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Here’s the latest from the league’s eastern divisions.
- Blue Jays infielder Maicer Izturis may miss the start of the season, reports Jim Hawkins for MLB.com. Izturis, who was competing for the open second base job, is sidelined with a pulled groin. The Jays also lost veteran infielder Ramon Santiago to a broken collarbone last weekend. The injuries have improved the outlook for prospect Devon Travis. He was acquired from the Tigers in exchange for outfielder Anthony Gose. Per manager John Gibbons, if Travis earns the job, he won’t be platooned.
- The Orioles may offer to return Rule 5 pick Logan Verrett to the Mets, speculates Joel Sherman of the New York Post. If they do, Verrett could be included in a trade package for lefty reliever Brian Matusz. The Orioles are shopping their excess pitching per Sherman, with Matusz appearing in the most rumors. Several clubs, including the Mets, are hunting for left-handed relief.
- Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown could open the season on the disabled list, writes Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. Brown has dealt with Achilles tendonitis for the last couple weeks, and he will be rested for one week. Salisbury also notes that Ben Revere and Odubel Herrera are the only outfielders who are a lock to make the major league roster. Grady Sizemore, owed $2MM this season, has not been impressive this spring. Other options include Darin Ruf, Jeff Francoeur, Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Danks, and Russ Canzler.
- The Mets have optioned left-handed pitcher Steven Matz to minor league camp, writes Marc Carig of Newsday. Matz, along with Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, is on the cusp of a major league assignment. Presently, the Mets are expected to use Dillon Gee in place of Zack Wheeler. Should Gee falter, Matz is a candidate to fill his spot in the rotation. I also heard him discussed as a potential relief ace over the offseason.
The Mets weren’t a particularly strong team even before losing Zack Wheeler to a torn UCL, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes. Losing Wheeler hurt, but the Mets do at least have plenty of rotation depth with which to replace him. Their bullpen is a weakness, and only Juan Lagares stands out for them defensively. “I don’t subscribe to the notion that we’re going to have a lousy defense. I don’t believe that’s the case,” says GM Sandy Alderson. “But at the same time, I don’t assume, nor do I think, all of our success is predicated on being outstanding defensively.” Here’s more from the East divisions.
- The Blue Jays need a closer, but they aren’t a great match for Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (Insider-only). Papelbon’s contract (including his 2016 option, which will vest at 48 games finished) is too expensive and complex for such a deal to make sense. Also, Papelbon has hidden value to the Phillies, in that using him at closer rather than Ken Giles will limit the amount of money Giles will make in arbitration once he becomes eligible.
- Phillies reliever Mario Hollands has elbow discomfort and will have an MRI today, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Hollands says the pain feels about how it felt when he had a flexor strain late last season. When healthy, the lefty posted a 4.40 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in his rookie year in 2014. He might have joined fellow lefty Jake Diekman in the Phillies’ bullpen. An injury to Hollands might further encourage the Phillies to keep Rule 5 pick Andy Oliver, a lefty who has performed well in Spring Training.
The Rangers and Phillies are still talking about a deal that would send top lefty Cole Hamels to Texas, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. While the sides are talking about possible prospect packages, nothing is close at the moment.
Heyman notes that “there is no evidence the Red Sox and Phillies have talked seriously in recent weeks” on a deal involving Hamels, meaning that the Rangers could be the most promising landing spot at present. Philly is reportedly looking to add three legitimate prospects in a deal, with at least one potential impact player among them.
In addition to its impressive list of youngsters, the Rangers have some payroll flexibility, according to Heyman. After foregoing any significant spending this winter, the team appears likely to open the year with just under $140MM committed to its 25-man roster (and disabled list). Looking forward, Texas has over $100MM already on the books for 2016 and at least $50MM in each of the three years that follow. Hamels’s contract would tack on $22.5MM to those tallies over each of the next four years, and it also includes a $20MM option for 2019 that carries a $6MM buyout.
Yu Darvish‘s season-ending Tommy John surgery has left a void atop the Rangers’ rotation, and it is surely tempting to replace him with Hamels. Of course, such a deal probably would have made as much or more sense prior to that injury, given the team’s other rotation questions. Part of the motivation for continuing to talk with Philadelphia could well be that the club already had designs on adding another long-term arm at some point in the near future.
