Quick Hits: 2014 Draft, Smith, Headley, Abreu

Left-hander Brady Aiken and righty Tyler Kolek sit atop Baseball America's list of the top 2014 draft prospects, BA's John Manuel writes.  The two high schoolers have supplanted NC State southpaw Carlos Rodon, who was long considered to be the favorite as the first overall pick but hasn't looked great this spring.  Six of the top seven prospects on BA's list (and 11 of the top 15) are pitchers, as several young arms have improved their draft stock this spring while several of the most-regarded hitters haven't fared as well. 

Here's some more from around baseball as we head into the weekend...

  • High-ranking executives from the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Phillies have all recently scouted Kolek's starts, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports.  These clubs hold the top four overall picks in June's draft, while the Phillies pick seventh overall.  According to Manuel, "Kolek has hit 100 mph repeatedly and has the best pure arm in the draft."
  • Joe Smith tells ESPN New York's Adam Rubin (Twitter link) that the Mets were interested in signing him last winter, and "floated" a contract offer similar to the three-year, $15.75MM deal that Smith received from the Angels.  Rubin was surprised that the Mets were willing to commit that much to a setup man, though Smith would've added some quality depth to a Mets bullpen that is already hurting thanks to the absence of Bobby Parnell.
  • Both Chase Headley and the Padres are off to slow starts, which only further complicates the difficult contract-year situation for the third baseman, MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince writes.  With an extension unlikely, Headley could be a midseason trade candidate if the Friars fall out of the race, though if Headley continues to struggle, the Padres could conceivably see him leave for free agency and get nothing in return.
  • The Padres parting ways with Headley is "looking [like] the most realistic option," Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune said during an online chat with readers.  "Players don't get better with age so much anymore, so regardless of what Headley does this year, it doesn't make financial sense to pay for past production," Sanders writes.
  • The Astros made a strong bid for Jose Abreu before the slugger signed with the White Sox, and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow discussed his club's pursuit with MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.  "We stretched ourselves further than we intended to and we came pretty close.  When you factor in the tax advantages of Texas vs. other markets, the gap was really only a couple of million dollars at the end of the day," Luhnow said.  "It's one of those things, should we have pushed a little harder? Possibly. When you're in negotiations like that and you're in a bidding war like that, you have to have limits or you'll be the one that overpays. That's one I do think we came close. He's going to be a good player, and that's why we put all that effort into it."
  • The Tigers have been extraordinarily successful in trades since Dave Dombrowski joined the organization in 2001, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli writes.  Given Dombrowski's impressive with not only the Tigers, but also the Marlins and Expos over his long career, Jazayerli thinks it's too early to write off the much-maligned Doug Fister trade as a mistake for Detroit.



AL East Notes: Moore, Trout, Cashman, Jays

The situation with Matt Moore's UCL injury is still up in the air, as the southpaw is waiting to have his MRIs examined by the Rays' team orthopedic physician, Moore told reporters (including MLB.com's Bill Chastain).  Moore may test his elbow by playing catch in a few days, though isn't going to push it.  "If there's any pain, it's not going to be something I'm going to try and work through," Moore said. "I think the goal is to get to a place where I don't feel pain. And if I can get to that in the next few days just playing catch, then it's a good sign to keep going. If not, then it's a sign in the [other direction]. I'm optimistic about playing catch."

Here's some more from around the AL East...

  • The Yankees have been fined by Major League Baseball for tampering due to comments made by team president Randy Levine in regards to Mike Trout, The Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin reports.  The amount of the fine isn't known.  Levine cited Trout last December when discussing why the Yankees didn't match the Mariners' 10-year contract offer for Robinson Cano, saying "If it was Mike Trout, I’d offer him a 10-year contract, but for people over 30, I don’t believe it makes sense.”  The Angels took exception to Levine's comments and asked the Commissioner's office to investigate the matter.
  • Injuries to Mark Teixeira and David Robertson have left the Yankees thin at first base and in the bullpen, two positions that were thought to be lacking in depth going into the season.  GM Brian Cashman reiterated to reporters (including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch) that the two positions would be "a developing story" through the season as the team didn't have enough budget space to acquire additional depth in the offseason.  "We wanted to fix as much as we could, but acknowledged that we couldn't fix everything that needed to be addressed," Cashman said.  "That's with the money we were in position to spend as well as the available talent. The better talent was really heavily in favor of the outfield rather than the infield."
  • The Blue Jays' seeming halt on payroll looks to be an ownership response to how none of GM Alex Anthopoulos' big additions from the 2012-13 offseason have yet panned out, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star writes.  Rogers Communications, the Jays' parent company, is essentially saying to Anthopoulos, in Griffin's words, "Show us that the group you brought in last year is as good as you said it was and maybe then we can talk about additions."  Griffin also doesn't think the Jays will undergo an Astros-esque total rebuild since Rogers wants to keep the team competitive in order to maintain the Jays' strong viewership numbers on Rogers-owned media outlets.
  • In AL East news from earlier today on MLBTR, we collected some Red Sox Notes, and also learned that the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees are three of the teams who are believed to be interested in Joel Hanrahan.



