David Aardsma, who requested his release from the Marlins earlier in the week, is being pursued by Japan's Hanshin Tigers, according to a Sanspo report passed along by Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker (Twitter link).
Aardsma pitched fairly well in his 14-inning stint with the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans, but has appeared in just one Major League inning since 2010. Surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip followed by Tommy John surgery have stalled the 31-year-old's career, but he was a solid ninth inning option for Seattle from 2009-10. Aardsma picked up 69 saves in that time, posting a 2.90 ERA, 9.6 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 121 innings.
I imagine that Aardsma's track record would allow him to get a Major League opportunity with a team in need of bullpen help at some point, but if not, Japan has served as a stepping stone back to the big leagues for many pitchers in the past. Colby Lewis, Scott Atchison and Ryan Vogelsong are recent examples of pitchers who experienced varying degrees of success in Nippon Professional Baseball before working their way back to Major League rosters.
Edward Mujica wasn't supposed to be the Cardinals' closer. He wasn't even their backup plan or third in line to the closer's throne. However, with Jason Motte down for the year due to Tommy John surgery and early falters from Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal, the ninth inning is precisely where Mujica finds himself. And he's thriving there.
Mujica has been nothing short of brilliant while saving 11 games through a quarter of the season. He's allowed just three runs in 16 innings of work, good for a 1.69 ERA. On top of that, he's given up just eight hits and one walk, and he's punched out 15 hitters along the way. His 43.9 percent ground-ball rate is a tick above the league average for relievers (43.7 percent), as is his 92.1 mph average fastball velocity (league average is 92.0 for relievers).
It may not seem like it, but Mujica, who just turned 29, is already a veteran of four Major League teams (Indians, Padres, Marlins, Cards), and he'll be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. At 29 years of age, the Octagon client is slated to be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
Assuming he continues pitching well, Mujica will have a strong 2013 season and age on his side, but he's got more than that working for him. The Venezuela native has quietly established himself as a very reliable bullpen arm since breaking out with the Padres in 2009. Over his past 320 2/3 innings, he's posted a 3.34 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 44.9 percent ground-ball rate. If ERA isn't your cup of tea, that's ok, because FIP (3.67), xFIP (3.36) and SIERA (3.00) are all big fans of Mujica's work.
He's not only been effective, he's been durable -- appearing in at least 59 games and firing at least 65 1/3 innings each year from 2009-12. Mujica has been to the disabled list just once in his career, and it was for a broken pinkie toe last season. He barely missed more than the minumum 15 days.
Free agent relievers aren't getting paid quite like they were when Francisco Cordero and Francisco Rodriguez were landing contracts that paid them $12MM annually, but a succesful reliever with a history of closing out games can still do just fine on the open market. For proof, look no further than Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton. League signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract with the Dodgers last November, and Broxton signed with the Reds for $21MM for that same three-year period.
That type of payday is attainable -- perhaps even surpassable -- for Mujica if he can finish strongly. He's been more consistent than League and generates more strikeouts with better command, and he doesn't have Broxton's injury history. It's also important to consider the weakness of the closer market next offseason. Rafael Betancourt's $4.25MM option should be exercised. Mariano Rivera is retiring. Joel Hanrahan had Tommy John surgery yesterday. Fernando Rodney has struggled terribly early in the year. Ryan Madson hasn't thrown a pitch yet this season. Carlos Marmol is Carlos Marmol. Grant Balfour and Mujica could be the top "proven" closers on the market, and Mujica is nearly seven years younger.
The Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs are among the deep-pocketed teams that could be in the market for a closer next offseason, depending on their current injury situations and faith in internal alteratives. Barring a complete collapse, the three-year, $16.5MM contract that Joaquin Benoit signed with the Tigers seems like the floor for Mujica.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
A couple weeks ago, Tim Dierkes and I took a look at the hardest-throwing pitchers of the 2014 free agent class and those with the highest ground-ball rates. Both of those trends are highly coveted skills to have as a free agent pitcher, as is the ability to limit walks. With an advanced mention of the small sample size caveat (these numbers could change quickly, especially for the relievers), here's a look at the free agent pitchers who have posted the lowest BB/9 marks of the season thus far...
