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Oakland Athletics Rumors
Here are the highlights of the latest rumors column from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe:
- The Red Sox don’t “hate” Yoenis Cespedes, despite a previous report that indicated otherwise. But Cafardo suggests Cespedes didn’t do enough work on his defense after arriving in Boston, and his offense wasn’t enough to compensate for it. Cespedes has only one year left on his contract, but it’s not clear whether, or when, the Red Sox will deal him.
- Cafardo says he got “a minute of straight laughter” when he asked if the White Sox might trade Chris Sale.
- The Red Sox and Athletics could discuss a Jeff Samardzija trade. Cafardo speculates Red Sox shortstop prospect Deven Marrero could be a potential piece, given that the A’s appear to be about to lose Jed Lowrie (to free agency) and already lost Addison Russell (when they traded for Samardzija in the first place).
- Now that they’ve acquired Hank Conger, the Astros could listen to offers for fellow catcher Jason Castro. Castro hit just .222/.286/.386 in a disappointing offensive season in 2014. He has two years remaining before free agency.
THURSDAY: The Dodgers have announced the pair of signings. Zaidi will assume the role of general manager, while Byrnes has been named the senior vice president of baseball operations.
“It is very exciting for us to be able to add two exceptional, veteran baseball executives like Farhan and Josh,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said in the press release. “Farhan’s primary focus will be the Major League team and player acquisitions while Josh will concentrate on the oversight of scouting and player development. However, they will both work closely with me on all aspects of baseball operations in our efforts to make the Dodgers’ front office and team the best it can possibly be.”
TUESDAY: The Dodgers will name former Athletics assistant GM Farhan Zaidi the team’s new general manager this week, according to a tweet from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Zaidi, 37, had been with Oakland for ten years and was promoted just before last season.
The club is also set to add former Diamondbacks and Padres GM Josh Byrnes, Mark Saxon of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter. Though it is not yet known what position he will hold, his addition is a “done deal,” per Saxon.
Combined, the addition of the well-regarded Zaidi and experienced Byrnes represent major additions to the front office of new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Zaidi’s former boss, Billy Beane, credits him with a brilliant and creative mind, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in a profile. According to Slusser, Zaidi was instrumental in bringing Yoenis Cespedes to Oakland and in maximizing value through platoons.
A Muslim Canadian who grew up in the Philippines, it goes without saying that Zaidi does not have a typical background for a baseball executive. But his analytical background — he has an undergraduate degree from M.I.T. and a Ph.D. in behavioral economics from Cal-Berkeley — ultimately won him a chance with the A’s, and he never looked back. In spite of his background, Zaidi is known as a proponent of utilizing traditional scouting and focusing on tools in identifying talent.
The Athletics do not intend to deal away star third baseman Josh Donaldson despite speculation that he could be made available, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. That confirms what Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported (via Twitter) the day after the club’s season ended. However, the team will be willing to listen to trade interest in pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir, according to Rosenthal.
Donaldson has emerged as one of the best third basemen and most valuable players in the game. While he is undoubtedly a bargain as a Super Two player with four more years of control, he will not be cheap. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects that Donaldson will land $4.5MM this year, and that number will only continue to rise.
Donaldson’s rising cost led to suggestions that Oakland may consider dealing him. But while he would undoubtedly bring back a huge return, his departure would leave a gaping hole in any plans of near-term contention. As Rosenthal notes, A’s GM Billy Beane believes the team is still primed to reach the postseason next year.
As for Oakland’s staff, deals involving pitchers on expiring contracts are obviously more palatable, though Rosenthal hastens to add that the A’s are not shopping anyone and mentions that a trade deadline deal (if the team falls out of contention) could be the likelier outcome. Both Samardzija (projected $9.5MM arb salary) and Kazmir ($11MM salary with an additional $2MM luxury tax hit for his signing bonus) are cheap for their recent results, and the former in particular would be a popular trade target. In fact, MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained in his recent outlook for the A’s offseason that a deal involving Samardzija or Kazmir could make a good bit of sense.
The Athletics announced that they have claimed right-hander Taylor Thompson off waivers from the White Sox and outrighted catcher Bryan Anderson to Triple-A. Anderson will be able to elect minor league free agency.
The 27-year-old Thompson got his first taste of the Major Leagues this season with the White Sox but allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings. A former 44th-round draft pick, he pitched well at Triple-A this season, posting a 2.14 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 59 innings of relief.
Anderson, also 27, received one plate appearance with the A’s this season and has had four brief cups of coffee at the Major League level. He owns a .206/.261/.270 slash line as a big leaguer, having appeared with the Cardinals, White Sox and A’s. In parts of seven seasons at Triple-A, Anderson is a .261/.336/.400 hitter.