Red Sox Notes: McCann, O'Flaherty, Lackey

Happy birthday to long-time Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who turns 42 years old today.  Varitek played all 1546 of his career Major League games in a Boston jersey, posting a .776 OPS and collecting two World Series rings along the way.  Varitek retired prior to the 2012 season and, since September 2012, has been working as a special assistant to Sox GM Ben Cherington.  Here's the latest out of Fenway Park...

  • David Ross tells WEEI.com's Rob Bradford that his good friend and former teammate Brian McCann had an interest in joining the Red Sox as a free agent last winter.  "Early on I did (think McCann would come to Boston). I knew he wanted to come here, a lot. I had just told him what it was like here and that interested him," Ross said.  Once McCann said that the Yankees had made him a big offer, however, Ross stayed out of the recruiting process out of respect for letting McCann handle his own business, plus the fact that "the Red Sox weren’€™t even close to what he got, so it really was a no-brainer."  
  • Also from Bradford's piece, he reports that the Red Sox had interest in Eric O'Flaherty last offseason.  O'Flaherty underwent Tommy John surgery last May and isn't expected to pitch until midseason, but the veteran southpaw still drew interest from several teams last winter before signing a two-year, $7MM deal with the Athletics.
  • Several Red Sox players contacted the players' union about their displeasure that players who had been suspended for PED use last season (namely, Jhonny Peralta) were eligible to play in the postseason, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports.  Players on other teams voiced similar concerns, and the revised joint drug agreement states that players who have been hit with a PED suspension during a season aren't allowed to participate in that same season's playoffs.
  • While John Lackey resurrected his career in 2013 and has pitched well in two 2014 starts, it may be premature for the Red Sox to explore an extension for the right-hander, Chris Villani of the Boston Herald opines.  Lackey is under contract in 2015 for a league minimum salary (a condition of his contract after undergoing Tommy John surgery) and since Boston has a number of good young pitchers in the minor league pipeline, Villani believes the Sox can afford to wait to see if Lackey is truly back to form before considering another contract.






Poll: Will A 2015 Free Agent Accept A Qualifying Offer?

The qualifying offer system turned Kyle Lohse's name into a verb following the 2012-13 offseason.  Lohse didn't sign a free agent contract until late March, a long wait that was attributed to Lohse turning down the Cardinals' one-year, $13.3MM qualifying offer the previous November, and thus attaching the price of a first-round draft pick to any team that wanted to sign him.

Lohse, at least, ended up with some solid long-term security in the form of his three-year contract from the Brewers.  This offseason's four free agents who "got Kyle Lohse'd" haven't been nearly so lucky in finding a multiyear commitment.  Ervin Santana, coming off a 3.0 fWAR/2.9 rWAR season in 2013, could only find a one-year, $14.1MM contract and had to wait until almost the middle of March to find it.  Nelson Cruz, who posted an .833 OPS with 27 homers in 2013, could only find a one-year deal worth $8MM from the Orioles.  As for Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, it's almost mid-April and both players remain unsigned.

While such factors as defensive limitations, injury worries and (in Cruz's case) PED histories limited the quartet's market, the qualifying offer stands out as the biggest reason why Santana and Cruz were limited to one-year deals, and why Morales and Drew are still available.  Teams simply weren't willing to give up first- or second-round draft picks in order to make major commitments to these players, while other similar free agents (i.e. Jhonny Peralta or Matt Garza) who didn't require draft pick compensation were able to find four-year contracts.