- Bartolo Colon -- 0.38
- Ervin Santana -- 1.12
- Dan Haren -- 1.19
- Bronson Arroyo -- 1.37
- Wandy Rodriguez -- 1.83 ($13MM club option, $2.5MM buyout)
- Ricky Nolasco -- 2.19
- Jon Lester -- 2.26 ($13MM club option, $250K buyout)
- Hiroki Kuroda -- 2.31
- Phil Hughes -- 2.40
- Mike Pelfrey -- 2.58
- Casey Janssen -- 0.00 ($4MM club option, $250K buyout)
- Edward Mujica -- 0.56
- Bruce Chen -- 0.68
- LaTroy Hawkins -- 1.00
- Matt Thornton -- 1.42 ($6MM club option, $1MM club buyout)
- Koji Uehara -- 1.72
- Joe Smith -- 1.98
- Derek Lowe -- 2.19
- Chad Qualls -- 2.20
- Brandon Lyon -- 2.30
Hiroki Kuroda appears on two of the three lists, as do Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes. The latter two, of course, have done little to make themselves appetzing for free agent suitors. Jon Lester, at this point, would appear on all three lists, though his club option seems a sure thing to be exercised.
The same can be said of Casey Janssen, who has yet to issue a walk or blow a save on the season as the Blue Jays' closer. The relief crop listed here is mostly one of veteran hurlers (Lowe doesn't figure to generate much interest), but Mujica presents an interesting case. He's taken his game to a new level this season, posting stellar K/BB numbers and a respectable ground-ball rate after being unexpectedly thrust into the ninth inning spotlight in St. Louis. As I said, these numbers are subject to change quickly, and of course it's tough to recover from a few early bouts of poor command as a reliever. Just ask Fernando Rodney, who likely won't crack this list for the rest of the season.
None of these pitchers currently reside in the Top 10 of Tim's free agent power rankings, although I could see Santana working his way in eventually due to the relative weakness of the free agent class. Haren, too, could find himself on that list with a few solid months of work for the Nats, but he's got some catching up to do.
In his first winter of arbitration eligibility, Bud Norris settled on a $3MM salary from the Astros for the 2013 season. While $3MM is nothing to sneeze at, it's a stunningly tiny sum when it's the highest salary on a modern team's active roster. That's the way it goes for the Astros, who are paring their payroll down to miniscule size (and their roster to miniscule size in terms of talent, as their 11-30 record indicates) in order to completely rebuild their franchise.
When a team is having a fire sale on prominent veterans, it only stands to reason if the next step is to move absolutely every asset, even a 28-year-old right-hander who is under team control through the 2015 season. While Houston has been open to hearing offers for anyone, GM Jeff Luhnow has said that "it would take a significant offer to even consider something" involving Norris or Lucas Harrell. While the Astros aren't interested in posting a respectable record now, they also don't want to go 0-162; a couple of decent arms are still needed who can eat innings, give the bullpen a rest and keep the team in games as best they can.
There's also the fact that Norris hasn't been doing much for his trade value thus far in 2013. Norris has a 4.32 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and only a 38.8% ground ball rate through his first nine starts. He is also facing some injury uncertainty, as the righty left his most recent start with back spasms. While Norris is the Astros' nominal ace, he would receive a trade return befitting a fourth or fifth starter, so Houston might feel like Norris has more short-term value to them on the mound than he would as trade bait.
That said, Norris is still a 28-year-old with a 91.8 mph fastball who averaged 169 innings and 8.8 K/9 from 2010-2012. There would definitely be teams interested in seeing if Norris could blossom outside of the Astros' dire situation. If not a starter, then Norris could perhaps have value as a reliever --- ESPN's Jayson Stark reported earlier this month that many teams feel Norris "profiles more as a bullpen weapon on a contender." A team like the Tigers, for example, who is looking for bullpen help and also for starting pitching depth (though Rick Porcello has pitched better as of late) could pursue Norris a solution to both problems.
