- Rangers Release Ryan Ludwick
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- Nate Schierholtz Opts Out Of Deal With Rangers
- Cubs Release Felix Doubront
- Rangers Acquire Sam Freeman From Cardinals
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- Twins’ Lewis Thorpe To Have Tommy John Surgery
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Philadelphia Phillies Rumors
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.
The Phillies announced this morning that they have released outfielder Xavier Paul, who was in Major League camp with the club after signing a minor league deal last November.
Paul, 30, went 1-for-9 with a solo homer for the Phillies in Spring Training. The left-handed hitter enjoyed a pair of solid seasons at the plate in Cincinnati from 2012-13, hitting .264/.350/.420 in 335 plate appearances, most of which came against right-handed pitching, given his significant career platoon splits. Paul has batted .264/.326/.398 in 681 big league plate appearances against right-handed pitching, but against lefties he’s seen just 86 PAs and hit .138/.198/.150.
After spending much of the 2014 season with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate, Paul latched on with the D-Backs in the second half, picking up a pair of hits in 21 big league plate appearances in the month of August. The Paragon Sports client will presumably draw some interest elsewhere as a lefty option off the bench.
The Phillies and Red Sox have made “virtually no headway” on a Cole Hamels trade, and that’s because the Red Sox refuse to include top catching prospect Blake Swihart, Jayson Stark of ESPN writes. Of course, that didn’t stop media speculation when Swihart joined the Red Sox’ starting lineup as they took on the Phillies in Clearwater Sunday. “I think it’s funny just like you guys do,” says Swihart. In the meantime, manager John Farrell expresses confidence in another young Red Sox catcher, Christian Vazquez. “Blake is the name that’s always been in the rumors, because of what he potentially could be attached to,” says Farrell. “But the guy who is as good as anybody in the game right now, as far as catching, receiving and throwing, is Christian Vazquez.” Vazquez will start for the Red Sox while Swihart appears likely to begin the season at Triple-A, a level at which he has only 18 games of experience. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Cubs slugger Kris Bryant is eager to prove he belongs in the big leagues, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. “I want to build on what I’ve done so far. Now I’ve got the gas to the floor, and I’m not going to let up,” Bryant says. The Cubs want Bryant to work on his defense, and he likely won’t start the year in the Majors. Heyman suggests that’s not due to service-time concerns, but the fact that the Cubs will gain an extra year of service time by holding Bryant back for a couple weeks of the regular season is surely, at the very least, a happy byproduct of their likely development plan. Whenever Bryant’s promotion to the big leagues arrives, it will be a momentous occasion. By hitting six homers in his first 23 Spring Training plate appearances, Bryant has done nothing to quiet the hype that swirled around him last year.
- Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners are hoping to improve on a 2014 season in which they fell just short of a playoff berth, MLB.com’s Mike Bauman writes. “I like what should be our 25-man roster,” says Zduriencik after an offseason in which the Mariners added Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, J.A. Happ, Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks. He adds that he feels the Mariners’ depth in the minors is also an asset. “We hoped we could have a good, competitive club year in and year out, a good Minor League system that could continue to fill the void when you have a need, instead of what we had a few years ago, when we had 16, 17, 18 players that debuted in the big leagues in one year.”
The Red Sox have received some impressive performances from non-roster invitees like Mitchell Boggs, Dana Eveland, Dalier Hinojosa, and Noe Ramirez, but they probably won’t crack the 25-man roster due to the numbers crunch, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes.
Here’s more from the AL East:
- Rays manager Kevin Cash will earn $5MM over the life of his five-year deal, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com recently reported Cash’s deal was for a lengthy five years, giving him more security than a lot of other skippers around the majors. The pact ties Cash with current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon for the lengthiest remaining guarantee in the game. Of course, the financial terms aren’t exactly the same as Maddon will earn a reported $25MM over the same length of time.
- The addition of Cole Hamels would undoubtedly separate the Red Sox from the rest of the AL East, but to what degree the club feels pressure to establish that space is what will determine whether they pull the trigger, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes. Right now, the Phillies are insisting Boston part with Henry Owens and either Blake Swihart or Mookie Betts while taking on Hamels’ monster deal, so the Red Sox feel that they can live without him. Silverman lays out the pros and cons of Boston waiting on a Hamels trade.
- Swihart started against the Phillies today going 2-for-3, including a RBI single, and found the timing pure coincidence. “I think people are looking into it too much,” he told reporters, including Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “It’s just my turn to catch right now.” Swihart also addressed the interest shown in him by the Phillies. “It’s an honor that other teams think highly of you. Ultimately, I want to be here (Boston) and to play for this team. Anything I can do to help this team is what I want to do.“
- Orioles GM Dan Duquette spoke with MLB Network Radio (audio link) about how the O’s can replace the offensive production of their free agent losses. Baltimore, of course, saw Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller head elsewhere this offseason.