The Red Sox announced this morning that they’ve optioned catcher Blake Swihart and pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez to Triple-A Pawtucket. Swihart, of course, has attracted attention as a key name in Cole Hamels trade rumors, although the Red Sox have so far been unwilling to part with him. It comes as no surprise that he’ll evidently start the season in Pawtucket — he’s only played 18 games at the Triple-A level, and Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan are set to begin the season as the Red Sox’ catchers. Here’s more from the East divisions.
- With the Phillies reportedly willing to pay $50MM of the $60MM remaining on Ryan Howard‘s contract, SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee examines which AL teams might have a use for Howard. He suggests the Indians and Blue Jays might be the best fits, and even then, it wouldn’t make sense for either team to pay $10MM.
- Free-agent closer Rafael Soriano has been working out in the Dominican, but he will soon stop by the Boras Sport Training Institute at St. Thomas University in Florida, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. (The institute hosted Boras clients Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales while those players when through protracted free-agent periods last year, Heyman notes.) Soriano could then host a workout for interested teams. Heyman suggests that the Blue Jays, who will probably have Aaron Sanchez head from the bullpen to the rotation to replace the injured Marcus Stroman, could be the best fit for Soriano, who remains a free agent deep into Spring Training.
Here’s the latest from the American League East:
- The Red Sox risk losing a chance to acquire Cole Hamels of the Phillies by waiting to deal for him, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. While it is too early to judge the team’s current rotation, results — and, perhaps more importantly, reviews from rival scouts — have been less than promising.
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still “trying to find a trade partner” for first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig, per Cafardo. He notes that the club has assigned several “top pro scouts” to watch the Giants, Padres, and Cubs recently, though it is not entirely clear that all of those clubs could match up on Craig.
- Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will be shut down for about a week after experiencing tendinitis in his surgically-repaired right elbow after his first stint behind the dish, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. Manage Buck Showalter said that he does not see the news as a setback, and indicated that the move was made as an exercise of caution. Wieters’ ability to return to his usually sturdy work with the mask on is critical not only to the team’s hopes this year, but also to his free agent case after the season.
- Reliever Andrew Bailey made his return to competitive action today for the Yankees, with Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog tweeting that Bailey’s fastball sat in the low 90s in his inning of work. Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka continued to show strong form this spring, as Jennings further reports. If both of those arms can prove healthy and effective, the club’s run prevention efforts will obviously receive a significant boost. While Tanaka pitched much of last season before being shut down with a partial UCL tear, Bailey has not thrown a big league pitch since 2013 and represents pure upside for New York.
With Cliff Lee on the 60-day DL, 23-year-old Joely Rodriguez is now in the mix for a Phillies rotation job, Jake Kaplan of the Inquirer writes. The Phillies acquired Rodriguez from the Pirates for Antonio Bastardo in the offseason. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Kevin Slowey and Paul Clemens are also possibilities. Rodriguez is getting an opportunity he wouldn’t have gotten with the Pirates, who are deliberate with prospect promotions — Rodriguez posted a 4.84 ERA with 4.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 134 innings at Double-A last year and has no Triple-A experience. Here’s more from the Phillies.
- Catcher Carlos Ruiz will be key to the Phillies’ likely transition from a rotation built around Lee and Cole Hamels to one built around youngsters like Aaron Nola and Jesse Biddle, Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News writes. “I believe you help make them comfortable and they’re going to show what they’ve got,” says Ruiz. “That’s one key, I always try to, and Chase [Utley], Howie [Ryan Howard], too, that way you talk to these guys in different ways and do [your] part.” Ruiz has two years plus an option remaining on the contract, but there’s obviously the possibility that the Phillies could trade him, just as they traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Ruiz said he has spoken with his agent about that possibility but generally doesn’t worry about it much.
- Roy Halladay joined Lee and Hamels in the Phillies’ dugout while visiting with his old team on Monday, the Associated Press reports. Halladay, who retired following the 2013 season and is considering a second career as a sports psychologist, says he can relate to how Lee must feel in light of his injury. “Any time you can’t go out and do what you’ve done your whole life, it’s a challenge,” says Halladay.
