buffaloes. (His first two years in Japan were spent with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.) Despite his impressive power, Pena never firmly established himself as an everyday player at the MLB level. He has seen action in eight campaigns, swatting 84 long balls and slashing .250/.303/.445 across 1,845 turns at the plate.

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Free Agent Stock Watch: Asdrubal Cabrera

Indians-turned-Nationals middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera will finish his eighth year of MLB action at just 28 years of age, presenting a rare youthful free agent option. He can hit and play up the middle. Yet he left Cleveland as something of a disappointment, and has not generated nearly as much hype as was once expected heading into his first crack at free agency. Once expectations are moderated for reality, however, it is apparent that Cabrera remains a rather intriguing player to watch on the coming market.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies

Cabrera’s free agent case remains difficult to figure. Over the 2007-12 period, he slashed .279/.342/.416 while manning an up-the-middle defensive spot (mostly, shortstop). Though advanced metrics never viewed him as even an average fielder, Cabrera delivered some value on the basepaths and was at least a solid, above-average regular in the aggregate.

That account of Cabrera took something of a turn, however, more recently. Over 978 plate appearances with Cleveland since the start of 2013, Cabrera’s OPS fell beneath the .700 level, making for a below-average bat that significantly reduced his overall appeal.

Nevertheless, in need of a veteran infielder down the stretch, the Nationals made a move to acquire Cabrera at the trade deadline. Notably, the Indians agreed to pay all of Cabrera’s salary in the deal, while acquiring an interesting but little-hyped prospect in Zach Walters. On a busy deadline day, the swap looked like a relatively low-impact, gap-filling move for Washington.

Since heading to the NL East-leading Nats, however, Cabrera has looked energized. He owns a .252/.341/.443 slash in the first 133 National League plate appearances of his career, including five home runs and two stolen bases. His resulting 115 OPS+ looks much more like the marks he was putting up in his heyday. Nearly as importantly, perhaps, Cabrera has looked comfortable at second, racking up 284 errorless innings at the position.

Without question, Cabrera’s late-season run of success at the plate will have a positive impact on his free agency. He has at least suggested the possibility that he is still capable of being the hitter of old; whether he’s convinced scouts, of course, remains to be seen.

The defensive returns, on the other hand, are somewhat more ambiguous. To be sure, proving that he is capable of solidly handling the keystone is a nice feather in Cabrera’s hat. At the same time, misplays have not been the major knock on his glove. Range is the primary concern, and he’s continued (obviously, in a short sample) to receive well-below-average marks in that respect.

So, where does Cabrera fit into the middle-infield market? Things are somewhat more crowded over at shortstop, where J.J. Hardy probably sets the standard and Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew also present possible starting-caliber options. And that assumes that Hanley Ramirez is pursued primarily as a third baseman; if enough serious bidders look at him as a shortstop, the market would look even more crowded.

But Cabrera is perhaps best positioned to benefit from a lack of options at second, given his arguably superior bat (to all but Ramirez, at least) and recent experience at the keystone. Clubs looking to add a new second bagger will find limited possibilities on the market; as things stand, Emilio Bonifacio is probably the most appealing candidate.

Cabrera also has added appeal given that he will not turn 29 until the offseason, making him the youngest shortstop-capable player available to the highest bidder. That holds significant value, particularly when viewed alongside the fact that he does not have any significant recent injury history. Cabrera will also come free and clear of draft compensation, as his mid-season trade ensures that Washington will not be able to make him a qualifying offer. Particularly given the down years at the plate from Hardy (at least in terms of power production), Lowrie (who has been better in the second half), and Drew (who has been awful since his mid-season signing), Cabrera stacks up reasonably well.

In the aggregate, though Cabrera may never take the final step forward to become a truly premium ballplayer, he has shown the ability to produce at his earlier levels and should draw fairly significant and potentially broad interest.  Depending on his performance down the stretch and in the post-season, he still has some capacity to climb up free agent boards and become a sought-after asset heading out of the 2014 season.

Angels Designate Ryan Wheeler For Assignment

The Angels have designated corner infielder Ryan Wheeler for assignment, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports (Twitter link).  The move created a 40-man roster spot for right-hander Jairo Diaz, whose contract was purchased by the Halos in corresponding move.

A fifth-round pick of the Diamondbacks in the 2009 draft, Wheeler was dealt to the Rockies in exchange for southpaw Matt Reynolds in November 2012 and then was claimed off waivers by the Angels last month.  Wheeler has a .233/.280/.335 slash line and three homers in 225 career PA with Arizona and Colorado and hit well for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, slashing .326/.373/.402 in 102 PA at Salt Lake.

Wheeler joins fellow Angel Michael Kohn in “DFA Limbo,” and the MLB Trade Rumors DFA Tracker tells us that four other players (the Royals’ Blake Wood and Chris Dwyer and the Blue Jays’ Matt Hague and Darin Mastroianni) are also awaiting resolution.

Pirates Release Ernesto Frieri

The Pirates have released right-hander Ernesto Frieri, Matt Eddy of Baseball America reports.  Frieri had been designated for assignment and then outrighted to Triple-A by the Bucs in August.