No free agent has accepted a qualifying offer in the two years that the system has been in place, yet as ESPN's Jayson Stark noted today, "clubs are already getting the vibe from some agents that player/agent strategy is about to change -- and players will be far more open to taking qualifying offers next winter."  Next year's qualifying offer will be in the range of $15MM for a one-year deal, so while players will be giving up long-term security, they'll still make significant money for accepting a contract.  A National League executive tells Stark that teams could employ a tactic of offering a multiyear deal to players who accept a qualifying offer in order to both spread the money out and to give the player more security.

As Lohse himself tells Stark, however, settling for a one-year qualifying offer may be profitable but it goes against the spirit of free agent.  "I know we're fortunate to be making the money we're making. But when you get that option where you only have a one-year deal, you don't have any security," Lohse said. "To penalize guys who, in my case last time, have put in 10 or 11 years, and to lock me into a situation where I only have the opportunity to get a one-year deal...it puts guys in a totally different situation that have worked so hard to get to where they want to be."  Another issue, as Lohse notes, is that a player who accepts a one-year qualifying offer deal could find himself stuck in the same position the next offseason. 

I'd argue that player/agent relations could be another factor in the decision about accepting a qualifying offer process.  If an agent advises his client that a one-year qualifying offer is the best option, a player who has waited years for free agency (as Lohse described) and is coming off a strong enough season to merit a qualifying offer in the first place might not accept this advice and seek out a new agent instead.  Granted, unrealistic contract expectations may have played a part in why Cruz (reportedly looking for a $75MM deal) and Santana (looking for a nine-figure contract) drew such limited interest on the open market, but agents pride themselves on finding the best possible deals for their clients and don't want to be seen as "settling" on a one-year deal for a client coming off a good season.

Being open to accepting a qualifying offer could, conversely, become a tactic unto itself for players, Stark notes.  If players are more open to accepting these offers, teams could be more wary of extending them in the first place to so-called "borderline" free agents.  The Red Sox might not have risked Drew accepting their offer, for instance, as the team seemed eager to give Xander Bogaerts an everyday role at shortstop.  (Boston did explore re-signing Drew for a one-year deal, but likely not at a $14.1MM price.)

There's still a ton of baseball to be played before we reach the 2014-15 offseason, of course, and still to early to speculate about which of the 2015 free agents stand out as possible candidates to be "Kyle Lohse'd" --- or, maybe this term is now "Kendrys Morales'd" or "Stephen Drew'd."  Still, given how this most recent offseason has played out for Morales, Drew, Cruz and Santana, do you think we'll see at least one free agent bite the bullet and accept a qualifying offer in November?



NL Central Links: Miller, Gomez, Cubs

A pair of intra-division matchups are on tap for the weekend as the Cardinals host the Cubs for a three-game series and the Pirates travel to Miller Park for a three-game set against the Brewers.  The Reds, meanwhile, will host the Rays in interleague play and face a tough matchup in Tampa ace David Price tonight.  Here's some news from around the NL Central...

  • Shelby Miller has struggled in his first two starts of 2014, and as Fangraphs' Dave Cameron explains, Miller's problems began at the end of last season, which explains his near-total absence from the Cardinals' playoff run.  An injury could be responsible for Miller's issues, "but this version of Shelby Miller isn’t very good, and unless he flips a switch sometime soon, [the Cardinals are] going to have to start looking for alternatives."
  • Carlos Gomez's strong 2013 season and his red-hot start to 2014 has made his three-year, $24MM extension from the Brewers "look like a steal," in the words of Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe.  Gomez's extension, signed in March 2013, kicked in this season and keeps the center fielder in Milwaukee through the 2016 campaign.  As Jaffe notes, it's rare for a player to improve as much as Gomez has after amassing over 1000 PA in the Major Leagues.
  • Jason McLeod, the Cubs' VP of scouting and player development, tells CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney that though the Cubs' system is somewhat lacking in blue chip pitching prospects, it doesn't mean the Cubs will specifically focus on adding a young arm with the fourth overall pick of the 2014 draft.  “We’ve made no secret that we’ve tried to acquire as much pitching as we can....But if you look at our last two drafts, we’ve taken two position players with our first pick, because we felt Albert [Almora] and Kris [Bryant] were the best players at those picks," McLeod said.  "That’s how we’re going to approach this draft as well. We’re not going to draft on need. We’re going to draft the guy that we feel will provide that long-term impact for us.”