Since the Astros seem at least three years away from contending, Luhnow seems to have taken the position that unless a player stands a solid chance of still being a productive force on "the next good Astros team," that player should be moved. Norris is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2015 season and he'll be 31 years old on Opening Day 2016, so that might already make him too old to be considered a viable part of the next generation of Astros baseball.
A few consistent starts and a clean bill of health leading up to the July deadline would raise Norris' value and maybe make it worthwhile for Luhnow to consider making yet another move for the future.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Campbell/USA Today Sports Images
It could be argued that Anthony Rizzo cost himself some arbitration riches by signing a seven-year, $41MM contract extension with the Cubs, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports sees Rizzo's logic. As Rosenthal explains in his latest Hot Corner video, Rizzo's personal history --- including a past brush with Hodgkin's lymphoma and a demotion to the minors when with the Padres --- could've played a role in his accepting the security of a multiyear deal. Rizzo entered the season with less than a full year of service time, plus Rosenthal notes that Rizzo will still get a crack at free agency. If the Cubs pick up both option years on the deal, Rizzo could hit the market at age 32, young enough to score another nice contract.
Let's check in with some more news from around the NL Central...
- Also from Rosenthal's video, he praises the Cardinals' depth at both the major and minor league levels, giving the team great flexibility in case of injuries or if they want to pursue a trade.
- Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. is an unsung figure in the club's organizational success, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observes. Miklasz chronicles how DeWitt championed the analytical process of then-vice president Jeff Luhnow (now the Astros' GM) that helped the Cards develop their highly-regarded minor league system.
- Francisco Rodriguez received a few Major League offers from other clubs this winter, the reliever tells MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, but Rodriguez chose to instead sign a minor league deal with the Brewers due to his familiarity with the organization. "There were a few teams out there, but I was waiting for the right opportunity," Rodriguez said. "I had a few options I could have taken to be at the big league level right away, but I wasn't ready physically to make that commitment."
- The Brewers' limited trade options, and a possible Jean Segura contract extension are amongst the topics covered by Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in his reader mailbag.
Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish face off in a marquee pitching matchup tonight in Arlington when the Tigers play the Rangers in a battle of AL division leaders. Detroit could lose the AL Central lead with a loss, as the idle Indians are only a half-game out of first place.
Here's the latest from around the AL Central...
- There hasn't yet been any talk of the Indians pursuing an extension with Mark Reynolds, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian writes in a reader mailbag. Reynolds signed a one-year, $6MM contract with the Tribe in December and is enjoying a big season, hitting .271/.362/.581 and sitting tied for American League home run lead with 11 long balls. Bastian suggests that Reynolds is likely to test the free agent market in order to capitalize on his comeback year. Reynolds recently cracked Tim Dierkes' 2014 free agent power rankings, clocking in at the #9 position.
- Also from Bastian, Francisco Lindor has been on fire in Class A ball but the Indians shortstop prospect isn't expected to be in the Major Leagues until next season at the absolute earliest. In order words, Asdrubal Cabrera is unlikely to be on the trade block anytime soon. Though Cabrera is off to a slow start, it makes little sense for Cleveland to move one of their key regulars if they're in a pennant race.
- If the White Sox become sellers before the trade deadline, Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago thinks Chris Sale might be the only untouchable player on the roster. Even Jake Peavy, who signed a two-year extension (albeit without a no-trade clause) with Chicago last October, could potentially be dealt for a big haul of prospects.
- Twins minor league outfielder Joe Benson is in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot, 1500 ESPN Twin Cities Phil Mackey speculates. Benson was ranked by Baseball America as the 99th-best prospect in the sport prior to the 2012 season, but the 25-year-old has struggled badly since.
- From earlier today on MLBTR, we heard that the Tigers were looking for relief pitching.
Yesterday, we learned that the Rockies are eyeing third baseman Kris Bryant with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. However, the University of San Diego product is viewed as the best power bat in the draft and some even feel that he should be taken No. 1 overall. The Astros will consider taking Bryant with the top pick along with right-handers Jonathan Gray and Mark Appel, left-hander Sean Manaea, and outfielders Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows. Here's the latest draft news...
