Chicago Notes: Sox Rebuild, Baez, Cubs

A look at some of the latest pertaining to the White Sox and Cubs...

  • In an ESPN Insider piece (subscription recommended), Paul Swydan writes that White Sox GM Rick Hahn and his baseball operations staff are doing an excellent job with the team's rebuild. The Sox are stockpiling young talent such as Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia through trades while spending money on young assets like Jose Abreu and still managing to showcase trade chips such as Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn and Alexei Ramirez. They're also not stubbornly clinging to the past by overplaying longtime cornerstone Paul Konerko or the disappointing Dayan Viciedo.
  • Cubs top prospect Javier Baez provided a reminder that there's more to minor league development than simply producing on the field, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times. After being called out on a check-swing third strike, Baez was ejected for arguing with the umpire and then got into a dugout altercation with veteran catcher Eli Whiteside. Cubs president Theo Epstein offered this take on the incident: "Players are in the minor leagues to develop physically and fundamentally, and also mentally and emotionally. ... It was not a huge deal, but something he can grow from. It sounds like from the reports we got, teammates were right to call him out, and he handled that the right way. Javy’s a great kid who’s the youngest player in Triple-A, and he has some room to continue to grow. And he will."
  • Wittenmyer also reports that while the Cubs are indeed talking about selling non-voting shares to minority investors, that money won't be seen by the baseball operations department. Epstein tells Wittenmyer that the money from such dealings would be allocated solely to renovations for Wrigley Field. Wittenmyer reports that team officials feel the renovations could be completed in four years as opposed to the previously believed five years. Chairman Tom Ricketts estimates an additional $30-40MM in revenue based on the renovations, but it's unclear how that money will impact the team's payroll.



AL Notes: Adenhart, Nunez, Colabello, Athletics

Today is the five-year anniversary of the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports provides a worthy tribute to a player who the game lost too soon. We join many others in honoring his memory.

Here are a few notes from the American League:

  • The Twins' decision to acquire shortstop Eduardo Nunez from the Yankees was done with the goal of scoring more runs, reports John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Indeed, the club has indicated that it would be aggressive with early-season moves if it felt change would be beneficial. Though manager Ron Gardenhire says that he "love[s]" current starter Pedro Florimon, he added that "we've got to have offense" and said that Florimon has to get better at making solid contact. (He has two hits and two walks against seven strikeouts in 23 plate appearances to date.) Minnesota will apparently continue to make moves as opportunities arise, rather than giving its in-house options lengthy leashes. "(When) we left spring training we weren't done looking," Gardenhire said. "We were waiting for teams, all the way to the end, to start sending people out. We're ready. We're ready."
  • One positive force early on for the Twins has been Chris Colabello, who the club tried to ship out to Korea during the offseason. Instead, he rolled the dice on breaking camp and did so, and now sports an OPS north of 1.000 through his first 29 plate appearances. As Parker Hageman writes for Twins Daily, this latest unlikely twist is not the first in Colabello's remarkable career arc. The piece is well worth a read: it includes plenty of great quotes from the key players in his tale and provides some color for many of the "minor moves" type coverage found here at MLBTR. As club GM Terry Ryan explains, it all started with Colabello's grinding in the independent leagues: "Of course [Colabello] continued to put up number after number, year after year, and was worth a look. ... Ok, this guy deserves an invite to minor league spring training. He got down there, he was pretty good. He started in Double-A and never really had an off-week."
  • The Athletics' ownership group seems not to have any present intentions to put the club on the market, but would draw intense interest if it did, according to a report from Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. According to Kawakami, a variety of would-be buyers -- including the co-owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors -- are attracted by the team's current profitability and the possibility of guiding the team to a new ballpark in the midst of a thriving baseball economy. This does not necessarily mean that a move of the franchise would be in order; Kawakami reports that most of the groups with potential interest would be looking to keep the ballclub in Oakland (assuming a new stadium can be procured).



Giants, Pablo Sandoval Table Extension Talks

The Giants and third baseman Pablo Sandoval have tabled extension talks after reaching an impasse, GM Brian Sabean told CSN Bay Area's Jim Kozimor on Yahoo Sportstalk Live, as Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area reports. Sandoval, 27, is represented by Gustavo Vasquez of SPS Sports Group.