The Rangers and Phillies have maintained communication regarding Cole Hamels, although there have been no new developments in those talks, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes. The Rangers have a huge hole in their starting rotation given that Yu Darvish will be out for the season while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and Heyman points out that the Rangers have the money and the farm system necessary to make a deal. (GM Jon Daniels said earlier this week that the Rangers planned to replace Darvish internally, however.)
One problem with pursuing Hamels might be that the Rangers wouldn’t be a great bet to contend in 2015 even if they added Hamels, given that their current rotation would be thin even with him in the fold. If the Rangers want to add a top-notch starting pitcher, perhaps the better route would be to wait until next winter and then pick from a very good group of free agents. That might cost more in terms of dollars (Hamels has four guaranteed years and $96MM remaining on his contract), but it would allow them to keep their minor-league system intact.
Jeff Francoeur believes his easygoing personality has helped keep his career going, Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes in a profile of the well-traveled outfielder. Last season, Francoeur’s teammates with Triple-A El Paso in the Padres’ system played an elaborate practical joke on Francoeur, then videotaped his reaction when he found out he’d been had. A Triple-A team ordinarily might not feel comfortable playing a trick on an accomplished big-league veteran, but Francoeur’s teammates knew he would take it well. Francoeur hit .289/.320/.450 in 487 plate appearances in El Paso and played ten games with the Padres. Now he’s in camp with the Phillies, trying to make it back to the big leagues with the seventh team of his career. Here are more notes from the National League.
- Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was surprised by the blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade that sent him from Oakland to Chicago last summer, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes. “I was a little shocked, and more confused than anything,” says Russell, who adds that he soon began to see a positive side of the trade. “The Cubs wanted me, and they got me. I look at it as a new opportunity.” Lee notes that Russell probably would have had a more straightforward path to the big leagues if he were still with the Athletics. He’s talented enough, though, that that might not matter — if he continues hitting this season, the Cubs will surely find a place for him.
- Former big-league pitcher and outfielder Rick Ankiel is trying to help Nationals players as the teams new life skills coordinator, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I’m really just a resource for these guys or somebody to lean on for whatever they may need — whether it’s something off the field or something on the field,” Ankiel says. “I’ve been through it. I’ve got a lot of tools and mechanisms to pass down to these guys.” Ankiel, who signed out of high school and has no college experience, emphasizes that he’s not a doctor, just a former player who’s had an unusual and varied big-league life. The 35-year-old, of course, flamed out as a pitcher after finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 before following a long road back through the minors and then re-emerging as a hitter in 2007. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013.
The Nationals announced today that closer Drew Storen underwent surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand (Twitter links). Storen, a right-handed thrower, will be down for about two or three days before resuming his throwing program and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, however, according to the Nats.
A bit more on the Nationals and their division…
- Injured Nationals center fielder Denard Span tells Bill Ladson of MLB.com that he began to feel pain in his abdomen about six to seven weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia in December. However, Span says he had both good days and “so-so” days an expected that the pain would eventually go away. Instead, of course, Span underwent core muscle surgery earlier this week and will now “optimistically” be back in the lineup by May, writes Ladson, indicating a fairly significant DL stint for the free-agent-to-be. However, Span says that he’s more disappointed to be missing part of a season where the Nationals could make a run at the World Series than to be injured in a contract year. “This is probably the last year this ballclub has a chance to be together,” Span tells Ladson. “We have a chance to do something special. That hurts more than the fact that I’m going to be a free agent.” Span and teammates Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister will all be free agents next winter.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post questions the persistent claims of Mets GM Sandy Alderson when he says he has the financial flexibility to make roster moves as needed. As Sherman points out, the Mets didn’t invest any guaranteed money in left-handed relief pitching this winter, and they’re now facing the possibility of losing their top lefty reliever, Josh Edgin, to Tommy John surgery. Alderson told Sherman that the financial requests of the available left-handed relievers this winter didn’t match up with their quality, but he’ll have financial flexibility to add to the roster this season if the Mets are contending.
- Phillies lefty Cliff Lee threw again today and said he still felt discomfort in his left elbow, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Lee is trying to pitch through a torn flexor tendon in his elbow but will have to opt for season-ending surgery if some of the discomfort does not eventually dissipate.
- Meanwhile, Zolecki adds that offseason signee Aaron Harang was scratched from his upcoming start due to lower back discomfort. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he’s not worried and called it a “muscular thing,” but this is the second time Harang has been scratched for a back issue this spring. The Phillies will need a healthy Harang given their thin rotation depth. The veteran signed a one-year, $5MM contract with Philadelphia this offseason.