While we try and catch our breath from an insanely busy day here at MLBTradeRumors, let's take a glance at the latest out of the AL and NL Central..
- Sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter) that Carlos Beltran still isn't close on a deal with anyone. Earlier today, we heard that Beltran had already received an offer of three years and $48MM from the Royals.
- Free agent Corey Hart has been cleared for baseball activities, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com (via Twitter). The first baseman/outfielder missed all of 2013 with the Brewers thanks to knee injuries.
- Paul Konerko will tell the White Sox if he intends to play in 2014 before the Winter Meetings begin December 9th, a source tells Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com (on Twitter).
- At today's introductory press conference for Ricky Nolasco, Twins GM Terry Ryan confirmed that the club isn't done free agent shopping, tweets Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press.
- The Pirates view Mike Napoli as the perfect fit at first base but it still doesn't appear they will lay out the cash needed to sign him, tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
Morneau hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers in 2013, a slash line that is a slight improvement over that of a league-average hitter, and his .152 isolated power mark is also slightly above the league average of .146. He had some well-documented power problems for much of the year but turned things around late in the summer, belting nine homers in the month of August before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31 in exchange for Alex Presely and a player to be named later (Kris Johnson).
Even with that promising flash, Morneau's power isn't what it was when he was a yearly 30-homer threat. His walk rate has also taken a dip - he walked in 11.3 percent of his plate appearances from 2007-10, but he walked in just 7.9 percent of his trips to the plate in 2013. In his peak, Morneau was a formidable foe for both right- and left-handed pitchers, but he's developed a significant platoon split since returning from a career-threatening concussion suffered midway through what was shaping up to be another MVP-caliber season in 2010. From 2011-13, Morneau has batted just .206/.246/.274. He's also had both neck and wrist surgery in that time. He was healthy in 2013, however, which likely contributed to him providing solid defense at first base again after a poor defensive showing in 2012. Defensive Runs Saved pegged Morneau at +5 runs in 2013, though Ultimate Zone Rating felt he was simply average.
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Lincoln, 28, appeared in 22 games for Toronto in 2013 and posted a 3.98 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 6.3 BB/9. Over parts of four big league seasons, Lincoln owns a 4.66 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 for the Pirates and Blue Jays.
Rasmussen combined to post a 4.11 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 28 games (24 starts) for the Dodgers Triple-A and Double-A affiliates. The 5-9, 160-pound left-handed pitcher was traded from Los Angeles to the Phillies in exchange for Michael Young on August 31st. The 24-year-old is no stranger to being moved around, as he has now been involved in four career trades, including the aforementioned Young deal.
Kratz, 33, hit just .213/.280/.386 in 218 major league plate appearances last season. For his career, the backstop owns a slash line of .220/.281/.407 across four seasons with the Pirates and Phillies. Kratz is expected to compete with Josh Thole for the backup job behind Dioner Navarro.
The Rockies are closing in on a two-year pact with Justin Morneau, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (on Twitter). There are still some wrinkles to be ironed out between the two sides, but discussions are in the final stages.
Morneau hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers in 2013, a slash line is a slight improvement over that of a league-average hitter, and his .152 isolated power mark is also slightly above the league average of .146. He had some well-documented power problems for much of the year but turned things around late in the summer, belting nine homers in the month of August before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31.
Even with that promising flash, Morneau's power isn't what it was when he was a yearly 30-homer threat. His walk rate has also taken a dip - he walked in 11.3 percent of his plate appearances from 2007-10, but he walked in just 7.9 percent of his trips to the plate in 2013.
Morneau is represented by Mark Pieper of SFX, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.
6:52pm: Saltalamacchia will get $6MM in 2014, $7MM in '15, and $8MM in '16, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (on Twitter).
5:49pm: The Marlins have agreed to a three-year, $21MM contract with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, according to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel (on Twitter). Saltalamacchia is represented by Munsey Sports Management, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.
Saltalamacchia, 28, also had serious interest from the Twins and some degree of interest from the Rangers, though they seem to have shied away from the idea of a reunion in recent days. With Brian McCann off the board, Salty was the top remaining catcher on the free agent market. On top of that, the former Red Sox backstop had extra appeal with nearly every other starting-caliber backstop already off the board. The switch-hitter batted .273/.338/.466 with 14 homers last season, but he also struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances and posted just a .628 OPS as a right-handed batter. Among all players with 400 plate appearances in 2013, Salty's 29.6% strikeout rate is the ninth-worst.
Another one of Salty's biggest drawbacks is his difficulty in hitting left-handed pitching, with a .206/.269/.338 line since 2011. Saltalamacchia is below average at throwing out attempting basestealers and preventing them from trying, according to FanGraphs. His caught stealing percentage of 21.2% was second-to-last among qualified catchers this year.
As Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link) pointed out earlier today, the Marlins might have had a leg up on Minnesota in their chase for Salty. Not only do Saltalamacchia and his family reside in Wellington, Fla. (less than 70 miles from Marlins Park), the state has no income tax, meaning the Twins might have had to outspend the Marlins by a significant margin to win out.
The Red Sox would have liked to have Saltalamacchia back in the fold, but they were reportedly unwilling to go beyond two years for a catcher.
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Like many, it would seem, I was left pondering last night why, exactly, the Tigers felt compelled to ship off Doug Fister to the Nationals for a seemingly underwhelming return. We may just have received part of the answer, as Detroit moved quickly this morning to ink closer Joe Nathan. Though we don't yet know the terms of that contract, indications are that it will be a two-year commitment in the $20MM range. That sum almost certainly exceeds what Fister will earn over in the next two campaigns. (Fister is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $6.9MM through arbitration this year.)
It became clear that the Tigers may have been operating at or above their payroll threshold when they shipped Prince Fielder off to Texas for Ian Kinsler. That fact became all the more clear with the latest deal . As FOX Sports' Jon Morosi wrote this morning, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski cited payroll "flexibility" as a motivator in shipping out Fister. And while Dombrowski emphasized that the club is "not cutting payroll," that statement certainly does not indicate that the club is adding dollars to the books either. Looking at the franchise's commitments, it entered 2012 with a $148.7MM payroll. As of this morning, the club already owes $102.7MM for 2013, which will jump by a projected $32.7MM for the club's arbitration-eligible players that have yet to agree to terms. Though Fister's salary is eminently reasonable for his performance, it represented a big chunk of the team's remaining war chest.
On the one hand, then, the deal makes some sense. The Tigers have rotation depth and need a closer. But that reasoning, standing alone, is not what has drawn the most scorn. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, among others, has argued, the return that he brought seems light compared to recent deals for high-quality starters. Even if Dombrowski was determined to clear salary, the argument goes, he surely ought to have been able to bring back more than a good-but-not-great starting prospect (Robbie Ray), a utility infielder with limited upside (Steve Lombardozzi), and an interesting but still largely unknown left-handed reliever (Ian Krol).
While I find myself landing in the same camp as Cameron in that regard, it is reasonable to wonder whether the Nathan deal hints that other market pressures had a role here. Comments from Nats GM Mike Rizzo indicate that the sides had been in dialogue for several weeks about all three potentially available Detroit starters: Fister, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer. Presumably, that meant that the teams had already exchanged plenty of information and fully assessed each sides' potential trade chips. With last night's arbitration deadline and this morning's report of an agreement with Nathan, it could well be that Dombrowkski opted to pull the trigger on a deal that had already been well-vetted to make way for Nathan.
After all, we have not heard any particular suggestion that Dombrowski saw some special spark in Ray that made him desperate to pry him from the Nats. In fact, the Tigers reportedly preferred another young arm -- Taylor Jordan -- but were redirected to Ray. While we lack sufficient information to know conclusively, the broader market setting may well have played a substantial role in this deal from the Tigers' perspective.
Meanwhile, from the Nationals' side, all indications are that Rizzo did an excellent job assessing the market, identifying his target, and then waiting for an opportune time to make a deal. "This was not an easy trade for [the Nationals] to make, either," Dombrowski said. But it sure didn't sound that way from listening to Rizzo. "It's a good day in the Nationals' office when the sabermetricians and the scouts in the field see the players in the same way," he said. "It makes things much easier for me. That's what we had here."
To be sure, Rizzo emphasized that Washington had parted with significant talent and felt the trade was a fair deal. But, as he further explained, the club "really had identified Doug as our primary acquisition target as far as starting pitchers go" and "thought he was an undervalued asset." And the Nats' GM made clear that he felt that the team made out well in comparison to other recent deals. Compared to recent trades for Matt Garza, James Shields, and R.A. Dickey, Rizzo said, "we thought the player acquisition that we would have to give up was palatable."
Palatable, indeed. As I noted last night in writing up the deal, neither Lombardozzi nor Krol figure to be terribly difficult to replace in the immediate term. Though the Nationals have now shed yet another left-handed bullpen option, Rizzo has a history of digging up southpaws from unexpected places -- Krol included. And Rizzo has indicated that one or both of Ross Detwiler and Sammy Solis could slot into the pen. Further, there are several young utility infield options who probably have more upside and may have pushed Lombardozzi for a role next year anyway, including Jeff Kobernus, Zach Walters, and even Danny Espinosa. (It is worth noting that Walters and Espinosa are both switch hitters who can play short and have better sticks from the left side. Walters swatted 25 home runs from that side of the plate last year in Triple-A.) Again, the timing of this deal made these two pieces largely expendable for the Nationals.