We heard last night that the sides remained far apart in negotiations, though another recent report suggested that both sides were optimistic (albeit not close). Sandoval is said to be asking for a five-year deal along the lines of teammate Hunter Pence's $90MM contract. Looking ahead at the list of 2015 free agents, Sandoval is one of just a few players likely to hit the open market who may have a legitimate claim to that kind of contract. Though he has not matched his big 2011 campaign in the last two years, Sandoval has remained productive and is quite young for a player on the cusp of 6 years of MLB service.

Sabean indicated that he is "probably at the end of the rope" with regard to a new deal, with talks so "far apart ... it makes no sense" to continue at the present. "We've given our best shot with good faith intended to try to get him signed and they've drawn a line in the sand that we're not going to beat nor should we meet," said Sabean. "Things have been tabled and we'll see what happens up the line, but we're not going to have ongoing talks from this time forward."

Though Sabean did not rule out the possibility of reopening thematter in the future, he did not indicate optimism. "Anything's possible," he said, "I just don't know how probable it is because right now Pablo is pretty much going to have to play to get to the [salary] number that they think he's going to be able to command on the open market. We disagree that he's going to get that number, per se, from the Giants on the open market."

Sabean added that he believed the lingering matter had been impacting Sandoval's performance in the early going, and that the club preferred to keep the focus on the present:

"At this point the organization has put its best foot forward and (Sandoval’s agents) have decided it’s not to their liking, and we understand that and that’s the reason it needs to be tabled. He needs to concentrate on baseball right now. I think he might be pressing a little bit because it’s in his head one way or the other. But now it’s definitely been shut down at least for the time being. I think he needs to get on with baseball."






Angels Rule 5 Pick Brian Moran To Undergo Tommy John

The Angels have announced that lefty Brian Moran will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. After being left unprotected by the Mariners, Moran was taken by the Blue Jays in the ninth position in the Rule 5 draft and immediately shipped to Los Angeles in exchange for an international bonus slot.

Moran is expected to remain with the Angels for the coming season while he rehabs from surgery, says MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. The club will be able to keep him while clearing a 40-man spot by placing him on the 60-day DL, and will then have the same rights over Moran as they do at present. Once Moran is activated, the Angels will need to clear a 40-man spot and then maintain him on the active roster for all of next season or offer him back to Seattle.

A similar situation occurred recently with Brad Meyers, who was selected by the Yankees from the Nationals. Meyers spent the entire year on the DL -- including time on the 60-day list -- and was ultimately returned to Washington in the fall following his surgery.

Moran, a 25-year-old lefty, spent the last three seasons in the upper minors with the Seattle organization. In 62 2/3 innings at Triple-A last year, he threw to a 3.45 ERA while striking out 12.2 and walking 2.9 per nine. While those K:BB numbers are quite impressive, Moran did allow 10.1 hits for every nine frames over his first full season at the highest level of the minors.

The Angels had hoped to use Moran as a lefty specialist out of the pen, Gonzalez notes. With fellow southpaw Sean Burnett also still on the shelf, the club has gone with Nick Maronde as its only lefty in relief. The Angels do have some options with MLB experience stashed at Triple-A, including Buddy Boshers, Wade LeBlanc, and Clay Rapada.



Offseason In Review: New York Mets

As the Mets look to transition from rebuilding to contending, the club made its largest free agent outlay in years, but will go without recovering ace Matt Harvey.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
Extensions
  • None
Notable Losses
Needs Addressed
 
The Mets addressed their biggest issue, perhaps, by finally saying goodbye to two contracts that turned sour. The club paid its final obligations to both Santana ($5.5MM buyout of $25MM option) and Jason Bay ($3MM buyout on $17MM option). Of course, Bay had already been cut loose, and technically will still be paid for some time due to a deferment arrangement. Likewise, the organization has reportedly made headway in moving past the well-documented financial tribulations of its ownership group.
Granderson
 
The major strategic issue facing Alderson was how to deal with the loss of Harvey, one of the game's best arms, who went down to Tommy John surgery. That constituted a major blow to the team's hopes of beginning to challenge in 2014, and raised the question whether spending would once more be put on hold. But the Mets moved ahead, with Alderson setting down a tall challenge of winning 90 games this year.
 
Having cleared the Santana and Bay contracts, the Mets were able to add the fifth-most in guaranteed money of any team in free agency while opening the season with almost $10MM less on the books than last year. Looking ahead, New York has have the following future obligations: $54.05MM (2015); $45.05MM (2016); and $35.5MM (2017). 
 