The release puts an exclamation point on a nightmare season for Frieri, who posted a 7.34 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.43 K/BB rate over 41 2/3 innings with the Pirates and Angels.  He hurt himself with the long ball by allowing 11 homers this season, though the advanced metrics suggest that Frieri’s 7.34 ERA involved some poor luck — ERA predictors such as xFIP (3.69) and SIERA (2.97) indicate that Frieri was victimized by a .330 BABIP and a very low 60.9% strand rate.

The Angels removed Frieri from his closer’s job and then traded him to the Bucs for Jason Grilli in a swap of struggling ninth-inning men.  While Grilli has thrived in Los Angeles, Frieri couldn’t get on track in Pittsburgh and saw him get demoted to the minors.  The righty posted a 3.86 ERA with six strikeouts and four walks in seven innings at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Frieri was a dominant bullpen force with the Padres and Angels from 2009-12, posting a 2.32 ERA in 162 2/3 IP in that stretch and earning 23 saves after he came to Anaheim in May 2012.  While his ERA jumped to 3.80 in 2013, his 37 saves and prior performance earned him a $3.8MM contract for 2014 in his first year of arbitration eligibility.  (Frieri is still controllable through 2016.)  His rough season all but guaranteed that he would be non-tendered by the Bucs this winter, though Frieri’s past success will very likely earn him a look from a few interested clubs.

When Agents Get Played

Baseball players jumping from one agency to another is nothing new.  In fact, it seems there are some who will change affiliations more frequently than they change their underwear.  When agents and baseball executives talk about an instance of that happening, they often use a phrase that conjures up images of evildoers chasing ivory-rich elephants in sub-Saharan Africa: “player poaching.”  That terminology focuses on the unscrupulous agents who make it common practice to steal players out from under their colleagues and while that certainly takes place, not every case is exactly alike and things are never that cut and dry in the agency world.  Sometimes, it’s the players who are acting unscrupulously.  In the case of some minor leaguers, they’re employing two, three, or four agents at once in an effort to rack up as many gifts and favors as possible.

Plenty of stories have been written about individual cases of players being lured from one agency to another, but there hasn’t been much discussion about players employing several agencies simultaneously.  There’s no way to quantify how many minor leaguers are engaging in this practice, but upwards of a dozen agents speaking on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that it’s quite commonplace.

A few years ago, one agent called a club to discuss the terms of his minor league client’s release.  The exec, in turn, informed the agent that he had already spoken to the player’s representative just hours ago.  The agent was shocked, but not surprised.  His client had been stringing him along while actually working with a different agent.

You see this a lot with guys from the Dominican Republic and in the Latin markets,” the agent said, echoing a sentiment shared by many in the field.  “They don’t understand that there are rules and limits as to what an agent can give you.  So they’ll employ two or three agents and they all have regular contact with the player.  You have one giving them money, one giving them equipment…I’ve seen cases of guys having three or four agents at one time.  There’s really no one policing it.”

Lower-caliber minor leaguers can juggle multiple agents without oversight because they do not have to fill out an agent designation form with the MLBPA until they reach the 40-man roster.  Nearly every agent that spoke with MLBTR had a story of a player using multiple agents, whether it happened to them, a partner within their agency, or someone else in the field.  As one might imagine, the victimized agents tend to find out about these things in strange ways.

One agent visited his client’s minor league clubhouse only to find a Foot Locker stock room’s worth of free shoes crammed into the player’s tiny locker.  The abundance of free swag was the baseball equivalent of a woman finding a lipstick stain in an unfamiliar shade of red on her husband’s collar.  That agent’s suspicions were confirmed soon after – his client had been taking advantage of multiple player reps.

Another veteran agent told MLBTR’s Steve Adams that he saw a little-known Single-A player who already had representation sign on with another agency because he was given an endorsement deal from Easton.  When his original agent asked the player what had happened, the player replied that there was nothing in writing or even a check, just a $10K cash payment.  Major equipment companies typically don’t dole out lucrative deals to unheralded minor leaguers and they certainly don’t do it with a burlap sack of money.  It’s more than likely that the player’s allegiance was simply paid for by the rival agent.

Nearly every agent that spoke with MLBTR made two generalizations on the topic at hand.  First, the players doing this, more often than not, are international prospects.  Secondly, even though plenty of savvy veterans have been fooled, the greener agents are more susceptible to getting played.

I don’t want to say that it’s a B.S. excuse for agents, but I feel that anytime a guy is working you for equipment and other crap, that should send up a red flag for you,” said one experienced agent.

Even though the MLBPA doesn’t oversee the non 40-man players, there are multiple ways that agents can protect themselves.  Five veteran agents told MLBTR that they require all of their clients to fill out agent designation forms, regardless of their status.  Agents can still submit these forms to the union and if a player is registered with more than one representative, all parties involved are notified.  From that point, the union will step in and mediate.  Of course, at that point, an agent might not even bother putting up a a fight.