Timing seems to have been on RIzzo's side in one other critical way as well: he may well have sold high on the two key arms in this deal. Krol came to the Nats as a player-to-be-named later in last year's Michael Morse deal, coming to D.C. as an afterthought to fellow hurlers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen. After dominating in Double-A, Krol got a quick call up to the big club's LOOGY-needy pen. He showed flashes of brilliance, but ultimately posted only a 3.95 ERA (along with a 4.69 FIP and 4.07 xFIP) in 27 1/3 innings. Giving all benefit of the doubt, his ceiling may be that of a late-inning stopper, and he does come with plenty of control. But given his spotty on and off-field history before coming to Washington, he is far from a sure thing. Whether or not Rizzo sold at the height of his value remains to be seen, but he sure did get more for him than he gave up.
Then, there is Ray, who, as Baseball Prospectus notes, is probably less valuable than the second-best piece (Jake Odorizzi) that went for Shields. And After lingering further down the list of Nationals' prospects for the last few years, Ray moved to fifth on the totem pole after the current season, in the eyes of Baseball America (subscription required). Though a jump in fastball velocity and nice strikeout numbers as a 21-year-old in Double-A have raised his prospect stock, Ray still is far from a sure thing. And he is at most probably the third-best young arm in the Nats' system, maybe lower if Taylor Jordan is considered and one is a Solis fan. As BA summed things up: "Ray’s plus fastball, athleticism and durable frame give him a chance to be a mid-rotation starter if he can develop his breaking ball. That remains a significant question mark ... ." As with Krol, he may not be at peak value, but his value has certainly been on the ascent of late, with his most recently showing significantly elevating his attractiveness.
This is not the first time that Rizzo has wheeled and dealed in this manner. Rizzo sent A.J. Cole to the Athletics as the headliner of the deal that brougth Gio Gonzalez to D.C., only to get him back at a cut rate in the aforementioned Morse trade. And after getting the better end of the deal that brought Morse to D.C., Rizzo extracted further value from the last year of the slugger's contract. In short, Rizzo has shown a propensity to trade on imbalances between perception and value.
As Rizzo's comments indicate, he saw Fister as an under-valued asset. He may well have felt the other way around about the pieces he sent out to acquire him. Indeed, as others have noted, most every team in baseball could have put together a package like the one the Nats gave up. But Fister was probably better than any open-market arm, and comes at a fraction of the cost. He adds nothing to the club's long-term payroll obligations, and because his salary will depend upon performance and remains non-guaranteed, he is an extremely flexible piece for the club.
In this sense, the Fister trade actually increases the Nats' flexibility. The club has one of the best top four starting groups in the game at a budget price, and can choose among a host of options for the last rotation spot, depth, and bullpen work. (Among them: Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, Nathan Karns, Jordan and Solis.) Having bolstered the rotation at a low cost -- both in terms of prospects and committed cash -- the Nats could be positioned, if they wish, to make another major move this off-season, especially if an opportunistic chance presents itself. And, of course, the other thing that the Nats pick up in this deal are the exclusive negotiating rights to Fister for the next two years.
For the Tigers, on the other hand, the limited financial flexibility achieved comes at an enormous opportunity cost. This was not Fielder, whose fixed, long-term obligations were an imposing obstacle and who, some have argued, had negative trade value as a result. Regardless whether Drew Smyly will step in and keep the rotation strong, or whether Nathan throws as well as he has in the past, or even whether Ray ends up having a nice MLB career, this trade looks to be a miss for Dombrowski. Detroit gave up one of the game's more attractive pitching assets in exchange for a collection of relatively non-scarce pieces. Unless the rest of the league was truly unwilling to top the Nats' offer, it is hard to imagine circumstances in which that could make good sense, even if the timing of things forced the Tigers' hand to some extent.
The Yankees have made offers to several top free agent hitters, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets. The list of players on whom the Yankees have bid Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew and Omar Infante. (ESPN's Buster Olney, however, tweets that the Yankees do not have an offer to Drew pending.) Morosi also tweets, however, that the Yankees did not extend the offer to Infante particularly recently, and that other teams appear more interested. Here are more notes from New York.
- Earlier today, we heard that Beltran had already received an offer of three years and $48MM. Newsday's Mark Carig reiterates, however, that the Yankees aren't likely to give Beltran three years (Twitter link).
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, meanwhile, tweets that Nelson Cruz could also enter the Yankees' sights if the team loses out on Carlos Beltran.
- Feinsand also notes that, while the Yankees have shown some interest in closers, finding a closer is not their highest priority, and they're only likely to spend on one if Robinson Cano signs elsewhere.
The Tigers are in heavy pursuit of a left-handed bat and Shin-Soo Choo is their top target, sources tell Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. The TIgers have been said to have interest in Choo, but this is the first time that we're hearing that he is a priority over all other free agent targets.