So what did GM Sandy Alderson and company get for their cash? First and foremost, it added two veteran outfield options in Granderson and Young. Though the team cobbled together a passable unit last year, they traded away the surprising Marlon Byrd (who would have been a free agent anyway) and was rightly disinclined to rely solely on Juan Lagares, Eric Young Jr., and the defensively-challenged Lucas Duda. An upgrade was clearly in order.
 
In Granderson, the Mets added an established power bat (84 home runs between 2011-12) who missed most of last year due to injury. The cost was high for the qualifying offer-bound 33-year-old: $60MM over four years and the 48th overall choice in the upcoming amateur draft (the team's first choice, tenth overall, was protected). For his part, Young did not require a major commitment, and at age 30 is just a few years removed from a pair of 5-win seasons. But he struggled mightily with injury and performance issues last year. Disappointingly, Young's ongoing quad issues have once again reared up early in the year.
 
The second major area of need that was dealt with by the Mets was pitching. Though blessed with a series of promising young arms -- Zach Wheeler cracked the bigs last year, while Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and others wait in the wings -- the organization was at least a year away from fielding its full array of new starters. Absent Harvey, the club plainly had some innings to fill, and did so by adding the seemingly ageless Colon (in fact, he's 40), who threw to a 2.65 ERA in 190 1/3 innings in 2013. Of course, New York would be thrilled by a repeat, but more realistically will hope that Colon can carry that innings load at a slightly above average rate.
 
Alderson filled out the rest of the pitching staff with a series of veterans on minor league deals. Matsuzaka and Lannan provide starting depth, though the former is starting off in Triple-A and the latter in the bullpen. And Valverde and Farnsworth were both added to a bullpen that had a decent number of in-house options, some of whom the organization preferred to start out in the upper minors. 
 
Questions Remaining
 
We already covered two glaring roster needs above, but a third -- shortstop -- remains a huge question. Ruben Tejada, of course, opens the year as the starter after a massively disappointing 2013 in which he only logged 227 MLB plate appearances and put up a miserly .202/.259/.260 triple-slash. Though Tejada is not regarded as a good defender at the position, advanced metrics have not been quite as down on him as might be expected by the perception. (For his career, at short, Tejada has a slightly positive UZR/150 and is pegged at -8 DRS with over 2,000 innings in the bank.)
 
Though Tejada is just 24 and had been viewed as a promising prospect, it seems that the front office has soured on him quite a bit and has serious questions about his work ethic and conditioning. Moreover, player and team remain at odds -- last we heard, anyway -- over the decision to recall him just one day after he would have been able to reach three full years of service at the end of the season. Free agent Stephen Drew was a widely-pegged target for New York, but the club seems disinclined to give him the multi-year deal that he seeks. Of course, Drew still remains unsigned, and in theory could still be added, though that seems unlikely unless the Mets improve upon their less-than-inspiring start to the year.
 
Another major question mark that remains unresolved is first base, where Lucas Duda and Ike Davis were expected to battle for the starting role (for this year and, possibly, the future) over the spring. With both sidelined by injuries, that contest never really got started, and both made the Opening Day roster. Duda has been given the first chance to seize hold of the job, with Davis reportedly being shopped. Until a definitive step is taken, that situation remains unclear; even if one or the other is sent packing, moreover, the other will still have much to prove.
 
In the early going, the biggest roster challenge that has arisen is certainly in the bullpen, which has had a rough start to the year. Young power arm Vic Black had been expected to seize a set-up role, but struggled so much in the spring that he was optioned to Triple-A. Then, closer Bobby Parnell suffered a partial tear of the MCL which will require Tommy John surgery. In the immediate term, the question becomes whether Valverde can fill in and whether the rest of the pen can hold things together. Though promotions for younger arms seems to be on the horizon, the Mets must balance their need at the big league level with the desire to keep the focus on an appropriate development timeline for its prospects.
 
Likewise, the starting rotation figures to see its share of flux over the course of the season. Jenrry Mejia got a crack at a role with a solid spring and a need for protection as Jon Niese works his way back, and could stick for the time being. But the 24-year-old has never thrown more than 108 2/3 frames in a professional season, and will certainly face a strict innings limit. Likewise, the pitchers waiting in the wings are not expected to be allowed to carry full starting loads over the entire season. While a late-season return for Harvey remains a theoretical possibility, the club will surely be hesitant to gamble with his future.
 