I believe it takes a certain kind of makeup to succeed.  I don’t care how good you are, it just doesn’t matter.  I’ve seen all kinds of ridiculous talent in this game but if they’ve got a ten cent head, it’s probably not going to work out,” one agent said.  “That doesn’t mean they have to be smart, but with certain kind of guy you can tell he ain’t gonna make it if he’s playing these games and worrying about [gifts].

Agents say they’ll only engage in business with players that are of high character.  The aforementioned player who asks for a pair of spikes and $200 before forming a partnership?  He’s probably not a guy you want to be involved with.  It could also be a bad sign when you’re talking with handlers rather than the player himself.

The further you get away from dealing directly with a player by dealing with a chain of people around him, the more likely there is to be abuse,” longtime agent Barry Meister said.  “When you’re recruiting a young player, and talking to his family, you have to be sure the person you’re speaking with is the person who is making the decision. I suspect that you’ll have far more luck going directly to the player than talking to a handler or someone in the entourage or the guy’s brother.”

The end game of staffing multiple agents is almost always to rack up as much money and as many gifts as possible.  Agents who want to avoid being turned into a walking Amazon wishlist can protect themselves by complying with MLBPA regulations.  The union stipulates that an agent cannot spend more than $2K on any single player within a year, a mechanism designed to help cut back on player poaching.  Staying inside of that dollar figure also leaves agents less susceptible to getting worked over or, at the very least, lessens some of the sting if their minor leaguer does get into bed with other agents.

Newer player reps would be wise to take that advice because the consensus amongst agents is that the union won’t be cracking down on guys simultaneously rostering multiple agents.  While agents appreciate their voices being heard on matters with the MLBPA – something widely attributed to the late Michael Weiner –  the union, they say, has bigger fish to fry and probably doesn’t have the resources to police every instance of a minor leaguer acting unethically.  Also, in many cases, the players are staffing multiple agents in part because they’re new to playing the game at a professional level and don’t really have a grasp on how a player-agent partnership works.  At the end of the day, the importance of pre-screening goes both ways for players and agents who are looking for a productive and honest business relationship.

Rangers Discussing Long-Term Deal For Daniels

In the wake of manager Ron Washington’s surprising resignation, the Rangers are seeking stability in the front office.  The club has begun discussing a long-term extension with General Manager Jon Daniels, a major league source tells Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News.

The Rangers are on the verge of a 100-loss season, but that hasn’t changed the ownership’s view of Daniels. There’s also a long to-do list this winter and it’ll make things easier if Daniels has a certain future.  As Grant notes, Texas needs to find a new manager, at least two pitchers, a power hitter, potentially replace a coach or two who might land managerial jobs, and add to the recently depleted evaluation staff.  On top of that, assistant GM Thad Levine could be a strong candidate GM jobs elsewhere.

The talks, according to Grant, could eventually lead to Daniels being named president of the club with a heavy involvement in baseball operations.  That would allow the Rangers to install Levine as the GM and keep him from going elsewhere.  The partnership would be similar to what the Cubs have with Theo Epstein as president and Jed Hoyer as GM.

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Quick Hits: Diamondbacks, Utley, Rodon

The fate of Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson will likely be decided by the next GM, writes Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Five candidates have already been confirmed and Diamondbacks Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa expects to personally interview about ten before narrowing the list. La Russa “tried to put together a list that has a nice cross-section of talents.” It will be interesting to see which skill set Arizona chooses to complement La Russa.

  • Also from Piecoro’s piece, the Diamondbacks hope to retain former GM Kevin Towers to oversee their scouting department. La Russa wishes to bolster both facets of the organization. He mentioned the possibility of hiring either an entry level or established analyst.
  • Much has been made of the Phillies aging roster, although Chase Utley has done his part to contribute. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer wonders how long Utley can withstand the daily grind of the season. The 35-year-old has contributed a fine season including a .277/.346/.419 line. With Utley possibly under contract through 2018 (he has three vesting options), his presence could be an important stabilizing component of the club’s rebuilding effort.
  • Many speculated that the White Sox would call up first round draft pick Carlos Rodon this September, but the club decided to forego promoting the youngster. Chicago pitching coordinator Curt Hasler says Rodon has all the stuff necessary to succeed, writes Scott Merkin of Hasler cites a plus fastball, slider, and change. Rodon does need to work on his command, as evidenced by his 4.7 BB/9 in 24 and 2/3 minor league innings.

Minor Moves: Bernadina, Cruz

Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.

  • The Dodgers selected the contract of outfielder Roger Bernadina, reports Pedro Moura of the OC Register (via Twitter). The move was necessitated by an illness to Yasiel Puig, who will receive an IV for fluids. The Dodgers have moved Josh Beckett to the 60 day disabled list to facilitate the move. Bernadina was preparing to play in Europe when the move was announced. The 30-year-old hit .153/.286/.203 in 71 plate appearances for the Reds earlier this season.
  • The Astros have announced that they’ve acquired Jared Cruz from Atlanta as the player to be named in the July trade that sent Andrew Robinson to the Braves. The 19-year-old Cruz played first base, second base and shortstop in the Gulf Coast League this year, hitting .182/.267/.212 in 79 plate appearances. The 26-year-old Robinson finished the season pitching out of the bullpen for Double-A Mississippi.

Brad Johnson contributed to this post.