The Nationals have hired former Reds executive Bob Miller to serve as a vice president and assistant general manager, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Kilgore first mentioned Miller as a speculative replacement for departed AGM Bryan Minniti a couple of weeks ago. Miller will bring more than 30 years of experience to the Nationals’ front office and has previously worked with GM Mike Rizzo while with the D’Backs. He’s previously specialized in salary arbitration and contractual matters, per Kilgore.
Here are a few more front office notes from around the game…
- The Tigers have added Alan Trammell to their front office as a special assistant to GM Dave Dombrowski, reports Tom Gage of the Detroit News (on Twitter). Trammell, of course, spent three seasons as the team’s manager from 2003-05 and has served as a bench coach for the Cubs and D’Backs. He also spent his entire 20-year playing career with the Tigers as a shortstop, hitting .285/.352/.415, making six All-Star appearances and winning four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.
- The Dodgers have spoken to well-regarded Athletics assistant GM Farhan Zaidi about a role in their front office, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). It’s far from a given that Zaidi would leave the A’s and GM Billy Beane to work alongside Andrew Friedman in L.A., Rosenthal notes, though I’d imagine the Dodgers could benefit from flexing their financial muscle, as they did to acquire Friedman in the first place. Zaidi and colleague David Forst are two of the game’s most respected assistant general managers.
The Rays will wait until tomorrow to make their option decision on reliever Joel Peralta, the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin tweets. They’ll also soon be making other 40-man decisions, since they need to reinstate Matt Moore and Jerry Sands from the 60-day disabled list, and their roster is currently full. Peralta’s option comes at $2.5MM, and if the Rays exercise it, they’ll have options at the same price for 2016 and 2017 as well. Peralta is 38 and is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.41 ERA, and the Rays could decide to let him go to save a bit of money and clear a roster spot for a younger player. In general, though, $2.5MM would seem to be a reasonable price for a reliever who had 10.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 last season. Here’s more from the American League.
- Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen is excited for free agency, Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star writes. After a poor second half (perhaps due in part to coming down with food poisoning at the All-Star Break), Janssen isn’t sure how he’ll be valued, but he points to the Royals’ excellent bullpen and the Tigers’ playoff struggles as evidence that good relievers are valuable. “It just shortens the game when you can confidently hand the keys to the ’pen in the sixth or seventh inning,” he says.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Athletics do not plan to extend a qualifying offer to Jed Lowrie, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Lowrie has said that he’s unlikely to give the A’s a significant hometown discount to return, and the team isn’t likely to want to make a longer commitment. They also don’t have an obvious internal replacement (particularly after sending Addison Russell to the Cubs), so they could be on the hunt for a shortstop this offseason. Slusser notes that someone like Stephen Drew, who they might be able to sign to a shorter deal, might be a candidate. The A’s could also trade to acquire a shortstop from a team like the Cubs or Diamondbacks. Slusser writes that the Athletics will likely lose their other six free agents as well — Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Luke Gregerson, Jonny Gomes, Alberto Callaspo and Geovany Soto.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league, via Baseball America’s Matt Eddy on Twitter.
- The Mets have released Juan Urbina, reports Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (via Twitter). In five years with the Mets, the 21-year-old left-handed pitcher failed to pass Low-A ball. While he generally posted strong strikeout rates in limited work, he walked nearly the same number of hitters. The once-prospect signed for $1.2MM in 2009 and is the son of former big leaguer Ugueth Urbina.
- The Phillies have signed outfielders Brian Bogusevic and Darin Mastroianni to minor league deals. Bogusevic last appeared in the big leagues in 2013 and spent last season hitting .260/.349/.411 in 311 plate appearances for Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins system. Mastroianni appeared briefly for the Twins and Blue Jays in 2014 but spent most of the season with Triple-A Buffalo, hitting .267/.349/.369 in 393 plate appearances.
- The Blue Jays have re-signed righty Bobby Korecky. The 35-year-old had a strong season in the Buffalo bullpen, posting a 1.97 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 64 innings.
- The Athletics have signed righty Kevin Whelan, who briefly appeared with the Tigers in 2014 and a 2.70 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 43 1/3 innings with Triple-A Toledo.
- The Royals have signed 24-year-old corner infielder Balbino Fuenmayor, who hit .347/.383/.610 in 413 plate appearances with Quebec in the Canadian-American Association, earning BA’s Indy League Player Of The Year award. The Blue Jays released Fuenmayor in 2013.
- Cubs outfielder Ryan Kalish, White Sox outfielder Michael Taylor and Phillies shortstop Andres Blanco have all elected free agency. All three players were recently outrighted.