Deal of Note
 
Granderson unquestionably makes the club better now, but the deal carries some doubt when looked at from other angles. For one thing, the overall commitment is not dissimilar from that given Bay. While the struggles of Bay mean nothing for the outlook of Granderson, that fact illustrates the risk at hand. (Of course, it is fair to think that inflation makes the more recent deal a much-less-significant one in relative terms.) Likewise, the Mets' relatively early strike ended up looking more questionable when the dust finally settled on Nelson Cruz, who ultimately cost just $8MM. While he is a less flexible option, especially for a National League club, and has not matched Granderson's overall production, Cruz required less than 15% the total outlay that the Mets laid out.
 
Of course, the Mets may not have viewed a player like Cruz as a comparable option to Granderson, who the team obviously sees as a valuable long-term piece who fits its expected development arc. "It was what we had to do," said COO Jeff Wilpon. "It was something we wanted to do. It fit well with the plan. And it's a commitment on our part to have him around. He wanted to be around to see the team turn the corner and be a part of it moving forward." Likewise, Alderson cited Granderson's value in impacting the organization's culture. 

"No. 1, he brings a tremendous amount of professionalism," Alderson said. "He brings a personality. He brings credibility. He brings experience. And he brings talent. I think all of those things will be important. I really like the mix of players we have character-wise, personality-wise. I think he will enhance that mix. He's a gregarious, infectious personality."

Ultimately, the deal is not without its risks, but how many free agent contracts are? As Eno Sarris of Fangraphs argued in the aftermath of the signing, Granderson should be a solid-enough defender with a switch to the corner, should be able to stay valuable at the plate, and ultimately may not have received a "glaring overpay." If nothing else, of course, the signing represents the clearest sign that the Mets are ready to supplement their slate of attractive young arms with free agent spending, an important development for an organization that has been in a holding pattern while its owners dealt with the fallout of the Bernie Madoff scandal.

On the other hand, Granderson is already 33, missed much of last year due to wrist injuries, and has seen his strikeout percentage rise quite sharply in recent campaigns. In his limited action last year, Granderson's power dropped back significantly: he landed with a .178 ISO mark, after putting up .290 and .260 marks in 2011 and 2012, respectively. And Granderson, who has never reached base at a consistent clip, is carrying a sub-.320 OBP over the last two seasons. While baseball's inflationary environment means that the deal carries less relative risk than did the Bay contract, it could be that New York is spending a lot of money for a non-impact player who will be well on the decline by the time the team is ready to compete.

Overview

One could say that the team did not make enough of an immediate impact with its free agent signings to warrant the cost. After all, with Harvey out, a jump to playoff contention seems a tall order. But the Opening Day payroll is well shy of last year's tab, and New York can reasonably expect to be better. Given the restlessness of its fans and the organization's hope of building off of a young core to contention in the very near term, it made some sense to put a decent product on the field now while avoiding any truly massive deals that might have stung down the line. The question, of course, is whether that might have been accomplished at a cheaper price, and whether any of the recent commitments will have an impact on future needs.

At present, it is hard to view the Mets' offseason as being fully complete, in large part because major questions (with both short and long-term ramifications) are still open for answers. First base, shortstop, and the back of the bullpen could all see significant moves in the coming months. The true test of Alderson and his staff could well be yet to come, as he navigates the decisions at those spots, manages the team's young arms, and plots the final moves to ready the team for full-on contention.

Photo courtesy of Brad Barr/USA Today Sports Images.



MLBTR Chat Transcript

Click here to read a transcript of this week's live chat, hosted by MLBTR's Steve Adams.


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Indians Outright Frank Herrmann

Here are today's minor moves and minor outright assignments from around the league...

  • The Indians announced, via Twitter, that right-hander Frank Herrmann has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. The 29-year-old Herrmann missed the entire 2013 campaign as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He has a career 4.26 ERA with 5.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 126 1/3 Major League innings and a stronger 3.13 ERA in 178 innings at the Triple-A level.
  • In case you didn't see, earlier today, the Pirates made the rather surprising announcement that right-hander Vin Mazzaro has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A. Mazzaro has three days to accept or reject the assignment.
  • Jeremy Jeffress, Hector Noesi, Mike Baxter and Pedro Ciriaco are all in DFA limbo at this time, and you can track their status and see the outcomes of other DFA cases using MLBTR's DFA Tracker.



Vin Mazzaro Clears Outright Waivers

Pirates right-hander Vin Mazzaro has cleared outright waivers and has three days to accept his assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis or reject the assignment in favor of free agency, the team announced (via Twitter).