The Rangers have been heavily linked to Choo and are prefer him over Jacoby Ellsbury, but they're said to be wary of the price tag that could be hitched the Scott Boras clients. The Reds would also like to keep Choo, but at $100MM+, he probably won't fit into their budget.
Choo's .423 on-base percentage ranked fourth in all of baseball this year, and easily topped Robinson Cano for the best among all free agents. The South Korea native is ranked third on Tim Dierkes' Top 50 Free Agent Power Rankings.
Detroit freed up a great deal of money with last week's blockbuster that freed them from $76MM of Prince Fielder's contract.
Earlier today, the Diamondbacks completed a three-team deal with the Rays and Reds which saw Tampa Bay acquire catcher Ryan Hanigan from the Reds and Heath Bell from Arizona. The D'Backs didn't get big time talent back in the trade, but they unloaded $5.5MM of the $6MM they owed to Bell in 2014. I asked Arizona GM Kevin Towers what he might do with his newfound financial flexibility.
"We still got some bench pieces that we need to put together, we still have interest in bringing back Eric Chavez as a guy who was a key bench player on the club last year. We also want to add depth to our starting pitching, a No. 1 or a No. 2 [type], that would probably come via trade. We have some free agents [that we like], but we'll probably be more aggressive on the trade front. Also, with Cody Ross coming back from the hip injury, we'll also look into a corner outfield bat," Towers said on this afternoon's conference call.
Without giving exact figures, Towers said that the payroll in 2014 will be "well above where it was last season." Arizona's opening day payroll was roughly $86.3MM, putting them right around the middle of the pack.
It's safe to say that Bell's tenure in Arizona didn't work out exactly as Towers & Co. had hoped. Despite that, the GM says that he's still hopeful that the 36-year-old can be a contributor for the Rays.
"Bell's velocity is still very good, his average velocity was very comparable to what we saw in San Diego and what it was in Florida...For Heath its all about location," Towers explained. "He's able to hit his spots..but the thing I saw, he didn't land his curveball as effectively as he did in San Diego. He had a 12-6 curveball to set up his fastball...I still think he has a lot left in the tank, one thing I've always liked about him is that he has a very resilient arm."
Towers admitted that he was sorry to see left-handed pitching prospect David Holmberg go, but he said that he wouldn't have been able to secure the same kind of return without his inclusion. That return, of course, includes more than minor league righty Justin Choate - it means the millions in financial relief and a player to be named later. That PTBNL from Tampa Bay, Towers said, will probably be the key player in the trade from his side. Towers added that the player cannot be disclosed now because of "administrative reasons," indicating that the player has already been agreed upon.
Even after moving Bell, who finished 32 games for the club last season, Towers said that he "won't be real active" in finding bullpen help. Whatever needs he has, he'll look to find solutions internally. The GM acknowledged that Randall Delgado could go to bullpen if he lands a rotation upgrade. KT will also seek out "another multi-inning guy" besides Josh Collmenter. As for the closer role, Towers declined to name a favorite at this stage of the offseason.
In addition to the trade talk, Towers also fielded questions on the club's decision to non-tender Daniel Hudson. Even though the D'Backs have now lost their exclusivity with the pitcher, Towers sounds hopeful that the two sides will still hammer out a deal.
"I think we kind of ran out of time...I'd like to say we were at the five yard line or inside of that, so my hope is that we will come to a resolution and he will be a Diamondback in the very near future. We just weren't able to finalize anything by 10 o'clock the other night," Towers said, adding that he could see an agreement happening in the next couple weeks. "I think both sides still want this to happen."
4:46pm: A three-year deal for Beltran isn't a dealbreaker for the Yankees, but it's a long-shot, tweets Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
4:16pm: Olney tweets that rival teams are becoming convinced that Beltran is going to return to the Royals on a three-year, $48MM contract.
1:00pm: The Royals are making a strong push for Beltran, who is currently in Kansas City meeting with the team, according to George A. King III and Kevin Kernan of the New York Post. The Royals are believed to be willing to go to three years to pry Beltran away from the Yankees, though it's not clear from King and Kernan's report if Kansas City is the team that has extended the $48MM offer referenced by Olney.
12:56pm: Carlos Beltran has a three-year, $48MM offer currently in hand, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (on Twitter). While Olney isn't sure which team has extended the lavish offer, he notes that the Mariners are being very aggressive on the Beltran front.
Beltran is coming off a strong season with the Cardinals in which he batted .296/.339/.491 with 24 home runs. The switch-hitter also saw his plate discipline and defensive metrics take a turn for the worse, however, and $16MM per year for Beltran's age 37-39 seasons would be a significantly higher price than most pundits believed he would fetch on the open market.
The Yankees have been said to be the favorites for Beltran, but the they're reportedly not keen on the idea of offering more than a two-year contract.