- The Tigers have re-signed third baseman Mike Hessman. The 36-year-old Hessman has gotten few chances in the big leagues, but he’s still a feared slugger in the International League, where he hit 28 home runs and batted .248/.330/.500 in 2014. The veteran has 417 career minor league home runs, including 307 at the Triple-A level.
The A’s announced that they’ve claimed outfielder Andrew Brown off waivers from the Mets. Additionally, minor league shortstop Tyler Ladendorf has been added to the club’s 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in December.
Brown, 30, received 49 plate appearances for the Mets this season and batted .182/.245/.341 with a pair of homers. He’s seen action in parts of four big league seasons between the Mets, Rockies and Cardinals, compiling a batting line of .220/.281/.390. As indicated by that .170 ISO (slugging minus average), Brown does possess some pop that likely appealed to the A’s. His Triple-A numbers are indicative of that power as well, as he owns a lifetime .298/.380/.555 slash at that level.
Ladendorf was acquired from the Twins in 2009 in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Howard College product, Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2008, had never hit at the Triple-A level before this, his age-26 season. However, he slashed a strong .297/.376/.407 in 318 plate appearances with Triple-A this season, and Oakland has a clear need for middle infield options following the trade of Addison Russell and the free agency of Jed Lowrie.
Deciding how to frame Jed Lowrie’s entry to the free agent market depends heavily upon one’s perspective: did his failure to match his excellent 2013 campaign constitute a disappointment, or was 2014 another solid year as a regular that cements Lowrie’s status as an everyday player? After all, the CAA client had never made more than 387 plate appearances in a season until last year, yet now steps onto the market as one of the best available shortstops.
Lowrie had a strong 2013 season, posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. And he did it while playing shortstop, making him a well-above-average everyday player. Though Lowrie did not have an extensive history before that, his full-season result seemed to confirm what his earlier numbers had suggested. Over the 2008-2012 campaigns, Lowrie never even made 400 trips to the plate over a single season, but averaged a roughly league-average OPS of .743 while providing solid defense at short, second, and third. He also swatted 16 long balls over just 387 plate appearances in 2012 before succumbing to an ankle injury.
In a sense, then, 2014 was an affirmation. Injury-free except for a freak bruised finger that cost him 16 games, Lowrie showed that he could be a viable everyday shortstop for a first-division club. Even with a significant power drop-off, Lowrie was worth 1.9 fWAR, though Baseball-Reference had him at one less win in value based on its differing defensive calculations.
And last year’s power outage ultimately looks like an outlier: Lowrie had never before posted an ISO of less than .142 in a season (minimum 300 plate appearances) until his .106 mark last year. Indeed, even with that season in the books, Lowrie owns a lifetime .150 ISO and seems a good bet to return to that level of power production. His 3.2% HR/FB rate, after all, landed at half his career average and seems more likely to go up than down.
A return to form at the plate more generally seems a fair probability. Lowrie suffered a bit from a .281 BABIP, though he has never posted high numbers. His walk rate (9.0%) and strikeout rate (14.0%) compare favorably to his career marks. And he upped his line-drive rate for the fifth-straight season while hitting groundballs at his career rate.
On the defensive side of the equation, Lowrie saw improved marks from defensive metrics. By measure of UZR, in fact, Lowrie was just above average for the position last year. Though Lowrie is not a base stealer, and did not rate well in the department in 2014, he has generally been about average on the paths.
It is worth noting as well that Lowrie brings a switch-hitting presence to the middle of the infield. Interestingly, despite career splits that favored his work against lefties, Lowrie flipped those splits last year, continuing to put up roughly league-average work against right-handed pitching. If he can recapture his former excellence when batting from the right side, particularly in the power department, Lowrie looks like a great add.
While a qualifying offer is at least theoretically possible, it seems highly unlikely that the A’s would be willing to risk $15.3MM in salary space.
Of course, the above account ignores some real issues. Lowrie’s first full season of regular action came in his age-29 year, and he simply did not match it last season. For a player known largely for his bat, Lowrie was below-average at the plate.
As for the power numbers, there are reasons to believe that his fall-off was not simply an aberration. After all, Lowrie had put up double-digit home run tallies in just one year as a professional prior to this 2012-13 breakout: a 13-home run campaign in the upper minors back in 2007. And his batted ball distance on fly balls and line drives is down to a career-low 252.5 feet (via Baseball Heat Maps; compare to career marks within this post).
Then, there is the question of defense. While it is true that Lowrie saw improvements by measure of defensive metrics, Defensive Runs Saved still placed him at a troubling -10 mark on the year. As he moves toward his decline phase, it is fair to wonder how much longer he will stick at short.