That the 27-year-old Mazzaro would clear waivers seems highly surprising given his strong 2013 campaign. Mazzaro posted a 2.81 ERA with 5.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate. His ERA, BB/9 rate and ground-ball rate were all career bests, and he also averaged a career-high 93.1 mph on his fastball in 73 2/3 innings as a key member of a strong Pirates bullpen.

That promising season from Mazzaro came along with just a $950K salary on a one-year deal agreed to this offseason in his first year of arbitration eligibility, meaning any team to acquire or claim him would have had control of Mazzaro for three seasons.



The Implications Of Ryan Zimmerman's Shoulder Issue

Ryan Zimmerman's throwing issues have been well documented over the past year or so, and the longtime National underwent an MRI this weekend that revealed no structural damage to his throwing shoulder (via the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore). However, manager Matt Williams said in a radio interview with CBS Sports last night that Zimmerman is dealing with an arthritic shoulder -- hardly good news for the Nationals as Zimmerman plays out the first year of a six-year, $100MM extension.

Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington looks at what the situation means for Zimmerman's future and what it means for the future of Adam LaRoche, who is off to a hot start in the second year of a two-year, $24MM contract. LaRoche's deal contains a mutual option for a third year, but as Zuckerman points out, Zimmerman's throwing issues essentially preclude the Nationals from being able to exercise that option, regardless of LaRoche's season. Zimmerman already has two throwing errors on the season against six assists throwing the ball to first base, according to Baseball-Reference.com (not exactly an acceptable ratio).

Some might be quick to say that the solution is a trade of LaRoche to open up first base for Zimmerman, but Zuckerman writes that such a move isn't simple for a number of reasons. LaRoche is 34 years old and coming off perhaps the worst full season of his career, and teams know that the Nationals would be highly motivated to trade him, thereby giving GM Mike Rizzo less leverage. On top of that, Zimmerman has little experience at first base, making a smooth transition anything but a safe assumption.

In addition to Zuckerman's rationale (which is sound), LaRoche's $12MM salary and $2MM option buyout would be detrimental in trade talks, and there's also the simple fact that strengthening their defense by trading him could also weaken the lineup and deplete the team's infield depth. In that scenario, Anthony Rendon would likely switch to his natural position of third base, with Danny Espinosa perhaps getting a second chance to prove himself as an everyday second baseman in the Major Leagues. That's an experiment that could pan out, and were the Nationals still a cellar-dwelling entity, it wouldnt be as much of an issue. However, this team is built to contend right now, and such a drastic shuffle of their infield doesn't seem practical with the season underway.

Zuckerman writes that for the remainder of the season, it's difficult to dream up a scenario where Zimmerman doesn't spend the majority of his time at third base. He can be shielded from the field by DHing in American League parks and occasionally spelling LaRoche at first base (I would think that LaRoche could benefit from time away from tough left-handed pitchers). However, the team has less long-term flexibility to build its lineup and could be without a place to put top prospect Matt Skole (Baseball America has pegged his range at third base as inadequate) if Zimmerman is limited to first base duties for the remainder of his contract.



Diamondbacks Nearing Deal With Randy Wolf

The Diamondbacks are closing in on a minor league deal with veteran lefty Randy Wolf, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (on Twitter). Wolf is a client of the Wasserman Media Group.

The veteran Wolf hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor league deal with the Mariners this offseason and had been informed that he made the club as the team's fifth starter. However Wolf requested his release when the Mariners asked him to sign a 45-day advance-consent release clause that would allow the team to release him and pay him just a pro-rated portion of his guaranteed salary for any reason other than an injury.

General manager Kevin Towers recently told reporters that he expected to add a veteran starter on a minor league deal in the coming days, and Wolf certainly fits that bill. The 14-year veteran owns a career 4.20 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 39 percent ground-ball rate with the Phillies, Brewers, Padres, Dodgers, Orioles and Astros. The final season of the three-year, $28.5MM contract he signed with the Brewers didn't turn out well, as he wound up posting a 5.65 ERA in 157 2/3 innings between Milwaukee and Baltimore that year before being diagnosed with a torn UCL. However, in the year prior, Wolf posted a strong 3.69 ERA in 212 1/3 innings for the Brew Crew -- his fourth straight season of 190 or more innings.

Wolf will provide rotation depth for a team that has seen its starting pitchers post a combined 6.57 ERA to this point in the young season -- the second-worst mark in all of Major League Baseball.

This post was originally published on April 11.




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