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Minor Moves: Everett Williams, Daniel Tillman

Here are today's minor transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post...

  • The Diamondbacks have signed outfielder Everett Williams to a minor league contract, Baseball America's Matt Eddy reports (via Twitter).  Williams, 23, was a second-round draft pick of the Padres in 2009 but has only hit .249/.314/.356 in 1313 minor league plate appearances.  As Eddy notes, there are several former Padres executives currently in the D'Backs front office, including general manager Kevin Towers, who was San Diego's GM when the club drafted Williams in 2009. 
  • The Dodgers signed right-hander Daniel Tillman to a minor league deal, Eddy tweets.  Tillman was originally drafted in the second round by the Angels in 2010, and all but five of his 131 minor league appearances have come out of the bullpen.  The 25-year-old has a career 3.85 ERA but Tillman has battled both injuries and control problems over the last two seasons.
  • Now that the Rangers have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Seth Rosin to the Phillies, only Jeremy Jeffress (Blue Jays) and Hector Noesi (Mariners) remain in DFA Limbo according to MLBTR's DFA Tracker.



MLBPA Asks Selig To Investigate Executives' Comments On Morales, Drew

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark has asked commissioner Bud Selig to conduct an investigation regarding comments made by several anonymous executives to ESPN's Buster Olney for a column penned by Olney this week, the MLBPA announced in a press release. Olney's column featured a number of front office executives stating (on the condition of anonymity) what they would pay free agents Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew on an annual basis. The comments violate baseball's collective bargaining agreement, which has language designed to prevent executives from commenting on specific players and their values/contract goals, as it could depreciate a player's market value. Within the release, Clark issued the following statement:

"I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.  These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner's Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement."

Morales and Drew, two of the more prominent free agents on this year's market, each remain unsigned due largely to the fact that each is tied to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year qualifying offer at the end of last season.

This isn't the first instance of this type of investigation in the past year, as Major League Baseball also looked into comments made by Dodgers owner Magic Johnson regarding Robinson Cano. Back in October, Johnson was quoted as saying, "Though I can't talk about it, that other guy in New York is going to get paid. Not by us, but he's going to get paid."

This most recent wave of comments is clearly a bit more telling due to both the number of people who were willing to offer their take to Olney and the specific nature of their responses. At the time of the Cano situation, GMs around the league told Olney that they felt their comments had been monitored more closely in the past year than any time in recent memory.



Rangers Return Rule 5 Pick Seth Rosin To Phillies

Rule 5 Draft pick Seth Rosin has cleared waivers after being designated for assignment by the Rangers and been returned to the Phillies, both teams announced. Rosin will report to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Rosin, 25, was selected by the Mets with the 10th pick in the Rule 5 Draft last December and promptly traded to the Dodgers for cash considerations. The Rangers then claimed the right-hander off waivers from the Dodgers before designating him for assignment in order to clear a roster spot for Kevin Kouzmanoff (a move that was likely necessitated by a relatively minor injury to Adrian Beltre).

The former fourth-round pick has a 4.00 career ERA in the minor leagues to go along with solid ratios of 8.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Prior to his selection in the Rule 5 Draft, Rosin had never appeared in a game above the Double-A level.



Joel Hanrahan To Work Out For Teams Next Week

Free agent closer Joel Hanrahan will host a showcase for teams next week, reports ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). In a second tweet, Crasnick lists the Mets, Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, Athletics, Red Sox and Rays as teams that are believed to have interest in Hanrahan. He adds that somewhat curiously, he hasn't heard much buzz on the Tigers or Phillies being interested, though that could always change.

The 32-year-old Hanrahan underwent Tommy John surgery and also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips in his elbow removed on May 16 of last season. He opened the year as Boston's closer after being acquired in an offseason trade that sent Mark Melancon to the Pirates, but he allowed eight runs on 10 hits (four homers) and six walks with just five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox before landing on the disabled list.

Prior to that season, Hanrahan had averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings over a five-year stretch between the Nationals and Pirates. The Bucs acquired Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge from the Nats in a deal that sent Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to Washington, and Hanrahan blossomed into a two-time All-Star closer with Pittsburgh. Always one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, Hanrahan's 96.5 mph average fastball from his 2011-13 peak ranked seventh in the game among qualified relievers.




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