- The draft bonus pool will be increased by 8.2% from last year's total, The Associated Press reports. The league and the players' union agreed to an annual raise in signing bonuses (based on growth of industry revenue) as part of the most recent collective bargaining agreement. The slot value for the first overall pick is now slightly more than $7.79MM, up from $7.2MM last year.
- Astros scouting director Mike Elias talks to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart about how the team is approaching this year's draft.
- Keith Law of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req'd) offers up his first mock draft of the year and has Gray going No. 1 overall to the Astros. Beyond that, Law has Appel going No. 2 to the Cubs (or Gray, depending on which one is left) and the Rockies landing Bryant with the third pick.
- MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo published a mock draft as well, with the same first three projected picks as Law. They begin to differ on the Twins, with Law giving them high school righty Kohl Stewart and Mayo choosing Manaea for them.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America examined success rates for various draft demographics. Eddy also highlights the biggest draft flops at each position, starting with catcher Ryan Christianson who never reached the majors despite being given a $2.1MM bonus after being taken with the eleventh pick in the 1999 draft by the Mariners.
MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post
The Rockies have announced (via their official Twitter feed) that infielder Reid Brignac has been designated for assignment. In corresponding moves, Jeff Francis was placed on the 15-day DL while infielder DJ LeMahieu and right-hander Rob Scahill were called up from Triple-A.
Brignac was acquired from the Rays in February and he owns a .250/.294/.375 slash line in 53 PA this season. The 27-year-old was Tampa Bay's second-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft and, for his career, Brignac has a .591 OPS in 769 PA. Brignac has experience at short, third and second, and also has made a handful of appearances in the corner outfield spots over his six years in the Majors.
Ben Badler of Baseball America recently profiled such top Venezuelan prospects as Yeltsin Gudino, Jose Herrera and Gleyber Torres as some of the top names to watch when the international signing period opens on July 2. Here are a few more notes from Badler about other 16-year-old prospects out of Venezuela and their possible Major League suitors...
- The Mariners have shown "heavy interest" in outfielder Greifer Andrade. The 6'1", 185-pound Andrade is expected to receive a contract worth more than $1MM with whichever team eventually signs him. Andrade is a right-hander who profiles as a corner outfielder, and scouts vary in their opinions of his long-term potential --- some believe he is one of the top internationals prospects available, while others have doubts about his throwing arm and ability to hit for power in the Major Leagues.
- The Rockies have been looking at shortstop Carlos Herrera. One international scouting director projects Herrera will be "an offensive, top-of-the-lineup guy with a really good idea at the plate." Badler says some scouts think Herrera can handle playing shortstop over the long term and Herrera also has above-average speed and is a solid contact hitter, if lacking in power right now.
- The Mets have been connected to Ali Sanchez, a catcher who is regarded as a solid defender though he "doesn’t have a lot of power now and scouts were mixed on his bat." Badler predicts Sanchez will sign for a little under $800K.
- The Royals have been linked to left-handed hitting outfielder Cristhian Vasquez, regarded as one of Venezuela's best young bats. While Vasquez has gap power, Badler notes that some scouts aren't sure if Vasquez has enough pop to be an everyday left fielder (he's limited to left field due to a lack of arm strength). Badler thinks Vasquez will sign for around $800K.
The Angels have designated right-hander Barry Enright for assignment, according to Angels manager of communications Eric Kay (via Twitter). In corresponding moves, the Angels have also selected the contract of right-hander Billy Buckner and called up righty Ryan Brasier, while southpaw Michael Roth has been optioned to Triple-A.
Enright, 27, was acquired by the Halos in a trade with the Diamondbacks last July. Enright made 17 starts in his 2010 rookie season but has since struggled to stick in the Major Leagues. Enright has appeared in just 14 games since the start of the 2011 season, and he posted a 12.96 ERA in four games (two of them starts) with the Angels this year.