The Phillies are willing to take on about $50MM of Ryan Howard‘s remaining salary in a trade, Sports On Earth’s Anthony Castrovince hears. That’s most of the $60MM remaining on the two years left on Howard’s contract, so a team trading for him would essentially only pay him $5MM per season for two years.
The Phillies’ efforts to find a new home for Howard have thus far been unsuccessful, but perhaps in the wake of Cliff Lee‘s injury, they could be more motivated to deal Howard and speed up their rebuild. Howard has a 20-team no-trade clause and can block trades to all teams except the Rangers, Rays, Orioles, Tigers, Red Sox, Angels, Yankees, Royals, and Mariners. It’s more likely that an American League team would have interest in Howard than a National League team, but as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd noted in January, many of the clubs to which the Phillies can trade Howard without his approval are not particularly strong fits.
ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Insider link) lists five spring transactions that ought to occur. Among them are trades involving two veteran Phillies players — Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon. While Papelbon has been discussed quite frequently this offseason, as has fellow hurler Cole Hamels, Utley has scarcely seen his name come up in rumors (and is only just returning to action after suffering a sprained ankle). Bowden also advocates an early-career extension for Christian Yelich of the Marlins
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Injured Mets starter Zack Wheeler dealt with rather significant elbow pain last year, as GM Sandy Alderson has indicated and Andy Martino of the New York Daily News further reports. Per Martino, the team maintains publicly and privately that Wheeler’s UCL never was a matter of concern for the team, but he details some of the developments last year that raised red flags about the young righty’s health. Of course, as Martino is right to explain, there are not only many unknown details but also plenty of medical uncertainties in the world of pitching elbows.
- The Braves are prepared to announce a deal with Comcast involving the team’s new ballpark and mixed-use development, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It appears that the cable company will occupy office space and provide technology services for the controversial new facility.
- Of course, that stadium opening is still years away, and the Braves are still working to resolve numerous roster matters before the start of the upcoming season. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman updates the situation in camp, writing that Jace Peterson appears to have the inside track on a 25-man spot, if not the starting gig at second base. The team has numerous infield and outfield slots still up for grabs.
- The Phillies have insurance on Cliff Lee‘s contract and will have a chance to recover an unknown sum for the time he is expected to miss, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. That will not match the return the team had hoped to be able to achieve if a healthy Lee had turned into an attractive mid-season trade chip, of course. As part of his rest and rehab plan, Lee will not even throw a ball for several months. While the decision not to undergo surgery was announced a mutual one between team and player, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets that all doctors consulted recommended surgery and that it was Lee’s decision not to pursue that option.
- As Lee faces the possibility of retirement, former teammate Roy Halladay says he is interested in pursuing sports psychology as a second act, as Zolecki reports.
The Phillies announced that left-hander Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list. Per the Phillies, surgery has been recommended for Lee, but because that route would end his 2015 season, the sides have mutually agreed to make another attempt to rehabilitate his torn left flexor tendon without surgery. Per the team’s press release:
“…The Phillies and Cliff have mutually decided to try once again to rehabilitate the injury non-operatively, with the hope that Cliff might be able to return to pitch during the 2015 season. Cliff will immediately be shut down from throwing. He will be sent home to rest and will be set up with a rehabilitation program to maintain his overall conditioning. He will be brought to Philadelphia periodically to be evaluated to determine a time at which he might be able to begin a throwing program again.”
This further casts a shadow of doubt that Lee will be able to pitch in the 2015 season. The 37-year-old is owed $25MM this season and has a $27.5MM club/vesting option for the 2015 season with a $12.5MM buyout, meaning that he is guaranteed $37.5MM before his contract expires at season’s end. (The option will not vest, as he obviously won’t reach the necessary 200 innings.)
Lee was thought of as a potential trade candidate this spring if he was able to prove his health, but instead, his elbow again flared up, and an MRI revealed that his torn flexor tendon is still not at 100 percent. Lee has tried to pitch through the pain this spring but repeatedly felt discomfort, leading to the announcement of the shut-down.
Many have speculated that Lee’s injury will hasten the Phillies’ willingness to trade Cole Hamels, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said specifically that the Lee situation will not change the team’s stance on Hamels whatsoever.