Likewise, Lowrie moved in the wrong direction last year in terms of baserunning. Never a threat to take a bag, Lowrie nevertheless generally maintained average marks in terms of overall value on the basepaths. But he cost the A’s 3.4 runs last year, by measure of Fangraphs.
While Lowrie has now been healthy for two straight years, we are not far off from a time when he dealt with significant injuries on a regular basis. Nerve damage has accompanied several injuries, including ankle, shoulder, and wrist ailments.
Lowrie finished his bachelor studies at Stanford after leaving early to begin his professional career, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He also met his future wife during his time in college, and the family welcomed its first child last December.
Between her time working in international politics and his own moves across the country from team to team, the Lowries are familiar with changing residences, so geographical ties may not mean much in his situation. Looking ahead to free agency before the season, Lowrie said it would not change his approach to the game while also acknowledging its importance. “Every player wants to test the free-agent market,” he said. “What you ultimately strive for is to have people come to you and say, ‘We want you to work for us.’ It’s exciting.”
With J.J. Hardy locked up, the middle infield market is filled with question marks. Hanley Ramirez obviously promises the highest upside, but he has his warts and could be viewed by many clubs as a third baseman at this point (or in short order). Asdrubal Cabrera was once seen as a premier talent, but has not been inspiring at the plate or in the field. And Stephen Drew fell off of a cliff in terms of offensive production last year.
Viewing the sum of Lowrie’s work over the last two years, when he has served as the A’s regular shortstop, paints an image of a solid option in this year’s market. A generally above-average hitter with power upside and a switch-hitting bat, a serviceable glove, and experience around the infield, Lowrie has plenty of appeal – even if he is far from a sure thing.
Looking around baseball, there are plenty of clubs that might have interest in Lowrie, though some may prefer a shorter commitment. In addition to the Athletics, clubs like the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Tigers, Astros, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Reds, and Dodgers could all conceivably consider employing Lowrie in some kind of capacity.
Lowrie has earned just over $10MM in his playing career, far from a pittance but also perhaps a low enough number that maxing out a guarantee seems appealing. Given his preferable market placement, I think he will easily find enough interest to score a significant two-year deal and could well reach three.
While MLBTR’s Zach Links predicts that Cabrera will find three years and $27MM as a younger option, Lowrie seems to offer a slightly more appealing overall package at this point. Ultimately, I predict that Lowrie will be able to land a three-year $30MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
A federal bankruptcy judge today approved a Chapter 11 reorganization that will allow DirecTV and AT&T to purchase Comcast SportsNet Houston, reports David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The network will be relaunched next month as ROOT Sports Houston and will provide the Houston area with significantly greater accessibility to television coverage of Astros games. The team has issued a statement, via press release, expressing its pleasure with the outcome: “We are very pleased with Judge Isgur’s confirmation of the plan to reorganize the Network under AT&T and DirecTV. Throughout this long process, our main goal has been to provide broad coverage of Astros games for our fans throughout our region. This new Network will allow us to achieve this goal. There are still a few obstacles that we have to overcome, but today’s decision is a big victory for Astros fans and the City of Houston.”
Here’s more from the AL West…
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already had discussions with Alan Nero, the agent for free agent righty Colby Lewis, about a return to the organization for Lewis, reports MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers have extended a preliminary offer to Lewis, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports is a Major League offer. There’s mutual interest on both sides, according to the pair of reports, but the process has likely been slowed somewhat by the fact that Nero also represents manager Joe Maddon, who is said to be in line to take over as skipper of the Cubs. Lewis struggled in the first half of the 2014 season but rebounded quite well in the second half, posting a 3.86 ERA over his final 13 starts. His 5.18 ERA on the season was likely inflated by a .339 batting average on balls in play.
- Also of note from Sullivan, the Rangers are expected to look to make rotation additions beyond Lewis this offseason, however they’re more likely to come via the trade market than via free agency. The Rangers do possess a good deal of middle infield depth. Both Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor are seen as highly regarded talents, but the Rangers don’t have a place to slot both of them into the starting lineup. (It should be noted that the Profar/Odor speculation is my own, as opposed to something which Sullivan is reporting as likely.)
- The Athletics today announced the promotions of three coaches (Twitter link). Darren Bush, who previously served as the team’s bullpen coach, will now shift into the role of hitting coach and fill the void left by Chili Davis (who signed on to fill the same role with Boston). Scott Emerson, who had previously served as a minor league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator, was promoted to the role of bullpen coach. Lastly, Marcus Jensen, who has served as a Rookie-league manager and minor league hitting instructor for the A’s, was named assistant hitting coach/catching coach.
- Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has several updates on the Rangers‘ search to fill out new manager Jeff Banister’s coaching staff, noting that several announcements could come as soon as tomorrow.