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.
The Tigers are "looking hard" on the trade market for bullpen help, a source who speaks regularly with the team's management tells Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. Closer Jose Valverde has been effective since joining the big league club on April 24th, but they remain in the hunt for help. The Tigers' bullpen has a 3.79 ERA, ninth in the American League. The relievers who comprise the current pen have a 2.04 ERA over the last 30 days, with everyone pitching well aside from Phil Coke. Al Alburquerque had been struggling as well; he was sent down today in favor of Evan Reed.
It's difficult to predict which teams will be selling two months from now, but a week ago I took a shot at projecting some relief trade candidates.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner commented on contract talks with second baseman Robinson Cano to David Lennon of Newsday on his way out of the MLB owners meetings today in Manhattan, saying, "We've had several conversations with [agent] Brodie [Van Wagenen], just as we did with [former agent] Scott [Boras] and a lot of it is procedural. But we're going to continue in the weeks to come to work through things and try to come to an agreement." Steinbrenner later added, "We want him to end his career here." Cano has sat atop our 2014 Free Agents Power Rankings since the beginning. More on the Yankees:
- Can a team with a $228MM payroll earn the designation "scrappy?" Steinbrenner used that adjective, expressing admiration for the Yankees' young players and cheap veterans that have allowed them to successfully weather injuries to key players so far. As for getting below the $189MM luxury tax threshold next year, Steinbrenner said, "The math works to me if the young kids do their job. It has to happen. And I've been saying that for over a year now -- that's the goal we're going to push for. But again, I'll reiterate what I always reiterate, which is we're always going to field a championship-caliber team. That's what the fans expect. That's what we expect. It's going to happen. Not going to win every year. Nobody ever does. But we're going to do what we can to field the best team we can."
- "We're going to sit down and figure out what to do when this season ends, hopefully the beginning of November," said Steinbrenner in regard to manager Joe Girardi and his expiring contract.
- Yankees outfielder Brennan Boesch says he left his agent, Scott Boras, and returned to his old agent, Van Wagenen of CAA, according to David Waldstein of the New York Times on May 1st. Boesch will be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and can hit the open market after the 2015 season. Stay on top of the representation for over 1,000 players with MLBTR's agency database.
- "He’s a good guy and I think he can be a really good player, too. He’ll be back. I just wanted to let him know that it’s up to him," Yankees infielder Jayson Nix told Waldstein, recounting a conversation with the recently-designated Chris Nelson.
- The shift from center to left field shouldn't damage Curtis Granderson's free agent value much, opined multiple executives in speaking with Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Granderson isn't concerned, saying, "Not an issue for me at all. Just want to help this team in any way I can. If they need me to go back to shortstop like I did in high school, I’ll do that."
The St. Louis Cardinals are the class of the National League right now, having won exactly two-thirds of their first 39 games. They're fourth in the league in OBP and ninth in slugging, and third in runs scored per game partially due fantastic work with runners in scoring position. Their rotation has easily been the league's best with a 2.33 ERA, even without Chris Carpenter. While the Jason Motte-less bullpen has an NL-worst 5.00 ERA, it's at 3.27 in May, with most of the damage coming in one Carlos Martinez outing. By measure of FanGraphs WAR, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, and Yadier Molina have been the team MVPs so far. Now let's look at some links from elsewhere around the NL...
- First baseman Anthony Rizzo has a new seven-year, $41MM deal with the Cubs, but pitcher Jeff Samardzija says he isn't ready to talk contract with the club, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Absolutely not," said the pitcher when asked if he's looking to hammer out an extension. "Nope. This is a great team, really coming around right now, playing great baseball. I'm just really looking to keep this going. It's fun to play with these guys." Samardzija, 28, will have four years of Major League service after the season. This is just a theory of mine, but having been lured away from football in '06 with a $10MM contract, Samardzija has more financial security at this point in his career than most players, and continuing to bet on his talent will enable him to maximize his next contract.
- Giants GM Brian Sabean told Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com that he hasn't been in touch with former closer Brian Wilson lately. Sabean says that he doesn't know how Wilson is throwing but has heard The Beard is "working out like a fiend" and is "going to try to showcase himself over the All-Star break or thereabouts."
- The Phillies issued a statement regarding Roy Halladay today: "Roy had successful shoulder surgery yesterday. He had an arthroscopic evaluation and underwent debridement of his labrum and rotator cuff as well as removal of an inflamed bursa. He'll begin a progressive rehabilitation program and if all goes well, he may possibly begin a throwing program in 6-8 weeks." The 36-year-old will be eligible for free agency after the season. Scrambling for depth in the wake of the injuries to Halladay and John Lannan, the Phillies signed Carlos Zambrano to a minor league deal yesterday with a July 1st opt-out date.
- In other NL East injury news, the Braves announced reliever Jonny Venters had the second Tommy John procedure of his career today. The 28-year-old will be arbitration eligible for the second time after the season, with an expected salary similar to this year's $1.625MM.
- A clerical error could have enabled Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to pocket an extra $500K a few years back, but he wasn't willing to pocket the money, reports Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle via Affeldt's book, "To Stir a Movement." Affeldt believes his subsequent contract with the Giants went smoothly partly because of that decision.